STUDY GUIDE

The First Ten Years of American Communism by James P. Cannon

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First Pathfinder edition 1973, 2nd printing 1980

Introduction, pp. 15-34

What is the focus of Cannon’s book?

What are the three distinct periods of American communism’s first decade?

What does Cannon say is necessary in order to understand why CP leaders changed and “were not even able to stick to their original design”?

Was the American Communist Party (CP) a “transplant” from Russia? Explain your answer.

What objective national and international factors influenced the degeneration of the American CP beginning in the middle 1920s?

What was the significance of the CP-USSR under Stalin adopting the concept of “Socialism in One Country”? What impact did this have on the CPs in other countries?

How is Cannon’s analysis of the wholesale treachery of the CP leadership different from those who sale it was due to their personal character flaws or to the inherent immorality of communism?

Why were a few communists able to stand against the CP degeneration?

What can happen to revolutionary cadre if the revolution is “too long delayed”? How does this relate to the 1990s?

In what way was economic prosperity harder on revolutionaries that overt persecution?

My Thesis, pp. 35-38

What, in brief, in Cannon’s thesis?

What is the common thread connecting the CP’s many changes of policy in the 1930s and ‘40s?

What is the best way for Americans to help revolutions in other lands?

Four Ways of Viewing the Early Communist Party, pp. 38-41

What are the “four ways” of analyzing the CP? Which does Cannon reject, and why?

The First Years of the Underground Party, pp. 41-46

How does Cannon characterize the dominant, New York-based foreign-language leadership of the Socialist Party Left Wing?

Why did Cannon oppose a split in 1919?

Fraina—the Founder, pp. 46-50

Why does Cannon consider Fraina the founder of American communism? What was his
greatest contribution? His key shortcoming(s)?

The Early Leadership, pp. 51-57

What was the key role of the Lovestone-Cannon leadership in 1921? What was this so important?

Did Cannon and Lovestone form an effective leadership team because of their personal affinity? Explain your answer.

Origin of the Policy on the Labor Party & More on the Labor Party Policy, pp. 57-63

What criticism does Cannon make of the early left wing of American socialism? What did they learn from Lenin that helped them correct the problem?

Why did Cannon and others think socialists should support a labor party in the U.S.?

The “American Question” at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern,
pp. 64-73

Explain what Cannon means by “liquidator.” Why were most Russian communists suspicious of them?

What was Trotsky’s role in resolving the “American Question”?

What were the key arguments against the leftist/underground faction?

What effect would it have had if the Comintern had not helped resolve the U.S. faction dispute?

The Reshaping of the Leadership after Legalization of the Party,
pp. 74-78

What factors strengthened the trend toward Americanization and legalization?

What disrupted the new leadership combination before it had a chance to coalesce? Why does Cannon call this factor “artificial”?

The Pepper Regime, pp. 78-84

What does Cannon say was the root of the factional struggle that began in 1923?

Why does Cannon say of Pepper that he “has to give the devil his due”?

Overthrow of the Pepper Regime, pp. 84-94

What does Cannon say the launching of the Federated Farmer-Labor Party was a mistake and not a victory?

What did Cannon think was necessary for the CP to do in 1923?

How did Cannon and Foster go about “overthrowing” Pepper?

Notes on the Third Party Convention, pp. 95-96

What was the question of this convention? What was the outcome?

The Pre-War Anarchists, pp. 98-101

What are the key points Cannon makes about anarchism and the anarchists that existed
before World War I?

The Pre-War Left Wing, pp. 101-105

Look up the definition of “syndicalist.” What does Cannon say was the syndicalists’ chief flaw?

Why is Cannon so angry at the role played by Bittelman and the Russian federation in the 1919 Socialist Party split? (This is also a review of material from earlier classes.)

Foster in World War I, pp. 105-108

What does Foster’s testimony before the Senate reveal about his politics? How does
this support Cannon’s saying that Foster did not represent a significant revolutionary
force within the workers’ movement?

Foster and Browder, pp. 108-115

How does Cannon characterize Foster’s success in organizing steelworkers?

What ultimately happened to Foster? Why did Browder rather than Foster move to the head of the CP after Stalin consolidated his power?

Lovestone and Bittelman, pp. 115-117

How does Cannon characterize Lovestone?

What were Bittelman’s essential political characteristics?

The Foster-Cannon Group, pp. 117-125

What two differing tendencies or approaches were brought together in the newly formed communist parties with, as Cannon says, more success in the U.S. than elsewhere?

What was the starting point of the Foster-Cannon faction? On was else was it based?

Why does Cannon say that “not all of [Foster’s experience in the trade union movement] was profit”?

Browder’s Role, pp. 125-127

How does Cannon describe Browder’s role?

Fourth Plenum of the Comintern, pp. 128-129

What was happening within the Comintern and its Russian leadership in 1924?

After the 1924 Elections, pp. 129-131

What was the Foster-Cannon group’s position on the labor party in 1924?

1925: The ”Parity Committee” and the “Cable from Moscow”, pp. 131-138

What role did the Comintern play in the SP-USA factional struggle in 1925? Critique this role.

What was Foster’s response? Why did Cannon disagree?

International Labor Defense, pp. 159-165

What was the ILD and why was its work important?

How does Cannon answer the charge that his motives and those of other communists for participating in the ILD were “not altogether philanthropic”?

What point does Cannon make about accountability for movement funds?

1927: From Ruthenberg to Lovestone, pp. 166-174

What happened to the CP in 1927? What does Cannon say was its essential meaning
and significance?

How did Lovestone “help create the conditions in his party for his own disaster”?

Notes and Sidelights on the year 1927, pp. 175-182

What was the United Opposition Bloc?

Why does Cannon say that he “was never worth a damn on a mission to Moscow after 1922”?

Who does Cannon credit with being the first American Trotskyist, and why?

The Lovestone Regime, pp. 182-185

How did Lovestone differ From Ruthenberg as a political leader?

What was Lovestone and Wolfe’s view of American capitalism? What is “the theory of American Exceptionalism?

What did Lovestone do regarding party factionalism?

A Note on Zinoviev, pp. 186-187

What factors does Cannon put forth in Zinoviev’s favor in contrast to his detractors?

Some People in the Party, pp. 187-194

List the three things that you find most interesting about any of the people Cannon
discusses.

Before the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, pp. 195-201

Explain what Cannon means by saying that “Stalin’s moves [including the Comintern’s left turn in 1928] were strongly influenced by Trotsky.”

How did the left turn affect the Lovestone regime? their opposition?

Explain the difference between Lovestone and Foster on the trade union question.

Lovestone’s Troubles in Moscow, pp. 201-202

On what policy was Lovestone attacked at the 1928 Sixth Congress of the Comintern?
What was the result?

Stalin’s Devious Design, pp. 202-204

What was “Stalin’s devious design”?

At the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern, pp. 204-215

What was Stalin’s unstated agenda for the Sixth World Congress?

What happened at the Congress that caused Cannon to drop an active role in the American section’s faction fight?

Cannon had the opportunity to take Lovestone’s place as the head of the CPUSA. Why did he, in consultation with Maurice Spector, decide not to do so?

What happened to foster at the Sixth Congress?

On Critics and Criticism, p. 216

What is Cannon’s attitude toward his critics?

The “Third Period,” pp. 216-217

What was the “third period”? What brought it to an end?

Foster’s Last Stand, p. 218

What does Cannon say motivated Foster?

Characterize Foster’s relationship to Stalinism.

Foster and the Later Stalinists, p. 219

Why does Cannon disagree with Draper’s statement that “It’s better that [Foster] be a
fake Stalinist than a real one”?

Spector’s Role, pp. 220-221

What does Cannon say prepared him for working with Spector at the Sixth World
Congress?

Our Trial for “Trotskyism,”, pp. 222-223

How did the CP leadership put Cannon and his comrades “on trial”?

How did the trial end?

On “The Birth of American Trotskyism”, pp. 224-226

How does Cannon explain his motivation for breaking with the CP and setting out on the task of building an American Trotskyist movement?

The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement, pp. 227-244

Why were there no CP faction fights over the race question?

Describe the “starting point” of American radicals’ in the ‘20s on the Black question.

What was “the best socialists’” basic theoretical position on Blacks in the ‘20s? What was the worst?

What was the essential difference between the CP of the ‘20s and its radical ancestors on this question?

Where did “everything new and progressive on the Negro question” come from? What was it not coming from U.S. radicals?

What does Cannon say distinguished Lenin and the Bolsheviks from all other left tendencies? How did this affect the CPUSA?

What material changes in the lives of U.S. Blacks were taking place at this time?

What contribution did the CP make to the growing Black movement in the ‘30s?

What does Cannon say was the “contradictory twist” in the relationship of communism to the Black movement?

Explain Cannon’s statement that the CP “jumped over” this contradiction?

NB: For a fuller understanding of the issues covered in questions 9 and 10, refer to the FSP document “Revolutionary Integration.”

What was the relationship of the CP to the Black movement during the CP’s ultra-radical “third period”?

What helped spark the colonial revolution, and thereby provide allies for the U.S. Black movement?

Describe how the stance of liberals on race developed from the ‘30s to the ‘50s.

How did American Stalinists “foul up” on the Black question?

What impact did this betrayal have on the post-World War II Black movement?

What did Cannon predict [in 1959] for the future of the Black movement? How have the subsequent decades fulfilled or contradicted his prediction?

Eugene Debs, pp. 245-276

In taking stock at the centennial of Debs’ birth, what does Cannon say were progressive achievements of the socialist movement?

What reactionary manifestations existed?

Explain Cannon’s statement that in the 1950s “the present momentary lull in the class struggle . . . can be . . . one of the richest in the history of American socialism”? Do you think he was right?

How was Debs transformed from a progressive unionist and Populist into a revolutionary socialist?

What “delusive theory” did Debs have to reject to become a revolutionary socialist?

Politically characterize the first U.S. socialists.

What was the “Moyer-Haywood campaign”?

What was Debs’ greatest strength?

Why do you think Debs was sometimes belittled as “not the brains of the [Socialist] Party”?

Politically characterize the Socialist Party prior to 1919.

Describe the level of class struggle in the U.S. at this period.

What happened to the popularity of the SP from 1900 to 1912?

Why did the SP start to decline in 1912?

What changes began in the SP when the right wing came into control?

Did the election of some SP candidates between 1910 and 1912 mean that a real showdown between capitalism and socialism took place in the electoral arena?

How did the right wing force revolutionary workers out of the SP in 1912?

What development led to a reinvigorated and more effective left wing?

Summarize Debs’ role in the internal conflict.

What was Debs’ greatest failing?

Why did Lenin contribute that Debs did not?

What is “the most important lesson” from comparing the SP in the U.S. and the CP in the USSR?

The IWW, pp. 277-310

Why does Cannon call the founding convention of the IWW a “dress rehearsal”?

What was the essence of the IWW program?

Why does Cannon say the CIO was only possible because of the groundwork of the IWW?

Why did the IWW split at its second convention?

What did the IWW “borrow” from Marxism?

In what sense was the IWW a “genuinely indigenous product of its American environment”?

In what way were the IWW strike meetings “schools for socialism”?

What was the basis of the IWW’s second split in 1908?

Explain Cannon’s statement that “the economic factor eventually predominates . . . but only in the long run.”

Why were most of the strikes led by the IWW defeated?

From what strata of workers did most IWW workers come? Why?

Explain Cannon’s statement that the majority’s failure to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution “sealed the doom of the IWW.”

How will the contradiction of the separation of the working class from its conscious vanguard be solved?

How would you summarize the IWW’s contribution to the development of the American labor movement?

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