From New International, Vol. XI, No. 5, August 1945, pp. 144–48.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The background of the two letters by James P. Cannon and the article by Albert Goldman which we reprinted here is formed by the letter of James T. Farrell which was printed in the New International, November 1944. The letter was originally addressed to the editors of the Fourth International, theoretical magazine of the Socialist Workers Party. It was a friendly protest by a devoted and courageous supporter of the Trotskyist movement against two articles written in the Fourth International by two Cannonite writers, one Joseph Hansen and the other Harry Frankel. As our readers know, the Fourth International refused to publish the letter by Farrell. We did publish it.
Meanwhile, it appears, the leader of the opposition in the in Socialist Workers Party, Albert Goldman, proposed that Farrell’s letter should be published in the Fourth International, and protested against the decision of the Cannonite majority to suppress it. In justification of this decision, the party leader, Cannon, wrote the two letters which are reprinted here from the SWP’s internal party bulletin (Vol. 7 No. 2, April 1945) in which they appeared. Goldman replied to these letters in the article reprinted here which is also taken from a SWP bulletin (latest issue) in which it first appeared.
The decision to reprint these three documents is, of course, ours alone. As the reader will see, they deal with questions which cannot in any way be regarded as “internal affairs.” In his two letters, Cannon puts forward conceptions of politics and of the revolutionary party which have never before been put forward in all the history of the working-class movement, at least not so crassly.
Unlike their author, who so prudently “restrained” himself from “letting our press publish” these conceptions, we consider it our duty to bring them to the light of day. Not only in order to compel him to take the public responsibility which he discreetly shirks, but in order that they may be subjected to the thoroughgoing criticism which they deserve and require. Marxism and Bolshevism should have the opportunity of public dissociation from them.
Cannon’s letters are a gift to all the anti-Bolsheviks, professional and amateur. They give them an unexpected and unwarranted opportunity to confirm their criticisms by referring, for once, to a self-styled “Bolshevik.” If politics in an esoteric affair, like “every other art and science, every profession and occupations”; and if it is only the affair of “we Leninists [who] have studied the art”; and if, consequently, it is not the province of the non-party world (including not only such educated Marxists as Farrell but – the masses of workers) to practice or even to discuss it; and if – most absurd “if” of all – Cannon is expressing the Bolshevik viewpoint; then the anti-Bolsheviks are incontestably right. Then, Bolshevism would indeed be fundamentally identical, or would “lead inevitably in” Stalinism. Politics in nothing but the struggle to gain or hold state power. Stalinist politics (here it resembles all bourgeois politics) aims at holding state power against and over the masses. The Stalinist gang is the “expert” in polities, i.e., the struggle for state power, and it sees to it that the “amateurs,” i.e., the masses, i.e., the “people who don’t know the business, do not presume to lay down the law to those who do."
It is not surprising, therefore, that Dwight Macdonald should gleefully snatch up Cannon’s free gift and use it in the current issue of his magazine, Politics. Cannon serves him as evidence that the “organizational” principles and concepts of Bolshevism are innately authoritarian or totalitarian and therefore are connected, somehow or other, or lead to, somehow or other, Stalinism itself.
What “organizational principles” Macdonald himself would substitute for Bolshevism or what he thinks is Bolshevism, he does not yet know and cannot yet say; but he is not to be rushed, and, with the aid of deep thought, skepticism and, above all, longevity, he will one historical day hand down the recipe. Meanwhile, he is so busy feeding his hobby the oats of Cannon’s letters, that he has no time to note such facts as: his inability to find anything resembling Cannon’s monstrosities in the teachings or practices of Lenin, which are a living refutation of Cannon and Macdonald; the living refutation of Cannon represented by the Workers Party, a Bolshevik organization; and the fact that the leader of the opposition in Cannon’s own party, Albert Goldman, who not only speaks in defense of Bolshevism but does so authentically, fights for views on revolutionary politics and the character of the revolutionary party which are in direct conflict with Cannon’s conceptions. Macdonald evidently agrees with Cannon on one point: that the latter is the genuine representative of Bolshevism. A ludicrous error!
However accurately Cannon may be presenting his own conceptions, they have nothing – absolutely nothing – in common with the ideas, traditions and practices of Bolshevism. This is made sufficiently clear in the article by Goldman. To the criticism and views set forth in this article, we are glad to subscribe wholeheartedly. – EDITOR.
Last updated on 16 November 2016