We undertake this study only because a myth has been built up around James P. Cannon attributing to him a Communist leadership he never gave in reality. Communists cannot afford to worship gods, much less false ones. A clearer perception is needed of such basics as the role of the party in the revolution and the relation of the party to the class. A drastic reappraisal of Cannon’s role in the C.P. USA and of what sort of party he built later plus earnest self-criticism may help us to achieve this greater clarity.
James P. Cannon was born in 1890 in Rosedal, Kansas of Irish parents. His father was a railroad worker. At age 12 James was working 60 hours a week in a Swift packing house plant. At age 17 he started high school, then was a “traveling organizer” for the I.W.W. for a while. Later we find him an office worker in Kansas City, studying law in the evening. He joined the Socialist Party (Kansas City Local) in 1918, and the Communist Labor Party in 1919. At that time Browder was editor of a C.L.P. paper Workers World in Wichita, Kansas. When he was sent to jail for this, Cannon took over the paper and was arrested for agitating against the government in a coal strike. In 1920 Cannon went to Cleveland to edit The Toiler another C.L.P. paper (Draper, Roots of American Communism). A good proletarian background here. We must note however that outside of the childhood job there was no work in factories, no union membership nor did Cannon participate in any struggles of the I.W.W.
Some of the leaders of the Left Wing like Ruthenberg, Wagenknecht and others came out of the S.P. with years of organizational experience behind them. However, the need for reaching the American workers was such that almost anyone who could speak understandable English was able to become a leader with little other qualification. This may explain why Cannon could from the start be found among the leadership.
The chief influence behind the split of the Left Wing in 1919 was the Russian Revolution. Previous dissensions had arisen in the S.P. due to the disparate class background of its membership (many middle-class businessmen, professionals, teachers, doctors, especially lawyers, even a few millionaires). These disputes were on support of the I.W.W. vs the AFL, on sabotage and violence, on support of World War I. The large worker membership of the Party were in the Foreign Federations affiliated with the Party but having their own newspapers, meeting halls and leaders. These organizations supported the Russian-Revolution, the Russian Federation 100%. This grouping plus others soon set up by the Bolsheviks (Centrosojus, Friends of the Soviet union, etc.) were an important influence from the start in the control of the American movement by the Russians.
The struggle inside the S.P. before the split had defined the basic differences between Socialists and Communists. Communists believed:
1. The revolution will occur within our times, not in some dim future.
2. It will take place by direct action, seizure of power by the proletariat and civil war, not through education and parliamentarism, (gradualism).
3. Workers’ Councils will be the instruments for seizing power and ruling the new society.
4. The I.W.W. was to be supported rather than the AFL.
No sooner were the new parties organized than the attacks of the Lusk Committee in New York State followed by the Palmer raids throughout the country drove the movement underground. Thousands were deported and other thousands dropped out. The remaining comrades, completely isolated, retreated into a period of ultra leftism in which they would put out an occasional leaflet urging American workers to form street barricades and struggle to take power. In the meantime, they met secretly in each others homes and wrangled over three factions which had developed. (1) The Goose caucus which wanted to continue underground. (2) The Liquidators who wanted to legalize the movement. (3) The Conciliators who stood for unity above all. Cannon was with the Liquidators. In 1922 Cannon attended a Congress of the C.I., stayed two months in Moscow and there met Trotsky who had supported the position of the Liquidators. After a few years of C.I. interventions and maneuvers finally in 1923 the Workers Party (later the Workers (Communist) Party) was launched openly and the Underground was liquidated. From the beginning we heard of the Foster-Cannon group or faction, with Foster always the stronger, no doubt because of his incomparably better background of work and organization experience. Worker elements in the Party were chiefly Fosterites. Cannon seemed to reach out from time to time in other alliances, though without breaking from Foster.
1923-24 THE FARMER LABOR PARTY FIASCO
The first public venture of the newly-hatched Workers Party was an attempt to participate in the La Follette movement. “As a result of the 1920-21 industrial depression in the United States, the progressive elements in the trade union movement, headed by the machinist’s organization which had grown greatly during the war, and supported by the Socialist Party had initiated a Conference for Progressive Political Action which went on record for the formation of a Labor Party". (Conquest of Power—Albert Weisbord Covici Friede 1937, pg. 982, Vol. II) On July 23, 1923 a conference was convened in Cleveland, Ohio by the above elements supporting Robert La Follette. The Workers party people, not accepted by this body, held their own conference for a Federated Farmer Labor Party. It was composed largely of delegates representing paper organizations; they captured themselves. The legitimate conference found that La Follette had built his own career: he got 5,000,000 votes but the movement collapsed.
Within the W.P. conference James P. Cannon aligned himself with C. Hathaway and Pepper (Pogany, Schwartz, one of the C.I. reps) in a policy of including farmers to “win the agrarian West” in the Labor Party movement. The farmers involved were not agricultural laborers or poor farmers, they were owners of much machinery and some of the best land in the United States. The inclusion of such middle class elements would have defeated the purpose of the movement even had the conference been a legitimate one. A lack of understanding of class roles is shown here.
1925 THE FOURTH PARTY CONVENTION OF CPUSA
The account of this convention as given in Socialist Press Dec. 6, 1978 requires some correction.
1. “The Party membership had elected a total of 61 Central Committee members". We did not have that much democracy. Central Committee members were appointed not elected.
2. Omitted is an important part of the C.I. cable of August 27th. The cable not merely said that the Ruthenberg faction was more loyal, it also charged the Foster-Cannon faction with “mechanical ultra-factional methods". While the C.I. Parity Commission presided behind the scenes, the Foster-Cannon group had been chiefly responsible for the practical arrangements of the convention. The Ruthenberg group charged that Foster and Cannon had resorted to padding, gerrymandering, etc. I recall that the convention began in a contentious, turbulent atmosphere. Foster had posted armed guards in the national office. At the start there were two chairmen and almost two conventions. It took two full days to get the credentials accepted, so many were contested. Still, the two chief resolutions, political and trade union passed by the Parity Commission were accepted.
The C.I. rep Gussiev known here as Green was a high-ranking old Bolshevik, a member of the Russian Control Commission and a bitter anti-Trotskyist. When the cable came Foster refused to accept it. Green won over Cannon temporarily from the Foster group, and Cannon got Bill Dunne to go along with them to work on Foster. Cannon tried to act as conciliator here with the 50-50 proposition which Foster was induced to accept. Ruthenberg was made General Secretary, Lovestone, Organization Secretary in charge of the Party apparatus, Foster had his TUEL, and Cannon the ILD.
At the time the C.I. also ordered the American Party to reorganize on a shop nuclei basis, and some beginnings were made in this direction in the New York—New Jersey area in a couple of important plants, later in Detroit in the auto plants. Also, in New York strong left wings were organized in the needle trades (ILGWU, Furriers, Millinery) under Communist control.
The assignment to the ILD (International Labor Defense) might have been for Cannon an opportunity to get out and build a workers defense group, badly needed. Instead, he saw it as a chance to build a faction of his own. He got a few friends (Rose Narsner, Arne Swabeck, Martin Abern) into paid posts in the office with him, and entrenched himself there. Once a year he went out to visit the scattered branches composed chiefly of a few Party members and sympathizers.
1926 THE PASSAIC STRIKE
Apparently no ripple from this splendid struggle (which so greatly inspired the Party membership) to organize and mobilize the textile workers ever reached the ILD office. Not for our Jimmy—the turmoil, the worries, the policemen’s clubs, the stinking jail cell. From the safe vacuum of the national ILD office he issued The Labor Defender, a miserable sheet with very little coverage of the daily beatings, the innumerable arrests, the test cases, riot act readings, the immense mass meetings which studded the first six months of the strike. Never once did Cannon show his face in that strike, nor did Foster, or Lovestone, or Ruthenberg, for that matter.
Cannon’s theoretical position on the strike was: “No strike could ever be won with a Communist at its head since the employers would make victory impossible.” Can one imagine a more craven capitulatory stand than this which condemns the working masses of the USA to slavery without even attempting a fight since the AFL bureaucracy and their union, the United Textile Workers, refused to organize any but a few skilled workers who could pay high dues. In late 1925 on the very eve of the strike Bert Miller, industrial organizer for the district, was sharply attacked for having allowed Weisbord to issue the cards of the United Front Committee of Textile Workers. Weisbord was ordered to tear up the cards, but refused.
Weisbord had hoped to swing the Party through the Passaic strike into a correct course of organizing the unorganized, unskilled workers as a principal activity. The membership responded beautifully, but the leadership resisted: Only C. E. Ruthenberg declared himself to be for mass work, but passed from the scene soon afterward. In 1926-27 we find Cannon together with Weinstone in a faction with no principle base except to “end all factions".
The Birth of American Marxism (Socialist Press Dec. 6, 1978) in their section on the Passaic strike are not exact when they state “Unfortunately for Weisbord this (his policy of the strike) came into conflict with Foster’s pro-AFL policy which had been endorsed by the 6th Plenum". During World War I Foster was an ardent patriot supporting Samuel Gompers in the sale of Liberty Bonds. He was in the I.W.W. for a while but left with a Syndicalist Group. Under the influence of French Syndicalism (capture the existing unions) Foster formed his own Syndicalist League of North America, later converted into the Trade Union Educational League. In 1919 the Interchurch Report on the steel strike of 1919 stated the AFL policies helped to break the strike and that Foster was one of those principally responsible.
In 1921 the Profintern had ordered the American Communists to bore from within the AFL to “revolutionize it". When in 1922 Foster was being induced to join the Party in order to have an American leader, he was promised help for his TUEL. Then in 1925 after the Party convention the CI switched again and the TUEL became just another front group, its paper merged with the Party “Workers Monthly". So Foster with all his extensive work and organization experience found himself reduced like the others to factional maneuvering in Moscow as well as in the Party here.
Stalin’s theory of “Socialism in one country” made all parties subservient to Russian purposes; later his theory of “the monolithic party” was responsible for the splinterization of the movement which plagues us still today. Still we cannot blame all on the Russians. The pervasive influence of the still-growing capitalism here in its strongest country helped to corrupt and lead astray many who really wanted to be communists. This factor we must constantly struggle against.
ROLE OF THE ILD IN THE NEW BEDFORD TEXTILE STRIKE 1928
This strike was the result of a wage-cutting campaign in the New England cotton mills. It started with a strike of a few highly skilled workers who had a little independent union, but quickly spread to thousands of the semi and unskilled workers, chiefly foreign born. Leadership of these was assumed by two rank and filers, Fred Beal who had had experience in the 1922 I.W.W. strike in Lawrence, and Bill Murdoch, a young Scotsman. Then Albert Weisbord was brought back from Moscow where he was attending a Profintern congress.
Brutal attacks on the picket lines by local police reinforced by those from surrounding areas resulted in many arrests. Among these were the two local leaders. A representative of the ILD handled their case. He made a deal with the prosecution not to appeal the case of one of them (Murdoch) provided Murdoch would be sentenced to two months in jail on one count of the indictment instead of six months (the maximum penalty) on all three counts. The other defendant, Fred Beal, was ordered to plead guilty when he was innocent. So at a critical moment of the strike the two important local leaders were withdrawn from activity. When Weisbord got into the situation he demanded that the Party repudiate this agreement. Cannon was away in Moscow during the summer but returned later. No action was taken on the case and Cannon as head of the ILD bears responsibility for this.
CANNON AND THE FIGHT AGAINST TROTSKY
After the attempted assassination of Lenin in 1922 Stalin began in earnest to build up his machine against Trotsky. One step was the assignment of Kruschev then an upcoming young comrade to conduct the fight against Trotsky in the Ukraine. In this activity Kruschev won his spurs enabling him to climb further up the ladder of success.
No word of these Russian intrigues nor of what Trotsky stood for ever reached the ears of the American membership. Leaders who went frequently to Moscow may have been better informed. Trotsky had been known as a prominent leader linked always with Lenin. Almost none of Trotsky’s writings were available at that time and very little of Lenin’s. During Trotsky’s brief stay in New York in 1915-17 his time was entirely taken up with editorial work on the Novy Mir. (A. Kollontai, N. Bucharin and Volodarsky were also on the paper.) With the abdication of the Czar, Trotsky left to make his way back to Russia.
The opening attack here in USA was directed against Ludwig Lore up to then a respected leading comrade who with L. Boudin and L. Fraina had edited Class Struggle a serious theoretical paper of the Left Wing 1917-18 (See Greenwood Editions) which published some writings of Lenin and also a few of Trotsky’s. Lore was now editor of the German Communist paper Volkzeitung. Lore and a group with him including Juliet Poyntz had opposed the endorsement La Follette, a position which Trotsky had supported. Foster had made an alliance with Lore to help him capture the 1923 convention but now the whole American Party turned against Lore. He was not accused of supporting Trotsky, he was accused of “Loreism” which was made to appear like some malignant disease never diagnosed nor analyzed. Lore was finally expelled as “an enemy of the working class".
In 1924 with Lenin’s death the fight became even sharper, more open. Now Stalin first in alliance with Zinoviev and Bucharin ganged up on Trotsky and began preparing the ground for his removal from the Executive Committee of the C.I. and from the leadership of the Russian Party. A step along the way was the following in April 1925: A Plenum of the ECCI unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Trotsky. “The enlarged Plenum asserts that Comrade Trotsky’s conduct which serves as the cause of the outbreak of a fresh discussion in the ranks of the Russian Communist Party signified an attempt to revise Leninism and to disrupt the leadership in the Communist Party. (Part of a long resolution quoted from Imprecorr, given in full in Class Struggle January 1933 Vol.3 No.1) Zinoviev was the chairman of the meeting. The resolution was signed by the Political Commission. For Russia—Bucharin, Stalin and Manuilsky; For U.S.—Cannon and Pepper.
By 1926 Stalin had built up his network of slanders and lies to the point where he could get a majority of one vote in the Polcom for Trotsky’s expulsion.
In February 1929 a few months after Trotsky’s expulsion a Plenum of the American Polcom was held in which Bert Wolfe as reporter for the Lovestone majority spoke for two hours on the Russian question. All the leaders agreed with the expulsion of Trotsky. Cannon refused to speak to the question although Bill Dunne urged him to and thus gave consent to the expulsion.
Not long after this Cannon had the good fortune to be sent to Russia as a delegate to the sixth world congress of the C.I. and to obtain a copy of Trotsky’s draft program. With Canadian comrade Maurice Spector he was convinced by this document and returned to America to win over his friends in the ILD office, the only ones he could convince. In the fall of 1928 the leaders got wind of Cannon’s espousal of Trotsky’s views, there was a lengthy trial and the comrades were expelled.
Early in 1930 it happened that Cannon visited us (A.W.&I) where we were then living in Jersey City, N. J. and working in industry. We had resigned from the Party and were looking for a solution to the political dilemma. Cannon said nothing to us about the revelation he had received. A little later when we read Trotsky’s program in the Militant we decided our place was with the International Left Opposition. WHY DID CANNON NOT TRY TO CONVINCE US?
CANNON AND THE COMMUNIST LEAGUE OF STRUGGLE
We previously emphasized the question of mass work as our chief difference with the Communist League of America. Other important differences were:
1. Leadership. Our stand was “No leadership except to those experienced in the struggles of the workers". This obviously Cannon could not have accepted since it would have automatically excluded himself.
2. Membership. Cannon took in anybody who professed to agree with the program. The C.L.S. had rather stringent membership qualifications. (1) Donation of 10% of wages if employed. (2) Complete commitment to the group. (3) Participation in some organization, either a union, if employed, or an unemployed group or some other workers’ organization. This was the Leninist’ conception of the Party. We had a probation period of one month, and we did not hesitate to expel those who did not live up to the requirements. People who agreed with the group but were not willing to give such full commitment were “sympathizers” and we had quite a large number of these. They sold our paper, supported the weekly forum, donated money, etc.
3. Negro Work. This did not interest the Cannon group, but the C.L.S. considered it to be of the highest importance. We put out a document, “The Struggle for Negro Emancipation” which was given a wide circulation. Our black comrade Frank Griffin who had been expelled by the C.P. for Trotskyism set up a Negro Chamber of Labor in Paterson, N. J. which rallied blacks around a Communist program and was able to free a young black man from a serious charge.
WHAT IS MASS WORK?
Capitalist society gives rise to two movements (1) the workers movement and (2) the Marxist movement. Together these two can overthrow the capitalist rule, initiate and guide the new socialist society.
The workers do not spontaneously reach Marxism. In their movements (Unions, cooperative, defense groups, women’s groups, etc.) they engage in violent struggles resisting the unbearable conditions of the work place and also in obtaining reform measures to enable them better to endure their life.
The Marxist movement is composed at the start of middle-class and intellectuals. Marxist-Leninist theory provides us with (1) a philosophical base in the Hegelian dialectical concept. (2) a thorough economic analysis of the laws of capitalism which prove that this society must collapse through its own contradictions (3) the political concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat (workers rule) to be realized through workers-councils.
It is the historic role of the working class to overthrow the capitalist power. The Party functions as guide and coordinator of all revolutionary struggles which at the beginning involve elements from the middle-class also. The Party must never try to substitute itself for the class as was done in Russia. The Marxists must know how to reach and fuse themselves with the workers movements. This activity is the key for the success of the Party. In a country like the USA where only 25% of the workers are in unions, the organization of the unorganized becomes a prime task. That and the reaching of the workers in the unions and other struggle groups is what we call mass work. How is it to be done?
1. Publishing articles in your paper exhorting the workers on things you know nothing about is not mass work.
2. Selling your paper at workers meetings is not mass work.
3. Your members getting jobs just to spout Communism and ask the workers to join your group is not mass work.
What the young intellectuals must do is get jobs, if possible in a basic industry, learn by experience the conditions of the workers life, become part of the working class, take part in the daily struggles to organize the shop, learn how to fight the union officialdom if there is a union. These things can not be learned from books. Participation in the workers struggles is the only way to understand the historic realities and the immediate problems of each industry. If you have a correct policy the workers will want to join your party, they can be trained for leadership and so the party will grow. This is mass work. Isolated from the workers the Party remains futile (De Leon in the USA). Furthermore, this is the only way to have correct theory. Communists are not dogmatists, we inherit from the past only some basics, we learn something from criticism of past movements but to find correct strategy and tactics for particular situations (different in every country) we must not only know the history of the country but be vitally close to the workers struggles.
CANNON’S “MASS WORK”
When in 1933 President F. D. Roosevelt had the National Recovery Act passed which granted workers the right to organize, an unprecedented wave of militant activity stirred the American working class. At last now, with some nudging from Trotsky, much pressure from the C.L.S. and from a faction in his own ranks agreeing with us on this point, Cannon got off his ass. Following are some of the results.
New York Hotel and Restaurant Workers General Strike:
Two unions were in the Field, the Amalgamated Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, a typical AFL outfit, and a small weak Stalinist Food Workers Industrial union which had a few members in the cafeterias. The AFL officials made no preparation for the strike and had no plan, but the workers themselves held daily mass demonstrations around the struck hotels, in spite of employer harassment and police brutality.
The leader of the strike was one B. J. Field, in the movement only since 1931, for a while a sympathizer of the C.L.S., then joined the C.L.A. Never a food or hotel worker and not in a union before, Field had been part of a Wall St. brokerage firm and associate editor of a Wall Street paper which provided statistical studies for the financiers. With the help of some C.L.A. members already in the local, this man managed to be elected Secretary-Treasurer. A C.L.S. member, Frank Cooper, a cook, member of the union, was nominated for the post but the C.L.A. people kept his name off the ballot. Cannon and Oehler also were given the opportunity to speak on the union platform during the strike. B.J.Field went along with the right wing officials in the union in relying entirely on the Regional and General Labor Boards. A month before the strike was called Field notified the General Board in Washington of its imminence, thus giving the employers full opportunity to prepare. The local Labor Board said the strike should never have been called, and allowed some of the hotels to settle before the end of the strike. The union officials stressed union recognition as the chief demand, ignoring the workers low pay, long hours and other terrible conditions. There was no attempt to build a united front with the “red” union (calling out the cafeteria workers might have won the strike).
When the strike was finally broken, the C.L.A. expelled Field as a scapegoat, and the union members also drove him out, but Cannon and the C.L.A. made no criticism of Field’s policies and offered no program of their own for the conduct of the strike. The failure of the Trotskyists here (they were known in the city as being leaders of the strike) had the effect of driving the food workers towards the Stalinist union.
The Paterson Silk Strike:
This strike was part of a general strike in the silk industry which happened for the first time. The silk employers used this strike to manoeuver with the Labor Board to obtain an advantage over their competitors in rayon and cotton.
Here too there were two unions: The Associated Silk Workers of Paterson, formerly independent but now affiliated with the UTW an AFL union known betrayer of textile workers and the NTWU, the C. P. union. The officials of the AFL union were two Lovestoneites, Eli Keller and Jack Rubenstein. Cannon supported these people and declared the National Textile Workers Union, which had a heroic record in the organization of the unorganized in Passaic and in Gastonia, should never have been formed.
Strategic in the silk industry are the dye workers without whose work broad silk cannot reach the market. The United Front Committee had organized the dye workers in Lodi, N. J. in 1926. Now the dye workers of the large National Silk Dyeing plant came out with the NTWU and won their strike with a gain in wages. Cannon and the Lovestoneites placed their confidence in maneuvering with the Labor Board, going to Washington with the employers to make appeals, and denouncing the C.P. led union. The policy of the C.L.S. was a united front of the two unions for which we put out leaflets and held our own meetings. Albert and I marched on the picket line in Paterson. When the C.P. followers tried to drive us out, the workers rallied to our defense and shamed them. This strike was lost, the silk workers won nothing.
Auto Lite Strike in Toledo, Ohio:
In this important strike involving directly and indirectly 35,000 workers, Muste attempted to take over leadership. Already Cannon was involved in political alliance with Muste. The New Militant made no criticism of the conduct of the strike. A criticism of the Muste leadership and the conduct of the strike is given in Class Struggle (C.L.S.) Vol.5 No.6, June 1935. Muste criticized the national leaders of the AFL but went along with the local union in betraying the strike.
We quote from Class Struggle: Vol.4 No.9-10 pg 21, “Here the truck drivers found themselves led by the Communist League of America. The first strike had been led in May. The strike had been solid and the workers displayed excellent militancy. A vote for a general strike had been cast, when the union officials headed by the C.L.A. ordered the men back to work. The condition of the settlement was so shameful as to cause even the AFL unions to cry out. The Journal of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the Advance for example wrote: that the settlement was ‘painfully weak’, it provided for no change of hours, wages and conditions, for the men to return to work immediately, with no recognition of the union except through Article 7a of the N.RA and a compulsory Arbitration Board to be composed of two men from the government, two employers and two officials of the union.”
The New Militant proclaimed this a great victory. After the settlement Cannon and Schachtman arrived in Minneapolis by airplane and put up at a good hotel, with the result that they were immediately arrested. They were let out and remained to direct the strike—Cannon’s first experience in the field. As we know all too well, sometimes even excellent organization of a strike will not guarantee victory, but this settlement was hailed as “Triumphant” by Cannon and also by the Minneapolis Labor Review, the AFL paper. Let us look into the facts. Wages: Originally the men worked for 40 and 50 cents an hour. The union demanded 45 cents for helpers, platform men, etc. and 55 cents for drivers. The NRA Board offered as compromise 42 1/2 cents and 52 1/2 cents. The workers got 40 cents and 50 cents, just what they had before. Union Recognition: No contract was signed with the union, everything was handled through the NRA Board. Scabs were permitted to vote. There was no guarantee that union agents would be allowed on the premises. This after the heroic efforts with blood spilt by the workers. Many workers were shot, one murdered, martial law declared. The “Militant” made no attack on the conduct of the strike, no vigorous exposure or criticism of the AFL, or proposed any better program.
VOTE AFTER RETURN TO WORK (from Minneapolis Labor Review, Sept. 14, 1934) Firms Total Votes Won by Local 574 62 724 Tied 15 102 Won by bosses 68 536 No votes 21 ---------------- 166 1,362 (The vote was whether they wanted the union to represent them.)
What can be said of this record? Relying upon falsehood rather than truth, upon maneuvers with AFL fakirs and to the government officials, is this the role of a Communist? We do not wish to stress the mediocrity of Cannons native endowments but rather his consistent right wing class collaboration line. Truly it may be said that he would have been better placed in the AFL than the IWW, and in the Second International than the fourth.
ON JOINING THE SOCIALIST PARTY
We dealt with the “French turn” in our previous communication. Muste’s Conference for Progressive Labor Action converted itself into the American Workers Party in 1933. For a while maneuvers went on between Muste, Cannon and the Lovestoneites, B. Gitlow, Miller and later Herbert Zamm. The C.L.A. joined the AWP in 1934. An opposition group to the French turn developed in the C.L.A. headed by Oehler, Stann, and a German named Eiffel. This group split off in 1935. Early in 1935 Albert Goldman, a lawyer and a bulwark of the C.L.A. in Chicago, individually joined the Socialist Party which published a pamphlet of his “From Communism To Socialism". Cannon denounced Goldman as a renegade. The new party was launched in 1934, it lasted two years. (All this from Cannon, “The History of American Trotskyism"). In the summer of 1936 Muste went back to the church, his starting point. The entry of the Trotskyists finally into the Socialist Party was facilitated by H. Zamm and Sydney Hook, joining as individuals. Cannon says they had one year in the S.P. and six months neither in nor out, He states on pg. 241, “It was required for us historically, at that crucial moment, to be members of the Socialist Party and by that to have closer access to elements, liberals, intellectuals and half-radical Political people who were necessary to the great political task of the Trotsky Defense Committee".(Letting the cat out of the bag?) Before long the Trotskyists were expelled from the Socialist Party. A far cry all this from the triumphant entry of this group with the resultant destruction of the S.P. as noted by Labor News, Sept-Oct. 1978 pg. 5
JAMES P. CANNON’S WATERGATE. “A FOOL IS AS BAD AS A KNAVE.”
The evidence was incontrovertible: Mid 1950’s Louis Budenz’s book “Men without Faces"; Nov. 11, 1950 his sworn statement before HUAC, also in the 1950’s, Isaac Don Levine’s book “The Mind of an Assassin".
Probably it happens in the life of every man or woman to find that they have made a big fool of themselves. If the folly is political, the comrades must get together, analyze the reasons for the error (or crime), try to make amends. Judging by the results, when the above evidence reached Cannon and his associates, their reaction may have been “If this ever gets out, we are done for.” So they hastened to deny in the face of all evidence, and to cover up for this little crook who had smiled and inveigled herself into Cannon’s complete confidence. Again, Cannon could be fooled because he didn’t know the real world from which he had systematically sequestered himself. Any worker in industry, member of a union, knowing the constant presence of spies in the workers’ movement, would have been astonished at Cannon’s naivete. There was another young women, (See Don Levine’s book) member of the SWP though not an agent, who acted unknowingly as a link in the infernal chain which enabled the assassin to gain admittance into Trotsky’s home and wield the fatal weapon. “Trotsky was very loyal to those who supported him politically—and this attitude testifies to his dire need of support. It is unforgivable that he should have permitted any stranger to enter his home unchecked—no matter by whom recommended.
So we have one of history’s tragic ironies, that the very man who introduced Trotsky to the USA should have unwittingly (or witlessly) contributed materially to the heinous plot to murder Trotsky!…Another such irony was Lenin"s cooption (in a period of weakness of the movement) of Korba (Stalin) to the Central Committee. And what shall we say of this same Josef Vissarionovich Djougochvili (backward peasant, priesthood candidate, Czarist informer and spy, “Old Bolshevik") who connived and tricked and murdered himself to the very top of the first Workers’ Republic!!
What is outrageous is that the Trotskyist movement can continue to give any credence whatever to James P. Cannon after this unforgivable act. All is fully exposed by the International Commission of the 4th International itself in “Sylvia Franklin’s Dossier” put out in August 1977 but distributed only by a splinter group of the SWP. What is this joining up with the Stalinists who have reason to conceal their guilt but a cover-up of the cover-up?
WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL?
The Socialist Press makes a big point of the fact that the SWP survived, while the CLS did not (though it held out for seven very difficult years). Would anyone deny that Cannon could have done nothing without Trotsky’s support? After the American Workers’ Party fiasco, Cannon retreated into the SWP as he had retreated in the ILD and except for a brief inglorious sally, in the CLA. I give him credit for his war resistance, one good thing he did. The credit for publishing Trotsky’s works goes to Max Eastman, the translator. (Cannon knew no languages). The SWP was simply another edition of the C.L.A., right wing, sectarian, issuing a paper and hiding under a false mantle of Trotskyism since it had no actions in any way corresponding to what Trotsky stood for.
The SWP was riddled with spies throughout and what wonder since Cannon himself put out the welcome mat at the start? The SWP was most of all a sieve through which many people passed, either dropping out or joining a splinter group. In 1965 Albert and I were for a while in close touch with five members of the SWP in Chicago who were in the process of leaving it. Their charges against it were:
1. No activity other than talking and distributing the paper.
2. No attempt to reach workers. Members chiefly students and hangers-on.
3. Toleration of people who looked like spies but nothing done about them. Of what value has this group been, since it has given such a false picture of Trotskyism as to discredit that movement with American workers?
RECORD OF ALBERT WEISBORD
Comrade Weisbord in 1924 left the Socialist Party where he was the National Secretary of the Y.P.S.L. and member of the National Executive Board. Convinced by reading Lenin’s works (such as were then available) he thought the Communist Party would mobilize workers which the Socialist Party was not doing. Already he had experience in a national tour of speaking to striking workers at millgates. In order better to understand the workers life he became a silk weaver.
Weisbord’s big contribution to the Party was the concept that the organization of the unorganized was the task of the Party. Many members were inspired to continue on this road.
Despite errors and drawbacks, the achievements of the Communists in our labor movement have been not inconsiderable. (See Bert Cochran-Labor and Communism) After Passaic, Weisbord was made head of the CEC Textile Committee and after 1928, National Secretary of the National Textile Workers Union. He gave full time to this work. In 1928 as delegate to a Profintern Congress he saw the Russian Party torn by factions though the issues were not all clear. He saw also the complete involvement of the Americans with the factions of the Russian Party. Like most of the comrades we had no information about Trotsky. We were nominally part of the Lovestone group but critical. Based on experience in the field (coal mines, Gastonia) I too had lost confidence in the Party leadership. In the summer of 1929 after Stalin gave Foster the Party, one of Foster’s first actions was to send four of his men into the office of the NTWU where Weisbord was alone at the time. They physically overpowered him and drove him out, taking possession of the files and all his records. He was now without contacts and cut off from his base, the textile people. No one would speak to him. He got a job on a farm for the summer, later in a Ford Assembly plant in Newark, N. J. When in the fall of 1929 I was forced to leave Gastonia, I joined him there and got a job in a big textile plant, the Clark Thread Co. The Party sabotaged our efforts to start organization of these plants.
Down through the years the Party obstructed all Weisbord’s efforts to do work, spreading slanders and lies, keeping him from jobs, trying to make him a non-person. In 1935 he wrote to John L. Lewis, offering his service as an organizer in the C.I.O. The Party fraction then powerful prevented his acceptance. He worked for several years as International Representative of the AFL under then organization secretary, Frank Fenton. He gained a vast knowledge of the AFL unions and experience in settling strikes, negotiating contracts and representing the workers interests in the War Labor Board in Washington. President Green thought highly of his abilities but had to let him go because of many complaints of the employers about his hiring this “notorious Red".
In Chicago we oriented chiefly towards the black people, worked in the Unemployed Councils; organized an American branch of the Union Against Racism, later the Afro-American Committee which put out two pamphlets and had some influence.
Later on Weisbord concentrated on theoretical work and poured out a stream of essays some of which were published in La Parola del Popolo. He was active in this work until the end, putting out in the last year of his life a fine little pamphlet, “Taxation for Workers". He devoted also very much time to language work, developing a phonetic alphabet and some beginnings of an international language for the West, with a scientific basis. He developed also a method of teaching four related languages together (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish;—German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish). He taught these in the Group Language Institute, but could not achieve acceptance of the method due to professorial obstructions. Such language work is of great value to an international movement.
* * * * * * * * *