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James P. Cannon

I Stand on My Record

27 October 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 are excerpts from the uncorrected transcript of the interrogation of Cannon at the Workers Party Political Committee meeting of 27 October 1928, at which Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern were expelled for Trotskyism. The meeting was the culmination of more than a week of “investigation” of the three, who had been accused by William Z. Foster, Alexander Bittelman and Philip Aronberg on October 16 of trying to organize a Trotskyist faction.

Cannon and his two lieutenants were removed from their posts in the International Labor Defense at a Political Committee meeting on October 16. At that meeting Cannon temporized, as he did when questioned again on October 19. It was only on October 27 that he, Abern and Shachtman admitted they were Trotskyists and submitted their statement, “For the Russian Opposition,” which declared that “The Opposition in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union led by L.D. Trotsky has been fighting for the unity of the Comintern and all its sections on the basis of the victory of Leninism. The correctness of the position taken by the Russian Opposition over a period of five years of struggle has been fully confirmed by events.” The document went on to support Trotsky’s struggle for internal party democracy, his opposition to Stalin’s program of “socialism in one country,” Trotsky’s economic program for the Soviet Union, his struggle against the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee and his struggle against the Comintern’s disastrous policy in China.

The Political Committee asked Cannon very little about the substance of his positions. In his questioning of Cannon, Bittelman is obviously at pains to dissociate the Foster group from their former factional allies. We publish here only those sections where Cannon reflects on the history of his faction in the Workers Party. Transcripts of all the Cannon interrogation sessions were mimeoed and attached to the Political Committee minutes.

Bittelman: Comrade Cannon, would you say today that it was correct for you in 1926 to unite with Lovestone and carry on a campaign in the party against Fosterism and Foster as the main danger in the party?

Cannon: At that moment, it was correct. In general, I stand upon the platform which I stood on then. In general, the position we took in this whole fight I stand on now.

Bittelman: But I am concerned in clearing up a particular question. Was it correct for you to unite with Lovestone then and initiate a campaign and jointly carry it out against Fosterism and Foster in the party?

Cannon: I have answered several times that in general, all the actions of our group taken in that period since the struggle arose in the 1925 convention have been in the main correct.

Bittelman: Why did you, comrade Cannon, advocate a split in the minority in Moscow?

Cannon: I did not advocate a split in the minority in Moscow.

Bittelman: You did not advocate a split. Why did you advocate a theory that the danger in the minority comes from the left?

Cannon: I believe this is correct as a general theoretical formula, that a group which is fighting as a left wing against a right wing in the party, inevitably would have a tendency to attract to it ultraleft elements, rather than right elements who would naturally gravitate towards the right wing. I believe such a formula is borne out by the history of political struggles, particularly throughout the life of the Comintern, and I believe it applies vice versa and I was not alone in that opinion; comrades Hathaway, Dunne, Gomez and others were of the same opinion.

Bittelman: In other words, you still maintain that when a group in our party, speaking concretely, the minority, the danger which the minority itself suffers comes from the left?

Cannon: I believe there will be more danger for a left wing to attract ultraleft elements rather than right elements.

Bittelman: And these ultraleft dangers are more serious than the right, in your opinion?

Cannon: I believe there is a danger of getting off the track to the left, rather than to the right.

Bittelman: Why did you propose to the comrades of the former Foster group in Moscow the formation of a new group with possibly comrade Weinstone and others, as possible allies?

Cannon: That is not true. I did not make such a proposition. I am prepared, if the body wishes, to explain what actually transpired out of which this fiction arose, although I don’t think it has any special bearing, but I have no fear to answer that question. In fact I will volunteer to answer. I am not one of those who in the time of new alignments base much political significance on private conversations and caucus secrets and so forth. I have nothing but contempt for this type of politician. I think that the attitude of responsible political leaders has to rest itself upon political acts, documents, speeches, articles, etc. And I have always undertaken to estimate comrades in this manner, not on the basis of private conversations. As a matter of fact, I have always conducted an educational struggle among the comrades with whom I have been associated against this philistine method, and the reason is quite clear to any responsible leader-because it is impossible to establish any political facts by private conversations which lead only to denials and mutual recriminations and present the issue of veracity between comrades and poison the atmosphere and make political discussions impossible. I believe only tenth-rate politicians are capable of conducting polemics on this basis. It is known to comrade Bittelman and others that within the minority in Moscow, I conducted a struggle against the idea that the minority, as at present constituted, is sufficiently broad-based to lead the party. I did not conceive of a small faction, but a group which would broaden itself sufficiently to lead the party and that naturally presupposes alignments with elements of the Lovestone group which is now in control. The discussion concerning Weinstone arose as follows: that I had a conversation with Foster, which I reported to some of the comrades that have been offering themselves for leadership and told them that I was highly pleased with Foster’s expression in which he stated that he also was of the opinion that we did not have a sufficiently broad group and that we must have such an attitude towards Weinstone of possible future alliances. I think that it would be an absurdity to believe that on the basis of the minority as constituted in Moscow, it would be possible to exclude all other comrades in the party and that is the basis of the rumor that I had advocated a new group. If I had, I should not hesitate to say so. It is only a question of facts. I did not see any intelligent basis for an arbitrary decision to form a new group as I believe a new group should proceed from a serious political basis.

Bittelman: In discussing Weinstone at that time, with whomever you discussed it, you knew that Weinstone stands for a definite political line in the party and belongs to the Lovestone group and the minority was fighting in Moscow the right danger in the party. How, on what consistent political basis, could you, would you, consider a leading member of the right wing as a candidate for possible future relations?

Cannon: I estimate political leaders not only by the immediate political position they take, but over a period, and by that one is able to estimate, to a certain extent, what new positions may exist in the future. I think it was no accident, for instance, that Weinstone stood with us a year ago. I think it proceeded from a certain political attitude, and that he helped us to fight the Lovestone group a year ago, and I think it would be no accident in the future, if Weinstone changes his present position.

. . .

Lovestone: Do you think you were right in March 1924 when the question of Trotskyism came before the party in your objecting then to condemn Trotskyism and support the position of the CEC of the CPSU?

Cannon: I do not recall the exact form of the motion. As I recalled it, I objected to a position being taken until documents had been received. I think it was entirely correct to ask for the documents before we took a position.

Lovestone: You state that the Central Committee has been mechanically foisted on the party by the ECCI. On what basis do you make that statement?

Cannon: On the basis of the decisions taken a year ago, which denied the CEC the right to reconstruct the Polcom and to elect its own officers, and by the subsequent decisions which have been more or less a confirmation of that attitude.

Lovestone: Do you question the authority of the last party convention in the election of the CEC?

Cannon: No.

Lovestone: Do you think there was anything done in the way of arrangements of that convention to lend any support to your conclusion that the present leadership was mechanically foisted on the party?

Cannon: Yes, I do. I think first the instructions of the ECCI denying the Central Committee the right to reorganize the Political Committee and leaving the apparatus in control of the Lovestone faction. Secondly, the supplementary decision.[1] Thirdly, the telegram sent to the party against the opposition. Fourthly, the factional support given to the Lovestone faction by comrade Ewert, the representative of the Comintern, was also in this direction, also comrade Ewert’s arbitrary denial of our right for contests in the election. All of these things helped to shape the present composition of the party leadership.

. . .

Bittelman: I would like to ask a couple of questions. I will ask comrade Cannon. In 1925, comrade Cannon, you were primarily instrumental in splitting the former Foster group, which was then the majority of the Central Committee and was controlling the party convention in 1925, and by splitting the then majority of the party known as the Foster group, you are primarily responsible for enabling what is now known as the Lovestone group to get control of the party, which they have held since then. Do you say in the light of your present experience that this split was a mistake?

Cannon: On our part, no. On the part of the Foster group, yes. First of all I was not the one who proposed to turn over the leadership of the party to what was then the Ruthenberg group; that came from the Foster group and I opposed it.

Aronberg: Your proposal was carried.

Cannon: To make the position straight, let me state that the proposal of the Foster group was that Foster retire from the Central Committee, become a private citizen of the party and turn over the party to the Ruthenberg-Lovestone group. My proposal was that we construct the Central Committee on a parity basis, which was carried out with this amendment as a concession to Foster, who proposed Green [Gusev] be the impartial representative, which I was not for but conceded as a concession.

Bittelman: So you still think it was correct to split the group?

Cannon: The split arose later, on principled questions, and I am willing to state any time that we were right in principle in this fight and we don’t give up our fight.

. . .

Minor: How far back in point of party history do you see a consistent line in your position and struggles in the party leading to your present position?

Cannon: In general, my whole record.

Minor: You consider that it extends back to the struggles which began in the Polcom of the party in 1923?

Cannon: Before that. Back to the time when we formed the party. Back to years and years of revolutionary record before that.

. . .

Swift [Pepper]: But you yourself said that in Moscow you abstained from voting on the decision of the Sixth Congress on the Trotsky question but you never mentioned that in the delegation, in any meeting of our delegation. How do you explain that? Is that a fair and frank attitude towards the party?

Cannon: It is my practice to come to the party with definite proposals. Always has been. I think that is correct.

Wagenknecht: Knowing as you do that the Foster-Bittelman group intends to carry on a serious struggle in the American party against the right wing danger, are you not really trying to organize a new right wing group in the American party under the cloak of leftist phrases, objectively giving support to the right wing in the party and the Communist International, thereby vitiating the struggle against the right wing danger?

Cannon: I have stated, I think in the document, our estimate of the situation. I believe that the position taken by the opposition logically and inevitably leads it to the platform which we espouse. I believe that an opposition group that tries to stand between these two bases on fundamental principled questions cannot exist. I believe the opposition has one of two paths of adopting the inevitable implications of its platform or giving up this platform and becoming camp followers of the present leadership, and there are definite indications already that this process is true.

Swift: You mean the second one.

Cannon: No, both processes are true. When principled questions are presented in their full implications, I don’t think it is possible to stand in between. I stated in the document that the logical banner bearers against Trotsky are the present leaders of the party, that the aspirations of the Foster group to seize this banner for themselves to secure thereby their organization positions can succeed only insofar as they give up their opposition attitude and adopt the platform in its entirety of the present majority of the party, and I make this prediction for the stenographic record: That one will see this process very quickly beginning, and that some of those who have shouted very loudly against us in the very recent period under the banner of the opposition will find it impossible to continue along this line and will have to take one attitude or the other.

. . .

Stachel: Isn’t it a fact, comrade Cannon, that since the first discussion on Trotsky, throughout all the discussions we have had in the party here, that you have never spoken on the question? At a meeting of the plenum of the Central Committee or at any party membership meeting?

Cannon: That is true.

Stachel: Do you think that the fact that you have never spoken, although you have always voted for the motions of the Central Committee, has something to do with the fact that you had doubts on the question throughout this period?

Cannon: Yes.

. . .


1. In addition to the official 1927 resolution on the American question, there was an “Agreement for the Carrying Out of the Resolution on the American Question Adopted by the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the ECCI.” It was signed by Lovestone, Gitlow, Pepper, Cannon, Foster and Weinstone, and sealed by the ECCI. The agreement stipulated a number of measures to be taken in organizing the Workers Party’s Fifth Convention, including the ratio for election of delegates (one delegate for every five members at the district level, one for every 200 members at the national convention) and the proportion of minority seats on the incoming Central Committee (at least 13 out of 35).