Source: Fourth International, Vol.14 No.6, November-December 1953, pp.115-122.
Original bound volumes of Fourth International and microfilm provided by the NYU Tamiment Labor Libraries.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
(Speech by James P. Cannon at the Open Plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, November 1953, New York, N.Y.)
We all recognize, comrades, that we have come to the end of the long faction fight in the party. Nothing remains now but to sum up the results.
This has been a long faction fight, and it was not brought to a definitive conclusion until it was fully ripe. The Cochranite minority were given a whole year to carry on underground factional work and organization in the party. A whole year. Then we finally dragged them out into the open, and we had intensified discussion for five months, with more Internal Bulletins published even than in the great fight of 1939-40. Then we had the May Plenum and the truce, which the Cochranites signed but did not keep.
Then five more months of struggle during which the Cochranites developed their positions to their logical conclusion and showed themselves in action as an anti-party, anti-Trotskyist tendency. They organized a campaign of sabotage of party activities and party funds, culminating in the organized boycott of our 25th Anniversary meeting. Then we came to this November Plenum where the Cochranite leaders were indicted for treachery and suspended from the party. And that’s the end of the faction fight in the SWP.
In the face of the record nobody can justly say that we were impatient; that anything was done hastily; that there wasn’t a “free and ample discussion; that there were not abundant proofs of disloyalty before discipline was invoked. And above all, nobody can say that the leadership hesitated to bring down the ax when the time came for it. That was their duty. The rights of a minority in our democratic party have never included, and will never include, the right to be disloyal. The SWP has no place and no room for strike-breakers.
Trotsky once remarked that unifications and splits are alike methods of building the revolutionary party. That’s a profoundly true remark, as experience has shown. The party which led the Russian Revolution to victory was the product of the split with the Mensheviks in 1903, several unifications and splits along the road, and the final unification with Trotsky in 1917. The combination of the splits and the unifications made possible the party of victory in the Russian Revolution.
We have seen, in our own experience, the same principle working out. We began with a split from the Stalinists. Unification with the Musteites in 1934 and later with the left-wing of the Socialist Party were great milestones in the building of our organization. But these unifications were of no more importance, and stand rather on an equal plane, with the split of the leftist sectarians in 1935 and of the revisionist Burnhamites in 1940, and with the split of the new revisionists today. All these actions have been part of the process of building the revolutionary party.
This law enunciated by Trotsky, that both unifications and splits are alike methods of building the party, is true however, only on the condition that both the unification and the split in each case is properly motivated. If they are not properly prepared and properly motivated they can have a disrupting and disorganizing effect. I can give you examples of that.
The unification of the Left Opposition under Nin in Spain with the opportunist Maurin group, out of which was formed the POUM, was one of the decisive factors in the defeat of the Spanish Revolution. The dilution of the program of Trotskyism for the sake of unification with an opportunist group robbed the Spanish proletariat of that clear program and resolute leadership which could have made the difference in the Spanish Revolution in 1936.
Conversely, the splits in the French Trotskyist organization before World War II, several of them, none of which were properly motivated – contributed to the demoralization of the party. It has been our good fortune that we have made no false unifications and no false splits. Never have we had a split in which the party did not bound forward the day after, precisely because the split was properly prepared and properly motivated.
The party was not ready for a split when our Plenum convened last May. The minority at that time had by no means extended their revisionist conceptions into action in such a manner as to convince every single member of the party that they were alien to us. For that reason we made big concessions to avoid a split. By the same reasoning, because everything was clear and everything was ripe in November, we made the split here – without the slightest hesitation. And if, in the reminiscences of the fight, you give the party leadership credit for their patience and forbearance in the long struggle, don’t forget to add that they deserve just as much credit for the decisive, resolute action taken at this Plenum to bring things to a conclusion.
I think it would be useful for us to make a comparison of this split, which we consider to be progressive and a contribution to the development of the revolutionary party in America, with the split of 1940. There are points of similarity and of difference. They are similar insofar as the basic issue in each case was revisionism. But the revisionism of 1940 was by no means as deep and definitive as the revisionism that we have split with today. Burnham, it is true, had abandoned the program of Marxism but he did it openly only in the last stages of the fight, when he took off the mask. And Shachtman did not go along fully with him. Shachtman, up to the point of the split, did not openly revise our program on the Soviet Union, which was the central issue in dispute.
He left the question open and even stated in one of his last documents that if the imperialists would attack the Soviet Union he would come out for defense. As for the third leader, Abern, he did not yield anything theoretically to revisionism at all. He still considered himself an orthodox Trotskyist, and thought the whole fight was over the organization question. He was greatly mistaken, but the definitive struggle between orthodox Trotskyism and revisionism was by no means as clear-cut and deep in 1940 as it is this time. That was shown by the fact that when Burnham; carried his revisionism to its logical conclusion and abandoned the movement altogether a couple of months later, Shachtman and Abern drew back.
The two splits, this one and that of 1940, are similar in that they were both unavoidable. The differences in each case had matured to the point where we could no longer talk the same language or live in the same party. When the Shachtmanites gave us their plain ultimatum and demanded that they be allowed to have their own paper, their own magazine, their own public expression, they were only expressing their deepest conviction that they had to talk a different language from ours; that they could not conscientiously circulate what we wrote in our press along orthodox lines. And since we could not tolerate that, the split was unavoidable.
The present split is different from 1940 in that it is more definitive. There is not a single member of this Plenum who contemplates any later relations in the same party with the strike-breakers of the Pablo-Cochran gang. Any doubt on this score is excluded. It is an absolute certainty that from yesterday morning at eleven o’clock, when they left the hall, – not with a bang but a giggle – that they left for good. The most that can be contemplated is that individual members who have been caught in the under-currents may drift back to the party one by one, and of course they will be received. But as far as the main core of the minority faction is concerned, they have broken forever with us. The day they were suspended from the party, and released from further obligations to it, was probably the happiest day of their lives.
The Shachtmanites, on the other hand, continued to protest for a long time that they would like to have unity. And even six-seven years after the split, in 1946 and 1947, we actually conducted unity negotiations with the Shachtmanites. At one time in early 1947 we had a unification agreement with them, illustrating the point I make that the split of 1940 was by no means as definitive and final as is the split today. We are finished and done with Pablo and Pabloism forever, not only here but on the international field. And nobody is going to take up any of our time with any negotiations about compromise or any nonsense of that sort. We are at war with this new revisionism, which came to full flower in the reaction to the events after the death of Stalin in the Soviet Union, in East Germany, and in the French general strike.
There are differences between the two splits in other respects, very important ones, and more favorable for the party. First, as to the size of the split. In 1940 the Shachtmanites had not less than 40% of the party and a majority of the youth organization. If you count the youth, who were not voting members of the party, it was almost a 50-50 split. This group takes out a bare 20%. That is one difference.
A second difference is that in 1940 the split was a split of the leading cadre right down the middle. Not just a sloughing off of some people that you can easily get along without. For years in the central leadership of the party, the central political nucleus had been Burnham, Shachtman and Cannon. They took two out of the three. They had a majority of the Political Committee of the party as it was constituted up to the outbreak of the fight in September 1939. We had to reorganize the Political Committee at the Plenum in October 1939 in order to establish the majority rule in the PC.
Shachtman and Burnham were by no means mere ornaments in the Political Committee. They were the editors of the magazine and of the paper, and they did practically all the literary work. There was a division of labor between them and me, whereby I took care of the organizational and trade union direction, administration and finances – and all the rest of the chores that intellectuals don’t like to bother with as a rule, – and they did the writing, most of it. And when they were on the right line they wrote very well, as you know.
So in 1940 there was a real split, not only in the political leadership but in the working cadre as well. At the time of the split there was a lot of apprehension on the part of some of our comrades. What in the devil would we do without these first class intellectual forces, efficient writers, etc.? And there was great jubilation on their part, and a profound conviction that we would never be able to get along because they took all the writers.
Why, practically all the comrades who are now leading the party and doing all the work of the leading cadre – very few of them were even members of the National Committee at that time. Those who were members, were only getting their first experience and had not yet gained recognition as writers, orators and politicians. Comrade Dobbs, for example, coming out of the mass movement, had been only a couple of months in New York. A number of other comrades, who were members or alternates of the National Committee, had not yet considered themselves or been considered as actual members of the leading political cadre of the party. In 1940 the split of the cadre went right down the middle.
And then there was a third feature of the 1940 split. The petty-bourgeois opposition went out of the party with the majority of the youth who, as Comrade Dobbs said, have more bounce to the ounce. They were confident that with their dynamism, with their ability to jump and run, with their conception of a “campaign party,” and with their writers – they would soon show that they could build a party faster, bigger, better – and in every other California way – than we could. We didn’t agree with them, but that’s what they started with.
And don’t forget, they started almost the next week with a new party. They called it the “Workers Party” and they came out with a new weekly paper and with a magazine which they stole from us. For a considerable period they thought they were serious rivals of ours in the struggle for the allegiance of the workers’ vanguard in this country. That is what we were up against in 1940. We had to take a new cadre of previously inexperienced comrades and push them into places of responsibility in the Political Committee and the press, and begin their training for leadership in the fire of struggle.
The 1953 split is quite different in various respects. First, I mentioned size. It is much smaller. Second, the cadre is not split down the middle this time, as might appear to some people when they see these names – Cochran, Clarke, Bartell, Frankel, and so on. They are talented people; they were part of the cadre; but not an indispensable part. We have had five months of experience of the “cold split” since the May Plenum to test that out. During that entire period the Cochranites have done no constructive party work whatever. Inspired by the Great God Pablo, they have devoted their efforts exclusively to factionalism, obstruction of party work and sabotage of party finances. And what has been the result? We have found in the five months since the May Plenum that these people are in no way indispensable to the literary work of the party, to the political work of the party, to the organizational work of the party, or to the financial support of the party.
The party has been rolling along without them and despite them for five months. The split of the cadre turned out to be a splinter. We tested it out for five months in a cold split before we finally confronted it in a hot split, and we know. There will be absolutely no disruption in the leadership, no scurrying around to find who is going to fill the places vacated by these former Trotskyists turned revisionists. The places are already filled, filled to overflowing, so to speak. Everything is going OK. That’s the experience of the drawn-out cold split since May.
Third, nobody can imagine these people even daring to contemplate the idea of launching a new party and an agitational paper First of all, they don’t believe in their own capacity to build a party. Second, they don’t believe in the capacity of anybody to build a party. And in the third place, they don’t believe in a revolutionary vanguard party. So they are not going to confront us with a rival party, claiming to be the Trotskyist vanguard and the nucleus of the future mass party of the revolution.
They are, in their own maximum optimistic plans, aiming at a small propaganda circle which will publish a little magazine, in which they will observe and analyze and explain things for the benefit of the “sophisticated political elements,” i.e. the Stalinists and “progressive” labor skates. Sideline critics, observers, analysts and abstainers – that is the kind of an opposition they will present to us. No rival party.
They will not be an obstacle to us in our struggle as a party in election campaigns – because they don’t believe in election campaigns. In the first period after we split with the Shachtmanites they used to run their own candidates against us in New York and other places; and in general they tried to compete with us, their party against our party. That will not be the case with the Cochranites. If we want to have any debates with these people, I think we will have to hunt them up wherever they may be hiding. And in some places that is going to be a difficult proposition, especially in Detroit and San Francisco.
A factional struggle is a test of leadership. Factional struggle is a part of the process of building the revolutionary party of the masses; not the whole of the struggle, but a part of it.
Some comrades, especially mass workers, who want to be all the time busy with their constructive work, who are upset and irritated by arguments, squabbles and faction fights, have to learn that they can’t have peace in the party unless they fight for it. Factional struggle is one way of getting peace.
The party, as you know, enjoyed internal peace and solidarity over that entire period from 1940 to 1951; eleven years, barring that little skirmish with Goldman and Morrow, which did not amount to much – eleven years of peace and normal internal life. This “long peace” carried the party through the war, the trial and the imprisonment of the 18, the post-war boom and the first period of the witch-hunt. That internal peace and solidarity didn’t fall from the sky. It was not “given” to us. We fought for it and secured it by the factional battle with the petty-bourgeois opposition in the eight months from September 1939 to April 1940.
Every serious factional struggle, properly directed by a conscious leadership, develops in progressive stages; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and at every stage of the struggle the leadership is put to a test. Without a conscious leadership, factionalism can devour and destroy a party. Headless factionalism, sometimes even the smallest squabble, can tear a party to pieces. We have seen this happen more than once. Everything depends on the leaders, on their consciousness. They must know how and when to begin the faction fight; how to conduct it; and how and when to finish it.
The first two stages of the struggle against the revisionist-liquidators in the SWP – the beginning and the middle – are already behind us. Now comes the end. We will have plenty of time to reflect on the experiences of the first two stages later. I think it would be ill-advised and worse than a waste of time, at this stage of final action in finishing the fight, to begin reminiscing and examining how many mistakes were made, and who made this and that mistake, and so on.
The essential thing is that the leading cadre of the party as a whole saw the problem in time, took hold of the situation and brought it out in the open, for five months of free discussion. Then, at the May Plenum we offered the minority a truce in order to give them a chance to reconsider their course or to establish the issues more clearly in objective discussion. Then, when the Cochranites broke the truce, we went through five months of the “cold split,” and finally brought it to an end at the Plenum.
All that was done successfully, without disrupting or demoralizing the party. That is the essential thing. We can leave for later the reminiscences or examinations or analyses of whether a little mistake was made here and there by this one or that one. That does not count now. The third point is what counts now -how to finish the faction fight. And here again it is a question of leadership.
Leadership is the one unsolved problem of the working class of the entire world. The only barrier between the working class of the world and socialism is the unsolved problem of leadership. That is what is meant by “the question of the party.” That is what the Transition Program means when it states that the crisis of the labor movement is the crisis of leadership. That means, that until the working class solves the problem of creating the revolutionary party, the conscious expression of the historic process which can lead the masses in struggle, the issue remains undecided. It is the most important of all questions – the question of the party.
And if our break with Pabloism, as we see it now clearly; if it boils down to one point and is concentrated in one point, that is it – it is the question of the party. That seems clear to us now, as we have seen the development of Pabloism in action. The essence of Pabloist revisionism is the overthrow of that part of Trotskyism which is today its most vital part – the conception of the crisis of mankind as the crisis of the leadership of the labor movement summed up in the question of the party.
Pabloism aims not only to overthrow Trotskyism; it aims to overthrow that part of Trotskyism which Trotsky learned from Lenin. Lenin’s greatest contribution to his whole epoch was his idea and his determined struggle to build a vanguard party capable of leading the workers in revolution. And he did not confine his theory to the time of his own activity. He went all the way back to 1871, and said that the decisive factor in the defeat of the first proletarian revolution, the Paris Commune, was the absence of a party of the revolutionary Marxist vanguard, capable of giving the mass movement a conscious program and a resolute leadership. It was Trotsky’s acceptance of this part of Lenin in 1917, that made Trotsky a Leninist.
That is written into the Transition Program, that Leninist concept of the decisive role of the revolutionary party. And that is what the Pabloites are throwing overboard in favor of the conception that the ideas will somehow filter into the treacherous bureaucracy, the Stalinists or reformists, and in some way or another, “In the Day of the Comet,” the socialist revolution will be realized and carried through to conclusion without a revolutionary Marxist, that is, a Leninist-Trotskyist party. That is the essence of Pabloism. Pabloism is the substitution of a cult and a revelation for a party and a program.
The problem of the party has another aspect. The problem of the party is the problem of the leadership of the party. I believe, that just as truly as the problem of the party is the problem the working class has to solve before the struggle against capitalism can be definitively successful – the problem of the party is the problem of the leadership of the party.
You cannot build a revolutionary party without the program. We all know that. In time the program will create the party. But herein is precisely the role of conscious leaders – to save time. Time is “of the essence” in this epoch when years count for centuries. It is certainly difficult to build a party without leadership, without cadres. As a matter of fact it can’t be done.
Look over the world, look over all the experiences of the last quarter of a century, in one country after another, where the writings and teachings of Trotsky were available, where the program was known, and what do you see? Where they lacked the leaders to build the party, where they lacked cadres, the party did not amount to much. On the other hand, those parties which threw up leaders capable of working together as a cadre remained firm and solid and consciously prepared their future.
The leading cadre plays the same, decisive role in relation to the party that the party plays in relation to the class. Those who try to break up the historically created cadres of the Trotskyist parties, as the Pabloites are doing in one country after another, are in reality aiming to break up the parties and to liquidate the Trotskyist movement. Take note: I said “trying” and “aiming,” I didn’t say “succeeding.” They will not succeed. The Trotskyist parties will liquidate the liquidators, and the SWP has the high historic privilege of setting the example.
Given the program, the construction of leading cadres is the key to the construction of revolutionary parties; and the former requires an even higher degree of consciousness and a more deliberate design than the latter. Of course, every party in every generation since the Communist Manifesto has had a leadership of a sort. But there has been very little consciousness about its selection, and for that reason, among others, the real problem remained unsolved. The experiences of the past in this respect are rich in lessons on the theme of what not to do.
The present generation of the revolutionary vanguard, which has the benefit of Lenin and Trotsky, has the supreme duty now to examine the tragic mistakes of the past in this respect in order to avoid them and to replace haphazard methods by a conscious theory and a deliberate design in the construction of leading cadres.
First, and perhaps worst, of the kinds of party leadership which we have seen and known, even in the Fourth International, is the unplanned leadership of talented individual stars, pulling in opposite directions, squandering their energies in personal rivalries, quarrelling over trifles, and incapable of organizing a sensible division of labor. That has been the tragic experience of many sections of the Fourth International, in particular of the French section. I don’t know how things are in France today, but I do know that the French section of the Fourth International will never become a real party until it learns to discipline its individual star performers and make them work together.
A second kind of leadership is the leadership of a clique. In every leadership clique there is a certain coordination, a certain organization and division of labor, and it sometimes looks good – while it lasts. But a clique is bound together by personal associations – what Trotsky, who hated cliques, called “chumminess” – and has in it, by that very fact, a fatal flaw – that it can be broken up by personal quarrels. That is the inevitable fate of every political clique.
There is no such thing, and can be no such thing as a permanent clique, no matter what good friends and chums may be drawn together in a tight, exclusive circle and say to themselves: “Now we have everything in our hands and we are going to run things fine.” The great winds and waves of the class struggle keep beating upon this little clique. Issues arise. Personal difficulties and frictions develop. And then come personal quarrels and squabbles, meaningless faction fights and senseless splits, and the clique ends in disaster. The party cannot be led by a clique. Not for very long, anyway.
There is a third method of leadership which I will confess to you frankly I noticed only after I passed my sixtieth birthday. That is the leadership of a cult. I will admit that I lived sixty years in this world before I stumbled over the fact that there are such things as political cults. I began rubbing my eyes when I saw the Johnsonites operating in our party. I saw a cult bound to a single person, a sort of Messiah. And I thought, “I’ll be damned. You’re never too old to learn something new.”
A cult requires unthinking fools for the rank and file. But that is not all. In order for a cult to exist, it is not enough for a leader to have personal followers – every leader has personal influence more or less – but a cult leader has to :be a cultist himself. He has to be a megalomaniac who gets revelations outside the realm of reality. A megalomaniacal cult leader is liable to jump in any direction at any time, and all the cultists automatically follow, as sheep follow the bellwether, even into the slaughter house.
That is what happened with the Johnsonites. The cult followed Johnson, not simply for his theory of the Soviet Union – other people have that theory; a lot of people in the world have that theory about “state capitalism.” The Johnsonites were personal cultist followers of Johnson as a Messiah; and when he finally gave the signal for them to jump out of this party for reasons known only to himself, but allegedly because of some personal grievance he imagined, of which they had no knowledge and which they had just heard about, they all left the party at the same hour, Eastern Standard Time. That is a cult. The Pabloite cult, like any other, is capable of jumping in any direction at any time, whenever the leader gets a revelation. You cannot trust the party of the workers’ vanguard to a cult or a cultist leader.
There is a fourth method of leadership which has been very common. I have seen much of it in my time – that is the leadership of a permanent faction. Here is something that we have to be on our guard about, because we have just gone through a very severe faction fight, and in the course of the fight we have become tightly bound together. It is absolutely necessary for the leadership to see clearly what a temporary faction is, what its legitimate purposes are, what its limits are, and the danger of the faction hardening into permanence.
There is no greater abomination in the workers’ political movement than a permanent faction. There is nothing that can demoralize the internal life of a party more efficiently than a permanent faction. You may say, that is contradicted by the experience of Lenin. Didn’t he organize a faction in 1903, the Bolshevik faction, and didn’t that remain a hard and fast faction all the way up to the revolution? Not entirely. The faction of Lenin, which split with the Mensheviks in 1903, and subsequently had negotiations with them and at various times united with them in a single party, but nevertheless remained a faction, was a faction only in its outward form.
In the essence of the matter, the nucleus of the Bolshevik Party of the October Revolution was the Lenin Bolshevik faction. It was a party. And the proof of the fact that it was a party and not an exclusive faction of Lenin was that within the Bolshevik faction there were different tendencies. There were left-wing and right-wing Bolsheviks. At times some of them openly polemicized with Lenin. The Bolsheviks even had splits and re-unifications among themselves. Lenin did not consider the Bolshevik faction something he was going to keep with him all his life as a closed corporation.
In the decisive days of 1917 when he brought out his April Theses, he showed that his conception was really that of a party by uniting with Trotsky, which made all the difference in the world. It was a party action. And a few months later, when Zinoviev and Kamenev, the very closest collaborators of Lenin, went wrong on the insurrection, he combined with Trotsky to smash them. Lenin’s faction was in reality a party.
We have seen factions which grew out of a separate struggle, crystallized and hardened, and held together after the issues which brought them into being no longer existed. That was in the old Communist Party.
Its leading cadre, as a whole, was a fusion of people with different backgrounds. There were the New Yorkers, and some others, who came out of the Socialist Party, whose experience had been in the field of parliamentary socialism, election campaigns, etc. – a purely “political” grouping. Ruthenberg, Lovestone, etc., represented this background. There was another tendency in the party represented by the “Westerners” – those who had a syndicalist background, a background of work in the trade union movement, in strikes, in the “direct action” of the class struggle. Foster, Bill Dunne, Swabeck, myself, etc., represented this origin.
We naturally formed different tendencies – each partly right and partly wrong – and from the beginning were always in skirmishes with each other. Eventually these tendencies hardened into factions. Then later, – after several years of experience, we learned from each other and the real differences narrowed down. But the faction formations remained. Time after time, the two factions would agree on what was to be done; agree on every resolution for the convention; and still the factions would continue to exist.
In such circumstances the factions degenerated into gangs struggling for power, and the degeneration of the Communist Party was greatly facilitated by that. The Comintern should have helped us to unify the cadre, but instead it fed the flames of factionalism in order to fish in the troubled waters to create its own Stalinist faction. Those were bitter times. I began to rebel against that sterile kind of struggle and I made several attempts – years before we were thrown out of the party for Trotskyism – I made several attempts to break up the politically senseless faction formations. A number of us broke away from the Foster gang and formed a separate grouping and united with a group that Weinstone had split off from the Lovestoneites, with the same revolt against this purposeless gang factionalism. We formed a “middle grouping” with the slogan: “Dissolve the factions.”
We carried on a fight for a couple of years to dissolve the factions into the party. But by that time both the Lovestoneites and the Fosterites had become so hardened in the gang and clique spirit that it was impossible to do it. That contributed to the degeneration of the Communist Party, because permanent factions become cliques and they exclude everybody else. If a permanent faction happens to get control of the leadership of the party and runs the party as a faction, it is bound to exclude others from any real place in the leadership. By that very fact it drives the others into the organization of counter-cliques and counter-factions, and there is no longer a single cadre in the leadership of the party. We saw that happen in the CP. We have to learn something from that experience.
In our party, basing ourselves on our experiences and our studies, we have had a conception of the leadership not as a number of uncoordinated individual stars; not as a clique; not – in God’s name – as a cult; and not as a permanent faction. Our conception of the leadership is that of a leading cadre.
It is a conscious design, patiently worked at for years and years. A leading cadre, in our conception, has the following basic characteristics: It consists of people who are, first of all, united on the program; not on every single question that arises in daily work but united on the basic program of Trotskyism. That is the beginning.
The second feature is that the leading cadre is an inclusive and not an exclusive selection. It does not have a fixed membership, but deliberately keeps the door open all the time for the inclusion of new people, for the assimilation and development of others, so that the leading cadre is flexibly broadening in numbers and in influence all the time.
Our cadre has another feature. It constructs the National Committee as a widely democratic representation of the party. I do not know how the leadership is constructed in other parties, but our party here is not led exclusively by the central political working group in New York. The leadership, we have always emphasized, is not the Secretariat. It is not the Political Committee. It is not the Editorial Board. It is the Plenum. The Plenum includes the Secretariat, the Political Committee and the Editorial Board, plus the leading comrades from all the districts of the party.
These district representatives, as you know, are not handpicked in New York and promoted by special maneuvers. We all know how to do that sort of thing and deliberately refrain from doing it. The central leaders never interfere with the deliberations of the nominating commission at party conventions. The district representatives are freely selected by the delegates from their districts and confirmed by the nominating commission. They really represent their branches or locals, and when they sit in the Plenum you have a really democratic representation of the entire party. That is one reason why our Plenums have such a commanding authority in the party.
When the Plenum meets, we can say that we are the leadership because we really are. It is a small convention every time we have a meeting of the Plenum of the National Committee. That is part of our deliberate program of constructing a representative leadership which is democratically controlled.
A third feature of our conception of the cadre, which we work on consciously and deliberately all the time, is to cultivate among all the leading people the ability to work together; not to be individual stars; not to be wiseacres who make problems of themselves – but people who fit into a machine; work with others; recognize the merits and respect the opinions of others; recognize that there is no such thing as an unimportant person, that anybody who stands for the program and is sent into the National Committee by his branch or local has got something to give. The task of the central leaders of the party is to open the door for him, find out what he can do, and help him to train himself to do better in the future.
The ability to work together is an essential feature of our conception of the leading cadre, and the next feature is that of a division of labor. It is not necessary for one or two wise guys to know everything and do everything. It is much better, much firmer, much surer if you have a broad selection of people, each one of whom contributes something to the decisions and does a specially selective work for which he is qualified, and coordinates his work with others.
I must say, I take great satisfaction in the way the leading cadre of our party has evolved and developed in the period since the open fight with the Pablo-Cochran revisionists began. I think they have given the world movement a model demonstration of a strong group of people, of varied talents and experiences, learning how to coordinate their efforts, divide the labor between them, and work collectively so that the strength of each one becomes the strength of all. We end up with a powerful machine, which combines the merits of all its individual members into a multiplied power.
And you not only combine the merits and get good out of them. You can sometimes also get good and positive results from a combination of faults. That also takes place in a properly organized and coordinated cadre. That thought was expressed to me in a letter from Trotsky. What I am telling you here is not exclusively what I have seen and experienced and thought up an my own head. It is not only the experience, but also a great deal of personal instruction from Trotsky. He formed the habit of writing to me very often after he found out that I was willing to listen and did not take offense at friendly criticism.
He kept advising me all the time about the problems of leadership. As far back as 1935 and 1936, in the fight with the Musteites and the Oehlerites, he gave us such advice. He always referred to Lenin, how Lenin had put his cadre together. He said, Lenin would take one man who had an impulse for action, smelled opportunities and had a tendency to run ahead of himself, and balance him off against a man who was a little more cautious – and the compromise between the two got a balanced decision, which redounded to the benefit of the party.
He told me, for example, in one letter where he was advising me to be very careful and not to make an exclusive slate for the Committee, and not to eliminate people who have some faults which I especially don’t like, such as hesitation, conciliationism and indecisiveness in general; he said, you know Lenin used to say about Kamenev, that he was a constitutional vacillator; he always tended at the moment of decision to “soften up,” to vacillate and conciliate. Kamenev, as a matter of fact, belonged to the faction of Bolshevik conciliators in the period after 1907 to 1917, with a tendency toward conciliation with the Mensheviks, but he remained in the Bolshevik Party.
And Lenin used to say – as Trotsky explained it to me – we need Kamenev in the Central Committee because his tendency to waver and conciliate is the reflection of a certain tendency of that kind in the party ranks that we want to keep our finger on. When Kamenev speaks we know that there is a certain sentiment within the party of the same kind that we have to take into consideration. And while we do not accept Kamenev’s wavering and conciliationism, we go slow and take it into account because when we move we want to take the whole party with us. If he raises too many objections, we stop awhile and devote a little more time to education in the party ranks to make sure that our ranks will be solid.
Our strength is in our combination, both of our faults and of our virtues. That, taken on the whole, is what I call the cadre concept of leadership. This cadre, for the last year almost, has been constituted as a faction – that is, the great majority of the cadre. We have engaged in a faction struggle. But what was that cadre organized into a faction for? It was not the whole cadre; it was the majority, but not all. It didn’t include the comrades from Buffalo and Youngstown – there were some differences there at first but they have been virtually eliminated in the course of the struggle; the decisions of this Plenum are all unanimous.
But at the start, the majority of the cadre constituted itself into a faction, meeting by itself, making its own decisions, and so on.
However, this faction was not formed for the purpose of having a faction. It was not formed as a permanent combination of good fellows who are going to stick together from now to doomsday and not let anybody else join. It is not a gang, nor a clan, nor a clique. It is just simply a politico-military organization formed for a certain purpose. But what was the purpose? The purpose was to defeat and isolate the revisionist faction of Pablo-Cochran. That aim has been achieved.
That being the case, what is the duty of this faction now? Are we going to hold together for old time’s sake, form a sort of “Grand Army of the Republic” – the only ones allowed to wear ribbons, demand special privileges and honors? No. The duty of this faction now is to say: “The task is finished, the faction is no longer needed, and the faction must be dissolved into the party.” The leadership of the party belongs henceforth to the cadre as a whole, assembled at this Plenum. All problems, all questions for discussion, should be taken directly into the party branches.
I would like to start off this new stage of party life by announcing here, in the name of the majority faction of the National Committee, its unanimous decision: The majority faction that was formed for the purposes of the struggle, having accomplished its task, thereby dissolves itself into the party.
Last updated on: 14 April 2009