Letter from Ernest Mandel to George Breitman, November 15, 1953

Documents 1 through 9 and 11 originally published in Internal Bulletins of the SWP and the International Bulletins of the International Committee

Dear George:

Unfortunately your letter of August 22 reached me only yesterday, when I returned home from my journey to the East. Unfortunately so many sad and unbelievable developments have taken place in the meantime that it may look odd to answer now this letter of yours. I'll do it anyhow, be it only for friendship's sake.

Nobody was happier than I and all of us in the Center about what happened at the one but last Plenum. We all were as enthusiastic as you were about the maturity shown by the majority leaders at that occasion. We hoped sincerely that a period of calm and positive discussion would set in. That's why we wrote our letter, meaning every single word of it (but it's quite difficult to convince of that people who start looking for 'duplicity' behind every move you do). That's why we were shocked in the rudest manner by reading comrade Cannon's letter to Tom, written 24 hours after the Plenum letter which convinced anybody who isn't a babe in the wood that not only was there going to be no truce but that the war was going to be introduced immediately from your party into the whole international movement (the word 'war' being no exaggeration because the very word 'military discipline' was used).

I think this fact, as well as comrade Cannon's speech to the majority caucus before the Plenum on 'Internationalism' of which the minority got hold only after the agreement , turned the tables. I am not responsible in any way for the minority's attitude after the Plenum and neither is Gabe nor anybody else in Paris. I don't know what they did and if they really broke the truce. But if they did it, the only real cause was Cannon's speech and Cannon's letter. What you say about the events in Seattle may have been a minor cause, but it certainly was not decisive. Bigger issues were now at stake, and the minority could not fail to notice them.

I had not much sympathy for the minority's point of view on questions of American policy; it is quite possible that some nervousness got into their leaders. But it seems to me clear as day that after the majority openly attacked the International's line, the minority had no interest whatsoever to leave the party, at the contrary! That is why I cannot accept the charges made, at least not to the extent they have been advanced. The minority had now finally succeeded, through no merit of their own, to get into the position where it had been willing to be since two years, and where finally Cannon's actions had brought it; to appear before the membership as the defenders of the International, in political association with the International, against a tendency, which was brutally and violently attacking and insulting the International's line, leadership and discipline. Under such conditions, the minority had every interest to stay in the party and to let a political discussion develop. Under such conditions, the majority had every interest to break any discussion prematurely by organizational means. The answer to the question: who is responsible for the split, is easy when we start from the old method of asking 'Cui prodest?' -- 'In whose interest was it? '

And this brings me to the crux of the matter: the unbelievably lightminded, irresponsible way in which the leaders of the majority, in which I have had for many years the utmost respect and confidence have started an international faction fight which, to all intents and purposes, can only result in a major split from the international movement.

In Comrade Cannon's speech before the majority caucus in Internationalism there was not one word expressed on matters of political differences. Even in comrade Cannon's letter to Tom, instructing him to build an international faction, the point was stressed that there were no political differences with the International's line. Suddenly in August comrade Stein sprang on the movement his political thesis, obviously written in agreement with the other majority leaders, which I cannot interpret otherwise as deliberate and cynical attempt to find some political justification for an organizational 'struggle of power launched upon the International leadership.

Comrade Stein's document is written in such obvious bad faith, and overthrows so obviously established points of policy commonly accepted by the American comrades and ourselves not only since 1951 but since 1945 that it is hard for me to see how anyone can escape that conclusion.

Is it necessary to enumerate once again for you the innumerable points which show that bad faith? Do you really believe that we are 'capitulating before Stalinism,' we who have been busy building the Trotskyist movement, not without success, all over the world? More concretely: do you believe that I, who have predicted perhaps alone in the whole world what would happen in Russia and the rest of the Stalinist sphere of influence this year 12 months ago, have 'capitulated before Stalinism'? I am the author of the first draft of 'Rise and Decline.' How can you hope to convince anybody in the movement with such incredible slander as that saying that this draft proposes to do away with our orientation toward political revolution in the USSR and puts instead the perspective of 'self-regeneration' of the bureaucracy, when in the most explicit way the opposite is stated in the document? When we explicitly warn the movement against any illusion as to the possibility of regenerating the Soviet Union in a 'reformist' manner? When over and over again we identify socialist regeneration and political revolution? When we try to identify socialist regeneration and political revolution!?When we try to awaken the movement to the huge possibilities opened up by the new objective situation in the USSR for a reappearance of our movement and the beginning of the mass struggle against the bureaucracy?

Who is rendering Stalinism a service: those who try to mobilize our movement for profiting from the crisis of the bureaucracy in order to launch our movement again in the countries where it actually disappeared, who try to reassemble forces for Trotskyism in Eastern Europe and look for means for doing the same thing in the USSR, those who want to organize for helping the masses overthrowing the bureaucracy, or those who concentrate in exactly the same conditions upon launching their forces not against Stalinism but against the FI leadership?

Is it necessary to insist once again upon the fact that since 1944 we have been telling Shachtman, Morrow, the IKDists, Geoffroy, Haston, etc., over and over again: the fact that the FI is weak is not an argument to deny the objective rise of world revolution we are witnessing. The strength of the revolutionary movement is a necessary precondition for revolutionary victory, but not a necessary precondition for the unfurling of mass revolutionary struggles. At the contrary, these struggles, which originate in the objective historical process, must create favourable conditions for solving the crisis of revolutionary leadership. And now comrade Morris comes along and throws at us the same kind of accusation about 'revolutionary romanticism' which we heard from all these skeptics, and that after China, Korea, Malaya, Iran, Egypt, North Africa, Bolivia, Eastern Germany, Ceylon and the literal spread of world revolution -- naturally not world revolutionary victories -- 'from continent to continent'!

Is it necessary to tell you that we have come out for the withdrawal of occupation troops from Germany in the QI, in the German review, in the resolution on Germany published in the IS Internal Bulletin? Anybody can read it for himself? If this slogan was not put in the first appeal of the IS, it is only because we wanted at that time when the struggle was still going on to concentrate on the slogans the fighters in Berlin had used themselves (where no one had used that slogan and for good reasons! Did the people come on the street in the February revolution with the slogan: Withdrawal of the Cossacks? When you are busy making a revolution, and not only writing about it, the winning of the troops wherever it is possible becomes task Nr. 1, not the deliberate provocation of these troops into hostile actions. Even the correspondent of Shachtman's review understands this simple basic truth). How is it possible that a member of the New York City committee writes this unbelievable slander that'the international Pabloites refuse(!) to call for the withdrawal of Russian troops'? Who has whipped up such a hostility towards the International that such kind of hysterical lies can be spread and believed?

The basic thing, dear George, is that for reasons of wrong suspicions and unjustified fears, the majority leadership has launched a preventive faction fight against the International, and this faction fight having acquired now a political basis will develop with all its internal logic, with the immediate threat of a major international split.

The challenge that the majority leadership has thrown at the International is a challenge of the very principle of a democratically centralized world porty, with one line and one discipline applicable to strong as well as to weak groups. It is a challenge to our whole line, worked out in many years of efforts, to break away from sectarian isolation and sterile dogmatism and to build in practice -- not in talk -- groups intimately linked with the mass movement of their countries and capable of applying revolutionary Marxism to all new events and phenomena. All the successes we have obtained, in Britain, in Bolivia, in Ceylon, in Germany and elsewhere, are exclusively due to this 'new course' of Trotskyism which was unanimously adopted at the 3rd WC. To try and turn back the wheel and reestablish a kind of movement as that which existed in 1939 is suicide for the FI. We shall never tolerate such an attempt to destroy our movement. We shall oppose it with all means at our disposal. And we shall gather the overwhelming majority of the International in this fight.

Make no mistake about it, dear George. Our movement is now passing through its worst crisis since its inception. We were proud of the SWP, its achievements, its 'regime,' whatever it stood for. I was proud to be called a Cannonite by all the hostile elements and deserters of our movement. I have been traveling up and down Europe for 7 years defending Cannon and Cannonism without any feeling of bad conscience. I knew, as all of us knew, that Cannonism stood for principled politics. Till we received Stein's document, I would have never tolerated any intervention of the International in the SWP conflict, convinced as I was of the principled way the SWP leadership acted in the past in party conflicts. But our confidence is now completely shattered. Our main allegiance is not to a person, or a cadre, but to program, principles and a world organization. Nobody will blackmail us into abandoning ideas which we know to be correct, the only ideas on which our movement will be really built. We wanted to build the movement in the closest collaboration with Cannon. We shall build it, if necessary, without and against Cannon. And we 'petty scribblers, as these people now suddenly say, will succeed building this movement, because the correctness of our ideas, confirmed by huge historical events, will bring to us everywhere the best people from the entire labour movement.

The kind of arguments which are now used everywhere against the International have a very particular smell to anybody who knows the history of the communist movement, dear George. One should be very, very prudent throwing about accusations of 'capitulation before Stalinism.' You will have read -- The Militant wrote a fine story on it -- Silone's anecdote about the manner in which the Old Man was expelled from the 3rd International. When Stalin wanted the EKKI to condemn the Old Man's letter about China, the members were asked to vote without having read the document. The Italians refused. The meeting was adjourned and old Kolarov came to see Togliatti and Silone, telling them:'What do you want to see that document for! What's going on here is in reality a fight for power between Stalin and Trotsky in the Russian party. You have to line up with Stalin who is winning that fight, because without the support of the Russian party it is impossible to build the International, etc.' In the last weeks I have heard many people repeat this kind of argument. As much as we understand the importance of cadre and leadership, we can have nothing but contempt for such arguments. Surely, Trotsky and the Trotskyists didn't break with the Soviet State in order to repeat the same type of unprincipled bankrupt politics on a petty scale. We shall never stand for it, never, never.

Among the many correct things comrade Cannon has been saying for a great many years was that beautiful sentence on the party becoming suddenly a prison for people with wrong ideas or under pressure of hostile forces. When that happens, every petty incident, every misunderstanding is used to kick up constant violent fights. I ask you, comrade George: why has the International suddenly become a prison for the American majority? Why do they suddenly attack in a ruthless, disloyal, unpolitical and slanderous manner a leadership with which they have been associated in the closest manner, with which they have been so intimately collaborating, and to whose construction they contributed more than anybody else! The International has neither provoked, nor attacked, nor threatened the SWP majority in any manner whatsoever! Why did this majority feel itself suddenly like in a prison in that International? Why do they undertake one step after another to break out of that prison? It will be difficult to answer that question without noticing a grave danger to the future of the SWP and its leadership, for anybody who is a principled Trotskyist.

All political differences which may have been arising on matters of interpretation or tactics toward the events in the USSR since Stalin's death could have been discussed calmly and easily without even leading to a faction fight, I'm quite convinced of that. Because in as much as there are real differences -- not cynical slander -- they are yet of a minor nature. Such a discussion could have been useful if it had been first led in such a manner as to prevent premature crystallization. Even after that crystallization it would have been a lesser evil. But with organizational measures, reprisals, threats and ultimatums, the International will not compromise. Our movement, which is still very weak, will collapse before bigger enemies, if its leadership will not uphold the basic principles of its discipline and political cohesion. To the surprise of some clever despisers of 'scribblers,' we shall show the movement that we shall be quite able to defend it in an efficient manner against any attempt to disrupt it.

I'm still ready for any initiative or any move which could eliminate the threat of a major split in the International movement. If you could suggest anything useful in that line, I'm willing to listen to any suggestion, to undertake any action, privately or officially, as long as it is not a betrayal of our organizational and political principles. If anything can be done to avoid the catastrophe, it would be criminal not to attempt it. But you will believe me that I have little hope left after what happened.

Warmest greetings,


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Last updated 17.10.2003