1940: Max Shachtman's reply to Leon Trotsky - A “petty bourgeois” opposition?

Submitted by Matthew on 28 August, 2013 - 3:18

Where Is the Petty Bourgeois Opposition? A Repeated Challenge Remains Unanswered.

In his open letter to Comrade Trotsky, Comrade Shachtman, repeating the challenge issued by the Minority since the moment it was accused of representing a petty-bourgeois tendency in the party, declared:

“... it is first necessary to prove (a) that the Minority represents a deviation from the proletarian Marxian line, (b) that this deviation is typically petty-bourgeois, and (c) that it is more than an isolated deviation — it is a tendency. That is precisely what has not been proved.”

Comrade Trotsky has been the only one thus far to take up this challenge and to attempt to answer it. Before we deal with his answer, a preliminary observation is necessary.

Our challenge was addressed in the first place to the Cannonites. If there were a petty-bourgeois tendency which had been developing gradually but unmistakably in the party for the past year or two or three (time enough for any tendency to manifest itself), the ones who would be in an excellent, if not the best, position to discern and describe it would be the Cannonites. They know the records of the party directly and intimately. They know, in particular, the political records of the representative spokesmen of the Minority. Shachtman wrote of the record of these comrades:

“They have one and, as said above, it is easily available. There are the records of the Political Committee, containing the views of all the comrades on every question; there are our articles in the press, there are our programs and manifestoes; there are our brochures and speeches. Let them be cited! There has been no lack of bourgeois-patriotic, anti-Soviet, reformist pressure upon our party in the past. Show us from the record when and where any of our leading comrades yielded to this pressure! I say confidently: It cannot be done.”

Indeed, it was not done. What is more, Cannon, Goldman and the other Majorityites replied that it need not be done – because they knew it could not be done. Hundreds of comrades who heard him at membership meeting debates recall Cannon’s statement that he did not charge the Minority with having or representing a petty-bourgeois tendency prior to the outbreak of the present dispute. In fact, Cannon gave the following “analogy” with the present fight: Zinoviev and Kamenev had been flawless Bolsheviks, the closest collaborators of Lenin, up to April 1917, and suddenly, overnight, so to speak, they broke from Leninism and became “strike-breakers.” We leave aside here the question of Cannon’s ignorance of the historic basis for the petty-bourgeois tendency represented in 1917 by Zinoviev and Kamenev (Trotsky devoted most of his Lessons of October to explaining the political roots of what Cannon thinks had no roots in the past), and emphasize merely the fact that in Cannon’s view the “petty-bourgeois tendency” had no roots in the past, that it was a sudden, so to speak, an accidental (or episodic) phenomenon – as sudden and accidental (in his presentation of the analogy) as the 1917 action of Zinoviev and Kamenev. In other words, it was not a tendency at all. In other words, again, Cannon met our challenge up to recently by denying its validity, by declaring in effect that until the present Minority adopted its position on the Russian question there was no petty-bourgeois tendency in the party. He was compelled to put forth this view because he knows that the records of the party and of the Minority spokesmen cannot possibly substantiate any other view.

The merit of Trotsky’s reply lies, first in his recognition of the validity of our challenge, and, second, in his attempt to substantiate the political characterization of the Minority in the only possible and permissible way, namely, by producing documentary material dealing with political questions of the past period and the political position taken by various comrades on these questions. In doing so, he adduces eleven pieces of evidence aimed to prove his point. Before we take up the evidence, it is well to bear in mind what it is that has to be proved:

To establish that, as against the Majority, the political tendency of the Minority is petty-bourgeois, it is necessary to show, concretely and not by mere assertion, that in a whole series of political questions in the past period the representative spokesmen of the Minority tended to take or did take a petty-bourgeois position, while the representative spokesmen of the Cannon faction tended to take or did take the contrary position, that of revolutionary Marxism.

With this important point in mind, it will be easier to judge the value of the evidence Trotsky adduces against the Minority. We will take it all up, point by point, in the order in which it is presented.


1. The policy in the Socialist Party

Trotsky quotes a letter to our faction center in the Socialist Party criticizing the estimate of the situation represented by “(a) the private letter of ‘Max’ about the convention, and (b) Shachtman’s article Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Party.”

At best, this is calculated to prove that Shachtman made an opportunist mistake in 1937. But let us see what this has to do with the political position of the present Minority and that of the Majority.

The “private letter” signed “Max” was a circular letter sent out to all the Trotskyist groups in the Socialist Party under instructions and with the approval of the entire Political Committee of our tendency at that time. The same is true of the article by Shachtman in the SP monthly magazine. Let us grant for the moment that the line of these two documents was erroneous and opportunistic. But this line represented the unanimous opinion of the entire faction leadership, with the exception of Burnham. More important, it was the line initiated by Cannon. Here are the facts:

On the eve of the Chicago convention of the SP, a violent campaign was launched by the right wing to expel us from the party. Cannon was then in California. He hastened to New York to confer with the Political Committee. He advanced the policy that it was necessary to retreat before the right wing offensive in order to avoid expulsion, to moderate our tempo and our line. Rightly or wrongly, our Political Committee agreed with this line, except, we repeat, Burnham, who advocated what may be described as a more aggressive policy. In the PC, and on the basis of PC discipline, Burnham was not granted his request to present his own view to the New York membership meeting of the faction. Cannon’s main slogan, reporting for the PC at that meet-meeting, was: “We must make a ‘second entry’ into the SP.” Every New York comrade who belonged to our group at that time will remember the meeting and the slogan very vividly. Shachtman and the others bore the same responsibility as Cannon for this line, not less, but not more. It was Cannon who initiated the conversations with Norman Thomas at that time, with the aim of establishing a sort of “truce” which would prevent the right wing from carrying through its drive against us. At the Chicago convention itself, our delegates’ fraction was directed mainly by Cannon and Shachtman, for the Political Committee. Still following the line initiated by Cannon, our delegates were constantly held in check. This was true especially of some of the “natives,” who wanted to make a stiff political fight against the right wing and the Clarityites. The PC line was to evade the political fight. Our delegates were even instructed to vote for the Clarityite war resolution if our own failed of adoption, as it did. Our delegates were instructed not even to raise the question of the Moscow Trials or the endorsement of the American Committee’s work. Our delegates were instructed not to make a serious fight for representation on the National Committee of the SP. And so on.

Wherein did the spokesman of the “proletarian Marxist wing” differ from the spokesman of the “petty-bourgeois tendency”? Only in that the former initiated the policy pursued, was its principal and most vigorous protagonist, while the latter supported the policy. Using Trotsky’s method of proof and criterion, a much better case could be made out to “prove” that Burnham represented the intransigent Marxist line while Cannon and Shachtman “revealed excessive adaptability towards the left wing of the petty-bourgeois democrats.”

The letter and article of Shachtman were only a continuation of the official policy of the Political Committee. Trotsky, who opposed it, sought to have it changed, as indicated by the letter of May, 1937, which he quotes. Although he does not quote them, his letters to Cannon, who returned to California after the Chicago convention, also pursued this aim. Cannon subsequently proposed a change in the policy – his own policy! – and a new line was finally adopted by the whole Political Committee, which finally led to the split in the SP.

These are the facts. If Trotsky was unaware of them, it was his duty to acquaint himself with them. Cannon, who was aware of them, has taken good care to make no reference in the present dispute to the question of our SP policy in 1937. The same is true of Goldman, who also knows the facts cited above, as well as a number of other facts. Like every other informed comrade, they know that Point 1 in Trotsky’s evidence does not even begin to prove his contention about the Minority. For, remember, Trotsky’s task is to prove the existence of a certain tendency in the Minority which distinguishes it from the “Marxist” wing of Cannon.


2. The Question of Workers in The Leadership

Trotsky’s second point deals with the question of introducing workers into the local and national leadership. “To believe Comrade Shachtman, I dragged the question of the class composition of the factions into the dispute by the hair.”

To prove that he did not, he quotes a letter to New York dated October 3, 1937. Read the letter: by what single word does it deal with the “class composition of the factions?” It does speak of the need of electing more workers to leadership and points out that “in every organization there are traditional committee members” and that “different secondary, factional and personal considerations play a too great role in the composition of the list of candidates.” Quite correct. Conclusion: “I have never met either attention or interest from Comrade Shachtman in questions of this kind.”

From whom has Comrade Trotsky met with attention and interest in questions of this kind? If not from Shachtman or the Minority, then perhaps from Cannon? Let us see.

At the Chicago founding convention of the SWP, the list of candidates for the National Committee was prepared mainly by Shachtman, with the knowledge and approval of most of the other leading comrades. At the July 1939 convention, two lists were presented, Shachtman’s for one group of comrades, and Dunne’s for the Cannon faction. Which one was oriented towards the conception of “traditional committee members”? In which one did “secondary, factional and personal considerations play a too great role”? An examination of the list can give only one answer: Dunne’s slate. Shachtman’s slate proposed to introduce new and fresh elements into the National Committee – worker-militants like Breitman and qualified youth comrades like Gould and Erber. There being no important or visible political differences in the party, the slate did not aim at any faction majority. Dunne’s slate aimed first and foremost at a majority for the Cannon clique, and, towards that end, of retaining some of the “traditional committee members.” Dunne and Lewit were the two spokesmen of the Cannon group for their slate. Who were the only four individuals on their slate for whom they spoke by name? Clarke, Cochran, Morrow and Stevens – not a single one of them a proletarian, and one of them, in particular, distinguished by his petty-bourgeois intellectualism, rudeness and snobbery which repelled any workers’ milieu into which he was placed.

The July convention dispute was not without significance. The Cannonites talk a good deal about “proletarians in the leadership,” especially on ceremonial occasions or for what they consider are good factional ends. The reality is quite different. The actual, functioning leadership of the Cannon faction, even though it does not live in the Bronx but in Greenwich Village, does not show any special “interest or attention” in introducing proletarians into its ranks – unless (we except such comrades as Lewit and Breitman) Gordon, Cochran, Clarke, Morrow, Wright, Hansen, Goldman, etc., are to be written down as workers.


3. The Social Composition of the Party

In Point 3, Trotsky quotes a letter in 1937 to Cannon concerning the poor social composition of the party. He stresses the need of orienting the party membership towards the factories, having each branch, or groups in each branch, concentrate all its forces on one, two or three factories in its area.

In this way, it would be possible to alter the composition of the party in favor of the proletarian instead of the non-proletarian elements. Good.

This letter was addressed to Cannon. Why does not Trotsky conclude on this point, as he did on point 2, that “I have never met either attention or interest from Comrade Cannon in questions of this kind”? What single proposal did Cannon make in the past two-and-a-half years with reference to orienting the party and its membership towards the factories? Wherein was the leader of the “proletarian Marxist wing” distinguished in this respect from other comrades? When Trotsky wrote to the Political Committee, some time back, that a rule should be adopted providing that any non-worker who does not bring a proletarian into the party within six months shall himself be reduced to the rank of probationer, McKinney supported the proposal, but no one else, not even Cannon. The latter proposed to send a copy of the letter to the branches without a word of comment, and that is all that was ever heard of the letter, of the proposal, or of Cannon’s position on it.

Where does the letter quoted by Trotsky indicate that there was in the party, in his opinion, a petty-bourgeois tendency peculiar to the present Minority. That is what he has set out to prove, but the letter does it in no wise. The social composition of the party as a whole is very poor from the standpoint of a proletarian organization. That is incontestable. But both factions in the present dispute represent, to a somewhat greater or lesser extent, cross-sections of the party as a whole. The contention that the Cannon faction represents all the proletarian elements in the party, or the bulk of them, and the Minority all or most of the non-proletarian elements, will not stand the test of investigation for a single minute. An objective examination of the social composition of the two factions will not show any class preponderance in the ranks or the leadership of either one of them – especially if the party is taken not in an isolated city but as a whole, nationally. A similar examination of the social compositions of the New York organization, which is indeed far from what it should be, would help to dispel many of the consciously and unconsciously fostered exaggerations and even myths, many of which are so “cleverly” disseminated by the Cannonites in order to arouse unhealthy prejudices especially among the newer comrades in the outlying branches.

It is true that the Cannonites now show both “attention and interest” in the question of the social composition of the party. But only because they believe that by falsifying the relative composition of the two groups and by demagogical speeches this “issue” can be utilized for their factional advantage, especially since they, who show an interest in theoretical questions about once every two years, have been qualified, so unexpectedly to themselves, as the “Marxist” wing of the party. Their “attention and interest” have been displayed before in this question, and in the same way. If it seems to suit them as a factional football, they make very solemn speeches about it. As soon as it no longer has a value as a factional issue, it is forgotten by them ... until the next time.


4. The Dewey Commission

Shachtman’s failure to “surround the (Dewey) Committee by delegates of workers’ groups” is cited as another piece of “evidence” that the Minority represents a petty-bourgeois tendency.

This proposal by Trotsky two years ago was supported in the Political Committee by one comrade, McKinney. No other member did, neither Shachtman, nor Burnham, nor Cannon, nor Lewit. Under the circumstances, the Committee considered it from the standpoint of practical possibilities and effectiveness, and decided that it was not feasible to undertake the formation of such workers’ groups.

Wherein was the Minority distinguished in this question from the Majority, or from Cannon in particular? Trotsky does not say, and that for the good reason that he cannot say. The letter from which he quotes was addressed to Cannon, Shachtman and Novack. What was Cannon’s answer to the proposal?

The work of the party, and especially of the party leadership, in connection with the Moscow Trials and the Dewey Committee, was not, to be sure, flawless. There are many lessons to be learned from our experience in this campaign, especially with respect to the liberal democrats with whom we cooperated. We did not always take advantage of the revolutionary possibilities offered us by the situation. At the same time, let it be borne in mind that the problem of the Dewey Committee was not a simple one, and only special reasons which every comrade will understand prevent us from going into the details of the problem. Yet, with all its defects, the campaign we launched around the Moscow Trials (at a time when we were half-tied and half-gagged in the Socialist Party!) was the most successful we ever undertook – a real triumph for the party and the International. Comrade Trotsky played an invaluable part in working out the campaign, and in its success; that goes without saying. But the daily work – elaborating the not always simple policy, directing the work in general, the writing, speaking and organizing – that had to be done on the spot under the leadership of the Political Committee. We have no hesitation in saying that a good eighty per cent of that work was done by comrades of the present Minority. They feel no reason to be ashamed of or apologetic for that work – quite the contrary – either organizationally or politically. To ignore all that was accomplished, especially the political gains for our movement, and to reduce everything to the comparatively trifling question of whether or not we carried through the organization of the workers’ groups, is to abandon all sense of proportion.

Here, as in all the other cases mentioned in Trotsky’s “evidence,” we are prepared, without exempting ourselves from responsibility for mistakes, to match the main line against the incidental error, the great achievement against the episodic shortcoming, the record of political line and activity of our comrades which is known to the party as a whole, and even to the radical public, against the obscure trifles which constitute most of Comrade Trotsky’s “proofs” of our “tendency.”


5. Eastman in The New International

Point 5 is also supposed to prove that the Minority represents a petty-bourgeois tendency whereas the Majority represents revolutionary Marxism.

What is this proof? Not the publication of Eastman’s open letter to Corliss Lamont on the Moscow Trials, for that “is all right, but the prominence given it on the cover, combined with the silence about Eastman’s article in Harper’s.”

The “proofs” for Trotsky’s contention must be scarce indeed to mention this one among them. The size of type used to announce Eastman’s article on the cover of The New International was too large; presumably the Cannonites proposed to use a smaller type, or would have proposed it if they could ever be gotten to display any interest in the theoretical organ of the party. But perhaps the prominence given the article on the cover is not the most important point; it is the “silence about Eastman’s article in Harper’s.” In that case would it not have been better, if only in order to complete the point, to indicate that a reply was written to Eastman’s article? Who wrote the article? Burnham. On whose direct personal request? Trotsky’s. Trotsky knows then, as well as he knows now, Burnham’s position towards Marxian dialectics. He knew then that Eastman’s Harper’s article on The End of Socialism in Russia had as its point of departure Eastman’s particular criticism of Marxian dialectics. In his article on A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the SWP Trotsky declares that without a Marxian criticism of the opponents of dialectics, it is impossible to expose the essence of the false political position of Eastman, Hook and others. If that is so, why did Trotsky propose to Burnham, in 1938, that he write a polemical reply to Eastman’s Harper’s article? Why did he not propose that Cannon or Weber or Wright or Gordon or Cochran or Morrow write the reply? And why was there no criticism of the reply (and the counter-reply to Eastman’s rebuttal) after Burnham had written it? If it was a satisfactory reply from the standpoint of the party program, should not Trotsky have mentioned this fact in his Point 5? If it was unsatisfactory, why was nothing heard about it, either from Trotsky or anyone else in the party? And above all, where were the spokesmen of the Majority in all this, of the Cannonites who represent themselves today as the exclusive defenders of Marxism and dialectics?


6. Eugene Lyons and the Banquet

Another point to prove that the Minority represents a petty-bourgeois tendency is made by Trotsky when he refers to the fact that “you are so tolerant even friendly towards Mr. Eugene Lyons. He speaks it seems at your banquets; at the same time he speaks at the banquets of the White Guards.”

To whom does the “you” refer? To the Minority perhaps? To Shachtman?

What are the facts in this case? The Pioneer Publishers organized a banquet to which a number of people were invited as speakers in a symposium on the Russian Revolution and Marxism. Lyons, Tresca, Hook and others were among them. The Political Committee knew nothing about the details of the affair. When the advertisement for the banquet appeared in the Socialist Appeal, Cannon and Shachtman discussed the question and took a critical attitude towards the speakers’ list; the other leading comrades did likewise. The main objection was to the fact that the list was “weighted” heavily against representatives of revolutionary Marxism. It was decided that Shachtman be designated to take the floor at the banquet for the party point of view and, after the brief speeches of the critics of the Russian Revolution, to present the views of the Marxists. This is exactly what he did, to the satisfaction, politically, of every one present, except, of course, the Lyonses and the Hooks. The composition of the speakers’ list at the banquet was a mistake, for which no member and no group of members of the Political Committee was responsible.

To adduce this miserable incident, not for its actual worth, but in order to demonstrate that the Minority represents a petty-bourgeois tendency, only shows with striking force the weakness, or more accurately, the baselessness of the case which Trotsky is trying to make against us.

As against such trivialities which could be dug up by the dozen if one were interested, can and should be placed the vigorous, effective and intransigent political campaign in defense of revolutionary Marxism, of the Fourth International and of the party, and against precisely that type of critic represented by the Eastmans and the Lyonses. Trotsky mentions only a yellow leaf here and there and makes no reference to the big green forest. The defense of the party and its program from the Lyonses, the education of wide circles of radical workers and intellectuals to the true meaning of the “democratic” backsliders and renegades — have the representatives of the Minority been behindhand in this work in the past? If anything, they have been in the forefront.

It is not necessary to institute an objective re-examination of the record as a whole, instead of taking up isolated, insignificant incidents of fugitive importance. The party needs no such re-examination for the simple reason that the record is already common knowledge.

And if there were such a re-examination, it would reveal that it is the Cannonites, more than anyone else, who showed a complete indifference to the defense of the party program and of Marxism on the theoretical front. Except for one article by Goldman and another by Wright, the Cannonite leadership is represented by a blank space in the past two-three years of struggle against precisely that tendency in and around the radical labor movement which is represented variously by Hook, Eastman. Lyons, Stolberg, etc. , etc.

Has Trotsky failed to notice this fact? Has he failed to call attention to it in the proper quarters? In any case, the party in general has noticed it and has drawn the necessary conclusions: Except for factional considerations, the “normal” interest of the Cannonites, Cannon in particular, in theoretical questions of Marxism, is distinguished by its absence.

The “practical” leader leaves that to the “intellectuals.”

7, 8, 9. The Socialist Appeal

It is not necessary to dwell on the defects of the Socialist Appeal in this document. They are not unknown to the party.

On the basis of criticisms of the Appeal made by Trotsky and comrades in the American party, on the basis of many direct experiences, on the basis of criticisms of many readers of the paper, these criticisms, with proposals for improving the paper, were incorporated in the report to the July Convention delivered by Comrade Abern, in the remarks of Morrow, Shachtman and many other delegates.

However, to refer to the defects of the Appeal for the purpose of characterizing either one of the factions in the party, or any group of comrades, or any individual comrade, is totally absurd. The problem of the Appeal is, and always has been, and most likely always will be, the problem of the party itself. The official organ of the party can, so to speak, rise above the party to a certain extent, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion, but it cannot reflect the class struggle in the country to a radically different degree than the one to which that struggle is participated in by the party itself.

On more than one occasion, the editorial staff made efforts to organize a network of worker-correspondents for the Appeal, and it succeeded in a modest measure. If the success was far from what is desirable and necessary, it is, as was recognized by all comrades in many discussions, due basically to the detachment of the party as a whole (with isolated exceptions) from the political life and the life of the working class of the country. It is at bottom only to the extent that the entire party enters into the political life of the country, into the life and movements of the working class, that the “face” and the contents of the Appeal will be altered in the right direction.

But it is precisely at this point that the criticism of the Minority shows its validity — the criticism of the bureaucratic conservatism that characterizes the Cannon faction. The analysis of the Minority, “War and Bureaucratic Conservatism,” replete with facts that are easily verifiable where they are not already common party knowledge, has not been refuted to the present day. The attempt to dispose of the indictment of the Cannon regime by a few sarcastic remarks in passing, will not serve as a refutation.

10. Again, the social composition

Trotsky quotes also from a letter to Cannon on June 16, 1939, on the poor social composition of the party and its consequent greater liability to the pressure of “official public opinion”.

Wherein is this a point of proof of the charge that the Minority group represents a petty-bourgeois tendency? In quoting his letter to prove his charge, Trotsky assumes that which he is attempting to prove, namely, that the Cannon group is the group of the proletariat in the party, and the Minority the group of the petty-bourgeois. But this is just what it is impossible to demonstrate on the basis of the facts.

In the first place, even if this division corresponded to the reality — and we deny it — it would be necessary to emphasize that it would not have the same significance in our tiny organization that it has in a mass party of tens or hundreds of thousands which, because it is deep in the turbulent streams of the class struggle, is directly affected by the changes of the prevailing current. In general, the smaller the organization, the less rooted it is in the classes — the less accurately it reflects social forces and pressures.

In the second place, even if this division corresponded to the reality — again, we deny it — it would be necessary to examine the actual situation not so much in terms of generalities, not so much in terms of what holds true “in the long run, in the final analysis,” but in terms of what is demonstrable in the given dispute, of what is shown by concrete experience.

The social composition of the revolutionary party is decisive in the long run, for the quite obvious reason that the working class is the decisive and only consistently progressive class in modern society, that the working class alone can lead the struggle for socialism. The social composition of the revolutionary party is decisive immediately, in this sense, that the revolutionary party, regardless of its social composition at its formation or at any given stage, must constantly strive to become a proletarian party, it must orient itself mainly towards the working class.

It would, however, be erroneous to make the arbitrary deduction from this that at any given stage, and in any political dispute, that party or group in a party which is predominantly proletarian in its composition, is correct in its political standpoint, as against another party or group whose social composition is, from the proletarian viewpoint, inferior. Such a conclusion would have meant, as we know from the past, the capitulation, on more than one occasion, of the revolutionary Marxist tendency to the reformist tendency, specifically in the Russian Social Democratic party, where the Mensheviks at times had by far the greater number of proletarians in their ranks, compared with the Bolsheviks.

The problem then boils down, as it always does fundamentally, to the question of the political position, as it does in the present dispute. And there it is necessary to decide, objectively, on whether victory of Stalin’s annexationist army in Finland, for example, or the struggle for the development of the independent class activity of the Third Camp, is the correct position, the one that really represents the interests of the proletarian revolution.

The triumphant reference of the Cannonites to the fact that the Minneapolis branch, for example, supports the Majority — with such remarkable unanimity, too — does not decide for a minute the correctness or incorrectness of their political position. There is no smaller number of proletarian militants in other sections of the party who support the standpoint of the Minority.

But even if this were not true (and its truth is easily demonstrated), it would not be as decisive, precisely from the standpoint of social composition and class pressures, as the fact which we consider to be much more decisive and significant in the present dispute, namely, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Youth comrades support the Minority. The Youth, with all the deficiencies that characterize them, are precisely the ones who, more than any other single stratum in the party, are the best barometer in the present discussion.

The young comrades who make up our Youth movement are, by and large, quite different from the elements who made up the revolutionary youth organizations in the past, say, ten-fifteen years ago. They are literally the vanguard of the “locked-out generation. “In the past, many of the youth aspired (and even had the possibility) to “lift” themselves out of the working class, to become part of the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois world — lawyers, doctors, teachers, members of the “liberal professions” or even “better”. Their conduct in the movement corresponded to this aspiration. Thus, their constant conflicts with the party (we speak of the early days of the CP in the USA) were most often based on their resistance to the party’s demands for activity in the class struggle, in the political life of the country, to the party’s demands for sacrifices, etc.

The Youth of our party differs radically in every respect. With few exceptions, they have no illusions about the possibilities for “rising in the world” of American capitalism today. They have a deep attachment to the movement, based on far more than intellectual reasons. It is not comfort they seek but struggle. The war question to them is not an abstraction but a reality. It is most significant that their conflicts with the party in the past two years have been based precisely on their criticisms — substantially if not always justified — of the party leadership’s tendency to do-nothingness, to routinism, to lack of initiative, to lack of planned and systematic activity.

It is most significant that in Cannon’s pre-convention articles in the Appeal, he attacked the Youth comrades not for “petty-bourgeois dilettantism” or for “opportunism” or for “inactivity” or for “refusing to get into action,” but rather in the opposite sense, for their alleged “adventurism” and “leftism.”

The Youth of our movement in this country are immature in many respects. They have not gone through many indispensable experiences. They have not passed all the tests. But in the present party dispute, they passed the test of the war crisis and the problems posed by it, far, far better than did the Cannon clique. To try to pass off the strong support which the Youth have given to the Minority with the argument that it is most susceptible to “bourgeois-democratic and patriotic pressure,” can be put down either to ignorance of the real composition and sentiments of the bulk of our Youth, or, at best, to sheer rationalization.

One last point may be made here.

The self-styled “proletarian” wing of the party claims Minneapolis and the seamen’s fraction as its citadels. Let us grant that for the moment it is correct.

It claims also that the Soviet Union has been under the attack of imperialism for the past six months, and particularly now, in the war in Finland; claims, too, that the United States is also engaged in an imperialist attack on the Soviet Union. What social pressure has thus far prevented the Majority, completely in control of the party apparatus, from issuing a single leaflet to the American seamen, to the longshoremen, calling upon them to refuse to load or sail ships with material for Finland and its backers and to load and sail ships with material for the Soviet Union? What social pressure has prevented the raising of this concrete slogan even in the columns of the Appeal since the war began?

What social pressure has prevented the comrades in Minnesota, heavily populated by Finnish and Scandinavian workers, from issuing a leaflet explaining in simple but clear terms that we are not only for the defeat of the Mannerheim army in Finland but that we are for the victory of the Red Army? The Minority has asked this question for months. The answer is still to be heard.

11. Negrin’s military budget

One of Trotsky’s trump cards, so to speak, is the exchange of letters between him and Shachtman on the question of voting for the military budget of Negrin in the Loyalist Cortes. Let us grant that Shachtman’s position on this question was entirely wrong.

But in whose name did Shachtman write his letter of inquiry? The letter speaks of “we” and “us”.

The “we” and “us” referred to most of the comrades of the Political Committee. Upon receiving Trotsky’s 1937 article in which he said that we would not vote for the Loyalist military budget, Cannon and Shachtman, among others, could not believe that this was Trotsky’s position. This may not speak well for their political development, but it is the fact.

It was decided that Shachtman write Trotsky about it, not in his name alone, but in the name of Cannon and the others. The “opportunist position” which Trotsky attributes to Shachtman alone, in an attempt to prove a continuity of line of the Minority, was the position of Cannon and other leading comrades of the party. In this as in so many of the other cases noted above, Trotsky tries in vain to separate that which was inseparable.

It may be argued, after all this, that Trotsky does nevertheless prove that for the past two-three years he constantly called attention to the dangers and mistakes of a petty-bourgeois tendency that existed in general in the party, and that by its present position in the Russian question, the Minority shows itself to be the clearest expression of this tendency.

In the first place, what it was necessary to prove was that the Minority, on a series of political questions in the past, took or tended to take a petty-bourgeois position on these questions as against the Cannonites, who took or tended to take the Marxist position.

Even if Trotsky is granted all his points, they would at best show that on the whole the position of both the Majority and the Minority was the same in the eleven cases he mentions.

The distinction between the two groups first occurs clearly on the Russian question. It is therefore necessary to demonstrate how, on this question, the position of the Minority is petty-bourgeois. But this is no easy matter. At least, it has not yet been done and, in our opinion, it cannot be done.

In the second place, we contend that by Trotsky’s method of selection, one could “prove” almost anything about the tendency of the two groups. Out of two-three years of the political record of the party and its leadership, Trotsky has taken a number of isolated instances in which he adopted a critical attitude, and then quite arbitrarily, and after the fact, he makes the present Minority the object of that criticism.

Trotsky writes: “Let Shachtman not object that the lapses and mistakes in which the correspondence is concerned likewise can be brought against other comrades, including representatives of the present Majority.
Possibly. Probably. But Shachtman’s name is not repeated in this correspondence accidentally.”

But why should we not object? Whether or not Cannon’s name is mentioned as often as Shachtman’s (it is), is besides the point. What is important is that, as has been demonstrated above, what applied to one comrade applied at least as well to many others, to the Majority as well as the Minority.

Why is it not just as legitimate to say today. “Cannon’s present position on the Russian question is the logical flowering of the petty-bourgeois tendency he showed on the question of Negrin’s military budget, of the S.P. tactic, of the Eastman letter, of the Socialist Appeal, etc.” To answer: “But it is not, it is the Marxian position!” is merely an assertion, which is made just as vigorously by the Minority.

The conflicting assertions have to be examined objectively; the arguments have to be judged on their merits. The fact that Cannon and Shachtman, or Goldman and Burnham, took the same position on political questions in the past, does not prove that one of them represents a different tendency today.

In the third place, even if it were granted that in every one of the eleven cases Trotsky’s criticism was valid, and that it applied to Shachtman, or even to all the leaders of the Minority exclusively, as against the Majority leaders, it would still be necessary to ask: What importance have all these cases, including the invitation of Lyons to the Pioneer banquet and the prominence given to Eastman’s article on the cover of The New International, in comparison with the known record of these comrades on all the other political problems
facing the party in the past period? The struggle for the Fourth International and its program, their defense from all varieties of democrats, social-democrats, Stalinists, sectarians and others, did not begin a couple of months ago, when Cannon discovered that Burnham was not a defender of dialectics. It has been going on in the party for some time.

We repeat: the record of the leaders of the Minority in the struggle to build the Fourth International and to defend its program, above all in the question of war and bourgeois-patriotism, is well-known, and it is not worse than the record of the other comrades. Can it so easily be forgotten, or wiped out, even by all the eleven “proofs” cited by Trotsky, even if they were multiplied by two? That, too, will not be so easy.

For the party to try to deny this record would be to deny itself.

Our characterization of the political tendency represented by the Cannon clique has only been denied, but never refuted. Not even the attempt has been made. To our challenge to show the development of the “petty-bourgeois tendency” from the political record of the Minority in the past, only Comrade Trotsky replied, although one would suppose that our most immediate collaborators, the Cannonites, who know that record intimately, should have been the first to meet the challenge by drawing on that knowledge.

Not a single one of Trotsky’s eleven “proofs” have been evaded in our answer, which shows the utter groundlessness of the political characterization which he has attempted to attach to the Minority. The charge remains unproved because there is no proof for it.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.