James P. Cannon

Letter to Leslie Goonewardene

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 241-243, 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).
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Los Angeles, Calif.
May 12
New York

Leslie Goonewardene
General Secretary


Dear Comrade Goonewardene:

Your letter of April 15 and also the April Internal Bulletin of the LSSP, containing the political resolution of your Central Committee and copies of your correspondence with the Pabloite IS, have been considered by the organizations united under the International Committee. At the same time, they have studied my letter to you of February 23 and have expressed general agreement with its main points.

They are prepared, now as before, to keep the door open to any serious proposals which might arrest the present drift toward an irreparable international split. To that end they have agreed to suspend plans for a formal international congress of their own, pending the final result of your efforts and proposals.

We note that your proposal for a Congress postponement was rejected, and announcement is made of the decision to proceed with the previously scheduled Congress of the Pabloites. As stated in my letter of February 23, such a congress can only be a congress of a faction. Its result can only be to formalize the international split, and to put an end to the possibility of setting in motion a process which might lead to the formal reunification of the movement. The Trotskyist forces organized in the International Committee have no intention of attending or recognizing this so called congress, organized and arranged without their participation.

Meantime, we have taken note of two new developments which require consideration.

First, the publication of the resolution of the LSSP criticizing the revisionist line of the draft resolution on the “Rise and Decline of Stalinism;” your April 13 letter refusing to sign the so called “Appeal” of the Pabloite IEC to the members of the suspended and expelled organizations over the head of their official leadership; and your counter proposals for the organization of the Congress.

Second, the March 26 statement of Collins and the April 10 declaration of the National Committee of the Socialist Union, both of which demand that the International split be formalized, and that all direct or indirect communication with the suspended and expelled sections be discontinued.

From these statements it is evident that the divisions which exist within the world movement as a whole, between the forces adhering to the International Committee and those formally adhering to the Pabloite IS and IEC, exist also within the ranks of the latter.

On the one hand, the political resolution of the LSSP criticizes the draft resolution on the “Rise and Decline of Stalinism” from the standpoint of orthodox Trotskyism, and you also take a stand for unification with the suspended and expelled sections.

On the other hand, the groups of Collins and the Socialist Union are rapidly developing political positions which go far beyond the piece meal revisionism of Pablo, toward a complete break with what the declaration of the Socialist Union calls “the sectarian past of the International,” i.e., its program and the activity based upon it in the past, and reject even any talk of reunification with the orthodox Trotskyists.

Since these three mentioned organizations, dissenting from the Pablo policy for different reasons, undoubtedly constitute a numerical majority of the organized forces formally recognizing the Pabloite IS and IEC—leaving aside the suspended and expelled organizations, which already constitute a large numerical majority of the organized world movement—the attempt of Pablo, nevertheless, to speak in the name of the international movement, to decide when a congress shall be called and to lay down the conditions for participation in it, becomes somewhat ludicrous. This attempt of a minority of a minority to call a quick congress to decide things for everybody must be condemned as a criminal adventure.

It is to be presumed that the differences on organizational policy within the ranks of organizations recognizing the Pabloite IS, will have to be discussed in the ranks of the various organizations before they can take an intelligent position on them; and that this alone would require a postponement of the projected June Congress. Moreover, the political resolution of the LSSP, if it is not to be given the short shrift that was the fate of the French resolution prior to the Third World Congress, will have to be translated and published, together with the Pabloite reply. Time will have to be allowed for discussion, and this also would necessarily entail a postponement of the Congress.

Besides that, the organizations affiliated to the International Committee will want to publish your document in their Internal Bulletin, to discuss it and to inform you of their opinions. It seems to me that you yourselves will expect this consideration for your resolution before coming to a congress where a vote is to be taken on it.

The total situation in the international movement, still further complicated since my letter of February 23, must convince all responsible people in our movement that the discussion must be extended and amplified; and that a postponement of the Congress is an imperative necessity. I can tell you that the orthodox Trotskyist forces organized around the International Committee have all expressed themselves firmly on this point and will not depart from it.

This does not signify a rejection of the proposals of the LSSP for the organization of the World Congress. What is necessary first, however, is to prepare the conditions for a congress which would not result in a fight over representation and mandates, and a definitive split on such grounds, before the congress could ever become formally constituted.

Your proposal for a removal of the suspensions is certainly correct, since that is the sine qua non even for any talk about a joint congress. Your second point about the “admission of the French majority to the World Congress,” etc., is also correct, and is likewise a pre condition for an agreement on a joint congress with the participation of the other organizations affiliated with the International Committee.

Your third point, providing for a commission to decide on the “representation to be accorded to the organizations participating in the Congress,” will also be accepted by the organizations associated with the International Committee. Some such commission will undoubtedly be necessary, and it goes without saying that the suspended organizations would have to be represented on the commission. The Pabloite’s announcement of a “commission,” excluding such representation, has naturally been rejected out of hand by all the suspended and expelled organizations.

If the political conditions for a serious attempt at reunification through a World Congress have been previously established, and if there is a serious will to effect a formal reunification, such questions as this will naturally be solved without much difficulty by negotiation and agreement. That has been the case in every unification I have ever had anything to do with, and such occasions have been numerous. On the other hand, all attempts to begin a reunification process on the organizational level, without a full clarification of the political questions involved, and without a real will on both sides to effect unification despite political differences, clearly established and recognized, have ended in failure.

If the de facto split is recognized, and if there is a will to initiate a movement toward a genuine reunification, than it is self evident that, at a certain stage in the developments, it will be necessary to establish some kind of a commission to sift out and verify conflicting membership claims and agree on representation, personnel of Congress reporters and committees, agenda, etc., etc. I think it is likewise self evident that, in order for such a commission to function effectively, all concerned will have to be represented.

If and when the time comes for it, when there can be a reasonable confidence that such a commission could function with some realistic prospect of success, I do not think the unification will fall on the question of the commission. But just because I consider it stupid to quarrel and split over such questions, I emphasize my opinion that conditions are not yet present for a joint congress, and that consequently discussion of organizational arrangements is premature. By that, I do not mean to say that discussion of the question of unity and of an eventual joint congress is useless. Far from it. But the whole project must be approached realistically, proceeding from the real situation, as it is.

I note that the “Appeal” of the Pabloite IEC, dated April 15, declares its wish to “re-establish the unity of the International.” If that is really the case, contrary to their previous course of expulsion, suspensions, removals, threats and excommunications, then the next thing in order is not a commission to arrange a joint congress. The first step, as already explained in my letter of February 23, is the unconditional cancellation of the expulsions and “suspensions,” beginning with the French, and the announced discontinuation of such procedures.

After that, would logically come the setting up of a provisional commission, not to arrange a joint congress, but:

1. to supervise and work out practical details for the reintegration of the suspended and expelled sections;

2. to define transitional relations between majorities and minorities in those sections where the split is in effect; and

3. to organize and regulate the further course of the internal discussion; and to decide and agree on what aspects, if any, of the further discussion should be conducted in public.

You will note that this letter says nothing about good or bad will on the part of any of those who profess to favor the reunification of the movement. That will be demonstrated by action, not by words. If there is bad will on either side there will be no reunification in any case, and maneuvers around the question will come to nothing.

Even with good will for formal reunification, there is no certainty that it can be re-established. But, in my opinion, there is still a chance—if your proposal for postponement of the Congress is eventually accepted. This chance is a very fragile one under present conditions, and the question of where to begin is very important. It may decide the fate of the whole enterprise.

The suggestions about procedure made above are not offered as counter proposals to yours, but rather as indications of how I think the objective you are seeking can be approached most effectively.

Yours fraternally,

James P. Cannon