Letter to James P. Cannon, January 21, 1938

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Sneevliet's Role

Dear Comrade Cannon:

The situation with Sneevliet, as I have already written you many times, is not only bad but hopeless. Sneevliet is a conservative philistine without any revolutionary perspective. In '33 or '34, when he got his parliamentary mandate, he said to me: "I will try to extract from the NAS a thousand more party members and will abandon this hopeless organization." But it was just talk. When he lost his mandate he again seized with both hands his post as secretary of the NAS. It is a question of jobs for a Lilliputian bureaucracy. The politics of Sneevliet are totally subordinate to the task of preserving these jobs for himself and his closest collaborators. His open rupture with us will be naturally an indisputable blow to the Fourth International (a mortal blow to his own party). But nothing can be done.

I am sending you documents on the case. It is necessary to prepare the American party. The documents in my opinion should be published in the Internal Bulletin. It is possible that some American comrades who could not follow the developments during the last two years would be suspicious that the rupture was provoked by some precipitous or tactless actions from the International Secretariat or from me. By God, that is not the case. I can say that the International Secretariat had a very Christian attitude: when Sneevliet struck one cheek they turned the other. More or less all of us tolerated this situation.

I wrote you about Sneevliet's attitude in the Reiss case. This attitude was the most important cause for the loss of Reiss. Thanks to the fact that we withdrew this matter from the hands of Sneevliet we have an incomparably more favorable situation with Barmin and Walter Krivitsky and even the widow of Reiss. But from the moment the unhappy woman entered into direct relations with our comrades in Paris Sneevliet has spread a terrible scandal so that Mrs. Reiss, who had great esteem for Sneevliet, asked one of our comrades if Sneevliet was not drunk.

The man is not only politically opportunistic but in his anthill he is accustomed to be an absolute dictator. He intervenes in the life of all other sections (which is his good right) with extreme brutality (which is superfluous), but he doesn't tolerate the slightest criticism from the other sections or from the members of his own party. During the last few years the reactionary trend of European politics approached Sneevliet totally not only with the POUM but with the London Bureau. His aim is to dock in the harbor of Fenner Brockway. Nothing can be done.

If your National Committee or you personally find it necessary to verify our long experience by your own intervention, you could write an official or personal letter to Sneevliet asking him for explanations and so on. I would for my part only welcome such a step because it will have a good educational influence not only upon the American but also upon other sections. Practically your intervention, as I wrote you a couple months ago, can change nothing.

I must repeat again that it is absolutely necessary to give moral and at least a small financial support to the IS.

Yours, as ever, Old Man [Trotsky]