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James P. Cannon

Lovestone Faction an Obstacle to Party Unity

ca. June 1927

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The following are partial, uncorrected, undated and unpublished transcripts of Cannon’s remarks to several sessions of the American Commission appointed toward the end of the Eighth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. The commission issued a “Resolution on the American Question’” which was endorsed by the Presidium of the ECCI on 1 July 1927. Both the Cannon-Weinstone-Foster bloc and the Lovestone faction initially claimed victory with the ECCI resolution. But in the all-out factional battle for control of the Workers Party which followed the ECCI decision, the Lovestone group managed, with the aid of the Comintern, to gain the upper hand. They won a majority of the delegates to the party’s Fifth Convention, held 31 August-7 September 1927.

Comrade Chairman and Comrades:

Since the time is limited it is obvious that I will not be able to deal with all the questions. I will only take some, particularly the internal party questions and the points of difference. We proceed here on the standpoint that the old factions in the party have been to a large extent outlived and that the problem we have is the problem to accelerate the process of breaking down the old divisions and forming the leadership on a broader and more collective basis than was possible before. We regard the course through which our group has passed as a part of this process: beginning with the split—first in the former majority group and second with the split which recently occurred in the Lovestone group represented by comrade Weinstone—then the combination of these two elements together to fight for the idea of unity and collective leadership in the party. We are of the opinion that the main line we followed throughout this course has been correct and in line with the natural development of the party and we stand by it.

We believe also that the problem now is to take a decisive, progressive step further in the direction of greater unity. We have this position and comrade Foster, having spoken for this in his speech—we agree with him on this point—and we thus speak here for a closer working together and a unity with the Foster group.

Comrade Pepper inquired as to who constituted our group. It is quite well known in the American party that our group is represented by one-third of the Central Committee. It consists of old revolutionaries of 15 to 20 years experience and is well known to all those who know the American movement. It is supported by strong sections in the party as well as in the Young Workers League, in the trade union work, etc. For example, the leading comrades in the Detroit Federation of Labor; in Minneapolis and in St. Paul the leading fractions of the party in the Central Labor Union; the leader of the left wing in the Chicago Federation of Labor; and a large number of influential functionaries in the party as well as in the Young Workers League have supported our standpoint.

I think we have two proposals before the commission. One is the proposal presented by our group which is also presented by comrade Foster and is the standpoint of the opposition in general in the party now, i.e., that we shall form a leadership on a collective basis drawing in the most responsible and qualified elements from the three groups in the party. We have the alternative proposition submitted in the speeches of Lovestone and Gitlow which in substance amounts to a proposal to unify the party by smashing the opposition groups. The very way in which they presented the question draws this conclusion. They try to picture the party situation as a situation of unity. Everything is all right in the party—only a little trouble on top with some disgruntled elements. The fact that these disgruntled elements are represented in such force that they represent a majority of the Central Committee, that they are such responsible and influential people as those who are representing the opposition here—who are by no means strangers either to the Comintern or to the party—this seems to have no significance to the Lovestone group. We are merely some disgruntled people and in their entire presentation they do not offer any proposal whereby they could come to an agreement with us. Their policy is to smash the opposition group. Therefore, I present to the commission this question: Can the Lovestone group lead a unity of the party? We say it cannot. We have all kinds of experiences, evidences, practices, the composition of the group and the relation of the forces to judge by. We say a combination of forces is necessary to lead the party. The Lovestone group cannot be entrusted with the monopoly of the leadership of the party for various reasons of policy both external and internal.

I want to state a few of the errors and mistakes which the Lovestone group has made and will make in the future unless there is a creative or a balanced leadership.

I will take the question of China and the question of the war danger which has already been presented by comrade Weinstone. On this question, just precisely as we warned the comrades in the Polcom—it was not a question of agitation against Great Britain; it was not a question of pointing out the role of Great Britain as the chief instigator in China and the general war danger. It was a question of combining in the proper form the agitation against Great Britain with the attack against our own powerful imperialism. That was not done in the correct way. Precisely as I warned the comrades, we carried through the agitation to such a point as to barely leave a dividing line between our party and the pacifists. When they are able to carry out demonstrations against Great Britain and to adopt resolutions in which there is no denunciation of imperialism in demonstrations controlled by our party—we say they are going over to the wrong line. The opposition raised this question in the Polcom at the time and when comrade Lovestone says that I made motions in the Polcom demanding the quite obvious policy that they should connect all agitation against Great Britain with the fight against our own imperialism—I say that is correct and when we return home I will make some more motions of this obvious character and see that it is done.

We criticized the Lovestone group for its policy in the miners union; that in the midst of this big upheaval, this life and death struggle by the unions, they could not see the ferment in the masses and were not sufficiently awake to justify the orientation towards a national conference of the opposition. They threw up their hands in horror at the very idea of such a perspective and that also is a part of their lack of sensitivity to the developments of the labor movement.

They cannot lead the party alone because they have too close relations with the right wing in the party. They have entered into too many obligations with them and they even appear here with a letter of recommendation from one of the supporters of Lore. They have to rely on such philistines to do their work.

* * *

The Lovestone group must be compelled to break its relations with the right wing in New York, and to unite itself with more reliable and more consistent Communist elements as represented in the opposition. It must be taken into account, comrades, that it was precisely in the period when the Lovestone group was splitting with such elements, led by Weinstone, who were among the founders of the party and most reliable elements of the party, that in the same period the Lovestone group was carrying out an alliance with the right wing, and admitting into their group every single one of the prominent leaders of the Lore group without exception. We criticize them because they do not approach in the proper spirit the proletarian and trade union elements in the party. They do not know how to unite with the Foster group which is an absolute necessity in the next stage of the party.

We are not willing to trust the Lovestone group with the monopoly of leadership because of its irresponsible attitude towards the party signalized, for example, by such an incident as occurred when comrade Lovestone, when he was general secretary of the party, left a meeting of the plenum of the Central Committee without an explanation. We say that such an attitude towards the party cannot be supported.

The Lovestone group, in the period in which it entered into unity with our group, conducted itself in an irresponsible and unprincipled and factional manner. It played with this big idea of unity—which is the biggest idea confronting the party—as a factional maneuver and not as a Communist, straightforward and political development necessary for the future of the party, and this can be substantiated by absolute evidence, with documents and facts to satisfy anyone who has doubts about it. For example, comrades, at the time that we were presumably working in unity with a common platform, comrade Lovestone was capable of writing in the following way: [citation not included in transcript].

This is the attitude towards party comrades which has made unity difficult for the Lovestone group to achieve.

A few days after we had entered into the unity resolution on the common platform, and had declared to the party that we were standing together as a united majority in the Central Executive Committee, Lovestone writes to Ballam the following week in the same language: [citation not included in transcript]. This was comrade Lovestone’s attitude to the unity resolution.

Now further evidence of the irresponsible factionalism of the Lovestone group is contained in material received from America even in the period since we have come to Moscow. The Lovestone group in the Political Committee has refused to carry out the agreement made at the plenum, viz.: to appoint a commission to investigate the critical situation in the South Slavic Federation. The Lovestone group in the Central Committee has called a membership meeting in Boston to discuss the internal party situation without authorization of the Political Committee. They have removed comrade Dunne from the District Executive Committee of the New York district; they have removed Ballam from the Secretariat; they have added two candidates to the DEC of New York; they have changed the majority in the DEC Political Committee of New York in the period since we came to Moscow attempting to decide the question of unity.

A further criticism of the Lovestone group is connected with the Pepper question. On this question, as well as some others, I will ask the indulgence of the commission to speak a little longer as was granted to all the other comrades.

Comrades, I want to speak in the most impersonal way and serious way about the question of comrade Pepper, not as a person, but as a problem—as an artificially added problem to our other difficulties in America. We have noted in the period since we came to Moscow a still greater sharpening of the factional relations of the Political Committee under the instruction of comrade Lovestone. We have noted that at several periods in the party when the groups were approaching towards unity, we have received some letter from comrade Pepper to the party; some new maneuver, some new scheme whereby the factional fires were intensified, and we turn to the comrades of the Executive Committee of the Communist International with a very direct request in the interests of the normal, natural and healthy development of the American party to relieve our party of this unnecessary difficulty, and let us contend with those difficulties which the objective circumstances in America make necessary.

[The transcript records that comrade Kuusinen interrupted Cannon at this point.]

I am sorry that the regulations became strict only when I began, because the things which I say have to be said and to be heard, and if not now, they will be heard later....

* * *

Since I have only five minutes I want to take up one point which I think is of special necessity to make clear: our attitude towards the groups on the question of leadership. In regards to the Foster group, as was stated in our speech by Weinstone the first day, we have maintained certain criticisms, some of which still remain. On the whole, however, in the past the differences between our group and the Foster group have grown less, and still further at this plenum, and especially after the discussion in the Profintern. We are of the opinion that the Foster group is politically necessary to the leadership of our party, not merely as trade unionists. During the past year we have maintained the policy of unity towards the Foster group but it has not succeeded because of the presence of the hangovers of the last fight. We believe that for the leadership of the party the road lies toward the Foster group through closer collaboration, more and closer work leading toward unity. We are ready to work together with the Foster group. We reject and condemn the hostile and factional attitude maintained by the majority of the Polburo, particularly since the death of Ruthenberg, toward the Foster group. We have points in common with both groups. We are ready to work with the Polburo on the same basis as we lay down here. But we say that this attitude of the Lovestone group of solving the question of unity by smashing the other groups, we say that they take the responsibility of continuing the factional fight. We say that it lies in the direction of breaking down the faction lines, the faction organizations, toward a genuine collective leadership. We believe that any attempt to solve the problem of leadership on the basis of the narrow Lovestone faction would only result in further and more difficulties which we know will lead not only to a more narrow leadership but a further split in the Lovestone group, as there is already a strong sentiment to split the Lovestone group further. And any attempt on this basis would turn the party backward.

Comrade Engdahl, in his very hostile speech in the same tone as Lovestone, Pepper and Gitlow’s speeches, stated that no one disproves the fact that the Lovestone group has a majority. We must reject this idea. We state that the attempts to represent the section elections in Chicago, New York and other places as a faction victory of the Lovestone group is an attempt to practice fraud. (Interjection by Engdahl: “A victory for the party.”) That has been your attitude—the party, you are the party, we are the interlopers—and it is because you have this attitude that you did not succeed in unifying the party. I hope that we made our position clear upon this point and along that line we are going to work in the future.

* * *

Comrades, the opposition groups are in agreement with the political line of the resolution on all points covered by it and believe that it provides a basis both for the progressive liquidation of the factional situation and for the development of party work, and especially the tasks imposed upon it by present conditions. We are in agreement with the emphasis placed upon the war danger, on the question of bourgeoisification. We believe that the resolution has provided the party with a clarified explanation of this problem which was threatening to become a serious obstacle to the party unification. We agree entirely with this section, both as to the character of the section and the emphasis placed upon various points, etc.[1]

On the trade union question we believe the resolution provides a basis for the complete liquidation of the controversies which have existed in the party which have been at the bottom of very much of the faction friction during the past two years. We are of the opinion that the resolution being proposed now provides a settlement of the important disputes on this field so that we can go back with united activities covering all aspects of the trade union question in the future.

On the question of the internal line of the party, I believe also that the resolution has recognized the actual state of affairs in the party and has prescribed the necessary measures accurately. The big task of the party leaders is unification. It is fully established in the resolution and we believe it is correct, that the problem of the party leadership, the problem of overcoming factionalism, has not to be solved by an annihilation of any group but by their absorption. The prerequisites for this are established by the fact that on all the important political questions there is either unanimity or sufficient agreement to work, and the means of closely working together and cooperating with the work of the party, leaving no basis for the retention of factional groupings and factional fighting. This is our standpoint. We believe the resolution is absolutely correct when it says that the groupings “are outlived now and block the further development of the party.” This is the standpoint we have had previously and we will continue to hold this view in the future.

On this basis of this political line, as embodied in the resolution, as well as on the internal questions, comrade Weinstone and myself have come to an understanding to work closer together already with the Foster group as we have previously informed the commission. We think we should point out what this signifies so there can be no misunderstanding. First, it is an agreement to work closer together, in closer harmony, in collaboration and endeavoring to come together without friction. The question of our working together is especially facilitated by the fact that disagreements on the trade unions questions, which in the past have been a source of friction, have been liquidated by the resolution.[2]

We are in agreement with the necessity of collective leadership and against the theory that any group in the party at the present time and under present conditions should have the hegemony. Before the resolution was adopted we presented these points to the commission pointing out that the basis for unity had been arrived at on political grounds. Therefore, we see no reason to continue the fight and we propose to abandon it. We offer and propose to take the same attitude towards the Lovestone group. The agreement which we have reached, to work together, is in no way a proposal to fight against the Lovestone group if they will agree to work with us. On the contrary, it is at the same time a proposal to unite with them on the same grounds. It is not our intention to go back to any of the old forms, or form new ones, but on the contrary, to take steps for the formation of a collective leadership without factions. We believe the remarks made by comrade Lovestone on this point are already an indication and a threat against the new opposition groups which we hope will be corrected in further discussion. We hereby declare for unity and harmonious collaboration with the Lovestone group on the basis of the resolution presented. We do not speak here for fight on any grounds except opposition to the resolution. We believe the next thing necessary now to sincerely develop and carry out the line of the resolution is a united attitude on the part of the Lovestone group which up to now has been lacking. Especially on the theory of hegemony. They must be prepared to meet us on the same grounds that we offer to meet them.

In order to realize in the closest possible way the objectives outlined in the resolution we believe the organizational guarantees are necessary and must be insisted upon. This arises out of the experiences of the past which put us in a position where the organization of a convention with a lot of factional friction and suspicion can become possible only if there are sufficient organizational guarantees for free discussion, free elections, etc., as provided in the resolution. Any attempt to weaken the organizational guarantees set up in the resolution, in our opinion, weakens the resolution itself.

I wish to add just one word of a personal nature on the criticism of comrade Dunne in the resolution. The records of the Polcom and of the party show that on all these points upon which comrade Dunne is criticized, I have disagreed with him and voted in the contrary way. However, I am willing to state that a certain responsibility should be made against me to the effect that I did not criticize him in a sharp enough manner in view of the fact that we were working together. I am willing to have such a statement in the resolution.[3]


1. The section on bourgeoisification in the final resolution, dated 1 July 1927 and published in the DW on 3 August 1927, read in part:

“American imperialism is still in a position to provide for a large section of the working class a comparatively high standard of living. In comparison with the position of the workers in European capitalist countries, the American working class as a whole still occupies a privileged position. What Engels wrote to Marx in 1858 about the bourgeoisification of the British proletariat may be applied to a certain extent even today to the American working class: `The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so much so that it appears that this most bourgeois of all nations evidently wants to bring things about to the point where it will have a bourgeois aristocracy and bourgeois proletariat alongside of the bourgeoisie. Of course this is to a certain extent natural on the part of a nation exploiting the whole world’.”

While insisting that American imperialism “still is not powerful enough to corrupt the entire working class,” the resolution went on to call on the party to “carry on an energetic struggle against this bourgeoisification.”

2. The resolution endorsed Foster’s position by insisting that the party “support the TUEL to a much greater extent than hitherto.” But it endorsed the Cannon-Dunne position in insisting that the TUEL be a broad united-front organization. Moreover, the resolution represented a major break with Foster’s policy of only working within AFL unions, declaring that “the party should not limit itself only to the work in the existing trade unions.” It also called for a party campaign to organize the unorganized.

3. The resolution raised a number of criticisms of the party’s trade-union cadre, accusing the needle trades leaders, Wortis and Zimmerman, of “right deviations,” and Joseph Zack of wanting to abandon the AFL. It was particularly harsh against William F. Dunne:

“Other deviations manifested themselves in the case of comrade W.F. Dunne who sized up the possibility of the struggle of the workers in a pessimistic manner and through such estimations arrived at false conclusions. Among such deviations are proposals imposing limitations on the leading role of the TUEL in certain cases and intending to take the initiative out of the hands of the TUEL. Comrade Dunne has also in an article in the Daily Worker of March 24th, 1927, made the impermissible attempt to differentiate between the reactionary Green and the reactionary Woll, both leaders of the AFL, in favor of Green.”

It appears that most of the CEC joined Dunne in differentiating between Woll and Green—see Cannon’s speech to the May CEC plenum, “For the Liquidation of Factionalism.”


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