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Leon Trotsky 19380201 Letters to James P. Cannon

Leon Trotsky: Letters to James P. Cannon

February 1, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 158 f., under the title The Ludlow Amendment”]

Dear Comrade Cannon:

I am sending you a personal letter about the referendum case. You can judge yourself whether it is advisable to show it now to the Political Bureau. You understand that I am not interested in provoking internal discussions. The matter itself is practically over. You can thus view the letter as a purely personal matter, or even burn it. But if you consider that by showing the letter to Burnham you can create a better atmosphere of mutual understanding I am naturally not opposed. For my part I will not now make any supplementary step in this connection.

My best wishes and greetings,

Hansen [Trotsky]


Dear Comrade Cannon:

In the Ludlow referendum case I am with Burnham, not with the majority of the Central Committee. This letter is not an attempt to provoke a reconsideration of the question, which has been decided and practically liquidated, but methodologically the question is of importance. The government position in the question represents the conceptions and the interests of the imperialists, that is, of big business. The capitalists want free hands for international maneuvering, including a declaration of war.

What is the Ludlow initiative? It represents the apprehension of the man in the street, of the average citizen, the middle bourgeois, the petty bourgeois, and even the farmer and the worker. They are all looking for a brake upon the bad will of big business. In this case they name the brake the referendum. We know that the brake is not sufficient and even not efficient and we openly proclaim this opinion, but at the same time we are ready to help the little man go through his experience against the dictatorial pretensions of big business. The referendum is an illusion? Not more and not less an illusion than universal suffrage and other means of democracy. Why can we not use the referendum as we use the presidential elections?

When the Belgian Socialists elaborated their "Plan," Vereecken named the plan illusion and turned away from the Socialist Party. We demanded: that the Socialist Party hold office in order to put its plan into practice. This tactic had as its objective the utilization of the progressive tendencies of the illusion for the revolutionary education of the workers. The referendum illusion of the American little man has also its progressive features. Our task is not to turn away from it, but to utilize these progressive features without taking the responsibility for the illusion. If the referendum motion should be adopted, it would give us in case of a war crisis tremendous possibilities for agitation. That is precisely why big business stifled the referendum illusion.

Fraternally, Hansen [Trotsky]