James P. Cannon

Where Is the Mooney Movement?

Written: November 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 31 (Whole No. 90), 14 November 1931, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (February 1931).
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It is nearly three months since Tom Mooney issued his memorable appeal To All Militant and Revolutionary Labor Organizations and Groups for united action in his behalf. Thereby he put the fifteen-year-old case once more on the agenda of the labor movement. He aroused the enthusiasm of every conscientious militant for a new struggle for his liberation and for the cause of the working class which he symbolizes in his prison cell.

Because of the profound response which it called forth from the depths of the movement, the call of Tom Mooney sent the leaders of all the factions scurrying to prepare their answer. The classwar prisoner has a great authority and nobody dared to ignore his appeal. All the factions and groups answered. Each in its own way made a gesture of compliance. And there the matter rests at the present moment. Where is the new “Mooney movement” which the rank-and-file militants desire with all their hearts? It is not yet under way. Even the campaign to set the great movement in motion still waits the initial steps of organization.

And this is not because there is no basis for the issue. All the elements for a truly gigantic movement, one that can reach into the very depths of the most conservative labor organizations and set their members into action, are at hand. It is the method that is lacking: it is the understanding and the will of the leaders of the factions and groups to whom Mooney addressed his appeal. It must be said plainly, because it is the bitter and incontestable truth: they have all diplomatized with the appeal; they have played factional politics with it; they have sabotaged it. The problem is to break through this rotten game. And the best weapon for this is the appeal of Mooney himself. In that document the means and methods for unfolding the movement can be found.

Tom Mooney’s letter of August 18 is a remarkable presentation of the question in every respect. All the sabotagers justify themselves on the ground that “Mooney is in jail and doesn’t understand the situation.” They are all wrong. The class-war prisoner, immured in San Quentin these fifteen years, understands the question better than they do. It is even possible that his superior wisdom can be attributed to his imprisonment. New turns and new periods percolate through the prison walls only after a certain delay. Mooney has assimilated the idea of the united front as Lenin taught it. Perhaps he has not yet learned about the new amendments. At any rate he has not been converted to them. That is his strength, and the strength of his appeal. That is why his appeal constitutes the guiding line along which alone a real mass movement for his liberation can proceed.

The open letter of Tom Mooney was and yet remains a great opportunity for the Communist Party and the International Labor Defense. On the one hand it was a formal notice from Mooney to the trade unions, to the Socialists, and to the so-called progressives: no exclusion of the Communists from the Mooney movement. On the other hand – rightly understood – it was an intimation to the Communists: I depend on you to press the issue and lead the way, to force the reformists and the trade unions, including the most conservative ones, to fight with you in a common front. Mooney meant to say, as he said personally to the present writer three years ago: “The reds are the dynamic element; they must start the movement; they must set it into motion.”

It is bad that the leaders of the party didn’t understand this, and still worse that they do not understand it yet. They are people to whom the obvious is always a mystery sealed with seven seals. Anyone who has as much as a casual acquaintance with the lineup in the labor movement ought to know that the trade unions under their present leadership, and the other groups addressed in the letter, whether conservative, pseudoradical, or Socialist, will not make a genuine and militant fight for Mooney. At best they will only render lip-service in deference to the sentiments of the ranks, arrange a formal demonstration, make a mild, polite, and orderly protest – all of which means nothing, or next to nothing, in such a bitterly contested class issue as the Mooney case.

But is it not equally clear that the protests of the Communists and their close sympathizers alone – a mere handful of the American working class – scare nobody, and least of all the stiff-necked and class-conscious persecutors of Mooney? They do not care a fig for the protests—of the Communists so long as these protests are not supported by wider masses of the workers. This is the crux of the question. Without the initiative and driving force of the Communists – the “dynamic element,” the organizing force – there can be no militant movement on a national scale. But the agitation of the Communists cannot be effective until it penetrates the masses and sweeps them along in a joint movement. Tom Mooney understands this, as his letter shows. His letter created the most favorable ground to realize this necessary union of forces. The Stalinist leaders of the party have bungled the whole question. The next move is up to the Communist workers. It is for them to force the issue and compel a change of course.

What does this mean, concretely, now? It means for the Communist Party and the ILD to make direct, formal proposals to all the organizations and groups mentioned in Tom Mooney’s letter for joint action on the single issue of the fight for Mooney. It means to give up the horseplay of a united front embracing only Communist organizations, in which the Mooney case is tacked on to a number of other issues, and in which its special appeal is lost – the other cases will not lose by this temporary segregation of the Mooney issue; they will gain a hundredfold by the sweep of the broader Mooney movement which can be created.

To change the course and correct it now while there is yet time, means in New York and such other places where separate conferences have been organized – Communist and reformist – to propose to the reformists a merger of the conferences into one. It goes without saying that every direct proposal to the official leadership of the reformist organizations and conferences has to be accompanied and supplemented by an intensive agitation in the ranks of these organizations to compel an acceptance of the unity proposals.

This is the way to blow the breath of life into the Mooney movement. This is the tactic of the united front as Lenin taught it, and as Mooney appealed for in his letter. The reformists are doing everything in their power to make this letter remain a scrap of paper. But we have no advice to offer them. Our suggestions are directed to the Communists as a means of forcing the reformists. The Leninist tactic of the united front is a powerful means to this end. That is not the least of its merits.

Last updated on: 9.2.2013