James P. Cannon

Letter to Farrell Dobbs

From Toward A History of the Fourth International

Written: April 28, 1954
Source: Struggle in the Fourth International, International Committee Documents 1951-1954, Volume 4 of 4, pages 234-235, 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 28, 1954
New York

Dear Farrell:

I have just received by Airmail a copy of the April Internal Bulletin of the LSSP. I assume that you also received a copy of this LSSP Bulletin. If not, let me know and we will forward you a copy immediately, and will also make copies for the International Committee and the sections affiliated with it.

This bulletin contains, along with a reprint of their December resolution deploring the Open Letter of the STP, and their statement against the La Verite article, the following material:

1. The March 13 letter of Goonewardene to the Pabloite IS, proposing a postponement of the World Congress, etc.

2. A reply to this letter by Pablo’s IS, dated March 23.

3. Another letter to the Pablo IS from Goonewardene, under date of April 12, requesting that their proposal for a postponement of the Congress be placed before the IEC, and the additional statement: “We have also to state that if the IEC finds itself unable to accept this proposal, we give notice that we shall move this proposal at the World Congress.” This letter also requests that the correspondence be circulated to all sections as soon as possible.

4. Another letter, dated April 12, reporting the resolution adopted by the CC of the LSSP. This proposes: the removal of the suspensions; the admission of the French Majority to the World Congress with full rights of participation; the appointment by the IEC of a commission which would include representatives of the suspended organizations; and the statement that, if they are rejected by the IS and the IEC, these proposals will be placed before the World Congress. Finally the resolution requests

“That those proposals be circulated to all sections immediately.”

5. A resolution of the CC of the LSSP on the “Rise and Decline of Stalinism.”

This complete bulletin gives a much clearer picture than the fragmentary material we had previously received, and changes the international situation radically in our favor. I would like to offer the following provisional opinions about the new turn in the situation and how we should deal with it.

1. LSSP Political Position: Most important of all, is the clear statement of political position in the LSSP resolution criticizing the “Rise and Decline,” and their conclusion: that “the single governing concept” of this Pabloite document “not only leads to a fundamental revision of the positions of Trotskyism in regard to Stalinism but also denies to the Trotskyist movement all justification for its continued independent existence.”

Here, for the first time, the LSSP explicitly confirms in an official resolution its fundamental opposition to Pabloite revisionism, along the same lines as the position taken by the forces supporting the IC. We should not allow our impatience with their organizational procedure to blind us to the decisive importance of this basic fact.

2. Pablo reply to LSSP proposals: The second most important new fact emerges from the March 23 reply of the Pablo IS to the LSSP. In my letter to you under date of April 13, when we were awaiting the Pabloite answer to the Ceylonese demand for a Congress postponement, I remarked that “adventurers, cut off from any real organizational base anywhere, are capable of jumping in any direction or of simply collapsing.” I should have added that they are also capable of trying to do both at the same time. That is substantially what the Pabloite answer to Ceylon under date of March 23 looks like to me.

First, they refuse to postpone the Congress “fixed for June.” Then they threaten to resign if it is postponed beyond that date. Then they leave open the question “whether this assembly of June should be called the 4th World Congress, or an international conference in view of the concrete proposals of the Cannonites, and it be decided that another Conference or Congress should be held later;” this, they say, is a matter for this “June Assembly” to decide. All this in one letter. Both the content and the tone of this letter indicate that the LSSP proposals have created a crisis in the Pabloite ranks.

3. LSSP tactics: It is clear by now that the LSSP is determined to carry out an organizational strategy of its own, at least up to the time of the “June Assembly,” which they obviously plan to attend. I am now strongly inclined to think that this special strategy is dictated primarily by internal considerations of their own, rather than by any tendency toward political conciliation with Pabloism.

I noticed that your letter of April 20 expresses a contrary apprehension. I leaned to the same opinion on the basis of the Ceylon letter to me of April 15. The explicit statement that “there could be no question” of the LSSP affiliating with the IC, was especially disturbing in this respect. Having seen organizational adaptations lead to political compromise too many times, I began to feel uncomfortable about their course. I started to express this thought in my letter to you of April 24 but then deleted the reference, withholding judgment until their political resolution on the “Rise and Decline” would be at hand. That removes all doubt of their basic political position.

Even if we still don’t agree with their procedure, I think we can now understand it a little more sympathetically. They have the problem of party public opinion in their own ranks to consider and probably feel that they understand that better than we do. Our decision of last November came only after five months of systematic discussion and preparation of our ranks for the unavoidable action. Our Open Letter, for which our ranks were fully prepared, hit the Ceylon party and a number of others like a bombshell.

The question we now have to ask is whether the steps taken since that time by the leadership of the LSSP lead toward us or away from us. Their first actions—deploring our Open Letter and repudiating the La Verite article—were undoubtedly a big help to Pablo. They appear to have traced a zigzag course since then. But on the whole, the general direction is clearly in our favor. Their sharp, unambiguous resolution against the “Rise and Decline” formulations is a real blow at Pabloism. This, in my opinion, far outweighs the negative effects of their organizational policy. The LSSP resolution on this point should go a long way toward consolidating public opinion in the LSSP for a definitive break with Pabloism all along the line, organizationally as well as politically.

4. Our tactics in the new situation: The new developments on the whole are all in our favor, and will work that way increasingly if we proceed correctly, avoid all jumpiness and make no foolish mistakes. The thing is to agree upon our next steps and then, to centralize the direction of our moves so that we don’t work at cross purposes in a delicate situation. The LSSP leadership wants to avoid any breaches of formal legality at the present time. That is manifestly the reason why they have adopted the method of communicating with me personally, rather than with the SWP officially, or the IC.

This, of course, is a rather thin distinction in the circumstances, but it seems to serve their purpose and we must respect their wishes in the matter. Our strategy seems to me to be very simple.

The most important thing is to follow up the advantage we have gained by the formulations in my letter to Goonewardene; add nothing new at this time; let the Pabloites stew in the crisis which our two proposals—cancel the suspensions and postpone the Congress—have created in their ranks. Meanwhile, we should continue to hammer at the Pabloites politically while eliminating the organizational question entirely from our press.

5. The Pabloite Congress or Conference: If the Pabloite IS complies with the LSSP demand that their letters and proposals “be circulated to all sections immediately,” it is bound to precipitate a new discussion in the organizations supporting Pablo, and will at least raise the question of a postponement amongst them. Unless they have lost all sense of realism, the LSSP’s devastating criticism of the basic Pabloite document on the “Rise and Decline” would also call imperatively for an answer and the extension of time for further discussion, and consequently, for a postponement.

Whether things will turn out this way we cannot predict because nobody knows which way adventurers will jump. But in any case, the firm and decisive intervention of the LSSP has called the whole project of a shotgun Congress into question. If they go ahead with it anyway on schedule, the “June assembly”—the delicate new Pabloite designation for what was originally proclaimed as a sovereign Congress which would decide and settle everything—will meet under a cloud of uncertainty and indefiniteness and will decide nothing.

The Pabloite Congress, or conference, or “June assembly,” or whatever they eventually decide to call it, if and when it is held, is the affair of the Pablo faction. We should not magnify it and center attention on it. In my opinion, there should not even be any mention of it in our press.

6. Our answer to the LSSP: Our answer to Goonewardene’s letter to me under date of April 15 should be carefully formulated with the above considerations in mind, adding nothing substantially new and avoiding entanglement in negotiations over details of the Pabloite Congress or Conference, which we do not accept or recognize as a sovereign body in any case. We have no grounds to discuss details of a common Congress until our two preliminary minimum conditions are met, namely, unconditional reinstatement and postponement for further and more adequate discussion.

I will go to work right away on a draft of a reply to Goonewardene from this point of view. Meantime, the main slogan for all the supporters of the IC is: “Take it easy.” Or, if the comrades in more civilized countries don’t understand this American lingo, we can translate it as follows into international seaman’s language: ““Take it on the slow bell.”

Yours fraternally,

James P. Cannon