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Leon Trotsky 19390527 Letter to James P. Cannon

Leon Trotsky: Letter to James P. Cannon

May 27, 1939

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 14, New York 1979, p. 838 f., title: “Problems of the Socialist Appeal”]

Dear Friend:

I am a bit astonished by the absence of any information from the States and personally from you.

From the minutes I see that you are having difficulty with the Socialist Appeal. The paper is very well done from a journalistic point of view; but it is a paper for workers and not a workers’ paper. I hope that the administrative change in the editorial board will be salutary not only from the financial but from the political standpoint.

As it is, the paper is divided among various writers, each of whom is very good, but collectively they do not permit the workers to penetrate to the pages of the Appeal. Each of them speaks for the workers (and speaks very well), but nobody will hear the workers. In spite of its literary brilliance, to a certain degree the paper becomes a victim of journalistic routine. You do not hear at all how the workers live, fight, clash with the police or drink whiskey. It is very dangerous for the paper as a revolutionary instrument of the party. The task is not to make a paper through the joint forces of a skilled editorial board, but to encourage the workers to speak for themselves.

I am in entire agreement with the PC that a twice-weekly can be put out by two, even by one, editors under the condition that the whole party participates in the paper not only financially but politically and journalistically. The paper must have correspondents, researchers and reporters everywhere. Three lines from a shop or a meeting can often give more than a well-written article by the staff. Only such a paper can penetrate into the masses and receive great support from them.

A radical and courageous change is necessary as a condition of success. The paper is too wise, too scholarly, too aristocratic for the American workers and tends to reflect the party more as it is than to prepare it for its future.

Of course it is not only a question of the paper, but of the whole course of policy. I continue to be of the opinion that you have too many petty-bourgeois boys and girls who are very good and devoted to the party, but who do not fully realize that their duty is not to discuss among themselves, but to penetrate into the fresh milieu of workers. I repeat my proposition: Every petty-bourgeois member of the party who, during a certain time, let us say three or six months, does not win a worker for the party, should be demoted to the rank of candidate and after another three months expelled from the party. In some cases it might be unjust, but the party as a whole would receive a salutary shock which it needs very much. A very radical change is necessary.

I sent Comrade Goldman a letter, but have not yet received his acknowledgement. I hope that he is now in France.


V.T. O’Brien [Leon Trotsky]