Cannonism and DSP

Armand Diego causebellum at
Sat Sep 7 23:55:20 MDT 2002

Dear friends, on the DSP-Cannonism discussion:

Lumping together Cannon's SWP fusion with the American
Workers Party (Muste formation) and the entryism
tactic of the Cannon group in the Socialist Party is
disingenuous at worse or simplistic at best (take your

In fact, the documents at the time of the fusion
between CLA and the AWP characterized both groups as
revolutionaries.  The operation was not an entry
tactic but a fully discussed fusion process in which
Muste and the main cadre of his group not only knew
Trotskyism but accepted it. Everything was done over
the table, up front and without any tricks.

Muste and others even met with Trotsky and
corresponded with him more or less on a regular basis.
 The overwhelming majority of the AWP's rank and file
got integrated into revolutionary, Trotskyist
policies.  Ther fusion was preceded by a considerable
amount of political, theoretical discussions as well
as much joint political work on the ground.  By the
time the fusion was finalized, a great degre of
homogenous people took the decision.

In fact, Muste with a handful of followers quit the
fused organization when the decision was taken for the
group to join the SP.  At that point Muste was against
the entryist tactic on the basis that that will
endanger the revolutionary program and practice of the
newly founded group.

He more or less used the same reasoning that Trotsky
himself used in the first discussions about the Labor
Party in the US (a proposal from the "Right
Oppositionist" - Lovenstonites -  of the Workers Party
(not sure about the name by memory which exercised
considerable pressure on the Trotskyists).  Muste
repeated those concepts of "revolutionaries cannot
present themselves to the working class with two
banners, one the revolutionary Marxist and the other
the reformist of the Labor Party (in the case of
Muste, he substituted SP for LP)", etc

He was an internal oppositionist from the left, so to
speak.  Once he adopted the revolutionary outlook, he
adhered to it as a religion.  In fact, Muste - at that
particular instance - took a sectarian position that
would have meant to isolate the Trotskyists from the
emergent left wing of the SP.  It was even a
psychological issue involved: Muste was a religious
man, a priest and politics was just the replacement of
his lost faith, but he remained a priest at heart.

This is no way should minimize his contribution to the
American working class or his outstanding work
opposing the Vietnam War.

At the time of the entryist tactic of Cannon's - now
the fused group - the SP was not as a whole marching
to the left, that is a myth.  There were big tensions
inside the party - as it always was the case
periodically since its very founding conference
between a left wing and a right wing.

Norman Thomas and others were marching to the right,
not to the left and were clashing with a big layer -
mostly young members - who wanted to return the party
to Debs' traditions (of course, Eugene Debs was
himself a centrist in the dispute between the right
and the left of the SP in previous disputes,
preferring to remain "above" the factions and bask on
his own reputation and popularity to maintain the
party more or less in a left course).

It is more than certain that with or without the
Trotskyist joining in, the right wing of the SP was
decidedly moving to administratively dealt a blow to
the young leftists.  They were just under the
illussion that such a move would put them in a better
electoral position.

Cannon and the American Trotskyist learnt from
previous debates in the Fourth International about the
disastrous consequences of the sectarianism of the
French who refused to go to the masses, particularly
the young socialists of the SFIO in what Trotsky
called the "French Turn."

Cannon, who was no theoretical genius, was however a
very practical man and saw the writing in the wall if
he accepted sectarian compromises to stay away from
the left wing of the SP.  It is true that Cannon and
others bragged about the fact that the SP never
recovered from the expulsion of the Trotskyists from
their millieu. It is also true that from that period
and that success they developed an arrogant attitude
that will cost them dearly in future events.

But it has to be said that the right wing of the SP
expelled not only the Trotskyists, but many other left
wing activists in their desperation to keep control of
the apparatus and they resorted to all kinds of
slanders and administrative purges to achieve their

In fact, the right wing of the SP to this day brags
about how they "kicked out the Trotskyists."

They mostly die (the SP) as an effective party because
the losses they INFLICTED TO THEMSELVES (the expulsion
were the practical and overwhelming evidence that the
SP leadership would not tolerate a broad socialist
formation defined by the existence of different wings
in the party.)  There was the responsibility of the
right wing and they consistent programatic shift to
the right and their organizational bureacratism which
finished the SP as an effective organization.  The
Trotskyists were just incidental to that process.

It is useful to note at this point that some middle
level cadre of the Trotskyists changed sides during
the dispute and decided to remain in the SP, like
Charles Curtiss and some others were not completely
convinced of the way the Trotskyists defended
themselves inside the SP and always regretted having
to leave that organization.  For them, the SP offered
a better, softer, less demaning athmosphere than the
revolutionary organization.  Some of them eventually
returned to it to be part of its right wing.

Finally, the comparisons of these two events with
subsequent opportunist and sectarian approaches of the
SWP of later days is an strecht.  The leadership,
composition, program and method has substantially
changed under pressure from: a) the post war economic
boom; b) the McCarthy era; c)the Cuban revolution and
Black liberation, and civil rights struggles and high
degree of theoretical confusion of the SWP on all
those issues.  The SWP now lacked Trotsky's presence
who took a personal interest in the SWP until his
assassination in 1940.

Reducing this latter degeneration process of the SWP
to the "cannoist organizational methods" is avoiding
the discussion about the theoretical bankruptcy and
big political errors of the SWP of the postwar period
(remember the 1946 theses that was voted in the SWP
National Conference virtually stating that revolution
was around the corner in the US?).  Many of those who
limit the critique of the SWP to its organizational
methods do so because they are part and parcel of the
theoretical and political confusion of the later stage
of the SWP.  They even remain loyal to many of those
theoretical confusions.

Lastly.  This discussion about Cannoism and the SWP
bear little relevance in the DSP decision to dissolve
its alliance with other parties in the Socialist
Alliance of Australia and transform it in a de facto
broad left socialist party.  They are proposing a
broad party, not a revolutionary fusion as it was the
fusion between the CLA-AWP.  They are proposing
forming a broad party with disparate and small forces,
not an entryst tactic in a reformist organization with
a significant left wing.

IMHO, the DSP has enough trouble understanding the
imperialist nature of Australia; with their liberal
understanding on immigrant and indigenous peoples
struggles; the complete lack of effective labor united
front tactics and methods, and with the two-stage
theory of revolution, etc  They should be tackled on
those issues more than on their alleged Cannonism.  If
anything, allegiance to Cannon would keep them in the
realm of a formalistic, somehow underdeveloped
Trotskyism of the Cannon variety - something they have
dumped alltogether as theydid with genuine
revolutionary Marxism.  This, of course, is just my

The DSP stands on its own record of mistakes,
theoretical confusion and organizational history to
deserve a critique on its own right.  Cannoism used as
the stick to beat them up - as somebody pointed out
already in this list - would not wash.

In fact is wrong to criticize the DSP for something
they are not doing - dissolving their own organization
as somebody claimed in this list - since they said
very clearly that they will remain - as the ISM
remained in Scotland - organized as an internal
tendency of the newly proposed broad party.

As always, sincerely yours,


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