[Marxism] Trotsky and Cannon

Ozleft ozleft at optushome.com.au
Thu Mar 11 06:19:36 MST 2004

By Bob Gould

Tim Wolhforth's book, The Struggle for Marxism in the United States:
A History of American Trotskyism, contains an extensive and well-
documented assessment of the role of James P. Cannon in the
development of the US Socialist Workers Party.

This book, published in 1971, was a piece of energetic, independent
work by Wohlforth when he was the main leader of the Workers League,
the US section of Gerry Healy's International Committee of the Fourth

The fact that Wohlforth flexed his theoretical muscles in this way
seems to have irritated Gerry Healy, and many participants in the
Healy current at that time had the view that a certain animosity
towards Wohlforth's book was part of the motivation for an attack by
Healy on Wohlforth and his overthrow as leader of the Workers League
in the mid-1970s. After that, the book certainly fell into disuse in
the Healy movement, and it is now quite rare.

Wohlforth's experience in the Trotskyist movement is colourfully and
interestingly described in his autobiographical work, The Prophet's
Children: Travels on the American Left (Humanity Books, New Jersey,

In The Struggle for Marxism in the United States, Wohlforth
repeatedly acknowledges Cannon's vital role in the development of the
SWP, and his considerable contributions as an agitator and organiser,
but he also explores Cannon's theoretical weaknesses. He goes so far
as to say that "anti-intellectual prejudices" "had long been deeply
ingrained in the Cannon section of the party", and he brings forward
evidence from Trotsky and others to support this proposition.

Wohlforth's book is weakened by his constant harping on an ill-
defined "Marxist method", but it nevertheless assembles strong
documentary evidence of some weaknesses of the Cannon current, and
Trotsky's reservations about the more authoritarian organisational
practices of this current.

Wohlforth's book also includes the important exchange between Trotsky
and leaders of the Cannon faction of the US SWP about the strategic
attitude of that party towards the Stalinist movement in the US in
the late 1930s.

The section of Wohlforth's book on Cannon's role from about 1924 to
1940 is now available on Ozleft, along with the transcript of the
discussions with Trotsky.

Wohlforth on Cannon:

SWP 1940 discussion with Trotsky:

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