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Trotskyism in the United States" with Alan Wald

In Memory of Dorothea Breitman
One of a Generation of Worker Socialists Who
Accomplished Much and Whose Legacy Lives
With Us
by George Saunders
On Labor Day this year we lost another
Memorial Meeting for Dorothea
beloved comrade, Dorothea Breitman
(1914–2004), lifelong companion of George
Breitman—one of the leading figures in the Sunday, December 12, 2004, 3 p.m.
American Trotskyist movement. A
In the Community Room at 280 Rector
memorial meeting for Dorothea (whose
Place (“The Soundings”) at South End
friends called her Dotty) is scheduled for
Ave., Battery Park City
December 12 in New York City.
Subway–-#1, 9, R or W train to Rector
St., walk across the West Side Highway
(pedestrian bridge)
Buses–-M9 (from the East Side) or M20
(from the West Side) to South End
For information, call (917) 439-9054

Dotty’s passing is, for me, symbolic of a whole generation of working class socialists
who took part in the major class struggles of their time. Such people are far too rare in
today’s United States, but before World War II and in the postwar labor upsurge radical,
socialist-minded workers were present by the thousands. The kind of milieu from which
Dotty emerged will be forged again, is being forged now as workers face increasing
deprivation by the capitalist system. From such a milieu come revolutionary socialist
cadres for all seasons, such as Dotty and her comrades were.
Growing up in a working class district of Newark, New Jersey, Dotty was radicalized
during the Great Depression, like so many others, from encounters with the irrational
contradictions of capitalism, which in the 1930s left millions jobless and impoverished
in the midst of plenty. Her father, who “had a drug store in a working class
neighborhood of Newark,” was driven into bankruptcy, and they moved from the
family’s house into an apartment building. In 1935 she attended a meeting of the
Spartacus Youth League, youth group of the Workers Party, the organization of the
American Trotskyists at that time. She wrote that she was “brought there by a fellow
who lived in the apartment underneath ours.” (These quotes are from a 1993
autobiographical letter that Dotty wrote to Dave Riehle.)
George Breitman was the organizer of the Spartacus group that she joined (two years
older than her and almost as new to revolutionary politics as she was), and their lives
were linked from then on. She described the neighborhood where she and George lived

in their youth as a “dead-end type of neighborhood where the poshest apartment house
in town was a half block from this poor, working class section.”
From 1935 on, George and Dotty were part of the core cadre of American Trotskyism.
She wrote that after “I joined Spartacus my interest in politics strengthened as the
realization grew that although I had great dexterity I did not have the talent or the
ambition necessary to be a concert pianist. [From the age of fourteen she had been
earning good money by giving piano lessons.] By the time we came out of the SP [the
Norman Thomas Socialist Party, which the Trotskyists joined in 1936, to link up with its
radicalizing left wing, and from which Thomas and his moderate, let’s-reformcapitalism associates expelled them in 1938] I had determined to give up music and
become a factory worker. (I thought Lenin had convinced me of this, but GB [George
Breitman] thought it was the proletarian nature of the Trotskyist cadre in Newark.)”
She also commented, with her own wry humor: “Joining the movement made me into a
worker. But in the end I had to work to earn a living. Neither in my piano playing or as
a member of a revolutionary socialist party did I ever have a scintilla of ambition.”
Working-class revolutionaries were the major component of the Socialist Workers Party,
which was founded in 1938. George Breitman described the SWP’s strong and deep
involvement in the organized working class movement at that time:
Our chief union stronghold was Minneapolis, where our comrades in the 
Teamsters union led by [Vincent Raymond] Dunne, [Carl] Skoglund, and Farrell
Dobbs were showing the whole country what a union led by revolutionaries 
could do. It was our aspiration in Newark, and I am sure elsewhere, to meet the 
high standards they were setting….
Another gain of that time was the organization of our fraction in the maritime
industry, starting on the West Coast. Although he was not at the founding
convention, Tom Kerry was elected to the National Committee at this
convention, partly in recognition of his work in this fraction, which also served
as a model for the party. [Frank Lovell was also a leader of that maritime
Most of our other activity was centered in the new CIO unions that were being
born at the time—steel, auto, electrical, and so on. We helped to sign up workers
to join the unions, both in the plants and in their homes; we participated in
strikes to win recognition and bargaining rights; we joined forces with others to
gain, extend, or preserve democracy inside the unions.
The main difference was that the unions then were less bureaucratized and the 
workers had a greater interest in their unions than they do today [1982]. That 
made it easier for militants to get a hearing from the members in those days.
Dotty left a description of her life as a worker in New Jersey from the late 1930s into 
the early 1950s.
Newark was a center for light industry. I earned a living by making radios, light 
bulbs, telephone equipment, Flit­gun sprayers. Worked with the Steel Workers 
Organizing Committee to organize the shop that made Flit­gun sprayers. (Flit 
was an anti­mosquito pesticide.) We won the strike but the plant folded. The 
boss had another plant in Pennsylvania (unorganized) and had told us that he 
would shut the New Jersey plant down if we won the election.

Also worked at and helped in organizing Western Electric (AT&T’s Kearney 
plant, where they manufactured equipment). The local Mafia sent people in and 
took over the leadership of the union. It was a natural target for them—the 
20,000 workers there fed their lucrative numbers racket. Also worked at 
Crucible Steel where I kept track of the furnace heat. They wanted to train me to
be a crane operator, but I was afraid I might drop a steel bar on someone’s head. 
I had many jobs in the electrical industry. One of the best was working on large 
radio transmitters (they sent me to school for six months to learn to read 
schematics). I was working at the local Westinghouse plant making light bulbs 
when I left to go to Trotsky School in 1953.
“Trotsky School” was a facility at Mountain Spring Camp in New Jersey where a small
number of SWP cadres were selected each year to take six months out of their workday
lives to study history, economics, and philosophy and educate themselves in Marxist
dialectics and historical materialism.
In 1954 the Breitmans moved from New Jersey to Detroit to help rebuild the SWP
branch there. The branch had lost half or more of its membership with the defection of
many trade unionists who had gotten old and lost their revolutionary perspective amid
the postwar prosperity, combined with the rabid anti-Communist atmosphere of the
McCarthy era. This defection is usually referred to as the Cochran split of 1953. The
defecting layer of former trade union activists was led by the Detroit auto workers’
leader Bert Cochran. For a thorough account of this experience see the book by James P.
Cannon, Speeches to the Party.
Together with Frank and Sarah Lovell, Al and Bea Hansen, Ed and Rita Shaw, Evelyn
Sell, and a number of others, George and Dotty Breitman built a model branch for
revolutionary socialism in Detroit. The regular Friday Night Socialist Forum and the
establishment of a socialist presence on campus at Wayne State University were
innovations that helped this layer of older working class cadre link up with a new
generation of radicalizing youth, serving as a model for the party nationwide. Young
people active around the issues of the day, especially the civil rights movement from
1955 on, the Cuban revolution from 1959 on, and the anti–Vietnam War movement that
arose in the 1960s, found in the Breitmans and other experienced SWP cadre wise and
patient teachers who helped orient youth toward the long-term struggle to abolish
Dotty wrote that she was not very happy in Detroit:
After I joined the movement I assumed that I would gladly go wherever the
movement needed me. I would be one of Cannon’s footloose rebels, like a
Wobbly, ready to pack and go wherever the party needed me. When I went to
Baltimore in 1944 I was lonesome and sad. But it was not New York that I
missed. It was GB. [George was drafted into the army in 1943 and served in
France, where he also made contact with European Trotskyists who in 1945–46
were seeking to rebuild the Fourth International in the aftermath of World War
Only after moving to Detrotit did she realize how attached she was to the New York
area. (For her, Newark, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, was like a suburb
of the metropolis.) Dotty described her working life in Detroit, and later in New York,
as follows:

When we moved to Detroit in 1954 I was hoping to get a job at the Square D
plant, but it folded before I arrived in town. Had to learn to be a typist to earn a
living. Put in a long stint at Wayne State University in the cashier’s office. Then
got into the ITU (International Typographical Union) when they needed typists
for the new processes. Became a proofreader when we moved to New York in
1967. Retired at age 62 from a “book and job” shop where my work consisted of
proofreading meaningless brochures which companies were required to issue by
the stock exchange.
The editors of A Tribute to George Breitman (New York, 1987) state that “Dorothea
Breitman was an alternate delegate to the founding convention of the Socialist Workers
Party and served on its National Committee, 1956–62. Expelled in 1984, she is now a
member of the Fourth Internationalist Tendency [FIT].” She was also one of the SWP’s
candidates for public office in Michigan a number of times. In her 1993 letter to Dave
Riehle, Dotty wrote more modestly about her role in the SWP and after:
Member of Executive Committee Newark branch 1938–53. Member Detroit
Exec. ’54–57. Organizer Baltimore, 1945, and Newark ’51 & ’52. Alternate
member of National Committee 1954–59. After expulsion from SWP took care
of literature and finances for New York Local Organizing Committee of FIT.
Since dissolution of FIT have taken over national IV (International Viewpoint)
correspondence and subs as well as continuing to put BIDOM and IV in one
In 1967 the party had asked the Breitmans to move to New York City, especially so that
George Breitman could help with the expansion of Pathfinder Press. His editing of
Malcolm X’s speeches, and his own writings about Malcolm, had already made a big
impact. From 1967 to 1984 Dotty was active in the New York branch, but the new
younger comrades of the ‘60s generation were doing most of the branch work. Now she
had time to pursue a renewed interest in piano playing, when she wasn’t helping to care
for George, who was stricken more severely by the arthritis that plagued him much of
his life. Despite that crippling illness he was the editor or the main editorial influence in
bringing out two dozen or more books of Trotsky’s writings and several volumes of
James P. Cannon’s speeches and writings, as well as books on the history of the SWP
and the Fourth International.
I had the honor and rare privilege of working with George Breitman on the Trotsky
writings project for most of the 1970s. In connection with the Trotsky work I often
visited George and Dotty at their East Thirteenth St. apartment. Dotty was generally a
cheerful and encouraging presence. She was not prominent as a writer, editor, or
translator, but she had a keen understanding and appreciation of that work. She could be
a harsh and sometimes unfair critic, but she was also quick to express praise, and she
understood the complexities of political life and political pressures.
In more recent times, for example, she told me how much she liked Joe Auciello’s style
of writing. It was clear and straightforward, she said, and reminded her of George
Breitman’s style. She told me that in the last presidential election, in 2000, she thought
some comrades had wrongly taken Tony Mazzocchi’s friendly attitude toward Ralph
Nader as an indication that support for Nader was a good idea. She herself did not
support the Nader campaign, which she viewed as essentially a form of bourgeois
But in 2004, a year of increasingly disabling illness, sorting out such political issues
could no longer be part of her life.

Andy Pollack was right to recall that Dotty was active into the late 1990s with the New
York chapter of the Labor Party; he remembers her characteristically staffing a table of
Labor Party literature together with Frank Lovell. She also helped Frank with the
finances of Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, which he had founded in 1983 after being
expelled from the SWP by an ungrateful, and degenerating, “leadership team” from the
younger generation led by Jack Barnes. In the 1980s the Lovells and Breitmans again
formed a team, as they had in Detroit, but this time it was centered around the Bulletin,
the FIT, and the fight against the degeneration of the SWP and for the preservation of
Trotskyism. As long as Dotty was physically able she regularly brought a bundle of the
Bulletin to a local New York bookstore.
Dorothy Breitman was part of a group who went to Cuba in 1960 in the early days of
the revolution, as part of a Fair Play for Cuba Committee “see for yourself” expedition.
Many SWP activists of that time—including Sarah Lovell and Jean Tussey—took part
in that trip, which was organized in part (again, if I remember right) by Ed and Rita
Shaw, who were active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee as well as being key
players in the Detroit branch of the Socialist Workers Party, along with the Breitmans
and Lovells. All of the SWP, and us “co-thinkers” in the Young Socialist Alliance, were
active then in defending the first socialist revolution in the Americas.
For me Dorothy’s passing is like another sign of the times. Today nearly all of those
outstanding “worker Bolsheviks” of the then-healthy SWP of 1960, and the entire '60s
decade, have passed from the scene. But how they would have cheered, and been
cheered, by the new voice that has begun to speak out from Cuba—Celia Hart
defending permanent revolution and reraising the “Flag of Coyoacán”!
I remember one of the older comrades telling me about a visit by a small group of
American Trotskyists later in the 1960s, or maybe it was in the ’70s. At any rate the
influence of the Soviet bureaucracy lay heavy on Cuba then because of its dependence
on Soviet aid in the face of economic blockade and military threat from the capitalist
rulers of the United States. The comrade told me that a Cuban revolutionary they met on
that visit, finding out who they were, insistently repeated: “Don’t abandon Trotskyism!”
Celia Hart learned about the stultifying rule of the bureaucracy when she lived in East
Germany for some six years. When she asked her father, Armando Hart, one of the
leaders of the July 26 Movement and of the Cuban revolutionary government, why the
atmosphere in East Germany was so different from what it was in Cuba, her father took
her to a locked cabinet. There on a book shelf were the three volumes of Isaac
Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky and Trotsky’s own work, Revolution Betrayed. Celia
Hart, and I’m sure many others in Cuba and around the world, are learning important
lessons from the rich legacy of the co-leader with Lenin of the Russian revolution.
Today Celia Hart is speaking out strong and clear in defense of permanent revolution.
I’m sure it would have gladdened the hearts of older comrades like the Breitmans and
Lovells to know that the perspective of revolutionary socialism is not being abandoned.

Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the Communist League of America,
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 791, 15 November 2002.

The Prometheus Research Library (PRL), archive and central library of the Central
Committee of the Spartacist League, is proud to announce the publication of its third
book, Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the Communist League of
America, 1931-1933. This 752-page volume, available in both paperback and hardcover,
includes 118 documents that chronicle a factional polarization which rent the American
section of Leon Trotsky’s International Left Opposition (ILO) from 1931 to 1933. This
was a period of stagnation that Cannon later aptly called the “dog days of the
movement.” Pitting supporters of James P. Cannon against the generally younger
followers of Max Shachtman, who were less experienced as workers’ leaders, the fight
in the Communist League (CLA) presaged the defining split in American Trotskyism
which occurred in 1939-40. Yet the 1931-33 struggle has never before been well
The PRL’s new volume, which includes an exhaustive introduction that situates the
CLA fight in the context of the political sorting out that occurred in the early ILO, sheds
new light on the history of the Trotskyist movement. It also provides a lively picture of
the membership and work of the Trotskyists during this early period, documenting the
political and organizational growth of a small, fighting propaganda group which went
on to lead one of the decisive American class battles of 1934—the great Minneapolis
Teamsters strikes.
In the book’s Editorial Note, the genesis of the volume is explained: “In the political
youth of James Robertson, co-editor of this compilation, the subject matter of this book
had a somewhat mystical and mythical quality, wherein might be found the origins of
the profound 1940 scission in the Trotskyist (i.e., the authentic communist) movement.”
In 1939-40, Max Shachtman and his supporters departed decisively from a
revolutionary proletarian and internationalist perspective, abandoning the unconditional
military defense of the world’s first workers state, the Soviet Union. Cannon and
Trotsky led a six-month-long struggle against Shachtman’s petty-bourgeois opposition,
which composed some 40 percent of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)—then the U.S.
Trotskyist organization—and its youth organization.
The fight coincided with the outbreak of World War II, and many of the European
Trotskyist organizations were functioning in conditions of illegality. The fight in the
SWP “became in effect a discussion for the entire Fourth International and was followed
with passionate interest by the members of all sections” (Fourth International, May
1940). Trotsky’s writings from the struggle were collected in In Defense of Marxism;
Cannon’s were published in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.
Shachtman and some of his supporters went on to establish the Workers Party,
developing the view that the USSR was a new form of class society, “bureaucratic
collectivist.” For a period, Shachtman’s organization claimed to adhere to the Fourth
International (FI) and acted as a rival to the SWP, the FI section in the U.S. But under
the impact of the Cold War, the Workers Party moved rapidly to the right and changed
its name to the Independent Socialist League (ISL) in 1949. In 1958 the ISL liquidated
into the pathetic dregs of American social democracy. By the 1960s, Shachtman was
supporting the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and U.S. imperialism’s
bloody war against the Vietnamese national and social revolution. His path of renegacy
has been well chronicled by the Spartacist tendency, most recently in “The Bankruptcy

of ‘New Class’ Theories—Tony Cliff and Max Shachtman: Pro-Imperialist Accomplices
of Counterrevolution” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 55, Autumn 1999).
Cannon remained National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party until he retired in
1953. He was then SWP National Chairman until his death in 1974. But by the late
1950s, the party began to succumb to the consequences of the Cold War antiCommunist witchhunt, including lack of recruitment and an aging cadre. By 1960, the
party had given up on the struggle for revolutionary proletarian leadership, hailing Fidel
Castro as an “unconscious Trotskyist” and tailing the liberal-pacifist leadership of the
civil rights movement. The Revolutionary Tendency, forerunner of the Spartacist
League, fought the party’s degeneration and was expelled from the SWP in 1963. The
SL today stands on the heritage of Cannon’s revolutionary SWP, which has less than
nothing to do with the increasingly quirky reformist sect around Jack Barnes that today
calls itself the Socialist Workers Party.
The material published in Dog Days documents that there was a deepgoing polarization
between supporters of Shachtman and those of Cannon already in the CLA, posing the
possibility of a split in early 1933. But unlike in 1939-40, there was no decisive
principled or programmatic difference. Trotsky intervened sharply in the spring of 1933,
warning that the two sides “anticipate a lot by sharpening the organizational struggle
between the groups and the members without any connection with the development of
political work and the questions it raises.” He sought to get the two factions to dissolve
so that their members could direct their energy into expanding the League’s mass work.
Trotsky’s intervention coincided with an upturn in the class struggle in 1933-34, which
provided the objective basis for the CLA to break out of the impasse and go forward.
Prelude to 1939-40 Faction Fight
In his History of American Trotskyism (1944), Cannon correctly called the CLA dispute
“the premature rehearsal of the great, definitive struggle of 1939-40.” At the same time,
he described only a “sea of petty troubles, jealousies, clique formations and internal
fights.” The extent of the polarization was later downplayed or dismissed by many of
the leading participants interviewed by the PRL in the 1970s and 1990s. Some of the
old-timers were embarrassed by their positions in the early fight. (For example, Carl
Cowl, later a follower of the ultraleftist Hugo Oehler, supported Shachtman in the CLA,
a fact which he never mentioned when the PRL interviewed him.)
The exception was Albert Glotzer, a key leader of the Shachtman group, whose memory
was fueled by anti-Cannon passions which burned as hot in later decades as they had in
the early 1930s. By the time the PRL interviewed him in the early 1990s, Glotzer was a
confirmed “State Department socialist” with ties to the imperialist secret services.
(Richard Valcourt, editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and
CounterIntelligence, spoke at his 1999 memorial meeting.) Yet Glotzer obscenely
continued to insist that Cannon had never been a true Bolshevik! The PRL introduction
to Dog Days makes use of the PRL’s interviews with former CLAers, as well as of
interviews with Cannon and Shachtman conducted by others in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1939-40, the factional lineup among SWP National Committee members who had
been part of the early CLA was almost identical to that of 1931-33. Shachtman, Martin
Abern and Glotzer were pitted against Cannon, Vincent Dunne and Carl Skoglund. (The

one exception was Morris Lewit—later known as Morris Stein—who supported
Shachtman in the early fight but became a key collaborator of Cannon’s in 1934 and a
stalwart of the Soviet defensists in 1939-40.) The magnum opus of the Shachtman side,
the lengthy June 1932 “The Situation in the American Opposition: Prospect and
Retrospect” (referred to hereafter as “Prospect and Retrospect”), harps on the same
organizational themes of Cannon’s so-called “bureaucratic conservatism” that
dominated the petty-bourgeois opposition in 1939-40. When Cannon sent his Struggle
for a Proletarian Party to Trotsky in 1940, he noted, “Its length must be excused on the
ground that the dam of ten years patience has been broken down.”
“Prospect and Retrospect,” signed by Shachtman, Abern and Glotzer, is the source of all
subsequent accounts of Cannon as an unreformed Zinovievist and bureaucrat with little
interest in Marxist theory or international questions. Submitted just before a June 1932
plenum of the CLA’s National Committee (NC), “Prospect and Retrospect” was
withdrawn by its authors at the plenum and then resubmitted a month later. Carbon
copies of the document circulated extensively in the CLA through private factional
channels, but “Prospect and Retrospect” never appeared in the CLA Internal Bulletin
because Cannon never completed the reply he was mandated to write by the National
Committee majority. In Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the
Communist League of America, 1931-1933, “Prospect and Retrospect” is published for
the first time.
The new volume draws together representative documents, motions and correspondence
from both sides of the factional divide, as well as all of Trotsky’s correspondence and
interventions into the CLA fight. But it does not reproduce Cannon’s major documents
and factional correspondence, most of which were published by Pathfinder Press in
1985 as part of Cannon’s Writings and Speeches: The Communist League of America
1932-34. That volume includes Cannon’s partial, draft reply to “Prospect and
Retrospect” as well as “Internal Problems of the CLA,” which Cannon co-authored with
Arne Swabeck in March 1932. Cannon’s 1932-34 Writings and Speeches is an essential
companion to the PRL’s new book; Pathfinder’s earlier volume, Cannon’s Writings and
Speeches: The Left Opposition in the U.S. 1928-31, also provides important background
information and context. Dog Days includes eight Cannon pieces not in the Pathfinder
collection, all of which circulated in the minutes of the CLA’s leading committee
resident in New York and in Internal Bulletins.
Most of Trotsky’s written interventions into the CLA fight were published in English as
part of Pathfinder’s Writings of Leon Trotsky series. But they are spread over several
volumes, and the bulk of them appears only in the Writings Supplement 1929-33. Dog
Days gathers them together in one book for the first time, putting them in the context of
the CLA’s internal disputes so that their full import is clear. The new volume also
includes seven never-before-published letters by Trotsky, most of them from the section
of the Trotsky papers at Harvard University covering his period in exile. This section
was opened to the public only in 1980, after Pathfinder’s Trotsky Writings series was
compiled. Trotsky had no English-speaking secretary at the time of the CLA dispute, so
most of his letters were written in German, and a few in French and Russian. The PRL
prepared new translations for Dog Days.
Dog Days includes letters and documents by many other CLA cadres, including Arne
Swabeck, Carl Skoglund, Albert Glotzer, Martin Abern and Maurice Spector. PRL

researchers searched the papers of leading CLAers in archives around the United States,
unearthing in all some 600 items relating to the CLA dispute and the preceding
organizational tensions and disputes on international questions. The 118 documents
selected for the book give a representative picture of the faction fight as it unfolded.
Short introductions by the editors give necessary background material. Extensive
footnotes provide additional information and a 40-page glossary identifies people,
institutions and publications that might be unfamiliar to the reader. There are 16 pages
of photos—many never before published—of leading CLAers and the class-struggle
events in which the Trotskyists participated, as well as reproductions of the
organization’s publications. The volume contains an extensive index, and the paperback
as well as the hardcover have durable smyth-sewn bindings.
The documents in Dog Days reveal just how profoundly Cannon was shaped by the
CLA’s early factional struggle and especially Trotsky’s intervention, which completed
Cannon’s education as a Leninist. Destroying the Shachtmanite myth that Cannon was
simply a “hand-raiser for Trotsky,” this volume illustrates that the relationship between
Trotsky and Cannon was forged over time—not least in fights against Shachtman. Dog
Days is a kind of manual of the dos and don’ts of Leninist internal party struggle. As the
PRL introduction notes:
“The documents reveal the myriad tensions that can tear apart a small communist
propaganda nucleus. How the CLA overcame the ‘dog days’ to become one of the
strongest sections of the Fourth International is an important lesson in the struggle to
forge a revolutionary party and its cadre. The Prometheus Research Library, central
reference archive of the Central Committee of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the
International Communist League, is unique in understanding the importance of the CLA
fight and making its history accessible to our own and future generations. The ICL, like
the ILO, is a fighting communist propaganda group with the goal of forging parties of
the proletarian vanguard to lead to victory new October Revolutions internationally.”
It is not a propitious time to bring out a specialized and detailed volume of communist
history such as this. Interest in the history of revolutionary Marxism is currently at a
low ebb as bourgeois ideologues continue to peddle “death of communism”
triumphalism born out of the demise of the Soviet Union. But it was Stalinism that died
when Stalin’s epigones gave the USSR back to the capitalist world economy in 199192, not communism. A crystallizing bureaucratic caste under Stalin usurped political
power from the Soviet working class in early 1924. In the aftermath, the Stalinist
propaganda machine at the top of the world’s first workers state perverted Marxism. To
justify its policies, which oscillated between abject conciliation of imperialism and
stupid adventurism, the Stalinist caste insisted that it was possible to build “socialism in
one country” and to peacefully “co-exist” with imperialism. These dogmas belong on
the garbage heap of history; they have nothing to do with genuine Marxism, i.e.,
Whatever the fads and fancies of bourgeois social sciences, the dynamic of the class
struggle is built into the nature of the capitalist economy. The working class has the
power and the interest to overthrow this decaying social order and to replace it with an
internationally planned economy. The leap in development that comes with a planned
economy—even a bureaucratically deformed and nationally limited one—has been
made patently obvious by the devastation of infrastructure, industry, education and

health that have accompanied capitalist counterrevolution in the old Soviet Union and
East Europe. Future generations of proletarian revolutionaries will need to assimilate the
indispensable legacy of the Russian Revolution. They will find much to instruct them in
the pages of the PRL’s new volume. It is unfortunate that this book presently appears
only in English.
The Impasse of the CLA
The American Trotskyist movement was founded in October 1928 when Cannon, Abern
and Shachtman were expelled from the Communist Party (CP) for attempting to
organize support for Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition. Born in struggle against the
Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Left Opposition fought, in both the Soviet party and the
Communist International (CI) as a whole, to continue Lenin’s fight for international
working-class revolution, against Stalin’s revisionist insistence on building “socialism
in one country.” Cannon was won to the Left Opposition in 1928 while attending the
Communist International’s Sixth Congress in Moscow, where he read the two parts of
Trotsky’s Critique of the Comintern’s draft program that were distributed to members of
the Program Commission. (The whole of the Critique, which consists of three parts, was
later published as The Third International After Lenin.) Cannon and Canadian
Communist Party leader Maurice Spector, also a member of the Program Commission,
smuggled a copy of Trotsky’s manuscript out of the Soviet Union and began organizing
support for the Left Opposition in their respective parties.
Working of necessity in great secrecy, Cannon managed to win over only a very few of
his compatriots —centrally his companion, Rose Karsner, as well as Shachtman and
Abern—before being expelled from the CP. However, the fledgling Trotskyist group
immediately began publishing a newspaper, the Militant, to propagate its views. The
group quickly won adherents. Cannon had been the co-leader, along with William F.
(Bill) Dunne, of the smallest of the three major groups that vied for leadership in the
factional wars that dominated the Communist Party in the 1920s. Cannon had a great
deal of authority as a founding Communist with a history in the pre-communist workers
movement, going back to his days as an itinerant organizer for the Industrial Workers of
the World in the 1910s. He was elected chairman of the Workers Party when it was
founded in December 1921 as a legal organization parallel to the underground
Communist Party. While many members of the CP’s Cannon faction—including Bill
Dunne—went along with Cannon’s expulsion, many others opposed or at least
questioned it. These questioners, too, were unceremoniously expelled by the CP
leadership, which was at the time in the hands of an opportunist faction led by the
unprincipled, ambition-crazed adventurer Jay Lovestone (who later evolved into an
imperialist secret service operative). After reading Trotsky’s Critique, the majority of
the expellees declared for the Left Opposition and began distributing the Militant. The
ILO considered itself an expelled faction of the Communist Party, fighting to return the
Communist International to the program embodied in its first four congresses.
The Communist League of America, which initially included the Canadian comrades in
a Toronto branch, had some 100 members at its founding convention in May 1929. The
former Cannon faction members were joined by a handful of former adherents of the
third CP faction, which was led by William Z. Foster. At the time the Trotskyists were
expelled, the Cannon and Foster factions were in a bloc against the opportunist
Lovestone leadership. Disgusted by the continued and sharpening rightward course of

the CP under Lovestone, disaffected Fosterites gave the fledgling Trotskyists a hearing
and some were recruited. But this source of new members was soon cut off, as the Dog
Days introduction recounts. Lovestone, failing to accurately judge the winds blowing
from Moscow, did not break early enough with his main Moscow sponsor, Nikolai
Bukharin. He was expelled from the CP the same month the CLA was founded.
Lovestone took his closest supporters with him, but Stalin had managed to isolate him
from the vast majority of his faction, which remained in the party.
The expulsion of Lovestone was part of a wholesale left turn in the policies of CI parties
decreed by Moscow in 1927-28. Stalin moved against the Soviet party right wing, led
by Bukharin, which had advocated a series of economic concessions that were made to
the well-off peasants who could hire labor (the kulaks) from 1925-28. Stalin and
Bukharin had stood together in the fight against the Left Opposition, but the
concessions made to the peasantry proved a horrible disaster (as the Left Opposition had
predicted). By 1927 the kulaks were hoarding grain, threatening to starve the Soviet
cities. In an abrupt about-face, Stalin moved to brutally and forcibly collectivize the
peasantry and implement a planned, but adventurous, rate of industrialization. At the
same time, the Comintern declared that a new “Third Period” of post-World War I
political life had opened up in which revolution was just around the corner. Bukharin
and most of the leaders of the right in the Soviet party soon capitulated to Stalin, but
internationally Bukharin’s supporters were expelled from most communist parties. The
Bukharinites congealed into an international Right Opposition which included the
Lovestone group in the U.S.
The international turn toward “Third Period” ultraleft rhetoric—which was often
combined with adventurist actions—assuaged many communists previously disaffected
with the Comintern’s growing opportunism. The new policy further undercut the LO’s
appeal by seeming to co-opt its call for a more rapid pace of Soviet industrialization. In
Cannon’s words, the Third Period was “a devastating blow.” In the early ’60s,
Shachtman recounted:
“We could no longer speak of the Party going further and further to the right. We could
no longer speak of the Lovestoneites ruining the Party. We could no longer speak of the
Fosterites having illusions that they would get the leadership of the Party. If anything
resulted from that, it was a counteroffensive by the Fosterites—in the ranks, to be sure,
unofficially, to be sure—to get us to return to the Party. They didn’t succeed in
convincing a single one of our people, but not even the possibility of success existed
any longer for us in recruiting dissident Fosterites.”
Just a few months after Lovestone’s expulsion, the stock market crash inaugurated the
Great Depression. The CLA sank into the dog days. Not only were the Trotskyists cut
off from the vast majority of class-conscious American workers organized in the
Communist Party, but the CLA’s already meager financial resources all but disappeared
as its members were laid off or forced to work for reduced wages. Class struggle in the
country was at a low ebb. Moreover Cannon, whose first wife died just before the CLA
was founded, leaving him responsible for their two children, had to get a job outside the
organization. He underwent a period of evident demoralization, absenting himself from
the CLA office for weeks at a time. The personal frictions and organizational grievances
born in this period fueled the later faction fight and dominate Shachtman, Abern and
Glotzer’s “Prospect and Retrospect.”

The Cannon Faction in the CP
The PRL introduction to Dog Days deals extensively with the 1929-30 frictions. Some
of the tension grew out of the fact that Cannon recognized early on that the Third Period
had shut off the CLA’s possibilities for immediate substantial growth. Shachtman and
Abern resisted this conclusion, insisting on taking the Militant weekly in late 1929.
Other tensions arose as the American Trotskyists avidly assimilated Trotsky’s writings,
realizing the depth of the political deficiencies of the old Cannon faction in the
Communist Party. Cannon explained in a 1974 interview referenced in Dog Days:
“As we began to get the writings of Trotsky, it opened up a whole new world for us.
And they [Abern and Shachtman] discovered, this is my assumption, that while they had
always taken what I said for gospel, they discovered there were a lot of things I didn’t
know. That I was just beginning to learn from Trotsky. What they didn’t know was that I
was learning as well as they were. Shachtman at least, I think, had the idea that he had
outgrown me.”
Shachtman, Abern and Glotzer took great exception to Cannon’s 1930 statement that the
CLA’s cadre had been “‘prepared by the past’ for our place under the banner of the
International Left Opposition” (Militant, 10 May 1930). Labeling Cannon’s assertion a
“theory of gestation,” they disparaged the record of the Cannon faction in the CP,
insisting that their being won over to the Left Opposition was some kind of historical
The PRL’s first book, James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism:
Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928, which was published in 1992, covered
Cannon’s years as CP leader, documenting the political evolution of the Cannon faction.
The Cannon faction was motivated largely by national concerns and did not break
fundamentally with the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” At the same time,
the faction’s record proves that there was much in their worldview that led them to the
ILO’s door. As the PRL noted in the introduction to James P. Cannon and the Early
Years of American Communism:
“When, in 1932, Shachtman and Abern led a rebellion against Cannon’s leadership of
the Communist League of America, they were only interested in telling one side of the
story. The material presented here also tells another, one that predisposed a deliberate
and considered workers’ leader like Cannon to turn away from high office within the
American party in favor of remaining true to the revolutionism that had animated his
youth and continued to animate the program of the Left Opposition.”
The introduction to Dog Days notes that in particular Shachtman et al. underplayed the
importance of Cannon’s history of hard opposition to the opportunism of Lovestone, the
American version of the Right Opposition. Trotsky fought many battles in the early ILO
against those, like Spanish Opposition leader Andrés Nin, who sought to merge banners
with the Right Opposition. It was a particular strength of the American League that its
members, in general, were not disposed to make common cause with the Right

The CLA’s extensive publishing program was key to the assimilation of its cadre into
the international Trotskyist movement. Besides the weekly Militant, which often
included articles by Trotsky, the CLA published an array of Trotsky pamphlets,
including his major articles on the rise of fascism in Germany and on the unfolding
revolutionary situation in Spain. They also published in book form a selection of
Trotsky’s writings on the lost opportunity for proletarian revolution in China from 1925
to 1927, Problems of the Chinese Revolution. In letters included in Dog Days, Trotsky
praised the quality of the CLA’s translations and publishing efforts, and he sought to get
the North American Trotskyists to produce a theoretical journal (which they began only
in 1934).
In late 1930, leading CLA member Arne Swabeck moved from Chicago to New York to
help overcome the tensions in the CLA national office. Cannon was again fully
politically engaged by this point, and he and Swabeck began an axis of collaboration
which was key to the stabilization of the CLA and the expansion of its publishing
program throughout 1931. In late 1931, the CLA began publishing a monthly youth
press, Young Spartacus, as well as an episodic publication in Greek and a somewhat
more regular publication in Yiddish. As the Dog Days introduction notes, Shachtman,
Abern and Glotzer objected far more to Cannon’s revival than they had to his absence.
Shachtman in particular had grown used to treating the CLA’s relations with Trotsky
and other ILO parties as his personal fiefdom. He bridled at Cannon’s attempts to get
the National Committee as a whole to take responsibility for international work. This
was the issue that precipitated the factional polarization. In documenting the key role
that international questions played in the CLA fight, Dog Days breaks new ground.
The International Questions
Shachtman was the first CLA leader to go to Prinkipo, Turkey, to meet with Trotsky in
exile, after which he went to Europe and took part in the first ILO international
gathering in April 1930. He was subsequently co-opted onto the ILO’s leading body, the
International Bureau. In Europe he developed close relations with Kurt Landau, a leader
of the ILO’s German section, and with Pierre Naville of the French Ligue Communiste.
Trotsky subsequently waged sharp political fights against both men.
Shachtman treated his correspondence with Trotsky about the political struggles in
Europe as “personal.” Moreover, he did not seek to get the CLA to take positions on the
questions at issue. After a series of skirmishes in 1931, this issue finally broke out into
the open in early 1932, when Cannon sought—over Shachtman’s opposition—to put the
CLA on record in support of Trotsky’s positions in the internal ILO struggles involving
Landau, Naville and others. The PRL introduction explains the basis for the ILO’s many
political disputes:
“Many dissident Communist elements who sought to regroup under the ILO’s banner
did not fully grasp the significance of the struggle in the Russian party. All were
attracted to the Left Opposition’s struggle against bureaucratism in the Soviet party and
state. But many saw this as a simple ‘democratic’ issue, misunderstanding or
disagreeing with the underlying programmatic basis—the fight to forge the politically
homogenous revolutionary proletarian vanguard in opposition to all varieties of
centrism and reformism. Political softness toward the Right Opposition was common....
Trotsky’s primary task was the systematic education of the ILO cadre and the weeding

out of opportunist, sectarian, accidental, and dilettantish elements. This entailed almost
constant internal political struggle.”
The PRL introduction sketches out Trotsky’s arguments with Alfred Rosmer and Pierre
Naville on the trade-union question in the French section, his fight against the cliquism
of Kurt Landau, and his struggle against Andrés Nin’s centrist orientation toward unity
with Joaquín Maurín’s Workers and Peasants Bloc in Spain. All these issues figure in
the documents published in the volume.
Dog Days is divided into three sections—“Shachtman in the International,” “The Fight”
and “The International Intervenes”—with documents presented chronologically within
each section. The first section consists mostly of Trotsky and Shachtman’s
correspondence on problems in the European ILO sections from 1930 to ’31. Those who
know the ICL and its work will be struck by the familiarity of Trotsky’s concerns,
especially his struggle to create a centralized political and administrative apparatus for
the ILO. Trotsky’s aim was to forge a politically homogenous democratic-centralist
tendency, even if it consisted at first of small propaganda groups. This aim, carried
forward today by the ICL, separates us from all manner of fakers who (used to/sort of)
pretend to be the continuators of the Left Opposition.
Trotsky fought against the Bordigists and others who wanted the ILO center to be
simply a political clearing house for nationally delimited (and therefore necessarily
centrist) parties. He fought for an early delegated international conference to establish
an elected leadership, and he condemned the leadership of the Spanish section in
particular for not paying enough attention to international questions and for not
translating the ILO discussion bulletins for its membership. The CLA, it should be
noted, took the responsibility early on for publishing the ILO discussion bulletin in
English. Thus the North American membership was able to follow the disputes in the
international movement.
The Trotsky-Shachtman correspondence illustrates Trotsky’s growing impatience with
Shachtman’s refusal to make programmatic considerations primary, starting with
Shachtman’s first foray into Europe in the spring of 1930, when (despite explicit
instructions from Trotsky) he failed to ensure that the ILO’s first conference issue a
political manifesto. Shachtman attempted to blunt the fight against Landau’s disastrous
leadership of the German section, and he encouraged Nin in Spain and Naville in
France. After Shachtman made a second trip to Europe in the fall of 1931, Trotsky was
so alarmed that he wrote to the CLA National Committee to inquire if Shachtman
represented the views of the CLA leadership as a whole. These documents expose
Shachtman’s lying assertion, made later in the CLA fight, that he had never had
significant differences with Trotsky. They also (in the words of the PRL introduction)
“explode the image of Shachtman as Trotsky’s happy international commissar, a myth
spread by Shachtman and his supporters in later years and more recently purveyed by
Peter Drucker in his biography of Shachtman [Max Shachtman and His Left: A
Socialist’s Odyssey Through the “American Century,” Humanities Press, 1994]. In fact,
Trotsky’s opponents in Europe invoked Shachtman’s name in defense of their own
The Fight

After returning from his second trip to Europe, Shachtman refused to vote for Cannon’s
1931 draft NC statement supporting Trotsky’s positions in Europe. He resigned his post
as Militant editor and attempted to deflect the discussion from the international
questions by making an issue of Swabeck and Cannon’s supposed harshness toward a
supercilious and scholastic group of petty-bourgeois youth in the New York local (the
“Carter group”). Abern and Glotzer, who claimed to disagree with Shachtman on the
debates in Europe, aided and abetted Shachtman in deflecting the discussion, co-signing
“Prospect and Retrospect” and submitting it on the eve of the June 1932 NC plenum.
The documents reveal that Spector and Glotzer privately prevailed on Shachtman to
capitulate on the international question, which he did at the plenum. The two sides also
managed to work out a joint motion on the New York local and the “Carter group.”
Under pressure from Cannon and his supporters, who promised a reply if “Prospect and
Retrospect” remained in the record, Shachtman et al. withdrew their document.
Yet the “unity” thus achieved exploded just a few weeks after the plenum. Over the next
year, the two groups fought over a myriad of organizational issues, from the cooptations to the National Committee proposed by Cannon, to Cannon’s proposal to
accept only working-class activists for membership in the New York local, to the date
for the CLA’s third national conference. Documents from both sides of these disputes
are published in the section of the volume titled “The Fight,” as well as representative
internal factional correspondence from the Shachtman side. (Cannon’s letters to his
supporters were published in the Pathfinder volume of Cannon’s writings from 193234.) As the PRL introduction notes, there is a sharp contrast between the correspondence
from both sides: “Where Shachtman, Glotzer, and Abern are politically vague and
gossipy, Cannon is programmatic and forward-looking. The same contrast can be drawn
between Shachtman and Glotzer’s lengthy letters to Trotsky and Swabeck’s terse,
informative correspondence.”
Organizational tensions were exacerbated by the League’s utter financial poverty as
well as by some non-Leninist organizational practices. When Trotsky received a visa to
visit Copenhagen in the fall of 1932, Shachtman and his supporters refused to send
Swabeck—who was born and raised in Denmark—to Copenhagen immediately to take
part in ILO deliberations. Although he missed the ILO gathering in Copenhagen,
Swabeck was able to go to Europe in early 1933 to attend an important ILO meeting. He
traveled on to Prinkipo, where his discussions with Trotsky played a great role in
resolving the CLA’s polarization. The trip was possible only because funds were raised
privately by the Cannon faction.
Cannon rightly saw the root of the problem as the petty-bourgeois basis of the
Shachtman faction, concentrated in the New York local. As the Dog Days introduction
notes, Cannon “was desperate to find an entry point into a mass proletarian movement
and thus recruit a way out of the factional impasse caused by the political weight of the
League’s literary recruits.” Cannon’s younger supporters like George Clarke and Sam
Gordon went out into the field as itinerant party organizers. When Skoglund and Dunne
began their work organizing the coal drivers in Minneapolis, Shachtman’s supporter
there, Carl Cowl, branded them as “opportunists.”
The cavalier attitude of the Shachtman faction toward the CLA’s fragile roots in the
proletariat was amply demonstrated by its periodic obstruction of the CLA’s work in the
Southern Illinois breakaway from the United Mine Workers, the Progressive Miners of

America (PMA). For most of the period covered by the book, the CLA’s best
opportunity to recruit real working-class support appeared to lie with the PMA. A CLA
member, Gerry Allard, was the editor of the PMA paper, Progressive Miner. The PRL
introduction deals in detail with developments in the PMA, providing essential
background for the reader. The volume includes a never-before-published letter by
Cannon to Trotsky requesting advice on relations with Allard.
Throughout the period of the greatest organizational tensions, however, the two sides
remained united on the League’s fundamental political tasks. When Hitler was
appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the decision to take the Militant
from weekly to triweekly to champion the expected resistance of the German working
class was not controversial. Neither did the two sides fight about the CLA’s work in the
unemployed movement.
The polarization began to take on an embryonic political character only in early 1933,
when Shachtman and Abern objected strenuously to Cannon’s raising the possibility of
a role for the Soviet Red Army in a proletarian offensive to beat back Hitler’s rise to
power. Shachtman and Abern were at the time capitulating to the prevailing “socialism
in one country” opinion in the CP milieus to which the CLA oriented. The Shachtman
faction’s opposition to posing the use of the Red Army outside the borders of the USSR
presaged their 1939 abandonment of the defense of the USSR when the Red Army
entered Finland and Poland. But in 1933 they dropped their objections after Trotsky
intervened to support the thrust of Cannon’s position. Trotsky’s statement on this
dispute, “Germany and the USSR,” has long been available as part of Pathfinder’s
Trotsky collection, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. But its import is much
clearer when it is read along with the documents from the CLA fight.
At the time of the Red Army dispute, Shachtman and Abern labeled Cannon an
opportunist because he delivered a speech to a trade-union conference in Southern
Illinois—in which the PMA was heavily involved—as a representative of a group of
left-wing workers in New York instead of as a member of the CLA. But political groups
had been banned from speaking at the conference, and the alternative would have been
to cede the field to reformist and anti-Communist PMA leaders. Trotsky’s comments on
the CLA’s work in the PMA—centrally “Trade-Union Problems in America”
(previously published in Writings of Leon Trotsky Supplement 1929-33)—have a much
bigger impact when read in the context of documents from both sides of the CLA
divide. “Trade-Union Problems in America” is published in the new volume’s final
section, “The International Intervenes.”
Trotsky’s Role
In many ways, “The International Intervenes” is the most powerful section of the book.
Trotsky’s experience in internal party struggle was brought to bear, first in discussions
with Swabeck in Prinkipo and later in his letters to CLA leaders on both sides of the
factional divide. In addition to Trotsky’s correspondence, the section includes letters
written by Swabeck to Cannon reporting on further discussions in Prinkipo. Criticizing
both factions for drawing harsh organizational lines in the absence of programmatic
differences, Trotsky pointed out that the Cannon group, as the majority of the NC, bore
central responsibility for the tenor of internal discussion. As the documents reveal,

Cannon immediately took Trotsky’s criticisms to heart, making substantive
organizational concessions to the minority.
Under pressure from Trotsky to intervene sharply and prevent a split, the International
Secretariat (I.S.) scheduled a plenum in May 1933 where the situation in the CLA
would be thoroughly discussed. Swabeck was scheduled to attend on his way home
from Prinkipo, and the I.S. requested that a minority representative also attend. Drawing
on funds lent by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, then a Trotskyist sympathizer,
Shachtman once again went to Europe. On the boat to Europe, Shachtman wrote to
Glotzer, insisting that he would not dissolve their faction. However, he quickly changed
his tune. In Paris he cosigned a resolution with Swabeck calling for dissolution of the
factions and he traveled on to Prinkipo for discussions with Trotsky. His letters home to
Abern and Glotzer—mimeographed for distribution to his faction in the League—are
included in the book. They amplify and elaborate on Trotsky’s thinking about the
situation in the CLA.
The CLA National Committee adopted a resolution in June calling for the cessation of
the internal struggle and for turning the League outward to take advantage of new
opportunities opening up before it. The campaign for a united-front working-class
offensive against Hitler in Germany had a strong impact on the CP cadre and the CLA
was again recruiting from the party. It was able to intervene to great effect in
conferences called by the CP of the unemployed movement and legal defense
Yet the documents reveal that tensions continued to run high over Cannon’s proposal to
move the CLA headquarters to Chicago. Aiming to take advantage of the proletarian
nature of the city (as compared to New York) and the greater openness of CP milieus in
Chicago, Cannon’s proposal was eventually supported by Trotsky, who saw it as part of
turning the CLA outward toward the working class. While not campaigning against the
move, Shachtman and Abern quietly planned to remain in New York and produce a
theoretical journal. This was a recipe for a “cold split” in the CLA, and in late 1933
Cannon wisely shelved the idea of moving the organization’s center. This aspect of the
fight has never before been dealt with in print.
Hard on the heels of the international attempts to mitigate the CLA struggle came
Trotsky’s initiative for a bold political turn for the ILO as a whole. Already in May 1933
Trotsky had noted that the German Communist Party’s failure to organize any
opposition to Hitler’s consolidation of power meant that it was dead as a revolutionary
force. He called for a new party in Germany and in July 1933, after it was clear that no
organized opposition had emerged within the Communist International as a whole, he
proposed that the ILO reorient itself away from acting as a faction of the CI. Trotsky
advocated the call for a new, Fourth International and suggested that the Opposition
attempt to regroup with subjectively revolutionary elements who were now organizing
outside the CI. The new orientation was endorsed by an I.S. plenum in August 1933 and
enthusiastically embraced by the entire CLA National Committee.
The turn toward functioning as the embryo of a new party formation came just as the
class struggle began to heat up in the United States. In January 1934, the CLA addressed
an open letter suggesting discussions with the leftward-moving centrists of A.J. Muste’s
American Workers Party, who advocated the formation of a new workers party in the

U.S. Fusion between the CLA and the Musteites took place in December 1934 and was
greatly facilitated by the CLA’s leadership of three strikes in the spring and summer
which won union recognition for the Minneapolis Teamsters, and by the Muste
organization’s leadership in a major class battle at Toledo Auto-Lite in the spring.
It was the new opportunities opening up before the American Trotskyists that laid the
basis for the resolution of the CLA’s internal polarization. Shachtman and Morris Lewit
went on to collaborate with Cannon in turning the League toward the class struggle,
while the majority of the old Shachtman faction, now organized as the Abern-Weber
clique, obstructed the work. That story is told in Prometheus Research Series No. 5,
which reprints Shachtman’s 1936 document “Marxist Politics or Unprincipled
Combinationism?”, a devastating indictment of the unprincipled, personalist methods of
Shachtman’s former supporters. In this document Shachtman reveals that—despite the
May 1933 agreement to dissolve the factions—the Shachtman/Abern/Glotzer faction in
New York went on meeting through January 1934. The Abern clique remained as a fault
line in the American Trotskyist movement throughout the 1930s, one that ruptured again
in the 1939-40 struggle, when Shachtman rejoined it.
Prescient and Equivocal
Ruminating on the problems of party leadership as he was about to be sent to prison
along with 17 other SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters leaders in 1943, Cannon drew a
balance sheet of the CLA experience:
“At one time in the early days, the so-called Cannon-Shachtman fight, which was
conducted with all the intensity of the final struggle with the petty-bourgeois opposition
and even with more acrimony—in that struggle Comrade Trotsky made the comment
that the two factions each anticipated too much. They fought each other not on the
ground of the political merits and qualities which were fully demonstrated as of that
day, but from a point of view of a generalization as to what the ultimate development of
the political tendencies on each side would come to.... In such a situation, Comrade
Trotsky said, the most progressive tendency is the conciliatory tendency—those who
propose to make peace and test out in further common action what is the basis and merit
of the accusations on each side. That advice of Comrade Trotsky was accepted in the old
fight. Some people accepted it diplomatically and some honestly, but, in general, the
prescription was to plunge the party into mass work, stop the faction struggle, disband
the faction organizations, and test out in political action what were the tendencies of the
two groups.
“And eventually we came to a solution of it in the year 1940—but the fight had begun
ten years before, and if we had tried to solve it in 1933 by means of a split—which is
the only way you can solve irreconcilable faction fights—there is no way the movement
might have profited by it, because we would have had to explain to the workers outside
the movement what the fight was about. And if we couldn’t make this clear to comrades
inside the party how could we make it clear to the nonparty people we wanted to join?
The result would have been the stagnation of the movement as was the case in
— Cannon, “The Situation in the New York Local,” 23 December 1942, printed in The
Socialist Workers Party in World War II: Writings and Speeches 1940-43

On questions of party organization and attitude toward workers struggle, the 1931-33
Shachtman faction embodied the same petty-bourgeois approach that Cannon exposed
so eloquently in 1939-40 in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. But the decisive
question for a Leninist is political program. The petty-bourgeois orientation of
Shachtman, Abern and Glotzer took on decisive programmatic coloration in 1939-40,
and it was only at that point that factional struggle was mandated. Cannon learned from
Trotsky’s intervention into the early struggle, and he went on to prove himself a superb
Leninist leader in the 1939-40 fight and beyond. He won the majority in 1940 because
the American Trotskyists, having turned outward, had recruited a layer of serious,
proletarian revolutionaries. The PRL introduction ends by drawing the central lesson of
this experience:
“While the revolutionary character of a proletarian organization is defined by its
program, which represents nothing other than the historic interests of the international
working class, there is an interplay between a party’s program and its social
composition. Marx insisted that ‘being determines consciousness,’ and this applies as
much to aspiring revolutionaries as to other sectors of society. A Marxist vanguard
without deep roots in the working class not only lacks the means to implement its
program, but is necessarily more susceptible to the social pressures of alien classes.”
Dog Days: James P. Cannon vs. Max Shachtman in the Communist League of America,
1931-1933 is an essential reference book for any communist.
ICL Home Page

Reflections on the decline of American Trotskyism
This is a very long post for which I apologize, but it encompasses a lot of things I've
been mulling over for many years and have had precious little chance to discuss with
anyone in the decade I've been in Atlanta. So I beg for your indulgence (and that of the
other comrades).
What you say about the pressure to conform is mostly right, but I don't think for most
people it is as self-conscious a process as what you write tends to imply. The process is
more psychological, if you will, the pressure to conform within one of these groups is
mostly internalized, I think. [This BTW is true not just of political groups -- I don't

know if you've followed Microsoft or Apple, but reading about Bill Gates proposing
slogans like "embrace and extend" Java (i.e., "pollute" it with windows-only features
and API's) and Steve Jobs's "reality distortion field" gave me a real feel of deja vu all
over again.]
But back to the political groups. In addition to one "internalizing" this predisposition to
agree with everything, in the SWP, the reports and resolutions had become these
meandering, kilometric documents that even after the vote get heavily edited, so God
known what you've voted for -- the analysis, the concrete steps the party is to take (this
is -- in theory -- is all one voted for in the SWP but it was precisely this that often was
left very murky in many documents), the reiteration of programmatic positions implicit
or explicit in the document, whether it is true or not that Lenin believed such and such
and that X, Y or Z was one of Trotsky's most important contributions to the
revolutionary movement, or a blank check to Steve Clark who often did most of the
rewriting on major reports after plenums and conventions. Concretely, this means that
although you might have doubts about this point or that slogan, you felt okay voting for
the "general line" of the report "as a whole" -- whatever that might be.
I don't think I ever felt "externally pressured" so that I voted for something I
consciously disagreed with; however, I'm sure on many occasions, when I voted yes it
really was more an expression of confidence in the leadership, and not because I had
grappled with those particular issues and become fully informed about the subject.
Because of my peculiar trajectory in the SWP I was actually only involved in branch or
YSA local life as my major political activity for a few months.
So I can't speak as to how things worked at a local level, but certainly in the mid 70s, at
least in the national leadership bodies, there was a great deal of very open discussion
where people presented their own take on things. I remember, for example, in
discussing the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that people were literally all over the
map on the class character of the Cambodian state (I know, I know, a typically useless
discussion) and there was hardly agreement from the git go on whether to support
Vietnamese move and how "critically."
If I remember right, you might even find in the first IP or Militant or two that came out
a great deal of denunciation of the U.S. threats against Vietnam for the invasion, but
much more ambiguity on the Vietnamese move itself.
In those days Jack's opinion carried a great deal of moral authority in the leadership
committees, but they were not just routinely rubber stamped or considered the last word.
While Joe Hansen was still alive his opinions were also given the most careful
consideration by most comrades on the PC and the NC, it was palpable in the way
people listened to the two of them when they spoke, although Joe mostly weighed in on
international questions. After Jack and Joe, Barry Sheppard was clearly the most
respected, followed by M-A (Mary Alice Waters). But veteran cadre like Frank Lovell,
Fred Halstead, Dick Garza, Ed Shaw, George Breitman, and others were clearly much
more influential than Dick Roberts or Tony Thomas or or Cindy Jaquith or dozens of
others. And Peter Camejo, of course, always had an impact because he was such an
effective speaker.

Even as late as 1978-79, there was another discussion where there was a great deal of
meandering all over the place in the leadership bodies, and this over several different
sessions and over a period of many months. It was the discussion on Cuba and the
character of the Fidelista leadership.
On that one, there were a whole series of political issues on which I was conscious of
being alone, especially the stance that we should embrace and identify with the
initiatives Fidel was carrying out vis a vis U.S. politics, the "dialogue" with the Cuban
community in the U.S., the approach to take towards pro-Cuba formations such as the
Antonio Maceo Brigade, Casa de las Americas, trips to Cuba, and so on.
That's because the initial presentation on the issues Jack made had consequences in
terms of our political stance only by implication. It was his contention that the Cuban
leadership around Fidel was revolutionary, as opposed to counterrevolutionary, narrow
nationalist or centrist, I believe that is all it dealt with. It was all looking back, so to
speak, not forward. What to DO about it, we simply didn't talk about that, not yet. We
talked instead about Angola, the Cubans' relations with the Soviets (the SWP for
decades had suffered from almost pathological stalinophobia. It's a miracle that the
party never officially ditched Trotsky's positions), the czech invasion, the line political
meaning of Che's effort in Bolivia, whether Cuba was in the process of abandoning this
sort of internationalist stance, some of the problems that resulted from the FI discussion
on G-war, etc. etc. etc.
I said "we" didn't talk about what practical conclusions flowed from this but that isn't
accurate. I raised some of the issues, but comrades simply didn't know what I was
talking about. No one on the PC even suspected, I think, that in New York there were
more revolutionary-minded political activists who looked to Fidel for leadership than
who looked to 410 West Street. [A year or two later probably everyone would have
given lip-service to the idea, but the reaction to Camejo's proposals for a regroupment
local election campaign in the 80 or 81 elections showed that the big majority of the
party remained totally clueless about the real world.]
Either in the middle of the discussion about adopting that position -- that the Cuban
leadership was revolutionary -- or once it had been adopted, I remember sitting down
with Larry Seigle to go over a Militant article about a big meeting between Fidel and a
couple of hundred Cubans from abroad. In editing the article, Larry took out the word
"dialogue" -- "el diálogo" was how the meetings between the people from the
community abroad with Fidel and other government leaders were referred to in Cuba
and therefore elsewhere -- saying to me very pointedly "That's THEIR word for it." The
sectarian reaction and stance was instinctive.
I should explain that a few months before the SWP discussion started, I had strayed
across the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a group of (initially) about 60 Cuban emigres who
were pro-revolution and had organized around a visit to the island. It was part of an
operation by Cuba to take advantaged of the softened U.S. hostility of the Carter years,
and of the weakened state of U.S. imperialism following the defeat in Vietnam,
Watergate and the oil shocks.
I was very much attracted by the Brigade, and came around film showings, and other
events they held, and through those experiences discovered this broad layer of political

people who more or less viewed themselves as fidelistas. They had a book distribution
operation which imported books from Cuba, records and magazines; they had set up
travel agencies to take people to Cuba (the origin of Militant/PM tours is that we copied
the idea from the Fidelistas, and actually, they were the ones who did the travel agent
part of the work on our tours), they had dances, concerts, July 26 celebrations.
The beginning of the SWP's discussion in the fall of 1978 coincided with the beginning
of the organization of a second contingent of the Brigade to visit Cuba in the summer of
1979, and I got comrades to agree that I should apply to go on this contingent. Luckily,
because I was editor of Perspectiva Mundial by then and for that reason involved in PC
discussions on "line" questions, this didn't go through a local branch (which would
certainly have turned it down and if not turned it into one more sectarian
"intervention"). It was, if I remember right, just me reporting to Larry Seigle. That was
why when "the dialogue" took place, I was the on in the best position to write a story
about it.
Now, I don't believe this was typical of the SWP by 1978-1979, it was, in fact, quite
exceptional by then on most of the party's practical work, which was centered on the
turn. Once adopted, "The Turn" wasn't subject to what had previously been normal
discussion, since it was, essentially, an article of faith. It was, as initially projected, a
maneuver (i.e., a redeployment of forces) based on things that had not (yet) happened.
There's really nothing to discuss except details unless you challenge the underlying
analysis or the schematic method which drew practical conclusions from that analysis.
No one did.
What went on in the Cuba discussion was, however, much more common if not typical
of the SWP leadership several years earlier, which I got a unique "window" on first as
part of the YSA leadership and soon afterwards as de facto chief interpreter to comrades
from Latin America and Spain. Although not elected to the NC until the 1979
convention, I took part in every plenum and convention closed session, from the
beginning of 1972, and was involved in I think all of the international tendency and
faction meetings held around those events, as well as in many PC discussions. Once I
became editor of Perspectiva Mundial in 77 or 78, I was a permanent "guest" at PC
meetings until elected to the committee in 80 or 81 (This is all from memory. Any
records I might have kept are still in the boxes I packed in 1985, undisturbed since).
This more or less pragmatic approach of probing, trying new things, and eventually a
consensus developing in the leadership on the approach, is how the post-Vietnam War
orientation to the communities, struggles and organizations of the working class
developed. Moreover, it represented to a certain degree an accommodation to, or a
vector sum of, where various individual leaders or sectors of the party wanted to go. It
was, I think, an approach that Marx would have approved of, having noted from the
beginning of his political career that communism was not a theory but a movement; and
that it proceeded, not from principles, but from facts. And it is totally the opposite of the
turn schema that was adopted two or three years later.
It was as I'm sure you'll recognize is basically an extension of the Dobbs/Kerry/Shaw
student orientation of the early 60s, and of the "sectoralism" of the first few years of
Jack Barnes holding the central national leadership post.

Now, it certainly was no secret to people who went to expanded PC's or plenums that
comrades like Tom Kerry, Frank Lovell, Nat Weinstein, and others placed great stress
on getting into unions within this overall approach, whereas comrades involved in the
New York local leadership placed their emphasis on community struggles (based on
their experiences in the Lower East Side); Breitman and I think George Novack, Dick
Roberts and perhaps some others were for greatly expanding our educational and
publishing efforts, and so on. So it was a process of give and take, with priorities and
allocation of resources evolving over time as opportunities developed. At least once I
saw Jack very much take the role of ward healer, putting out a small brushfire over
some proposal that would have shifted the balance of resources away from Pathfinder
and towards the periodical press. The initial proposal clearly left several members of the
PC very unhappy, and it was sent back for reworking. It was Jack who brought the
reworked proposal again before the group (whether hours or days later, I don't
remember), and he just said that on these sorts of issues, given where things are at in the
country, there's no "right" answer, just a compromise that will put the greatest number
of comrades in the best frame of mind to contribute as much as they could to the party.
And if something came up that required a shift, that would be done.
When you think about it, it would have been extremely unlikely that a party with the
kind of internal regime the SWP had by the early 80s could have played the sort of role
the SWP did play not only in the antiwar movement, but in the campaign against racism
in Boston, in the various fights on New York's Lower East Side, and so on. Because it
would have been unable to gather together the experiences its people had, and make
sound judgements about the next steps to take on that basis.
This to me is very important, for whereas many comrades here stress this or that aspect
of the SWP's ideology was what foredoomed it to becoming a workerist sect, I believe
the SWP got to where it is today because it made a wrong turn, one it was predisposed
to make given its ideological outlook, and unlikely to correct given that outlook, its
organizational traditions, and how things played out in the U.S. over the next decade or
so. But it was the actual turn, carrying it out blindly, on faith, despite all the evidence
that it was a mistake, that doomed the SWP. [Clever people will also realize that this is
an implicit rejection of the "great man" theory of the SWP's history, as well as various
attempts to phsychoanalyze him to explain what happened. Even if it is true, so to
speak, that Jack was undergoing a midlife crisis in political form (and, yes, the turn
coincided -- roughly -- with his taking up with a woman in her 20s), you'd still need to
explain why the rest of us drank the cool-aid, so to speak.]
Obviously, In writing about the early and mid 70s I'm one-sidedly stressing the most
positive aspects of the SWP then, not its negative side. It's participation in the FI and
international debates was terribly factional, terribly negative, sectarian, doctrinaire and
opportunist to boot. Despite making a positive contribution overall, I think, our
"intervention" in the later stages of the antiwar movement still had a factional tinge to it
that reflected stalinophobia and sectarianism towards the CP's milieu (though this was
small, I think, compared to the CP's sectarianism, motivated by the CP leadership's
panic, I think, over the growth of the SWP/YSA and their influence).
Nevertheless, it is necessary to ask, what allowed the SWP to develop a whole series of
generally positive activities and campaigns then? Obviously, a lot of it comes from its
Marxist and revolutionary traditions, with whatever distortions, misunderstandings,

contradictions and limitations. Some of it from its participation in the mass struggles of
the 30s. These sorts of factors "allowed" it to "go with the flow" of the burgeoning
antiwar movement instead of standing on the sidewalk shouting correct slogans at the
demonstrators as they went by.
That also helped the party to take a supportive, non-sectarian stance towards the
struggles of women, minorities and so on. And so by the early 70s, the party had been
changed so radically that it was even up to its neck in local schoolboard elections in
New York's Lower East Side, something unimaginable for the SWP before or since. If
the SWP had made different decisions then, I think it had the potential to continue
evolving further towards becoming the kind of broad-based socialist party that I think is
appropriate for the United States now.
Since we know how things went for the rest of the 70s, 80s and 90s, we can probably
pretty safely bet that this transformation would not have happened, because it would
have had precious little help from the "objective situation" of the class struggle, but who
knows? The SWP had advanced enough in this direction by 1973-1975 period that there
were many informal discussions in various branches, and I half remember even some
formal ones, about relaxing they hyper-activist norms of the student movement and
YSA that by then had become the expected norm for party cadre. And of course there
was Peter Camejo's "infamous" suggestion that we should take the name "Socialist
Party" when the social-democratic sect that had hung onto it for decades finally let go of
it. I remember the 1976 election campaign was absolutely on pitch in terms of what was
happening in the country and it got a very good response, qualitatively superior to those
that came before, despite it being a period of relatively little mass movement activity.
And the SWP's Watergate suit showed a lot of tactical imagination -- something
American Trotskyism had never been suspected of.
Instead, of course, the SWP adopted the turn to industry. On the face of it, the decision
seemed pretty logical in 1975 or 1977 or whenever it was. Everything pointed to a
period of prolonged economic problems for the capitalists, not just a particularly severe
"bust" of the normal boom-bust cycle. The ruling class would have to take it out of the
workers' hide, and especially the industrial workers. The workers would resist, and the
logic of the class struggle would lead them to radicalize, transforming the union
movement. You could already see in the mid 70s precursors of the big class battles to
come and the transformation of the union movement, developments in the steelworkers
and mineworkers unions. All we comrades had to do was pre-position ourselves.
Well, everything the SWP projected about the economic situation and the ruling class
offensive turned out to be true, but none of the projected political consequences
materialized. What happened? Lenin said it: theory is gray, but life is green.
The SWP's turn was based on a schema, on faith about what would happen, not on a
sober analysis of what was happening. Worse, implicit in the turn to industrial unions
was turning away from today's struggles. It was a get-rich-quick scheme, like the
capitalist executives who "bet the company" that a certain product will be a big hit.

The SWP leadership has since sought to obfuscate and rewrite history on this, but I can
tell you the turn wasn't adopted as a strategic orientation but as a short-term
redeployment of forces, and short-term should be in italics.
In the discussion at the plenum where the turn was first laid out and adopted, Jack
Barnes said among other things (in response to questions about why dismantle our
teachers union fraction now, given what was coming) that the true test of the correctness
of the turn would be whether in 5 years time we'd have ten times as many teachers
recruited to he party thanks to the role it had played in the big class battles in the
industrial working class.
Of course, no specific timetables were given for these battles, timetables were
specifically disclaimed. But the whole motivation for that drastic and sharp a
reorientation of forces was that there wasn't a second to lose, the shit could hit the fan
tomorrow morning. And as for the turn being a permanent orientation -- as it later
became explicitly -- that was rejected. In one, two or three years time, the SWP would
be overwhelmingly proletarian in composition from its recruitment in these battles, not
from hot-housing ersatz proles out of student cadre.
It was the total contradiction between that projection and reality that destroyed the SWP
as it had existed coming into the turn. Within a year or so we began to hemorrhage
cadre, especially among those who had made the turn. There was disorientation and
demoralization but also, many of the jobs that comrades were getting paid much more
that the jobs party activists often had, and that was a conservatizing influence that
tended to distance people from the movement.
But since the goal was to get the majority of the membership into industry, once the
bleeding began, the turn had to become permanent, and people who for whatever reason
did not want to get into industry were made to understand that save for the infirm or
retirees, or party full timers, EVERYONE was expected to make the turn. So then we
started bleeding people at both ends of the party, and we got a blossoming of that
coercive, nasty atmosphere in the party later codified in the reinterpretation of the 1965
organizational resolution and the purge of dissidents, miscreants and misfits of the early
The root of all this comes from what I think I called "ultimatism" in my post about the
long boom. The SWP was marked with it at birth, with the stuff in the transitional
program about the conditions for proletarian revolution not only having become ripe,
they have become somewhat rotten. But it is not a specifically Trotskyist problem, but
rather a generically communist one.
At its founding, the Communist International projected that capitalism was in its death
agony. This is more than saying that at that point in time, the working class could have
taken power in several other countries. The idea is that capitalism is on the ropes, any
stabilization will be temporary, an ever-worsening succession of crisis and catastrophes
will drive the workers to revolution.
This may well be true in a historic framework of many decades or centuries, but in
political time of years and human lifetimes, it is false. History has shown both that it is
possible for the proletariat to take power absent such an ultimate world-historic crisis,

and even after a virtual apocalypse that razes much of capitalist civilization to the
ground (e.g., postwar Europe and Japan), capitalism can re-stabilize, rebuild and even
do quite nicely for many years, if it is allowed to do so.
And in economic terms, there is no capitalist crisis so severe that capitalism cannot
recover from it, given time. No matter how severe, complete and utter the crash,
capitalism will regenerate unless it is consciously suppressed. It emerges organically
and spontaneously out of generalized commodity production, production for the market.
This doesn't mean that capitalism "still has a progressive role to play" in the worldhistoric sense Marx wrote about. The current boom in the U.S. --based, I think on the
digital transformation of the economy-- is not an anomaly. Capitalism as a system is
ALWAYS revolutionizing production, it is in its nature to do so, but that doesn't make it
"progressive." There's nothing capitalism is doing with computers today that a socialist
America and a socialist world wouldn't have done better. The "progressive" role that
capitalism had to play on a world scale was simply to break down feudalism, to create
the conditions for socialism by making production social rather than individual. That's
done, and it has been done, in a world-historic sense, probably for a century or more. If
the American, British, French, and German workers had gotten it together 100 years ago
and established socialism that would have been the end of it, there wouldn't have been a
thing anyone could have done about it.
That's why Lenin calls imperialism the highest stage of capitalism, and not just the
newest. Modern imperialism arises because capitalism has filled every pore of the
national economy, and thus to continue expanding, looks outside its own borders. It's
the "highest" stage of capitalism because it's completed the transformation of the
relations of production in the leading countries. That was all that was required of it.
[There's a possible "revision" to this more-or-less traditional Marxist view, which is that
the "world historic" role of capitalism is to complete this sort of transformation, not just
within the leading countries, but on a world scale as a whole. I do not agree with this,
and haven't followed the writings of modern Marxist economists, so I'm not even sure
anyone at all supports this. But it's the essential ideological underpinning for arguing
that there needs to be a distinct, capitalist revolution in some countries, or that backward
countries need some sort of "hybrid" socio-economic formation (in reality, capitalism
with a human face).]
To get back to the point about the Comintern and "ultimatism," I believe that at the root
of the world-renowned sectarianism and backwardness of the American left is the split
in the SP following world war one. It was uncalled for politically. And it led to the
creation of a communist movement that was deformed by sectarianism at its birth. It's
not just a question that the comrades were a little leftist, everyone is a little leftist when
they're young. Setting up a separate party is, fundamentally, a class question. The
maintenance today of all these separate sectlets and grouplets, is a violation of the most
basic organizational precepts of communism as laid out in the Communist manifesto,
that the communists do not set themselves up as a separate party counterposed to other
working class parties.
In this sense, I guess I would also be something of a "Pabloite" except that Pablo's
political orientation was a mistake of exactly the same nature as the SWP's turn to

industry. It was a schema. Based on an implicit assumption of the channels through
which working class resistance would express itself (primarily the mass Communist
parties), he wanted to orient to those. As it turned out, the CP's did not become the
primary vehicle for a new radicalization, which, when it came, found its main
expression outside the traditional working class organizations. The correct, nonschematic orientation was towards the radicalizing youth, I believe, with the strategic
aim of taking their partial or sectoral struggles to an explicitly class-based expression
through the creation of a socialist party that would broadly encompass the leading
fighters of those movements. The SWP's defacto strategic orientation in the late 60's and
early 70's went in that direction,
Given that, I do not draw nearly as negative a balance sheet on the SWP of the late 60s
and early 70s. Should a new radicalization emerge in the next few years, I think that you
will see hundreds of these comrades playing a very positive role, not just despite of all
the "bad" things they learned and did in the SWP, but also because of some of the
"good" things the SWP embodied, and which were what had attracted us to it in the first
place so many years ago.
Best regards,
Jose G. Perez
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------I have to pretty much agree with Jose on the dynamics of the SWP's crisis and Jack
Barnes not being the agent of it. I am learning many of the details of the history of the
party only now in reading Jose's posts and find them interesting but not disturbing.
Rather, they seem fairly typical of the history of the formations which co-existed with,
and came out of, the SDS period. Sure the SWP may have been somewhat stodgy
compared to looser formations, but so was the PLP and it came to dominate SDS.
If we compare the relative stability of the SWP and its great success in keeping
Pathfinder Press afloat all these years --and not even the most cynical among us can
deny that Pathfinder's titles have been an important contribution-- with that of other
parties we see that the SWP has actually done fairly well.
It, like others, has suffered and prospered with ebbs and flows of the popular movement,
such as it existed, in the US in the past three decades: it gained from radicalization
brought by Cuba, it gained again from the radicalization brought by Vietnam, it lost
membership as the anti-war radicalization ebbed, and regained some momentum with
the Central American crises of the '80s, and again lost membership in the '90s. Other
groups such as the RCP have steadily declined, the San Francisco-based Democratic
Workers Party imploded, DSA is not much heard of these days, the CPUSA has never
recovered from the end of the USSR, the CWP disappeared, and the PLP is a shadow of
its former self. In many cases the political line failed or the leadership did, but in all
cases, the political situation at large played a great, and even decisive part.
Like Jose points out, the problems with the SWP stem from before Barnes became
leader in its history as the first party of the left opposition --"the oldest communist party

in the world"-- and seeing itself and its affiliated parties as an end rather than a step
forward. This is not surprising however, since for so many years keeping the party going
and its members physically alive was indeed an end in itself, what with Trotskyists
being kept out of union jobs, getting physically attacked, Trotsky himself assassinated,
etc. Personally, though I was never in the party, as a member of the YSA I never saw
any personalism toward Jack Barnes, in general people seemed to regard him as a peer
who moved up because of his talents and dedication, and not more than that. I recall one
instance when a representative of the South African Communist Party's youth section
led the crowd at a party conference in Oberlin, in the state of Ohio, in a series of cheers,
starting with "Viva Mandela! Viva ANC!" and "Viva Comrade Fidel Castro!" and thence
to "Viva Socialist Workers Party!" all of which met with great enthusiasm, but when he
got to "Viva Comrade Jack Barnes!", there was a moment of awkward silence, followed
by shrugging of shoulders and bemused glances, and the response of "Viva Jack!".
Jack's mistake was the Turn to Industry but only because it did not work. Other parties
tried other things to confront the crisis of membership that the left was encountering.
The RCP, for example, turned toward disenfranchised black youth and the homeless.
That did not work either. Eventually, what the SWP found out was that it was attracting
people from where it always had --the universities-- but, with its emphasis on the Turn,
it was not able to keep them. By 1991, it was no longer requiring new members to enter
basic industries, but at the same time it decided it could no longer afford to float the
YSA, which voted to dissolve against the strenuous dissent of myself and my colleague
Mac Kinzel who were YSA organizers in Santa Cruz, California. Perhaps because we
were only two and thus at-large members not tied to any chapter nor in daily contact
with an SWP branch, we were the only two voices who protested the YSA's executive
committee's decision to disband.
Anyway, I started with a statement of agreement with Jose as opposed to Phil's views,
and ended up by filling in a bit of the history of the SWP in the period since Jose left.
Juan Fajardos
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------While Trotsky was alive the worst organizational measures that James P. Cannon
learned in the faction-ridden Communist Party of the 1920's were kept under control.
During the 1939-40 factional struggle with Shachtman and Burnham the impulse to end
the discussion was repulsed by Trotsky who thought time would solve the problems
created by political differences over the nature of the Soviet state and our definitions of
it. During this seven-month intense factional battle, Cannon told the audience that "a
revolutionist should be taken out and shot at the age of fifty." This had shock value for
the party members who knew that Cannon was near the magical age of fifty. We inferred
that after the age of fifty there is a tendency to grow more conservative with age. Who
can deny the validity of Cannon's observation.
If Cannon agreed, for a time. for a discussion with the Cochran, Clarke, Braverman
faction in the period before their expulsion in 1953, his delay came from an inability to

consolidate the leadership of his group in the national committee. Cannon couldn't get
the Minneapolis group of Dunne, Skoglund and Schlutz to accept his demand to have us
expelled. They dreaded the loss of the most proletarian section of the party. Our group
had been on the ground floor of the rise of the CIO in auto. Cochran was the leader of
our powerful auto union faction that for the first time gave up our independent union
stance between the Addes and Reuther caucuses to support Reuther in 1946 convention
in Atlantic City. We thought Reuther's militant support of the 1945-6 strike warranted
our vote. Our delegate union votes elected Reuther in a very close election tally and the
next day after Reuther's attack on the left, in a huge caucus meeting, we knew we had
erred. We turned against Reuther and Cannon packed his bags and returned to New York
pouting over our action taken on the floor of the convention. This was our first
demonstration of Cannon's Stalinophobia. He could not see us participating in a caucus
that included the CP members.
The Stalinophobia of Cannon, ten years later, lent credence to his observation that with
age a revolutionist grows more conservative. The leader of the SWP repeated slogans
and ideas in the fifties that no longer made sense with world reality. Under the patient
prodding of Cochran-Clarke Braverman the Cannon group made up of people like
Lovell, Breitman, Novack and Hansen had to concede to the minority that their views
on Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and Mao's China no longer fit the old shibboliths
enunciated by Trotsky a decade earlier. The discussion of these issues lasted over a
seven year period much of it in the national committee but as the Cannon group
retreated, the cry for our expulsion rose. Cannon anticipated that the Cochran, Clarke,
Braverman, a much younger, more dynamic and with the quality to think and speak
exceptionally well and clearly on difficult political problems might become the majority
and this he couldn't tolerate happening.
Every attempt to force our expulsion was rebuffed by the Minneapolis comrades led by
Vincent Dunne , Carl Skoglund, and Henry Schultz. Dobbs came west on a speaking
tour and took me aside in Detroit to tell me that the problem in the party was Cannon
and he had to go. I agreed with him. Much to my astonishment this great truckdriver's
union leader made a crass deal that would make sense in the union movement but was
completely out of bounds, unprincipled politically, in a revolutionary socialist
organization. Dobb's deal with Cannon provided for Cannon to retire and Dobbs to
replace him as national secretary. In return for the horse trade, Minneapolis had to agree
to support Cannon on our expulsion.
The icons that have been held up as great leaders on the marxist list like Breitman,
Lovell, Novak, retreated before the Cochran, Clarke , Braverman group on all the great
political questions that were of moment and supported our expulsion. Their unprincipled
action paved the way for other irrational splits. (See http:home.inreach.com/soldoll) for
The Roots of the Party Crisis.
Without the creation of strong union contingents where our ideas can be tested with
broad masses of workers and until the lessons of the Cannon unprincipled expulsion of
the Cochran, Clarke, Braverman are learned we will continue to see the splintering of
the Marxist-Trotskyist- Deutscher ideological followers.
Sol Dollinger

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dear Lou:
Your essay on the Cochranites is a breathe of fresh air. You are the first person to make
a re-evaluation of the Cochran, Clarke and Braverman group in the 1953 expulsion by
James P. Cannon. It has taken a long time to get to this point. History has a way of
crawling at a snail's pace. With your help it will go a little faster.
What would have happened in 1953 if Cannon asked his national committee to install
Bert Cochran rather than Farrell Dobbs in the top post? All of the sectarian baggage the
SWP had been carrying since the death of Trotsky, would have been discarded. You may
ask --as I am sure other Cannon adherents would question-- whether the national
committee would have supported such a motion by Cannon. I contend that the basic
differences had been resolved over the seven year discussion. The majority voted with
us on Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe and China. They had grudgingly agreed to our break
with Reuther. With a recommendation by Cannon, that included his retirement to
California, where he passed many years--his supporters would have accepted Cochran
with open arms.
Cochran was a greater Marxist theorist than Dobbs. He had as much trade union
experience as Dobbs in their respective industries. Cochran was a far better speaker than
Dobbs and a far better writer. This could have been done without our expulsion and a
healthier SWP would have resulted without all of the sectarian baggage accumulated
after the death of Trotsky (Compare Bert Cochran's articles on my web page with some
of Dobbs books on the Teamsters strikes. See--- http://home.inreach.com/soldoll)
Three decades later, I am amused by the explanations made by Frank Lovell that you
heard as a new member of the SWP. He contended that the members of the auto faction
had become embourgeoisified by high wages in the industry. My position as a Chevrolet
worker is not much different than other auto worker members of the party. We rented in
Flint and when I quit after seven years my wages were under five thousand dollars a
year. When Genora's father died of a heart attack in front of the Buick gate where he
worked as a janitor, he left his four children $700 each. Genora rushed out to make a
down payment on a house with a $3800 dollar mortgage with monthly payments of $35.
Enough about the asinine explanations of a Cannon supporter.
There is a tiny element of truth to Lovell's explanation but again he tells only part of the
story. In 1948 the Trotskyists in Flint, with the support of the five Flint UAW presidents,
launched a campaign for the sliding scale of wages. Reuther attacked us by redbaiting
and falsification of our position. Before the year was out GM pulled the rug out from
under Reuther and accepted our proposal with slight modifications. In 1976 Victor
Reuther, in Brothers Reuther, boasted that the cost of living clause, as it became known,
added $20,000 in wages to the auto worker. This of course, reflected the yearly increase
of the cost of living. Yet even Lovell wouldn't be accused by me of being bourgeoisified
when you add his skilled wages to the cost of living increases but he was better off
because Trotskyists in Flint and in the country had fought for the auto workers pay
packet in 1948.

Reuther's red baiting joined with McCarthyism put a severe crimp in our union
activities. About that time the state legislature tried to remove us from the ballot under
the Trucks Act. We organized a broad committee to fight for our democratic rights. In
Flint we signed up almost every officer of the five UAW locals and the shop
committeemen representing the 40,000 GM auto workers. We then sent out crews to the
University of Michigan and Michigan State university. Scores of prominent professors
joined the committee without regard to possible political repercussions. The same work
was under way with similar success in Detroit. This opened our eyes. We had found our
union work severely restricted and concluded we could get a better hearing from
students and teachers accustomed to contesting ideas and open discussion. The Cochran
group suggested a turn to the colleges long before the SDS and Tom Hayden.
A Marxist movement cannot be built without a free and open discussion of ideas. I
reject Lenin's and Cannon's aphorism that a party grows stronger through splits.
Sometimes the differences are irreconcilable and in those few instances a split is
unavoidable but in 1953 Cannon never presented us with a bill of particulars that
demonstrated our differences were irreconcilable. Cannon never submitted the charge
because none existed. The split was unprincipled and made possible further splits in the
future that the participants have a hard time justifying.
Sol Dollinger
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Louis Proyect wrote:
"Look at the Cochranites, I argued. Nobody was more blue-collar than them, but they
too had sold out. Mind you, this without having ever read a single article written by Bert
Cochran or any of his co-thinkers."
Is that literally true, Lou? Cochran's book American Labor in Midpassage originally
appeared as a special issue of The American Socialist, and simultaneously of Monthly
Review. On the broad left it was one of the most successful books of its day, and for the
following decade.
That said, however, MR's 50th anniversary celebration has elided the magazine's
embarrassing moments. Lou wrote, "The most tangible results were the weekly
newspaper The National Guardian and the Monthly Review. Both of these publications
were attempts to develop a Marxism that embodied American traditions and which
would avoid the sterile sectarianism that had marked both the Stalinist and Trotskyist
Eventually, but not in the beginning. The truly nonsectarian National Guardian began as
the organ of the Progressive Party for the Henry Wallace presidential campaign, the last
hurrah of the 1930s-1940s Popular Front. By 1952, Wallace had embraced the
U.S./U.N. war in Korea, and the Vincent Hallinan campaign was the last gasp of
PopFront Progressivism on its deathbed.

Monthly Review started up the year after the Wallace campaign. Leo Huberman and
Paul Sweezy surely aspired to inherit that mantle and its nonsectarian aura (exemplified
by Albert Einstein's "Why Socialism?" article in the inaugural issue, endlessly recycled
ever since), but were hobbled by their own ultrasectarian Stalinism. One of their early
articles stoutly justified Stalin's purges and show trials, explaining that the Trotskyite
wreckers and saboteurs had confessed in deference to their consciences, which retained
flickering embers of their formerly Stalinist revolutionary selves. That article was
reprinted as a pamphlet and widely distributed during the 1950s, to shore up the
wavering commitments of CPers and friends who were not so certain that Earl Browder,
John Gates, and their respective adherents ought to be consigned to outer darkness.
This was about the time that I began to take notice as a teen-age socialist. In my
opinion, the lubricant that moved Huberman and Sweezy away from that course was
A.J. Muste's American Forum for Socialist Education, which drew together Sidney Lens
(nonsectarian in the 1937 Oehlerite tradition); CP dissidents; the followers of Isaac
Deutscher; much of the old Popular Front left; and most of the grouplets and
independents who had been through the SWP. (The SWP had been born two decades
earlier when the Trotskyist CLA merged with Muste's nonsectarian American Workers
Party.) The American Forum failed in its aim of nonsectarian socialist regroupment, but
its legacy included MR's absorption of the Cochranite remnant.
Lou again, "I would argue that the so-called Cochranites were not only the very first to
recognize the new realities of American politics in conditions of post-WWII affluence,
but also the first to put forward an alternative to the kind of sectarianism that had not
only characterized the American Trotskyist movement, but all such parties that had been
forged in the loony crucible of Zinoviev's 1924 'Bolshevization' Comintern."
Besides the earlier arguments of Hugo Oehler, I would suggest that Lou read the group
of documents that the Johnsonites (J.R. Johnson [C.L.R. James], not Kermit and
Genora) published in 1947, after leaving the Workers Party and before rejoining the
SWP (which they knew would not have permitted their publication) -- The American
Worker and The Balance Sheet of American Trotskyism. Martin Harvey (Glaberman)
called for a united front with the CP in the agitational pamphlet Punching Out. Also, if
he can find them, the internal documents by Vince Copeland of the Marcy faction.
From polar opposite points of view, both groups sought to break from the sectarian
straitjacket. I do not challenge Sol Dollinger's "what if?" musing over all, but Cochran
actually pressed this aspect of his line later than others, and the ASU's subsequent
trajectory does not fully justify such a sanguine picture of a 1950s and later SWP
headed by Cochran.
As I wrote several months ago, Pablo's politics were rooted in pessimism. He predicted
of "centuries of degenerated workers states." But Pablo wasn't the only Trotskyist leader
who longed for the Left Opposition days, and postured accordingly. Sam Marcy was the
other (from whose paper the Trotsky silhouette did disappear very quickly, for reasons
my earlier post explained). The Marcyite view was Pablo's opposite, reflecting
optimism driven by the revolutionary triumphs in Yugoslavia and China, which Marcy
and Copeland regarded as validation of Trotsky's view that the aftermath of World War
II would be the global spread and ultimate triumph of socialism. Whatever your

criticisms may be, Marcy succeeded where Cochran failed, and his followers still are a
central force in the mass movement.
Both Johnsonites and Marcyites maintained and expanded their industrial bases while
Cochran's grew withdrew from the factories. The final issue of The American Socialist
confessed failure, albeit cheerfully, and with a prediction that U.S. socialism eventually
would be reborn. That was ironically an important contributing factor to Monthly
Review's subsequent success. Doubly ironic is MR's latest recall of Harry Frankel
(Braverman) and Bert Cochran having modeled the ASU's first organ on the 1930s
publication of the Mechanics Educational Society of America.
MESA was not "a forerunner of the UAW." MESA was a model auto union, whose
president, Matt Smith, was a principled socialist. No official of MESA was permitted to
be paid more than the workers it represented, and MESA required its officers to work in
the plants, being paid by the union only when off the shop floor on union business, such
as pursuing grievances or negotiating contracts. Cochran opposed Smith, arguing that
being exemplary was sectarian, and lost when the members overwhelmingly backed
Cochran split from MESA, and took his followers into the UAW-CIO. But MESA
persisted, representing Fisher Body workers well into the 1960s at least, possibly later,
before eventually merging with the UAW long after the insurgent movements had gone
into decline. Old MESA hands believed that their union's exemplary presence alongside
the UAW compelled the UAW to be more responsive to its rank and file than other,
more ossified CIO industrial unions had been. They regarded MESA as comparable in
its role to the left unions expelled from the CIO, such as UE and Mine-Mill.
In my opinion, Lou's current political outlook has shaded his view of the past, yielding a
romanticized history of the tradition with which he identifies today. I do not disrespect
the aims and achievements of Bert Cochran and his followers, but they also made
mistakes, and failed in their most ambitious project. They certainly held no patent on
opposing sectarianism within Trotskyism.
Ken Lawrence
Like you I learned about Cochran fight mostly from older comrades, because the stuff
that is in Cannon's books, frankly, doesn't go very far, you can see that 9/10th of this
iceberg is beneath the surface.
I had no problem getting a hold of and reading the Cochranite docs -- it may have been
Frank himself who lent them to me, maybe someone else.
The weird thing is that in terms of positions and analysis, the minority clearly had been
right, there's just no question about it, both about what had happened in eastern europe
by 1950 or so ["right" from a more-or-less traditional, Trotskyist framework], and about

what had been happening in the United States, although the majority did not adopt a
position roughly along the lines of the minority's about the U.S. until the plenum after
the split.
The real reason for the split, at least form what I understood from Frank and the older
comrades, was NOT the dispute on political issues but "the organizational question,"
which Frank certainly and most of the others really and sincerely believed was at stake.
They believed the Cochranites to be liquidationists. I remember Frank telling me, "you
couldn't get these people to hold a forum" --an exaggeration, I assumed.
But the Cochranites believed a lot of high profile party activity directed to the public at
large was inappropriate in a period of extreme reaction, unlikely to result in any real
gains, and quite likely to lead to victimizations.
The real roots of the party crisis were in the twin apogees of Stalinism and U.S.
imperialism in the immediate post-War period. The "Cannonites" reacted by denying
reality, or at most conceding this was a momentary aberration and holding tight to the
triumphalism of the "American Theses" of the first post-WWII convention. The
Cochranites post-split evolution, at least as I have understood it until now, tended to
confirm the diagnosis of liquidationism.
Over the next few years the SWP itself became increasingly "cochranite," adjusting the
pace of party activity to the period of reaction, and eventually orienting towards a
regroupment with existing radical millieus and the student movement. When the Cuban
revolution came along the SWP did not spend a year or two insisting that nothing had
It may well be that a political organization built along the lines projected by the 1953
minority would have been much more successful than the post-1953 SWP. But when a
new generation of radicals began to rise up, the Cochran group had ceased to function.
Even when Frank Lovell was explaining it to me, I never, ever understood why the
majority insisted on the split with the Cochranites. What Sol says -- that it was Jim
Cannon's price for agreeing to move out of the center -- makes as much sense as
anything else I've heard. And given this, the "Cochranism lite" of the post-split
leadership also makes more sense.
It should be noted that Cochran was not the first to advocate a liquidationist position -if that is what it was -- in the midst of a period of extreme reaction. That was, explicitly,
the policy of Marx and Engels in the 1850s, who studiously abstained from any
"activism" until the founding of the first international. In particular, if you read Engels's
writings about the Communist League (nee League of the Just), you'll see they were
totally against continuing the old organizational form of a tightly-knit nucleus in the
new circumstance of extreme reaction, and when a new form arose, it was as a looselyknit federation of like-minded groups, not at all like the programmatically homogeneous

Thanks you very much for the reference to Doug Henwood's piece in MR. I'll have to
make sure to get it. I just want to point out, however, that the period referred to, 19491953, is the Korean War. War spending distorts the economic picture because it injects
into the economy a big increase in demand. It also tends to restrict the supply of labor.
And as I've noted, there's a lot of reasons to suspect the more recent figures understate
GDP, GDP growth, increases in wages, increases in efficiency and increases in
It's going to take a lot of work and very sober analysis to get a real good picture of what
is going on. Unfortunately from what I've read in the LBO web site, he summarily
rejects the idea that U.S. statistics are out of whack, and thus views the whole issue as
simply a devious plot to lower social security payments -- which, needless to say, was
obviously one thing that was going on.
Best regards,
Jose Perez

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