Letter from James P. Cannon to Sam Gordon, June 4, 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 Tom:

Your two letters of May 13 and May 25 have been highly appreciated here. In the new shuffle and division of labor in our leading staff, I have been placed in charge of'foreign affairs' and will pay the closest attention to it. You will be hearing from me directly on all matters in this domain and I will undertake to keep you fully informed.

As a beginning, I am enclosing herewith the following material:

1. My speech to the majority caucus of New York on 'Internationalism and the SWP.'

2.Our Plenum resolution on 'American Stalinism and Our Attitude Toward It.'

3. Two letters I wrote from California sometime ago on the question of 'Cominternism' (February 3 letter to Joe and March 9 letter to Farrell).

4. Letter of May 22 to Jerome, with copy to Jerry.

5. Jerome's dissimulating 'answer' to this letter addressed to Manuel under date of May 28.

6. Manuel's answer to this 'answer' under date of June 2. (This blunt answer will call an abrupt halt to dissimulation, at any rate.)

7. Copy of my final speech to our recently concluded Plenum.

8. Plenum resolution on the 'Internal Situation.

(If the last two documents, or any others, are not enclosed in this letter, they will follow shortly.)

For convenience I will arrange this report under separate headings.

1. Our May Plenum

The Plenum ended not with a split, but with a firmer consolidation of party unity based on the unconditional acceptance of majority rule and the agreement to continue a literary discussion at a slower pace and in moderated tone, without a 'power struggle' for leadership.

The 'power struggle,' which has been going on for the past year, established a definite relation of forces in the party which were indisputably reflected at the Plenum. The minority finished with control of the Michigan organization and a fluke majority in the small Seattle Branch, which will not last long. That's all! Even in New York where they had the advantage of controlling the apparatus and the long period of preparatory underground factional organization, they wound up in a definite minority, although the minority in New York is a strong one (about 40).

At the Plenum, Burch and Breitman and Jean Simon (Cleveland alternate), who had previously taken an independent position, swung over to the majority and joined the majority caucus. Marcy, who has his own independent political position, as you know, stated categorically that the Buffalo Branch would not follow the minority in a split. It was this relation of forces, established in the course of uncompromising struggle, that made a favorable outcome of the Plenum possible and pulled the minority back from the split which they had contemplated.

After three full days of discussion, we demanded that the minority give the Plenum a clear statement of their attitude toward the realities in the relation of party forces. We demanded that they acknowledge the authority of the Plenum, acknowledge the right of the majority to lead the party and determine its policy, and discontinue the 'power struggle.' On that condition, we offered to give them fair representation on the party staff and full democratic rights as a minority in the subsequent development of the literary discussion; and the right to maintain their faction organization, if they wished to do so.

As an alternative, if they did not agree to that, we offered to call a Party convention to decide and settle the fight. The minority then stated that they did not want a convention and did not want to continue the faction fight in terms of a 'power struggle.' They stated that they recognized the relation of forces and the right of the majority to run the party. They favored the proposal for a continuation of the discussion in literary form at a slower pace and in a calmer tone; they asked for fair representation on the staff; and suggested that some of the harsh characterizations made of them in the draft resolutions of the majority be moderated, but emphasized that this suggestion was not put forward as an ultimatum.

We answered with an acceptance of their declaration. Subcommittees from the two sides then met to work out concrete details of the settlement. In the negotiations we agreed upon a new Political Committee of six majority and two minority, the minority being free to select their own representatives. The minority is to have a member of the full-time staff as executive editor of the magazine, but the editorial policy will be controlled by a board of three, two of whom being majority. Instead of moderating the harsh characterizations of the minority in our draft resolutions, as they had suggested, we went further and agreed to eliminate all harsh characterizations from the resolutions altogether pending the further development of the positions of both sides in the literary discussion.

The negotiating committee soon came to agreement on all these details and on a further proposal that the resolution on the internal situation should be a joint one, and that it include a declaration that both sides in the future course of the discussion should refrain from any talk of split. This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Plenum with considerable relief and enthusiasm.

It was agreed that I should make the final remarks at the close of the Plenum. What I said was apparently received with satisfaction all the way around. Factional tension has been almost entirely eliminated, and the social given by the New York Local last Saturday was a jubilant unity affair.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this experience:

1. The party crisis caused by a factional struggle, which teas instigated in Parts and which brought the party to the brink of an unnecessary split, was resolved by the inner resources and capacities of the SWP itself.

2. A new flareup of factional struggle for a long time to come is impossible after the Plenum, unless it also is instigated from Paris.

2. 'Foreign Affairs'

The entire majority leadership here has finally become convinced, against their will, that the SWP has been used as a guinea pig for experiments in duplicity and intrigue which characterized the later years of our experience in the old Comintern; but which we never expected, and for a long time could not believe were possible, in the international movement inspired by Trotsky.

My letter to Jerome under date of May 22 could not fail to be understood as formal notice that we are aware of the maneuvers against us; that things are going to be different in this relationship from now on; and that any kind of monkey business is out of date as far as we are concerned. My sending a copy of the letter to Burns was designed to let him also know that we are on guard and ready to react to the first openly hostile move against us. Our people throughout the country have been fully informed of what has happened and our evaluation of it, and it is already too late for anybody to take us by surprise.

Our next step, in the event of any overt act against us will be an international roll, call to find out who are our friends and who are our enemies. This roll call will not be confined to a few individuals who mistake themselves for the movement, but will be addressed to the entire world movement itself. I hope that Burns takes a firm stand on our side. Collaboration between him and us has been very beneficial to both in the past, and can continue to be so in the future. But, as you know, all collaboration, as far as we are concerned, has to have a firm and clearly-defined principled basis.

If Burns, as we hope is on our side, this is my first request to him, which you can transmit. I would like to have a full and complete report of everything he knows about the conspiracy against the SWP leadership from the beginning. Your letter indicates that he has previous knowledge of these machinations. We have pieced them together by deduction, but we would like to have more detailed factual information.

I smelled something about this business a long time ago, as did others here. But we did not want to permit ourselves to believe that anyone with whom we had collaborated in good faith would attempt to Play such a double game with us. The two enclosed letters I wrote from California -- the February 3 letter to Joe and the March 9 letter to Farrell -- seem now to have been written, so to speak, in anticipation. But they also show very plainly that I hoped for the best and did not want any rupture of collaboration to be initiated from our side.

You know that from the beginning of the reestablishment of international collaboration, after the end of the war, we wanted the organizational procedures to be regulated and moderated by the realities of an association of still feeble organizations; and feared any methods of super-centralization which, in the circumstances, could only be a caricature. Our concern was not for ourselves, but to protect the weak, young groups and parties and give them a chance to grow and develop their own initiative, and to select out an indigenous leadership of their own in each case. You know how often we conveyed, through you and Bob, these suggestions which were the fruit of such long experience and deliberate thought on these matters. You know also how our suggestions in this respect were disregarded.

We have had the uneasy feeling for a long time that the unfortunate results in France -- the loss of the majority in two splits since the end of the war -- might have been avoided if the wise men in Paris had been willing to recognize that the building of a party, and the selection of an indigenous leadership capable of leading the party with the necessary authority, is a long, difficult and complicated process; and that the experience of others in this field might have been worth some consideration.

It is not a question of a 'hard' or a 'soft' policy in factional struggles, but knowing how to alternate them and to use each at the right time. For example, I don't know how much blood I lost in impotent fuming over the method of dealing with the Hasten gang in England. That was too soft, for too long a time. I always thought the Burns group should have been helped to get out of that Hasten jungle at least a year earlier, to give them at least one year more of precious time to lay the foundation of a real movement. I felt the same way about the ultra-soft and diplomatic policy with the Geoffroy group in France.

Conversely, we were flabbergasted at the tactics used in the recent French conflict and split, and the inconceivable organizational precedent established there. That is why I delayed my answer to Renard so long. I wanted to help the IS politically, but I didn't see how I could conscientiously sanction the organizational steps taken against the majority of an elected leadership. I finally resolved the problem by just ignoring that part of Renard's letter. But I am not very proud of the fact that such an evasive course seemed to be imposed by the circumstances.

Now we have an experiment with the SWP, with lightminded talk and proposals for 'intervention' which, if it has any effect at all, will only be to stir up another needless factional insurrection against the leadership and again endanger the party unity. I can tell you plainly that it will not seriously affect the SWP, because we will simply smash such an insurrection if it is attempted. But what do these methods signify for weak and inexperienced parties? And what does an irresponsible rupture of the collaboration with us mean for the whole world movement? These are serious questions which serious people had better begin thinking about, and I sincerely hope that Burns and his friends will be among them.

3. Third World Congress

I was surprised and disappointed at your impulsive action in regard to the Third World Congress documents. We accepted them as they were written. When they try to tell us now that we don't understand them, we do not reply by saying that we reject the resolutions. We say, rather, that we reject any special interpretation of them that is not clearly stated in the written language.

If there is something in fine print that we overlooked or if something was written in invisible ink, to be deciphered by a special caste of priests who have been secretly tipped off -- we don't accept that part. We don't admit the right of anybody to read into the documents anything that is not already there in plain print. We don't believe in priests. We don't need special agents, who know the secrets or special interpretations, to explain the resolutions to us the way the Catholic prelates explain the bible to ignorant laymen. It only confuses matters to admit, even by implication, that somebody has a special right to 'interpret' the documents; and would therefore, since we don't agree with some of the 'interpretation,' we reject the documents. We would be greatly pleased if you can see things this way and coordinate yourself with us accordingly.

The question of Stalinism, and our attitude toward it in the new stage of its development, can become terribly complicated and clouded if the slightest suspicion of hidden motives and double meanings enters into the consideration of the question and the interpretation of the documents. We, for our part, do not want to begin with this attitude. But we have had to admit that the persistent contentions of our minority, put forward with such inexplicable assurance, that we don't 'understand' the Third Congress documents; that the documents don't mean what we think they mean just from reading what they say in cold print; and now the new evidence that their self confidence is not self-generated, but has all along been prompted by assurance of support from Paris -- all that has ceased to be merely annoying and has become rather alarming.

Our disposition here is not to withdraw our support for the written documents, but to watch alertly for the next stage of the evolution of the discussion on this question.

As you know, from the early days of our movement in this country, I personally haven't had much use for global politicians who can easily solve all the complicated problems of other countries, but manifest ignorance and indifference toward the concrete problems of their own country. That, as you will recall, is what our old fight against Carter -- and to a large extent against Shachtman -- was mainly about. We have the concrete problem of Stalinism right here in the United States, where we have to do our work and prove our worth as revolutionists, not as mere speculators and commentators on all the affairs of the great globe itself.

We are not going to allow the slightest ground for ambiguity, or misunderstanding, or misinterpretation of our analysis of American Stalinism and its prospects, and our attitude toward it. That is why we have set our opinion down in a special resolution on American Stalinism, which was adopted by the Plenum. In the final draft we will edit out some of the sharper expressions, but nothing else will be changed. The copy of the draft resolution enclosed herewith makes our position clear, I think.

In the subsequent discussion I hope to elaborate on this question more fully, taking each section of the adopted resolution as the point of departure for either a series of articles or a long connected one.

4.The Majority Faction in the SWP

The faction fight in the SWP was settled quite definitely, and for a long time to come, at the Plenum. Under normal conditions, this would lead to an attenuation of the factional organizations and eventually, probably, to their transformation into tendencies, rather than organized groups. The only thing standing in the way of this normal evolution is the threat of some artificial 'intervention' from Paris, which would feed the flames of factionalism, again call in question the authority of the majority leadership and plunge us headlong into an embittered factional organization struggle, with the implicit threat of split.

We have decided to prepare for this possibility. For that reason we are maintaining our caucus organization from top to bottom, on a military basis, and imposing an absolute discipline upon every member of the faction. This excludes the right of any individual to take any kind of action outside the faction, which might in any way cut across or compromise the line of strategy decided upon by the faction leadership. If you recognize the necessity for this strict procedure in this next period, and are willing to work with us on that basis, we will naturally be glad to include you in the majority faction and coordinate all our work with you, furnish you with all information, and give you precise instructions in regard to any procedure. I personally don't have the slightest doubt that you will find this agreeable, as well as necessary in the situation, and that you will confirm the agreement in your next letter.

For the moment, at your own discretion, you are free to show this letter, and all or any part of the enclosed material, to Burns and his friends so that they can get an absolutely clear picture of our position.



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