Books of the Month

‘As long as the capitalist system exists, wars will be inevitable’

January 24, 2022
Meeting of 800 demanding release of 18 members of SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters union, who were framed up and imprisoned in 1944-45 for opposing imperialist rulers’ war drive.
MilitantMeeting of 800 demanding release of 18 members of SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters union, who were framed up and imprisoned in 1944-45 for opposing imperialist rulers’ war drive.

The French edition of Socialism on Trial: Testimony at Minneapolis Sedition Trial is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for January. It contains the testimony of James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the Socialist Workers Party, at the 1941 trial of 18 leaders of the SWP and the Minneapolis Teamsters union. Under the thought-control Smith Act, they were found guilty and jailed on charges of “conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government.” The U.S. rulers’ aim was to prevent the building of working-class opposition to their entry into World War II and to block development of class-struggle leadership in the labor movement. In the excerpt below, Albert Goldman, the attorney for the defendants, questions Cannon about the SWP’s views. Copyright © 2015 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

JAMES P. CANNON: The party is internationalist to the very core.

ALBERT GOLDMAN: And what do you mean by that?

A: We believe that the modern world is an economic unit.

No country is self-sufficient. It is impossible to solve the accumulated problems of the present day, except on a world scale; no nation is self-sufficient, and no nation can stand alone.

The economy of the world now is all tied together in one unit, and because we think that the solution of the problem of the day — the establishment of socialism — is a world problem, we believe that the advanced workers in every country must collaborate in working toward that goal. We have, from the very beginning of our movement, collaborated with like-minded people in all other countries in trying to promote the socialist movement on a world scale. We have advocated the international organization of the workers, and their cooperation in all respects, and mutual assistance in all respects possible.

Q: Does the party have any attitude on the question of racial or national differences?

A: Yes, the party is opposed to all forms of national chauvinism, race prejudice, discrimination, denigration of races — I mean by that, this hateful theory of the fascists about inferior races. We believe in and we stand for the full equality of all races, nationalities, creeds. It is written in our program that we fight against anti-Semitism and that we demand full and unconditional equality for the Negro in all avenues of life. We are friends of the colonial people, the Chinese, of all those that are victimized and treated as inferiors.

Q: What is the position of the party on socialism as a world system?

A: We not only stand for an international socialist movement, but we believe that the socialist order will be a world order, not a national autarchy which is carried to its absurd extreme by the fascists, who have tried to set up a theory that Germany could be a completely self-sufficient nation in an economic sense, that Italy can be, and so forth. We believe that the wealth of the world, the raw materials of the world, and the natural resources of the world are so distributed over the earth that every country contributes something and lacks something for a rounded and harmonious development of the productive forces of mankind.

We visualize the future society of mankind as a socialist world order which will have a division of labor between the various countries according to their resources, a comradely collaboration between them, and production eventually of the necessities and luxuries of mankind according to a single universal world plan. …

Q: Mr. Cannon, will you tell us the position of the Socialist Workers Party on the causes of modern war?

A: Modern wars, in the opinion of our party, are caused by the conflict of imperialist nations for markets, colonies, sources of raw material, fields for investment, and spheres of influence.

Q: What do you mean by “imperialist,” Mr. Cannon?

A: Those capitalist nations which directly or indirectly exploit other countries.

Q: What is the party’s position on the inevitability of wars under the capitalist system?

A: As long as the capitalist system remains, and with it those conditions which I have mentioned, which flow automatically from the operation of the capitalist and imperialist system, wars, recurring wars, are inevitable.

Q: And can anybody’s opposition, including the opposition of the Socialist Workers Party to war, prevent wars under the capitalist system?

A: No. Our party has always stated that it is impossible to prevent wars without abolishing the capitalist system which breeds war. It may be possible to delay a war for a while, but eventually it is impossible to prevent wars while this system, and its conflicts of imperialist nations, remains.

Q: Then is it true that the party is of the opinion that wars are caused by international economic conflicts, and not by the good will or bad will of some people?

A: Yes. That does not eliminate the possibility of incidental attacks being caused by the acts of this or that ruling group of one country or another; but fundamentally wars are caused by the efforts of all the capitalist powers to expand into other fields. The only way they can get them is by taking them away from some other power, because the whole world has been divided up among a small group of imperialist powers. That is what leads to war, regardless of the will of the people. …

Our party is unalterably opposed to all imperialist wars.

Q: And what is meant by opposition to imperialist wars?

A: By that we mean that we do not give any support to any imperialist war. We do not vote for it; we do not vote for any person that promotes it; we do not speak for it; we do not write for it. We are in opposition to it.

Q: How does the Socialist Workers Party oppose the idea of the United States entering into the war?

A: We do it as every other political party promotes its ideas on any foreign policy. We write against it in the paper; we speak against it; we try to create sentiment in any organization we can approach, to adopt resolutions against the war.