James P. Cannon

Against the Opportunism of the Lovestone Majority

Written: July 25, 1928
First Published: August 11, 1928
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 transcript of Cannon’s remarks to the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International was published in International Press Correspondence, 11 August 1928. The Cannon faction had cemented its bloc with the Foster group, submitting a joint document to the American Commission on “The Right Danger in the American Party.” Meanwhile, Cannon obtained a copy of Leon Trotsky’s critique of the Comintern’s draft program, which won him to Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

Comrades, the draft thesis of comrade Bukharin calls for a stronger struggle against reformist tendencies by the Communist parties. This policy, which is correct on an international scale, also applies to America despite the attempts to “exclude” America from this international policy and set it aside as an exception. There is a right danger in America and this right danger is accentuated by the opportunistic policy of the majority of the Central Committee—the Lovestone-Pepper group.[1]

The conditions of the present period of American imperialism create the possibilities and the prospects of growing struggles of the American workers, and provide our party with abundant opportunities to press forward as the leader of these struggles. The growing world antagonisms, the mass unemployment, attacks on the workers, rationalization, wage cuts and so forth are features of the present situation in America. There is a deep crisis within the labor movement in America, which is being seriously weakened and undermined under the blows of the employers and the treachery of the bureaucrats. On the other side, as a reaction to these circumstances, there is a growing series of struggles of the workers and a readiness for struggle on the part of the semi-skilled and unskilled masses.

In the face of this deepening discontent of the workers, of their readiness for struggle, the majority of the Central Committee has an overcautious attitude. It has a conservative outlook and policy which it pursues in every sphere of party work. This policy of the Central Committee of the party is paralyzing it in the midst of the greatest opportunities of its career.

In a document which we have presented to the American Commission, we have enumerated the situation in great detail. I want to point out a few of the particular and general errors of the Central Committee of the party proceeding from its wrong analysis and its failure to draw the correct conclusions.

In this changing of the class struggle in America, the beginning of the sharpening of the objective conditions and the passing of the workers over from the period of apathy to the period of fight, all members of the Central Committee have shown certain confusion and have been guilty of certain errors. The minority has made some errors, but there is a deep distinction in this respect: that our errors have been incidental, they have been recognized and are being corrected, whereas the majority has followed a consistent wrong line and adheres to it to this very day.

Let me cite one of the basic errors of the Central Committee showing its false estimate of the Socialist Party and its calculations upon a left wing within it which would help us to fight for a labor party. At the time when the Socialist Party had reached a state of its most complete degeneration and was merging itself openly with the American Federation of Labor bureaucracy, the police and the government in the fight against the workers—our Central Committee was capable of such a proposal that we send members of the Communist Party into the Socialist Party to “bore from within.”[2]

That was not merely an incidental or isolated error—it flowed from the wholly false conception, and the motions of the minority to reject such a policy as absolutely false were defeated by the Polcom. Following from such a conception, we had the “Panken policy” of our party. In New York City, there is a Socialist judge named Panken, and he has been a judge for long years and is a typical social democrat, that is to say, an enemy of the workers. When he came up for election our party conceived the brilliant policy of voting for Mr. Panken in the election. We fought against that, but our fight was unsuccessful. They said the Panken election was a question of “a united front against reaction.”

Who composed this “united front”? First of all the Socialist Party and then the Republican Party of New York City endorsed Mr. Panken to show that they had confidence in him.

The same thing happened in Boston in the Bearak case and in Milwaukee where the proposals were made not to put up our own candidates against Mr. Victor Berger, the Socialist chairman of the Socialist Party of America.

Not only in the sphere of the estimate of the Socialist Party and tactics regarding it has our party majority followed a false and stubbornly opportunistic line, but the same thing has been done in the field of trade unionism. The American Federation of Labor is steadily declining and becoming restricted to a caste of highly skilled workers. The mass unions of the AFL are being broken up. For a number of years this policy has been going on and the trade union leadership has merged more and more with the whole governmental apparatus and capitalist machine in general. The obvious conclusion is, orient the party’s policy on the organizing of the unskilled masses into new unions. The RILU and Comintern have been hammering upon the party with this line. The minority of the party has pressed for this. But the biggest obstacle to the party proceeding to do this duty is precisely the delaying, the hesitancy, the opportunistic policy of the majority of the Central Committee of the party.

One can cite a number of instances beginning with the mine strike; at the beginning of this strike more than a year ago a project for the holding of a national left wing conference was made by the minority as a prelude to the organization of the struggle to wrest the control from the Lewis gang, which is now taking place. This was rejected by the Central Committee as a “dual union policy” and was delayed for eleven months. The strike was a year old and had spent its force before our party organized the national conference of the left wing, the prelude to the formation of the new union. In a number of fields, opportunities have been presented to the party to organize new unions which have not been grasped. Is that merely incidental? No. That failure proceeds also from the conservative estimate that they make of the situation in America and of the prospects for struggle.

We say there is no more stubborn resistance anywhere in the International to the resolutions of the last congress of the RILU than in the leadership of our party. The same conservativeness before the power of American capitalism and the bureaucratic American Federation of Labor paralyzes the party in this as in all other fields, and it all proceeds from this false estimate and incapacity to lead the party in the period of growing struggles.

In the election campaign we have the same thing: a hesitancy, delay, refusal to enter our party candidates until after the Socialist Party was already in the field, a calculation as far back as March that there might yet be a labor party in America for the 1928 elections. The labor party has been envisioned as the leader of the masses. A whole series of articles has appeared in the Daily Worker referring to the labor party as the “emancipating force” of the American masses and the only hope of the workers. In the united front, in the trade union work, in cooperatives, in women’s work—touch any phase of party activities and you find the same thread of opportunistic policy I have mentioned in these other cases.

And what does the leadership of the party do in the face of this? They denied the existence of the right danger in America. In the plenum of the party, held only last May, not one single word was mentioned in the political resolution or in the political reports against the right danger, and the whole debate was a polemic against those comrades who are criticizing the party from the standpoint of the policy of the Comintern and RILU. The majority of our party has consolidated itself into a close-bound faction, with all the discredited remnants of the Lore group, with all the right wing and opportunistic elements of the party. They deny that there is any such right danger.

They cover up their opportunistic policy by misrepresentations of the position of the minority of the Central Committee and then fight against the straw men set up by these misrepresentations. We had an example of it from this tribune only yesterday in the person of the internationally known exponent of correct political policies, comrade Pepper. He read out of our document words that were not in it and then polemicized against the words which were not in our document. He spoke for nearly an hour against us on the ground that we say American imperialism is “already on the decline”—when we say nothing of the sort, as our document shows. And one might ask, are such methods possible in the Communist International?

We have in America big objective possibilities. We have possibilities before our party to put itself at the head of great struggles of the workers. They are already in progress and they are growing. Strikes are imminent in a number of great industries and this situation calls for a resolute, clear, aggressive Communist policy. The opportunities of the party to establish itself as a real leader of the masses are paralyzed by the leadership of the party, by its opportunistic outlook, by its fight against precisely those comrades who want to straighten out the line of the party. The Communist International must correct the right errors in the party and establish guarantees of the carrying out of the correct policy.

Our struggle is for a correct Communist policy which will give the party the opportunity to make the most of the great objective possibilities in the present and immediate future situations.


1. Pepper had returned to the U.S. in March 1928, though he had evidently been ordered to Korea by the Communist International. He actively participated in the deliberations of the Political Committee, using the name Swift.

2.The proposal to enter the Socialist Party was discussed in the Political Committee on 14 December 1927. Cannon had put forward the following motion:

“1. Under the present circumstances our main tasks with regard to the SP are to establish more clearly and sharply the independent ideology of our party as against the SP, to strengthen the morale and antagonism of our party members in the fight against the SP, and to overcome any tendencies objectively leading towards the recognition of the SP as a bona fide workers organization in which the Communists can play the role of the left wing.

“2. Our tactics should be centered on a frontal attack against the SP all along the line combined with united front maneuvers with left-inclined sections of the SP, that under present conditions it is not tactically correct to send party members into the SP.”

Cannon’s motion lost, though Lovestone was forced to back away from his original proposal.