James P. Cannon

A Letter to Roger Baldwin

On Stalinist-Pacifist Relations
at the Anti-War Conference

(August 1932)

Written: 9 August 1932
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 33 (Whole No. 129), 13 August 1932, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2014).
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August 9, 1932

Mr. Roger Baldwin, Director
American Civil Liberties Union
New York City

My dear Baldwin,

You left the antiwar conference at the Labor Temple last night after your opening speech as the representative of the “American Committee for the World Congress Against War.” Allow me to inform you of what transpired after your departure and to put some questions to you.

Two resolutions were presented for consideration – the official (pacifist) resolution presented in the name of your committee, and a different resolution, outlining the Leninist program for the fight against war, presented by the delegation of the Communist Left Opposition (Bolshevik-Leninists).

The floor was then given to a number of speakers who defended the official resolution and attacked the resolution of the Left Opposition. Pacifists, “left” Socialists, official Communists, and others spoke. The leader of the attack on the Leninist resolution, appropriately enough, was 0lgin – the same 0lgin whom you will remember as the ardent patriot who attacked the Lenin program in 1917–18 from the standpoint of Wilson’s “14 points.” Our request for the floor to defend our resolution and answer the attacks made against it was refused by the chairman.

Was it a pre-arranged plan on your part to leave the meeting and thus give tacit support to the steamrolling of the Bolshevik-Leninists? Or did you have other engagements more important and more pressing at the moment than the question of the fight against war and the principle of free speech in a movement under your leadership?

I am inclined to the first assumption. And, from a political point of view, your indirect support of the suppression of the Left Opposition at the conference is quite comprehensible. You, and the tendency you represent – pacifism – were indubitably the victors at the conference. In the united front between the Stalinists and the pacifists in the antiwar movement, the Stalinists have yielded the principal positions all along the line, from Paris to New York. The program, the character of the preparatory propaganda, and the leadership are pacifist. In return for these concessions you allow the Stalinists to manipulate the movement organizationally and to suppress the voice of the Left Opposition, which they fear more than anything else. That is what your united front looks like to us.

It must be admitted, again from a political point of view, that you and your fellow-thinkers have made an excellent bargain. We cannot condemn it on those grounds, for we have never put the question of free speech and democracy as the fundamental question. We have stated more than once that we could reconcile ourselves even to bureaucracy if it could be demonstrated that it serves a revolutionary end. It is precisely because the Stalinist bureaucracy works in an opposite direction, because it serves as a blind instrument of reaction, that we oppose it so intransigently.

But some clarification is needed as to your position. Hitherto you have defended free speech as a principle, even to the extent of demanding it for the Mensheviks in Russia and the Ku Klux Klan in America. That was your right, of course. But if you have modified your standpoint; if you have decided to sacrifice the principle of free speech where we are concerned, in a movement under the direction of your national committee, in return for the truly enormous concessions in principle made by the Stalinists, then you ought to make a frank public explanation of your change of position and the reason for it.

Frankness and clarity are of special importance in every aspect of the struggle against war, which incorporates at the present moment all the interests of the USSR and the world proletariat. In the struggle against war, nothing is more dangerous and disarming than ambiguity and deception. Let the position of every group be made clear in every respect! The faction to which I belong – the Bolshevik-Leninist faction – devotes itself especially to this work of clarification, not only of its own position but also of others.

In putting these questions to you, I trust you will understand that they are not meant invidiously in a personal sense. I do not doubt the sincerity of your intentions in the antiwar movement. It is your program that we oppose. It is the ambiguity as to your attitude toward the right of the Left Opposition to participate and defend its viewpoint in the conferences organized under the auspices of your national committee that we seek to clear up.

The Left Opposition is not against the participation of sincere pacifists in the anti-war conferences. It is against the pacifist program and the pacifist leadership, aided by the treacherous sanction of the Stalinist bureaucrats. To that we will always counterpose the Lenin program and the revolutionary leadership. This aim motivated our appearance at the conference last night and our request from the floor there. It will be the same in the future.

The specific question to which we desire an answer now stands: do you and the American Committee for the World Congress Against War, of which you are a prominent member, recognize our right to participate in the conferences and meetings under its direction and to defend our views there, or have you come to a tacit agreement with the Stalinists to exclude us? We will find the way to popularize the Lenin program in any case. We ask no favors. The sole object of this inquiry is clarification of your position.


James P. Cannon

Last updated on: 1.1.2014