James P. Cannon

Concerning Our Expulsion

First Publshed: The Militant, New York, Volume 2, No. 17, November 1, 1929.
Source: Original bound volumes of The Militant and microfilm provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters
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Dear Comrade (Albert Glotzer):

We were very glad to receive your letter and to hear of your reaction against our expulsion and your wish to receive more information and advice as to procedure. Enough of such letters have already been received to make it clear that the attempt to dispose of the principled questions we have raised by the simple mechanical expedient of our expulsion from the party will meet with resistance from the worker communists in the ranks.

Your statement that our expulsion took you by surprise and that the comrades there want to know more than they can learn from the official communications is echoed in other letters also, and quite naturally. Another letter, which came today from a communist coal miner, says, “At the beginning I was tremendously surprised. The entire matter hit me so hard that I don’t know whether I have come back to earth or not. “7 The people who gamble with the proletarian movement regard the expulsion of loyal fighters for the party as a clever trick, a quick and easy solution of troublesome questions. The rank-and-file militants and the serious revolutionaries who have built the movement and stood loyally by it in its hardest days will take another view in exact proportion as they learn the facts and understand the disruptive consequences of this criminal act. Our foremost task is to make these facts known to the party, and we will endeavor to do this at all cost.

The suddenness with which the whole issue has burst upon the party was unavoidable on our part. The Polcom majority declared us expelled from the party for our views without even waiting for the plenum of the Central Executive Committee, before the party members had the slightest inkling of the situation and before we had the opportunity to inform them. Their object was to confront the party members with our expulsion as an accomplished fact and then to terrorize them into an endorsement of it before the slightest information is in their hands.

They expelled us, as they have expelled many good communists before, in order to deprive us of the possibility of speaking to the party as party members. Then they tell the party it has no right to listen to us because we are not members of the party. Such shallow trickery can be based only on the most profound contempt for the intelligence of the rank and file of the party. To allow such methods to succeed would be to give the power of self-perpetuation to any clique which might gain control of the apparatus and to reduce the principle of democratic centralism to a fiction.

According to such procedure the fact of expulsion settles the question. But in the absence of any preliminary discussion, the party can decide the question wisely and responsibly only if it knows why the expulsion took place and what the expelled members have to say. A party member who does not demand that right, who keeps quiet, or who votes to endorse this act of bureaucratic disruption for fear of expulsion, is not acting like an upstanding communist whose vote means understanding and conviction.

“How does it happen that you became a supporter of the Russian Opposition and insist so categorically on the right to defend it—even up to the point of temporary expulsion from the party?&8221; This is the question asked by many comrades as well as by you. “The question is five years old, Trotsky is expelled, and the questions are settled—why bring it up again?&8221; Well, it is true that the question is old, but it is by no means settled and cannot be settled on the present basis. This is the answer. We are late in learning the truth, late with the performance of our international duty, but that is by no means entirely, or even mainly, our fault. It was possible for us to secure adequate information and judge for ourselves only recently.

We do not demand or expect anyone to accept our views on our say-so. All we ask of those who have stood closest to us in the past, and of the broad circles of the party which are being stirred to a new interest in the question by our stand and our expulsion, is that they study the question honestly and objectively on the basis of the material which we will provide. From honest study o the material will come conviction, as was the case with us. We have no doubt, either, that they will defend these convictions as we do, regardless of personal consequences, because the very essence of the matter is the overshadowing importance of the issues involved. The wisdom of our action in presenting a clear and direct statement of our position was questioned; but it seems quite clear that its correctness has already been established. The party needed an alarm bell; it needed an awakening from the stupor of factional intrigue over small questions. The party needs plain speech now above everything. Strategy, of course, is not to be excluded in such a fight, but it must be strictly subordinated to the major task of telling the truth and stimulating the party members to demand the truth. This is the real duty of leaders now. It is from this standpoint, in our opinion, that you and the other leading comrades must decide your course—from the standpoint of your responsibility as leaders to the party and to the rank-and-file comrades who have confidence in you and look to you for guidance.

It is true that the raising of the fundamental questions of Bolshevism which have arisen on an international scale over a period of five years plays havoc with second-rate and tenth-rate questions of controversy and the group which concerns itself exclusively with them. The fate of the “loyal&8221; opposition to Lovestone and Pepper is indeed a sad one. But the fate of all groups which base themselves on purely local or national issues cannot be otherwise when the larger questions are brought up.

At the Chicago DEC meeting the majority has already demanded “united support&8221; of the CEC in the fight against “Trotskyism.&8221; This only confirms what we predicted from the first. The group which wants to fight “Trotskyism&8221; and, at the same time, wants to fight the Lovestone-Pepper group, which has a copyright on that fight and makes its political living that way; the group which does not know from one day to another where the greatest danger lies and where to direct its blows—will naturally and very quickly demonstrate its complete bankruptcy. There is no place for it. Its elimination from the scene proceeds inevitably from the whole situation.

We wish to say a few words regarding the attitude of those comrades who seriously and from their own knowledge and conviction count Trotsky’s position prior to 1917 against him. Such an attitude is in no way contrary to ours. We know that Trotsky and Lenin had differences in the prerevolutionary struggle, and we know that Bolshevism took shape and the Comintern was founded on the basis of Lenin’s doctrine, to which Trotsky came over. Do we not know also that Trotsky from 1917 fought side by side with Lenin; and that even when Trotsky differed with him afterward, Lenin never allowed a campaign against him, but on the contrary placed the greatest confidence in him and helped to elevate him to the highest positions? To our own knowledge he spoke at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern as the outstanding leader (next to Lenin) and he made the main report. We know that he had fewer differences with Lenin after 1917 than any one of the leaders, although they do not tell us that in the official information.

We have not the slightest doubt, from a study of all the material dealing with the period 1917-28 that we have been able to secure, that “Trotskyism&8221; as a political tendency in conflict with Leninism was liquidated prior to the October revolution. The disputes of twenty years ago are made the center of the fight against Trotsky in recent years only because his opponents and defamers are not able to stand up against him on the actual merits of the present controversies. What is the great historic significance of the action of Zinoviev and Kamenev in uniting with Trotsky in 1926 but an acknowledgment that the campaign against “Trotskyism&8221; in 1923-25 had been a false one? Zinoviev, who above all others “educated&8221; us in this campaign, said so in so many words.

The struggle of the past five years has revolved around the living issues of the present period. It is our absolute conviction, based on the most objective study of all material we could secure—and carried on in the face previous prejudice—that on all of these basic questions of the period, the questions around which the whole life and future of the international Communist movement revolve—Trotsky has been in the main correct and the true defender of Leninism.

Regarding our expulsion and the expulsion of others which is already being prepared, a few words should be said. The great significance and unbounded consequences of such criminal acts by the Political Committee cannot be overestimated, and no kind of diplomacy or expediency will be able to subordinate such an issue. It will inevitably rise up and confront the party at every turn. The expulsion, for their views alone, of loyal communists, founders of the party, with honorable records of fifteen to twenty years of activity—in contradistinction to the shady records of many of those who expelled us—cannot be covered up or minimized by any kind of slander. For we are revolutionaries who will fight for our right to belong to the party and will not let anything tear us away from it. The Polcom “settled&8221; the question by summarily expelling us, but it will arise again immediately after the election campaign when others will demand our reinstatement and are also expelled.

Expulsion is a dangerous fire to play with in a party which has all too few forces of the kind that are being expelled, forces loyal to the party and working for its future, who have contributed not a little in building the party and establishing its prestige among the workers. As the struggle continues and our material is made available to more and more party members, the issue will grow more acute. The wholesale expulsion of proletarian fighters while the petty-bourgeois careerists and adventurers are attracted and drawn to the center—this is the only possible logic of the expulsion course initiated by the Polcom.

We do not believe it is in principle possible for any comrade who disagrees with such a course and understands its unavoidable consequences to give any kind of support to our expulsion. To say that a protest against our expulsion can be made only if one agrees with the position of the Russian Opposition on all points seems to us to be putting the question upside down. It would be more correct, to say that the expulsion can be endorsed only if one is convinced that the position is wrong on all important points and that we have become enemies of the party, which no communist adult believes.

We surely intend to advise a certain tactical line to some of the rank-and-file comrades to avoid expulsion without repudiating their principles. But leaders to whom the party is looking are duty-bound to speak clearly and tell the party just what they think, even if it is not a complete support of one position or the other. What is wrong about voting against expulsion when one does not know the facts and has not had sufficient opportunity to adopt a definite position one way or the other? What kind of an atmosphere is it in the party, what form of party democratic rights exists, when members feel compelled to vote one way or the other on the spot without any real knowledge of their own? A party uprising against this whole system will be one of the most fruitful results of our fight.

It is to be expected that those who deprived us of all rights to defend our views in the normal party way will now raise a great hue and cry because we take other means of bringing our position to the party membership. They pervert the great Leninist principle of discipline based on a correct revolutionary policy, into an instrument for shutting the mouth of the loyal party member and protecting their own opportunist policies and disloyal acts from any real criticism and exposure. Such bureaucratic machinations have nothing in common with Leninist organization principles. We would be unworthy of the name of revolutionists if we allowed our views to be suppressed by such sophistical methods.

It is only miserable bureaucrats and philistines who can keep silent about their views on principled questions. Revolutionaries advocate them. The issues of the Russian Opposition and their indissoluble connection with our own specific problems will be discussed by the party in spite of all. And it is our task to see to it that this is not a one-sided discussion, or rather distortion, of the questions, but a presentation of them to the party as they really are. The regeneration of the party and the reconstitution of its leadership on a proletarian communist basis will proceed from this.

Yours fraternally,

J. P. Cannon