James P. Cannon

The Party ‘Discussion’ Opens

Written: 1928
First Published: The Militant, New York, Volume 1, No. 2, December 1, 1928
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters
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After not a little delay, occasioned by the customary cabling back and forth, by cabled appeals of protest by the Foster group which were rejected over the same cables, the statement of the Lovestone-Pepper CEC on our declaration and expulsion was published in the Daily Worker on November 16.

The statement of the party majority covers much paper, but it had no space to answer the criticisms of the Opposition on a single point. Our declaration raised principled questions. They answered with an administrative instruction to the party to expel all those who share our views. We said what everybody knows, that the questions have never been discussed, and we demanded a discussion. They replied, “The discussion is closed.” We said the position of the Russian Opposition has been correct on all important questions; we gave reasons for our statement and demanded the right to defend these views in the preconvention [discussion]. They disposed of this political proposal with legalistic references to the decisions of the Communist International.

Such, in brief, is the political content of the long-delayed and much labored-over statement of the Lovestone-Pepper faction, which, by grace of Bukharin, constitutes the majority of our Central Executive Committee. We might add that, as an extraordinary concession on their part (and considering the fact that the party members had already read it in The Militant), they printed our statement to the Polcom, including even a paragraph which we, for party reasons, had thought best to eliminate from publication.

They merely recite that the CI has decided against the Trotsky platform—a fact which everybody knew before—and pass that off for an answer to the principled arguments of the Opposition. The merits of the decision of the CI, which all communists have a right and duty to discuss and which is the real point of dispute, are not defended by one word of the statement. Thus the pedagogical overseers show their contemptuous estimate of the party members. They do not consider it necessary for the party comrades to know for themselves the issues involved. The party comrades are merely informed of the decisions—discussion is not allowed.

The bureaucrats who rule by decree set up a conception of the Comintern which Lenin never knew. Instead of a living body of revolutionaries generalizing from world experience, as Lenin conceived the Comintern, they want to palm it off as an institution which decides, while the party members need only to be informed of the decisions. The teachings of Marx and Lenin on the centralized international organization of the communist workers are completely lost in such a conception.

In this caricature of Leninism, the communist who knows for himself and defends his position because he knows, is thrown aside in favor of the one who does not know and asks no questions. In such a scheme there is no recognition of the possibilities of errors and no provision for a correction of them. Tomorrow they will go a step further—indeed they have already started on this path—and attempt to establish the same relationship between the party members and the CEC of the party. Then the Foster group, which is now helping to establish this principle which denies our right to criticize the decisions of the Comintern, will be repaid for “faithful service” in the form of an instruction to cease criticism of the decisions of the CEC regardless of the errors contained in them—the greater the error, the less the right to criticize. As for the ordinary worker in the party ranks who has no faction behind him, his right to open his mouth ceased long ago.

”The Communist Party is not a debating society.” Behind this statement, true enough in itself, all the bureaucrats who fear discussion seek to hide their incompetence. We communists are not a group of interminable debaters. Neither are we an army of voting robots. The automatic hand raiser is no communist any more than the undisciplined, endless talker. The one of these conceptions is just as far away from Leninism as the other. We hold to the principle of democratic centralism just as firmly as we reject the suppression of discussion and the substitution of official commands for ideological and political leadership.

The great principled questions raised by the Russian Opposition—questions of decisive importance for the whole future of the world proletarian revolution—have never been fairly and fully discussed in any party of the Comintern, including our own party, and consequently, have been decided wrongly. This is the essence of the matter, which the statement of the Lovestone majority ignores entirely because it is fatal for their whole case. The party comrades do not know the issues from all sides, and cannot know them, for the reason that the material of the Opposition was not published—it was suppressed. There has been no real and serious discussion in the party—it was prohibited. The communist militants who have had the opportunity to read the documents and learn the truth are not allowed to speak within the party—they are expelled.

The Foster group, which had the honor of carrying the “information” against us to Lovestone and Pepper, received their reward in the statement: a condescending pat on the back, which was no doubt appreciated, even if it was accompanied by a rough box on the ear, to say nothing of a number of boots to the bottom.

The difficulties of the Foster group arise out of the contradictions in its position. It is claimed that Christ wrought miracles, but we do not believe that even he ever succeeded in riding two horses going in opposite directions at the same time. The Foster group took a forward step when it united with us in the fight against the right wing (joint fight against the Panken maneuver,8 common platform at the February and May plenary meetings of the Central Executive Committee, common platform on “The Right Danger in the American Party,” etc.).

Its failure to develop the international implications of our common opposition stand, its failure to see that the problems of our party and the fight against its right-wing leadership are indissolubly bound up with the Bolshevik fight of the Russian Opposition, arrested the forward development of the Foster group and prepared the ground for its disintegration. Its pitiful, if short-lived, attempt to out-do the opportunist leadership in demagogy against the Russian Opposition and against us, only sharpened its contradictions and made its whole position politically impossible. Those who do not stand clearly on principles, foresee their implications, and understand their logic are bound to play a sorry role when principled questions are placed on the agenda.

The resolution of the District Executive Committee of New York, under the direct inspiration of the Central Executive Committee majority, demands that the Foster opposition repudiate the statement “The Right Danger in the American Party” if it really wants to fight “Trotskyism,” and logically so. The Lovestone-Pepper group of opportunists represents on an American scale what the opportunist opponents and calumniators of the Russian Opposition represent on a Russian and international scale. The Lovestone faction leaders are merely the American representatives of the anti-Trotsky faction in the Communist International, and have been imposed upon the party by it. They are not and never can be leaders of our party in their own right. On the other hand, the course of the American Opposition, insofar as it develops consistently, merges with the path of the Russian Opposition. This is the logic of the whole situation. Between these two stools there is no place to sit.

The Foster group, by its present policy, weakens itself, strengthens the right-wing leadership, and confuses the party. They take part, shame-faced and utterly contemptible, in the obscene lynching campaign against us, saying we have no right to oppose the decision of the Communist International on the Russian questions. The right-wing leaders retort: “Very good. We appreciate your help in lynching and expelling communists by wholesale, but the same rule you are supporting applies to you also. You have no right to oppose the decision of the Communist International on the American question. Your own expulsion is next on the agenda.”

And why should they not speak this way? Is there some secret paragraph of the statutes of the Communist International which says that the decision on the Russian question is sacred and may not even be discussed under penalty of expulsion, while the decision on the American question may be opposed with impunity? These decisions are to a large extent bound together. For our part we are against both and openly say so.

We have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the supporters of the Foster group—above all its proletarian and nonbureaucratized section—will soon find the right way out of the present dilemma. In the interest of the party, the sooner the better. The first step on this path will be to break with the tactic of trailing after the expulsion policy of the right-wing splitters and to take up the struggle against it.

The statement of the CEC majority says: “We feel confident on the basis of our experiences during the attack of the government in 1919-20, when the party was driven underground—that the core of the party and its leadership are sound.”

This can be said only with certain qualifications, which, in the interest of historical truth, must be mentioned. It is true that the core of the party membership, the expelled communists among them, held their ground in those days of trial. We, with them, stood at our posts and faced the raids, arrests, and indictments, as the record shows. This is true also of a section of the present leadership. But others of the present leadership—and not the least prominent ones—played the part of cowards, for whom the record of that time of trial by fire is a record not of glory but of shame. Those for whom history holds no honor should not write it.

The statement of Lovestone and Pepper entirely evades discussion of the principled issues raised by our stand for the Russian Opposition. It sets up the false theory of the Comintern as a bureaucratic machine. It makes unfortunate reference to party history where silence would have been wise. But it is the section of the statement dealing with the question of the “right danger” which most clearly and obviously stamps the whole document as the work of cynical charlatans—of people who imagine that facts may be turned upside down, that black may be made to appear white, and that any kind of fraud may be perpetrated if only one has a monopolistic control of the party press and if nobody’s memory reaches back further than a month or two. With an ironical grin the opportunists declare war on opportunism; the bureaucrats demand the extermination of bureaucratism.

Our document “The Right Danger in the American Party,” which sums up a long struggle against the opportunist policies of the present leadership of our party, deals quite fully and adethis question, as will be seen by a study of it. It explains the economic and political basis of the right danger in the present period and proves the opportunist line of the Lovestone group in its general conceptions and concretely in every field of party work.

Our document does not rest on general assertions. Facts and documents from the party records are cited in each case—minutes, resolutions, articles, speeches, etc. One need only refer to the support of the Socialist faker Panken in the election last fall; the motion to send comrades into the Socialist Party to “bore from within”; the refusal to support a national left-wing conference in the miners’ union until the strike was a year old and had spent its force;9 the opposition to the policy of organizing the unorganized into new unions—to mention only a few examples of the systematic opportunism of the party leadership, cited in our document, to show that the struggle within the party, which now takes on a sharper form, has not been waged over trifles.

Our “factionalism” has consisted of a stubborn daily fight against the opportunist course of the majority in the above. mentioned and in all other cases. In the Political Committee, at the February plenum, at the May plenum, and at the Sixth World Congress, the opposition fought on this line and proved its indictment of the right-wing leaders to the hilt.

The present declaration of the CEC majority on the question of the right danger must be taken together with its previous attitude. Before the Sixth Congress and at the Sixth Congress, they denied the existence of such a danger. They formed a close unity with all the extreme right elements in the party and defended all their own opportunist mistakes. They claimed that America was “exempted” from the international situation in this respect.

Under pressure of our hammering, our analysis, our elucidation of the problems, the fact of the right danger was indisputably established and was formally recognized by the Sixth Congress. It might be supposed that such an outcome would create an impossible situation for the “leaders” whose calculations had all been directly opposite, who had been following a right-wing line and firing only against the left. But our adepts in the art of political legerdemain were not even embarrassed. They solved the whole problem for themselves by turning around and immediately starting to pull their own right-wing rabbits out of our hat.

They forgot, and they expect the party to forget, everything they have done and said and written for more than a year. All the opportunist blunders (and worse than blunders) which they have committed or condoned, which we criticized and which they defended or denied, are now admitted and attributed to us as “Trotskyism,” as “outright opportunism.”

Let the party member who claims the right to read and think for himself turn to our document “The Right Danger in the American Party,” submitted to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International at a time when the opportunist leaders were still denying the existence of such a problem. He will find there a catalog of all the features of opportunism in our party which are cited in the CEC statement (and many more which it still tries to conceal), with documentary proof in each case of the responsibility of the authors of the CEC statement for these systematic opportunist crimes and mistakes.

The Lovestone-Pepper group of leaders, like their counterparts in other parties of the Comintern, like all opportunists and bureaucrats, rely on suppression of discussion and expulsion to maintain themselves in power. They want a party without any democratic rights of the members. They want a party with a sterile inner life. They want a party where the voice of the proletarian communist will be silenced. They want a party of passive hand raisers at the bottom and a petty-bourgeois clique of insolent bureaucrats at the top.

This is the real meaning of our expulsion, of the mass expulsion of rank-and-file communists, of the vile calumny heaped upon all those who dare to stand up and challenge them.

The fight against such a regime in the party and in the Communist International is an urgent revolutionary task. The proletarian masses in the party must awaken and take up this fight. They must break through the bureaucratic crust which has formed on top of the party and restore a normal party life in accord with Lenin’s teaching. To help bring about this awakening we addressed our statement to the Political Committee with a full realization of the consequences. With the help of the communist workers in the ranks of the party we will continue to fight along this line until our aims are achieved.