James P. Cannon

Letter from James P. Cannon to Farrell Dobbs

From Toward A History of the Fourth International

Written: April 13, 1954
Source: Struggle in the Fourth International, International Committee Documents 1951-1954, Volume 4 of 4, pages 231-233, from the collection Toward A History of the Fourth International, Part 3. Education for Socialists bulletin; issued by the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party (US).
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters
Editing and Proofreading: Andrew Pollack
Pubic Domain: This work is in the Public Domain. Please cite the James P. Cannon Internet Archive, a sub-archive of the Marxists Internet Archive for credit.

Los Angeles, Calif.
April 13, 1954
New York

Dear Farrell:

I received your letter of April 9, enclosing the proofs of your magazine article. Over the weekend, I had a chance to discuss the question again with Tom and Murry.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that we should now pull up short and deliberate over tactics in the next stage of the international fight. Factional excesses are more or less unavoidable in every serious struggle, but there is always a danger of overdoing this business and risking an adverse reaction. The problem is to stand a little above the fight and keep a general, overall view of the struggle, so as not to be carried along too far by the momentum of our own factionalism.

We ought to remind ourselves that it is now five months since the Plenum, the split, and the beginning of the public struggle on the international field. We cannot proceed indefinitely in the same way and at the same pace, as though the fight had just begun. As a matter of fact, the fight is long since finished on national grounds, and the internal struggle in the international movement is about three-fourths finished. The struggle against Pabloism becomes less and less an internal factional struggle and more and more an ideological and political struggle between conflicting tendencies which have grown farther apart, and which, in the main, are already functioning in separate organizations.

In such circumstances, the hustle-bustle and tension, inseparable from a factional struggle in a common organization, when the majority is not yet determined, is something like an artificial fever. Questions of “regime,” internal organizational methods, etc., become of diminishing interest, since in the essence of the matter neither side is bound in any way by the methods of the other.

In my opinion we should now eliminate all discussion of the organization question, including the question of the Congress, and all related questions of the regime and the internal affairs of the Fourth International, from the public press. Even in the internal bulletins, we should eliminate repetitions and re-statements of our indictment on these questions, and refer to them only when some concrete question arises—as in the case of the correspondence with Ceylon.

This applies also to the question of entrism. There should be no further public discussion of this question as such. Even in internal discussion of this question, the most carefully worked-out tactical formulations and reservations must be resorted to, in order not to jeopardize the work of those sections which are obliged by circumstances to apply the entry tactic.

The entry question, as a question of tactics, is a fit subject for discussion only among genuine Trotskyists. Between us and the Pabloites, what is really involved in the issue of “entrism” is not a tactical question, but the Lenin-Trotsky theory of the vanguard party. That is the way we should present it in the future and then, as a rule, only in broad general terms, not concretely with reference to the tactics of one party or another.

The public ideological and political fight against revisionism should be continued—but in a somewhat different form. It should no longer present the public appearance of a campaign against “Pablo,” with Pablo’s name in the headline of every article we write. This can impress the average reader as an exotic business. We will never be able to get the American workers excited about it.

Our polemical articles along this line in the future should take the form of general statements of our position, with occasional sideswipes and references to the Pabloite heresy, rather than emphasizing the name of Pablo in the titles, beginnings and ends of the articles. Murry tells a story about a contact reached in our current campaign against McCarthyism, who said: “I think I know who McCarthy is, but I can’t figure out who this guy Pablo is.”

The struggle against revisionism should be completely subordinated also in volume to our broader agitation on McCarthyism, the economic situation, the war threat, Stalinism and the labor bureaucracy. The Winter Number of the Fourth International, with three big slabs on Pabloism dominating the issue, can perhaps be justified by the technical difficulties and delays which caused the material to pile up. But by no means should this issue set the pattern. One article per issue ought to be enough on this theme in the future. Even in the current issue, I think it was a mistake to eliminate a survey of the economic situation to make room for Pablo.

The general reader of our press is not much interested in the organizational grievances of one side or the other, but only in what each side stands for and in what it is doing in the broader field of principle and politics. I don’t think the Shachtmanites ever gained any recruits since the 1940 split by their public complaints against our organizational methods. Those few whom they got after the split were attracted mainly by their criticism of our policy. Our recruits were attracted by our policy and still more by what we were doing about it. If organizational complaints are a losing game even for a seceding minority, they are still less valuable for a consolidated majority.

The Cochranites, of course, made a mistake by precipitately dropping their polemics against us, since a seceding minority has to give some public justification for its separate existence. But if we are not careful, the continued preoccupation of our press with organizational complaints against the Pabloite regime can boomerang against us and help the Cochranites to gain some sympathy as the more constructive, non-factional group. I imagine that some sympathizers of the movement might say to themselves: The Cochranites were a small minority; the SWP threw them out five or six months ago. What in the hell are they still kicking about?

When we began our struggle against Stalinism in 1928 our position was quite different. We were then a very small minority, bureaucratically expelled, and could appear justified in howling about our grievances in the first stage after the split. There was a still more important difference: At that time the members of the CP and its periphery were virtually the sole audience to which we addressed ourselves and from which we had to recruit our original cadres. In these circumstances, our factional struggle from 1928 to 1933 had the element of realism, even though we were an expelled faction, and it yielded the needed results.

But after the formal break with the Comintern in 1933, the struggle took a different form in two respects. First, we addressed ourselves to a different audience of newly awakened militants outside the Stalinist periphery with our slogan of a new party. Second, we shifted our line of attack on the Stalinists almost entirely to their policy. Their “regime” was no longer of much interest to us since we did not belong to their organization and were not seeking admission.

I have been frequently amused by the fact that the Shachtmanites never quite caught up with this decisive turn in the method of struggle against Stalinism. To this day, they still criticize the regime in the CP, which is not their business, whenever they take a breather from complaining about the regime in the SWP, which properly speaking, is also no concern of theirs, and still less any concern of radical workers outside any party.

On the international field, as far as organizational questions are concerned, we have already stated our case, if indeed, we have not overstated it. It is worth noting, however, that the line-up has taken place everywhere on the political issues. Even those sections such as the Northerners, who were first caught in the trap of organizational fetishism, have realigned themselves along political lines. That, I believe, will eventually be the rule everywhere.

We have stated our position on the Congress question in the letter to Ceylon. We should stand pat on that and say no more. The next move is up to the Pabloites. We can wait calmly for that, because they are bound to lose either way they answer. If they decide to go ahead with their rump Congress, that will cut the one thin thread that still connects them with the orthodox Trotskyists. The orthodox will then begin a preparatory discussion among themselves and the drafting of documents for their own Congress. If the Pabloites decide on a postponement, they will thereby surrender their claim to be the central authority with the right to decide everything. We will then simply insist that it be a real postponement until the issues are fully discussed in the sections and they have taken a position based on full information. That postion has also been stated in advance in the letter in Ceylon.

It would be risky to predict what the Pabloites will do. Adventurers, cut off from any real organizational base anywhere, are capable of jumping in any direction or simply of collapsing. They will come to this eventually, in any case. But what they do, and how they do it, is their own affair. We don't need to worry about it.

Yours fraternally,

James P. Cannon