James P. Cannon

Another Renegade

Written: 11 December 1920, The Toiler
First Published: 1920
Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

The following article by Cannon was published in The Toiler, the United Communist Party’s weekly journal which Cannon had begun to edit in the fall of 1920. The August 1920 “Special Bolshevik Number” of the IWW’s One Big Union Monthly had published a lengthy appeal to the IWW by the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which explained: “Soviet Russia is on strike against the whole capitalist world. The social revolution is a general strike against the whole capitalist system. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the strike committee of the social revolution.” This appeal had an impact on the IWW membership-after he finished reading it, Big Bill Haywood exclaimed, “Here is what we have been dreaming about; here is the IWW all feathered out!” But support for Soviet Russia and Communism remained a very controversial question in the IWW.

In the fall a new, anti-Communist General Executive Board took over IWW administration. The new leadership opened up a 90-day discussion period on the question of whether the IWW should affiliate to the Third International. They also submitted the question to a membership referendum, recommending against affiliation. During the discussion the pages of the Chicago-based IWW weekly paper Solidarity were full of pro-Bolshevik articles, while the Seattle Industrial Worker published an editorial, quoted by Cannon below, which opposed affiliation until the IWW received “accurate information as to the actual condition of the workers of Russia.”

The results of the referendum, announced in mid-December, shortly after Cannon’s article was published, were murky. The proposal for “unconditional affiliation to the Third International” lost, 602 votes to 1658. But a motion for affiliation so long as the IWW would not have to take part in “parliamentary action” was passed. In any case, the General Executive Board declared the proposal to affiliate to the Third International defeated, and the 13th IWW Convention, which met in May 1921, declared the referendum null and void.

The counterrevolution has set up a new outpost in this country at Seattle, Washington. Mr. H.F. Kane is the officer in charge and he occupies the exalted position of editor of the Industrial Worker, western organ of the IWW. Mr. Kane is too far away from Soviet Russia to lend a hand to General Wrangel. But that doesn’t prevent him from doing his little bit behind the lines, after the manner of the stay-at-home patriot who couldn’t go to war but made four-minute speeches to help it along.

The question of affiliation with the Third International is before the membership of the IWW and Mr. Kane’s particular job, it appears, is to see to it that the outlawed and persecuted direct actionists of the IWW make no alliance with the outlawed and persecuted direct actionists of the Third International. The Russian Revolution, which is the Third International in action, is the object of his attack. He warns the members of the IWW to think twice before they make an entangling alliance with a working class government which, he says, is “propped up by bayonets” and “which has sent invading armies into other countries.” For the Russian workers and peasants to defend themselves, like the IWW men at Centralia,[1] with weapons in their hands, and make good with it and beat off all their oppressors: this is what Mr. Kane condemns.

In the issue of October 30th, which has just come to our notice, he propounds a series of questions for the western lumberjacks to answer before they join hands with the roughneck Bolsheviki. This is one of them:

“Are the workers of Russia permitted to freely travel through the interior looking for employment?”

There you have it, fellow workers! If you line up with the Third International you are in danger of sacrificing your dearly bought privilege of chasing a job from one place to another, the employment sharks will be put out of business, and the whole country will go to hell! Of course, you may have more time to hunt and fish, or look around for decent homes to live in. But your own government, “propped up by bayonets,” will deprive you of the pleasure of searching for a master.

This is old stuff, of course. We have read it many times in capitalist papers and magazines. John Spargo and Charles Edward Russell explained it all to us long ago, and the New York Times seldom lets a day go by without mentioning it. The last convention of the AFL sounded a warning to the same effect, and Lloyd George talks with tears in his voice about the “blood and terror” of the Bolsheviks. But we doubt if the international bourgeoisie, in their most sanguine moments, ever counted on such help from the press of the IWW.

Renegades come and go, and one more or less makes but little difference in the final summing up. Harold Lord Varney made quite a little splash, but he has already sunk beneath the black waves of oblivion. [2] But there is one thing to be said for Varney. He broke with the IWW before he sold out to the master class. He didn’t play the double game. He didn’t say industrial freedom and counterrevolution in the same breath. He renounced Frank Little before he shook hands with his assassins.

We have confidence that the western members of the IWW will deal promptly with this man Kane who has attacked the revolution in their name. A plain man of the rank and file has already answered him in a masterful article in the issue of November 20. They may be confused by queer and crooked arguments of the One Big Union Monthly against the Third International. They may want to study it over a while before they undertake the heavy responsibilities of affiliation. But you can’t fool them about the Russian Revolution, Mr. Kane! They know, as the workers all over the world know, that the workers republic of Russia represents their highest hopes and aspirations. They know that the enemies of the Russian Revolution are the enemies of the working class!


1. For an account of the Centralia massacre, see "The Red Month of November" in Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism, page 472.

2. Harold Lord Varney had joined the IWW at the age of 18 in 1912. By 1919 he was one of the organization's major propagandists and the author of a history of the IWW. Just before the Palmer Raids began in Chicago in early January, he suddenly moved to New York. After he was indicted on criminal syndicalism charges in Chicago, he wrote a renunciation of the Wobblies which appeared in the New York Sunday World on 8 February 1920. Varney claimed that the IWW's only aim now was to destroy the AFL and wrote that "The system which we revolutionists have called capitalist is regnant today because it has shown itself practical, workable and human." Varney wrote in the same vein for other bourgeois journals, including the New York Times.