Letters exchanged between Daniel Renard and James P. Cannon, February 16 and May 9, 1952
[Originally published in Internal Bulletins of the SWP and the International Bulletins of the International Committee. Copied from http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fi/1950-1953/ic-issplit/05.htm ]
[Note: This correspondence is of more historic than programmtic significance, as it documents Cannon’s initial failure to support the French Trotskyist struggle against Pablo’s opportunism and bureaucratism]
Dear Comrade Cannon,
I am taking the liberty of writing you today because I think that you are one of the most qualified comrades in the Trotskyist movement for evaluating the situation in our section and the dispute which currently places the French party in opposition to the International Secretariat.
I have read In Defence of Marxism and The Struggle for the Proletarian Party; the exertions, struggles and experiences through which the American Trotskyists, and you especially, have passed, give you the necessary background for telling me what you think of what we are doing here.
All the leaderships of the Trotskyist sections are now in possession of a document from the International Secretariat dated January 21, 1952, concerning the French section.
However, this document in its five pages of text does not give an exact version of what is taking place. It does not present a political; view of the situation but strictly an administrative version of the dispute. From a reading of this document it could be concluded that the leading comrades of the French section are acting stubbornly and sulking at the decisions of the IS merely from whim.
The facts are really altogether different. Nobody in the International is unaware of the differences which have opposed the French majority to the IS up to the World Congress. These differences have been expressed in votes and in documents. The French majority has tried to clarify the nature of these differences, especially in the period 1 of preparation of the Seventh Congress of the French Party. But the differences which set the French Party in opposition to the IS were settled, if not solved, by the Third World Congress. And this found its expression in a resolution of the French Commission of the World Congress, a resolution which the Central Committee of our section unanimously approved, insofar as it is the line for applying the policies adopted by the Third World Congress. To say, as the IS does, that the French majority has ‘continued’ in practice to wish to apply the line of the Seventh Congress of the PCI is inaccurate and refuted by the entire attitude and policy as applied by the French leadership from the World Congress up to now.
Let me begin by stressing that Pablo, in opposing any vote at the World Congress on the documents which our delegates presented there (especially the 10 theses drawn up by Comrade Germain and adopted by our Seventh Congress), and this upon the contention that the International had not discussed them, was by this token unable to have our positions condemned by the Congress.
The truth is that whatever the spheres of activity of our party, nothing has given rise to the slightest criticism by any of the leading bodies of the International regarding remissness in applying the line laid down by the last World Congress.
In ‘youth’ work a draft resolution was presented to the Political Bureau. It gave rise to a certain amount of criticism, especially on the part of minority comrades. A parity commission of PB members was elected. This commission submitted a new, revised youth document, which was finally adopted. It is some four months since this resolution has been applied. Its application has called forth no important criticism, neither in the ranks of the minority nor from the IS.
If we take trade union work, up to and including the last meeting of the National Contact Commission of ‘Unite’, this work has gone ahead on the basis of complete agreement between the majority of the French Party and the IS. A document on directives was submitted unanimously by a commission of which Comrade Frank was a member. It was subsequently called into question anew by a totally different document with which I will deal presently.
Finally, the last sphere but not the least: our central organ, La Verité, has never been questioned in any fundamental way, by anyone whatever, for not having applied the line of the Third World Congress. What is more, Comrade Pablo stated to a meeting of the Paris Region that La Verité was showing ‘the obvious progress made by the French leadership in applying the political line laid down by the Third World Congress’. But if, as the IS letter declares, the French leadership’continues to wish to apply the line of the 7th PCI Congress’, where would this be more evident than in La Verité? Our paper, the principal external expression of our party, is best capable of reflecting in the light of events, the political positions of the leadership which publishes it.
Thus, since the Third World Congress, the French leadership has effectively endeavoured to apply the policies of our International ‘with understanding and discipline’. Further, it has maintained complete silence inside the party on the ever new demands imposed upon it by the IS. Inadequacies may have shown up here and there. They were inevitable. But this was in no sense wilful. If it were so, if the leadership had really desired to carry out a different line, this would have revealed itself not accidentally in episodic and piecemeal cases, but in the entire activity of the party, in all spheres, daily, and at every step. Examples of such an undisciplined attitude would be so numerous that there would be no difficulty in presenting a great many of them.
But the letter of the IS nowhere makes any precise, clearly formulated accusations.
In point of fact, there are two clearly distinct phases in the struggle between the IS and the French leadership. The first phase takes place after the Third World Congress, a period during which the party was orienting itself in its work on the basis of the French resolution. This application takes place with some necessary adjustments. Then there is a second phase whose date can be established precisely: it is December 6, 1951 when the IS issues a document entitled, ‘For the reorientation of our trade union work in France’.
This document, of which it was not known whether it was a mandatory resolution effective upon its appearance, or a contribution to the discussion of the trade union problem in France, called into question anew the decisions and documents of the Third World Congress. The stupefaction and indignation which such a document raised in the leadership of the French party were well founded. It was no longer a question of interpretation, of doing a job of exegesis on one sentence or another: this text was in fundamental and formal opposition with the text of the French commission of the World Congress.
For instance, in the French resolution, the following statement is made: ‘The necessary turn in the activity of the French party which results from the world turn in the situation does not in any case mean the abandonment of activities engaged in and of results achieved in such activities. On the contrary…,etc.
The text of the IS explains: ‘In order to realize these objectives which are possible right now, it is necessary not to attempt to set ourselves up as a distinct tendency (within the CGT), which is not objectively justified at the present stage — but to integrate ourselves there by promptly becoming the best workers for the unification of the trade union movement, by taking everywhere a clear unequivocal position for the unity proposals of the CGT, and by skilfully maneuvering as regards the Stalinist leaders so as to allay their suspicions about us and so as to let them consider us as useful instruments for the unity policy’. (Emphasis in the original).
About all this, the letter of the IS dated January 21 does not say a word; in this way it makes the dispute between the French party and the IS incomprehensible. The opposition which manifests itself on administrative and organizational questions can only find their explanation in the light of the political positions of each of the opponents. Every other way of trying to clarify the discussion can in fact only muddy it up.
This is all the more true when one considers the January 14 letter of the IS to the members of the Central Committee. There too, and anew, the CC found itself confronting totally new positions contrary to the letter and spirit of the Third World Congress. The question was that of envy into the CP but of a very special kind of envy, sui generis as the IS itself described it. Independent work was to be subordinated to this entry. (‘Independent work must be understood as having for its main ‘aim the aiding of “entrist” work and is itself to be directed primarily at the Stalinist workers’. —’Entrist work will develop in scope as we come closer to war’. Letter of the IS to the members of the CC).
But the World Congress stated precisely: ‘In the countries where the majority of the working class still follows the CP, our organizations, of necessity independent, must direct themselves toward more systematic work aimed at the ranks of these parties and of the masses which they influence’. (Theses on international Perspectives and the Orientation of the Fourth International).
This is so true that the Italian comrades, whose political situation is analagous to ours in many ways, have elaborated a resolution for work directed at the workers of the CP. The question of entry is envisaged and resolved in the following way: ‘This “entrist” tactic does not exclude but presupposes independent work …
‘Taking these requirements into account, we reach the conclusion that independent work must not be liquidated, but that on the contrary, it will be necessary to assign additional forces to this work’. The Italian comrades, in writing this, believe they are applying the line of the Third World Congress. But to say, as does the IS, that this Italian resolution ‘advocates a tactic identical to that proposed by the letter of the IS of January 14 to the CC of the French party’, constitutes a refusal to understand the obvious. The position of the IS in France makes independent work a supplement to entrist work; the Italian comrades are doing just the reverse. It is necessary to have a certain amount of political myopia to identify these two positions.
In my opinion the IS is seeking to mask the real reasons for the discussion by accusing the French majority of not wanting to apply the line of the Third World Congress and of wishing to substitute the line of the Seventh Congress of our party. Truthfully, the French leadership is not in opposition to the IS but to what we in France have labelled ‘Pabloism’. That is what is involved. And today, under the cover of our international leadership, Comrade Pablo is trying to have his own positions carried out. When the French majority says that the trade union resolution, as well as the letter of the IS to the members of the Central Committee of January 19 and 20, is not the honest expression of the World Congress, it is only expressing in another form that Pabloism did not win out at the Third World Congress. To convince oneself all one has to do is to return to the article, ‘Where Are We Going?’ and to the theses of the Third World Congress.
The struggle in which the French party has found itself engaged and in which I am taking part, has had for its setting the punitive action of the IS in suspending the majority of the Central Committee, a measure directed against all the living forces of the party, against everything which directly or indirectly touches working class and trade union work. This punitive measure is unjust and unjustifiable. It is a suppression of all genuine leadership in all spheres of work. And how does the IS explain this measure? By charging ‘political and organizational decomposition’. And upon what does it base this charge? Upon hearsay and gossip. But where the leadership of a party is decomposing politically and organizationally that ought to be confirmed by other means than by the charges of minority comrades. Decomposition, if it is political, must show itself in documents, and especially in the documents submitted precisely to the CC Plenum, where the majority was suspended. Political decomposition should also show itself in our central organ, La Verité, of which ten issues have appeared since the World Congress. This aspect of the question of political decomposition of our leadership is all the more important because allusion is made in this letter, to Shachtman, to the POUM, to the Yugoslavs. Those of our comrades who participated in the Second World Congress took a stand against the proposal to recognize the WP as a ‘sympathetic section’. Since that time we have neither said nor written a word which could justify an amalgam with Schachtman. No basis for comparison exists between our position and that of the POUM, to which Verité has replied in connection with its attacks against our Third World Congress. No position of ours is the same as the Yugoslavs against whom we have been conducting an offensive for over 18 months in all spheres where they have shown themselves (brigades, trade unions, youth). In what, directly or indirectly, does the argumentation employed by the French leadership resemble the positions taken by Schachtman, the POUM, the ‘Yugoslavs’? In nothing. And there you have an unprincipled amalgam which can only condemn those who make use of it.
As for the decomposition of the leadership of our party from an organizational standpoint, what are the symptoms which reveal this? Have members resigned? Has the paper failed to appear? Have directives not been issued in order to initiate this or that action at this or that moment? If the leadership is decomposing as the motor force of the party, what better test than the last strike movements of February 12 as a verification of this? But there again, as in the past, our leadership, conscious of its experience, of the situation in the party caused by the violent coup of the IS, proved itself equal to the greatness of its task.
Ah this tends to demonstrate that a bad cause has the need for bad methods in order to defend itself. And this likewise explains why for us the struggle against Pabloism is not a struggle of secondary importance. The French majority has acquired the conviction in the course of many months in which it has been opposed to Pabloism, that the latter means the destruction of Trotskyism, at least in Western Europe. The sharpness of the struggle, on both sides, can be explained or justified solely in this perspective.
If we return to the question of trade union work, we see in the French resolution of the World Congress, a resolution which our CC has adopted, the following perspective described in these words: ‘The agreements which have served as basis for ‘Unité’ (essential element of the trade union work of the French section) are taking place under the hallmark of free expression for the various currents gathered together around this paper. The general activity of the party in ‘Unité’ continues without any changes’. This is clear and without the slightest ambiguity. Four months after these lines were written, we can read the following sentences from the pen of the IS: ‘It is necessary not to attempt to set ourselves up as a distinct tendency’ as against the Stalinists. What is the meaning of such a sentence if not to deliver ourselves bound hand and foot over to the Stalinist bureaucrats. For us, however, the perspective is clear: the situation in the French trade union movement`is such that it imposes upon us the requirement not to surrender in any way the orientation laid down by the French resolution of the World Congress. That variations in Stalinist policy require of us this or that tactic is obvious. But it is a question of something quite different in the foregoing text of the IS.
If we return to the question of entry into the CP, our perspective is clear. We are not hostile to the examination of this possibility, and we had already formulated it well in advance of the letter of the IS of January 14 to the members of the CC. But for us it was above all a matter of fraction work which cannot change the work of the independent party and above all cannot in any way change the independent character of the Trotskyist programme with reference to Stalinism. Not only do we think that this fraction work in the CP is necessary and indispensable, but we say that this idea of entry in the CP must be considered by the whole party as the eventuality for which we must prepare ourselves in the perspective of great social upheavals and continued upheavals in the Stalinist apparatus. For Pablo it is quite another thing that is involved. It is a matter of pure and simple integration into Stalinism, ascribing to the latter the accomplishment of a certain number of historical tasks that Trotskyism is incapable of fulfilling.
Politics has its own logic, and particularly the politics of Pablo. Did not he state to the CC of the 19th and 20th of January that ‘the Transitional Programme’ was an inadequate instrument for effectively judging what Stalinism is at the present time? This may appear as a momentary error of Pablo, but since this statement, this idea has made its own way, and at the last meeting of the Parisian region, Comrade Frank, a member of the IS, stated that it is an incorrect idea of the Transitional Programme when it states that the ‘Third International had definitely passed over to the side of the bourgeois order’. And has not Comrade Corvin, member of the Central Committee, also said that to speak of the oscillations of the Stalinist bureaucracy means to put in question the workers’ character of the USSR, adding that we will no longer see oscillations, but hesitations by Stalinism in accomplishing the tasks of the revolution. Has not Comrade Mestre, member of the Political Bureau, stated that entry sui generis has become necessary because ‘Stalinism has changed’? All this is evidently not a product of chance. All this only expresses, in our ranks, the growing pressure of Stalinism upon the petty bourgeoisie of Western Europe which finds its echo in our organization.
This explains why I have personally stated that confronted by such positions the party must rise, unanimously, to condemn such crimes. I am not concerned with creating an atmosphere of hostility in the French section ‘against the International’ as the letter of the IS implies. I am concerned with defending the essential programmatic foundations of our movement, which is its wealth and which is its surest guarantee of victory.
The position which I have taken in this battle is the product of all the experience which I have accumulated during years of membership in the working class movement and particularly of my struggle for Trotskyism in the Renault plant. To create the notion that our opposition to the Pabloite line proceeds from an infantile anti-Stalinism is to conceal the real character of Pabloism, as it is revealing itself every day increasingly, every day more clearly. Today Pablo is compelled to call into question the fundamental ideas of the Transitional Programme in order to prop up his line. What will happen tomorrow?
The methods used by Pablo have caused me to reflect a great deal and I have in particular relived the struggle which Trotsky conducted against Schachtman, Burnham and Abern in 1939-40 in the American section. The methods used by the IS are absolutely the reverse of these. Trotsky, and all the American comrades at his side, fought politically and vied to convince the SWP comrades by the widest possible discussion and the most fundamental. In particular, Trotsky constantly turned towards the party’s working class base, addressed himself to it, used the best pedagogical forms so as to accomplish this, that the discussion would at least serve to educate the party. Here, we see the working class base of the party disdained, because it is the majority. We see fundamental questions evaded under false pretexts. To an entire leadership which is opposed to its line the IS replies: ‘Suspension’ and justified itself by insults.
From all this the party (and when I say party, I mean the whole International) can only lose. It is impossible to destroy a Trotskyist section under the pretext that it does not share the personal ideas of Pablo on the role of the Soviet bureaucracy and on ‘centuries of transition’. To destroy is not the role of a leader of the International: his role is not to destroy the human foundation of all politics, entrist or otherwise.
My letter has no other purpose than to warn you of this danger, to explain the situation and to ask your opinion. I hope I have accomplished my task.
With fraternal Bolshevik-Leninist best wishes, dear comrade, I am,
* * *
New York, N.Y.
May 29, 1952
Dear Comrade Renard:
I received your letter of February 16. Copies were also distributed to all the members of our National Committee, and in formulating the following reply I have had the benefit of discussion with them on the matter. If I have waited so long to answer, it is only because I am always reluctant to intervene in the affairs of another party without knowing all the pertinent facts and the people concerned. I make this explanation to assure you that I meant no disrespect to you by my delay in answering your letter. Just the contrary. My purpose was to give your communication the serious and deliberate answer it deserves.
In the meantime, the Tenth Plenum of the IEC has taken place, and its basic document on ‘The Tactical Application of the Third World Congress Line’, as well as its Organizational Resolution on the French situation, have been received here. We have also received a copy of the ‘Declaration by the Political Bureau Majority on the Agreements Concluded at the International Executive Committee’. These documents — the Tenth Plenum decisions and the Declaration of your Political Bureau Majority — seem to me to advance the dispute to another stage and to throw more light on it.
I have used the intervening time, since receiving your letter, for an attentive study of all the relevant documents, including those above mentioned. Naturally, from such a great distance I cannot feel qualified to pass judgment on the many secondary questions and personal antagonisms which are unfailingly involved in such a sharp dispute as your party is now experiencing. However, the general picture from a political point of view now seems clear enough to justify me in offering you and the other French comrades a frank opinion, as follows:
I think the Third World Congress made a correct analysis of the new post-war reality in the world and the unforeseen turns this reality has taken. Proceeding from this analysis, the Congress drew correct conclusions for the orientation of the national Trotskyist parties toward the living mass movement as it has evolved since the war. Further, the Tenth Plenum, in its basic document on the tactical application of the Third World Congress line, has faithfully interpreted, amplified and concretized the line of the Third World Congress as regards its tactical application under the different conditions in the different countries.
I note your statement that the majority are ‘not hostile’ to the ‘idea of entry into the CP’ as ‘the eventuality for which we must prepare ourselves’. That would seem to put the majority in basic agreement with the line of the IEC and clear the way for a jointly-elaborated programme of practical actions leading to an agreed-upon end. The ) differences seem to be reduced to questions of timing and pace. I should like to remind you, however, that in a fluid situation timing and pace can be decisive for the success or failure of an action. In such a situation, where an objective is agreed upon in principle, my own preference would be for decisiveness and speed.
I disagree in part with your formulation of the question of entry as ‘above all a matter of fraction work which cannot change the work of the independent party and above all cannot in any way change the independent character of the Trotskyist programme with reference to Stalinism’. Two different questions, which ought to be separated, are combined in this formula.
Of course, neither entry, nor any other policy or tactic which could be devised, can ‘in any way change the independent character of the Trotskyist programme with reference to Stalinism’. But ‘the work of the independent party’ in France, in the present historical conjuncture, can and must be radically changed, and that without unnecessary delay, for there is not much time left to seize the opportunity now open. We must get into the movement of Stalinist workers while there is yet time and by such means and methods as the situation permits, not those we might prefer to arbitrarily insist open.
A policy of maintaining the French party as an essentially independent party, with fraction work in Stalinist-controlled organizations as supplemental and secondary, would turn the necessities of the situation upside down. The situation in France now imperatively requires a policy of entry (of a special kind) into the Stalinist movement. The independent party and press should serve, stimulate and guide the entrist movement, not substitute for it or contradict it. It is true, as every Trotskyist knows, that the independence of the revolutionary vanguard party is a principle. Its creation is an unchanging aim of the revolutionary vanguard, always and everywhere and under all conditions. The function of the party, however, is not to exist for itself but to lead the workers in revolution. Further progress in the construction of a revolutionary party, capable of leading the revolutionary masses, requires now in France a wide and prolonged detour through the workers’ movement controlled by the Stalinists, and even eventually through a section of the Stalinist party itself.
The aim to build the Trotskyist party into a mass party remains fixed and unchanging, but the road toward it in France is by no means a straight one. If our French comrades should grow stubborn and formally insist on the functioning of the independent party as the primary and most essential work in the given situation, the living mass movement with its unbounded revolutionary potentialities would certainly pass it by and leave us with the form without the substance.
The breakup of the coalition on the trade union field around the paper, ‘L’Unité, was a progressive development for our party. Those reformist trade unionists who make a speciality of ‘anti-Stalinism’ in order to cover and justify their pro-imperialist policy are an international breed, and they are well known to us. They are not fit allies for Trotskyists in the United States, in France or anywhere else. The logic of their Stalinophobia inexorably impels them to the right, and no tactical diplomacy on our part can arrest the process. On the other hand, the French Stalinist workers, by the logic of the irreversible international trend of things, must be impelled more and more on a radical course. It is a matter of life and death for our comrades to establish connections with them and form an alliance with them against imperialism. The disruption of the ‘L’Unité’ coalition, provoked by the right wing, should be taken as a fortunate and most favourable springboard into this new and more fruitful arena.
As far as the anarchist phrasemongers are concerned — in the United States, in France, or anywhere else — time-wasting parleys and coalitions with them for the purpose of waging the class struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie would make a mockery of things which ought to be taken seriously. This would not be revolutionary politics but a substitute for it.
Your letter, Comrade Renard, as well as the Declaration of the Majority of your Political Bureau on the Tenth Plenum, explains the political essence of your position in the conflict as opposition to ‘Pabloism’. You define this as a revisionist tendency, aiming at ‘pure and simple integration into Stalinism’ and thereby a capitulation to it. This question, as you may be aware, has a history in the Socialist Workers Party and is, consequently, familiar to us. As far back as 1950, when the new tactical turn was first indicated, the Johnsonites attempted to terrify the party with the scare of ‘Pabloism’. They sought to construe a struggle in the International Trotskyist movement of ‘Cannonism vs. Pabloism’. Since we were fully in favour of the new tactical turn from the start, we did not see any ground for such a contradistinction of tendencies, and said so when the question was first raised by the Johnsonites — an answer which no doubt hastened their departure from our ranks.
We, for our part, are orthodox Trotskyists since 1928 and thereby irreconcilable enemies of Stalinism or any conciliationism with it, not to speak of capitulation. I do not think I overstate the case if I say that should any kind of a pro-Stalinist tendency make its appearance in our international movement, we would probably be the first to notice it and to say: ‘This is an alien tendency with which we cannot compromise’. We do not see such a tendency in the International leadership of the Fourth International nor any sign nor symptom of it.
We judge the policy of the International leadership by the line it elaborates in official documents — in the recent period by the documents of the Third World Congress and the Tenth Plenum. We do not see any revisionism there. All we see is an elucidation of the post-war evolution of Stalinism and an outline of new tactics to fight it more effectively. We consider these documents to be completely Trotskyist. They are different from previous documents of our movement, not in principle or method, but only in the confrontation and analysis of the new reality and the tactical adjustment to it. It is the unanimous I opinion of the leading people of the SWP that the authors of these documents have rendered a great service to the movement for which they deserve appreciation and comradely support, not distrust and denigration.
I am sure that the International movement will not sanction or support a factional struggle based on suspicion of future intentions which cannot be demonstrated, or even deduced, from present proposals and positions formulated in documents. Nobody can learn anything from such fights, and the party is bound to be the loser. If you comrades of the majority should insist on a struggle against a ‘revisionism’ which is not evident to others, you could only disorient a number of worker comrades in the party ranks, isolate them from the other cadres of the International movement and lead them into a blind alley. Unfortunately, this has been done often enough in the past history of the French party by impulsive leaders who did not take thought of their course or heed the opinions of International comrades who sought to help them with friendly advice. I earnestly hope it will not happen this time.
It would be far better, in my opinion, to lay the suspicions aside or, in any event, not to make them the axis of discussion — and try to come to agreement with the IS on practical steps toward an effective penetration into the movement of Stalinist workers — leaving the different views as to the prospects to the test of experience. Political tendencies which are not clearly revealed cannot be fruitfully debated. If there is in fact any illusion about Stalinism on the one side, or a fetishism of formal independence on the other, the test of experience will mature and clarify such errors and make it possible to deal with them politically. Conversely, if there are no serious differences latent in the conflict, experience will eliminate any ground for suspicion in either respect.
An entry into the Stalinist workers’ movement and eventually into the Stalinist party itself, under the given conditions, with its rigid bureaucratic structure, is an extremely difficult and dangerous undertaking in the best case. It will be all the more difficult if there is no unity in the party leadership. The situation would be made many times worse if the French party has to be punished with one more unnecessary split. This possibility cannot be ignored.
Don’t deceive yourself, Comrade Renard. There is great danger of a split, even though both sides may have renounced any intention in this regard. A split is implicit in the situation as it has been developing in the recent period. In my opinion, the best way to avoid such a calamity — perhaps the only way — would be to shift the discussion for the time being to a concrete step-by-step programme, worked out jointly by the party leadership and the IS, to effectuate the imperatively-dictated entry into the Stalinist workers’ movement and eventually into a section of the Stalinist party itself.
Along that line — if our judgment is correct — the French party should soon get into a position to expand its influence and prepare for the great role which history has assigned to it in the approaching war and revolution. You can surely count on the sympathy and support of International comrades in this great endeavour.
James P. Cannon