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Jack Weber

A Condemnation of the SWP Stand
on the Nuremberg Petition

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 23, 10 June 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The letter of comrade Jack Weber, which we are glad to publish here, is of special importance in view of the many years of his prominent service in the revolutionary Marxist movement One of the earliest members of the Communist movement in the United States, comrade Weber joined the Trotskyist movement more than a dozen years ago, and became one of its leading members. Up to the last convention of the Socialist Workers Party, he was a member of the Political Committee of that organization. He has since severed his connections with the Cannonite organizationEd.


Editor, Labor Action

Dear Comrade:

With the greatest interest I read the statement in The Militant on the Nuremberg Trials issued at long last by the Cannonites. It was inevitable that such an explanation should appear, however belatedly. The Great Abstainer, Cannon, had, however reluctantly, to make up his mind in the typical attitude of looking backward.

It would seem to me that the members of the SWP would require just a bit more in the way of explanation. For example, just how does it happen that a Thomas and a Woll (the Cannonites call the statement issued to the capitalist press the Thomas-Woll petition) could take the initiative in a defense that should so obviously have been conducted not by them but by the official Trotskyist movement? That question is all the more pertinent in view of the fact that the American movement has the unique distinction of being the only one that did not participate in the Nuremberg campaign in the entire period of its relevancy.

The initiators of the campaign here were not at all Thomas and Woll. The writer gave it an initial push, but the one mainly responsible and most active of all was James T. Farrell, with active assistance from Meyer Schapiro and Sidney Hook and Max Shachtman. None of us had the slightest doubt that, once the English movement had broken the issue into the open, the Cannonites would not hang back but would enter and take the most active role. They were specifically invited to do so through Shachtman. Why did their statement fail to mention that fact? It was with real amazement that we watched the Cannonites deliberately turn their backs on the issue. The campaign could have taken on a far greater scope than it did had they taken over the leadership which nobody dreamed of denying to them. To his credit Norman Thomas quickly joined in pressing the issue home and his name became associated with it because there was no organized movement other than his own that participated strongly enough. For the Cannonites now to criticize the wording of the petition, after they threw away the opportunity proffered to them, adds just that needed touch, that final touch of irony. Who should have demanded that a representative of Natalia Trotsky be allowed to go to Nuremberg if not they? Who stopped them from doing so?

Are the members of the SWP satisfied with the reasons given for their non-participation? If they examine the matter closely, they surely would not be. The Cannonites were “apprehensive” that the Trial would result in a new frame-up designed to bolster the shaky Moscow Trials. The reason this did not occur, we are informed, is that the sharpening conflicts between Russia and the Allied imperialists prevented any “understanding” of this kind. But throughout this whole period the Cannonite press was headlining these same conflicts and even basing their entire policy on the imminence of a third World War. The reason given is obviously disingenuous. Their handling of the Nuremberg Trial issue shows precisely how the Cannonites play right into the hands of Stalin on the war issue. And not only Nuremberg! Their defense of the Soviet Union becomes – except on formal occasions – silent, implicit defense of Stalinism. It is transparent that they do not state their real reason for abstention on this issue. They were in a dilemma. They were afraid of being classed with the “war mongers,” with those who were “fomenting” discord between Russia and the Allies. Come, now! Weren’t they on the point of calling those who raised such issues social-democratic warmongers? Weren’t they on the verge of denouncing those who made a political issue of the Nuremberg Trials because they felt this to be part of a general campaign against Soviet Russia? In this issue we have epitomized the political ineptitude of Cannon, the inability of the Cannonites to combat Stalinism whatever the circumstances. We leave aside the political cowardice involved in not giving the honest-to- God reasons. One has only to read the letter sent by Dobbs to Goldman on the issue to see how perilously close they came to coming out in opposition to the Nuremberg campaign.

The Cannonites felt “apprehension and alarm” at what might happen at Nuremberg. Surely strange sentiments in a matter of this kind. Feelings that reveal too the helplessness in coping with a situation that led to complete, abysmal silence. Let us assume that the Stalinists had resorted to collusion either with the German prisoners or with the Allies. Or that they could be expected to do so. How in the world does an ostrich policy of abstention give the political answer to such a situation? Even on their own assumptions, the Cannonites showed political paralysis. Did they seriously think that if they started a campaign this might drive the Russians into such a move to tie the Nuremberg and Moscow Trials? Did they seriously think that the thought of using Nuremberg would not occur to Stalin unless the Militant called it to his attention? The proper answer could only have been an immediate forewarning of just such a possible attempt to bolster up the rotten Moscow frame-ups. The Cannonites thought they would better wait till Hess was killed and then raise the question of why the Stalinists had not confronted him on the “conspiracy” with Trotsky and others. It is actually this warped line that the SWP is now following. What stupid myopia!

In their way the Stalinists did try a preliminary experiment at Nuremberg. It had to do with the terrible affair of the Katyn forest, the frightful killing of the Polish officers (unquestionably by the Stalinists). The Russians insisted on pinning this crime on the Germans in the indictment. The Allies refused on the ground that there was insufficient evidence. Finally they told the Russians that the latter could go ahead on this issue entirely on their own account. The result was that, the Russians having introduced the matter into the indictment only for the purpose of using the cover of a general condemnation, later dared not permit the Germans to say a word on this crime. The Germans tried to force the issue on the record, with the Russians obstructing them from answering the indictment. Unquestionably had the Allies played ball on this issue, the Russians would have gone further. But they were deterred by the simple fact that they did not have complete control of the Trials and therefore did not dare expose themselves before the outside world.

Play into Stalinist Hands

The real dangers of frame-up are not at all at Nuremberg. The Cannonites failed completely to understand the nature of the campaign. They looked at it in terms of its coming to the actual questioning of Hess and others on the Moscow Trials. Thus the Cannonites miss the point and fail to make the issue clear. The Stalinists would have liked nothing better than the sort of tactics pursued by the Cannonites. The Russians have some of the vast German archives. There is nothing to prevent them, after all the Nuremberg defendants are properly hanged, from saying that they have after considerable search found documents proving the conspiracy between Hitler and Trotsky, etc. They can even invite a Pritt and a Snow to Moscow to view the documents in the Kremlin. The answer to this can only be to warn in advance of the Stalinist methods of forgery. Real political foresight should have consisted – and fortunately did for all but the “apprehensive” Cannonites – in demanding during the Trial while the defendants were still alive, the production of all such documents for confrontation and questioning and scientific verification. The policy of the Cannonites would have played directly into the hands of the Stalinists. Silence during the Nuremberg Trials would have deterred Stalin not in the slightest had he been able to make use of the affair for his benefit. Not even the public campaign will stop Stalin from attempting new frame-ups through forgeries. He is virtually driven to such a course. The German documentation was so complete on every foreign entanglement that Stalin cannot afford not to “find” the documents he needs. But he will find them in his own time where they are not subject to the scrutiny of outsiders.

So much for the Cannonite “strategy” on Nuremberg. Truly something less than pathetic. But there is more to be said. As a matter of fact the Cannonites were unable to move because they had no faith that they could enlist for this cause either intellectuals or labor leaders. They felt themselves completely isolated. Their conduct with respect to the “intellectuals” has been so utterly short-sighted, so crassly high-and-mighty, that they felt it would be useless to appeal for support on this issue. Nobody was more surprised than the Cannonites when they saw the response in the public press. They could not comment until they had caught their breath! Had the campaign been started when the English conceived the idea, the results would have proved astounding. The work of one single girl, Pearl, left virtually undirected because of lack of organized forces, brought in hundreds of signatures in no time at all.

Let us leave in silence – it is only mete and decent – the motives of “prestige” on the lower level of things that kept the heroic Cannonites from following the lead of others – and thereby caused them ignominiously to lose prestige.

June 1, 1948

Jack Weber

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