Socialism on Trial

The courtroom testimony of James. Cannon

Part III

(cont'd from part II

SWP and Trotsky

Q: Now, what relationship, if any, did Leon Trotsky have to the Socialist Workers Party?

A: Our movement in 1928—when our faction was expelled from the Communist Party—we had adopted the program of Trotsky.

We supported his program from the very beginning—and this was long before we had any personal contact with him. He had been expelled from the Russian party and was exiled in the Asiatic wilderness at a place called Alma Ata. We had no communication with him. We did not know where he was, whether he was dead or alive, but we had one of his important programmatic documents which was called, “The Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern”[5] This book elaborated his theories as against those of Stalin at great length and in fundamental respects. This was adopted by us as our own program and from the very beginning we proclaimed our faction as Trotsky’s faction.

We worked for about six months here without any communication with him until he was deported to Turkey—Constantinople—and then we established communication with him by mail. Later, various leading members of the party visited him. We had very extensive correspondence with him, and in this correspondence and in visits by individual members, we had an extremely close relation to him and regarded him all the time as the theoretical inspirer and teacher of our movement.

Q: When did you first visit Trotsky?

A: I visited him in France in 1934—that is, for the first time after our expulsion from the Communist Party.

Q: And what role, if any, did Trotsky play in formulating the doctrines of the Socialist Workers Party?

A: He played a very important role. Although he did not write our party documents, his ideas interpreting Marxism in our time were the source from which we got our main concepts and rewrote them in American terms, tried to apply them to American conditions.

Q: Did he write any articles about conditions and developments in the United States in those days?

A: I don’t recall that he wrote much in those days about America.

Q: Did he at any time in those days tell you as to what practical action should be taken in the United States by your group?

A: Yes. One of the subjects of controversy in our early days was what kind of activity we should occupy ourselves with.

He supported the idea of a purely propagandistic activity in our early days—that is, as distinguished from what we call mass work. We were so few in numbers, we could not hope to do anything except to try to publish a paper and convert some people to our basic ideas; a very, very modest task of routine propaganda was assigned by the necessity of the situation to our group at that time, and he supported that.

Q: When did you first make frequent contact with Trotsky?

A: He was driven out of France and then out of Norway and finally received asylum in Mexico by the action of President Cardenas. If I am correct as to the exact month, I think it was January 1937.

Thereafter he lived in Mexico until August 21, 1940, when he was assassinated. In the period that he was there we made frequent visits to him. I personally was there to see him twice, once in the spring of 1938 and again in the summer of 1940. Other party leaders and party members visited him frequently. I personally maintained a very active correspondence with him, and so did other members of the party, and I would say we were in very, very intimate contact with him after he came to Mexico.

Q: What did the Socialist Workers Party do with reference to helping Trotsky guard himself, and also with reference to aiding him in his expenses?

A: We knew that Trotsky was marked for assassination by Stalin, who had killed off practically all the important leaders of the revolution through his mass trials and his purges and frame-ups and so forth. We knew that Trotsky, as the greatest of all the opponents of Stalin, was marked for assassination, and we undertook to protect him. We set up a special committee which had the sole purpose of collecting funds to support this endeavor.

We supplied guards, we supplied money regularly and systematically for transforming his house into as close to a fortress as possible. We collected and supplied the funds to buy the house for him. We supplied the expenses of the guards who were sent there, and in general, in every way possible extended ourselves to protect his life and facilitate his work.

Q: What was the nature of the discussions that you held with Trotsky while you were there?

A: All the important problems of the world movement.

Q: Any problems of the American labor movement?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you ever discuss the question of union defence guards and Local 544 with him?

A: No, I personally had no discussion with him about 544 defence guards. We discussed with him the question of defence guards in general. This, I think, was in our visit in 1938.

Q: Do you know of your own knowledge whether Trotsky had many visitors?

A: Yes, I know that he did. I know that he had many visitors, because in my capacity as secretary of the party I frequently was called upon to give letters of introduction to people who wanted to visit him. He was visited, not only by our members, but by journalists, by school teachers, a history class which used to tour Mexico, and he was visited by public people of many kinds and opinions while he was there.

Q: Then the discussions that you had with Trotsky referred and related to general political questions, did they not?

A: Yes—questions of the war, of fascism, trade unionism —

Q: But they had nothing to do with party activities, branches or of particular sections of the party?

A: No, I don’t recall that Trotsky ever interested himself in the detailed local work of the party; I don’t recall that.

Q: How busy a man was he?

A: He was the busiest man I ever knew. Trotsky, in addition to all his political work and his enormous correspondence, and his journalistic work—and he wrote innumerable articles and pamphlets for us—he wrote for magazines and newspapers, such as The New York Times, Saturday Evening Post, Liberty and other magazines—and in addition to that, he produced, in the eleven years since his exile to Turkey in 1929 to his death in 1940, a literary output greater by volume than that of the average writer who does nothing else but write.

He wrote the three huge volumes on the history of the Russian Revolution which, from the point of view of literary labor, could be considered a life task by any writer. He wrote a full-sized book called The Revolution Betrayed, and he wrote his autobiography and innumerable smaller books and pamphlets and articles in that period.

Q: The party, then, never bothered him with minor questions of policy and activities?

A: Not to my knowledge; I know I never did.

Party advocates workers defence guards

Q: Will you tell the court and jury the position of the Socialist Workers Party on workers’ defence guards?

A: Well the party is in favor of the workers organising defence guards wherever their organisations or their meetings are threatened by hoodlum violence. The workers should not permit their meetings to be broken up or their halls to be wrecked, or their work to be interfered with, by Ku Klux Klanners or Silver Shirts or fascists of any type, or hoodlums, or reactionary thugs, but should organise a guard and protect themselves where it is necessary.

Q: How long ago was the idea of a workers’ defence guard first put forth by the group of which you are a member?

A: I may say that I have known about this idea, which we didn’t invent at all, all my thirty years in the labor movement I have known about the idea of workers’ defence guards and seen them organised and helped to organise them more than once long before I ever heard of the Russian Revolution.

Q: And did the Trotskyist group ever start organising these guards before it became the Socialist Workers Party?

A: Yes, in the first year of our existence, in 1929. The Communist Party, the Stalinists, tried to break up our meetings by hoodlum violence. They did break up a number of meetings and we reacted to that by organising a workers’ defence guard to protect our meetings, and invited to participate in this guard not only Trotskyists, but other workers’ organisations which were also being attacked by the Stalinist hoodlums.

Let me explain this. The Stalinists had a system in those days of trying to break up meetings of the Socialist Party, of the IWW, of a group called the Proletarians, of anybody who didn’t agree with the Stalinists. They tried the Stalin game of breaking them up, so in self-defence, without any theory from anybody, we reacted by organising workers’ defence guards to protect our meetings. And I may add, parenthetically, we protected them so well that we put a stop to that monkey business at the cost of a few cracked heads, which I personally greatly appreciated in those days.

Q: I show you a volume of The Militant marked 1928 and 1930, and ask that you refresh your recollection from that volume, and tell the jury on what occasions workers’ defence guards were organised by the Trotskyist group. Just read the item, and then tell the jury, without reading the item to the jury.

A: The first one is dated January 1, 1929. It refers to a meeting addressed by me in New Haven, Connecticut, under the title, “The Truth About Trotsky and the Platform of the Opposition”. It is a news account of the meeting.

Q: Well, Mr. Cannon, just read that and then tell the jury what you remember about that incident.

A: I remember it very well, because they sent a gang of hoodlums to the meeting and they broke it up and didn’t permit me to continue my speech, and created a fight, and in the midst of the fight the police came to the hall and declared the meeting dissolved. That is a report of a meeting in the Labor Lyceum at New Haven, Connecticut, December 21, 1929.

Q: And did you subsequently organise any defence guards to protect your meetings?

A: Yes, in the same account is the report of a second meeting held in Philadelphia on December 27, with Max Shachtman as the speaker and it states there that, profiting by the experience in New Haven, they organised a workers’ defence guard which came and protected the meeting, and the speaker was allowed to continue without disruption.

Q: Did you ever hold a meeting where you spoke where workers’ defence guards protected the meeting?

A: Yes. Here is The Militant (indicating) under date of January 15, 1929, which reports a meeting addressed by me in Cleveland, Ohio, on the same subject about which I was speaking then, “The Truth About Trotsky and the Russian Opposition”, and the account in the paper tells about a gang of Stalinists who came there and tried to disrupt the meeting, and heckled the speaker, and they began to try violence.

Q: You were the speaker, were you?

A: I was the speaker, and I recall very well that I was protected by a guard which we had organised, and the report says that the workers’ guard finally formed a flying wedge and put the disrupters out of the meeting, and the speaker was allowed to continue to the end.

Q: And subsequent to that, did you ever speak at meetings where workers’ defence guards were organised to protect those meetings?

A: Yes, here is a report in The Militant of February 1929, and it tells about two meetings addressed by me in the city of Minneapolis.

Q: And do you remember what happened at those meetings?

A: Yes, the first meeting we attempted to hold in some lodge hall here—I forget the name, AOUW Hall, it is reported here—I recall at this meeting, before the meeting started, a gang of Stalinist hoodlums invaded the meeting and attacked Oscar Coover with blackjacks, where he was standing at the door taking tickets, I think, and forced their way into the hall before the crowd had come, got front seats, and then as the crowd came in and I went to the front and tried to speak, they got up and interfered and heckled and disturbed and disrupted the meeting until it finally ended in a free-for-all scuffle, and I didn’t get a chance to make my speech. Then this account here tells —

Q: Well, what do you remember?

A: Yes, it is reported here in this issue of the paper that we then went to the IWW Hall here—that is another radical organisation which we are not affiliated with, but who had also suffered from these Stalinist tactics, and asked them if they would cooperate with us in organising a guard to protect the meeting, so that I could speak on the subject that I was touring the country then on, “The Truth About Trotsky and Our Platform”. They agreed.

We formed a workers’ defence guard in Minneapolis in January 1929, and the IWW gave us the use of their hall. They had a hall of their own somewhere down here on Washington Street. We advertised the meeting widely and announced that this meeting was going to be held under the protection of the workers’ guard. And I personally know that there was such a guard, that they equipped themselves with hatchet handles, and stood along the side of the hall, and stood out in front and announced that nobody should interfere with this meeting. I spoke for about two hours there without any interference, under the protection of that workers’ guard.

Q: So that you can say from your knowledge that the Workers’ Defence Guard —

A: There are more news accounts here, if you want them. That was a period until we finally established our right to be let alone, and then there was no more need for the guard, and we dissolved.

Q: Now, with reference to the workers’ defence guard advocated by the Socialist Workers Party, what formal action did the party take at any time?

A: Well, in this later period of 1938 and ’39, in some parts of the country we were confronted with an incipient fascist movement. Different organisations with different names began preaching Hitlerite doctrines in this country, and tried to practice Hitlerite methods of physical intimidation of workers’ meetings, of Jews, Jewish stores, and suppressing free speech by violent methods.

In New York it became a rather acute problem. The various Bundists and associated groups in New York developed the practice of breaking up street meetings when either our party or some other workers’ party would attempt to speak under a permit given by the city authorities. They had a habit of going around and molesting Jewish storekeepers, picketing them, and beating them, and challenging them to fight, and so on.

There was an organisation rampant at that time called the “Silver Shirts”. I don’t recall them in New York, but at various points in the West and Midwest.

Q: Do you recall the Christian Front?

A: Yes, in New York the Bundists and the Christian Front, and two or three other would-be fascist organisations, used to combine on this kind of business. At this time free speech was being very flagrantly denied in Jersey City under the authority of this man Hague who announced that he was the law, got the habit of chasing people out of town and permitting meetings to be broken up ostensibly not by the authorities, but by the “outraged citizens” whom he and his gang had organised for that purpose. In general there were signs then—there was a lot of discontent and unrest in the country—there were signs of a fascist movement growing up, and the question arose of how we could protect not only ourselves, but how could the unions protect themselves. For example, in Jersey City picketing was denied by these means and the right to strike infringed upon—very serious questions of the invasion of civil liberties by unofficial bodies.

Basing ourselves on the experiences of the German and Italian fascist movements, which began with gangs of hoodlums and ended by destroying completely the labor unions and all workers’ organisations and all civil rights—we came to the conclusion that the fascists should be met on their own ground, and that we should raise the slogan of workers’ defence guards to protect workers’ meetings, halls and institutions against hoodlum violence by the incipient fascists.

We discussed that with Trotsky; his part in it was primarily an exposition of the development of the fascist movement in Europe. I don’t recall now whether he originated the idea, but at any rate he heartily seconded it that our party should propose that the unions, wherever their peace was menaced by these hoodlums, should organise workers’ defence guards and protect themselves.

Q: And did the unions follow the advice of the party?

A: I recall that we organised, in cooperation with some other radicals and some Jewish people—even some Jewish nationalists who didn’t agree with our socialist program, but agreed on defending their human rights to live—we formed at that time a workers’ defence guard in New York. To protect not only the meetings of our party but of any organisation menaced by these hoodlums. To protect citizens from molestation in the Bronx, where these hoodlums were intimidating and insulting Jewish people. This guard had several scuffles and fights with these gangs.

Then conditions in the country began to change. The economic situation in the country improved a bit. The question of the European war began to absorb attention, and take it away from these provincial American Hitlers. The fascist movement dropped into passivity and our workers’ defence guard in New York didn’t have anything to do and it just passed out of existence. In Los Angeles, if I recall correctly, there was a similar experience.

Q: Did any international trade unions ever adopt that idea, as far as you know?

A: I don’t know. I know the question was raised in the Garment Workers Union, which had a double concern about the matter because, first, as a labor union they were menaced by the growth of fascism, and second, a large percentage of their members are Jews who are considered proper victims by these hoodlums. A resolution was passed in favor of the idea in one of the garment locals in New York, and was referred then to the International Executive Board for consideration, and some correspondence and some interviews between our comrades who had sponsored the idea and the officers of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union took place. I don’t think it developed any further, either positively or negatively, because the fascist movement subsided and the issue got cold.

Q: So that the issue of the workers’ defence guard died down because a change of conditions occurred?

A: Yes. We retained the proposal for workers’ defence guards in our program. I believe it is on the editorial page of The Militant as one of the points we are proposing as a practical program.

Q: And it becomes vital especially in view of a possible fascist movement in our country?

A: Yes. At that time our paper was full of stories and articles about the Bundists and the Christian Fronters, and so on, but if you look over the files, they show a gradual recession of reports about fascist violence. And the question of the workers’ defence guard left the pages of the paper and is only occasionally raised there now in a slogan.

(Defendants’ Exhibit H was marked for identification.)

The Witness (Continuing):—I might add, Mr. Goldman, that so far as I know, there doesn’t exist now any functioning workers’ defence guard in any part of the country that our members are associated with, not to my knowledge. But we retain the idea for practical education in case the unions should again encounter the experience of those days.

Mr. Goldman: I offer in evidence, Your Honour, Defendants’ Exhibit H-1 to H-5, inclusive, being a copy of a resolution entitled “Convention Resolution on Workers’ Defence Guard”, published in the Socialist Appeal of July 7, 1939.

The Court: It will be received.

Mr. Goldman: I do not intend to read it, because the witness made an exposition of it.

You can take the witness.

The Court: I think we might recess at this point.

(Afternoon Recess)

Expropriation of capitalist class


By MR. SCHWEINHAUT (Prosecutor):

Q: Now you stated on direct examination that the expropriation of private property, without compensation, was not a principle of the Socialist Workers Party, but I want to read to you from the Declaration of Principles this sentence, and ask you a question about it:

“The most important of the social economic measures to be taken by the workers’ state in its initial period is the expropriation and socialisation, without compensation, of all monopolies in industry and land, or mines, factories, and shipping, all public utilities, railroads, airplane systems, and other organised means of communications, all banks, credit agencies, and gold stores, and all other supplies and services that the revolutionary government finds it necessary to take over in order to lay the foundations of a socialist society.”

What have you to say about that, Mr. Cannon?

A: If I remember correctly, I said it is not a principle of Marxism that property taken by the government cannot be compensated for.

Q: Are you quite certain you were discussing Marxism as distinguished from the program of the party at the time?

A: I think I referred to Marxist authorities. I had in mind particularly the authority of Trotsky.

Q: Well, in any event it is a principle of the Socialist Workers Party that such property shall be taken without compensation?

A: That is in the Declaration. But it is not a principle.

Q: Would you mind explaining why the present owners of the property, who have acquired their ownership, at least by constitutional means, would be given nothing for it? Why is that principle embodied in the program of the party?

A: The Sixty Families who own the bulk of the industries and banks of America are not rightfully entitled to so much ownership and power over the lives of the people who produced this property by their labor.

Q: You would give them, then, no credit for their own industry and effort, education, intelligence —

A: Yes, I would give them the same credit that every citizen will have who participates in the production of the wealth of the country—that is, the opportunity to function in the new society on the basis of equality.

Q: Yes. But I am talking about the time when you take the power and with it the property, as of that time you would take it over without any compensation, and I ask you therefore, why you do not at that time take into account the effort, the industry, the intelligence, and I might add, the risk of loss, that has been constantly present, of those people?

A: What we are concerned with is the welfare of the great mass of the people. Their welfare categorically requires that the productive plants of this country be transferred from private hands into the hands of the public. That is what we are concerned with first of all. Industry must be nationalised—private property must be eliminated in the industrial process. The question of the rights and the interests of the comparatively small number of the population who are affected by that drastic measure is naturally secondary to what we consider this public necessity, public interest.

I don’t see any principled reason why such people, who are deprived of their ability or their power to exploit labor any more, cannot be given consideration on condition that they acquiesce in the will of the majority. They can be pensioned, they can be given consideration in view of their age, or their incapacity for labor, or their agreement not to resist by force the mandate of the majority.

As a matter of fact, I think we would be in favor of that.

Q: You would give them a pension?

A: Possibly, yes.

Q: Well, now, is it your theory that no person who has acquired large property holdings could have done it in other ways than by the exploitation of the workers?

A: That is the way property is created under capitalism.

Q: Now, will you please tell us what you mean by “exploitation”?

A: That means the employment of wage labor at a rate of pay less than the value of the product of the labor.

Q: Well, then, it is an arbitrary dogma, shall we say, of the Socialist Workers Party that no person who labors is adequately paid under this present system of government?

A: I wouldn’t say “no person”. Some people are very badly overpaid.

Q: I am talking about the workers—the same workers you are talking about.

A: Yes, I can conceive of even a worker being overpaid—that is, an unproductive, an unskilful or negligent worker.

But when we speak of wage labor we speak of the average, and the general rule. Marxism deals in the general and not in the analysis of each and every individual worker. The workers, taken collectively and an average struck, produce an enormous amount of wealth for which they do not receive the equivalent in wages. That is surplus value, according to Marxist terminology. That is profit that goes into the hands of the capitalists, not in return for labor but as profit on investment.

Q: And you think they should have no profit on their investment?

A: We want to eliminate the whole profit system. We want to have production for use, not for profit.

Q: Well, now, you would expropriate the property, not only of the Sixty Families, but of anyone who owns property in a large measure, is that correct?

A: Our program specifically excludes the expropriation or interference with small proprietors. We speak of people who have big holdings and exploit labor. Their property shall be transferred to the ownership and control of the public as represented by the workers’ and farmers’ government.

America’s ‘Sixty Families’

Q: Where did the term “Sixty Families” originate?

A: To my knowledge, it first came to public attention through a book written by a brilliant journalist named Ferdinand Lundberg.

Four or five years ago Mr. Lundberg conducted researches into the ownership and control of American industry, banks, and so forth. Out of an exhaustive research he produced a remarkably documented book entitled America’s Sixty Families, in which he set out facts and figures to prove that the decisive control of American industry, banks and other institutions which represent the real economic wealth and power of this country—that this is concentrated in the ownership and control of sixty families whom he listed.

Mr. Lundberg’s work, as far as I know, has never been seriously controverted. I recall that even such a representative figure of the present administration as Secretary Ickes spoke on the radio and referred to this book as authority for some position he was taking in a current political dispute.

Q: Now, then, you have used the term—when you use it in the party literature—literally then, have you not, having specific reference to sixty specific families?

A: I wouldn’t say it is an ironclad literal description. It is an approximation of the real situation. We don’t propose to limit the thing exactly to that, but the expression “Sixty Families” graphically illustrates what has been happening in the country. While the workers were working and the farmers were farming, Sixty Families were getting control of the country, and it is a very graphic figure to use in our agitation. A lot of people don’t realise what has been going on in the concentration of wealth in this country.

Q: Let me ask you a question or two, if you please, about the concept of an imperialist capitalist government. You have said that the present government of the United States is both imperialist and capitalist.

A: Yes.

Q: You believe, then, that the government is the tool of the capitalists?

A: It is the representative of the capitalists.

Q: And then, in order to suppress the capitalists, should they resist you, it follows, of course that you must suppress the government?

A: We are going to change the government.

Q: So you are going to suppress the government as a natural concomitant of the transaction of suppressing the capitalists. That is correct, isn’t it?

A: After we get the majority and get the power—if that power comes into our hands by peaceful, democratic processes, in that case we will radically change the whole structure of the government reorganising it on a basis of council representation, as I described this morning.

Q: Well, now, suppose the government doesn’t follow the example of Count Karolyi and turn it over to you. Then you are going to take it aren’t you?

A: You mean if they resist a majority in a democratic election?

Q: Oh, you are going to do it by election?

A: We are participating in elections all the time. All that we have said is that the ruling class of this country will resort to violence before there is a fair opportunity to test the majority or the minority in the democratic process.

Q: Well, now, tell us how you think that is going to come about and work out here in this country. Don’t for the purpose of that question, if you please, use the illustration of any other revolution. But how do you think it is going to work out here? Let me suggest your train of thought upon that: You say that if they resist an election, or something of that sort—tell us what you mean by that; give us the program as you envision it.

A: As things are going now, and as they conceivably can in the near future, we, as a minority party, will keep preaching our doctrines, recruiting members, doing our best to grow bigger, more popular, and get more support.

Naturally, if we have to rely solely on the effectiveness of our arguments, things remaining as they are, we will not grow very fast; but we, as Marxists, believe that historical development will come powerfully to the aid of our ideas. Continued bankruptcy of the present system, its inability to solve its problems, its worsening of the conditions of the people, will push them on the road in search of a solution of what seems to them an absolutely hopeless situation.

Under those conditions our program can appear to the people more and more plausible, more and more reasonable, and we can begin to become a stronger party. It has happened before with parties of similar ideas.

Capitalists will restrict democratic rights

Q: I understand now; you are doing all right. But understand that I want you to tell us how you think it is going to work out in this country.

A: As our party grows, it in itself will be a reflection of the growth and development of the broad labor movement, the trade unions. The unions will be pushed more and more along the lines of aggressive action, because the capitalists of America don’t think the workers are entitled to decent living and decent hours and will try to squeeze the workers down.

The capitalists will try to use the pretext of “national defence” and the war danger to deprive the workers of the right to strike. And once they have deprived the workers of the right to strike on so-called patriotic pretexts, then the capitalists will begin squeezing down wages and refusing concessions, and pushing the workers on the road to a more radical attitude toward the state of affairs, and our party will grow with that.

The next thing that will probably appear on the horizon is attempts of these Sixty Families and their supporters to stop the popularising of ideas inimical to the capitalists, and to check by legislation the organisation of the workers. You have the beginning of it here in Minnesota with the Stassen Anti-Strike Law.

They will begin arresting people for expressing their honest opinions, and putting them in jail, framing them up. They will begin organising bands of fascist hoodlums as, in Germany, Fritz Thyssen, the big steel magnate, confessed that he gave millions of marks to finance the organisation of Hitler’s hoodlums. The task of Hitler’s hoodlums was to go around breaking up workers’ meetings, and by violent assaults depriving the workers of their civil liberties and democratic rights.

Q: The capitalists will use legislation?

A: Yes, legislation violating the First Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits this kind of legislation.

And in this situation they will go through the war. They won’t stop with any army of a million and a half, they will organise an army of five million. They will send millions of American boys abroad for imperialist war adventures to protect their markets and their profits. Lives will be lost. Conditions at home will grow worse, because all this sixty to one hundred billions of dollars that they are appropriating for the wasteful expenses of war has got to be paid for by somebody and they will try to make the masses and the poor farmers pay it.

Misery will grow and increase, and demands will grow in this country, among people who want freedom and a right to live, for some way out of this madhouse of war and unemployment and growing fascism.

Q: Will this be during the war now, this part in your story?

A: Well, it can happen during the war, if the war is prolonged. Or it can happen in a catastrophically rapid manner at the end of the war, when millions of men return home from victories or defeats, as the case may be, to find no jobs waiting for them, and the whole economic prosperity of the day is exploded because it is based on the production of armaments.

The moment they stop building battleships and bombers and guns and ammunition, and all the other implements of war, you will have an army of fifteen to twenty-five million unemployed in this country. The small businessmen will be ruined and the farmers who have been in a chronic crisis for twenty-five years will have still worsened conditions.

The people of this country are going to begin thinking seriously then about finding some kind of a political solution for this crisis that the present leaders got them into and can’t get them out of. That is the way I visualise the development.

What do we want then? We want the simple right to advocate our ideas. We want the right to have free speech and free press and free assemblage.

Q: I know, but I think you are getting a little bit off the track. You have gotten to the point now in your story of how it is going to come about in the United States where everybody is pretty unhappy about the situation, or maybe worse than unhappy—angry. Go on from there and tell us—what is the next step?

A: That is what I intend to do. I said, what do we want in that situation?

We want the opportunity to continue explaining to the people of America what our plan is to solve this problem.

That is what we want, and granted that demand, we will put our program forward in elections. We will introduce resolutions in unions. We will introduce resolutions in farmers’ organisations. We will try to bring about conferences between the workers in the cities and the farmers, to see if we can work out a joint program to propose a solution.

We will participate in elections, and if we are elected and are not deprived of our electoral rights, we will begin debating the question in Congress. Given this one small provision, that we retain our constitutional rights, we have every reason to be confident that we can win over the majority of the people to our program.

And the question of whether the will of this majority will be asserted in an orderly and democratic manner is not going to be determined by us; that is going to be determined by your Sixty Families, whether they want to begin the violence, or whether they want to accept a peaceful solution.

Q: Wait a minute. You haven’t gotten yourself elected to control of the government yet. You are just at a point where maybe you have won an election or two. You contemplate that you will be able to elect yourself into control of the government?

A: I think it is conceivable, yes.

Q: I mean, that is what you seek? That is your aim?

A: That is the purpose in having candidates, to get them elected.

Q: Do you believe you can accomplish the control or acquisition, shall we say, of governmental power by being elected to it?

A: We can accomplish it if we are not interfered with by violence on the part of the capitalists.

Q: You mean, the capitalists are not going to let you be elected?

A: When we say that it is an illusion to expect that we can effect the social transformation by parliamentary action, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do it, or that we wouldn’t gladly accept such a method. We don’t believe, on the basis of our knowledge of history, and on the basis of our knowledge of the greed and rapacity of the American ruling class, that they will permit that kind of solution.

Q: Then let’s go back to the question that I asked you. You don’t believe that the capitalists, the Sixty Families and what-not will permit you to be elected to power?

A: No.

Q: How are they going to stop you from doing that—won’t they let the people vote?

A: They can stop it in various ways.

Q: How are they going to do that?

A: They can abrogate elections.

Q: Tell us about that, please.

A: That has been done, you know, so many times and in so many countries, that there is nothing novel about it.

Q: How are they going to do that?

A: By cancelling elections; and you know, we are not the only ones who anticipate such possibilities.

Q: You mean, they are just not going to permit any elections to be held?

A: Even such a public figure as Lindbergh has raised the question seriously whether there will be congressional elections permitted in 1942. I think he is ahead of time, but it is not necessarily a Trotskyist idea that they will stop elections.

Q: Possibly I haven’t made myself clear. I am trying to find out now, how the capitalists are going to prevent you from being elected into office? You said there were several ways they could do that One of them is to abrogate elections. Now, I ask you what you mean by that? Do you mean that the capitalists will not permit any elections at all to be held?

A: That is possible, yes.

Q: Is that one way you think you are going to be prevented from being elected into office?

A: That is one way, yes; that has been done.

Q: Here?

A: Not here yet, no. In France, the Petain government wasn’t elected and doesn’t permit any elections to test it. They put an end to the democratic parliament. I personally think that —

The Court: I think, Mr. Cannon, you ought to stick to the text suggested by the question. We are not interested in elections in France at this stage of the proceeding.

Q (By Mr. Schweinhaut): Now, I don’t want to prolong this, but I do want you to try to answer me. I want to know again how the capitalists in the United States of America are going to prevent you from being elected into office? Now, you have answered one of the several ways. They are going to stop elections from being held at all.

A: Yes.

Q: Tell us what other ways they are going to prevent you from being elected into office.

A: Another way is to pass discriminatory legislation, penalising workers’ parties.

Q: Explain that please.

A: Restricting the functioning of workers’ parties, preventing their full freedom of action, which would be necessary to secure parliamentary victories.

Q: And any other ways?

A: Yes. Another way, the most likely way for the Sixty Families, is to organise and subsidise a fascist movement with the aim of destroying the labor movement by force before it has an opportunity to test its strength in elections.

That is the way it was done in Italy; and I would like to explain that I am only using these references to other countries because they throw light on the process that is possible here. It was not my intention to bring in these examples as an extraneous issue. We think capitalist society operates in one country or another according to similar laws under similar conditions.

Q: Now, how are you going to prevent those things from happening? You want to stop them before they happen, I assume?

A: Yes.

Q: How are you going to do that?

A: First of all, we are going to try to assert our rights. We are going to try our best to get the support of enough people, whether they agree with our political theory or not, to maintain the democratic processes and civil rights of all the population. We are going to try to do that.

When we see fascist bands organising with the aim of breaking up the labor movement, we are going to advise the workers, before it is too late, to organise workers’ defence guards and not permit the fascist hoodlums to break up workers’ organisations and meetings. Those are two of the most important and immediate ideas we have about protecting the rights of the workers and their possibilities to develop their movement in a democratic process.

Q: Now suppose there is no abrogation of elections. You are going to continue to propagandise only, is that correct?

A: That is right.

Q: To try to get yourselves elected into office?

A: That is right.

Q: No matter how long it takes?

A: We can’t determine the time at all.

Q: Now how do you expect the capitalists to abrogate the elections? How will they accomplish that purpose?

A: They can do it in various ways—by decree, by vote of Congress declaring there is a state of emergency which requires dispensing with election struggles, and handing the power over to the president or somebody to rule for this period, which may be long or short—but most likely it would be long.

That is precisely what was done to a legally constituted parliament elected by the suffrage of the French people, containing representatives of various parties—Socialists, Radical Socialist, Conservative, Communist and other parties. This parliament was dissolved, and a dictator appointed with power to rule the country at his will until further notice. That is what happened just like that (indicating).

Q: Supposing they don’t do those things that you anticipate, and you get yourself elected into control of the government, control of the Senate and the House, let us say, and you elect a president, too. Do you expect then that the army and navy are going to turn against you and try to resist your authority?

A: I anticipate that some of the officers would—those who are tied most closely to the upper circles of the ruling class. I would expect some of them to attempt to dispute the authority of the people’s government That happened in other instances.

Q: Yes, I know you are illustrating by that. I am talking about this country. You have got yourself elected into control of the government now. Now tell us how you expect the resistance against your authority is going to be made. Who is going to do it and how is it going to be done?

A: It would be done by the agents of the ruling class that is facing dispossession.

‘The same way Lincoln did’

Q: Do you expect the army and navy of the United States government to turn its guns against you when you are in duly elected control of the government?

A: Yes, I would expect some of the officers to do it—not all of them. If all of the army and navy would be of such a mind, it would be manifestly impossible to be elected in the first place, because the army and navy are more or less in their ranks reflective of the general population, and if we are elected by a majority vote, you can be sure that our popularity in the masses of the people will be reflected in the military establishment That is always the case.

Q: Well, how would you resist this uprising against you?

A: The same way Lincoln did in 1861.

Q: Would you already have an army, or would you use the army that you find standing when you came into power?

A: We will just use what measures are possible. A good section of the American army and its best officers in 1861 revolted against the authority of the legally elected government of Lincoln. Lincoln took what he could and recruited some more and gave them a fight, and I always thought it was a wonderfully good idea.

Q: But in the meanwhile you want to build, do you not a workers’ militia?

A: A workers’ defence guard, yes.

Q: I mean, not alone for the purpose of defending the union halls, but for other purposes, isn’t that right? Don’t you want to build, while you are advancing toward power, a workers’ militia? To help you when you get into power?

A: We use the expression “workers’ defence guard” because that is most American and most easily and precisely defines what we want The workers’ defence guards will grow in size and strength insofar as the guards have a task to perform, not because we want them to grow.

If the fascists grow and fight the unions, the unions must inevitably counter that movement by developing their defence guards, and if the defence guards are overpowered by fascist gangsters and hoodlums and thugs, the only answer of the unions can be to strengthen the guards, and in the course of that struggle between the fascist gangs and the workers’ defence guards, we hope the workers, defence guards will grow strong and eventually become a very effective power.

Q: Well, let’s sort of boil the thing down a little bit. You do not expect that you will be able to be elected into office, do you?

A: No, our program says we do not expect that, and for the reasons that I have given you.

Q: But you expect to take power, nevertheless, do you not?

A: Yes, the revolution can’t be stopped by suppression, because the revolution is a tremendous social movement of great masses of people.

Q: So your party looks forward to an inevitable civil war brought about by the difference between your views and those of the capitalists?

A: If you will permit me, I would like to say we don’t look forward to it in the sense of wanting it.

Q: I understand you, yes.

A: And we don’t consider it inevitable. A variation of historical processes is possible.

But we say the overwhelming weight of possibility, based upon historical experience, is that the ruling class of this country will attempt to resolve the conflict with the workers by fascist violence before we gain a majority in Congress. Or if it should come to the point where we gain a majority in a democratic election, the ruling class would stage a slaveholders’ rebellion against it. And we will undertake to put down that rebellion as decisively as possible.

Q: And to that end you want to start in advance to build up a workers’ army, don’t you?

A: You can’t by mere program build up a workers’ army to confront such a thing. The force of the workers will grow up out of their unions, out of their workers’ defence guards, out of the rank and file of the soldiers and the farmers who are in the armed forces, who will not support the slaveholders’ rebellion. We will not be without resources if we have a majority of the people.

Q: I understand that. Now, the setting up of union defence guards in all trade unions would be very beneficial to your program if the resistance you anticipate occurs, wouldn’t it?

A: It will be an absolutely indispensable thing, yes.

Q: So that it is a good idea for your ultimate purposes to have union defence guards right now?

A: It is a good idea, if you can organise them. But you cannot organise workers’ defence guards merely because you want them—only when there is a pressing need for them that is obvious to the workers, regardless of their agreement with our ideas.

Q: It would be a pleasing thing, would it not, to the Socialist Workers Party to be able to establish workers’ guards in all trade unions for the ultimate purpose of the party?

A: I would go further than that and say that the establishment of workers’ defence guards is an almost automatic process as the unions encounter the violence of fascist hoodlums. Our task will be to accelerate it, to say it is a good idea, build it up and make it stronger and don’t let the fascists break up your movement and drive you into slavery.

But the guard is not something we can suck out of our fingers. It is a natural process growing out of the development of the struggle and we try to see it in advance, try to accelerate it, try to popularise the idea, convince the workers it is a good thing, and bestir themselves about it.

But no matter how many books we write, or how much we holler, we couldn’t organise a workers’ defence guard in any place where a union is operating uninterfered with. That is illustrated, you may say, by way of Minneapolis where we have very good friends and influential comrades in the unions—but when the Silver Shirt menace disappeared, the union defence guard just didn’t find any function, and dropped into quiescence. It can’t be built artificially.

Q: Are you saying that the union defence guard doesn’t exist any longer?

A: I don’t know whether it exists formally, but it doesn’t function, as far as I was able to judge from the testimony.

Workers army after revolution

Q: Now, let me ask you this question: After you get into power, you are going to establish an army, aren’t you?

A: Eventually, yes.

Q: Your Declaration of Principles says the workers’ state will not have a professional army, but will depend upon a mass workers’ militia in which distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished and democratic control over officers will be exercised by the ranks.

A: That has always been the Marxist conception of an army.

Q: Well now, would you mind elaborating on that a little bit?

A: We want to do away with professional soldiers. The workers’ state would probably for some time need a military establishment even if it came to an agreement with the dispossessed capitalists here to pension them off in return for their submission to the decision of the majority. There is the possibility that a capitalist Europe, a Hitler or something like that, would menace our country, and we would have to maintain a military establishment to defend the country.

Our idea is not to have a professional soldier class except, of course, in technical competence. Every able-bodied citizen would be liable for military service, alternately. The people should be armed.

Q: I think I probably understand that, but specifically will you tell us what this means (reading from the Declaration of Principles): “in which distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished and democratic control over officers will be exercised by the ranks”. Let’s take the first one: “distinctions other than those required for technical efficiency will be abolished”. What does that mean?

A: There have to be certain people in the military establishment who are proficient in certain techniques—artillery, aircraft, and so on.

The distinctions that we want abolished are the distinctions of privilege in the army, the distinctions which make it possible for the officers to have greater compensations than the soldier, and not only greater, but so far greater that the officer lives in a different world. It is possible for the officer to marry, to have a social life, to live something like a human being; while the soldier, because of his low wages, is deprived of these possibilities.

If we had our way, we would abolish these distinctions of privilege and secure to every member of the military apparatus a more or less similar compensation, regulation of privileges, and so on. Of course, I don’t say that applies only to the army. That applies to society in general, in our theory.

Q: The private would be equal to the major-general under that theory, in all respects, to use an extreme basis, I suppose?

A: Equal not in his military knowledge—equal not in his military position, but equal in his right to have a decent living and social life. Why shouldn’t he?

Q: I am asking you. Take the captain, would he be able to give orders to his privates?

A: Yes.

Q: Would they have to take the orders?

A: Yes, you can’t have a military establishment without discipline, without command.

Q: What do you mean by “control over officers exercised by the ranks”?

A: We are in favor of the ranks having the privilege of electing their officers in the military establishment, the same way they have the privilege of electing their city officials in civil life, or their union officials in the unions. We believe that on the whole they would get a better grade of officers, and ones in whom they would put more confidence, than by having officers imposed upon them. You will get a better discipline because of the democratic right granted to the rank and file to select their officers.

Q: Now, will you have a sort of political commissar, if that is the proper word, which would have control over the officers in the army?

A: That all depends on whether the officers are considered reliable or not.

Q: They had it, I believe, did they not, in Soviet Russia?

A: Yes, in the army after the revolution they had a lot of officers trained in the czarist regime.

Q: Would that be what you mean by democratic control of the officers?

A: No, that is an entirely different thing. By democratic control of the officers, we mean the right of the ranks to elect them and to recall them.

Q: But would you have any representative of the state administrative office, or whatever you call it, with the troops, and in control of the officers?

A: You are speaking of the institution of commissars in the Russian army?

Q: I don’t know whether I am or not. I am asking you.

A: I will explain that, but that is a different point. In the reconstituted army, organised by Trotsky after the revolution, they naturally had to rely on tens of thousands of officers who had been trained under the czarist regime. The workers had had no chance to train any of their people to be officers. Many officers rallied to the support of the Soviet government, for various reasons. Some of them became converted to the revolution. Others remained hostile to the revolution but were patriotic to the country, and were willing to fight to defend it against the interventionists. Others reconciled themselves to reality, and made the best of it.

But many of them, naturally, were considered politically unreliable. The control exercised by commissars over them was not a control from the ranks such as we propose by election. This was control from the top of the government. The commissar was appointed as a trusted representative of the central government to work with the officer and see that he conducted himself loyally. That is what was worked out in life in the Russian experience.

We haven’t even mentioned it in our program, because we don’t know what will happen here.

I should add that insofar as these officers became assimilated into the new regime, and new officers were trained, the necessity for the commissar over the officer of doubtful loyalty was eliminated, and to that extent the institution was reduced.

Q: I would like to know whether or not having those political commissars is embraced within the program of the Socialist Workers Party?

A: No, I don’t think it is stated in our program.

Q: I am asking you.

A: No, it is neither incorporated nor rejected. It is one of numerous ideas that remain to be answered.

Q: They had the same system in the Spanish Civil War recently, didn’t they?

A: To some extent they did, yes.

Q: Will you explain to us a little bit or use the Spanish Civil War as an illustration of the desirability of your own program that there be training under trade-union control and that sort of thing? Will you elaborate on that for us a little bit?

A: I mentioned that the People’s Front coalition secured a majority in the elections. The reactionary minority then revolted and started a rebellion by armed force, taking with them a considerable section of the staff of the army. On the other hand, as is nearly always the case, a section of the staff remained loyal to the legally constituted government, as was the case here in our Civil War—there was a division in the army.

The workers previously had clamored for arms, but the People’s Front government had refused to give them arms, and delayed so long that the workers hadn’t acquired any training in the use of arms. That is one of the reasons for the victory of fascism in Spain.

The workers’ organisations were the most aggressive opponents of the fascists. Our party in Spain, while it did not give political support to the People’s Front government, did support and participate in the military struggle to beat back the fascists, fought in the army side by side with the republicans and democrats and so on.

The unions and workers’ organisations found that they could organise and equip and put men in the field far better through their own machinery than they could through the People’s Front government. The powerful unions there organised their own regiments. The political parties organised their own regiments, and they were incorporated in the fighting lines side by side with the republicans and the official forces, and fought together. Without them, a serious military struggle wouldn’t have been possible in Spain. If the workers of Spain had had opportunity for military training in the previous years, particularly had they had a chance to train men to be officers, I think it is quite possible that the military outcome in Spain would have been different.

Q: Let me ask you this: The Loyalist army during the war had adopted, had it not, a theory of democratic control over officers and election of officers somewhat like that advocated by your party?

A: I believe to a certain extent that prevailed at first in some of the regiments controlled by the unions. Whether it prevailed in the army as a whole, I don’t really know. I am not acquainted with sufficient intimacy with the military side of the Spanish Civil War to know that.

Q: Your party believes that the present army of the United States should be run that way, doesn’t it?

A: Yes, we believe the ranks should have the right to elect their officers.

Q: Right now?

A: Right now.

Q: And in the event we get into war?

A: Yes, all the more so then, because then it is all the more important to the ranks of the soldiers to have officers that they want and that they can trust because they are going into dangerous situations. It is a very, very unhappy business to be sent into danger of one’s life under officers who are not trusted.

Q: Your party members are instructed, are they not, to continue to be faithful to the party principles and theories after they are inducted into the army?

A: They are not instructed, but it is taken for granted that a man who is educated in our movement never forsakes his principles under any circumstances.

Mr. Schweinhaut: Would Your Honour be willing to suspend at this point?

The Court: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and we shall observe it I hope you have a pleasant day and a comfortable one.

You will please keep in mind the admonitions of the court.

We will recess now until ten o’clock on Friday morning.

(Whereupon, at 4:35 o’clock P.M., a recess was regularly taken until 10:00 o’clock A.M., Friday, November 21, 1941.)


[5] Trotsky, “The Draft Program of the Communist International-A Criticism of Fundamentals”, The Third International After Lenin (Pathfinder Press: New York, third edition, 1970)