Felix Morrow & Albert Goldman

The Answer of the SWP Minority
to the Letter from the PCR of Belgium

(20 December 1945)

Source: Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 8 No. 4, March 1946, pp. 5–11.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Mark-up: 2020 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Felix Morrow Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

December 20, 1946

To the Central Committee of the Parti Communiste Révolutionnaire of Belgium:

Dear Comrades,

We have read and carefully considered your letter to us of November 15 [1945]. We welcome your intervention in the dispute in the SWP despite the fact that your first blows are directed against us without any justification. We are confident that before our correspondence goes very much further we shall be able to convince you of the necessity of intervening in support of unity of the Trotskyists of the United States and not, as your first letter has done – although this was not your intention – intervening in support of Cannon’s fight against unity.

You have helped Cannon by accepting at face value the story he is spreading abroad that our faction means to split. Comrade Demazière, Secretary of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste of France, writes us on December 2 [1945] that “the Belgian comrades have told me that you are speedily moving toward split.” Before you spread this story, you should first have asked us our attitude after which, we are sure, you would not repeat Cannon’s version.

Unlike you who consider a split a catastrophe, Cannon desires a split and is already preparing to split the party by expelling or suspending us. Cannon wants you to believe that we want a split and not unity, so that when he removes us from the party you will think he has acted against those who meant to split in any event. On December 4 [1945] the Cannon majority of the Political Committee adopted a motion stating it will take disciplinary action If our faction continues its course. This move preliminary to getting rid of us. We believe that the Cannon group was encouraged to take this step at this time in part by your letter which showed that the Cannon version of the internal situation in the party was being given credence abroad.

We agree with you that a split would be a catastrophe. We agree with you that there is no justification for a split. Cannon, on the other hand, long ago branded us as “anti-Trotskyists” and is proceeding to throw us out of the party. Far from considering a split a catastrophe Cannon says, quite openly, that our faction is part of the Workers Party with which he refuses to unite. His opposition to unity with the Workers Party is the driving force which impels him to get rid of us who want unity with the Workers Party. Those who are against unity of the Trotskyists of the United States are the splitters, not those who want unity.

Your first duty now is to demand of Cannon that he halt his steps toward our expulsion. Even if, as Cannon alleges, we are guilty of a formal violation of discipline by virtue of our relations with the Workers Party, Cannon must not be permitted to expel us until the International has had an opportunity to deal with the question of unity. If he had the slightest real regard for the public opinion of the International, Cannon would not threaten us on the eve of the pre-conference. Cannon will try to move heaven and earth to prevent the pre-conference from taking a decision on the question of unity. The whole weight of the International must be thrown against the Cannon group’s attempt to oust us.

Cannon was encouraged to move against us not only by your acceptance of his story that we mean to split, but also by the other ways in which you supported his fight against unity. You may think your letter did not support his opposition to unity. You may point to the fact that your letter explicitly says that you have not taken a position on the unity question. In actuality, however, you are, perhaps unwittingly, already passing judgment on a large part of the unity question when you condemn us for having organised a faction to struggle for unity, for seeking “aid outside the party” (presumably you mean by this our relations with the Workers Party), for exacerbating the faction struggle and for unjustified accusations against “the exemplary internal democracy” of the party. All this, despite your good will, constitutes aid to Cannon In his struggle against unity and for getting rid of us.

By what criterion do you condemn us for having organised a faction to struggle for unity? We believe our organising a faction is justified on two grounds: (1) the transcendent importance of the unity question – unity is decisive for the future of the party as we shall show in detail below; (2) the attitude of the Cannon group toward differences of opinion, which is epitomised by the fact that the moment Goldman and I introduced our resolution on unity on July 13 [1945], Cannon denounced us as agents of the Workers Party.

Even if “the exemplary internal democracy” existed in the party as you fondly believe, we would be justified in forming a faction to struggle for a decision which we believe of transcendent importance. We believe that without unity the SWP is doomed to monolithic degeneration – is that not a question of sufficient importance to justify an organised struggle on it? Under the most exemplary conditions of Internal democracy In the Russian party and the Communist International, factions were organized to struggle for certain goals and nobody dreamed of adducing democracy as an argument against forming these factions. You are straying far from Bolshevism, dear comrades, when you criticize us for forming a faction to fight for our Ideas. Cannon’s condemnation of our forming a faction has at least the superficial logic that he maintains the question of unity is of little importance: he says openly enough that the party can be built without the comrades of the Workers Party and without our faction. But how can you criticize our forming a faction when you have not as yet taken a position on whether unity is desirable, how important it is, the meaning of Cannon’s opposition to it, etc., etc.? What right do you have to say that the question of unity does not justify our organizing to struggle for it?

Once you really grapple with the unity question and take a position on it – and we are confident that you will decide in favor of unity as have the British party, the Spanish group in Mexico and Comrade Natalia – then you will be confronted with the necessity to understand the full significance of Cannon’s opposition to it. You will have to realize that Cannon is not guilty of a mistake but of a crime in persisting in preventing unity of the Trotskyists of the United States. You will have to come to agree with us that the Cannon group’s opposition to unity is a touchstone indicating the fact that it is a bureaucratic tendency, a monolithic tendency.

How naive you are, dear comrades, when you consider the internal bulletins “a striking proof of the existence of an exemplary internal democracy in the SWP.” By that criterion the Comintern was still a healthy organism when Stalin permitted the publication of Trotsky’s The New Course in Inprecorr in 1924. At a given stage a monolithic tendency can exist side by side with an internal bulletin; formal democratic rights still exist at a given stage of the degeneration of the party. Under the conditions of extreme hardship under which your party is compelled to operate, our internal bulletins may appear quite ample to you. But, given the actual means of the SWP, the internal bulletin is an extremely narrow arena for the minority, which is barred from writing on disputed questions in Fourth International except for an occasional token article. When an important article on Italy is written in July [1945] and published in the October internal bulletin (to name but one example), you should think twice before you take the internal bulletin as a striking proof of internal democracy.

More important, what is the fate of the internal bulletins? The Cannon leadership makes no attempt to get the comrades to read them or to hold discussions on their contents in those branches where there are no minority members to insist on discussions. The real situation is indicated in the remark of a majority comrade that they have to publish the stuff but nobody has to read it; in the example of branches where internal bulletins pile up without being distributed; in the statement of a branch organizer that no discussion of the contents of the latest bulletin is necessary because there is no minorityite in the branch. Ask Cannon to provide you with the figures for the past two years of the sale of internal bulletins to individual members (not the bundles sent to branches but the number sold) and you may begin to get a better idea of the reality underlying these internal bulletins. You may begin to realize their role as Potemkin villages.

And then, the unpublished part of the dismission! It is impossible to convey it to you; one has to live through the pogrom atmosphere groused in the branches against us, in speeches by first and second-rank leaders of the majority – not the “statesmanlike” speech occasionally published in the internal bulletins but the ones which really set the tone. To mention but one example: Cannon’s charge, in a debate with Goldman in Chicago, that Goldman in prison preferred to fraternize with labor racketeers rather than with his comrades. Abroad you do not hear these things, but they mold and pervert the minds of the ranks of the party.

For corroboration of these facts, we refer you to any European comrade who has had direct contact with the SWP. In the last years a number of European comrades have had to take refuge in America. Not one of them supports the Cannon group. Cannon tries to dismiss all of them as disoriented emigres. Among them, however, are valuable leading comrades of a number of sections. The unanimity of their testimony against the Cannon group ought to indicate what the real situation is here.

However, we do not ask you to take the word of the European comrades who are here, nor our word. Neither heretofore nor now have we asked you to judge the Cannon leadership on the basis of facts which could be established only by those present here. We have asked you to judge solely on the basis of facts which you already have in your hands: the written record, the party publications, internal bulletins, i.e., the political positions taken by the Cannon group and the methods they have employed to defend them.

We have characterized some of these political positions and methods as “bureaucratic acts,” as “Stalinist germs,” and we have come to the conclusion that they are manifestations of a bureaucratic tendency, a monolithic tendency. However, we have always been very careful to limit ourselves primarily to our criticism of specific political positions taken by the Cannonites, to specific methods or acts on their part. Thus, we have written a series of case histories which deal with the greatest concreteness with specific events in the life of the party. We have never insisted on your or anybody else’s agreeing with us that they are “bureaucratic acts,” “Stalinist germs.” We have always made clear that we do not insist on what name you give them; what is important is to criticize and correct the specific positions or acts or methods.

And certainly, we never charged that a bureaucracy exists in the SWP. The Cannonites have pretended that we have, and you appear to be taken in by their pretense when you write us that “in none of your documents have you been able to prove or to make precise until now your accusations according to which a ‘bureaucracy’ exists in the SWP.” You tell us that you have read the October 1945 internal bulletin. Had you done so carefully, however, you could never have attributed to us this absurd argument as to whether or not a bureaucracy exists in the SWP. We refer you to Comrade A. Stein’s The Bureaucratic Tendency in the SWP in the October 1945 internal bulletin which, on behalf of the minority, explains over and over again for some 2,500 words that we do not claim a bureaucracy exists, over and over again explains that

“... a leadership does not have to have a privileged material basis in order to commit a number of serious political errors ... Furthermore, we are confronted by the fact that the leadership refuses to correct the errors and the method from which they flow. And when a leadership mistakenly believes that admission of errors and open discussion in the ranks of the party to correct the line undermines its authority, then bureaucratic controls over party life become inevitable.”

Don’t you understand, comrades, the difference between saying a bureaucracy exists, and what we have actually said, namely, that the Cannon leadership has a bureaucratic (more, monolithic) attitude toward political differences? We repeat, we don’t insist on your accepting our terms. As Comrade A. Stein said in that article:

“You disagree with our description and analysis of the ‘bureaucratic tendency’? We shall be glad to continue to discuss this with you until there is mutual agreement. But that should not prevent us from fighting together now against any incident or idea that is alien to Bolshevism ... In that way, whatever our differences may be on the plane of explanation, we shall be fighting against those specific ideas and acts that bring harm to the party.”

What specific ideas and acts? We must remind you of enough of them to bring home to you that it is not a matter of isolated incidents but of a long and continuous process. In the following list we shall not refer primarily to the political errors of the Cannon group. We do not think the political errors committed by the Cannon group are a crime. Their defense by bureaucratic means is the crime that has hurt the party.


1. Suppression of the minority documents of the October 1943 Plenum and of Morrow’s article of December 1943, The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution: circulation limited only to National Committee members, refused to party members. Cannon’s justification: that the documents should be kept from the membership until the principals to the dispute returned from prison (which would be January 25, 1946). To attempt to suppress documents on burning political questions is a bureaucratic act. But can It by any other name, if only you will condemn it.


2. Hansen’s Infamous article, How the Trotskyists Went to Prison [Joseph Hansen, How the Trotskyists Went to Jail, Fourth International, Vol. V No. 2, Whole No. 41, February 1944, pp. 43–48] being in reality a build-up of Cannon. Despite protests from many comrades, the article was reprinted several times – in The Militant, Fourth International, as a pamphlet. Not only we but Cannon made the article a test case: he wrote that he who does not see the necessity of such an article does not understand the art of leadership. What do you call an artificial buildup of leaders in the party press? We call it a bureaucratic act. Call it what you will, but condemn it.

3. The anti-Bolshevik Macdonald used the Hansen article as proof that Bolshevism is identical with Stalinism. Goldman wrote an answer to Macdonald, citing our condemnation of the Hansen article as proof that such build-ups of leaders is not part of Bolshevism. The Political Committee refused Goldman’s answer to Macdonald publication in the party press – as though Hansen’s fawning eulogy of Cannon were party policy! We call this a bureaucratic act. What do you call it?

4. James T. Farrell, the novelist and chairman of the Civil Rights Defense Committee, devoted friend of our movement, wrote a letter to Fourth International criticizing the Hansen article and another article which he correctly called a “literary apache” attack on Shachtman. The Political Committee refused to publish Farrell’s letter. To defend this bureaucratic blunder, Cannon committed a crime: he wrote that Farrell’s comradely letter was “a coarse and brutal insult to the party” and that as an “amateur” Farrell had no right to criticize professional politicians. Doesn’t the stench of such a bureaucratic attitude reach you across the Atlantic, dear comrades?

5. The Political Committee censured four rank and file comrades for meeting to discuss with some comrades of the Workers’ Party. It also called a special New York membership meeting to drive the point home. We challenged this attempt to prohibit any comrade from meeting and discussing political questions with members of another workers’ party. The majority leaders alleged this was not the issue, whereupon we offered to settle the controversy if they would accept the proposition that the censure was not meant to prevent comrades from discussing with WP members. The majority leaders refused. Their final position is formulated by the then Acting National Secretary, M. Stein, in his declaration that comrades who go to “meetings and classes of opponent organisations” are guilty of anti-Bolshevik conduct; and his report to the National Convention that: “The four comrades censured stepped out of bounds and they have done it disloyally. Not only did they discuss with the Shachtmanites for the sake of discussion, but they kept it hidden from the party. They didn’t report it to the party. They didn’t ask advice from the party. That is disloyalty toward the organization and we never could stomach disloyalty.” The Cannonite position, thus, is that no member may discuss with members of the Workers Party except with the permission and under direction of the party leadership. What is this, except bureaucratic fear of free discussion in the labor movement? To this bureaucratic blunder Cannon adds two political crimes: he justifies the censure because to talk with comrades of the Workers Party is to talk with the “Menshevik traitor clique” and brands those opposed to the censure as belonging to an “anti-Trotsky tendency.”

6. The suppression of the minority documents of the October 1943 Plenum ends on the eve of the November 1944 Convention, allegedly because the majority is yielding to the entreaties of the minority, but in reality (since the majority decision originally had been to suppress the documents until the principals to the dispute returned from prison) because one document had leaked out and been published by the Workers Party. But the documents are disloyally beclouded by being given to the party with a statement by the Political Committee which says: “We are issuing these Plenum documents only as a concession to the demand of Comrade Morrow who insists that the various drafts and amendments which were discussed by the Plenum be published ... We do not think these documents are essential to the clarification of the issues, the education of the party members, or as an aid to the party rank and file in arriving at a correct point of view” [Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 6 No. 5, September 1944, p. 1]. Yet central to the pre-convention discussion were the issues involved in these same documents. As I wrote at the time: “The membership is scarcely encouraged to read the Plenum documents when it finds them preceded by a Political Committee foreword arguing that the documents are not worth studying.” I was too polite; I should have branded it as a disloyal and bureaucratic act.

7. One of the main issues in the dispute at the October 1943 Plenum is the minority’s insistence on the Stalinist danger to the European revolution. Nearly a year later, continuing his errors at the Plenum, Cannon in a letter dated August 33, 1944 (signed by Dobbs but representing Cannon’s views) proposes that the party call upon the Warsaw guerillas to “subordinate themselves,” i.e., deliver themselves, to Stalin’s generals. Comrade Natalia intervenes, demanding that the defense of the revolution against Stalin be placed in the foreground and that the defense of the Soviet Union be pushed to the background [Natalia Sedova, A Letter from Natalia (September 23, 1944), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 6 No. 9, October 1944, pp. 24–25]. Cannon gets a copy of Natalia’s letter. Without one word of reference to his August 23 [1944] letter, he writes another adopting Natalia’s position. Natalia’s letter and Cannon’s response to it are published; his previous letter is suppressed. The effect created (and sought) is that Natalia and Cannon have always been of one mind on this question. When the leader of the party covers up his errors. Is that not a bureaucratic act, a Stalinist germ, which must be burned out of the party?

8. Comrade A. Roland writes a big document, We Arrive at a Line, showing all the previous errors on applying the slogan of defense of the Soviet Union, exposing Cannon’s attempt to suppress his letter on the Warsaw guerillas, etc. [Louis Jacobs, ‘We Arrive at a Line,’ by A. Roland, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 6 No. 12 December 1944, pp. 7–44]. Roland is condemned by the leadership for introducing his document on the very eve of the convention, for not having made the record previously on the party’s errors, for falling to appear to defend himself at the convention, for lapsing into political inactivity, etc. All too true. But now some fifteen months have passed, the Cannonites have yet to answer the political content of Roland’s document; Cannon has yet to write one word concerning suppression of his letter on the Warsaw guerillas.

9. The minority conducts a struggle to introduce its amendments into the draft convention resolution. At the convention itself the majority suddenly produces a series of what it calls “literary and clarifying amendments” which (1) yield to the minority on the principal remaining questions in dispute and (2) yield to Natalia’s line of pushing to the foreground the defense of the European revolution against Stalin and to the background the defense of the USSR. Are such political somersaults “literary and clarifying amendments”? To pretend they are Is a bureaucratic method of changing a political line. The “literary and clarifying amendments” have never been published in the Internal Bulletin, so that no comrade not present at the convention could judge their political significance. Is that not bureaucratic suppression of political errors?

10. The December 1944 issue of Fourth International gives the public the Cannonite version of the European dispute: it conceals the majority’s changes in political line; lies about the convention vote; falsifies the minority’s position. It is a classical example of bureaucratic redoubling of abuse of those who forced the Cannonites to change their line.


11. Returning from prison, Morrow writes A Balance Sheet of the Discussion on Europe, May 1945 [Felix Morrow, A Balance Sheet of the Discussion on Europe (March 25, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 4, May 1945, pp. 1–37]. Whether correct or not, it is a political document which asserts political positions and makes grave charges against the majority which in any healthy party would unquestionably receive a conscientious examination and answer. You yourselves testify to that fact when your letter informs us that you “hope to be able to take a position soon toward the group of questions raised by the Balance Sheet of Comrade Morrow.” Even in your case, comrades, one must say in all frankness that we have noted an extreme reluctance on the part of you and other European comrades to take positions on the important political questions involved in the dispute in the SWP. While you say that you have never concealed your agreement with the SWP minority on the European questions, this letter of yours is the first time you have indicated your agreement in so many words. Even now you still delay taking a position on the even more important questions raised in the Balance Sheet, namely that the original errors of the Cannonites were only political errors but their refusal to admit the errors, their hanging their line while suppressing the evidence of the change, their falsifying the position of the minority, etc. are crimes. But you do state that you are about to take a position on these questions. Your delay is undoubtedly in part justified by the fact that you received the documents late, had to translate them, had to consider them while you were preoccupied with the terribly difficult task of reorganizing and reorienting your movement after five years of illegality, etc. What, however, do you think of the conduct of the Cannon group which stands accused by the Balance Sheet, which has had it since March 1945 and now, nine months later, still shows not the slightest sign of answering it? Is it “exemplary internal democracy” when the minority is granted the formal democratic right of having its document published, but denied the real content of internal democracy, namely the responsibility of the majority to encourage and organise a discussion of it and to answer it?

12. Cannon, from prison, proposed what should be the contents of that infamous December 1944 issue of Fourth International which is the subject of our Balance Sheet. In a letter of November 28, 1944 (published in the April 1945 bulletin), he wrote:

“Next, we deem it essential, as we have previously remarked, to publish the convention resolutions in the magazine; and to publish with them the rejected amendments of Logan [Jean van Heijenoort] and the rejected criticisms of Cassidy (Morrow) – giving the vote in each case. And a report of the convention should be published in the magazine giving an explanation, from the point of view of the majority, of the reasons for the convention’s decisions.” [Notes on the Party Discussion by Martin (James Cannon): Party Democracy and Majority Rule (November 28, 1944), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 3, April 1945, p. 7.]

Compare this paragraph with the contents of the December 1944 Fourth International, and you will see that the fountainhead of all the lies in it was Cannon himself. Certainly, he never criticized it in the party. It is necessary to underline this point since Cannon is spreading the story abroad that that number of the magazine was an “error” made while he was away.

In that same letter, and much more important, you will find a significant part of the explanation why Cannon has failed to answer our Balance Sheet and other post-convention documents on the European questions. Why answer, when he has got the votes? On the contrary, he thinks the votes against us should impel the minority to “reconsider their position”! This thought of his may seem so incredible to you that it is necessary to quote the entire paragraph:

“Logically such a decisive vote as that recorded by the convention after an unrestricted preparatory discussion in the party should impel the opposition to reconsider their position and make an effort to learn something from their experience. Unfortunately, logic makes but slow headway in establishing its hegemony over certain types of human minds where prejudice fights on its home grounds. Past experience tends to discount any optimistic hopes that may be entertained in this respect. I can’t remember ever knowing a professional democrat who paid respectful attention to the cardinal principle of democracy, i.e., the subordination of the minority to the majority. They demand ‘democracy’ but they are firmly convinced that demos is a fool.” [James P. Cannon, Letter 138: Sandstone, November 28, 1944, reproduced in James P. Cannon, Letters from Prison, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973, p. 238.]

Even more revealing of Cannon’s outlook os the next paragraph. The questions in dispute are European questions above all, and on any event we of the minority have the elementary light to appeal to the International. Yet Cannon writes:

“It would not be realistic to consider the disputes as settled, as far as the illogical ‘democrats’ are concerned, by the simple fact that the party membership has given Its decision. It is to be expected, rather, that an attempt will now be made to transfer the debate to the international field...” [James P. Cannon, Letter 138: Sandstone, November 28, 1944, reproduced in James P. Cannon, Letters from Prison, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973, pp. 238–239.]

And then Cannon, in the next paragraph, proceeds to give his recipe for concocting the December 1944 issue of Fourth International.

To demand that a minority be silent because it is a minority; to adduce votes as a proof that the minority is wrong; to consider it illogical that the minority appeals to the International – what is this but stinking bureaucratism?

13. We assume you have read Daniel Logan’s On the Slogan of the Republic in Italy and its Discussion in the SWP in the June 1945 Internal Bulletin [Jean van Heijenoort, “The Slogan of the Republic in Italy and Its Discussion in the SWP”, by Daniel Logan (March 14, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 5, June 1945, pp. 1–11.]. When a comrade of the international stature of Logan makes such charges, they certainly merit a reply. But we have still to see a single word in writing by the Cannonites either in answer to this article or to others by the minority dealing with the slogan of the republic in Italy. The Cannonites refused to adopt the slogan, railed against it for a year in the party verbally – and cannot be gotten to put a single word in writing. Is this, comrades, your idea of “exemplary internal democracy”?

14. On June 21 [1945], we had a very sharp dispute in the Political Committee on the slogan of the republic in Belgium. The minority motion favoring the slogan was voted down; we defended our views in the July Internal Bulletin [Felix Morrow, The Political Committee’s motion on the Belgian crisis, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 6, July 1945, pp. 37–38]. Subsequently we learned that you comrades had adopted the slogan. Does the Political Committee think it was right or wrong on this question? No answer to this day. In the branches Political Committee members like Warde [George Novack] and Wright try to make a distinction between our views and yours; but not a word from them in writing. Is this democracy?

15. In the documents on the unity question since July [1945], you have a score or more examples of the dishonest methods of the Cannon group; since you are now examining these documents, we shall not repeat the examples here. Permit us to remind you. however, that Cannon, who a few weeks before had issued the slogan: “We must deepen the split,” (April 1945 bulletin) [“We, on our part, assume that the course toward deepening of the split is necessary and correct; our attitude flows from that”, Martin (James P. Cannon), Reflections on the 11th Party Convention, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 3, April 1945, p. 19] and opposed unity when we introduced our resolution, then without any explanation dropped open opposition and pretended to find it necessary to probe all questions to the bottom before answering the question of unity. You do not have to be here, comrades, to realize that Cannon is being dishonest. Consider that he refuses to answer the simple question, whether the existing political differences between the SWP and the WP are admissible within one revolutionary party. In her letter of August 28 [1945] favoring unity, Comrade Natalia correctly declares that the two parties “in the fundamentals march under the one and the same banner. The programme of the minority (i.e., the Workers Party) is known to the majority from the former’s literature; there is no necessity to discuss It.” The British party and the Spanish group in Mexico have likewise found it possible to answer this question in the affirmative from afar. Cannon dares not answer it in the negative because he would then have to say precisely what political differences of the Workers Party are not admissible in one party, and he knows that in such a concrete political dispute he would be defeated in the International. So, he evades giving any answer. But the question is legitimate and deserves an answer. Don’t you agree that those who evade this central question are guilty of a dishonest, bureaucratic maneuver?

16. Comrade Natalia’s letter of August 28 [1945] goes unanswered – Cannon and his group would not even vote in favor of sending it to the party branches, although it was Natalia’s wish. Instead, a member of the Political Committee, Grace Carlson, dares – such is the education she has received – to explain to the Plenum that on her visit to Mexico she saw that Comrade Natalia is under the influence of Munis, she does not know English, Munis twists things in translating them to her. Neither Cannon nor any other majorityite leader dissociated himself from this vile denigration. In the corridors it is multiplied; Comrade Natalia is old and ill, no longer herself ... You and we, dear comrades have seen such methods before, but never in the Trotskyist movement.

17. You have seen, in our letter of November 15, our estimate of Cannon’s speech on the Russian Revolution anniversary [Felix Morrow, To All Sections of the Fourth International (November 15, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 12, November 1945, pp. 1–10]. We consider it violates the last convention resolution. We asked for a discussion of it in the party. Cannon refused. His motivation, in two motions in the Political Committee, is: (1) If Morrow wishes “to challenge the principled position of the party from the viewpoint of Shachtmanism, as he indicated in private conversation, let him quit playing bide and seek with the party and write a resolution and submit it to the party for discussion.” The alleged private conversation is a falsehood, Morrow does not share Shachtman’s position on the Russian question and said so in the Political Committee before the Cannon motion to that effect was adopted. Whereupon, at the next meeting, Cannon found a new pretext for not debating his speech: (2) “In view of the fact that Comrade Morrow has announced that he is going to write a series of articles reviewing the Russian question, we invite him to expedite his writing, publish it in the Internal Bulletin, and then if he wishes we begin oral discussion in the organization contrasting the positions.”

Morrow did announce that he was writing a series of articles reviewing how our Russian position has been tested by the war. The Fourth International would be politically bankrupt indeed if it did not review what has happened. But why must discussion of Cannon’s speech wait until such a series of articles has been written, which may well take a year or more? In our criticism of Cannon’s speech, we defend the convention resolution, which says that defense of the Soviet Union has receded and, in the foreground, now is defense of the European revolution against the Big Three. Our forthcoming articles will continue to defend that proposition. Why, then, not debate Cannon’s speech now, when it has disoriented the membership? The following, from the Political Committee minutes, may help you see what is happening:

Morrow: You impute a position to me (Shachtman’s) and then demand that I put that imputed position in writing before you will debate Cannon’s speech ... Well, you are the majority and you can do as you like. But I am proposing to debate Cannon’s speech.

Cannon: We want to debate the Russian question. It is broader.

Morrow: Yes, it is broader. You can bury your speech in it.

Is this not a bureaucratic act, that Cannon refuses to permit us to discuss his speech in the party?

We must call a halt to this list, although we have far from exhausted the specific manifestations of a bureaucratic attitude. We know as well as you that a bureaucracy with a privileged material base does not exist today in the SWP; but that is no answer to our specific analysis of the existence of a bureaucratic tendency. If the degeneration of this tendency continues it will Inevitably also find itself a privileged material base in the trade union bureaucracy.

Cannon has repeatedly declared that the cry of a danger of bureaucratism is a manifestation of petty-bourgeois skepticism. He has received his answer in the August 28 [1945] letter of Comrade Natalia.

“Incomprehensible to me, dear friend, is the persistence with which you put aside the danger of bureaucratism in our ranks. The danger is possible; it is in the air; to be conscious of the possibility of such a danger in and of itself already means to forestall it and it consequently signifies the possibility of avoiding it ... wouldn’t it be more expedient to attentively follow all the tiny forms of its possible manifestations (if there are any) and to condemn them?”

That is what we ask comrades to do: to condemn those of the above-cited manifestations of bureaucratism which they consider harmful to our movement. We are asking you to do what Trotsky offered Shachtman in 1940: to fight against any specific bureaucratic act which the opposition could point to.

Your assertion that we are repeating in the organizational question Shachtman’s error of 1940 is thus completely baseless. Shachtman could not accept Trotsky’s offer to fight against any specific bureaucratic act because Shachtman hurled the general charge of “bureaucratic conservatism” without specifying what were the particular manifestations of this “bureaucratic conservatism.” Shachtman did not point to objectionable Cannon motions, speeches, articles, against which we or Trotsky could join him in struggle. Shachtman’s principal document of 1940 on the organisational question, The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism, was and remains indefensible [The War and Bureaucratic Conservatism by (Political Committee Minority) Abern, Bern, Burnham, Shachtman, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 2 No. 6, January 1940]. For it offered no serious evidence of a kind which the membership could Judge. It referred to private conversations, alleged Incidents In the leadership which were not recorded and were unrecordable, etc. True, since Shachtman was dealing with Cannon as his subject matter, there are characterizations in his article which are similar to ours. But with this decisive difference, that Shachtman asked the membership to vote on a general charge against Cannon without evidence, whereas we are asking comrades to take a position on specific motions, resolutions, articles, on recorded errors of commission or omission of the Cannon group.

We and Trotsky were right in rejecting Shachtman’s document. If Shachtman today tries to defend his errors of 1940 by pointing to our present criticisms of the Cannon group, he is no more correct than is Cannon when he defends himself against our criticisms by pointing to Trotsky’s rejection of Shachtman’s criticisms of 1940. Profound changes have taken place since 1940. Such a list as the 17 manifestations of a bureaucratic tendency which we have listed above could not have been drawn up in 1940. Trotsky’s living presence was an example of a correct attitude and a check on those who would conduct themselves otherwise. Cannon would not dare to do then what he does today. Not only was that check on Cannon removed by Trotsky’s death, but the departure from the party of the misguided opposition, which included a large part of the most critically-minded and politically-awake members, left Cannon with a free hand. Shachtman committed a crime in splitting, for which the movement is still paying.

Five years have passed and brought profound changes. We did not fight against the minority of 1939–40 only to fall victim to the degeneration of the Cannon group. We did not fight against the minority of 1939–40 in order to establish the supremacy of Hansen articles; of prohibitions of discussions with comrades of the Workers Party; of a Fourth International magazine which is a disgrace to the name of Trotskyism; of Cannon’s mad cry to rally to the defense of the Soviet Union today, etc., etc., etc. Many things have changed since 1940. Including the groupings in the movement. It is necessary to analyze each of the present groupings without past prejudices. We believe the Cannon group has changed for the worse, and we try to explain in what the change consists. We believe the Shachtman group has changed for the better and we try to explain in what the change consists. As for our own group. It too has changed. We were all too slow in understanding the developments of the past five years, in Europe, in our own party, in the Workers Party. But we believe that we are now beginning to grasp them and are changing ourselves in the process.

You tell us, with assurance, that the Workers Party “is even further distant from the conceptions of the minority than are the majority comrades.” You are mistaken. We shall try to show you why.

A correct political estimate of the Cannon group must be based not only on its formal program and resolutions but also on what it does with the program and these resolutions. Our letter of November 15 [Felix Morrow, To All Sections of the Fourth International (November 15, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 12, November 1945, pp. 1–10] gave you the example of how Cannon violated the convention resolution by bringing to the imminent foreground the defense of the Soviet Union. What is the status of a program and resolutions which can thus be flouted? Obviously, the leader is more important than the program in the SWP, i.e., it is a monolithic tendency which dominates the party.

A Bolshevik bends his organizational means to serve his political line. Cannon, however, bends his political line to serve his organizational ends. To miseducate the International against the minority, the December 1944 Fourth international branded the minority’s differences as if they were no less than programmatic. But within a matter of weeks Cannon decided on a peace maneuver, and wrote a joint statement of the Political Committee which stated: “The differences on the convention resolution dealing with The European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party are not fundamental in character. The differences, insofar as they have found definite expression thus far, are rather secondary in character and relate primarily to questions of interpretation and emphasis. It remains to be seen whether, in the course of events and further discussion, the present differences will be reconciled in agreement or developed into principled divergences.” [Two Statements of the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party: 1. On the Internal Situation, Fourth International, Vol. VI No. 5, Whole No. 54, May 1945, pp. 138–139.] A concession to the minority – but an empty one. At the very same moment Cannon was preparing for publication in the April Internal Bulletin his “notes” and “reflections” on the party discussion in which he says the minority presupposes the defeat of the European proletariat and that the party dispute is not one over tempo but of perspectives for our epoch. In the same place you can see how seriously Cannon meant the joint statements. “It is possible and obligatory to collaborate harmoniously,” when he writes: “In my opinion, Morrison’s [Albert Goldman’s] articles are insults to the party. Any leader who does not react angrily to these insults is lacking in respect for himself and for the party. Such people will be weak reeds to lean on in a crisis.” [Notes on the Party Discussion by Martin (James Cannon): What Democracy Means (November 12, 1944), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 3, April 1945, p. 5.]

Under these conditions is it correct to say, as your letter does, that “on the political plane the divergences seem to have diminished” between us and the Cannon group? You agree with us, as your letter states, “on the subject of European questions, In the first place in those which concern the Importance of democratic slogans in the present period.” On the other hand, Warde [George Novack], the theoretician of the Cannon group, writes in the October bulletin: “Morrow tries to reconcile the liquidationist outlook of the Three Theses revisionists with the revolutionary program of the Fourth International. This later became more explicit in his feverish insistence upon the ‘method of democratic demands’ as the master key to the present stage of the revolutionary struggle in Europe – a position shared by both Shachtman and the Three Theses group.” [William F. Warde (George Novack), The New Opposition in the S.W.P.: Its ‘Theory’ and its Methods, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 10, October 1945, p. 7.]

Our real position, as you know, is very different from that of the Three Theses. (It was we and not the Cannonites who – in articles by Morrow and Loris [Jean van Heijenoort] – wrote the only serious criticism of the Three Theses.) Yet it is not simple dishonesty which causes Warde [George Novack] to link us to the Three Theses. He so completely falls to understand the role of democratic demands In Europe today that he lumps together all those who affirm their importance. It is true that the Cannon group no longer dares openly criticize specific democratic demands which were in dispute – the republic, Constituent Assembly – but this is only to avoid head-on conflict with the European sections which support these demands. But the Cannonites continue to inculcate the membership with the same attitude that democratic demands are revisionist. Tomorrow, if you and other European comrades support us not only on the European questions but also on unity, the Cannon group is perfectly capable of explaining to the membership that you do so because you share our revisionist support of democratic demands.

It is not correct, then, to say that the political differences between us and the Cannon group have “constantly diminished.” It is true that the Cannonites artificially accentuate the differences and invent new ones in order to adduce a “theoretical” explanation for the minority’s stand on unity with the Workers Party; this is the aim of the Warde [George Novack] article in the October bulletin which declares; “What is basically at issue in the current dispute is nothing less than a defense of the philosophy, traditions, program and organizational conceptions of our movement against the latest attempt of a petty-bourgeois minority to frivolously tamper with them in theory and discard them in practice.” [William F. Warde (George Novack), The New Opposition in the S.W.P.: Its ‘Theory’ and its Methods, Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 10, October 1945, p. 6.] In laughing at the absurdity of Warde’s claims you should not, however, overlook the fact that his article is a classical example of a bureaucratic tendency bending its political line to serve its organizational ends. It means that the Cannon group is not a political formation held together by a given set of political ideas, but is one in which the leader can make the most fantastic turns without the possibility of correction. In this sense, therefore, it is impossible to say what precisely are our political differences with the Cannon group, and even more impossible to predict what Cannon will make them out to be tomorrow.

The Workers Party, on the other hand, is a political formation. We know precisely what our differences are with it. The most important differences which existed between us and the Workers Party are now in the past. Our differences on the theory of bureaucratic collectivism in the Soviet Union remain, but with the receding of the question of the defense of the Soviet Union the practical importance of our difference on the Soviet Union has disappeared. Infinitely more important now is our common position of defense of the European proletariat against the Big Three. The Workers Party position against defensism in China during the imperialist war – a position shared by the Indian section of the Fourth International – was an important difference but has disappeared with the war; likewise, its differences with us on support of the Congress-led struggle in India during the war. These were the main differences. There are other differences which we have no desire to gloss over, on which we have written and shall continue to write. But none of them are crucial today.

On the other hand, the Workers Party agrees with us on unity and on the broader question of which it is part: the struggle for a genuinely democratic-centralist party and against monolithism. The Workers Party agrees with us on the importance of democratic slogans in Europe in the present period.

These two questions are so all-important today that we can justly say that agreement oh them means that we are politically closer to the Workers Party than to the Cannon group.

We did not say this in our original resolution on unity of July 12, and correctly so. [Felix Morrow, Albert Goldman and O. Williams, Resolution on Unity with the Workers Party (July 12, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 7, August 1945, pp. 7–11.] At that time the Workers Party did not have a correct attitude toward unity of the Trotskyists of the United states. Thanks to its original error of splitting from us in 1940, it failed to recognize the need for unity, and still justified separation by referring to the Cannonite organizational methods. But the Workers Party changed its position, a change, which, as the British comrades correctly say, was entirely progressive and should have been hailed by all Trotskyists. The Workers Party decided in favor of unity and agreed to subordinate itself in action to the majority of the united party. When its request for a tendency bulletin in the united party was made by Cannon an obstacle to unity, the Workers Party agreed that it would not exercise the minority right to a tendency bulletin in the united party. In our resolution of July 12 [1945] we called the Workers Party a revolutionary Marxist tendency. When it adopted a correct position on unity, it became correct to call it a tendency In the Fourth International. There are thus three Trotskyist tendencies in the United States, and, for the reasons we have explained above, our tendency is closer to that of the Workers Party than to that of the Cannon group.

The crime of the SWP majority in refusing unity is as great if not greater than that of the Workers Party in splitting in 1940. The Cannon group has no real political reasons for not uniting, its real reasons are arithmetical: Cannon does not want a large group in the party which will not blindly follow him. His refusal to unite is thus, as we have explained in other documents, indicative of his desire to build a monolithic party. Hence the dispute on unity is not simply a question of a difference of opinion on an important matter but a profound difference on the kind of a party we want and how to build It.

Were the SWP healthy, the question of unity would have been resolved as soon as it was proposed by us and accepted by the Workers Party. But the SWP is not healthy, hence the vicious and dishonest resistance of the majority leadership to unity, hence the profound importance of the struggle for unity, hence the justification for our having formed a faction to fight for it, and the justification for our insistence on continuing the struggle despite Cannon’s threats to expel us if we do.

The alleged obstacle to unity was the Workers Party proposal for a tendency bulletin. Cannon made no attempt to remove this obstacle. We did, in our letter of November 15 to the Workers Party urging it to remove this obstacle. [Felix Morrow, Motion Preparing for Unity” (November 15, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 13, December 1945, p. 3, reproduced in Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, p. 3.] The Workers Party on November 27 acceded to our request. [Max Shachtman, Letter to Felix Morrow for the SWP Minority Group (November 27, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 13, December 1945, pp. 1–3, reproduced in Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, p. 3.] The Cannon group’s answer is a Political Committee motion of December 4 which (1) asserts nothing is changed and (3) warns the minority that if it continues “in relation to opponent parties as an independent factor, the party will be compelled to take disciplinary action.” [Motion on correspondence between minority faction and WP, Adopted by the Political Committee (of the SWP) (December 4, 1945), Socialist Workers Party Internal Bulletin, Vol. 7 No. 13, December 1945, p. 4.] Thus, instead of admitting that an important advance has been made toward unity, and on that basis reopening the question of unity with the Workers Party, the Cannon group bureaucratically turns its guns on the minority which dared to forward the cause of unity. As always when Cannon is defeated politically, he redoubles his abuse against those who are right.

Cannon’s threat will not deter us from continuing the struggle for unity. Our submission to Cannon’s discipline would be a far greater blow to the movement than our continuing the struggle for unity and being expelled and joining with the Workers Party.

Cannon would not expel us if he had the slightest thought favoring unity. Were it simply that he doesn’t want unity at the present moment, he need only tell us frankly that he wants more time, and we would be willing to wait. It is only because he is determined to prevent unity at all costs that he would go to the length of expelling us for fraternizing with the Workers Party. If he does expel us, then it is proof certain that he does not want unity. In that case, our place is with those who do want unity. Together with the comrades of the Workers Party we shall continue the struggle for unity.

We shall not, however, leave the SWP. Every effort must be exhausted to achieve unity. But, as in the case of the correspondence with the Workers Party which removed the obstacle of the tendency bulletin, it is clear that all steps connected with unity require our independent activity. Our independent activity is not, as is alleged, a method to provoke Cannon to expel us, but it serves to bring utmost clarity to the question of unity. Either our independent activity will lead to unity of the two parties, or Cannon will expel us and thereby show his last-ditch hostility to unity.

We understand very well that our method of independent activity is an extraordinary one which goes counter to the observance of formal rules which under normal conditions are accepted as a matter of course. But the issue is of such extraordinary importance as to justify our course.

Permit us to remind you of Trotsky’s words:

“Even in the Bolshevik Party, with its very severe discipline, Lenin first emphasized that the essence is more important than the form; that the ideas are more important than the discipline; that if it is a question of fundamental importance, we can break the vows of discipline without betraying our ideas.”

Cannon has committed a crime in preventing unity. Do not permit him to use democratic centralism as a shield for his crime. Put the substance above the form. Turn your attention to the question of unity. If unity is achieved, it will solve the present crisis. If unity is correct, it must be fought for, by us and by you, without permitting Cannon to subordinate it to questions of formal discipline. Real Bolshevism puts substance above form. Real Bolsheviks would consider the relations between the minority and the WP primarily from the point of view of its political contribution to unity. When, instead. Cannon threatens the minority with disciplinary action, neither you nor we should permit him to hide his crime behind the formula of democratic centralism. Nobody should be fooled by Cannon’s raising questions of formal discipline in order to prevent settlement of the political questions. Dear Comrades, permit us to remind you that the leaders of the minority are not undisciplined newcomers but revolutionists of long standing. We are old enough and experienced enough to understand democratic centralism, not only the form but also the substance.

We welcome your statement that “the approach of the world pre-conference presents every opportunity to decide this question (of unity) at that occasion.” We hope the other European sections will support your proposal to decide it at that time. In doing so, you will have to be on your guard against Cannon’s maneuvers, for he will do his utmost to prevent a decision by the occasion, since he is convinced beforehand that the British party’s decision is the forerunner of the decision of all the European sections. The International must take a firm stand for unity. Failure to do so means aiding Cannon in building a monolithic party.

We do not ask the International to order the SWP to unite with the WP. It would not be desirable to force unity. Without wholehearted acceptance by a majority of the party membership, the unity could not be long-lasting. What we ask is that the International recommend and urge unity. Such an expression of the public opinion of the International may help to open the eyes of the best elements who now blindly follow Cannon.

If the Cannon leadership resists the public opinion of the International and is able to maintain a majority for such resistance, then the task of uniting the Trotskyists of the United States will be long and difficult. We fear the Cannon leadership will thus resist, but that remains to be seen and demonstrated to your satisfaction.

In deciding in favor of unity, the International will recognize the existence of three Trotskyist tendencies in the United States which belong together in one party. Whatever political differences the International may have with any of these tendencies, they should all be acknowledged as Trotskyist and as part of the Fourth International.

Unity is the main question. All other questions connected with this dispute are secondary and tertiary to a correct position on unity. Whatever the International may think or be led to think concerning the conduct of the Cannon group, of our group, or of the Workers Party, during this dispute, is entirely secondary to a decision on unity. That decision must not be evaded or postponed for the sake of secondary considerations.


With comradely greetings,
Albert Goldman
Felix Morrow

(for the SWP minority)


Last updated on: 8 May 2020