James P. Cannon

Reply to the Thesis of Comrades Lore and Olgin

Written: April 12, 1924
First Published: April 12, 1924 Daily Worker magazine supplement
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 was written by Cannon and Alexander Bittelman for the CEC majority and published in the Daily Worker magazine supplement. It answers a thesis published by Ludwig Lore and Moissaye Olgin in the same magazine. Lore and Olgin opposed the developing “alliance” of the Workers Party and its Federated Farmer-Labor Party with forces supporting a new third party, insisting that “It is absurd to assume that we can have common campaigns with the third bourgeois party for its bourgeois candidates and at the same time conduct an independent campaign for our program.”

Cannon and Bittelman project the possibility of the Workers Party supporting the candidates of the new third party, but they do not mention that this party was being built around support to the presidential candidacy of Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette.

The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin on the Workers Party policy in the elections for 1924 is based upon two fundamental errors.

1. A misconception of the strategy and tactics of the Communist International.

2. A wrong analysis of the economic and political forces operating within the framework of present-day America.

Strategy and Tactics of the Communist International

The strategy of the Communist International consists of the mobilization of the working class and all other oppressed groups that can be allied with it for an aggressive struggle against capitalist exploitation, for the destruction of the capitalist state, and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

From this it follows that a Communist party, which is the one to carry on this strategy, must itself be a fighting organization linked up with every phase of the class struggle and moving along consciously and persistently in the direction of the final proletarian struggle for power.

The class struggle does not develop along straight lines. Its ways are devious and complicated. As Trotsky said, “In politics the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag.” The thesis does not follow the method of Lenin when it attempts to speak of a “straight,” and “direct” and “unyielding” policy as opposed to a policy of devious ways, political machinations or obscure paths.

A policy is correct, Communist and revolutionary if it promotes, deepens and intensifies the class struggle, if it accentuates class divisions and solidifies the working class as against the capitalist class and if it strengthens the Communist Party and broadens its influence over the laboring masses.

A policy which satisfies the above requirements is a good Communist policy, irrespective of whether the line of its path is straight, broken or circular. The shape of the line of our tactics is determined, not by our free will but by the prevailing conditions of the class struggle.

The thesis is wrong and non-Marxian, and manifests a failure to understand the fundamentals of Communist strategy, when it attempts to dump all non-proletarian groupings into one reactionary heap which is to be condemned and fought against always in the same measure and with the same tactics. The established strategy of the Communist International, which is based on a Marxian conception of capitalist society, always differentiates between the immediate interests of the various groups and strata of the non-proletarian classes for the double purpose of (1) mobilizing at a given moment the greatest possible force of anti-capitalist opposition, and (2) winning over all the exploited and oppressed elements to the proletarian cause, thereby bringing about the isolation of the capitalist class. The thesis sins heavily against this principle of strategy and also against the actual facts involved in the third party movement when it proposes to treat this movement, which is a revolt against big capital, precisely as we treat the Republican and Democratic parties, which are the parties of big capital.

And, lastly, the whole thesis is pervaded with a spirit of pessimism, passivity and fear of tackling a complicated situation, which is altogether out of proportion to and unjustified by the known facts of the present situation and the established policies of the CI. This spirit is peculiarly reminiscent of an attitude formerly shared by certain sections of our movement that the beginning and end of all Communist activities is propaganda of Communism, straightforward, unyielding preaching of Communist principles. It is this attitude that prevented for a time some of our members from accepting the labor party policy of the Workers Party.

The Present Situation

The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin does not disprove the fact that we are witnessing now in the United States a growing revolt of the working masses on the one hand and of the petty-bourgeois elements on the other hand against the domination of the two old parties. The thesis is very careful to avoid the use of the term revolt. It says instead: “growing tendency, growing influence, marked dissatisfaction,” etc. But this difference in terminology, which is important, of course, does not, however, alter the fact that there is afoot a growing movement involving large masses of workers, farmers, and petty-bourgeois elements tending to split away from the two old parties. This is the most important cardinal fact in present-day American politics. Therefore, no strategy can be correct which fails to put this fact in its proper light and to analyze its basic factors. The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin is deficient in both. It fails to probe down to the real economic basis of the insurgent movement, inside and outside of the two old parties, and therefore misses its true volume, scope and significance.

The Economic Situation

The thesis admits “the economic situation is gradually approaching a crisis” and that “the economic depression has been on the increase throughout the latter part of 1923.” This is correct but the present crisis is not of the type of the periodic, pre-war capitalist crises and herein lies its significance. It is not a temporary or passing affair. It is a manifestation here in the United States of the general critical state of world capitalism. This crisis may have its ups and downs but its lasting and permanent nature cannot be disputed.

It is this lasting and permanent nature of the present economic depression, plus the recent political developments, which have unmasked the American government as the tool and sergeant of big capital, that is responsible for the acuteness of the class relations prevailing at present in the United States.

The Political Situation

The thesis of the CEC which is to be submitted to the Communist International speaks of the mass revolt in the United States against the domination of the two old parties as a revolt against the economic and political rule of big capital. And that is what it is, but this fact the thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin fails to take note of. It speaks of a “growing dissatisfaction,” “bitter restlessness” of the workers, farmers and petty-bourgeois elements without realizing that what we are confronted with now is a movement and not merely a state of mind. A movement of large masses against the present rule of the bankers and big industrialists, and that this movement is tending unmistakably in the direction of a third petty-bourgeois liberal party. Whether this party materializes—if it does—as a petty-bourgeois liberal party or as a regular capitalist party similar to one of the old parties is still somewhat problematical. It may eventually turn either way, which does not in the least change the present nature and significance of the movement. As to our tactics and attitude towards a third party, the thesis of the CEC provides for either case. The thesis of the Central Executive Committee lays down clearly and definitely the conditions and terms for a possible election alliance between the Farmer-Labor Party and the third party.

Our Attitude Toward the Third Party Movement

The thesis of the Central Executive Committee bases its attitude toward the third party movement on three sets of considerations.

1. The third party movement accelerates the development of the class struggle, produces a clearer crystallization of political groupings on the basis of real economic interests, and weakens the united capitalist front against the working class.

2. The third party movement involves and is followed by large masses of workers and exploited farmers who are revolting and struggling against the domination of big capital. For these masses the third party movement is objectively a transitory stage to the class farmer-labor party. The successful development of the third party movement will seriously affect if not shatter the domination of the Gompers machine in the AFL, thereby opening the way for favorable changes in the labor movement.

3. The movement toward and the formation of a third petty-bourgeois party creates a favorable situation for the development of a class farmer-labor party which is the main objective of our present strategy.

The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin fails to take cognizance of any of these considerations. It admits that this movement “is important for the working class mainly through the general political agitation it creates in the country and particularly through the attacks it levels at the old capitalist parties.” But it fails to understand the far-reaching implication even of this statement. What it does see is the probable coming into existence of “a third bourgeois party, which would be no more than a united front of the big bourgeoisie and the mass of the middle and petty bourgeoisie which would become an obstacle for the creation of a proletarian party and may subsequently be much more difficult to combat than an open and avowed enemy of the working people.”

What this third party movement may eventually materialize into, nobody knows as yet. For the present, however, it is not a united front of the big bourgeoisie with the middle and petty bourgeoisie but a movement of revolt of the workers, exploited and well-to-do farmers and various elements of the petty bourgeoisie against the rule of big capital.

That the third party movement carries with it serious dangers for the success of the Farmer-Labor Party movement goes without saying. The thesis of the Central Executive Committee clearly points out these dangers, and proposes definite measures to meet them.

After setting forth the conditions under which it is possible for the Farmer-Labor Party to support the candidates of the third party in the 1924 elections, the thesis of the CEC says the following:

If under the conditions set forth above an election alliance, either national or local, is made the Farmer-Labor Party must maintain a distinct organization and carry on an independent campaign for its own program and utilize the situation to the utmost to crystallize in the definite form of an organized Farmer-Labor Party all those workers and exploited farmers who can be brought to the support of a class party.

Throughout any campaign in which we maintain an alliance with the third party, we must constantly criticize and expose it and its candidates, show up the futility of its program, and make it clear to the workers who are reached by our own campaign that the third party will bring them no salvation and no relief. We must make it clear that the whole campaign is simply a starting point in the struggle for the establishment of a workers and farmers government, which in turn is a step towards the proletarian dictatorship, the one and only instrument for their liberation.

All the elements of the classes which are participating in the revolt against and split from the old capitalist parties will be represented in the St. Paul convention on June 17th. But the probability of the class farmer-labor elements—the rank and file workers and poor farmers—predominating will be greatly increased by the aggressive role of the Workers Party in the campaign for the convention and the tendency of the third party elements (including the labor bureaucrats, who are ideologically a part of the petty bourgeoisie) to turn to the Cleveland conference of the CPPA or to some other center which may be created by the La Follette group to serve as the nucleus of the third party.

Our task at the June 17th convention will be to strengthen and clarify its class character, fight for the adoption of a class program, organize it into a class party separate and distinct from the Cleveland conference or any other third party conference which may be held. The party formed there shall negotiate, through committees, with other conferences on the question of common campaigns or common candidates only as an organized body.

At the St. Paul conference we shall nominate and fight for proletarian candidates as against any other candidates at the conference. We shall utilize the conference to lay the basis for the organization of the Farmer-Labor Party throughout the country and also advance there the proposal and plans for an economic organization of farmers to serve as the foundation for their political organization.

This step of supporting the candidates of a petty-bourgeois liberal third party, under the conditions laid down in the thesis of the Central Executive Committee, is a correct one; not only because it is in accord with the general strategy of the CI (as manifested in its attitude to the British Labour Party and the Mexican presidential elections), but also because it offers the best tactical move of eventually separating the masses of workers and exploited farmers from the leadership of petty-bourgeois liberalism and bringing them into the ranks of the class farmer-labor party, which is a step along the road to Communism. On the other hand the position toward the third party movement taken by the thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin offers the best means of perpetuating petty-bourgeois influence over the masses of workers and exploited farmers that are now following this movement.

The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin takes the position of no support for the candidates of the third party under any circumstances, and this for five reasons:

1. Our support would be futile because we do not command large numbers of voters who actually influence the outcome of the election.

And suppose we did command large numbers of voters? Would we then be justified in supporting candidates of the third party? Obviously not, according to the general strategy of the thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin. Then where is the point of this argument?

2. It would “perturb the class vision of our membership and cause among them great consternation, appearing to them as an obvious deviation from the straight line of class struggle.”

This argument figures very prominently in the thesis that the working class in America as a whole, being disgusted with the political game, will not follow, let alone approve, the tactical move involved in the support of a third party candidate.

If this argument has any validity at all, then the only conclusion to be drawn is: Total abstention from politics! Boycott all capitalist institutions! No compromise! No dealings with the enemy until we come to the final direct struggle for power and until then—preach Communism!

This is the straightest possible line of the class struggle. The only trouble with it is that it is wholly imaginary.

3. Support of third party candidates would make it impossible for us to explain our refusal to support a “Friend of Labor” on the ticket of the Democratic Party.

By this argument the thesis shows that it is dealing not with social forces, classes, and parties, but with individuals.

The conception of “labor friends,” which underlies the non-partisan policies of Gompers and the CPPA, can be exploded only on the basis of class relations and the social analysis of political parties. It is our duty to teach the workers to think in terms of classes and parties and not individuals. Until we have succeeded in this, nothing will help much, not even a policy of straight lines.

We analyze before the workers the social make-up of the two old parties and thereby show that they are controlled and dominated by big capital—the master and enemy of the working class. Candidates on the tickets of the two old parties will either do the biddings of the capitalists or fail. In either case, the workers are the losers. Therefore, don’t support candidates of the old parties.

We then analyze the social make-up of the third party and if we find that it is controlled by a petty-bourgeois liberalism, we say so. And we explain what it means in terms of the economic interests of the workers, poor farmers, wealthy farmers, other petty-bourgeois elements, and big capital. In other words, we explain the political aspirations of the third party by means of its social-economic basis.

In doing this, we will find that the “friendliness” to labor of a third petty-bourgeois party rests on an economic basis. The middle classes revolting against big capital need the assistance of labor and are, therefore, compelled to offer some concessions to labor. And it is here that we point out the limitations of these concessions and the general unreliability of the election promises.

We proceed further to explain that the workers and exploited farmers can best utilize this division in the ranks of the bourgeoisie by organizing their own party and fighting their own battles, at the same time giving their organized support, as an independent class farmer-labor party, to candidates of the third party where such support will assure the defeat of the old parties or increase the divisions in the ranks of the bourgeoisie, or assist in splitting away large masses of workers and farmers from the two old parties.

4. The sense of the fourth argument is that it is impossible to support and criticize third party candidates at one and the same time, which is the same as saying that the Farmer-Labor Party cannot support a third party candidate and at the same time carry on an independent Farmer-Labor campaign.

If this were true, then how could a Communist party support candidates of a farmer-labor party and at the same time carry on an independent Communist campaign? And again, how could the Communists of Mexico, on the advice of the Comintern, support Calles (petty-bourgeois candidate) and carry on an independent campaign?[1] And finally, how could the Comintern support the colonial struggles of the oppressed nationalities (petty-bourgeois in character) against European and American imperialism and at the same time carry on among the proletarian elements of the same nationalities a class campaign along Communist lines?

The answer is that of course it can be done, as we have shown above. That it is difficult and even dangerous no one can deny, but this is no reason for not doing it.

5. Support of third party candidates “would make it appear to our members that we put all our hopes in parliamentary reforms and that all our propaganda of mass action is no more than a phrase.”

The direct opposite is true. It is those who cannot appreciate the real mass nature of the present revolt against the two old parties and who refuse, by adopting elastic tactics, to divert the class elements of this mass movement into the channels of a class farmer-labor party, that are making a mockery and empty sound of the Communist conception of mass action. Mass action is not something static, immovable and unchangeable. It is a process and a development which has its beginning in such mild occurrences as the present movement of large masses of workers and exploited farmers away from the old parties and in the direction of independent political action and culminating, through various changes and developments (not always running in a straight line) in a direct struggle for power.

This is the Communist conception of mass action and it is such mass action that we will assist in developing by adopting the tactics of the Central Executive Committee.

Restating Our Objective

Our immediate objective is the unification and consolidation of all politically mature farmer-labor forces in the United States for an independent campaign along class lines in the coming presidential election. Our aim is the formation of a mass party of workers and farmers, and the advancement of Communist influence within it.

The convention of June 17th is the next point of concentration.

In striving toward this objective we find ourselves confronted with a petty-bourgeois third party movement which is neither of our making nor under our control. It is clearly a revolt of large masses of workers, farmers and petty-bourgeois elements against big capital and thus runs somewhat in the same general direction as the Farmer-Labor Party movement. This third party movement contains in its ranks large masses of workers and exploited farmers. Hence, the bigger the volume of this movement, the better the chances for a class farmer-labor party, provided we meet the situation as it is and do not run away from it.

This situation creates a problem for us. The problem is to develop our labor party policy in such a manner as to increase the volume and scope of the split-away movement from the two old parties, at the same time carefully and after proper preparation diverting the class elements into the channels of the class farmer-labor party. The thesis of comrades Lore and Olgin misses completely this central problem of our whole labor party policy. The thesis of the Central Executive Committee states the problem, analyzes its factors, and gives the best solution of it.


1. In a letter to the Communist Party of Mexico (PCM) of 21 August 1923, the Executive Committee of the Comintern wrote that “the Communist Party must participate in the elections on behalf of Calles.” In the maneuvering leading up to the 1924 vote, former Mexican treasury minister Adolfo de la Huerta opposed the appointment of General Plutarco Elias Calles as designated successor to General Alvaro Obregon, then in power. Despite the lack of a clear left-right, let alone class, polarization between the contending forces, the ECCI argued that “the overwhelming majority of the workers and peasants will support the candidature of Calles.”

During 1923-24, the PCM was increasingly under the sway of Jay Lovestone’s chief crony, Bertram Wolfe, who had fled to Mexico to avoid arrest in the United States. In December 1923, De la Huerta led an abortive military uprising against Obregon. While Mexican party leaders had previously been aligned with De la Huerta, at Wolfe’s insistence the PCM backed the Obregon government. Soon after, the party offered to support Calles in the elections if he accepted certain minimum “worker and peasant” demands (presented to him on its behalf by the radical painter Diego Rivera). Calles “accepted” the demands and Communist support.

The call for support to Calles reflected the general confusion on the question of two-class “worker-peasant” parties then current in the Communist International. The ECCI letter was published in English by the Workers Party as a pamphlet under the title Strategy of the Communists, and the American Daily Worker gave prominent coverage to the Mexican party’s support to Calles. After Calles won the election but before he took office, the Obregon government gave diplomatic recognition to Soviet Russia. When the Comintern swerved to the left later in 1924, the PCM began denouncing Calles’ bonapartist, pro-imperialist regime. Wolfe was expelled from the country by the Calles government in 1925.

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