James P. Cannon

Foreign-Language Work of the CLA

(January 1932)

Written: January 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 1, 2 January 1932, 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: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (March 2013).
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The appearance of a Greek organ of the Left Opposition in America, and the projected early publication of a Jewish paper, will no doubt extend the propaganda effectiveness of our movement to a considerable extent. At the same time, these developments pose before the Communist League, for the first time in its experience as a distinct organization, one of the most difficult and complicated problems – the problem of coor dinating and centralizing a movement which is compelled, by the force of circumstances in the country, to speak in many tongues.

Foreign-language-speaking workers constitute an important – even if not the most decisive – section of the American proletariat. To carry the message of communism to them and to unite them with the native work ers in a single movement is a task that American communism has stum bled over more than once in the past. We ought to learn from the costly mistakes of the past party experience in order to avoid them in our own work as a faction.

The problem is political, first of all. Organizational difficulties, which have in the past assumed tremendous importance, flow from the political essence of the question. As Marxists we can do no other than aim at a centralized movement which carries an identical message in every lan guage, and always acts as an organizational unit. Special language organizations cannot have an independent existence under our banner. The Left Opposition has no use for autonomous language groups.

The strength of the Left Opposition, in all of its manifestations, is the strength of its ideas, its granite foundation of principle. Every special language grouping or propaganda expression must be built from the very start on this conception. It follows from this that all of our language pa pers, as well as all other propaganda mediums, are organs of a single National Committee. The references all our language organs make to specific problems of the immigrant workers have to be subordinated entirely and directly related to our fundamental principled line.

The right wing of American communism is also having an experience in this field. In the contrast between that experience and ours can be seen the contrast between a movement that lives from day to day, as best it can, and a movement that goes by principle. Revolutionary Age complains about its Lithuanian twin Nanjoji Gadyne, which has recently made its first appearance.

“There is a distinct tendency to treat the struggle of the Lithuanian Opposition as if it were an isolated ‘Lithuanian’ fight. The fundamental political struggle ... is almost completely neglected ... It does not as much as mention the Communist Party (Majority Group).”

Well, what do you expect? Of course they leave aside the big questions and devote themselves to the comparatively petty “national” issues, to catch the support of people with transitory grievances. The opportunists always do that. Nanjoji Gadyne is only repeating the method it learned from Revolutionary Age.

Such exhibitions cannot happen in the Left Opposition. Revolutionary Age also criticized the manifesto of the Communist League in the Greek language – but from an opposite standpoint. The manifesto, it said, talked too much about the Anglo-Russian Committee and the Chinese revolution, and not enough about the so-called Greek questions. We need not worry about such criticism. Let us go to the workers in all languages with a uniform propaganda on the fundamental questions of world import. In that way we will build a movement among the foreign language-speaking workers that is ideologically united with the Communist League and an integral part of its organization. If we go ahead with this aim we will be armed in advance against most of the difficulties and contradictions which hampered the party in the past in the foreign language field.

Last updated on: 29 January 2022