Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Thank you for your letter of 10 July. There are a few misunderstandings that can perhaps be cleared up at this stage, whatever the ultimate outcome may be.
The first is that I did not myself see the front cover design until it appeared printed on the magazine. The cover motif has usually been left for Paul Flewers to do at the last minute, despite repeated pleas in the past from several board members to set up a sort of photo library archive. The best way to avoid clashes of this type in future is surely to set up a committee to take this in hand, on which people who are concerned can serve.
This having been said, some of your remarks about it seem to be a bit over the top. The caricature of Stalin appears no ‘worse’ than those before the war by Low, or by Gray in the US Militant. As far as ‘anti-Semitism’ is concerned, I presume that this is a slip of the pen, since it is well known that Stalin was a Georgian who had imbibed more than his own share of anti-Semitism from his early theological training. Moreover, his attempt to plunder the economies of Eastern Europe after the war, whether by reparations or through Comecon, along with the atrocious wave of purge trials, in which anti-Semitism played a prominent part, in my opinion make this cartoon fair comment. I would further suggest that if there is any ‘phobia’ of Stalin and Stalinism, our movement and the people of Eastern Europe are entitled to some share of it, having supplied a not inconsiderable proportion of the victims.
On the second point, that I inserted my own comment without consulting anyone, this is not entirely correct. Its full history is as follows. Your representative at the board meeting announced that you would be inserting such a statement. I realised from my reading of your previous material on the same subject that it could not fail to raise considerable indignation from those members of the board who adhere to the WRP, the leader of whose international organisation is Michel Varga. For the next fortnight I phoned Paul repeatedly to find out if you had sent such a statement, and receiving each time a reply in the negative, believed that you had thought the better of it, and decided that it was not worth the comment.
Far from having done anything without consultation, it is myself who was not consulted, for the first time I saw your statement was when the magazine was given to me to check, containing it already set up in proof. I realised that such a piece on its own would make further participation by the WRP comrades on the board practically impossible. I therefore contacted Bob Archer on the phone and asked him to provide his comments, but unable to consult with the leading bodies of the group in time to meet our printing deadline (already delayed), he agreed to my placing the statement instead. I also phoned around the production team before I took such a step. Obviously the ideal situation would be to establish some sort of mechanism whereby such additional statements be sent to the groups that are up for criticism in them, so that they can append their rejoinder, or at least for them to be sent to me first to be able to inform them well in advance.
I do not think that your polemic concerning the Ukrainian material, with its apparent implication that some of us are either pro-Fascist, or even agree with it, is either relevant or a constructive way of recommending your politics or of handling differences upon the board. The fact is that the board quite naturally wished to place before the magazine’s readers material from the Ukraine itself defending Trotsky’s views on the subject, which you have appeared to have discarded in favour of those of Hugo Oehler. The position that we were committed to reprinting Oehler’s views in a subsequent issue, with nothing to counterbalance them.
The statement which you made to support your case at the board meeting that these particular Ukrainians were connected with the CIA, and that Shachtman “burned his fingers” with them, are somewhat ingenuous. The former statement remains up to now unsubstantiated, and as for the latter case, Cannon, a leader high in your esteem, printed far more of their material than Shachtman did, apart from the fact that these people were present at the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, an organisation which you regard as basically healthy at the time.
As you point out, the board agreed with your objections as to the equivocal nature of this material, but was to have other material submitted to it from an earlier period arguing the case for an independent Socialist Ukraine, a project that had to be abandoned when Chris Ford failed to attend to present it. The seemingly damning evidence you present in footnote 1 comes, in fact, from a summary made by the editorial staff in Vpered, and is not from Majstrenko’s article, which in fact has not as yet been translated from Ukrainian. I need hardly add that this was printed shortly before the left/right split in the Ukrainian exile movement, and should not be made to bear the weight you place on it until it is properly translated.
I and the others on the board who voted on this may well have been mistaken; I daresay that it will not be the last mistake that is made by or upon this board. In any case, the vote was actually to consider the material further, not actually to print it. Is it wrong, per se, for the board even to consider things? But 1 feel justified in drawing to your attention the rider published on the inside front cover, to the effect that the reproduction of any material does not necessarily imply the agreement of anyone to its contents. We are a magazine supplying information, and not the theoretical organ of any group, which roust of necessity have far more rigorous canons of acceptance than we are in a position to employ.
But I do think that your use of economic sanctions is unwise, and places a question mark over the future of our magazine. I will only clarify my motives to the extent that, far from being part of a Stalinophobic conspiracy, my only aims were to prevent the loss of two of the members of the board, and on the other hand, the defence of anyone's right to express his views, either in such statements or elsewhere in the movement. I am sure that you will recall that I have always defended yours. Why are you so violently opposed to my expressing my own?
Updated by ETOL: 19.7.2003