James P. Cannon

Cannon Explains SWP Position

Revolutionists and the GPU

(29 March 1947)

Source: Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 14, 7 April 1947, p. 4.
Also Appeared: Ruth Fischer and the Stalinists, The Militant, Vol. 11 No. 13, 29 March 1946, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan (March 2016).
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In its March 24 issue, Labor Action printed a letter which Ruth Fischer wrote to The Militant and a copy of which she sent to Labor Action. This letter replied, to an editorial which appeared in The Militant denouncing her appearance before the House Committee on un-American Affairs to testify against Gerhart Eisler, GPU agent. The Militant editorial had referred to Ruth Fischer as an “informer” and a “tool of American imperialism.”

We are, however, glad to note, as we are certain our readers will also be, that The Militant in its March 29 issue prints a special editorial article which repudiates its previous characterization of Ruth Fischer. Written by the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, James P. Cannon, the March 29 statement declares its characterization of Fischer as an “informer” to be a “most unfortunate and inexcusable error.”

Our own view on the question of the propriety of working class use of capitalist institutions in the fight against the GPU murder machine and our attitude toward the case of Ruth Fischer in particular, has already been set forth, in substance, in a letter to Labor Action by Comrade Jack Weber (March 17, 1947), and in the editor’s introduction to Ruth Fischer’s letter to The Militant (March 24, 1947).

Because the article by Comrade Cannon puts the question properly and gives it the answer it requires, we are glad to reprint the bulk of it for the information of our readers:


In the February 15 issue of The Militant appeared an editorial referring to Ruth Fischer and her testimony against the Stalinist GPU agent, Eisler, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The editorial was occasioned by the fact that the capitalist press, following the lead of the Daily Worker, had referred to her as a “Trotskyite.” Since this is obviously not the case, the object of the editorial was to reject the false political identification of Ruth Fischer with the organized Trotskyist movement.

In the course of the editorial, Ruth Fischer was referred to, in passing, as an “informer.” In view of the invidious connotation which is popularly attached to the word “informer,” this was a most unfortunate and most inexcusable error. All the more inexcusable since we Trotskyists for many long years have been explaining the criminal character of Stalinism and its GPU murder machine, and have been denouncing it and “informing” against it, and alarming the workers of the world to its deadly menace. We have done this on every possible occasion and from every available forum, be it a public mass meeting, a Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials, the capitalist press, parliamentary committees, or even capitalist courts. And we will gladly do the same again on any occasion where the opportunity presents itself.

In the long generations of the development of the world labor movement a well-recognized standard of ethics has made it a grave offense for representatives of rival parties, groups or factions within the labor movement to submit their quarrels to the adjudication of bourgeois tribunals or to “inform” against each other. Every class-conscious worker, and even every ordinary trade unionist, instinctively recoils against such practices. But the professional killers of the GPU-Comintern apparatus, with the blood of so many tens of thousands of the best flower of the proletariat on their hands, have no right whatsoever to claim the benefits of this labor ethic when anyone points the accusing finger at them at any time or from any tribunal.

Ruth Fischer was right to protest against such a possible implication, in a letter to the National Committee of the SWP, and we sincerely regret the unfortunate and inexcusable incident.

Political assassination, the dread weapon introduced into the labor movement by Stalinism, is a standing threat to the free functioning and even to the very existence of every activist. All factions, all tendencies, all people who hope and strive for a better world must unite to expose and denounce such assassinations, no matter whom the victim may be at the moment. We have always taken this position, and not only in the case of Trotskyists, who contributed more than one drop to the rivers of blood shed by the Stalinist Mafia.

We did all we could to expose the Moscow Trials and to defend the honor of its victims, including those who were not Trotskyists in doctrinal sense of the word. Our party held a protest-memorial meeting for the martyred Andres Nin, leader of the Spanish POUM, and spared no space in our press to accuse the Stalinist murder bund in the mysterious disappearance of the Socialist, Marc Rein, and the mysterious “suicide” of Krivitsky. And the columns of our press likewise remain always open to the Tresca Memorial Committee in its tireless efforts to keep alive his noble memory and track dbwn his assassins.

There is no doubt whatever that Stalinism is the most formidable and dangerous enemy within the ranks of the labor movement and the greatest obstacle to the emancipation struggle of the workers. But who will defeat Stalinism, and what will take its place in those regions of the earth where it is consolidated in the form of state power? That is the question.

Ruth Fischer in the above-mentioned letter also protested against the reference in The Militant editorial to her “serving as a tool of American imperialism.” If that is taken to signify any conscious and mercenary service to the American imperialist monster on the part of Ruth Fischer – as is the case with not a few professional anti-Stalinists – then such an interpretation must be emphatically disavowed. We know very well the long and honorable record of Ruth Fischer in the international labor movement, and the difficult conditions under which she has had to work as an emigré in war-time in America, and we do not wish to impugn her personal integrity in any way or to any degree.

Stalinism must be overthrown. By whom? Stalinism must be replaced wherever it is consolidated into a state regime. By what? These are political and not personal questions.

To put the issue positively: Either, the independent movement of the working class will defeat Stalinism and capitalism with it, and proceed to the construction of the Socialist world order. Or, Stalinism, as represented by its state regime, will be overthrown by American imperialism in the course of its mad drive to reduce the people of the entire world to the status of colonial slaves. That is to say, those people who survive the atomic bombs, and the rockets, and the bacterial warfare, and the other harmless toys which the playful “democrats” at Washington are spending so many billion dollars to manufacture and prepare.

In our opinion, it is not enough to be an anti-Stalinist. One must also have a positive revolutionary program. In our opinion, those anti-Stalinists who do not unequivocally take the program of the independent movement of the workers, counterposing it to both Stalinism and capitalist imperialism, must inevitably fall into the service of the latter, regardless of what their subjective intentions may be. The question of Stalinism and how to fight it, and what to replace it with, is a problem of the greatest magnitude. It does not admit of any ambiguity.

Last updated on 7 January 2022