Back to the “Early Years of American Communism” Index
Back to the James P. Cannon Internet Archive
Back to the Marxists Internet Archive

James P. Cannon

Our World Party at Work

A Summary of the Proceedings of the Enlarged Executive of the Communist International

27 May 1926

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 about the work of the Comintern Executive Committee’s Sixth Plenum was published in the Daily Worker.

The material of the sessions of the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International, including the resolutions and speeches, are now available in the English language. It is one of the foremost duties of all active party members to study these documents most attentively and to draw from them the necessary conclusions for the correct orientation of our party.

The material is so voluminous, and the subjects dealt with are so many and varied, that an adequate survey of the work of the plenum cannot be given in a single article. The most that can be done is to give an outline and to indicate the main points. Such an outline would be of some value if it would stimulate party comrades to an earnest study of the resolutions and discussions entire. Such is the purpose of this article.

The main points dealt with in the document of the plenum are as follows:

1. The plenum confirmed the judgment pronounced a year ago in regard to the partial and relative stabilization of capitalism in Europe, which brought with it a retardation of the development of the proletarian revolution. The Comintern estimate of the so-called stabilization of course has nothing in common with that of the social democrats, who imagine that capitalism has been reconstituted for another hundred years. On the contrary, the Comintern maintains its premise that the capitalist system has not recovered from the effects of the World War and the sharpening of its inner contradictions and will not recover. International proletarian revolution remains the perspective of the Comintern.

2. The tactics of the Comintern, based upon the estimate of the economic and political situation, have their center of gravity in the fight for winning other social democratic and non-party workers to the side of Communism through the tactics of the united front. All attempts of certain left elements to reject or stultify the united front tactics have been completely repudiated. It was clearly established that the united front tactic is the indisputable weapon of the Communist parties in carrying out their historic task of mobilizing the masses for the struggle against capitalism, and of leading them by degrees to the platform of Communism.

3. The main slogans of the plenum were: “To the masses!” “Go deeper into the unions.” “Establish connections with workers everywhere, in all fields of activity and struggle!” “Identify the Communist Party with all the life and activity of the working class!” “Guard against isolation as well as against lack of principle!”

4. The necessity of establishing connections and influence amongst the working masses, especially in this period of retarded revolutionary development, puts before the Communist parties as a life and death question the necessity to struggle against and completely annihilate the ultraleftist and sectarian tendencies which would lead the party to isolation. The main struggle of the plenum was conducted against the ultraleftist tendencies. This does not signify, by any means, however, that the Comintern “is going to the right,” as some people have attempted to maintain. It was pointed out in all the discussions that this would be a completely false estimate of the policy of the Comintern. It is not a question of substituting left digressions with right deviations, but of putting the fight against deviations concretely in each case and of maintaining the clear Leninist line, which does not recognize the legitimacy of either right or left tendencies in Communism.

The right danger still exists and will be fought against by the Comintern. In the French party, for example, the right danger is the greatest danger now, although the plenum was obliged also to combat “left” tendencies there.

But for most of the parties under the present conditions (and this applies also for America, where the connection with the workers is still weak), the greatest danger is sectarianism, which would deprive the party of the possibility of gaining influence amongst the masses. The thinly disguised attempt to form an international left fraction only emphasizes the danger. The main emphasis in most cases at present must be placed on the struggle against this ultraleft tendency, but this can only be carried on successfully if the parties at the same time repulse the right elements.

5. The struggle for influence over the masses, through the tactics of the united front, naturally finds its most important field in the trade union movement, since the trade unions are the elementary and principal mass organizations of the workers. The fight for world trade union unity, in which substantial successes have already been gained by the Comintern and Profintern, remains as before in the very foreground of the struggle. The necessity of increasing manyfold the activities and the practical work of the Communists in the trade unions was strongly emphasized.

6. Following along the same general line of the united front tactic to win influence for the parties among the working masses, the plenum raised one of its most important questions, the question of Communist work in non-party mass organizations of all kinds. This question occupied a special place on the agenda and much time and attention was devoted to discussion of the ways of working in this field. The narrow conception of party work, in the sense of only internal party work, was isolated in this plenum like a complete stranger. It was made very clear that party work is also, and even principally, work outside of the party, amongst nonparty masses. Great stress was laid upon the necessity of giving concrete organizational forms to the sympathetic sentiment towards Communism and towards the Russian Revolution, which has been developed through propagandistic work. Of all the existing non-party mass organizations, the International Red Aid was declared to be the one having first claim upon the members of the Communist Party.[1]

In connection with this question of non-party mass organizations it is worthwhile to quote the following paragraph from the resolution adopted by the plenum:

Party executives should not overlook the fact that a considerable number of our party members in all the capitalist countries have not yet fully understood the obligations as emphasized by the Third World Congress, under which every Communist is to do his share of work, and also that they consider as party work only work which is within the Communist Party organization. Therefore it is essential to impress on every member of a party nucleus, of a Communist fraction, that his work among non-party social democrats, syndicalist workers—in factories, trade unions, cooperatives, workers’ sports organizations, working women’s organizations, sympathizing mass organizations, and also among the peasantry—is also party work, and that for the majority of party members it must even be considered as the most important part of party work. They should be careful not to lose their identity among the masses, but should deport themselves as revolutionary organizers of mass activity.

7. Considerable attention was given at this plenum to the question of internal policies and tasks of the Comintern and of the national sections. The Comintern remains as before the centralized world organization with international leadership.

But on the initiative of the Russian delegation a resolution, was adopted declaring for more independence and self-activity of the national parties. The parties have to stand on their own feet more—select their own leaders, etc. The leadership of the Communist International must assume a more collective character through the real and actual participation in the work of the ECCI to a much greater extent than before by the foremost representatives of the important national parties.

Above all, the central committees of the parties must master the task of maintaining their leadership by virtue of their own abilities and influence, and must not rely too much on the support of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Comrade Zinoviev said:

Moscow has broad shoulders.... Now is the time to say to all our parties: “More independence.” Nearly every party has had its own experience, its achievements, and errors. Now is the time for more independence and not simply for waiting to hear from Moscow. When I say this, my words have nothing in common with the anti-Moscow and right elements, for such an attitude is tantamount to a denial of proletarian dictatorship. Such moods among the ultraleft and right are enthusiastically welcomed by the bourgeoisie and social democracy. I realize that sometimes these moods have their origin in a strong nationalist feeling, and comrade Lenin has always warned us of this danger.

Hand in hand with the policy of greater independence for the national sections goes the policy of greater responsibility by them for the leadership of the Comintern as a whole. The resolution of the plenum on this question makes it incumbent upon the larger sections of the Communist International, the German, French, Czech and Italian sections, to appoint two representatives each, and of other larger parties (including the Oriental and American parties) one representative each, who will participate in the work of the Executive Committee of the Communist International for a period of at least six months after the enlarged executives.

8. After the lessons drawn by the plenum from the experiences of the various parties in dealing with internal party questions, there cannot be any doubt that in all the parties (and especially in America where the party is as yet comparatively small and weak) a real genuine party democracy must be established unconditionally and without delay. The practice of controlling parties by mechanical means, of setting up military factional regimes, of excluding qualified comrades from participation in party work and leadership—all these practices have ended in complete bankruptcy everywhere and have brought a number of parties to the danger of disintegration and smash-up. The classic illustration of this was in the German party. But in the French party, and in a number of others, the same mechanical methods brought the same evil results. These practices have everywhere led towards isolation of the leadership from the party membership, and consequently to the isolation of the party from the masses. Control of the party apparatus alone is not leadership. Only those who are able to lead the parties politically and ideologically and morally have any legitimate claim to leadership in the future.

9. A striking feature of the plenum was the prominence of the Oriental questions and of much greater participation than ever before of representatives of Oriental parties and revolutionary movements. In contradistinction to the Second International, which bases itself upon the upper strata of the working class in “civilized” countries, the Communist International had representatives at its sessions of all the oppressed and exploited people from all parts of the world. The presence at the session of the delegates from the so-called backward countries and the exploited colonies of the world imperialists, working hand in hand with the representatives of the revolutionary workers in the highly developed capitalist countries, was a living and most convincing proof that the Communist International is in reality a world party of all the oppressed and exploited people of the earth, fighting as an international army for the international proletarian revolution.



1. The International Red Aid, also widely known by its Russian acronym MOPR, was founded in 1922 out of a successful international campaign to aid the victims of white terror in Poland. Its aim was to- aid “the imprisoned and persecuted fighters for the revolution,” and it greatly expanded its international scope in 1924-25. Rose Karsner was the American delegate to MOPR’s second international conference, held in connection with the ECCI’s Fifth Plenum in March-April 1925. It was in Moscow at that time that Cannon and Bill Haywood first discussed founding an American section of the organization, the International Labor Defense.