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James P. Cannon

The Red Month of November

For the Third Annual Conference of the International Labor Defense

Published November 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 article by Cannon was published in the Labor Defender, monthly journal of the International Labor Defense.

A red stream runs through the month of November, marking in its course many struggles of the working class of this country, here with defeat, there with victory, always with inspiring record of working class courage, exemplary in its noble devotion to the cause of the oppressed, magnificent incidents of solidarity and self-sacrifice, instructive milestones along the difficult road to liberation. It is a record to sharpen the hatred of labor to jailers and assassins, to increase the respect and pride we have for our fighters.

On the eleventh day of November 1887, Albert R. Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hung on the scaffold of Cook County.[1] Louis Lingg was either murdered or committed suicide in the death cell. Other of their comrades were sent to serve long terms in prison. They were heroes of an early day. They were the pioneers of the eight-hour day movement, and their crime was so heinous in the eyes of the master class that nothing but their blood would satisfy the vampires whose profits and power they menaced.

On November 19, 1915, a worker was stood up against the stone wall of the penitentiary at Salt Lake City. At the command, the firing squad sent its deadly bullets through the body of Joe Hill. We know why Joe Hill died, and it was not because of the “murder” he was charged with committing. We know that Joe Hill died for the class he fought for, for whom he composed his rebel songs, whom he organized to break their chains. Member of the IWW, a migratory worker who tasted the lash of exploitation in railroad and construction work, in the harvest fields and the lumber camps, he combined shrewd common sense with a vision of the future society where workers are not legally murdered behind tall stone walls to keep out the protests of the labor movement.

A year later, the black reaction took its toll again. Ten score of workers, on their way by steamer from Seattle to Everett for a free speech fight, were ambushed from the dock by power- and whisky-drunk deputies. Fusillades were fired into the gay and determined group from every direction. The workers, cornered by the hidden “heroes,” fought back against tremendous odds. When the last shot had been fired, and the last note of Hold the Fort had died away, the workers counted Felix Baran, John Looney, Hugo Gerlot, Abraham Rabinowitz and Gustav Johnson among their martyred dead. Others were swept away by the sea. Scores were frightfully wounded. Frenchman, Irishman, German, Jew and Swede-all gave their lives in the fight.[2] To this day, and for many days to come, the workers pledge themselves to these brave spirits in the words of the Northwest rebels: We never forget!

Centralia on November 11th, 1919. The attack on the IWW hall by the businessmen’s uniformed mob, and the kidnapping of Wesley Everest to be diabolically tortured, mutilated, suffering a dozen deaths in one before he was hung and shot. And the aftermath: the farcical trial and conviction of Eugene Barnett, John Lamb, Bland, McInerney and their fellow workers for a crime that should have been charged to their enemies. The Centralia IWW are still in prison at Walla Walla, victims of capitalist vengeance.

November 7, 1917! The rising of tens of millions, the liberation of all the Russias! The opening of a new epoch for all the exploited and oppressed is marked by this day of the seizure of power by the Russian workers and peasants. Who but the working class could maintain its power for ten years in the face of such obstacles and poisonous opposition! The brush of revolution has covered one-sixth of the earth with the red of freedom, and it sweeps on inexorably over the rest of the world.

It is no accident that the Third Annual Conference of International Labor Defense is being held on the fortieth anniversary of the execution of the Haymarket martyrs. The day was deliberately chosen to commemorate this historic episode in the American class struggle, and to work in a manner that will enable the ILD to carry the Haymarket tradition forward in the building of a powerful class defense movement.

It is only a little over a year now since the close of the Second Annual Conference of International Labor Defense but the events of this period have confirmed many times over the basic idea of a non-partisan working class defense movement which is the rock upon which the ILD is being built.

Whatever skepticism existed about International Labor Defense must now have disappeared in the past year, particularly since the last conference. When the ILD got into its full stride, as it did in the great agitation for Sacco and Vanzetti, there was no need for further proof that there was a strong necessity for such a movement and that its right to existence and support could not be challenged.

In the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the ILD brought out with cameo clearness the main lines of its program. The first of these was unity of all working class forces. In the Sacco-Vanzetti conference it initiated could be found an all-embracing reflection of all elements in the labor movement: Communists, Socialists, anarchists, syndicalists, members of the American Federation of Labor and of the IWW and other independent unions, and scores of fraternal organizations. Even when slanderous attacks were launched against the ILD and attempts made to split the united movement, the International Labor Defense continued to forge forward with patient persistence for unified action.

Secondly, the reliance upon the class movement of the workers. We pointed out incessantly that the Sacco-Vanzetti case was an instance of class persecution and not an accidental case of the “miscarriage of justice.” We drew therefrom the conclusion that only the class action of the workers for whom Sacco and Vanzetti were being groomed to die could save them from such a fate. The history of the many Sacco-Vanzetti cases of the past decades in this country confirmed our belief that militant workers could expect no “justice” from capitalist courts and judges, and that their vindication could be guaranteed only by the workers movement.

The Sacco-Vanzetti case was not only tied up with the other cases before the American workers, but also with the militant traditions of the American workers. Among the greatest of these is the tradition of the Haymarket martyrs, whose history contains so many points that are similar to the history of their blood brothers of two score years later. They represent the spirit of courageous struggle for the cause of the working class, the spirit of self-sacrifice, the spirit of defiance to the mad capitalist class that hung them in Cook County jail.

The Third Annual Conference of the ILD will honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs by meeting on their fortieth anniversary and making their great tradition its own.

The necessity for the defense movement is shown not only by those fighters of the past and those still in prison, the Mooneys, Billingses, Barnetts, McNamaras and others, but by those who are about to be sent there—or to the electric chair—the miners in Cheswick, the Michigan Communists, the New York Italian workers Greco and Carillo, the furriers and ladies’ garment workers in New York and Chicago and others in other parts of the country.[3] To defend them is also to defend the labor movement, the working class.

Let the working class of America ring with our fighting slogan: Build a wall of labor defense against the frame-up system! We want to make the Third Annual Conference of International Labor Defense a sounding board for this militant appeal.

Red November is for our heroes and martyrs, for our battles and for our victories! On with the glorious struggle for liberation, for the freedom of the workers from the prisons of capitalism and from the greater prison which is capitalism!



1.These are the Haymarket martyrs, who were executed after being framed up on charges of bombing the police contingent at an 1886 demonstration for the eight-hour day in Haymarket Square, Chicago.

2. Most of those killed were IWW members, and the incident became known as the Everett Massacre.

3. More than 20 miners were arrested in Cheswick, Pennsylvania after the state police viciously broke up a protest meeting on the eve of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, beating many of the participants. One of the state cossacks was shot and killed in the melee.

Calogero Greco and Donato Carillo were two anti-fascist workers accused of murdering two members of the Fascist League of North America in the Bronx on Memorial Day, 1927; they were acquitted in early 1928.

Many New York furriers and garment workers faced charges as a result of militant strikes in 1926.

For Michigan Communist cases, see glossary.