James P. Cannon

Organize The Unorganized Communists

Written: 1929
First Published: The Militant, New York, Volume 2, No. 8, April 15, 1929
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters
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One of the most outstanding weaknesses of the American Communist movement has been the failure to organize into the party ranks the great numbers of revolutionary workers who are sympathetic to communism and to retain those who have joined in the past. The great disparity between the sentiment for communism among the advanced workers and the organized strength of the movement is a striking feature of the situation which reflects the bankruptcy of the party leadership. The growth of the influence of communist ideas on the one side and the decline in the number of organized Communists on the other presents a crying contradiction, a great evil in itself and the soil for the growth of other evils, among them a strengthening of bureaucratic and clique tendencies which are already developed to an enormous extent.

We do not speak here of the failure to produce a “Mass Communist Party,” which is promised every six months in theses and proclamations. The conditions for a mass party in the true sense of the word have not existed in America. Our reference is to the failure to utilize the actually existing possibilities and to recruit into the organized Communist ranks the workers who belong there. A consideration of only a few of the most indisputable facts will suffice to show how really great has been this dereliction, and to confront the Communist militants with a number of serious questions as to what the future holds.

Let us first take some available figures which show the trend of organizational retrogression. The National Office financial reports for the first eight months of 1928 show an average duespaying membership of 7,277. Compare this figure with the 1925 convention report, which showed an average dues-paying membership for the first six months of that year of 16,325. Here is a loss of 9,048 members—more than 55 percent. This is the first shocking reminder, in terms of membership figures, of what the present leadership of the party signifies. And the figures do not tell the whole story. Since 1925 we have had the experience of a number of important strikes, the great Sacco-Vanzetti movement, and other opportunities to popularize our movement among the workers. Why did not the party double its membership in the past three years instead of decreasing it by more than half?

Go back further. In 1919 there were more than 100,000 members in the Socialist Party, and the left wing claimed a majority. Even James Oneal in his book American Communism conceded 35,000 members to the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party at the time of the two conventions in September 1919.

This figure is almost five times the number of the present party membership.

It may be that all these thousands of members of the left wing were not real material for the Communist movement and that the Palmer raids swept them away like chaff. Such a view brings us to a still more striking phenomenon. The report of the unity convention of the United Communist Party and the Communist Party, printed in the Communist for July 1921, shows a duespaying membership of 12,028 represented in the convention.35 The underground movement, nearly two years after the Palmer raids, conducting all of its work illegally, had 4,751 more members than the present party in the seventh year of its existence as a legal organization!

To the failure to retain more than a small fraction of the original members of the left wing in the Socialist Party, and the failure to make as good a membership showing as the underground movement, which worked under such great handicaps, must be added the inability to make any serious headway in recruiting from the tens of thousands of revolutionary syndicalists who should have found a place in the Communist ranks. Sympathy for the Russian revolution, which was and is the main spring of revolutionary tendencies in the labor movement, was very strong among these workers and remains so today.

The Communist International regarded them as a necessary constituent part of the American Communist movement and included them in its invitation to the Second Congress. The theses of the Second Congress declared that the measure of success attained by the Communist parties in gaining the support of the revolutionary syndicalist workers would be a criterion of their revolutionary effectiveness. The showing of the American party in this respect is a dismal one indeed, and this has been a great loss to the movement. The repulsion of such genuinely proletarian elements has gone together with the facile attraction of petty-bourgeois, intellectual, and careerist elements. This twosided process is reflected by the present leadership of the party.

These questions should have a prominent place on the agenda of the forthcoming national conference of the Opposition. We are not merely waging a factional struggle; our responsibilities are deeper and broader. We must not only attempt to point out the right road for the future of the party, but we must ourselves take some positive steps on this road and undertake to carry out in practice the line which serves the interests of the movement. In the period that a corrupted bureaucracy forces a division within the communist ranks—and in all our work we must acknowledge the actual existence of such a division—it is our duty to take upon ourselves directly all those tasks which we have the capacity to carry out.

One of these tasks is to organize the unorganized communistic workers, to help to strengthen their grasp on basic communist principles, and to facilitate their training in the habits of disciplined organization. We have exceptional opportunities to make real headway with such an undertaking even now; and these opportunities will be multiplied as it becomes clearer to the revolutionary workers that we are not held back from revolutionary duties by any organizational fetishism or formalities.

One of the most significant aspects of the struggle which broke out into the open with our expulsion six months ago are the almost universal manifestations of sympathy for our cause which have been shown especially by the former members of the IWWtrue militants of the class war-who are sympathetic to the Russian revolution and to the main ideas of communism, but who have been alienated and repelled by the party regime. There are good reasons for this. The proletarian and revolutionary essence of the Opposition platform, on an American as well as on an international scale, is obvious to these workers, and they feel an instinctive solidarity with our fight. The same is true in general also of the rank and file of the nonparty communistic workers, who are the most free from bureaucratic influences and who have no axes to grind.

We ought to welcome this development and unhesitatingly facilitate their union with us. This is a many-sided task upon the accomplishment of which much of the future of the American Communist movement depends. It involves a program of practical activities in the class struggle which we must carry on without asking the permission of the party bureaucrats. It requires a widespread application of the tactics of the united front with these proletarian elements in joint activities and struggles of various kinds. It demands an approach to them as class brothers who have a rightful place in the movement of communism.

For this a definite organizational form is an absolute necessity. The direct recruitment of these workers into the ranks of the Opposition must begin and must be pushed forward with the greatest energy. It will be one of the most important duties of the national conference of the Opposition to lay out the lines of this project and to decide on its organizational form.

Such a decision will turn a new page in the American Communist struggle. The program of the bureaucrats is to split the movement. The program of the Opposition is the unification of the movement on the line of Leninism, against the corrupted bureaucrats and opportunists. The more militantly we wage our fight on all fronts, the more firmly we organize our forces and recruit new ones, the sooner we will win the victory and accomplish our aims.