Socialism on Trial

The courtroom testimony of James. Cannon

Part IV

District Court of the United States

District of Minnesota, Fourth Division.

Friday, November 21, 1941

10:00 o’clock A. M.

James P. Cannon

One of the defendants, previously sworn, recalled, testified as follows:


By Mr. Schweinhaut:

Q: Mr. Cannon, I want to read to you a clause from the Communist Manifesto, about which Mr. Goldman interrogated you on Friday or whenever it was: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Does that represent the party’s view or not?

A: Insofar as it is incorporated in the Declaration of Principles it does. We have interpreted that, as all other Marxist writings, in our own way, as it appears in the Declaration of Principles.

Q: You will agree, will you not, that taken as it stands, and without anything else, it amounts to advocacy of the overthrow of the government by force?

A: No, I do not interpret it that way.

Q: You do not agree that that is what it means?

A: We do not interpret it that way, but in the Declaration of Principles —

Q: I am asking you whether or not, taking this language alone, and without anything else, do you not agree that it amounts to advocacy of the overthrow of government by force?

A: No, not necessarily because the authors of that same document in the statement that I cited the other day, stated specifically that they thought their aims could be attained, at least in England, by the process of parliamentary democracy.

Q: Now, you know that that is not in answer to my question, don’t you, Mr. Cannon? Let me ask you this, please: Taking that language which I just read to you alone, and without anything else, don’t you agree that it amounts to advocacy of overthrow of government by force?

A: No, I don’t think so, because the authors themselves have interpreted it differently at least in the case of England.

Q: All right—we will let that go. When you give out the Communist Manifesto to your members, do you caution them against that sentence?

A: I don’t know, particularly, that we do. We publish it as a historic document, ninety-three years old.

Q: You would expect the members of the party, when they read that, to understand when they read it, that it does not represent the views of the party, and that it does not advocate overthrow of government by force?

A: We expect the members of the party to be governed by the Declaration of Principles.

Q: Now, I wish to read to you from the Founding Conference of the Fourth International, where I find this phrase: “The strategical task of the Fourth International lies not in reforming capitalism but in its overthrow.”[6] Doesn’t that mean that you do not even intend to attempt anything by legislative reformation?

A: No, it does not mean that.

Q: What does it mean?

A: On the contrary, we are constantly proposing legislative changes.

Q: What does that sentence mean to you, as found there?

A: We do not expect to attain the final aims of socialism by the reformation of capitalism which we consider an outlived system. Meanwhile, we are constantly looking out, on the road to the time when we will be able to accomplish our final aims, for suitable occasions to propose timely reforms.

Q: Isn’t it a fact that throughout your literature there is constant ridicule of any idea of reforms?

A: We do not think the final aims of socialism can be accomplished by reforming a state or system which has to be replaced. But we do not consider reforms and revolution incompatible, not at all.

Q: Now, I find this line in The Revolution of 1905 by Lenin: “It is our duty —”

Mr. Goldman: That was not admitted in evidence, Your Honour.

Mr. Schweinhaut: I am not saying it was. I want to ask the witness something about it.

Q (Continued): “It is our duty in time of an uprising to exterminate ruthlessly all the chiefs of the civil and military authorities.”[7] Does that represent the party’s views?

A: No, we have never made any such declaration.

Q: You disagree with that?

A: Yes, I don’t know that that is in any way a statement of our party policy.

Q: That is part of the philosophy and dogma of Lenin with which you do not agree—is that correct?

A: We do not agree with the extermination of anybody unless it is in case of an actual armed struggle, when the rules of war apply.

Q: Then in the event that your party leads an uprising, would you agree then that the chiefs of the civil and military authorities should be exterminated ruthlessly?

A: I do not want to be made responsible, or I do not want the party made responsible, for such statements that are not in our official declarations.

Q: But you have told us that the basic views of Lenin are the basic views of the Socialist Workers Party, have you not?

A: That is right and I told you at the same time that that does not mean that we take every letter and line written by Lenin as dogma.

Q: And this is one that you do not regard as dogma, is that right?

A: Certainly not with the interpretation you give it.

Q: Let me read to you some quotations from the publication What is Trotskyism? designated as “Outline Course No. 2, by Jack Weber”, also distributed by your party: “To realise socialism Marxism posits that it is first necessary to destroy the state machinery of the capitalist ruling class: namely, the army, the police and the state bureaucracy.” And then: “The policy of Marxism remains that of utilising the war and the arming of the workers to further the interests of the world revolution, to turn the imperialist war into civil war, to look upon the bourgeoisie at home as the main enemy.” And then: “The working class cannot win power by pursuing a policy of fascism.” Doesn’t that mean that you and your party intend, in the forthcoming war, if we get into it, to use that means for fomenting civil war?

A: I would not put it in such a bald manner as that. I have explained here in some detail that we would continue to propagate our ideas under all circumstances, insofar as we are permitted to do so. We believe that the prolongation of the war conducted by the imperialist powers will have the inevitable effect of accelerating the decay of the system represented by the imperialist powers, of increasing the mass misery and discontent and the demand for cessation of the slaughter, and our party will certainly undertake to offer to the public in such a situation the alternative of socialism, that is right.

‘Will not give political support to war’

Q: And you will seek to utilise war, during the war, to destroy the present form of government will you not?

A: Well, that is no secret, that we want to change this form of government.

Q: And you look forward, do you not, to the forthcoming war as the time when you may be able to accomplish that?

A: Yes, I think the forthcoming war will unquestionably weaken the imperialist governments in all countries.

Q: You said, I believe, that you will not support the war? You do not believe in national defence at all, do you?

A: Not in imperialist countries, no.

Q: I am speaking of this country.

A: I believe 100 percent in defending this country by our own means, but I do not believe in defending the imperialist governments of the world —

Q: I am speaking about the government of the United States as it is now constitutionally constituted. You do not believe in defending that, do you?

A: Not in a political sense, no.

Q: You do not believe in defending it in any sense, do you?

A:. I explained the other day, that if the majority of the people decide on war, and participate in the war, our people and the people under our influence will also participate in the war. We do not sabotage the war, we do not obstruct it but we continue to propagate our ideas, calling for a cessation of the war and calling for a change in government.

Q: Do you mean by that statement that your people, when inducted into the army, would be good soldiers?

A: Yes.

Q: And that they would seek to further the military efforts of the United States?

A: We say that our people must be good soldiers in the army, in the same sense that they are good workers in the factory, and good unionists in the union. Otherwise, they could not possibly have any influence over their comrades.

Q: How can you reconcile that statement with the statement appearing in the Socialist Appeal of August 1, 1939: “A Socialist who preaches national defence is a petty-bourgeois reactionary at the service of a decaying capitalism.” How do you reconcile your previous answer to my question, with the statement made there?

A: We are not in favor of defending the present regime. We are opposed to the present regime.

Q: And your members who are soldiers in the army, when they are inducted into the army, will be opposed to it?

A: So far as their ideas are concerned, yes, so far as their expression of opinion is concerned, insofar as they are permitted to express their opinion.

We do not believe in capitalist authority and direction in the factory either, but as long as we are in the minority and cannot prevent it, we work in the factory, and insist that our people be good workers.

Q: And while you are working in the factory, you try to do everything you can to fight against the bosses?

A: We do everything we can in the way of explaining and propagandising to our fellow workers the idea that it is better for them to own the factories than to be wage workers under the control of a private owner.

Q: And personally, you ridicule the idea of defending the United States government don’t you?

A: In the sense of giving political support to all forms of capitalist government, yes.

Q: I will read from one of your own speeches, and see whether that means political opposition. On November 14, 1939, in a speech of yours, you said —

A: What was the date again?

Q: November 14, 1939. This speech of yours was reported in the Internal Bulletin, for members only. You said: “Some comrades speak nowadays of giving ‘conditional’ defence to the Soviet Union. If you stop to think about it we are for conditional defence of the United States. It is so stated in the program of the Fourth International. In the event of war we will absolutely defend the country on only one small ‘condition’: that we first overthrow the government of the capitalists and replace it with a government of the workers.” Did you mean political opposition by that?

A: I meant, that in that case we would withdraw our political opposition and become political supporters as well as military participants of the war.

Q: Do you think that statement is consistent with what I just read, which was stated by you in your speech?

A: That is what I meant by it We have never at any time said we would not fight in the army of the United States alongside of the rest of our generation, in time of war. We said: “We will not give political support to war.”

Q: Let’s see whether your statement in the Declaration of Principles is consistent with what you just said: (Reading) “If, in spite of the efforts of the revolutionists and the militant workers, the US government enters a new war, the SWP will not under any circumstances support that war but will on the contrary fight against it. The SWP will advocate the continuance of the class struggle during the war regardless of the consequences for the outcome of the American military struggle; and will try to prepare the masses to utilise the war crisis for the overthrow of US capitalism and the victory of socialism.” Does that mean that you are supporting the war effort?

A: No, I have never said that we support the war effort. We do not. We oppose it.

Q: And could one of your party members observe that principle and be a good soldier?

A: He could be; he not only could, but he will, in the same way that he can be a good worker in a shop while opposing wage labor in the shop. We cannot prevent it as long as we are in the minority.

Q: The Declaration of Principles also says: “The Socialist Workers Party opposes and will continue at all times to oppose every form of social-patriotism, all advocacy of ‘national union’ or ‘suspension of the class struggle during war time’” —

A: That is under conditions of a capitalist government.

Q: You mean under the present conditions in this country today, do you not?

A: That is right.

Q: But still you say that you would not obstruct the military?

A: No, not in a military sense.

Q: 1 want to ask you whether what I am about to read now does not mean that you want to foment and bring about a civil war, from the pamphlet Are You Ready for War published by the Fourth International, Young Peoples Socialist League: “Do we believe in turning imperialist war into civil war? This is the way by which the Russian workers secured peace in 1917 while their brothers in other lands were still struggling under the yoke of imperialism. This is the only way by which permanent peace can be gained and war abolished from the face of the earth.” Doesn’t that mean that you intend to foment and deliberately try to bring about civil war during the forthcoming period of war?

A: Conditions mature for the development of a revolutionary movement in wartime. We continue our opposition to the imperialist system, the imperialist regime, and try to lead it in the direction of socialism. There is no doubt whatever but what that is the aim of our party.

Q: This is from one of your convention resolutions to the same general effect ,and I suppose your answer would be the same: “If the working class is unable to prevent the outbreak of war, and the United States enters directly into it, our party stands pledged to the traditional position of revolutionary Marxism. It will utilise the crisis of capitalist rule engendered by the war to prosecute the class struggle with the utmost intransigence, to strengthen the independent labor and revolutionary movement and to bring the war to a close by the revolutionary overturn of capitalism and the establishment of proletarian rule in the form of a workers’ state.”8 Is that your idea of not obstructing the military effort of this country?

A: Yes, that is a clear statement of our aims. We are going to oppose the war; we are going to speak against it.

Q: Do you suggest that this language means that you will only speak against it?

A: If you try to construe that to mean that we are going to instruct our people, or the people under our influence, to obstruct the military prosecution of the war, to break discipline, to commit sabotage, to create actions of this kind, that does not mean that. It means political opposition.

Q: Reading now from the “Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution”, I read this: “Every rank and file member of our organisation is not only entitled but is duty bound to consider himself henceforth an officer in the revolutionary army which will be created in the flame of events.”9 Do you think your members could be good soldiers and not obstruct the military effort if they obeyed that principle?

A: That does not necessarily mean officers in a military sense. When we speak of the revolutionary army, we use it in many senses. We speak of the party as the revolutionary army; we speak of the movement of the proletariat as the revolutionary army; not always in a military sense. That would not mean literally in a military sense because —

Q: I am not asking you if it does. I am asking whether one could be a good soldier in the American army and obey that principle?

A: Yes, if not, he would not have influence enough to be an officer anywhere.

Q: Let me read to you from one of your speeches on military policy, appearing in the Socialist Appeal of October 26, 1940: “How do we work in a conscript army, someone asked. We work the same way as in a shop. Indeed, the main purpose of industry now is supplying the army. Where would you draw the line? There is hardly an industry that won’t be mobilised either for the manufacture or transportation of materials for the army. The masses are in the army, or working to supply the army. The workers are subject to military exploitation. We go in and defend the interests of the slaves of military exploitation, just as we go into the factory and fight against the capitalist exploitation there. Our basic line everywhere is the class line.

“The second point is to be careful, cautious. Make no putsches, make no premature moves that expose us and separate us from the masses. Go with the masses. Be with the masses, just as the Bolsheviks were in Kerensky’s army. Why can’t we do that here? And how otherwise can we do it? How otherwise, in a world dominated by militarism, can we see our way to world salvation except through military means? And how can we get these military means except by penetrating the army as it exists?”

You mean by that, do you not, that you want your members, when inducted into the army service, to preach your doctrines to other soldiers in the army, and thereby defend them against military exploitation by their commanding officers? Isn’t that a fair statement of what that means?

A: Our party is in favor of defending the rights of the rank and file soldiers, their democratic rights to decent treatment, their rights to express their opinions and to petition Congress, to elect their officers, at least their lower officers, generally protecting them against capitalist mistreatment.

Q: And that is what you want your members that are in the army now to do, to speak in favor of and to propagate those ideas?

A: Yes.

Q: In the army?

A: In the same way that they do it in the shop.

Q: But you do not think that would obstruct the military effort of the army?

A: If you will read that again you will see that we do not want any putsches. We say to the members “Do not make any putsches, and do not obstruct the army.” It is our direct instruction to our people not to create obstruction of the military operation, but to confine their efforts to propagandistic work, to gain the sympathy and support of the rank and file masses.

Rights of rank and file soldiers

Q: And you believe that your people can propagate that kind of stuff in the army and not obstruct the military efforts?

A: Yes, I think so. I think military life, as a matter of fact, will be a whole lot better, the more the rights and feelings of the rank and file soldiers are considered. The whole conception of militarism based on a rank and file without organisation rights, and with arbitrary discipline imposed from above, without any expression of opinion or consideration for the feelings of the masses—we are just as much against that in the army as in the factory or in civil life.

Q: And the way you are talking now is the way you want your members to talk in the army, is it?

A: Each in his own way.

Q: Now, on June 29, 1940, the Socialist Appeal published this from the report of the “Manifesto of the Fourth International”: “Independently of the course of the war, we fulfil our basic task: We explain to the workers the irreconcilability between their interests and the interest of bloodthirsty capitalism; we mobilise the toilers against imperialism; we propagate the unity of the workers in all warring and neutral countries; we call for the fraternisation of workers and soldiers within each country, and of soldiers with soldiers on the opposite side of the battlefront; we mobilise the women and youth against the war; we carry on constant, persistent, tireless preparation of the revolution—in the factories, in the mills, in the villages, in the barracks, at the front and in the fleet.”10 You want the soldiers to do that, don’t you?

A: Yes, I think that is a summation of the idea, for the soldiers and everybody to do that. That is the way to put an end to this slaughter.

Q: And you do not think that promulgating those ideas in the army during the war would obstruct the military efforts?

A: Not in the sense of opening up the front for the advantage of opposing armies, no. We are offering this solution to the soldiers of all the imperialist armies, but it does not mean and could not mean in any sense that we want to sabotage the operation of the American army in the interests of an opposing army. You will not find it there, or anywhere else in our literature.

Q: Well, that is a difference in points of view. In the Socialist Appeal of March 30, 1940, appears this editor’s note in the Workers Forum, which says: “Entering the army upon being drafted is necessary for our work.” What do you mean by that?

A: Is there a connecting sentence with it?

Q: It is from Exhibit 215-A. Mr. Smith will get that for us. While Mr. Smith is looking for that, I will ask you about this from the Socialist Appeal of June 29, 1940, an article entitled “Enlistment Lag Forces Compulsion”: “Meanwhile, let the workers remember this. When they are conscripted, let them not waste the period they spend in the army. They must learn everything there is to be learned about military training so that when the time comes they can use that training for the interests of the labor movement.” What do you mean by that?

A: Meaning that the better trained the workers are, the better instructed in tactics and in military acts, the better they will be able to defend their socialist regime against the efforts of the minority reactionaries to overthrow it.

Q: This is the context from the Workers Forum, editor’s note, March 30, 1940: “We follow Lenin; we oppose war, not as a measure of self-expression, but as an integral part of our struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Entering the army upon being drafted is necessary for our work.”

A: For our people, or people under our influence, to refuse to accept conscription, the only thing they would accomplish would be to simply isolate themselves from the generation who are going to decide things in the future, and such individual or minority actions are utterly false and incompatible with the aims of a party that can only realise its program by support of the majority.

That is why we oppose conscientious objectors, and why we oppose draft-evaders. We oppose all people who try to set themselves up as individuals against the majority. Our policy is to submit to the decision of the majority, but to oppose it in our political activities, to speak against it.

Q: In October 1938, you made a speech on “Ten Years of the Fight to Build a Revolutionary Party in the United States” in which you said this: “In the great Minneapolis strikes ‘Trotskyism’ revealed itself in the most dramatic fashion, as no bookman’s dogma but a guide to the most militant and most effective action.” What did you mean by that?

A: That in the strike in Minneapolis in 1934 some comrades affiliated with our party played a leading influence, or a part of the leading influence, and demonstrated in practice that the principles of Trotskyism are the best and most effective principles, and can be applied most effectively in the interests of the workers.

Q: Would this be a demonstration of this principle? In The Militant of July 12, 1941, under the heading, “Local 544-C10’s Proud and Stainless Record” this was said: “During the first drivers’ strike of May 1934, the employers threw against the embattled transport workers the entire police force of Minneapolis and 5,000 special deputies armed with clubs and guns. In a historic battle—the ‘Battle of Bulls Run’—the drivers fought the police and deputies to a standstill and chased them off the streets of the city.” Is that Trotskyism demonstrating itself?

A: Well, I can give you my own opinion, that I am mighty proud of the fact that Trotskyism had some part in influencing the workers to protect themselves against that sort of violence.

Q: Well, what kind of violence do you mean?

A: This was what the deputies were organised for, to drive the workers off the street. They got a dose of their own medicine. I think the workers have a right to defend themselves. If that is treason, you can make the most of it.

Legality of the Russian Revolution

Q: When you were tracing the history of the Russian Revolution, you said this: “The Kerensky government was losing ground because it was not solving any problems of the people. The Bolsheviks’ slogans of ‘Bread’ and other slogans—those were the slogans that the masses wanted. The Bolsheviks got a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. On November 7 was held the Congress of the All-Russian Soviets. The Bolsheviks had a majority there, and simultaneously with the meeting of the All-Russian Soviet, where the Bolsheviks had a majority, they took the power from the government.” Now, do you want us to understand from that, that the Bolsheviks took power by virtue of a majority vote of the Congress of the Soviets?

A: That is right.

Q: Do you not mean that the contrary was true?

A: No, I do not.

Q: Don’t you know that there was a planned insurrection before the Congress, and that the insurrection actually took place before the Congress met?

A: No. The Congress met the morning after the struggle had begun, and confirmed the new government.

Q: The fact is that the insurrection was started and was completed before the Congress ever met, isn’t it?

A: No, the power was in the Congress, and the Congress was the real power.

Q: Well, just answer my question, please. Isn’t it a fact that the insurrection had been planned and actually carried out before the Congress ever met?

A: No. The question was submitted to the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets on November 7. That is why they call it the November 7 Revolution.

Q: Don’t you know, further, that Lenin persistently warned against waiting for the Congress and doing it in a legal way?

A: Oh, that was one time that Lenin was overruled.

Q: And who won?

A: Trotsky won.

Q: Isn’t it also a fact that Trotsky ridiculed the notion that it was done legally?

A: No, on the contrary, Trotsky commented on the legal sanction of the action by the Soviets. That was why it was delayed to November 7.

Q: Isn’t it also true that he lulled Kerensky into inaction by pretending to wait until the Congress met, so that it could be decided legally who was to take power?

A: He did not pretend to wait. He waited.

Q: I submit that the contrary is true, in that Mr. Trotsky said so, and I would like to read to you about ten pages or so from the Lessons of October, and then you can tell me whether I am right or wrong.

(Mr. Scheweinhaut reads from pages 74 and 80 of Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)

Mr. Goldman: I submit Your Honour, that this book was ruled out of evidence. I have no objection if he wants to read one or two or perhaps three sentences, but to take advantage of cross-examination and put into evidence what the Court has ruled out, I think is going a little too far.

The Court: Well, this has to do, I suppose, with the dispute between counsel and witness, as to the facts with reference to which the witness takes one position and counsel takes an other. Now this is an attempt to impeach the statements of the witness by the means indicated. I assume he has a right to do that. He may continue to read it.

Mr. Goldman: Exception.

(Mr. Schweinhaut reads pages 80-91 from Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)

Mr. Schweinhaut: Now, am I right or wrong, Mr. Cannon, that the insurrection actually started and was concluded before the Soviet Congress put its seal of legality on it?

A: If you will permit me, I will show you where you are wrong. You misunderstood the whole thing; my authority for the evidence I gave here was Trotsky. He wrote the most authoritative and authentic history of the revolution. Perhaps I should mention several things to show where you are wrong:

First those pages you have read show that there were three different opinions in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Lenin said they had a majority, and they should take the power without waiting. There was the opinion of Zinoviev and Kamenev who thought the Bolsheviks did not have a majority and should not take the power. And the third opinion was Trotsky’s that they could base the assumption of power on the legality of the Soviets.

Second, those pages you read prove that both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks derived their authority from the Soviets. In November it became clear that the Bolsheviks had won the majority in the Soviets. Kerensky, who formerly had the majority in the Soviets, prepared to move troops from the capital. What did the troops do? The troops refused to go until ordered by the Congress of Soviets. The Congress of the Soviets convened on November 7. It was revealed that the Bolsheviks had the majority, and their assumption of power was confirmed.

In this All-Russian Congress of Soviets were present the other parties who had been the majority of yesterday. They spoke and debated there. When the vote was taken, the Bolsheviks had the majority. The Bolsheviks offered to give proportionate places in the government to the other parties. They refused and walked off. The Bolsheviks did, as a matter of fact incorporate into the government, a section of Kerensky’s party, the left wing of the Social Revolutionary Party.

It seems to me that here is an excellent illustration of how a revolutionary party, after long propagandistic work, succeeded in a political crisis in winning over to its side a majority of the population represented in the most authoritative body, the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. And the Bolsheviks, adapting themselves to the legality of this authoritative body —

Q: Now, just a minute. Are you still telling us how it occurred, or are you just telling us now that you think it was a mighty fine thing?

A: No, I am explaining the legality of the development as against your interpretation that it was illegal. And it seems to me —

Q: I don’t want your opinion on that. If you want to go on and tell us what happened, all right. Don’t characterise it.

A: I don’t think you will ever get a more legal revolution than that.

Mr. Schweinhaut: That is all. +

Defence Policy in the Minneapolis Trial:

A Criticism

By Grandizo Munis

The initiation on the part of the United States government of a prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and of the leaders of the Drivers Union of Minneapolis made us fear a decapitation, even though temporary, of our American movement. It filled us with a joyful hope at the same time, sure that the persecution by the bourgeois tribunals would popularise our revolutionary ideas when it gave our militants the opportunity to expound them completely and valiantly. It has been the norm and pride of the world revolutionary movement since the ringing reply of Louise Michel to her judges and of Karl Marx to the Bismarckian tribunal, to convert the accused into accusers and to employ the witness stand as a fortress from which to attack the reactionary powers. This attitude has been one of the principal forces of attraction of the revolutionary movement.

I experienced the first uneasiness that these results would be wasted totally or partially on reading the first published statement (The Militant Vol. V, No. 29) that seems to have set the tone for all the following statements. I recovered hope during the first sessions of the trial, during which our comrades energetically brought out the reactionary role of the government aided by Tobin against the Drivers of 544-CIO. But I again considered as lost a goodly part of the political benefits of the trial on reading the fundamental speeches and questionings of Comrade Cannon by Comrade Goldman, and by the prosecutor (Schweinhaut). It was there, replying to the political accusations—struggle against the war, advocacy of violence, overthrow of the government by force—where it was necessary to have raised the tone and turn the tables, accuse the government and the bourgeoisie of a reactionary conspiracy; of permanent violence against the majority of the population, physical, economic, moral, educative violence; of launching the population into a slaughter also by means of violence in order to defend the Sixty Families. On the contrary, it is on arriving at this part that the trial visibly weakens, our comrades shrink themselves, minimise the revolutionary significance of their ideas, try to make an honourable impression on the jury without taking into consideration that they should talk for the masses. For moments they border on a renunciation of principles. A few good words by Goldman in his closing speech cannot negate the lamentable, negative impression of his first speech and of the interrogation of Cannon.

I shall begin to criticise them by citing their words, taken textually from numbers 45, 47, 48, 50, 52, Volume V, of The Militant.

Goldman in his opening statement to the jury:

I repeat: The objective and the aim of the party was to win through education and through propaganda a majority of the people of the United States? (emphasis in the original)

It is exactly the same as the statement in July before the beginning of the trial. Answering a criticism made then from Mexico, a comrade of certain responsibility in the SWP replied that there was no need to worry because no one was in agreement with that statement. If no one was in agreement, then it was necessary to formulate another, that is evident, unless we have one policy for the masses and another for appearances before a bourgeois judge. It is hardly necessary to indicate the error of such a statement. It is understood by all, beginning by the one who made the statement that our objective can in no way be only propaganda, nor will we win the majority by means of it. We are a party of propaganda in the sense that our numerical proportion prevents us or limits us to a minimum of action. But we are a party of revolutionary action—economic, political and educative—in essence and potentially, because our propaganda itself can tend only to action and only through action will we conquer the majority of the exploited and educate them for the taking of power.

I insist on these commonplaces because the euphemistic, sweetened character of this preliminary statement of Goldman, designed to reconcile the jury, is a compromise that has forced later statements much more grave. We will see further on.

Let us take the main problems and see how they have been dealt with in the trial.

Goldman begins with the following statement:

We shall show that the Socialist Workers Party opposes sabotage. We shall show that Mr. Anderson’s claim is absolutely wrong and based on no foundation whatever to the effect that we prefer the enemy, the imperialistic enemy of the United States, to defeat our government. It is absolutely false. What we want as the evidence will show, is to have the workers and farmers establish their own government and then to continue a real war against fascism.

Cannon even goes a bit further, replying to a question by Goldman:

A decision has been made, and is accepted by a majority of the people, to go to war. Our comrades have to comply with that.

And then Goldman asks: “You would not support the war?”

Cannon: “That is what I mean, we would not support the war, in a political sense.”

And he even returns again to the point:

We consider Hitler and Hitlerism the greatest enemy of mankind. We want to wipe it off the face of the earth. The reason we do not support a declaration of war by American arms is because we do not believe the American capitalists can defeat Hitler and fascism. We think Hitlerism can be destroyed only by way of conducting a war under the leadership of the workers.

In the first place, the decision to go to war has not “been made and accepted by a majority of the people.” This statement can be criticised very strongly, a statement that we would censure very energetically if it were made by a centrist. In place of accusing the government of leading the American people to the slaughter against the will of the majority, instead of accusing it emphatically before the masses and of demonstrating to them how the parliamentarian majority acts against the majority of the people, Cannon endorses Roosevelt’s decision as if it really corresponded to the majority of the people.

Yes, we submit to the war and our militants go to war, but not because it is a decision of the majority, but rather because it is imposed upon us by the violence of the bourgeois society just as wage exploitation is imposed. As in the factory, we should take advantage of all the opportunities to right against the war and against the system that produces it, just as we fight against the boss in a factory, as a function of the general struggle against the capitalist system.

“We would not support the war in a political sense”, says Cannon. Do we support it perhaps, in some other sense? Social, economic? I do not see other senses. Does he perhaps mean by “to support” to accept the accomplished fact and to go to war? That is, to submit oneself, as we submit to the conditions imposed by a boss after the failure of a strike, but preparing ourselves for another. Why, then, equivocate so dangerously? I see no other reason but that our comrades have committed the very grave error of talking for a petty-bourgeois jury for the more immediate present, not foreseeing the future struggles. Would it not have been better to state: “We submit to your war, American bourgeois, because the violence of your society imposes it on us, the material violence of your arms. But the masses will turn against you. From today on, our party is with the masses in an irreconcilable struggle against your regime of oppression, misery and butchery. Therefore we will fight against your war with all means.”

The equivocation and inexactness are permanent. It seems that we are platonic opponents of the war and that we limit ourselves to statements and propaganda, written or verbal, without action of any kind. To say that “we do not support a declaration of war because we do not believe the American capitalists can defeat Hitler and fascism” is to give the understanding that we would support it if we believed in that defeat; this induces those who believe in the victory of the United States to support it. Our rejection of the war is based on the character of the social regime that produces it, not on this or that belief about the defeat of fascism.

Immediately comes another equivocation: “We think Hitlerism can be destroyed, etc.” Uniting that to the reiterated statements to the effect that we will not agitate among the soldiers, that we are a “political opposition” to the war, and to the, until now, limping exposition of military training under union control, can induce one to believe that we will be for the war when the control has been given to the unions. I believe it is necessary to clarify this, without leaving room for equivocation and I pronounce myself, for my part, against the war, even if control of the military service is achieved by the unions.

Immediately, Cannon undertakes to give a program for defeating Hitler by means of a workers’ and farmers’ government I don’t have to add a single comma, except that the entire questioning of Cannon closes with a double door, the road to establishing the workers’ and farmers’ government:

Goldman: Now, until such time as the workers and farmers in the United States establish their own government and use their own methods to defeat Hitler, the Socialist Workers Party must submit to the majority of the people-is that right?

Cannon: That is all we can do. That is all we propose to do.

All of which is the equivalent of folding one’s arms after some lectures about the marvels of the workers’ and farmers’ government, in the hope that this will be formed by itself, or by God knows what sleight of hand.

This does not deal merely with an omission, but with a statement of passivity in the face of the imperialist war; something which at best is a bad education for the workers who have become interested in the trial and does not grant us any credit for tomorrow when the masses begin to act against the war.

Forced by statements of this sort—decidedly opportunist, I do not hesitate to say—Cannon sees himself obliged to ask for the expulsion from the party of the militants who organise protests in the army. He is carried to the incredible, to reject Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon himself.

Mr. Schweinhaut reads Cannon a paragraph of Lenin’s from The Revolution of 1905:

‘It is our duty in time of an uprising to exterminate ruthlessly all the chiefs of the civil and military authorities.’ You disagree with that?

Cannon: Yes, I don’t know that that is in any way a statement of our party policy ... We do not agree with the extermination of anybody unless it is in case of an actual armed struggle, when the rules of war apply.

But what is “an uprising” except an armed struggle? Lenin also does not say “anybody” but rather the civil and military chiefs. Then why reject the paragraph?

Citing Cannon himself, Schweinhaut reads:

‘The second point (struggle in the army) is to be careful, cautious. Make no putsches, make no premature moves that expose us and separate us from the masses. Go with the masses ... And how can we get these military means except by penetrating the army as it exists?’...

Schweinhaut: But you do not think that would obstruct the military effort of the army?

Cannon: If you will read that again you will see that we do not want any putsches. We say to the members: “Do not make any putsches, and do not obstruct the army.” It is our direct instruction to our people not to create obstruction of the military operations, but to confine their efforts to propaganda.

I am wholeheartedly behind Cannon in his speech; but I categorically condemn Cannon before the jury, deforming himself, minimising, reducing to words the revolutionary action of the party. And I will be equally behind and I propose that the party be behind the militants and soldiers who carry out acts of protests in the army, remembering that they do not deal with “putsches, premature movements”. Revolutionary action in time of war is absolutely impossible without obstructing in a greater or lesser degree the military activities. Therefore, the principle of revolutionary defeatism, which the American party and the International have and cannot renounce. Contrary to what Goldman gave to understand in the first quotation, we are for the intensification of the class struggle, in the rearguard and in the army, including, if this can, provoking the defeat of our bourgeoisie: “From the point of view of a revolution in their own country, the defeat of their own imperialist government is undoubtedly the better evil” (Trotsky, June 1940). It is worse in advice to the workers to disauthorise agitation and protests in the army, only to speak against it. I believe that our comrades have lost a good opportunity to make the workers understand why they should act always by means of the word and by means of collective actions. The questioning of Cannon presented a completely false perspective to the workers, of comfortable propaganda, where it deals with a terrible struggle by all means from small protests to insurrections by groups, from partial fraternisations to wiping out the fronts. But from an error of perspective, one passes to an error of fact; therefore the defendants saw themselves forced to condemn sabotage in general, as though it dealt with something criminal. I believe that sabotage is a method for tactical use whose application at certain moments can be productive of contrary effects to what is intended but which is absolutely indispensable in the critical moments of struggle.

An example will demonstrate it. Suppose that in a certain part of the front conditions of fraternisation are produced. Fraternisation will never be produced simultaneously on both sides of a large front nor in the same proportion. Immediately the military chiefs will give orders to mobilise, attack or reinforce the fronts with soldiers less disposed to embrace the “enemy”. Is it not our duty then to sabotage in the greatest degree the renewal of combat to give time to the fraternisation, to impede the command from dominating the situation? Sabotage will be the only means at hand for the soldiers to extend and precipitate the fraternisation, until the fall of the two fronts. Nevertheless, there exists the danger that the enemy command may dominate its front and taking advantage of the disorganisation, undertake a victorious offensive. There is no way out for an effective fraternisation if one wishes to avoid that “danger”.

Sabotage and defeatism will unite at a certain moment as the two main elements in the reactions of the masses against the imperialist war. The party should not and cannot renounce defeatism without condemning itself to a perpetual sterile chat against the war.

What seems even more lamentable to me is that one can intuit from the trial that it is not only a question of something said especially for the jury. For moments there is evidence that the defendants really consider sabotage a crime. If I am not mistaken—and I hope I am—this is a dangerous moral predisposition. Sabotage will be the reaction of the masses against the imperialist war. Why be ashamed of it? Why be ashamed that the masses react as they can, against the monstrous crime of the present war? It would have been easy to defend it as a principle and throw the responsibility on the leaders of the present war. Can we condemn the future sabotage of the masses when the war is a gigantic sabotage of the bourgeoisie against the masses, against civilisation and humanity? Instead of receiving this idea, the workers who heard our comrades will have left, burdened with a prejudice against sabotage.

Says Goldman:

The evidence will further show as Mr. Anderson himself indicated, that we prefer a peaceful transition to socialism; but that we analyse all the conditions in society, we analyse history, and on the basis of this analysis we predict, we predict that after the majority of the people in the United States will want socialism established, that the minority, organised by the financiers and by capitalists, will use violence to prevent the establishment of socialism. That is what we predict

Why not ask forgiveness, besides, for seeing ourselves painfully obliged to employ violence against the bourgeoisie? Even neutralising oneself to a mere diviner, the prediction is completely false. It is not necessary to poke into the future to discover the violence of the reactionary minority throughout society. The accusation lends itself ideally to launching a thorough attack against capitalist society and to show the American workers that the so-called American democracy is no more than a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Among the workers who have read or listened to Cannon and Goldman, there must be many who have experienced the daily violence of bourgeois society, during strikes, demonstrations, meetings; all of them without exception experience the normal violence of either working for a wage established in the labor market or of perishing; a violence much more lamentable is the imposition of the war; educative violence; informative violence imposed by the newspaper trusts. Far from receiving a notion of the environment in which they live and far from preparing their spirit for rebellion against this environment, the workers watching the trial have been pacified in respect to the present. Only in the future will the bourgeoisie employ violence.

Besides, it is completely inexact and contributes toward putting the workers to sleep, to tell them that the bourgeoisie will employ violence “after the majority of the people in the United States will want socialism established”. It uses violence already, always employs it, the bourgeoisie knows of no other method of government but violence. The workers and farmers should respond to the daily violence of the bourgeoisie with majority and organised violence of the poor masses. We do not predict but rather we assure, we ask, we advocate temporary violence of the majority against the permanent organic violence of the reactionary minority. It is necessary to break the democratic prejudices of the American proletariat; but statements like that rock them to sleep.

“After all”, an inexpert worker may say, “what certainty can one have that the bourgeoisie will employ violence. These men who know a lot only predict it; then for the moment, I need not organise to counter the violence of the reactionaries.” This tendency to inaction will be accentuated if the worker in question continues reading: “We expect to prove that the defendants never advocated, never incited, to violence, but simply predicted the violence of the reactionary minority.” It is clear when they do not do that, it is not yet necessary.

And once more, as we saw in the case of the war, all possibility of inciting to action is closed by the preliminary obstruction. Following their sense, the perspective presented by our comrades for the coming years is also false.

What means will be valuable to us for conquering the majority of the proletariat and poor farmers? (Not merely the people as is repeated constantly in the examination. The petty-bourgeoisie can be neutralised without being won over.)

I do not find in the long pages of the interrogation of Cannon anything other than propaganda, propaganda and more propaganda, as if it dealt with recommending a patent medicine for baldness. A brief paragraph, uttered in a good direction by Cannon, is not unfortunately, sufficiently explicit and energetic: “Of course, we don’t limit ourself simply to that prediction. We go further, and advise the workers to bear this in mind and prepare themselves not to permit the reactionary outlived minority to frustrate the will of the majority.”

Then, why not raise the voice at this point and call upon the workers to organise their own violence against the reactionary violence? Immediately afterward, the perspective of struggle against the fascist bands is perfectly sketched by Cannon; but one notes that it deals with a nonexistent perspective in an immediate form as if today against the false democracy it were unnecessary to organise the shock forces of the proletariat. It is something that is not dearly stated, it lends itself to equivocation and is reinforced by the final insistence in denying the existence (today) of any workers’ guard. At any rate, the line that our comrades have followed in not taking advantage of the trial to indicate to the masses how and why they should exercise their own violence is incorrect. Instead we have the lamentable dialogue between Cannon and Goldman destined to pacify the easily frightened conscience of the jury about who initiates the violence.

In one manner or another it is supposed that we are going to conquer the majority for socialism. Then:

Goldman: What is meant by the expression “overthrow of the capitalist state”?

Cannon: That means to replace it by a workers’ and farmers’ government; that is what we mean.

Goldman: What is meant by the expression “destroy the machinery of the capitalist state”?

Cannon: By that we mean that when [my emphasis—G.M.] we set up the workers’ and farmers’ government in this country, the functioning of this government its tasks, its whole nature, will be so profoundly and radically different from the functions, tasks and nature of the bourgeois state, that we will have to replace it all along the line.

All the revolutionary, violent process, the civil war that must precede the establishment of the workers’ and farmers’ government and the proletarian state, is palmed away; I cannot find another word more euphemistic Therefore, when a little bit later Cannon has to circumscribe himself, he gives a definition of the soviet such as an abbreviated encyclopedia would give, hushing everything that deals with its function as an organism of struggle, in competition and opposition to the organisms of the bourgeois power.

What other thing can the workers’ and farmers’ government be than the culmination of the struggle of the proletariat and farmers against the bourgeoisie? That struggle has to be pushed from now on, and beginning with the opening of the revolutionary crisis, it will develop “in crescendo”, to the point at which the masses will create soviets or councils that direct the general struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, foresee the necessities of that struggle, including arms, and permit within its fold a liberty of ideological struggle so that the masses can elect those who best represent them. Only then, when the revolutionary tendency has acquired a majority of the soviets—not in the parliamentarian elections—the violent seizure of power will destroy the bourgeois state, leaving the soviets as the base of the proletarian state.

Cannon stated that the machine of the bourgeois state will be destroyed “when we set up the workers’ and farmers’ government”. But the possibility of such a government does not open until after we have destroyed that machine. Cannon knows this perfectly, and undoubtedly, proposes to act accordingly. But in that case I insist, why lose the excellent and rare opportunity to give the workers a lesson, indicating to them without subterfuge the road to the struggle and power, accusing at the same time the bourgeoisie of a reactionary and profascist course? The predictions about how the social dialectic is going to reinforce our positions do not have any real value for the workers. The revolutionary process is seen here as the schoolbooks will describe it in five hundred years. The workers today need an indication of the dynamics of the class struggle, the forms of organisation, methods of struggle up to the civil war, slogans, and included there is a need for proud valour against the class enemy, something which has been rare in the trial. The general tone has been not to accuse but to apologise to a point that makes one feel embarrassed at times; not to indicate and propose actions and immediate means for the struggle against the bourgeoisie and against the war, but rather to dilute our ideas into humanitarianism and to veil their active value with predictions of knowledge as if it were not honourable to employ violence against the present corrupted bourgeois democracy.

Something completely demonstrative of the foregoing is that our comrades have cited as witnesses in their defence—Jefferson, Lincoln, the Bible, Lloyd George, MacDonald; but when Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and even Cannon appear, they are rejected as nonofficial mouthpieces of our organisation. This attitude, not very valiant cannot conquer much sympathy, or at least cannot conquer as much as the opposite attitude would conquer.

I know perfectly well that I am not teaching anything to anybody. What I have said is known better by the comrades to whom it refers. They will agree with me in relation to the principles referred to, except perhaps, in the problems of military training under trade-union control, and sabotage—questions that it is urgent to clarify in the party and in the International. I find no more reason for their attitude in the trial than considerations that it would be a “useful manoeuver”. But it is precisely that I consider it a very grave error to substitute maneuvers for principles in moments so important for the political future of the party. I believe and propose as a general principle that in similar trials our responsible militants accept all responsibility for the practical action of our ideas. This is worth more than a light sentence at the price of a pretty and deceptive polish. I propose that this criticism be published in the internal bulletins of the International and of the SWP.

January 7,1942

Note: This criticism has been written with extreme rush, in order not to lose an immediate opportunity to transmit it. I have not taken more than the paragraphs that first struck my eyes. Therefore, I reserve the possibility of amplifying it. +


[6] Trotsky, “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International”, The Transitional Program

[7] We have been unable to find an exact match for this quote by the prosecutor in Lenin's works. However, two passages are possible candidates:

In "Lessons of the Moscow Uprising [August 29, 1906]", Collected Works , Vol. 11 (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1962), p. 176, Lenin writes: "We must proclaim from the housetops the need for a bold offensive and armed attack, the necessity at such times of exterminating the persons in command of the enemy, and of a most energetic fight for the wavering troops."

And in “Guerrilla Warfare [September 30, 1906]”, Collected Works , Vol. 11, p. 216, Lenin says: “Armed struggle … aims at assassinating individuals, chiefs and subordinates in the army and police …”