Cannon joke

Bob Pitt comradebobpitt at
Fri Sep 6 11:19:32 MDT 2002

The joke about Cannon coming to Britain in 1938 and
unifying four groups into seven was made by Gerry
Healy. It is quoted in Chapter 1 of The Rise and Fall
of GH:

One of the organisations that Cannon succeeded in
amalgamating to produce an official section of the FI
was the Edinburgh-based Revolutionary Socialist Party,
which was deLeonite in its politics. An RSP member who
was involved in these negotiations, Frank Maitland,
used to relate how he was summoned to Cannon's hotel
room to discuss the fusion proposals. The great leader
didn't even bother to get up to greet him, but
addressed him from his bed, with a half-empty bottle
of whisky on the table beside him.

The basic reason why the fusion broke down was that
the new FI section (the Revolutionary Socialist
League) was divided over the question of whether to
work in the Labour Party or build an independent
organisation outside of and in opposition to Labour.
The unity agreement tried to paper over these
differences by stating that "the main emphasis in the
next period is to be placed on work within the Labour
Party", while accepting that "members at present
devoting their full activity to propaganda work
outside the Labour Party are not required to join it".

Of course, in theory it should have been possible to
combine the two approaches, but in practice it wasn't,
because they were based on two completely different,
and opposing, strategies. Those who were "devoting
their full activity to propaganda work outside the
Labour Party" were not doing so on the basis of
politics that recognised the strategic importance of
the Labour Party, but because they rejected this
conception, arguing instead for the "organisational
independence of the revolutionary grouping" as a
matter of principle and denouncing their entryist
comrades for indulging in "Labour Party fetishism".

The same division can be found in Britain today.
Marxists in the Labour Party fight to preserve and
strengthen the link between the party and the trade
unions, arguing for the unions to use their clout more
effevtivley within the party to oppose Blairism. We
strongly oppose state funding for political parties –
a proposal favoured by the Blairites who want to
weaken or even destroy the power of the unions within
the party, because it would remove the need for Labour
to rely on the unions for political funding.

Those "Marxists" (I use the term in its loosest
possible sense) who advocate building a new socialist
organisation in opposition to Labour call for the
unions to break with the party and fund candidates who
stand against it. They tend to support state funding
for political parties because it might be financially
advantageous to the Scottish Socialist Party, for
example. In other words, they find themselves in a de
facto bloc with the Blairites!

This division carries over into other spheres of
political activity. For example, when a Constituency
Labour Party here in London recently voted to oppose
war against Iraq and to approach the local
organisation of the Stop the War Coalition to hold a
joint public meeting, Socialist Alliance supporters in
the StWC voted this down, on the grounds that they
didn't want to have anything to do with the Labour

All of this, I think, underlines Trotsky's observation
that "it remains a fact about every revolutionary
organization in England that its attitude toward the
masses and to the class is almost coincident with its
attitude toward the Labour Party, which bases itself
upon the trade unions".


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