James P. Cannon

Letter from James P. Cannon to Farrell Dobbs

From Toward A History of the Fourth International

Written: May 12, 1954
Source: Struggle in the Fourth International, International Committee Documents 1951-1954, Volume 4 of 4, pages 236-237, 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.
May 12
New York

Dear Farrell:

I am enclosing herewith a draft of a reply to Tilak’s letter of April 15. This draft takes into account the new developments within the Pablo camp and the opinions expressed by Joe, Burns and Bloch. The purpose of the letter, as I have conceived it, is to strengthen and encourage the Ceylonese in their stand for postponement and to suggest supplementary proposals which could facilitate their aim, either to postpone the Pabloite Congress, or if it is held anyway, to limit its character to that of a conference which does not pretend to assume the definitive powers of a congress.

I think Joe and Burns are correct in pointing out that we should recognize the rift between Pablo and his insubordinate disciples in the U.S. and England, and take advantage of it to introduce some counter proposals to the Pabloite “Appeal.” This is best done indirectly, however; and I think the Ceylonese are the best medium for such an approach. Since Pablo’s Appeal was not addressed officially to the International Committee or the elected leading bodies of the national sections of the expelled, suspended and excommunicated Trotskyists, it would not be correct to direct our reply to his IS or IEC.

It would also be a profound mistake for us to even think of a bloc with Pablo against Cochran and Collins. Pablo is the real source of liquidationist corruption in the Fourth International, and a real reunification of the international movement on a sound basis will never be accomplished in partnership with him. The differences between Pablo and Cochran and Collins are tactical differences of timing. They have existed for a long time, and they have been aggravated and expanded by the resolute action taken in the U.S. and in England to bring the struggle to a head.

Pablo wanted more time to compromise the Fourth International and demoralize it step by step. His timetable was upset by our actions here and in England, which forced the local Pabloites to show their colors and, simultaneously, provided a point of crystallization for the anti Pablo struggle on the international field. Pablo wasn’t ready for that yet.

Besides the orthodox Trotskyists, who already have his number, he has such elements as Germain and the Ceylonese to contend with and string along. No doubt there are also others in the Pablo camp who recognize the actual relation of forces, and shrink from a definitive split. Now he has the revolt of Cochran and Lawrence, who are confronted with a life and death struggle for survival and are determined to cut out all the double talk and get loose from “the sectarian past” of our movement at all costs.

As you remarked in your letter of May 8, Pablo’s reply to Cochran is an unintended admission that he was acting as advisor to the American Cochranites all the time, and that he differed with them only on the tactical question of timing. He wanted more time to demoralize and disrupt the SWP. His strategy was upset by the provocative conduct of the Cochranites, on the one side, and on the other, by our resolute counter blow which forced the whole struggle for the Fourth International into the open before he was ready.

I am heartily in favor of a flexible tactic to add to Pablo’s difficulties, as indicated in the draft of my letter to Ceylon. But I am completely opposed to anything even remotely resembling conciliation with Pablo, or any suggestion of a bloc with him in order to isolate Cochran and Collins. We must proceed from the point of view that the international fight as a whole is the main consideration. Nothing which might possibly compromise it can be contemplated.

If we look first at the real nature of the fight on the international field, and then break it down into its national component parts, we will see that any suggestion of collaboration with Pablo could be compromising and self defeating. Such a course would blunt the edge of the ideological and political struggle in the international movement as a whole, and also in those sections which are just waking up to the real issue.

In France the fight is against Pabloism, without, as far as I can see, any modifications—the French Pabloites being pure and simple agents of Pablo without any independent position or aims of their own.

In the United States the fight is already finished on national grounds. Our efforts in the struggle now are almost exclusively designed to help the other national sections cure their organizations of the Pabloite infection. Any sign of softening up on Pablo to concentrate on Cochran would weaken that fight without doing us a bit of good on national grounds. Cochran is already isolated, as far as our ranks and periphery are concerned.

In Iceland it appears that the fight is just about finished.

It was a pure and simple fight against Pabloist revisionism there. The remaining problem there, as I see it, is to continue the ideological campaign to re educate the cadres on the big issues, and further isolate the local Pabloites in the process.

The Icelanders have nothing to gain by trying to show that Cochran and Collins are worse than Pablo, or that Pablo is not as bad as they are. The real task of education there is to show that Cochran and Collins are Pabloites with the mask off, that their extreme positions, frankly breaking with the so called “sectarian past” of the Fourth International--they mean the whole past--are simply Pabloism skipping over stages of step-at-a-time liquidationism and developing to its logical conclusion.

In England the fight is still going on, and, different from our situation, has to be fought out in the mass movement. But to judge from the published polemics, the issues are becoming crystal clear and they will have to be fought out on English grounds. England is by far the most important sector of the international struggle at the present time. The only way to win there is by an all out fight. It would be a terrible mistake to think that any conciliation with Pablo would help to isolate the Collins group. On the contrary, it would introduce elements of confusion and indecision which would redound to the benefit of the national liquidators. The extremes to which Collins is going in his abandonment of principle, and in organizational treachery, undoubtedly present great difficulties and entail losses at the moment. But for the long pull, it is a decided advantage, in my opinion, to have this outfit really out in the open where the fight can be a real showdown.

There is no difference between Collins and Pablo except that Collins, in his desperate fight for survival, imposed upon him by the decisive actions of the orthodox Trotskyists there, is “skipping over the stages” of Pabloite liquidationism and “telescoping the nuances of the process.” That is not Pablo’s way of doing things, and to that extent there is a difference between him and Collins. But it is their family fight about the best way to fight us. It is not our fight. We should make no mistake about that.

I am not familiar with recent developments in the various other European countries. But it seems to me self-evident that the minorities, sympathizing with the International Committee there, can be developed and consolidated only by a further extension of the ideological and political fight against Pabloism, rejecting all suggestions that the differences can be patched up by any kind of compromise resolution.

The same is true in Latin America, where things should continue to develop favorably for us, now that we have perfected and speeded the work of translating our material into Spanish and breaking through the censorship of the Pabloite functionaries. The Latin American movement has to be reeducated and reconstituted in an irreconcilable and long drawn out fight against Pabloism from A to Z.

As far as I can judge the new developments from a distance, they are all in our favor. We have no reason to get nervous, to jump, or to rush around making statements and issuing proclamations about the Pabloite Congress. I think the less we say about it the better. In fact, I think we should eliminate all mention of it in our press before it is held, while it is being held, and afterward, and do nothing whatever to advertise it or attach any importance to it. The relations we have with Ceylon provide us all the medium we need to add to the Pabloite difficulties from within their own camp.

My draft of a reply to Ceylon has been conceived from the general point of view set forth above.

Yours fraternally,

James P. Cannon