Introduction to

James P. Cannon and the
Early Years of American Communism

By the Prometheus Research Library
August 1992

Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

Cannon in the IWW
The Birth of American Communism
Cannon in the Underground
The United States in the 1920s
Cannon’s Seven Months in Moscow, 1922
The Degeneration of the Comintern
John Pepper Comes to America
The Farmer-Labor Party
The Split with Fitzpatrick
The Fight Against "Pepperism"
Factional Gang War
Trotsky Fights the "Third Party Alliance"
The 1924-25 Faction Fight
The Fight Against Lore’s "Two and a Half Internationalism"
The 1925 Decision on the Labor Party Slogan
The Cannon-Foster Split
The International Labor Defense
The American Negro Labor Congress
The TUEL and the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI
Anti-Trotskyism in the Mid-1920s
Ruthenberg’s Sudden Death
Lovestone Becomes Lovestone
Cannon Becomes a Trotskyist

On 27 October 1928 James P. Cannon, a member of the Political Committee of the American Communist Party—called at that time the Workers (Communist) Party—was expelled for attempting to organize within the party in support of Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition. The Trotskyist opposition was fighting to return the Soviet regime and the Communist International to the revolutionary internationalism of Lenin’s day, insisting that the fate of the Soviet regime depended on the international extension of the October Revolution and that the forging of Leninist vanguard parties was key to that extension.

By the time of Cannon’s expulsion Trotsky and other leading members of the Left Opposition had already been expelled from the Soviet party and the Communist International. Many had been sent into internal exile in the Soviet Union; Trotsky himself was in Alma Ata in Soviet Central Asia. Most of those fighting against the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution learned only much later that their fight had found support in the adherence to their cause of a senior American party leader.

More importantly, they learned that Cannon did not stand alone. Expelled along with Cannon were fellow Central Committee member Martin Abern and alternate member of the Central Committee Max Shachtman, both of them close associates of Cannon since the early days of American Communism, leading members of the longstanding “Cannon group” (or faction) within the party, and leaders, along with Cannon, of the International Labor Defense. Over the next few months more than 100 members of the Workers Party were expelled, some for making forthright statements in support of Cannon, Abern and Shachtman, most for simply questioning the propriety of the expulsions. The newly expelled had almost all been supporters of the Cannon faction, and they included Arne Swabeck, another full member of the Central Committee, as well as Vincent R. Dunne, most of the Twin Cities leadership, and Cannon’s companion Rose Karsner, a founding member of the party and a central administrator of the ILD. Expelled from the Canadian Communist Party was Maurice Spector, party chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, along with a small band of supporters.

Not all of the Cannon faction opposed the expulsions. In particular Cannon’s closest friend and associate, William F. Dunne—a full Central Committee member and candidate member of the Political Committee who was on foreign assignment for the Communist International at the time of the expulsions—stayed in the party and denounced Cannon. Manuel Gomez, alternate member of the CC and head of the party’s Anti-Imperialist League, testified against Cannon in the Political Committee. In all, probably only about half the members of the faction—which was composed almost entirely of party cadre and was thus the smallest of the three major factional groupings in the party—were expelled, and not all of these became members of the Trotskyist Communist League of America (CLA) when it was founded in May 1929. But a solid majority of those who founded the American section of the Left Opposition were Cannon faction supporters of long standing.

The genesis of the CLA from an established grouping within the Communist Party, with years of political collaboration and agreement behind it, gave it an organizational stability and political cohesion lacking in other International Left Opposition sections outside of the Soviet Union itself. Most other leaders who came over to the Left Opposition from parties of the Communist International did so only after they had been discredited and stripped of all supporters. Cannon stands out as the only one expelled while he was still a credible party leader, able to win others to his political course.

The material presented in this book is designed to shed new light on the unique origins of American Trotskyism by providing a documentary record of the political evolution of Cannon and his faction within the Workers Party. Though we have been able to include some of the popular agitational pieces, our selection of Cannon’s writings and speeches is heavily weighted toward internal factional material. We include here many documents coauthored by Cannon, and others which he cosigned but probably had no part in writing. In most cases it was impossible to determine the actual authorship of the jointly signed material, and the political profile of the Cannon faction would have been severely skewed if we had not included the major coauthored statements. Where necessary we have also supplemented this material with excerpts from the party’s Executive Council (Political Committee) minutes.

Yet it would be a mistake to look at this material simply as a prelude to Cannon’s later emergence as the authoritative American Trotskyist leader. For Cannon was also one of the most able Communist leaders in the 1920s, a period when the party was not yet homogenized into a rigid Stalinist orthodoxy. This was a time of real, necessary and inevitable debate about the tasks facing Communists in the United States. From 1924 these debates were increasingly dominated, and increasingly deformed, by a Communist International which was losing its revolutionary perspective. The American party, feeling the pressure of an expanding and stable American imperialism, readily followed in the International’s wake. Thus the experience of building a Leninist party in the United States in the 1920s was largely negative. But if Cannon, feeling at a dead end in the internal factional wars, was able to make the leap in 1928 to Trotsky’s programmatic and international understanding of Stalinism, it was in large part because he had tried, in the preceding period, to chart a path for the party based on revolutionary communism.

This book does not stand alone but supplements the excellent two-volume history of the American Communist Party (through 1929) written by Theodore Draper, one of only two “reasonably adequate histories” of Comintern sections, according to the historian E.H. Carr (the other being J. Rothschild’s history of the Bulgarian party). (1) An ex-Communist if anti-Communist, Draper had a sympathy and feel for the subject usually lacking in professional historians. Moreover, he was able to interview many former party leaders in preparing The Roots of American Communism and American Communism and Soviet Russia. (2) Cannon, in semi-retirement, was able to devote considerable time to answering Draper’s questions about the Communist movement. His letters were a major independent contribution to Draper’s researches, and they were later published as The First Ten Years of American Communism. Draper wrote a preface for Cannon’s book, and in it he paid tribute to Cannon’s excellent memory of the period:

For a long time, I wondered why Jim Cannon’s memory of events in the Nineteen-Twenties was so superior to that of all the others. Was it simply some inherent trait of mind? Rereading some of these letters, I came to the conclusion that it was something more. Unlike other communist leaders of his generation, Jim Cannon wanted to remember. This portion of his life still lives for him because he has not killed it within himself. (3)

Draper contrasted Cannon’s letters with other autobiographical efforts: “Official American communists have published so-called autobiographies, but they have been largely spurious. Cannon’s letters are the real thing.” (4) It hardly needs to be noted that the documentary record presented here, culled from the published press of the Communist International and the Workers Party as well as from unpublished archival sources, fully validates Cannon’s First Ten Years, even as it amplifies and augments it. Such a documentary record—even a highly selective one—cannot be said to exist for the accounts of many leading ex-Communists, to say nothing of the official histories penned by Stalinist hacks. William Z. Foster’s tendentious History of the Communist Party of the United States writes Cannon, among others, almost entirely out of the party’s early years, while Earl Browder and Benjamin Gitlow portray Cannon—in their own image—as simply an unprincipled and power-hungry intriguer. (5) Bertram D. Wolfe, on the other hand, disingenuously disappears his own role as Jay Lovestone’s chief factional hatchet man and anti-Trotsky expert. (6) These accounts—written by those who contributed greatly to the Stalinization of the Workers Party and its destruction as a revolutionary organization—often make unintentionally hilarious reading. We could supplement Draper’s observation: if Cannon had reason to remember, he also had nothing to cover up. Cannon went on to become the finest communist political leader the United States has yet produced.

 Cannon in the IWW

Cannon was one of those who came to Lenin’s communism by way of the syndicalist movement. But Cannon’s syndicalism was not the “boring from within the American Federation of Labor” variety espoused by William Z. Foster, who also joined the Communist movement. Cannon had been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a “Wobbly.” He had quit the Socialist Party (SP) at the age of 21 to champion the “one big union” envisioned by the IWW, which eschewed the electoral political activity of the SP in favor of what it called “direct action.” Cannon was part of a great exodus of left-wingers from the Socialist Party at that time—many quit after the SP adopted a constitutional clause against the advocacy of “sabotage” in 1912 and many more left when the SP removed IWW leader “Big Bill” Haywood from its Executive Board in 1913.

In many ways Cannon was typical of the revolutionary-minded proletarian youth who flocked to the early IWW, disgusted with the middle-class reformism of the dominant SP leadership. The IWW believed in dual unionism—the strategy of building new revolutionary unions from the great mass of non-unionized, largely unskilled workers, rather than “boring from within” the existing conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) craft unions. The dual-unionist ideology heavily influenced the nascent American left wing, and it was to plague the early Communist movement.

Cannon had made a special study of public speaking in high school (he had dropped out of school at the age of 12 to help support his family by working in a meatpacking plant, but he returned to high school in 1907 and attended for three years). It was his ambition to become a soapbox agitator for the IWW, and he did indeed become a popular speaker at 6th and Main in downtown Kansas City. He was a delegate to the seventh national convention of the IWW in Chicago in 1912. He served as secretary of the convention and took an active part in its proceedings. He caught the eye of IWW leader Vincent St. John and after the convention he became a protégé of St. John.

Cannon cut his teeth in the labor movement as a Midwest organizer and speaker for the IWW from 1912 to 1914. After the convention St. John sent Cannon to Jackson, Michigan, where an auto strike was on. But the strike fizzled and Cannon ended up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, working on the IWW journal Solidarity. The winter of 1913 saw Cannon make a speaking tour of the Midwest in support of the Akron rubber strike; he spent two weeks in jail in Peoria, Illinois toward the end of that year for his activity in support of the Avery manufacturing strike. Cannon learned as he went along during this period of itinerant organizing. His experience was characteristic of the IWW at the time, as he later noted in a tribute to Vincent St. John, who was widely known as “the Saint”:

“The Saint,” of affectionate memory, was a wonderful man to learn from. He was short on palaver and had some gaps in his theory, but he was long on action and he was firmly convinced that the water is the only place where a man can learn to swim. His way of testing, and also of developing, the young militants who grew up under his tutelage was to give them responsibility and shove them into action and see what happened. Those who acquired self-confidence and the capacity to make decisions under fire on the spot, which are about 90 percent of the distinctive quality of leaders and organizers, eventually received credentials as voluntary organizers and thereafter enjoyed a semi-official status in the strikes and other actions which marked the career of the IWW in its glorious hey-day. The shock troops of the movement were the foot-loose militants who moved around the country as the scene of action shifted. (7)

After Cannon was released from the Peoria jail, St. John sent him to Omaha, then to Duluth, where he worked with Frank Little in an ore dockers strike. Later on in 1914 Cannon was a delegate to the IWW’s eighth convention. Afterward he returned to Kansas City, joining his first wife, Lista Makimson, who was a schoolteacher there. Lista had come to visit Cannon when it looked like he might face a long jail term for his activity in the Avery strike; they were married in Pekin, Illinois. Cannon remained active in the Kansas City IWW; during World War I he registered for the draft as a conscientious objector and was known as a vocal opponent of the war. (8) It was the Russian Revolution which galvanized Cannon back into political action on the national field. He was far from the only one so affected. A pro-Bolshevik left wing was developing inside the Socialist Party; Cannon, disillusioned by the IWW’s failure to grasp the significance of the workers revolution in Russia, rejoined the SP in order to hook up with this left wing. In 1919 Cannon and Earl Browder, who had been a local supporter of William Z. Foster’s syndicalist organization, launched a pro-Bolshevik journal in Kansas City, Workers' World.

The Birth of American Communism

The year 1919 saw the crest of the wave of labor radicalism which swept Europe in opposition to the great carnage of World War I and in support of the 1917 Russian Revolution. 1919 was the year of the Spartakist uprising in Germany, the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, the founding of the Communist Third International. Even on the distant and politically backward shores of the United States the wave sweeping Europe made its ripples. More man-hours were lost due to strikes in the United States in 1919 than in the next six years put together. In February a solidarity action in support of higher wages for shipyard workers in Seattle grew into a citywide general strike, and for five days the labor unions ran the city. Later that year the Seattle longshoremen refused to load arms shipments bound for the White Guard counterrevolutionary troops in Siberia. The coal miners went out on national strike; so did the steel workers. The ranks of the Socialist Party swelled, mostly through an influx of foreign-born workers, those most affected by events in Europe. The Socialist Party’s pro-Bolshevik left wing had the support of two-thirds of the party’s more than 104,000 members. In September the American Communist movement was born. Unfortunately, most of the members of the SP’s left wing did not make the transition to the Communist movement.

The American bourgeoisie did not leave this wave of labor radicalism to recede on its own. Race-hate was the bourgeoisie’s first line of defense: in 1919 there were 70 lynchings and 25 anti-black pogroms, including a crucial one in Chicago which broke the back of an interracial union-organizing drive among the meatpackers. The young Communist movement was also subjected to massive state repression, beginning in November, only two months after its birth. Dubbed the “Palmer Raids” after then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the persecution lasted for over four months. Communist offices and newspapers were raided; over 6,000 Communists were arrested in nationwide raids in the first week of January 1920. Foreign-born Communists were deported en masse (249 deported to Russia in December 1919 alone). Many leading Communists were jailed and/or faced trial on “criminal syndicalism” charges.

The repression had the desired effect, driving away many of the left-wing SPers from the young Communist movement. But this movement had other problems. It was crippled from birth by a bitter organizational split. The Communist Party of America (CPA) of Louis Fraina, dominated by seven large and insular East European foreign-language federations, lacked both a sense of American social reality and any real desire to affect it. The Communist Labor Party (CLP) of John Reed was more concerned with actual American conditions—Cannon and the entire Kansas City left wing had joined it. But both parties carried the ideological baggage of the sterile ultraleftism of the old SP left wing, which had been strongly influenced by the theories of Socialist Labor Party leader Daniel De Leon and the Dutch theoreticians Anton Pannekoek and Hermann Gorter. Cannon later explained the problem:

The traditional sectarianism of the Americans was expressed most glaringly in their attempt to construct revolutionary unions outside the existing labor movement; their refusal to fight for “immediate demands” in the course of the class struggle for the socialist goal; and their strongly entrenched anti-parliamentarism, which was only slightly modified in the first program of the Communist Party. (9)

Both the CLP and CPA went underground in reaction to the Palmer Raids. Both decided, on principle, to remain there, eschewing public political activity as the postwar revolutionary tide swirled above them.

Cannon in the Underground

It was only the influence of the Communist International (Comintern) that persuaded the American Communists to overcome the ultraleftism which infected the early movement. Cannon also explained how this occurred:

All that hodgepodge of ultra-radicalism was practically wiped out of the American movement in 1920-21 by Lenin. He did it, not by administrative order backed up by police powers, but by the simple device of publishing a pamphlet called Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder....The “Theses and Resolutions” of the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920 also cleared up the thinking of the American communists over a wide range of theoretical and political problems, and virtually eliminated the previously dominating influence exerted by the sectarian conceptions of De Leon and the Dutch leaders. (10)

Cannon was one of the first to grasp Lenin’s message. He first entered the national arena in the Communist movement when he gave a powerful speech against dual unionism to the founding convention of the United Communist Party (UCP) in May 1920. This convention was the first small step on the road to uniting all the forces in the U.S. that stood for the Third International: it united the Communist Labor Party with a C.E. Ruthenberg-led split from the Communist Party of America. The UCP was not yet ready to shed its ultraleftism and adopt the Bolshevik position of working within the reactionary American Federation of Labor where necessary. But Cannon’s status as an ex-Wobbly and therefore a “reformed” dual unionist so impressed the delegates that he was elected to the Central Committee and appointed organizer for the St. Louis/Southern Illinois Coal District. (11)

Though they were few, the syndicalists who came over to the Communists were crucially important. For they made the American party rich in its acquired inheritance. Not only SP party men like Ruthenberg and foreign-language federation sectarians, but also trade unionists who knew the score in the American labor movement—all these currents endeavored to assimilate Lenin’s communism. The cross-fertilization that resulted gave a vitality to the early American party, a vitality totally lacking in, for example, the early British Communist Party, which failed to win over the syndicalists and Celts of the Socialist Labour Party and was left with only former members of H.M. Hyndman’s sterile British Socialist Party. (12) The IWW withered to a shell of its former self after 1919, but Cannon remained concerned with winning its remnants to Leninism. It was Cannon’s ties to the pre-WWI radical movement that impressed the young Max Shachtman, among others:

He made an enormous impression upon me, which never really died....He was known as an excellent orator, a very smooth writer, an exceedingly intelligent and shrewd politician; and he had what comparatively few of the then leaders of the Communist party had: namely, he had a living, personal connection with the pre-Bolshevik revolutionary radical movement in this country. (13)

In the fall of 1920 Cannon was named editor of The Toiler, the UCP’s weekly newspaper published in Cleveland. It was around this time that he started spending most of his time in New York instead. Many of the prominent party leaders, including Ruthenberg, were in jail as a result of the Palmer Raids. Cannon himself was under indictment. In April 1920 he and Charles Baker, the National Organizational Secretary of the CLP, were charged under the Lever Act for obstructing the production of coal during the 1919 miners strike—Cannon had spent two months in jail for his support activities—but the 1920 indictment never came to trial (charges were dropped in February 1922). So Cannon was one of the few available communist leaders who had the English-language ability and office skills necessary for party administration. Cannon later described how, as much as he preferred to leave the major decisions to others, he soon recognized that they were politically unqualified: “I knew then that I had to fight for the leadership.” (14)

And fight he did. The two Communist parties were finally united, upon the Communist International’s insistence, in May of 1921. Cannon and the young Jay Lovestone became the main axis of the leadership which steered the newly united, but still underground, party into legal political activity. They were aided by the development of a new pro-Communist group within the Socialist Party, organized around the journal Workers' Council. In December 1921 the Communists merged with the Workers' Council forces and founded the Workers Party as a legal party (a parallel “illegal” Communist Party apparatus remained until April 1923). James P. Cannon was the Workers Party’s first chairman and its major public spokesman.

Not surprisingly, there exists today very little record of the internal deliberations of the American Communist movement from the underground period. We have found a few articles on the IWW signed by Cannon in late 1920, when the Communists were trying to intersect an intense discussion among the Wobblies on relations with the Communist International. We also found an extensive article, published in The Liberator, on Kansas miners leader Alexander Howat. All these articles reflect Cannon’s origins in the IWW and Midwestern labor movement, and they are included in this book. However, the record of Cannon’s activities as an adept and skillful Communist politician begins with his address to the founding convention of the Workers Party, also included here.

The United States in the 1920s

The political climate of the United States had shifted dramatically by the time the Workers Party emerged from the underground. The intense repression of the Palmer Raids was very short-lived—the raids were over by the summer of 1920. But this was because the bourgeoisie soon realized that the force used was out of all proportion to the threat. The revolutionary sentiments that seemed to have gripped the working class were fading.

In the fall of 1920 Republican Warren Harding, running on a program of returning the country to “normalcy,” was elected president with a landslide majority of 61 percent. The vote represented a massive repudiation of Woodrow Wilson’s overseas crusading and of the liberal reform movement known as “Progressivism” which had swept through both major bourgeois parties on and off for most of the previous two decades. Harding pardoned Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, who had been sentenced to 16 years in prison for his opposition to WWI, as well as many IWW activists similarly imprisoned.

Even as Harding softened the political climate, he refused to pardon the Communists under indictment. The Workers Party was tolerated, but the underground Communist Party convention at Bridgman, Michigan was broken up by the police in August 1922 and many of the party’s leaders, including C.E. Ruthenberg, were arrested. The bourgeoisie remained vigilant against the “Bolshevik menace,” and the rest of the decade was one of legal reaction. At the same time as the Bridgman raid Harding’s administration sought, and got, a sweeping injunction which was used to outlaw the railway shopmen’s strike. This set the tone for the period, which saw the repeated use of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against the unions. The Supreme Court outlawed minimum-wage laws and declared “yellow dog” contracts, which made the promise not to join a union a condition of employment, perfectly legal. At the end of the decade Supreme Court Chief Justice and former President William H. Taft said that the aim of it all had been “to prevent the Bolsheviki from getting control.”

The grip of Jim Crow racial segregation had consolidated across the South in the decades before World War I, and the Ku Klux Klan, reborn in 1915, was recruiting by the thousands in the 1920s. Anti-immigrant and Asian-exclusion sentiment ran at an all-time high. In 1921 an emergency bill was passed limiting annual immigration from any nation to 3 percent of the number of that country’s nationals who had been living in the United States in 1910. The National Origins Act of 1924 changed that to a percentage of nationals resident in 1890, further discriminating against the more recent East European immigrants. The act prohibited further Japanese immigration (Chinese immigration had been banned in 1882) and it barred the entry of women from China, Korea, Japan and India, so that Asian males already resident in the United States could not bring their wives into the country and start families here. The shortfall in the labor pool caused by the slowing down of foreign immigration was made up by an exodus from America’s farmlands, particularly the migration of black workers northward. Agricultural prices had collapsed in 1921; they never recovered.

The business of America was business. A speculative economic boom fueled government corruption (like the Teapot Dome oil scandal) and led to the 1929 stock market crash, but the watchword of the early decade was “scientific management,” and its symbols were the stopwatch and the timeclock. There was massive mechanization of basic production processes: output per man-hour in manufacturing rose 72 percent from 1919 to 1929. For the first time a mass market developed for consumer durables like cars, radios, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners.

But the benefits of the increase in productivity barely trickled down to the American working class. The stock dividend proportion of national income rose by over 64 percent; wages and salaries advanced by only slightly more than 20 percent. Real wages grew only 9.1 percent on average from 1923 to 1928, but the increase for those at the bottom of the wage scale—newer immigrants and blacks—was much lower. Wage differentials in the United States were at the time among the highest in the world. High wages for craft workers was the price that the job-trusting bureaucrats at the top of the American Federation of Labor exacted for attempting to ensure labor peace.

The decade was one of decline and demoralization of the trade-union movement. Membership in the AFL peaked at slightly more than 5 million workers in 1920. By 1929 it was less than 3.5 million. Almost 20 percent of the non-agricultural workforce was unionized in 1920; the figure had fallen to just over 10 percent by 1930. Many unions virtually disappeared. Especially hard hit were the miners and the textile unions; it is no accident that the Workers Party maintained a substantial base of support in these two industries for most of the decade. The craft unions came more and more to dominate the AFL. Blacks had no choice but to work in open shops, if they worked: 24 of the major AFL unions discriminated against blacks by statute; most of the others did so informally. And the union leaders made no bones about their enlistment in the war against godless communism. Photo-Engravers leader Matthew Woll, a member of the AFL Executive Council, declared, “It is no secret that the American Federation of Labor is the first object of attack by the Communist movement. Consequently the American Federation of Labor is the first line of defense.” (15)

Cannon’s Seven Months in Moscow, 1922

Even after the founding of the Workers Party in December 1921, the ultraleftist disease lingered in the American Communist movement. Diehard undergrounders insisted on maintaining the parallel illegal apparatus of the Communist Party, even after it became clear that the Workers Party could function openly. Soon a fight was raging between the undergrounders-on-principle (known as the “Goose Caucus”) and those who wanted to abolish the underground party (who were known as the “Liquidators”). Cannon was one of the principal “Liquidators.” Freed of major administrative responsibility for the party by C.E. Ruthenberg, who became secretary of the Workers Party after his release from prison in the spring of 1922, Cannon was designated to represent the “Liquidators” before the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in Moscow. He left New York in May and spent the rest of the year in Moscow. (16)

Cannon had to fight hard to convince the Comintern leadership of the necessity for abolishing the underground party. The black poet Claude McKay, who also attended the Comintern’s Fourth Congress and participated in the discussion around the American question though he was not formally a member of the Workers Party, described Cannon’s demeanor:

I listened to James Cannon’s fighting speeches for a legal Communist party in America. Cannon’s manner was different from Bill Haywood’s or Foster’s. He had all the magnetism, the shrewdness, the punch, the bag of tricks of the typical American politician, but here he used them in a radical way. I wondered about him. If he had entered Democratic or Republican politics, there was no barrier I could see that could stop him from punching his way straight through to the front ranks. (17)

But Cannon’s Midwestern American “bag of tricks” was hardly going to sway the leadership of the Communist International. In a letter to Draper, Cannon described how the tide was finally turned in favor of the “Liquidators” after Cannon, Max Bedacht and Arne Swabeck were able to present their position directly to Leon Trotsky. (18) We publish here the famous document on “one sheet of paper—no more” where Cannon and his cothinkers summarized their position for the Russian leaders. Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate any other record of Cannon’s 1922 interventions in the ECCI, American Commission or other bodies. We do publish here “In the Fifth Year of the Russian Revolution,” the speech Cannon gave on his tour of the United States upon his return.

In Moscow Cannon served as American party representative on the Presidium of the ECCI, a post which put him in intimate touch with the day-to-day workings of the Communist International and its leaders. He also worked on the executive body of the Red International of Labor Unions. This experience was crucial, for in 1922 the International was still infused with the revolutionary will and spirit that had animated its founding. The experience instilled in Cannon a deep and abiding internationalism, and a respect for Zinoviev, in particular, which was later to prove crucial in Cannon’s evolution to Trotskyism. (19) The “Liquidators” succeeded in carrying the day and the International’s salutary intervention prevented another pointless split in the American party. The trust Cannon developed toward the Comintern made him slow to realize later in the decade that things had fundamentally changed with the ascendancy of Zinoviev, Stalin and Bukharin in the Russian party.

The Degeneration of the Comintern

Even in 1922 the clouds were gathering for the storm that was to break in the Russian party in late 1923 and early 1924. Lenin was already sick and Cannon saw him only once, when Lenin spoke to the Fourth Congress. The Bolsheviks had won the bloody civil war, but the country was devastated, and large sections of the working class had virtually disappeared. The New Economic Policy (NEP) allowed for a necessary breathing space, but the revival of trade brought with it the newly wealthy “Nepmen,” and this petty-bourgeois layer had its effect upon the old tsarist administrators who were still ensconced in many areas of government.

All this weighed heavily on the relatively small layer of Bolshevik cadre. Already at the 11th Party Congress in Moscow in March 1922 Lenin had asked the question “Who is running whom?” in the state administration. In December 1922 Lenin made a bloc with Trotsky to fight Stalin and dictated his famous “Testament,” adding a postscript calling for the removal of Stalin from his post as General Secretary in January 1923. But Cannon would have learned little of this during his stay in Moscow. Lenin’s Testament was kept hidden, and Trotsky compromised with Stalin at the 12th Party Congress in April 1923.

1923 was the year of transition in the Soviet Union. When the German Communist Party let slip a promising revolutionary situation, putting an end to all hopes of immediate international extension of the proletarian revolution, this gave the increasingly conscious bureaucratic layer atop Soviet society an impetus to action. In the fall of 1923 the Russian party had its last open and full discussion, threatening the incipient bureaucratic consolidation. In the discussion leading up to the 13th Party Conference in January 1924 the loose “Trotskyist” opposition obtained 20 to 30 percent of the vote in the Moscow and Leningrad party organizations, but Stalin’s apparatus rigged the elections to the conference and won its decisive victory there.

Trotsky had sounded the alarm about the German situation in the Comintern; the troika of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, fearing he might be successful, refused to let him go to Germany. In the aftermath of the botched uprising Trotsky demanded a full accounting of the role of both the German leadership and the Comintern in the defeat. But Zinoviev made a scapegoat of the German leadership and denied the decisive nature of the defeat. The discussion of the German question in the ECCI Presidium in January 1924 was dishonest, deformed by the troika’s attempt to justify its rule and discredit Trotsky. So were the discussions at the Fifth Comintern Congress in the summer of 1924. In December 1924 Stalin advanced the program of “socialism in one country.” Over the next decade and a half, while the cadres of Lenin’s party were first purged and then physically destroyed in the course of bureaucratic consolidation, the Comintern was made into the Kremlin’s instrument to betray other countries' revolutions. The full evolution of Trotsky’s views on the degeneration of the Soviet Union and CI, and the developments foreseen in later works such as The Revolution Betrayed (1936), are only today being fully played out in the final cowardly collapse of Stalinism within and outside the ex-USSR.

After 1924 it was the expediencies of the fight in the Russian party which more often than not determined the political line of the Communist International. The terms of political debate shifted, and issues were no longer debated on the basis of intrinsic merit but increasingly according to what looked “correct” vis-à-vis the fight against Trotsky and his allies in the Russian party. The pseudo-leftism and glorification of the peasantry under Zinoviev in late 1924 and 1925 gave way in 1926-27 to the general rightism of Bukharin’s reign after Zinoviev and Kamenev recoiled from their erstwhile ally Stalin and formed a bloc with Trotsky. All Workers Party documents written in 1924 and after, especially those written for consumption in Moscow and including those written by Cannon and his cothinkers, can only be fully understood in this context.

The Comintern’s degeneration was not the only thing pushing against the revolutionary will of the Workers Party, however. For if the Russian Revolution waned, enthusiasm for a revolutionary policy on the part of leaders of the sections of the Communist International did as well. The appetite to repeat the experience of the Soviet Revolution diminished as the stabilization of the capitalist world grew in the aftermath of the German defeat of 1923. An expanding and self-confident imperialism weighed particularly heavily on the American party, as Cannon later explained:

“Moscow domination” did indeed play an evil role in this unhappy time, but it did not operate in a vacuum. All the conditions of American life in the late Twenties, pressing in on the unprepared infant party, sapped the fighting faith of the party cadres, including the central leaders, and set them up for the Russian blows. The party became receptive to the ideas of Stalinism, which were saturated with conservatism, because the party cadres themselves were unconsciously yielding to their own conservative environment. (20)

John Pepper Comes to America

The Communist International began its degeneration just as the American party was finally making the turn toward the working class. The task of winning the majority of the active proletariat for communism confronted all the parties of the International, even those that were qualitatively larger than the American one, for in most of Europe the Social Democracy had retained the allegiance of substantial sectors of the working class. The Third Comintern Congress had been held in 1921 under the watchword “To the Masses!” and the tactic of the united front had been introduced shortly afterward; the Communist parties were to propose joint actions to the reformist parties of the Second International, exposing in practice their failure to act in the interest of the working class.

In the United States, however, the vast majority of the working class remained under the sway of the two main bourgeois political parties. During the first decade of the 20th century the American Socialist Party had won the support of a substantial working-class minority, but that support dissipated after 1912, the year Eugene V. Debs won almost one million votes in the U.S. presidential elections. Hillquit’s purge of the SP left wing around Big Bill Haywood had driven many militants into the IWW, where they were unfortunately isolated from the mainstream craft unions.

In purging the SP left wing, Hillquit was merely following in the shadow of Samuel Gompers. The November 1911 confession to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by the structural iron workers' unfortunate McNamara brothers had severely embarrassed Gompers, who had publicly and repeatedly insisted on the brothers' innocence. The case had galvanized pro-labor sentiment in the country, resulting in the near election of a Socialist mayor in Los Angeles. In the aftermath Gompers took great pains to dissociate the AFL from anything approaching labor militancy and independent working-class political action. As a result, the step which Frederick Engels in 1886 had called “the first great step of importance...the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers' party,” had not been taken on a national level. (21)

The newly founded Workers Party began agitation for a labor party in late 1922, attempting to form a united front with the pre-existing “Farmer-Labor” movement. The major advocate of the new labor party orientation was one József Pogány, known as John Pepper, who had become a figure of the party leadership during Cannon’s Moscow sojourn. Pepper, one of the leaders of the 1919 Hungarian Workers Republic disaster, was part of a Comintern delegation sent to unite the various Communist forces in the U.S. in the summer of 1922. The delegation was led by the Pole Henryk Walecki (known in the U.S. as Valetski), a post-WWI convert to Bolshevism whose later career in the Comintern caused Trotsky to remark: “People of Walecki’s calibre will never conquer anything. But they are perfectly capable of losing what has been conquered.” (22) Walecki hesitated to take a strong side in the fight between the Goose Caucus and the “Liquidators.” He did, however, manage to get all the forces claiming allegiance to the Comintern to finally unite in one party.

Pepper had evidently been assigned to the U.S. simply to work with the party’s Hungarian-language Federation, but he passed himself off as some kind of permanent official Comintern “representative” and was elected to the party’s Central Committee at the 1922 Bridgman convention. An unprincipled adventurer who was a frequent target of Trotsky in internal Comintern disputes, Pepper became a major destabilizing factor within the American party: “He was a phony, but by far the most brilliant phony I ever knew. He sparkled like an Arkansas diamond,” wrote Cannon in later years. (23) Having arrived in the country knowing nothing of the language, Pepper wrote in English the party’s first pamphlet for a labor party in October 1922, only three months later. (24)

The Workers Party was a small party by Comintern standards—it claimed only slightly more than 12,000 members by late 1922. Nonetheless, the growing predominance of American imperialism in the world made the U.S. party of strategic concern, and the party was given a representative on the International’s Executive Committee. But while many Russian leaders had spent years in exile in Europe and felt they knew something about France, Germany, or even Britain, none of the major Comintern leaders had spent more than a few months in the United States. They did not presume to dictate where they did not know the situation; there was no one to give the American party the attention that, say, Trotsky gave the French Communist Party in the early years. People of the calibre of John Pepper were able to storm into the breach and they were the sort who also adapted well as the Comintern degenerated. Pepper plunged the party onto a political course that was both organizationally sectarian and politically opportunist.

The Farmer-Labor Party

November 1919 had seen the formation of a reformist national “Labor Party” in Chicago. Max Hayes, president of the new party, was a confirmed anti-Communist—he had already quit the Socialist Party in Cleveland after the left wing led by C.E. Ruthenberg had taken control. But the driving force of this Labor Party was the head of the Chicago Federation of Labor, John Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was an Irish nationalist with a reputation as a radical trade unionist opposed to AFL chief Samuel Gompers. He had been an opponent of U.S. entry into WWI, and he and his chief assistant, Edward Nockels, had given AFL backing to William Z. Foster when he organized the 1919 steel strike.

Fitzpatrick had run for mayor of Chicago on a local labor ticket and garnered 56,000 votes in the spring of 1919. His national Labor Party united the local labor parties that had sprung up in a number of U.S. cities, including Seattle in the aftermath of the general strike, and New York City. While the labor tops were in large part trying to undercut pro-Communist sentiment, the parties also reflected the real political ferment within the working class.

The Communist movement was too infected with ultraleftism to take much notice of the labor party movement in 1919. By the time the party woke up in late 1922 Fitzpatrick’s Labor Party was no longer an unambiguously working-class organization. In July 1920, prior to its second convention, the Labor Party leadership had entered into negotiations with the bourgeois Committee of 48, inheritors of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Progressive Party tradition. The negotiations did not produce agreement, but the forces of the Committee of 48 nonetheless merged their convention with that of Fitzpatrick’s party. They sought the nomination for the presidency of the United States of the Progressive war-horse “Battle Bob” La Follette, Governor of Wisconsin from 1900 to 1906 and then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. La Follette was a longstanding Republican, but an anachronism in a party which had abandoned the short-lived “Progressive” tradition for Harding’s “normalcy.”

Though there were already far fewer trade unions represented at the Labor Party’s 1920 convention (Gompers was moving to strangle it), Fitzpatrick was not yet ready to completely junk his party’s “labor” identity by supporting so openly bourgeois a candidate as La Follette. Instead the party nominated Parley Parker Christensen of Utah, a lawyer and supporter of the Committee of 48 who had defended the IWW in the past. The party’s class identity was further watered down when the convention changed the party’s name to the Farmer-Labor Party, seeking the vote of rural populists.

At the time the chronic disaffection of the American family farmer had been captured by the Non-Partisan League, an organization that advocated cheap rural credit and state ownership of grain elevators. The League was the last gasp of a Western agrarian radical populism which went back to the Grange of the 1870s, a current which had always in the past been co-opted by bourgeois “Progressivism.” The Non-Partisan League was strong in the Western states, particularly Minnesota and the Dakotas. Its strategy was to take over either of the local bourgeois parties (usually the Republican) through election primaries.

Farmer-Labor Party candidate Christensen polled a quarter of a million votes in the 1920 elections. He did particularly well in Non-Partisan League states like the Dakotas and Montana, as well as Washington where the memory of the Seattle general strike remained strong. The agrarian Western states remained the electoral bastions of the “Farmer-Labor” movement through the 1924 elections. (25)

Fitzpatrick’s Farmer-Labor Party joined the Conference of Progressive Political Action (CPPA), an organization founded by the railroad union tops in February 1922, hoping to pressure it into founding a party modeled on the reformist British Labour Party. The CPPA was explicitly not a party, but an agency to support “Progressive” candidates of any party in state and local elections. When the CPPA voted to keep this “non-partisan” orientation at its conference in December 1922, Fitzpatrick split in disgust. The Workers Party, whose delegates the CPPA conference had refused to seat, went with him.

Fitzpatrick then agreed to call a conference to found a new party and to work with the Workers Party in building the conference, which was called for 3 July 1923. The Workers Party eagerly and enthusiastically entered into the bloc with Fitzpatrick. The fact that Fitzpatrick’s Farmer-Labor Party had already taken a giant step backward from its original stand for independent working-class political action did not concern the Workers Party leadership, which accepted the “Farmer-Labor” orientation and designation. In this they may have been adversely influenced by Zinoviev’s confused formulations on possible “workers and peasants governments” at the Fourth Comintern Congress.

But the Workers Party leadership was also exhibiting a woeful and willful ignorance of recent American political history. In 1912 Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs had run against Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, pulling almost a million votes in the presidential elections. The Progressive current had sought, since that time, to co-opt working-class and petty-bourgeois socialist currents into the movement for a third bourgeois party. The Communist leadership was blind to this danger. The party did not attempt to draw a clear class line in its propaganda by insisting that the new party be unambiguously working-class in character. Nor did they insist that the new party make a complete break with bourgeois political currents, including La Follette’s.

The Split with Fitzpatrick

The Workers Party did not combat Fitzpatrick politically but it flouted his organizational concerns at every turn. The story of the precipitous and ill-conceived break with the Fitzpatrick forces at the July 3 conference is well told by Theodore Draper. (26) Given the growing conservative mood in the country, a split was probably inevitable sooner rather than later. Fitzpatrick was under intense and immediate pressure from the AFL to split with his Communist allies. Most of the AFL unions refused to send delegates to the July 3 conference. At the first meeting of the united-front conference preparations committee, Fitzpatrick’s line to the Workers Party was: “Let’s get the record straight—we are willing to go along, but we think you communists should occupy a back seat in this affair.” (27)

What was not inevitable was the weight of the forces on each side of the split. If the Workers Party had tried to polarize Fitzpatrick’s party on a programmatic class basis, they might have come out of the venture with augmented forces. Instead, under the leadership of Pepper, they viewed the conference as a get-rich-quick scheme. They accepted the two-class “Farmer-Labor” designation, muddying the political waters, while organizing to take control of the conference completely away from Fitzpatrick. In the end the independent trade-union forces in attendance went with Fitzpatrick, leaving only the Workers Party and a few petty-bourgeois Non-Partisan League populists in the newly founded Federated Farmer-Labor Party (FFLP).

Fitzpatrick was furious; he became a bitter, vengeful enemy of the Workers Party, which now lost the protection the alliance had provided them in the national AFL. The effect was immediate on William Z. Foster’s Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), which had become the party’s trade-union arm. In August 1923 Morris Sigman, newly elected head of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), declared TUEL membership incompatible with membership in his union. By the end of 1925 most major unions had done likewise. John L. Lewis revoked the charter of the Nova Scotia United Mine Workers (UMW), which had applied for membership in the Comintern’s Red International of Labor Unions. (28) In November 1923 William F. Dunne, prominent party member and delegate from Butte, Montana, was refused his seat at the annual AFL convention in Portland. The UMW motivated Dunne’s expulsion; only six delegates voted against it.

Cannon had almost no part in the deliberations of the Workers Party leadership leading up to the July 3 convention. Immediately after his return from Moscow in January 1923 he had been sent on national tour to speak about the situation in Soviet Russia, probably a conscious maneuver on the part of Pepper to get him out of the way. But in May he passed through Chicago and got wind of how things were going when Arne Swabeck and other Chicago leaders complained to him. Cannon fired off a letter to Ruthenberg, which we publish here, complaining about the stupidity of attempts to pack the conference. Needless to say, his advice was ignored.

The Fight Against “Pepperism”

Cannon described how, in the aftermath of July 3, he made a pact with William Z. Foster to fight against Pepper’s leadership of the party. (29) The Foster-Cannon faction won control of the Workers Party at its Third Convention in December 1923, moving the party headquarters from New York to the proletarian center of Chicago. They retained control of the Central Executive Committee (CEC or Central Committee) up until the party’s Fourth Convention in August 1925. The Cannon faction was born as an integral part of the Foster-Cannon faction of this period. We publish here Cannon’s opening shot in the campaign against Pepper, “The Workers Party Today—and Tomorrow,” as well as the theses on the labor party submitted by Foster and Cannon to a CEC plenum in November 1923.

John Pepper did not stand alone against the Foster-Cannon forces. He had carefully built up a base of support in the party, based largely on the ex-ultraleftists of the Goose Caucus, and had found a willing pupil for his unique brand of opportunism/adventurism in Jay Lovestone. Moreover, party secretary C.E. Ruthenberg lent his significant credibility to the Pepper faction, as did Max Bedacht.

While the two factions may have initially differed on their evaluation of the split with Fitzpatrick, in the aftermath there were few differences on the orientation of the party. Both the Pepper-Ruthenberg and the Cannon-Foster factions compounded the party’s initial error in failing to polarize the Fitzpatrick Farmer-Labor Party around a class axis. They proposed that the Workers Party enter into an ongoing political alliance with the “Progressive” forces.

What remained of the petty-bourgeois agrarian populists and trade-union “Progressives” in the Federated Farmer-Labor Party were already lining up behind the proposed candidacy of Robert M. La Follette for the 1924 presidential elections. It was clear that the AFL, the Socialist Party and the pathetic remnants of the Non-Partisan League were all going to participate in the attempt to found a new “Progressive” party. In his inimitable fashion, Pepper saw in this a “La Follette revolution” which “will contain elements of the great French Revolution, and the Russian Kerensky Revolution. In its ideology it will have elements of Jeffersonianism, Danish cooperatives, Ku Klux Klan and Bolshevism. The Proletariat as a class will not play an independent role in this revolution.” (30) So, Pepper argued, the Workers Party had to go along with La Follette and separate itself out at some unspecified later date. This strategy of ongoing political blocs with bourgeois forces would ultimately be perfected by the Communist International under Stalin as the “Popular Front” or “People’s Front.”

Foster and Cannon held no brief for Pepper’s anti-Marxist theoretical schemes. But they feared the party’s further isolation in the trade-union movement if they attempted to swim against the political tide for La Follette. Even before the December 1923 Workers Party convention, Foster and Cannon had come to essential political agreement with the Ruthenberg faction on this question. In November Foster and Cannon had withdrawn their theses, which condemned the formation of the FFLP, and voted instead for a new, conciliatory set of theses by Ruthenberg-Pepper. The new “November Theses” stressed the necessity of a continued bloc with the “Progressives” even as it hailed the formation of the FFLP.

Both major factions were thus in agreement as the Workers Party embarked on an opportunist course which led it close to open support for La Follette. Their policy of building a party with La Follette’s supporters, without openly advocating—or strongly opposing—La Follette’s candidacy, was known as the “third party alliance.” Cannon’s writings from the fall of 1923 through May 1924 fully support the “third party alliance,” wrongly painting the La Follette “Progressives” as working-class centrists rather than as a bourgeois political current with supporters in the workers movement. In later years, Cannon noted the essential unity that existed at the top of the Workers Party on the La Follette question:

The cold fact is that the party which had proclaimed itself at its inception as a revolutionary party of the working class, and had adopted a corresponding program, became, for a period in 1924, the advocate of a “third party” of capitalism, and offered to support, under certain conditions, the presidential candidacy of the petty-bourgeois demagogue La Follette....

The bewildered party disgraced itself in this affair, and all the prominent leaders without exception, myself included, were in it up to our necks, with no excuse save that of ignorance and no reason except perhaps the foolhardy ambition to outwit ourselves. If I can force myself to return to this leap into political irrationality, even now—30 years later—it is only because a bad experience, honestly evaluated and accounted for, may serve a useful purpose in immunizing the movement against similar abnormalities in the future.

Foster’s role in this sorry business was the same as mine and that of all the other American leaders at the time. Pepper—interpreting what he took to be the Comintern line—formulated the policy; the rest of us went along. Considering the fact that Pepper had been defeated and put in the minority at the party convention, at the end of 1923, this says a lot for his resilience and continuing influence, but it doesn't say much for the rest of us. (31)

The only Workers Party leaders to oppose the “third party alliance” were Ludwig Lore and Moissaye Olgin, whose bases were, respectively, in the German Federation cadre and the Jewish workers in the garment unions. Both Olgin and Lore were well enough schooled in pre-Leninist Social Democratic Marxism to recognize that an ongoing alliance with the Republican La Follette was not the road to the “distinct workers party” that Engels had written of. Lore’s New York group held the balance of power between the Foster-Cannon and Pepper-Ruthenberg factions at the December 1923 convention. The Cannon-Foster faction won the day only by getting the Lore group’s support. This they managed to do without abandoning their faction’s support for the “third party alliance.” By common agreement, the question was referred to the Comintern.

The support of the Finnish Federation was also key to the Cannon-Foster victory. The Finnish Federation had come over to the Workers Party from the Socialist Party only in 1921; it was a clannish group, based on agricultural and cultural cooperatives. The Finnish membership gave their allegiance to Soviet Russia but wanted little part in American politics. They were a pivotal group within the Workers Party because they comprised about 50 percent of the membership: 6,509 out of a total party membership of 12,394, according to figures prepared for the Workers Party’s 1922 convention. In contrast, total membership of the English-speaking branches at the time was only 1,276. (32)

It was Cannon who carefully built up support for the Foster-Cannon faction, masterminding the coup against Pepper-Ruthenberg at the party’s December 1923 convention. In winning Lore’s and Olgin’s support, Cannon was also able to finally bring about unity between the warring factions of Alexander Bittelman and Moissaye Olgin in the Jewish Federation. Cannon’s immense skills as a factional politician were later described by Bittelman:

As I became better acquainted with Jim, I began to notice and appreciate his skills in internal party politics....He seemed fully aware, not alone of the political differences between the two groups, but also of the individual and personal frictions and incompatibilities between, say, Salutsky and myself, or between Olgin and Shachno Epstein, by way of example.

These skills in intra-party politics, the playing of which he obviously enjoyed very much, were unquestionably a source of strength to Jim himself as well as to our party, or parties—the Communist Party and the Workers Party. I remember a certain image of him that I acquired after a while. It was the image of a caretaker of a large experimental institution or laboratory, moving about the various machines, tools, gadgets, testing tubes, etc., making sure they operate properly, oiling, fixing, changing, improving and adjusting. That was Jim Cannon’s main contribution in our party; and, for the particular phase in its development a very important contribution. His humor and wit played no small part in all of that. (33)

Cannon’s skills as a politician were not universally appreciated. In a letter to the ECCI defending John Pepper, who had been recalled to Moscow, Jay Lovestone complained in early 1924: “The seeds of the present factional struggle were sown when Comrade Cannon returned from the Fourth Congress of the Comintern.” (34) But the aim of Foster-Cannon had been to put an end to “Pepperism,” not to push aside Pepper’s American backers. Ruthenberg remained secretary of the party even after the Foster-Cannon victory. Cannon became assistant secretary, while Foster was party chairman. In the period after the convention Cannon was at great pains to build a collective at the top of the party, as is evident from a letter he wrote in the spring of 1924 to a Lore supporter and leader of the Jewish Federation in New York:

2. Jewish Affairs The unification effected in the leading strata will gradually spread to the ranks if the leading comrades will work to that end consciously and patiently. The most important thing to strive for, of course, is ideological unity on a broad basis....

What you do not see clearly yet is that the party is in the midst of a profound crisis of growth. It is going through a transition period. The old party, which was a loose collection of warring groups without a single authoritative, leading group, is working its way, with much travail, into a homogeneous body led by a support and confidence of the great majority of the party members. [emphasis in original] (35)

Factional Gang War

Nonetheless the factional lineups hardened, leading to the factional gang warfare which plagued the party for most of the rest of the decade. Personal antipathies and social factors certainly played a role in the developing factional war, as Alexander Bittelman, himself a member of the Cannon-Foster inner circle, explained:

Most of the Cannon-Foster circle were a rather rough-and-ready group of individuals. There was among them much camaraderie, plain spoken talk and few niceties in mutual relations. In group discussions they would use what they chose to call “trade union language,” in which variations on “damn it” were of the more innocent expressions. And candor compels me also to say this: in our own circle four-letter exclamations were a dime a dozen and sometimes cheaper. Whereas Ruthenberg, in circumstances which tempt one to resort to some such exclamation, would merely say: “Goodness gracious.” I can never forget the expression on the faces of some of my comrades in the Cannon-Foster circle on such occasions. (36)

Ruthenberg saw in the Foster-Cannon bloc a bunch of upstart trade-union opportunists who threatened communist orthodoxy. Max Bedacht, who was, like Ruthenberg, a proper and straight-laced German (he never got over the antipathy he felt because Cannon was chewing tobacco when they first met), thought likewise. (37) Though “C.E.” Ruthenberg (no one ever called him by his first name) had an honorable history as an SP left-winger and was the faction leader with mass appeal among the Workers Party rank and file, he was an aloof individual who by all accounts left to others the details of the internal factional struggle. Pepper was Ruthenberg’s factional operative until Pepper was recalled to Moscow in May 1924; after that Jay Lovestone played the role. Lovestone became the dominant force within the Ruthenberg faction, even before Ruthenberg’s untimely death in March 1927.

Pepper was “the consummate type of the man who knows how to adapt himself, a political parasite.” (38) Lovestone was a man molded in Pepper’s image. If the search for a get-rich-quick road to mass influence through the Farmer-Labor movement was the political basis of the early Ruthenberg faction, Lovestone’s corrupt and cynical organizational methods were the internal counterpart. His factional cohort, Benjamin Gitlow, wrote accurately (if bitterly), at least on this question:

He was unmarried, as far as anyone knew, but beyond that not a man in the Party knew anything more about him. But Lovestone knew everything about everybody in the Party. He was a walking Walter Winchell of the lives and scandals of the important Party members. To him many Party comrades would confide their innermost secrets, yet he confided nothing. The leaders of the Party feared and hated him more than any other man because he knew too much. His personal file was the talk of the Party. Whenever he could get a leader of the Party down in black on white, it went into his file, and when one least expected it, the letter, foolishly written, the remark, damaging to one’s character, was publicly used if the occasion demanded it. (39)

Antipathy to Lovestone characterizes all those who were on the other side of the factional divide in the Workers Party. Bittelman later wrote that “Lovestone’s way was ruthless, unscrupulous and iron-fisted.” (40) “In intimate circles,” according to Cannon, “Foster remarked more than once that if Lovestone were not a Jew, he would be the most likely candidate for leadership of a fascist movement. That was a fairly common opinion.” (41)

There was nothing that Lovestone wouldn't do in the fight to put his faction in control of the Workers Party. Cannon explained why Lovestone was the predominant figure in the Ruthenberg faction:

Wolfe was a more serious student, he was better educated and more effective both as a speaker and a writer than Lovestone himself. And Bedacht, a product of the old pre-war German school, knew far more about formal Marxist doctrine and took it more seriously. But both of them lacked Lovestone’s will, his ruthless and driving ambition, to say nothing of his truly diabolical passion for intrigue and his indefatigable energy in setting men against each other and fouling things up generally. (42)

“I don't know whether you can get a comprehension of what it meant to fight with a son-of-a-bitch like Lovestone,” Cannon later told Draper. (43) But if Lovestone kept the factional pot boiling in the American party, it was the increasingly Stalinized Comintern that provided the heat.

Trotsky Fights the “Third Party Alliance”

It was Leon Trotsky in Moscow who insisted on pulling the Workers Party back from the opportunist course of the “third party alliance” in 1924. Trotsky’s views were already being censored by the triumvirate; he was not able to publish any articles attacking the policy of the American party in the English-language Comintern journals. But a collection of his Comintern writings between 1919 and 1923 was soon to be published in Russian. He took the opportunity to write an introduction on current Comintern problems. Attacking the attempt to downplay the significance of the 1923 German defeat, Trotsky pointed out that there had been an international turn toward stabilization of the capitalist world. He insisted that the Comintern’s European sections must pay more attention to combatting reformist and bourgeois trends within the workers movement. He particularly lambasted the Workers Party leadership:

For a young and weak Communist Party, lacking in revolutionary temper, to play the role of solicitor and gatherer of “progressive voters” for the Republican Senator La Follette is to head toward the political dissolution of the party in the petty bourgeoisie. After all, opportunism expresses itself not only in moods of gradualism but also in political impatience: it frequently seeks to reap where it has not sown, to realize successes which do not correspond to its influence. Underestimation of the basic task—the development and strengthening of the proletarian character of the party—here is the basic trait of opportunism!...The inspirers of this monstrous opportunism, who are thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat, are impatiently seeking to transfer the party’s center of gravity into a farmer milieu—a milieu that is being shaken by the agrarian crisis. By underwriting, even if with reservations, the worst illusions of the petty bourgeoisie, it is not at all difficult to create for oneself the illusion of wielding influence over the petty bourgeoisie. To think that Bolshevism consists of this is to understand nothing about Bolshevism. (44)

Trotsky’s preface was dated May 20. The same day, the Comintern issued its decision on the question. Zinoviev had finally conceded the main point to Trotsky: “An alliance with the La Follette movement would not serve the liberation of the petty-bourgeois masses from domination by capital.” But Zinoviev could not adopt Trotsky’s hard line against a two-class party without undercutting the triumvirate’s campaign against Trotsky for “underestimating” the peasantry. The decision accepted the need for a farmer-labor party in America:

These two independent tasks—the task of building around the Communist Party a broad class labor party and of establishing a bond between the labor party and the poorest elements of farmers—have developed in the United States, thanks to the peculiarities of historical evolution, as one problem, namely, the building of a common party of workers and exploited farmers....The American Communists must establish within the Farmer-Labor Party a strong consolidated labor wing including the agricultural wage workers. (45)

Subsequent Comintern decisions on the labor party question in the United States only compounded and amplified the confusion on the question of the “two-class party” exhibited in this declaration.

The Comintern decision accepted the Cannon-Foster contention that the split with Fitzpatrick’s forces had been a disaster. (Even Israel Amter, a hard Ruthenberg-Pepper supporter, had been forced to admit in the Comintern’s journal that “experience demonstrates that the conception of comrades Foster-Cannon was correct.”) (46) But the ECCI was careful not to endorse either faction, and it criticized Cannon by name:

If the group represented by comrades Ruthenberg and Pepper has made the mistake of not realizing sufficiently the dangers besetting the party on the long path leading to securing the co-operation of the petty-bourgeois masses, the comrades gathered around the other group, such as comrades Hathaway and Cannon, have made a number of declarations which show that in their efforts to secure influence on the petty bourgeoisie they failed to maintain the Communist position. (47)

In his capacity as secretary of the Farmer-Labor Federation of Minnesota, Hathaway had signed a statement against the imposition of communist “utopias,” an act attacked by both Trotsky and the ECCI decision as a particularly egregious example of opportunism. No specific declaration of Cannon’s was mentioned, but the singling out of Cannon was no doubt due to Pepper’s Comintern influence. In effect, the attack on Cannon served to deflect attention from the fact that both factions had “failed to maintain the Communist position.” The public criticism had to have affected Cannon’s standing in the party. Readers will note a marked shift toward Communist orthodoxy in Cannon’s writings in the summer of 1924. While other party leaders viewed the Comintern’s decision as only a temporary setback, Cannon sought to assimilate its full significance for communist strategy.

The 1924-25 Faction Fight

Cannon wasn't the only one who shifted gears in the summer of 1924. The entire Workers Party awkwardly and abruptly changed course after receiving the Comintern decision. La Follette issued a ringing denunciation of the Communists just at that time, making the party’s sudden change in orientation a bit easier to explain to the radical public. The June 17 St. Paul convention of the Farmer-Labor movement did not nominate La Follette for president. In the end the Workers Party ran its own candidates in the elections: William Z. Foster for president and Benjamin Gitlow for vice president. They polled slightly more than 33,000 votes, a respectable showing considering that the party was able to get on the ballot in only a few states. La Follette’s third party polled far fewer votes than expected—only 4.8 million. His supporters viewed the election results as a defeat. Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s successor, won by a landslide.

The faction fight rekindled in the Workers Party almost as soon as the polls closed. The basic issue was the evaluation of the election results: Cannon and Foster insisted that the Farmer-Labor movement had been co-opted by La Follette and was now dead. Nothing was to be gained by continuing to raise the labor party slogan; the party should concentrate on united-front campaigns around concrete issues in the trade unions. Ruthenberg-Lovestone argued that the La Follette forces had won a great victory in the elections, that the party had to continue to orient to the movement which had supported him, and that agitation for a labor party should remain on the party’s agenda.

Both sides could, of course, claim to stand on the muddled May 1924 Comintern decision. Cannon and Foster were, unwittingly, emphasizing Trotsky’s thrust while Ruthenberg-Lovestone, taking advantage of the Comintern’s acceptance of the two-class Farmer-Labor Party, were pushing for what was basically a reversal of the anti-La Follette decision. The fight consumed the party from December 1924 right through to the party’s Fourth Convention in August 1925.

We publish here most of Cannon’s polemics from this crucial fight in the Workers Party, both those he wrote in his own name and those he coauthored. As the fight progressed, the issues in dispute in the American party were further muddled by Zinoviev’s anti-Trotsky campaign. But it is no less true that the anti-Trotsky campaign in the American party was muddled by the party’s pre-existing factional lineup.

The Fight Against Lore’s “Two and a Half Internationalism”

Foster had succeeded in having Pepper recalled to Moscow in May 1924. But Pepper was all the more dangerous there, working in the Comintern apparatus as an agent for Ruthenberg-Lovestone. Trotsky’s May 1924 essay was not available in English, and Cannon later told Draper that he was not aware of differences between Trotsky and Zinoviev on the American question. But John Pepper certainly was. Trotsky’s victory on the central issue of La Follette’s candidacy had been Pepper’s defeat. Pepper recognized that Stalin’s ascendancy meant that this defeat was reversible, and this fueled the American faction fight.

The only tendency in the Workers Party that opposed the “third party alliance” was that of Ludwig Lore. Moreover, in early 1924 Lore, writing in the party’s German-language Volkszeitung, which he edited, had painted the victory of the Foster-Cannon faction as a victory for Trotsky’s opposition. Lore had a great deal of personal sympathy for Trotsky, but he was no Trotskyist; the Volkszeitung also supported the expelled rightist German leader Paul Levi, and Lore’s public complaints about the zigzags of Zinoviev had more in common with Levi than with Trotsky. The 1924 Comintern decision on the American question had directed the party leadership to wage a struggle against Lore’s “Two and a Half Internationalist” tendency, even as it propounded Lore’s position against the La Follette alliance.

In order to avoid losing Lore’s support, Foster and Cannon had initially refused to take a position in favor of the Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev “Old Guard” in the Russian party when Pepper tried to force the issue in the Central Executive Committee in March 1924. But Foster, who went to Moscow in May to put forward the case for the “third party alliance,” quickly realized that opposition to Trotsky was the sine qua non for favor in the eyes of the Zinoviev leadership. After Foster’s return he and Cannon began voting for the anti-Trotsky resolutions proposed by Ruthenberg and Lovestone, but their slowness to endorse the “Old Guard” was a key weapon in Pepper’s arsenal. After Pepper’s advantage became clear, both Foster and Cannon moved quickly to separate themselves from Lore and remedy the situation. Nonetheless, Lovestone took to referring to the Foster-Cannon faction as the “Foster-Lore Group.”

Lore’s real crime, as far as Zinoviev was concerned, was his support to Trotsky. But there was truth to the charge that Lore remained a social democrat who, like Kautsky with his short-lived “Two and a Half International,” was trying to straddle the fence between reformism and communism. Lore’s group of party supporters were definitely a rightist bunch, centered on a layer of trade-union officials like needle trades leader Charles Zimmerman. In June 1924 Cannon had labeled Zimmerman “a dangerous opportunist who has to be watched”; Zimmerman’s later trajectory would indicate that this was not an exaggeration on Cannon’s part. (48) The needle trades leaders soon broke with Lore, and they retained membership in the Workers Party even after Lore was expelled in 1925. Their opportunism remained a frequent target of Cannon.

As is apparent from the material we publish here, Cannon energetically took up the ideological struggle against Lore’s “Two and a Half Internationalism.” He also pushed Zinoviev’s “Bolshevization” campaign. But even as he promoted these campaigns, which were code words for anti-Trotskyism in the Comintern as a whole, he remained essentially a passive supporter of the broader anti-Trotsky campaign. He was able to take this position in part because Loreism was a real right-wing tendency within the American party.

Though they turned against their erstwhile supporters in the Lore faction, the Cannon-Foster faction hardly had the profile of a left wing. They correctly insisted on the necessity of a proletarian majority in any farmer-labor movement, but they did not criticize the party’s failure to insist on the working-class character of the party formed at the July 3 Chicago convention. Their documents reveal a tendency to adapt to the backward prejudices common in the AFL unions. There is little emphasis, for example, on the need for the party to aggressively wage a fight against the racist Jim Crow restrictions in most union constitutions. And they said little about American imperialism’s increasingly restrictive and racist immigration policies.

The decision against support to La Follette had been part of a general left turn by the Comintern in 1924-25. Afraid that Trotsky might pick up support, Zinoviev maneuvered to outflank him on the left. The years 1924-25 were later described by Trotsky as “the years of Left mistakes and putschist experiments.” (49) Under the general rubric of “Bolshevization,” most of the established sectional leaderships were replaced by figures loyal to Zinoviev and hence more willing to spout the leftist rhetoric he demanded. The ascendancy of Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow in Germany was symptomatic of this trend. Pepper knew how to couch the Ruthenberg faction’s orientation in terms of the pseudo-leftism that was the political currency of the Comintern under Zinoviev. It was this, combined with Pepper’s skillful playing of the Trotsky card, that ensured the defeat of the Foster-Cannon faction at the Comintern’s Fifth Plenum in March-April 1925.

The 1925 Decision on the Labor Party Slogan

The dispute on the labor party slogan was fought out in the American Commission which convened in Moscow around the ECCI Fifth Plenum in March-April 1925. We publish here transcripts of some of Cannon’s remarks to American Commission sessions, as well as the Foster-Cannon article “Controversial Questions in the Workers Party of America,” which was published in the Russian- and German-language Communist International around the time of the plenum. Foster and Cannon were roundly defeated in the commission.

The plenum declared, “it must be recognized that in the elections La Follette gained an important victory,” and decreed the urgent necessity of continued agitation around the labor party issue. The ECCI did not correct the party’s former position in favor of a two-class farmer-labor party even though it reversed it: “Our slogan itself should now be revised insofar that we no longer agitate for a 'farmer-labor party' but only for a 'labor party,' since in the changed conditions the premises for the formation of a joint party of workers and small farmers are lacking.” (50) Political clarity was beside the point to the ECCI.

As a propaganda slogan, the demand for a labor party could have had a place in the communist arsenal at this time. But to insist on the need for an agitational campaign around the slogan was tantamount to insisting on a continued orientation to the bourgeois “Progressive” forces. An unsigned article in the March English-language Communist International had argued this explicitly: “The La Follette movement is an inevitable stage in the process of the revolutionization of the American proletariat....The chief political task of the American Communists now consists in breaking the proletarian and poor farmer elements, away from the La Follette movement....” (51) The La Follette third party movement was dead, however, so the opportunist orientation demanded by the Comintern remained a dead letter in the next period, except in a few states like Minnesota, where small “Farmer-Labor” remnants survived.

The Comintern leadership clearly favored the Ruthenberg-Lovestone faction. But the Cannon-Foster faction still had the votes in the American party: they won a majority of delegates in the elections to the party’s Fourth Convention, held in August 1925. Both Cannon and Draper describe how a cable from Moscow intervened to change the verdict of the American party. (52) The Comintern cable declared that the “Ruthenberg Group is more loyal to decisions of the Communist International and stands closer to its views,” demanded that the hated Lovestone remain a member of the Central Executive Committee and insisted that the Ruthenberg faction get at least 40 percent of the seats on the incoming CEC.

The Cannon-Foster Split

Cannon and Foster split over how to respond to the cable. Cannon wanted to comply with the sense of the cable and give each faction 50 percent of the incoming CEC. Foster wanted to flout the Comintern and wash his hands of the new CEC by giving the Ruthenberg group an absolute majority. Cannon carried a bare majority of the Foster-Cannon caucus and the faction followed his proposal. But the Comintern representative to the new CEC, S.I. Gusev—a Russian who had followed Stalin’s line in the Russian party since the Civil War days—declared his intention to vote with the Ruthenberg faction, giving them the majority in any case. In the aftermath, the following joke reportedly became popular among the more cynical party members: “Why is the Communist Party of the United States like the Brooklyn Bridge? Because it is suspended on cables.” (53)

But Cannon was not at all cynical where the Communist International was concerned. He was a loyal “Cominternist” and, as he later told Draper, he had “been convinced in our discussions with the Russians, that we had made a political error in our estimate of the prospects of a labor party in the United States, and I was most concerned that we make a real correction. With inadequate theoretical schooling I was already groping my way to the conception, which later became a governing principle, that a correct political line is more important than any organizational question, including the question of party control.” (54)

For Foster, however, the question of party control remained paramount. The split in the Cannon-Foster faction hardened and became permanent because Foster and Bittelman insisted on appealing the Comintern cable after the convention and sought to mobilize the base of the Cannon-Foster faction against the Comintern. Such an opposition was necessarily based on the rightism of the Finns and of Lore’s supporters (who remained in the party even though Lore himself was expelled by the convention). Cannon had already written a polemic against the anti-internationalism of the leader of the Finnish Federation, Henry Askeli. In later years Shachtman described the thinking of Cannon and his supporters when they broke with Foster:

The kind of support we would necessarily rally, the kind of support that would come to us whether we rallied it deliberately or not, would be of a kind that first would mobilize all of the right-wing elements of the party against the Comintern, and in mobilizing them behind the appeal, we would be placed increasingly at the mercy of these right-wing elements. They would constitute more and more of our troops. And, willy-nilly...a split would ensue. Why willy-nilly? Because nobody really felt the Comintern would reverse its decision. (55)

The break between Cannon and Foster became final when Cannon spoke out against the Foster-Bittelman appeal in a speech, which we publish here, to the Young Workers League conference in October. Foster retained the support of the Finns and the core of the TUEL apparatus—his group had the bigger rank-and-file base. But the Cannon-Foster cadre had split down the middle. Cannon won the youth, including Shachtman, the party leaderships in Detroit and Minnesota, as well as Abern, Swabeck, Gomez and Cannon’s best friend and collaborator, William F. Dunne.

Cannon and his supporters blocked with the Ruthenberg faction in the period after his split with Foster, trying to forge a collective pro-Comintern leadership. Their joint resolution “Unify the Party!” is included here. But even as Cannon broke with Foster, he and Dunne were compelled to register a protest in the Political Committee against Ruthenberg’s attempts to undercut Foster’s Trade Union Department. Their bloc with Ruthenberg-Lovestone did not last very long.

The International Labor Defense

The International Labor Defense (ILD) was the center of Cannon’s public political work from August 1925 until his expulsion in 1928. In a letter to Draper, Cannon told the story of how the ILD was conceived in Moscow in 1925 with ex-Wobbly “Big Bill” Haywood. Rose Karsner, at the time head of the International Red Aid campaign in the United States, was also in Moscow and participated in the discussions. Cannon detailed the proud history of the ILD’s non-sectarian defense of class-war prisoners. (56) Such defense had been a theme of Workers Party propaganda since the party’s inception, but the ILD gave it flesh and blood.

It appears that only the timing of the ILD’s founding allowed it to survive the vicissitudes of the internal party struggle. Just before the Fourth Convention Cannon was able to force his plans for the establishment of the ILD through the Executive Council (Political Committee) over Ruthenberg’s objections, as indicated in the 26 June 1925 minutes, excerpts of which we publish here. If Ruthenberg had prevailed and Max Bedacht had been appointed ILD secretary, the entire project would probably have been scuttled since Cannon’s personal ties with the IWW and ex-Wobbly milieu were key: the Wobblies demanded that Cannon be secretary of the organization as a condition for cooperation. (57)

By late August Ruthenberg-Lovestone had a majority on the Executive Council, but the ILD was protected (as Foster’s TUEL was not) by Cannon’s initial alliance with Ruthenberg. Cannon had time to build it into the party’s largest and most successful united-front organization. Its monthly magazine, the Labor Defender—edited by Max Shachtman and managed by Martin Abern—had a circulation of 22,000 by July 1928. Cannon wrote frequently on ILD matters in both Labor Defender and the party’s Daily Worker.

In 1958 Cannon published a selection of his popular, agitational writings over the years, Notebook of an Agitator. (58) He included most of his ILD material and all of his major articles on the campaign against the execution of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927. Notebook of an Agitator also includes some other popular pieces Cannon wrote while in the Workers Party, including his tribute to C.E. Ruthenberg. This book is still readily available; we therefore publish none of these articles here. We include here only one ILD article which was not in Cannon’s selection: “The Red Month of November” (November 1927).

The American Negro Labor Congress

The International Labor Defense was not the only united-front organization formed by the Workers Party in 1925, though it was the most successful one. In October the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC) was founded at a conference in Chicago attended by some 40 black Communists and close sympathizers. But despite the extensive propaganda the party devoted to the need to fight for black rights and against Ku Klux Klan and lynch mob terror, the ANLC remained a paper organization for most of the decade.

The founding of the ANLC represented a radical departure from the traditional attitude of the American left wing toward the oppression of the black population. The Socialist Party had included open racists; its best element was represented by Eugene V. Debs' famous statement that the Socialist Party had “nothing special to offer the Negro.”

The syndicalists were significantly better than the SP on this question; they actively fought Jim Crow in the labor movement. In its first decade the IWW made significant headway in organizing an integrated timber workers union in the South. Cannon’s account of the 1912 IWW convention takes special note of the fact that two black delegates attended the convention, including one from the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, calling the integrated meeting “proof that we have surmounted all barriers of race and color.” (59) The Chicago Stockyards Labor Council, organized by Foster and Johnstone in 1919, made some headway in organizing black workers as well as white. On the eve of the July 1919 Chicago race riot the Stockyards Labor Council tried to organize an integrated packinghouse workers' march through the black neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side. When the packing bosses succeeded in having the march banned (on the pretext that it might foment racial tension!), Foster and Johnstone organized two separate marches—one black and one white—both of which marched the planned route, to the cheers of the black community which lined the parade route. (60)

But even the best of the syndicalists did not hark back to Marx and Engels' writings on the revolutionary nature of the American Civil War. No one in the American left wing saw the fight against the oppression of black people as a motor force for the American socialist revolution.

The Workers Party in the 1920s broke with this tradition of lack of attention to the unique racist structure of American capitalism. The Russian Bolsheviks had developed their party in intense opposition to the Great Russian chauvinism of the tsar’s empire, and they understood that the demands of oppressed minorities could be a powerful revolutionary force. Cannon recalled in his 1961 essay, “The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement,” how important the Russian influence was in reorienting the American Communist movement:

The best of the earlier socialists were represented by Debs, who was friendly to all races and purely free from prejudice. But the limitedness of the great agitator’s view on this far from simple problem was expressed in his statement: “We have nothing special to offer the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races. The Socialist Party is the party of the whole working class, regardless of color—the whole working class of the whole world” (Ray Ginger, The Bending Cross). That was considered a very advanced position at the time, but it made no provision for active support of the Negro’s special claim for a little equality here and now, or in the foreseeable future, on the road to socialism.

And even Debs, with his general formula that missed the main point—the burning issue of ever-present discrimination against the Negroes every way they turned—was far superior in this regard, as in all others, to Victor Berger, who was an outspoken white supremacist....

The difference—and it was a profound difference—between the Communist Party of the Twenties and its socialist and radical ancestors, was signified by its break with this tradition. The American communists in the early days, under the influence and pressure of the Russians in the Comintern, were slowly and painfully learning to change their attitude; to assimilate the new theory of the Negro question as a special question of doubly-exploited second-class citizens, requiring a program of special demands as part of the over-all program—and to start doing something about it.

The true importance of this profound change, in all its dimensions, cannot be adequately measured by the results in the Twenties. The first ten years have to be considered chiefly as the preliminary period of reconsideration and discussion, and change of attitude and policy on the Negro question—in preparation for future activity in this field.

The effects of this change and preparation in the Twenties, brought about by the Russian intervention, were to manifest themselves explosively in the next decade. The ripely favorable conditions for racial agitation and organization among the Negroes, produced by the great depression, found the Communist Party ready to move in this field as no other radical organization in this country had ever done before. (61)

Many of the initial black cadre of the American Communist movement came from the milieu around A. Philip Randolph’s journal, the Messenger, and his Harlem Socialist political club. Randolph sided with the reformist SP majority in the 1919 split; those blacks who saw the Russian Revolution as the way forward gravitated to the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), founded late in 1919 by Cyril Briggs. The ABB’s initial aim of “African liberation and redemption” was later expanded to that of the “immediate protection and ultimate liberation of Negroes everywhere” and it became a recruiting ground for the Communist movement by the summer of 1921. Claude McKay, who had worked with the British Communists in London from 1919 to 1921, played a role bringing the Harlem ABBers into the orbit of the American Communists.

The Brotherhood sent a fraternal delegation to the founding convention of the Workers Party in December 1921 and many ABB members joined the new legal party. While the ABB retained a separate existence and identity through 1924, it was closely associated with the Workers Party; its remaining local organizations were advised to join the Workers Party in 1925. In New York the ABB was based mostly among political activists of West Indian extraction, while in Chicago it had a significant base among the Southern-born skilled building tradesmen organized in the American Consolidated Trades Council (ACTC). Edward Doty, a plumber by trade, was the Chicago ABB post commander and also the founder of the ACTC. (62)

In discussions on the question of the oppression of the American black population in the early congresses of the Communist International (such discussions took place at the Second, Fourth and Fifth World Congresses in 1920, 1922 and 1925 respectively), the question was viewed primarily as an extension of the colonial question. The early Comintern laid great emphasis on the leadership role American blacks were destined to play in the liberation of the African colonies. Concomitantly the American party tried to influence and recruit from Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa Universal Negro Improvement Association; in the mid-1920s the party supported the anti-Garvey opposition as the UNIA fell apart following Garvey’s 1922 arrest. (63) Both the party and the ABB participated in an ill-fated “All-Race Negro Congress” in Chicago in February 1924, but the majority of black middle-class delegates were resolutely opposed to a pro-labor, communist perspective. (64)

With the formation of the American Negro Labor Congress in 1925, the party’s orientation shifted to organizing American blacks as part of the working class, taking into account the beginning of the mass migration which was to transform the predominantly Southern agrarian black population of sharecroppers and tenant farmers into a key component of the urban American proletariat. But the ANLC still reported to the Comintern’s Eastern Department, and the black Americans who went to Moscow to study in the 1920s were sent to the University of the Toilers of the East, an institution established expressly for educating Communists from the colonial world. (65)

Perhaps because the fight for black liberation was not seen as strategic for the American socialist revolution, the party’s line on the fight against racial discrimination, and the work of the ANLC after 1925, were not issues in the factional struggles that racked the Workers Party in the 1920s. There is little on the question in the Cannon factional writings we publish in this book.

It is notable, however, that at least according to Harry Haywood, most of the party’s black members supported the Ruthenberg-Lovestone faction. This factional lineup was not to change until the Comintern’s Sixth Congress in 1928 when Haywood, then a student at the Lenin School in Moscow, joined the Foster-Cannon factional bloc. Haywood was then the only black member of the American party supporting Stalin’s position that blacks in the Southern United States “black belt” formed a nation whose right to self-determination the party should champion. The Foster-Cannon opposition, with Foster and Dunne in the lead, jumped on the self-determination bandwagon early, in order to use this as a club against the Lovestone faction. Most of the black American party members initially resisted the self-determination slogan, arguing that the party should continue to champion full social and political equality for blacks—Haywood’s brother, Otto Hall, who was also a student in Moscow, accused Haywood of seeking to provide grist for Foster’s factional mill. (66)

While support for the post-1925 CEC majority does not appear to have netted the ANLC leaders access to greater party resources or attention—the minutes of the Political Committee meeting of 7 December 1927 reveal that Lovestone simply dismissed an ANLC request that the party fund two full-time ANLC organizers—this was nonetheless a real element in the internal dynamics of the party. Haywood reports that Robert Minor’s attention to the black members, as well as his writings on the question of black oppression, played a role in winning the black members to the Ruthenberg-Lovestone group. Haywood also remembers that the Ruthenberg-Lovestone faction was seen as pro-Comintern, while the Foster-Cannon supporters were seen as “opportunist, narrow-minded trade unionists lacking in Marxist theory.” (67)

It was the Foster-Cannon faction which was most closely identified with the party’s exclusive emphasis on “boring from within” the reactionary AFL unions. Most of these unions actively refused to admit the blacks who had streamed into the Northern factory cities during WWI. The AFL orientation of the Workers Party in the 1920s meant, in practice, that the party could not organize black workers. While Cannon was never personally committed to the exclusively AFL trade-union policy, Cannon’s lieutenant Bill Dunne leaned more in Foster’s direction. And Dunne was the Cannon-Foster faction “expert” on what was then called the “Negro question.” (68)

Dunne was the Workers Party’s representative to the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in 1924, and to the Third Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern) which followed. When the head of the Profintern, A. Lozovsky, suggested at the congress that the American party should organize separate unions of black workers where the AFL unions refused to organize blacks, Dunne adamantly opposed this perspective. Pointing to the racial integration in the UMW, where the party actually had a significant base, Dunne basically alibied the racist policies of the AFL bureaucracy. His words speak volumes about the limitations of the American party at the time:

The fact that black workers are unorganized is not due to racial antagonism, but is because the American workers are unorganized in general. In those industries where Negroes work, they are admitted into the unions as members with equal rights; this is the case in the miners union, the largest organization in the American Federation of Labor; this is the case in the building trades. There are unions which encompass only skilled workers and they, of course, do not admit Negroes. But when Negroes appear in these industries in significant number, and compete with the members of the unions, then they will be accepted as members with equal rights. If we are opposed to dual unions in general, then we cannot be in favor of parallel Negro unions. Certainly racial antagonism exists, but the best way to fight it will be by accepting white and black workers into one organization, not by mobilizing the Negroes on one side of the barrier and whites on the other. (69)

Dunne’s speech contrasts sharply with the urgency Trotsky conveyed on the question of fighting race prejudice in the American labor movement, in a letter to Claude McKay published the year before Dunne spoke:

In North America the matter is further complicated by the abominable obtuseness and caste presumption of the privileged upper strata of the working class itself, who refuse to recognize fellow workers and fighting comrades in the Negroes. Gompers' policy is founded on the exploitation of such despicable prejudices, and is at the present time the most effective guarantee for the successful subjugation of white and colored workers alike. The fight against this policy must be taken up from different sides, and conducted on various lines. One of the most important branches of this conflict consists in enlightening the proletarian consciousness by awakening the feeling of human dignity, and of revolutionary protest, among the Negro slaves of American capitalism. (70)

The Communist International eventually prevailed over the leadership of the American party, and the resolution adopted by the Workers Party’s Fourth Convention in August 1925 included the proviso: “Where Negroes are not permitted to join the existing 'white' trade unions, it is the duty of the Communists to take the initiative in the formation of organizations of Negro workers, declaring in principle against dual unionism and against racial separation, and declaring as a primary purpose the struggle for admission into the existing unions, but functioning as full-fledged Negro unions during the struggle.” (71)

This policy remained a dead letter, however, so long as Foster’s exclusive emphasis on the AFL dominated the party’s trade-union work. Taking note of A. Philip Randolph’s success in organizing the Pullman Porters, Dunne proposed to the Political Committee on 21 September 1926 that the ANLC take the initiative in calling a national conference on organizing black workers. But nothing appears to have come of this initiative. It was only when the party finally broke out of the AFL straitjacket and put the struggle for black rights at the center of the struggle for the American revolution (the discussions at the Comintern’s Sixth Congress in 1928 at least accomplished this task, though they also resulted in the adoption of Stalin’s ridiculous theory, most often ignored in practice, that blacks in the Southern “black belt” constituted a nation) the party was able to make significant gains among the black population. (72) The groundwork for the gains made by the party during the early 1930s was painstakingly laid in the discussions and accretion of black cadre during the 1920s.

The TUEL and the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI

Cannon was in Moscow for the ECCI’s Sixth Plenum in February 1926, but he seems to have taken no part in the proceedings. The fight against the joint Trotsky-Zinoviev-Kamenev opposition was already in the air. Bukharin was beginning to eclipse Zinoviev in the Comintern, though he did not take over as secretary until the Eighth Plenum in November of 1927. Ultraleftism was now seen as the “main danger” in the Comintern parties; Fischer-Maslow had already been deposed as German party leaders. The turn to the right might have been expected to benefit Foster, but Bukharin was a personal friend of Lovestone; under his leadership the Comintern would continue to favor the Ruthenberg-Lovestone faction.

Foster and Bittelman had gone to Moscow to appeal the Comintern cable in the fall of 1925. They met personally with a sympathetic Stalin, who was apparently already looking to keep the Foster group in reserve for any future moves against Bukharin. (73) While Foster and Bittelman were not successful in overturning the new Ruthenberg majority, they did succeed in getting some Comintern protection against the worst of Ruthenberg-Lovestone’s factional excesses. This was largely because of the intervention of RILU head A. Lozovsky. Cannon later explained to Draper:

Lozovsky supported Foster, was hostile to the Ruthenberg faction and vigorously opposed all the attempts of the Ruthenberg leadership to cut down Foster’s latitude in trade union work. But at this time, as I recall it, the issues on which Lozovsky’s interventions were based were not differences of party policy in the trade union movement but the work itself. He knew that Foster was serious and thoroughgoing in his approach to trade union work, and he thought the Ruthenbergites merely dabbled with it. In that he was dead right.

But even here it must be assumed that Lozovsky’s interventions for the protection of the Foster group were not independent operations on his part. The way things worked in the relations of the Profintern and the ECCI, it is quite inconceivable that Lozovsky acted without the knowledge or approval of the leaders of the Russian CP. Indeed, his support of Foster in trade union work, which was the field to which he limited his intervention, seems in retrospect to coincide with the consistent policy of the Russians at that time. This policy was to give the edge to the Ruthenbergites politically but to emphasize Foster’s priority in trade union affairs and to push back the Ruthenbergian invasions of the field. [emphasis in original] (74)

The persecution by the AFL leaders had driven the TUEL underground in most unions; party members had been forced to deny TUEL affiliation or face expulsion. After he gained control of the party Ruthenberg had sought to destroy the TUEL, and Foster’s base of party support along with it. Benjamin Gitlow was pushed as the new “trade-union” expert, and a plan was expounded to “convert” the TUEL into a broad “left bloc” organization through a new national organizing committee and national conference.

Cannon supported the move to broaden the TUEL, as is evident from his remarks at a Moscow discussion on the American question (the only record found of his trip to Moscow) which we publish here. In late 1925 Cannon and Bill Dunne, who was the Cannon faction’s trade-union operative, had generalized their break with Foster into a critique of the party’s trade-union work, arguing in fact for the complete liquidation of the TUEL:

Conceived as the progressive bloc, the TUEL consists now almost wholly of Communist fractions. The existence of such a bloc between us and the broad progressive movement is a source of endless confusion, and the TUEL in its present status serves to prevent rather than encourage the building of a national oppositional bloc in the American trade union movement.

As already pointed out, our party’s trade union work achieved its best results when the TUEL was in fact a left bloc movement. But the TUEL is now so identified with the party that its usefulness as a left bloc organization has been destroyed completely. (75)

The move to liquidate the TUEL embodied an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, the move away from Foster’s exclusive emphasis on “boring from within” the AFL was a step forward. It was under the banner of a non-AFL united-front organizing committee that the Workers Party led the great Passaic textile strike in early 1926, which began while Cannon was in Moscow. On the other hand, the liquidation of the TUEL could also have been an excuse to put an end to an open Communist presence in the trade unions. While Cannon had emphasized the crucial role of open Communist work in the trade unions in his 1924 speech, “Our Aims and Tactics in the Trade Unions” published in this volume, Dunne tended to put the stress on the liquidationist aspects of their position.

In any case, the ECCI refused to get rid of the TUEL. The Sixth Plenum decision decreed that the Foster group was to have a majority on the party’s leading Trade Union Committee. Foster was to remain head of the TUEL and his policy of eschewing all attempts to organize outside of the framework of the AFL was endorsed (the Passaic strike was settled after Foster’s return from Moscow by turning the organizing committee over to the AFL). But the Comintern ordered the TUEL to enlarge its base of support within the AFL; the TUEL was to drop its explicitly communist program and broaden itself into a united-front organization.

Whatever the differences over the TUEL, all factions were committed to the strategy of searching for “Progressive” trade-union allies with whom to make united fronts. Cannon and Dunne not only endorsed the strategy but actively pushed it in the numerous discussions around trade-union questions which occurred in the Political Committee, as is evident from Cannon’s motions on the TUEL at the 29 October 1926 Political Committee meeting, which we publish in this book.

By that time “Progressive” was an ambiguous term in Workers Party parlance. With La Follette’s party dead, the term encompassed everything from authentic militant trade unionists like Alex Howat of the miners, to left-talking bureaucrats on the make like David Dubinsky in the ILGWU and supporters of the Minnesota Farmer Labor Party (which became a shill for the Democratic Party). The Workers Party did not always distinguish between an action-oriented united front and an ongoing political bloc. The strategy of seeking to always enter into united fronts with so-called progressives therefore tended to cut across the clear communist perspective for trade-union work which Cannon laid out in “Our Aims and Tactics in the Trade Unions.”

While the Foster faction bitterly resented what they regarded as Cannon’s defection to Ruthenberg, Cannon did not view himself in this light. In a letter written from New York, where he stopped en route to the Sixth ECCI Plenum, Cannon urged his supporters in Chicago to “remember the attitude we agreed upon: no indication of any preferences, decision on all questions as they arise according to our main political line, regardless of who is for or against.” (76) After he returned from Moscow, Cannon embarked on a campaign to end factionalism in the party.

Anti-Trotskyism in the Mid-1920s

Cannon later wrote that in the spring of 1926, by accident, he got hold of a Left Opposition document about the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee. It was under the cover of this committee that the reformist British trade-union bureaucrats scuttled the May 1926 General Strike, and Cannon was won over to Trotsky’s position condemning the Anglo-Russian Committee, though he kept quiet about it. (77) It should be noted that to hold a private opinion on Trotsky at variance with the public party position was by no means unusual in the Comintern at the time. It is important not to read back into the Communist movement of the mid-1920s the anathema that Trotsky later became, as Max Shachtman explained:

Although everybody voted pro forma, as I said before, against Trotsky, nevertheless our respect and admiration for Trotsky as the organizer of the Bolshevik revolution and next to Lenin the principal leader of the Communist International was pretty much undiminished. I mention this in connection with Dunne only for this reason. On one of his visits to Moscow as a representative of the American Party...he wrote back a letter to our faction which we circulated as a faction letter that he and with him all of Moscow was delighted that Trotsky’s pictures were back in the windows again. That was the period when the Stalin-Zinoviev combination was breaking up, and Stalin modified at that time and almost abandoned an active attack against Trotsky in order to concentrate his fire upon Zinoviev....

It was characteristic of many of us in the movement at that time—this was in the middle of the '20s—that while we didn't consider ourselves Trotskyists—God forbid; that was unorthodox—the reaction of Dunne to the fact that Trotsky, at least so far as his picture was concerned, was no longer considered a heretic aroused a good deal of delight in all of us. We were relieved. We felt: all right, so he is wrong; we know he is wrong, but still he is not the scoundrel that they had made him out to be. That, by the way, was very true of many people in Europe in the Communist International, who had also gone along without enthusiasm in voting against Trotsky. (78)

Antoinette Konikow, a veteran of the Marxist movement going back to the 1880s, who in 1927 openly supported Trotsky’s Left Opposition in the Workers Party’s Boston branch, was even tolerated up until the expulsion of Trotsky, Zinoviev, et al. from the Soviet party at the end of 1927. Even then she was only removed from her post as an instructor in the local party school. (79) Konikow was not expelled from the Workers Party until after Cannon was (see her letter to the Political Committee published here in Appendix I).

Cannon certainly voted for all of the ritual anti-Trotsky resolutions. He was distinguished, however, by his failure to actively take up anti-Trotsky polemics. Both Foster-Bittelman and Ruthenberg-Lovestone tried to take advantage of the fight against the Left Opposition to further their own factions and their own careers within the Workers Party. Foster continually quoted Stalin; Lovestone was one of those who proposed Trotsky’s expulsion at the Eighth Comintern Plenum in 1927. Cannon refused to take part in this cynical game.

In the spring of 1925 Max Eastman had published a book in support of Trotsky, Since Lenin Died. On 18 October 1926 he succeeded in getting Lenin’s “Testament” printed in the New York Times. The party had advance warning of the impending publication; at a Political Committee meeting on October 16, Lovestone reported that the Daily Worker would prepare a response. Though Trotsky had been obliged to denounce Eastman’s efforts, the episode could not have failed to increase Cannon’s unease on the question. This may have been one of the reasons he requested to be a delegate to the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI in late 1926, which was to debate Stalin’s program of “socialism in one country.” The Ruthenberg majority voted him down. (80)

Ruthenberg’s Sudden Death

Cannon voted independently within the Political Committee for most of 1926 and early 1927, blocking on the basis of the particular issue with whatever faction he happened to agree with, campaigning against the factionalism of both other groups. Relations with the Ruthenberg group must have worsened considerably after Ruthenberg proposed in the summer of 1926 that the party headquarters and Daily Worker move back to New York City. Cannon and Dunne vigorously opposed the move. (81) With support from Moscow, Ruthenberg was able to move the Daily Worker back to New York by January 1927; Dunne, as one of the editors, moved with the paper. Cannon did not move until the party headquarters did, later that year.

Working from Chicago in the fall of 1926 Cannon was able to make an important recruit to his campaign against factionalism: New York district organizer William Weinstone, long a supporter of Ruthenberg-Lovestone. It was Lovestone’s corruption which evidently pushed Weinstone in Cannon’s direction. (82) Weinstone brought with him a few other leading members in New York, including Jack Stachel, and together with Cannon’s supporters they sought to build “a faction to end factions.”

Cannon cemented his alliance with Weinstone in a trip to New York in January 1927. In a letter to his factional supporters, Cannon reported that, as regards the “Weinstone-Stachel group—its break with the Ruthenberg group can be regarded as absolutely definite on ideological and political grounds. They are in direct conflict with them on the external as well as the internal line of the party not less than we are and for precisely the same reasons.” (83) Cannon told his supporters that the Weinstone group was also working closely with the New York Foster faction, and that there had been significant discussion of the possibility of forming a “triple alliance” against Ruthenberg-Lovestone. But Cannon adamantly opposed the perspective of the triple alliance, as he told his supporters in a subsequent letter:

I do not quite remember how I expressed my point of view on one aspect of the question in the previous letter, and to avoid any possible misunderstanding I want to state and underscore here the opinion that it would be absolutely wrong for us to give anyone the impression that we are advocates of the “triple alliance” or the “reunification of the old majority group.” On the other hand, we should not be so stupid as to neglect to utilize any sentiment that may exist for such ideas for the purpose of discussing policy and for propagating the idea that policy must be the decisive question governing all important actions in the party. (84)

Cannon’s campaign against factionalism may have been making headway, as revealed by the summary of a 7 February 1927 discussion between Cannon and Ruthenberg and his leading supporters, which we publish here. In the next period, Cannon coauthored with Ruthenberg a major Political Committee statement designed to stop the faction fighting over the party’s work in the various cooperative movements. (85) Ruthenberg’s sudden death on March 2 upset the equilibrium in the party and opened a particularly frenzied period in the internal party faction fight.

Draper gives a full account of the brawl which ensued as Lovestone attempted to assume Ruthenberg’s mantle. (86) Cannon and Weinstone made a bloc with Foster to support Weinstone for party secretary, and they had a majority of the CEC. Dunne, who had always had a closer political affinity than Cannon with the narrow trade unionists of the Foster faction, pressed for a broader political agreement with Foster in a 2 April 1927 telegram to Cannon. In his draft reply to Dunne, Cannon remained adamant in his opposition to the “triple alliance”:

No combination now either faction STOP Next period one of independent principal struggle STOP Relations other groups can ensue only when Jays dictatorship and Fosters hegemony are smashed by fight and we have consolidated sufficient organized strength and influence to guarantee against danger compromising line or weakening organizational position STOP Absolutely opposed any agreements or commitments either faction before or at plenum STOP All energy must be concentrated now on consolidation own forces on external internal and critical program and coming out openly and militantly as independent group STOP. (87)

Lovestone flouted the CEC and ran off to Moscow, followed by Foster, Cannon and Weinstone. Yet another American Commission was convened in Moscow and we publish here some of Cannon’s remarks to it. It was pressure in Moscow that finally forced Cannon to agree to the bloc with Foster, as is evident from the 26 June 1927 Cannon factional circular which we publish here. Though Cannon was not the author, the letter is based on his reports from Moscow. Such private circular letters, supplemented by faction caucus meetings, were used by all three factions to keep their members informed of internal developments. We also publish the joint Cannon-Weinstone-Foster letter to the American Commission, as well as excerpts from the original theses Cannon and Weinstone prepared for the plenum.

In 1927 there were few differences over political program between the various factions. The documents we print here strain to manufacture issues based on Moscow’s concerns at the time. One of these was the “war danger”: the British had just broken diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese armies had just crushed the Shanghai workers' commune. Stalin used a war scare to help deflect attention from the disastrous results of his two-class “workers and peasants” alliance with Chiang’s Kuomintang.

The fight for control of the American party was no less vicious for the lack of political differences. The initial Comintern decision did not, however, favor either side. It was only after the hapless Alexander Bittelman, who had remained in the United States, formed an ill-advised “National Committee of the Opposition Bloc” within the Workers Party that Lovestone was able to unambiguously win the Comintern’s support. An excerpt from a Lovestone circular, which “explains” the Comintern condemnation of the National Committee of the Opposition Bloc, captures the flavor of most Lovestone polemics:

The Communist International considers this factionalism without political differences the “WORST OFFENSE AGAINST THE PARTY” particularly in the “present objective situation”—the WAR situation, which demands the CONCENTRATED attention of the Party....

The opposition is spreading fake cables from Foster, which the next day they “correct” with another fake cable. Now we know that the Comintern refuses to support such tactics and has given the group a sound slap in the face.

You will notice that Cannon-Weinstone are not mentioned at all. They are, as we predicted, completely ignored by the Comintern. They had no reason for existence in the Party and the Comintern refuses to be fooled by them. They declared that the Party situation could not be settled without their going to Moscow. They have gone—and will come home with their tails between their legs—unless their tails have been cut off in Moscow. (88)

The fight was bitter right through to the American party’s Fifth Convention in August 1927. Even the campaign against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti became a factional football—Cannon was thwarted in his attempts to organize a national Sacco and Vanzetti conference before the execution on August 23, as well as in his attempts to have the party convention postponed to allow for full participation in the last-minute agitation against the execution. He was forced to protest the Daily Worker’s downplaying of the ILD’s role in the campaign. (89) It is a tribute to the ILD that the campaign mobilized as much protest as it did.

Lovestone won a majority of the Fifth Convention, which opened August 31. The Opposition Bloc demanded a minority credentials report, questioning the honesty of the elections organized by Lovestone’s apparatus. But it was useless to appeal. Weinstone soon abandoned the Opposition, but Cannon and Foster maintained their bloc against Lovestone.

Lovestone Becomes Lovestone

Lovestone’s ascendancy shifted the political center of the old Ruthenberg faction. Lore’s old supporters in the needle trades leadership issued a formal statement of affiliation to the Lovestone group. Ruthenberg’s chief ideologist, Max Bedacht, was thrown aside. Lovestone’s chief lieutenant was his old CCNY chum Bertram Wolfe, a man who had twice fled his posts in the old underground movement in the face of government persecution and who owed his office only to Lovestone’s patronage. (90) Wolfe became Lovestone’s chief anti-Trotsky expert and ideologist. Under their tutelage the party began to develop the theme that the Workers Party was the true heir to the tradition of the American Revolution of 1776. They also expounded the thesis that conditions were unfavorable for the class struggle in general and for an independent party election campaign in 1928 in particular.

As is evident from Cannon’s speech to the American party’s February 1928 plenum, which we publish here, Cannon tried in the aftermath of the Fifth Convention to mitigate the factional struggle. But he found himself forced to fight some of the more egregious examples of the party’s right turn. In particular, he opposed the support Weinstone’s New York organization had given to the Socialist Party candidate for judge, Jacob Panken, who had a major base, not uncoincidentally, in the needle trades unions. (91) Cannon also insisted that the party organize aggressively against John L. Lewis in the miners union, calling for a national miners conference which would lay the basis for a new union. In this period the Cannon faction took on the coloration of a genuine left opposition, while the Lovestone group fully evolved into the American version of Bukharin’s Right Opposition.

The winds were, of course, already changing in Moscow by early 1928. The domestic policies advocated by the Bukharin right wing had led to the disaster Trotsky had predicted: the wealthier peasants (kulaks), encouraged by Bukharin to “enrich” themselves, had begun to hoard grain, trying to force a price rise and threatening to starve Soviet cities. Stalin moved with brutal violence to forcibly collectivize the peasantry. His left flipflop in domestic politics was bureaucratically paralleled by a turn to the left by the entire Comintern, as Stalin took the opportunity to both undercut Trotsky’s Left Opposition and eliminate Bukharin as an authoritative figure.

Stalin was moving against Bukharin by the Comintern’s Ninth Plenum in February 1928. But the official political line moved only slowly to the left, toward the dual unionism and ultraleftist rhetoric of Stalin’s “Third Period.” In the beginning the Comintern simply criticized the American party for adapting to the AFL bureaucracy and called for new unions only where the AFL refused to organize the unorganized. Even this was too much for Lovestone, and initially Foster, who resisted the abandonment of his “boring from within” policy until it became clear that he had to either accept the dual unionism of Stalin’s Third Period or give up his post as a leader of the party. (That he would abandon long-held political views in favor of his party post had long been a given.)

Cannon had always been opposed to Foster’s AFL fetishism; he had also been an enthusiastic proponent of a more active Workers Party orientation to organizing the unorganized. Thus for a brief period during the Comintern’s swing to the left, its formal positions coincided with Cannon’s own. He was the only major party faction leader to support the new anti-AFL orientation, and he had to fight within the Political Committee even to get his 1928 article on the trade-union question published. (Bittelman, who could read Russian and knew which way the political wind was blowing in Moscow, soon broke with Foster on the question and blocked with Cannon.) Within the Political Committee Cannon also insisted that the party run in its own name in the upcoming elections, while Lovestone initially resisted, desperate to find some “labor party” gimmick. We publish here Cannon’s articles on both these questions.

Cannon’s star was thus actually rising within the Comintern as it zigzagged left in 1928. But Cannon was far from a cynical factional games player and he was not heartened by the Comintern’s left turn. He was, by all accounts, increasingly disaffected. He had come to a total dead end in his campaign to end the party’s factional wars, and he knew it. At the February plenum he refused to speak on the Trotsky question, despite William Dunne’s urgent pleas that this failure would hurt the standing of the faction. It was at this plenum that he and Canadian Communist Party leader Maurice Spector also first spoke to each other of their doubts about the dirt being heaped on Trotsky.

After the plenum, Cannon went on a two-month national tour for the ILD. In Minnesota, Carl Skoglund and Vincent Dunne, local party leaders who later became founding members of the CLA, asked Cannon what he thought about the expulsion of Zinoviev and Trotsky. Cannon replied, “Who am I to condemn the leaders of the Russian revolution.” (92) Cannon did not make much of a pretense of hiding his views from his faction partners. Alexander Bittelman recalled a frequent saying of Cannon’s in private conversations at the time: “Stalin makes shit out of leaders and leaders out of shit.” (93)

Cannon initially resisted going as a delegate to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International which opened in August 1928, horrifying his top factional lieutenants. Cannon argued that with the party engaged in major campaigns in the miners union, in the textile union and in a national presidential campaign, some of the party leadership should stay home. He agreed to go only at the last minute, as he indicated in the statement he submitted to the Political Committee, which we publish here.

Cannon Becomes a Trotskyist

At the Fourth Congress in 1922 Cannon had been appointed a member of the commission assigned to develop a program for the Communist International. In 1928 Bukharin finally submitted a draft program and Cannon was again made a member of the commission at the Sixth Congress, as was Maurice Spector. Trotsky, already in internal exile at Alma Ata in Soviet Central Asia, had written a critique of Bukharin’s draft program which he submitted to the congress. For some reason the Comintern apparatus translated large parts of the first and third of the three sections of Trotsky’s critique. This was submitted to members of the Program Commission, who were not notified that only part of the document had been translated. (94)

It’s not hard to imagine the profound impact even this partial version of Trotsky’s document had on Cannon. Trotsky’s condemnation of the Comintern’s political zigzags since the adoption of Stalin’s reactionary program of “socialism in one country” powerfully corresponded to Cannon’s own personal experience. Trotsky’s scathing attack on John Pepper’s “third party alliance,” which Trotsky explained as part of a general Comintern turn to two-class parties in 1924-25, must have been a revelation:

The most caricature-like character in this respect was assumed by the Workers' Party of America in its efforts to support the candidature of the bourgeois, “anti-Trust” Senator La Follette, so as to attach, in this manner, the American farmers to the wheel of the Social Revolution. Pepper, the theoretician of the maneuver, who is one of those who has ruined the Hungarian Revolution and who failed to notice the Hungarian peasantry, made here a great effort to ruin the Workers' Party in its first stages of activity....This confused idea had its followers and half followers among the leaders of the Comintern. In the course of a few weeks the scales vacillated from one side to the other until finally a concession was made to the letter of Marxism. Having been taken off its feet the American Party had to be cut off from the noose of the La Follette party which died even before its founder. (95)

Cannon’s experience with Pepper and the La Follette disaster predisposed him to accept Trotsky’s condemnation of Stalin’s policy of building up the bourgeois-nationalist Kuomintang as a supposed “workers and peasants” party in China, a policy which had strangled the Chinese Revolution. Now Trotsky explained that the degeneration of the Russian Revolution by early 1924 was itself the root of the problem; the change Cannon had seen occur in the Communist International since the Fourth Congress was explained.

Cannon and Spector paid little attention to the formal congress proceedings as they read and studied Trotsky’s document which offered Cannon a programmatic way out of his impasse in the internal faction fight. Both he and Spector resolved to take up the fight for the Left Opposition.

Cannon did speak once during the Sixth Congress and his speech is reprinted here. The faction fight in the American party did not stand still while Cannon studied. Dunne had re-cemented the Cannon faction’s bloc with Foster before Cannon arrived in Moscow. The bloc went on the offensive against Lovestone and submitted a document to the congress, “The Right Danger in the American Party.” We have not included this lengthy document here. (96) As rumors of a split between Stalin and Bukharin spread through the congress, the Foster-Cannon supporters had every reason to believe that control of the American party would soon be coming their way. Everyone in the Comintern knew that Bukharin’s—and therefore Lovestone’s—days were numbered. Stalin confirmed this by granting Foster and Bittelman an audience during the congress.

If private sympathy for Trotsky had been tolerated in the Comintern in the past, it was clear by the Sixth Congress that this was no longer to be the case. Cannon and Spector were wisely and necessarily cautious about their adherence to Trotsky’s Left Opposition, as Cannon later explained:

Our chief concern was to get the document out of Russia and use it in working for the Opposition in our own parties. We did not want to risk exposure and possible detention in Moscow by probing around in the other delegations on this explosive subject....I can't recall that Spector and I ever speculated about possible sympathizers with our own views in the other delegations. We took it for granted that they considered Trotskyism a closed question. (97)

Nonetheless, Cannon did seek to approach his cofactionalists. Manuel Gomez, a key Cannon factional lieutenant at the time, later told Draper that Cannon was very cagey in approaching him on the subject:

Cannon talked at great length about it in Moscow without talking about it. He talked a great deal about Trotsky without supporting Trotsky and without opposing Stalin—but raised questions in a very ambiguous way that made one ask himself, “Why is he talking like that anyway? There is something peculiar going on here.” (98)

It is hard to believe that Cannon would not also have approached Bill Dunne, who was also a delegate to the congress. Dunne’s response must also have been strongly negative. Cannon never spoke about this in later years, though in 1929, according to one source, Cannon did “admit” that he “was in a great measure responsible for the estrangement of Dunne.” (99) Dunne went to China on Comintern assignment after the congress; from Hankow he sent a cable denying rumors that he supported Cannon. But Dunne’s three brothers in Minneapolis became founding members of the Trotskyist Communist League of America.

Cannon needed to get a copy of Trotsky’s critique back to the United States where he would have a chance to recruit others. But the copies handed out to Program Commission members were individually numbered and the members were required to turn them in at the congress’s end. It is unclear how Cannon and Spector managed to get a copy out of the Soviet Union. Shachtman later retailed the story that they stole a copy from one of the Australian delegates. According to another account, they smuggled the document out of the country in a child’s teddy bear with the help of an Irish delegate, George Weston. (100) Cannon himself was always very close-mouthed on the subject.

Nonetheless Cannon’s interest in Trotskyism was not such a secret in Moscow. On the floor of the congress Lovestone supporter Harry Wicks attacked Cannon for using Trotsky’s words to criticize Pepper. (101) Swabeck reports that rumors of Cannon’s Trotskyism preceded him back to the United States. Swabeck also reports that William Z. Foster, who was the first of the American delegates to arrive back from Moscow, also praised the “masterful contents” of the Trotsky critique in a joint meeting of the Foster-Cannon caucus. (102)

Foster’s position in the party was then at a low ebb—his own faction had rebelled against his leadership in Moscow and offered to support Cannon for future party leader. (103) Perhaps Foster figured Cannon knew something he didn't. More likely, there was a widely held supposition in the Comintern at the time that Stalin had Trotsky’s document distributed to the congress because he was planning to rehabilitate Trotsky to use against Bukharin. Foster was certainly a man to hedge his bets.

But Bittelman knew better, and it became clear soon after Cannon’s return to New York on September 23 that Cannon himself was not hedging his bets, but actively organizing to win adherents to the Left Opposition. Cannon, Shachtman and Abern were expelled from what had been the joint Foster-Cannon Opposition on October 5. On October 16 charges were preferred against them in the Political Committee by Foster, Bittelman and Philip Aronberg. Cannon, Abern and Shachtman were removed from their posts in the ILD on that same day, but by that time they had managed to get a copy of the complete subscribers list of the Labor Defender (they later mailed everyone on it a copy of the first issue of the Militant, dated 15 November 1928). Over the next week and a half they temporized, trying to gain new adherents. Only on October 27 did they submit a statement in support of the Left Opposition. Cannon was extensively questioned in the Political Committee before he was expelled that day, and we publish excerpts from the transcript here. (104) At that time Cannon saw his adherence to the Left Opposition as the logical and natural end result of his entire history in the Workers Party.

The material presented in this book shows that there were factors in the political profile of Cannon’s faction that militated against his leap to the Left Opposition: a parochial concern for American questions, insistence on the strategy of a bloc with the “progressives” in the trade unions, lack of emphasis on the fight against special oppression of blacks and minorities in the United States. Shachtman and Abern were soon to ridicule the idea that the American Left Opposition had undergone a period of “gestation” within the old Cannon faction:

On every fundamental question of principle, the Cannon group stood upon the platform of international Stalinism sometimes a little to the Right of it and sometimes a little to the Left of it....If anything, it was the least “international” of all the party groups, and concerned itself less than any others with such questions as the British general strike, and the Anglo-Russian Committee, the Chinese Revolution, the struggles within the Russian Party although the interests of the other groups were purely factional....To the extent that we have developed towards the full and basic views of the Left Opposition, we have had to break both politically and organizationally with the old Cannon group. (105)

Shachtman was not being candid. Insofar as any member of the Cannon faction had written about international issues, especially China, it had been Shachtman—it was he who had unthinkingly spouted the Stalinist line. Moreover, in 1925 Shachtman had linked the fight against Lore to the fight against Trotsky more explicitly than Cannon did in his own writings. Shachtman wrote that it was necessary to fight not only Lore, but also “those who avow themselves of Loreist tendencies...while formally repudiating any connection with right-wing deviations. As Bukharin pointed out: many comrades who raise their hands in holy terror at being associated with Trotskyism and vehemently assert their opposition to it, nevertheless follow a purely Trotskyist policy in the peasant question, for example.” (106)

When, in 1932, Shachtman and Abern led a rebellion against Cannon’s leadership of the Communist League of America, they were only interested in telling one side of the story. The material presented here also tells another, one that predisposed a deliberate and considered workers' leader like Cannon to turn away from high office within the American party in favor of remaining true to the revolutionism that had animated his youth and continued to animate the program of the Left Opposition. (107)

Abern, Shachtman and Glotzer weren't the only ones who in later years tried to revise the record of the Cannon faction for their own political purposes. In 1949 William Z. Foster rather pathetically tried to tar Cannon with Lovestone’s brand of “American exceptionalism”:

Cannon, who for several years had been a member of our Party’s Central Committee, expressed his American exceptionalism, his fear of the “overwhelming power of American capitalism,” by an acceptance of Trotskyism, with all its radical phrases, its pseudo-revolutionary programs, and its treachery to Socialism and the working class. (108)

Foster was just echoing his mentor, Stalin, who had made American “exceptionalism” a major crime in a speech to the Comintern’s American Commission in May 1929. Stalin argued that communist internationalism is based on “the general features of capitalism, which are the same for all countries.” This line was used to justify the simultaneous turn by all sections of the Communist International to “Third Period” ultraleftism.

Trotsky had polemicized against Stalin’s absurd thesis that specific national features are “'merely supplementary to the general features,' like warts on a face.” “In reality,” wrote Trotsky, “the national peculiarities represent an original combination of the basic features of the world process. The originality can be of decisive significance for revolutionary strategy over a span of many years.” (109)

Even by the time of the “Third Period” the Communist International had buried any concern for revolutionary strategy in the “socialism in one country” grave. But after 1935 the peculiar “warts” of various national capitalisms became all-important to Stalin, as the Soviet Union vainly sought to make a deal with French, British and American imperialism in order to stave off the threat posed by Hitler’s Germany. “Communism is 20th Century Americanism” proclaimed the American Communist Party, and William “Zigzag” Foster went along without a peep as the CP uncritically supported Franklin Roosevelt, the WWII no-strike pledge and U.S. imperialism’s war aims. The material published here reveals Cannon to be concerned with revolutionary strategy throughout the 1920s, despite the party’s internecine factional struggles and despite the Stalinization of the Communist International, giving the lie to Foster’s ludicrous attempt to paint Cannon as an “exceptionalist” quaking before the power of American imperialism.

The fight of the Cannon-Foster faction against an orientation to La Follette’s bourgeois third party movement after the 1924 elections; Cannon’s insistence on the leading role of the working class in any farmer-labor party; the strong, if skewed, internationalism that made Cannon break with Foster and refuse to lead a rightist revolt against the Communist International in 1925; Cannon’s attempt to reverse the dead-end factional wars which crippled and deformed the party after 1925; his willingness to break with the party’s adaptation to the AFL unions in 1928: all this predisposed Cannon to make the leap to the Left Opposition when that option presented itself. Cannon, unlike the other Workers Party leaders had not been made cynical by the corrupt maneuvering inside the degenerating Comintern. The fact that a number of Cannon’s factional supporters, including Abern and Shachtman, made the leap to Trotskyism with Cannon, only reinforces this point.

In order to give the reader an idea of the breadth of experience and political profile of the broader Cannon faction, we include in Appendix I some material by Martin Abern and Arne Swabeck from the summer of 1928. Cannon’s supporters ran a good deal of the party’s public work while the party leadership was in Moscow attending the Sixth Comintern Congress. Their reports and letters on the ILD and the campaigns for new unions among the miners and textile workers serve to illustrate the point that Cannon’s supporters were not mere factional games players like most of Lovestone’s supporters. The Cannon factional leadership had roots and experience in the workers movement. They had been around, involved in all the hot spots, and the contacts they made and the experience they gained stood the Trotskyist movement in good stead later on.

Lovestone’s Political Committee was so worried about Arne Swabeck’s base of support among the party miners in southern Illinois that it sent Foster himself to tour the area in early December 1928. (110) They evidently had reason to worry. The response of one puzzled miner was reportedly: “I don't know Mr. Trotsky and I don't know Mr. Cannon; but I know Arne Swabeck, and you can't tell me that he is a traitor to the working class.” (111) The CLA played a role in a campaign to establish the Progressive Mine Workers of America in the area a few years later.

In Appendix II we publish a transcript of Lovestone henchman Jack Stachel’s report on the Trotskyists to the Workers Party Political Committee on 25 December 1928. Cannon’s apartment had been burglarized and most of his correspondence stolen on December 23. If there was ever any doubt as to the identity of the culprits, Stachel’s report removes it: he quotes many of the stolen letters and crows about the great “blow” that had been struck against the Trotskyists. His report reveals the broad extent of Cannon’s support in the party up until that time.

In early 1929 Lovestone and a shrunken band of supporters were also expelled from the party. They passed through the Bukharinite international Right Opposition on their road to becoming paid agents for the American labor bureaucracy and the U.S. government. The expulsion of Lovestone completed the Stalinization of the Communist Party—the Workers Party’s name had been changed to Workers (Communist) Party in 1925; it was finally changed to Communist Party in 1929. After 1929 there was only one faction—Stalin’s faction—in the U.S. party, as in the Comintern as a whole. The American party leadership no longer had any say in determining its political line or perspectives.

But it was different in the earlier period, and that history belongs to American Trotskyism more than it does to today’s pathetic Stalinist supporters of whatever the current version of the La Follette “third party alliance” happens to be. This was the perspective Cannon himself defended:

The important thing to remember is that our modern Trotskyist movement originated in the Communist Party—and nowhere else. Despite all the negative aspects of the party in those early years...despite its weaknesses, its crudities, its infantile sicknesses, its mistakes; whatever may be said in retrospect about the faction struggles and their eventual degeneration; whatever may be said about the degeneration of the Communist Party in this country—it must be recognized that out of the Communist Party came the forces for the regeneration of the revolutionary movement....Therefore, we should say that the early period of the Communist movement in this country belongs to us. (112)

Each political generation in the communist vanguard will have to ascribe its own significance to the material we publish here. But it had better be assimilated, along with much else. This was certainly Cannon’s hope, when he wrote about the publication of The First Ten Years of American Communism:

I don't care so much about the public reception this book may receive, but I do hope that the activists in our movement will study it attentively and reflect on the lessons I had to learn so painfully in the early years of American communism—without benefit of instruction and advice from others who had had previous experience with the problems of factionalism which so bedeviled all the pioneer American communists, who had to start from scratch, and play by ear, and try to learn as they went along. Very few of them learned in time, and that was one of the main causes of their catastrophe. (113)

The core questions addressed by Cannon in the 1920s have not gone away: the political relationships between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie; the tension between the trade-union bureaucracy and the working class, organized and unorganized; the struggle against the oppression of ethnic minorities in the U.S., centrally the struggle against the oppression of black people. Only a proletarian revolution, based upon recognition of these questions, can begin to effect a solution.

                                                Prometheus Research Library

                                                August 1992



(1) Joseph Rothschild, The Communist Party of Bulgaria, Origins and Development 1883-1936 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959). E.H. Carr recommended the Draper and Rothschild histories in Socialism in One Country 1924-1926, Vol. III, Part 1 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1964), v-vi. Return to text.

(2) Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (New York: Viking Press, 1957) and American Communism and Soviet Russia (New York: Viking Press, 1960). They will henceforth be cited in the footnotes as Draper I and Draper II. Return to text.

(3) Theodore Draper, preface to James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1962), 12. Henceforth Cannon’s book will be referred to as First Ten Years. Return to text.

(4) Ibid., 11. Return to text.

(5) William Z. Foster, History of the Communist Party of the United States (New York: International Publishers, 1952); Benjamin Gitlow, I Confess (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1940); Earl Browder’s undated and unfinished manuscript, No Man’s Land, which positively drips with rivalry toward Cannon, is deposited in the Earl Browder Papers, George Arents Research Library, Syracuse University. The Earl Browder Papers are also available from the Microfilming Corporation of America. Return to text.

(6) Bertram D. Wolfe, A Life in Two Centuries (New York: Stein and Day, 1981). Return to text.

(7) “Spirit and Technique of the Pioneers,” in the California Socialist Party’s Labor Action (San Francisco), 28 November 1936 (reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator, New York, Pioneer Publishers, 1958, p. 104). Cannon also paid tribute to St. John in his 1961 essay, “The IWW: The Great Anticipation,” First Ten Years, 277-310. Return to text.

(8) Transcript of Joseph Hansen interview with James P. Cannon, 5 October 1956, in the James P. Cannon and Rose Karsner Papers 1919-1974, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Box 25. This collection is hereafter referred to as the Cannon Papers. Return to text.

(9) Cannon, First Ten Years, 318. Return to text.

(10) Ibid. Return to text.

(11) Cannon was always very proud of his speech to that UCP convention. See Cannon, First Ten Years, 197-198. Unfortunately we could find no transcript. Return to text.

(12) See Raymond Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism (London: Croom Helm, 1977). Return to text.

(13) Reminiscences of Max Shachtman (1963), Columbia University Oral History Research Collection, 24. Return to text.

(14) Quoted in Harry Ring’s reminiscences of Cannon in James P. Cannon As We Knew Him (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1976), 169. Return to text.

(15) Quoted in Irving Bernstein, The Lean Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 141. The facts and figures on the American labor movement cited in the preceding paragraphs also come from this source. Return to text.

(16) Caleb Harrison had been elected Workers Party secretary, but he did not have the skills for office administration and most of the tasks had fallen to Cannon, who viewed Ruthenberg’s release from prison as “a godsend.” See Theodore Draper, Interview with James P. Cannon, 24 April 1956, Theodore Draper Research Files, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University (hereafter cited as Draper Files), Series 3, No. 7. Return to text.

(17) Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969), 178. Return to text.

(18) See Cannon, First Ten Years, 64-73. Return to text.

(19) Cannon pointed to the importance of Zinoviev’s 1926-27 bloc with Trotsky in his First Ten Years of American Communism (p. 186): “It was Zinoviev’s bloc with Trotsky and his expulsion, along with Trotsky, that first really shook me up and started the doubts and discontents which eventually led me to Trotskyism. I have always been outraged by the impudent pretensions of so many little people to deprecate Zinoviev, and I feel that he deserves justification before history.” Return to text.

(20) Cannon, First Ten Years, 25. Return to text.

(21) Frederick Engels, Letter to F.A. Sorge, 29 November 1886. Published in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-1895 (New York: International Publishers, 1953), 163. Return to text.

(22) Leon Trotsky, “Who Is Leading the Comintern Today?”, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1981), 187. Return to text.

(23) Cannon, First Ten Years, 80. Return to text.

(24) The first edition of the pamphlet, For a Labor Party, was published as “a statement by the Workers Party.” Subsequent editions in 1923 were signed by John Pepper. Return to text.

(25) Nathan Fine, Labor and Farmer Parties in the United States 1828-1928 (New York: Rand School of Social Science, 1928), 363-397. Return to text.

(26) Draper II, 38-51. Return to text.

(27) Arne Swabeck, unpublished and untitled autobiography (photocopy of manuscript in Prometheus Research Library), Chapter VII, 7. Swabeck was one of the chief negotiators for the Chicago Workers Party. Return to text.

(28) David M. Schneider, The Workers' (Communist) Party and American Trade Unions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1928), 48-49. Return to text.

(29) Cannon, First Ten Years, 84-94. Return to text.

(30) Cited in Draper II, 83. Return to text.

(31) Unpublished notes by Cannon, written for Theodore Draper, ca. 1959, Cannon Papers, Box 7. Return to text.

(32) “Report of the Central Executive Committee to the Second National Convention, New York City, Dec. 24-25-26, 1922,” Draper Files, Box 22, Folder 19. Return to text.

(33) Alexander Bittelman, Things I Have Learned, Alexander Bittelman Collection, Manuscript 62, Tamiment Library, New York University, 358-359. Bittelman’s rambling autobiographical manuscript stands in stark contrast to the usual dishonest accounts by ex-Stalinists. It was written in 1963 after he had been expelled from the Communist Party. Return to text.

(34) Jay Lovestone, Letter to the ECCI, Draper Files, Box 10, Folder 22. Return to text.

(35) Letter to Noah London, 29 April 1924, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(36) Bittelman, op. cit., 407. Return to text.

(37) Max Bedacht to Theodore Draper, 9 December 1954, Draper Files, Box 10, Folder 15. Return to text.

(38) Trotsky, “Who Is Leading the Comintern Today?'', op. cit., 185. Return to text.

(39) Benjamin Gitlow, op. cit., 325. Return to text.

(40) Bittelman, op. cit., 474. Return to text.

(41) Cannon, First Ten Years, 156. Return to text.

(42) Letter by Cannon to Theodore Draper, 4 August 1954, Cannon Papers, Box 7. Return to text.

(43) Draper interview with Cannon, 24 April 1956, Draper Files, Series 3, No. 7. Return to text.

(44) Leon Trotsky, introduction to The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. I (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1945), 13-14. Return to text.

(45) “Workers Party Issues Declaration of Policy,”' Daily Worker, 20 August 1924. This Workers Party declaration incorporated most of the ECCI May 20 decision. Return to text.

(46) Israel Amter, “Neue Perspektiven der Einheitsfronttaktik in den Vereinigten Staaten” (“New Perspectives of the United Front Tactic in the United States”), 16 April 1924, in Kommunistische Internationale No. 34-35, 128. Translation is by the Prometheus Research Library. Return to text.

(47) “Workers Party Issues Declaration of Policy,” op. cit. This is probably the condemnation that Cannon referred to in History of American Trotskyism (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1944), 35-36. Return to text.

(48) Zimmerman was part of Lovestone’s Right Opposition in 1929 and ended his days as a simple trade-union bureaucrat. Zimmerman quotes Cannon in a letter to Foster, 16 June 1924, Charles S. Zimmerman Records, Box 45, Folder 6, ILGWU Archives, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University. Return to text.

(49) Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1936), 118. Return to text.

(50) “Decision of the Communist International on the American Question,” Daily Worker, 19 May 1925. Return to text.

(51) “The Future of the La Follette Movement,” Communist International No. 9, March 1925. Return to text.

(52) Draper II, 127-152; Cannon, First Ten Years, 131-138. Return to text.

(53) Gitlow, op. cit., 187. Return to text.

(54) Cannon, First Ten Years, 132-133 Return to text.

(55) Shachtman, op. cit., 95-96. Return to text.

(56) Cannon, First Ten Years, 160-165. Return to text.

(57) James P. Cannon, unpublished interview with Harry Ring, 15 August 1973. Return to text.

(58) James P. Cannon, Notebook of an Agitator (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1958). Return to text.

(59) James P. Cannon, “Seventh Convention, Harmonious Gathering of Young Men Fighting for Industrial Freedom,” Solidarity, 28 September 1912. Return to text.

(60) James R. Barrett, Work and Community in the Jungle, Chicago’s Packinghouse Workers 1894-1922 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 205-206. Return to text.

(61) Cannon, First Ten Years, 230-233. Return to text.

(62) Philip S. Foner and James S. Allen, eds., American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987), 16-27; Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem During the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 5-11; Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978), 121-131. Return to text.

(63) Naison, op. cit., 9; Foner and Allen, op. cit., 76-86; Political Committee Minutes, 21 September 1926. Return to text.

(64) Foner and Allen, op. cit., 38, 53-63. Return to text.

(65) The ANLC’s founding documents are reprinted in Foner and Allen, op. cit., 109-129. The ANLC was to report to the Eastern Department, according to the 8 April 1926 minutes of the Workers Party Political Committee. See Haywood, op. cit., 148-175, for an account of his studies at the University of the Toilers of the East. Return to text.

(66) Haywood, op. cit., 140-147, 245-280. Return to text.

(67) Haywood, op. cit., 141. Return to text.

(68) See William F. Dunne, “Negroes in American Industries,” Workers Monthly, March-April 1925; “Negroes as an Oppressed People,” Workers Monthly, July 1925; “Our Party and the Negro Masses,” Daily Worker, 13 August 1925; “The NAACP Takes a Step Backward,” Workers Monthly, August 1926. Three of these are reprinted in Foner and Allen, op. cit. Return to text.

(69) Protokoll über den Dritten Kongress der Roten Gewerkschafts-Internationale, abgehalten in Moskau vom 8. bis 21. Juli 1924 (Berlin: Verlag der Roten Gewerkschafts-Internationale Auslieferungsstelle, n.d.), 99-100. Translation by the Prometheus Research Library. Return to text.

(70) Leon Trotsky, “A Letter to Comrade McKay,” first published in International Press Correspondence, 13 March 1923, and reprinted in The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. II (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1953), 355-356. Return to text.

(71) “The American Negro and the Proletarian Revolution,” in The Fourth National Convention of the Workers (Communist) Party of America (Chicago: Daily Worker Publishing Co., n.d.), 117. Return to text.

(72) See Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro, A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), Robin D.G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), and Naison, op. cit., for accounts of the Communist Party’s work during the 1930s. Return to text.

(73) See Alexander Bittelman, op. cit., 440, for a description of the meeting with Stalin. Return to text.

(74) Letter by Cannon to Theodore Draper, 19 July 1955, Cannon Papers, Box 7. Return to text.

(75) “Draft Resolution on Trade Union Policy and Tactics,” Cannon Papers, Box 8. No author is indicated on the typed manuscript, but “1925 Bill Dunne Draft” had been written in pencil across the top. A number of mimeoed Foster faction circulars from late 1925, found in the same file, also support the contention that Cannon and Dunne wanted to liquidate the TUEL. Return to text.

(76) Letter to Comrades from Jim, 16 December 1925, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(77) Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism, 46. Some of Trotsky’s writings on Britain were published in International Press Correspondence and Communist International in 1926 and it may be these that Cannon is referring to. Return to text.

(78) Shachtman, op. cit., 53-54. Return to text.

(79) Minutes of Political Committee No. 13, 14 December 1927. Cannon voted with the PC majority for Konikow’s removal. Return to text.

(80) Minutes of Political Committee No. 97, 29 October 1926. Return to text.

(81) “Statement on the Question of Moving Party Headquarters and the Daily Worker to New York,” and “Supplementary Statement to the Political Committee on the Question of Moving the Headquarters and Daily Worker by James P. Cannon,” Cannon Papers, Box 8. See also Letter to Comrades from Bill Dunne, 3 August 1926, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(82) Militant, 1 January 1929. Return to text.

(83) Letter to Comrades, 10 January 1927, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(84) Letter to Comrades, 15 January 1927, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(85) The statement was attached to the minutes of Political Committee No. 119, 24 February 1927. We do not publish it here. Return to text.

(86) Draper II, 248-267. Return to text.

(87) Draft Reply to 2 April 1927 Telegram from Bill Dunne, written in pencil on back of Dunne’s telegram, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(88) Unsigned circular headed “Very Latest!!!, Most Important!!!, To Be Given to Every Member of the Party Without Affiliation!!”, 7 July 1927, in the collection of the Prometheus Research Library. Return to text.

(89) Minutes of Political Committee No. 148, 11 August 1927. Return to text.

(90) Bertram Wolfe, op. cit., 232-248; 261-275. Return to text.

(91) Cannon, Foster and Bittelman all voted against this policy in the Political Committee; see minutes of Political Committee No. 4, 12 October 1927. Return to text.

(92) Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism, 47. Return to text.

(93) Cited in Bittelman, op. cit., 510. Return to text.

(94) The entire critique is published in English as The Third International After Lenin (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1936). Return to text.

(95) This quote is taken from the translation serialized in the CLA’s newspaper, the Militant. See “The Draft Program of the Comintern: A Criticism of Fundamentals,” Militant, 1 July 1929. The Militant’s introduction to the series drew readers' attention to this passage on La Follette and noted that Trotsky had led the fight against the “third party alliance.” Return to text.

(96) “The Right Danger in the American Party” was serialized in the Militant, 15 November 1928-15 January 1929. Return to text.

(97) Letter by Cannon to Theodore Draper, 28 May 1959, Cannon Papers, Box 7. Return to text.

(98) Theodore Draper interview with Manuel Gomez, 18 February 1964, Draper Files, Series 3, No. 9. Return to text.

(99) Letter from Albert Glotzer to Max Shachtman, 13 September 1929, Cannon Papers, Box 1. Return to text.

(100) Shachtman, op. cit., 153-154; Sam Gordon in James P. Cannon As We Knew Him, 55-56. Return to text.

(101) International Press Correspondence, 11 August 1928, 850. Return to text.

(102) Swabeck, op. cit., Chapter XII, 1. Return to text.

(103) Cannon, First Ten Years, 210-215. Return to text.

(104) The statement submitted by Cannon, Abern and Shachtman is available in James P. Cannon, The Left Opposition in the U.S. 1928-31 (New York: Monad Press, 1981), 29-35. Return to text.

(105) Martin Abern, Albert Glotzer and Max Shachtman, “The Situation in the American Opposition: Prospect and Retrospect,” 4 June 1932, 14-15. Return to text.

(106) Max Shachtman, “A Communist Milestone. The Fourth Convention of the Workers Party of America,” Workers Monthly, August 1925, 452. For Shachtman’s articles on China see “China and the Imperialist Struggle,” Workers Monthly, July 1925; “The Limitations of American Imperialism,” The Communist, March 1927, 25-31; and “American Imperialism Shall Not Throttle the Chinese Revolution,” Labor Defender, July 1927. In the spring of 1928 Shachtman went on a national speaking tour for the ILD on the subject of China. Return to text.

(107) Shachtman, Glotzer and Abern remained in the Trotskyist movement only until 1940, when they caved in to the anti-Soviet hysteria caused by the Stalin-Hitler pact and abandoned the military defense of the Soviet Union. By the early 1960s Shachtman was defending the U.S. imperialist-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and functioning as a sort of grey eminence behind Albert Shanker’s crusading Cold War bureaucracy in the American Federation of Teachers. When Shachtman died in 1972 ILGWU bureaucrat Charles Zimmerman, whose opportunism had been such a frequent target of the Cannon faction in the 1920s, was a featured speaker at the memorial meeting. Abern died in 1949; Glotzer supported Shachtman in his political evolution.

              In The Prophet’s Army, Trotskyists in America, 1928-1941 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1977, 199) Constance Ashton Myers claims that at the end of his life Shachtman came to “hold an abiding respect for Stalin and for what he viewed as an essential wisdom in the Communist party,” in particular for Stalin’s handling of the Chinese revolutionary movement in the 1920s. Return to text.

(108) William Z. Foster, “Cannon, Lovestone, and Browder,” Political Affairs, September 1949, 17. Return to text.

(109) Leon Trotsky, “Introduction to the German Edition” of The Permanent Revolution, translation published in The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1969), 147. The quotation from Stalin’s speech to the May 1929 American Commission is taken from the same source; the speech does not appear in Stalin’s Collected Works, though it was printed in The Communist (June 1930). Return to text.

(110) Minutes of Political Committee No. 71, 1 December 1928. Return to text.

(111) Swabeck, op. cit., Chapter XII, 3. Return to text.

(112) Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism, 39 Return to text..

(113) Letter by Cannon to Gerry Healy, 8 February 1961, Cannon Papers, Box 7. Return to text.