The Struggle for a Proletarian Party

By James P. Cannon

Part VII

Letters, continued

47. A Circular Letter to the Party Membership

New York, March 5, 1940

Dear Comrades,

An answer to the splitters

Under separate cover you have already received a copy of the “Resolution on Party Unity” adopted by the Cleveland conference of the opposition. This “resolution” was handed to us by the representatives of the opposition at the PC meeting the other day. Evidently they want our answer. We shall not keep them waiting. Here is our answer:

1. Formal declaration of split

This resolution is in fact a political declaration of the split which the conference itself was designed to prepare in an organisational sense. The resolution declares: “The nature of the differences is such that it does not permit a solution merely by the procedure normal in the movement, of having the convention minority submit to the decision of the convention majority.” By that declaration they reject in advance the only possible solution of a party dispute by the democratic method of majority rule. They say in effect that for them the decisions of a democratically organised party convention have no meaning and they declare in advance their refusal to accept the decisions of the convention. As far as they are concerned, the convention might as well not be held unless they can have their way.

Unless we are prepared to throw overboard the Leninist principle of democratic centralism; unless we are ready to turn the principle upside down and compel the majority to submit to the minority—we have to recognise the declaration of the opposition for what it really is: the formal declaration of a split. Nothing remains but to recognise reality and take all the necessary measures to protect the integrity of the party and declare a merciless and uncompromising war on the splitters.

2. Peculiar kind of “unity”

The resolution demands for the minority “the right to publish a political journal of its own”. And to leave no room for doubt that they mean a completely independent publication, they add: “Such a journal can only be published upon the responsibility and under the control of the tendency itself.” And then, to make their position crystal clear, they state that this “solution” of the difficulty “is the only concrete one that can be made”. Under these conditions, and only under these conditions, they assure us the “unity of the party” can be preserved. That is to say, if the majority will authorise and “legalise” a split, the party can have the fiction of formal unity by way of compensation. We do not believe a single member of the majority will entertain such a proposition for a moment.

3. Democratic centralism annihilated

At the very best, the resolution of the opposition can be described as an attempt to annihilate the democratic centralism of a revolutionary party in favour of the notorious and ill-fated “all inclusive party” of Norman Thomas. But history has already passed a cruel judgment on this conception of party organisation. It would be insane folly to repeat the experiment. If the convention should sanction such a scheme of organisation it would simply mean that the “united” party would be paralysed internally by a permanent faction fight and deprived of all external striking power.

For the opposition to have its own press, “published upon the responsibility and under the control” of the opposition, could mean only that it must have its own treasury, its own staff, and its own apparatus of distribution. But things could not possibly stop even there. If the opposition is granted the right to attack the party program and defend another in print, there is no plausible reason why they should be denied the right to do the same thing orally. There is no logical ground to prevent them from holding public meetings “upon the responsibility and under the control” of the autonomous faction. There would be no means of enforcing discipline in the execution of the party program upon the members of a faction which has been granted the right to attack the program in public. In short, the minority would have all the rights of a party of their own, plus the privilege of paralysing the official party from within and discrediting it before the working class public.

This is precisely what is intended by the hypocritical “unity” resolution of the minority. It is a scheme to carry out their split and achieve complete freedom of action for themselves in such a way as to do the most damage and bring the greatest possible discredit to the party. This is fully in line with the conscious design of Burnham, who has already proclaimed the downfall of the Fourth International in his infamous document on “Science and Style”, to bring about the maximum possible disruption of our movement before taking his formal departure.

4. Another of “Shachtman’s precedents”

It is to be assumed that Shachtman’s contribution to the resolution is the paragraph on “precedents” from the history of the Bolshevik party of Lenin and of the Fourth International. We know from the article of Comrades Wright and Hansen on the “Shachtman School of Quotations”, and from Trotsky’s answer to Shachtman’s “Open Letter”, how Shachtman perverts and falsifies historical incidents to serve factional ends. The historical references in the resolution under discussion are worth just as much and just as little as the others. It is precisely from Lenin’s Bolshevik party that we learned the theory and practice of democratic centralism. Lenin’s party had a single program and subordinated the party press to the service of the program. It is from Bolshevism that we learned to conduct free discussions, not for the sake of discussing in permanence, but in order to decide and to act unitedly on the basis of the decision of the majority.

We are approaching the end of a six-months’ discussion, and none was ever freer or more democratic. We are on the eve of the convention which will conclude the discussion with a decision. From that we shall proceed to discipline in action on the basis of the decision. That is in the real tradition of Bolshevism. The “tradition” which the opposition invokes are those of Menshevism, of pre-war social democracy, of the “all inclusive party”. To attempt to pass this off in the name of Lenin and his party of democratic centralism is to practice fraud on the inexperienced and uninformed members of the party and the youth.

Equally fraudulent is the reference to “many similar instances” in the history of the Fourth International, There are no such instances. The Fourth International and its predecessor, the International Left Opposition, never sanctioned different publications advocating antagonistic programs on fundamental questions. Just the contrary. The International Left Opposition took shape on a world scale in the course of an irreconcilable struggle for a single program and against groupings (with their publications) which, while pretending agreement “in general”, advocated antagonistic programs. The International Left Opposition continued to exist and to grow and to expand as the world movement of the Fourth International not only by uniting revolutionary elements around a common program, but also by openly repudiating all groups and all publications advocating a different program. This was the case with Urbahns in Germany; Van Overstraaten in Belgium; Souvarine, Monatte and Paz in France; Weisbord and Field in the United States, etc. They lie about the Fourth International, they pervert its history, when they say the Fourth International gave its blessing to publications which opposed its program.

The temporary experiment sanctioned by the Executive Committee of the Fourth International in the case of the French section a year ago has nothing in common with the proposal of the opposition. The differences in the French section occurred exclusively over tactics; both groups adhered to a common program on the principle questions as laid down by the Congress of the Fourth International. One group of the POI (our French section) wanted to maintain the complete independence of the organisation. The other group wanted to join the PSOP to work as a Bolshevik fraction within it. The Executive Committee of the Fourth International was strongly in favour of the “entrist” position, but did not desire in the beginning to impose this tactic on the opposing comrades by disciplinary measures. Under these conditions, the executive authorised a division of labour whereby one group would continue its independent activity with its own press and the other group would join the PSOP and publish a journal as a fraction of the PSOP in favor of the program of the Fourth International.

There was no question whatever of two different programs. The only difference between the two publications was that the journal of the independent group addressed its propaganda primarily to workers outside the PSOP, while the journal of the entrist faction addressed its propaganda in favour of the same programmatic ideas primarily to the members of the PSOP. But even this experiment was strictly limited in time. It was discontinued a few months later after a test of experience with work in the two fields.

This “analogy” of Shachtman’s, like all the others, is false to the core and is criminally distorted and misapplied. Their scheme compares not at all to the relations established between the two groups of Fourth Internationalists in France —the entrists and the majority of the POI—but, by a dishonest twist, to the relations between the entrist faction of Bolshevik-Leninists and the majority of the PSOP. If, like all liberal philistines, the Burnhamites argue that they should have the same “rights” in a Trotskyist party of the Fourth International that the Rous group of Fourth Internationalists enjoyed for a time in the Pivertist party of the London Bureau, we answer: The Pivert party pretended to be an “all inclusive party” and could not conveniently refuse these rights to the Fourth Internationalists, since they were also enjoyed by Freemasons, and all kinds of opportunists and social patriots. We, on the other hand, don’t pretend to be an “all inclusive party”, and nobody shall make such a madhouse out of our organisation.

On this point we shall ask the convention to reaffirm the section of the organisation resolution drafted by Shachtman and Cannon and adopted at the foundation convention of the SWP in Chicago:

The revolutionary Marxian party rejects not only the arbitrariness and bureaucratism of the CP, but also the spurious and deceptive “all-inclusiveness” of the Thomas-Tyler-Hoan party, which is a sham and a fraud. Experience has proved conclusively that this “all-inclusiveness” paralyses the party in general and the revolutionary left wing in particular, suppressing and bureaucratically hounding the latter while giving free rein to the right wing to commit the greatest crimes in the name of socialism and the party.

5. Split disastrous to splitters

The “unity” resolution of the Burnhamite splitters makes the assertion—the wish is father to the thought—that “a split would prove disastrous to the American section and to the International as a whole”. We remain unimpressed by this forecast of calamity. If those who seek to terrorise us in this way would take a backward glance at the history of our party they would discover that threats of split have always been a menace only to those who uttered them. It cannot be otherwise with the present opposition, the most miserable of all those impatient petty-bourgeois groupings which tried to impose their demands upon the majority with threats of split. There has never yet been an opposition in our movement so heterogeneous, so far removed from Marxism and the spirit of the proletarian revolution, so weak in proletarian composition and so lacking in leaders with the necessary political firmness, devotion, singleness of purpose and capacity to sacrifice.

The threat of such an opposition to split from our party and set up an independent organisation presents the prospect of a truly ludicrous spectacle. We have done everything in our power throughout the discussion to save the supporters of the opposition from this sad experience, and to preserve the unity of the party. We shall continue to work in this spirit, to make every reasonable concession, to provide every guarantee for the party rights of the minority after the convention consistent with the principles and methods of Bolshevik organisation, that is, with the requirements of a combat party of the proletarian revolution.

But so far—and no further! Nobody shall transform our party into a perpetual talking shop. Nobody shall make a playhouse out of the party. Nobody shall be allowed to obstruct the proletarianisation of the party. The convention must make it obligatory for all party members to connect themselves in one way or another with a workers’ environment and recruit fresh elements from the proletariat in the course of class struggle activities.

That is the only way to save the party and prepare it for its great historic mission. Those who try to block this course will be defeated. Those who try to disrupt our movement by a treacherous split on the eve of the war will be smashed, as enemies and traitors deserve to be smashed.

After six months of discussion, as free and democratic as any party has ever known, the party is approaching the convention and the decision. Let every comrade in the party, regardless of what his opinion has been, face seriously once more and finally the inescapable rules of democratic centralism: The unconditional right of the party majority to decide the disputed questions and the unconditional duty of every party member to accept the decision. Only in this way can the unity of the party be preserved and common political work for the future made possible. There is no other road.

The slogan of split is the slogan of class betrayal. Its purpose is to disrupt the Fourth International on the eve of the war. But it will fail in its purpose. The only “disaster” will be the one that overtakes those criminals who, on the eve of the war, dare to direct such a treacherous blow at the only revolutionary movement in the whole world. The Fourth International will survive it in spite of all the Burnhams and Aberns plus the Shachtmans.

The National Committee Majority

48. A Letter to C. Charles

New York, March 6, 1940

C. Charles, Organiser

Los Angeles Branch

(Copy to all California Branches)

Dear Comrade:

Concerning Johnson

I hear that Johnson is in California promoting the split program of the opposition and giving sermons on the organisation question. I hope the comrades who value the unity of the party will give him a suitable reception. Here is a first class example of an irresponsible adventurer in our movement who deserves to be handled without gloves. Let me tell you a few things about him.

Johnson was appointed director of a party department under the supervision of the PC. He leaves town and turns up in California without so much as notice to the Political Committee of his departure, to say nothing of permission. This is no doubt a sample of the “organisational methods” which the petty-bourgeois opposition recommends to the party. I am sure that every serious worker in the party will repudiate and condemn such lightminded irresponsibility. The procedure of Weiss in returning to California stands in marked contrast to that of Johnson. He did not venture to leave his post as branch organiser at Youngstown until he received the formal and official approval of both the PC and the Youngstown branch. There is a difference in the men and in the method. The method of Weiss is better, more responsible, more revolutionary ...

Our party, like every other, also has its share of inexperienced members who are inclined to mistake oratorical and literary facility for the qualities of revolutionary leadership. Cruel disappointments await such young comrades. But perhaps some of them will learn from their experience to demand better credentials next time ...

I hear that Johnson, the disorganiser, is going to lead a discussion of the Los Angeles comrades on the organisation question. This impudence can only be based on the assumption that any kind of quackery can prosper in Southern California. But I know another California—the California of a group of resolute Trotskyists who have shown in practice that they know how to organise a party and do serious work in the mass movement. Instead of lecturing such comrades on “organisation” Johnson should go to school to them ... I greatly regret that I cannot be present when Johnson elucidates these questions. They go to the heart of the issue. It may seem impolite and even “bureaucratic” of me to put the questions so bluntly and so concretely. But that is the only way to bring the discussion of the organisation question down to earth. Engels was fond of the proverb: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The organisational puddings Johnson has cooked up to date have not been very digestible.

With Trotskyist greetings,

J.P. Cannon

49. A Letter to Leon Trotsky

New York, March 7,1940

Dear Comrade Rork [Trotsky],

We received and discussed your letter of February 29 regarding the International Executive Committee.

We are all in agreement with your proposal. We think the best way would be for the SWP to issue the call for the conference and to sponsor it and in the near future we will try to determine the most feasible approximate date at the earliest possible time after our convention.

We will contact the Canadian section and are assured of their complete support. After the ignominious departure of the Canadian Burnham (Robertson) the few comrades in Canada who had wavered on the fundamental question drew the necessary conclusions and the latest report we had is that they are all now unanimous in support of the program.

In the meantime, we think it would be a good idea for the Coyoacan delegation to begin work on the manifesto. The publication of the manifesto immediately after the conference will undoubtedly become the rallying call for all the sections of the Fourth International.

We learned yesterday that the Argentine section had published our Finnish resolution in their paper. We have not heard from them directly, but we must conclude from this act that they are in agreement with us. The Argentine section, together with the Mexican, can go a long way to dissipate the pretensions of Lebrun. We have no direct contact with the Brazilian section ...

However, in a letter from the Brazilian section which came last fall, it was stated that one or two of the prominent leaders (journalists, I think) had turned bad at the beginning of the war crisis and had been expelled and the section reorganised. This would seem to indicate that the rank and file of the Brazilian section can be depended upon.

As for the English section, we have not succeeded in getting any direct report from them, nor can we learn whether they receive our publications or letters. However, in the latest number of their paper, dated last October, they state categorically their position in favor of defending the Soviet Union in spite of Stalin and even use almost the exact formulas contained in our press. I think it can be considered an absolute certainty that the English section will completely repudiate—. It is only a question of establishing communication in some way and providing the possibilities for them to get the necessary information and to declare their position.

We likewise have not been able to get any direct information from the Belgian section. We know, however, that Vereecken criticises them for defending the Soviet Union and we conclude from that that the Belgian section is on the right line.

We are going to make renewed attempts in every way to establish direct communication with them. We have not gotten word now for several months. However, from such information as we have now it is quite clear that the International as a whole will rally round the war manifesto of our conference. If the splitters, aided by Johnson and Lebrun, attempt to represent themselves as the Fourth International this pretence cannot last for any great length of time.

I don’t know whether I mentioned in a previous letter that a sailor comrade who had returned from China reported that the entire section with the exception of one individual supported the official position of the Fourth International. They told him they couldn’t understand why the minority in our party is so large, since they themselves had discussed this question a long time ago and settled it quite decisively ...


Under separate cover we are sending you our answer to the resolution adopted by the minority national conference. It is being distributed on a wide scale in the party, with the object of making clear to any wavering elements, who draw back from the prospect of a split, that there is no possibility of bargaining with us on the question of two parties in one and two public journals.

The oppositionists are telling our comrades all over the country that you will intervene at the last moment in favor of their demands for an independent journal of their own. It is quite possible that even some of the leaders believe this and it is the most important argument by which they reassure the wavering elements in their ranks. It would be very good to disillusion the oppositionists on this point. It is the one best way now to compel the wavering elements who shrink from leaving the party to stop and consider their course before it is too late.

Dobbs is here and he is already rapidly integrating himself into the work. As you perhaps observed, he has the precious qualities of enthusiasm and confidence and imparts these sentiments to others.

Our ranks are firmly united from one end of the country to the other. There is not a trace of pessimism or hesitation. On the contrary, there are unanimous expressions of satisfaction about the great lessons learned in this struggle and over the fortunate circumstance that the party was able to have its showdown struggle with unreliable leaders before the real test begins.

The lectures of Wright and Warde on dialectical materialism are being conducted with remarkable success and appreciation by the comrades.


J.P. Cannon

50. A Letter to Murry Weiss

New York, March 7, 1940

Murry Weiss

Los Angeles, California

Dear Murry,

... I have today written a letter to the Los Angeles organisation about Johnson. You should go after him hammer and tongs along the line of this letter, and pull a few feathers from this peacock. You are also receiving by airmail our answer to the split resolution of the Cleveland conference of the minority and also the Old Man’s answer in the form of a letter to Dobbs. These new developments—the program of split, completely overshadowed the organisational details which were the subject of discussion earlier, and your speech must take this into account in its emphasis.

I think it would be useful for you also to present the organisation question from the point of view of the California experience. In a previous letter to the group I dwelt at some length on this. After all, the test of all organisational theories is the practice. The California comrades had a solid year’s experience with our “regime”. They have also had some experience with the Trimble regime.

I am working on my document on the organisation question, but I am continually interrupted and never get a chance to do any sustained work. Our comrades must understand that everything is now poised for the split, and conduct a struggle accordingly. No compromise and no quarter—must be our slogan. This is the only way to impress the wavering comrades with the fact that they must decide finally which way they are going.

It is absurd for us to take a defensive position on the organisation question. By God, we built the best section of the whole Fourth International by our methods. We know what the French and English methods produced. Johnson is a first class exponent of these methods, and it is not by accident that he is with the minority and belongs to the same school.

If I get a chance to send you more material between now and the convention date, I will do so.

Comradely greetings,


J.P. Cannon

51. A Letter to All Majority Groups

New York, March 8, 1940

Dear Comrades,

Prepare for the split

Along with this letter or under separate cover you will receive our mimeographed reply to the split resolution of the Cleveland conference of the opposition. We decided to mimeograph this for widespread distribution in the party. The reason: to make it clear to any wavering elements of the opposition, to anyone in the ranks still inspired by sentiments of loyalty to the party, and to any others who may think they may bluff us into permitting an independent “journal” of the opposition attacking our program—that there is nothing doing and that as far as we are concerned the “negotiations” on this point are finished before they start.

It is extremely important that you conduct a concentrated campaign along these lines. This is the only way to save for the party a small part of the deluded supporters of the petty-bourgeois opposition.

In the meantime the most important thing is to make all necessary organisational preparations for the inevitable split. See that all membership lists, lists of sympathisers, contacts and so forth are in safe hands. Have all supporters of the majority prepared for resolute action the moment the split becomes a formal reality.

It is important to impress upon any comrades playing with the idea of split that it can only mean the beginning of a merciless war with us. Some of them undoubtedly are playing with the idea that they can split the party and still maintain some kind of friendly and comradely relations with us. It must be made clear to them that friendship ceases when the party is attacked.

The International

The opposition leaders are deluding some of their followers with the story that they have the support of the Fourth International. This is pure nonsense. All the sections of the Fourth International which are known to have declared themselves are standing by the position of the majority. The Canadian section is unanimous; likewise the Mexican. Yesterday we saw the paper of the Argentine section which printed our resolution on Finland. This is a decisive test as to their attitude, although we have no direct mail reports from them yet.

We note in the bulletin of the London Bureau that Vereecken attacks our Belgian section for defending the Soviet Union in Finland. This is an indirect confirmation of other reports we have had that the Belgian section, the strongest proletarian section in Europe, is on our side. We have heard no direct communication from England on account of the censorship. But the last number of their organ which we saw in October repeated our formulas about the defence of the Soviet Union. One thing we can be absolutely sure of is that the English section will repudiate -- and leave him hanging in midair with all his pretensions.

The same thing applies to --. He is the Latin-American representative, but with Mexico and Argentina disavowing him he is also shown up as a phony, representing nobody but himself. The paper of the Australian section supports the position of the majority. A sailor comrade who returned from China reported that the entire Chinese section with the exception of one individual supports the official program. Also, it is not without importance that the Russian section supports our position.

We plan to call a conference of genuine representatives of all available sections immediately after the convention and publish an antiwar manifesto in their name. Any pretensions the traitors may make to being the representatives of the Fourth International will be knocked into a cocked hat. There is no question whatever that practically all the functioning sections of the International throughout the world will rally around the antiwar manifesto of the conference called by our party.

Warning against provocations

From all sections of the country we get reports of the growing impatience of the proletarian sections of the party with the petty-bourgeois opposition and its provocations. We must expect that an opposition of this kind will do everything in its power to dirty up our house before they leave it. They can be expected to try to create some scandals in order to bring discredit on our movement. Therefore, it is necessary to warn all comrades to be on guard against provocations. Do not under any circumstances engage in any physical encounters which can be utilised to scandalise our movement. Observe all formalities of organisation and do not deprive the oppositionists of any of their normal rights up to the moment of the convention and the split.

Cheek carefully the membership lists in connection with elections for delegates. In this regard be governed by one inflexible rule. Do not permit any irregularities whatever on one side or the other. Don’t give the opposition a single vote they are not entitled to and don’t try to make any claims for the majority to which we are not justly entitled.


I think all of us understand that this struggle is the fundamental crisis and test of the Fourth International in this country, of its ability to survive and face the war. The fact that some unreliable leaders showed their colours in time to be dealt with properly is a great advantage. But just because the crisis is of such a fundamental nature all comrades must realise the necessity for making extraordinary sacrifices to enable the party to cope with the problem. It is needless to tell you that we are operating here under great difficulties in the face of the sabotage of the minority and the general paralysis of party work.

All delegates should come to the convention with enough money to take care of themselves. The assistance which out of town delegates have been accustomed to in normal times cannot be depended upon in this situation. If we have a few dollars on hand here we will be lucky and we will need that for party work and the struggle against the splitters, beginning the day after the convention.

Please bear this in mind and collect all the funds you need to finance your delegate.


J.P. Cannon

52. A Letter to Murry Weiss

New York, March 8, 1940

Murry Weiss

Los Angeles, Cal.

Dear Murry,

I got your letter of February 29.

We are most of all glad to hear that the caucus is getting organised on a military basis. That is the most important thing now. The opposition is heading straight for a split and we must organise our forces to smash it. That is the alpha and omega of revolutionary strategy from now on.

I think you are quite right in stating that Burnham’s impudent document on “Science and Style” is a blow at the remnants of Shachtman’s independence. That I think is the real purpose of it. He is just giving these traitors to Marxism advance notice of what he will serve up for them and make them take after they set up an independent organisation of their own.

Incidentally, it is an excellent lesson in principled politics, or rather, the fatal consequences of experimenting with unprincipled politics. I think you could give the comrades a whole lecture on this point, using the latest incident as a supplement to similar incidents in the past history of our movement.

George Clarke has written a long document on the auto crisis which should go onto the mimeograph today or tomorrow. It is a complete history of the affair and will be quite an eye-opener to the Los Angeles rank and file comrades who were taken in on this and similar questions. Its subtitle certainly describes the document: “The Petty-Bourgeois Leaders Before the Test of the Class Struggle.”

As you know I was away in France at the time. I heard a great deal about the affair in snatches but I never realised what a horrible mess was made of things by these so-called leaders until I read the whole connected and integrated story as written by Clarke.

The “independent” position of the Everett group is a transparent fraud. Soviet defeatism is a position of class betrayal and its advocates belong with the other traitors. I got the impression from previous letters that there was a tendency in the ranks of the majority to temporise with this group. I don’t think that’s correct. I read Everett’s document and think you estimate him correctly when you say he is just a Burnhamite who wants a house of his own. I think it should be made perfectly clear in our caucus that there can be no talk of any kind of conciliation with the Everett tendency. They are not shooting in the same direction that we are. Consequently they cannot be allies in any sense of the word whatever.

It is possible that the Los Angeles Everettites may hesitate at a split. They should be smoked out on this without delay. If they decide to remain in the party naturally we will make a distinction between them and the splitters. But we will not conciliate with their tendency in any way, shape or form. Nor will we continue the discussion with them after the convention.

You speak about the “Menshevik spirit and conception” of the oppositionist leaders. Trotsky in a letter to Chris Andrews the other day remarked that “our Russian Mensheviks were revolutionary heroes in comparison to Burnham and Company”.

I note the reactions of Ted to the first page of Burnham’s document. Every worker in the party was similarly revolted. I don’t know who was this international figure who stopped to admire the beauty of the cop’s sabres flashing in the sun instead of plunging into the fight. But from the way he describes him he belongs in the opposition caucus. Comrades around here think he is referring to Glenner, that fourflusher who is trying to palm himself off as some kind of international leader, and rationalising his personal demoralisation into a political program. Give short shrift to these birds, Murry.

I agree with your proposals to work out party propositions in the caucus for presentation in branch meetings, etc. As a matter of fact the comrades must consider the majority caucus from now on as the party and they must take the whole responsibility upon themselves already now in preparation for the split which is sure to come at the convention ...


J.P. Cannon

PS. I just this minute opened a letter from Trotsky to Dobbs. He fully supports our stand in openly and flatly rejecting the demand of the minority for a public organ. You will receive a copy perhaps in the next mail or so.

53. A Letter to C. Charles

New York, March 12, 1940

C. Charles

Los Angeles, Cal.

Dear Charley,

I received your letter of March 7 and I am awaiting with some impatience a report of the debates with Johnson and the reaction of the comrades to the biographical material I sent on this fly-by-night expert on the organisation question.

There is no sense in taking time to write an answer to Lebrun. Even historians of the movement will have to dig a long while through the mass of material already printed to get to anything that is written now. The party is waterlogged with the discussion.

It is important to keep pounding away on the minority on the split question to shatter their morale in confronting this decisive break with our movement. I agree with your comments on the minority. I don’t care what the Los Angeles comrades do with the official status of Johnson. As far as we are concerned, he is 3000 miles away from his post of duty without authorisation and what he does or does not do is not our affair.

I received the copy of --’s letter on China. You will receive a copy of a letter from the Brazilian section which shows that the opposition claims about that are mainly the bunk.


J.P. Cannon

PS. Now that Dobbs is here and has taken a good many duties and worries off my hands I am pounding away every day on my document on the organisation question. I am afraid it is going to be a book before I get through. Of course it will not have any influence in the present discussion and is not so intended. People who can be lined up on organisation questions when fundamental principles are at stake are not the kind of material we want at this time in the majority ranks. My document is designed to deal with this method of politics fundamentally and to be a sort of manual for the party in the future.

54. A Letter to All Majority Groups

New York, March 15, 1940

Dear Comrades,

Trade union discussion at the convention

We intend to have a real thoroughgoing trade union discussion at the convention. We must not permit the faction struggle to put it off the agenda this time. Regardless of what the opposition does or does not do we intend to utilise the opportunity of this convention to bring out the whole problem of the trade union work—our policy, our experiences and our plans—in the most thoroughgoing discussion we ever had to date.

Comrade Dobbs is preparing a comprehensive convention report on the trade union question in general. He will illustrate it by all kinds of examples drawn from experiences in practical trade union work. We also plan to have outstanding comrades in the different trade union fields give supplementary reports on their work. I think we can count on very instructive and interesting reports from Minneapolis, the maritime fraction, the auto fraction and from the steel fraction.

We don’t know yet how long we’ll be stalled up in the fight with the opposition, but we intend to have this trade union discussion regardless. All delegates should plan to stay an extra day if necessary for this trade union discussion. All branches and locals which have comrades participating actively in trade union work should try to have at least one trade unionist on the delegation in order to enrich this discussion with every possible variety of experience.


J.P. Cannon

55. A Letter to Leon Trotsky

New York, March 16, 1940

Dear Comrade Cornell [Trotsky],

Our statement flatly rejecting the ultimatum of the Cleveland conference and your supplementary letter along the same line seem to have disoriented the minority.

Many comrades were persuaded to support the demand for a public organ as a clever bargaining point which might be discussed and result in some compromise. The fact that the leadership put it in ultimatistic form and that we rejected it out of hand—thus leaving no room for “negotiations”—has greatly disturbed a considerable number of rank and file minorityites and has perhaps raised some doubts in their minds as to the strategical wisdom of their leadership.

Both here in New York and in other parts of the country they have been approaching our comrades with the suggestion that we discuss the matter and perhaps achieve a settlement, not on the basis of an independent journal, but on the space allotment in the New International. I think many of these suggestions are inspired by the leadership. However, there is noticeable a distinct hesitation of many rank and file minorityites before the cold prospect of a definitive split.

Another significant development occurred in the Bronx branch the other night. Two comrades, who have been with the minority from the beginning and who are counted as amongst the most fanatical, suddenly changed their position and announced their support of the majority. One of them, a very active comrade in the branch work, read a statement to this effect: I have been studying Comrade Trotsky’s article, “From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene” as well as other documents. This reconsideration and further study of the dispute have brought me to the conclusion that the majority is correct on all the principled points; that the minority under the influence of Burnham is moving in the direction of Menshevism: and that the leaders of the opposition are deliberately preparing a split. For these reasons I have changed my position and announce my support of the majority.

This declaration caused considerable consternation in the Bronx stronghold of Shachtman-Abern. All the more so since the comrade in question has been an Abernite. He came to us from the Socialist Party, had no previous serious political experience, was drawn into the social gossip circles by Max Sterling, poisoned with all the “dope” of a personal nature and completely disoriented.

We are letting the opposition stew in its own juice for the time being. We think the best strategy is to let the idea sink deeply into the minds of the rank and file of the opposition that it is impossible to negotiate with us on the basis of any ultimatums and that they cannot entertain the hope that we will legalise a split by authorising the publication of an independent journal.

The latest circular of the opposition coming after our statement rejecting their ultimatum complains that “Cannon” has seized their ultimatistic demand for an independent public journal as a “pretext” to push them out of the party. Apparently it has not yet occurred to them to disarm Cannon by removing the “pretext”.

The agitation initiated by Shachtman against Minneapolis has apparently had boomerang effects. There has been a noticeable tendency to qualify their criticism and to make elaborate explanations that the Minneapolis comrades are very good in their way, that they have the highest respect for them, etc., etc.

The ultimate results of the fight in the party are wholly progressive. We are all beginning to realise on second thought that the postponement of the convention was very advantageous in spite of the continued irritations and growing impatience of the rank and file comrades with the discussion. The smoking out of Burnham was a major victory. In general, all the profound differences are more fully ripened and the decision of the convention can he all the firmer.

As I view it, we are already three-fourths or four-fifths through the most decisive and radical new stage in the evolution and development of the American section. It has been demonstrated to the hilt that the proletarian cadres of the party stand foursquare on the basis of orthodox Bolshevism and cannot be diverted from it.

Simultaneously, a leadership of the party intimately connected with the proletarian ranks and directly expressing its revolutionary sentiments has been more firmly consolidated than ever before. Up till now the leadership has always been a coalition of the proletarian and the unripened petty-bourgeois tendencies. The party as a whole reflected this unstable equilibrium which was frequently upset by the moods and caprices of people who were considered as an indispensable section of the leadership.

In this fight, such people have not only lost terribly in prestige and authority; they have lost the power to seriously disturb the party or to impede a radical transformation of its activities in a proletarian direction. The proletarian ranks are so firmly consolidated against them that the Hamlet question—to split or not to split—is pretty much their own personal affair. The party will move forward on sure feet in either case.

Last night we had a quite startling demonstration of this. Comrade Dobbs has already integrated himself into the party work and is especially taking hold of the trade union end of it. Last night he called the first of what are to he regular meetings of the party trade unionists in New York to discuss the practical aspects of their work and to exchange experiences. The meeting was quite successful and aroused considerable enthusiasm among the trade union comrades. A small number of minorityites were present and seemed to be quite astounded at the nonchalance with which we are proceeding to outline and organise future plans for practical work without regard for the fact that the “catastrophe” of a split is in the offing. Among other things, this meeting was a direct and powerful blow at the will of the rank and file minorityites to split.

Comrade Dobbs has already drawn up a comprehensive questionnaire which will establish the exact number of trade unionists in the party, their location, experiences, etc., and lay the ground for a better coordination of the work on a national scale. Simultaneously, with the help of some of our research comrades, he is preparing a comprehensive survey of the geographic and industrial distribution of the American proletariat as a basis for a more concrete consideration by the convention—as he expresses it, “to fit the small gear of available party forces in the most efficient manner to the large gear of the mass movement”.

At the end of the internal party fight we are thus coming back to the original slogan, the serious application of which will be the best assurance against any recurrence of the petty-bourgeois disease: Deeper into the mass movement of the proletariat.

Fraternally yours,

J.P. Cannon