Stalinism in the US


Discussions between Leon Trotsky and US Trotskyists in 1940

[The following is a rough stenographic draft — uncorrected by the participants — of discussions on the Stalinists in the US, between Trotsky and leading members of the Cannon faction of the US Socialist Workers Party, held on June 12-15, 1940]

Cannon: The general perspective is quite optimistic. The Stalinists are the problem. By their change in line they dealt a heavy blow. We were forging ahead when they made the switch, paralyzing our work. The workers are unable to distinguish the real difference between us, especially with the faction fight compelling us to give undue emphasis to our defence of the Soviet Union. We need a line of agitation to distinguish ourselves from them. The Stalinist party still has a powerful cadre of militants. It has a strong trade union machine which draws the workers. The pact seemed to disintegrate them, but it was losing just the democrats. The old militants are more devoted than ever. They believe that the party now has the “real revolutionary” line. We need a more effective counterattack against the Stalinists.

Trotsky: We don’t participate in the presidential elections?

Cannon: There are very rigorous election laws which prevent small parties from getting on the ballot.

Trotsky: And the CP?

Cannon: The CP buys its way on to the ballot. For example in upper New Yor,k where it is extremely reactionary, the CP simply buys signatures from those who make a business of dealing in signatures. For us there is no way to get on the ballot.

Trotsky: Your attitude toward the other parties?

Cannon: We are running local campaigns in some places for minor offices.

Trotsky: What do we tell the workers when they ask which president they should vote for?

Cannon: They shouldn’t ask such embarrassing questions. We tried write-in campaigns in previous elections, but it is not serious. Nor can we support either the Stalinists or Thomas.

Trotsky: I see there is no campaign in the Socialist Appeal for a workers’ candidate. Why haven’t you proposed a congress of trade unions, a convention, to nominate a candidate for the presidency? If he were independent we would support him. We cannot remain completely indifferent. We can very well insist in unions where we have influence that Roosevelt is not our candidate and the workers must have their own candidate. We should demand a nationwide congress connected with the independent Labour Party.

Dobbs: For a while some people thought Lewis would run. But Lewis never seriously intended to run. He attempted to bargain with the Roosevelt administration. Now it appears certain that Roosevelt will run.

Trotsky: With the centrists the situation is clear. For a long time in the United States, the socialist movement was not necessary. Now with changed times when it is necessary, it can’t have a reformist nature. That possibility is exhausted. At one time the United States was rich in reformist tendencies, but the New Deal was the last flare-up. Now with the war it is clear that the New Deal exhausted all the reformist and democratic possibilities and created incomparably more favourable possibilities for revolution. I talked with E a few weeks ago. For Roosevelt, but absolutely helpless about further possibilities of democracy. When I questioned him he was absolutely incapable of answering, and I thought he was going to break down in tears like a little boy.

The entrance into the war is the end of the last remnants of the New Deal and Good Neighbour policy. The Roosevelt of the third term will be completely different from the Roosevelt of the first two terms.

Dobbs: In the CIO and the AFL the leaders have been affected by Roosevelt’s war drive, becoming more and more outspoken for unity. Tobin has become more expressive, more deeply involved. Behind the scenes he moves in co-ordination with the war moves. Dubinsky, one of the original CIO leaders, voted to reaffiliate with the AFL thus weakening Lewis. Hillman, a CIO leader, negotiated a jurisdiction agreement with Dubinsky and is cool toward Lewis. There is grave danger of capitulation on the part of the bureaucrats, weakening the industrial workers. Lewis may have to reach unity at the expense of industrial unionism. All these leaders are jumping as Roosevelt cracks the whip.

Trotsky: The Stalinists are clearly the most important for us. E says they lost 15 per cent but that the workers remain true to the party. It is a question of attitude. Their dependence on the Kremlin was of great value to the national leaders. Their line was changed from patriotism to antiwar. In the next period their dependence on the Kremlin will create great difficulties for them.

They are antiwar and anti-imperialist, but so are we in general. Do we have a nucleus among them?

Cannon: We have a small nucleus in New York and in one or two other places.

Trotsky: Sent in?

Dobbs: No. They came to us and we advised them to stay and work within.

Cannon: We got some with our campaign against the fascists.

Trotsky: Theoretically it is possible to support the Stalinist candidate. It is a way of approaching the Stalinist workers. We can say, yes we know this candidate. But we will give critical support. We can repeat on a small scale what we would do if Lewis were nominated.

Theoretically it is not impossible. It would be very difficult, it is true — but then it is only an analysis. They, of course, would say, we don’t want your support. We would answer, we don’t support you, but the workers who support you. We warn them but go through the experience with them. These leaders will betray you. It is necessary to find an approach to the Stalinist party. Theoretically it is not impossible to support their candidates with very sharp warnings. It would guide them. What? How?

Kay: But in Boston the Stalinists wouldn’t even permit us to enter their hall. They even threw our comrade outside.

Trotsky: I know. They have even shot at us. But some tens of thousands of workers are with them. I don’t know exactly how many. It is very difficult to determine. Of course, we would suffer the indignation of Burnham. Shachtman would say, “See, I predicted it — capitulation to Stalinism.” There would even be considerable aversion in our ranks. But the question is the Stalinist workers. The working class is decisive. With guarantees, warnings, why not consider it? Is Browder a worse rascal than Lewis? I doubt it. Both are rascals.

Cannon: The Stalinist movement is peculiar. In France we could approach the Socialists and join them. The Stalinists are large compared to us but small compared with the CIO. The Stalinists are hated by the militants. It is not the psychological attitude of our members but the broad anti-Stalinist movement. If we started to play this kind of politics we would run into this indignation of these militants. For example, the food workers in New York. Our comrades succeeded in creating a strong progressive faction. They may possibly be elected to posts. We built our strength on opposition to Stalinist control of the union. Such a line would disrupt our work. The same is true in the maritime unions and in the auto union. The Stalinists are the main obstacle. A policy of manoeuvre would be disastrous. What we gained from the Stalinists we would lose otherwise.

Trotsky: Before entrance into the Socialist Party we tried to analyse the situation in the same way. Before entrance into the Socialist Party we had the perspective of exhausting all the possibilities. We were not closer to Thomas than we are to Browder. Those advocating entry predicted that we would finish with the SP and then turn to the CP. Imagine the CP without holding a specific hatred toward it. Could we enter it as we did the SP? I see no reason why not — theoretically. Physically it would be impossible but not in principle. After entrance into the SP there is nothing that would prevent our entrance into the CP. But that is excluded. We can’t enter. They won’t let us.

Can we make this manoeuvre from the outside? The progressive elements oppose the Stalinists but we don’t win many progressive elements. Everywhere we meet Stalinists. How to break the Stalinist party? The support of the progressives is not stable. It is found at the top of the union rather than as a rank-and-file current. Now with the war we will have these progressives against us. We need a stronger base in the ranks. There are small Tobins on whom we depend. They depend on the big Tobins. They on Roosevelt. This phase is inevitable. It opened the door for us in the trade unions. But it can become dangerous. We can’t depend on these elements or their sentiments. We will lose them and isolate ourselves from the Stalinist workers. Now we have no attitude toward them. Burnham and Shachtman opposed an active attitude toward the Stalinists. They represent a whole period from 1917 up to date. We can’t move without them. The coincidence between their slogans and ours is transitory, but it can give us a bridge to these workers. The question must be examined. If persecutions should begin tomorrow, it would be first against them, second against us. The honest, hard members will remain true. The progressives are a type in the leadership. The rank and file are disquieted, unconsciously revolutionary.

Dobbs: It is not quite correct to say that the “progressives” include only the tops of the unions. The progressives include the rank and file, especially is this true in the big unions.

Cannon: They are not cohesive, but in revolt against the Stalinists. Where the Stalinists control the union that is where a real anti-Stalinist movement is strongest. The Stalinists control the maritime unions by and large and we have a powerful experience in development of a progressive revolt against them.

Harold: The trade union movement grew by the millions. A new bureaucracy was formed, there was a new stream of union conscious members. In there were two currents, the Stalinists and the anti-Stalinists. Both streams included both rank and filers and bureaucrats.

Trotsky: But why the difference?

Harold: The differences began in 1934 when the Stalinists emerged from the red unions and were taken as a revolutionary movement. Many were corrupted. Many thought the New Deal swing a manoeuvre. The Stalinists made a deal with the CIO tops. They led many unions. They had a reputation of militancy. No one policy it is true, but they recruited as revolutionists. Now they are not considered revolutionists. Many of the best have dropped out. Those remaining are bureaucrats or confused.

Cannon: The problem is to get the CP out of the road. There is not a large percentage of revolutionary material in its ranks. They have discounted workers who saw no other force. They attract through the sheer inertia of a big apparatus and a big party. They use corruption where they do not already control the machinery. They use economic terrorism. They do everything the old-time bureaucrats did, but on a conveyor system. Unquestionably there are good workers among them, but only a small percentage. It is a terrible danger to risk the condemnation of non-Stalinist workers for the sake of a manoeuvre that would win little. The progressive movement is composed of anti-Stalinists and legitimate rank-and-file forces organised by us. The Stalinists even buy old-time fakers. They provide a legitimate movement of protest which is our main source of recruitment and which comes during the struggle against the CP. In the Los Angeles auto movement, for example, some ex-CPers organised a counter-movement from which we recruited. The Stalinists have built up a terrible hatred against themselves. Seventy-five per cent is genuine workers’ grievances and consists of many former Stalinists animated by a terrible bitterness. A complicated manoeuvre giving the possibility of identifying us with the Stalinists would be wrong. Our main line must be towards the non-Stalinist workers. We must handle the Stalinist question within this framework.

Jeb: I am against the manoeuvre. Perhaps I am not entirely rational about this. Perhaps it is mostly from inertia. Cannon wrote about the Stalinists that they are an alien movement in the workers’ movement, irresponsible. Our influence in the progressive groups is a top movement, not a rank-and-file movement, especially in New York. Our position is very precarious. Not something that we can look forward to as a big recruiting ground. The Stalinists’ influence in the ranks is quite solid. They make deals with the old-time fakers, but also have a rank-and-file following. In the painters’ union they made a deal with the gangsters but also were supported by the anti-gangster following. We built up a movement, kicked out the Stalinists but couldn’t consolidate or recruit. Stalinists operate with corruption but different degrees of corruption. A worker in the TWU who quit the CP in 1938 told us that they are disillusioned with the CP but not enough to join us. They use corruption by degrees — the best jobs are given to the Stalinists, lesser jobs to the group surrounding them, lesser jobs to sympathisers. The militants don’t regard themselves as corrupt — just members of the CP. “If we don’t get the jobs, the reactionaries will.” That seems to be their attitude. But we don’t have contact with the Stalinist rank and file. Before we could take such a manoeuvre we need to organise a nucleus in the Stalinists.

Trotsky: If the results of our conversation were nothing more than more precise investigation in relation to the Stalinists it would be very fruitful.

Our party is not bound to the Stalinist manoeuvre any more than it was to the SP manoeuvre. Nevertheless we undertook such a manoeuvre. We must add up the pluses and minuses. The Stalinists gained their influence during the past ten years. There was the depression and then the tremendous trade union movement culminating in the CIO. Only the craft unionists could remain indifferent. The Stalinists tried to exploit this movement, to build up their own bureaucracy. The progressives are afraid of this. The politics of these so-called progressives is determined by their need to meet the needs of the workers in this movement, on the other hand it comes from fear of the Stalinists. They can’t have the same policy as Green because otherwise the Stalinists would occupy their posts. Their existence is a reflex of this new movement, but it is not a direct reflection of the rank and file. It is an adaptation of the conservative bureaucrats to this situation. There are two competitors, the progressive bureaucrats and the Stalinists. We are a third competitor trying to capture this sentiment. These progressive bureaucrats can lean on us for advisors in the fight against the Stalinists. But the role of an advisor to a progressive bureaucrat doesn’t promise much in the long run. Our real role is that of third competitor. Then the question of our attitude toward these bureaucrats — do we have an absolutely clear position toward these competitors? These bureaucrats are Rooseveltians, militarists. We tried to penetrate the trade unions with their help. This was a correct manoeuvre, I believe. We can say that the question of the Stalinists would be resolved in passing insofar as we succeed in our main manoeuvre. But before the presidential campaign and the war question we have time for a small manoeuvre. We can say, your leaders betray you, but we support you without any confidence in your leaders in order to show that we can go with you and to show that your leaders will betray you. It is a short manoeuvre, not hinging on the main question of the war. But it is necessary to know incomparably better the Stalinists and their place in the trade unions, their reaction to our party. It would be fatal to pay too much attention to the impression that we can make on the pacifists and on our “progressive” bureaucrat friends. In this case we become the squeezed lemon of the bureaucrats. They use us against the Stalinists but as the war nears call us unpatriotic and expel us. These Stalinist workers can become revolutionary, especially if Moscow changes its line and becomes patriotic. At the time of Finland, Moscow made a difficult turn, a new turn is still more painful. But we must have contact and information. I don’t insist on this plan, understand, but we must have a plan. What plan do you propose? The progressive bureaucrats and dishonest centrists of the trade union movement reflect important changes in the base, but the question is how to approach the base? We encounter between us and the base, the Stalinists.

Kay: To support the Stalinists in the presidential campaign would kill us. They shift their line.

Trotsky: Nothing can kill us, Comrade Kay.

Kay: Our sympathisers would be driven away. The Stalinists cannot even talk with us. They are expelled for talking with us.

Trotsky: That is a blow against the party. They say that we are agents of this and that power. We say, if your leaders are serious against the war then we are with you, but your leaders will betray you. It is the politics of critical support. Tobin, for example, is a faker combined with a reactionary stupid petty-bourgeois, but would we vote for him if he were running on an independent ticket for president? Yes.

Kay: But Tobin or Lewis wouldn’t kill us.

Trotsky: I am not so sure. Lewis would kill us very efficiently if he were elected and war came. It is not a sentimental question. It is how to break this hypnosis. They say the Trotskyites are agents — but we say if you are seriously against the war we are with you. Even the problem of making them listen to us — we meet that by explaining. It is a very daring undertaking. But the cohesion of our party is such that we could succeed. But if we reject this plan, then we must find another policy. I repeat then we must find another policy. What is it?

Carl: We must keep aware of the main task, to present ourselves to the American workers. I think that we would be swallowed up in this manoeuvre because of the size of the party. Now we are becoming able to separate ourselves from them — but this manoeuvre would swallow us up. We must be careful to make an independent stand, not as an opposition movement to the Stalinists.

Trotsky: It is not a question of entry. And such a manoeuvre would be very short and very critical. The manoeuvre itself presupposes that we are an independent party. The manoeuvre is a measure of our independence. The workers of the Stalinist party are in a closed milieu, hypnotised by lies for a long time. Now the persecution from the war begins. Our criticisms seem part of the persecution and suddenly we appear to support them — because of the bourgeois persecution. I don’t say even that we will actually vote for them — by November the situation can change. The leaders can carry out their betrayal.

Hansen: The manoeuvre seems to me to bear some resemblance to our united front proposal to the CP at the time of the anti-fascist demonstrations. At the first demonstration, we made no such proposals. Many of the rank and file of our party criticised us. At the second demonstration we made such a proposal. It brought immediate response from the Stalinists. The rank and file were favourably impressed and questioned their leaders. The leaders were forced to launch a new campaign against us. We gained some members as a result.

Trotsky: The analogy holds except that then we had the initiative. Now they have the initiative. Good, we support this initiative. An investigation is needed, a small conference. I don’t wish to exaggerate this manoeuvre. It is not our strategic line, but a tactical question. It is one possibility.

Dobbs: It seems to me you are considering two aspects of the question. One, you are weighing the question as to whether more is to be gained in numbers and quality than would be lost among the anti-Stalinists. Two, the manoeuvre is possible only while they have an antiwar attitude.

Trotsky: Yes. The Stalinist machine makes different turns and manoeuvres in obedience to Moscow. Now they make a turn corresponding to the most intimate feelings of the rank and file. Now we can approach them or remain indifferent. We can give support to them against their leaders or remain aside. There is a presidential campaign besides this. If you are an independent party you must have politics. a line in relation to this campaign. I have tried to combine the two in a not decisive but important period. It combines the honest feelings of the Stalinist rank and file and also touches the masses at election time. If you had an independent candidate I would be for him, but where is he? It is either complete abstention from the campaign because of technical reasons, or you must choose between Browder and Norman Thomas. We can accept abstention. The bourgeois state deprived us of the possibility of running our candidate. We can proclaim that everyone is a faker. That is one thing, but events confirming our proclamation is another. Shall we follow negative or dynamic politics? I must say that during the conversation I have become still more convinced that we must follow the dynamic course. However, I propose only a serious investigation, a discussion, and then a conference. We must have our own politics. Imagine the effect on the Stalinist rank and file. It would be very good. They expect from such a terrible enemy as us that we will throw very cold water on them. We will surprise them with some terribly hot water.

June 14, 1940

Trotsky: Toledano’s speech, reported today in the press, is important for our policy in America. The Mexican people, says Toledano, “love” the United States and will fight the Nazis arms in hand. Toledano indicates complete fraternisation with the democracies. This is the first announcement of a new turn by Moscow. I have a concrete suggestion, that we publish a letter to the Stalinist workers: during five years your leaders were protagonists of the democracies, then they changed and were against all the imperialisms. If you make a firm decision not to permit a change in line then we are ready to convoke a convention to support your presidential candidate. You must give a pledge. It would be a letter of propaganda and agitation to the Stalinist workers. We will see. It is probable that the line will change in some weeks. This letter would give you free possibilities without having to vote for their candidate.

Cannon: They will probably make a change before we return.

Trotsky: Yes it is quite likely.

Cannon: We must exercise great caution in dealing with the Stalinists in order not to compromise ourselves. Yesterday’s discussion took a one-sided channel regarding our relations in the unions, that we act only as attorneys for the progressive labour fakers. This is very false. Our objective is to create our own forces. The problem is how to begin. All sectarians are independent forces — in their own imagination. Your impression that the anti-Stalinists are rival labour fakers is not quite correct. It has that aspect, but it has other aspects too. Without opposition to the Stalinists we have no reason for existing in the unions. We start as oppositionists and become irreconcilable. Where small groups break their necks is that they scorn manoeuvres and combinations and never consolidate anything. At the opposite extreme is the Lovestone group.

In one union we began without any members, the way we usually begin. Up to the time of the war it was hard to find a more fruitful ground than the anti-Stalinist elements. We began with this idea, that it is impossible to play a role in the unions unless you have people in the unions. With a small party, the possibility to enter is the first essential. In this union we made a combination with syndicalist elements. It was an exceptional situation, a small weak bureaucracy, most of whose policies were correct and which was against the Stalinists. It was incomprehensible that we could play any role except as an Opposition to the Stalinists who were the most treacherous elements in the situation. We formed a tacit bloc with the one possibility to enter the union freely. We were weak numerically, strong politically. The progressives grew, defeated the Stalinists. We grew too. We have 50 members and may possess soon 50 more. We followed a very careful policy — not to have sharp clashes which were not necessary anyway so far, so as not to bring about a premature split — not to let the main fight against the Stalinists be obscured. The maritime unions are an important section in the field. Our first enemy there is the Stalinists. They are the big problem. In new unions such as the maritime — which in reality surged forward in 1934, shattering the old bureaucracy, the Stalinists came to the fore. The old-fashioned craft unionists cannot prevail against the Stalinists. The struggle for control is between us and the Stalinists. We have to be careful not to compromise this fight. We must be the classical intransigent force.

The Stalinists gained powerful positions in these unions, especially in the auto union. The Lovestoneites followed the policy outlined by Trotsky yesterday — attorneys for the labour fakers, especially in auto. They disappeared from the scene. We followed a more careful policy. We tried to exploit the differences between the Martin gang and the Stalinists. For a while we were the left wing of the Martin outfit, but we extricated ourselves in the proper time. Auto is ostensibly CIO but in reality the Stalinists are in control. Now we are coming forward as the leading and inspiring circle in the rank and file that has no top leaders, that is anti-Stalinist, anti-patriotic, anti-Lewis. We have every chance for success. We must not overlook the possibility that these chances developed from experiments in the past period to exploit differences between union tops. If we had taken a sectarian attitude we would still be there. In the food unions there was an inchoate opposition to the Stalinists. There were office seekers, progressives, former CPers. We have only a few people. We must link ourselves with one or the other to come forward. Later we will be able to come forward. Two things can compromise us. One, confusion with the Stalinists. Two, a purist attitude. If we imagine ourselves a power, ignoring the differences between the reactionary wings, we will remain sterile.

Dobbs: The general situation leads me to believe that we would lose more than we would gain from giving the impression that we are locking arms with the Stalinists. We have made connections with reactionary people but at the same time we have gained some very good trade union elements, bringing them closer to true Bolshevism. We have gained additional footholds. In one basic union we have 22 comrades in the rank-and-file movement, some playing a very important role. At the last convention one comrade especially got the biggest ovation at the convention when he made his speech. Prior to the convention we had only a small nucleus. Since then we have grown among the rank and file.

Trotsky: Can we get them to go against Roosevelt?

Dobbs: Yes.

Trotsky: For whom will they vote?

Dobbs: I don’t know. Maybe Roosevelt. For us to turn to the Stalinists will sow real confusion in their minds. It should not be rushed in any case.

Trotsky: I believe we have the critical point very clear. We are in a bloc with so-called progressives — not only fakers but honest rank and file. Yes they are honest and progressives but from time to time they vote for Roosevelt — once in four years. This is decisive. You propose a trade union policy not a Bolshevik policy. Bolshevik policies begin outside the trade unions. The worker is an honest trade unionist but far from Bolshevik politics. The honest militant can develop but it is not identical with being a Bolshevik. You are afraid to become compromised in the eyes of the Rooseveltian trade-unionists. They on the other hand are not worried in the slightest about being compromised by voting for Roosevelt against you. We are afraid of being compromised. If you are afraid, you lose your independence and become half-Rooseveltian. In peace time this is not catastrophic. In war time it will compromise us. They can smash us.

Our policy is too much for pro-Rooseveltian trade unionists. I notice that in the Northwest Organiser this is true. We discussed it before, but not a word was changed; not a single word. The danger — a terrible danger — is adaptation to the pro-Rooseveltian trade unionists. You don’t give any answer to the elections, not even the beginning of an answer. But we must have a policy. It is not necessary now to vote for Browder. We are against Roosevelt. As for Norman Thomas he is just a political misunderstanding. Browder, however, is a tremendous handicap because he has a “revolutionary” attitude toward the imperialist war, etc. I understand that the situation is difficult. What I propose is a manifesto to the Stalinist workers, to say that for five years you were for Roosevelt, then you changed. This turn is in the right direction. Will you develop and continue this policy or not? Will you let the leaders change it or not? Will you continue and develop it or not? If you are firm we will support you. In this manifesto we can say that if you fix a sharp program for your candidate, then we will vote for him. I see no reason why we can’t say this with these ifs. Does this signify that we have changed our trade union policy? Not at all. We continue to oppose them as before. We say, if you seriously consider your attitude to Roosevelt you would have such and such policy in the trade unions. But you don’t have such a policy there. We can’t go along with you in the trade unions. I would be very glad to hear even one single word from you on policy in regard to the presidential election.

Cannon: It is not entirely correct to pose the problem in that way. We are not with the pro-Roosevelt militants. We developed when the Stalinists were pro-Rooseveltian. Their present attitude is conjunctural. It is not correct that — we lean towards Roosevelt. Comrade Trotsky’s polemic is a polemic for an independent candidate. If we were opposed to that then his account would be correct. For technical reasons we can’t have an independent candidate. The real answer is independent politics.

It is a false issue: Roosevelt versus the Stalinists. It is not a bonafide class opposition to Roosevelt. Possibly we could support Browder against Roosevelt, but Browder would not only repudiate our votes, but would withdraw in favour of Roosevelt.

Trotsky: That would be the very best occurrence for us. After laying down our conditions for support, this capitulation would win us a section of the Stalinists. It is not a strategic policy but a policy for the presidential campaign only.

The fact is that they have developed this antiwar propaganda. We must consider this important fact in the life of the American workers. We begin with nothing being done about the Stalinists. The “progressive” rank and file are a kind of semi-fabrication. They have class-struggle tendencies but they vote for Roosevelt. They are not formed politically. The rank-and-file Stalinists are not worse. They are caught in a machine. They are disciplined, political. Our aim is to oppose the Stalinist worker to the machine. How accomplish this? By leaving them alone? We will never do it. By postponing? That is not a policy. We are for an independent labour ticket, but we don’t even have this expressed in our press. Why? Because our party is embarrassed. It has no line on the elections.

Last January we discussed a campaign in the unions to have our own trade union presidential candidate. We were to propose to him that we would vote for him if he were nominated. Even Lewis. We were to begin the campaigning for a labour president, but not a thing was done. Nothing appeared. Nothing in the North-west Organiser.

Dobbs: Perhaps it was my fault- —

Trotsky: No. That is the bad Hitler theory of history — I can’t explain it by negligence. Nor just because it is a trade union paper with just a trade union policy. The members of the party could write letters to the editor. “What do their trade union leaders believe?” Why can’t our comrades write to the North-west Organiser We discussed in detail the technical details, but nothing was done. Why? It signifies an immediate clash with the Rooseveltians — not the rank and file — but a clash with our allies, the machine, the conscious Rooseveltians, who would immediately attack, a clash with our own class enemies such as Tobin.

Cannon: It is necessary to counterpose trade union candidates in the field. That would retain our following. But what I can’t accept is Browder as a symbol of the class struggle.

Trotsky: That is a bit of false polemics. In January I didn’t propose Browder, but you are reduced to Browder or Roosevelt. Why this lack of initiative? Why were these six months not utilised? Why? It is not reduced to an individual fight, it has general reasons. I discussed with O’Shea two years ago this same problem and this same necessity. With Jones too. But the North-west Organiser remains unchanged. It is a photograph of our adaptation to the Rooseveltians.

Understand, I don’t believe that it would be advisable for important comrades to start such a campaign. But even totally unknown comrades could write such letters. He could write the Executive Board of the union, asking them what will be the fate of the workers. What kind of a president do we need? At least five months were not utilised. Completely lost. So we should lose two or three months more?

And Browder suddenly becomes an ideal political figure for me! A little false polemics.

How reach a compromise? I ask two or three hundred Stalinist workers. That is the minimum requirement. We can get them by holding their leaders to a class struggle policy. Are you ready to impose this class struggle line on your leader, we ask. Then we will find common ground. It is not just to write a manifesto, but to turn our political face to the Stalinist workers. What is bad about that? We begin an action against the Stalinists, what is wrong with that?

I propose a compromise. I will evaluate Browder 50 per cent lower than I estimate him now in return for 50 per cent more interest from you in the Stalinist party.

Cannon: It has many complications.

Jeb: On the question of adaptation to Roosevelt’s program by our trade union comrades. Is it true? If so it was necessary for our trade union work. The trade unionists are for Roosevelt. If we want to make headway we have to adapt — by not unfolding our full program — in order to get a foothold for the next stage. We are still at the beginning despite all the work done. That is one thing, but to make it a permanent policy is another thing. We are against that. What is the right time to make the break? Have we exhausted the period of adaptation?

Cannon: The failure of the campaign to develop an independent ticket is due to inertia at the centre, the faction fight, the tendency to wait in place of energetic application of policies, a feeling of smallness of the party — psychological faults rather than conscious or unconscious adaptation to the Rooseveltians. The bloc in the trade unions is not a political bloc but a bloc over trade union policy. It is possible to have an active policy in opposition. In 1936 we supported the Socialist Party, not Roosevelt, despite the trade unionists giving open support to Roosevelt. The ideal situation would be for Comrade Trotsky to use his influence with the government to change the laws.

Trotsky: That is the job of the SWP.

Cannon: We should have started a campaign six months ago. During the faction fight there was a congressional campaign. Browder was running. Our policy was that it would be best to have our own candidate. We proposed this, but it was sabotaged by Abern.

But to go out and campaign for Browder, just at the time of war, when we are trying to explain our policy —

Trotsky: It is precisely one of the elements of explaining that theirs is a false policy.

Cannon: Support for a labour candidate can be justified, but the CP is entirely different. The CP is not a genuine workers’ party.

Dobbs: We are caught short. The criticisms are very pertinent. They will be productive of better results, you may be certain, but we feel that this policy would be completely disastrous. We would prefer to sacrifice the manoeuvre for Jimmy Higgins work and put our own candidate on the ballot. It is not a question of Roosevelt. We will do anything short of supporting the Stalinists in order to go against Roosevelt.

Trotsky: Good. But why not write a manifesto, addressing them? Give them arguments understandable to them? But we don’t have a candidate. It is now too late to have a candidate. What is your policy? Good — we will abandon voting for Browder. We will abandon a manifesto. We will make a leaflet. You would agree with a leaflet on the above lines? We can state our differences with the CP: your party accepts the class struggle only on accidental grounds.

And if the Stalinist worker comes up to you and asks, will you vote for our candidate? We are a serious party, where do you stand? We must give him a serious answer. We must say, yes we will vote for him.

No party is homogeneous, not even the Stalinist party. We cannot change the party but only introduce a wedge to start some of them moving toward us.

Cannon: In 1920 in the first year of the CP in this country, we had a situation similar to this. We were in illegality. A few months before the election and impossible to run our own candidate. We openly boycotted the elections. It was completely ineffective.

Lenin wrote us a letter. He held that we should have voted for Debs, but at that time there was a strong psychological separation from the SP. Lenin’s statement produced quite a shock. And Debs was in prison — not a Browder.

Trotsky: Yes. Although Browder is condemned to prison.

Cannon: There has not been a direct attack or approach to the Stalinists for some years. Could it be possible?

June 15, 1940

Hansen: Yesterday Comrade Trotsky made some remarks about our adaptation to the so-called progressives in the trade unions, he mentioned the line of the North-west Organiser and also our attitude in connection with the elections and the Stalinists. I wish to point out that this is not something completely new on Comrade Trotsky’s part. More than two years ago during the discussion over the Transitional Program, he discussed exactly these same points and had exactly the same position, with due regard for the difference in time and that then it was not the elections but the farmer-labour party that was to the fore. Comrade Trotsky has also written some letters regarding the Stalinists and the need for a more positive line toward them. In the past faction fight too, Comrade Trotsky mentioned in his polemic “From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene” the following point, which he underlined: “More than once the party will have to remind its own trade unionists that a pedagogical adaptation to the more backward layers of the proletariat must not become transformed into a political adaptation to the conservative bureaucracy of the trade unions.” I am wondering if Comrade Trotsky considers that our party is displaying a conservative tendency in the sense that we are adapting ourselves politically to the trade union bureaucracy.

Trotsky: To a certain degree I believe it is so. I cannot observe closely enough to be completely certain. This phase is not reflected in the Socialist Appeal well enough. There is no internal bulletin for the trade unionists. It would be very good to have such a bulletin and to publish controversial articles on our trade union work. In observing the North-west Organizer I have observed not the slightest change during a whole period. It remains apolitical. This is a dangerous symptom. The complete neglect of work in relation to the Stalinist party is another dangerous symptom.

Turning to the Stalinists does not mean that we should turn away from the progressives. It means only that we should tell the truth to the Stalinists, that we should catch the Stalinists beforehand in their new turn. It seems to me that a kind of passive adaptation to our trade union work can be recognised. There is not an immediate danger, but a serious warning indicating a change in direction is necessary. Many comrades are more interested in trade union work than in party work. More party cohesion is needed, more sharp manoeuvring, a more serious systematic theoretical training; otherwise the trade unions can absorb our comrades.

It is a historic law that the trade union functionaries form the right wing of the party. There is no exception to this. It was true of the Social Democracy; it was true of the Bolsheviks too. Tomsky was with the right wing, you know. This is absolutely natural. They deal with the class, the backward elements: they are the party vanguard in the working class. The necessary field of adaptation is among the trade unions. That is why the pressure of the backward elements is always reflected through the trade union comrades. It is a healthy pressure; but it can also break them from the historic class interests — they can become opportunists. The party has made serious gains. These gains were possibly only through a certain degree of adaptation; but on the other hand we must take measures to circumvent dangers that are inevitable. I have noticed only some serious symptoms which indicate the need for more cohesion, more emphasis on the party. Our comrades must be in the first line party members, and only in the second line trade union members. This is especially true for trade union functionaries and editors.

Before we go on, I have just received the latest number of Labor Action. Shachtman is calling for a new slogan, “Let’s have a program for peace not war.” But it is war, not peace. This is a pacifist tendency. It is no program for war, which is inevitable.

Cannon: Can the Stalinists be regarded in any important sense as different from any other labour party or grouping? Are tactics applicable to the socialists, etc, also applicable to them? There is a strong tendency to regard the Stalinists as different, not as a labour tendency. The crassest expression of this tendency is exhibited in the American Labour Party in New York. They regard the Stalinists not as a working-class party but as an agency of a foreign power. This was the position of Lovestone and Hook on the Browder passport case. It was Burnham’s position in the CC. We held for critical defence. If O’Neal, for example, were arrested we would defend him similarly. There is no fundamental difference between O’Neal of the Second International and Browder as representative of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Both are treacherous in the labour movement. Burnham held that the Stalinists are not a labour movement at all, that they are like German Nazis. We should defend neither. This point is important in elaborating our general political tactics. So long as the social democrats represents a force we must not only have direct opposition but a policy of manoeuvre. Can any fundamental distinction be made between them and Lewis, Green, etc? In my opinion we at least subjectively have made a distinction. We have not had a policy of manoeuvre since 1934, neither nationally nor internationally. In general should we not re-examine this again? Your proposal raises this drastically.

Trotsky: Of course, the Stalinists are a legitimate part of the workers’ movement. That it is abused by its leaders for specific GPU ends is one thing, for Kremlin ends another. It is not at all different from other opposition labour bureaucracies. The powerful interests of Moscow influence the Third International, but it is not different in principle. Of course, we consider the terror of the GPU control differently; we fight with all means, even bourgeois police, but the political current of Stalinism is a current in the workers’ movement. If it differs, it differs advantageously.

In France the Stalinists show courage against the government. They are still inspired by October. They are a selection of revolutionary elements, abused by Moscow, but honest. If they are persecuted in the United States and remain anti-patriotic because Moscow delays its new turn, this would give them considerable political authority. Our revulsion from the Kremlin will not destroy this political authority. We must consider them objectively. We must consider them from the objective Marxist viewpoint. They are a very contradictory phenomenon. They have great courage. We can’t let the antipathies of our moral feelings sway us. Even the assailants on Trotsky’s house had great courage. I think that we can hope to win these workers who began as a crystallisation of October. We see them negatively: how to break through this obstacle. We must set the base against the top. The Moscow gang we consider gangsters, but the rank-and-file don’t feel themselves to be gangsters, but revolutionaries. They have been terribly poisoned. If we show that we understand, that we have a common language, we can turn them against their leaders. If we win 5 per cent, the party will be doomed. They can then lead only a conservative existence. Disintegration will set in, because this 5 per cent connects them with new sources from the masses.

Reprinted from Internal Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 10, April 1953 (Socialist Workers Party, New York)


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