James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928-38


Author: Bryan D. Palmer
Bryan D. Palmer reinterprets the history of labour and the left in the United States during the 1930s through a discussion of the emergence of Trotskyism in the most advanced capitalist country in the world. Focussing on James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, Palmer builds on his previously published and award-winning book, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928 (2007), with a deeply-researched and elegantly-written study of Cannon and the Trotskyist movement in the United States from 1928-38.

Situating this dissident communist movement within the history of class struggle, both national and international, Palmer examines how Cannon and others fought to revive a combative trade unionism, thwart fascism and the drift to war, refuse Stalinism’s many degenerations, and build a new Party and a new International, both of which would be dedicating to reviving and realizing the possibilities of revolutionary socialism. The result is a study that provides a definitive account of the largest and most influential Trotskyist movement in the world in the 1930s, a mobilization whose history recasts understandings of the more extensively-studied experience of United States working-class militancy and the place of the Comintern-affiliated Communist Party within it.

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Bryan D. Palmer, PhD (1977), State University of New York, Binghamton, is Professor Emeritus and former Canada Research Chair, Canadian Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, former editor of Labour/Le Travail, and has published extensively on the history of labour and the revolutiona3ry left, including the two-volume, Marxism and Historical Practice (Brill, 2015) and the co-authored, Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History (Between the Lines, 2016).
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Figures

Introduction: James P. Cannon and the “Prince’s Favors”
 1  Hope and the Dog Days
 2  Historiography’s House of Mirrors
 3  Mirror Image Refusals
 4  Analytic Alternative
 5  Cannon and the History of American Trotskyism

1 An American Left Opposition
 1  Exile off Main Street
 2  Stalinism Consolidating
 3  Stalinist Slow Dancing: Guile
 4  Picking up the Pace: Gangsterism
 5  Recruiting the American Left Opposition: Three Phases
 6  Cannon: Caretaker of the Original Left Opposition Cadre
 7  Recruitment’s Second Phase: Stalinism’s Heavy Hand
 8  “An Army of a Million People”: Hungarians, Italians, Finns, and Immigrant Birth Controllers
 9  A Publication Program
 10  The Founding of the Communist League of America (Opposition)

2 Dog Days
 1  Downturn: Economic Depression
 2  “Left Turn”: Revolutionary Politics and the Third Period
 3  Dimensions of Cannon’s Crisis: Material Being
 4  Dimensions of Cannon’s Crisis: Reconstituted Families and Domestic Complications
 5  Dimensions of Cannon’s Crisis: Rose Karsner’s Break-Down
 6  Cannon’s Collapsing World: The Personal Becomes Political
 7  The Weisbord Whirlwind
 8  Branch Bickerings: New York Cliquism and Youth Recruits
 9  Factional Waystation: June 1932, National Committee Plenum
 10  Factionalism Internationalized: The Turn to Europe
 11  International Intervention
 12  Dog Days Denouement: New Turns
 13  Internal Ironies

3 Daylight: Analysis and Action
 1  1933–34: Past, Present, and Future
 2  Context: Revival/Reorientation
 3  The Long and Trying March Back to a Labor Party Perspective
 4  Black Oppression in America: National Self-Determination vs. The Revolutionary Struggle for Equality
 5  The Momentum of Mobilizations: Unemployed and Labor Defense Work
 6  Miner Militants: Cannon’s “Bona Fide Proletarians”
 7  B.J. Field: A Napoleon among New York’s French Chefs
 8  Dawn of a New Left Opposition Day

4 Minneapolis Militants
 1  General Strike
 2  Class Relations in Minneapolis
 3  Trotskyists among the Teamsters: Propagandistic Old Moles
 4  January Thaw; February Cold Snap: The Coal Yards on Strike
 5  Lessons of the Coal Yards Strike
 6  Strike Preparations: Unemployed Agitations and Industrial Unionism
 7  Overcoming “Bureaucratic Obstacles”
 8  The Ladies/Women’s Auxiliary
 9  Rebel Outpost: 1900 Chicago Avenue
 10  The Tribune Alley Plot and the Battle of Deputies Run
 11  May 1934: Settlement Secured; Victory Postponed
 12  Stalinist Slurs
 13  Farmer-Labor Two Class Hybrid vs Class Struggle Perspective
 14  Interlude
 15  Toward the July Days
 16  A Strike Declared; A Plot Exposed
 17  Bloody Friday
 18  Labor’s Martyr: Henry B. Ness
 19  Martial Law/Red Scare
 20  Olson: The Defective “Merits” of a Progressive Pragmatism
 21  Standing Fast: Satire and Solidarity
 22  Mediation’s Meanderings
 23  Sudden and Unexpected Victory

5 Entryism
 1  1934: Militancy and Marginalization’s Movement
 2  The French Turn
 3  Cannon, Trotsky, and the Preparatory Ground of Entryism: Transcending the “Organic Unity” Imbroglio
 4  Fusion with the Musteites
 5  Building the Party amid Fusion’s Fallouts
 6  Anticipating the French Turn
 7  Americanizing the French Turn: Factions and Combinations
 8  The Intensification of Oehlerite Sectarianism
 9  Ousting the Oehlerites
 10  Socialist Party Schisms and Workers Party Entry
 11  Prelude to Entry: Cannon in Harness and Muste’s Conversions
 12  Entryism & Subordination
 13  A Farmer-Labor Detour and the Return of the Oehlerite Repressed
 14  Entry Proclaimed
 15  Cannon in California: The “Foot Loose Rebel” and the Agitational Road
 16  Entryist Estrangement
 17  The Return of the Prodigal Agitator
 18  Reaction from Above
 19  The End of Entry
 20  Assessing the French Turn in America

6 Trials, Tragedies, and Trade Unions
 1  1937’s Imperative: Assimilating Revolution’s Recruits
 2  The Origins of the American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky
 3  The Non-partisan Origins of Trotsky’s Defense
 4  Dancing with Dewey
 5  Trotsky’s Testimony
 6  Carleton Beals and Stalinism at Work in the Preliminary Sub-commission
 7  Delimitation by Default
 8  Social-Democratic Delimitation
 9  Brand Barcelona on Centrist Foreheads: Trotskyism and the Spanish Civil War
 10  Trotskyism Finds its “Sea Legs”: Cannon and the Maritime Federation of the Pacific
 11  Frame-Up in Minneapolis: Who Killed Patrick J. Corcoran?
 12  Trotskyism on the Line: Footholds in Mass Production and the CIO

Conclusion: Party/International

All interested in the history of the revolutionary left (internationally as well as in the US), labour movements in the United States, social histories of the working class, and the politics of opposition movements.