Paul Temple

The Cannonites and Defense of the Soviet Union

From Shamefacedness
to Solid Brass

(July 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 28, 14 July 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Those very principled people, the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites), have re-discovered the “defense of the Soviet Union.”

This event occurs under very happy auspices. for them. While Russia was busy grabbing Poland and Finland, they were also for its defense – but not so happily. The masses of people (not to speak of Churchill, Sumner Welles and Alexander Kerensky) were quite annoyed with Stalin in those days, so the principled Cannonites kept their slogan under their hats. In their public press they merely called the invasions a “crime” and “de-emphasized” the defense angle – to the extent of mentioning it practically only in internal argumentations and theses. As recently as their May Day manifesto, there was hardly a peep (in public, where somebody might hear them) from the SWP on this paramount task of “defending the Soviet Union.” After all, it was so unpopular!

The Politics of This War

Now the “shamefaced defensists” of yesterday splash the headline “Defend the Soviet Union!” across the first page of The Militant and boldly write:

“German imperialism seeks to overthrow the October Revolution and to restore the capitalist system in its degenerate fascist form. This is the essential meaning of Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union ... Defend the Soviet Union at all costs and under all circumstances against imperialist attack!

As if “the politics of which this war is the continuation” is Hitler’s desire to abolish nationalized property in Russia, rather than his very real desire to gain Russian resources to prosecute his war against Britain. The manifesto throughout is blind enough to speak as if Hitler’s invasion is itself his goal, instead of a means to an end.

The Militant, in addition, prints a ten-year-old quotation from Trotsky calling for the defense of the Soviet Union as “the main fortress of the world proletariat”. James P. Cannon himself sends a telegram to Mr. Stalin, via Ambassador Oumansky, calling for the release of Trotskyists from GPU jails so that they might “take their proper place in the front ranks of the defenders of the Soviet Union.” (Naturally, he brings this up merely as a helpful suggestion, not as a condition for support, since the Cannonites are UNCONDITIONAL defenders of the Soviet Union.) In another column Russia is “this one bastion of socialism.”

Goldman Offers a New Interpretation

Shamefacedness being definitely thrown aside, Albert Goldman substitutes solid brass in the next issue of The Militant (July 5). Believe it or not, he blandly denies that there ever was an alliance between Hitler and Stalin; denies that the Cannonites ever SAID there was such an alliance; and was used only by middle-class democrats and the Workers Party.

For outright forgery, this is equalled only by the Stalinists. We have room for only two examples:

  1. One of Cannon’s rare literary works, an article in the Socialist Appeal of September 29, 1939, denouncing “the joint policy of Stalin and his Axis partner, Hitler,” and stating that “the pact of Stalin and Hitler is in fact a military alliance.”
  2. The article by Trotsky in Liberty of January 27, 1940, if anything, goes further, saying that Russia attacked Poland and Finland at Germany’s behest.

Goldman explains the Stalin-Hitler pact (today) solely on the basis of Stalin’s desire to avoid war and to strengthen his military position against Germany by taking over adjacent lands. This is a belated plagiarism from the Daily Worker: No alliance with Hitler, only a policy of peace and the defense of the Soviet Unidn! Like Churchill, Goldman, too, prettifies the Kremlin while calling for its defense.

Goldman attacks our own stand by asking, apparently seriously: If it is true, as the Workers Party claimed, that Hitler and Stalin were partners, how come one partner attacked the other?

“For, if one claims that such a close partnership existed between Stalin and Hitler, then the fact that Hitler found himself in trouble need not and would not lead to his attacking the Soviet Union.”

And he positively belligerently asks us to explain how “such an unusual change in imperialist partnerships” is possible! Of course, France changed partners, he admits, but that was because it was defeated, adopting its conqueror as partner. His memory being what it is, he forgets that Finland has changed partners too – this time not with its conqueror! In fact, there is hardly a country in the war that has not changed partners at least once. If Japan decides to pull out of the Axis in the event of successes by London-Washington-Moscow, Goldman will no doubt again be astonished at imperialist trickery, provided he doesn’t deny that there was ever a Berlin-Tokyo Axis.

How Carry Out the “First Task”?

Two more notes on the SWP position:

  1. We have said that the Cannonites are now very brash about proclaiming the “defense of the Soviet Union.” But so far they have presented this slogan in a manner completely empty of all concrete meaning. Are they in favor of rendering “material and moral support to the Soviet Union” by the American workers? So far, they have indicated only that that’s all right for the Russian Trotskyists – not a word to American workers on the subject. Their manifesto has only one sentence on the question of what to do: “The method to defend the Soviet Union is to continue the class struggle against the imperialists.” If this is all the “defense of the Soviet Union” means in practice, in THIS war, it should be made unmistakably clear. But it is not all, as the CP can point out to them.
  2. The Militant appeals to the members of the Communist Party as follows: “You set the defense of the Soviet Union as your first task. We do likewise. On that basis we appeal to you to give sober consideration to the grave problems of this defense ...” Follows an injunction to continue the struggle against capitalism and the war, and then: “This is the only real defense of the Soviet Union and in this defense we stand ready to join you in any action that will advance our common cause.”

Since the defense of the Soviet Union is “the first task” of the SWP (here, in the United States, as Roosevelt drives into the war!) and since this is a “common cause” with the Stalinists, we presume that the SWP will immediately start a campaign for a united front with the Communist Party to render material and moral aid to the Soviet Union ... Or will Cannon wait till the CP becomes more popular?

If defense of Russia is the “FIRST task,” naturally everything else must be subordinated to it. In this connection, we note that The Militant has so far kept mum about the question of aid to Russia by the Roosevelt government. This MAY be an oversight (a pretty big one), but in any case it behooves the SWP to make clear its own attitude as well as specify what the defense of Russia means to it outside of literary exercises.

Last updated on 5.1.2013