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Fourth International, September 1944


The History of American Trotskyism

A New Important Book


From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.9, September 1944, pp.274-275.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AN IMPORTANT NEW BOOK BY J.P. CANNON A publishing event of importance is the appearance this month of The History of American Trotskyism [1] by James P. Cannon. Although Trotskyism has existed in America since 1928, Cannon’s book is the first history that has been written of its development. It should thus prove of unusual interest to the entire labor movement.

Cannon traces the rise of Trotskyism from its first beginnings in the Communist Party, carrying his story back to the days of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He reveals the true story of the factional struggles that kept the Communist Party in turmoil in its early days. Others have dwelt on these struggles, but their reports have been without exception biased, one-sided, and even factually distorted. As one of the outstanding leaders of the Communist Party of those days, Cannon was in position to know the truth.

From 1928, when the followers of Leon Trotsky were expelled from the Communist Party, Cannon traces the development of Trotskyism as an independent movement. He recounts the trials and tribulations of the early days when it seemed that surely the tiny movement would go down under the combined blows of Stalinist gangsters, competing working class parties, and capitalist reaction. The story of the “three generals without an army” who set out to organize a revolutionary movement to overthrow the capitalist system constitutes one of the inspiring sagas of the American labor movement.

LESSONS OF THE STRIKE STRUGGLES SUMMARIZED The role of Trotskyism in the great strike struggles of the past decade is likewise carefully analyzed. The strikes of food workers, truck drivers, maritime workers, auto workers – Cannon recounts the Trotskyist connection with all these mighty battles of the working class. No militant can afford to ignore the lessons summed up by Cannon as a result of the participation of the Trotskyists in those struggles.

The history also follows the complicated path of the Trotskyists in fusing with other political groups and splitting with elements that proved unassimilable. Many names of once prominent radicals appear in these pages. Cannon deals with all of them fairly, considerately and truthfully. Cannon’s book in fact constitutes a roster of the leading figures of the American radical movement of the past quarter century. His judgment of their roles will undoubtedly carry weight with future historians who finally sum up this period of American labor politics.

For the world movement of Trotskyism, the history will undoubtedly be added to the standard list of textbooks. The experiences of the American Trotskyists, who forged successfully to the forefront as the only party in the United States truly representative of Marxism, will prove instructive to revolutionists everywhere.

Written in the form of a series of lectures, the history is colloquial and extremely readable. Workers first becoming acquainted with labor politics will find the book fascinating reading.

In making this history available to the labor movement, Pioneer Publishers are to be congratulated as having passed another milestone in their publishing program.


1. The History of American Trotskyism, Report of a Participant, by James P. Cannon, Pioneer Publishers, 116 University Place, New York 3, N.Y. 268 pp. $2.75 cloth bound. $2.00 paper bound.

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