James P. Cannon

Before the Party Convention

Blast a Way Forward with a
Program of Party Expansion

(16 June 1939)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 42, 16 June 1939, p. 3.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The question of war, which leads directly to the question of revolution, confronts every workers’ political organization with its supreme test. It is as clear as day and nobody any longer denies that capitalism, which has overstayed its time as a social and economic system, is about to inflict upon humanity another world-wide military explosion.

It is self-evident that America, the greatest and most rapacious imperialist power, will be directly involved in the war, as it is already involved in the diplomatic maneuvers which precede and prepare it. Irreconcilable opposition to the war is the pre-requisite for the development of a revolutionary struggle to end the war with a workers’ victory. As the only party in the United States whose opposition to war is taken seriously either by itself or others, we have to consider now the practical ways and means to make our opposition effective and emerge from the revolutionary crisis, which will inevitably ensue from the war, at the head of the revolting masses. This question will of necessity dominate our forthcoming anti-war convention from beginning to end.

But what does it mean to begin now to prepare an effective opposition to the war? Obviously it cannot be done by a passive waiting for war to break out. On the contrary it means to gear up all our work to a speed and intensity which breaks completely with the snail’s pace movement of “normal” and peaceful times. That is the gist of our problem. Unless we solve it we are lost. The trouble with us, the mortal danger that confronts us, is that our revolutionary anti-war program may remain on paper. We have repeated again and again that the fight against war is not a special task to be accomplished by some sort of sleight-of-hand. If war is only the continuation of politics by other means, then the revolutionary struggle against war is the multiplied extension and intensification of revolutionary agitation and organization. We must prepare for war by building a stronger party and reshaping it for war conditions. And we must make haste and perform miracles of energy in the brief time left to us.

Old Methods Outmoded

The social crisis of capitalism is unfolding at such hurricane speed, with a world war on the order of the day, that the slow, modest growth of past times, the patient enrollment and education of new recruits, one by one – the only thing possible in our preparatory years – is fatally inadequate now. We must drive ahead; everything must be done in a hurry and on a many times multiplied scale.

Fortunately, we are ready for such a radical transformation of the nature of our work and activity. In cooperation with our co-workers of the Fourth International we have worked out the program. We have educated cadres who constitute the skeleton of a national organization. We are ready, prepared by the past, to drive forward and become a proletarian power if we have the will to do so.

This we can do without undue strain. In our ranks we have great reservoirs of untapped energy. We are not tired; nobody in our organization has hurt himself very much yet. True, our militants have done much more than others, and have made sacrifices which astound the other parties of half-and-half policies and half-and-half people. But we are not like the others; we aim to conquer the world. We need to put the party now on a war footing and move ahead by a forced march. We need to break with the habits of conservative routine and blast our way out of isolation by a bold and ambitious program of expansion.

“Moral Rearmament”

Our anti-war convention must give the signal for a “moral rearmament” of our own, in the sense of transforming our more or less placid, easy-going propaganda circle into an army on the march; an army whose disciplined militants are determined to conquer and who shrink back from no endeavor and no sacrifice. We must aspire to build such a party as Lenin built, and to adapt to the conditions of America his concept of professional revolutionists who live and work all the time for the party and with the party. The convention, in calling for such a transformation, should implement it by setting concrete tasks which, by their very nature, will operate to hasten the process.

Up till now, for explainable reasons, we have been a party primarily of literary propagandists and critics. On the organization side we have been woefully weak, and we have made only a few feeble experiments with mass organization. This lop-sidedness, which had its justification in our days of preparation, must be corrected now by a drastic shift in emphasis. Propaganda, which Plechanof defined as the dissemination of many ideas to a few people, must be counter-balanced by a ten-fold increase in agitation work, which he defined as the spreading of a few ideas to many people. That is the true meaning of our transition program. To accomplish this in a few months’ time – that is all we can allow for the change – we need a concrete program of expansion as follows:

The Three-a-Week Appeal

  1. On the literary front: Change the Appeal to a more popular paper and publish it three times a week as the necessary next step on the road to the Daily Appeal.
  2. On the organization front: Draft twenty more qualified comrades to work at full time for the party. One each should specialize in and direct Trade union, unemployed, and Negro work on a national scale. The others should be assigned to work in the field – at least one full-time organizer in every important district or center where we have party organizations and a few men roaming the field to organize new branches and develop new activities.
  3. Agitation: Regular speaking tours by party leaders at intervals of not more than two months.
  4. Finances: Raise a special fund of $10,000 to finance the foregoing undertakings.

This program, so modest in comparison with the magnitude of our task and the limited time at our disposal is, of course, only a beginning. But once it is fairly in operation it will produce the new means and possibilities for further expansion. It should be realized within a period of three or four months after the convention. There is no doubt whatever that we can realize the program in full without any real strain on the resources and energies of our members and sympathizers. To be sure, any other party of comparative size would be flabbergasted by half these demands. But again – we are not like the others. We set ourselves tasks which are in some degree commensurate with our great aims and the quality of our militants. The demands of this expansion program will appear as child’s play compared to the real tasks and sacrifices which are yet to come, and for which the minor efforts and sacrifices of this expansion program will help to prepare us.

Our convention, I venture to say, will not stutter over the sacrifices this program entails; more likely it will ask proof of its practical feasibility. From this standpoint I will discuss the question here briefly.

Isn’t it foolhardy to undertake a three-a-week publication when the two-a-week is admittedly in serious financial difficulties which, only a few weeks ago, threatened its suspension? No, it is not foolhardy, but on the contrary is entirely feasible. We need the paper three times a week in order to get ready for the Daily which will be on the agenda tomorrow.

The twice-a-week Appeal is already four months old. It is an inestimable weapon, as all recognize. We strike now twice as hard and twice as often and we distribute approximately twice as many papers as before. The only trouble is a very small one. Naturally, we operate on a close margin. Some of the branches became careless in the payment of their bundle order accounts. Quite a few have been too sluggish in getting subscriptions. Remedy these defects – and the convention, by its authority, undoubtedly can and will remedy them – put a stop to horse-play about the payments for bundle orders, and increase the subscription list by only 1,000 by the mandatory assignment of quotas, and the twice-a-week Appeal will be financially stabilized. The decks cleared for the next necessary step – the three-a-week Appeal.

Half for Organization Work

We will, of course, require a reserve fund to cover the deficit and help the paper over the first period. One-half of the $10,000 fund should be allocated to this purpose. The other half should be spent exclusively on organization work as outlined above.

Ten thousand dollars is quite a sum of money for a small organization of poor people to raise at one time. But the rank and file of our organization have shown in the past that they are capable of responding with enthusiasm and sacrifice every time real needs and serious tasks are presented to them in a rational fashion. The 100% achievement of the quotas for the twice-a-week Appeal and the simultaneous collection of the international fund should be eye-openers to those who doubt that our militants are ready to take a step forward and to pay for it, if necessary, with their own skin.

The whole party is dissatisfied, and properly so, with the way our organization work lags behind the literary propaganda. Part of the difficulty can be attributed to individual delinquencies which may or may not be corrected in the coming months. But a convention discussion on this level and a chorus of recrimination cannot yield anything very valuable. That would be simply nibbling at the problem, anyway. We need not merely an adjustment here and there – although that will be useful – but a drastic, wholesale reconstruction of our conceptions and methods of organization. We must have done with amateurism and the lackadaisical organizing methods of a propaganda sect that does not contemplate big actions. We need a bigger staff, not only in the center but also, and especially, in the field.

We have the qualified people to make up such a staff, young militants who have received their political education in our incomparable school, who balk at no sacrifice and are ready for any assignment. At the same time the party has reached the point where it needs and must have their undivided labors. The three-a-week Appeal and the augmented staff of organizers can soon lift the party higher and prepare it better for bigger things to come.

The convention will mark a real step forward if it adopts a program of expansion along these lines.

Last updated on 17 January 2016