James P. Cannon

Don’t Pack the July 3 Conference

Written: 25 May 1923
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.

In the spring of 1923 the Workers Party joined with the Farmer-Labor Party, led by Chicago Federation of Labor leader John Fitzpatrick, in organizing a convention for a nationwide party of workers and farmers to be held 3 July 1923 in Chicago. When Cannon passed through Chicago on his speaking tour, the local Workers Party leaders told him of their fears that the policies of the national party leadership were inexorably leading to a break with the Fitzpatrick forces. In response Cannon addressed the following letter to Workers Party national secretary C.E. Ruthenberg in New York.

Dear Comrade:

We sent you a wire today regarding the question of party delegations to the forthcoming conference here. We have also noted the elaborate preparations for big delegations from the party local units and fraternal organizations to this affair. We think it is absolutely necessary to come to some understanding as to what we are trying to do and this cannot be done without knowing the developments in the situation from day to day.

As you have very probably been informed by comrade Lovestone, we had an informal discussion the other day with the other people here. He surely must have impressed you with the danger of our making serious errors if we are not careful.

The refusal of the Socialist Party to accept the invitation to participate has created quite a serious situation which perhaps is felt much more strongly here by those in touch with the other people than it is by you comrades in New York. Everyone here is of the opinion that the greatest tact and caution is necessary by our party to avoid giving the enemies of the conference an opportunity to brand it as a Workers Party affair. This will have the effect of blowing it up entirely.

I am under some difficulty in writing to you on the question because I have received absolutely no information about the committee’s discussions and decisions on this whole question, and do not know just what your point of view is about the conference except as it is reflected in the apparent effort to get a big party delegation. In this respect all the active comrades here including myself hold an absolutely contrary opinion. What is it we expect this conference to do? Do we look upon this conference as an opportunity for a big public forum for the advertisement of the Workers Party wherein we will have a hard struggle with the other elements in it? If that is the case, of course, we are working chiefly for party advantage and advertisement at the conference itself. Then we want to pack in as many delegates as we can possibly muster up. But that is not our view of the conference. We think the chief significance of this conference consists in the possibility of laying there the basis for the organized drive towards a labor party and our party cooperating in it as an integral unit from the start. The thing that we want is the launching of an organization campaign in the trade unions towards the center which is created by that conference.

Having already gained the right for our party to participate in the conference, the next question we have to consider is the single one of how we can best act to make the conference a success and to give its enemies as few weapons as possible when it gets under way.

It seems quite obvious to us that the failure of the SP to accept the situation has a meaning which we cannot fail to take into account. It is certainly not far-fetched to assume that with the SP out of it, Gompers will feel free to attack the conference as a red proposition and try to scare all of the conservative elements away from it. If we flood the conference with Workers Party delegates, we simply lay the conference open to such a successful attack and thereby defeat ourselves by defeating the conference; and it will be no consolation to us that we had a lot of strength at the conference and got a lot of newspaper publicity.

We are not the only ones that see the tremendous dynamic possibilities of this conference, you can be sure. It would be a tragedy indeed if through our overzeal in the matter, we give a weapon into the hands of the enemies of the labor party. The whole situation is so tense and will be so much affected by the turn of every event between now and the time of the conference that we think it is absolutely impossible for our party to steer the right course and avoid costly mistakes unless it has authorized representatives here on the ground in daily touch with the situation, so that the decisions made by our committee in all matters pertaining to the conference from now on be based on a very close knowledge of the actual situation and in agreement with those who are cooperating with us for the main purpose of the conference. A subcommittee located in Chicago should be appointed at once to keep in consultation with the other parties to the enterprise. I suggest for this committee comrades Browder, Swabeck and Krumbein. If it is possible to send one or more from New York to serve on this committee, so much the better.

In fact, I think the Political Committee of the party should by all means try to find a way to come to Chicago and sit here while all these delicate questions are being handled from day to day.

We all here feel the tenseness and importance of the situation and await the reply of the CEC to this communication with the greatest anxiety.


Fraternally yours,


James P. Cannon


Another point. It can safely be assumed that a number of Internationals and other labor organizations which come to the conference will not commit themselves there. That is another reason for not giving the conference too much of a WP color. This letter has been shown to Swabeck, Browder, Krumbein and others and is endorsed by them. Please send the answer to Swabeck and a carbon copy to me on the road.