The Struggle for a Proletarian Party

By James P. Cannon

Documents of the Struggle

1. Speech on the Russian Question

By James P. Cannon

The Russian question is with us once again, as it has been at every critical turning point of the international labour movement since November 7, 1917. And there is nothing strange in that. The Russian question is no literary exercise to be taken up or cast aside according to the mood of the moment. The Russian question has been and remains the question of the revolution. The Russian Bolsheviks on November 7, 1917, once and for all, took the question of the workers’ revolution out of the realm of abstraction and gave it flesh and blood reality.

It was said once of a book—I think it was Whitman’s Leaves of Grass —“who touches this book, touches a man”. In the same sense it can also be said: “Who touches the Russian question, touches a revolution.” Therefore, be serious about it. Don’t play with it.

The October Revolution put socialism on the order of the day throughout the world. It revived and shaped and developed the revolutionary labour movement of the world out of the bloody chaos of the war. The Russian revolution showed in practice, by example, how the workers’ revolution is to be made. It revealed in life the role of the party. It showed in life what kind of a party the workers must have. By its victory, and its reorganisation of the social system, the Russian revolution has proved for all time the superiority of nationalised property and planned economy over capitalist private property and planless competition and anarchy in production.

A sharp dividing line

The question of the Russian revolution—and the Soviet state which is its creation—has drawn a sharp dividing line through the labour movement of all countries for 22 years. The attitude taken toward the Soviet Union throughout all these years has been the decisive criterion separating the genuine revolutionary tendency from all shades and degrees of waverers, backsliders and capitulators to the pressure of the bourgeois world—the Mensheviks, social-democrats, anarchists and syndicalists, centrists, Stalinists.

The main source of division in our own ranks for the past 10 years, since the Fourth Internationalist tendency took organised form on the international field, has been the Russian question. Our tendency, being a genuine, that is, orthodox, Marxist tendency from A to Z, has always proceeded on the Russian question from theoretical premises to political conclusions for action. Of course, it is only when political conclusions are drawn out to the end that differences on the Russian question reach an unbearable acuteness and permit no ambiguity or compromise. Conclusions on the Russian question lead directly to positions on such issues as war and revolution, defence and defeatism. Such issues, by their very nature, admit no unclarity, no compromise, because it is a matter of taking sides! One must be on one side or another in war and revolution.

The importance of theory

But if the lines are drawn only when political conclusions diverge, that does not at all signify that we are indifferent to theoretical premises. He is a very poor Marxist—better say, no Marxist at all—who takes a careless or tolerant attitude toward theoretical premises. The political conclusions of Marxists proceed from theoretical analyses and are constantly checked and regulated by them. That is the only way to assure a firm and consistent policy.

To be sure, we do not decline cooperation with people who agree with our political conclusions from different premises. For example, the Bolsheviks were not deterred by the fact that the left SRs were inconsistent. As Trotsky remarked in this connection: “If we wait till everything is right in everybody’s head there will never be any successful revolutions in this world” (or words to that effect). Just the same, for our part we want everything right in our own heads. We have no reason whatever to slur over theoretical formulas, which are expressed in “terminology”. As Trotsky says, in theoretical matters “we must keep our house clean”.

Our position on the Russian question is programmatic. In brief: the theoretical analysis—a degenerated workers’ state. The political conclusion—unconditional defence against external attack of imperialists or internal attempts at capitalist restoration.

Defencism and defeatism

Defencism and defeatism are two principled, that is, irreconcilable positions. They are not determined by arbitrary choice but by class interests.

No party in the world ever succeeded in harbouring these two antipathetic tendencies for any great length of time. The contradiction is too great. Division all over the world ultimately took place along this line. Defencists at home were defeatists on Russia. Defencists on Russia were defeatists at home.

The degeneration of the Soviet state under Stalin has been analysed at every step by the Bolshevik-Leninists and only by them. A precise attitude has been taken at every stage. The guiding lines of the revolutionary Marxist approach to the question have been: See the reality and see it whole at every stage; never surrender any position before it is lost; the worst of all capitulators is the one who capitulates before the decisive battle.

The International Left Opposition which originated in 1923 as an opposition in the Russian party (the original nucleus of the Fourth International) has always taken a precise attitude on the Russian question. In the first stages of the degeneration of which the Stalinist bureaucracy was the banner bearer the opposition considered it possible to rectify matters by methods of reform through the change of regime in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Later, when it became clearer that the Communist Party of Lenin had been irremediably destroyed, and after it became manifest that the reactionary bureaucracy could be removed only by civil war, the Fourth International, standing as before on its analysis of the Soviet Union as a workers’ state, came out for a political revolution.

All the time throughout this entire period of 16 years, the Bolshevik-Leninists have stoutly maintained, in the face of all slander and persecution, that they were the firmest defenders of the workers’ state and that in the hour of danger they would be in the front ranks of its defence. We always said the moment of danger will find the Fourth Internationalists at their posts defending the conquests of the great revolution without ceasing for a moment our struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Now that the hour of danger is at hand—now that the long-awaited war is actually knocking at the door—it would be very strange if the Fourth International should renege on its oft-repeated pledge.

'Conservatism’ on the Russian question

Throughout all this long period of Soviet degeneration since the death of Lenin, the Fourth Internationalists, analysing the new phenomenon of a degenerating workers’ state at every turn, striving to comprehend its complications and contradictions, to recognise and defend all the progressive features of the contradictory processes and to reject the reactionary—during all this long time we have been beset at every new turn of events by the impatient demands of “radicals” to simplify the question. Thrown off balance by the crimes and betrayals of Stalin, they lost sight of the new system of economy which Stalin had not destroyed and could not destroy.

We always firmly rejected these premature announcements that everything was lost and that we must begin all over again. At each stage of development, at each new revelation of Stalinist infamy and treachery, some group or other broke away from the Fourth International because of its “conservatism” on the Russian question. It would be interesting, if we had the time, to call the roll of these groupings which one after another left our ranks to pursue an ostensibly more “revolutionary” policy on the Russian question. Did they develop an activity more militant, more revolutionary, than ours? Did they succeed in creating a new movement and in attracting newly awakened workers and those breaking from Stalinism? In no case.

If we were to call the roll of these ultra-radical groups it would present a devastating picture indeed. Those who did not fall into complete political passivity became reconciled in one form or another to bourgeois democracy. The experiences of the past should teach us all a salutary caution, and even, if you please, “conservatism”, in approaching any proposal to revise the program of the Fourth International on the Russian question. While all the innovators fell by the wayside, the Fourth International alone retained its programmatic firmness. It grew and developed and remained the only genuine revolutionary current in the labour movement of the world. Without a firm position on the Russian question our movement also would inevitably have shared the fate of the others.

The mighty power of the October Revolution is shown by the vitality of its conquests. The nationalised property and the planned economy stood up under all the difficulties and pressures of the capitalist encirclement and all the blows of a reactionary bureaucracy at home. In the Soviet Union, despite the monstrous mismanagement of the bureaucracy, we saw a tremendous development of the productive forces—and in a backward country at that—while capitalist economy declined. Conclusion: nationalised and planned economy, made possible by a revolution that overthrew the capitalists and landlords, is infinitely superior, more progressive. It shows the way forward. Don’t give it up before it is lost! Cling to it and defend it!

The class forces

On the Russian question there are only two really independent forces in the world. Two forces who think about the question independently because they base themselves, their thoughts, their analyses and their conclusions, on fundamental class considerations.

Those two independent forces are:

1. The conscious vanguard of the world bourgeoisie, the statesmen of both democratic and fascist imperialism.

2. The conscious vanguard of the world proletariat.

Between them it is not simply a case of two opinions on the Russian question, but rather of two camps. All those who in the past rejected the conclusions of the Fourth International and broke with our movement on that account, have almost invariably fallen into the service of the imperialists, through Stalinism, social and liberal democracy, or passivity, a form of service.

The standpoint of the world bourgeoisie is a class standpoint. They proceed, as we do, from fundamental class considerations. They want to maintain world capitalism. This determines their fundamental antagonism to the USSR. They appreciate the reactionary work of Stalin, but consider it incomplete, insofar as he has not restored capitalist private property.

Their fundamental attitude determines an inevitable attempt at the start of the war, or during it, to attack Russia, overthrow the nationalised economy, restore a capitalist regime, smash the foreign trade monopoly, open up the Soviet Union as a market and field of investments, transform Russia into a great colony, and thereby alleviate the crisis of world capitalism.

The standpoint of the Fourth International is based on the same fundamental class considerations. Only we draw opposite conclusions, from an opposite class standpoint.

Purely sentimental motivations, speculation without fundamental class premises, so-called “fresh ideas” with no programmatic base—all this is out of place in a party of Marxists. We want to advance the world revolution of the proletariat. This determines our attitude and approach to the Russian question. True, we want to see reality, but we are not disinterested observers and commentators.

We do not examine the Russian revolution and what remains of its great conquests as though it were a bug under a glass. We have an interest! We take part in the fight! At each stage in the development of the Soviet Union, its advances and its degeneration, we seek the basis for revolutionary action. We want to advance the world revolution, overthrow capitalism, establish socialism. The Soviet Union is an important and decisive question on this line.

Our standpoint on the Russian question is written into our program. It is not a new question for us. It is 22 years old. We have followed its evolution, both progressive and retrogressive, at every stage. We have discussed it and taken our position anew at every stage of its progressive development and its degeneration. And, what is most important, we have always acted on our conclusions.

The decisive criterion

The Soviet Union emerged from the October Revolution as a workers’ state. As a result of the backwardness and poverty of the country and the delay of the world revolution, a conservative bureaucracy emerged and triumphed, destroyed the party and bureaucratised the economy. However, this same bureaucracy still operates on the basis of the nationalised property established by the revolution. That is the decisive criterion for our evaluation of the question.

If we see the Soviet Union for what it really is, a gigantic labour organisation which has conquered one-sixth of the Earth’s surface, we will not be so ready to abandon it because of our hatred of the crimes and abominations of the bureaucracy. Do we turn our backs on a trade union because it falls into the control of bureaucrats and traitors? Ultraleftists have frequently made this error, but always with bad results, sometimes with reactionary consequences.

We recall the case of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union here in New York. The bureaucrats of this union were about as vile a gang of labour lieutenants of the capitalist class as could be found. In the struggle against the left-wing in the middle twenties they conspired with the bosses and the AFL fakers. They expelled the left-wing locals and used hired thugs to fight them and to break their strikes. The difference between them and Stalin was only a matter of opportunity and power. Driven to revolt against the crimes of these bureaucrats the left-wing, under the influence of the Communist Party in the days of its Third Period frenzy, labelled the union—not merely its treacherous bureaucracy—as a “company union”.

But this same “company union,” under the pressure of the workers in its ranks and the increasing intensity of the class struggle, was forced to call a strike to defend itself against the “imperialist” attack of the bosses. Workers who had kept their heads, supported (“defended”) the strike against the bosses. But the Stalinists, trapped by their own hastily-improvised theory, having already denounced the union as a company union, renounced support (“defence”) of the strike. They denounced it as a “fake” strike. Thus their ill-considered radicalism led them to a reactionary position. They were denounced, and rightly, throughout the needle trades market as strikebreakers. To this day they suffer the discredit of this reactionary action.

To defend the Soviet Union as a gigantic labour organisation against the attacks of its class enemies does not mean to defend each and every action of its bureaucracy or each and every action of the Red Army which is an instrument of the bureaucracy. To impute such a “totalitarian” concept of defence to the Fourth International is absurd. Nobody here will deny defence of a bonafide trade union, no matter how reactionary its bureaucracy. But that does not prevent us from discriminating between actions of the bureaucracy which involve a defence of the union against the bosses and other actions which are aimed against the workers.

The United Mine Workers of America is a great labour organisation which we all support. But it is headed by a thoroughgoing scoundrel and agent of the master class who also differs from Stalin only in the degrees of power and opportunity. In my own personal experience some years ago, I took part in a strike of the Kansas miners which was directed against the enforcement of a reactionary labour law, known as the Kansas Industrial Court Law, a law forbidding strikes. This was a thoroughly progressive action on the part of the Kansas miners and their president, Alex Howat. Howat and the other local officials were thrown into jail. While they were in jail, John L. Lewis, as president of the national organisation, sent his agents into the Kansas fields to sign an agreement with the bosses over the head of the officers of the Kansas district. He supplied strike breakers and thugs and money to break the strike while the legitimate officers of the union lay in jail for a good cause. Every militant worker in the country denounced this treacherous strikebreaking action of Lewis. But did we therefore renounce support of the national union of mine workers? Yes, some impatient revolutionaries did, and thereby completely disoriented themselves in the labour movement. The United Mine Workers retained its character as a labour organisation and only last Spring came into conflict with the coal operators on a national scale. I think you all recall that in this contest our press gave “unconditional defence” to the miners’ union despite the fact that strikebreaker Lewis remained its president.

The Longshoremen’s Union of the Pacific Coast is a bona fide organisation of workers, headed by a Stalinist of an especially unattractive type, a pocket edition of Stalin named Bridges. This same Bridges led a squad of misguided longshoremen through a picket line of the Sailors’ Union in a direct attempt to break up this organisation. I think all of you recall that our press scathingly denounced this contemptible action of Bridges. But if the Longshoremen’s Union, headed by Bridges, which is at this moment conducting negotiations with the bosses, is compelled to resort to strike action, what stand shall we take? Any ordinary class-conscious worker, let alone an educated Marxist, will be on the picket line with the Longshoremen’s Union or “defending” it by some other means.

Why is it so difficult for some of our friends, including some of those who are very well educated in the formal sense, to understand the Russian question? I am very much afraid it is because they do not think of it in terms of struggle. It is strikingly evident that the workers, especially the more experienced workers who have taken part in trade unions, strikes, etc., understand the Russian question much better than the more educated scholastics. From their experiences in the struggle they know what is meant when the Soviet Union is compared to a trade union that has fallen into bad hands. And everyone who has been through a couple of strikes which underwent crises and came to the brink of disaster, finally to emerge victorious, understands what is meant when one says: No position must be surrendered until it is irrevocably lost.

I, personally, have seen the fate of more than one strike determined by the will or lack of will of the leadership to struggle at a critical moment. All our trade union successes in Minneapolis stem back directly to a fateful week in 1934 when the leaders refused to call off the strike, which to all appearances was hopelessly defeated, and persuaded the strike committee to hold out a while longer. In that intervening time a break occurred in the ranks of the bosses; this in turn paved the way for a compromise settlement and eventually victorious advance of the whole union.

How strange it is that some people analyse the weakness and defects in a workers’ organisation so closely that they do not always take into account the weakness in the camp of the enemy, which may easily more than counterbalance.

In my own agitation among strikers at dark moments of a strike I have frequently resorted to the analogy of two men engaged in a physical fight. When one gets tired and apparently at the end of his resources he should never forget that the other fellow is maybe just as tired or even more so. In that case the one who holds out will prevail. Looked at in this way a worn-out strike can sometimes be carried through to a compromise or a victory by the resolute will of its leadership. We have seen this happen more than once. Why should we deny the Soviet Union, which is not yet exhausted, the same rights?

The danger of a false position

We have had many discussions on the Russian question in the past. It has been the central and decisive question for us, as for every political tendency in the labour movement. That, I repeat, is because it is nothing less than the question of the revolution at various stages of its progressive development or degeneration. We are, in fact, the party of the Russian revolution. We have been the people, and the only people, who have had the Russian revolution in their program and in their blood. That is also the main reason why the Fourth International is the only revolutionary tendency in the whole world. A false position on the Russian question would have destroyed our movement as it destroyed all others.

Two years ago we once again conducted an extensive discussion on the Russian question. The almost unanimous conclusion of the party was written into the program of our first convention:

1. The Soviet Union, on the basis of its nationalised property and planned economy, the fruit of the revolution, remains a workers’ state, though in a degenerated form.

2. As such, we stand, as before, for the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack.

3. The best defence—the only thing that can save the Soviet Union in the end by solving its contradictions—is the international revolution of the proletariat.

4. In order to regenerate the workers’ state we stand for the overthrow of the bureaucracy by a political revolution.

But, it may be said: “Defence of the Soviet Union, and Russia is a workers’ state—those two phrases don’t answer everything.” They are not simply phrases. One is a theoretical analysis; the other is a political conclusion for action.

The meaning of unconditional defence

Our motion calls for unconditional defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack. What does that mean? It simply means that we defend the Soviet Union and its nationalised property against external attacks of imperialist armies or against internal attempts at capitalist restoration, without putting as a prior condition the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Any other kind of defence negates the whole position under present circumstances. Some people speak nowadays of giving “conditional” defence to the Soviet Union. If you stop to think about it we are for conditional defence of the United States. It is so stated in the program of the Fourth International. In the event of war we will absolutely defend the country on only one small “condition”: that we first overthrow the government of the capitalists and replace it with a government of the workers.

Does unconditional defence of the Soviet Union mean supporting every act of the Red Army? No, that is absurd. Did we support the Moscow Trials and the actions of Stalin’s GPU in these trials? Did we support the purges, the wholesale murders of the forces in Spain which were directed against the workers? If I recall correctly, we unconditionally defended those workers who fought on the other side of the barricades in Barcelona. That did not prevent us from supporting the military struggle against Franco and maintaining our position in defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack.

It is now demanded that we take a big step forward and support the idea of an armed struggle against Stalin in the newly occupied territories of old Poland. Is this really something new? For three years the Fourth International has advocated in its program the armed overthrow of Stalin inside the Soviet Union itself. The Fourth International has generally acknowledged the necessity for an armed struggle to set up an independent Soviet Ukraine. How can there be any question of having a different policy in the newly occupied territories ? If the revolution against Stalin is really ready there, the Fourth International will certainly support it and endeavour to lead it. There are no two opinions possible in our ranks on this question. But what shall we do if Hitler (or Chamberlain) attacks the Sovietised Ukraine before Stalin has been overthrown? This is the question that needs an unambiguous answer. Shall we defend the Soviet Union, and with it now and for the same reasons, the nationalised property of the newly annexed territories? We say, yes!

That position was incorporated into the program of the foundation congress of the Fourth International, held in the summer of 1938. Remember, that was after the Moscow Trials and the crushing of the Spanish revolution. It was after the murderous purge of the whole generation of Bolsheviks, after the People’s Front, the entry into the League of Nations, the Stalin-Laval pact (and betrayal of the French workers). We took our position on the basis of the economic structure of the country, the fruit of the revolution. The great gains are not to be surrendered before they are really lost. That is the fighting program of the Fourth International.

The Stalin-Hitler pact

The Stalin-Hitler pact does not change anything fundamentally. If Stalin were allied with the United States, and comrades should deny defence of the Soviet Union out of fear of becoming involved in the defence of Stalin’s American ally, such comrades would be wrong, but their position would be understandable as a subjective reaction prompted by revolutionary sentiments. The “defeatism” which broke out in our French section following the Stalin-Laval pact was undoubtedly so motivated and, consequently, had to be refuted with the utmost tolerance and patience. But an epidemic of “defeatism” in the democratic camp would be simply shameful. There is no pressure on us in America to defend the Soviet Union. All the pressure is for a democratic holy war against the Soviet Union. Let us keep this in mind. The main enemy is still in our own country.

What has happened since our last discussion? Has there been some fundamental change in Soviet economy. No, nothing of that kind is maintained. Nothing happened except that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler! For us that gave no reason whatever to change our analysis of Soviet economy and our attitude toward it. The aim of all our previous theoretical work, concentrated in our program, was precisely to prepare us for war and revolution. Now we have the war; and revolution is next in order. If we have to stop now to find a new program it is a very bad sign.

Just consider: There are people who could witness all the crimes and betrayals of Stalin, which we understood better than anybody else, and denounced before anybody else and more effectively, they could witness all this and still stand for the defence of the Soviet Union. But they could not tolerate the alliance with fascist Germany instead of imperialist England or France!

The invasion of Poland

Of course, there has been a great hullaballoo about the Soviet invasion of Polish Ukraine. But that is simply one of the consequences of the war and the alliance with Hitler’s Germany. The contention that we should change our analysis of the social character of the Soviet state and our attitude toward its defence because the Red Army violated the Polish border is even more absurd than to base such changes on the Hitler pact. The Polish invasion is only an incident in a war, and in wars borders are always violated. (If all the armies stayed at home there could be no war.) The inviolability of borders—all of which were established by war—is interesting to democratic pacifists and to nobody else.

Hearing all the democratic clamour we had to ask ourselves many times: Don’t they know that Western Ukraine and White Russia never rightfully belonged to Poland? Don’t they know that this territory was forcibly taken from the Soviet Union by Pilsudski with French aid in 1920?

To be sure, this did not justify Stalin’s invasion of the territory in collaboration with Hitler. We never supported that and we never supported the fraudulent claim that Stalin was bringing “liberation” to the peoples of the Polish Ukraine. At the same time we did not propose to yield an inch to the “democratic” incitement against the Soviet Union on the basis of the Polish events. The democratic war mongers were shrieking at the top of their voices all over town. We must not be unduly impressed by this democratic clamour. Your National Committee was not in the least impressed.

In order to penetrate a little deeper into this question and trace it to its roots, let us take another hypothetical example. Not a fantastic one, but a very logical one. Suppose Stalin had made a pact with the imperialist democracies against Hitler while Rumania had allied itself with Hitler. Suppose, as would most probably have happened in that case, the Red Army had struck at Rumania, Hitler’s ally, instead of Poland, the ally of the democracies, and had seized Bessarabia, which also once belonged to Russia. Would the democratic war mongers in that case have howled about “Red Imperialism”? Not on your life!

I am very glad that our National Committee maintained its independence from bourgeois democratic pressure on the Polish invasion. The question was put to us very excitedly, point-blank, like a pistol at the temple: “Are you for or against the invasion of Poland?” But revolutionary Marxists don’t answer in a “yes” or “no” manner which can lump them together with other people who pursue opposite aims. Being for or against something is not enough in the class struggle. It is necessary to explain from what standpoint one is for or against. Are you for or against racketeering gangsters in the trade unions?—the philistines sometimes ask. We don’t jump to attention, like a private soldier who has met an officer on the street, and answer: “against!” We first inquire: who asks this question and from what standpoint? And what weight does this question have in relation to other questions? We have our own standpoint and we are careful not to get our answers mixed up with those of class enemies and pacifist muddleheads.

Some people—especially affected bosses—are against racketeering gangsters in the trade unions because they extort graft from the bosses. That side of the question doesn’t interest us very much. Some people—especially pacifist preachers—are against the gangsters because they commit violence. But we are not against violence at all times and under all circumstances. We, for our part, taking our time and formulating our viewpoint precisely, say: We are against union gangsterism because it injures the union in its fight against the bosses. That is our reason. It proceeds from our special class standpoint on the union question.

So with Poland: We don’t support the course of Stalin in general. His crime is not one incident here or there but his whole policy. He demoralises the workers’ movement and discredits the Soviet Union. That is what we are against. He betrays the revolution by his whole course. Every incident for us fits into that framework; it is considered from that point of view and taken in its true proportions.

The invasion of Finland

Those who take the Polish invasion—an incident in a great chain of events—as the basis for a fundamental change in our program show a lack of proportion. That is the kindest thing that can be said for them. They are destined to remain in a permanent lather throughout the war. They are already four laps behind schedule: There is also Latvia, and Estonia, and Lithuania, and now Finland.

We can expect another clamour of demands that we say, pointblank, and in one word, whether we are “for” or “against” the pressure on poor little bourgeois-democratic Finland. Our answer—wait a minute. Keep your shirt on. There is no lack of protests in behalf of the bourgeois swine who rule Finland. The New Leader has protested. Charles Yale Harrison has written a tearful column about it. The renegade Lore has wept about it in the New York Post. The President of the United States has protested. Finland is pretty well covered with moral support. So bourgeois Finland can wait a minute till we explain our attitude without bothering about the “for” or “against” ultimatum.

I personally feel very deeply about Finland, and this is by no means confined to the present dispute between Stalin and the Finnish Prime Minister. When I think of Finland, I think of the thousands of martyred dead, the proletarian heroes who perished under the white terror of Mannerheim. I would, if I could, call them back from their graves. Failing that, I would organise a proletarian army of Finnish workers to avenge them, and drive their murderers into the Baltic Sea. I would send the Red Army of the regenerated Soviet Union to help them at the decisive moment.

We don’t support Stalin’s invasion only because he doesn’t come for revolutionary purposes. He doesn’t come at the call of Finnish workers whose confidence he has forfeited. That is the only reason we are against it. The “borders” have nothing to do with it. “Defence” in war also means attack. Do you think we will respect frontiers when we make our revolution? If an enemy army lands troops at Quebec, for example, do you think we will wait placidly at the Canadian border for their attack? No, if we are genuine revolutionists and not pacifist muddleheads we will cross the border and meet them at the point of landing. And if our defence requires the seizure of Quebec, we will seize it as the Red Army of Lenin seized Georgia and tried to take Warsaw.

Foreseen in program of Fourth International

Some may think the war and the alliance with Hitler change everything we have previously considered; that it, at least, requires a reconsideration of the whole question of the Soviet Union, if not a complete change in our program. To this we can answer: War was contemplated by our program. The fundamental theses on “War and the Fourth International,” adopted in 1934, say:

Every big war, irrespective of its initial moves, must pose squarely the question of military intervention against the USSR in order to transfuse fresh blood into the sclerotic veins of capitalism ...

Defence of the Soviet Union from the blows of the capitalist enemies, irrespective of the circumstances and immediate causes of the conflict, is the elementary and imperative duty of every honest labour organisation.

Alliances were contemplated. The theses say:

In the existing situation an alliance of the USSR with an imperialist state or with one imperialist combination against another, in case of war, cannot at all be considered as excluded. Under the pressure of circumstances a temporary alliance of this kind may become an iron necessity, without ceasing, however, because of it, to be of the greatest danger both to the USSR and to the world revolution.

The international proletariat will not decline to defend the USSR even if the latter should find itself forced into a military alliance with some imperialists against others. But in this case, even more than in any other, the international proletariat must safeguard its complete political independence from Soviet diplomacy and thereby also from the bureaucracy of the Third International.

A stand on defence was taken in the light of this perspective.

A slogan of defence acquires a concrete meaning precisely in the event of war. A strange time to drop it! That would mean a rejection of all our theoretical preparation for the war. That would mean starting all over again. From what fundamental basis? Nobody knows.

There has been much talk of “independence” on the Russian question. That is good! A revolutionist who is not independent is not worth his salt. But it is necessary to specify: Independent of whom? What is needed by our party at every turn is class independence, independence of the Stalinists, and, above all, independence of the bourgeoisie. Our program assures such independence under all circumstances. It shall not be changed!

2. Resolution on Party Unity


A Proposal for a Joint Statement to the Party Membership, to be Signed by the Leading Representatives of Both Groups in the PC.

In view of the fears expressed by some comrades that the present internal discussion can lead to a split, either as a result of expulsions by a majority or the withdrawal of a minority, the leading representatives of both sides declare:

1. It is necessary to regulate the discussion in such a way as to eliminate the atmosphere of split and reassure the party members that the unity of the party will be maintained. Toward this end both sides agree to eliminate from the discussion all threats of split or expulsions.

2. The issues in dispute must be clarified and resolved by normal democratic processes within the framework of the party and the Fourth International. After the necessary period of free discussion, if the two sides cannot come to agreement, the questions in dispute are to be decided by a party convention, without, on the one side, any expulsions because of opinions defended in the preconvention discussion, or any withdrawals on the other side.

3. Both sides obligate themselves to loyal collaboration in the daily work of the party during the period of the discussion.

4. The internal bulletin is to be jointly edited by two editors, one from each side.

5. A parity commission of four—two from each side—is to be constituted. The function of the parity commission is to investigate all organisation complaints, grievances, threats, accusations, or violations of discipline which may arise out of the discussion and report same to the Political Committee with concrete recommendations.

3. The Organisation Principles Upon Which the Party Was Founded


The third convention of the Socialist Workers Parity reaffirms the resolution adopted by the Founding Convention of the SWP “On the Internal Situation and the Character of the Party”, as follows:

The Socialist Workers Party is a revolutionary Marxian party, based on a definite program, whose aim is the organisation of the working class in the struggle for power and the transformation of the existing social order. All of its activities, its methods and its internal regime are subordinated to this aim and are designed to serve it.

Only a self-acting and critical-minded membership is capable of forging and consolidating such a party and of solving its problems by collective thought, discussion and experience. From this follows the need of assuring the widest party democracy in the ranks of the organisation.

The struggle for power organised and led by the revolutionary party is the most ruthless and irreconcilable struggle in all history. A loosely-knit, heterogeneous, undisciplined, untrained organisation is utterly incapable of accomplishing such world-historical tasks as the proletariat and the revolutionary party are confronted with in the present era. This is all the more emphatically true in the light of the singularly difficult position of our party and the extraordinary persecution to which it is subject. From this follows the party’s unconditional demand upon all its members for complete discipline in all the public activities and actions of the organisation.

Leadership and centralised direction are indispensable prerequisites for any sustained and disciplined action, especially in the party that sets itself the aim of leading the collective efforts of the proletariat in its struggle against capitalism. Without a strong and firm Central Committee, having the power to act promptly and effectively in the name of the party and to supervise, coordinate and direct all its activities without exception, the very idea of a revolutionary party is a meaningless jest.

It is from these considerations, based upon the whole of the experience of working class struggle throughout the world in the last century, that we derive the Leninist principle of organisation, namely, democratic centralism. The same experience has demonstrated that there are no absolute guarantees for the preservation of the principle of democratic centralism, and no rigid formula that can be set down in advance, a priori, for the application of it under any and all circumstances. Proceeding from certain fundamental conceptions, the problem of applying the principle of democratic centralism differently under different conditions and stages of development of the struggle, can be solved only in relation to the concrete situation, in the course of the tests and experience through which the movement passes, and on the basis of the most fruitful and healthy interrelationship of the leading bodies of the party and its rank and file.

The responsibilities of leadership

The leadership of the party must be under the control of the membership, its policies must always be open to criticism, discussion and rectification by the rank and file within properly established forms and limits, and the leading bodies themselves subject to formal recall or alteration. The membership of the party has the right to demand and expect the greatest responsibility from the leaders precisely because of the position they occupy in the movement. The selection of comrades to the positions of leadership means the conferring of an extraordinary responsibility. The warrant for this position must be proved, not once, but continuously by the leadership itself. It is under obligation to set the highest example of responsibility, devotion, sacrifice and complete identification with the party itself and its daily life and action. It must display the ability to defend its policies before the membership of the party, and to defend the line of the party and the party as a whole before the working class in general.

Sustained party activity, not broken or disrupted by abrupt and disorienting changes, presupposes not only a continuity of tradition and a systematic development of party policy, but also the continuity of leadership. It is an important sign of a serious and firmly constituted party, of a party really engaged in productive work in the class struggle, that it throws up out of its ranks cadres of more or less able leading comrades, tested for their qualities of endurance and trustworthiness, and that it thus insures a certain stability and continuity of leadership by such a cadre.

Continuity of leadership does not, however, signify the automatic self-perpetuation of leadership. Constant renewal of its ranks by means of additions and, when necessary, replacements, is the only assurance that the party has, that its leadership will not succumb to the effects of dry-rot, that it will not be burdened with deadwood, that it will avoid the corrosion of conservatism and dilettantism, that it will not be the object of conflict between the older elements and the younger, that the old and basic cadre will be refreshed by new blood, that the leadership as a whole will not become purely bureaucratic “committee men” with a life that is remote from the real life of the party and the activities of the rank and file.

Responsibilities of membership

Like leadership, membership itself in the party implies certain definite rights. Party membership confers the fullest freedom of discussion, debate and criticism inside the ranks of the party, limited only by such decisions and provisions as are made by the party itself or by bodies to which it assigns this function. Affiliation to the party confers upon each member the right of being democratically represented at all policy-making assemblies of the party (from branch to national and international convention), and the right of the final and decisive vote in determining the program, policies and leadership of the party.

With party rights, the membership has also certain definite obligations. The theoretical and political character of the party is determined by its program, which forms the lines delimiting the revolutionary party from all other parties, groups and tendencies in the working class. The first obligation of party membership is loyal acceptance of the program of the party and regular affiliation to one of the basic units of the party. The party requires of every member the acceptance of its discipline and the carrying on of his activity in accordance with the program of the party, with the decisions adopted by its conventions, and with the policies formulated and directed by the party leadership.

Party membership implies the obligation of 100% loyalty to the organisation, the rejection of all agents of other, hostile groups in its ranks, and intolerance of divided loyalties in general. Membership in the party necessitates a minimum of activity in the organisation, as established by the proper unit, and under the direction of the party; it necessitates the fulfilment of all the tasks which the party assigns to each member. Party membership implies the obligation upon every member to contribute materially to the support of the organisation in accordance with his means.

A party of revolutionary workers

From the foregoing it follows that the party seeks to include in its ranks all the revolutionary, class conscious and militant workers who stand on its program and are active in building the movement in a disciplined manner. The revolutionary Marxian party rejects not only the arbitrariness and bureaucratism of the Communist Party, but also the spurious and deceptive “all-inclusiveness” of the Thomas-Tyler-Hoan Socialist 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. The SWP seeks to be inclusive only in this sense: that it accepts into its ranks those who accept its program and denies admission to those who reject its program.

The rights of each individual member, as set forth above, do not imply that the membership as a whole, namely, the party itself, does not possess rights of its own. The party as a whole has the right to demand that its work be not disrupted and disorganised, and has the right to take all the measures which it finds necessary to assure its regular and normal functioning. The rights of any individual member are distinctly secondary to the rights of the party membership as a whole. Party democracy means not only the most scrupulous protection of the rights of a given minority, but also the protection of the rule of the majority. The party is therefore entitled to organise the discussion and to determine its forms and limits.

All inner-party discussion must be organised from the point of view that the party is not a discussion club, which debates interminably on any and all questions at any and all times, without arriving at a binding decision that enables the organisation to act, but from the point of view that we are a disciplined party of revolutionary action. The party in general not only has the right, therefore, to organise the discussion in accordance with the requirements of the situation, but the lower units of the party must be given the right, in the interests of the struggle against the disruption and disorganisation of the party’s work, to call irresponsible individuals to order and, if need be, to eject them from the ranks.

The decisions of the national party convention are binding on all party members without exception and they conclude the discussion on all these disputed questions upon which a decision has been taken. Any party member violating the decisions of the convention, or attempting to revive discussion in regard to them without formal authorisation of the party, puts himself thereby in opposition to the party and forfeits his right to membership. All party organisations are authorised and instructed to take any measures necessary to enforce this rule.

4. The Organisational Conclusions of the Present Discussion

The Bolshevik party of Lenin is the only party in history which successfully conquered and held state power. The SWP, as a combat organisation, which aims at achieving power in this country, models its organisation forms and methods after those of the Russian Bolshevik party, adapting them, naturally, to the experience of recent years and to concrete American conditions.

The SWP as a revolutionary workers’ party is based on the doctrines of scientific socialism as embodied in the principal works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and incorporated in the basic documents and resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International and of the conferences and congresses of the Fourth International.

The SWP rejects the contention of social democrats, sceptics and capitulators disillusioned in the Russian revolution, that there is an inevitable and organic connection between Bolshevism and Stalinism. This reactionary revision of Marxism is a capitulation to democratic imperialism. It is capable of producing only demoralisation and defeat in the critical times of war and revolution.

The rise of reaction on a world scale, accompanied and produced by the disastrous course of Stalinism in the working class movement, has catapulted all centrist groups and parties (Lovestoneites, Socialist Party, London Bureau) away from Bolshevism and in the direction of social democracy. In whole or in part, all of these groups attempt to identify Bolshevism with Stalinism. Without exception these groups are all in a state of collapse and passing over to the side of the class enemy.

Petty bourgeoisie transmits scepticism

This tendency (Souvarinism) has manifested itself in leading circles of our party (Burnham) and in certain sections of the membership. Their sceptical criticisms of Bolshevism express their petty-bourgeois composition and their dependence on bourgeois public opinion. The petty bourgeoisie is a natural transmission belt carrying the theories of reaction into the organisations of the working class.

Those who seek to identify Bolshevism with Stalinism concern themselves with a search for guarantees against the Stalinist degeneration of the party and the future Soviet power. We reject this demand for insurance as completely undialectical and unrealistic. Our party, in the first instance, is concerned with the struggle for state power, and therefore with creating a party organisation capable of leading the proletarian struggle to this goal. There are no constitutional guarantees which can prevent degeneration. Only the victorious revolution can provide the necessary preconditions for preventing the degeneration of the party and the future Soviet power. If the party fails to carry through and extend the revolution the degeneration of the party is inevitable.

Insofar as any guarantees are possible against the degeneration of the proletarian party, these can be obtained only by educating the party in firm adherence to principles and by a merciless struggle against all personal and unprincipled clique combinations within the party. The outstanding example of this clique formation is the Abern group which is based solely on personal loyalties and on rewards of honour and place within the party for those whose primary loyalty is to the clique. The history of the Fourth International in this country amply reveals that such a clique, with its utter disregard for principles, can become the repository for alien class influences and agents of enemy organisations seeking to disrupt the Fourth International from within. The SWP condemns the Abern clique as hostile to the spirit and methods of Bolshevik organisation.

Revolutionary centralism

To overthrow the most powerful capitalist ruling class in the world, the SWP must be organised as a combat party on strong centralist lines. The resolution adopted at the founding convention gave a correct interpretation of the principle of democratic centralism. Its emphasis was placed on the democratic aspects of this principle. The party leadership has faithfully preserved the democratic rights of the membership since the founding convention. It has granted the widest latitude of discussion to all dissenting groups and individuals. The duty of the incoming National Committee is to execute the decisions of the convention, arrived at after the most thorough and democratic discussion, and to permit no infringement upon them.

Conditions, both external and in the internal development of the party, demand that steps now be taken towards knitting the party together, towards tightening up its activities and centralising its organisation structure. For the work of penetrating into the workers’ mass movement, for the heavy struggles to come against capitalism, for the onerous conditions of war, it is imperative that a maximum of loyalty be required of every leader and every member, that a maximum of activity be required, that a strict adherence to discipline be demanded and rigidly enforced.

The press

The party press is the decisive public agitational and propagandist expression of the Bolshevik organisation. The policies of the press are formulated on the basis of the fundamental resolutions of the congresses and conferences of the International, the conventions of the party, and decisions of the National Committee not in conflict with such resolutions. Control of the press is lodged directly in the hands of the National Committee by the convention of the party. The duty of the editors is loyally to interpret the decisions of the convention in the press.

Control of public discussion

The opening of the party press to discussion of a point of view contrary to that of the official leadership of the party or of its programmatic convention decisions must be controlled by the National Committee which is obligated to regulate discussion of this character in such a way as to give decisive emphasis to the party line. It is the right and duty of the National Committee to veto any demand for public discussion if it deems such discussion harmful to the best interests of the party.

The petty-bourgeois opposition in our party demonstrates its hostility to Bolshevik organisation by its demand that the minority be granted the right to transform the press into a discussion organ for diametrically opposite programs. By that method it would take the control of the press out of the hands of the National Committee and subordinate it to any temporary, anarchistic combination which can make itself heard at the moment.

By the same token, the demand of the petty-bourgeois opposition for an independent public organ, expounding a program in opposition to that of the majority of the party, represents a complete abandonment of democratic centralism and a capitulation to the Norman Thomas type of “all-inclusive” party which is inclusive of all tendencies except the Bolshevik. The granting of this demand for a separate organ would destroy the centralist character of the party, by creating dual central committees, dual editorial boards, dual treasuries, dual distribution agencies, divided loyalties and a complete breakdown of all discipline. Under such conditions the party would rapidly degenerate into a social democratic organisation or disappear from the scene altogether. The convention categorically rejects the demand for a dual organ.


To build the combat organisation capable of conquering state power, the party must have as its general staff a corps of professional revolutionists who devote their entire life to the direction and the building of the party and its influence in the mass movement. Membership in the leading staff of the party, the National Committee, must be made contingent on a complete subordination of the life of the candidate to the party. All members of the National Committee must devote full-time activities to party work, or be prepared to do so at the demand of the National Committee.

In the struggle for power, the party demands the greatest sacrifices of its members. Only a leadership selected from among those who demonstrate in the struggle the qualities of singleness of purpose, unconditional loyalty to the party and revolutionary firmness of character, can inspire the membership with a spirit of unswerving devotion and lead the party in its struggle for power.

The party leadership must, from time to time, be infused with new blood, primarily from its proletarian sections. Workers who show promise and ability through activity in the union movement and its strike struggles should be elevated to the leading committees of the party in order to establish a more direct connection between the leading committee and the workers’ movement, and in order to train the worker-Bolshevik for the task of party direction itself.

The party must select from its younger members those qualified, talented and promising elements who can be trained for leadership. The road of the student youth to the party leadership must not and cannot be from the class room of the high school and college directly into the leading committee. They must first prove themselves. They must be sent without high-sounding titles into working class districts for day-to-day work among the proletariat. The young student must serve an apprenticeship in the workers’ movement before he can be considered as candidate for the National Committee.

Proletarianise the party

The working class is the only class in modern society that is progressive and truly revolutionary. Only the working class is capable of saving humanity from barbarism. Only a revolutionary party can lead the proletariat to the realisation of this historic mission. To achieve power, the revolutionary party must be deeply rooted among the workers, it must be composed predominantly of workers and enjoy the respect and confidence of the workers.

Without such a composition it is impossible to build a programmatically firm and disciplined organisation which can accomplish these grandiose tasks. A party of non-workers is necessarily subject to all the reactionary influences of scepticism, cynicism, soul-sickness and capitulatory despair transmitted to it through its petty-bourgeois environment.

To transform the SWP into a proletarian party of action, particularly in the present period of reaction, it is not enough to continue propagandistic activities in the hope that by an automatic process workers will flock to the banner of the party. It is necessary, on the contrary, to make a concerted, determined and systematic effort, consciously directed by the leading committees of the party, to penetrate the workers’ movement, establish the roots of the party in the trade unions, the mass labour organisations and in the workers’ neighbourhoods and recruit worker militants into the ranks of the party.

Steps to proletarianise the party

To proletarianise the party, the following steps are imperative:

1. The entire party membership must be directed towards rooting itself in the factories, mills, etc., and towards integrating itself in the unions and workers’ mass organisations.

2. Those members of the party who are not workers shall be assigned to work in labour organisations, in workers’ neighbourhoods and with the worker-fractions of the party—to assist them and learn from them. All unemployed members must belong to and be active in organisations of the unemployed.

Those party members who find it impossible after a reasonable period of time to work in a proletarian milieu and to attract to the party worker militants shall be transferred from party membership to the rank of sympathisers. Special organisations of sympathisers may be formed for this purpose.

Above all the student and unemployed youth must be sent into industry and involved in the life and struggles of the workers. Systematic, exceptional and persistent efforts must be made to assist the integration of our unemployed youth into industry despite the restricted field of employment.

Lacking connection with the workers’ movement through failure or inability to get jobs in industry or membership in unions, the student and unemployed youth are subject to terrific pressure from the petty-bourgeois world. A large section of the youth membership of the SWP and YPSL adopted the program of the Fourth International, but brought with them the training and habits of the social-democratic movement, which are far removed from the spirit of the proletarian revolution.

These student elements can transform the program of the Fourth International from the pages of books and pamphlets into living reality for themselves and for the party only by integrating themselves in the workers’ movement and breaking irrevocably from their previous environment. Unless they follow this road they are in constant danger of slipping back into their former social democratic habits or into complete apathy and pessimism and thus be lost for the revolutionary movement.

3. To attract and to hold workers in the ranks of the party, it is necessary that the internal life of the party be drastically transformed. The party must be cleansed of the discussion club atmosphere, of an irresponsible attitude toward assignments, of a cynical and smart aleck disrespect for the party.

Organising real campaigns

Party activity must be lifted out of dragging, daily routine and reorganised on the basis of campaigns which are realistically adjusted to the demands and direction of the workers’ movement. These campaigns must not be sucked out of the thumb of some functionary in a party office, but must arise as a result of the connections of the party with the workers’ movement and the indicated direction of the masses in specific situations.

All party agitation campaigns, especially in the next period, must be directed primarily at those workers’ groups and organisations in which we are attempting to gain a foothold and attract members. General agitation addressed to the working class as a whole or the public in general must be related to those specific aims.

The press must gear its agitation into the activity conducted among specific workers’ groups so as to transform the party paper from a literary organ into a workers’ organiser. The integration of the party into the workers’ movement, and the transformation of the party into a proletarian organisation, are indispensable for the progress of the party. Successful achievement of this internal transformation is a thousand times more important than any amount of empty phrases about “preparation of the party for war”. This transformation is, in fact, the only real preparation of the party for war, combined of course with the necessary technical adjustments in organisation forms.

The SWP must adhere to the principles and program of the Fourth International, transform itself into a democratically centralised Bolshevik organisation, integrate itself into the workers’ movement. On that basis, and on that basis alone, can the party meet the test of the war, survive the war and go forward to its great goal—the establishment of a workers’ republic in the United States.

5. Resolution on Discipline

Having heard the declaration made to the convention by the representative of the minority to the effect that, regardless of the decision of the convention, the minority will publish a paper of its own in opposition to the press of the party, the convention states:

1. The threat is an attempt of a petty-bourgeois minority to impose its will upon the party in opposition to the principles of democratic centralism which alone can assure the unity of a revolutionary combat party. The convention categorically rejects the ultimatum of the minority and declares that any attempt on the part of any individual or group to execute it and to issue or distribute any publication in opposition to the official press of the party is incompatible with membership in the party.

2. All party organisations are instructed to expel from the party any member or members violating this convention decision.

The National Committee or its Political Committee are empowered and instructed by the convention to expel any regular or alternate member or members of the NC or PC who may participate in any such violation. The NC or PC is instructed to immediately expel and reorganise any party unit or executive committee failing to act promptly in the execution of the above instructions in regard to any member or members under its jurisdiction who may violate the convention decisions.

6. Supplementary Resolution on the Organisational Question

In order to assure the concentration of the party membership on practical work under the most favourable internal conditions, to safeguard the unity of the party and to provide guarantees for the party rights of the minority, the convention adopts the following special measures:

1. The discussion in the party branches on the controversial issues is to be concluded with the convention decisions and the reports of the delegates to their branches. It may be resumed only by authorisation of the National Committee.

2. In order to acquaint the party sympathisers and the radical labour public with all aspects of the disputes, and the opinions of both sides, the NC shall publish in symposium form the most important articles on the Russian question and the organisation question. These symposia shall be jointly edited and each side may select the articles it wishes to publish.

3. As an exceptional measure in the present circumstances, the discussion may be continued in literary form if the representatives of either side, or both, so desire. Articles dealing with the theoretical-scientific aspects of the disputed questions may be published in the New International. Political discussion articles are to be published in a monthly Internal Bulletin, issued by the NC, under joint editorship of the convention majority and minority.

4. The NC shall publish all resolutions considered by the convention, those rejected as well as those adopted. Editorial comment shall be restricted to defence of the adopted positions.

5. The decisions of the party convention must be accepted by all under the rules of democratic centralism. Strict discipline in action is to be required of all party members.

6. No measures are to be taken against any party member because of the views expressed in the party discussion. Nobody is obliged to renounce his opinion. There is no prohibition of factions. The minority is to be given representation in the leading party committees and assured full opportunity to participate in all phases of party work.

7. The Suspension of the Burnham-Shachtman-Abern Group

(Statement of the National Committee)

The readers of the Appeal are already familiar with the resolutions adopted by the recently concluded national convention of our party.

These resolutions (published last week) made extremely liberal provisions for the participation of the leaders of the minority in party work. The resolutions offered them the opportunity to continue the discussion in defence of their point of view in the Internal Bulletin and in the New International, on the condition that they refrain from issuing an independent publication in opposition to the press of the party.

These decisions of the convention have been rejected by the leaders of the minority. This conduct left the National Committee no alternative, under the instructions of the convention, but to suspend the minority leaders from the party until such time as they signify their readiness to abide by the convention decisions. This action was taken by the National Committee, at its meeting held on April 16, in order to protect the party against disruption. At the same time the terms of the suspension leave the way open for the suspended members to reconsider the question and return to their places in the party leadership and in its editorial boards on the basis of the convention decisions.

8. The Convention of the Socialist Workers Party

The special convention of the Socialist Workers Party, held in New York, April 5-8 [1940], summed up the internal discussion which has been in progress ever since the outbreak of the war in Europe. The task of the convention was to determine whether the party shall maintain its allegiance to the program of the Fourth International; that is, whether it shall continue to exist as a revolutionary organisation or begin to degenerate along the lines of reconciliation with democratic imperialism. The convention accomplished its task in a revolutionary fashion. By the decisive vote of 55 to 31, the delegates from the branches reaffirmed their allegiance to the program and rejected the revisionist improvisations of the opposition.

The victory of the proletarian revolutionary tendency was in reality far more decisive than these figures indicate. More than half of the delegates of the opposition came from New York branches which are predominantly petty-bourgeois in composition. Outside New York the delegates stood three to one behind the majority of the National Committee in its defence of the program. But even these figures do not adequately portray the weakness of the opposition in the proletarian ranks of the party. Among the genuine worker elements of the party, those members connected with the mass movement and directly engaged in the class struggle, the position of the majority of the National Committee prevailed by not less than ten to one. The opposition started and finished as a purely literary tendency, making big pretensions, but without any serious base of support in the proletarian ranks of the party.

The decision of the party came at the end of a thoroughgoing, democratic party discussion which left not a single question unclarified. The discussion was formally opened early in October [1939] and continued uninterruptedly for six months. It is highly doubtful that any party discussion anywhere was ever so extensive, so complete and so democratically conducted as this one. Thirteen big internal bulletins were published by the National Committee during the discussion, with the space about equally divided between the factions; and there was an unrestricted distribution of factional documents, besides those published in the official bulletins. In addition, there were innumerable debates and speeches in party membership meetings. Such an extensive and drawn-out discussion may appear to be abnormal, even for a democratic organisation such as ours which settles all disputed questions by free and democratic discussion. So it was. But the controversy which preoccupied our members in this instance, went far beyond the usual differences of opinion as to the best methods of applying the program. The revisionist opposition attacked the program itself.

Their position at bottom represented a fundamental break with the programmatic concepts, traditions and methods embodied in the Fourth International. Consequently it was necessary to carry the fight out to a definitive conclusion. The result justified the extraordinary amount of time and attention devoted to the dispute. The internal fight was imposed upon the party by the war. Disoriented by the war, or rather by the approach of war, a section of the leadership turned their backs on the program, which had been elaborated in years of struggle in preparation for the war. Overnight, they forgot the principles which they had defended jointly with us up to the very day of the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact. These soldiers of peace had evidently assimilated the ideas of Bolshevism only as a set of literary formulas. They wrote endlessly, and sometimes cleverly, in favor of them. But the moment the formulas were put to the test of life—or rather the threat of such a test, for America has not yet entered into the war—the literary exponents crumpled miserably and shamefully. And with amazing speed.

Even a revolutionary party is not free from the pressure of its bourgeois environment. In the case of Burnham and Shachtman this pressure was reflected in its crudest form. Stalin in alliance with the brigands of French imperialism, and prospectively with the United States, was acceptable to democratic public opinion; his frame-up trials and purges and his bloody work in Spain were passed over as the peccadillos of an eccentric “democrat”. During all this time—the time of the Franco-Soviet pact—all the leaders of the opposition fully agreed with us that the defence of the Soviet Union is the elementary duty of every workers’ organisation. When the same Stalin “betrayed” the imperialist democracies by making an alliance with Hitler Germany, he became anathema to the bourgeois democrats. Immediately, as if by reflex action, our heroic Burnham, and after him Shachtman and the others, disavowed the defence of the Soviet Union by the world proletariat as an “outmoded” idea. That is the essence of the dispute they started in the party, and its immediate causes. All the rest of their explanations are literary trimming.

Fortunately the proletarian militants of the party took their program more seriously, and showed they are capable of adhering to it without regard to external pressure. Our 11 years’ struggle for a proletarian party—which has also been an unceasing struggle against alien tendencies within our own ranks—was recapitulated in our six months’ discussion. The convention drew a balance from this whole experience, and put an end to all speculation about the course of the party. It recorded the determined will of the proletarian majority to face the war with the same program that had been worked out in years of international collaboration in anticipation of the inevitable war. It showed clearly that, in spite of all obstacles and difficulties, the party has become predominantly proletarian in composition. Thereby it has reinforced its proletarian program.

Our convention had more than national significance. The Fourth International, as a whole, like all other organisations in the labour movement, was put to a decisive test by the outbreak of the war. Fortuitous political circumstances have delayed the entry of US imperialism into the war. This provided our party with a more favourable opportunity for a free and democratic discussion of the issues posed by the war crisis than was enjoyed by any other section of our International. Our party was also the best equipped by past experience and training to carry out this discussion in all its implications, from all sides, and to the very end. In addition, outstanding representatives of several other important sections of our International were able to participate directly in the literary discussion in our party. The discussion in the SWP became in effect a discussion for the entire Fourth International and was followed with passionate interest by the members of all sections.

It was clear from the beginning that the issues at stake were international in character and that our decisions would have fateful consequences for our movement on a worldwide scale. Thus our convention, formally and nominally a convention of the Socialist Workers Party, was in its political import a veritable congress of the Fourth International. Under war conditions, and the consequent illegality of many of the sections, a formally organised World Congress, composed of representative delegations, could not be held. Our convention had to serve as temporary surrogate for the World Congress. Politically, there can be no doubt that it had this meaning for all the other sections.

The discussion initiated in our party was transferred into the other sections; and one after the other, they began to take positions on the dispute. In every case where we have been able to establish communication under war conditions, and have direct knowledge of their position, the sections have supported the majority of our party. The international report at our convention disclosed that the Canadian, Mexican, Belgian, German, Argentine, Chinese, Australian and Russian sections have all declared categorically in support of the position of the majority of our party. The other sections, with whom communication is faulty or who have not formerly recorded their position, indicate the same tendency. After our convention there can no longer be the slightest doubt that the overwhelming majority of the members and sections of the Fourth International remain true to their banner—to the doctrine and program of revolutionary Marxism. The decision is made. The revisionist movement of Burnham and Co. can no longer hope for success in our movement, nationally or internationally. The Fourth International remains, after the first test of the war, firm in its programmatic position—the only revolutionary organisation of the workers’ vanguard in the entire world.

From beginning to end, and in all respects, the two factions in the SWP confronted each other in a classic struggle of the proletarian against the petty-bourgeois tendency. This line of demarcation was unmistakably evident in the class composition of the factions and in their general orientation, as well as in the programs they defended.

Despite the extraordinary preoccupation of the entire party with the theoretical dispute, the convention, on the initiative of the majority, devoted two whole sessions and part of a third to discussion of the trade union question and mass work in general. Led by the informed and inspiring report of Farrell Dobbs, the discussion of the delegates on this point revealed that our party in many localities and industries is already deeply integrated in the mass movement of the workers, and that its whole orientation is in this direction. The reports of the delegates showed that even during the six months’ discussion, when the literary panic-mongers were crying havoc and discovering nothing but weaknesses and failures, the proletarian supporters of the majority were busy in many sections with their trade union work; burrowing deeply into the mass movement and establishing firm bases of support for the party there. The opposition at the convention was greatly compromised and discredited by the fact that it virtually abstained from participation in this extensive discussion. They had nothing to say and nothing to report. Here again the petty-bourgeois composition of the opposition, and its lack of serious interest in mass work, were flagrantly manifest.

The report and discussion on the trade union question and mass work dealt a knockout blow to the calamity howlers, pessimists and quitters who have been attributing to the movement their own weakness, cowardice and futility. The convention resounded with proletarian optimism and confidence in the party. The trade union report and discussion, following the decisive reaffirmation of the proletarian program, engendered a remarkable enthusiasm. It was clear from this discussion that the turn of the party toward mass work is already well under way and that the proceedings of the convention could not fail to give it a powerful acceleration.

If any came to the convention with the usual discouragement over a heated factional fight and the prospect of a split, there was no evidence of it. In the camp of the proletarian majority there was not a trace of pessimism, or discouragement, or doubt that the party is going forward to the accomplishment of its historic goal, and that the period ahead of us will be one of expansion and growth and integration in the mass movement. They approached the factional situation in the convention with the calm assurance of people who have made up their minds and know precisely what they want. When the leaders of the petty-bourgeois opposition, defeated in the convention, hurled the threat of split, it was received without a ripple of agitation. The demand of Burnham and Shachtman for the “right” to publish a press of their own in opposition to the press of the party—that is, to make a split in the hypocritical guise of unity; to attack the party in the name of the party—was rejected out of hand by the majority of the convention. The minority was confronted with a clear alternative: either to accept the decision of the majority under the rules of democratic centralism or go their own way and unfurl their own banner.

The majority did everything possible to preserve unity, and even made extraordinary concessions to induce the minority to turn back from their splitting course before it was too late. Their party rights as a minority were guaranteed by a special resolution at the convention. This resolution went to the extreme length of sanctioning a continuation of discussion of the decided questions in the Internal Bulletin, and a discussion of the theoretical aspects of the question in the New International. At the same time, the convention resolution decreed that discussion in the branches must cease, and that all attention and energy of the party membership be concentrated on practical mass work in the next period.

The minority was given proportional representation on the National Committee and a period of time to make up their minds whether to remain in the party or not under the terms and conditions laid down. The minority leaders rejected the convention decision, launched their own publication, and began a public attack on the program of the party and the Fourth International. Thus, by their own decision and actions, they placed themselves outside the ranks of the party and the Fourth International. Their political degeneration is inevitable; nobody has ever yet found a revolutionary road outside the Fourth International. But that is their own affair. Our discussion with them, which was fully adequate, is now concluded.

We are looking forward, not backward. Our task is a deeper penetration of the workers’ mass movement on the basis of the convention decisions. That is our way to prepare for the war. In this course we are assured of the support of the overwhelming majority of the sections of the Fourth International. With a correct program, and the assurance of international collaboration and support, we have every reason to be confident of our future.

9. Why We Publish Fourth International

A Statement by the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party

This is the first issue, Volume I, No. 1, of Fourth International, the new monthly theoretical organ of the Socialist Workers Party. Fourth International will defend the program, ideas and traditions which the New International can no longer represent. We owe our readers an explanation for changing the name of our official magazine.

The New International was the official theoretical organ of the Socialist Workers Party, American section of the Fourth International. The magazine had been in existence since 1934 and was published regularly with the exception of the period when the Fourth Internationalists of this country held membership in the Socialist Party. At all times the New International was the property of our organisation. It voiced in its columns the official position of the Trotskyist movement, as a section of the International Communist League and later as a section of the Fourth International. The policies of the magazine were determined by our National Committee. The editors and business staff of the magazine were appointed by and subject to the decisions of the party. The New International was financed by the nickels and dimes and dollars of the worker members of the party and its sympathisers. Its deficits were paid by the party. The New International was an integral part of the international Trotskyist movement and its American section, the Socialist Workers Party.

By a breach of trust, morally and legally equivalent to a misappropriation of funds by a financial officer of a workers’ organisation, Burnham, Shachtman and Abern, who held posts on the New International by party appointment, and who were trustees for the party in the New International Publishing Company, have usurped the name of the magazine and attempted to appropriate its mailing rights as their personal property.

These turncoats, defeated in the party convention after a free and democratic discussion in the party, have sought to revenge themselves on the proletarian majority of the party by stealing the name and the mailing rights of the magazine entrusted to their management, and attempting to cash in on its tradition. An issue of the New International has appeared under the auspices of these ex-Trotskyists. A casual reading of the forged copy is sufficient to convince any reader that it is not the New International they have known but a miserable counterfeit.

The old New International defended the program of the Fourth International; it was the chief medium for the publication of the theoretical contributions of Comrade Trotsky, and was honoured throughout the world as the theoretical protagonist of the Marxism of our time, i.e., “Trotskyism”. The counterfeit New International, stolen in sneak-thief fashion from the party that owned it and paid for it, and published behind its back in the dark of night, has nothing in common with the traditions of its name and its past association.

Those who know the revolutionary traditions established by the magazine, those who appreciate its great work in the ideas of Marxism throughout the world cannot fail to be revolted by the publication of the New International under revisionist and anti-Trotskyist auspices. This feeling of revulsion must have been augmented by the appearance from the pen of Burnham under the heading “Archives of the Revolution”, of a foul attack on the Marxist doctrine and method and on the author of most of the rich material in Marxist theory which in the past appeared under this heading.

There is no doubt that by every political and moral right the New International belongs to the Socialist Workers Party as represented by its convention majority. There is likewise no doubt, competent attorneys have assured us, that all legal rights to the magazine, its name, its subscription lists and its second class mailing rights belong entirely to the Socialist Workers Party, and that Burnham, Abern and Shachtman would stand in any litigation as betrayers of financial trust and common thieves. No class-conscious worker would censure us for taking legal action to protect our rights in this case. Obviously, we are dealing here, not with an ideological dispute but a case of petty larceny. Nevertheless, we have decided to forego any legal action. We are washing our hands of the New International and launching a new magazine, Fourth International, for the following reasons:

1. It is not worthwhile for us to spend time and effort in legal struggles over property rights which could only divert energies and resources from more serious and important activity.

2. We do not want our irreconcilable political struggle against the turncoats to be obscured or confused by squabbles over a magazine’s name and property rights. Our aim is, in every respect, to distinguish ourselves from the ex-Trotskyists, and to eliminate every possible point of identification with them.

3. The once glorious name of the New International has been irretrievably sullied by its appearance for one issue under the auspices of these betrayers of its tradition. The program of the Fourth International, the great theoretical contributions of Comrade Trotsky, the Marxist message of our party, cannot appear under its dirtied name. We want no deception, no confusion, no mixing of banners. We need a clean banner which will truly express what we stand for and at the same time sharply distinguish us from the prostituted the New International. They stole it. They have already identified its name with their own treachery. Let them keep it, and let the whole world know it is henceforth their magazine, not ours. Our magazine is Fourth International!

It alone is the theoretical organ of the Socialist Workers Party and of the Fourth International!

Fourth International will fill out all the unexpired subscriptions of the New International. The subscribers of the New International are entitled to get what they paid for—a theoretical organ of Bolshevism. We feel politically and morally responsible to give it to them by sending this magazine for the full time of the unexpired subscriptions.

We appeal to all readers who sympathise with the principles we stand for to help us maintain this magazine by subscriptions and contributions.

10. Fourth International Conference Resolution on SWP Internal Struggle

1. The recent split in the Socialist Workers Party, official section of the Fourth International in the United States, came as the result of an attempt by a petty-bourgeois minority to revise the fundamental program of the Fourth International on unconditional defence of the Soviet Union and the refusal of this minority to abide by the decisions of the majority in the convention called to decide the issues in dispute.

2. In attempting to revise our program calling for unconditional defence of the Soviet Union without at the same time relating the proposed revision to the question of the class character of the Soviet Union, which the Fourth International has exhaustively analysed as a degenerated workers’ state, the petty-bourgeois opposition was guilty of a fundamental revision of the methodology of Marxism. On the part of James Burnham, ideological leader of the group, this attempt at revisionism was extended to complete rejection of the basic principles of scientific socialism as first propounded by Marx and Engels and subsequently developed by Lenin and Trotsky.

3. The attempted revision of our fundamental principles was begun by the petty-bourgeois opposition immediately after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact and gained impetus with the outbreak of the Second World War, thus clearly indicating that the force pushing the petty-bourgeois elements of the party into opposition to the Fourth International was the war pressure of the democratic bourgeoisie.

4. Not only did the petty-bourgeois opposition attempt to revise the fundamental principles and political conclusions of the Fourth International, they attempted also to revise its Bolshevik organisational methods.

They participated in the April convention of the Socialist Workers Party, thus recognising its authoritativeness and its validity. Nevertheless they rejected the majority decisions and in flagrant violation of democratic centralism launched an independent press in order to appeal to the public in its attack against the Fourth International.

In view of the previous discussion which was conducted with the fullest democracy in accordance with the best tradition of Bolshevism, and in view of the guarantees for the minority to continue its factional existence, to present its views to the party in an Internal Bulletin even after the convention adjourned, and to hold posts in all the leading bodies regardless of their views and without penalty for their previous infractions of party discipline, this rejection of the convention decisions and their subsequent desertion from the party can be interpreted in no other way than as additional evidence of the petty-bourgeois character of the opposition.

The Emergency Conference of the Fourth International endorses the action of the American section of the Fourth International in suspending all those who violated the decisions of its April convention. The conference suggests to the NC of the SWP that it set a definite time limit of one month after publication of conference decisions within which the suspended members must signify their acceptance of the convention decisions under penalty of unconditional expulsion from the party.

5. The Emergency Conference of the Fourth International views the struggle of the proletarian majority in the Socialist Workers Party as a struggle in defence of the program of the Fourth International from the heights of its Marxist theory right down to its Bolshevik organisational principles. The Emergency Conference calls upon all the sections of the Fourth International to solidarise themselves with the Socialist Workers Party in this struggle.

11. The Expulsion of the Shachtman-Abern Group

By decision of the April 1940 convention of the party, the National Committee was instructed to take disciplinary action against the Burnham-Shachtman-Abern group if that group failed to abide by the decisions of the convention.

In accordance with those instructions, the National Committee on April 22 suspended those members of the Burnham-Shachtman-Abern group who, following the convention, refused to accept the decisions of the convention. The National Committee by suspending rather than expelling the undisciplined members of the petty-bourgeois opposition, gave them an opportunity to reconsider their refusal to abide by convention decisions and to return to the party. In the course of the ensuing months a number of the suspended comrades have reconsidered their refusal, have declared their adherence in action to convention decisions while remaining free to defend their political views in subsequent party discussions, and have on this basis been restored to full membership rights.

The Emergency Conference of the Fourth International, convened in May 1940, endorsed the decisions of the April convention of the SWP. It recommended to our party that only a limited period should remain in which suspended members would have time to reconsider their refusal. At the end of that period those still refusing to accept the convention decisions should be unconditionally expelled from the party.

The period recommended by the Emergency Conference has now elapsed. Meanwhile, since their suspension, the Burnham-Shachtman-Abern group has undergone a political evolution which has widened the chasm between them and the Fourth International. Burnham has drawn the final conclusion to the position he elaborated for his group, and has openly deserted to the class enemy.

Shachtman and Abern lead a petty-bourgeois semi-pacifist sect. After the passage of nearly six months it is, therefore, time to draw a conclusion to this question and put an end to any possible ambiguity or confusion.

The plenary session of the National Committee declares that those suspended members who have not up to this time signified their willingness to abide by the decisions of the April convention are hereby unconditionally expelled from the party.


[26] The NC minority (Burnham-Shachtman-Abern and others) voted for this resolution at the time. All of the provisions in it were strictly fulfilled and enforced by the NC majority but violated shamelessly and disloyally by the leaders and members of the opposition. In Defence of Marxism (pp. 63-69 ff.) contains further details and clarifying material on this aspect of the struggle.

[27] This resolution was drafted originally by Cannon and Shachtman in the struggle against Menshevik principles of organisation advanced by Burnham and others in the party discussion preceding the National Convention of December 1937-January 1938; and was adopted by this convention. In the struggle of 1939-1940 Shachtman went over to Burnham's position on the organisation question and joined him in a general attack on the basic Leninist principles. The majority of the convention, maintaining the old principles, consequently reaffirmed the old resolution, partly drafted by Shachtman, against the contentions of the petty-bourgeois opposition as a whole on the organisation question.