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Max Shachtman correspondence with Leon Trotsky

Call Number: GEN MSS 297

Scope and Contents

Shachtman's correspondence with Trotsky in Series I: Trotsky to Shachtman and Series II: Shachtman to Trotsky chronicles many of the organizational developments of the American Trotskyite movement. Trotsky often advises Shachtman on the correct position to take in the Trotskyite organs The Militant and The New International. Many letters reflect Shachtman's efforts to publish Trotsky's works, both in these journals and in book form, through publishers such as Boni, and later with the Trotskyite Pioneer Publishers. Trotsky followed the development of an American Opposition movement with great satisfaction and concern, and his letters often contain instructions addressed to individual party leaders. Other topics of discussion include the activities of various communist figures in Germany, England, Spain, and France.

Series III: Letters from Trotsky and Series IV: Other Correspondence and Papers provide a wider perspective on the same fractional combat. Most of the letters from Trotsky in Series III are addressed to the collective of Trotskyite leaders in the US and deal with events of movement-wide significance. The final letter, addressed to the Executive Committee of the Fourth International and dated just six months before his assassination, is a call for party unity in the face of deepening schism. Series IV comprises related correspondence among leading members of the American Trotskyite movement, such as Shachtman, Cannon, and Joseph Hansen.


  • 1930-[1953]


Language of Materials

Materials in English, French, and German.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 2: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Max Shachtman Correspondence with Leon Trotsky is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hans P. Kraus.


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


46 TLS and 1 ALS from Leon Trotsky to Max Shachtman. 17 carbons of letters from Shachtman to Trotsky, including 1 ALS and 16 TLS from Trotsky to third parties, and third party correspondence. Concerns the Communist opposition in the 1930s, especially in the United States.


Max Shachtman was born in Warsaw on September 10, 1904 and emigrated to the United States with his family in early childhood. At a quite young age Shachtman was attracted to communism and became a prominent American Marxist and labor activist. He was the author and editor of many books, including Sacco and Vanzetti (1927), Ten Years: The History and Principles of the Left Opposition (1933), and Behind the Moscow Trials (1936). He also co-translated some works by Leon Trotsky and was general editor of the latter's Selected Works (1936). Shachtman's activities dropped off after 1940. He died in 1972.

Along with James P. Cannon and Martin Abern, Max Shachtman split from the Communist Party in late 1928 to found the Communist League of America (Left Opposition), a pro-Trotsky group opposed to the dominant, Stalinist orientation of the Third International. Shachtman, Cannon and Abern immediately founded the newspaper The Militant. After Trotsky's expulsion from the USSR in January 1929, this core group of American Trotskyites entered into direct correspondence with him in an attempt to coordinate the international struggle against Stalinism, which they understood as a bourgeois-nationalist distortion of the internationalist communism of Lenin.

The American Trotskyite movement gained momentum throughout the 1930s through participation in labor disputes and the increasingly unattractive behavior of Stalin. Trotsky's move to Mexico in 1936, after spending 1933-1936 in France and Oslo, Norway, was a powerful stimulus for his American followers. In 1933, they founded the journal The New International. In the late 1930s it engaged in a short-lived merger with the Socialist Party, an experience that left it with the new name of Socialist Workers Party. It was allied with the Trotskyite Fourth International, convened at Paris in 1938. By 1940, Shachtman, along with James Burnham, had soured on the USSR to such a degree that they left the Socialist Workers Party in order to move towards non-Marxist socialism. It was at this point that Trotskyism was struck with the murder of its leader, Leon Trotsky, in his Mexican exile, on August 20 1940.

Guide to the Max Shachtman Correspondence with Leon Trotsky
Under Revision
by Robert Bird and Nicole Bouche
July 1997
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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