James P. Cannon

Bring the Unity Negotiations into the Open!

(May 1932)

Written: May 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, pp. 1 & 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 (June 2013).
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The revelations in last week’s Militant about the secret negotiations between the [Communist] Party leaders and the expelled right wing have awakened a new interest among the Communist workers in the question of unity. And the informal discussion arising from it, according to the reports we have received, is not confined to the horse trade behind the scenes between the centrist bureaucrats and the Lovestone group. The revival of sentiment for unity with the left, that is, with the bona fide revolutionary faction, is noticeable.

There is a logic in this development that was never thought of by the machinators. In part, it is an expression of the fundamental solidarity which the proletarian militants in the party feel toward the Left Opposition It is also a sign of resentment against the undercover maneuvers to readmit the right opportunist leaders; the proletarian elements want a revolutionary counterweight in the party. Therefore, our choice will be heard in the backroom conferences, even though we are not there as invited guests. The time is opportune for a restatement of the attitude of the Left Opposition on unity.

For communists, the unity of the revolutionary vanguard is not and cannot be the basis for any kind of maneuvers. It is no object of private understandings and agreements. Unity concerns the class whose interests are bound up with the organization of its political vanguard. Only people who are in reality separated from the party and the class and freed from their control can think of discussing unity, its terms and conditions, its possibility or impossibility at the moment, in secret.

What the Left Opposition has to say on the subject needs no concealment. Unity or division, like all other vital questions of the movement, must be understood by the party and decided by the party before the eyes of the proletariat. Only so can the decisions be firmly grounded. Therefore, our first demand is a discontinuance of the whispered negotiations behind the back of the party; for the elevation of the question from the level of a deal between businessmen into a discussion of principled considerations by the entire revolutionary vanguard. Bring the unity negotiations into the open.

Since the position of the Left Opposition on the subject of party unity, as on all other important issues, is founded on principle, a consistency in its expressions on the matter from time to time can be noted. From our first statement in regard to unity at the plenum which confirmed our expulsion three and one-half years ago, through the various occasions in which we again raised the question in timely communications to the party, until the present day, we have been guided by the example and teaching of our incomparable leaders, the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists. Just as they, in their platform and in all subsequent declarations, affirmed their desire to remain in the party, and their willingness to defend their views by the normal processes of party democracy and party discipline, so we have always protested against our enforced separation from the party. We never made any special demands that were not taken for granted and enjoyed by every party member in Lenin’s time, and we do not make them now.

Our chief concern, which transcends all other considerations, is the return of the party and the Comintern to the foundation principles of Marxism. Since 1928, first within the party and afterward as an expelled group, we have advocated, on all the important questions of the day, the Marxist line of the International Left Opposition against the opportunist and adventurist zig-zags of official centrism. These views, the correctness of which has been confirmed in every case by the events of the class struggle, we still maintain. We have nothing to repent and nothing to retract.

Unity for us cannot be the formula for a reconciliation with the treacherous policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy, but a condition for the more advantageous struggle against it. The rectification of the truly enormous errors and crimes, not the least of which are the ruinous splits that have been imposed upon the workers’ vanguard, will take place only in the course of the most relentless Bolshevik fight against the bureaucrats of Stalinism, and will be finally assured only with their downfall. In order that the workers who sincerely desire the unification of the party may have no illusions as to its actual meaning, this must be said directly, openly, and plainly.

They are deceivers of the communist workers who, abusing their good will, preach “unity” and capitulate to the general sentiment for it without speaking of the principal causes of the demoralization and splits. No better are those worthless intriguants who dicker over “unity” in a dark corner without even informing the workers what is going on, like commission merchants with so many head of livestock at their disposal. No, the first step toward a genuine unification of the communist forces must he a frank statement on the different positions and the present attitude toward them. All the wishes in the world will not bring unity for struggle in any other way.

This is not to say, of course, that the differences must be settled beforehand, or that the platform of the Left Opposition must be accepted as a condition for unity. We have never demanded that. The demand of the Left Opposition is for party democracy, as Lenin’s party defined and practiced it. A free and open discussion of the disputes within the framework of the party. A convention whose delegates are fairly and honestly selected on the basis of the discussion. A leadership freely elected by the membership and subject to its control. The right of the minority to work in the party and to advance its viewpoint a second, a third, or a tenth time on proper occasion, within the limits of the party constitution. This is the way Lenin’s party clarified its policies, corrected its errors, chose its leaders, and safeguarded its unity.

Nobody has invented any other method, and nobody can. The Stalinist substitute only succeeded in derailing the party from the Marxist track, crushing the initiative of the membership, and celebrating its “monolithic unity” with split after split. It is the horrible bankruptcy of this Stalinist substitute that compels the party membership to think of unity again in terms of Leninism, and to seek a way for the inclusion of the Left Opposition.

There is no doubt that the present objective circumstances accentuate the harmful results of splits and the consequent weakening of the party before its class enemies. The sharpening of the class struggle at home, the increasingly heavy blows dealt to the militant workers by the entrenched reaction, the rumbling of impending revolutionary struggles abroad all this gives a powerful impulse to the sentiments for unity within the party ranks. The Left Opposition, which has no special interests separate from those of the class and the vanguard, will do all in its power to strengthen this current and help it to realize its aims. From this point of view the last meeting of the National Committee of the Communist League decided to approach the party once again with an appeal for unity and a series of practical proposals for its realization.

The first of these proposals, which will be transmitted to the party within the week, will ask the reinstatement of the Left Opposition without any conditions except the rights of party democracy, and with an undertaking to assume any duties or responsibilities whatever which are assigned to us by the party.

The second proposal, to be applied immediately while the matter of formal reinstatement remains pending, is that the party accept the cooperation of the Left Opposition in class-struggle actions, in the trade unions and other organizations, and on every front where the pressure of the class enemy is heaviest. The Left Opposition will take its place in the front ranks of every struggle without exception and will demonstrate its revolutionary qualities there, now as it has in the past. The Uppositionists are ready to prove by deeds their right to work with the party militants. They will prove by deeds their right to be in the party.

In the party, or temporarily outside of it, cooperating with the party in united front struggles or denied the right to participate in them—whatever the circumstances of the moment, the Left Opposition will retain its principled positions, and above all its internationalism. We are united for life and death with the true inheritors of the October revolution, the Bolshevik-Leninists of Soviet Russia and the international organization of Bolshevik-Leninists which now embraces the world. We do not seek a solution of the problem of unity on a national basis; we do not separate our cause from theirs. If we are readmitted to the American party our first demand in free discussion will be:

That and only that will give a revolutionary, international substance to the slogan of communist unity.

Last updated on: 17.6.2013