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Martin Abern


Martin Abern (Abramowitz) was born on December 2, 1898 in Romania. He came to the US at the age of 4, where his family settled in Minneapolis. At 15, A. joined the IWW as well as the YPSL. When the US entered WWI, A. refused the draft and was for that reason expelled from the U of Minn.

He was sent to prison for six months for refusing the draft. A. joined the Left Wing of the SP, and then the young CP. At age 23, A. became the youngest member of the CP’s CC. Shortly thereafter he moved to Chicago and became active in the leadership of the CP’s youth movement. He met Max Shachtman when the latter was 19; they worked together in the National Office of the Young Workers League.

A. attended the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, where he was a delegate to the Second Congress of the Young Communist International.

During his membership in the CP from 1923 to 1928, A. supported J.P. Cannon in the split of the Foster-Cannon faction. A. became a leading member of the Cannon faction. When Cannon became National Secretary of the International Labor Defense, A. became his Assistant National Secretary.

A. was expelled from the CP for Trotskyism in 1928. That year, the Daily Worker referred to the three Trotskyists – Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern – as “Three Generals Without an Army.”

Together with Maurice Spector of Canada, and others, Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern formed the Communist League of America in Chicago in May of 1929. In 1938, the Trotskyists, having spent a brief time inside the American SP, formed the Socialist Workers Party. Abern served on the National and Political Committees of the SWP until the split of 1940, when he joined Shachtman to form the Workers Party. The main issue in this split was Trotsky’s insistence on unconditional defense of Stalin’s Soviet Russia. Cannon and a majority of the SWP supported this notion, Shachtman, Abern, Gould, Glotzer, and many others, rejected it.

In the WP, Abern remained in the leadership until his death in 1949. The May 9, 1949 issue of Labor Action, the WP’s newspaper, carried an obituary by Max Shachtman that paid tribute to his long-time comrade. And, as I said, Cannon wept publicly and copiously at Abern’s funeral.

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Last updated: 16.2.2005