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James P. Cannon

Cannon Replies to Henry Askeli

8 August 1925

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 Daily Worker magazine supplement. It replies to “Are the Finns Social Democrats?” , an article by Finnish-Language Federation leader Henry Askeli published in the same journal. Askeli’s article took issue with “rumors” within the Workers Party that the Finns supported Lore’s “Two and a Half International tendency” ; he wrote particularly bitterly against the “slanders” and “character assassins” of the Ruthenberg-led Central Executive Committee minority.

In the preceding period the Superior branch of the Finnish Federation, which numbered among its members many Federation leaders, had published two articles critical of the Central Executive Committee in the party’s Finnish-language press. These statements protested the levying of an assessment on party members to pay for the upcoming party convention, questioned the wisdom of the recent Comintern decision on the American question, and demanded further discussion on the issues in dispute in the party. A CEC condemnation of the Finnish statements was published in the Daily Worker, 1 August 1925.

The Workers Party Fourth Convention instructed the Finnish Federation to remove Askeli from the editorial staff of the Federation’s paper.

Comrade Askeli’s article follows the two statements published by the Finnish branch of Superior and is directly related to them. The Central Executive Committee has declared that these statements contained a non-Communist tendency and represented the beginning of an ideological preparation for a split in the party. Comrade Askeli’s article is another manifestation of this sentiment. It shows the same tendency in a clearer form and forces us to draw the conclusion that it amounts to an attempt to substitute a program of his own for the program of the party and the Communist International. At the moment when the serious Communist workers are striving to unify their ranks on the platform of the Communist International, comrade Askeli comes forward with an attack on the Communist International. Such propaganda tends to discredit the Communist International before the membership.

Comrade Askeli has presented a platform without one sound Communist plank in it. No one can accept this platform without first throwing away the platform of the party and the Communist International. The loyal followers of the Communist International in the party, and especially those in the Finnish Federation, have no choice but to take up at once the most resolute struggle against the political platform of comrade Askeli. The unity and integrity of the party demand such a struggle.

Incitement Against the CI

The Communist International is the most priceless acquisition of the revolutionary proletariat of the world. The authority of the Communist International is the surest guarantee that the unity of our party will be preserved and strengthened, that disintegrating opportunism will not be allowed to get a strong foothold, that mistakes will be corrected and that faltering leadership will be assisted, strengthened and equipped for its tasks. To make a breach between the party and the Comintern is the aim of those elements in all countries who shrink from the implications of a policy of determined revolutionary struggle. Comrade Askeli is following a policy which leads in this direction. His attack is directed first of all and above all at the authority of the Communist International. He opposes in a more or less direct way all the propositions put before the party by the Communist International in its recent decisions. He then unites his opposition to the various specific proposals of the Communist International into a complete and systematic opposition with the declaration that he wants a Central Executive Committee with sufficient “nerve” and “responsibility” to “settle questions without foolishly appealing to higher bodies on every little question.” The practice of the Central Executive Committee in turning to the Communist International for advice and guidance and for the solution of disputed questions apparently does not commend itself to comrade Askeli. He regards it as “hesitation, indecision and a vacillating policy,” which, he says, is “destructive and must be done away with.”

What is such talk but incitement against the Communist International? And what could be its effect but to lead to a break between the party and the Communist International? To let the party become the prey of disintegrating tendencies and render it powerless?


With such an attitude of general opposition to the Communist International, it is quite logical for comrade Askeli to find himself out of line with its specific decisions on the situation in our party. The Comintern has put before the party as one of its most important tasks the liquidation of the opportunist ideology of Loreism. Comrade Askeli has nothing to say on this question, except to deny the accusations of sympathy with Loreism. The open statement and direct attack on Loreism which all leading comrades should make without hesitation or evasion is lacking. On the contrary the article makes many concessions to Loreism.

Comrade Askeli says the Finnish Federation got rid of the right wing elements and the ideology of the Two and a Half International at the time of the split with the Socialist Party. We are confident that the overwhelming majority of the membership of the Finnish Federation will demonstrate that they have broken so decisively with this ideology that no one will be able to lead them back to it. But in the light of this article we cannot be so confident of comrade Askeli. A remnant of this ideology has found its way into his article.

The Labor Party

Our most important political question is the question of the labor party. The future growth and development of our party is indissolubly bound up with the solution of this problem. The first decisive steps of the American workers in constituting themselves as a class, and entering the political arena as such, will be taken through the medium of a labor party. The solution of the labor party problem is therefore of incalculable importance. It is in fact the key to the American labor movement. Every member of the party must understand this.

The Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International has solved the labor party problem, correcting the past mistakes of all groups in the party and laying down a clear political line for the immediate future. It is of the utmost importance that every leading comrade take a clear and unequivocal stand on this question. Mistaken conceptions of the past must be openly acknowledged and resolutely put aside. The whole party, as one man, must consciously swing its energy into the labor party movement according to the policy of the Communist International. In order to make this possible all leading comrades in the party and in the federations must have a unified point of view. A negative or halfhearted attitude is not permissible.

Comrade Askeli confines his remarks on this question to a couple of sentences that only serve to confuse the issue. He speaks of the questions of the third party alliance, the farmer-labor party and the present labor party policy of the party, making no distinction between them. He throws them all into one pot, labels them all “maneuvers” to be avoided and then concludes with the assertion that “99 percent of our membership is against that kind of policy.” Such a method of presenting the question can only confuse the comrades.

” Maneuvers”

Political adventurism, maneuvers that are not based on a true analysis of all the factors in the given situation, are very dangerous for a party. But to proceed from this premise to a rejection of all maneuvers is to falsify and distort the Leninist standpoint. One of the most incorrect and harmful aspects of Loreism is its opposition to maneuvers and its undialectic conception which arbitrarily separates organization and propaganda from action and maneuvers. Askeli makes this error when he says, “We are strong for organization and education. Maneuvers do not, in our opinion, make the Workers Party.” This conception is wrong. A fighting Communist party cannot be built upon it.

Organization and propaganda, actions and maneuvers, must be united in an organic whole. Without ability to maneuver there is no capacity for action and no real Communist party. The paralyzing dogma of “no maneuvers” must be eliminated from our conception at all costs. The great leaders and teachers of Leninism are constantly pressing this idea as a life and death struggle to the Communist parties. Only recently, the Executive Committee of the Communist International was obliged to adopt a special resolution against the doctrine of “no maneuvers” which was threatening to paralyze the Communist Party of Germany and which had already led it to the most serious errors in connection with the question of the monarchy. “The Communist Party of Germany must learn how to maneuver,” said the resolution of the Communist International.[1] Our party must also learn and in order to do so it must reject the standpoint which is presented by the article of comrade Askeli.

Shop Nuclei

The Bolshevization of the party implies reorganization on the basis of shop nuclei. Our party is confronted with colossal difficulties in this respect on account of its small membership and many national divisions. The success of our campaign to construct the party on the shop nuclei basis requires the active, conscious and wholehearted support of the leading comrades of the various federations. Comrade Askeli does not give such support. He gives the shop nuclei form of organization only a negative endorsement and attempts to discredit it in advance with the statement that he favors it, “not so much that it is practical, tried and true, but because theoretically it appears practical and true and this must be shown.” The transformation of our party from the social-democratic form of organization to the Communist form of organization, built in the workshops, will never be accomplished by such a skeptical attitude. The position of comrade Askeli amounts to opposition to shop nuclei, under the flag of lip service to it. The party must oppose and reject this standpoint.

The Federation Question

The Communist International and the Central Executive Committee of our party have come to the definite conclusion that the existence of separate language federations must be done away with. The language federations must be fused into a single centralized party. The organization letter of the Communist International gives detailed and specific instructions on this question; and the resolution of the Parity Commission takes a clear and definite stand for the complete centralization of the party and the complete abolition of the present federation form of the organization. The energetic carrying out of these resolutions is an indispensable part of the process of Bolshevizing the party.

On this vital question as well as on all the others raised in his article, comrade Askeli takes a wrong stand. The letter of the Communist International and the resolution of the Parity Commission provide for the reconstruction of the present language branches as non-partisan workers’ clubs. The proposal of comrade Askeli to maintain the federations on a national scale, “working independently under the ideological leadership of the Workers Party,” would tend, in our opinion, to separate still more the federations from the party and reduce the control of the party over them to a fiction.


There exists in the party a sentiment against factionalism and factional groupings. Comrade Askeli appears to be attempting to play upon this sentiment and to exploit it for his own factional purpose. The decision of the Comintern demands the liquidation of factionalism and calls for the unity of the party on the basis of the political platform of the Communist International. Comrade Askeli would make it impossible to accomplish this result. Under cover of acceptance of the first half of this provision, his article reads like an attempt to prevent the unification of the party and to create a new faction of his own on a non-Communist platform. The members of the Finnish Federation who are against factionalism must be on their guard and not allow anyone to maneuver them into a faction against the party and the Comintern.

” History”

We would like to find some part of comrade Askeli’s platform on which we could agree, but this is impossible. The platform is wrong from start to finish. Even the “history” which comrade Askeli recites is presented in a false light. He attempts to throw aspersions upon the glorious past of our party and to take credit to himself for remaining in the Socialist Party after the split.[2] It is quite true that the left wing made a tactical error in allowing the reactionary leaders of the Socialist Party to force the split too quickly. And it can also be admitted that the first programs of our party contained some leftist mistakes. But in spite of all, the fundamental line of division at the time of the split, which completely overshadowed all minor, tactical questions, was between revolutionary Communists and reformist social democrats; and it is no credit to anyone who, at the decisive moment, remained in the ranks of the Socialist Party. In such a situation, one who has a clear Communist position always unites with the Communists, even though he disagrees with their tactics. This is a fundamental principle.

We do not mean by these remarks to bring up the past in such a way as to cast any reflection on the comrades now in our ranks who took the wrong position in the historical days when the revolutionary vanguard in America was first organizing itself into a party. We know very well that many who remained in the Socialist Party at the time of the split and who later joined our ranks have done and are doing good work for Communism. The error of the past has been made good many times over and now has only historical significance. It is quite unnecessary to refer to it again, and we would be among the last to do so. But when the history of the party is considered, one should relate the past events in their true perspective. Comrade Askeli fails to do this.

The Federation Split of 1914

We take issue with another part of comrade Askeli’s “history” —the part dealing with the split in the Finnish Federation in 1914. Moreover, we are of the opinion that the narrow attitude manifested by comrade Askeli may explain, to a certain degree, the reason we have not had greater success in healing the effects of that split and in winning over to Communism the Finnish workers who have fallen under the influence of anarcho-syndicalism.[3]

The platform of the syndicalist group in 1914 was politically incorrect, but so was the platform of the Socialists. A true explanation of the emergence of syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism as a phenomenon in the labor movement is impossible unless one understands and clearly states that pre-war syndicalism represented an extreme reaction against reformist, parliamentary socialism. Reformist socialism is the father of syndicalism. This is the way to explain the split of 1914 and to show to the syndicalist workers that the Communist Party and the Communist conception of political action have nothing in common with the Socialist Party and the Socialist conception of political action against which they made a justifiable revolt, which led them to extreme and unsound doctrines.

The Communist Party and its Finnish section ought to represent, at least to a certain extent, a union of the best proletarian elements from the Socialist Party and the syndicalist movement. The Communist International was of this opinion when it invited the IWW as well as the left wing of the Socialist Party to send delegates to its First Congress. The Communist International declared many times that the progress of the Communist parties would be measured in a large degree by their success in winning over the syndicalist workers to the platform of Communism.

Many of the best revolutionary syndicalists responded to the Communist International and are in its ranks today. They are fully entitled to be placed on an equal footing with the revolutionary workers who came from the Socialist Party, without recriminations with regard to the past being brought up against them. Comrade Askeli has no right to give such a one-sided account of the old fight and to ridicule and attack them in such a bureaucratic and intolerant manner.

Anarcho-syndicalism still finds too much support among the Finnish workers in America. It is one of the most urgent tasks of the Finnish section of our party to win over the Finnish syndicalist workers to the platform of Communism and to draw the best of them into the party. This task can be carried out successfully only on the condition that we adopt the correct Communist policy on this question and reject the policy of comrade Askeli.

Fight for the Party

The great constructive work performed by the comrades in the Finnish Federation is known and appreciated by the party. The organizing genius of the Finnish comrades is responsible for many achievements from which the party has much to learn. We know that many of the greatest undertakings of the party, such as, for example, the establishment and maintenance of the Daily Worker, would hardly have been possible without the loyal support and generous sacrifice of the Finnish comrades. These facts are so well known as to need no special mention.

Comrade Askeli allows himself to present even these facts in the wrong way. In some of his language he creates the impression of an attempt to arouse among the Finnish comrades a federation patriotism as against a party patriotism, and to set them against the party on nationalistic grounds. The sharp criticism which the party directs against such non-Communistic policies as those put up by comrade Askeli are twisted around by him and made to appear as attacks against the Finnish Federation and against the Finnish comrades as such. The Finnish Communists are bound to repulse such methods.

Any attempt to make a breach between the party and the Communist International and to lay the basis for a split must be fought against by every Communist. The whole party must mobilize itself for quick and resolute action to defeat such designs, which, if allowed to gain headway, would endanger all the achievements of the past six years.

The efforts of comrade Askeli to put himself up as the spokesman of the Finnish members of the party and to identify them with his program does not by any means signify that this is really the case. We are absolutely confident that the overwhelming majority of the members of the Finnish Federation will reject the program of Askeli without hesitation and in such a decisive manner that Askeli and those disposed to support him will be compelled to abandon their plans. The Bureau of the Finnish Federation has set an example to the whole membership by its resolute and determined stand in support of the party. The interests of Communism demand that the Finnish branches of the party follow the example of the Bureau and repudiate the policies of comrade Askeli and those who share his views. We are confident this will be done.


1.In the presidential elections in Germany at the end of March 1925 the Communist International, fearful that the right-wing monarchist, Prussian Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, would be elected if the working-class vote was split, had advocated that the German Communist Party withdraw its candidate after the first round and support that of the Social Democrats. But the German Central Committee opposed the tactic. The Social Democrats withdrew their candidate in any case, in favor of the candidate of the bourgeois Center Party. Hindenburg won the election.

In July Zinoviev had sent a letter to the Tenth Congress of the German Communist Party, urging the party to reject the “ultraleft fever” and recognize the temporary stabilization of capitalism in Germany. But the German leadership under Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow remained recalcitrant. On 29 July 1925 the ECCI Presidium decided to begin its campaign to remove the Fischer-Maslow leadership.

2.The Finnish Federation had remained in the Socialist Party after the bulk of the Communist forces split in 1919. The Finns did not unite with the Communists until 1921, when they joined the Workers Party as part of the Workers’ Council group.

3.The Finnish Federation was not immune to the anarcho-syndicalism which swept the Socialist Party left wing from 1911 to 1914. During a strike by Michigan copper miners in 1914, pro-IWW sentiment grew rapidly among the Finns. The syndicalist wing actually took over a number of Finnish branches and, briefly, the Federation’s paper, Tyomies (The Worker), before being expelled by the reformist Federation leadership.