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Leon Trotsky 19381005 Problems of the American Party

Leon Trotsky: Problems of the American Party

October 5, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 37-39]

Dear Friend:

We wait here with the greatest impatience for information about the meeting in Europe. We know only that it was O.K., but no more. Without waiting for your letter, I will discuss with you some questions concerning our party (SWP).

    1. The referendum seems to have been not a very happy invention. The discussion seems to have produced some embarrassment in the party. This can all be overcome only by action. It is time, it seems to me, to show directly to the party how we have to act on this issue. I had two long discussions here with Plodkin, an organizer of the [International] Ladies Garment Workers Union, and summarized our discussion in an article which tries to put the question on its actual political level. The article is now under translation and will be sent to you simultaneously with this letter. But an article is of course nothing if the party doesn't begin a serious action in the unions with the slogan that the workers should take the state into their own hands and that for this purpose they need their own independent labor party. An energetic step in this direction would surely dissipate all the misunderstandings and dissatisfactions and push the party forward.

    2. In this question as in all others it is absolutely necessary to give to our propaganda-agitation a more concentrated and systematic character. It would be for example necessary to oblige all local committees to present to the National Committee in one month a short report concerning their connections with the trade unions, the possibilities for work in trade unions, and especially the agitation in the trade unions for an independent labor party. The danger is that the question of the labor party will become a pure abstraction. The base for our activity is the trade unions – the question of the labor party can receive flesh and blood only insofar as we are rooted in the trade unions. A serious beginning of our work in the trade unions led us to the slogan of a labor party. Now it is necessary to use the slogan of labor party in order to push our party more deeply into the trade unions. The answers of the local organizations should be studied and worked out in a series of articles and circular letters of the National Committee with concrete instructions, advice, and so on.

    3. Very important in this respect is the attitude of the Socialist Appeal. It is undoubtedly a very good Marxist paper, but it is as yet not a genuine instrument of political action. The connection of the paper with the real activity of the party is too loose. This looseness is determined not so much by the literary conceptions of the editorial board as by the disseminated, unconcentrated character of the activity of the whole party. It is necessary to establish for a certain time a plan for a political campaign and to subordinate to this plan the local organizations, the Socialist Appeal, and the New International. It seems to us here that the labor party can be one of the items of such a campaign under the condition that the accent is put on our work in the trade unions.

    4. We here were disappointed by the inexplicable passivity of our party towards the patriotic, imperialistic turn of the Communist Party. The greatest hindrance for the revolutionary movement and through this the greatest hindrance for the development of our party and its success in the unions is undoubtedly Stalinism. The fight against this perfidious enemy of the proletariat should be conducted simultaneously on different levels by combined means. The investigation of the Dies Committee gave us an excellent occasion for action, but this occasion remained almost totally unexploited. We should have defended energetically and ardently the right of the Communist Party to be non-American; it was our elementary democratic duty. At the same time it was necessary to unmask their perfidious turn from a non-American (internationalist) position to an American (chauvinist) one. It was absolutely necessary to arm every member of our party with quotations from the resolutions and the program of the Comintern and its first four, even six, congresses, and to oppose to these documents the recent declarations, speeches, and so on. This work should have been done in a very systematic, detailed form, with two or three articles in every issue of the Socialist Appeal, with more synthetic articles in the New International, with a special manual for our agitators including quotations, instructions, and so on. I tried to interest the editorial board of the Socialist Appeal in this question, but without success. They gave something about the matter (from Olgin's articles) but nothing more. I believe this grave omission could be rectified now to a certain degree. Such a concentrated and systematic campaign could be fixed for two or three months and have the greatest educational value for our own comrades, especially the youth. It is also one of the ways to prepare them for the approaching war.

5. Don't you believe that it would be timely now to create a special party committee for work among the women, with a special supplement of the Socialist Appeal and some articles in the New International illuminating the situation of worker women now under the crisis?

I will await with great interest your letter on the international meeting as well as on the state of our party as you found it upon your return.

With best greetings,


Hansen [Trotsky]