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James P. Cannon

Party Work and Accountability

Published March-April 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 article by Cannon was published in the Workers Party’s internal journal, Party Organizer.

At the recent party membership meeting in Philadelphia, one of the comrades drew attention to the failure of many party members to render accounts to the respective party committees on the execution of the work assigned to them, and asked how this condition could be remedied. This is a timely question and one deserving consideration by the party. The February plenum of the Central Committee estimated the sharpening economic situation and foresaw a period of increasing and expanding struggles of the workers. With the perspective before us, the problem of the tightening of the party machine and strengthening its capacity to shape and guide these struggles acquired a particular importance.

It is a well-known fact that Bolshevism clashes with reformism on organization questions no less decisively than on points of general politics. The looseness, laxity and general flabbiness which characterized all shades of opportunism in the realm of organization is alien to the Communist Party. Lenin would never tolerate the idea that party membership could be enjoyed by do-as-you-please people who took no part in the general work and activity of the party and gave no account of themselves to the party committees. It was over a section in the party constitution dealing precisely with this question that the formal break between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks took place in 1903. The differences today on these questions are no less marked.

The old Socialist parties, and all reformist organizations generally, are characterized by an active bureaucracy and a passive membership. The “business” of the organization is attended to by a small group of officials while the participation of the masses of the membership is largely formal and financial. It is obvious that this method and form of organization is not suitable for serious struggles in which the mass power of the workers must play the decisive role. Of course, this is not a defect in the eyes of the opportunists, since it is not their policy to struggle against capitalism but to adapt themselves to it.

The Communist Party, which organizes the proletarian vanguard for the revolutionary struggle, breaks with all these conceptions of organization and carries on a continuous struggle to extirpate their remnants from its ranks. Such a party must know its forces and be able to estimate correctly their capacities and mobilize them for action. The assignment of definite tasks to every party member and the construction of a whole network of responsible committees to supervise and regulate this work is the Communist organization principle. This leads to the construction of a flexible but strong party apparatus interwoven with the entire mass of the party members and drawing them all into active party work.

Fierce fights over these conflicting organization principles took place in the Russian labor movement prior to the revolution. The Mensheviks reviled those theories of Lenin and attacked the Bolsheviks as “apparatus men” and “committee workers.” But thanks to their superior apparatus, as well as to their general political program, the Bolsheviks were able to annihilate the capitalist regime and with it the Mensheviks. In good time the same result will be recorded in America.

It goes without saying that our party, which is only gradually and painfully developing on the path of Bolshevism, suffers from the remnants of many old and false conceptions and practices, and the question propounded by the Philadelphia comrade draws attention to a common evil. A glaring disparity exists everywhere between the plans and decisions of the party committees and their practical execution. Passivity and indifference hamper the movements of the party everywhere like a growth of poison vines. This evil can never be completely eradicated. How to reduce it steadily and increasingly to the minimum is the problem.

This task has two sides. In the first place, especially now in the face of impending struggles which will tax all the capacities of the party, we should undertake a general tightening up of the party apparatus. The party committees and subcommittees must be galvanized into a more intense and better regulated activity and the practice of assigning specific work to party members and checking up on its performance must become more thorough and systematic. The practice of reporting on work done by the party members to the respective committees must be insisted on until it becomes the general and accepted order of things. Every party member must be trained in the habit of accounting for his specific work.

This pressure from the apparatus alone, however, will not solve the problem. Hand in hand with it must go a thoroughgoing campaign of education on Communist organization principles, together with widespread enlightenment on the party policies which are given life only by the multiform practical activities of the party members, and the reasons for them.

The key to successful mobilization for collective work is the permeation of the party members with enthusiasm and conviction. A general campaign of education within the party on these questions, reinforced by a proportional intensification of discipline and accounting, will go a long way toward solving the worst features of the present difficulties and equipping the party to play a more influential part in the impending battles of the American workers.