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Fourth International, December 1944


The Editors

The Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.12, December 1944, pp.355-361.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


With clenched fists upraised and defiant voices confidently singing the Internationale, 400 delegates and visitors closed the four day convention of the Socialist Workers Party held November 16-19 in New York City. This was the Eleventh Convention in the sixteen-year history of the American Trotskyist movement. A number of unique features make this national gathering outstanding.

This was the second convention since Leon Trotsky, founder and inspirer of the world Trotskyist movement, was murdered by one of Stalin’s hired assassins. It was the second convention since we were deprived of the genius of Trotsky’s Marxist appraisal and analysis of world events, his wise counsel, his inspiring leadership. In addition, we were deprived at this convention of the guidance and participation of the outstanding leaders of the American Trotskyist movement. As a consequence of a conspiracy hatched by Roosevelt and Tobin in the summer of 1941, they were put behind prison bars on the eve of US entry into the war.

The convention was, therefore, expressive of a double test the party has undergone: the testing of the party’s temper under conditions of capitalist persecution; the testing of the party cadres, their ability to carry forward the work of the party in the absence of the imprisoned leadership and to supply the necessary ideological and organizational guidance to the vanguard movement for the Socialist liberation of mankind.

How the party met this test was summarized in the Organization Report to the convention by Comrade Stein, Acting National Secretary, as follows:

“The imprisonment of our 18 comrades confronted the party with its most serious test. Included among the prisoners were the outstanding leaders of the party – its National Secretary, Labor Secretary, Chairman of the National Committee, echtors of the press, New York organizer, Minneapolis organizer, and others – all comrades with many years of experience in the revolutionary movement behind them. Comrades who occupied key posts in the party organization and in its leadership. By striking this blow at us the conspirators in Washington hoped to paralyse our will and our ability to struggle. They calculated that this imprisonment would not merely decapitate the party, but also terrorise it.

“But they failed to accomplish their purpose. By our tenacity and hard work we frustrated the aims of Roosevelt, Tobin and Co. We turned the blow of the imprisonment into a party victory. The Minneapolis case – the imprisonment of the 18 – symbolized our party banner. We raised it high as the banner of uncompromising Trotskyist struggle against capitalism, against imperialist war, and for a socialist society. This was no banner for fainthearts and cowards to flock to. But many revolutionary militants did rally to this banner and joined our party. Our recruitment has been greater since the imprisonment than in any comparative previous period.

“How and why was this possible?

“Because we’ve always been entirely free of illusions about capitalism and what it has in store for us. The imprisonment did not come as an unexpected blow. What has capitalism to offer a revolutionist except frame-up and persecution? We knew this when we first came into the revolutionary movement. We knew this when we joined it to be participants in a life-and-death struggle. But we also knew that this fight is the only fight worth the sacrifice of one’s freedom and even one’s life.

“Our party was not caught unawares. Through years of preparatory work we steeled a cadre capable of assuming the responsible tasks of the imprisoned comrades and carrying on the work of the party with devotion and confidence. The substitute leadership did not come out of nowhere. They are no apparatus appointees. They are all comrades who have distinguished themselves by their work in the revolutionary movement for many years. They were not imposed upon the party but came into their positions naturally, as a matter of course. And this is how the party accepted them, placing full confidence in the substitute leadership and displaying a magnificent spirit of cooperation. Not for a moment was there the least sign of jitteriness or panic in the party ranks following the imprisonment. The party as a whole remained steadfast throughout and confident of its own strength and ability to carry on.

“The substitute leadership was assembled from various parts of the country. A number of the comrades in the substitute leadership hardly knew each other except that they had met at national party gatherings every now and then. Very few of us had had the opportunity of working together for any period of time. But we were united by a common program, which is the firmest of all bonds. We were united in the determination to demonstrate to the whole world the vitality of our party. We were united by the common training we had received in the same school of Bolshevism. That is why we could work so harmoniously, not only when there was unanimity on questions, but also whenever differences arose over policy or tactics.

“We were always mindful of our responsibility to the party and to the world Trotskyist movement, a responsibility which demanded that differences be resolved in a democratic way by majority vote rather than by the method of factional struggle, personal recriminations, etc. In a word, we functioned in the true spirit of a collective leadership where the collectivity gives greater strength and greater wisdom to each individual. This is, after all, the true meaning of the Bolshevik party. It is only through the party that a worker finds strength and capacity to struggle, that he finds the wisdom with which to carry on his struggle most ably and most successfully.”

Temper of Convention

The temper of the convention, evident from the first session, was likewise reflected in the attendance figures. While the regular delegates representing the branches throughout the country numbered only 56, with 24 alternate delegates, in addition to the New York visitors some 250 comrades came, on their own slender resources and despite transportation difficulties, from states as distant as California, Washington, Minnesota, etc., thus demonstrating their devotion to the party.

Conventions are the truest expression, in a concentrated form, of the party’s actual condition. This is certainly true of the Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist movement which was, in this sense, a demonstration of a young, vigorous, serious party whose enthusiastic membership is rooted in the country’s basic mass production industries.

The party activists gathered to draw a balance sheet of the work done during the two years that had elapsed since the previous convention; hard work which produced some not inconsiderable achievements. They had worked with might and main to rouse the labor movement against the threat of the Smith “Gag” Act and in behalf of the 18 who were the first to be railroaded to the penitentiary under this infamous law. As a result some 400 trade unions, Negro organizations and other labor and fraternal bodies representing approximately 4,000,000 workers came to the support of the Civil Rights Defence Committee in its struggle to free the 18 and to revoke the Smith “Gag” Law.

Through the unflagging efforts of the party membership, The Militant was enlarged from four to six pages, and circulated among ever broader layers of worker-readers and subscribers. Equally widespread was the literature relating to the Minneapolis trial of the Trotskyist: Socialism on Trial, by James P. Cannon, a pamphlet containing his testimony at the trial; In Defense of Socialism, a pamphlet with Goldman’s speech for the defense; and Why We Are in Prison, with the farewell speeches of the defendants. These three excellent pamphlets, together with the CRDC pamphlet on the biographies of the 18, presented not only the record of this historic trial but the most timely type of literature for revolutionary Socialism that could be offered to militant workers. Through them tens of thousands of American proletarians have become familiarized with the case and the basic issues involved: Marxist opposition to imperialist war, the advocacy of revolutionary Socialism and the struggle for the establishment of the Workers and Farmers Government in the United States. These and other important achievements were recorded by the delegates to the Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist movement.

The convention met under the inspiration of achievement; armed with confidence and imbued with the awareness of great opportunities ahead. These opportunities are both explicit and implicit in the altered objective situation, this long-awaited change which is coming after the long, hard years of isolation amid triumphant reaction. It was during these years that the Trotskyist had prepared, persevered and girded themselves for action. The hour is now approaching when the viability and power of Trotskyism will be demonstrated under conditions working not against but in favor of the revolution. It was in this spirit that the convention proceeded to its first and main job, that of hammering out the political line for the period ahead.

International Standpoint

For Marxists this line is never nationalist but invariably internationalist in character. Marxists arrive at their political line on the basis of the closest, all-sided examination of the interplay of class forces on the world arena and in the light of the inner logic of the development of these forces. In the last analysis this is what determines the political tasks they set themselves, the slogans they raise, the immediate tactic they undertake, and so on. This, we repeat, was the point of departure for the convention. It started with an examination of the world situation.

Our confidence in the correctness of our program had never for a moment faltered. Our program had been vindicated time and again, but, unfortunately, hitherto only in the negative. That is to say, the workers led by the traditional parties of the Second and Third Intemationals were made to suffer defeat upon catastrophic defeat in one country after another. Each time the workers paid a terrible price for the successive defeats because their treacherous leaders departed from the program of revolutionary Marxism, trampling underfoot their false pledges to lead the fight for Socialism. Thanks to Social Democratic and Stalinist misleadership and sellouts, capitalism was given another breathing spell and was enabled to temporarily re-establish its equilibrium in society.

But so decrepit, so thoroughly rotten is this system that it could do nothing with this new lease on life, this borrowed time, but to plunge the peoples of the world into another holocaust. No sooner had the internal convulsions of capitalism been overcome through fascist barbarism (as in Germany and Italy) or by means of “People’s Front” treachery (as in France) or through a combination of both (as in Spain); no sooner was this accomplished than the inter-imperialist conflicts of the most violent nature commenced. And today, while these inter-imperialist conflicts have far from subsided, a new wave of internal convulsions is sweeping over the European continent; and on the morrow it will extend to the Orient, to England and the United States and throughout the whole world.

Shallow observers and would-be Marxists had predicted a new organic era of capitalist stabilization and development, and a new flowering of bourgeois democracy. In fact, this was precisely the avowed goal of the “People’s Fronts” in the prewar period. The war, and the events flowing from it, have shattered these opportunist illusions. Whence do these illusions arise? At the root of opportunism and all opportunist deviations is to be found, on the one hand, an over-estimation of the strength and viability of the bourgeoisie in general, and of bourgeois democracy in particular; and on the other, the under-estimation of the power, the creative ability, the initiative and fighting capacity of the working class.

All the countries which in the past year have been occupied by Allied troops in the wake of the defeated and retreating Nazi armies are now in the throes of a colossal revolutionary crisis.

Far from resolving the crisis of capitalism, the war has aggravated this crisis many times over. To the prewar reign of exploitation, misery, unemployment and slow death has been added sudden death by the millions and the terrible devastation of war. What can the peoples of the world look, forward to under a continued rule of capitalism? Only to horror without end, as Lenin put it.

That is why it is universally acknowledged even by the capitalist press that the European masses desire a decisive change and are groping for such a change; they are seeking the revolutionary way out of the bloody blind-alley of capitalism. Only that party which is able to offer them a bold and realizable program for the revolutionary transformation of society, and lead them to the broad highway toward Socialism will in the end gain the confidence of the masses and conquer the leadership of the movement. This is the motivation of the international resolution submitted to and adopted by the 1944 Convention of the Socialist Workers Party by a vote of 51 to 5. The text of this resolution: European Revolution And the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party appears in this issue of Fourth International.

Convention Minority

The convention minority which took issue with this resolution had its origin at the party plenum of October 1943, where a dispute arose over the plenum resolution (for the full text of the latter, see December 1943 Fourth International). Comrade Morrow’s article, likewise published in this issue, was written in criticism of the plenum resolution. Contained in it are three main flaws:

1) The contention that American imperialism is less predatory in character than German imperialism; that “this difference between the two great imperialisms aspiring to subjugate Europe is based on the difference in the economic resources of the two”; and that therefore “it is quite false” to refer to them as “equally predatory.”

2) From this appreciation of the “less predatory” character of American imperialism Morrow proceeds to construct his theory that the European masses will in the period ahead fall prey to illusions centering around the character and role of US imperialism. He contends that these illusions will persist because:

Unlike Nazi occupation, American occupation will be followed by improvement in food supplies and in the economic situation generally. Where the Nazis removed factory machinery and transportation equipment, the Americans will bring them in. These economic contrasts ... cannot fail for a time to have political consequences.

On this double foundation of a “short-time” improvement in European living standards and the consequent reinforcement of bourgeois-democratic illusions, Morrow greatly exaggerates the role of bourgeois democracy in Europe.

3) The contention that “the main danger within the Fourth 1nternational” lies “in the direction of ultra-leftism.”

The convention rejected as false from the standpoint of both theory and fact the contention relating to the “less predatory” role of American imperialism. This is false from an analysis of the relative roles of American and German capitalism, their motive force, their respective programs, aims, etc., as well as from the factual standpoint: Anglo-American occupation of Europe has brought a worsening and not an improvement in the conditions of the European masses. As the adopted resolution points out:

Today, the Allies under the hegemony of the Wall Street plutocracy, enter Europe as the new imperialist overlords. For their part, they aim not to unify Europe; but to keep it Balkanized. The Allied imperialists do not desire the revival of European economy to a competitive level. On the contrary, the program of the Allies calls for the dismemberment of the continent to render impossible the revival of an economically strong Europe. Their program of dismemberment, despoliation and political oppression can only deepen Europe’s ruination. Allied occupation, as already demonstrated in Italy, spells not the mitigation of Europe’s catastrophic crisis, but its aggravation.

False Contentions

The convention rejected Morrow’s contention concerning the prospects of bourgeois democracy in Europe. Developments since the downfall of Mussolini have reinforced the party’s prognosis that the program of Anglo-American imperialism is so reactionary that the initial illusions of the masses concerning the intentions and plans of the Allied occupying authorities are swiftly dispelled by their own experiences. In other words, the crisis in Europe is so catastrophic in nature that bourgeois democratic illusions can find no fertile soil. This is further attested to by the recent events in France, Italy, Belgium and Greece. Viewing the process dialectically, the resolution states:

Bourgeois democracy, which flowered with the rise and expansion of capitalism and with the moderation of class conflicts that furnished a basis for collaboration between the classes in the advanced capitalist countries, is outlived in Europe today. European capitalism, in death agony, is torn by irreconcilable and sanguinary class struggles.

Implicit in Morrow’s criticism and in the position of the convention minority is an exaggerated appraisal of the role of bourgeois democracy, its potentialities, etc., in the next period. The party resolution gives the following correct estimate:

Bourgeois democratic governments can appear in Europe only as interim regimes, intended to stave off the conquest of power by the proletariat. When the sweep of the revolution threatens to wipe out capitalist rule, the imperialists and their native accomplices may attempt, as a last resort to push forward their Social Democratic and Stalinist agents and set up a democratic regime for the purpose of disarming and strangling the workers’ revolution. Such regimes, however, can only be very unstable, short-lived and transitional in character. They will constitute a brief episode in the unfoldment of the revolutionary struggle. Inevitably, they will be displaced either by the dictatorship of the proletariat emerging out of the triumphant workers’ revolution or the savage dictatorship of the capitalists consequent upon the victory of the counter-revolution.

The convention rejected the contention that ultra-leftism is the main danger within the international Trotskyist movement. Such a prognosis is borne out neither by the history of the proletarian revolutionary movement, nor by an analysis of the causes underlying either ultra-leftist or opportunist deviations in the revolutionary movement, nor by a concrete examination of the various sections of the Fourth International.

Comrade Logan’s criticisms of the draft resolution, which were likewise rejected by the convention, are in essence an elaboration of Morrow’s views. (Comrade Logan’s article will appear in our next issue.) Logan fails to take cognizance of Morrow’s estimate of the role of American imperialism; he does not say whether he accepts or rejects it, but goes on instead to repeat and even multiply all the other errors of the Morrow position. Whereas Morrow at least made an effort to supply an economic foundation (false though it is) for his exaggerated estimation of the role of bourgeois democracy in Europe, Logan simply ignored this decisive aspect of the problem, as if it had no bearing at all on a Marxist prognosis and the tasks ahead.

Nothing could be more false than to attempt, as do Morrow and Logan, to characterise the convention resolution as “ritualistic” or “over-optimistic.” The resolution clearly states:

We cannot anticipate how long the revolutionary process will take. That will be decided only in the struggle. The European revolution is not to be viewed as one gigantic apocalyptic event, which will with one smashing blow finish with capitalism. The European revolution will probably be a more or less drawn out process with initial setbacks, retreats and possibly even defeats. The might of the Anglo-American imperialists and the Kremlin oligarchy, and their joint plans of counter-revolution represent only one side of the European situation. Far more decisive is the other side: the continued disintegration of capitalism, the inexhaustible resources of the European proletariat and the power of the European revolution. There is absolutely no foundation for pessimistic conclusions.

That is, the resolution declares:

There are no blueprints on how to make a revolution. We do have, however, the program, the strategy and tactics which brought victory to the Russian Revolution. These need to be mastered and correctly applied. What is necessary now is to organize the party and plunge into battle!

This isn’t “ritualism” nor “over-optimism; this is revolutionary realism.

The Morrow-Logan criticisms as a whole along with the proposed Logan amendments were overwhelmingly rejected by the convention.

The Soviet Union

The convention reviewed the Trotskyist position on the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state, and its defense against all imperialist attacks. The convention adopted a shift in emphasis in the slogans to be advanced in the next period. The altered relationship of forces in which the Soviet Union now finds itself, thanks to the victories of the Red Army, and the shift in objective conditions have brought sharply to the fore the problems and tasks of the European revolution which today take precedence over all others and make it mandatory for the party to place full emphasis on the slogan: Defend the European Revolution Against All Its Enemies! In the words of the resolution:

Throughout the period when the Nazi military machine threatened the destruction of the Soviet Union, we pushed to the fore the slogan: Unconditional Defense of the Soviet Union Against Imperialist Attack! Today the fight for the defence of the Soviet Union against the military forces of Nazi Germany has essentially been won. Hitler’s “New Order in Europe” has already collapsed. The present reality is the beginning of the European revolution, the military occupation of the continent by the Anglo-American and Red Army troops, and the conspiracy of the imperialists and the Kremlin bureaucracy to strangle the revolution. We therefore push to the fore and emphasize today that section of our program embodied in the slogan: Defense of the European Revolution Against All Its Enemies! The defense of the European revolution coincides with the genuine revolutionary defense of the USSR.

The Soviet Union is today more than ever confronted with the sharp alternative: Forward to Socialism or Backward to Capitalism. The present transition period cannot long endure. We, mindful of the counter-revolutionary role of the Kremlin bureaucracy both inside and outside of the Soviet Union, remain ever vigilant to all developments in the Soviet Union. Our policy of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack retains all its validity, however, while the nationalized property relations remain. The struggle for the preservation of the fist workers’ state remains an essential task of the world proletariat. We fulfill this task by working to develop and heighten the European revolution and to secure its victory.

In adopting the line of the resolution, and, conversely by rejecting the line implicit in the Morrow-Logan criticisms, the convention assured the party that compass without which it is impossible to chart a revolutionary course in the period ahead. Today, more than ever before, mankind is confronted pointblank with the choice of two historic paths: Either regression into barbarism, or advancement through Socialism. There is only one way forward. That leads through the establishment of the Socialist United States of Europe as a stage toward the formation of the World Socialist Federation.

The convention, after thoroughly discussing the resolution as well as the minority criticisms, placed its seal of approval upon the resolution by an overwhelming vote. The discussion, which culminated in the convention, was extremely broad in scope. For more than two months, in keeping with the traditions of fullest democracy within the party, especially during pre-convention periods, the party membership carried on a concentrated discussion of all the issues involved; the various points of view were presented in articles published in eleven internal bulletins, as well as orally at local, branch, and general membership meetings. The party thus arrived at its definitive judgment after a full and thorough debate, closing the issues in dispute.

By unanimous vote the convention passed the following motion:

1) The Political (International) Resolution of the National Committee having been adopted by the Convention by a vote of 51 to 5, after a free, democratic discussion in the party ranks, the press and all public activities of the Party must strictly conform to the convention decisions.

2) The discussion may at the discretion of the National Committee be continued in the internal bulletin.

In these pages we begin publication of the main documents of the convention on the European questions in order to familiarize our readers at home and abroad with the disputed questions and the convention discussions. The next issue of Fourth International will carry additional material.

After settling the line of the party on the international field, the convention next took up the problems of the American scene. The resolution on United States and the Second World War, supplemented by a report on the Negro question and the discussion revolving around them, occupied the entire sessions during the second day of the convention. This resolution and the report on the Negro question were unanimously adopted. Exigencies of space prevent the publication of the American resolution in this issue. Its text will appear in the January 1945 issue of Fourth International.

The Party Expansion Program

The revolutionary struggles in Europe and their inevitable reverberations, the increasing discontent and restlessness of the American workers, provoked by the capitalist masters and their war, expressed most recently by the struggle to rescind the no-strike pledge and by the rising sentiments in favor of an independent labor party – eloquent harbingers of the coming radicalization and politicalization of the American masses – motivated the convention’s adoption of a rounded program for an expansion of SWP activities.

The convention proposed that the Militant be enlarged to eight pages as soon as practicable; and increase its circulation to 50,000,through a series of subscription campaigns. Furthermore, the subscription price of the Militant is to be reduced to $1 a year. Concurrently, the convention decided to expand the organizing activities of the party. Likewise to be increased is the party’s publishing activity, the issuance of books by Trotsky along with a series of popular pamphlets on timely topics, and similar material.

The convention took cognizance of the need of a systematized educational program in view of the party’s growth, the influx of recruits without previous political affiliation and the new and greater tasks ahead. To this end, it was decided to establish a new system of education of the party membership – the Trotsky School System – which as Comrade Stein reported: “would take care of the Marxist educational requirements of the new recruits, promising candidates for leadership and all the categories in between.” The National Educational Department has been established. With its aid the educational work of the branches will be guided and coordinated. As part of the educational program a National Training School will be organized next summer.

In its miseducation and deception capitalism has at its command the best brains money can buy. It is helped in addition by the petty-bourgeois confusionists of all schools including the self-styled “Marxists” of reformist and centrist varieties. The revolutionary party must carry on an increasing and unceasing ideological struggle for its program, for its policies, for its philosophy. The membership as well as the leadership must be trained as revolutionary Marxists who know how to fight in the class struggle, to fight not only with physical courage and power, but also with the sharpest ideological weapons.

To finance the program of expansion the convention authorized the raising of an $18,000 Party Expansion Fund. This sum was set because it is realizable and, moreover, because it symbolizes the imprisonment of our 18 comrades and the party’s reply to this attempt by Roosevelt and Co., to “behead our movement. This expansion program and the $18,000 Party Expansion Fund will be the best possible welcome home for our comrades when they are released.

* * *

The Eleventh National Convention of the American Trotskyists is a great milestone in the growth and development of our movement. It marks the long distance travelled by the movement since its emergence from the American Communist Party in 1928 as a small, isolated and persecuted handful of pioneers. These pioneer Trotskyists began their work under conditions of capitalist reaction and at a time when the Second and Third Internationals held sway, with the Comintern, in particular, appearing in the eyes of workers as a revolutionary force. Thus both the objective and subjective conditions seemed to raise an impenetrable barrier between the revolutionary vanguard of the vanguard and the toiling masses.

This barrier is now breached. Both of these internationals have since collapsed under the impact of war. The “socialists” and Stalinists act as the avowed agencies of capitalism and the counter-revolution. The parties of the Fourth International are emerging from the war, unswervingly true to their revolutionary program. They stand out today as the only revolutionary parties in the world, the only parties fighting irreconcilably and audaciously for the Communist future of mankind. Under this banner of Trotskyism the SWP convention met, deliberated and adopted its great decisions. Under this banner the Socialist Workers Party continues its march forward.

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