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Trotskyist Unity and the Nature of the Party

Albert Goldman

Excerpts from a Forthcoming Pamphlet on WP-SWP Unity

Trotskyist Unity and
the Nature of the Party – IV

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalinist Germs in the SWP

The dishonest opposition to unity, though the most important, was not the only thing that convinced the Minority that the leadership of the SWP was turning away from a Leninist-Trotskyist conception of a revolutionary party and toward a Zinovievist conception. It was Zinoviev who introduced the idea of a monolithic party. Stalin developed that idea. In the days when Cannon was a member of the Communist Party, Cannon was an ardent defender of the monolithic party. He is far more careful now; he docs not say that he wants a monolithic party as he did in his early days, but actually he is working to create just such a party. Some of his followers substitute the word “homogeneous” for that of “monolithic.”

Cannon was fond of saying privately that he is not a Trotskyist but a Leninist on the organization question. It was after Trotsky’s death that he said it openly. It is, of course, perfectly true that Trotsky had a disagreement with Lenin on the organizational question but that disagreement disappeared completely after Trotsky’s group united with the Bolsheviks. For Cannon to say that he is a Leninist and not a Trotskyist on the organization question means in effect to say that he rejects the whole struggle of Trotsky against Zinoviev and Stalin on that question.

A few incidents that occurred in the last two years indicate the trend toward a monolithic party. When in The Fourth International there appeared an article by Joseph Hansen, in which Cannon was portrayed as the Lenin of America, there was vociferous objection from some of the party members. Even some of the leaders of the Cannon faction objected to the article, but only in private; publicly they defended it. Cannon wrote a letter from Sandstone in which he stated that those who criticize Hansen’s article do not understand the art of leadership.

Dwight Macdonald, writing for his Politics, utilized Hansen’s article in an attempt to prove that leader-worship is part of the Bolshevik concept of organization. I replied to Macdonald and in the reply mildly criticized Hansen. The reply was refused publication in the F.I.

James T. Farrell sent a letter to the F.I. in which he criticized Hansen’s article and a scurrilous review of Shachtman’s introduction to The New Course. The letter was refused publication and my request on that score was in vain. Cannon advised Farrell to stick to literature and let experienced people take care of politics, the same answer that Browder gave Farrell when he protested against the Moscow Trials.

Four members of the SWP were censured for organizing a discussion on the Russian question with some members of the WP. This was done at the initiative of the Political Committee at a time when tremendous political problems confronted the revolutionary movement. The censure was intended to prevent the SWP members from discussing political questions and even from talking with WP members. To justify this nonsense Cannon wrote that the party has a right to control not only the political but the personal lives of the members.

One of the most disgusting spectacles staged by the SWP leaders was to instruct the Control Commission to investigate the “disloyalty” of the Minority. The Minority openly declared its intention to fraternize politically with the WP. It organized socials and classes, inviting the members of the WP to participate. I spoke at meetings of the WP members. These were political acts on our part. The Cannonites transformed a political question into one of “disloyalty.”

All these incidents can be aptly described as Stalinist germs. They indicate an attitude which is common only among the Stalinists and is completely alien to Bolshevism. Were these isolated incidents to be explained on the basis of habits acquired through participation in the Stalinist movement or did they indicate a trend in the direction of building a monolithic party? For us unity was the test. The rejection of unity together with the dishonest discussion connected with that rejection convinced us that the leadership of the SWP was consciously on the road of building a monolithic party. The formal adherence to democratic centralism was meaningless in view of the actual policies followed on all of the organizational questions that became controversial issues.

It is not only in the organizational field that signs of degeneration are visible in the SWP; on the intellectual arena the level of the party has taken a sharp descent since the death of Trotsky. The sole consideration of the leaders of the party is to see to it that not one iota of the program left by Trotsky is changed. The fiercest resistance meets any attempt to introduce a new idea.

Intellectual Degeneration

We have a “finished program,” wrote one of the theoreticians, E.R. Frank, not meaning thereby a fully rounded program, as Trotsky meant when he spoke of Lenin’s finished program, but something that is final and unchangeable. We have an “unchanging program” warned J.P. Cannon.

Two instances illustrate the point. At the October 1943 plenary meeting of the National Committee the official resolution was a compilation of generalities about the coming proletarian revolution in Europe. Not one word was written about the necessity of democratic demands as a means to set the masses in the struggle against the existing regimes and the Socialist and Stalinist parties. Comrade Felix Morrow introduced some amendments dealing with the necessity of such demands. That was labeled a petty-bourgeois deviation. Cannon intervened and offered as his contribution a verbatim section of the Transitional program.

When Walter Reuther during the strike against General Motors raised the slogan of a wage raise without a price rise, the leading theoretician of the SWP, Warde, objected because it was not included in the Transitional program.

At the last meeting of the National Committee which I attended, I said that we must indeed be grateful to Stalin that he did not murder Trotsky before 1940. For had he killed Trotsky in 1937, the Cannonites would have had no transitional program to swear by and they would still be opposing a Labor Party. Had Stalin assassinated Trotsky in 1930 anyone who dared raise the idea that a new party and a new international should be created would have been designated by the Cannonites as a petty-bourgeois oppositionist. Every idea introduced by Trotsky, if offered by someone else, would have been held up to scorn as petty-bourgeois revisionism.

Trotsky’s ideas are considered as sacred revelation, dogmas to be repeated at every occasion. He who most of all insisted that Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action, who showed over and over again that he was not bound by any formula and considered the study of reality, of actual events, far more important than a quotation from the masters, has been succeeded by people who “prove” everything by quotations.

I must relate an incident which shows how little respect the SWP leaders have for ideas and how, for them, organizational maneuvers take precedence over ideas. The resolution adopted by the International Conference states that it is the duty of the various sections of the International to “tolerate the presence of the Red Army only to the extent that it is a friendly proletarian armed force having as its objective to guarantee the fulfillment of agrarian reform and the state-ization of the means of production against imperialism and against hational reactionary elements, without hindering in any way whatsoever the free development of the working class movement.”

We shall not discuss the idea presented, which can be a product only of political idiocy or of complete aloofness from reality. It seems that a majority of Cannon’s caucus was opposed to this nonsense, but all of them voted for the resolution, the heart of which is this idea about tolerating the Stalinist army. I say “the heart of the resolution” because everything else was practically a repetition of previous resolutions.

The members of the National Committee who were opposed to that section of the resolution voted for the resolution without objecting to the section because they were told that to raise the question would give the Minority some advantage. When Felix Morrow made that charge no objection was voiced, and this was tantamount to admission that he was correct.

Can such people be called Bolsheviks interested in a correct political line? No, they are Cannonite cliquists to whom prestige is more important than political ideas.

(To be continued)

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