Fourth International

February 1944

The First Days of American Communism

James P. Cannon

Source: Fourth International, February 1944. Original bound volumes of Fourth International and microfilm provided by the NYU Tamiment Labor Libraries.
Transcription\HTML Markup:Andrew Pollack

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reprinted below is the first chapter of James P. Cannon’s new book The History of American Trotskyism, scheduled for early spring publication by Pioneer Publishers. The material contained in the first chapter was originally presented as a lecture in New York City on March 18, 1942. Subsequent issues of Fourth International will carry some of the other chapters of this book which fills a long-felt gap in the basic documents of the revolutionary socialist movement in the United States.

* * *

It seems rather appropriate, Comrades, to give a course of lectures on the history of American Trotskyism in this Labor Temple. It was right here in this auditorium at the beginning of our historic fight in 1928 that I made the first public speech in defense of Trotsky and the Russian Opposition. The speech was given not without some difficulties, for the Stalinists tried to break up our meeting by physical force. But we managed to get through with it. Our public speaking activity as avowed Trotskyists really began here in this Labor Temple, thirteen, nearly fourteen, years ago.

No doubt, in reading the literature of the Trotskyist movement in this country, you frequently noted the repeated statements that we have no new revelation: Trotskyism is not a new movement, a new doctrine, but the restoration, the revival, of genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practised in the Russian revolution and in the early days of the Communist International.

Bolshevism itself was also a revival, a restoration, of genuine Marxism after this doctrine had been corrupted by the opportunists of the Second International, who culminated their betrayal of the proletariat by supporting the imperialist governments in the World War of 1914-18. When you study the particular period I am going to speak about in this course—the last thirteen years—or any other period since the time of Marx and Engels, one thing is observable. That is, the uninterrupted continuity of the revolutionary Marxist movement.

Marxism has never lacked authentic representatives. Despite all perversions and betrayals which have disoriented the movement from time to time, a new force has always arisen, a new element has come forward to put it back on the right course; that is, on the course of orthodox Marxism. This was so in our case, too.

We are rooted in the past. Our movement which we call Trotskyism, now crystallized in the Socialist Workers Party, did not spring full-blown from nowhere. It arose directly from the Communist Party of the United States. The Communist Party itself grew out of the preceding movement, the Socialist Party, and, in part, the Industrial Workers of the World. It grew out of the movement of the revolutionary workers in America in the pre-war and war-time period.

The Communist Party, which took organizational form in 1919, was originally the Left Wing of the Socialist Party. It was from the Socialist Party that the great body of Communist troops came. As a matter of fact, the formal launching of the Party in September 1919, was simply the organizational culmination of a protracted struggle inside the Socialist Party.

There the program had been worked out and there, within the Socialist Party, the original cadres were shaped. This internal struggle eventually led to a split and the formation of a separate organization, the Communist Party.

In the first years of the consolidation of the Communist movement—that is, you may say, from the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 until the organization of the Communist Party in this country two years later, and even for a year or two after that—the chief labor was the factional struggle against opportunist socialism, then represented by the Socialist Party. That is almost always the case when a workers political organization deteriorates and at the same time gives birth to a revolutionary wing. The struggle for the majority, for the consolidation of forces within the party, almost invariably limits the initial activity of a new movement to a rather narrow, intra-party struggle which does not end with the formal split.

The new party continues to seek proselytes in the old. It takes time for the new party to learn how to stand firmly on its own feet. Thus even after the formal split had taken place in 1919, through the force of inertia and habit and also because the fight was not really ended, the factional struggle continued. People remained in the Socialist Party who were undecided and who were the most likely candidates for the new party organization. The Communist Party concentrated its activity in the first year or so to the fight to clarify doctrine and win over additional forces from the Socialist Party. Of course, as is almost invariably the case in such historical developments, this factional phase eventually gave way to direct activity in the class struggle, to recruitment of new forces and the development of the new organization on an entirely independent basis.

The Socialist Party Left Wing, which later became the Communist Party, was directly inspired by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Prior to that time American militants had very little opportunity to acquire a genuine Marxist education. The leaders of the Socialist Party were not Marxists. The literature of Marxism printed in this country was quite meager and confined almost solely to the economic side of the doctrine. The Socialist Party was a heterogeneous body; its political activity, its agitation and propagandistic teachings were a terrible hodgepodge of all kinds of radical, revolutionary and reformist ideas. In those days before the last war, and even during the war, young militants coming to the party looking for a clear programmatic guide had a hard time finding it. They couldn’t get it from the official leadership of the party which lacked serious knowledge of such things. The prominent heads of the Socialist Party were American counterparts of the opportunist leaders of the Social Democratic parties of Europe, only more ignorant and more contemptuous of theory. Consequently, despite their revolutionary impulses and spirit, the great mass of young militants of the American movement were able to learn little Marxism; and without Marxism it is impossible to have a consistent revolutionary movement.

The Bolshevik revolution in Russia changed everything almost overnight. Here was demonstrated in action the conquest of power by the proletariat. As in every other country, the tremendous impact of this proletarian revolutionary victory shook our movement in America to its very foundation. The inspiration alone of the deed enormously strengthened the revolutionary wing of the party, gave the workers new hope and aroused new interest in those theoretical problems of revolution which had not received proper recognition before that time.

We soon discovered that the organizers and leaders of the Russian revolution were not merely revolutionists of action. They were genuine Marxists in the field of doctrine. Out of Russia, from Lenin, Trotsky and the other leaders, we received for the first time serious expositions of the revolutionary politics of Marxism. We learned that they had been engaged in long years of struggle for the restoration of unfalsified Marxism in the international labor movement. Now, thanks to the great authority and prestige of their victory in Russia, they were finally able to get a hearing in all countries. All the genuine militants rallied around them and began studying their writings with an interest and eagerness we had never known before. The doctrine they expounded had a ten-fold authority because it had been verified in practice. Furthermore, month by month, year by year, despite all the power that world capitalism mobilized against them, they showed a capacity to develop the great revolution, create the Red Army, hold their own, make gains. Naturally, Bolshevism became the authoritative doctrine among revolutionary circles in all the workers political movements of the world, including our own here.

Role of the Language Federations

On that basis was formed the Left Wing of the Socialist Party. It had publications of its own; it had organizers, speakers and writers. In the spring of 1919—that is, four or five months before the Communist Party was formally organized—we held in New York the first National Conference of the Left Wing faction. I was a delegate to this conference, coming at that time from Kansas City. It was at this conference that the faction virtually took shape as a party within a party in preparation for the later split. The official organ of the Left Wing was called The Revolutionary Age. This paper brought to the workers of America the first authentic explanation of the doctrines of Lenin and Trotsky. Its editor was the first one in this country to expound and popularize the doctrines of the Bolshevik leaders. Thereby, he must be historically recognized as the founder of American Communism. This editor was a man named Louis C. Fraina. His heart was not as strong as his head. He succumbed in the struggle and became a belated convert to bourgeois “democracy” in the period of its death agony. But that is only his personal misfortune. What he did in those early days retains all its validity, and neither he nor anybody else can undo it.

Another prominent figure of the movement in those days was John Reed. He was no leader, no politician. But his moral influence was very great. John Reed was the American socialist journalist who went to Russia, took part in the revolution, truthfully reported it and wrote a great book about it, Ten Days that Shook the World.

The bulk of the membership in the early Left Wing of the Socialist Party were foreign-born. At that time, more than twenty years ago, a very large section of the basic proletariat in America were foreign-born. Prior to the war the doors of immigration had been wide open, as it served the needs of American capital to accumulate a great labor reserve. Many of these immigrants came to America with socialist sentiments from their home countries. Under the impact of the Russian revolution the foreign-language socialist movement grew by leaps and bounds. The foreign-born were organized into language federations, practically autonomous bodies affiliated to the Socialist Party. There were as many as eight or nine thousand members in the Russian Federation; five or six thousand among the Poles; three or four thousand Ukrainians; about twelve thousand Finns, etc.—an enormous mass of foreign-born members in the party. The great majority rallied to the slogans of the Russian revolution and after the split from the Socialist Party constituted the bulk of the members of the early Communist Party.

The leaders of these Federations aspired to control the new party and did in fact control it. By virtue of these blocs of foreign-language workers whom they represented, they exercised an inordinate influence in the early days of the Communist movement. This was good in some ways because for the greater part they were earnest Communists and helped inculcate the doctrines of Bolshevism.

“Struggles for Control”

But their domination was very bad in other respects. Their minds were not really in the United States but in Russia. They gave the movement a sort of unnatural formation and afflicted it at the start with an exotic sectarianism. The dominant leaders of the party—dominant, that is, in the sense that they had the real power because of the blocs of members behind them—were people absolutely unfamiliar with the American economic and political scene. They didn’t understand the psychology of the American workers and didn’t pay them too much attention. As a result, the early movement suffered from excesses of unrealism and had even a tinge of romanticism which removed the party in many of its activities and thoughts from the actual class struggle in the United States. Strangely enough, these leaders of the Foreign Language Federations were convinced, many of them, of their messianic mission. They were determined to control the movement in order to keep it in the pure faith.

From its very beginning in the Left Wing of the Socialist Party and later in the Communist Party, the American Communist movement was wracked by tremendous factional struggles, “struggles for control” they were called. The domination of foreign-born leaders created a paradoxical situation. You know, normally in the life of a big imperialist country like this, foreign-language immigrant workers occupy the position of a national minority and have to wage a constant struggle for equality, for their rights, without ever fully getting them. But in the Left Wing of the Socialist Party and in the early Communist Party this relationship was reversed. Each of the Slavic languages was very heavily represented. Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, Letts, Finns, etc., had the majority. They were the overwhelming majority, and we native Americans, who thought we had some ideas about the way the movement ought to, be led, were in the minority. From the start we waged the struggle of a persecuted minority. In the early days we had very little success.

I belonged to the faction first in the Left Wing of the Socialist Party and later in the independent Communist movement that wanted an American leadership, an American direction for the movement. We were convinced that it was impossible to build a movement in this country without a leadership in control more intimately acquainted with and related to the native movement of the American workers. They for their part were equally convinced, many of them, that it was impossible for an American to be a real simon-pure Bolshevik. They wanted us and appreciated us—as their “English expression”—but thought they had to remain in control in order to keep the movement from becoming opportunist and centrist. Over the years a great deal of time was spent fighting out that fight which, for the foreign-language leaders, could only be a losing fight. In the long run the movement had to find native leadership, otherwise it could not survive.

The struggle for control assumed the shape of a struggle over organization forms. Should the foreign-language groups be organized in autonomous federations? Or should they be organized into local branches without a national structure or autonomous rights? Should we have a centralized party or a federated party? Naturally the conception of a centralized party was a Bolshevik conception. However, in a centralized party the foreign language groups couldn’t be mobilized so easily in solid blocs; whereas in a federated party it was possible for the Federation leaders to confront the party with solid blocs of voting supporters in conventions, etc.

This struggle disrupted the Left Wing Conference at New York in 1919. By the time we got to Chicago in September 1919; that is, at the National Convention of the Socialist Party where the split took place, the forces of the Left Wing were already split among themselves. The Communists at the moment of their break with the Socialist Party were incapable of organizing a united party of their own. They announced to the world a few days later that they had organized not one Communist Party, but two. One holding the majority was the Communist Party of the United States, dominated by the Foreign Language Federations; the other was the Communist Labor Party, representing the minority faction, which I have mentioned, with its larger proportion of natives and Americanized foreigners. Naturally there were variations and individual fluctuations, but this was the main line of demarcation.

Such was the inauspicious beginning of the independent Communist movement—two parties in the field with identical programs, fiercely battling against each other. To make matters worse our divided ranks faced terrific persecution. That year, 1919, was the year of great reaction in this country, the postwar-reaction. After the masters finished the war to “make the world safe for democracy,” they decided to write a supplementary chapter to make the U.S. safe for the open shop. They began a furious patriotic drive against all the workers organizations. Thousands of workers were arrested on a nation-wide scale. The new Communist Parties bore the brunt of this attack. Almost every local organization from coast to coast was raided; practically every leader of the movement, national or local, put under arrest, indicted for one thing or another. Wholesale deportations of foreign-born militants took place. The movement was persecuted to such an extent that it was driven underground. The leaders of both parties thought it impossible to continue open, legal functioning. So, in the very first year of American Communism we not only had the disgrace and scandal and organizational catastrophe of two separate and rival Communist parties, but we also had both parties, after a few months, functioning in underground groups and branches.

The movement remained underground from 1919 until early 1922. After the first shock of the persecutions passed over, and the groups and branches settled down to their underground existence, the elements in the leadership who tended toward unrealism gained strength, inasmuch as the movement was then completely isolated from public life and from the labor organizations of the country.

Factional strife between the two parties continued to consume an enormous amount of time; refinements of doctrine, hair-splitting, became quite a pastime. Then, I, for my part, realized for the first time the full malignancy of the sickness of ultra-leftism. It seems to be a particular law that the greater a party’s isolation from the living labor movement, the less contact it has with the mass movement and the less correction it can get from the impact of the mass movement, all the more radical it becomes in its formulations, its program, etc. Whoever wants to study the history of the movement closely should examine some of the, party literature issued during those days. You see, it didn’t cost any more to be extra-radical because nobody paid any attention anyhow. We didn’t have public meetings; we didn’t have to talk to workers or see what their reactions were to our slogans. So the loudest shouters at shut-in meetings became more and more dominant in the leadership of the movement. Phrasemongering “radicalism” had a field day. The early years of the Communist movement in this country were pretty much consecrated to ultra-leftism.

The Underground Years

During the 1920 presidential elections the movement was underground and couldn’t devise any means of having its own candidate. Eugene V. Debs was the candidate of the Socialist Party, but we were engaged in the fierce factional fight with that party and mistakenly thought we couldn’t support him. So the movement decided on a very radical program: It issued a ringing proclamation calling the workers to boycott the elections! You might think that we could have just said, “We have no candidate; we can’t do anything about it.” That was the case, for example, with the Socialist Workers Party—the Trotskyists in 1940; because of technical, financial and organizational difficulties, we weren’t able to get on the ballot. We didn’t find it possible to support any of the candidates, so we just let the matter pass. The Communist Party in those days, however, never let anything pass without issuing a proclamation. If I quite often show indifference to proclamations it is because I saw so many of them in the early days of the Communist Party. I lost entirely the idea that every occasion must have a proclamation. It is better to get along with fewer; to issue them on the more important occasions. They then have more weight. Well, in 1920 a leaflet was issued calling for boycott of the elections, but nothing came of it.

A strong anti-parliamentary tendency grew up in the movement, a lack of interest in elections which took years and years to overcome. In the meantime we read Lenin’s pamphlet, The Infantile Sickness of Left Communism. Everybody recognized theoretically the necessity of participating in elections, but there was no disposition to do anything about it, and several years were to elapse before the party developed any serious electoral activity.

Another ultra-radical idea gained predominance in the early underground Communist movement: The conception that it is a revolutionary principle to remain underground. For the past two decades we have enjoyed the advantages of legality. Practically all the comrades of the Socialist Workers Party have known no form of existence other than that of a legal party. It is quite possible that a legalistic bias has grown up among them. Such comrades can get some rude shocks in time of persecution because the party has to be able to carry on its activities regardless of the attitude of the ruling class. It is necessary for a revolutionary party to know how to operate even in underground formations. But this should be done only from necessity, never from choice.

After a person experiences both underground and open political organization, he can easily convince himself that the most economical, the most advantageous is the open one. It is the easiest way of coming in contact with workers, the easiest way of making converts. Consequently, a genuine Bolshevik, even in times of sharpest persecution, tries always to grasp and utilize every possibility to function in the open. If he can’t say everything he wants to say openly, he will say as much as he can—and supplement legal propaganda by other methods.

In the early Communist movement, before we had properly assimilated the writings and teachings of the leaders of the Russian revolution, a tendency grew up to regard the underground party as a principle. As time went on and the wave of reaction receded, possibilities for legal activities opened up. But tremendous factional struggles were necessary before the party took the slightest step in the direction of legalizing itself. The absolutely incredible idea that the party can’t be revolutionary unless it is illegal was actually accepted by the majority in the Communist movement in 1921 and early in 1922.

The Virus of Ultra-Leftism

On the trade union question “radicalism” held sway, too. It is a terrible virus, this ultra-leftism. It thrives best in an isolated movement. That’s always where you find it at its worst—in a movement that is isolated from the masses, gets no corrective from the masses. You see it in these split-offs from the Trotskyist movement—our own “lunatic fringe.” The less people listen to them, the less effect their words have on the course of human events, the more extreme and unreasonable and hysterical they become in their formulations.

The trade union question was on the agenda of the first underground convention of the Communist movement. This convention celebrated a split and a unification too. A faction headed by Ruthenberg had split away from the Communist Party, dominated by the foreign-language groups. The Ruthenberg faction met in joint convention with the Communist Labor Party to form a new organization called the United Communist Party in May 1920 at Bridgeman, Michigan. (This is not to be confused with another convention at Bridgeman in August 1922 which was raided by the police.) The United Communist Party gained the upper hand and merged with the remaining half of the original Communist Party a year later.

The 1920 Convention, I remember very distinctly, adopted a resolution on the trade union question. In the light of what has been learned in the Trotskyist movement, it would make your hair stand on end. This resolution called for “boycott” of the American Federation of Labor. It stated that a party member who “is compelled by job necessity” to belong to the AFL should work there in the same way that a Communist works in a bourgeois Congress—not to build it up but to blow it up from within. That nonsense was later corrected along with many other things. Many people who committed these stupidities later learned and did better in the political movement.

Following the Russian revolution the young generation revolting against opportunist betrayals of the Social Democrats, took radicalism in too big doses. Lenin and Trotsky led the “Right Wing”—that is what they demonstratively called their tendency—at the Third World Congress of the Communist International in 1921. Lenin wrote his pamphlet, The Infantile Sickness of Left Communism, directed against the German leftists, taking up questions of parliamentarianism, trade unionism, etc. This pamphlet, together with the Congress decisions, did a great deal in the course of time to liquidate the leftist tendency in the early Comintern.

I don’t at all want to picture the founding of American Communism as a circus, as the side-line philistines do. It wasn’t, by any means. There were positive sides to the movement, and the positive sides predominated. It was composed of thousands of courageous and devoted revolutionists willing to make sacrifices and take risks for the movement. In spite of all their mistakes, they built a party the like of which had never been seen in this country before; that is, a party founded on a Marxist program, with a professional leadership and disciplined ranks. Those who went through the period of the underground party acquired habits of discipline and learned methods of work which were to play a great role in the subsequent history of the movement. We are building on those foundations.

They learned to take program seriously. They learned to do away forever with the idea that a revolutionary movement, aiming at power, can be led by people who practise socialism as an avocation. The leader typical of the old Socialist Party was a lawyer practising law, or a preacher practising preaching, or a writer, or a professional man of one kind or another, who condescended to come around and make a speech once in a while. The full-time functionaries were merely hacks who did the dirty work and had no real influence in the party. The gap between the rank and file workers, with their revolutionary impulses and desires, and the petty-bourgeois dabblers at the top was tremendous. The early Communist Party broke away from all that, and was able to do it easily because not one of the old type leaders came over wholeheartedly to the support of the Russian revolution. The party had to throw up new leaders out of the ranks, and from the very beginning the principle was laid down that these leaders must be professional workers for the party, must put their whole time and their whole lives at the disposal of the party. If one is thinking of a party that aims to lead the workers in a real struggle for power, then no other type of leadership is worth considering.

In the underground the work of education, of assimilating the writings of the Russian leaders, went on. Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin—these were our teachers. We began to be educated in an entirely different spirit from the old lackadaisical Socialist Party—in the spirit of revolutionists who take ideas and program very seriously. The movement had an intensive internal life, all the more so because it was isolated and driven back upon itself. Faction struggles were fierce and long drawn out.

The movement began to stagnate in the underground blind alley. A few of us in the leadership began to seek a way out, a way to approach the American workers by legal means. These efforts were resisted fiercely. We formed a new faction. Lovestone was closely associated with me in the leadership of this faction. Later we were joined by Ruthenberg upon his release from prison in the spring of 1922.

For a year and a half, two years, this struggle continued unabated, the fight for the legalization of the movement. Resolute positive struggle on our side; equally determined resistance on the other by people convinced in their bones that this signified some kind of betrayal. Finally in December 1921, having a slender majority in the Central Committee, we began to move, taking one careful step at a time, towards legality.

We couldn’t legalize the party as such, the resistance in the ranks was still too strong, but we did organize some legal groups for holding lectures. We next called a convention to federate these groups into a central body called the American Labor Alliance, which we converted into a propaganda organization. Then in December 1921, we resorted to the device of organizing the Workers Party as an open, legal organization in addition to the underground Communist Party. We could not dispense with the latter. It was not possible to get a majority to agree to that, but a compromise was effected whereby while retaining the underground party, we set up the Workers Party as a legal extension. Two or three thousand die-hard undergrounders revolted against even this makeshift move toward legality, split away and formed their own organization.

We continued with two parties—a legal and an illegal one. The Workers Party had a very limited program, but it became the medium through which all our legal public activity was carried on. Control rested in the underground Communist Party. The Workers Party encountered no persecution. The reactionary wave had passed; a liberalistic political mood prevailed in Washington and in the rest of the country. We were able to hold public meetings and lectures, publish newspapers, participate in election campaigns, etc. Then the question arose, did we need this encumbrance of two parties? We wanted to liquidate the underground organization, concentrate all our activity in the legal party, and take a chance on further persecution. We met renewed opposition.

The fight went on uninterruptedly until we finally appealed the matter to the Communist International at the Fourth Congress in 1922. At that Congress I was the representative of the “liquidators” faction, as we were called. This name comes from the history of Bolshevism. At one time following the defeat of the 1905 revolution, a section of the Mensheviks came forward with a proposal to liquidate the underground party in Russia and confine all activity to Czarist “legality.” Lenin fought this proposal and its proponents savagely, because it signified a renunciation of revolutionary work and organization. He denounced them as “liquidators.” So naturally, when we came forward with a proposal to liquidate the underground party in this country, the leftists with their minds in Russia mechanically transferred Lenin’s expression and denounced us as “liquidators.”

So we went to Moscow to fight it out before the Communist International. That was the first time I met Comrade Trotsky. In the course of our struggle we tried to get support from individual members of the Russian leadership. In the summer and fall of 1922 I spent many months in Russia. For a long time I was somewhat of a pariah because this campaign about “liquidators” had reached ahead of us, and the Russians didn’t want to have anything to do with liquidators. Unacquainted with the situation in America, they tended to be prejudiced against us. They assumed that the party had really been outlawed; and when the question was put to them they were inclined to say off-hand, “If you cannot do your work legally do it illegally, but you must do your work.”

But that wasn’t really how matters stood. The political situation in the United States made a legal Communist Party possible. That was our contention, and all further experience has proved it. Finally, I and some other comrades met with Comrade Trotsky and expounded our ideas for about an hour. After asking a few questions when we had finished, he said, “That is enough. I will support the ’liquidators’ and I will talk to Lenin. I am sure he will support you. All the Russians will support you. It is just a question of understanding the political situation. It is absurd to bind ourselves in an underground strait jacket when it is not necessary. There is no question about that.”

We asked if he would arrange for us to see Lenin. He told us that Lenin was ill but, if necessary, if Lenin did not agree with him, he’d arrange for us to see him. In a few days the knot began to unravel. A Congress Commission was set up on the American question and we went before the Commission to debate. Already the word had passed down that Trotsky and Lenin favored the “liquidators” and the tide was turning in our favor.

In the discussion at the Commission hearing Zinoviev made a brilliant speech on legal and illegal work, drawing on the vast experience of the Russian Bolsheviks. I have never forgotten that speech. The memory of it serves our party in good stead to this day and will do so in the future, I am sure. Radek and Bukharin spoke along the same lines. These three were in those days the representatives of the Russian Communist Party in the Comintern. The delegates of the other parties, after full and thorough debate, gave complete support to the idea of legalizing the American Communist Party.

Leninist Teachers

With the authority of the Comintern World Congress behind the decision, the opposition in the United States soon subsided. The Workers Party, which had been formed in 1921 as a legal extension of the Communist Party, held another convention, adopted a clearer program and completely replaced the underground organization. All experience since 1923 has demonstrated the wisdom of that decision. The political situation here justified legal organization. It would have been a terrible calamity and waste and crippling of revolutionary activity to remain underground when it was not necessary. It is very important that revolutionists have the courage to take those risks which can’t be avoided. But it is equally important, I think, that they have enough prudence to avoid unnecessary sacrifices. The main thing is to get the work done in the most economical and expeditious manner possible.

A final remark on this question: One little group remained unreconciled to the legalization of the party. They were going to remain underground in spite of us. They were not going to betray Communism. They had their headquarters in Boston, and a branch in Cleveland. Every once in a while through the years we would hear of this underground group issuing a pronouncement of some kind.

Seven years later, after we had been expelled from the Communist Party and were organizing the Trotskyist movement, we heard that this group in Boston was somewhat sympathetic to Trotskyist ideas. This interested us, as we were badly in need of any support we could get.

On one of my visits to Boston the local comrades arranged a conference with them. They were very conspiratorial and took us in the old underground manner to the meeting place. A formal committee met us. After exchanging greetings, the leader said, “Now, Comrade Cook, you tell us what your proposition is.” Comrade “Cook” was the pseudonym he knew me by in the underground party. He was not going to trifle with my legal name in an underground meeting. I explained why we had been expelled, our program, etc. They said they were willing to discuss the Trotskyist program as the basis for unity in a new party. But they wanted agreement first on one point: The party we were going to organize would have to be an underground organization. So I passed a few jokes with them and went back to New York. I suppose they are still underground.

Now, Comrades, all this is a sort of background, an introduction to the history of our Trotskyist movement. Next week I will deal with the further development of the Communist Party in the early years prior to our expulsion and the reconstitution of the movement under the banner of Trotskyism.

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