James P. Cannon

James P. Cannon

James P. Cannon was born in Rosedale, Kansas, in 1890. His father, who had originally come from Ireland, was a socialist and was a regular reader of Appeal to Reason.

At the age of 18 he joined the Socialist Party of America and became a devoted follower of Eugene Debs. His friend Tom Kerry claimed that Cannon considered Debs as "one of the greatest orators, agitators, and propagandists that the American working class radical movement had produced."

Cannon was also an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) where he worked under Frank Little, who was lynched in 1917. Cannon also got to know Vincent Saint John. He later recalled: "Despite his modesty of disposition, his freedom from personal ambition, and his lack of the arts of self-aggrandizement, his work spoke loudly and brought him widespread fame."

According to his friend Joseph Leroy Hansen: "Fundamentally, Jim was an angry person. He was angry at injustice, at inequities, at special privileges, at exploitation. He was angry at poverty, lack of opportunity, oppression, racism, and sexism."

The right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party of America opposed the Russian Revolution. However, those members who disagreed with this policy formed the Communist Propaganda League. In February 1919, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe, Louis Fraina, John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow created a left-wing faction that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.

In September 1919, Cannon, Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Charles Ruthenberg, William Dunne, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Louis Fraina, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.

George Novack later recalled: "He (Cannon) became one of the founders of the American Communist Party, was elected to its Central Committee in 1920, and edited its first national organ. He sharply disagreed with those ex-radicals and academic historians who disparaged the pioneer days of American Communism. He regarded its formative period as a salutary step in the development of the movement toward a socialist revolution in the United States." Cannon argued: "Allowing for all its mistakes and the inadequacies of its leadership, the party that responded to the Russian revolution was the first genuinely revolutionary political party in this country"

Initially, the American Communist Party was divided into two factions. One group that included Charles Ruthenberg, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe and Benjamin Gitlow, favoured a strategy of class warfare. Another group, led by Cannon, William Z. Foster and William Dunne believed that their efforts should concentrate on building a radicalised American Federation of Labor.

Charles Ruthenberg was appointed as National Secretary of the party. As the author of The Roots of American Communism (1957) pointed out: "Ruthenberg was the natural choice for National Secretary of the Communist party for two reasons - he was a native-born American, and he had demonstrated his ability to run an organization. Almost no one else qualified on both counts." Cannon was elected to the Central Committee and served as District Secretary for the states of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He also became editor of The Worker's World.

The growth of the American Communist Party worried Woodrow Wilson and his administration and America entered what became known as the Red Scare period. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the revolution, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Wilson's attorney general, ordered the arrest of over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists. These people were charged with "advocating force, violence and unlawful means to overthrow the Government". Palmer and his assistant, John Edgar Hoover, found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.

It was decided that because William Z. Foster had a strong following in the trade union movement that he should be the party candidate in the 1924 Presidential Election. Benjamin Gitlow, was chosen as his running-mate. Foster did not do well and only won 38,669 votes (0.1 of the total vote). This compared badly with the other left-wing candidate, Robert La Follette, of the Progressive Party, who obtained 4,831,706 votes (16.6%).

Max Shachtman and James P. Cannon
Max Shachtman and James P. Cannon

In 1927 Cannon joined with others such as William Z. Foster, Edna St Vincent Millay, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Parker, Ben Shahn, Floyd Dell in the campaign against the proposed execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

James Cannon was appointed chairman of the American Communist Party. He attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928. While in the Soviet Union he was given a document written by Leon Trotsky on the rule of Joseph Stalin. Convinced by what he read, when he returned to the United States he criticized the Soviet government.

According to Joseph Leroy Hansen: "The document completely convinced Cannon. He decided to battle for Trotsky's criticisms-not because of any hope of immediate success, but because he saw that Trotsky was right. It was not an easy decision. Cannon realized, perhaps better than anyone outside of the Russian Trotskyists, that it would mean ostracism, the breakup of old friendships, and the end of personal relations with many comrades he had known in common battles for years. However, it was politically necessary to make the turn. For Jim this consideration was paramount. Nothing personal could be permitted to stand in the way of moving ahead in defense of Trotsky's position and against Stalin's bureaucratic gang."

I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell-better men than I have risked their heads and their

As a result of his actions, Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern were expelled from the party. Cannon now joined with other Trotskyists to form the Communist League of America. He also published the journal, The Militant. in 1934 the party merged with the American Workers Party, to form the Workers Party of the United States, under the joint leadership of Cannon and Abraham Muste. The party was dissolved in 1936 when it was decided that members should join the successful Socialist Party of America.

Claude McKay once claimed that Cannon "had all the magnetism, the shrewdness, the punch, the bag of tricks of the typical American politician." George Novack added: "Cannon represented the crossbreeding of two desirable traits: a passionate plebeian hatred of the crimes and injustices of capitalist society combined with an indomitable adherence to the ideas and traditions of the original Bolshevik leaders. The fusion of these elements in his makeup accounted for the strength of his convictions, the stamina of his revolutionary will, and the persistence of his fight for the truth."

Norman Thomas, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, decided to expel the Trotskyists in 1937. Cannon and Max Shachtman now decided to form the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In March 1938, Shachtman and Cannon were part of a delegation sent to Mexico City to discuss the draft Transitional Program of the Fourth International with Leon Trotsky.

As Farrell Dobbs has pointed out: "He (Cannon) was always on the alert, however, to build. Jim was always trying to draw into the revolutionary team every individual who was willing to serve. He also had a quality of watching tendencies and trends inside a movement, and of thinking always in the largest possible terms with respect to the recruitment of cadres. He recognized, as all serious revolutionaries must, the importance of cadres, the value of cadres, and the indispensability of cadres, and what a crime it is when people cavalierly destroy cadres, or ignore cadres, or let them wither-on the vine, or wander down a bypass without really trying to help them find the revolutionary main road."

George Breitman recalls meeting Cannon in 1936: "Jim was of medium height and without excess weight for a man of his age. His body was sturdy but starting to go soft; the shoulders had already taken on a slight stoop, and his hair was turning iron gray. His eyebrows were raised in mild surprise, but otherwise he appeared unruffled."

Max Shachtman became disillusioned with the Soviet Union when it signed the Soviet-Nazi Pact. These feelings were intensified when the Red Army invaded Poland (September, 1939) and Finland (November 1939). Cannon continued to support the foreign policy of Joseph Stalin. Cannon, like Leon Trotsky, believed that the Soviet Union was "degenerated workers' state", whereas Shachtman argued that Stalin was developing an imperialist policy in Eastern Europe. Shachtman decided to leave the Socialist Workers Party and establish his own Workers Party. Other members included Martin Abern, C.L.R. James, Hal Draper, Joseph Carter, Julius Jacobson and Irving Howe.

An opponent of America's involvement in the Second World War, Cannon was arrested under the Alien Registration Act in 1941. He was detained in Sandstone Prison in Minnesota and was not released until 1945. At the 1946 Socialist Workers Party convention he said: "He who doubts the socialist revolution in America does not believe in the survival of human civilization, for there is no other way to save it. And there is no other power that can save it but the all-mighty working class of the United States."

Cannon remained as national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party until replaced by Farrell Dobbs in 1953. Books by Cannon include Struggle for a Proletarian Party (1943), History of American Trotskyism (1944), America's Road to Socialism (1953) and Speeches for Socialism (1971).

James Cannon died on 21st August 1974.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) James Cannon, speech, New York City (23rd December, 1921)

We have had for two years many struggles and much strife in our ranks. This was inevitable after the great upheaval of the World War and the Russian Revolution that shook all of our organizations to their foundations and put every one of our old theories and dogmas to the acid test. Every one of us was compelled to revise some of his theories and some of his plans. It was no more than natural, I might say it was inevitable, that in the beginning we should have some confusion and some disintegration.

The task is before us. We have a labor movement that is completely discouraged and demoralized. We have an organized labor movement that is unable on any front to put up an effective struggle against the drive of destruction organized by the masters. We have a revolutionary movement which, until this inspirational call for a Workers Party convention, was disheartened, discouraged and demoralized. Our labor unions, upon which the workers build their first line of resistance; and I want to say right here, comrades, that you must face it as the most menacing thing on the horizon - the labor unions of America are being broken up because there is not sufficient unified understanding, because there is not sufficient leadership to save them. And I say that unless we, comrades, unless we, the revolutionary workers - we who know that only on a program of the class struggle can they mass and fight victoriously; unless we organize and prepare to unify and direct them, to lead their struggles, then, I say, the American labor unions will be destroyed and black reaction will settle upon this country. We have a responsibility upon us, and we must find the way out.

Yes, reaction is in full sway in America. Many of our finest spirits, our bravest boys, our best fighters, wear their lives away in the penitentiaries of America. The boys that threw themselves into the struggle during the war, those who did not take down their flag when the persecution became severe, the very cream of the movement, have languished in prison for over two years, and I say it is a shame and a disgrace that we have not made any effective protest against it. It is a pitiful thing that for two years the campaign for the release of our fellow workers and comrades, which should have been carried on upon the basis of the class struggle, which should have been the rallying cry to arouse the workers and inspire an irresistible campaign for amnesty, has been left almost entirely to such as the American Civil Liberties Bureau on the one hand, the Socialist Party's Amnesty Committee on the other, and the IWW lawyers on the third; and there is very little difference among them. Now, I say, we are going to stem the tide. We are going to stop the stampede by putting up a program and plan of action with a set of fighting leaders and give out the rallying cry: Fellow workers, stand and fight! It is better to die in the struggle than to be crushed to death without resistance!

(2) James P. Cannon, The Militant (15th February, 1930)

The ten-year period following the end of the war was marked by an integration and growth of the American Communist movement and a concurrent decline in the organization and influence of the Socialist Party. For the past year or so we have been witnessing a reversal of this process. The relation of forces between the two contending tendencies - of revolution and reform - has undergone a change. These are the important facts which merit consideration and analysis.

It profits the revolutionary wing of the labor movement nothing to evade or deny this state of affairs. On the contrary it will do harm, for the radical workers see what is going on before their eyes and are apt to draw false conclusions regarding the efficacy and future prospects of revolutionary ideas. Such indeed is the meaning of the recent noticeable shifting of allegiance of many workers, particularly in the needle trades, who had conscientiously supported the left wing and the Communist Party for several years. The Communist workers are entitled to an appraisal of the situation.

The advance of Communism in the struggle against the Socialist Party, and to a large extent at its expense, over a ten-year period, is undeniable. A few facts:

The left wing gained a majority in the party struggle of 1919; and the Hillquit-Berger machine was able to prevent its capture of the convention only by wholesale expulsions (aided, however, as has so often been the case, by stupidities of the left-wing leadership). Even after the split in 1919, which reduced the Socialist Party membership from 100,000 to less than 20,000, a new left wing developed within it under the pressure of communist sentiments in the ranks. This culminated in the second split - a weak one, it is true, with still weaker leadership - of the “Workers’ Council” group at the end of 1921.

The Communists became organizationally stronger than the Socialists despite the terrific handicaps of the Palmer terror and the three years’ period of underground organization. The CP extended its operations throughout the country while the SP influence and strength were confined to isolated localities, notably New York and Milwaukee. The superior strength and fighting ability of the Communists were graphically demonstrated in the big movements which engaged the attention of the workers: the labor party campaign, the organization of the left wing in the trade unions, the Passaic strike, the Sacco-Vanzetti movement, the needle trades struggles. The collapse of the New York Call, the daily paper of the SP, just preceding the establishment of the Daily Worker, symbolized the waning power of one party and the upward swing of the other.

Over that entire ten-year period our party continued to win recruits, individually and in groups, from its Socialist rival, with no shuffling in the other direction. The tides in those days swept out of the SP and into our ranks such eminent pillars of presentday Communism as Engdahl, Schneid, 01gm, and almost the whole Freiheit staff; not to speak of Kruse, who has begun to drift back by way of the Lovestone detour. Scott Nearing left the SP in 1923 and joined the - CP in 1926. Weisbord, who became justly renowned as the Communist organizer of the Passaic strike in 1926, had been the secretary of the Young People’s Socialist League and a campaigner for La Follette in 1924. All of these people, and many others who could be mentioned, were, in one sense of the word, weathercocks indicating the way the wind was blowing.

(3) George Novack, International Socialist Review (October 1974)

He became one of the founders of the American Communist Party, was elected to its Central Committee in 1920, and edited its first national organ. He sharply disagreed with those ex-radicals and academic historians who disparaged the pioneer days of American Communism. He regarded its formative period as a salutary step in the development of the movement toward a socialist revolution in the United States. The early CP regrouped the honest militants from various quarters and, despite its subsequent Stalinization, set their feet on a revolutionary road after the defaults of the Social Democracy and the disorientation and disintegration of the IWW.

(4) Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960)

What was there in this singular document, Trotsky's criticism of the draft program of the Communist International, that made such an overwhelming impression on Cannon and Shachtman? Why did the thunderbolt miss so many other American and Canadian Communists?

The document that Cannon and Shachtman read was divided into two parts, the first on the question of socialism in one country, the second on the defeat of the Chinese Communists in 1927. Only a single page was devoted to American Communism; it repeated Trotsky's familiar criticism of Pepper's flirtation with the LaFollette movement in 1924.

Thus Trotsky's appeal was primarily theoretical and international. It demanded an intense concern for the issues in the Russian struggle and for their repercussions on the Comintern's European and Far Eastern policies. Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern had previously revealed only the most superficial interest in such questions. They had blindly followed whatever line had officially emanated from Moscow. Ever since his successful campaign against the underground party in the early nineteen-twenties, Cannon had personified the "Americanizer" who stressed practical work rather than theory, which he had been content to leave to Bittelman and others. Much of his energies had been spent in purely factional maneuvers in which he had disposed of smaller forces than had either Lovestone or Foster. There seemed little in his past to prepare him for Trotskyism.

But Cannon's state of depression before the Sixth World Congress had made him receptive to a new cause that offered hope of escape from the personal and factional impasse. The new cause did not require a fundamental reconsideration or a painful breach with the past. Trotskyism called on all errant Communists to return to the true faith of Leninism, to the faith which had originally brought Cannon into the Communist movement. If Trotsky was right, the Soviet Union was heading toward an economic smash-up, the Comintern toward an inevitable breakdown. Trotsky confidently expected a series of world-wide disasters to wake up the mass of Communists and force them to sweep out the existing leadership to avoid the total destruction of their work and movement. This faith gave him and even his most isolated followers the strength to carry on what might have otherwise seemed a hopeless struggle against impossible odds.

In American terms, Cannon expected the Comintern to ensure the victory of the new "Right," represented by Lovestone, over the new "Left," represented by Foster and Bittelman. He viewed Trotskyism as the most principled expression of the Left, which was bound to come into its own with the reaction against Lovestone's anticipated victory. As an old ally of the Fosterites, he saw Trotskyism in the best position to reap the fruits of their disillusionment.

Cannon was never able to test this theory, because his presupposition proved false. Instead of turning "Right," the Soviet and Comintern leadership turned "Left." This Left turn, inaugurated officially in 1928 and driven much further in 1929, succeeded in cutting the ground from under most of Cannon's potential support. Instead of a clear-cut fight against Bukharin and Lovestone, Trotsky and Cannon faced the far more dangerous enmity of Stalin and his emergent American adjutants, Foster, Bittelman, and Browder.

The Stalinists were capable of outbidding the most extreme Leftists in one period and the most extreme Rightists in another. Quite a few American Communists who maintained contact with Cannon wavered for a time and then used Stalin's Left turn as a reason for deciding against Trotsky's Left Opposition.

Once having made his decision, Cannon never turned back. He thereby extricated himself, by means of Trotskyism, from the onrushing Stalinist tide. But Trotskyism could not give Cannon the means of finding a new revolutionary road; at best, it promised to lead back to an old one. In an anti-Stalinist form, it helped to perpetuate the dependence of all branches and offshoots of the American Communist movement on the Russian revolution and Russian revolutionaries.

(5) The Militant (17th December 1928)

The Political Committee of the Workers (Communist) Party expelled Cannon, a member of that committee, along with Martin Abern and Max Shachtman, member and alternate respectively of the party's Central Executive Committee, on charges of Trotskyism on October 27, 1928. But they had the right of appeal to the approaching plenary session of the Central Executive Committee. The following is the speech delivered to that plenum on December 17, 1928.

Comrades:

Many of the most important events and turning points in our party's life have been summed up in party gatherings, which stand out in party history as the expression of these events. The present meeting of the Central Executive Committee, called to confirm the control of the party by an opportunistic and bureaucratic leadership and to endorse the expulsion of its opponents, is such a gathering. It will represent in party history a downward Curve...

In the period that has intervened since our expulsion on October 25, we have continued to regard ourselves as party members and have conducted ourselves as Communists, as we have done since the foundation of the party, and even for years before that. Every step we have taken has been guided by this conception. Those acts which went beyond the bounds of ordinary party procedure in bringing our views before the party were imposed upon us by the action of the party leadership in denying us the right and opportunity to defend our views within the party by normal means. Our views relate to principled questions, and therefore it is our duty openly to defend them in spite of all attempts to suppress them.

We are bound to do this also in the future under all circumstances. However, we said on October 25, and we repeat now, that we are unconditionally willing to confine our activity to regular party channels and to discontinue all extraordinary methods the moment our party rights are restored and we are permitted to defend our views in the party press and at party meetings. The decision and the responsibility rest wholly with the majority of the Central Executive Committee.

Events since our expulsion have only served to confirm more surely the correctness of the views of the Russian Opposition, which we support. The momentous developments in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and throughout the Comintern have that meaning and no other. Life itself is proving the validity of their platform. Even those who fought that platform, who misrepresented it and hid it from the party and the Comintern, are today compelled, under the pressure of events and forces which overwhelm them, to give lip service to it, to pretend to adopt it. Many of the statements and proposals of the Opposition which were branded "counterrevolutionary" a year ago are today solemnly repeated, almost word for word, as the quintessence of Bolshevism.

Meanwhile their sponsors - the true leaders and defenders of the Russian Revolution - remain in exile, and there is no guarantee whatever that the presently advertised "left course" will mean anything more than a cover for further concessions to the right wing, whose policy directly undermines the dictatorship. The victorious fight of the party masses in Russia and throughout the Comintern against this disgraceful and dangerous course cannot be much longer postponed...

Our views on the problems of the American party and its leadership, outlined in our statement to the Political Committee on October 25, hold good today and have been underscored by the whole conduct of the Pepper-Lovestone faction since that time. We spoke then of "its opportunist political outlook, its petty-bourgeois origin, its corrupt factionalism, its careerism and adventurism in the class struggle" as "the greatest menace to the party." To speak now about the present party leadership with objectivity and precision, we could not use different language to characterize it This estimate is written in unmistakable words in the election campaign, the trade-union work, the inner-party regime and in all phases of party life and activity.

Since October 25, the Pepper-Lovestone leadership has taken further steps on the course of bureaucratic disruption which confronts the party today as a deadly menace - a course which began with the expulsion of Communists, copied from the labor fakers, and which has already taken another weapon from the same arsenal: the weapon of gangsterism. Everyone sitting here knows the facts about this. You know that inspired and organized gangster attacks have been made against us on the public streets, not once but several times.

Woe to the party of the workers if its proletarian kernel does not arise and stamp out these incipient fascist tactics at the very beginning! The blows from the black jacks of gangsters which have descended on the heads of Opposition Communists are blows at the very foundation of the party. This abominable gangsterism, for which the leaders of the two factions collaborating against us, the Lovestone faction and the Foster faction, are directly responsible, is hated by every honest worker. It dis credits the party before the working class and threatens to deprive the party of its moral and political position in the struggle against these methods of the trade-union reactionaries.

(6) Joseph Leroy Hansen, speech (23rd August, 1974)

The Sixth Congress of the Communist International in 1928 marked an important step in the development of James P. Cannon as a political figure of international stature. It was at that congress that he decided to take up the cause represented by Leon Trotsky.

In the previous period he had become deeply disturbed by pernicious moves made by the Comintern in the internal affairs of the American Communist Party. But he did not connect these with the struggle over "Trotskyism" in the Russian party. In fact, from the available information, he was inclined to disregard that struggle and even give the benefit of the doubt to Stalin.

At the Sixth Congress, he and Maurice Spector of the Canadian Communist Party accidentally received copies of an English translation of part of Trotsky's criticism of the draft program that was proposed for adoption at the congress. The rest is history.

The document completely convinced Cannon. He decided to battle for Trotsky's criticisms-not because of any hope of immediate success, but because he saw that Trotsky was right.

It was not an easy decision. Cannon realized, perhaps better than anyone outside of the Russian Trotskyists, that it would mean ostracism, the breakup of old friendships, and the end of personal relations with many comrades he had known in common battles for years.

However, it was politically necessary to make the turn. For Jim this consideration was paramount. Nothing personal could be permitted to stand in the way of moving ahead in defense of Trotsky's position and against Stalin's bureaucratic gang.

Cannon's decision offers a striking example of the importance of achieving political clarity in a factional struggle. Stalin understood that too. That was why he tried to gag Trotsky and why he eventually used assassination to silence Trotsky's powerful voice.

(7) James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962)

I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell-better men than I have risked their heads and their swivel chairs for truth and justice. Trotsky and his associates were doing it at that very moment in the exile camps and prisons of the Soviet Union. It was no more than right that one man, however limited his qualifications, should remember what he started out in his youth to fight for, and speak out for their cause and try to make the world hear, or at least to let the exiled and imprisoned Russian Oppositionists know that they had found a new friend and supporter.

(8) Farrell Dobbs, speech at San Francisco (14th September, 1974)

He (Cannon) was always on the alert, however, to build. Jim was always trying to draw into the revolutionary team every individual who was willing to serve. He also had a quality of watching tendencies and trends inside a movement, and of thinking always in the largest possible terms with respect to the recruitment of cadres. He recognized, as all serious revolutionaries must, the importance of cadres, the value of cadres, and the indispensability of cadres, and what a crime it is when people cavalierly destroy cadres, or ignore cadres, or let them wither-on the vine, or wander down a bypass without really trying to help them find the revolutionary main road.

Jim had a sense for this. And with the help of Trotsky, he played a major role in orienting the initial Trotskyist cadres in this country toward concentrating first on trying to win every possible member of the Communist Party who might begin to see the truth and develop toward support of the Trotskyist movement.

(9) James P. Cannon, The Militant (9th December, 1933)

In the outbreak of lynchings that swept the country, striking at three widely separated sections with the fury of a hurricane, an old American custom was repeated with some new and distinctive features which are of exceptional significance. In the present situation such orgies of mob violence as those in California, Maryland, and Missouri do not fit into the old pattern.

Mob murder in itself is no novelty in the United States. In the South, as everybody knows, it is an established institution for the repression of the Negroes, operating all the time as an extralegal supplement to the regular court procedure. In the North, also, lynching has been known before, but it is not “recognized - here as it is in the South and, except in isolated instances, has appeared only in connection with social disturbance....

All of this has been accumulating during the crisis years. It presses for outlet and may readily find it in strange, irrational, and violent ways. The lynching hysteria which has swept the country derives from the same source as the fanatical million-headed following of Father Coughlin, the demagogue priest. The real author is the social devastation wrought by the crisis.

The material out of which fascist gangs, anti-Semitism, religious frenzies, and moronic lynching mobs all may be set in motion is at hand in the social tension which produced three lynchings within a week. The material for the rapid development of a revolutionary labor movement is there also in the bitter discontent of the workers, but a leading force capable of organizing it is so far lacking. The disintegration of the communist movement aids the one-sided expression of the general mass of social discontent in a fascist direction...

American labor history has been written in struggle, violent and bloody. Many a strike took the form of armed conflict; few pass without violent clashes. On the other hand, the American capitalists never hesitated to go outside the bounds of their own legality when the exigencies of the class struggle required it. Frank Little was killed by lynchers. So also was Wesley Everest and many other labor militants. The radical workers were dragooned into support of the war or bludgeoned into silence by unofficial lynching mobs which supplemented the legal compulsion of the state authority. A good half or more of the brutal violence against the workers in strikes is the work of unofficial thugs and gunmen. When the two main classes in this country get ready to settle accounts, and long before they come to the final account, the “legal” framework of the struggle will have been shattered to bits.

The reservoir of mass violence in America is a huge one, and the events of the past week have demonstrated how easily it can be tapped, and with what unbridled fury it can rage. The mob of humans turned into wild beasts who mutilated and killed the two helpless prisoners at San Jose, and that far bigger mob of vicarious participants who applauded them from afar, have presented a spectacle of menacing implications to the labor movement.

The same mobs can be directed against the workers. They are the material out of which the murderous bands of fascism can be organized when the big exploiters feel the need of them. The working class had every reason to take alarm at the spread of lynching and to raise a mighty protest against every official condonement of it. But the bare appeal from mob violence to ordered legal processes - the sum and substance of liberal and Socialist agitation - does not touch the heart of the issue. The problem is rooted in the social conditions of class society just as the whole oppressive system of class justice is. The same class forces which administer the “law” need only to sense the danger to their rule in order to organize and bribe the dregs of society and hurl them against the workers with unrestrained violence. To rely solely on capitalist legal procedure in the struggle against lynching and other forms of illegal mass violence is to clear the way for the latter. Under different circumstances the force behind each is the same.

(10) In a letter to Theodore Draper written on 27th May 1959, James Cannon explained why he decided to support Leon Trotsky in 1928.

In the summer of 1928 in Moscow, in addition to the theoretical and political revelation that came to me when I read Trotsky's Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern, there was another consideration that hit me where I live. That was the fact that Trotsky had been expelled and deported to far away Alma Ata; that his friends and supporters had been slandered and expelled and imprisoned; and that the whole damned thing was a frame-up!

Had I set out as a boy to fight for justice for Moyer and Haywood in order to betray the cause of justice when it was put squarely up to me in a case of transcendent importance to the whole future of the human race? A copybook moralist could easily answer that question by saying: "Of course not. The rule is plain. You do what you have to do, even if it costs you your head." But it wasn't so simple for me in the summer of 1928. I was not a copybook moralist. I was a party politician and factionalist who had learned how to cut corners. I knew that at the time, and the self-knowledge made me uneasy.

I had been gradually settling down into an assured position as a party official with an office and staff, a position that I could easily maintain - as long as I kept within definite limits and rules which I knew all about, and conducted myself with the facility and skill which had become almost second nature to me in the long drawn out factional fights.

I knew that. And I knew something else that I never told anybody about, but which I had to tell myself for the first time in Moscow in the summer of 1928. The footloose Wobbly rebel that I used to be had imperceptibly begun to fit comfortably into a swivel chair, protecting himself in his seat by small maneuvers and evasions, and even permitting himself a certain conceit about his adroit accommodation to this shabby game. I saw myself for the first time then as another person, as a revolutionist who was on the road to becoming a bureaucrat. The image was hideous, and I turned away from it in disgust.

I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell - better men than I have risked their heads and their swivel chairs for truth and justice. Trotsky and his associates were doing it at that very moment in the exile camps and prisons of the Soviet Union. It was no more than right that one man, however limited his qualifications, should remember what he started out in his youth to fight for, and speak out for their cause and try to make the world hear, or at least to let the exiled and imprisoned Russian Oppositionists know that they had found a new friend and supporter.

(11) James Cannon, The Militant (January 1, 1929)

In the period that has intervened since our expulsion on October 25, we have continued to regard ourselves as party members and have conducted ourselves as Communists, as we have done since the foundation of the party, and even for years before that. Every step we have taken has been guided by this conception. Those acts which went beyond the bounds of ordinary party procedure in bringing our views before the party were imposed upon us by the action of the party leadership in denying us the right and opportunity to defend our views within the party by normal means. Our views relate to principled questions, and therefore it is our duty openly to defend them in spite of all attempts to suppress them.

We are bound to do this also in the future under all circumstances. However, we said on October 25, and we repeat now, that we are unconditionally willing to confine our activity to regular party channels and to discontinue all extraordinary methods the moment our party rights are restored and we are permitted to defend our views in the party press and at party meetings. The decision and the responsibility rest wholly with the majority of the Central Executive Committee.

Events since our expulsion have only served to confirm more surely the correctness of the views of the Russian Opposition, which we support. The momentous developments in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and throughout the Comintern have that meaning and no other. Life itself is proving the validity of their platform. Even those who fought that platform, who misrepresented it and hid it from the party and the Comintern, are today compelled, under the pressure of events and forces which overwhelm them, to give lip service to it, to pretend to adopt it. Many of the statements and proposals of the Opposition which were branded "counterrevolutionary" a year ago are today solemnly repeated, almost word for word, as the quintessence of Bolshevism.

Meanwhile their sponsors - the true leaders and defenders of the Russian Revolution - remain in exile, and there is no guarantee whatever that the presently advertised "left course" will mean anything more than a cover for further concessions to the right wing, whose policy directly undermines the dictatorship. The victorious fight of the party masses in Russia and throughout the Comintern against this disgraceful and dangerous course cannot be much longer postponed.

Bureaucratic suppression has its own logic. It begins with the expulsion of individuals and ends with the disruption of the movement. Yesterday we saw the attempt to suppress the views of the Oppositionists who fight the party regime on principled grounds. Today already, in spired resolutions from the party units are making the same demand against the limited criticisms of the Foster group, with the threat of organizational measures after the packed and gerrymandered convention has "endorsed" the regime. Bureaucratism is alien to the proletarian Communist movement. Bureaucratism cannot stand criticism. It cannot stand discussion. Bureaucratism, which is an expression of bourgeois influence, and Lenin's proletarian doctrine cannot live together.

The regime of bureaucratic strangulation, which expels its outspoken opponents and bludgeons the party into silence, has become an international phenomenon of the period. This is the only key to an understanding of its absolutely unprecedented excesses. A real struggle against it cannot be made without an understanding of its international scope. On this, as well as on the other principled questions, the fight of the proletarian Communist elements in all parties unites with the Bolshevik fight of the Russian Opposition under the leadership of Trotsky.

At the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin issued a warning against the course he later adopted, and predicted its disruptive consequences. He defended there the refusal to expel Trotsky from the Political Bureau and said: "We are against the policy of lopping off, of bloodletting (it was blood they wanted). It is a dangerous thing. One day you lop off this limb. Tomorrow another, and the next day a third. And after a while, what becomes of the party?"

Stalin forgot these words so full of prophetic significance. He formed a factional combination with the right wing to suppress and expel the left, the Opposition. He gave the signal for the same line in all the parties of the Comintern. As a result, in the recent years we have seen everywhere a strengthening of the opportunist elements, an enormous development and entrenchment of bureaucratism, and wholesale expulsions of the proletarian left - the core of the workers' vanguard. All the little Stalins in all the parties are bolstering themselves up by these means.

(12) James Cannon, History of American Trotskyism (1944)

The movement which then began in America brought repercussions throughout the entire world; overnight the whole picture, the whole perspective of the struggle changed. Trotskyism, officially pronounced dead, was resurrected on the international arena and inspired with new hope, new enthusiasm, new energy. Denunciations against us were carried in the American press of the party and reprinted throughout the whole world, including Pravda. Russian Oppositionists in prison and exile, where sooner or later copies of Pravda reached them, were notified of our action, our revolt in America. In the darkest hour of the Opposition's struggle, they learned that fresh reinforcements had taken the field across the ocean in the United States, which by virtue of the power and weight of the country itself, gave importance and weight to the things done by the American communists.

Leon Trotsky, as I remarked, was isolated in the little Asiatic village of Alma Ata. The world movement outside Russia was in decline, leaderless, suppressed, isolated, practically non-existent. With this inspiring news of a new detachment in faraway America, the little papers and bulletins of the Opposition groups flared into life again. Most inspiring of all to us was the assurance that our hard-pressed Russian comrades had heard our voice. I have always thought of this as one of the most gratifying aspects of the historic fight we undertook in 1928 - that the news of our fight reached the Russian comrades in all corners of the prisons and exile camps, inspiring them with new hope and new energy to persevere in the struggle.

(13) Milton Alvin, speech (3rd September, 1974)

Cannon was without doubt the best public speaker I have ever heard, and I have heard Roosevelt, Churchill, and others from the capitalist side, and just about all from the radical and socialist side for over forty years. He made a special study of public speaking and had the art refined to the point of being a great orator.

(14) James Cannon, speech. Leon Trotsky Memorial meeting held at the Diplomat Hotel in New York City on August 28, 1940.

Comrade Trotsky's entire conscious life, from the time he entered the workers' movement in the provincial Russian town of Nikolayev at the age of eighteen up till the moment of his death in Mexico City forty-two years later, was completely dedicated to work and struggle for one central idea. He stood for the emancipation of the workers and all the oppressed people of the world, and the transformation of society from capitalism to socialism by means of a social revolution. In his conception, this liberating social revolution requires for success the leadership of a revolutionary political party of the workers' vanguard.

In his entire conscious life Comrade Trotsky never once diverged from that idea. He never doubted it, and never ceased to struggle for its realization. On his deathbed, in his last message to us, his disciples-his last testament-he proclaimed his confidence in his life-idea: "Tell our friends I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International - go forward!"

Trotsky himself believed that ideas are the greatest power in the world. Their authors may be killed, but ideas, once promulgated, live their own life. If they are correct ideas, they make their way through all obstacles. This was the central, dominating concept of Comrade Trotsky's philosophy. He explained it to us many, many times. He once wrote: "It is not the party that makes the program [the idea]; it is the program that makes the party." In a personal letter to me, he once wrote: "We work with the most correct and powerful ideas in the world, with inadequate numerical forces and material means. But correct ideas, in the long run, always conquer and make available for themselves the necessary material means and forces."

Trotsky, a disciple of Marx, believed with Marx that "an idea, when it permeates the mass, becomes a material force." Believing that, Comrade Trotsky never doubted that his work would live after him. Believing that, he could proclaim on his deathbed his confidence in the future victory of the Fourth International which embodies his ideas. Those who doubt it do not know Trotsky.

Trotsky himself believed that his greatest significance, his greatest value, consisted not in his physical life, not in his epic deeds, which overshadow those of all heroic figures in history in their sweep and their grandeur-but in what he would leave behind him after the assassins had done their work. He knew that his doom was sealed, and he worked against time in order to leave everything possible to us, and through us to mankind. Throughout the eleven years of his last exile he chained himself to his desk like a galley slave and labored, as none of us knows how to labor, with such energy, such persistence and self-discipline, as only men of genius can labor. He worked against time to pour out through his pen the whole rich content of his mighty brain and preserve it in permanent written form for us, and for those who will come after us.