Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 2
Revolutionary History, which seeks to be a journal of record as regards the Trotskyist movement, certainly needs a more balanced estimate of the worth of Sam Gordon than the one that appears in your last issue, and such an estimate is only possible if the truth is spoken about the roles of old activists.
Sam was never an important leader of the Fourth International, and was never one of the main leaders of the Communist League of America. In the beginning, between 1929 to 1934, the elected leadership consisted of James Cannon, Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, Arne Swabeck, Maurice Spector (Canada) and Carl Skoglund, and myself as the youth representative, for our organisation was largely young.
The real leadership of the Cannon faction and thus of the various organisations was Cannon in the first place, and on two occasions Shachtman as his co-leader, followed by Swabeck, Ray Dunne, Skoglund, Farrell Dobbs, Joe Hansen, Bert Cochran, George Clarke, Morris Stein and, in part, Jack Weber, plus a number of secondary leaders or alternates on the National Committee. One of these was Sam Gordon, until he moved to England in 1952, although he maintained strong ties to Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party and his leadership after then.
In the beginning of American Trotskyism in 1928, Shachtman was extremely close to Cannon, as were Abern and I, until the first faction fight broke out on the Political Committee between Cannon and his ‘older supporters’ against the ‘impetuous youth’, namely Shachtman and I, both of whom were beginning our political career in the youth movement, and Abern, who had been in the early Communist Party. Shachtman again became Cannon’s closest political associate in the mid-1930s until 1940, when the split in American Trotskyism occurred.
There were other important figures in the leadership from time to time, and a mere mention will recall them: Hugo Oehler, Tom Stamm, Albert Goldman, Felix Morrow, James Burnham, Joe Carter and Emmanuel Geltman.
All this is not to say that Gordon had no talents. He could write well, knew languages, and thus translated for the press, but he was not a distinguished speaker, being neither graceful nor dynamic, and, despite what is said in the article, was not known for any distinctive theoretical ideas that informed American or world Trotskyism. I am sure that the idea that Sam was an outstanding leader of the Fourth International would surprise the various international leaderships. It would be news to American Trotskyists that he was a ‘first-class organiser of a number of industries and cities’, or was known as an ‘imaginative and original thinker’. He may be ‘seriously underestimated’ as Mildred Gordon asserts, but I think he definitely filled a niche in that he was known as a loyal and devoted member of the Cannon faction and leadership. I am sure that he loved Cannon and Rose, and that they appreciated his feelings for them, but this relationship cannot be translated into greatness on a theoretical or leadership plane.
Updated by ETOL: 20.9.2011