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Irving Howe

World Politics

SWP Finally Ends Its Silence
on Appeal to Nuremberg Court

(27 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 21, 27 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week Labor Action published an editorial entitled Why Is The Militant Silent? This editorial inquired why The Militant and its sponsor, the Socialist Workers Party, had remained silent for several months while the SWP’s sister parties in Europe and a group of American trade union leaders, intellectuals and radicals, supported by the Workers Party and Labor Action, independently initiated campaigns to request the court at Nuremberg to interrogate the defendants and check their records to see if any evidence could be produced in connection with the infamous charges made against Leon Trotsky at the Moscow Trials.

The very same week that we published this editorial, The Militant appeared with a belated statement issued by the SWP’s National Committee on this matter. This statement was the FIRST public recognition which the SWP or its Militant has given to this matter. For many MONTHS it failed to say a word about this burning issue despite the fact that its sister party in England had issued a call to the Attlee government urging it “through its representatives at Nuremberg, to bring out the relevant issues in the Moscow Trials, to call upon the Russian representative to produce the ‘evidence’ relating to the connection between Leon Trotsky arid his son with the Nazis, as a vital part of the present Nuremberg Trial.” (Reported in Labor Action, February 4, 1946)

Later when over 100 trade unionists, intellectuals and radicals issued a similar demand (reported in Labor Action, April 1, 1946) The Militant again had nothing to say, despite the fact that most newspapers and almost every radical paper either printed a report about or comment on the appeal.

Why They Were Silent

The SWP tries to explain why it has been (a) silent on this matter and (b) in seeming disagreement with the position which the European Fourth Internationalists and the Workers Party of this country have taken. It informs the readers of The Militant of the various appeals and statements (weeks after their appearance!) but it fails to inform them that when leaders of the SWP were requested to add their names to the appeal, they did NOT respond. Thus by their refusal to add their names to this statement, the SWP in effect indicated disapproval of its issuance. Now then, let the SWP tell its members and friends, honestly and openly: were they right or wrong in refusing to sign the appeal? And further: if the SWP leaders believe they were right in refusing to support this appeal, which the Workers Party through its national secretary, Max Shachtman, did sign, let them explain precisely why they so believe.

The SWP is also under obligation to explain, to its members and to the revolutionary public why it refused to agree to the request of the Workers Party to cooperate in a joint campaign on this issue; why it continually procrastinated on this matter and informed the Workers Party that it would take it “under advisement.”

The statement of the SWP National Committee says that:

“The SWP, on its part, did not participate in any of this activity. (A masterpiece of understatement, in view of the facts listed above – I.H.) Our hesitation was not prompted in the least by lack of interest in the question ... In our opinion the Nuremberg Trials offered not only great propagandistic opportunities to the defenders of the memory of the martyred heroes of the Russian Revolution; they were also fraught with great dangers. The Nuremberg court of imperialist and Stalinist judges operates outside of all control. These judges are just as capable of perpetrating another frame-up as were the judges in the Moscow Trials if it serves their purposes ...”

That is the reason the SWP “hesitated” to support the appeal to the Nuremberg court. Let us see if it was a valid reason. We of the Workers Party are ready to admit that there was a danger that the Stalinists might try to utilize the Nuremberg Trials to smear Trotsky; but that danger existed independently of whether or not we would call for an investigation; it was a danger that would come to fruition on the basis of two possibilities: (1) that the Stalinist prosecutors could cook up a new frame-up and (2) that the British and American imperialists would agree to it. We supported the appeal to the court partly because we were aware of that danger and because we felt that the matter made it necessary for the Trotskyist movement to be bold and aggressive on this issue. Furthermore, we remembered how effectively our movement and the many people outside of our movement who were interested in seeing justice done, had succeeded in exposing the Moscow Trials themselves.

Correcting a Mistake

The question arises: who was right and who was wrong? .We ask this, not out of any petty vindictive spirit, for everyone, including ourselves, makes mistakes. We ask it rather because it is important as a means of judging the METHODS of the SWP, as contrasted to the WP, of discussing its mistakes. The WP has followed a fairly consistent policy of admitting such mistakes openly and frankly; the SWP statement is evasive and shamefaced. But the very fact that it has felt it necessary to publish this statement informing its readers for the first time of the issuance of such appeals to the Nuremberg courts, of the point of view of the European Fourth Internationalists, which contradicts that of the SWP, and of its reasons for “hesitating” to do or say anything about this matter – this fact indicates that it is uneasy about its position and feels called upon to make a partial shift of line.

Thus the SWP statement continues:

“It has become quite apparent by now, however, that the sharpening conflicts between the imperialists and the Stalinists have thus far prevented them from coming to an agreement to perpetrate a supplementary frame-up against the Old Bolsheviks.”

Two questions arise immediately in connection with this remarkable sentence:

  1. How explain the SWP’s belated recognition of such an obvious fact? The Militant, in fact, has been continually skirting the realms of fantasy by its talk about an imminent war against the “Soviet Union”; it has emphasized and overemphasized the immediate depth of the conflict between Russia and the Anglo-American bloc. Since it was aware of this conflict, why then did it have to wait until now, months after the appeal to Nuremberg was issued, in order to draw the conclusion contained in the sentence we have quoted?
  2. And, perhaps even more important, having made the admission, in ever so subtle and tacit a manner, that it was wrong in the matter, what does the SWP propose to do now? Will it endorse the appeal issued by the more than 100 signatories to the Nuremberg court? Will its leaders add their signatures? What will it say to the offer of the Workers Party that a joint campaign be conducted on this issue?

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