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James P. Cannon

Theses on the Party Factional Situation

ca. May 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The following are three sections excerpted from lengthy, unpublished, undated and unsigned theses, apparently written by Cannon and William Weinstone for submission to the American Commission which was convened in Moscow to resolve the question of the American party leadership in the aftermath of the sudden death of general secretary C.E. Ruthenberg. The commission was appointed toward the end of the Eighth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, held 18-30 May 1927. Cannon and Weinstone were included among the American plenum delegates only after the Comintern overruled Lovestone’s attempt to exclude them. They arrived in Moscow on the last day of the plenum.

Party Reorganization and General Party Work

The following statement is an amplification of the resolution of the CI on the reorganization, a brief examination of the shortcomings in the general party work politically and organizationally.

It must be stated at the very outset that the entire party work has been influenced and affected by the factional struggle within the party that has put an obnoxious impression upon every phase of party work, blurring and obliterating the necessary political crystallization of party thought by means of exchange of opinions and hampering as well the thorough reorganization of the party along the lines pointed out in the resolution of the CI.

For a correct situation of the state of our party organizationally there must be stressed the necessity of examining our present party cadres taking into consideration all the losses sustained after the reorganization on the one hand and the net results gained from the new membership drive (Ruthenberg Drive) on the other. This examination must include the following points:

a) The district distribution of the party membership.

b) The distribution of party membership with regard to industry (heavy industry, light industry, which light industry, proportions, etc.).

c) The distribution of the party membership along language lines and a special occupational investigation in each of them.

d) A new statistical investigation of the trade union affiliation of the party membership.

e) An examination into the circulation of the entire party press with its language divisions.

f) The utilization and distribution of party functionaries.

There must also be examined the question of how far the party has advanced towards centralization and integration into one ideological and organizational unit responding to all actual party problems and participating in the carrying through of all directions of the party.

The practice observed in the life of the smaller party units clearly shows that a good number of them stand altogether aloof from party problems and activities. There is the noteworthy deficiency in our general political and agitprop work which brings with it the absolutely insufficient manner in which the party membership participates in the political and other experiences of the party which, until now, have been reflected only at the very top of the party organization. The main fault of the situation lies in the fact that this very top of the party itself has not taken the trouble of evaluating in a halfway sufficient manner its political experience.

As a proof of this statement we must underline the absolutely important fact that the party has done practically nothing in order to clarify the question of the character and possibilities of a third party movement nor has it attempted to analyze how far the organization of the labor party is related to this third party problem. No analysis has been made of the La Follette movement and its failure.

Similarly the party has not endeavored to evaluate its political experience in such cases where it has presented its own candidates independently. Despite the fact that the results of elections show a remarkable disproportion between the mass influence that we are able to obtain and count upon in various cases when we call upon the masses for support (protest meetings, etc.), and the net numerical election results that are obviously much smaller, we have not tried to find the reason for such disproportion. The usual explanation that our sympathizers are not eligible to vote is superficial and, besides, untrue. Moreover, we have yet the facts of rather remarkable local attainments in such cases as in Massachusetts, California, and North Dakota, but we have not paid political attention to these phenomena.

Further proof of our deficiencies in the political work is the manner in which we have dealt with the question of the farm crisis and its political implications in general, with respect to our possibilities in particular. In this connection the fact must be underlined that the party has not indicated in any manner what course it has taken toward a member of the party in the legislature of North Dakota.[1] This incident has passed without the slightest response from the party that apparently has not only failed to broaden its basis in North Dakota in consequence of this fact, but has apparently failed even to keep up a necessary and sufficient political connection with this isolated party post.

There has been in the past too frequent presentation of new slogans without sufficient attempt at their realization. Happily this practice is slowly disappearing now, without, however, being substituted by any systematic plan of the activization and politicalization of the party. The tendency of individual manifestos and individual directions instead of manifestos and directions of the party must be eliminated.

A part of the fault in the political work of the party lies in the deficiencies of its agitprop department. It has been fully realized by the party circles that this department has not fulfilled its tasks. There has not been any central activity that would place the various organizations of the party in contact with the political line of the party. Moreover, the issuance of party literature was conducted in an incidental and at times absolutely factional manner.

The recent moving of the party organ [Daily Worker] to New York while the party leadership remains in Chicago has created a situation where there exists decentralization and dislocation of the political work of the party that in the long run must create very obnoxious results for the further political work of the party. In this connection must be undertaken a general reorganization of the entire party press that would be in line with the program of Americanization presented in the later points.

The theoretical organ of the party has to be reorganized in order to serve truly the ideological needs of the party. As it is at present, it presents a picture of a casual and superficial character.

The Americanization of the party in the Bolshevist sense. A clear-cut program of Americanization has to be put through. This is necessitated by the fact that for reasons growing out of its origin and composition, the party during its entire history has been influenced by a tendency to adopt tactics, methods of work and general practices which were not sufficiently grounded in a realistic survey of the objective circumstances in which the party must carry on its work, and the stage and tempo of the class development of the American workers. A whole series and system of errors which have hampered the development of the party can be traced to this source. The “Americanization” of the party in the Bolshevist sense of the word is a task which must now be taken up in earnest and progressively accomplished. This slogan must pass from the stage of formal resolutions and be more concretely defined and applied.

The party must be oriented upon the facts and realities of the class struggle in America. The party tasks and slogans must be formulated more concretely on the basis of the American economic and political situation internally and externally.

The tactic of the united front must be conceived not as an abstraction but as an approach to the masses in accordance with all the possibilities and peculiarities of the present stage of working class development in America.

The party leadership must develop the logical implications of the reorganization of the party to the end that all party members become active and conscious participants in the general party activities and tasks. The fusion of the various nationalities in the party with the native and English-speaking members in common activities must be accelerated.

The language sections of the party, in their daily activities, their propaganda and press, must, to a much greater degree than heretofore, react to the class struggle in America. The tendencies towards isolation of the members of the language sections of the party from the general party work and the limitation of their activity to workers and organizations of their own nationality alone must be overcome by systematic educational efforts of the leading organs of the party, particularly of the language bureaus. The “home country” ideology must be replaced by planful working out of American revolutionary class consciousness penetrating into all sections of the American working class.

The party press of all languages must become politically and ideologically centralized under the leadership of the central party organs and bear a uniform general character. They must devote themselves primarily to the living issues of the class struggle in America and become real organizers of the workers in the struggle.

The party must study and take into account the traditions and psychology of the American workers. It must learn how to approach the workers and speak a language in its propaganda which is comprehensible to them. The party terminology must be simplified and revised from this standpoint.

More attention must be devoted to the native American workers and much greater efforts must be made to attract them to the party. The workers in the party who are in contact with the masses, particularly those who are closely connected with the trade unions, must be deliberately encouraged and assisted to play a more prominent and decisive role in the leading organs of the party in all of its subdivisions. The continuity of the American revolutionary movement and the connection of the party with the movements which preceded it must be established in the propaganda of the party. Special care must be devoted to the building up, the preservation and the appropriation for the party of the revolutionary traditions of the American working class.

The Party Press: In respect to the press there must be created a special press committee in which the editors of the various party organs should participate under the direction of the committee. The duty of the press committee will be to unify the character of the party press by:

a) Placing identical articles on general political and industrial problems of the party in all language papers.

b) The control of the language press as far as their “national” ideology and policy is concerned and the placing in the central organ as well as interchange in the language press of such material as sheds light upon the particular “national” question and the particular language bureau in the respective fields of activity.

c) The accumulation in the party press of such material appearing in the language press particularly of workers’ correspondence that sheds light upon the industrial and shop conditions of the workers.

Similarly a press fund must be established that should be created upon a basis of contributions from all undertakings for the sustenance of the various party organs and should serve as a steady reservoir from which to strengthen this or another financially weak party organ.

Party Organization Department: There must be called into life the nonexistent organization department of the CEC whose duty it shall be to centralize the entire strictly organizational work of the party under the direction of the Polcom. The organization department must investigate all district and other reports on organization work of the party as well as check up on those party units that do not report upon their activities. It must further report to the Polcom on all failures of the various organizations to put into life the directions of the party. It must further elaborate an organization plan for the systematic work of the party subjecting it to constant revision on the basis of actual experience.

A competent party member must be entrusted with initiating systematic research work along the lines of party needs offering thus a basis for a clearer understanding of the problem of the party.

Negro Work: In the field of Negro work, the party has failed to realize the opportunities which presented themselves due to the weak and largely unorganized American Negro Labor Congress. The influx of Negroes into industry, the formation of large industrial centers of Negroes in the North, East and West, the growing interest among Negroes in the liberation movements in the colonies and semicolonial countries, the growth of the Soviet Union, the industrialization of the South, provide fertile fields for organization of Negroes into trade unions and for more extensive struggle of the Negroes for equal rights under the influence of our party. For this purpose it is necessary to establish a functioning center for Negro work, and for reorganization of the American Negro Labor Congress, as well as the endeavor to link up our work closer with the existing Negro organization through common united front campaigns and through the establishment of interracial labor committees. The organization of Negro workers into trade unions and the Negro tenant and poor farmers into farmers organizations and tenant leagues is an important task of our work. The linking up of Negro labor with white labor and Negro farmers with white farmers in the general movement of the workers must be always borne in mind. The establishing of a central organ appearing regularly is a task which must be hastened without delay.

Women’s Work: The party in various districts, particularly in the New York district, has made important strides forward in women’s work. The apathy and disinterestedness towards this field of activities has been wearing off. The party’s progress in this work has been hindered by the lack of a center for this work in the CEC. It is necessary to speedily establish this center and to direct our attention not only for the organization of housewives (in which some successes have been achieved) but in the organization of the factory working women through the formation of women’s delegate conferences, and drawing the working women into the political struggle of the working class. The establishment of women’s factory correspondents conferences is a useful step in this direction. Systematic and persistent organization of the party apparatus for women’s work by the CEC and districts must be speedily accomplished as a condition for the development of our women’s work.

Young Workers League: The party is faced with the task of building a Young Workers League which shall have numerical strength at least double that of the party. The YWL must be converted into a powerful reservoir of strength for the party.

Even though the masses of young workers in this country are still politically apathetic and under the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie, the objective conditions for the building of a mass Young Communist League exist: the young workers are the most exploited part of the working class.

In the past not sufficient attention was paid to the development of the YWL into a genuine youth organization and its tendency was to merely become a sectarian section of the party. This reflex on the mass activities of the YWL had a still more marked influence on the internal life of the league. This can be seen in the fact that the majority of the league membership is foreign-born, about 65 percent of the members are party members and the social composition of the league is still bad. Though with the development of the unification process in the league and the conscious reorientation of the league towards the young workers in the factories a slight improvement can be seen in the national and social composition.

The party is the political leader of the YWL and the YWL must support the CEC of the party and be enrolled in all its campaigns. Within these campaigns the YWL with the help of the party develops the special youth aspects. Though the party is the political leader of the YWL and enrolls the league in all its campaigns, it does not mean that the league must merely be occupied with high politics and the details of the tactical lines of the party. On the contrary, it must be occupied more with the daily questions of the life of the youth in America.

The party must give added attention to the league by helping it become a broad and open organization accessible to all young workers. The YWL must understand how to apply broad and flexible methods and forms which take into consideration the present stage of development of the class consciousness of the working youth. Its agitation and propaganda must be simple and attractive, and all its activities must tend in the direction of Americanizing and proletarianizing the league in a Bolshevist sense.

Only through the rigid application of these tasks will the YWL be set well on the road towards becoming a mass Young Communist League of the American working class youth. An ideological campaign shall be carried on throughout the party to acquaint the members with the role and special problems of the YWL.

Internal Party Situation

In the party at the present time we are confronted with a factional situation which has grown very acute in recent months.

The main reasons for the factional condition are as follows:

1. Differences over questions of external policy as indicated in the theses of the three groups.

2. A tendency toward permanent factional organization on the part of both the Lovestone and Foster groups which has been leading to a “two-party system”—two parties in one.

3. The factional regime established in the party by the Lovestone group which has been a barrier to the unification of the party.

The Lovestone group which for the past 21 months has controlled the party apparatus has failed in the task of unifying the party leadership and liquidating the factionalism. This failure stands out all the more conspicuously in view of the fact that at the May and November plenums (1926) unanimous political resolutions to which all groups contributed were adopted, and in view of the further fact that during the past year the CEC did not have to contend with a factional opposition obstructing the work.

The present majority was given exceptional opportunities to unite the party. An examination of the facts proving its failure and the reasons which contributed to this result will throw light on the question of whether this faction in the future can be depended on to overcome the factional divisions and unite the collective leadership of the party.

The “Unity Resolution” of November, by which the majority of the Polcom united with the Cannon-Dunne group on the basis of a common platform, was recognized by the CI and by the large majority of the party membership as a progressive step toward the breakdown of the old factional divisions and the unification of the party. In spite of the common platform agreed upon, this “unity” was soon broken. It could not succeed for the principal reason that it was conceived and entered into by the Lovestone group as a factional maneuver. The resolution was not accepted and carried out in good faith. The Lovestone group all the time maintained a separate faction and followed a policy of discrimination against the other signatories to the unity resolution, and continued “unity negotiating” with the Foster group and the Cannon-Dunne group, attempting to play one against the other, without sincere intentions in regard to either. Such practices, which are fully established by fact and documents, broke up the process of unification which was commenced by the adoption of the unity resolution.

The factional course embarked upon by the Lovestone group during the past year artificially prevented any actual developments toward unity and consolidation and rendered an eventual outbreak of factional struggle inevitable. This course estranged and repulsed the Cannon-Dunne group in the Central Committee, helped to justify and strengthen the maintenance of the Foster group and facilitated its consolidation as an opposition. And, finally, the Lovestone group, having failed to effect a stable unity with any part of the former majority, brought about a split in its own ranks.

This split was caused by:

1. Opposition within the group, led by Weinstone, to the tendency of the Lovestone group of maintaining narrow factional groupings and especially the underestimation of the necessity of drawing American and trade unionist elements into effective leadership of the party and establishing a condition of closest cooperation and collective activity with such elements of the party.

2. The determination to transfer the struggle for unity, which had been carried on within the group for more than a year, openly to the party and CI.

3. Opposition to the vacillating external policy of the group in following a tendency to the left, particularly in questions of the united front, and, on the other hand, overemphasis on personal relations (Lovestone) with leaders of the miners union, and unprincipled relations with party right wing elements in New York.

4. This conflict existed for a long time in the group. Shortly before the death of comrade Ruthenberg attempts were being made to adjust the differences in agreement with the other groups. The irresponsible policy of comrade Lovestone broke up all these efforts and forced matters to the point of a split.

The Factional Regime of the Lovestone Group

The factional regime of the Lovestone group can be fully proven by an abundance of indisputable facts, among which are the following:

1. Maintaining permanent caucus organization in the Political Committee and deciding all important questions in private meetings before the official meetings of the Political Committee, thus reducing the latter body to a “rubber stamp” for caucus decisions and depriving other members of the Polcom of any real and decisive participation. This practice became so well established that decisions of the caucus were frequently carried out without the formality of approval by the Polcom.

2. The Lovestone group developed the theory of permanent factional control by the faction as now constituted and made no real efforts for actual fusion with other elements.

3. Systematic and excessive factionalism in organization questions, language sections, etc.

a) Appointment of poorly qualified district organizers in Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle. Refusal to take any action to correct gross errors of district organizer in Cleveland.

b) Supported unprincipled and ultrafactional group in leadership of South Slavic section against other groups having more correct policy, greater ability and support of great majority of membership. This group, the Novak-Zinich group, went so far as to issue factional circulars against their opponents calling them “fascists,” “blackshirts” and the like. They went to the extent of organizing a campaign to expel comrade Fisher, one of the oldest and best leaders of the South Slavic section, on the charge that he is “not a Communist,” and they published an article by comrade Fisher in which his own meaning had been changed and new material inserted which completely distorted his position and put him in a false position before the membership. In spite of these outrageous methods, the Lovestone group, having a majority of the Polcom, consistently supported the Novak-Zinich group, gave them control of the section by mechanical and artificial means, and denied the other comrades any redress.

c) The Lovestone group deliberately intervened to prevent and break up a natural and healthy process of unification taking place between the factions in the Young Workers League under the inspiration and guidance of the YCI.[2] The Lovestone group insisted on the permanent maintenance of a faction in the YWL and has even resorted to direct and mechanical organizational interference to prevent a majority of the National Executive Committee of the YWL from carrying out decisions to facilitate the unity.

d) The Lovestone group entered into a factional alliance with the party right wing in the needle trades and makes unnecessary organizational concessions to them. The removal of Zack as secretary of the Needle Trade Committee and appointment of Gitlow was a part of this policy. At the last meeting of the Polcom the majority refused repeated demands and voted down all motions to reject the candidacy of comrade Wortis (one of the most prominent representatives of the right tendency) as secretary during the impending new strike of the Furriers.

e) Followed a narrow factional policy in the organization questions in the Finnish section basing itself entirely on the small faction of the old ultraleft in the section, repulsing and breaking up the bloc with the center, and creating a dangerous ferment of discontent and dissatisfaction throughout the section by a policy of organizational removals and discriminations.

f) A policy of the Jewish section which has kept up artificially a state of acute crisis for the past year.[3]

g) Attempt to break up the personnel of the party apparatus in New York where a genuine unity policy was being carried out and a real process of unification taking place.

h) Factional exploitation of the death of comrade Ruthenberg and the Ruthenberg Drive: 1) factional articles of Lovestone, Bedacht, Minor, etc.; 2) factional organization of memorial meetings, sending Bedacht and Zam for caucus work on memorial meetings tour and excluding Foster, Cannon and others; 3) presenting Ruthenberg by these means as leader of faction and not of party; 4) inferentially trying to weaken and minimize all the other leaders of the party.



1. An article entitled “North Dakota’s Communist Legislator” in the Workers Monthly (April 1925) described one A.C. Miller as the “first Communist farmer to be elected to a legislative body in the U.S.” Miller, the son of a refugee from the German Revolution of 1848, had been a member of the Socialist Party. He joined the Workers Party in 1923. The article did not mention what party slate he ran on.

The Workers Party did not run candidates in the North Dakota state elections in either 1924 or 1926. It supported the slate of the North Dakota Farmer-Labor Party in the 1926 local elections (it also supported the candidates of state Farmer-Labor parties in Montana, Minnesota, Washington and South Dakota). The North Dakota Farmer-Labor Party was founded in December 1925 in Bismarck, where the Workers Party agricultural organizer, Alfred Knutson, lived. Knutson was editor of the United Farmer, journal of the American Farmers Educational League, American affiliate of the Comintern’s Peasant International. He was a supporter of the Lovestone faction.

2. The leadership of the Young Communist International had developed an interest in the American faction fight because of the influence of N. Nasanov. Nasanov, a young Russian Communist who had been working in China, was sent to the United States as punishment after he signed a letter critical of the policy of the Chinese Communist Party in March 1927. Under his tutelage a “Unity Caucus” had been founded to end factionalism in the Young Workers League.

Nasanov later played a role in the discussions on the American Negro question at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928. He was killed in the Stalin purges. Nasanov’s letter from China, which was coauthored with N. Fokine and A. Albrecht, was published as an appendix in Leon Trotsky’s Problems of the Chinese Revolution (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1932), p. 397-492.

3. The majority of the Jewish Federation leadership had been supporters of Ludwig Lore and the Foster-Cannon faction. After the Ruthenberg-Lovestone group won party leadership at the Fourth Convention in August 1925, they deposed the old majority of the Jewish Federation Bureau, installing a majority of their own faction supporters under the leadership of Benjamin Lifshitz. There followed a year of factional infighting, with the Political Committee often fighting over issues like the editorship of Federation newspapers and Communist work within the Jewish organization, the Workmen’s Circle.