James P. Cannon

Early Years of the American Communist Movement

Letters to a Historian

Origins of the Labor Party Policy

Source: Fourth International, Vol.17 No.1, Winter 1956, pp.25-26.
Original bound volumes of Fourth International and microfilm provided by the NYU Tamiment Labor Libraries.
Transcription & Mark-up: Andrew Pollack/Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

March 17, 1955

Dear Sir:

I think there is enough evidence to establish beyond dispute that the initiative for a positive attitude toward a prospective labor party in the United States came from Moscow. Just when the decision was first made by the Comintern, and the specific steps taken by the American party in the process of putting the pdlicy into effect, are not so easy to sort out.

My own recollections are far from clear. It had been my impression that the definitive decision of the Comintern on this question was made only at the time of the Fourth Congress at the end of 1922. I think the statement of the Foster-Cannon group, published in the Daily Worker of November 26, 1924 to the effect that the Comintern’s approval was obtained“ mainlyon the strengthof the information supplied to the Comintern by our delegates” – was intended to refer to the discussions in Moscow at the time of the Fourth Congress, and not to an earlier discussion.

It may be that the earlier 1922 American delegation – Bedacht and Katterfeld – discussed the question at the Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern in February-March, 1922, and that some sort of directive issued from the discussion. But I have no recollection of it.

I don’t remember the labor party statement issued by the American party in May 1922. Prior to my departure for Moscow about the middle of that month, I have remembered only general talk and general sympathy for the idea “in principle” but no concrete action to implement it. But now that you refresh my memory, I would say you are probably correct in your guess that the meeting of the Conference for Progressive Political Action in February 1922 stimulated the first action by the party.

I recall a conversationon the subject with Lovestone, initiatedby him. By party standards at that time, we were both “right wingers,” looking for all possible openings for the party to break out of its isolation and become a factor in American life. That was probably his reason for approaching me first.

Lovestone said the party should try to get into this CPPA movement some way or other. I was sympathetic to the idea, although it had not occurred to me until he brought it up. I don’t recall anything concrete being done before I left far Moscow. But reconstructing the evolution of the question, it is probably safe to assume that Lovestone continued to press his idea after my departure and that his persistence contributed, first to the affirmative statement on the labor party question published in the Worker, June 24, 1922 and, later, to the decision to send Ruthenberg to the second conference of the CPPA in Cleveland, in December 1922.

In my memory, therefore, Lovestone stands out as the initiator of the first positive proposal to approach this CPPA movement, which led, in a chain of circumstances, to the Chicago Farmer-Labor convention of July 1923, arranged by a collaboration of the Workers Party with the Fitzpatrick leadership of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

* * *

It must be remembered, however, that in the meantime Pepper had become a factor in the affairs of the American CP – and what a factor! – and that he undoubtedly was the driving force in all the labor party experiments and adventures thereafter. When he entered the situation, the production of ideas and decisions was put on a whirling conveyor and things really moved. I recall now that toward the end of 1922, or early in the next year, before he had his feet wet in the country, he wrote a pamphlet on the problem of the labor party in America. The pamphlet was widely distributed in 1923 as an exposition of the party’s position.

I was outside all these developments during my long stay in Moscow, and again for many months on my tour after my return. For that reason, I had no direct part in the decisions, but I was involved in them by a general sympathy with every move in an outward direction, even at the risk of opportunist errors to which, I must admit, I was not very sensitive at that time.

I do not recall that the question of the labor party was a specific issue between the liquidators and the leftists. But the liquidators had a more affirmative tendency to expand party activity and were undoubtedly the initiators of all the concrete moves, even it the leftists did not specifically oppose them. By the middle of 1923 the “Goose Caucus” of the leftists had been demolished and any opposition from its few recalcitrant members wouldn’t have counted for much anyhow.

As far as I know, all the liquidators went along with the various decisions that lead upto the organization of the July 3 convention at Chicago. The differences within their camp became serious, and took definite form, only after the catastrophe of the July 3 affair.

Yours truly,
James P. Cannon

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