James P. Cannon

‘Our Party’s Answer to the Prosecution’

Speech at the Plenum-Active Workers Conference in Chicago

(11 October 1941)

Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 46, 15 November 1941, pp. 3–4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The following excerpts from the main report delivered by Comrade James P. Cannon at the Socialist Workers Party Plenum-Active Workers Conference in Chicago, October 11–12, 1941, are printed here as a timely evaluation of the federal prosecution of 28 members of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544-CIO, and the party’s answer to it.

* * *

Comrade Chairman and Comrades:

To judge by the turn-out we have here for this Active Workers Conference, if Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Biddle thought that by indicting a few members of the Party they were going to scare the rest, they made a miserable failure to start with. The Trotskyists don’t scare very easily. When we undertook to organize a revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism, we took it for granted that along the road we would have to be prepared to take a few blows. The real test of a workers party is its ability to stand, up under the attempts of the class enemy to intimidate it and to scare it out of existence. The Socialist Workers Party will stand up.

This is by far the best gathering we have had in the entire thirteen years since we founded the original nucleus of American Trotskyism in 1928. Not only is it the best showing in numbers but also in spirit and enthusiasm, in unity within our ranks, and in the determination of all the Party members and leaders to respond to the demands of the new situation with greater efforts and sacrifices, firmer discipline, and devotion to the party.

One time, so the legend goes, there was a very spirited conference of the pioneer Communists in the early days of the Communist Party. One delegate got so enthusiastic that he stood up and said, “Comrade Chairman, I make a motion that this conference go down in history.” Well, I am sure that this conference will go down in history without a motion to that effect. It marks a turning point, a new stage in the growth and development and integration of the invincible movement of the Fourth International in the United States. Nothing can break this Party because it is founded on the solid rock of Marxism; it is inspired by the spirit of its great teacher and leader, Comrade Trotsky, and is marching forward in his spirit. This Party is not afraid of anything or anybody. We can dish it out, as the saying goes, and we can take it, too. Biddle will find that out, and so will Roosevelt, and so will Tobin and all the little lackeys of these conspirators against the rights and interests of the workers.

I presume you have had an opportunity to study the resolution adopted and presented for your consideration by the National Committee. This is not a general economic and political survey but rather a special resolution to the occasion. The resolution undertakes to set forth, point by point, those specific concrete tasks imposed upon the Party by the present situation arising out of the developments of the war and the federal prosecution of a number of our people.

Why They Prosecute Our Party

Of course, this prosecution, as everybody knows, had its immediate initiation in the trade union fight in Minneapolis. But that trade union fight in Minneapolis was not just a trade union fight. It had its roots in the war situation. The conflict, as is pointed out in the resolution, and as is well-known to all of us, between the Trotskyist leaders of 544 and Tobin, the warmongering international president of the teamsters union, didn’t grow up out of incidental trade union questions. The fight came to a head over the fundamental question of the conduct of trade union leaders in time of imperialist war. All over the country the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class have succeeded in pushing local trade union leaders into line for the war. They pushed over the Socialist Party trade unionists, without difficulty, like so many nine-pins. The Stalinists are on the band wagon, and are the so-called “progressives” and “radicals”. But they couldn’t line up the Trotskyists. Why? Because they are people of a different breed; they are people of an entirely different type. The Trotskyists don’t line up for war after they have said in time of peace that they are going to oppose the war. The Trotskyists arc bearers of a glorious name. They feel obliged to make their deeds match their words.

Why They Single Us Out First

The prosecution really, to put it on its right foundation, is a prosecution of our Party because we remain loyal in time of war to the principles which we expounded in time of peace. This prosecution is a great new event. We are the first section of the working class to be singled out for prosecution. And not by some ignorant local prosecutor, not by some over-enthusiastic provincial jingo, but by the federal government itself at the direct instigation of the president of the United States. This is the fact. And this fact puts our Party right in the very center of the political situation in this country. It will remain there without question of a doubt because this prosecution will drag out a long time, and it will echo for a longer time through the ranks of the American people.

The blow aimed against us – and it is a real blow; a deliberate and determined attempt to imprison 28 people for terms of years and to intimidate the others – such a blow can either make or break the Party, depending on how we meet it. If we stand up and fight, regardless of the consequences; if we take the necessary risks, hold firm to our principles, use the trial for an aggressive defense of our principles – then our Party is bound to grow in prestige, in influence, and in membership, in spite of anything that may happen to some individuals involved. But if the Party tries to be clever, to run away, to disavow its principles under fire of the enemy, then the Party would be everlastingly doomed.

The political resolution which you have before you is designed to guide the Party. It is your task here as members of the Conference, in considering the resolution, to understand that we are giving the answer to all the party members and sympathizers, and to the working class generally, as to just what the Trotskyist Party is going to do in the next period.

Our Policy in the Court Room

First of all we take up the question of the policy in court. We lay down in the resolution, clearly and categorically, that the policy, which is obligatory upon all Party members involved, is not to renounce, not to water down the revolutionary doctrines of our Party, but to defend them openly and militantly in court. That is the only program possible for us. When we are called to the witness stand to answer whether we did conspire to overthrow the government with armed force in the immediate future, we shall undertake to tell just what the Party stands for and what it aims to do today and tomorrow. If we succeed in carrying out this program we will transform that courtroom, which is designed by our persecutors to be the scene of intimidation and terror for the Party – we will transform it into a forum, into a sounding board from which we speak to the people of the United States about the program of our Party.

That is the court policy laid down in the resolution, and I think it will be accepted unanimously by the Conference, by the Party, and by the party members among the defendants involved. And we should go further, too, even in this detail, in my opinion, and lay down lines of procedure for the comrades involved in the trial. That is, like Trotskyists in all situations wherever they may be, wherever two or more are gathered together, they act as one. All questions of procedure and policy, decisions that have to be made on the spot, are made in meetings after discussion, and in cases of differences of opinion, the vote is taken and the majority prevails. That is the way a serious party machine works everywhere and under all circumstances and must do there.

They have a wonderful plan up there in Minneapolis where they have a fine Party headquarters with ample facilities. They are working out a plan for community feeding of the delegates – pardon me, the defendants. This system of community feeding, which we instituted last year at the Active Workers Conference and have again repeated this year, works out very well in keeping comrades together and promoting a good feeling among them. Twice a day in the commodious party headquarters the defendants will be gathered together for their meals, for lunch and dinner, which will be furnished by the defense committee. The party headquarters will also provide the necessary facilities and rooms for meetings of the defendants, social affairs, committee meetings and so on. Thus, from the beginning of the trial to the very end, the party defendants will be confronting their enemies as a solidly organized body, always together, always united, always striking in the same direction. That is the Trotskyist way.

Attitude to the Defense Committee

Another aspect of the defense is the organization of the Civil Rights Defense Committee. I am sure everybody in the Party appreciates in the highest degree the work that has already been done by the people in charge of this committee. We are all grateful to the distinguished and celebrated men and women who have constituted themselves as officers and members of the committee. I note with appreciation that my old and esteemed friend, Carlo Tresca, is there, as always, in the front ranks of the fight for justice. Margaret DeSilver is there, worthily bearing the honored name of the war-time fighter for civil liberties, Albert DeSilver.

In agreement with us the Civil Rights Defense Committee has taken upon itself certain definite and limited functions. It will undertake to provide funds for the legal expenses of the trial. We must not overlook any possibilities to protect the legal rights and interests of the defendants. This costs a lot of money. We will have to help the Civil Rights Defense Committee to raise it. The other task of the committee is to secure publicity and create favorable public sentiment for the defendants in every possible way. The functions of the defense committees are limited to these two points.

The policy of the defense is determined by the party in cooperation with the defendants. We cannot transform the party into a defense organization. The Party goes ahead with all its political and organizational work and tries to make such a distribution of the resources of our movement, between the necessary legal expenses and the necessary expenses of keeping the Party functioning, that neither is neglected.

You hear a lot of chatter from some of the radical petty bourgeois opponents of our movement about the necessity of a “broad united front” for defense. Don’t take these windbags seriously. Nobody needs to agitate us about the importance of united front formations when it is possible to get substantial organizations to take serious action. But we certainly don’t intend, under the formula of united front, to permit the legal defense committee to be transformed into a forum for all kinds of factional disputes between all kinds of jangling groups. We want a defense committee that is a working body, that takes its defense tasks seriously and doesn’t attempt to become a political organization or a debating society. Anybody willing to participate with us and help us in good faith along that line, in the committee which has been established, is certainly welcome to come along and help us. But if others, whose sincerity is suspect, think for a minute that we will permit them to make a factional football out of the defense of our case, they will be promptly called to order. We have a certain stake in the matter, namely, our heads. This gives us a right to some say about the procedure.

We would like to have a great conference of labor organizations supporting our defense, but it is utopian to think we merely have to proclaim it in order to get it. There is no possibility in the present state of affairs in the labor movement to enlist many important workers’ organizations actively in our support. The Stalinists are not in favor of our defense. They are in favor of our prosecution. They give Roosevelt and Biddle critical support, friendly advice. They advise them to change the indictment, accuse us of being Nazi spies and make it a little bit stiffer for us. Is anybody here fool enough to think the Socialist Party wants to help us? The Socialist Party will piously announce its support of civil liberties in general and let it go at that. If you pass the hat around, they will, maybe, give you two bits. Even then you had better bite the coin to make sure it isn’t counterfeit. The trade unions on the whole, up to now, are not bestirred to help the most extreme and persecuted revolutionary group in the country, the Trotskyists.

So we have to go along with this kind of committee of prominent individuals which has been set up. Later on, it is quite possible that with the further progress of the case and further developments in the labor movement, a real basis of support for the defendants can be established in the trade unions and supporting conferences organized in defense of our people. When such a possibility arises we will be the first to recognize it and the first to grasp it. But in the present situation we do not run after utopian programs and do not want to be bothered with such proposals.

Importance of Maintaining Our Legal Functioning

I come now to the point which is stressed in the resolution and which I want to elaborate particularly here. What shall be the general attitude to the Party in the event of a successful prosecution, that is, in the event of a conviction of the defendants involved in this case? Shall we accept this as a proclamation that our Party is illegal, withdraw from the public scene, close down our offices and establish underground corners and places of hiding, etc.?

That would be, in the opinion of the National Committee, the greatest mistake. We don’t intend to surrender our possibilities of legal functioning at the very first blow. In spite of all they say, we are not “conspirators”. We are a political movement and we want to work in the open. The advantages of public activity, agitation, propaganda and organization are so superior and so much more economical than similar work carried out by illegal and underground means that a serious revolutionary party has to fight to the last ditch to maintain its legal rights.

I mentioned some weeks ago to the Political Committee the experiences of 1919, the post-war period. There was a tremendous wave of reaction stemming out of Washington under Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer, the Biddle of his day. The Communist parties were no sooner organized – there were two of them; they began with a split, the Communist Party and Communist Labor Party – they were no sooner organized than Palmer’s persecution began. Palmer’s agents arrested all the leaders they could find in one part of the country or another; there was hardly a leader of the movement who wasn’t under indictment. They staged raids on the meetings and arrested scores and hundreds of members within the space of two or three days. Under the impact of those blows, and under the influence of some leaders who were by no means cowards but who tended to draw their conclusions from the experiences in Russia where there never had been any democratic liberty, the parties automatically accepted an illegal status. They withdrew to the underground and stayed there two or three years, attempting to function with all the limitations and difficulties and multiplied expenses of illegal work.

Experiences of the Post-War Period

A peculiar thing happened in connection with those events. Some judge – I forget the name – who had a case before him, proclaimed the Communist Party an illegal organization, and the party accepted his decision. But in another case, for some reason or other, some quirk in the judge’s mind, he announced that the Communist Labor Party was a legal organization. This should at least have been the signal for the Communist Labor Party to say, “Thank you, Judge,” and to open up its headquarters again. But instead of that, they considered the pronouncement an affront to their revolutionary integrity, a discrimination against them, and they issued a statement saying in effect: “By God, we are just as illegal as the Communist Party.” And they remained “underground” on principle.

At the first underground unity convention in Bridgeman, Michigan – not the famous one in 1923, but in 1920 – when drawing up the constitution of the organization, the left-wingers insisted on having it stated in the constitution, “The Communist Party is an underground, illegal organization,” so that there would be no doubt about it. In the light of later developments that attitude must be regarded as a mistake. The party was compelled later on to conduct an intensive struggle to regain its right to function legally, and in the course of several years, by experimenting with one form of organization and another, it succeeded in gradually extending its public activities. There was a change in the administration at Washington, and eventually the party restored its legal functioning although the laws remained the same as before.

In the United States, up to now, they have never worked out a formula to proscribe an organization as such. There is no reason why we should do it for them. We should not accept even a conviction in this case as a signal that the legal public activity of the Party has to cease. It will not be so easy for our enemies, the Roosevelts find the Biddles, to wage a war for “democracy” and suppress free speech altogether. It is not our duty to simplify their task by voluntarily relinquishing our rights. We should continue as far as possible, step by step, resisting at every step, and striving, even at the cost of some casualties, to maintain a legal existence for our movement. I don’t, of course, project the perspective of a party of our size being able to resist the whole concentrated weight of American capitalism against us, but we will do the best we can.

They are persecuting us and will continue to persecute us, but we must not immediately begin to develop an underground psychology. There arc two sides to that underground psychology, and I have seen both of them in the course of my experience in the movement. One side of it is revolutionary, that is, it is inspired by the impulse to continue functioning in spite of overwhelming persecution. This was the dominating spirit of the Russian Bolsheviks under Czarism. It is the spirit of the comrades of the Fourth International who are working by underground methods in Europe today. On the other hand, some people seem to think there is romanticism, combined with safety, in an underground organization. When we finally found the possibility of restoring the legal functioning of our pioneer Communist movement in 1922 and 1923, we met with a great deal of resistance from various types of underground fanatics who wanted to stay underground out of habit and on principle.

We had a big battle over this question in Moscow. I was a delegate of the “liquidators” faction – that is, the faction which wanted to “liquidate” the underground party and form a legal organization – to the Third International in 1922. It was due to the intervention of Trotsky in the first place, then of Lenin and Zinoviev, that we finally got support for our program of legalizing the movement. In the course of the discussions Zinoviev told a story about some underground fanatics in the Russian movement who had become so accustomed to conspiring under the Czar that they wanted to keep it up after the Czar was gone. Even after the Bolsheviks took power, said Zinoviev, they had a woman in the party who used to go around with a false passport. She didn’t feel comfortable without it. We will have to find our way between the possibilities and the necessities, and try in every case to make the best of it: that is, to do those things and take those steps which make it possible for us to survive as an organization and have the greatest possible freedom of action.

Election Campaigns Aid Our Fight for Legality

One of the ways pointed out in the resolution to facilitate our fight to maintain our legal existence is participation in election campaigns. You all know about the 1940 election campaign in Minnesota. That was one of the celebrated things of our conference last year. The campaign of Comrade Grace Carlson for Senator and the sizeable vote she received were certainly a great help and inspiration for the whole party. You have learned about the perennial election races of George Breitman in Newark, until they are beginning to call him a chronic office-seeker. Breitman is running again this year. And this example finally caught hold in New York, and, as you know, I stand before you today requesting your suffrage in my capacity as candidate for Mayor of New York. And if elected ...!

It is one of the greatest things that ever happened in the party, that the reaction of the New York party organization to our indictment was not to run for cover but to go out in the open, in the election campaign, with the banner of the indicted comrades. And they went out night and day, for weeks on end, and collected more than 15,000 individual signatures on the petitions. They must have interviewed not less than 100,000 people; and in almost every case there was the occasion to argue why they should sign, to tell them about the case in Minnesota and what our Party stands for. I venture to say more propaganda, more agitation, for Trotskyism was carried out in concentrated form in those weeks of the petition campaign than ever before, by many times, in New York.

Now it appears that we have the petition filed with more than double the required amount of signatures. The first three days have elapsed without challenge and the indications are that we will be on the ballot in New York. This is an excellent means of propaganda and agitation and of struggle to maintain legality. Our campaign in New York acquires exceptional significance now because of an account in today’s paper that the Stalinists have withdrawn their candidate in order to help LaGuardia. That’s all right with us too. It means that the possibility can be created for our Party, for the first time in New York, to rally around itself a real mass of militant anti-war workers.

This is a form of activity that must be emphasized more in the next period. Many comrades seem to take it for granted that we can’t get on the ballot. We can’t unless we work. We can do it in Newark; we can do it in Minnesota; now it has been demonstrated that we can do it in New York. It took us thirteen years to accomplish it. For thirteen years we thought we couldn’t do it, but once this new group of young leaders in New York took hold of things, they organized the party to go out and get the signatures and put the party on the ballot. Let us think more seriously about election campaigns, particularly now in the light of our determined struggle to function legally as long as possible.

The Party, in order to prepare itself for this blow and others yet to come, should get a word from the Conference, which is contained in the resolution, about the internal preparation of the Party. Some of the leading people of the Party are put face to face with the prospect of prison terms; other activists in the Party ranks may be confronted in the future with the same prospect. We have to ask ourselves, what docs it take to enable men to stand up in the face of tests of this kind? Does it take courage? Courage has many kinds. Some kinds of courage, ordinary human courage, are by no means adequate for such tests as these.

During the last war a great number of IWW men were sent to the penitentiary, 150 to 200 of them. In the Chicago case alone there were a hundred. These were the leading militants of the IWW and most of them served some years in prison, two-three-four years in prison. But only a small percentage of those IWW militants continued their activity for any length of time after their release from prison. A very small percentage. And that was by no means because they were poor material. On the contrary, they were first class material, very good and courageous people. What the IWW men in prison lacked was a theoretical understanding and historical outlook that could sustain them under the pressure of the defeats of the day, looking forward to the horizon of the future. The complexities of the war overwhelmed most of those who had nothing in the way of equipment except the all-too simple syndicalist philosophy.

In order for one to withstand persecution over a long period of time, he has got to have a theoretical understanding, an historical outlook and a firm conviction that history is working on his side. He must believe he is serving a great cause whose victory is assured. This conviction will sustain us against all the blows of the class enemy in the years to come. And that is why we must devote special attention now to the new cadres of youth who are coming to us – that we educate them in the principles of Marxism; teach them the history and tradition of Bolshevism; and help them to acquire an historical point of view, which is the point of view of Bolshevism.

In general, the Party in response to the new tests and the new tasks must of necessity be drawn tighter together, become more disciplined, demand more of its members, and particularly of its leaders. We cannot build a party and lead a revolution merely with clever leaders. In order to be a leader of the revolutionary labor movement, one must have Bolshevism in his blood. The leaders must have demanded of them that they set the example all the time before the Party. The comrades must see the leaders always and everywhere out in front, not merely making speeches, but in tests and sacrifices. Only such leaders can have the authority and win the confidence of the rank and file of the Party. The party must have leaders worthy of trust.

Education Will Strengthen the Party

There is a section in the resolution about the internal preparation of the Party. This section should be taken very seriously and reported at length to the branches on the return of the delegates. We must do more systematic educational work, not only for the rank and file and new recruits, but also for the second cadre of leaders who are coming up.

We have even talked in the Committee several times lately about the necessity of systematic study work on the part of our field organizers, as part of their duties. There should grow up an atmosphere in the Party that the Party expects a field organizer to be an educated Marxist; and that systematic study is part of his duties in the field. A certain number of hours of the day he should be assigned by the National Committee to retire to the library and study the theoretical works of Marxism and report on the progress of his studies. He should be paid for this activity by the National Committee as part of his functions as organizer in the field. We should eventually approximate the standard that all the leaders of the Party, in the field as well as in the center, are informed Marxists. They will understand their philosophy, their doctrine and their history, and they will communicate this respectful attitude toward theory and history to the rank and file of the Party. Thereby the level of the organization will rise, and its ability to withstand the attacks of the class enemy will be greater.

They had a campaign of this kind once in the Comintern, along about 1924–25. The Communist International was swelled by the affiliation of parties in the various countries which had come over from the social democracy, and these parties were in different stages of political development. They had formally adopted the Bolshevik program but they were far from being Bolshevik parties. The Comintern worked out a program under a slogan called the “Bolshevization” of the party. The original aim, as announced, was to initiate a concentrated campaign of explanation and study of the history and principles of Bolshevism to aid in the assimilation of these new people into the Bolshevik current.

But, like every other good project of the Comintern as it fell more and more into the hands of Stalin, this excellent concept was perverted and caricaturized and transformed into a struggle against the best Bolsheviks in the Communist International. It became a campaign against Trotskyism. But the idea had an absolutely sound kernel. Trotsky mentioned it in his famous Lessons of October. He said, there is a great deal of talk about Bolshevization and it is very timely too, but what is Bolshevization? He said, it is such an education of the Party members and such a selection of its leading staff that the Party doesn’t leave the track when its opportunity comes. That, I think, is an excellent description of the campaign of internal strengthening which we want to carry out – to the end that the party membership should be so educated, and the leading people so selected, that the Party will remain firm under every test which may confront it.

It is now my duty – and, God helping me, I always try to do my duty – to speak for a moment under the heading, The Balance Sheet of the Split with the Petty Bourgeois Opposition. This of course, has nothing to do with the events of problems of today. It is like raking up last year’s leaves. The split was carried out, as you remember, by them, in spite of the extraordinary concessions, the unprecedented concessions, made by the majority in order to permit them to remain in the Party. We made only one demand upon them: that they respect the decisions of the Convention and obey the discipline of the Party. Trotsky said they had a profound social impulse to separate themselves from the proletarian majority. From the point of view of every political experience their split couldn’t be justified anywhere, but they felt compelled to break at any cost. When, a short time later, Burnham, the leader and inspirer of that whole contemptible faction, completely repudiated socialism and the workers’ movement, we could see how really profound their social impulse to break from the proletarian majority really was.

It is a crime to break the unity of the revolutionary party. Not a few of the honest comrades who were duped into the split by Burnham and Shachtman are beginning to repent it and to re-examine the question of who was responsible for the split. They can find only one answer: the leaders of the petty bourgeois faction were wholly and completely responsible. They say they were expelled against their will by the bureaucratic action of the Political Committee. That was along in the latter part of April, last year. Then a few months later, you remember, we had the Plenum and Active Workers Conference in Chicago. The time and place of the Plenum-Conference was announced in the press and known to the expelled leaders of the opposition. If they had been put out of the Party only because of bureaucratic action of the Political Committee their next procedure was to appeal to the Plenum, and to appear before the Plenum and the Conference in defense of their appeal, which they had a right to do under the party constitution. But they made no appeal.

Why? Because they didn’t want to be reinstated into the party of Trotskyism on any terms.

After every bureaucratically engineered split I have seen in the past there unfailingly arose in the ranks of the Party a criticism against the leadership for having expelled party members unjustly. And, thereafter, when the bureaucratic leaders got into difficulties, and when they would appeal for money to finance the Party, the opposition would say, the Party is in difficulties, the Party is broke, because of the expulsions. There is an endless opposition around the heads of bureaucrats who force a split not politically motivated. That is a political law.

But we have not had in our ranks, from the time of the split a year and a half ago up till today, a single branch or individual who raised a reproach against the leadership for the expulsion of the petty bourgeois opposition. One hundred or so comrades at last year’s Conference voted unanimously to confirm the expulsion and make an end of it. You have here approximately 150 delegates this year. I don’t think a single one present wants to reopen the question.

The Kind of Unity We Want

It was a socially motivated split on both sides. It was a split of the petty bourgeois elements from the proletarian. We didn’t force the split, but we gained by it. Our Party, from the very first day, went forward after that split. Our activities, our press, our organization, our finances, our morale and our general digestion is a lot better ever since the petty bourgeois opposition walked out on us. In the light of the experiences of the past year and one half, one must say that of all of the splits in the history of our international movement – and there have been many of them, good, bad and indifferent – the best split that ever came down the pike was the split between the proletarian majority and the petty bourgeois opposition. There cannot be any semblance of conciliation toward them.

This does not mean we are not going to have some of the rank and file comrades back. Just as I stand here talking to you I received word from the West Coast that a group of eleven, the backbone of their second largest branch, the Los Angeles branch, is waiting now for their convention, which is supposed to be in progress at the same time as our Conference, to reject their resolution for the defense of the Soviet Union in order to come over in a body to join our Los Angeles branch on the basis of our program. Naturally, they will be welcomed back into our ranks. That is the kind of unity we can entertain with members of the so-called Workers Party. That is the only kind of unity we can have the slightest interest in.

We Defend the Soviet Union!

Another point mentioned in the resolution is the defense of the Soviet Union, in reality the biggest problem of all for us today. The most important question, which overshadows by a hundred times the Minnesota trials, is the great military struggle taking place on the territory of Russia today. From all indications, Stalin and his gang are carrying their work to its predestined end. Stalin and Hitler together are dealing the Soviet Union what appears now to be its most catastrophic blow. The bitter truth can no longer be concealed by any blustering. The reality is too glaringly obvious now.

And you can be sure that more than one Stalinist bureaucrat in the United States, more than one careerist who has been serving the Stalin machine because it had power and prestige and money, is already beginning to draw the conclusions from the military defeat of the Soviet Union and looking for his own personal way out. You will see in the next period, if the tide of battle turns more decisively against the Soviet Union, great numbers of these treacherous careerists deserting what they consider the sinking ship and trying to find a place for themselves openly in the camp of American imperialism. They are very happy that they are on the Roosevelt band-wagon now, and there they want to stay.

But it is just such events as arc happening now, just such a trend, that will break the hypnosis of the Stalinist rank and file. We mustn’t lose patience with the Stalinist worker. We must remember that the sentiment by means of which they hold him, maneuvered him and deceived him, was his determination to support the Soviet Union, to see in the Soviet Union some new hope in the world. Trotsky remarked in our very last talk with him that new events will break this hypnosis and make the rank and file workers see clearly what kind of leadership they have. These Stalinist workers – the honest and sincere but deluded workers – can’t have any place to go except to us, or else into utter despair and disillusionment and inactivity. We should intensify our work among the Stalinists; try to reach them at all costs; fix the responsibility for the catastrophe of the Soviet Union where it really belongs – on the shoulders of Stalin and his gang; and try to win over every possible Stalinist worker to the movement of the Fourth International.

In such an hour as this, we see again how absolutely right were Trotsky and the majority of our party and the International in defending the Soviet Union to the very end; in establishing such a clear record that if we have now come to the catastrophe, nobody can justly say that one iota of responsibility clings to the Fourth International. We remain loyal to the Soviet Union in spite of everything, and that gives us the political and moral right to approach the disillusioned Stalinist workers.

It is not so with the petty-bourgeois elements who deserted our ranks on account of the Russian question. What position are they in to approach a sincere Stalinist worker who in his heart believed, and believed with justice, that the Soviet Union was a great fortress of the proletariat? Why, these wretched people addressed a leaflet to the Stalinists a couple of months ago in connection with the war turn and they didn’t even mention their position on the Soviet Union. They felt so embarrassed and so helpless that they left out all mention of their attitude toward the Soviet-Nazi war.

We, on the other hand, can more and more aggressively, more and more confidently, approach the rank and file Stalinist workers who have believed in the Soviet Union and show them where the responsibility for the catastrophe belongs and lead them, or at least some of them, onto the path of the international revolution under our banner.

In the next period the shooting war may begin. Every day we get closer to it. Every day the effectiveness of agitation simply against war becomes diminished by the fact that more and more we are in the war. After the war starts formally, a mere opposition is not a practical basis of agitation. Then the proletarian military policy, adopted a year ago at our conference, comes to the front as the best practical means of agitation in a situation when the country is formally participating in a war. The demand for government-financed military training under trade union auspices, and for schools to train worker-officers, can be put forward with full confidence. As the experiences of the war develop and unfold, these slogans will get a wider echo and become ever more popular. The influence and the prestige of our party will grow with them.

Confidence in the Party

I have given you, comrades, just an outline, a synopsis, of what the National Committee considers to be our most immediate problems and the concrete tasks which must be accomplished by the. party members in the next period. I hope the suggestions we have made will meet with your approval. If anyone has a contribution to make – an amendment, or a pew proposal – I am sure that during the course of the discussion there will be ample opportunity to bring your ideas to the attention of the conference.

I want to close with the confident assertion that we shall go out of this historic conference firmly united on all important questions. sure of our future, and determined to answer the persecution of our enemies with better work, greater sacrifices, firmer discipline, deeper penetration into the trade unions. We have one common will: Everything for the party! All our work under the direction of the party! Every confidence that with this party and through this party we shall lead the American masses in due time to their liberating revolution!

Last updated on 23 March 2019