James P. Cannon

Toward the New Party

Internationalism and the A.W.P.

(March 1934)

Published: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 10, 10 March 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
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Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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As has already been reported, the National Committee of the Communist League is conducting negotiations with the Provisional Organization Committee of the American Workers’ Party. We hope for fruitful results of these negotiations and for the eventual fusion of the two organizations in the great task of launching the new patty. Such an outcome of the negotiations would undoubtedly give a tremendous impetus to the reorganization of the proletarian vanguard in America and could not be without effect internationally.

And since, in our conviction, this can only be realized if there is a firm agreement on the fundamental questions of principle – an agreement, moreover, which extends down into the ranks of both organizations – we are bringing out in a series of articles in the Militant the point of view which we are advancing in the discussions within the joint committee of the two organizations. The more openly and clearly the points of disagreement are discussed the firmer will be the foundation for eventual fusion if agreement is arrived at.

The Paramount Question

For us, the question of Internationalism is a paramount question as it has always been for revolutionary Marxists. Marx and Engels began with an international program – the Communist Manifesto. After all that has happened since, after the collapse of the Second International along the line of social patriotism and the downfall of the Comintern along the line of “socialism in one country” (national reformism), there is less ground than ever to think the problems of the proletarian revolution can be approached from a national standpoint. It is from this point of view that we raise the question of the Fourth International as a fundamental consideration in the discussion of a new party in America. We take part in the discussion of a new party in this country not merely as American revolutionists but as internationalists, as adherents of the Fourth International.

The A.W.P. Program

The programmatic statement of the American Workers Party (Toward an American Revolutionary Movement) appears to us to be inadequate and decidedly incorrect in its treatment of the international question and to chart a course which would doom the new party from its inception. The collapse of the Stalinist and Socialist parties in this country, from which the imperative necessity for a new party arises, is not due simply to “national pecularities” of these parties; it is the expression, rather, of the downfall of the internationals which they represent. Stalinism and Social Democracy are bankrupt on a world scale. A new party which emerges to challenge them must begin with this principle condemnation and then translate it into criticism of the concrete activities of these parties here at home. An “American” party, hazy about its own international position, would be obviously incapable of such a struggle.

Without exhausting the question in a single article, the mistakes of the international section of the statement of the A.W.P. may be enumerated as follows:

New Parties and New International – A Single Task

1. The building of new parties and the new international, which are inseparable bound together in a single task are counterposed as separate tasks, and the building of national parties is put in the first order. The statement speaks of “putting the cart before the horse” and adds: “The primary contribution revolutionary workers in any country can make toward building an effective International is by building an effective revolutionary movement in. their country”. Also “Our absorbing concern is with the colossal job on our own doorstep, building a revolutionary party in the U.S., rooted in the American soil”, etc.

All this has a certain “realistic” sound, but it does not fit the realities which every new party must confront – the realities of world economy and world politics and the, world crisis of the labor movement. (American imperialism lives in the world, not in the 48 states.) It is impossible to build a revolutionary party or to draw, up a revolutionary, that is, a Marxist, program in any single country today without taking the world realities as the point of departure. That means, the new parties must be internationalist from the moment of their inception, and even in the process of their formation, and have a definite international orientation. The international position of any party is today the primary test of its revolutionary character. Marxism Is Not A Foreign Product To be sure, the new party must live in America, speak the language of the country, “feel” the moods, psychology and traditions of the masses, etc. In this sense the new party must be “American”. It must be a power in the country in order to be a real support of the new International. But that does not mean it should adapt itself to the backwardness, prejudices and national narrow-mindedness of the masses of American workers. Marxism is not a foreign product; it is the theory of the class struggle in every country; it is “native” to every land of capitalist exploitation. The new party will have the task of making the theory of Marxism understandable to the awakening workers of America and of applying this theory in their struggle. Only on this foundation can n genuinely revolutionary party be constructed. Such a party can only be a thorough-going party of internationalism.

Concepts of Internationalism

2. The statement of the A.W.P. tends to limit the concept of internationalism to joint actions of strong national parties. Action, of course, is the highest expression of the international organization of the vanguard and everything leads to that end. But the role of internationalism is no less weighty in the preparation of the actions and in the development and training of the national parties. At the present moment, with the whole international organization of the vanguard in a state of crisis and demoralization, this side of the question acquires an exceptional importance.

International cooperation in the work of charting the new parties and the new international, mutual exchange of experiences and ideas, putting the collective experience and theoretical knowledge of the Marxists of all countries at the disposal of each and every national party or group – it is precisely in these fields that the real spirit of internationalism manifests itself most prominently today in preparation for the actions of tomorrow. Herein lies the great historic significance of the work already in progress for the building of the Fourth International.

Can the National Parties Develop Independently?

Can the new parties each develop independently, work out their own programs, acquire mass proportions and influence and then come together to form the new International? This is the concept that appears to govern the A.W.P. approach to the question. “The A.W.P. stands for one compact revolutionary labor international built up by actually functioning revolutionary parties of various countries ...”

This idea, which is very similar to that expressed by Gitlow, takes active internationalism off the agenda for the present, and gives no assurance for the formation of the new international in the future. Just the contrary. The new parties, left to themselves, and replacing international cooperation and assistance would develop on different lines, adopt contradictory programs on many questions, fall victim of national isolation, and experience repeated internal convulsions and splits. The program of building the parties first, then the international, is utopian, not to say non-Marxist. The genuine revolutionary internationalists in the whole world today, as in the period of the world war, are not too numerous. It is a life and death matter for them to get together now on an international scale to prepare the program of the new international and to work for the formation of its national sections. The task of building the Fourth International goes hand in hand with the task of forming new national parties in the separate countries. Genuine internationalism today cannot allow any separation of these two aspects of the same problem.

Organization Methods

Is the Fourth International to imitate the methods of the Stalin Comintern, with everything decided in advance for the national parties, with uniform tactics imposed everywhere, with leaders imposed from above, etc.? This question is asked in some alarm from two different points of view. Some who have learned to despise the methods of degenerate Stalinism in struggle against it want to establish safeguards; others, it must be said, are inclined to raise the bugaboo of Stalinism as an excuse to avoid any kind of centralized organization, discipline, uniformity of principle and control. We have definite opinions on the subject and will stand up for them in the Fourth International and in the conferences leading to its formation. The International Left Opposition stands for a world program and for uniformity in fundamental principles. Its concept of the Fourth International is the concept of a World Party. But, along with that, we stand for internal democracy in the parties and in the international.

The parties affiliated to the Fourth International must be real parties, standing on their own feet, living their own life and selecting their own leaders. If we consider it impossible to build revolutionary parties without international cooperation, then we assert, no less emphatically that the international can become a power only if its component parts – the national parties – are really functioning organizations in the full sense of the word.

Which International?

3. The programmatic statement of the A.W.P. leaves its own international orientation undecided. Or, at any rate, its position is not clearly stated. Four currents are to be recognized in the international field: The Second, the Third, the Two-and-a-half (Centrist) and the fourth (Revolutionary Communist). The A.W.P. is against the Second and the Third, but does not mention the other currents. It declares its readiness to “remain in sympathetic contact and engage in discussions with all who are interested in that problem, and especially with those parties which like ourselves cannot accept either the Second or the Third International today.”

In the course of discussion, both in the joint committee and in the press, we hope to convince the A.W.P. that it is absolutely necessary to take a precise attitude on this question, to declare what kind of a new international is needed and to agree with us that the new party should place itself on the day of its birth under the banner of the Fourth International. Such an agreement, which would imply a solidarity on other principle questions, could make the launching of the new party in America, by the joint efforts of the A.W.P. and the Left Opposition, a realistic prospect for the not too distant future. There can be no doubt that such a party would be from the start a powerful magnet of attraction for the revolutionary workers in America.

Last updated on 8 February 2016