Letter to James P. Cannon, February 1935

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To Cannon on the Next Steps

Dear Comrade Cannon:

This is a purely personal letter. In the first place, because your party is not now affiliated to the International Communist League and, in the second place, because I have not been empowered by any group to write to you. This letter will concern itself with the general questions of orientation in order that eventual practical decisions may be prepared. Article III of the Constitution of the Workers Party, which deals with the question of International affiliation, is cited in the copy of the letter [to Sneevliet] enclosed. It is possible that in the next few months the attention of your party will be directed chiefly toward questions of propaganda and organization. Even here, however, you will hardly be able to or wish to escape the question of the new International. It seems to me to be necessary, both from the point of view of the WPUS as well as from that of the International, that certain definite preparatory steps be taken in accordance with your constitutional Article III.

There are certain similarities between the position of your party and that of the united party in Holland, which will come into being in the next few weeks. There is, however, one difference. The OSP, which will form the majority of the membership of the new party, belonged to the IAG before the amalgamation and is now inclined to give its affiliation to this body. Therefore our section of the new party will also come into this organization. At the same time, the leaders of the new party want to arrive at some sort of personal basis of unity with the International Communist League. The idea is that the leaders of both groups, Sneevliet and Schmidt, become members of the International Secretariat.

My opinion of the International Labor Community I need not go into here. I go into the question thoroughly in the attached letter to Sneevliet It would be absolutely false, however, for us to make withdrawal from the IAG a condition for the establishment of the new party. Further experience will soon show whether the continued affiliation of the Dutch party to this thoroughly confused and centrist organization can be of any good use

At the February conference of the IAG, our Comrades Schmidt and Sneevliet spoke well and vigorously on the need of the formation of the Fourth International. Our friends in Paris write me with enthusiasm of the position taken by Comrade Schmidt as well as Sneevliet In spite of its continued affiliation to the IAG, the new Dutch party has reserved to itself the right to do whatever possible for the establishment of the new International. And I believe that the Dutch party and the WPUS are called upon by the existing situation to take practical steps in this direction.

I do not know whether in America the result of the Saar vote has been analyzed in respect to its effects on the international labor movement Its significance cannot be overestimated. After the miserable capitulation of both parties in Germany, we declared that not only the Second but the Third International as well were historically dead. The establishment of a new International-based on the teachings of the past – was placed on the agenda of history. Many comrades, some of them in our own ranks (Bauer, for example), dissented. They said that the Communist International could still be revived. The Saar vote was a check on these claims and an additional proof of the correctness of our position. If we count the vote of the businessmen friendly to France, the Jewish bourgeois, the pacifist intellectuals (minus perhaps two to three percent), we can credit each of the working-class parties with from three to four percent of the vote, and this under the best conditions of the plebiscite. The workers do not forgive such criminal capitulation. The Saar plebiscite is mathematical proof of the need for systematic preparation for the formation of the Fourth International.

The fact that in France and other democratic countries the parties of the Third and especially the Second Internationals still seem to be organizationally imposing and maintaining a following changes nothing of the lesson of the Saar.

In France the workers can only win if, under the blows of the events of the next period, they forsake both bureaucracies. These events would certainly be seven-mile strides toward the formation of the Fourth International. If fascism conquers in France also, again the two Internationals are exposed. In a word, whether victory or defeat comes, the building of the Fourth International remains on the agenda.

The SAP, in order to hide their despicable cowardice in the face of the tasks of history, accuse us of wanting to "proclaim" the Fourth International at once. We need not go into the utter falsehood of this conception. We are Marxists. We do not play with history. We do not deny the problems it presents. Nor do we consider them solved if they are not in reality. We have said it a hundred times. We only want to put things as they really are.

The important thing is to prove to the working masses again and again the bankruptcy of the two Internationals. Every illusion that the vanguard of the workers loses prepares it for the struggle. That, however, is not enough. We must present our point of view on all important events in the international labor movement That can only be done in the form of fundamental programmatic documents. In this is the most important preliminary work for the Fourth International.

Certainly we are too weak to "proclaim" the new International. No one has ever proposed such an adventurist step. The thing is to lay the ideological basis for it. The work must continue uninterruptedly, must sometime have an international organ and a committee that will undertake the actual work of preparation.

This committee can, in the first stages, be very cautious, arrogate to itself no administrative functions, concern itself only with the preparation of the basic documents and perhaps issue an international bulletin.

In what way can this work be begun? If the WPUS could reach an agreement with the Dutch party and with the ICL, we could immediately establish an international bureau to begin the work.

In Europe in the next period, great events may transpire, and we may see considerable regroupings in the working-class movement Revolutionary elements will be forced to look around for a new crystallizing center. That cannot be accomplished at one blow. Preparations must precede it. New splits in the Socialist and Stalinist parties are inevitable as well as in the centrist organizations that are today in the IAG. The international organization that has the correct theoretical and political position and that is deeply impressed with the historical necessity of its cause will conquer. It would be criminal to delay the work of clarification and the gathering of the forces under the banner of the Fourth International.

I do not write this letter to the general secretary of the WP, Muste, not only because I do not know him personally but also because I do not want this letter to be construed in any sense as a formal proposal. If, however, you think it advisable to show this letter to Comrade Muste and to other leading comrades of your party, I would naturally be happy to have you do so.

I hope that I will soon get the reaction of the American comrades to these ideas, which are, by the way, not new ones. We took the initiative in advancing them over a year and a half ago.

With best wishes,

Crux [Leon Trotsky]