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Leon Trotsky 19381205 Letter to James P. Cannon

Leon Trotsky: Letter to James P. Cannon

December 5, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 309-311]

Dear Friend:

I am really embarrassed about formulating my opinion upon this very complicated and important question without possessing the necessary material. For a long time I have abandoned the reading of French papers. I read the publications of our own party insufficiently. That is why my appreciation can have only a very general and abstract character absolutely insufficient for practical decisions.

I heard about the tendency to enter the PSOP [Workers and Peasants Socialist Party] for the first time on the eve of the Sudeten crisis. My position was: if war comes, events can find our party dissolved at the most critical moment in the nebulous spot of the PSOP. In such situations it is absolutely necessary to have pure independence of decision and action. Ten internationalists can do good work whereas thousands of. centrists can only aggravate the confusion. In this sense I expressed my opinion through Van.

The world crisis passed over — for a certain time — but now the internal French crisis is in full upsurge. What is the influence of this crisis upon our organization and upon the PSOP? That is the question.

In 1936 we observed in France a genuine prerevolutionary situation and even more than that, a mass uprising which could have and should have transformed itself with a minimum of revolutionary leadership into the battle for power. But every revolution, even with people who accomplish a dozen, begins with a kind of "February" stage. It is with illusions, stupid confidence, and so on. The Peoples' Front coalition, absolutely impotent against fascism, war, reaction, etc., showed itself to be a tremendous counterrevolutionary brake upon the mass movement, incomparably more powerful than the February coalition in Russia, because: (a) We didn't have such an omnipotent workers' bureaucracy, including the trade union bureaucracy; (b) We had a Bolshevik party. During almost three years the machine of the Peoples' Front prevented the transformation of the prerevolutionary situation into a revolutionary one. What are now the consequences of this vile work upon the mentality of the masses is absolutely impossible to say from afar. One part of the masses should have become more impatient and aggressive, another part demoralized, a large in-between stratum disoriented. What is the relation of forces among these three parts? It is a decisive question, which even in France can be resolved only by action or by an attempt at action.

What is the influence of this sharp turn (the breakdown of the Peoples' Front) upon the PSOP? I don't know even the social composition of the PSOP. I doubt very much that it is a good one. Are they connected with the trade unions? Is there not a danger that our entrance into the PSOP can in a critical moment separate us from the trade unions, involving us in endless discussion with petty-bourgeois socialists? I don't know this.

The purely formal question — through a congress or through summit agreement — has a secondary, tertiary importance. The social composition of the PSOP and the possibilities for us are decisive.

Rous threatens a split. I agree fully with you that we must have an immediate, active, and aggressive policy; I agree with this so completely that I would prefer a split to the present stagnation. The split on such a practical question (how to conquer the PSOP) can have a very brief character. The fraction guided by Rous could show what they are capable of doing inside the PSOP and in case of their success they will inevitably win the others. You proposed in Paris that our party send an important fraction inside the PSOP. The split would signify such a penetration into the PSOP of a part of our comrades. I don't neglect the danger connected with every split, but I am trying to analyze this variant as a lesser evil in comparison with doing nothing.

It is not necessary to say that your presence now in France would be of the greatest importance. France is today the immediate battlefield, and not the United States. This should be considered also from a financial point of view. If you go to France (and I am absolutely in favor of such a decision) you should have a modest treasury for the needs of the French party in the next period.

I believe Rosmer could be very helpful to you, especially for the conversations with the PSOP, information, advice, and so on, but I doubt that he would be ready to enter the movement actively. He is not young … sick and tired. Pivert is a very, very deteriorated edition of Karl Liebknecht. The fact that after long oscillations he committed a split speaks for him, at least for his honesty, but it is a centrist honesty. How far is he capable of going under the pressure of events?

That is all, dear friend, that I can say about the matter in a hurry; I wish to send this letter tomorrow morning by airmail. Possibly I will write in one or two days again.

Hansen [Trotsky]