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James P. Cannon

Our Party and the Communist International

4 October 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 speech by Cannon was delivered to the national convention of the Communist Party’s youth group, the Young Workers League, and published in the Daily Worker on 8 October 1925.

The Foster-Cannon faction had won the majority of delegates to the Workers Party’s Fourth Convention in late August 1925. However, a cable from the Communist International arrived in the middle of the convention: it declared that the Ruthenberg group was more “loyal” to the Comintern and “closer to its views.” It also demanded that the Ruthenberg group be given at least 40 percent of the seats on the new Central Executive Committee.

Foster and Cannon disagreed over how to respond to this cable, as Cannon describes in this speech. Cannon’s views carried the day within the Foster-Cannon faction. The CEC which was selected contained an equal number of Ruthenberg-Lovestone and Cannon-Foster supporters, as well as a representative of the Comintern. After the convention, the Comintern representative, S.I. Gusev, announced his intention of voting with Ruthenberg-Lovestone, thus giving the former minority the majority of the CEC.

Foster sought to appeal the Comintern decision after the convention. Cannon disagreed with Foster’s course, and this speech marks the final split between the two. Foster’s speech to the YWL convention, which defended his appeal of the CI decision, was published in the Daily Worker along with Cannon’s.

Comrade Chairman and Comrades:

The youth league is meeting in this national convention just at a time of a particularly serious crisis in the party, and I am speaking here as one of the party representatives under circumstances which I think must be known to you comrades.

As a result of the decision of the last convention, and the decision of the Communist International, the Central Executive Committee leadership is represented by the group which, prior to the party convention, was the minority, and which, as you know, I do not belong to. So in speaking here tonight I am doing so after consultation with the delegation of the Central Executive Committee, not as a direct representative of the Central Executive Committee, but I am speaking by permission of the Central Executive Committee in my own name, and in the name of a large number of comrades whose views coincide with mine.

The situation of the party requires very clear statements from us, and I propose here to make these statements. I propose to give the party and the Comintern an answer to every question, which they have a right to ask us in this situation.

I said the party is in a crisis, and we all know this. In my opinion, it is a crisis of Bolshevization. Our party is going through the travail of accelerated development towards a real Bolshevist party. It is the process of “The Birth of a Communist Party” of which comrade Zinoviev once wrote. The party appears to be torn into all kinds of groups, factions and subfactions as a result of this process.

The problem before the party, above all others, or rather embracing all others, is the problem of Bolshevization. And it is clear that the central question in the problem of Bolshevization is now the question of the relations of the party to the Communist International.

Bolshevization, without a correct estimate of the relations of the party and the party leaders to the Communist International, is merely an empty phrase. Bolshevization program or Bolshevization resolutions that do not take into account the full significance of the fact that we are members of the world Communist party, with international leadership, do not contain the real essence of Bolshevization.

Because of the peculiar nature of the present situation, and because of the rapid changes which have taken place in the party leadership, it is manifestly the duty of those comrades who prior to the convention composed the majority group to make known their attitude towards the party crisis, and their proposals for its solution.

I think it is known to nearly all comrades in the party, as it has been known for some time to the members of the former majority, that the former majority group is itself in the process of the deepest crisis. This crisis within the group of the former majority is a part of the crisis in the party. For that reason it is the concern of the party, and should be made known to it. Factions can have no interests of their own in a Communist party. They have to be related to the interests of the party.

Within the group of the former majority there has been in recent times a very thoroughgoing discussion. Very strong pressure has been put upon one section by another section. This pressure has had certain effects. But these effects have not been sufficiently decisive. Therefore it is necessary for the group of the former majority to have more pressure put upon it, from the outside, directly before the whole party. My speech here tonight has this purpose.

So I am going to discuss the question before the Young Workers League convention, not merely for the YWL, but for the party, since this convention is a forum before the whole party. I am going to speak about the situation which has developed within the ranks of the former majority. When I say this, I want to inform you in advance that if any comrade expects to hear me relate any private conversations, “secrets,” scandals, or petty gossip, or anything of this sort, he will be disappointed. I will confine my remarks entirely to the questions which have political significance and a political content, which are known to all the leading comrades of the group and which are of concern to the party.

Comrade Green [Gusev] in his article in the Daily Worker the other day made the statement that the differences within the group of the former majority are not less serious than the differences between the former majority and the former minority. I want to testify here to the accuracy of this estimate.

The differences within the former majority are as serious as were those between the two former factions. Differences arose at the convention and have been intensifying since the convention. But these differences which came to the surface in the convention crisis, and which have intensified since then, were themselves the outgrowth of old differences, and were foreshadowed by the old differences. And all of these differences have become synthesized and concentrated now into one, big predominant question.

That question is this: the role of the Communist International and the relations of our party and our party leaders to the Communist International.

In the controversy in the group over this question, a conflict has developed between comrade Foster and myself. And in connection with the remarks I make on this I want to remind the comrades of my long collaboration with comrade Foster.

Some of the greatest forward steps of the party have been brought about as the result of this collaboration, together with some other comrades. As far back as 1921 and 1922, this collaboration made it possible simultaneously to develop the trade union work on a broad scale and to organize the legal party. These achievements laid the basis for the party to become a factor in the labor movement. Comrade Foster played a tremendous role in all of this, and I collaborated with him and with other comrades. And if we now come to the point where our differences are so sharp that there appears to be no possibility to reconcile them—and we are at such a point—it is not without great pain to those who were part of the collaboration.

On receipt of the Communist International telegram, a profound crisis was immediately precipitated in the group of the former majority at the party convention. The immediate difference appeared to arise over two separate propositions put before the caucus: one by comrade Foster and one by comrade Dunne and myself. Comrade Foster’s original proposition was that we should accept only a minority of the Central Executive Committee, and that he should not participate, and that the organization of the new Central Executive Committee in fact should be carried out by the representative of the Communist International, and not by us who were the majority at the convention. Our counterproposition was that we, the majority, should organize the Central Executive Committee. At first I proposed an even division, half and half, and later it was modified to include the representative of the Communist International, on his suggestion. The difference was not technical but political. It was a difference in attitude towards the decision and towards the situation created by it. I considered that comrade Foster’s proposition had serious objective consequences. I considered that if we, as a majority of the convention, should refuse to organize the new Central Executive Committee, or that in any event comrade Foster should not go into the new Central Executive Committee, it could not be interpreted in any other way than that we were rejecting responsibility for the Central Executive Committee. This would mean that the party would be thrown into a crisis in which the Central Executive Committee would be deprived of the assistance and support which it would require from us to pull the party through the crisis.

Our proposition was based on the opinion that the situation was such in the party, precipitated by the decision, that we were obliged, if we wish to save the party from demoralization, to take responsibility to the full limit of the possibilities under the provisions of the decision.

We held a discussion in the caucus for two days, and in this discussion I pointed out, together with other comrades, the objective consequences of the attitude shown by comrade Foster.

We stated there that comrade Foster’s proposition would create a condition making it impossible for the party to work, or for the Central Executive Committee to lead it or control it; and that this would bring us inevitably not only into conflict with the Central Executive Committee, but into conflict with the Communist International, since the decision of the Communist International was the main factor; that consequently, regardless of the intention of the comrades, the whole objective tendency would be for all elements in the party who are in any degree actively or passively in opposition to the Communist International to rally around our standpoint, and enmesh us more and more into a position of opposition, which would inevitably develop into opposition to the Communist International.

And it was because we had such a deep conviction that this line would lead in this direction that we spoke ultimatively with great determination in the caucus. The tendency represented by comrade Foster met the most powerful opposition; it met opposition from the very backbone of the former majority group.

Comrades from all sections of the country, the leading, most responsible and most influential comrades, took a decided stand against it, and the final result was that a majority voted in favor of our proposal. We were then willing to consider the difference which arose over the Communist International decision as liquidated on the basis of the adoption of our policy, which was a decisive policy of responsibility for the party.

But this policy of responsibility for the party did not develop as the policy of comrade Foster after the convention. We were no sooner out of this crisis than we immediately plunged into a new crisis in the group, that is, amongst the comrades who belonged to the former group. This conflict was organically connected with the conflict at the convention. It was over the appeal to the Communist International.

It has been stated here by comrade Bedacht, and I think it is known to every Communist, that it is not only the right of a Communist who disagrees with a decision of the Communist International to appeal for a reconsideration, but it is his duty to do so. It is the duty of any Communist who thinks the Communist International needs more information on any question to furnish this information.

I disagree totally with the implications of comrade Stachel’s statements here that an appeal to the Communist International is in itself in any sense a violation of Communist rights. However, there are two sides to this question of appealing to the Communist International.

On the one hand it is the duty, not merely the right, of comrades to appeal to the Communist International. On the other hand it is impermissible for them, when they are appealing to the Communist International, to appeal at the same time to the party, because that negates the whole principle involved in the appeal to the Communist International. An appeal to the party on the basis of an appeal to the Communist International is nothing less than an attempt to put the party in a position of opposition to the decision of the Communist International. No matter what is one’s intention, this is the objective effect. Therefore we opposed the tendency that developed within our group to present resolutions to the party organizations endorsing the appeal of the former majority to the Communist International.

What was this conditioned upon? To us it was very clear, after a little consideration, that if the group of the former majority would present such a motion to a meeting of the party, it could only be adopted on the condition that the comrades present would be convinced that the appeal was justified and valid. In other words, they would have to be convinced that the decision was an error. In order to accomplish this it would be necessary, and would follow, in spite of all intentions, that propaganda and agitation would be made to convince party comrades that the decision of the Communist International is wrong. This is not permissible, because this is appealing in the party to the opinion and viewpoint that the Communist International decision was made with snap judgment, or made without due consideration. This in itself has an inevitable tendency to discredit the Communist International before the party comrades, to break down faith in the Communist International decisions. It is a step away from the Communist International. This was the position we took.

It is significant, in confirmation of my statements that this conflict over the question of the appeal had an organic connection with the convention conflict, that the alignment of comrades on this question was identically the same as the one in the convention caucus, with only a change here and there by comrades who had not understood the real question involved.

A very severe crisis developed which made it impossible to agree to a unified policy. I am sorry to say that comrades in several parts of the country, under influence of the policy which was sponsored and given support by comrade Foster, were misled into taking what I consider some false steps. These comrades who had a certain resentment against the Communist International decision began to speak quite openly against it.

Efforts within the group to compel the comrades to abandon this policy were not successful. In the New York membership meeting, as was reported in the Daily Worker, and as I have been informed by personal letters, some comrades of the former majority, who have been members of the party for many years, and who surely know the fundamental basis of our relations to the Communist International, allowed themselves to be placed in an impossible position. Before a membership meeting of the rank and file of the party they criticized the decision of the Communist International. Also I read in the Daily Worker that similar occurrences took place in Boston.[1] The reports of the New York membership meeting greatly sharpened the crisis. It showed clearly the dangerous line that was being followed. We did not react so much in antagonism to the comrades in New York and Boston (we are confident they will quickly correct their error) as we did to the leading comrades of our former group, especially comrade Foster, because we held them to be responsible for having allowed such a situation to prevail.

We held it to be a result of the policy which they sponsored, and we decided to take drastic action to check the tendency developing amongst our comrades, as a result of the policy, to get themselves into contradiction with the decision of the Communist International. That policy proved itself to be completely wrong, completely bankrupt, and very dangerous for the party and for the movement.

We held a discussion with the comrades and presented to them in an ultimative fashion the demand that the appeal should not be made an issue in the party in any way. The comrades finally agreed to this.

But in spite of the agreement, the discussions we had with the YWL delegates seemed to center entirely around the question of the appeal. The whole discussion of the activities and the future line of the comrades seemed to hinge around this question, and proposals were made that the comrades of the YWL should come into the convention of the YWL and make a motion to endorse the appeal to the Communist International.

It was clearly demonstrated in these discussions that the acceptance of our policy was only a formal acceptance. Comrade Foster and those who supported him continued the attempt to have the essence of their policy prevail. This made further collaboration with them impossible for us.

Further collaboration is impossible between those having our standpoint towards the relations of the party and its leaders to the Communist International, and comrades who persist in this other policy.

After this, during the few days we have been here, we have had many discussions with the youth. I personally attach tremendous importance to the convention of the YWL and to the comrades who are delegates here. So much importance that I have devoted my time almost entirely since the comrades arrived in town to discussions with them and to attempts to see to it that these comrades should not, under any circumstances, be placed in a position where they would be forming a political platform on the basis of opposition to the decision of the Communist International. The comrades representing the viewpoint of comrade Foster persisted day after day in their efforts to convince the comrades of the YWL of their position; and so persistent have these comrades been, that we were obliged to spend this entire day and all last night discussing the question with these young comrades to beat down this propaganda and this attempt to get comrades agitated on this fundamentally false basis. It was only at five o’clock this evening that we finally confirmed our victory in the YWL delegation. These comrades took their position, definitely and categorically, for our policy.

We came to the decision finally that in view of the violation of the prior agreement, these comrades who are delegates should not only take a position in the caucus against this policy, but that they should take a position openly in the convention condemning any attempts to agitate the party or the league on the question of the appeal, to discredit the decision of the Communist International, or to put up the appeal as a political platform of opposition in the party. And thanks to comrades Williamson and Shachtman, who fought side by side with me from start to finish, the YWL comrades have been led away from this false path and have unanimously adopted what I think is the correct position on the question of the relations of the party to the Communist International.

For us the question has come to the point where we could not be satisfied any longer, in view of our duties to the party and to the Communist International, with having a private understanding within a private conference. The question has come to the point for us now where we feel obliged and duty bound to take an open stand before the party in repudiation of the policy of comrade Foster, and to call openly on all comrades in the party who are willing to be influenced by us to follow our policy and not allow themselves to be maneuvered or pushed or led into any other policy on the question of the appeal to the Communist International.

This naturally brings about a very serious situation in the party on the question of our relations to comrade Foster. I personally hope that comrade Foster will be convinced and that he will turn back from the path he has drifted into.

Comrade Foster has played an important role in the party, and he has given much to the party, as we all know, and I am sure that now if comrade Foster will turn back from this course he can lay the basis for still greater work in the future. But on the other hand, if comrade Foster persists in the line that he followed even up to today, in my opinion, he will lose his influence in the party. Comrade Foster will find that he is more and more in conflict with all the best Communist elements in the party who have collaborated with him up till now.

At the convention caucus our policy was called a policy of responsibility. Now what do we mean by responsibility? We do not mean merely, comrades, that we shall accept party positions and discharge the functions of these positions, although this is important. What we mean by responsibility which must be taken by the comrades of the former majority is that we must take political responsibility to help in the solution of the crisis in the party. We must take responsibility to try to pull the party out of the crisis, to unify it, to complete the liquidation of the right wing within the party and to set it firmly on the path to Bolshevization. This is what responsibility means. Responsibility for us includes the criticism of the party in the proper time and place, and within limits of party discipline, as the conditions may make it necessary.

We do not believe the situation in the party is of such a superficial nature that it can be solved easily and quickly. Comrade Bedacht, as we know, is a very violent comrade. He spoke here tonight very violently. But I am afraid comrade Bedacht underestimates, at least in a slight degree, the deep seriousness of the problem in the party. In my opinion it is necessary for us to understand that mechanical measures have definite limitations. Mechanical methods of solving political problems have always to me appeared defective. I have learned this by experience in the party as well as by study. I do not believe that the crisis can be liquidated by persecution and terrorism of comrades.

We all know there is a certain dissatisfaction amongst some comrades. But I say it is impermissible for leaders of the party—whether they belong to the present official leadership or whether their leadership accrues from their influence within the party as the result of their past party work—it is impermissible for them to allow this sentiment to drift in the party, because it can drift only in one direction. We cannot permit ourselves to enter into propaganda, either openly in a party meeting or privately in discussion with the rank and file comrades, which continually questions the Communist International decision, and represents it as the result of false information.

I don’t think it is necessary to argue so much here as we did in the private discussions, since the problem has been liquidated for our comrades who are delegates. We have been fighting comrades adopting these tactics (and there were some comrades, I am sorry to say, with whom I have long been associated, some of them even before the organization of the party, in the revolutionary labor movement, and in constant collaboration), and it is no pleasure to be in such sharp conflict with them. But we have reminded these comrades, and we want to remind them now before the party, that everyone in the Comintern who wound up in the camp of the social democrats began his opposition to the Communist International with statements such as we have been hearing lately. Comrades, regardless of intentions, in politics every action has its own logic; every action has an objective result, and it leads in a certain direction.

The policy adopted in the convention caucus by comrade Foster, which was adhered to even after it was formally defeated, led to making the Communist International appeal an issue. And this in turn led some comrades in the membership meeting openly to criticize the decision of the Communist International. Each step led in the same direction and that direction is the wrong one.

I think it is our duty now to come out and say openly before the party that we are going to strive with all our power, and with all our energy, to see to it that not a single Communist is led any longer in that direction; that he shall turn back if he has already taken such steps.

We have some opinions in regard to the solution of the present crisis in the party. We believe it requires a united front of all the Communist elements against the right wing, and against the right wing tendencies. When I say a united front against the right wing, I say it in the sense of the decision of the Communist International plenum of last April, and which has not been fully carried out up till now.

We think the crisis requires that comrades, especially leading comrades, do not forget what the CI called attention to in Germany: the necessity for a real Bolshevist self-criticism, which has not been practiced up to now. We think it requires a liquidation of the policy of refusing to admit mistakes or of admitting mistakes in such a way as to justify them. The party leaders have to begin to speak openly to the party and to the CI about everything that has been done wrongly, in order that the party and the CI can enable us to get straight.

And, finally, our opinion of the thing that is necessary for the liquidation of the party crisis is the firm establishment of real Communist relations between the party and the CI, a complete break with the whole tradition of diplomatizing with the CI; a complete break with the whole tendency to regard the CI as something outside the party putting pressure on the party or the party leadership. We must develop the understanding that the party and the CI are one inseparable whole. We must have frank and open dealing with the executive of the CI and with the party; comrades must say the same thing in the party as they say in Moscow, and vice versa.

I, for one, and the comrades associated with me, and they are a considerable number, intend to follow this policy.


1. The October 4 Daily Worker published a report of the New York membership meeting held on September 25. William Z. Foster had called the CI decision “unexpected and unwarranted” but he advocated that it be carried out, pending appeal. Joseph Zack, Philip Aronberg and Charles Krumbein openly attacked the decision and refused to vote for it. In the Boston membership meeting George Kraska openly attacked both Zinoviev and the CI decision, according to the Daily Worker of October 6. Cannon was the only one to vote against condemning Kraska in the Political Committee meeting on October 9.