Episodes from American Trotskyism

David Altman altman_d at SPAMhotmail.com
Sat Dec 25 08:01:36 MST 1999

Louis Proyect wrote:

>Ah, yes. 1973. Those were the days. Branches in every major city in the
>country. Subscription drives of 35,000 Militant newspapers. Walter and
>Miriam Schneir got an assignment from the NY Times magazine section to
>profile the SWP, but the article they wrote was rejected because it was
>considered fawning propaganda. Then it all collapsed.

>The next initiative was the Socialist Union and the magazine associated
>with it, the American Socialist. Unfortunately this was like trying to
>start a garden during a drought.
>There is much to be learned from the example of the American Trotskyist
>movement, just as we can learn from studying the Communist Party. They won
>strikes, built antiwar movements and fought against racism. Each had its
>strengths and weaknesses. But the underlying and defining organizational
>principle--namely, the umbilical cord to the USSR--has been severed. This
>brute fact will do more than anything to heighten interest in genuine
>Marxist initiatives, which can only emerge from the native soil.

And did you ever wonder, Louis, why all of these efforts to create a "Yankee
Doodle socialism" came to naught?

Look, it's not my intention here to trash the Cochranites.  I think you and
José have made a good case in previous postings that they were more correct
on a number of substantive issues than Cannon & Co.  I don't think it's
unreasonable, though, to consider their subsequent histories when
evealuating that particular faction fight.  The fact that the Cochranites
faded away within a few years, leaving barely a ripple, would tend to give
credence to the accusation that they were adapting themselves to the overall
conservative mood in the US during the '50s.  After all, they started out
with a third of the SWP membership, and not a few talented writers and

To say that, because the SWP collapsed in the lates '70s means that Cannon
was wrong in 1953 stretches logic a bit.  We all know that Barnes is to
Cannon what Stalin was to Lenin, a guy who got where he is by shitting on
Cannon's grave.  Which is not to say that Cannon was some kind of saint.
I'm sure Sol Dollinger will weigh in here with a posting attesting that
Cannon was an asshole and a big drunk.  But of course, "the Cannonites" were
always more than Cannon, and the SWP of 1953 wasn't a zombie religious cult
like the SWP of 1999.

Well, I must be off to watch my kids open their Christmas presents!

David Altman

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