Letter from George Breitman to James P. Cannon, October 7, 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 Jim:

There is some information available that I regard as significant, which I’d like to pass on to you. (You may already have it, but I got it so tardily and accidentally that you may not; I am not sure if all the other comrades attach the same significance to it that I do. We discussed it for the first time last night, and I’m telling you about it on the chance that it may be lost in the rush of other news passing back and forth.)

Some time ago (during the last month, I assume) a ‘naive’ rank and filer was holding a discussion with Sid Winn, a leading Cochranite (formerly on the City Committee). This comrade assumed that a majority of the International was with us, and said so. Winn’s reply was approximately as follows (and remember I have this fourth-or fifth-hand): Yes, it’s true you have a mechanical majority of the International, but we have a majority of the ideological leadership, and so on. He also said, in passing, that because of the peculiarities of the voting there, we (the majority) have the West German party with us.

Dave Weiss got a report about this discussion. About two weeks ago, or maybe less, Monroe, the Flint Cochranite, came to town and Dave ran into him. In the discussion Dave decided to use the approach of the ’naive’ rank and filer and boldly told Monroe that of course we have a decisive majority of the International with us. Monroe’s reply was very much like that of Winn’s.

Was Winn expressing ideas of his own? It’s hardly likely. Was Monroe’s reply like Winn’s merely because of coincidence? That’s even less likely. The minority is a very tight caucus. Its members would not have such ideas unless they had received them from their leaders, whom they surely have been asking questions about the international relation of forces. Also, the minority, I am sorry to say, is better informed about these matters than we are, if only because Pablo is in a better position to know where the different parties tend to stand.

Thus, with what you call my customary restraint, I have come to certain conclusions: The minority does not think it has the support of a majority of the International. Its estimate must be supported by information that we do not have available (the news about West Germany certainly falls into that category). Perhaps some of us have been unduly pessimistic about the outcome of an international showdown -- with less cause than the minority has to be pessimistic.

At the meeting last night it was also reported that Bartell, in his discussion with Steve Roberts, had spoken in a derogatory manner about the size and influence of the International (the same kind of thing he started doing about our own party after he saw they were in a hopeless minority here). This is not the way he would talk about the International if he thought they had the majority; on the contrary. Also, it was reported that at a social last week members of the minority were speaking in a belittling manner about the Ceylon party.

Doesn’t this tend to explain the hysterical and almost desperate tone of Pablo’s recent letters and statements? Would he write that way unless there was a good psychological-political reason for it?

Also: we have been talking about the behaviour of the Pabloists, which to some has seemed possibly motivated by a desire to force some kind of showdown before the Congress takes place. Can it be for the aforementioned reason? Why should they risk a possible split before the Congress if they thought they’d have a majority there?

Then there is the argument about ‘why don’t you accept the same discipline in the International that you want the American minority to accept in the American party?’ It seemed for a time that this was going to be a big pitch on their part, but it has been muted for the most part; certainly not put forward full-scale. Myra observed that she noted Pablo’s answer to you on internationalism placed this argument within the framework of the past and present, rather than the future; there was no bold statement about letting the Congress decide. (I haven’t checked this point myself yet.) This too fits in with the premise that they don’t have a majority, and know it. And isn’t it possible also that this premise has something to do with Pablo’s repeated requests for a ‘face-to-face’ talk?

I won’t go on further along this line. But it seems obvious to me that we ought to reflect on it carefully. It not only throws light on their tactics, I believe, but it must be weighed in formulating our own tactics. I will not enter into that myself, because I am not much of a tactician, but I believe it will have to condition our attitude to the Congress and our statements about the Congress. (Of course we can probe the thing further if that seems necessary.)


George Breitman

P.S. Have you noticed that Pablo, in his article of Sept. 9, answering your speech on internationalism, finds it necessary for some reason to say in his opening line that he did not see the text of your speech until Sept. 5? What in the world is the reason for that, or the significance he places on it? The IS letter of Sept. 3 makes clear reference to the speech in its sixth paragraph, even using quotation marks around certain words. How could they quote from it without having seen it? Furthermore, what is he trying to say by pretending that he hadn’t seen the speech before Sept. 5’that Clarke didn’t show him the speech when he arrived in August, or mail it to him even earlier when he got it (in July, and possibly even in June)? Has he trapped himself through some over-use of duplicity? (These are rhetorical questions, and I don’t want any answers; I just call it to your attention as a 16th rate matter that may possibly be of interest to you.)

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