Trotsky’s Critique and
Vladimir Weston’s Teddy Bear
To the Editors
In his review of our book, Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the Communist League of America, 1931–1933, Al Richardson accused us of repeating ‘the long-discredited lie’ that it was James P. Cannon and Maurice Spector who smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1928 two out of three sections of Trotsky’s Critique of the Draft Program of the Communist International. Richardson (Revolutionary History, Volume 8, no. 4, 2004) insisted instead that ‘it is well known that it was George Weston’ who smuggled out the partial document which had been distributed in numbered copies to members of the Programme Commission (including Cannon and Spector) at the 1928 Sixth World Congress of the Communist International.
What we actually wrote in our introduction to Dog Days was: ‘Resolving to fight for Trotsky’s views they [Cannon and Spector] smuggled out of Moscow the partial copy of Trotsky’s Critique.’ In accusing us of purveying a ‘long-discredited lie’, Richardson qualitatively escalated the complaint, made in his review of our earlier book, James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism that ‘The editors are still reluctant to accept the fact that the Critique in question was smuggled out of Moscow, not by Cannon, but by George Weston (p. 64), although this is fully confirmed by Harry Wicks’ recently published memoirs (Keeping My Head, p. 158).’ (Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 1 [Autumn 1993])
In Keeping My Head (Socialist Platform Ltd, London 1992), Wicks described George Weston as an early British CP member who was assigned to work with the International Red Aid in Moscow, where he lived in 1928 with his wife. Elsewhere Weston has been described as Irish (see Revolutionary History, Volume 6, no. 2/3, Summer 1996). Wicks was also in Moscow in the late 1920s, attending the Lenin School, and he wrote about the experience in his memoirs, which were unfinished at the time of his 1989 death. Wicks knew the Westons and reported that Weston was a supporter of Trotsky before Cannon arrived in Moscow for the Sixth CI Congress.
When I met Weston’s widow at Tamara Deutscher’s flat during the early 1970s (in the presence of a tape recorder brought by a comrade called Ken Tarbuck), we discussed our Moscow years. By the time I first met the Westons, they already had a daughter and, while I was still in Moscow, their son Vladimir was born. As Weston’s job ended with that World Congress, he and his family returned to Britain at about this time. Mrs Weston remembers this Critique being inserted into Vladimir’s teddy bear. This was how it reached the Fischer-Urbahns group in Berlin. I do not know whether Weston’s copy was Cannon’s or someone else’s.
Wicks claimed no first-hand knowledge of how the document was smuggled out of Moscow. His account is a second-hand retailing of Mrs Weston’s memory, many years after the fact. He did not know whether Weston smuggled out the document for Fischer-Urbahns (supporters of Zinoviev) or for Cannon. Hardly, as Richardson implies, definitive.
In his contribution to the book James P. Cannon As We Knew Him (Pathfinder Press, New York 1976), Sam Gordon, an early member of the Communist League of America who was personally close to Cannon and who lived after the Second World War in Britain, also told the story of how the document was smuggled out of the USSR in Weston’s son’s teddy bear. Gordon wrote that he got the story from Wicks and Mrs Weston.
In a 1963 interview with the Columbia University Oral History project, Max Shachtman, who was one of Cannon’s closest personal and political collaborators in 1928, claimed that Cannon and Spector had stolen a copy of the document from an Australian delegate, and that it was Spector himself who smuggled it out in his baggage (pp. 153–54). Like Wicks’ version, this is a second-hand account, told many years after the fact. Cannon himself never spoke publicly or wrote on the subject, even in later years. All of which led us to write, in the introduction to James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism: ‘It is unclear how Cannon and Spector managed to get a copy out of the Soviet Union.’
The actual physical means by which the document was gotten out of the USSR is hardly the main point. Cannon and Spector, who were senior leaders of two of the Comintern’s sections, understood the crucial importance of Trotsky’s document. They resolved that Trotsky’s fight was their fight, and orchestrated getting Trotsky’s Critique, which was in effect the founding document of world Trotskyism, out of the country. Believing it was the complete version, the Communist League of America published the partial document, first serialised in the Militant and then in 1929 in pamphlet form. When the CLA obtained a copy of the middle section, Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch, this was published separately in 1930 as The Strategy of World Revolution. The complete document was published by the American Trotskyists in 1936 in a new and better translation as The Third International After Lenin. According to Louis Sinclair’s definitive bibliography of Trotsky’s writings, Trotsky’s Critique was not published in any version in Britain until 1954.
Richardson himself used to acknowledge that Cannon had a role in the smuggling. In Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1924–38 (Socialist Platform Ltd, London, 1986), Richardson and his collaborator Sam Bornstein wrote that the Critique was ‘smuggled out of the country by Weston and Cannon and published in the United States early the following year’. (p. 37) Why did Richardson insist almost 20 years later that to write that Cannon had a role in getting the document out of the USSR is to retail a ‘long-discredited lie’? Presumably this slander is in purpose of his thesis that hard communist cadre like Cannon were just Zinovievite hacks. According to Richardson the real Trotskyists were those who quickly fell away from the Left Opposition: Ludwig Lore, who defended not only Trotsky but Paul Levi and Serrati; Boris Souvarine, whom Trotsky condemned as a petit-bourgeois dilettante; Kurt Landau, who put personal ties and organisational position above programme; and Alfred Rosmer, who proved constitutionally incapable of fighting the internal political battles necessary to forge an international Trotskyist organisation. It was Richardson’s privilege (as it is that of any reviewer) to not like our book. He abused this privilege by wrongly accusing us of lying.
For the Prometheus Research Library
10 February 2005
cc: Spartacist, theoretical journal of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), Spartacist League/Britain.
The Editorial Board replies:
The late comrade Richardson is unable to speak for himself. As far as the Editorial Board of Revolutionary History is aware, all the inconclusive evidence of how the Critique was smuggled out of the USSR is as stated in the above letter. If anyone has any further information about this incident we would be delighted to publish it.