Letter from James P. Cannon to George Breitman, January 12, 1954

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

Dear George:

I am returning herewith your draft of your new letter to Germain. I have indicated a few suggested editorial corrections.

I think it best to eliminate the paragraph on the last page, which by linking your letter to the PC, tends to give it an official character. From a tactical point of view I think your remarks to Germain would be better contained in what appears to be a personal letter. As the discussion develops, what we have to say officially or semi-officially about Germain will be a great deal harsher. This will not be a difference in real content, but rather a tactical division of labor.

Germain and others, as his letter of December 9 indicates, will be looking for an organizational compromise. They may very well be assigned this role by the real Pabloites, as a division of labor. The aim would be to throttle the discussion, while they proceed merrily with their program of expulsions, 'removals' and excommunications. We have no interest in becoming involved officially in such piddling maneuvers.

Our strategy must be a full-scale, all-sided discussion to bring about not an organizational compromise, but a clear political division between the Trotskyists and the Pabloites. I think your letter, with a little touching up, can serve very well as a part of this discussion, bearing in mind that much more will be said by others, and in some cases by official declarations. For that reason I am not inclined to consider your letter a final, full and complete statement and to suggest rewriting it from that point of view. Everything that you say seems to be all right as far as it goes, and that is far enough for one contribution.

I suggest two additional points which I think will strengthen your letter.

One is to place more emphasis on the Cochranite boycott of our 25th Anniversary Celebration and to ask Germain why he evades it, and what he thinks of it. I have written in my suggestions for an amplification of this point on Page 1 of your draft.

The second addition I suggest relates to Germain's claim that the publication of our Letter represents 'a break with the International.' You simply refer him to the reasons for publishing the Letter, given by me in the December 28 Militant and you say you will not repeat them. Since this is a very important point, and seems to be interesting to many international comrades, I suggest that you repeat these reasons in your letter somewhat as follows:

'What do you mean when you accuse us of 'a break with the International' by publishing a defense of orthodox Trotskyism against deliberate public attacks on it? Didn't Clarke publicly violate our program by forecasting the possible self-reform of the Soviet bureaucracy in our magazine behind the backs of the editorial board? Haven't the new Pabloite conceptions about Soviet development, to which we object, been published? Didn't the French Pabloites publicly defend the Stalinists against the criticism of the French Trotskyists of the Majority in a public leaflet? etc.

'Is it 'loyalty' to the International to defile its program and tradition in public, but 'a break with the international' to defend this tradition and this program in public? The members of the SWP don't think so, and no pontifical pronouncements, no factional expulsions, excommunications or 'removals' will change their opinion.

'I agree that, as a general rule, internal disputes in our movement would perhaps better be discussed internally, although a public discussion is nothing new. We conducted a limited public discussion before the 1940 split in the SWP, and Trotsky did not hesitate to attack in the public press the capitulationist position of Roman Well and others in the German section in 1932. Trotsky's polemic against Uhrbahns, in the formative stage of the International Left Opposition, was also published in The Militant. In any case, we will never agree to a one-sided rule whereby revisionists enjoy the right to attack the program in public and the orthodox have no right to defend it.

* * *

Organizationally our position, as I see it, is very strong. I am not too much impressed by circumstance that a number of weak sections, without serious cadres or tradition, support Pablo precisely because they are Pabloites and know nothing else. That's too bad, of course, but we must recognize that people who have been educated in the Pablo school are not going to agree with those who have been educated in the Trotsky school.

What is important is that the most solid cadres, educated in the Trotskyist doctrine and tradition, have already taken a firm stand against the revisionists and liquidators.

An 'International' made up of the rumps of the minorities and small weak sections, without these tested cadres, would be somewhat farcical. Even as things stand right now, the real relation of forces, as they r are measured by cadres, is plainly in our favor. The thing to do is to recognize this reality and to recognize also that we have no need of any compromise whatever.

That, of course, does not exclude our taking a formal position which opens an approach to the hesitating elements. Such a position, as I see it, requires the designation of the struggle in the international movement as a factional struggle; the consolidation of the International Committee of the Fourth International as the rallying center of the Trotskyist faction: the insistent contention -- which is the plain truth -- that the Pabloites initiated the public struggle against the Trotskyist program and that we are simply answering them on their own ground, etc.

I believe it very important for the International Committee, as well as all the sections supporting it, to stand firmly on these formal positions without in the least restricting their freedom of action in the struggle.

Right now a problem is presented by such people as the Ceylonese, some of the Canadians, etc., who sympathize more or less with us politically but have been caught on the hook of organizational formalities, 'discipline,' etc. The thing is to understand what this problem is and how to deal with it. I will give my opinion first, before the explanation for it: No compromise whatever with such tendencies. I give this answer all the more confidently because the problem is not new to me.

There were such people -- many of them -- in 1928 in the American CP as well as in other sections of the Comintern. All those who tried to out-wit the Stalinists by organizational concessions and diplomacy, came to disaster. Once they recognized the rules laid down by the Stalinists, their doom was sealed; one capitulation followed I another until there was nothing left to give away. The Stalinists first coddled them and then cut them to pieces step by step -- according to the 'disciplinary rules' to which they had agreed in advance. The cadres of international Trotskyism were created by those who rejected this maneuverist policy and embarked on a straight-out public struggle.

That's the way it's going to be this time too. By that I do not at all mean to cross off and ignore such hesitant, concilatory elements as I those mentioned. On the contrary we should pay a great deal of attention to them, but our attention should consist of the following elements :

First -- and most important - an incessant, merciless hammering of the Pabloites in our public press as well as in Internal Bulletins.

Second, repeated, insistent demands upon the hesitaters that they take a position on the principal questions in dispute and let the world movement know where they stand in regard to them.

Third, tell them that if they want to restrain the public struggle, their demands should be addressed not to us but to those who started it. The conciliators should demand of the Pabloites:

a. That all public announcements of political positions not authorized by orthodox doctrine and previous decisions of world congresses, be discontinued. Let them hereafter submit their new revelations for discussion in Internal Bulletins.

b. That all summary expulsions, excommunications and 'removals' of elected leaders of the national sections be cancelled.

I think you should consider answering Germain's questions to you by posing these two points to him -- in the form of questions -- and asking if he doesn't recognize that they are a necessary a priori condition to the consideration of his proposals -- since the Pabloites started the 'expulsion' game.

There is no question of the Pabloites accepting these demands. It would be quixotic at this late date even to present them in this camarilla, and still worse to entertain illusions about their acceptance of them. As I see it, the proposals are designed for conversation with the hesitants who claim to agree with us politically but give their support to Pablo on organizational grounds. We can suggest to the hesitants, as a division of labor, that they make the proposals for a revision of the rules of the fight while we concentrate on frontal political attack on the big questions at issue in the fight.

* * *

The Pabloites are clearly bent on a formal split to be effected by the simple expedient of expelling and excommunicating all opponents before the discussion gets a good start. The 'unanimous decisions' of their December Plenum proves that, if more proof was needed. They aim to compromise the name of the Fourth International, as much as impossible before formally 'junking' it. I don't think the Trotskyists should facilitate their game, either by a policy of formal withdrawal or by recognition of their expulsions. We fight not only for the doctrine and tradition of the International, but also for the organization and the name.

The International Committee of the Fourth International, as the organizing center of the Trotskyist faction, recognizes the right of the Pablo faction neither to outlaw it; nor to expel any of its affiliates; nor to 'remove' the elected officials of any section; nor to appropriate the name of the Fourth International. We should fight it out on this formal ground all the way through to the end, without permitting our fight to be hampered at any point by rules laid down by the liquidators.

Given the principled nature of the fight, no one who takes principle seriously can justifiably object to our stand on these formal positions. If anyone does object we have a simple answer: We take principles seriously and fight for them openly and honestly; and in the fight we claim the same rights for ourselves that our opponents claim for themselves. We recognize the usefulness of 'rules' but the rules must be observed by both sides.

* * *

One more big difference between us and the supporters of Pablo is reflected in the line-up of forces and should also be reflected in the nature of our work and struggle. In addition to everything else, two different conceptions of the International are involved in this struggler I expect to write about this at some length, but here I would like to indicate the main points.

We conceive of the International, first of all, as a program and second, as an organizational means of coordinating and unifying the policy and activity of the functioning sections by means of political ; and ideological collaboration. Discipline in secondary matters follows as a matter of course; and it has never been a serious problem among people who are really united on the program, either nationally or I internationally. On the other hand, discipline never yet succeeded in reconciling the adherents of contradictory programs.

Programmatic differences can be resolved -- if they can be resolved at all -- only by discussion,argument and persuasion, never by force. The history of the innumerable splits since the beginning of the International Left Opposition, as well as the history of the disputes which were settled without splits, gives definitive testimony on this point.

From our point of view, the one who will not observe discipline on secondary matters is an intellectual anarchist, unfit to belong to a serious organization, and the sooner he is thrown out the better. On the other hand, the one who will surrender his tight of discussion and criticism on primary matters of principle under threats of discipline, or for any reason whatever, is an ideological traitor; or, as Trotsky said in blunter language, 'a scoundrel.

The dupes who follow Pablo, like those who facilitated the corruption of the Comintern, really think discipline is the first principle of international organization. Along with that, they regard 'the International' as a sort of substitute for functioning national sections with solid cadres and indigenous leaderships occupied with the problems of their own country. The weaker they are on their home grounds, the more they depend on 'the International' to answer all questions for them, and the readier they are to 'condemn' those leaders who have built serious organizations in their own countries and assert some independence of judgment in international matters.

The less impression these 'leaders' of pseudo-sections are able to make in their own country, the more they seek fictitious importance as international politicians. Clarke is perhaps the arch-type of this pseudo-leader, but there are others and they are all yapping at our heels.

The task and the test of the real internationalists is to build organizations in their own countries, as well as to help the other sections,and the International as a whole, by an informed and lively participation in their affairs. Believing that, we must be careful now not to allow our activities to become too one-sided in the present international struggle. Our task is not merely to give advice to the Trotskyist world at large, but also to set the example by doing serious work and building serious organizations in our own countries.

I am very glad to see that the Political Committee in New York is not neglecting this basic task while the International fight goes on. The campaign you are developing around the issue of McCarthyism, the subscription campaign, the speaking tours, etc., are convincing evidence of this. The Pabloite leaders, who as a general rule don't have to bother with those burdensome 'national' tasks, may seem to have an advantage over us in the 'international' struggle, since they have nothing else to do. But these political operations in the stratosphere will never reap any serious results on this earth.

I notice that the French comrades complain that they are somewhat handicapped in the international work by the fact that their leading militants are so fully absorbed in mass work and the general practical activity of the French section. The same thing applies to England. But, among other things, it was the obvious proofs that the Majority in France were really active in the class struggle of their own country, while the Pabloites were merely commenting about the activities of others -- to say nothing of commenting falsely and shamefully -- that obliges us, and all other real Trotskyists in the International, to collaborate with the French Majority and to support them despite secondary differences which may arise between us.


J.P. Cannon

Back to The Split in the Fourth International Document Index | Toward a History of the Fourth International | Back to Trotsky Encyclopedia Home Page

Last updated 17.10.2003