James P. Cannon

Tasks Of Our National Conference

(September 1931)

Written: September 1931.
First Published: The Militant, New York, Vol. IV No. 24, 19 September 1931, p. 3.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additioanl bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: D. Walters.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (January 2013).
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The Second National Conference of the Communist League will mark an important milestone in the development of our organization and, consequently, in the history of American communism, whose banner we bear and whose future we represent. The conference is a culminating point in three years of preparatory labor for the grueling battles yet to come. Its deliberations have been grounded by all that has gone before and its results can be anticipated, even now, with reasonable assurance.

Our ranks have been welded together on the basis of a correct political line. If the conference accepts the proposals of the National Committee it will not find it necessary to confront the organization with any new or surprising turns. Our theses and other recommendations only represent a synthesis of the policies and methods already worked out and applied in our daily work and agitation on the basis of our platform. The approval of this line by the conference will necessarily carry with it an endorsement of the course on which the National Committee has guided the movement and a repudiation of the criticisms brought against it. Any kind of indefiniteness on this point is out of the question. The conference is to draw the balance and decide. Proceeding from this, the national conference is then obliged to declare an end to controversy over the disputed questions and to prohibit any further discussion of them. It can do this with full authority and with assurance that its command will be supported throughout the organization. Our conference preparations have been a triumph of proletarian democracy, a model illustration of its processes – the only methods yet discovered whereby a living workers’ organization can assert its collective judgment.

The discussion has been thorough, free, and untrammeled by any kind of suppression. The selection of delegates proceeds in the same way. After this, it will be impossible to question the representative character of the conference or its authority to speak for the entire organization. The membership as a whole will wait for its signal to terminate the discussion and concentrate all attention on the concrete tasks worked out on the basis of the fundamental decisions.

Outstanding among the questions concerning which the National Committee will insist on a categorical decision of the conference – because it has been the one subjected to the greatest dispute – is the question of our attitude toward the party. The platform adopted at the first conference answered this question correctly. Without that, the Left Opposition would long ago have suffered shipwreck. Now, with the help of the Second National Conference, we must take another step forward on the same path we have traveled heretofore. This stands first on the list of concrete tasks which proceed logically from the general recommendation already submitted in the thesis of the National Committee.

In our judgment the practical program of the conference should run approximately as follows:

  1. Settling all disputes about the role of the Left Opposition as a faction of the party, and putting a stop to all argument about it, we must intensify our work within the party ranks, organize our forces into a firm group, and work out a practical program for the direction of their work. The proletarian militants of the party and its peripheral organizations are the future troops of the Opposition: this is the idea which must guide our work and from which we must not depart. Closer to the party, deeper into the party – these are our slogans.

    The Oppositionists must strive by all means to draw nearer to rank-and-file party members, approach them in a fraternal spirit, and explain the great questions again and again with the utmost patience and persistence. This work goes hand in hand with a fiery proletarian hate of the centrist bureaucracy and its corrupting influence, an unrelenting struggle against it.
  2. Tighten up the organization. Make a decisive break with the habits of looseness and slackness which hamper the Bolshevist development of the league. Impose tasks on every member and hold every member to account for his activity. Establish discipline worthy of a communist organization and close the door to windbags and triflers.
  3. Begin the actual formation of a cadre of professional revolutionists who put themselves entirely at the disposal of the organization. Select a group out of the younger and footloose elements, and train them deliberately for full-time professional work. Accept for this grouping only those who mean it earnestly, who are not afraid of sacrifices, who are willing and able to learn and boot aside the wiseacres and the know-it-alls.

    Even the beginning of such work will signify an enormous step forward, for the Opposition cannot succeed with its great historic mission unless it prepares its soldiers for the coming day. A formal decision of the conference putting such a selection of forces on the order of the day will give powerful impetus to this development.
  4. Finish the expansion program before the end of the year. Raise the balance of the fund. Stabilize the weekly Militant. Start the theoretical magazine. Arrange at least two national tours. Establish the system of field organizers on a permanent basis.
  5. Conduct a campaign for fifty new members out of the circle of sympathizers of the Opposition. Our opponents may laugh at the modesty of such a goal, but we need not worry about that. We do not claim to be a mass movement. Our aim is the selection of the vanguard, and fifty new members, a number which can be recruited with a determined effort – will mean a material strengthening of our movement which will guarantee the success of every one of the practical tasks of the moment. Bigger things will follow.
  6. Enroll every member of the Communist League in at least one of the nonparty mass organizations, and systematically organize their work for the constructive building of these organizations and the propaganda for our ideas within them. Rejecting all phrasemongering agitation about “mass work” and “independent work” in general, and holding fast to our essential function as propagandists, we ought nevertheless to increase our activity in the class struggle, particularly in those fields which bring the Oppositionists into contact with members and sympathizers of the party. That means, in the first place, to penetrate the nonparty mass organizations and unions and work actively there. A special decision of the conference along these lines is quite necessary.
  7. Strengthen the central apparatus of the Communist League. Reject all amateurist conceptions which make a virtue of political leadership on a part-time basis. Strain in the direction of a larger and full-time staff which continues to expand the growth of the organization and its tasks. Settle this question in principle and explain the views and methods of Lenin regarding professional revolutionary work.

*  *  *  *

It will be seen at once that the suggestions indicated above, taken all together, do not constitute a very ambitious program. All the tasks enumerated are small ones, they are comparatively simple, and they are all easily possible. Yet it would be a mistake for the conference to go far beyond them.

It is not for us to adopt grandiose projects which are beyond our capacities at the moment, which are soon forgotten and never accomplished. We are under no compulsion to imitate the bluff-programs of the Stalinists. We do not have to “make a showing” before anyone. We are only obliged to know what to do next with the forces at our disposal, and do it.

The practical proposals which have been outlined here proceed from this point of view. If we accomplish all of them – and we can do so without undue strain if we have the will – it will not change our position in a qualitative sense. But it will indubitably raise our hard-pressed faction to higher ground and prepare it for a further ascent. That is enough. No more can reasonably be expected from the Second National Conference. There is every reason to expect that it will not yield less.

Last updated on: 26.1.2013