Balance Sheet of Trotskyism in the United States, 1940-1947 by C L R James 1947
Shachtman is beside himself with rage that we as a tendency are careful what we say in regard to the S.W.P. and how we say it. Our bold Bolshevik considers all this “capitulation” and “obsequiousness” and raises his cohorts to admire his firm intransigent Bolshevik mien, the fearless manner in which he gets hold of private correspondence, the Leninist audacity with which he publishes it, the loving mutual trust and confidence and understanding with which he and his colleagues mutually and frankly agree to disagree on every important political question before the movement today.
For our part we have been away from the S.W.P. for Eleven years. We have had .’our own experiences. We are clarifying them by ourselves, among other reasons because we do not wish the impact of our views on the International to be weakened by accusations of dark maneuvers, conspiracy and collusion, charges which constitute the main political stock-in-trade of the W.P. This is our balance sheet with the W.P., our experiences, our analyses, our views. We are writing no balance with the S.W.P. We propose to deal here with the S.W.P. only insofar as its political and organizational activities affected the ‘development of the W.P. and our struggle in it. Shortly after this appears, we hope to be members of the S.W.P. Under these circumstances we have the responsibility of being guided in anything we say, or in saying anything at all, by the needs, interests, and discipline of the party to which we shall belong. Let the W.P. yelp and howl about capitulation.
During the struggle of 1940 the SWP supplemented the comprehensive analysis and method of Trotsky in adequate and sometimes permanently valuable fashion. In particular, Cannon’s document, The Struggle For a Proletarian Party is an outstanding contribution to American Bolshevism and from its very concreteness, to Bolshevism in general. We recommend it to all the comrades of the movement, at home and abroad.
But the S.W.P. has made some serious mistakes, not errors of fact or exaggeration but political errors. It has made them from the very beginning, has never abjured them, and these have vitally affected the American experience. The S.W.P. in 1940 believed that the Minority represented a group of petty-bourgeois who were afraid of. the struggle
against American imperialism in war time. The S.W.P. leaders not only said so in the unbridled verbal polemic which accompanies a sharp faction fight, but wrote this over and over again. Thus Cannon in his speech on the Russian Question at the very beginning of the dispute October 15, 1939 declared: “Defensists at home were defeatists on Russia. Defensists on Russia were defeatists at home.” (Struggle for a Proletarian Party p. 212.) This was on October 15, 1939. Summarizing the perspectives in the Fourth International of May 1940 the S.W.P. wrote:
“The internal fight was imposed upon the party by the war. Disoriented by the war, or rather by the approach of war, a section of the leadership turned their backs on the program, which had been elaborated in years of struggle in preparation for the war. Overnight they forgot the principles which they had defended jointly with us up to the very day of the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact. These soldiers of peace had evidently assimilated the ideas of Bolshevism only as a set of literary formulas. They wrote endlessly, and sometimes cleverly, in favor of them. But the moment the formulas were put to the test of life – or rather the threat of such a test, for America has not yet entered the war – the literary exponents crumpled miserably and shamefully. And with amazing speed.” (The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, p. 243.)
The S.W.P. made direct organic connection between the Russian question and the war question. Yet when official opinion began to shout for a war in alliance with Russia, the W.P. opposed both the war and Russia. On the role of Russia in the war, and after, the W.P., has become more than ever convinced that events have justified its position in 1940. This, no doubt, the S.W.P. and the International understand. But it is impossible to believe that the International understands all that is involved when in his article on Poland (Fourth International, February 1947) a leading writer of the Movement could make the inexcusable blunder of repeating 1940 all over again and prophesying that Shachtman’s position on Poland would lead to the support of the American democracy in the coming war.
The W.P., having shaken off Burnham without a tremor, contrary to the expectations of the S.W.P., went its way full of confidence because the S.W.P. seemed to be attacking, not the W.P., but a figment of its own imagination. This confidence was enormously increased by certain actions of the S.W.P. on this very war question. The S.W.P. failed to make a formal declaration of opposition at the beginning of the imperialist war. If put forward a theory of telescoping the imperialist war with the anti-Fascist war which shocked the comrades of the W.P. immeasurably. Shachtman at the time handled this with firmness, moderation and good sense. We recommend to him the same qualities in treating this question in the next period.
The second serious error was in regard to proletarianization and the building of the party. The S.W.P., and here Trotsky was equally in error, believed that the W.P. was afraid of the hard task of penetrating into the workers’ milieu. The S.W.P. continued to believe this when every shred of evidence pointed to the contrary.
No party of the Fourth International, none ever sought to proletarianize itself more intensively than the W.P. It has worn itself out trying to build a party among the workers. Day in and day out it has maintained a firm class line. It turned its back upon the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. It has maintained a smoothly functioning organization for several years by devotion, sacrifice, tenacity and organizational skill. This is no mean achievement. The leading staff has shown itself the absolute opposite of purely literary tendencies. It has been, ready at all times for hard day-to-day work in the proletarian milieu, in the provinces. How to build the party has dominated the organization from, first to last, particularly between 1940 and 1945, when it began to doubt itself. It was only impotence which turned it back to literary and international polemics and “the bureaucratic jungle.” Its failure therefore has been a political failure, a failure of its political conceptions in the United States. Yet most of the polemics of the S.W.P. seemed to be directed against what it conceived the W.P. to be in 1940 and not as it concretely developed over the years.
Why were the mistakes so serious and why were they made in the first place? The answer is of national and international importance. Today the whole international struggle is on a far higher plane than it was in 1914. Bolsheviks like Kamenev could waver on the policy of defeatism in 1914. In 1939 the various organizations of the International stood firm down almost to the last rank and filer. The attractive power of imperialism had declined below zero. To have expected the W.P. to capitulate to the war was a false analysis not so much of the W.P. ‘as of our epoch. From this a conclusion of international importance can be drawn. In our day (tomorrow it may change) but in our day opportunism in the revolutionary ranks does not express itself on the war question as it did with the Social Democracy in 1914. Imperialism and its reformist supporters are too discredited. The firmest opposition to the war can be accompanied or followed by the crassest opportunism on the question of the revolution.
If this is true everywhere, and we believe that it is, it was particularly true in the United States. The objective situation in the United States afforded no intermediate bridge between a revolutionary tendency and the Democratic Party of Roosevelt, Bilbo, and Rankin. Not merely their subjective qualities and the long training of the Fourth International, both of which we would be the last to underestimate, but objective class and political relations in the United States helped to keep the Workers Party on the correct path. The decisive social and political feature of the United States governing all aspects of its life, including its intellectual life, is the absence of a mass Social-Democratic Party. It is the source of the greatest weakness to Bolshevism but a source also of its greatest strength. In 1941 there was no social or political temptation to social patriotism or reformism. Not only negatively but positively this absence gave advantages. The absence of the mass political party compelled a revolutionary tendency to go to the proletariat in the process of production itself. There was no other way of making contact with the workers. Finally when Shachtman in 1945 realized that “democratic dynamism” had failed, being a revolutionary in the United States, the only road that lay open was the road back to the S.W.P. All this is rooted in the conditions of the United States. These are the conditions under which American Bolshevism functions and which must dictate strategy.
By 1945, contrary to expectations, the S.W.P., like other tendencies in the Fourth International, had not become a mass party. Contrary to all expectations of the S.W.P., the W.P. had not disintegrated. Far from it. It had shown an exceptional vitality. It was necessary to incorporate these valuable, experienced comrades, or as many. as possible, into an organization for their own sake. Secondly in self-defense it was necessary to do so. The wretched events of the last two years shows this. In 1945 the situation in the W.P. was ripe for intervention. The comrades were dissatisfied with the result of four years’ work and were looking for a lead. Where could they look but to the .S.W.P.? They looked to the S.W.P. At that time the S.W.P. was thought to be growing by leaps and bounds. Its progress was the subject of ‘constant discussion and if not discussion, careful observations by the most thoughtful members of the W.P. The Militant began to be read and discussed and compared with Labor Action, a fact which has been registered in party documents. Many comrades of the W.P. in 1945 were relatively unprejudiced. Some of us were very sympathetic to the S.W.P., but the most sober, careful reading of The Militant failed to show any distinctive difference in the treatment of the American question. In fact during the G.M. strikes there was deep dissatisfaction in the W.P. with the way the party had reacted. The W.P. leadership politically volatile, can sometimes make a quick response to a situation, just as the Mensheviks in Russia used to; only like them to lapse afterwards into pessimism. The W.P. leadership made a serious effort to meet the situation. W.P. members, still searching, looked carefully at The Militant. It was widely noted and commented upon that after its bad beginning on the G.M. crisis, the W.P. press showed distinct advantages. In this period Shachtman declared that The Militant was revolutionary on Siam, Ceylon and all over the world but did not rise above the trade union level on the American Question. We can testify that this was neither a gibe nor a sneer. It was a serious evaluation at a time when serious evaluations were being made. The W.P., half in self-defense and half in general interest, made a careful examination of the numerical strength of the S.W.P.. Its union policies were subjected to a serious scrutiny by members of the W.P. who had experience in the unions. They genuinely opposed the S.W.P. policy. But during all this, the S.W.P. continued to denounce the W.P. in terms of 1940.
The whole Goldman-Morrow campaign for unity, the Goldman split, the intrigues and maneuvers surrounding it gave terrible blows to the moral and the political development of the W.P. and its attitude to the S.W.P. The refusal of the S.W.P. to take a clear position gave Shachtman free rein for his campaign on “the bureaucratic jungle” and the “unique contributions” of the W.P. in regard to foreign politics. The S.W.P. fell headlong into the snare. First it refused to countenance the possibility of unity. Then it entered into unity discussions without making any definite pronouncement. Then it broke off the unity discussions and entered into violent polemics with the W.P. about all the disputed questions, all except the one question on which the W.P. was patently bankrupt and on which its leadership least wanted discussion – the building of the party in the United States. As late as the summer of 1946 the S.W.P. issued a violent attack upon the W.P. consisting of many thousands of words. But on the American question the differences pointed out were wild allegations about the Bohemian, anarchistic character of the W.P. in the unions, and the crimes of the W.P. in not supporting the Candidates of the A.L.P., Frankensteen in Detroit etc., incidents about which there could be arguments on both sides and which were obviously vastly inflated out of their real proportions.
The S.W.P. promulgated a theory of a politically homogeneous party which does not stand examination either from Marxist theory, the history of Bolshevism or its own attitude in 1940. Suddenly it tore this theory to pieces by its proposals for unity which enabled Shachtman to say that the new party would be even more all-inclusive than the W.P. because it would include the tendencies in the W.P. plus those in the S.W.P. Under the undoubted provocations of the W.P., the S.W.P. repeated the mistakes of 1945, declared once more that it proposed to discuss all over again the political issues which had been discussed ad nauseam. In other words it played once more into the hands of the W.P. leadership. The result is a horrible confusion in all ranks as to what exactly constitutes a Bolshevik party, and the Fourth International in the United States presents a demoralizing spectacle of suspicions, antagonisms, vacillations and confusion which represent a grievous decline from previous standards.
Never did the S.W.P. recognize the concrete positive achievements of the W.P. and its perpetual preoccupation with the problem of building the party. It offered nothing to the positive elements in the W.P. as a whole. It saw only Shachtman’s “unique contributions” which as we have pointed out, exercised little attraction for the W.P. membership. It carried on the discussion solely on that plane. Worse still, even when the Johnson-Forest Minority appeared in the W.P., an opposition attacking these very “unique contributions” in the most fundamental manner possible, the S.W.P. ignored it. The S.W.P. read the convention documents of 1946 in which the Johnson-Forest Minority gave an extremely bold indication of its position on the fundamental theoretical issue underlying the 1940 split. Orienting not only towards unification on paper but unification in method, we analyzed all tendencies as parts of the prospective whole, and made comparisons between the two ‘parties which have never been made by any minority which did not contemplate a split. We condemned the Goldman-Morrow faction for its course. Then came the first intervention of the S.W.P. It was purely organizational, an intimation that in its opinion the Johnson-Forest Minority should split from the W.P. We protested against this both for its national and international implications. The protest has been justified by events.
What was needed? What is still needed? An unreserved acceptance of the unity proposals, some comprehensive and more concretised plan such as Trotsky had worked out in 1940, theoretical intransigence and organizational flexibility, coupled with the thesis on the American Revolution, would have put the “organizational question” in its place. No such policy was forthcoming.
As far as the conception of the homogeneous party affects the S.W.P., we are quite unperturbed. As we have always insisted, the mere fact of unity would have deprived the homogeneous combat party conception of all monolithic connotations. Least of all, were we disturbed by all the lamentations and head-shaking of the W.P. at the “docility” of the S.W.P. membership. A party which sat quietly through Shachtman’s advocacy of the retrogressionist thesis, watched it flower for years in The New International, calmly accepted his opposition to it, and now in all probability will accept it again, all without a murmur, cannot agitate us about the way the S.W.P. membership accepted “no unity,” then accepted “unity,” all “at the command” of the leadership. We are concerned here with the reinforcement that the concept has given to Shachtman’s false politics and his double-talk campaign for the “all-inclusive party.”
The Johnson-Forest tendency from the beginning’ rested its attitude toward unity on the objective situation in the United States. We append here our resolution on unity which we presented to the 1946 Convention. We placed it, of set purpose, in our American resolution. For us, unity has never been an organizational question but a question rooted in the needs of the American Revolution.
“The nature of the coming struggles and the difficulties and opportunities that face both the American proletariat and the revolutionary party in the United States demand the unity of the two groups which on an international and national scale stand on the principles of the Fourth International.
“The division between the two organizations is a cause of scandal for the Fourth International in the United States, confuses the proletariat, and diverts the energy and attention of the membership.
“Unity is needed so that the Fourth International may take advantage of the possible formation of an Independent Labor Party. Experience in Europe has proved to the Trotskyist movement the difficulty of persuading workers of the organizational conclusions of Bolshevism unless the revolutionary party is of sufficient force to attract them. Experience has also proved the necessity of a strong Bolshevik organization to resist the attractive power of a mass Labor Party.
“In a few months the two organizations will be publishing between them the equivalent of a four page daily paper in the United States. Around the organization of such a tremendous weapon of the class struggle, there is the possibility of rapidly creating a political organization which will stamp itself upon the consciousness of the United States as a serious contender for leadership of the revolutionary proletariat.
“The greatest obstacle in the path of the development of the Fourth International in the United States is Stalinism. The greatest blow the Trotskyist movement in the United States can deal the Stalinists is the formation of a united organization. There is emerging in the United States a general tendency toward revolution which is at the same time hostile to Stalinism. The Fourth International in the United States cannot organize, develop and expand this tendency as long as it is divided into two groups. The new line of the Stalinists and the difficulties which it creates for the Fourth International are doubled and quadrupled by the division between the two organizations.
“Both the leadership of the Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party pose the question of unity in organizational terms, whereby they once again demonstrate their imperfect grasp of the radicalization of the American proletariat and the lagging behind of the revolutionary organization. The Socialist Workers Party, in particular, by viewing such successes as it way gain in relation to the Workers Party and not in relation to the needs of the proletariat, betrays criminal and sectarian blindness. The unprincipled maneuvers of the Socialist Workers Party in regard to the question of Unity betrays the sectarian factionalism of the old propagandist circle and its incapacity to understand the needs of the American proletariat today.
“The only .serious, barrier, to, unity, the problem of the, harmonious functioning of -two. organizations with different political views, is in the last analysis to be solved by the proletariat. Both organizations recognize in theory and practice that the success of the Fourth International is rooted in the maintenance of closest contact with the proletariat. The safeguard for the maintenance of unity against irresponsible factionalism in both patties is growth of the revolutionary party in correspondence with the opportunities and responsibilities which will be presented to it by the .march of the American proletariat toward the social revolution. .
“In its readiness to sacrifice its independence and subordinate its political line to the majority in a unified organization, the W.P. shows the genuineness of its claims to leadership of the American proletariat. Under the circumstances, however, its first task is to build itself a mass base in the American proletarian vanguard. But at the same time, it will miss no legitimate opportunity to pose before the Fourth International in the United States and the American proletariat the objective necessity for unity and the reactionary role played by those who stand in its way.” (Resolution on the American Question, Feb. 25, 1946 p. 40-41)
In essence that was our position on unity from the first day, and all succeeding events have strengthened it. Shachtman has recently contributed substantially to the failure of the unity negotiations by his peculiar political conceptions which we have sufficiently analyzed. On account of this apolitical method, he has never been able to make any serious analysis of the S.W.P. policy on unity nor go beyond interminable speculations into Cannon’s character and motives. It is one of the greatest crimes of the W.P. leaders that for them all political actions of the S.W.P. are to ‘be explained only in terms of some evil machinations or empirical political needs of the arch-conspirator and maneuverer, Cannon. We oppose this devil theory of politics root and branch. The disgusting probing into Cannon’s “hunches” which characterizes Goldman’s article on unity in the New International (July, 1947) constitutes the very dregs of politics. For us the attitude of the S.W.P. on unity is a question of political examination of political policy within the American environment.
No serious solution to the unity question can be attempted until some serious analysis is established on the role and the attitude of the S.W.P. to unity. It is in our view, a strictly political question and in it is bound up much of the past and future of the movement.
The key document is not the voluminous and for the most part wearisome documents on unity. It is the speech of Cannon at the November Convention of the S.W.P. entitled “The, Coming American Revolution.” In it occurs the following passage:
“Another question may well be asked: What is new in the ‘Theses on the American Revolution presented by the National Committee?
“In one sense it can be said that nothing is new; for all our work has been inspired by, and all struggles with opportunist tendencies have been derived from, a firm confidence on our part in the coming victory of the American workers.
“In another sense it can be said that everything is new; for in the theses of the National Committee on the American revolution we are now stating, explicitly and concretely, what has always been implied in our fight with opportunist organizations, groups and tendencies on questions which were derivative from the main outlook of ours
“That has been the underlying significance of our long struggle to build a homogeneous combat party. That has been the meaning of our stubborn and irreconcilable fight for a single: program uniting the party as a whole, for a democratic and centralized and disciplined party with a professional leadership; for principled politics; for the proletarianization of the party composition; for the concentration of the party on trade union work (‘trade-unionization of the party’); and, if I may say so without being misunderstood, for its ‘Americanization.’ All of this derived from our concept of the realism of revolutionary prospects in America, arise of the necessity to create a party with that perspective in mind.
“In short, we have worked and struggled to build a party fit to lead a revolution in the United States. At the bottom of all our conceptions was the. basic conception that the proletarian revolution is a realistic proposition in
this country, and not merely a far-off ‘ultimate goal,’ to be referred to on ceremonial occasions.
“I say that is not new. In fact, it has often been expressed by many of us, including Trotsky in personal articles and speeches. But only now, for the first time, has it been incorporated in a programmatic document of the party, that’s what is now in our ‘Theses on the American Revolution.’ We are now stating explicitly what before was implied.
“For the first time, the party as a party is posing concretely the fundamental question of the perspectives of the American Revolution.” (The Coming American Revolution p. 18)
That is the key to the past, the present and the future of the American movement. Hic Rhodus, hic salta. Here is Rhodes, leap here. The old quotation which has been so popular among Marxists since Marx used it nearly 100 years ago must ring in the ears of the American movement with all its historical overtones, until all serious elements, emerge with a united policy. A revolutionary party in any country lacks sound foundations unless the perspectives of the revolution in that country are the granite foundation of the program and explicit in every branch and shade of its activity. Precisely this and nothing else but this has been at the root of all the difficulties in the United States. Read the quoted passage again. What should have been the foundation and the banner was only “implicit.” It was only of “underlying significance” It was “our concept.” It was “at the bottom” of all our conceptions. It was a “perspective in mind.” It was “the meaning” of the struggle to build the party. It was expressed in “personal” articles and speeches. Exactly. And it is precisely this that should, have been dragged out into the open and made the axis of all party thought and party life, confident, militant, aggressive, and all-pervading. It is because of this weakness in the program that the conflicts in the American movement have taken the miserable form that they have taken. We do not mean to say that splits would not have taken place, that they will not take place in the future/that comrades would not have been lost, etc. But the political struggles, the organizational relations would from the start have been sharper, clearer, concrete, and the present mess over unity, and a very shocking mess it is, would not have-taken place. We shall show this to. The last comma, for unless this is clarified, nothing will be clarified.
Cannon says that Trotsky too had “often... expressed” the idea in articles. This is not our reading of such of Trotsky’s articles and conversation as we have seen. Trotsky did not express “an idea,” he fought for its incorporation into, the very day-to-day activity, practical and theoretical, of the party in 1938. With him it may be said that it was “implicit” and “of underlying significance” up to 1938, though even this is doubtful. But from 1938 on his position was clear. In the conversations he said:
We are for a party, for an independent party of the toiling masses who will take power in the State. We must concretize it – we are for the creation of factory committees, for workers’ control of industry through the factory, committees. All these questions are now pending in the air. They speak of technocracy, and put forward the slogan of ‘production for use,’ We oppose this charlatan formula and advance the workers’ control of production through the factory committees.
“Lundberg writes a book, ‘60 Families.’ The ‘Analyst’ claims that his figures are false. We say, the factory committees should see the books. This program we must developed parallel with the idea of a labor party in the unions, and armed workers pickets; i.e., workers’ militia. Otherwise it is an abstraction and an abstraction is a weapon in the hands of the opposing class... Then we have to introduce 5 or 6 demands, very concrete, adapted to the mind of the workers and farmers and inculcated into the brain of every comrade, workers factory committees and then workers’ and farmers’ government. That’s the genuine sense of the movement.”
This is the most explicit posing of the American Revolution.
Eclecticism opposed this.
“There is not yet in the United States the danger of fascism which would bring about the sentiment of such an organization as the workers’ militia. The organization of a workers’ militia presupposes preparation for the seizure of power. This is not yet on the order of the day in the United States.”
Trotsky replied with hostility:
“Naturally we can conquer power only when we have the majority of the working class, but even in that case the workers’ militia would be a small minority. Even in the October Revolution the militia was a small minority. But the question is how to get this small minority which will be organized and armed with the sympathy of the masses. How can we do it? By preparing the mind of the masses, by propaganda. The crisis, the sharpening of class relations, the creation of a workers’ party, a Labor ‘Party signifies immediately, immediately a terrible sharpening of forces. The reaction will be immediately a fascist movement. That is why we must now connect the idea of the Labor Party with the consequences – otherwise we will appear only as pacifists with democratic illusions. Then we also have the possibility of spreading the slogans of our transitional program and see the reaction of the masses. We will see what slogans should be selected, what slogans abandoned but if we give up our slogans before the experience, before seeing the reaction of the masses, then we can never advance.”
He was as explicit as possible.
Not a line in the Transitional Program itself is anything else but proof of the fact that the programmatic incorporation of the American revolution was the central conception of Trotsky in 1939.
Now it is right here that, abstractly speaking, the split of 1940 should have taken place. And it is on this that unity must take place, or be rejected definitely and finally, or, in case unity does not work, end in an equally final and definitive split.
Faced with this analysis, as we faced it in 1946 and as the S.W.P. has never faced it in any shape or form, the W.P. twists land. squirms: like a man who has taken poison. And poison it is for its type of politics. The W.P. falls back on a shame-faced view that Trotsky was “mistaken” Thereby it spits on and tramples in the mud our whole past. Trotsky was not “mistaken” any more than Marx was “mistaken” in his perpetual preoccupation with and expectation of and preparation for involution everywhere. A Marxist cannot think otherwise. It is the basis of his thinking. And a party cannot be held together and clarified, and deal with its centrist enemies unless this is the open, unconcealed, bristlingly aggressive basis of its daily life. Trotsky was not promising a revolution to anybody. To think that the leader of the Oct. Revolution was pushing the party on to the road of adventurism and anarchism is a testimony only to the ignorance and political bankruptcy of those, who, with the world going to pieces around them in 1947, still are filled to the eyes with democratic illusions which they gratuitously attribute to the masses. Lenin was struggling in Russia from 1887 to 1917, but whether his support was 2, 2000, 200,000 or 20 million, he built always on the open, unconcealed perspective of the revolution in Russia. Trotsky points out that even in the darkest days of the reaction in Russia, they took always as their point of departure the highest peak of the 1905 Revolution. They took that peak. They had to, whatever the masses were doing. Their principled politics, their consistency, their training of their cadres, their opposition to other parties rested on this.
In our view it is from this weakness that sprang the weaknesses of the S.W.P. itself on the unity question. It has consistently failed to fight the W.P. on this issue, i.e., to Americanize its Bolshevism. A blind man could see the political and organizational differences between the two parties. But, because of tactical similarities, up to August 1946 the S.W.P. failed to differentiate itself strategically from the W.P. on the American question. The consequence of this was that the S.W.P. could see in unity nothing but a repetition of the struggle of 1940 – unless the W.P. showed that it was ready to show an utterly different orientation. The W.P. was convinced that nothing was at stake but malice, spite, plot and counter-plot. The S.W.P. was, as we see it, not unwilling to consider unity but it was determined to protect its membership from any drag-out brawl over the “unique contributions” and other rubbish of Shachtman. We who have had the experience in the W.P. know of the damaging effect the .S.W.P. attitude had on the party as a whole because we know the effect it had on ourselves, openly and in fact militantly sympathetic to the S.W.P., both politically and organizationally. As always with serious questions, we sought the political essence behind the subjective appearances.
All through the history of American radicalism this problem of reconciling, of fusing the international principles and traditions of the movement with the contradiction of social maturity and political backwardness which characterizes the United States, has .been a crucial problem of the American movement. It has been the problem simply because, seen in its growth and development, it is perhaps the central problem of all American revolutionary politics and certainly the central problem of American ‘proletarian politics. The early 1848 .Marxists faced it; the problem was present in 1886; in the early Comintern there was an Americanization wing of Cannon and Foster, and another wing which was oriented towards the European, struggles and the European center. The Trotskyist split in 1928 placed the Bolshevik-Leninists in the position where the main task was to build a movement on the international principles of the Left Opposition, alien to the whole political experience and traditions of the United States. The members of the A.W.P. came into the S.W.P. and for the most part left it. The party missed the whole C.I.O. movement. The Lovestoneites tried to become an American party and ruined themselves. The Bolshevik Party won a large group from the Socialist Party and failed to assimilate them, to such a degree that as soon as they found leaders of authority, they split the party, organized the W.P. and created the situation that has now reached its present climax. Goldman and Morrow have followed the same course. As we try to penetrate through the fog of personalities and petty accusations to grasp the historic movement, it seems to us that the speech of Cannon with its programmatic reorientation and integration of revolutionary perspectives at home marks the coming of; age of American Bolshevism. It is almost a hundred years since the movement has struggled in vain to bridge the gap on a solid basis. It is from this basis that we have learnt to view both the positive and negative elements in the W.P. After six years experience of that party we wrote in our American resolution (February 28, 1946):
“The most complete, the most overwhelming condemnation of the Party line is the following. Instead of being the central axis of Party thought, life and activity, the concept of the proletarian revolution has almost disappeared from the propaganda and agitation of the Party. The absence of this conception has resulted in a situation in which the effect of the Party’s work upon the masses is that of a left-trade union organization “with a socialist coloration.”
We persistently and militantly differentiated the S.W.P. from the W.P. because the S.W.P. never lost sight of this even though only as “an underlying conception.” Cannon’s speech puts an end to one period and all in all, coming from the leader of the S.W.P., marks the greatest advance that the American movement has. made since 1938. For the program means not a little something but everything. He says:
“One-sided internationalism – preoccupation with far off questions to the exclusion and neglect of the burning problem on one’s own doorstep – is a form of escapism from the realities at home, a caricature of internationalism...
“This presupposes first of all an attentive study of America and a firm confidence in its revolutionary perspectives...
“Trotskyism – which is only another name for Bolshevism – is a world doctrine and concerns itself with all questions of world import. But let us not forget – or rather, let some of us begin to recognize for the first time – that America, the United .States, is part of the world; in fact, its strongest and most decisive part, whose further development will be the most fateful for the whole.” (p. 21)
Our solidarity is complete. Cannon says again:
“This characterization of unrealism applies also to the new revolutionism of those who have exalted the subjective factor – meaning thereby the party and its strength or weakness at the given moment – to first place ...
“They are unrealistic, but not revolutionary-minded, for they employ their new ‘theory’ exclusively for the explanation of past defeats and anticipation and prediction of new ones. I don’t see anything revolutionary about that.” (Ibid. p. 22)
And again (on the growth of American unionism):
“These comparative figures show not growth, not simply progress, but a veritable transformation of the class. And what has been seen up to now are only the preliminary movements, the promise and the assurance of far greater movements to come. Next in order – and not far away – comes the political awakening of the American workers. That will be at the same pace and on the same scale, if not greater. The American workers will learn politics as they learned trade unionism – ‘from an abridged dictionary.’ They will take the road of independent political action with hurricane speed and power.
“That will be a great day for the future of humanity, for the American workers will not stop half way. The American workers will not stop at reformism, except perhaps to tip their hats to it. Once fairly started, they will go the whole way.” (Ibid. p 30-31)
This is our view also. In the theses which accompany the speech, it is stated:
“In one leap – in a brief decade – the American workers attained trade union consciousness on a higher plane and with mightier organizations than in any other advanced country. In the study and analysis of this great transformation, rather than in vapid ruminations over the ‘backwardness’ of the American workers, one can find the key to prospective future developments. Under the impact of great events and pressing necessities the American workers will advance beyond the limits of trade unionism and acquire political class consciousness and organization in a similar sweeping movement.” (Ibid. p.16)
We want to throw it once more in the face of the W.P. and all their chatterers about the “’Cannonite methods.” We are in complete political solidarity with this. Where do you stand?
Our stand and program on unity are based upon such a political program. This in our view concerns not only the W.P. but the whole American revolutionary movement. The evolution of the W.P., which we have followed so closely and in relation to the past of the movement, is an experience of symbolical significance. The American petty-bourgeoisie is socially closer to the proletariat than any petty-bourgeoisie in the advanced countries. This is a great advantage. It is also a great danger. Shachtman and the W.P. are symbolical of the American petty-bourgeoisie and many radical workers. Ready to fight American capitalism, but not knowing how, indulging in all sorts of crazy empiricism and then looking back at the revolutionary movement because they do not know what to do with themselves. The assimilation and integration of these and similar elements, the preservation of the revolutionary cadres of the American proletariat, however finely tempered, from petty-bourgeois ideology, the subjective aspect of this task is the education of the party in the past, present and, future of the American socialist revolution and all that this, implies. That is the great lesson to be learnt from this. Goldman and Morrow collapsed because they saw the victories of the Red Army but had no serious perspective of the victory of the American proletariat. And Morrow’s theoretical hostility to the thesis of the I.K.D. succumbed to their fantasies precisely because what should have been the source of his strength, the American proletariat, was the source of his weakness. As the party grows, these tendencies will reappear in one form or another. Mere discipline is not sufficient. The great Bolshevik ‘Central Committee’ itself, trained, educated and disciplined as no revolutionary leadership has ever been, collapsed before the always unprecedented circumstances of a proletarian revolution.
For American Bolshevism, its own development demands that it temper its cadres and move forward in militant struggle on the perspectives of the American Revolution: No one demands of the W.P. that it subscribe to what it does not believe in. All that can be demanded of it is discipline. But the W.P., faced with this, in a national and international discussion, will be put in its place once and for all.
Our program for unity, therefore, is as follows:
(1) A comprehensive systematic and planned program for the raising of the theoretical level of the party in the theory of dialectical materialism in specific relation to American thought and social development – the Americanization of Bolshevism.
(2) The concretization and elaboration of a program based on the general strategic line of the S.W.P., the speech of Cannon entitled “The Coming American Revolution.” For us, as we have repeated over and over again, this entails the collection, editing and publication of all the writings, conversations, discussions, etc. of Trotsky on the American situation.
(3) The unification of the organizations on the basis of the propositions marked out during the period when the joint unity document was signed. In our view the S.W.P. as the majority, and having the international prestige that it has, now bears the main responsibility. The yellings and screeches and petty defiances of the W.P. cannot and must not be allowed to deflect a political line on unity. These are the result of terror and a recognition of the inevitable end of a period. The W.P. should have a limit – the Extraordinary Party Conference, and its antics, annoying as they are, should be dealt with firmly and yet with patience. The political issue with which now and henceforth it should be mercilessly .faced is its positron on the American question. Stage by stage under the international pressure, it should be driven to the wall on its American perspectives. The tiny Johnson-Forest Minority has routed it .repeatedly on these questions and driven it into endless contradictions and confusion. Any serious attack by larger forces will pound it to a pulp. Shachtman will shift and dodge. He cannot get away with any unique contribution here. His own membership will have an illuminating experience, the first that they have ever had since 1940 that will mean something to them. After unity there may be another split. But it would be the greatest possible political ineptitude not to see that this time with all the conservatism, of its program and political perspective, particularly for the .U.S., systematically exposed, a split then would not only be definitive but would inevitably rip the personnel of the W.P. wide open. Once the American question held the. center of the stage in a unified party, the forces that would eventually rally round the present W.P. line would he either useless or negligible. (As part of the American question must be included the Negro question). It is here, politically, that the organically useless elements of the W.P. can be pinned down and exposed; and not in disputes about the nature of the Russian State or worse still, of the all-inclusive versus the homogeneous party, the evil intentions of Shachtman or his need to live “an ideological life.” It is for this reason that the Johnson-Forest tendency supports unconditionally the refusal of the S.W.P. to discuss inside the S.W.P. the “unique contributions” of Shachtman to European events.
The Johnson-Forest Minority is not moved by any sentimental considerations about the W.P. We do not practice and must ask to be excused from these perpetual unpolitical appreciations. The W.P. has never been faced politically as it ought to be faced. The existence of two parties, as we have insisted, is a source of demoralization and confusion to both. Who cannot see that after the last months is blind. It is time to call a halt.
The W.P. should be offered the conditions and told to take them or leave them. If it refused them, then it should be treated as an enemy party. It will have proved itself politically such.
The Johnson-Forest tendency at its National Conference on July 4 and 5, 1947, decided to take all possible steps to join the S.W.P. Its reason for so doing are patent from this document and more specifically in its resolution passed at this inference, which has been widely circulated at home and abroad, the W.P. in a recent publication of its National Committee, gives notice that it intends reviewing the whole question of unity at its next Plenum. This indicates only one thing; The W.P. now feels that there are sufficient forces in the International with which it can bolster its sectarian existence and therefore does not feel the pressing need for unity which had dominated Shachtman since 1945. It will not take, seven years this time for these antics to meet their just deserts.