James P. Cannon

We Must Acknowledge Our Mistake, But We Want No Fake Labor Party

Written: April 5, 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The following is an uncorrected and unpublished transcript of Cannon’s remarks to the sixth session of the American Commission which convened around the Fifth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. The Commission’s decision favored the Ruthenberg minority in insisting on the necessity of continued agitation for a labor party in America.

I will try to be brief and just touch a couple of the main points. First, I want to state also with comrade Foster that the general line of the resolution is acceptable to the majority, that we could work on the basis of it with those remarks that he made. In making this statement, I think the majority is duly bound to state, as comrade Foster stated, that we must acknowledge our mistakes in our abandonment of the labor party and discarding the slogan altogether. We mean to take up the spirit of the resolution and make a real campaign for the labor party. However, we think it is incorrect to make the premise of the resolution depend so much upon the happenings of the CPPA convention because the facts are not quite as stated here, and it might have a tendency to cause a confusion in the minds of our membership in America if the impression is made that the conclusions are drawn from this statement of facts.[1] For example, it must be borne in mind first that the railroad unions which were the backbone of the CPPA left the conference not in protest against a third party, in favor of the labor party, but in protest against a third party in favor of non-partisan action. When the vote which comrade Ruthenberg stated of 93 to 64 occurred over the resolution of admitting affiliated organizations it was directed primarily at the exclusion of the Socialist Party as an autonomous party. I want to quote here a report of the Daily Worker of the composition of the CPPA after the departure of the railroad unions, that is the railroad organizations:

The credentials committee report showed that labor representation to the convention was practically nonexistent. A half dozen local labor bodies, three state federations had sent credentials, but the delegates were not present. The rest were from the Socialist Party, state committees of the CPPA and an array of “progressive” groups of doubtful standing with the officialdom of the Amalgamated, ILGWU, and Furriers’ Union.

We must bear in mind the great practice in America in which we communists also have become quite expert of late of packing all kinds of delegates in a convention and it is a great mistake to think that the 63 votes cast there represented a real labor sentiment. It represented the Socialist Party and the Socialist Party influence only. Now, in proof of my statement that the resolution was carried against the affiliated organizations, and aimed against the Socialist Party, I wish to quote this report of the Daily Worker:

Hillquit was asked a direct question by one of the delegates as to the willingness of the Socialist Party to lose its identity in the new party....The “progressives” were plain spoken. McKaig of Idaho said, “The socialists have got to forget their party if they want a progressive party.”

We must not conclude, and it would be very erroneous if we should let the Comintern make a decision based upon a statement of facts which are not correct.

To pass over to one more point about the question of whether we shall state in the resolution the formation of a party of 500,000.[2] Comrade Ruthenberg said that Foster is afraid of the 500,000 figure. We are not afraid of a labor party of 500,000. We will be enthusiastically in support of a labor party of 500,000. What we are afraid of is another Federated Farmer-Labor Party. We are afraid of a fictitious membership in the organization and we want to safeguard ourselves against it. Why is it necessary, comrades? The comrades of the minority representing the point of view for the federated organization have never been able to bring themselves to admit that this was not a real labor party. The figures of the Federated Farmer-Labor Party were 500,000 or even 600,000 at the July 1923 convention. And, comrades, we must decide here now—we are starting off on a new leaf—we must have a clear understanding, and it must be put in the decision that it will be a real labor party, and not a fake caricature organization.

Comrade Ruthenberg said that they never stood for this kind of a federated party. Let me quote from the August Theses, which say the following:

We should create such local labor parties whenever they will have a size in the ratio of 10 to 1 to the membership of the Workers Party.

When we objected to this, when we did not want such a caricature party, they said to us, you want the whole labor movement before you are willing to form a labor party. But this is not so, I want to quote from our thesis of November 1923, which is as follows:

Our position is not based on the assumption that the entire labor movement must join the labor party at once, or that even a majority is necessary. But we hold that wherever it is formed, it must unite the labor party forces and have a genuine mass character.

We stand on this platform today and in my conversations with comrades of the Commission I think this is the meaning and intention of the Commission, and I think it should be stated very clearly in the resolution, and our amendment which clarifies and implies this point should be accepted. Comrade Ruthenberg says that the test of our attitude towards the resolution of a labor party campaign is the acceptance of the 500,000 statement. No, I think it is better to say our test, as mentioned by comrade Foster, is that we shall consult the Comintern when the time comes for the actual formation of a party, and it shall be done only by the consent and cooperation of the Comintern. On the one hand it is a guarantee that there will be no fake caricature party formed, and on the other hand it is a guarantee that there will be a party formed when there will be a substantial mass basis for it, regardless of the attitude of the bureaucracy of the trade unions.

One point more, comrade Ruthenberg stated it. I think in the main it is correct. And we can get together with comrade Piatnitsky’s Organization Department, and set up special organizational measures which we can agree upon.


1. Cannon is here referring to events at the CPPA’s February 1925 held in Chicago. See “Controversial Questions in the Workers Party of America.”

2. The final text of the Comintern resolution as published in the Daily Worker, 19 May 1925, included the following passage: “It may be that the mass support for the idea of the labor party will reveal itself so strongly in some cities and even in some states, that organizational measures can be taken without further hesitation. The formation of the national labor party should be advised against until at least 500,000 organized workers are definitely won over to it.”