DSP and Socialist Alliance

Steve Painter and Rose McCann spainter at optushome.com.au
Sun Sep 8 17:56:51 MDT 2002

Alan Bradley wrote:
>>The "Cannonism" bogey is mainly just that: a stick the DSP's opponents use
to beat it.>>
Cannonism is a bit more than a bogey concerning the DSP, Alan. It is
fundamental to its politics.
The DSP has recently reprinted Struggle for a Proletarian Party and is
planning other Cannon reprints, I believe, next in line being A History of
American Trotskyism.
Its website currently offers the following by or about Cannon: Building the
Revolutionary Party, an Introduction to James P. Cannon by Dave Holmes and
others; Fighting for Socialism in the American Century; Socialism on Trial
and Struggle for a Proletarian Party.
The DSP also is also in the process of producing nine Cannon talks on audio
CD, including: The Two Americas (July 1, 1948), The Trend of the 20th
Century (November 4, 1949), Internationalism and the SWP (May 18, 1953),
Some Facts About Party History (May 24, 1953), Report to the May Plenum (May
28-31, 1954), Concluding Speech to the May Plenum (May 31, 1953), Speech to
Majority Caucus at November Plenum (November 2-3, 1953), Factional Struggle
and Party Leadership (November 3, 1953).
As well, it has an audio CD series, From the Archives of Marxism, consisting
of eight talks by Harry Ring on the history of the US SWP given in 1966: The
1930s, The Entry into the Socialist Party; The Lead-up to World War II and
the Party During the War; World War II, the Post-war Period, the American
Theses, McCarthyism; The Goldman-Morrow Conflict (1941-46), the
Johnson-Forrest Tendency, the Marcyites; the Cochrane Fight (Part I); the
Cochrane Fight (Part II); the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement, Krushchev's
Secret Speech; 1956 Socialist Regroupment, the Birth of the YSA.
All this is mainly for the education of the DSP members in party building.
I think Cannon made an important contribution to the socialist movement and
many of his works are worthy study and reprinting, but the DSP comrades are
fed a steady diet of a particular view of Leninism and party building from a
current that has had repeated problems with sectarian and cultist
degeneration worldwide.
Comrades on this list have suggested the Cochrane Fight, in particular, may
have been a critical moment reflecting early problems with the SWP's method
of party builing, yet the DSP members are being fed the Harry Ring view of
Dave Holmes offers a definition of Cannonism:
"At this point it might be as well to ask, just what is 'Cannonism'? In
essence, it is the [NB the, not a perspective -- SP] Leninist revolutionary
perspective applied to an advanced capitalist country. Several ideas seem
"An unyielding commitment to the socialist revolution and the building of a
new society as the only way out of the horrors and misery of capitalist
"Only the working class can make this revolution; the irreplaceable
instrument needed for this struggle is the vanguard party.
"Such a party, facing the most colossal tasks in history, cannot arise
spontaneously: "it has to be continuously, consistently, and consciously
built", as Cannon put it in his essay on The Revolutionary Party.
"The utmost attention must be given to all aspects of party building, from
determining the party's line on the big political questions-including the
defence of that line within the party-to all questions of internal party
organisation. Especially decisive here is the selection, training and
consolidation of the party's leadership team: without the development of a
tested and authoritative leadership the party cannot play its historic role.
"Cannon was a firm defender of the Leninist organisational principle of
democratic centralism and he applied this fundamental idea in a flexible and
masterful way in building the SWP.
"Those wishing to become more familiar with Cannon's ideas can turn to the
many collections of his writings and speeches now in print -- there are 14
books and several bulletins and pamphlets."
It's all there Alan, the good with some things that a lot of serious
socialists have grave doubts about, in particular "the Leninist
organisational principle of democratic centralism". If this principle is to
be applied in the Socialist Alliance as it has traditionally been applied in
the DSP, non-DSP members of the alliance would have cause for serious
concern, in my opinion.
Use of the term Leninism also needs some thought. Here's a view from Al
Richardson in his introduction to Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism,
reviewed on this list by Louis Proyect in the past few weeks: "Leninism, a
most un-Marxist orthodoxy, and Trotskyism, a heresy, were invented at the
same time, during Lenin's last illness, and for the same purpose, to
discredit Trotsky in the succession struggle. Yet the ways of dealing with
dissidents in their groupings, the personality cults of their leaders, their
internal regimes, the absurdity of their pretensions, and even their
pronounced mendacity about their own pasts show that all too many Trotskyist
organisations bear more than a passing resemblance to Stalinism."
The DSP is no longer Trotskyist, but it is still educating its members in
organisational practices and politics from a wing of that current that fits
some of the above description.
If the DSP has really lost its fear of discussion, and is ready to try to be
part of a more open, multi-current socialist formation, perhaps it's also
time to lose the sense of victimhood. I haven't noticed anyone on this list
using the Cannonism question as a stick to beat the DSP.
Not everyone who is critical of the DSP is necessarily an opponent. Bob
Gould, for example, is not just "an old sparring partner of the Percy
brothers", he has at times been an ally of the DSP. He worked closely with
the Percy brothers in the Vietnam Action Campaign. He spoke at Jim Percy's
memorial meeting. He also spoke at the memorial meeting for Ernest Mandel in
Sydney. He supported the DSP's position on Australian troops in East Timor.
The whole point of the Socialist Alliance is that political alignments shift
over time, I would have thought. Opponents on one question may be allies on
Bob examines political questions critically, as we all should. That can be
irritating at times, as Bob would be among the first to admit. But that's
democracy comrades, are you ready for it?
You've made a proposal, don't be surprised if people want to examine it
critically and even brutally. Accusations of bad faith ("opponents" looking
for a stick to beat the DSP) don't augur well for a full and frank
But then, Alan, as you so often claim, you don't really represent the views
of the DSP, do you?
Steve Painter

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