Balance Sheet of Trotskyism in the United States, 1940-1947 by C L R James 1947

V. The Organizational Question

(a) Opportunism in General

It is not Trotsky who introduced the idea of class into serious organizational questions. Our movement is built on these ideas. It is the founder of Bolshevism himself who pointed out that the concept of the party was drawn from capitalist production.

“It is precisely Marxism, as the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, that has been teaching unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as an instrument of exploitation (discipline based on the fear of starvation) and as a factor in organization (discipline based on collective work, united under conditions of technically highly developed production). The discipline and organization, which it is so difficult for the bourgeois intellectual to acquire, are easily acquired by the proletarian precisely because of the factory ‘school’ he goes through. Mortal fear of this school and complete inability to understand its importance as ‘an organizing force ‘are .characteristic of ways of thinking which reflect a petty-bourgeois mode of life.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 442)

In 1903, .according to Lenin, hostility to a firm centralized discipline existed in every Social-Democratic Party in Europe and was characteristic of its opportunist wing. But opportunism has not only a .social base, a political orientation, and an organizational theory. It has a logical method of its own. You cannot pin opportunists down to anything.

“When speaking of fighting opportunism, there is a characteristic feature of present-day opportunism in every sphere that must never be overlooked: this, is its vagueness, its diffuseness, its elusiveness. The very nature of the opportunist is such that he will always try to avoid formulating the issue clearly and irrevocably; he will always try to find the resultant force, will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually excluding points of view, he will try to ‘agree’ with both and reduce his difference of opinion to slight amendments, doubts, innocently good intentions, etc., etc. (Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 455.)

Who does not recognize Shachtman to the life? A perpetual obeisance before abstract principles, serving the same purpose as a priest’s cassock, establishing orthodoxy. But immediately afterwards a reservation for the particular case at hand which happens always to be absolutely unique.

And finally there are the psychological traits of opportunism.

“In close psychological connection with their hatred of discipline there is an incessant, whining note of disgruntledness, which can be detected in all the writings of all contemporary opportunists in general, and of our minority in particular. They are always being persecuted, restricted, kicked out, besieged and bullied.” (Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 457)

The W.P. Majority was always being persecuted, and bullied by the Johnson-Forest Minority. We mortally offended them by our method of showing them the real significance of their Menshevik ideas. They complained bitterly. If, they said, the policy you ascribe to us is really ours, then you should move to expel us. We mortally offended them by “repeating elementary truths which everyone has known for one hundred years.” Alas! Lenin notes that the Bundists were “offended,” Martov and Axelrod were “offended” because “they were falsely accused of opportunism.”

And the end? Says Lenin of all these offended ones:

“Quantity was transformed into Quality. The negation was negated. All the offended forgot their mutual squabbles, fell weeping into each other’s arms and raised the banner of revolt against Leninism.”

Look at those in the United States offended today! Bureaucratic Collectivists and State-Capitalists, Workers Staters and the can’t-deciders, those for whom the objective revolutionary situation is decisive and those for whom it is not, all have in common, that they have been “mortally offended” by Cannon, and are banded together under the banner of “anti-Cannonism.”

They want, above all, “freedom of criticism.” Long before 1903, Lenin, attacking the Economists, observed:

“The case of the Russian .Social ‘Democrats strikingly illustrates the fact observed in the whole of Europe... that the notorious freedom of criticism implies not the substitution of one theory for another, ‘but freedom from any complete and thought-out theory; it implies eclecticism and absence of principle.”

There us no need to draw the string.

When Trotsky denounced the Minority in 1940 as petty bourgeois he was not inventing anything. He was observing the symptoms of a class alien to the proletariat – the radical petty-bourgeoisie. All this is A.B.C. of our movement. The W.P. will never be able to explain, it has never asked why so many of its basic characteristics, its very phraseology, fit without the slightest need for adjustment into the petty-bourgeois pattern of 40 years ago.

(b) Opportunism in the American Movement

But if opportunism has certain general organizational characteristics, a concrete analysis always shows them in a specifically national form. It was, in fact, the very national concreteness of. Lenin, in response to the national circumstances of Russia that projected him into the leadership of world Bolshevism.

“Of course, the national peculiarities of the individual parties and the different political conditions in the different countries will leave their impress and make German opportunism unlike French opportunism, French opportunism unlike Italian opportunism and Italian opportunism unlike Russian opportunism.” (Selected Works, Vol. II, p 454)

In Russia, Bolshevism had to attack Narodnism, Economism, Menshevism, Machism, currents in the anti-Tsarist movement. In the United .States the proletariat is approaching the struggle for the conquest of power without having created or stimulated in the petty-bourgeoisie or the intellectuals any sort of ideology of its own. The dominant ideology is bourgeois ideology. This is not wholly a disadvantage, not at all, but it poses specific tasks for the American Party. Just as the American proletariat approaches the proletarian revolution directly, so dialectical materialism in the U.S. has nothing between it and the petty-bourgeois adaptation of pragmatism. Conversely in the United States an easy slip in the party from a revolutionary ideology to unadulterated pragmatism is a constant menace. Hence Trotsky’s pressure toy as broad and as comprehensive a program as possible of education in the dialectic and all its manifold phases.

Let us now examine, the W.P. as it is today. In the W.P. you can jump from political position to political position on all fundamental questions, basing yourself on Trotsky’s program in general and yet proving that Trotsky was wrong or “predicted” falsely on all the fundamental issues of the day. In the press, public or internal, the most diverse opinions are expressed under the general umbrella of “anti-Cannonism” and “anti-Johnsonism.” Nobody cares particularly. But take care to be “honest” and “sincere.” You can evade a political issue like the theory of retrogression for three years, allowing it to run riot in the press and averring that it is, it is not, it is the party position interminably. You can abuse the Fourth International like a fishwife, then say it is the only hope and then abuse it again. So long as you are “honest.”

Shachtman who has learned this sincerity cult as he learns everything else, now has made his very own what we may call “dishonesty exposed by stolen letters.” He discovers or has received a letter from. Europe which “exposes” the S.W.P. He discovers or has received a letter from Europe which “exposes” what Johnson really said to Stein. At the next meeting of the P.C., he announces that he has got hold of a letter “written to five people only” by Cannon which will fully “expose” why Johnson went on tour. He will “expose” the secret caucus documents of the Johnson-Forest Minority. Every exposure of the use of the mails for dishonest purposes implies of course the honesty and vigilance in the public weal of the detective. The comrades lap up this information, take it seriously, nod their heads, and believe that they are building a real honest ‘Bolshevik Party. It is nothing but the gossiping method of a clique elevated to a political method, Shachtman, when it suits him, will drop this new Bolshevism as easily as he has embraced it. But the membership is helpless before it. In “The Wrong Road” Shachtman calls for a “high Maximum of frankness and mutual understanding.” Impeccable sentiment! Presumably it is in pursuit of this high maximum of under-standing that he so frankly seeks all sources of information. But it is not only the W.P. leadership which is guilty of this. The real high priest of this new politics is not Shachtman but Goldman, who brought it fully developed from the S.W.P. Not only that. It is now being recommended to the political world. This is Shachtman concluding his “Two Lines on Unity”:

“Right and duty coincide here. But this. duty cannot be discharged as it should be if there is .double-dealing, duplicity, concealment, super-diplomacy, self-suppression or suppression by others. It can only be done by the method we have scrupulously followed – open, honest and full development of political positions, presentation of political positions, confrontation of political positions.”

The whole international proletariat is asked to follow this example.

“It is a method to be recommended not only to Johnson but to the movement all over the world.” [Needless to say, this conception of leadership: has nothing in common with the Fascist conception of leadership which is’ a rejection of bourgeois democracy. The American conception is an expression of it.]

Trotsky has pointed out that, what the American proletariat needs is social thinking. The W. P. no doubt will agree with this as it does with whoever points out what the proletariat lacks. But where the proletariat does not think socially, few do, and the revolutionary party can continue to do so only by the most rigid vigilance and concentration. The W.P. has made a .cult of the analysis of individual political figures and not infrequently in psycho-analytic terms. Rife in the party is the individual interpretation of why this or that leader or supporter of a political tendency has the political ideas that he has. So far has this gone that its social roots alone can explain it.


Nowhere in the world is the doctrine of social equality so much a matter of both theory and practice as among the people of the United States. Yet the basic characteristics of American bourgeois political life have been the emphasis oh individual leadership and the organizational inertia and passivity of the masses. The first has been the product of the second and they have set the pattern of political thought and social and political action.

A recent publication puts in summary form what can be read in the writings of all experienced observers. Liberty, equality, individualism are the basic tenets of the American creed. Yet the American people associate changes with individuals. Social movements are rarely looked upon as the outcome of broad trends and deep forces. Trotsky expressed the same when he defined the great need of the American proletariat as the need to learn social thinking. But if you do not think socially, you think in terms of ‘isms,” of religion, or of dynamic individuals. This conception of leadership* is looked upon as so natural that the Americans do not realise that it is a specifically American characteristic. It is assumed in the United States that in every group there are leaders who control the attitudes of the group. (Are our anti-Cannonites beginning to feel uncomfortable?)

The cause of this is the historic inertia and inarticulateness of the masses. “Self-generating, self-disciplined, organized people’s movements” are, comparatively speaking, absent from the American historical record. The masses have fought fiercely when the situation needed it, and mass movements have some-times arisen with speed tout have generally always died down.

Even in the labor movement today, there is a prevalence of highly paid salaried organizers with the relative unimportance of the workers themselves. The workers rarely elect representatives from their ranks to Congress, state legislatures or city councils.


These patterns are exempted in American politics and throughout the whole social structure. In Northern Europe and Britain in particular, policy-making is spread among committees, citizens’ boards, etc. which widen mass participation, making politics more anonymous and less dependent on outstanding leadership. In the United States it is centralized in the offices of salaried functionaries. Rulers of other states have had in past times the enormous powers of the President of the United States. He, however has kept them, whereas in other democratic states they have been steadily whittled down. But while on the one hand this is an expression and reinforcement of the tendency to individual leadership, the equally powerful American sentiment for democracy and equality expresses itself in the ultimate controls being in the hands of the masses – they elect the President themselves and by means of referendums and direct voting on important offices, seek to keep a check on their leaders.

American political parties do not reflect the interests and ideals of the large masses of the electorate and therefore the tendency is for elections to be fought more over personalities than over programs.

Flowing from this general structure there are derivative characteristics. There is a wide public interest in personalities and in short-run developments in government and in business. The political leaders are exposed to a ruthless glare of publicity and the criticism of opponents. There is a constant effort on the part of one set of leaders to discredit other leaders. The perspective in politics and business centers predominantly around actual happenings, yesterday, today and tomorrow. “What effect will this minor event have? What one person is behind what other person? What idea has caught, whom?” Another important observation is the following. If an ordinary American faces a difficult situation he resorts to two general recommendations, “education” and “leadership.” “Leadership is less of a conscious ideological principle than of a pragmatic approach to those activities which require the co-operation of many individuals.”

The above, almost in his own words, is the analytical summary of a learned and experienced European observer [Gunnar Myrdal: An American Dilemma] of the American social and political scene, an analysis which he found indispensable as a preliminary to the first serious analysis ever made in the United States of the Negro question.

It is to the credit of Myrdal that he understands, to a degree remarkable for a bourgeois, that this pattern is strictly historical and will be broken. He notes (p. 1944) the hardening of the class lines and the growing cultural homogeneity of the mass. In this matter he is not too far behind some of the most penetrating and significant observations of Engels and of Trotsky. He expects the masses to become active and articulate. “If and when it comes, it is destined to remake the entire public and social life of America.” This is true, more true than he knows or can dream of. But, for him, in 1944, there are little signs of this yet. The American proletariat for him is still back-ward. Which is one reason why, in spite of many extraordinary valuable pages on the Negro question, he comes to such absurd political conclusions. Nevertheless, he gives an accurate if summary report of the specific national ideology of the American nation. Precisely because American is what it is, with no Social-Democratic party, the petty-bourgeoisie is ridden with these prejudices.

To fight these prejudices Bolshevism must know them, must know their theoretical roots, must consciously oppose them. But it cannot do this unless it opposes to them, consciously, the revolutionary proletariat and its weapon, the dialectic. The revolutionary proletariat in a particular country, German, French, Russian, develops general proletarian characteristics. But it inherits and takes over, along with many of the vices, the best qualities of the nation to which ‘it belongs, e.g., in Germany, the theoretical heritage. It cannot help this. These qualities are part of the nation, their presence (and the absence of others) are the result of profound historical causes. They pass into all aspects of the life, action and thought of the nation. As the political crisis approaches they are usually manipulated by the exhausted bourgeoisie for what can only be reactionary purposes. The revolutionary proletariat from its very position in society makes a highly progressive use of the positive qualities and tends to discard the negative. The revolutionary theorist consciously does the same.

Nor does this happen all on the day of the revolution. The proletariat in ceaseless conflict with the bourgeoisie tends, especially at critical periods, to become increasingly conscious of itself and its own methods, thinking workers first, and increasing layers afterwards. Trotsky’s reiterated statement in 1940 that the proletariat tends instinctively to understand the dialectic is sneered at, and yet unless the vanguard understands and believes this, it not only cannot teach the proletariat but cannot learn. Contrary to what Myrdal thinks, the proletariat has already “made the initial step of breaking with the bourgeois past.” That step was the organization of the C.I.O.


The proletariat here broke the tradition of mass passivity and inertia with terrific power. It combined the tradition of individual leadership with its own creative mass activity in one of the most astonishing proletarian movements of modern times., For Trotsky this was no mere organization of an industrial union. For him it was the basis of the Transitional Program on a world scale. In the Founding Theses of 1938 he wrote, “The unprecedented wave of sit-down strikes and the amazingly rapid (growth of industrial unionism in the United States (the CIO) is most indisputable expression of the instinctive striving of the American workers to raise themselves to the level of the tasks imposed on them by history.” (Founding Conference p. 17.) These were not mechanical , rhetorical, or passing words. Today the UAW, the vanguard of the CIO is a democratic union, the vanguard of democracy in the United States, product of the automobile industry and the proletarian adaptation of the American democratic tradition. It is a social force of immense significance and power. John L. Lewis is a representative of American labor within the old American tradition. The significant American labor leader is Walter Reuther and the range and depth of his activities and pronouncements are a tiny mirror of the forces unloosed in 1936 which are steadily gestating another tremendous outburst. Reuther leads nothing, he is a puppet pushed from behind. The incredible ferocities of the factional struggles in the UAW are no mere struggle for power among ambitious leaders and, greedy political grouping’s but are a reflection of the social tensions in the country. They are corrupted and distorted by traditional reformism at this stage of its development and by Stalinism. But here during the last ten years, the proletarian drive against American capitalism and all its petty bourgeois pragmatic prejudices are struggling for expression. If is a large and difficult theme, but only a Marxist of the most pitiable?- character can fail to see that the battle is already joined between the traditional United States and the new.

Now which side in this gigantic conflict does the W.P. as is an organization represent? To ask the question is to answer, it. It represents the worst prejudices of the American petty-bourgeois ideology which the proletariat, moving to the revolution, is trying to shake off. Particularly since 194’5 the W.P. represents an adaptation of Bolshevism to the ideas of the American petty-bourgeoisie. As always the trend can be seen best in its most extreme representatives, in this case, Burnham and Macdonald. They broke most sharply with American bourgeois society. They identified themselves most closely with the Trotskyist, not the Stalinist movement. They have shown, the greatest resistance to the re-acceptance of traditional bourgeois society. They do not live in a vacuum. They are signposts. And very important signposts.


Burnham is the more important. The American reaction against the American preoccupation with the dynamic individual (Founding Fathers etc.) has taken a specifically American form of economic determinism. It has .had enormous pedagogical influence in the United States through the work of Charles and Mary Beard. The young school of sociologists also practice it. This economic determinism, talks about “class struggle and economic forces” but it is blind to the creative forces of a social class and above all the creative force of the proletariat. Burnham may or may not have clung to a soft bourgeois environment. But all this is neither very profitable nor, to tell the truth, very interesting. What is important is that he is a very typical representative of this new sociological school. He carries the determinist analysis to its logical conclusion (managerial society). It is an impossible position for an American radical to stay in. Faced with the threat of Stalinism, this representative of American individualism and the American democratic tradition (which is not the same thing as the British parliamentary democratic tradition), abandons all his .ideas and runs back to American Imperialism. We have already dealt with that, tout if is by the analysis of Burnham as a specifically American phenomenon that the W.F. can see the social roots of its anti-Stalinism. This will enable it to understand the apparent insensitiveness of all other contemporary Bolshevik tendencies, e.g., the French .Majority, to its horrifying warnings.

Burnham is one result of the social forces playing upon the W.P. Macdonald is another significant symbol. Macdonald, also ex-Trotskyist, also unable to reconcile himself with American capitalism, has finally found religion – “The Roof is Man,” the moral worth of the individual. Macdonald’s absurdities are not a matter for laughter. He has turned back to the past of the nation and a very important aspect of its present. Those political figures who have captured the imagination of the American people during the post-1929 years have all presented themselves to the nation in moral terms. Franklin Roosevelt will be known as the architect of the “New Deal” and the “Four Freedoms” and the “Good Neighbor Policy” and the “Quarantine of the Aggressor.” Let the political psycho-analysists stop analysing people’s souls and begin to analyse political phenomena instead. They will find that not another European country can show a recent political leader who presented himself to the nation in these terms. Henry Wallace is second only to Roosevelt in mass popular appeal and his popular impact is that of a morality which frankly approaches mysticism. Eleanor Roosevelt is the social worker carried to the Hegelian absolute. The most dangerous Fascist leader was a priest – Coughlin – with his slogan of “Social Justice.” The outstanding labor leader in popular sentiment is John L. Lewis, a Biblical prophetic figure couching the class struggle in terms of the harshness of the Old Testament against the adaptation of the New Testament by which American bourgeois leaders presented themselves to the masses. ‘Right through American history you will find it – in Woodrow Wilson whom Trotsky laughed at for his “Parish Sermons” addressed to the world; before him in fundamentalist Bryan of the “Cross of Gold” and the “Crown of Thorns;” in the carefully-preserved fiction of Honest Abraham Lincoln “with malice toward none, with charity toward all, with firmness in the right,” even in such an apparently insignificant national legend as Washington and the cherry tree.

It can be seen in the speeches of Debs. This moralism stamps the work of so serious a thinker as Veblen. It expressed itself politically in the deeply revolutionary Abolitionist movement which for thirty years abstained from politics because politics was “corrupt.” It is very dose to the surface of any disoriented American intellectual. Caught between the crimes 6f American capitalism and the to them incurable passivity of the masses, these intellectuals express their preoccupation with the moral character of the individual by their passionate study of psycho-analysis. This is not an exclusively American phenomenon. The whole of the modern petty-bourgeois world is caught in this crisis and Existentialism in France, the sudden popularity of Kierkegaard (philosophically dead for near a century) and the emergence of religious parties in Europe as tile sole organizational camouflage of bourgeois society, show the international tendency. But it has a special appeal in the United States and a special national background. It is into this pit that Macdonald has fallen.

The economic determinism masquerading as Marxism, the preoccupation with “honest leadership,” the belief in the passivity of the masses under the control of leadership, even the “masses” of the Fourth International, the exposure of the “immorality” of the leaders by “publicity,” the constant appeal to rank and file prejudices, the need for maximum “frankness” and “understanding” and “duty” and all this nauseating, demoralizing, corrupting, petty-bourgeois nonsense masquerading as Bolshevism, what causes all this in the W.P. but weakness before the same forces which created Burnham and Macdonald?

Does the W.P. now recognize itself? Will it explain what the American proletarian vanguard has to learn from the new politics of Goldman and Shachtman? What will the UAW militants do butt turn in disgust from the articles on unity by Goldman with his perpetual probing into Cannon’s “hunches"? What conception can workers have of our movement? In what way are they taught “social thinking?” Does the W.P. in its organizational conceptions, ideas, by the very facts of its existence represent or reflect the incipient proletarian democracy of the UAW as analysed by us or the worst features of bourgeois ideology, which the proletariat is striving to get rid of? The whole political degeneration of the W.P. becomes fused in its organizational politics. It is a phenomenon ,unique and explicable only in terms of the national environment, without a mass proletarian party. As we have written:

“Today the W.P. lives according to the following evaluation of contemporary politics: The Stalinist regime is bureaucratic-collectivist, totalitarian. It is ruled by a clique which practices the leader-cult, holds down the backward masses, miseducates them by force and deception, and bureaucratically manipulates them. The Stalinist parties are totalitarian parties. They, too, are cliques which practice the leader-cult, deceive the backward masses and bureaucratically manipulate them. The Fourth International is led by, a clique which is in the pocket of X, the leader, who deceives his followers and bureaucratically manipulates them. The S.W.P. is led by a clique which practices the leader-cult, and bureaucratically manipulates the membership. The Johnson-Forest Minority is led by a clique which practices the leader-cult, miseducates its backward followers and bureaucratically manipulates them. Implicit, and not always only implicit, in this World-Wide analysis is the idea that it is only because they lack power that the Fourth International, the S.W.P. and the Johnson-Forest Minority have not completed the degeneration which imposes its bureaucratic manipulations on the backward mass by force.

“To counteract these ‘bureaucracies’ and ‘cliques,’ Shachtman has his ‘cadre.’ All types of revolutionaries are welcome. Their rallying cry is: not revolutionary activity for which the backward masses are not suitable. It is not the mobilization of the parties for the task of transforming themselves into mass parties. For this the small, insignificant parties are not ready, whatever may be the objective situation. Their rallying cry is ‘democracy.’ Their main business is anti-Stalinism, anti-Cannonism and anti-Johnsonism. Their specific political method is exposure of the dishonesty, duplicity and bureaucratic methods of political opponents; by this means to effect the enlightenment of the duped, deluded and backward followers as to the unreliability of their leaders. The organizational force of this political activity is the ‘cadre,’ the sole, original contribution of Shachtman to the political ideas of the Fourth International. This, stripped of all decoration, is the special political atmosphere of the W.P.” (Bulletin, May 27, 1947, p. 2,3)

There is no answer. There can be no answer. The pattern is too complete. The existence of Social-Democratic parties, the proletarian tradition of those parties in Europe, the different class relations, gave to opportunism in Europe a less concentrated completely worked-out character, but precisely for that reason the American experience becomes a logical culmination and a quintessential warning against all who are deluded enough to find some regeneration of Bolshevism in the struggle of the W.P. against “Cannonism.”

(c) “All-Inclusive Party”

The W.P. has for years slandered the principles and practice of. the Fourth International all over the world under tile guise of exposure of “Cannonism.” It has sedulously sown the conception that it is possible for minorities in a party subscribing to the program and ‘principles of the Fourth International to be brutally suppressed without being able to express their views or to be persecuted for having them. We shall oppose these lies and slanders wherever and whenever they appear. Such practices do not exist, have never existed, and cannot exist in the Fourth International. They may be tried. They always fail. We repeat this. Such practices have never existed, do not exist and cannot exist in the Fourth International! Made as the W.P. makes them, these changes represent only terror before proletarian discipline, that terror which is being assiduously propagated among the petty-bourgeoisie and the proletariat to confuse the socialist society -with totalitarianism. Let those who deny what we have repeated bring forward proof or by their silence be exposed as petty-bourgeois liars and slanderers.

We have steadfastly refused to “defend Cannonism” or the Cannonite regime against the, attacks of the W.P. for anything that took place between 1940 and 1947. We were not there. The S.W.P. is perfectly able to defend itself if and when it feels that it needs defense. But it is our duty to bring to the attention of the comrades this fact, that the existing documents of both the Majority and the Minority in 1940 prove that there was not the slightest basis for the charge being made today that the Minority of 1940 had been bureaucratically mishandled by the Cannon-led Majority. This is not only of historical importance. We are not interested in history for history’s sake. It is imperative to stop the mouth of the slanderers. It is necessary to understand why they are as they are today and what they represent.

In his Struggle for the Proletarian Party (1940), Cannon states that many of the best friends of the party, hearing this oft-repeated charge, concluded that where there was so much smoke there was certainly fire and a little sell-criticism would be in order. Camion replied that the leadership of the S.W.P. had many faults to which it would have to plead guilty, but bureaucratic mishandling of the branches or the proletarian elements -none whatever. And the truth is that in all the voluminous writings of the 1940 Minority, not one single such charge was ever made.

This is the question which the slanderers never face. Bureaucracy in the labor movement consists essentially of leadership terrorizing and mishandling the proletarian and less articulate elements in the party, imposing upon them organizational decisions from above, riding rough-shod over their wishes and their decisions. In organizations like those of the Fourth International today, such conduct would bring its own reward – it would destroy the party. The idea that the W.P. stood guard or for that matter stands guard against the terrorizing of the rank and file elements in the party by the bureaucratic terror of Cannon is as ridiculous in theory as it is baseless in fact.

What then was the charge in 1940? It was not even the charge that the Minority leaders were excluded from posts because they were or gave signs of being an opposition. They themselves admitted this. They filled numerous posts. The charge against Cannon was that he manipulated a clique which worshipped him as “the leader” and did not give sufficient consideration and democracy to the other leaders. Let the splitters speak for themselves:

“All the formal democracy enjoyed .by the party today – and it is abundant – is worse than meaningless, it is a mockery, if the real .policies and the leadership and the regime of the party are continuously determined only by a clique... (without) a distinctive political foundation Removal of the party control from ... this clique is a pre-condition to ... a genuine party democracy and progressive policy. In place of a leader-cult, not another leader (we propose none and want none) but a collective leadership, genuinely collective, coordinating and integrating by a real exchange of opinion and an efficient division of labor the best talents of the party. If there is one in the party who is outstanding from all others in his abilities and devotion and political insight, he will be known and recognized; but let him be primus intra pares – first among equals. In place of ‘reaffirming old positions,’ let us like free and intelligent men use our mighty programmatic concepts to meet the living problems of history, to foresee and to guide in action. A maximum of branch and local initiative! Comradely education, not brutal and disloyal attacks for those in error. A warm, if critical, welcome for every new idea, even a doubtful idea, not a denunciation for ‘irresponsibility.’ Comradely criticism, encouragement help, praise for the youth – even when the youth errs on the side of exaggeration or over-zealousness. And let us be less terrified of mistakes. Only the dead make no mistakes. (Struggle for the Proletarian Party, p. 203)


We split also? Very well. We declare that it was an unpardonable error. The argument remains. The bureaucracy complained of was an oppression of leaders. According to its own confession, the W.P., when it split, was still ready to defend Russia if it was attacked. (Shachtman in The New International, April 1940; after the split). The split, as the W.P. insisted, was on the organizational question. Here are some of the charges: (Quoted from “War and Bureaucratic Conservatism,” reprinted in The Struggle for the Proletarian Party)

“Comrade Goldman is a prominent supporter of Cannon.. He himself has often declared that he supports the Cannon leadership and regime, independently of agreement or disagreement on policies. During the course of the present dispute, when the question of the invasion of Poland by the Red Army was before the P.C., Goldman ... supported cannon in general, and acted as a chief spokesman a for the Cannon political and the organizational motions, in spite of the fact that the political motions conflicted flatly with his own expressed opinion.” (p. 267-268)

Follows another atrocity-story of some 300 words.

“Consider the way already described in which the majority at the plenum ‘endorsed’ the long article on the ‘Russian question.’ Some of them had not even read it in its entirety; none of them could possibly have studied and assimilated it, and the complete document was not even on hand. (p. 275)

“The New York organization has been slipping away from the Cannon influence? Luckily, just before a local convention, Cochran turns up in New York...” (p 278)

Follows another atrocity-story.

“The Organization Committee, discussing the severe financial crisis... After the defeat of the Cannon faction at the New York City convention... the phenomenal crisis disappears overnight.” (p. 279)

“Two other points were of interest in connection with this revealing incident. Cannon did not go to the back of the hall – nor does he usually on such occasions. Why not?” (p. 282)

Here is a question which will live in history. Why didn’t Cannon go to the back of the hall?

The S.W.P. Majority leaders were accused of Cannon-worship.

“On organizational questions he (Weiss) declared he had found Cannon right 999 times out of 1000...” (p. 283)

“A more revolting occurrence took place at one of the N.C. meetings...” (p. 283)

“Or more recently and still more revealing...” (p. 284)

“It is because... Cannon towers above his fellow committee members as Lenin towered above his.” (p283)

The cultist here impugned is Morrow.

“... Clarke ended up a speech in favor of Cannon by demanding in a loud and belligerent voice: ‘Does anyone here dare to deny that Cannon is the one outstanding leader of this party?” (p.284)

For some more atrocity-stories:

“We will illustrate... with three decisive examples. On New Year’s Eve of the last year comrades Dunne and ‘Smith’ Minneapolis of suddenly appeared in New York...” (p. 286)

The above is what remains of the “organizational question” of 1940. But it is precisely this type of politics that has been refurbished since 1945 and peddled around the International for the past two years by the W.P. as the authority on Cannonite “bureaucratism.”


It takes political expression as the “all-inclusive party.” Yet the whole concept of the all-inclusive party, as propagated by the W.P., is an all-inclusive fraud. In 1940, the Minority was offered every, conceivable minority right that could be desired. Burnham at that time had declared that Russia was not a workers’ state. He stood for unconditional defeatism He stated “I find about 75 per cent of what Engels wrote in these latter fields (philosophy, logic, natural science, and scientific method) to be confused or outmoded by subsequent scientific investigation – in either case of little value.” (In Defense of Marxism, p. 190.) He also said at that time: “Why Marx, Engels and Lenin believed in dialectics is a problem for psychological and historical examination and stands on its own feet.” (Ibid., p. 193.) In Trotsky’s opinion, the leaders of the opposition “in their attempts to divorce sociology from dialectical materialism and politics from sociology... have broken from Marxism and become the transmitting mechanism for petty-bourgeois empiricism.” (In Defense of Marxism, p. 93.) If was “a question of nothing more or less than an attempt to reject, disqualify and overthrow the theoretical foundations, the political principles and organizational methods of our movement.” (Ibid.) Johnson and others had declared themselves unconditional defeatists. Yet Trotsky had proposed that all minority tendencies were to be included in. the party with full rights, participation in .party work, publication of all their views and literary continuation of the discussion, in public. The S.W.P. offered it officially. Trotsky backed it with all his authority. That would have been an “all-inclusive party.”

But the all-inclusive party of the W.P., seen in its context, is nothing more than a continuation on a higher plane of their original position in 1940, deprived of the hope that democratic dynamism would show “bureaucratic conservatism” how to build the party. Convinced of the backwardness of, the American proletariat, terrified by the typically American petty-bourgeois fear of Stalinism, the W.P, leadership has developed a theory which is nothing but the purest expression of petty-bourgeois radicalism unable to reconcile itself with the bourgeoisie, lacking a Social-Democratic party which it can “enter” and therefore seeking a niche for itself in Bolshevism where it can nourish all its petty-bourgeois deviations undisturbed.

It is imperative to explain the W.P. to the W.P. The W.P. leaders, for example, believe that their party is a genuinely democratic party. Everybody can express his views, nobody is “suppressed.” In reality, as a revolutionary organization, it is politically the most bureaucratic conceivable. The party, apart from the leadership, consists of three layers, a layer of party stalwarts – people who have been in the party for years, cannot think of existence outside of the party, and have the attitude, my party, right or wrong. They are Shachtman’s cadre – for the most part Carterites. They maintain the party.

It is their party in more senses than they think. Despite their devotion the best negative thing that could happen to the party is that these elements should leave in a body. The second layer consists of a younger grouping with similar political ideas as the above but anxious to build the party. They are the ones who have been hardest hit by the degeneration which began in 1946. Some of them, misguided as they were, did striking work in the unions in New York, in Buffalo, in Los Angeles. They do not know what to do next. Finally, there are the men who had some leadership in the labor movement and were looking for help, as they saw it – help in the union struggle; genuine proletarian rank and file types; Negroes; the youth, eager for knowledge and enthusiastic for the revolution. A party is a whole, a totality, but the leadership must reflect the vanguard of the party. Now the social vanguard of the party is the third element, the least vocal, the least educated in Marxism, the most diffident in expressing themselves among the fast-talking layers above, but revolutionary, sensitive to the movement of the proletariat and potentially great recruiters, once they clarify themselves. These represent the mass outside.


It is precisely here that the W.P. shows the most bureaucratic tendencies. It has never understood the third layer, never listened to them, never learnt anything from them. It has never been able to see that if these were always attracted by what it called “Johnsonism” and had to be beaten off from becoming “Johnsonites,” it was because “Johnsonism” represented what they and those outside whom they represented are looking for. Instead of diving deeper and deeper into Marxist theory, the only way of learning to understand this layer and to appreciate .and translate into concrete politics their abiding and concrete hostility to bourgeois society, the W.P., with typical petty-bourgeois arrogance, is dominated by the idea that for them everything had to be simplified and popularized. Its conception of the relationship of the leadership to the party is only a purer distillation of what it thinks is the relationship between the party and the masses. Its Bible has been Lenin’s mistaken conception in What Is to Be Done that the party alone, the intellectuals, can bring socialist consciousness to the masses. Trotsky took care in his last book to expose Lenin’s error, and showed that Lenin himself admitted it. The book shows with hitherto unrevealed insight and perspective the dialectical relation between leadership and rank and file from the beginning of Russian Bolshevism to its end.

The W. P. leadership had hundreds and hundreds of this type of worker come in and go. It taught them nothing. It learnt nothing from them. Its conception was that the unionist had to be given unionism and the rank and file worker wanted the politics of “Plenty for All.” Everything, every new idea, came from above down. The W.P. had to do this because it did not know how to do otherwise. This is the practice that corresponds to what it calls “the role of the party.” The W.P., eating itself up about what Cannon “and his clique” did bureaucratically to Goldman or to Morrow, does not know that its whole conception is bureaucratic to the last degree. Argument will do no good here. Only a party full of “raw workers” can cure this tendency. With its false political premises, the more strenuously it proletarianized itself, the more it fortified its petty-bourgeois bureaucratic (i.e. from above) prejudices.

If the Johnson-Forest tendency has been able to make any contributions to Bolshevism, it has been because for it the study of the Hegelian dialectic in its Marxist form, of Marxian economics, and of the method of the great Marxist revolutionaries is nothing more than intellectual preparation and the purging of bourgeois ideas in order to be able to understand and interpret and organize the instinctive drive and revolutionary instincts of the rank and file proletarian and the petty-bourgeois but idealistic and eager youth. It is our tendency which rescued some of .the finest elements in the W.P. from leaving the movement altogether. On the other hand, without them and what they brought into our ranks from the proletariat outside, the leaders of the tendency would have had merely some sound but abstract ideas and would have been unable to make our most precious discovery, to see in the movement of the masses today the concrete expression of Marx’s most abstract conceptions.


Equally self-deceiving is the W.P.’s interminable accusation against the S.W.P. that it practices the “leader-cult.” In reality, the “leader-cult” in the W.P. is of the most pervasive and comprehensive type. The Johnson-Forest tendency, the S.W.P., the Fourth International, have a deaf political line on most issues. Those who, according to the W.P. are “friends” or mere “hand-raisers” at the very least express their “friendship” for, or raise their hands to, a political line. The W.P. has no policy, neither on the character of the epoch nor the nature of the Stalinist parties nor on American perspectives nor on the Negro question. There is most complete “democracy” – a perfect example of a democratic jungle. But in politics at a given moment, it is necessary to say something decisive. The party learns then from Shachtman what the line is and in its uncertainty and confusion must follow. Behind all the anarchistic freedom of speech, the one solid political reality is Shachtman’s political response at a given moment to the political and organizational pressures by which be decides the political line for today. The result is the leader principle and clique politics carried to an extreme degree. The W.P. leadership, the W.P. membership have not the faintest conception of these things.

Given the perspectives of the W.P. leaders, the “all-inclusive party,” concerned only with sects, grouplets, and shades of opinion, is exactly the kind of party they want. They are concerned with the party not as an instrument of struggle for the proletariat but for the protection, as they say officially and unofficially, “of the ideological life” of minorities. In this the W.P. reflects faithfully the petty-bourgeois terror before the mighty conflicts and needs of the day. As the petty-bourgeois democrats of all stripes seek to protect the democracy of elections and votes in a world going to pieces, so the petty-bourgeois revolutionaries seek frantically to preserve democratically the views and their “ideological life.” This for them is the party. They and those they win over are the only ones who have the correct ideas and without them humanity is lost. In this ridiculous preoccupation, so insisted on, they betray the whole bankruptcy of their perspectives, national and international, and the developed stage of their degeneration. For nothing but a totalitarian regime, and that not indefinitely, can suppress the historical vindication of political views. Not even the totalitarian regime can prevent the living of “an ideological life.” And nowhere in the world is there so rich an opportunity of living “an ideological life” as in the struggle for Bolshevism against American imperialism and the social and intellectual prejudices it has fostered.

These words are sharp. We stand by them. Let all tendencies note this. A genuine Bolshevism is vigilant against tendencies to bureaucratic practices or conservatism which constantly appear in all organizations, not excluding the W.P. Such critical vigilance is not only welcomed but encouraged by any confident and far-seeing leadership especially when this critical vigilance comes from the ranks. But the political use of accusations of bureaucracy by the W.P., a practice rooted in its false politics, has attained a pitch of frenzy and fetishism in the last two years which has poisoned party life in the United States and will continue to do so for a long time to come unless there is a concerted effort at rooting it out. Of this perversion of the term “bureaucratism” the Johnson-Forest tendency is a mortal enemy. We know its roots and we have seen its consequences. And we have subordinated and will subordinate any legitimate complaints or doubts that we may have about this or that procedure in our Movement until this canker is destroyed.

The more experienced leaders of the Johnson-Forest tendency know this canker for what it is. When we say that it has poisoned the movement in the United States we know what we are talking about. Our own ranks have stood up against this barrage with remarkable loyalty to the principles and methods that the leadership put forward as a guide. But it would be idle to believe that they have not been affected by what has affected the whole American movement from one end to the other. Anyone abroad, group or tendency, who does not lend his aid to clearing away this miasma is only piling up obstacles between the American revolutionary movement and the proletariat. For some of those newly-come into the movement, the term Cannon is as synonymous, with the term “Cannonite bureaucracy” as the name Stalin is synonymous with the term “Stalinist bureaucracy.” Of the Stalinist bureaucracy it is said at least that it prevents the progress of the permanent revolution at home and abroad. For two years, the W.P. has never said, not once, that the existence of the “Cannonite bureaucracy” impedes the building of the party in the United States. It is a purely psychological characterization, devoid of political content and for that reason, a shameful crime.

The Johnson-Forest tendency has declared itself in regard to the perpetual charges of bureaucracy made by the W.P. against the S.W.P. We have taken a rigid attitude to it. We reprint here for the sake of the record what our attitude has been.

“The W.P. does not unduly concern itself with problems such as Hansen’s article on Cannon and controversy in the S.W.P. about the rights of intellectuals to criticize the party and the publication or non-publication of letters, etc. It does not give the slightest credence to the conception that a party cannot be built with Cannon. It is confident that if Cannon or Cannonism or any other individual or tendency stands in the way of building the Fourth International in the United States, then the revolutionary cadres in both the W.P. and the S.W.P. will either defeat such individuals or tendencies or thereby prove their inability to defeat the bourgeoisie. The W.P. makes its main attack on Cannon’s regime its refusal to enter honestly into fusion negotiations. This refusal betrays its stultifying monolithic conceptions. The W.P. recognizes that, the mere acceptance of fusion between the two parties would strike a death blow at the monolithic conception. All other preoccupations are subordinate, disorient the membership of both parties and strengthen the Cannonite miseducation in the rank and file of-the S.W.P. on unity.” (“The Task of Building the Bolshevik Party,” Convention Bulletin No. 3, March 28, 1946, p. 23)

Our attitude on this matter has been one of firm abstention. It is possible and necessary now, however, to concretize this. Our concretization however, deals not with the S.W.P. but with the W.P.


1. The W.P. for three years kept the political analysis of the Russian state by the Johnson-Forest tendency out of the pages of The New International and the internal bulletin. Even the offer, after a long period of continuous excuses and evasions, to print in the internal bulletin, was confined to eight type-written pages. After six months had passed and even these eight pages were not printed, the tendency then withdrew, its document. We kept this piece of “bureaucracy” fully documented.

2. In 1945, the Majority officially made it clear to Johnson that if he insisted on the publication in the New International of his article against the I.K.D. without moderating “the tone,” Shachtman would reply in a manner that would make it impossible for Johnson to remain in the party. The original article is available for whoever wants to see. Nothing in it faintly approaches the abuse heaped upon the Fourth International month after month in The New International by the I.K.D. In fact, Johnson’s article had no abuse and merely characterized the I.K.D. as petty-bourgeois revisionists of the worst type that the movement has yet seen. Because political positions between the Majority and Minority had not been made clear, Johnson decided not to fight the issue at that time and changed the article.

3. Before 1945, Shachtman, in private and in public, repeatedly made it clear to the Minority that he would prefer them out of the party. In 1945, however, the W.P. leadership, recognizing the failure of “democratic dynamism,” turned from politics to organization and began to smooth the way for the S.W.P. Minority. Then suddenly the presence of the Johnson Minority “with all its differences” became one of the brightest jewels in the crown of the W.P.

Only a few members of the tendency itself knew all this. Many members of the Johnson-Forest tendency have known of these incidents only recently. The leaders of the tendency did not spread them around in the party. In our organizational resolution of 1946 we wrote baldly in a dozen words that no Minority be invited to leave the party. The Majority pretended not to notice this. We had included it merely, to safeguard ourselves for despite the new honeymoon period initiated by the unity negotiations, we did not know what the future would bring. To Shachtman’s perpetual attempts to involve Johnson in an attack upon “the bureaucracy” of his regime, we invariably replied; “The term bureaucracy as you use it has no application either to the S.W.P. or the W.P. We do not believe the ‘regime’ of the S.W.P. is very bad and we do not believe your ‘regime’ is very good.”

Our attitude to the question of regime is therefore one of long standing. It was not invented in order to be “obsequious” to the S.W.P. We have said just enough to show that we lived up to it in the W.P. itself despite severe provocation.

We ask those who are following this controversy to declare openly where they stand and why. We have been reticent on the matter. We shall be so no longer. We are not “defending” the S.W.P. We have seen the effect of all this on our own membership. We have tried to educate them along the following lines. We say to them:

“Your political positions are safe and will be tested by history and by an organized exchange of opinion. The present situation in the United States demands that you cease to concern yourselves with the perpetual inner-party politics and attempts to win people from one group of Trotskyites to another. That is the ingrown, sectarian approach which is the heritage of the propagandist past and a sign of bankruptcy before the needs and tasks of the proletariat and the party today. Turn your minds outward. The S.W.P. has a proletarian base which has accumulated years of experience and knowledge. Make it your main (business to get to know them, learn all you can from them, contact the proletariat with them, learn and evaluate their past experiences with them, test your own experiences and ideas with them. Disabuse yourself of the idea that your task is to find out how far they differ with you on our theoretical estimate of the American situation, perspectives and tasks. Avoid theoretical conflicts. They are ahead, a multitude of them. A party of a few hundreds can become a party of thousands and then a mass party only by perpetual conflict, groupings and regroupings. The real concrete conflicts in the American movement will begin when there are some thousands of workers in the party. Nobody knows who will be on which side and what will be the sides. These conflicts will come. What is required now is to get rid of the heritage of the type of conflict represented by the 1940 split and by Goldman and Morrow.

“Against the perpetual playing about with fundamentals which characterized the W.P. Majority we had one task, a constant battle over principles, a perpetual suspiciousness and hostility to their Menshevik tendencies. In the unified party the task is entirely different and demands a new orientation on your part. The S.W.P. is a proletarian tendency. It will be your party, its leaders your leaders. The greatest danger for you is to be nervous and sensitive for the signs of this bureaucracy which has played so great a part in the perverted political life and conceptions of the W;P. But some of you have secret doubts about bureaucracy. Remember this. The constant accusations of an uncontrolled bureaucratism leveled against the S.W.P. by the W..P. is an attack not against Cannon as they think but on the membership, the revolutionary vanguard in the United States, who are considered so blind, so dumb, so bureaucratized that they cannot see what has to be taught them by the W.P. Any complaints about bureaucracy must come from the S.W.P. membership, its rank and file. When they talk about bureaucracy, it will mean something. All other fury about bureaucracy is a sign of political stupidity, political insensitiveness, political bankruptcy and the sure road to political suicide. The members of the Johnson-Forest tendency must shun it for the Menshevism that it is.”

This, in every possible way, we have taught the members of our tendency. We believe that they have grasped it. Henceforth the major responsibility for their integration into the S.W.P. rests not with us, but with the S.W.P. majority.