The Destruction of a Workers Paper. C. L. R. James 1962
In the quotation from Lenin which appears in the body of this letter is the foundation of the Marxist movement. True in 1918, it is truer than ever today. That I am not prepared to make a matter of discussion with anybody except newcomers to our movement. But along with Marxist political principles there is the tradition of Marxist conduct. To all those friends and comrades who are new to the political movement and who may think that the step I am taking is unduly severe, I attach the following letter. There you will see how anxious I was to avoid the complete break which I am now, on principle, forced to make. Read it, compare it with the REB discussion and resolution, and learn the personal and political degeneration with inevitably flows from a desertion of the principles of our movement.
2 Nov. 61
My dear Jimmy,
Thanks for the documents and your prompt sending of them.
Thanks also for your long and very full letter. I shall do my best to take up all the points.
You say at the beginning that you take full responsibility for what has been done. I believe that a mistake has been made. What matters is to recognize that and to take the steps necessary to correct what I felt very strongly would be inevitably the evil consequences for the organization. I can tell you what I think should be done. You yourself, it seems, have gone a long way towards repairing the damage. I judge that from many things you say in your letter. Apology or excuse is now a subordinate matter. The thing is to make certain that the organization holds together and also learns something from the crisis.
First of all, you propose to make a serious analysis of the American development. Jimmy, nothing could be better and it is a thousand pities that that is not what was done at the beginning. You say, “I do not know whether my document is going to be accepted in the organization.” I don’t know exactly what you mean. But the document will have to be welcomed by the organization and it will be welcomed by me. We have needed such an analysis for a long time. In my opinion you can print it in the paper, stating that it is an independent view of the American development. There is nothing wrong with that. You invite discussion. That is a normal thing in a Marxist organization. And it often helps the paper and the organization when people see that you are discussing serious questions seriously. I want to warn you about two things. The first is you say that “our positions in regard to workers’ control of production, the Negro question, the Civil War,” are disputed by people in the society to whom these questions are very fundamental and pertinent questions. That is not strange. If they were not disputed,, it would mean that the people were all Marxists. The question is to state our views, in this case your views, clearly and to take into consideration the arguments that they have against them. In any case it would be extremely valuable, and that was dealt with in Facing Reality, for the positions in dispute to be discussed in the paper. I am sure that not only you but all of us will be better for it.
The second point is more personal, although still political. When you do a thorough document of that kind, it is wise before you send it out even to the organization to let one or two people in whom you have special confidence see it, me for instance. I will give you my views on it, quite often not so much on the ideas but on the presentation of them in regard to fundamental principles of Marxism. Then you decide whether you wish to modify, increase or in any way alter the statement of your views. But your own views you are always entitled to.
I do not quite understand your paragraph about analyzing “any particular individual.” I have not the slightest doubt that any ideas you put forward will be based on experience and careful thought. What you may be referring to I don’t know.
You say that everyone must have his say. That is the Marxist organization. I cannot follow what you mean when you say: “But in doing so, it is clearly understood that I have some ideas too.”
Of course you have some ideas. I want to say in passing that I read Grace’s account of your speech at the discussion. There were in it certain very fundamental and important ideas which I would like to see you develop.
If the organization has any doubts about your leadership, that is the mistake of the organization. You now have an opportunity to show that you can hold the organization together. You say again that the organization has been certain that at a certain point I would intervene. In one sense that is correct. If I see that fundamental premises of Marxism are being attacked in what I consider an irresponsible manner, then of course I would intervene. But, as I have explained to you. I know that the organization has a great respect for my opinions. And that is rightly so. But I have taken great care to make it quite clear that as far as I was concerned you were the leader of the organization. Furthermore, allow me to say that while what you call “a question of me versus you” would be a very serious question, it would only be serious if we came to a complete break as to what constitutes the foundations of Marxism. That I do not see at all. We can have serious differences of opinion but as far as I can see at present I do not see that. Allow me to say this. S pays a great deal of attention to whatever you write. She says, and I have good reason to believe her, that you in the plant no doubt have for some time been telling workers, “You all are just sitting down taking everything. It is time that you all did something.” Not only is it inevitable that you do sometimes. But it is necessary for a practical leader to take these steps. But the question only becomes serious if an attitude to them in the plant becomes a basic Marxist position in the paper on a general scale.
Now about the responsibilities which you have to assume and which I understand very well, I assure you. The organization has to be made to understand that, while the political discussion must have full attention, the organization more than ever must hold itself together ...
They must be made to understand that some of the heavy responsibilities which lies on the two of you must be relieved, particularly at this time. The organization must make the effort and you have every right to call upon it.
You can make the letter I wrote to you public if you feel like it. That is OK with me. You decide.
You say that you have “to present a document to the organization, and having presented that document to the organization the organization has to make its decision.”
I may be misinterpreting you, but I seem to see there a feeling that your document is going to face the organization with this decision: either you accept this or you reject it, .and that means a parting of the ways.
As I say, I may be doing you an injustice but I do not believe that any document which you present, based upon your knowledge and analysis of the American situation and what we as an organization should say and do about it, will create any such dangerous crisis. That, however, we will see.
I was very much moved by your concern that the link between us is not just a question of politics but it is a personal relationship too. I have always seen it that way. I am still in great difficulty about doing anything for any length of time. But in the sense that I think you mean, we are making it. We have come here at the invitation of good and kind friends. Furthermore, the University had insured me as it seems they do everybody who travels for them, and for the time being we are holding together. That is why we have been able to send you that amount. If anything goes seriously wrong, my dear Jimmy, you and Grace will know at once.
The letter I sent to Grace (Letter to Grace, Oct. 22, 1961) I do not want it released to the organization. Understand me carefully. I do not want it to be released. That is to say, I am not anxious that it should be. In fact I have just read it over and in view of your letter I think it should not be. I haven’t heard from Grace and that I feel very much, I assure you. My first response to the early communications was that the organization was doomed and that G was lost. That, for me, was a very serious matter, far more serious than the case of Rae. I want to repeat that. This to me, both politically and personally, was a far more serious matter than the break with Weaver. But I want to tell you that first of all many things in your speech at the discussion and now not only the facts and proposals but the very tone of your letter to me have reassured me that the organization is not in the perilous position which I feared. I am still waiting anxiously to hear from G.
Yours, as always,