Monday, May 12, 2008
Who was James P. Cannon?
From the latest issue of Maelstrom:
James P. Cannon, was an Irishman and Labor leader. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and eventually the Socialist Party. Cannon was inspired by the Russian Revolution, when workers councils and popular organizations took power away from the rich, and seized the factories, farms and banks. Out of support for the Russian Revolution, Cannon joined the newly formed Communist Party of the United States.
In the Communist Party, Cannon led the International Labor Defense. He worked hard to get people who were wrongly convicted, many of them for the crime of being Communists, to not be sent to prison. Cannon learned that the best strategy for this, was to wage the struggles for justice outside of the courtroom. Cannon learned that the courts could be threatened when the masses of people were in motion, and threatening the status quo.
When visiting the USSR, Cannon got a hold of the writings of Leon Trotsky. This was around the time that Stalin had ruthlessly taken over the leadership of the Soviet Union. Cannon, who only got his hands on Trotsky’s writings by accident, became convinced that Stalin was wrong. Cannon became a Trotskyist. For this Cannon was expelled from the Communist Party.
Cannon started to organize his own organization, called the Communist League. The Stalinists, who had bureaucratically taken over the USSR and were suppressing the workers, ordered the leaders of the American Communist Party to attack all the meetings of the Communist League. Whenever the Communist League would hold a public meeting, Communist Party members would attack the meeting with lead pipes, chains, and baseball bats.
So Cannon and his allies in the Communist League formed “Workers Defense Guards.” These were workers with weapons who would protect the meetings from the Stalinists. Eventually the Stalinists gave up.
Cannon and the Communist League merged with the followers of A.J. Muste to form the Workers Party. This party eventually joined the Socialist Party, USA and became known as the Militant Tendency within it. They were eventually expelled, and formed their own party, the Socialist Workers Party, which still exists and publishes a newspaper called “The Militant.” It also owns a publishing company called Pathfinder Books.
Gradually as Cannon got older, his bitterness against the USSR and Stalinism got the better of him. While Trotsky had, despite his differences with the leaders of the USSR, called for its unconditional defense against the United States, Cannon began to fall into what some party members called “Vulgar Anti-Stalinism.” Instead of defending the USSR against the counter-revolutionary violence waged in Hungary, Cannon lead the Socialist Workers Party in supporting this anti-socialist insurgency. When China had a socialist revolution, the Socialist Workers Party was very slow even to acknowledge it.
This led Sam Marcy, Vince Copeland, and several others to form a new party. This new party was called Workers World Party, and it is committed to the idea of a “global class war” between imperialism and the peoples of the world. Though the WWP now has many difference with Cannon’s thinking, we still owe our revolutionary heritage to Cannon and the Trotskyists.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE MAELSTROM STAFF