Back to the “Early Years of American Communism” Index
Back to the James P. Cannon Internet Archive
Back to the Marxists Internet Archive

James P. Cannon

Letter to the American Commission

16 June 1927

Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

The following is an unpublished letter signed by Cannon, William Foster and William Weinstone. It was written in Moscow and submitted to the American Commission which continued deliberation in Moscow after the conclusion of the Eighth Plenum of the Comintern’s Executive Committee. The letter reflected a new factional bloc formed in Moscow between the Cannon-Weinstone forces and the Foster faction.

Dear Comrades:

We are herewith submitting for your consideration a number of concrete points which we think should be included in the resolution of the commission on the American question. Our viewpoints on these and other questions have been further elaborated in the speeches and documents presented to the commission.

1. War Danger and the Party Tasks

The most vital and immediate task of the party is to combat the war danger to the Soviet Union and the intervention in China in which Great Britain is playing the leading provocative role.[1] The party must concentrate its full force to oppose the war program against the Soviet Union. The party must emphasize Britain’s role as the leading aggressor against both the Soviet Union and China. At the same time, the party must avoid any tendency to conduct the struggle in such a way as to obscure the aggressive role of American imperialism or slacken up in its attack upon it. Any slogans which place American imperialism as the “cat’s paw” of Britain or as the guileless victims of British intrigue in China can afflict the party with pacifist illusions and weaken its power to combat these illusions in the masses. More emphasis must also be placed upon anti-imperialist work in Latin America and the campaign against the present war danger must be intimately linked up with the course of American imperialism in Latin American countries. In all struggles of the workers, the relations of imperialist policies of American and world imperialism to these struggles must be pointed out, particularly with regard to the danger of an imperialist war against the Soviet Union.

2. The Offensive Against the Party

In their efforts to still further swell their already enormous profits and to consolidate their control of industry and the government, the capitalists in the United States are now carrying on a general offensive against the working class. Their offensive manifests itself chiefly by a widespread introduction of the speedup system in industry, by smashing trade unions (miners, needle trades, etc.) and by the company unionizing of others (railroads, etc.), wage-cutting campaigns (miners) and by the passage of legislation violently hostile to the interests of the workers.

As part of this offensive the employers are aggressively attacking our party, which alone is able to give leadership to the masses, and which seeks to unite them for the struggle against the reactionary employers and the reactionary trade union leaders. Although the offensive against the left wing tends to develop in other directions, the weight of it is delivered in the trade unions, through the instrumentality of the trade union bureaucracy. Thus develops the present campaign of expulsions and gangster tactics which have reached their high point in the mining and needle industries.

The combined attack of the bosses, the government and the labor bureaucracy which is concentrated in the needle trades under the direct leadership of the AFL has a profound significance and must be resisted with all our strength.

To resist the offensive of the employers and bureaucrats and to turn it into a counteroffensive of the workers, our party must develop its fighting qualities to the utmost. This makes necessary the elimination of the factional struggle and a thorough unification of the party, the intensification of the campaign for the recruitment of new members for the party, especially in the heavy industries, and the activization of the party in all its campaigns among the workers.

3. Effects of Imperialism on the American Workers

The party must develop a stronger and more effective ideological campaign against the class collaboration illusions now being spread by the employers and their agents, the trade union leaders, in connection with the corruption of upper strata of the workers by imperialism.

The party must make a thorough analysis of the entire movement characterized by company unions, the new wage policy, trade union capitalism, employees stockholding, etc., in order that the fraudulent claims can be more effectively exposed. This movement constitutes a specifically American type of reformism, against which a strong and sustained ideological struggle must be carried on by the party.

As part of the fight against the bureaucracy on the issue of trade union business enterprises, the demand must be raised for their complete separation from the union and for their reorganization on a cooperative basis.

4. The United Front

The united front remains the major tactic of the party in its efforts to gain contact with and win support of the masses. In the united front activities, the party has the twofold task which is inseparably bound together. On the one hand to get the backward American workers into action for their class needs and on the other hand to consolidate the party and increase its influence.

In all questions involving the case of the united front tactics it is necessary to bear in mind the specific American conditions under which the party must operate (strength of American capitalism, weak class ideology, extremely reactionary labor bureaucracy with its brazen capitalist viewpoint, comparatively unpolitical attitude of the masses and the comparative weakness of the party).

These conditions dictate that the party must not mechanically apply the united front method, but must react to flexible forms adapted to the specific situation in setting up the united fronts. The party must avoid a policy which hides the face of the party and it must fight aggressively for participation in the united fronts under its own name. The party must avoid carrying this policy of pressing for open affiliation to the point of a split, or to a conclusion of narrowing the united front merely to the party and its close sympathizers.

5. The Trade Union Question

The central problem before the party in beating back the offensive of the reactionaries and gaining new strength and influence in the struggle is the building of a broad left wing movement within the unions in which the party will be the driving force and which will be an instrument for revolutionizing the labor movement. In the period which has elapsed since the last decision of the ECCI on this question, despite opportunities and a number of successes in our trade union work, the task of giving organized form to the left wing in the TUEL has not received sufficient support from the party and thus has made insufficient progress. The next period in the labor movement holds out good prospects for progress in this work and the party must devote more attention to the trade union work and concentrate its efforts to firmly establish the left wing.

The work of organizing the TUEL and its industrial and local sections under various names must be pushed forward energetically. The TUEL as the organization of the left wing should and must comprise not merely party members and close sympathizers, but should embrace all honest elements willing to fight and preserve the unions as organs of struggle against the capitalists.

The TUEL must be organized immediately on as broad a basis as possible in all industrial centers and unions on an action program comprising: organization of the unorganized, democratization of the unions, amalgamation, a labor party, and an aggressive struggle against the employers. Such organizations as can be created shall be used as the instruments for the development and organization of opposition movements. Active support should be given to the league’s paper, Labor Unity. Labor Unity must be broadened somewhat in its general character, more non-party contributors enlisted and non-party elements drawn into the editorial staff. The TUEL should serve as the connecting link between the party and the broader opposition movements. In recruiting members into the TUEL, the ideological backwardness of the American workers should be kept in mind and their readiness to struggle against the bosses and the reactionaries should be the main criterion. Distinction should also be made between the rank and file workers and officials in determining the question of membership in the TUEL.

The party and TUEL must establish connections with the progressive elements who accept certain parts of the left wing program and who are honestly in conflict with the reactionaries on questions of policy. Every opportunity must be taken to come to agreements with these elements for joint struggles on various issues. Such united front agreements and all divisions and splits which occur in the ranks of the labor officialdom must be utilized to create a broader base for the left wing and strengthen the position of the party.

Care must be taken, however, to avoid illusions in regard to the role of the progressives and all relations with them must be accompanied with criticism of such a nature as to press them into more determined and militant struggles and to bring out clearly the role of the party and the TUEL and to popularize them in the fight.

Especial care must be taken to avoid illusions regarding the black reactionaries posing as the progressive opposition for the moment, and “supporting” them in such a way as to compromise the party and the left wing. Communists must come to the front as leaders of workers in actual struggles and take advantage of all opportunities to gain leading positions in the unions, without allowing this fight to degenerate into an unprincipled scramble for offices.

Organization of the Unorganized: Increased activity in the work of organizing the unorganized workers, the masses of unskilled and semi-skilled, is a foremost necessity. This work bears a direct connection with the work within the existing unions and must not be separated from it. The two activities are parts of one task which supplement and strengthen each other. Every success in the work of organizing new bodies of workers and of conducting strikes in hitherto unorganized industries has a deeply stimulating effect on the existing unions. To the extent that we succeed in bringing new masses of workers, particularly the unskilled, into the trade unions, the base for the revolutionary left wing is strengthened. On the other hand, every inch of ground gained in the established unions, every strategic post secured, every division in the officialdom, exploited with correct tactics, facilitates and strengthens the work of reaching the unorganized workers and drawing them into the unions.

The drift of the bureaucracy to the right and the weakening of the trade union movement in its most proletarian section such as the miners, coupled with the development of an extensive expulsion policy and the suppression of democracy in the unions, creates leftist illusions that nothing can be done in the trade unions and that a general policy must be adopted for the organization of dual and independent unions. The decision should clearly state the policy regarding dual and independent unionism and, while combatting dualistic illusions, it should also warn against the right tendency to so fear splits in the unions that militant action becomes impossible. The party should work energetically in all existing unions, seeking to amalgamate and democratize them, to organize the unorganized into them and to build them into real fighting bodies. In industries, however, where there are no unions, or where the existing unions are hopelessly decrepit and block the organization of the workers, it is the party duty to organize the unorganized masses into the unions and in connection with this procedure fight to affiliate them, with proper guarantees against the betrayal of the workers, to the AFL or independent mass unions. In the event of mass expulsions, as a general policy, the expelled organizations should firmly consolidate themselves, claiming to be the original organizations and continuing the fight for unity on the basis of such an amalgamation as will protect the interests of the workers as a whole. The actual formation of independent organizations in such cases has to be determined according to the concrete circumstances.

The Miners Strike: The present miners strike, the outcome of which will have a profound effect upon the entire labor movement, must be supported by the party in every possible way and the forces of the party mobilized to influence its course to the greatest degree possible.[2] The united front with the opposition elements must be strengthened and developed while all efforts are made to overcome their prejudices against an exposure and fight against the Lewis machine during the strike.

The miners union is in a deep crisis. The militancy of the rank and file of the union must be counted upon to assert itself under the attack of the mine operators and the party tactic regulated accordingly. The reconstitution of the committee of the opposition bloc in the fight to claim the legal election of Brophy and the connection of this fight with the agitation for the strike program of the opposition and especially emphasizing the organization of the non-union fields is the right tactic in the situation. With proper safeguards against expulsion, this new agitation in addition to the program already adopted by the party should have as an objective the organization of a national conference of the opposition with the aim of consolidating its forces, clarifying its program and strengthening its authority over the masses in the union.

The lack of systematically organized party fractions, the absence of definite organization of the left wing and of the general opposition, except in the form of committees at the top, and the failure to draw outstanding non-party militants more directly into the leadership of the left wing, are outstanding weaknesses in our work in the miners unions. A miners paper must be published, the opposition bloc consolidated, and a firm organization of the left wing built within it.

6. Americanization of the Party in the Communist Sense

The American party must strive more conscientiously to “Americanize” itself in the Bolshevist sense. It must make greater efforts to centralize the apparatus, to draw the language sections into closer contact with the general political work of the party. This must take place with particular reference to the press, which must be placed under more direct supervision of the party committees, and a regular exchange of the material must be established. At the same time there is to be no slackening of the work among the foreign-born workers.

The party must seek to draw more American workers into the party and into the leadership of the party. A systematic and persistent effort must be made in this regard.

7. The Labor Party and Parliamentary Election Campaign

The party should be instructed to at once begin the organization of a national committee and local committees of left wing and progressive trade unionists to advocate and work for the eventual formation of a labor party. Such committees will be an important bridge to the building of a left wing in the trade unions.

The party must pay more attention to parliamentary election campaigns, which have a great significance for the American party in its task of connecting itself with and reacting to the American life and class struggle. Better organizations and preparation of the election campaigns and much greater general participation of the party members in this work is an absolute necessity. The party must make its influence felt in the election periods and make the most of the opportunities to establish connections with the workers, by approaching them with an election program based on the burning issues of the class struggle.

8. Negro Work

In the field of Negro work the party has failed to realize the opportunities which presented themselves due to the weak and largely unorganized American Negro Labor Congress and the sectarian and factional tactics employed in its work. The influx of Negroes into industry, the formation of large industrial centers of Negroes in the North, East and West, the industrialization of the South, the growing interest of Negroes in the liberation movements in the colonies and semicolonial countries, provide fertile fields for organization of Negroes for more extensive struggle for social rights, for organization into trade unions under the influence of the party. For this purpose it is necessary to establish a functioning center for Negro work and a regularly appearing organ and for the organization of the Negro Labor Congress upon a broader basis, as well as endeavoring to link up our work closer with the existing Negro labor organizations through united front campaigns. At the same time attention must be given to the organization of Negro tenant and poor farmers into tenant leagues and farmer organizations, linking these up with the white labor and farmer organizations and with the general movement of the workers.

9. Women’s Work

The party in various districts, particularly in the New York district, has made important strides forward in women’s work. The apathy and disinterestedness towards this field of activities has been wearing off. The party’s progress in this work has been hindered by the lack of a center for this work in the CEC. It is necessary to speedily establish this center and to direct our attention not only for the organization of housewives (in which some successes have been achieved) but in the organization of the factory working women through the formation of women’s delegate conferences, and drawing the working women into the political struggle of the working class. The party must definitely orient itself in the field of the working woman in the factories. The establishment of women’s factory correspondents conferences is a useful step in this direction. Systematic and persistent organization of the party apparatus for women’s work by the CEC and districts must be speedily accomplished as a condition for the development of our women’s work.

10. Young Workers League

1) The party must build a mass YWL even bigger organizationally than the party.

2) For this the party must on one hand give closer political direction to the YWL than in the past and on the other hand help the YWL develop its special youth initiative so that it does not merely become a sectarian section of the party.

3) The league must in its strategy and tactics cope with the relatively backward American working class youth: a) more open organization in pursuing broad and flexible tactics, b) must be Americanized and proletarianized, must orient itself deliberately to American young workers in heavy industries and large shops, c) must simplify its agitation and propaganda and institute lighter features in proper proportions.

4) The party must help the unification process now going on in the league.

11. The Internal Party Situation

On the internal party situation the resolution should reiterate and emphasize the great danger to the development of the party of further factional struggles, which was already pointed out in the resolution of the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI. The basis of the factional divisions in the party has been outlived to a very large extent and the big task now is to accelerate the process of consolidation and unity of the party. A collective leadership must be established which includes the strongest forces of the three groups.

The leadership of the party must not be constructed on a narrow factional basis. An attitude must be taken towards the various groups of harmonious collaboration and full right to participate in the activities and work of the party on such a basis as will facilitate consolidation and unity. All attempts to establish factional monopoly of the party apparatus and to carry out a program of removals and displacements of qualified party workers can only lead to greater narrowness and aggravated factional struggle.

The factional regime of the Lovestone group, its theories of permanent factional organization with the role of “hegemony” over the party, and its refusal to work with the other groups on a basis of equality, must be condemned as the principal barrier to party unity and consolidation. The alliance of the Lovestone group with the right wing must be dissolved unconditionally. Organization steps to further the aim of unity and consolidation shall be taken as follows:

1. The plenum of the Central Committee shall meet immediately after the return of the delegation and reconstitute the Political Bureau with nine members, three representatives from each group, and elect a secretariat of three, one from each group.

2. The date of the convention shall be postponed to September 10, in order to give adequate time for the organization and preparation of the convention after the return of the delegation and for a thorough party discussion.

3. The convention elections to be held on the basis of proportional representation from the nuclei to the national convention and proportional representation to apply also in the selection of the district committees.

4. The sending of a representative of the ECCI to America.

5. The convention preparation, organization and discussion to be conducted by a committee of four, two representatives of the Lovestone group and one representative from each of the opposition groups in collaboration with the representative of the ECCI.

6. Comrade Hathaway to be appointed as joint representative of the party to the ECCI until the party convention.

7. Organizational changes and removals carried out in the New York district and elsewhere since the last plenum of the Central Committee to be canceled immediately and all comrades reinstated in their positions.

8. A declaration shall be made refuting the claims that comrade Dunne’s mandate as a member of the ECCI (alternate) has been revoked.

9. All nuclei which have been in continuous functioning existence since June 1 shall be entitled to send delegates to the section or city conventions on the basis of one delegate for each ten members.

10. YWL members shall not be transferred into the party in the period between June 1 and the convention elections.

11. The unfounded report now being circulated through the party to the effect that comrade Foster proposed the removal of comrades Ruthenberg and Bedacht from the Polburo shall be refuted by the committee.

With Communist greetings,
J.P. Cannon
Wm. Z. Foster
William Weinstone


1. The advance of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist army in China throughout 1926 had led to a deterioration in relations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain. The Chinese Communists had entered Chiang’s Kuomintang, which was admitted as a sympathizing section of the Comintern in early 1926 against the sole dissenting vote of Leon Trotsky.

When Chiang occupied Nanking on 24 March 1927, British and American gunboats anchored in the Yangtze River shelled the city, killing 12 and wounding many more. In May, the London offices of Arcos, the Soviet trading company, were raided and diplomatic relations were broken. Communist parties the world over embarked on a campaign to prevent imperialist intervention in China against the war danger to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Chiang turned on his erstwhile Communist allies, In March and April, Chiang’s army massacred thousands of workers and Communists who had seized control of Shanghai.

During this campaign the Daily Worker continually portrayed the American role in China as that of unwitting tool of British imperialism. The China campaign had been debated in the Political Committee on 21 April 1927. Cannon was the only one to vote for the following motion, which he had introduced:

“In all agitation and demonstrations the attack against British imperialism is to be absolutely subordinated to the attacks against American imperialism—to apply to both demonstrations before the embassies and agitation generally. All demonstrations before the British embassies shall be held only in connection with general demonstrations against American imperialism and subordinated to such general demonstrations.”

2. One hundred fifty thousand miners had been locked out by the coal operators in the Central Competitive Field (Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) on 1 April 1927. The lockout followed the expiration of the “Jacksonville agreement,” which John L. Lewis had negotiated in early 1924. Under the agreement the coal operators had agreed to preserve the $7.50-a-day wage rate, but demand for coal continued to plummet and the operators demanded wage cuts even before the end of 1924. The union had been broken at a number of important companies even before the 1927 strike, which was a long and losing one.