James P Cannon

Shachtman's mistakes are not our model

For more debate on US politics, see here Martin Thomas (Solidarity 569, 28 October 2020) states that in 1954 “the heterodox Trotskyist Independent Socialist League [ISL] decided to back trade-union candidates… in Democratic primaries; and in the general elections if they won the primaries”. He denies that this turn contributed to their political drift to the right. Instead, it was “‘Sanders campaigning’ on a small scale 60-odd years before the fact”. Similarly, Thomas Carolan, (Solidarity 566, 7 October 2020) wrote: “The experience of Max Shachtman moving to the right once in the Democratic...

Was Stalinism the new barbarism?

Published in Workers' Liberty Series 1 No. 66 January 2001. Paul Hampton analyses the arguments used by Tony Cliff and others to rubbish the ideas developed in the 1940s by Max Shachtman and the “unorthodox” Trotskyists in the USA about the USSR. This is the second part of an article whose first part appeared in Workers’ Liberty 62. By the late forties Shachtman came to the conclusion that Stalinism was “the new barbarism”. Cliff understood that there were two meanings of the term “barbarism’; the first sense meant a description of the period since 1917, given the belatedness of the socialist...

Stalinism in theory and history

Published in Workers' Liberty Series 1 No. 62 March 2000 In theories of Stalinism, as Haberkern comments in his review of The Fate of the Russian Revolution (WL59-60), plainly there are many nuances, and valuable contributions from the likes of Burnham, Carter and Draper which ought to be more widely known. But the book, criticised by Ernie for its failure to include more such texts, was not intended as a compilation of theories of bureaucratic collectivism. It is rather a critique of the ideas of latter-day Trotskyism, from the premises of Trotsky and by his most ardent followers. Many...

The dynamics of bureaucratism

Left Oppositionists in Siberian exile, late 1920s Published in Workers Liberty Series 1 No.59/60 December 1999 / January 2000 The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism Volume One is a significant contribution to the literature of the anti-Stalinist left. Long buried in the archives the polemics and analyses of those socialists who refused to accept the definition of Stalin’s barbaric regime as a “workers’ state” simply because property was nationalised and private property, large and small, was obliterated, deserve to see the light. My criticism of this anthology...

Penetrating but unsound

Statue of Stalin toppled in the 1956 Hungarian revolution Published in Workers Liberty Series 1 No. 53 February 1999 I welcome the publication of The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism Volume One a sort of library in itself. It is a handy compendium of the sweep of Max Shachtman's journalism, and of his co-thinkers. Always penetrating, often witty, and never without interest, Shachtman was a very gifted revolutionary journalist. But he was no theoretician. This puts him well ahead of James P Cannon, who was neither, but journalism is what it is, and not theory. The...

Brutality as beautiful

The Morning Star aspires to being a left-wing alternative to mainstream tabloids. Thus the paper includes sports pages, arts reviews, a crossword, a gardening column, and even a cookery spot (“The Commie Chef”). The paper’s boxing coverage is by one John Wight, a failed Hollywood screenwriter and well-known figure on the Scottish left. The title of his book This Boxing Game: A Journey in Beautiful Brutality gives a strong clue as to how he regards the “sport”. A recent Wight column in the Morning Star (“Boxing as violence”) purports to examine what he calls the “contradiction that many writers...

Pioneering work on Lenin and Bolshevism

Paul Le Blanc reviews "In Defence of Bolshevism" by Max Shachtman. (Picture: Shachtman in later years.) This is an important work on Lenin and the Bolshevik tradition. While many have been profoundly impressed by the valuable work of Lars Lih in Rediscovering Lenin (2006), Max Shachtman was articulating and documenting many of the same points in the late 1930s, through the 1940s and 1950s, and into the early 1960s. His defence of Bolshevism was articulated over and over, with facts and citations buttressed with brilliant turns of phrase, sometimes with entertaining (even hilarious) flourishes...

James P Cannon

James P Cannon became the leader of the US Trotskyist movement in 1928 after attending the Sixth Congress of the (by then Stalinised) Communist International, getting a copy of one of Trotsky's major documents by chance, reading it,becoming convinced, and then returning to the USA to win supporters for Trotsky's ideas there. Cannon had been a leader of the US Communist Party, and before that an activist in the Socialist Party USA and the Industrial Workers of the World. He remained a day-to-day leader of the Trotskyist movement in the USA (after 1940, of what he himself called the "Orthodox...

From Karl Marx to the fourth of July

From The Militant, July 16, 1951 I’m a Fourth of July man from away back, and a great believer in fire crackers, picnics and brass bands to go with it. You can stop me any time and get me to listen to the glorious story of the greatness of our country and how and when it all got started. The continent we inhabit has been here longer than anyone knows—but as a nation, as an independent people, the darlings of destiny favored above all others, we date from the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July. The representatives in Congress assembled 175 years ago were the great initiators...

Guns, controls and the labour movement

The US constitution famously states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”; historically, revolutionary democrats insisted on this right as a guarantee against arbitrary state power and the development of tyranny. But the early United States was a society composed predominantly of independent small farmers, with only a small urban population. It is obvious that carrying a gun around your farm is different from carrying a gun in the hot house of a big city packed with people, full of social tension and with numerous potential flashpoints for violence...

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