Letter from
Joseph Hansen, Morris Stein and Farrell Dobbs

Written: 30 January 1953.
Source: Struggle in the Fourth International, International Committee Documents 1951-1954, Volume 1 of 4 from the collection “Toward A History of the Fourth International”, Part 3, pages 43-47. Education for Socialists bulletin; issued by the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers Party (US).
Transcribed/HTML Markup: David Walters, September 2005.
Edited and proofread: Andy Pollack & Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive, 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

As the insistence of the Cochran faction that they were correctly interpreting Pablo’s views became more strident, the SWP began to receive reports from abroad confirming those claims. In May 1953 James P. Cannon wrote to Pablo seeking clarification on this. In reply, Pablo declined to say whether he shared the Cochranite positions, refused to elaborate on his relationship with them, arid, in passing, indicated his support for Frankel’s document on Stalinism as opposed to that of Hansen.

This led the SWP Majority leaders to conclude that Pablo shared the views of the Cochran Clarke Bartell faction, and that he had been giving them secret encouragement. As a result, Cannon and other SWP leaders began to prepare for a fight against Pablo’s views, should that prove necessary. This was the purpose of Cannon’s correspondence with Sam Gordon, a Trotskyist living in London, who had expressed differences with Pablo and criticisms of the ambiguities of the Third World Congress documents.

Among the first allies to rally to the defense of orthodox Trotskyism at that time was Gerry Healy, the leader of the British section. Although Healy had, until then, been an admirer of Pablo, the discovery that Pablo was aiding a revisionist tendency in the United States convinced him of the necessity to change his estimate.

Another indication to the SWP majority that forces outside the SWP were secretly taking a hand in the internal struggle was the sudden breakdown of a truce agreement with the Cochran faction reached at the May plenum of the SWP National Committee. Shortly after the plenum, the Cochran faction began to sharpen its struggle against the majority and to act as if it were preparing for a split.

For further material about this period, see Speeches to the Party by James P. Cannon (Pathfinder Press, New York 1973).


Letter from Farrell Dobbs, Morris Stein, and Joseph Hansen to George Novack

New York, N.Y.
January 30, 1953

Dear Manuel:

Please show this letter to Tom, Jerry, Gabe and Ernest. We hope to receive a report of their and your comments reasonably soon. You will understand, of course, that our letter is not intended to solicit intervention but to convey our point of view with the hope that we will be able to find agreement.

New York, N.Y.
January 30, 1953

Dear Manuel:

The minutes of the last few meetings of our Political Committee will give you a rough idea of the acuteness of the internal situation which is moving rapidly toward a show down fight. You will note that at the meeting of January 13 we submitted a statement defining what we consider the basic reason for the present intolerable relations and proposing a Plenum to grapple with the differences.

You can rest assured that we have done everything we could to avoid an unnecessary or premature internal struggle. We had hoped that the maturity of the cadre, armed as it is with the experiences of previous internal struggles, would enable us to conduct a discussion of political differences in a comradely atmosphere, free from personal recriminations and unwarranted factional maneuvers. In a word, we had hoped to avoid a faction fight which is so costly in energy, in resources and which more often than not can lead to split.

Our efforts to maintain an objective atmosphere enabled the party to conduct the 1952 election campaign in an effective manner, but soon thereafter the Cochranites sharpened internal relations to the point of creating an intolerable situation.

It Is now imperative that the political differences engendering the internal friction be frankly posed. In our statement we summarized the differences as follows:

”Are we justified in continuing to consider ourselves an independent party and consequently in engaging within our means in the rounded activity demanded of a party, or should we close the balance sheet on our experiences as an independent party and conclude that we have failed, that we can operate only as a propaganda group, that we must abandon the effort of acting as a party and instead devote our time, energy and finances predominantly to propaganda?’

The fact is that except in private conversations, nobody has as yet openly made the proposal that we abandon our orientation toward the building of a party and transform ourselves instead into a propaganda group. It is likely that the exigencies of the internal struggle will compel the Cochranites to deny that they entertain such an idea. But when we examine all the points of friction within the committee for a period of over a year and a half, these can be traced to two different concepts of our tasks here in this country. We believe we can demonstrate this in the course of the discussion.

You will recall that in the struggle of 1939-40 the basic issues were posed sharply, not by the petty bourgeois opposition but by the Old Man and ourselves. The opposition shied away from posing the basic issues because they were not aware at the outset what forces were driving them and where they were heading. They were in rebellion against our entire political line and our concepts of the party. Yet they merely quarreled over incidents. Had they grappled with the basic questions at the outset, this unprincipled combination of Burnham, Shachtman, Abern and Johnson would have fallen apart before instead of after the split with us.

Our present opposition finds itself similarly unable to challenge our political line and concepts of the party, except through incidents. They, too, lack basic agreement on fundamentals. They, too, represent an unprincipled combination. They don’t advance any serious political line, because they can only agree on incidental questions.

Clarke started out, as you will recall, with a critique of our defense work, playing down the importance of our independent intervention in the struggle against the witch hunt and pressing for a penetration of the CP defense movement. Yet it is precisely our impressive independent work in the Minneapolis case, Kutcher case, Trucks Law fight, etc., that compelled the Stalinist ranks and periphery to pay attention to us, gave substance to our united front proposals to the CP, made it impossible for the Stalinist officials to dispose of us by their slanders, and now appears to be compelling them to modify their public attitude toward us in the field of civil liberties.

This is a typical example of Clarke’s general tendency to subordinate independent party work in favor of an orientation of penetration into the Stalinist movement. Bartell and Frankel manifest a similar tendency. These comrades seek to apply mechanically in this country a tactical line that would be proper in France, for example, where the Stalinists predominate in the labor movement, but which does not conform to America where the Stalinists are isolated from the labor movement. This line has pushed them toward a pre occupation with Stalinist groups and Stalinoid discussion circles as the main line of activity.

As far as the policy of our press is concerned, they have sought to soften and minimize all criticism of the Stalinists and have tended to react sharply when Stalinism is forthrightIr attacked in our press. They were especially displeased with Cannon’s pamphlet, The Road to Peace, and have been reluctant to push its sale. In general they tend to be sharply critical of every article in which we differentiate ourselves from the Stalinists.

Cochran, on the other hand, has shown no interest in the possibilities of infiltrating the Stalinist groups. As a matter of fact, he went to the extreme of denying at a PC meeting last spring that there is such a thing as a Stalinist milieu.

Yet Cochran, Clarke, Bartell and Frankel are functioning as a common faction under Cochran’s leadership. Up to this point there is only one proposition to which they have agreed among themselves. This is the proposal that the party’s activities and resources be channelized into propaganda work. They want a committee set up to devote full time to applying Marxism to the American scene.

What keeps them together is a common sentiment rather than a common line. This is a sentiment of frustration and defeatism in relation to the American working class. One incident is especially illuminating in this respect. About a year ago, the steel workers held a special convention to consider the crisis in the contractural relations with the corporations. The convention was full of fight against the steel magnates. When Stein reported to the PC on the convention and indicated that a strike might be in the offing, Clarke ridiculed this. How could there be a strike, he asked, so long as the country is heading toward war and the union bureaucracy is committed to support of this war policy? This readiness to write off the American class struggle can be traced through the incidents over which we clashed.

Losing faith in the fighting abilities of the working class at the present stage, they can have no faith in the capacity of our party to play an independent role in the mass movement. This is why they have behaved like nihilists rather than constructive critics. They seek to turn the party away from its present course but have no new course to offer. Even their petty gimmick of a committee of thinkers and writers was not put forward as a supplementary project. It was counterposed to electoral activity and the Trotsky school.

Why did they fight so bitterly against our proposal for an early Plenum of the National Committee? After all it is more than six months since we had any national gathering and we would normally be about due to have such a meeting in any case. Their answer was that they needed four months in which to write down their views. We granted them this time. But why do they need so much time? Is it because they have so much to say? It is safer to assume that it is because they don’t know what to say. It is safe to predict that when their documents are presented, they will consist of attacks on our positions, real or alleged, rather than a presentation of a clear line of their own. It is to be expected, for example, that (hey will write a long document charging us with Stalinophobia, adaptation to imperialism, sectarianism, etc., etc.

At this stage there is no sense deploring the development. The struggle is upon us and we must have the maximum mobilization to wage it effectively and to see to it that we obtain positive results from it. We must above all utilize this struggle to rearm the party for the difficult haul ahead.

Concretely, this means to re-inspire the party once again with a proletarian orientation. This may sound like a platitude, but it is far from it on two grounds, first because it is precisely our proletarian orientation which is being challenged and secondly because under the pressure of the opposition and due to our own neglect, we have permitted a situation to develop whereby trade union work has become more and more de emphasized.

Cochran aggravated this problem by his pessimistic report on the trade union question at the last convention. His report was not challenged at the convention because of the truce based on the unanimous May 1952 Plenum resolution and the accidental arrangement of radio time which cut off discussion. This report has since been interpreted by the Cochranites as official party policy. This erroneous assumption must be corrected in the forthcoming discussion.

Comrade Bartell’s report to the New York membership for pre convention discussion states that because of the relative quiescence in the trade union movement, the party should turn its main attention to the political and semi political elements “who are equipped to understand” our ideas, that is, to the Compass Clubs, the Huberman-Sweezy group, etc. He sees a sectarian danger if we fail to turn with sufficient energy toward these discussion circles. To him it is sectarian not to consider this milieu as a center of concentration for us. He also holds it sectarian to insist on programmatic clarity in approaching these groups.

The real sectarian danger to our party, however, is not in underestimating the importance of these groups, but in neglect of the living labor movement where the masses of the workers are to be found. The real danger of sectarianism is in turning our back on the labor movement and becoming excessively preoccupied with petty-bourgeois discussion groups.

We propose to bring this real danger sharply to the attention of the party. We propose furthermore to review our conduct of the press and correct a mistake which has crept in of tending to write for a highly political audience and one, moreover, under heavy Stalinist influence. We must devote more attention to the issues which preoccupy the workers in the present state of their consciousness, that is, the speed up, high prices, high taxes, housing, Korean war, etc. There is a lot of fight in the American working class which can be seen from the strike statistics for 1952. The working class has been fighting in defense of its living standards. We must be fully alive to these struggles, help the workers with our press and through our intervention to raise their consciousness to a higher level.

We used to get out a fine socialist paper for workers. But we now tend to raise our propaganda and agitation too far above the present level of the workers’ consciousness. Our task is to find once again that necessary tie with the workers’ thinking that will permit us to establish contact at their present level of consciousness and then help them generalize their grievances and demands at a higher political level.

If we permit the situation to drift any longer, we will tend to get more and more on the wrong track under the pressure of the opposition. We propose instead that our course be corrected, not by any new gimmick, not by putting the American proletariat on ice for the present, but by getting deeper into the union movement. Only if we participate in the partial struggles of today can we play a role in the bigger struggles of tomorrow.

The New York pre convention discussion now in progress has revealed that the danger of drifting away from the working class and its mass organizations is real. It is one of the consequences of the line emanating from Bartell and his friends.

In his report to the New York Local, Bartell said:

“The changes in our general approach here in New York can be summed up as follows: we shifted the axis of our activities from the general mass of politically uninitiated workers to a narrower but more selective audience of left wing groups, politically minded workers and intellectuals, and student youth; from expansion of our organization and activities to retrenchment and more modest tasks.”

The general thought of this quotation is stated much more crudely in the discussions in the branches where it all adds up to one thing: a retreat from our main objective because the going is tough and a search for a new milieu. In the concrete relationship of forces in the United States today, this means a retreat into a sectarian propaganda circle existence.

To justify this orientation these comrades have introduced into the New York discussion some of the crassest revisions of our concept of Stalinism. They are unable to sustain their orientation merely on the practical grounds of working where you can get the best results. The fact is we have no results as yet from the Local’s preoccupation with Stalinist circles. We are therefore given a political reason. We must be with the Stalinists because we are part of the same anti war camp, and as Bartell put it in his report, the Stalinist movement “remains the only current of conscious opposition to the war and reaction (apart from ourselves).”

We thus see the peculiar phenomenon of a group of Trotskyists, educated for many years in the struggle against Stalinism, seeking to slur over the sharp differences between the Stalinist peace line and our class anti war line. That has never been our method. Moreover, even from a practical point of view, one would have to conclude that the Stalinist peace front or anti war front doesn’t amount to a pinch of snuff in this country and our place to carry anti war agitation is not to them so much as to the workers organized in powerful unions. We have always envisaged the struggle against war as the extension of the class struggle onto a higher political plane.

The Cochranite opposition is trying to find justification for its line in the basic documents of the Third Congress. But in order to do so, they must pervert and distort what has been written. For example, at one membership meeting Lou Scott, a Bartell supporter, challenged a comrade who referred to the Stalinist leadership and program as counter revolutionary through and through and declared this concept has been outlawed by the Third World Congress. Others have since devised a formula in support of his contention. They say Stalinism may be subjectively counter revolutionary but objectively it has ceased to be so because it can no longer play a counter revolutionary role for the simple reason that it cannot get a deal with American imperialism.

What the comrades of the opposition will say on this subject in the document they now promise to publish we do not know. But it will probably be some sort of an attempt to substantiate these concepts because we have seen that tried already in the discussions in the Political Committee and in the staff of the press. Some of the worst clashes we have had were over such questions as the meaning of Stalin’s diplomatic moves, for example, in Germany. Clarke and Frankel in the staff and in the PC played with the idea of giving critical support to Stalin’s diplomatic moves. Clarke said he was within an inch of proposing critical support to Stalin’s diplomatic offensive on the German question.

This incident is only one of many of a similar nature which spell out their contention that Stalinism has changed its fundamental nature because of the change in the objective situation. We cannot go for this line. We say it is false to the core and anybody indulging in such illusions is headed for disaster.

We agree entirely with the Thesis adopted by the Third World Congress when it says that by its very nature the Soviet bureaucracy will oppose the development of the revolutionary forces in the world even in the case of a general war against the USSR. What the change in the objective situation really means is that in a generalized revolutionary situation the chances of the Kremlin successfully betraying revolutionary struggles becomes diminished. But this does not in the least imply that we will not see in the period ahead of us some of the most vicious acts of betrayal yet perpetrated by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

The closer its doom, the harder the bureaucracy will fight for its survival and the more monstrous will be its crimeg; There must be no illusions on this score in our movement and we for our part will not tolerate any.

These are in general outline the issues around which the internal struggle has already started in our party. We have absolutely no doubt as to the outcome of this fight. The developments in the New York pre convention discussion now in progress are a preview not only of the issues but also of the sentiments of the comrades. For some time we feared that a majority of New York Local might have already been sucked into the opposition and you will notice in our Statement that Cochran, when he threatened to by pass the PC with his own pet projects, mentioned the New York Local as the first place he would seek to influence. We feared we might be in a minority in the New York Local because the administration has been in Bartell’s hands and it has been used to carry on undercover factional organization for a long time now, while we did absolutely nothing along those lines, trying instead to mitigate the factional atmosphere created by the Cochranites. They, in turn, have been taking it for granted that the Local was in their pocket. But when Bartell’s report was challenged, we learned that a majority of the City Committee, that is six out of eleven comrades, were opposed to his orientation. Even without our active participation in the New York struggle, more and more comrades are turning against the line of the Cochranites. Our tendency in New York appears to have a narrow majority. This majority should continue to grow as we take the struggle out of the narrow confines of a Local dispute over the Organizer’s report and project it into the party nationally around the real basic issues.

To us this very encouraging support in the New York Local indicates that the party is fundamentally healthy, that the membership will not go for any nostrums or quack remedies in the present situation, that it will be possible to orient the party toward a deeper penetration of the workers’ movement.

The orientation arbund which we are mobilizing for a show down fight with the Cochranites is in our opinion fully in accord with the basic line of the Third Congress and the Tenth Plenum. The Cochranites, however, are telling the membership that the Twelfth Plenum has reversed the Tenth. They mean to imply that the documents of the Twelfth Plenum justify their position as against ours.

This situation is not helped by the way these documents paint an unrelieved picture of black reaction in this country, nor is it aided by the broad assertion that “some of our members still have the tendency to reason along the lines of old, out dated schemas” with regard to tactical line in relation to the Stalinists. These two examples illustrate how the Cochranites are using against us various formulations and omissions in the documents which they hail as a general confirmation of their line.

Please convey this general evaluation of our internal situation to our friends and assure them that we are embarking on this struggle’ only because the unbridled attacks on fundamental party line leave us no other course.

We have been as careful as we could to approach this problem objectively. We have been very patient with our opposition. Our patience has been misinterpreted by them as uncertainty or weakness on our part. They have rewarded us with extreme provocations.

We can no longer live with this intolerable situation in the Political Committee. The issues must now be taken openly to the membership for a discussion and political but we have been in consultation with him on the internal decision. This is the best way to proceed and we don’t intend to be diverted from this course situation.



P.S. Jim has been on the West Coast for several months—Los Angeles since the explosion in the PC over the election campaign.

Last updated on 24.2.2006