Letter to James P. Cannon, March 27, 1939

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Dear Friend,

You remain silent as before. A bad sign!

You know the trouble we are having here with the painter and you are not astonished, because you warned us many times about his fantastic political ideas. For quite a long time, I believe for about a year and a half, he tried to impose some discipline upon himself; but around the time of the International Congress he became dissatisfied and disquieted. I shall give you some examples of his preoccupations so that you can communicate them to other friends.

All decisions made here concerning the Mexican section were made with the full agreement of the painter and with a view to not exposing him to constant attacks (you know that the organization condemned him unanimously — no one undertaking his defense); but after the decisions were made and ratified by the conference, he found that he had not been sufficiently defended. He was extremely dissatisfied with the decision, terribly exaggerating some unhappy formulations. But this was not enough; he declared that the Socialist Appeal had deliberately published the decision about Molinier and the decision about him symmetrically in order to identify them.

He demanded the immediate exclusion of all members of the organization who had made accusations against him. He demanded my intervention in that direction and I had an unforgettable discussion with him about the matter. He asked me to expel Galicia immediately. "How can I do it?" I asked in full astonishment. "But you are the leader." "You have an extraordinary conception of the so-called leadership, my dear friend," I answered, "it is a bit like Stalinism." "Yes," he answered, with the childishness which characterizes him, "they say that I am worse than the Stalinists." But he returned to the matter many times, especially after the arrival of Comrade C.

You probably know that the painter himself proposed this candidate and gave me a very eulogistic characterization of the comrade. I asked G. about him and he confirmed the characterization. It was thus agreed that Comrade C. would work here as a representative. But C. could not work other than on the basis of the conference decision and so provoked a sharp dissatisfaction on the part of the painter, who practically boycotted him. I attracted the painter's attention to the fact that C. was appointed on his initiative and that C. was working as a loyal representative of the International Secretariat, whose duty it was not to overthrow, but to realize the decisions of the conference. That was practically enough for the painter to begin his independent political activity.

After his condemnation by the organization, he told me many times that the entire organization was a mistake, that he had never wished to work within it, but that this was imposed upon him by Shachtman and the others during their first trip to Mexico; that it would be very easy for him to create a genuine section of hundreds of workers, and so on. I was skeptical, but silent. He then began opposing the Casa del Pueblo to the section and personally to C. Unfortunately, it seems that the question of money played an important part here. (The American comrades Cannon, Shachtman, and Dunne found out very easily that a very important cause of the sharp explosion between the organization and the painter, apart from his temperament, lay in the fact that the organization was directly dependent upon him financially. By common agreement it was decided that in the future he would give his money to the Pan-American Committee, which would distribute it.) In creating his own party, the painter began to subsidize the Casa del Pueblo directly and created a most degrading state of dependence of a workers' organization on an individual.

In the course of the last four or five months, the painter made an attempt to fraternize with the anarchist CGT, and the Casa del Pueblo followed him in this direction. He invented a special historic philosophy and a special program for this fraternization. You have the program -a mixture of Marxist remnants with anarchist and vulgar democratic prejudices. It seems that the leaders of the CGT agreed with the document in a friendly way, but only in order to abandon their anarchism and to pass into the camp of the most reactionary bourgeois politicians.

I forgot to mention that a month or so before this experience, he won the Casa del. Pueblo for a proclamation of adherence to the Fourth International. In a manifestation [demonstration], they held aloft the banner of the Fourth International. But it was only a measure of protection against the Fourth International. When I asked the leaders why they did not wish to work with our section or with Comrade C. personally, they answered verbally that there was no necessity to do so, because they already belonged to the Fourth International and it was better for them to work in other trade union organizations.

Several weeks later the painter decided to carry on presidential politics and the Casa del Pueblo followed him again. Now they formed a special party with its own program, written by the painter in five or ten minutes on his knee.

The painter declared that the Mexican section of the Fourth International had decided not to participate in the elections for fear of endangering my asylum. Here he repeats the most vicious accusations of Eiffel and Galicia, who, for this very reason, he called agents of the GPU.

Here I must introduce the incident in connection with the O'Gorman frescoes The painter and his friend organized a very sharp protest action, as usual without any participation on my part. During this campaign I had only one accidental discussion on the matter with the painter. I told him that this story had nothing in common with the story of the frescoes in the Rockefeller Building. The Mexican government expropriated the oil enterprises and had to sell the oil. The democracies boycotted the oil and the fascists purchased it; but they would also begin to boycott it if the Mexican government placed caricatures of them in government buildings. Mexico is an oppressed country and she cannot impose her oil on others by battleships and guns. If the boss forces the workers to remove a portrait of Marx from the workers' room, the workers must obey in order to avoid being thrown into the street. Mexico's position toward the big, imperialist countries is similar to that of the worker toward the boss. For example, during the Brest-Litovsk regime we could not place caricatures of Wilhelm II in our public buildings, nor even publish them in the official government paper. It is a question of the relationship of forces, not of principles. I tried to explain all this to the painter. But he affirmed that the government, and especially Mujica (it was in his department), were reactionary bootlickers of Hitler and Mussolini and that they would do anything in order to prove themselves anti-Semites and so on. And he mentioned that he had broken off all relations with Hidalgo, who had tried to defend his "reactionary master, Mujica." I understood the hint and abandoned the discussion.

You can imagine how astonished I was when Van accidentally met the painter, in company with Hidalgo, leaving the building of the Pro:.Mujica Committee carrying bundles of pro-Mujica leaflets which they were loading into the painter's station-wagon I believe that this was the first we learned of the new turn, or the passing of the painter from "third period anarchism" to "people's front politics." The poor Casa del Pueblo followed him on all these steps.

We were very patient, my dear friend. We hoped that in spite of everything we would be able to retain the fantastic man for our movement. I remained aside and Comrade C. did everything that could possibly be done. All in vain.

Now you know his personal accusations against me. They arose unexpectedly, even for himself. He was discontented with our slowness, our conciliatory attitude toward Galicia and company, etc. He wished to perform a miracle, at any price. In his fantastic mind, he came somehow to hope that after achieving success in dominating the Casa del Pueblo and the CGT he could come to us triumphant and we would recognize his mastery. But his fiascos made him nervous and hostile toward us. As he accused Shachtman of responsibility for his own misfortune with the Mexican League, he now began to accuse me of responsibility for his own mistakes and fantastic jumps. It was in this mood that he dictated his fantastic letter to Andre Breton. He could not find even a little fact with which to reproach me, so he simply invented two stories, which all friends, particularly C. and Van, know to be absolutely false. A copy of this fantastic letter, unsigned, fell into Natalia's hands by pure chance. You can imagine my astonishment and my personal disgust. I asked Van for an explanation. He told me that the painter had promised to show me the letter personally. In spite of everything I tried to settle this question as discreetly as possible through the intervention of Van and then of C. I asked only that he recognize that both examples of my "lack of loyalty" happened to be misunderstandings (I did not even ask him to recognize that he had actually invented them). He agreed, he refused, he agreed again and refused again. I sent him a copy of all the documents destined for the Pan-American Committee. Comrade C. made an ultimate effort to make him retract his false assertions. He refused and even showed C. a letter to Bertram Wolfe announcing his break with us for our opportunism and so on.

Now we must show this fantastic personality a firm hand. There are two questions: one personal and the other political. I begin with the smaller of the two, the personal question.

The Pan-American Committee cannot help but pronounce its opinion about the painter's three accusations: (a) That I prevailed upon Comrade C. to publish the painter's article on art not as an article, but as a letter. (All the elements of this "accusation" are well known to Comrades Van, C., and two or three others.) (b) That I engineered a coup d'état in the FIARI by appointing Ferrel as secretary. The whole "drama" happened with the participation of the painter and with his agreement. Ferrel's candidacy was proposed by Zamora and accepted by everyone, including the painter. (The witnesses were Comrades C., Van, Ferrel himself, and Zamora.) (c) That I used GPU methods in connection with the painter's correspondence with Breton. This matter is exhaustively explained in my letter to the Pan-American Committee and in the documents. I can only mention here that quotations from this letter are printed in the French Cle (these parts are also directed against me, but anonymously and on an alleged principled plane). Here I must ask of the Pan-American Committee a very clear and categorical statement, even if a special investigation should be considered necessary, for the question can provoke international repercussions. Provoked by his apparent impunity, the painter adds some new detail every day and perfects the picture of his accusations. You know him well enough personally to understand me. We must be armed against his fantastic slanders. I do not propose the publication of the Pan-American Committee's verdict, but it must be communicated to the interested people, including the painter himself, with the warning that fl the false assertions continue to be spread in the future, the verdict will be published.

So far as the political side of the question is concerned, in my opinion, we must immediately publish a categorical statement about the painter's political activities in the past period, declaring that the documents he has elaborated are in complete contradiction to Marxism and to the decisions of the Fourth International, and that even without his resignation, he has, by his activities, put himself outside the Fourth International.

The workers' movement is not a free field for individual experiments. I believe that such a resolution should be accepted and published as quickly as possible, and even released through the bourgeois agencies.

I think that in the Pan-American Committee's statement it would be necessary to explain that in spite of its individual peculiarities, the painter's case is a part of the retreat of the intellectuals. Some of them were very "sympathetic" to us insofar as they considered us as persecuted people who needed their protection. But now, when we are becoming a political factor, with our own aims and discipline, they have become more and more "disenchanted" with us, and after some jumps to the ultraleft, they look for a haven in the bourgeois public opinion of their fatherland. Our painter is only more gifted, more generous, and more fantastic than the others, but he is, nevertheless, one of them.

An article on the matter should be published in the New International, and the political decision should be printed in the Socialist Appeal.

I hope that I have given you the most important information, which you can place at the disposal of the Pan-American Committee.


V. T. O'Brien [Trotsky]