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Leon Trotsky 19380419 Letter to James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman

Leon Trotsky: Letter to James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman

April 19, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 319-321, “Thoughts on the French Section”]

Dear Friends:

Personally we had not sufficiently discussed here the French question. This is now the most important of all. The development of our French section is not satisfactory. They do not communicate any statistics to us, which is a bad sign in itself. The newspaper does not appear regularly. The same is true of the so-called monthly. They have not a single man with organizational capacities. At the same time they have suffered severe blows through Stalinist or fascist or Stalinist-fascist conspiracy against them.

I know practically nothing about the real state of the Commune organization, but their paper is incomparably richer. Until last month it appeared weekly; now it appears in small format three times a week. They published a thick "theoretical" symposium and numerous leaflets and pamphlets. This competition is causing general confusion and is extremely prejudicial to our section. We can't simply ignore the Commune organization. We must help our section vanquish the Commune organization. It can be done only by a very thorough combination of positive and negative measures.

Concerning our section

    1. A special commission with your participation should verify their organization, the administration and bookkeeping, especially that of both publications.

    2. Very concrete organizational measures should be demanded as a condition for international help to them.

    3. The French section should be put in the center of attention of the whole International. (It is my opinion that it is more important now to send money to France than to China.)

4. If Sh. [Shachtman] remains in Europe he should devote the greater part of his time to the French question, especially to the theoretical monthly.

Concerning the Commune group

    1. They will surely appeal in one form or another to the conference. It would be good to provoke such an appeal some weeks prior to the conference. We should not repulse them in advance. On the contrary, we should show them that we are ready to reconsider relations – of course, on the basis of certain principles and conditions.

    2. Here also we must begin with the verification of their bookkeeping, but naturally from another point of view. We must explain to them that the elimination of every suspicion in this respect is for us as an international organization an imperative condition for any further discussions. If they oppose this verification in spite of our insistence, they doom themselves: we will then publish the news that the discussions were interrupted because they could not tolerate international control of their financial sources. This would be for them a mortal blow. That is why they would not reject intervention of a control commission if it is at all possible for them to bare their own "commercial secrets." This point seems to me to be of the greatest importance and has great advantage for us in either case: whether they accept or reject our control.

    3. If the control commission establishes that La Commune exists only thanks to the commercial affairs of M. [Raymond Molinier], as I suppose, the commission should declare, on the basis of all previous decisions, that we cannot tolerate a situation where a leading comrade makes money through dubious affairs and then determines policy by means of this money. In my opinion the decision should be that M. must abandon work in France for at least two years. If he or they reject this proposition we should make public the fact that the discussions were interrupted as a result of their refusal to separate revolutionary politics from the commercial affairs of M. Such a declaration in the name of the international organization would deal a mortal blow to them.

    4. If they accept both above-mentioned conditions, the situation would be very favorable. We then enter into political and organizational discussions. We condemn their organizational methods. We condemn their political errors, intrigues, etc. We create, under the IS, a commission with the purpose of promoting unification. If Sh. remains in Europe, he should be chairman of this commission.

I believe it would be the best way of helping the French section. For the transitional period, after the acceptance of all above-mentioned conditions, we could, until the merger, accept the Commune organization as a sympathizing group. It would give the IS more right and possibilities to intervene in the internal life of this organization.

The whole procedure is very delicate. That is why absolute secrecy of the whole plan is necessary. At the same time we should be very firm toward our leading French comrades who will surely reject in advance every maneuver on a large scale as a "capitulation," etc. We must make them understand that we are not ready any longer to tolerate the miserable state of the French section in such a decisive political situation.

Please let me know if you agree with the general line of this plan.

Comradely yours, Hansen [Trotsky]