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Leon Trotsky 19350904 Letter to Abern and Weber

Leon Trotsky: Letter to Abern and Weber

September 4, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 14, New York 1979, p. 604-606, title: “The Policy of the Abern-Weber Group”]

Dear Comrades Abern and Weber:

In reply to your letter of August 18, I have studied very carefully all letters and documents and the entire material on the June plenum. My opinion may be wrong but it is certainly not based on “one-sided” information.

Always when I speak in my letters of the leadership, I mean in no way only Cannon-Shachtman-Swabeck, but naturally also the group of Comrade Muste. The differences in the leadership among the two most important groups became clear to me only from the minutes of the June plenum. This changes the situation in the negative sense, but does not change the evaluation of the position of your group.

In your previous letters you sharply reproached Cannon and Shachtman for being insufficiently critical with regard to the Muste group, for tolerating much too much its weaknesses, and for trying to exclude discussion for half a year for the sake of peace. Now you make the opposite reproach to Cannon and Shachtman: They have treated the Muste group with insufficient consideration, as if they were alone in the leadership. This highly persuasive argument alone shows what a sharp turn you yourselves have made in the last weeks without noticing it. This shows that subjective moments, reminiscences and old ties determine in a great measure the policy of your group: the slogans and reproaches change, but the opposition remains permanent.

That I consider Comrade Muste and his group as most important factors not only in the WPUS but also in the international movement, I need not say just now. I follow with great interest everything that he writes, because, as I have personally written him, I hope that the common signature on the manifesto [Open Letter] for the Fourth International means a fraternization in struggle, so to say, for a lifetime.

I cannot consider it a crime that Cannon and Shachtman tried to avoid discussion in the first period after the fusion. Discussion is not the only and not the primary element of party life. When discussion is fed not by action but by itself, the party is lost. The new party should have been given the possibility to participate in mass actions, to gather experience, to make mistakes, so that the discussion could develop on a higher level and be fruitful. The party remained, as you underscore, without a position on the French turn. This also is no misfortune in and of itself. At one time, for instance, I advised the Dutch comrades, in view of the sharp differences of opinion on the question of the SFIO, not to take a position immediately, but to await critically what the experiences would show. That your group has defended the French turn is naturally to your credit. But that from this question also you tried to forge a weapon against the leadership I consider a mistake. With joy I take cognizance of the fact that you have contributed to winning Comrade Muste to the French turn. But I consider it indisputable that the experience itself was decisive in this question. Therefore it would have been false through untimely discussion to call forth a split or a paralysis of the party instead of letting events speak for themselves for a certain period of time.

With regard to the question of the American SPI consider your criticism of the Cannon-Shachtman theses as highly exaggerated. Comparing the Abern-Muste-Weber theses I can find only nuances which, however, are developed in a purely speculative manner into infinity. We are not empiricists, that is true. But we are also not transcendentalists. We should keep closer to reality, gather experiences with regard to the SP, test them critically and, after a certain interval, discuss. It is wrong in a tactical-practical question to commit ourselves for eternity. But fanciful variants of possible development should not be made a hindrance to the next step.

My conclusions? An alliance, direct or indirect, open or concealed, of the Muste and Weber groups with the Oehler group against Cannon-Shachtman would be a crime against the party and against the Fourth International. The next plenum and the discussion must, in essence, mean the alliance of Cannon-Muste-Weber against the Oehler group. Only in this case would the discussion have a principled character, the Oehler group would shrink together and its most stubborn elements would think ten times before they split to disappear into nothingness.

It is possible that Cannon and other comrades wanted to proceed against the Oehler group too rashly, too sharply, too “bureaucratically,” as you say. But today the situation is altogether different. The discussion is in full swing. Party democracy can no longer be reproached. Now one should not speak of “bureaucratic” mistakes of yesterday, but take a correct and clear position in the discussion which will be understood nationally and internationally.

Dear friends, do not take this letter in bad part. “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.” [Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.]

With best greetings to you both, also to Glotzer.


L. Trotsky