James P. Cannon

St. Paul – June 17th

Written: May 1924
First Published: 1924, Labor Herald
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 Trade Union Educational League journal, Labor Herald. Though the Workers Party was willing to enter into an “alliance” with the third party forces of Republican Senator Robert M. La Follette, it sought to maintain a modicum of “independence.” The St. Paul Farmer-Labor convention was called in competition with a Conference for Progressive Political Action convention set for Cleveland on July 4—after the finish of both the Democratic and Republican conventions—where it was projected that La Follette would be nominated for U.S. president on the Progressive Party ticket. In May the Communist International directed the Workers Party not to support La Follette. When the St. Paul convention met in June it therefore nominated an independent Farmer-Labor Party ticket: mine union official Duncan MacDonald for U.S. president and William Bouck of the Washington state Federated Farmer-Labor Party for vice president.

A city and a date—St. Paul, June 17th—represent at the present time the central point around which all the forces of the awakening industrial workers and poor farmers are organizing. The great national farmer-labor convention called by the joint action of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, the Federated Farmer-Labor Party and practically all other existing bona fide farmer-labor organizations, will meet in St. Paul on June 17. Neither the city nor the date is accidental. They, as well as all the other facts about this convention, which distinguish it from the July 4th convention of the CPPA at Cleveland, have reasons for their being which arise from class relations and the present stage of development of the class struggle.

The Northwest Politically Awake

It is in the Northwest, especially in Minnesota, that the masses of workers and farmers have made the greatest advancement in political life. Their political development has already reached the point of definite organization and a degree of success, even, in the elections. Practically the whole labor movement of Minnesota is participating in the affairs of the Farmer-Labor Party. More than that, the bulk of the trade unions have advanced to the point of leading in the organization of the Farmer-Labor Federation, an organization within the Farmer-Labor Party which aims to put it on a definite foundation of workers’ and farmers’ economic organizations, and control it in this way. It is natural, therefore—one might almost say inevitable—that the other sections of the American labor movement which are striving towards an independent party should turn towards St. Paul and look upon it as the logical center for the crystallization of the national movement. The date of the convention, before the Republican convention will be adjourned and before the Democratic convention will be convened, illustrates the determination to act there without regard to the decisions of these two conventions of the capitalist parties.

Those officials and leaders in the ranks of the labor and farmer movements who are trying to head off the sentiment among the rank and file workers for an independent party of their own, and steer it back into the old parties of the big capitalists, or, failing that, into a third party of the petty bourgeoisie, lost no time in opening fire on the St. Paul convention. They turned against it just as naturally and automatically as the conscious and awakened workers and poor farmers turned towards it. The St. Paul convention and all its surroundings—the city, the date, the participants, the program and the determined spirit of it—stamp it unmistakably as a real and genuine convention of workers and farmers bent on organizing an independent political party on class lines. The $10,000-a-year labor leaders do not want such a party. That is why they are fighting the St. Paul convention.

The widespread revolt of the masses of workers and farmers against the Teapot Dome[1] government is taking a number of forms and showing various manifestations which can only be understood if they are analyzed from the standpoint of class relations and the class struggle. One question especially arises in the minds of many workers. It goes something like this: What is the difference between these two gatherings and what is the reason for the split between them? Why the devil don’t they all get together into one convention? And why do I have to be in favor of one and not of both?

The answer to this question is that between the two conventions there are basic differences of composition, purpose, and viewpoint. The two conventions are not striving towards the same goal. That is the reason why they exist separately. An analysis of the make-up and actions of the two bodies makes this very clear.

CPPA Against Rank and File

The Conference for Progressive Political Action only talks vaguely about independent political action but, in practice, participates in and supports the capitalist parties. It is true that among many of the workers who have been following the CPPA there is a decided sentiment for a labor party but this sentiment does not exist among the leaders of the CPPA. They play the part of “lightning rods.” They pose as favoring independent action only as a concession to the sentiment of their followers, in order to catch it and direct it into the ground. Their “sympathy” for the idea of a labor party is a disguise to hide their actual allegiance to the capitalist parties. These “leaders” of labor cannot lead a fight to form a working class party because they do not have a working class point of view. They do not live like the workers and they do not think like the workers.

Moreover there will be no chance for the rank and file workers who want a labor party in spite of the officials to make a fight for it at the Cleveland convention. It is a convention of leaders and officials. The rank and file is not welcome there. Local unions are not admitted. City central bodies have only one vote. Local organizations of farmers are not invited. The International unions, which will be represented by their bureaucratic and reactionary officials, together with some national organizations of farmers, businessmen, liberals, and the traitor Socialist Party, have drawn up a set of rules and apportioned the voting in the convention in such a way as to make it absolutely proof against rank and file interference with their plans. It is needless to add that the Workers Party is not invited to Cleveland. The Workers Party has been leading the fight for a real class party of workers and farmers, and it could not be expected that those who oppose this idea would invite it to their gathering. If the Workers Party were admitted to the Cleveland convention, the game of the treacherous leaders would be brought out into the open and exposed. If Communists were in the convention they would press the labor traitors to the wall, and organize a fight against their treachery in the convention itself.

St. Paul of and for Real Workers

The St. Paul convention, on the other hand, is a convention of the rank and file. It is committed in advance to the program of putting up independent farmer-labor candidates in the coming election regardless of the decisions of either the Republican or Democratic parties. The bodies which constituted the preliminary conferences and issued the call for the convention consisted of seven already existing farmer-labor parties including the Federated Farmer-Labor Party, to which last the Communists of the Workers Party are affiliated. The class idea was the dominant idea in the conference and the sentiment for welding the whole movement into one national farmer-labor party on June 17th is strong and growing among the participants in the arrangements for the convention. That both these factors will grow stronger there can be no doubt. The presence in the convention of the Communists, who stand squarely and fight aggressively for the organization of a national party and the domination in it of the class idea, is the best guarantee of this.

This St. Paul convention holds out tremendous possibilities. If we succeed in our aims there and crystallize in one body the revolting elements of the workers and tenant and mortgaged farmers, formulating a class program and establishing an aggressive leadership, the political revolt of the oppressed masses will move forward with giant strides. A successful convention at St. Paul on June 17th will mean that the workers as a distinct class, in alliance with the poor farmers, have stepped onto the political stage in America for the first time. Such an event will have a profound influence, not only upon America but upon the entire world.

We are not alone in this appraisal of the significance of June 17. The enemies of the independent working class political movement are alive to the dynamic possibilities of this convention in St. Paul. They have commenced to fire a tremendous volley of denunciation and misrepresentation against it. The capitalist press, and that part of the labor press which serves the capitalists, are fighting the St. Paul convention with all their power. Their aim is to defeat the rank and file movement for an independent class party, to steer the workers back into the capitalist parties, or into a third party dominated by the petty bourgeoisie. There is no mystery in the fact that they single out participation by the Communists in the June 17th convention for particular attack. The presence of the Communists—the driving force in the genuine labor party movement—assures that a real fight will be made for the formation of a national party on a class basis, dominated by the workers and poor farmers. This is what the capitalists and their labor agents fear the most. This is why they are making such a fight against the Communists in connection with this convention.

St. Paul Means Class Struggle

For the conscious and militant workers and tenant and mortgaged farmers, the fight for the St. Paul convention is the most important question on the order of the day. This convention, and the struggle for it, concentrates on one point, for the time being, the whole struggle of the rank and file of exploited labor against the capitalists, the capitalist government and the agents of the capitalists in the labor movement. It represents the beginning of the union between the workers of the cities and the farms—which is an indispensable prerequisite to the final victory. The size and strength of the St. Paul convention, and the extent to which the conscious class elements dominate and shape it, will be the best and most reliable measure of the political development of the exploited workers and farmers of America. The militant trade unionists have to realize all these facts and make the fight for the June 17th convention the biggest issue in the labor movement.


1. A reference to the financial scandals that rocked the Harding administration, generally known under the rubric of “Teapot Dome,” which was the name of the Wyoming naval oil reserve leased in 1922 to Harry F. Sinclair by Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall. It was later revealed that Sinclair had given Fall a herd of cattle, $85,000 in cash and $223,000 in bonds to clinch the deal. In 1929 Fall was convicted of bribery, fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in jail—the first U.S. Cabinet officer to serve time in prison.

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