James P. Cannon

A Sorry Adventure

(January 1932)

Written: January 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 4, 23 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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It is just about a year since Weisbord, having failed to convince us by argument, set out to prove by example that he alone possessed the secret of organizing a mass movement and steering it on the straight revolutionary path. If we still remain skeptical it is not because his adventure has been devoid of interest or because he failed to make contributions of a certain kind to the movement in general. You have to give him credit for trying. He didn’t prove his own case, it is true, but he proved something else. What his exploits lacked in heroic quality they made up in a unique humor that was all the more infectious because of its apparent unconsciousness, like the comic act of a sad-faced clown. Therefore we maintain, against those who want to cross him off as a total loss, that the man has his uses. Revolutionists remain human, all too human; we need diversion and amusement. We live parlous lives, beset with griefs and difficulties, and one who can make us laugh is not to be utterly scorned. A brief account of the life and deeds of Albert Weisbord during the past year is justified by this consideration.

As the world knows, or ought to know, the Herculean endeavors of Weisbord have recently culminated in a split of his organization. From this we learn that the total membership of the mass movement at the time of the split – was thirteen people. Out of these thirteen, six seceded or were expelled, leaving a net membership of seven in the parent organization, including Weisbord himself and his immediate family. Thereupon – it is alleged – some members of the split-off faction, who had never belonged to any other organization and whose sole instruction in revolutionary ethics had been imparted by him, made an un invited visit to the headquarters and carried off some books. Weisbord announced this depredation in a characteristic manifesto and submitted it to the whole revolutionary movement as the question of the day.

We are not in favor of burglary and larceny, and it is easy to incite us against practitioners of these arts – principle in this matter being reinforced by personal grievances. We were just on the point of passing judgment on the alleged culprits when Weisbord forestalled us by an appeal to other authorities. The incomparable revolutionist took his whilom comrades and pupils to court and there prayed for the justice that had been denied him. And then, to make sure that this lesson in Marxism would not be restricted to the defendants, he published a letter in the New York Forward explaining his action. He went to court, he said, on the advice of Roger Baldwin. That ought to satisfy anybody who is satisfied with Roger Baldwin as a moral, legal, and political authority. Moreover, he protested, it was a civil suit and not a criminal case, which – as they say in Missouri is a distinction if not a difference.

So what can we do now? We have never yet testified against anybody in court and cannot go as witness. We are also barred by ethical scruples from expressing any opinion which might prejudice the case of the defendants. And besides, if it is a matter of law, cannot the seceding faction claim minority rights in the property? We have heard of cases where minority groups of stockholders sued for an accounting and division and were granted it. We raise here also a hypothetical legal question: suppose the defendants plead insanity and cite as proof that they were still suffering from the influence of Weisbord at the time of the alleged offense? It would be a cruel judge indeed who would turn a deaf ear to such a plea.

One may think that these performances would be enough for one man for one year – or for a lifetime. But no, the comic resources of our hero are inexhaustible. On top of all this – to round out the year, so to speak – Weisbord addressed a letter to the Communist League proposing that we get together and talk things over with a view of unity. This proposal, he blandly informed us, is designed to be a “bridge” to the Communist League. But he is separated from us in such a way that a bridge can hardly be the medium of connection. What this fellow needs is a ladder or, better yet, a rope.

Last updated on: 22.3.2013