Zinoviev and Cannon

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Nov 20 21:35:35 MST 2002

Great post Lou!

Recently I saw a book reviewed somewhere, possibly in the British
'Weekly Worker', where further light was cast on this.  I can't recall
the book off-hand, although perhaps Paul Flewers will know it.  It might
have been by French revolutionary Alfred Rosmer?  Anyway, I'm fairly
sure it was by a veteran, and now deceased, revolutionary.  It pointed
out, in part, something that is often lost sight of on the Trotskyist
left, but which Lou's post also really brings out.

This is that there were two waves of 'Trotskyist' in the 1920s.  The
first wave largely got destroyed - the people who stood up for Trotsky
when he first came under attack.  The second wave were people who were
in many ways Zinovievists, people whose training and outlook was more
shaped by Zinoviev and who went over to Trotsky around the time of the
United Opposition.  It was more these people who became the leaders of
the Trotskyist movement, bringing with them all the bad habits and
baggage picked up from Zinoviev, the 'Bolshevisation' period, and so on.

This is not to let Trotsky himself off the hook, by any means.  He had a
really quite outrageous tendency for interference, although he seems to
have learned to curtail it somewhat over later years.  One of Lou's
favourite examples of Trotsky's bad practice is when he instructed the
French CP what to put on the front page of their paper in the early
1920s.  Another good example is in the book 'Leon Trotsky on Black
Nationalism and Self-Determination'.  Trotsky knew nothing about blacks
in the United States but insisted, as against C.L.R James, Arne Swabeck
and others, that blacks in the US had their own language and that the
reason SWPers don't know this is that they don't speak it when whites
are around.  Trotsky just won't believe that this is not the case.

Cannon learned this kind of bad practice so well in his early days in
the CPUSA, and then had it reinforced by Trotsky, that he actually
believed it was in part up to him to pick the leadership of the British
section of the FI.  Talk to British Trotskyists of advanced years and
mention Cannon and you will often find the response is along the lines
of 'Oh yeah, the guy who gave us Healy.'  Now if any Marxist group
allows itself to be dictated to from abroad about who its leaders should
be, it really only has itself to blame when it all ends in tears.  But
it is nevertheless true that, for all the high-blown references to
democracy and accountability and so on in the Cannon 1944 piece posted
by Richard Fidler, a couple of years later Cannon was hot-footing it
over to Britain and telling them, with the backing of the FI
'international leadership', that they should accept Healy as leader.  So
I think we should take Cannon's document about democratic leadership
selection with an ocean of salt.

I still have a certain amount of time and respect for Cannon, but it's
more for Cannon the working class fighter who retained some Wobbly
spirit (I mean in the political rather than alcoholic sense), than it is
for Cannon the architect of the US SWP, once described only partly in
jest by the highly-regarded sci-fi writer Ken McLeod as the 'Great
Satan' of the world Trotskyist movement.

Philip Ferguson

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