Letter from James P. Cannon to George Novack, September 3, 1953

Documents 3 to 17 and 19 to 24 originally published in Internal Bulletins of the SWP and the International Bulletins of the International Committee

Dear Warde:

1. Yesterday I sent you some comments on the Paris letter of August 10. These remarks were not meant as a draft of our formal reply to this provocative threat and insult -- that is the last thing we have to worry about -- but for the information of our own people. This is by far the most important thing right now. We should move at every step with a fully informed party.

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2. Today I received Harry's letter of August 30, and took particular note of (1) the report that J. L. appeared at the Executive meeting with an organized faction and, (2) that he proposed to put Burns 'under IS discipline' before the discussion starts. Some of you no doubt will raise your hands in holy horror and say, 'I never heard of such a thing.' But I have not only heard of it, I have seen it and felt it in my bones, in the Stalinized Comintern.

This little device of putting leaders under committee discipline (national and international) inside the party was one of the principal methods of stifling the internal life of the Comintern and its parties; of depriving the membership of any real opportunity for the consideration and informed discussion of different opinions among the leaders; and eventually of guaranteeing the complete degeneration of the parties.

The transformation of the parties of the Comintern from the vanguard of the revolution into instruments of counter-revolution and betrayal was not accomplished at one step. It took a long time and a long continued process, which couldn't really begin without stifling the internal life of the movement.

3. I am particularly sensitive to any manifestation of this disease of Cominternism. Some of you will remember how violently I reacted to Clarke's attempt to impose 'discipline' on NC members in discussion of the decisions of the Third World Congress after the Congress. I stated then, in the meeting of the Political Committee, that I had had one Comintern and I didn't want another. These words came from the heart, and I still feel the same way about it.

I don't know what I would have said if I had been present at the reported Executive Committee meeting, when it was proposed to invoke 'discipline' before the discussion of documents pertaining to a Congress, which is yet to be held. But if I hadn't been incapacitated by a fit of apoplexy, induced by uncontrollable rage, I am sure would have denounced this monstrous attempt to foreclose the discussion before it has really begun. I would have~called this proposal by its right name and told its sponsor that he is talking to the wrong party.

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4. Secondly, if I were in England, I would recognize the reality of an opposition faction aiming to discredit and disqualify the leadership and to transform the British party into a lifeless puppet. I would recognize further, as all experience has shown, that organized factionalism cannot be outwitted by constructive non-factional work, but must be met on its own ground. In all such cases, constructive work requires the protection of a counter-faction. I would proceed to the organization of a militant counter-faction without delay.

Harry's reference to 'the caucus of the majority which is taking shape' is the best news we could hope to hear for the prospects of a favourable outcome in Britain. I would suggest to our friends there to make this caucus as broad as possible, and to keep its members fully informed of everything.

5. I don't think you should rush to get out a formal reply to the Paris letter. We are under no pressure unless we put it on ourselves through unnecessary nervousness. They may not know it, but the issue between them and us is not going to be settled in Paris -- not even with the help of Clarke in person. Our first and foremost task is the consolidation of informed opinion in our own party. The same holds true in England.

Thomas is due in town today and Vincent will arrive tomorrow. I will consult with them and other NC members in the next few days, and we will probably work out a draft of an answer to the Paris letter. I suggest that you do the same, and wait until we have exchanged CB drafts, and heard any suggestions which other out-of-town NC members might make, before committing the answer to final form. We have plenty of time.

We have to bear in mind that communications between them and us in the present circumstances have a purely formal character. It is not a matter of misunderstanding or a slight difference of opinion, which could be straightened out by explanatory communications back and forth. We are fighting a revisionist opposition in the SWP, and they are lined up against us. Their communication is not meant to explain and convince, but to threaten and intimidate. It is also written for the 'record.' This is the explanation of its hypocriticaily innocent form. In out reply -- when we get around to it -- we can dispense with threats, but we must also write for the record.

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6. The essence of the August 10 letter is a declaration of war on us, and a warning of the 'gravest crisis' which can follow if we fail to roll over and play dead. Their conduct does indeed precipitate a grave crisis in the world movement; but it is not the first one, and it is not the gravest -- and eventually it will be solved easier than some of the others.

It is not as grave, for example, as the criminal split of the Molinier-Frank faction at the time of the French sit-down strikes. It is not as grave as the crisis of 1939, which split the international movement at the beginning of the war, and kept it in a state of suspended animation for a period of five years, with the reinforced assistance of Logan, Munis, Morrow-Goldman, the German IKD-ists and others.

I have confidence that this international crisis will be overcome, Primarily because I am convinced that the crisis in the SWP -- which is the most decisive sector of the present battle line and the place where the whole thing started -- is already under control. We should bear in mind all the time, and never forget, that the value of our contributions to a progressive solution of the crisis on the international field will depend directly on how firm our control of the SWP is; on how consciously the party supports us. Our words will carry weight if we speak on the international field, not as clever individuals contributing to a discussion -- in the French tradition -- but as representatives of a party taking sides in a struggle -- in the American tradition.

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7. I gather that opinion in New York is tending toward the conception of the crisis as an all-out political fight in which the sides will be delineated by conflicting documents. I am not so sure of that. It may come to that in the end; but I don't think we should anticipate it or run ahead to meet it. It remains yet to be demonstrated whether or not agreement can be reached on common documents. We should not take the more drastic course until this possibility has been thoroughly tested.

We don't want to fight over what may be in somebody's head. Our concern is over what is written in official documents. We know that the authors of the Paris letter are hostile to us for reasons which have not yet been explained; and it is reasonable to assume that there is some kind of a political motivation at the bottom of it. This political motivation may be implied in some ambiguous formulations and omissions in the drafts of the two documents presented for discussion, but it is not clearly stated there. We should be careful not to read things into the drafts which are not written there in plain terms.

As in nearly all documents coming from this source, there are formulations which lend themselves to double interpretations; and other formulations which, while more or less correct in themselves, lack necessary qualifications which only a very critical reader might notice. The question is: Do these documents mean what a casual reader, taking everything in good faith, thinks they mean? Or do they mean what the Cochranites will say they mean, in justification of their own less-disguised revisionism?

I think the best way to test this out, in the preliminary stages of the discussion, is to formulate clarifying amendments on every point which appears to be wrong or ambiguous. From this point of view I incline to agree with Harry and Burns. In cooperation with them we should work out the necessary amendments, submit them and see how they are received. Then we can decide whether or not it is necessary to present our views in separate documents.

If we are resolutely determined not to be rushed, crowded or "disciplined" into formal agreement on a hodge-podge, this procedure will work out best in the long run. But in any case, we should take our time in this important matter, and proceed slowly and deliberately, with the aim of getting absolute clarity one way or another. However it turns out, we must lock the door against any more double games of "interpretation."

Yours fraternally,

J. P. Cannon

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