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Leon Trotsky 19380322 Discussions with Trotsky: III – The struggle against war, and the Ludlow amendment

Leon Trotsky: Discussions with Trotsky: III – The struggle against war,

and the Ludlow amendment

March 22, 1938

[The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, New York ³1977, p. 119-128]

Shachtman: I think that the problem reduces itself to the following as a summary of the discussions we have had in the National Committee [of the Socialist Workers Party]: there is considerable sentiment now in the U.S. against the war danger, both among the working class and even bourgeois elements; this sentiment has been strengthened by the war in China, by the Panay incident, by the unprecedented military budget of Roosevelt, and by the general instability of the situation in Europe. They feel that the U.S. will plunge into a war in two or three years.

Right now there is absolutely no doubt that 99 percent if not more of the mass sentiment against war is purely pacifist. That is perfectly understandable. A revolutionary position on the war is confined to a very small circle of radicals and Marxists. Our problem is to put forward in practice our basic revolutionary proletarian position toward the war, in contrast to the general pacifist agitation, and at the same time to participate in a broader antiwar movement, which means at the present time to participate in a movement which is, if not fundamentally, then predominantly, pacifist, even nationally patriotic. The SP [Socialist Party] and the Lovestoneites have now made a combination and have established what they call a Keep America Out of War Committee. Substantially, it is the same as the old Münzenberg movement – the League Against War, etc. – except that the programmatic declaration of this Keep America Out of War Committee is far to the right of the Münzenberg movement.

Trotsky: Who are the leaders of this committee?

Shachtman: Norman Thomas, Lovestone, and Homer Martin spoke for them, but I don't know whether Martin is a member of the committee. He made an antiwar speech, but at the same time a patriotic speech. They have a few retired generals, who are isolationists. How far this movement will develop it is difficult to say. So far it remains in the hands of this committee; it is not based upon any organization. They are now planning a national congress.

Trotsky: Has the committee any influence now?

Shachtman: No. It reflects what the average American stands foragainst war in Europe and in Asia and against sending troops out, but when we are attacked, well defend ourselves, etc., etc. We had, for example, one concrete problem in Cleveland, where we have a very active comrade, Cochran. The SP and the Lovestoneites organized a mass meeting with Charles Beard and Homer Martin as speakers. The SP and Lovestoneites approached our comrade with the proposal that he become a sponsor of this meeting. He wrote us asking that we approve it. We approved it, but not very enthusiastically. Later on in the discussions in the PC [Political Committee], the idea veered the other way, for they had the speakers, we didn't; Cochran was to be a sponsor but was not to speak.

Cannon: That's not settled yetwe told him to try to speak.

Shachtman: But I don't think he will. Formally the Lovestoneites and Socialists do not have speakers either.

We adopted a program on war in which a number of minimum demands are put forward. On the basis of these demands we drew up a standard resolution to be adopted in the trade unions and to be circulated everywhere.

The position is extremely difficult, and I don't think that any of us sees it quite clearly through to the end; and there is great danger that in jumping into a so-called mass movement against war – pacifist in naturethe revolutionary education of the vanguard will be neglected. At the same time, not to enter the movement leaves us still mainly in a propaganda position.

The dispute on the Ludlow amendment you are already acquainted with. You have seen the motions adopted and those rejected.

Cannon: On the question of this committee, it came into existence in this way: Norman Thomas invited a couple of dozen individuals to his house – writers, old ladies who are in favor of peace, Lovestoneites, and Liston Oakbut none of us. Oak suggested that we be invited, but they rejected it. They decided upon a meeting in which such men as La Follette were to speak – you know his policy – and a retired general, and Thomas, and Wolfe, who speaks for the Lovestoneites. Some comrades think that we should go into this body. But we didn't do it. We attacked it. In its very nature it is a caricature of the Barbusse business. They are setting up committees in other states and aim at holding a congress in Washington. Their appeal is to the citizens, not the workers. [Hands copy of their appeal to Trotsky.]

The other side of the question is the Ludlow amendment. The committee took a position against it. Minneapolis takes a different policy in the Northwest Organizer; and Cochran in Cleveland is opposed to our position on the amendment. More or less, his position is like yours, though he didn't know of your letter. The position of the committee since then is a little modified, but still it remains to be clarified. Then there remains the question whether we should present resolutions against war in the trade unions. We would then introduce such a resolution in Minneapolis and popularize it as the Minneapolis resolution.

Dunne: We already passed the resolution.

Cannon: Here it is. We wish to have a careful criticism of it. [Resolution is read by all present.]

Trotsky: I will begin with the Ludlow amendment as a practical question which can introduce us to the general question, I believe, in a concrete way. I can't agree with the position of the NC, not with the first nor with the second, the motion proposed by Shachtman against the motion of Burnham, and I believe Gould, and adopted by the NC. When I wrote about this to Comrade Cannon in a private letter I didn't imagine at that time that the question would become so important in the life of the U.S. That is why in this letter I formulated my own position without insisting upon the necessity of reconsidering the question by the American organization. But now from the newspapers and especially from the comrades present here I learned that the question received further development and can play a very great role. This question, important in itself, is also symptomatic for our policy in general.

The NC declaration states that the war cannot be stopped by a referendum. That is absolutely correct. This assertion is a part of our general attitude toward war, as an inevitable development of capitalism, and that we cannot change the nature of capitalism or abolish it by democratic means. A referendum is a democratic means, but no more and no less. In refuting the illusions of democracy we don't renounce this democracy so long as we are incapable of replacing that democracy by the institution of a workers' state. In principle I absolutely do not see any argument which can force us to change our general attitude toward democracy in this case of a referendum. But we should use this means as we use presidential elections, or the election in St. Paul; we fight energetically for our program.

We say: The Ludlow referendum, like other democratic means, can't stop the criminal activities of the sixty families, who are incomparably stronger than all democratic institutions. This does not mean that I renounce democratic institutions, or the fight for the referendum, or the fight to give American citizens of the age of eighteen the right to vote. I would be in favor of our initiating a fight on this; people of eighteen are sufficiently mature to be exploited, and thus to vote. But that's only parenthetical.

Now naturally it would be better if we could immediately mobilize the workers and the poor farmers to overthrow democracy and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the only means of avoiding imperialist wars. But we can't do it. We see that large masses of people are looking toward democratic means to stop the war. There are two sides to this: one is totally progressive, that is, the will of the masses to stop the war of the imperialists, the lack of confidence in their own representatives. They say: Yes, we sent people to parliament [Congress], but we wish to check them in this important question, which means life and death to millions and millions of Americans. That is a thoroughly progressive step. But with this they connect illusions that they can achieve this aim only by this measure. We criticize this illusion. The NC declaration is entirely correct in criticizing this illusion. When pacifism comes from the masses it is a progressive tendency, with illusions. We can dissipate the illusions not by a priori decisions but during common action.

I believe that we can say to the masses, we must say to them openly: Dear friends, our opinion is that we should establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, but you are not yet of our opinion. You believe you can keep America out of war by a referendum. What will you do? You say you do not have enough confidence in the president and the Congress elected by you and that you wish to check them through a referendum. Good, very good, we absolutely agree with you that you must learn to decide for yourselves. The referendum in this sense is a very good thing, and we will support it. Ludlow proposed this amendment but he will not fight for it. He does not belong to the sixty families, but he belongs to the five hundred families. He launched this parliamentary slogan, but this is a very severe fight and can be conducted only by workers, farmers, and the masses – and we will fight with you. The people who proposed these means are not willing to fight for it. We say this to you in advance.

Then we become by and by the champions of this fight. At every favorable occasion we say: This is not sufficient; the magnates of the war industry have their connections, etc., etc.; we must check them also; we must establish workers' control of war industry. But on the basis of this fight in the trade unions we become the champions of this movement. We can say it's almost a rule. We must advance with the masses, and not only repeat our formulas but speak in a manner that our slogans become understandable to the masses.

The greatest historical example is the example of the Russian Bolshevik Party. I will repeat it because it is significant. From the beginning of this century until 1917 – for almost twenty yearswe were fighting against the so-called Social Revolutionaries or Populists. Their propaganda was for the expropriation of the soil and its partition into equal lots. We denounced this program as utopian. We declared that under capitalism it is impossible and under socialism it is not a question of partition but of collectivization. The fight lasted for almost twenty years. It took theoretical form in 1883 with the creation of the first Marxist intellectual groups of Plekhanov and Axelrod, and it became very acute in this century. The most important line of demarcation was the line of the agrarian program. In 1917 the peasants adopted the program of the SRs – many congresses adopted this program: expropriation of the soil and partition into equal lots among the peasants. What did we do in this situation? We declared: You will not adopt our program. Instead you adopted the program of the SRs. That has two parts: the expropriation of the soil, which is an absolutely progressive step; but the other part – the partition into equal lotsis absolutely utopian. But you wish to go through this experience. We are ready to take it [this step] with you. But we say to you in advance that the SRs are incapable of realizing their own program. That they are petty bourgeois and thus dependent upon the big bourgeoisie. This is not our program, but we will help you realize it, this program which is complicated by illusions.

The situation is now differentit is not a revolutionary situation. But the question can become decisive. The referendum is not our program, but it's a clear step forward; the masses show that they wish to control their Washington representatives. We say: It's a progressive step that you wish to control your representatives. But you have illusions and we will criticize them. At the same time we will help you realize your program. The sponsor of the program will betray you as the SRs betrayed the Russian peasants.

The last motion of the NC on this question is not correct: that we will vote for the Ludlow amendment in cases where it is necessary to assure it a majority against the Stalinistsexcuse me, but that's absolutely bureaucratic. How can you at a mass meeting say, "We will stand aside and see how the vote goes"? That's incomprehensible to the masses. We must become the champions of the movement. We must publish leaflets and explain our full position. At trade union meetings and at farmers' meetings we must say that we are the real champions of the movement. But this movement, like the question of the labor party, must be connected with a concrete program, opposing the program of the Lovestoneite-Thomasites. I absolutely agree that we should have nothing to do with the Keep America Out of War Committee. But also on this question we cannot remain in inactive opposition. We must study their program and criticize it. In this case the most comprehensible, progressive, and revolutionary slogan is the workers' control of military industry, since everybody knows that they instigate war. We say: Workers, you are developing the industry not for the advance of the fatherland but for the war patriots. Control of the war industry is part of the control of industry in general.

[Quotes from leaflet issued by Keep America Out of War Committee and continues:]

This is not an American question, as this states, it is a workers' question. I believe that we must also consider the slogan that we are not, naturally, opposed to a war against conquerors – but it has to be conducted by an army of workers and farmers under the control of the trade unions, under a government of workers and farmers. Such an army would not have imperialist aims, but if it were attacked, etc., etc. This program [points to above leaflet] must be considered concretely. We point out that it is not a question of "American cooperation for international peace" but cooperation of the American working class with the workers of the other countries for peace. I come back to our transitional slogan, control of war industry and possibly the expropriation of the sixty families, beginning with the expropriation of war industries.

Cannon: Do you think that the trade union program should have a point in favor of the Ludlow amendment? Then I believe also that if we cannot directly launch expropriation of war industries, then at least workers' control of war industries.

Trotsky: These people [pointing to leaflet] are not even good pacifists. They say: We do not want any increase in the army, in armaments. And what exists, is that then all right? We say that this army that exists is an army against the workers and for war. If they were genuine pacifists they would at least say: Abolish the army.

We wish to change the character of the armythat the workers and farmers be armed, that they get a military education under the control of the trade unionsthat's not pacifist. We say workers' control of war industry as a step toward expropriation – that's not pacifism.

Cannon: What do you mean by the workers' and farmers' government?

Trotsky: It can be considered from two points of view: as a past chapter in the history of America it can be discussed only hypothetically, and as a chapter in the education of the masses. Large masses will understand it in a democratic parliamentary sense, but we will try to explain it in a revolutionary sense. But again we will say: You can't accept it as a dictatorship of the proletariat and poor farmers. You wish to put on the ballot workers' and farmers' candidates. We will help you. If these candidates are elected and they are the majority, will we take responsibility for their program? No, no, their program is not sufficient. Here is our program. In the Congress we will remain a minority. Then we begin to underline the necessity not only of independent candidates but of candidates with a program. It is very possible that under our influence and under the influence of other factors there comes to be a government of John Lewis, La Follette, and La Guardia, and they will name it a labor-farmer government. We will then oppose it with all vigor.

In 1917 we proclaimed to the workers and peasants: You have confidence in the SRs and Mensheviks – then oblige them to take power against capitalism. That was a correct approach. But we remained in opposition against Kerensky. Had he broken with the capitalists and made a coalition with the Mensheviks and SRs we would have remained in opposition, but this government to us would have been a step toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. Materially we didn't have this government – but for the education of the masses, for the separation of the masses from the Mensheviks and SRs, it was very important. We accepted this government against the bourgeoisie and said to the masses: If you will force them to take power against the capitalists, we will help you.

Shachtman: How do you distinguish between our support of the Ludlow amendment and our attitude toward disarmament programs, international arbitration, etc.?

Trotsky: They have nothing to do with one another. The Ludlow amendment is only a way for the masses to control their government. If the Ludlow amendment is accepted and made part of the Constitution it will absolutely not be analogous to disarmament but to inclusion in the right to vote of those eighteen years old. I will say: You boys will tomorrow be cannon fodder; today you should have the right to vote. That has nothing to do with disarmament, as I will teach these boys not disarmament but revolutionary defense. It's a democratic means, no more, no less.

Cannon: In such a body as this committee, do you believe it was correct not to join or maneuver in it but directly to attack it?

Trotsky: Yes. Criticize them, attack them as not only not revolutionists, but not even pacifists. They are hidden agents of imperialism. Yes, I believe we must attack them mercilessly. I believe if we look at Bryan's program, we will find he was more radical before the war. Then he became secretary of war. But his program was more radical than this committee.