James P. Cannon

Workers Entering New Path of Struggle

Written: February 5, 1928
First Published: 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The following is an unpublished transcript of a speech by Cannon to a plenum of the Workers Party’s Central Executive Committee. It was at this plenum that Cannon refused to speak in support of Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet party, despite the urgings of his chief factional lieutenant, William F. Dunne. Later, Cannon discussed his doubts on the issue with Canadian party leader Maurice Spector, who also attended the plenum.

Comrade Chairman and Comrades:

It is a good omen not only that the Central Committee is meeting at the right time in view of the big changes taking place in the labor movement, but that the Political Committee is able to come to the plenum with theses unanimously agreed upon and with the prospect that the Central Committee as a whole will accept the theses unanimously.[1]

In my opinion the theses properly estimate the new turn of events and lay down the main line of the correct policy for the party. It will be our task here to emphasize, and immediately after the plenum it will be the task of the Political Committee to bring home to all the members of the party, the fact that membership in this party of ours is beginning to acquire a significance that has not been fully felt up to now.

We are entering a turning point in the American class struggle. The American workers are faced with war danger and actual war, with the beginnings of mass unemployment, and with an industrial depression leading towards a crisis. A crisis in the labor movement is already at hand and new waves of struggle are looming up before the American masses, when our party as the vanguard of the masses will have to prove its mettle in the struggle and fight, when every member of the party will be called upon to apply in practice all the knowledge he has gained both by experience and by study in our movement.

In the time that is allotted to me I shall deal briefly only with a few main points, some of which have already been discussed but which I may supplement.

I want to say a few words about the labor party in connection with the forthcoming presidential campaign. The fact that in addition to the new factors in the objective situation we are facing a national presidential campaign gives a special significance to this plenum. We know that the prospects for the formation of a labor party of sufficient mass character, with sufficient base in the industrial labor movement in America, for the forthcoming election campaign are remote. On the contrary, I think it is agreed that from present indications and prospects, and without deep changes which cannot now be counted on, we must recognize that we will be obliged to enter into the forthcoming campaign under our own party banner.

In my opinion, it is necessary to speak thus concretely now. It is necessary to begin already to make our party members understand, as many of them do not yet understand fully, that we are a political party in the complete sense of the word, that we take part in election campaigns and that we will get a great test and great opportunity in the campaign of 1928.

We speak of the labor party as having its base primarily in the industrial proletariat. No other labor party will serve. One of the organizational steps towards the building of such a party that has been stressed in our Political Committee repeatedly especially in the past year has been the building of trade union committees as preliminary steps. It was pointed out in the address of comrade Lovestone and it is also mentioned in the theses that we did not succeed yet in making our comrades in the lower ranks and districts work speedily and consistently with this task. And to this must be attributed, to a certain extent at least, the organizational weaknesses of the labor party, which lags behind the sentiment for it. The theses point out that the sentiment of the laboring masses for a labor party goes far ahead of the actual organization of the forces to fight for it. And we must catalog as one of the errors of our party a slackness in pushing the organization of trade union committees for the labor party. This is to be remedied, I hope, in the future.

When we enter the campaign under our own banner, we will naturally come into sharp collision not only with the big parties of the bourgeoisie, but again with the enemy that parades as a labor party, the Socialist Party. It must be repeated again and again as one of the important tactical conclusions for us to draw in view of the fact that a new wave of struggle is imminent, that in this period radicalism amongst the workers will grow and strengthen and that elements will arise in the ranks of the Socialist Party who will seek to capture those workers with pseudo-radical talk. Therefore, we must understand not only the necessity for a head-on fight with absolute lack of consideration against the Socialist Party as such but also against the pseudo-left wings in the Socialist Party. Dr. Thomas, Mr. Maurer, and all others, although they are not of one type, who under the cloak of radical phrases seek to divert the discontented workers into the Socialist Party, must meet the most merciless exposure and attack from our party.

Turning to another problem of fundamental importance which was stressed in the main political report by comrade Lovestone but which was elaborated at great length by comrade Foster—the problem of the crisis in the trade union movement and the tactical conclusions with regard to the organization of the unorganized and the work in the trade unions.

I want to say in other words and perhaps with somewhat different emphasis that we must make our party members and all sympathizers of the party in the labor movement understand that the Communist Party, in view of certain changes in circumstances and conditions, is putting more emphasis than before upon the direct organization of the unorganized workers and is clinging less to any form of fetishism with regard to independent or dual unionism.

However, we must not allow the impression to get abroad that we have altered our basic trade union policy. Clearness and precision is absolutely necessary here. Our comrades must be fortified tactically and ideologically on this question. They must be prepared to refute all arguments of professional dual unionists and independent unionists to the effect that the Communist Party has come to its senses, has changed its policies and adopted their line.

Comrade Foster pointed out in the Polcom that we must recognize a fundamental difference in the relation of forces between now and 1921 and 1922. We must recognize the tremendous weakening of the apparatus of the trade unions in many of the important industries. We must recognize further that many of these unions, under the straitjacket of reactionary bureaucratic control, have gone further and further to the right, towards the line of bourgeois ideology. The prospects of these unions, in many cases, serving as the mechanism of decisive struggles and strikes is far less than it was in 1922. And if we are to serve our real purpose, if we are to act as the vanguard of the masses in these coming struggles, we must be prepared in many cases to actually offer to the masses leadership and forms of organization not circumscribed and bounded by the old forms.

This is not for us a change of policy, because the Communist Party says that the center of gravity is where the struggling masses are. That was true when we emphasized with especial sharpness the necessity to keep within the form of these unions when they serve as the main centers of the mass struggle and it is just as properly applied when we say the masses of workers who are outside of these unions must be reached and organized, forming new unions where the old ones cannot or will not serve.

I would like to add my voice in this connection to those who spoke against the danger of taking an extreme position, against the danger which has been a popular one in the American movement as long as I can recollect—the danger of running over to new formulas and panaceas. In view of the traditions that we have in the American movement, we will have to recognize a danger. Our emphasis on direct organization of the unorganized will be construed as a fundamental change in our tactics and an excuse for running off to new forms and grandiose experiments and deserting our basic work in the trade unions.

Anyone who thinks that the trade unions of America, backward as they are, betrayed by the agents of the capitalists as they are, weakened as they are, anyone who thinks that these unions are not going to play a tremendous role in the class struggles of America does not know the ABC of the labor movement.

Our party understands that. And I think we will not put the question as though it were a matter of building new unions as against working in the existing unions; of organizing the unorganized instead of working within the present organized ranks of the American labor movement. We put the problem as one part of the unifying whole, of working within the existing unions with greater energy than before while building new unions if necessary, to lead the masses in struggle in certain cases, all as part of one tactic and one problem.

I believe that there is unanimity on this question within our leading committees although there are shadings of emphasis here and there. I think the mean between the divergent positions of those comrades who want to emphasize or shade here or there results in a harmonious balance and the arrival at a correct line in the last analysis.

A few words on the IWW, which has become again a problem as a result of the Colorado strike.[2] First of all, for us it is not a problem of the IWW alone, because on the trade union side it cannot be isolated from the problem of the entire labor movement. On the ideological side, the attitude towards the IWW involves some fundamental principled questions. In the broader sense, the IWW is a labor union and a political party at the same time, though not very successful in either role. As a part of the trade union problem of the party we must not look at the IWW with blind eyes as some comrades in the East are apt to do and fail to see it altogether; neither should we exaggerate the size and role and significance of the IWW.

We can say that the Colorado strike brought about no reason for any basic change in our policy. We always had the theory, since we first corrected our trade union line after the leftist debacle of our early years, that we had to work within the IWW wherever it had workers organized in the ranks, form united fronts with them, work within the ranks of the IWW members and try to lead them in the direction of Communism. That remains our basic attitude while rejecting the fantastic theory of building an entire new labor movement in America as against the existing unions, now more than ever before.

Many comrades even in our own ranks have had their vision obscured by the Colorado strike, and when party members adopt a false conclusion you can be sure that many workers are also reflecting this false conclusion.

In the miners union, some comrades who wearied of the stubborn struggle have shown tendencies to look to the IWW as a short cut to an ideal union. Such a point of view must be more decisively rejected. A greater folly cannot be imagined. We have to master the tactic of working within the IWW in cases where they have serious bodies of workers, of joining them and cooperating with them, while at the same time we fight persistently against their false teachings on the general field of theory as well as in tactical questions of the labor movement. We combined these two tasks in our work in the Colorado strike better than ever before.

We have a right to congratulate ourselves upon the fact that even in this far Western outpost our party was able to have a nucleus of loyal Communists on the job, working directly in the IWW and through various other committees and organizations, who were able to get real influence amongst the strikers, penetrating into the ranks of the IWW and gaining prestige with the members while continually fighting against the false line of the IWW leadership. The lessons and experiences of the Colorado strike, amended and corrected as a result of the critical examination by our Central Committee, will be a guiding line for the future tactics regarding the IWW.

There is another side to the IWW which always interested me greatly. I asked myself many times since we formed the Communist Party, how does it come that the Leninist party which always has as its foundation the most exploited and militant workers, allowed so many good proletarian fighters in the West to fall into the hands of syndicalists and anarcho-syndicalists. I always felt there was a weakness in the tactics of the party, that it had not learned to combine the ideological fight against syndicalism with the task of fighting side by side with the syndicalist workers and winning them to the party.

We are learning that today. The Colorado strike shows that they can no longer speak, as they attempted to speak in the past, of our party as one which stands aloof from this type of workers and does not know how to approach them and make them feel at home in its ranks. The Colorado strike is proving that we are learning how to deal with this big problem of winning over to our side all the best elements of the syndicalist movement of the West.

I want to say a few words on the party organization. The party organization, in the period when we are facing big struggles, the apparatus of the party, the personnel, the activity of party members within the party, all this takes on a special significance. If we do not have a firm and strongly disciplined apparatus of the party, we will not be able to carry out our tasks in the coming struggle. We will have to consider this very carefully. The whole Political Committee will have to consider with greater attention than ever before the problem of strengthening the party organization in the sense of selecting comrades very carefully from the standpoint of experience and ability for work in the party apparatus. One of the first things we will have to strengthen will be the district organizations, which are very weak. There is too big a gap between the central organization and district organizations, too big a difference between the quality and ability of the material mobilized for work in the center of the party and that utilized and available for the work of the districts. It will be one of our main problems to strengthen the apparatus of the district organizations. Failure to do this will prove to be very costly in the period of greater struggles.

A few words on party membership, on the question of how many members we have. First of all, let me make a remark which I believe will express the sentiment of every member of the Central Committee. Facing the big fights and big struggles before us, everybody has a sound optimistic attitude on the question of the party responding to its obligations in the coming fights. We look forward to a healthy growth in our party membership. But I believe we must be careful to have an exact knowledge at the same time of what our forces consist of. Otherwise, we are apt to exaggerate our possibilities and come to certain defeat. I got the impression from comrade Lovestone’s report that our party membership is approximately the same now as it was at the time of reorganization. Comrade Lovestone in his concluding remarks may elaborate on this point but it appears to me that a certain discrepancy exists. My recollection is that we had 16,000 dues- paying members at the time of the 1925 convention, averaging over the six months time before the reorganization. We know there was a lot of material amongst these 16,000 members then that was not 100 percent utilizable in a more tightly organized party, and it was to be expected that some would drop out in the reorganization. But if the figures I have at hand are correct, we have sustained a heavy loss. I have some of the financial reports furnished by the Secretariat in the months of August, September, October, November and December, from which it appears the average dues payment for the period is for 6,731 members. The initiation fees show a total of initiations of 541 in those four months. That does not represent our actual strength, not even our actual organizational strength. It represents the actual dues-paying members of our party. If these figures are supplemented by some later ones showing a more favorable side, I would be glad if comrade Lovestone would clarify this point so that we will know exactly where we stand on the question of members.

I want to make a small remark also on another organizational point. In the period since the convention our party Secretariat has become a very important institution.[3] It has naturally taken up a number of functions of an important character, even going perhaps a step too far, taking over a number of the normal functions of the Political Committee, and in such actions as selecting a chairman of the plenum. If in the coming period the Secretariat is going to play an especially important political role and act as a sort of substitute for the Political Committee in important questions, I would make the suggestion for the consideration of the comrades to broaden the composition of the Secretariat to a slight extent.

(Interjection: “What do you mean?”)

I mean that if the Secretariat is to assume important political functions it should be made broader, more representative and consequently stronger and more authoritative.

Now, comrades, on the question of errors. We made some. Comrade Lovestone speaking on the theses pointed out a number of them. The important ones are those from which we can draw conclusions of importance to us in the immediate future. We ought to discriminate and to pick out only those errors which might have a bearing upon the future, because an incidental error here and there does not mean much.

I would emphasize one, it might be two, mistakes in the miners campaign. One is we procrastinated and delayed too much with the idea of organizing the conference of the left wing in the miners union. We had in this a certain remnant of the tactic which is reminiscent of a period of less tension—the habit of overcaution. We were too late with relief. We made some errors of showing the party face here and there.[4]

(Interjection by comrade Stachel.)

When Bolsheviks get to the point when they can tell each other face to face what is the matter and not get nervous, they will be on the road to overcoming factionalism. We made errors in the past of the same character which we have to avoid in the future, the question of showing the party face. I have never been the most extreme on this point and I am not speaking now from a “leftist” standpoint. In the period of slow development of the struggle our approach to the workers must be by many roundabout methods. But in the coming period, just because we are facing struggles, just because we expect an increasing radicalism of the workers which will render them more accessible to Communist ideas, we must endeavor, wherever possible, to approach them directly and bring the party as a party into the foreground.

I could speak further on the mistakes in the miners campaign but I will refrain lest I call forth another interjection from comrade Stachel which would not have any bearing on this. I would rather save the time. It is merely to draw the conclusions of a general nature for future guidance that I have mentioned these matters here.

Now I will pass over to the discussion of a very interesting phenomenon. I want to deal a minute or two with the Panken case.[5] I use the term case in a clinical sense since it is quite clear there is some sickness here. It looked as though the “Panken policy” was going to be allowed to die until comrade Weinstone jumped on his horse and like Paul Revere rode to the rescue.

(Interjection by Weinstone: “It was not a revolutionary situation.”)

No, and on reflection I don’t think the Paul Revere analogy is a good one from another standpoint, because Paul Revere reached his destination and accomplished his aims whereas comrade Weinstone’s horse stumbled before he got a good start.

(Interjection: “There were too many riding the horse.”)

There were a good many riding that horse but some of them have already unloaded and others are willing to sell their seats very cheaply.

What was the Panken case? First of all, I want to say there is no ground for panic. I think the situation has been modified to a large extent, as is shown by the fact that the comrades did not put a defense of this policy in the theses. The amendment of comrade Dunne represents progress on his part and undoubtedly on the part of the others. What we want is clarification for future guidance. First of all, maybe you comrades don’t know about the discussion which arose in the Polcom over the Panken policy. We were served up with some great reasons for voting for him. One of them that I can recollect, and it was explained here fully by the various defenders, was that we were engaged in the building of a “united front against reaction.” This nonsense was dispersed amongst the comrades of New York as a reason for voting for Panken. This is not worth a nickel—when this “united front against reaction” contains the New York World, the Bar Association, and when the Republican Party offers to join it, where does the Communist Party fit in? Besides, it was not a revolution now, it was only a case of a yellow Socialist judge running in an East Side district in New York. Comrade Wolfe said that we were trying to draw mechanical conclusions from the CI decision on England and France.[6] He will remember that it was we who protested against the mechanical transference of examples when we heard the truly astonishing attempt to compare the issues in an election for a petty judgeship in New York with the Hindenburg election and the issue of monarchism in Germany.[7] The comrades had some very big and peculiar ideas on the Panken issue at the time. We do not hear much of these arguments now. I believe the united front against reaction forms a valid argument under certain circumstances but it was entirely out of place in the Panken case.

Nobody said that we should make a principled stand against it and nobody said that we should not vote for a Socialist under any circumstances. Comrade Wolfe was only trying to draw strength for a weak position and fighting a straw man when he imputed this position to us. We were told the workers would not understand us if we did not support Panken. This would surely be a good reason if it were really so because it is of the utmost importance that the workers understand our tactics. Would they understand why they should vote for Panken? In the middle of the garment workers struggle, with the issue burning in the hearts of the workers in the district, we were against the Panken maneuver.

What the district of New York should have done was to force the SP into the open on the question of organizing a labor ticket or not. By the failure of putting conditions in endorsing Panken, we allowed them to create the impression that they were the labor party. With our anxiety to execute a maneuver in grand style, we let the Socialist Party pose as a substitute for the labor party. My understanding of a united front in an election campaign is that we bargain with them, compel them to give concessions, to agree to certain programs and all things of this sort. We should never let them masquerade as a substitute for the labor party, which we must support because “the workers will not understand.”

That is not all. One of the basic problems of dealing with the Socialist Party in New York is to break down the prejudice in the minds of the sympathetic workers that the Communist Party fights on the trade union field only and the Socialist Party on the political field—and they should support us in the unions and vote for the Socialist candidates. We have to establish the identity of the Communist Party as a political party in the full sense of the word. That was an additional reason why we should have put up our own candidate. Here we are in the midst of the great needle trades struggle, with the furriers and left wing garment workers concentrating their whole attention around the fight in the garment industry.

Our task in this election was to take this fight in the garment workers outside of the trade union sphere and bring it out in the political arena as one of our battle cries in this election—concentrating our fight against Panken as the representative of the reactionary and traitorous Socialist Party. In this very respect, it is interesting news that Panken is a likely candidate for president of the garment workers’ union. The right wing is putting him forward as a man who gets the support from the black reactionaries and who to a certain extent is acceptable to the left wing. I think we should adopt the amendment proposed by comrade Bittelman, with which I am in agreement, to list the Panken policy as one of our mistakes.

There is one other point in this question that must be answered because it was brought up by comrade Weinstone. He said we had to support him because we were confronted with a “pendulum situation.” I think comrade Weinstone has a weakness for pendulum situations.

(Interjection by comrade Weinstone: “Charity begins at home.”)

I don’t believe in charity. The pendulum is all right on the clock but the trouble with the pendulum in politics is that it never stops. It was said here by comrade Wolfe that the Panken case is not the “father” of the opportunist error in Boston[8] because the latter came first in point of time. I do not know whether it is important to establish the date of the birth of the Panken atrocity, and to say just which is the father and which the son. I will only say they were related. If they were not father and son, they were brothers. (Laughter.)

The Panken case is very important because it affects our tactics and our attitude towards the SP in the coming campaign. I hope nobody then will propose similar policies because, as the theses say, this was under special circumstances and not a settled policy.

Now, comrades, in closing I want to again emphasize my agreement with the main line of the theses, especially with the conclusion that we are approaching a period of new struggles which are bound to affect the party line. The theses orient the party on this line. We are entering a new period in the development of the class struggle, in which we have to decide and determine where lies the greater danger. Will that danger be that of leftism, or opportunism? It is agreed that the greatest danger for the party in the coming period is the danger of conservatism, of overcaution in not responding and reacting quickly enough to situations. The party must be aggressive and determined to put itself at the head of the movement of the masses. At the same time we have to sound a warning against any running away towards the left. We must not underestimate the powerful resources of American capitalism, the sluggishness and the backwardness of the American workers. While putting emphasis on aggressiveness and quick action, we must see that we do not isolate ourselves from the workers by ill-considered actions and proposals.

The basic task is to equip the party ideologically and organizationally for the fight. And in connection with this task, the internal problems of the party acquire an especial significance—the problem of unity and consolidation of the party is a burning one. Under the circumstances it is more true now than before that the fundamental Communist cadres of the party must be welded together into a single block, that the Central Committee must be the real and only leader, and that the factions must be done away with. That is a prerequisite. Have we solved that problem already? I think not. The theses point out, a little too mildly perhaps, that in spite of headway, we have yet a long way to go, and call for new and more vigorous efforts for the unification of the party. I would underscore that section. It is of the utmost importance that from this plenum new and more vigorous efforts for the consolidation and unification of the party be made. In this connection I wish to emphasize the opinion that criticism and plain speaking are necessary, and from this standpoint I want to disagree again with the remarks of comrade Weinstone. He promised to speak plainly. But I will admit that I did not understand what he said, and to the extent that I did understand it, I did not agree with him. Comrade Weinstone, of course, in perfect good faith, spoke here as a sort of patriarch. The boys fought a little here and a little there, there was fault on both sides, they mustn’t do it anymore and must unite. We must be more concrete. The plenum of the CEC is not a class in the Workers School. We are older, more hardened, more used to hard words, and can even stand a few blows in order to clarify matters. There have been factional errors in the appointments of party functionaries in the districts and language sections. And these errors should be spoken about, and not only spoken about, but they should be corrected, as a prerequisite for the speeding up of unity. It is no answer at all to say there was factionalism on both sides. The real blame goes to those who are responsible for these factional errors and have the power to correct them. What has hampered the progress of unification? I think there has been some error in a theoretical way. Some comrades evidently evolved the fantastic theory of solving the problem of party unity and party leadership by artificially picking here and there citizens for the unity (so to speak) and candidates for the leadership. To artificially permeate here and artificially “squeeze” there are not the proper methods of selecting a leadership which grows in struggles and fights. I think this theory of “squeezing” certain sections of the leadership, without political basis, is a very unprincipled one and will be unsuccessful. I contend that the progress of unification can only be hampered by such unprincipled maneuvers.

Comrade Wolfe had no ground to attack the speech of comrade Bittelman, whose remarks were mild. Bittelman said: “If you want I will give you a bill of particulars.” And I could say if his is not big enough, then I can supplement it. He said, and I agree with him, that there were many instances, and it is only because we do not wish the plenum to occupy itself with organizational questions that he did not give them.

(Interjection: “Give the bill of particulars.”)

Well, I could begin by saying that the removal of comrade Swabeck from his position as district organizer in Chicago was a factional action that did not benefit the party in Chicago. I can go further and say that the factional discrimination and persecution against the former political friends of the Weinstone group in the South Slav Federation has not helped the party in the Federation.[9] If Weinstone does not know it, then I know it. And I do not desert the comrades who are persecuted for the sole reason that they supported us in the past fight, and by silence approve the unfounded discrimination made against them.

Comrade Wolfe said there were no political differences of a fundamental character and therefore no protest should be made against discrimination in organization questions. This logic is upside-down. The absence of vital political differences makes factional discrimination all the more unprincipled and puts a heavier blame on those who persist in it. It is maintained that there are no more majorities and minorities in the Polcom. It is true that on a number of political questions, we did not vote on group lines, but I noticed that on all organization questions, there always happens to be a substantial majority, and I always find myself in the minority. That is the way the thing shows up in practice. I don’t want to dwell too long on this point. I do not wish to switch the discussion away from the general problem of party unity into the merits of this or that appointment. The theses speak of drawing new forces into the leadership, and into the entire apparatus of the party. This advice is always in order. But in the period when the party is going into struggle it must be doubly careful about throwing away the old and tried material, discarding qualified comrades, drawing lines of distinction against those who are faithful and loyal to the party and have no reason to be discriminated against. I want to make my point of view as clear as possible, so that when I get through speaking nobody will wonder what I think about the question of unity. My adherence to the cause of consolidating and unifying the leadership of the party and doing away with factions stands as before. I do not want to deny a measure of progress, but a certain degree of dissatisfaction—not a crisis, not a big revolt, not a revolution—with the rate of progress that we have made must be placed on record at the plenum.

The question of unity is bound up with the question of leadership, and the sooner we understand a few fundamental principles of Communist leadership, the better. Communist leaders must have certain prerequisites. They cannot be artificially manufactured or artificially put aside for any considerable length of time in the Communist movement. That is the lesson of the history of factionalism in the international movement, and the classic example is to be found in the development of the leadership in the German Communist Party. The sooner the party as a whole understands this, the quicker we will be able to pass over into a solution of this problem, and enter into the new battles with a really welded and single leadership of the party.

In conclusion, a few remarks of a summary nature. First, the theses, as unanimously adopted in the Polcom and unanimously adopted here, clearly analyze the new situation and draw correct conclusions. The theses will orient our party and prepare it for the new period. The conclusion of the theses that the workers are entering into a path of struggle puts upon us tremendous obligations as American revolutionists to make good, in fact and in the struggles, as the leaders of the working class. In this period we will record further betrayals and further collapse of all parties and ideologies in the labor movement, outside of the Communists. The members of the Communist Party and its leadership will be tested in deeds. I want to express firm confidence that in the face of the big fights before us, our Communist Party, already nine years old, will unite and steel its ranks, discharge its obligations, and emerge from the test struggle bigger and stronger and more worthy to lead the workers to the final revolution.



1. The theses were not published in the Daily Worker. Instead, Jay Lovestone’s report to the plenum was published in nine installments, beginning February 7.

2. While the UMW was half-heartedly waging a losing strike in the East, the Industrial Workers of the World led close to 10,000 Colorado miners out on strike beginning 17 October 1927. Picketing in defiance of a state ban, the IWW waged a militant fight against the bloody Colorado coal companies. In November six miners were killed when the state police opened fire on a miners’ demonstration at the Columbine mine. But the IWW had won higher wages and union recognition when the strike ended on 17 February 1928.

On 23 November 1927 the Colorado strike had been discussed in the party’s Political Committee. Bill Dunne submitted a statement on the strike, which began as follows:

“1. The Colorado situation in its relation to the whole struggle of the coal miners and the American working class in general has been entirely underestimated by our party.

“2. The IWW has not only picked up and appropriated the class struggle tradition of the Colorado workers, but has added a new tradition to it as a result of their state-wide struggle and the recent shooting at the Columbine mine.”

Dunne went on to list the party’s failings, which included not sending a reporter to Colorado and allowing Hugo Oehler, the Kansas City District Organizer who had gone to Colorado and been arrested for strike support activities, to languish in jail because he could not pay the $2,500 bail. Subsequently the party threw significant resources into supporting the strike.

3. In August 1925 the Fourth Convention of the Workers Party had elected a Secretariat consisting of Ruthenberg, Lovestone and Cannon. The Foster faction was not represented, and in 1926 an ECCI decision on the American question abolished the institution. But it was revived after Lovestone won his victory at the party’s Fifth Convention: Lovestone, Gitlow and Foster were the members.

4. See Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism, note page 397-398 for the background on the fight in the Political Committee over calling a national convention of the miners opposition. These differences were evidently overcome, because the Political Committee meeting on 2 November 1927 unanimously passed Foster’s motion “that we, through our progressive contacts, sound out these leading progressives at once as to their attitude regarding the calling of a conference.” John Brophy and Powers Hapgood agreed to go along; Brophy remained chairman of the “Save the Union” Committee. A national conference was called for 1 April 1928 in Pittsburgh. Over 1,000 miners attended—most of them strikers. In early September 1927 the party had begun a campaign for relief for the striking miners in the Central Competitive Field, who had been on strike since early April.

5. The Political Committee first discussed this issue on 12 October 1927, when Weinstone proposed that the Committee endorse the New York district policy of giving “qualified support”’ to the re-election of Socialist judge Jacob Panken. Cannon, Foster and Bittelman opposed the policy, while the Lovestone majority endorsed it, noting, however, that “criticism of the SP and Judge Panken has not been brought out sufficiently strong enough.”

6. At this time the Comintern was just beginning a turn to the left, as Stalin prepared to move against Bukharin. In the initial stages Bukharin was forced to execute the turn, and in early November he signed a circular letter addressed to the Central Committees of all the Communist parties. This letter was attached to the minutes of the American Political Committee meeting of 30 November 1927. The letter gave a critique of recent rightist errors of the French and British parties, particularly their desire to give electoral support to reformist parties in coalition with bourgeois parties:

“In connection with these questions, attention must be devoted to the preparations for the general elections in Britain and France, in which countries the question of relations with the USSR is particularly acute. It must be borne in mind that the ECCI regards the policy of supporting a Liberal-Labour bloc (Lloyd George and MacDonald) in Britian and the Left cartel in France as radically wrong, even if this support is advocated under the guise of assisting the USSR.”

7. In the presidential elections in Germany at the end of March 1925 the Communist International, fearful that the right-wing monarchist, Prussian Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, would be elected if the working-class vote was split, had advocated that the German Communist Party withdraw its candidate after the first round and support that of the Social Democrats. But the German Central Committee opposed the tactic. The Social Democrats withdrew their candidate in any case, in favor of the candidate of the bourgeois Center Party. Hindenburg won the election.

In July Zinoviev had sent a letter to the Tenth Congress of the German Communist Party, urging the party to reject the “ultraleft fever” and recognize the temporary stabilization of capitalism in Germany. But the German leadership under Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow remained recalcitrant. On 29 July 1925 the ECCI Presidium decided to begin its campaign to remove the Fischer-Maslow leadership.

8. The minutes of the Political Committee meeting of 2 November 1927 contain the following point on the Boston elections:

“Comrade Dunne reported that Bearak has been endorsed by the Good Government Association for Mayor in Boston. Bearak is running on the Socialist ticket.

“Comrade Lovestone stated that the question has been taken up previously and acted upon: that our comrades were instructed to present a workers’ program to the Conference, and if Bearak accepted it we should support him, otherwise we would fight him. He did not accept and our comrades are now fighting him.”’

Joseph Bearak, a well-known Socialist and labor attorney, was in fact an SP candidate for Boston City Council.

9. Max Bedacht replaced Swabeck as district organizer in Chicago after Lovestone’s victory at the party’s Fifth Convention in August 1927.

According to a report by the 1925 Parity Commission there were two warring groups in the South Slavic Federation, the Fisher group and the Novak group. The Fisher group supported the Foster-Cannon faction while the Novak group, which had a majority on the Federation Bureau, supported the Ruthenberg faction. The Bureau majority removed Fisher as editor of the Federation paper, Radnik, and tried to drum him out of the organization.