The signing of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in August 1939 and the subsequent outbreak of World War II led to a political crisis inside the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. A political faction led by Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Martin Abern argued that the Soviet Union could no longer be designated a workers’ state. Flowing from this change in their definition of the class nature of the Soviet State—which Burnham now characterized as “bureaucratic collectivist”—they stated that the Fourth International should not call for the defense of the USSR in the event of war.
Trotsky replied that the characterization of the Stalinist regime as “bureaucratic collectivist”—a new and unprecedented form of exploitative society, unforeseen by Marxism—had far-reaching political and historical implications. At issue, in the final analysis, was the historical viability of the Marxist project itself.
The struggle within the SWP—to which Trotsky, in the final months of his life, contributed several documents that are among his most brilliant and far-sighted—culminated in a split in April 1940.
By Leon Trotsky
This book documents Trotsky’s intervention in this political struggle inside the Socialist Workers Party. He not only answered the opposition’s political arguments, but strove to uncover the class and methodological roots of their errors. Further, Trotsky showed that the Burnham-Shachtman faction were being propelled to the right by the logic of their political arguments and their philosophical method, which were rooted in a rejection of dialectical materialism.
By David North
This essay accompanied the publication of a new 30th anniversary edition of The Heritage We Defend: A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, by David North, first published in 1988. It reviews the conflicts that emerged inside the Fourth International beginning in 1939-1940, throughout the 1940s and up to the publication of the “Open Letter” by James P. Cannon.
By James P. Cannon
In this work Cannon takes up the organizational conceptions advanced by the petty-bourgeois minority, demonstrating that they had nothing in common with the Leninist conception of the Marxist party. In particular it took up the claim advanced by the minority that the majority headed by Cannon was an example of “bureaucratic conservatism.”