James Kannon

James Kannon

American Trotskyist, one of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International.
Date of Birth: 11.02.1890
Country: USA

  1. Biography of James Cannon
  2. James Patrick Cannon passed away in Los Angeles in August 1974.

Biography of James Cannon

James Patrick Cannon was an American Trotskyist and one of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He was born to a family of Irish immigrants in the town of Rosedale, Kansas. In 1908, he became a member of the Socialist Party of America (SPA), and in 1911, he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Within the ranks of the IWW, he worked alongside many prominent figures of the organization, including Vincent St. John, Bill Haywood, and Frank Little.

During the First World War, Cannon opposed the war from an internationalist perspective and later supported the October Revolution in 1917. In 1919, he was one of the founders of the Communist Party (which later became the Communist Party USA) and was one of its main leaders in the 1920s. From 1919 to 1928, Cannon served as the party's chairman. In the 1920s, he was responsible for organizing the International Labor Defense within the Communist Party USA, which he built on a solid foundation. His supporters were organized into the Foster-Cannon faction, which focused on organizing American workers in trade unions.

During his visit to Russia in 1928, Cannon became acquainted with Trotsky's criticism of the leadership of the Comintern. He agreed with Trotsky's arguments and attempted to form the Left Opposition within the Communist Party USA. As a result, Cannon and his supporters were expelled from the organization. Along with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, they formed the Communist League of America and began publishing the newspaper "The Militant", positioning themselves as an external faction of the Communist Party USA. In the mid-1930s, the members of the Communist League, following Trotsky, came to the conclusion that the Comintern could not be reformed and began to build a new party and a new International. This implied that they positioned themselves not as an external faction of the Communist Party USA but as the core of a future revolutionary party.

Although the Communist League remained a small organization, its leaders, including Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern, were supported by the majority of Communist Party cells in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Therefore, when the labor movement began to gain strength in the early 1930s, the Communist League had good opportunities to spread its ideas during the strikes in Minneapolis in 1934. The Teamsters union, which had about 5,000 members, was under the influence of the Socialist Workers Party at that time. As a result of the growing labor movement, a discussion began between the Communist League and the American Workers Party, which culminated in the merger of the two organizations and the formation of the Workers Party of the United States. Subsequently, the members of the organization joined the Socialist Party of America as a faction. However, some members of the organization opposed the merger with the SPA. Opponents of the merger, led by Hugo Oehler, left the Workers Party and formed the Revolutionary Workers League. In 1937, the Trotskyists were expelled from the Socialist Party along with the youth wing of the SPA, the Young People's Socialist League. In 1938, they formed the Socialist Workers Party, and James P. Cannon was elected its national secretary.

Cannon was one of the leaders of the Fourth International, and in 1938, he visited Britain with the intention of helping to unite the warring Trotskyist groups. The result of the trip was the formation of the Revolutionary Socialist League, which soon disintegrated. In 1940, one of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, Max Shachtman, along with his followers, left the SWP and formed the Workers Party. One of the key issues discussed, which led to the split, was the question of defending the Soviet Union in the war. While Cannon advocated support for the USSR in its struggle against imperialist countries, Shachtman's analysis equated the Soviet Union with fascist states. This debate was reflected in Cannon's book, "The Struggle for a Proletarian Party" in 1943, and in Trotsky's book, "In Defense of Marxism", published as a collection of articles in 1939-1940.

The party suffered another blow during the Second World War when Cannon and other leaders of the SWP were arrested for agitating against US military preparations, falling under the Smith Act. But even from prison, Cannon's influence on party life remained strong. He wrote letters and recommendations to the party leadership, which later became the book "Letters from Prison". Cannon remained a key figure in the SWP even after the war. In 1953, he handed over the position of national secretary to Farrell Dobbs and moved to California, while remaining an active member of the National Committee of the party.

Cannon played a major role in the split of 1953. He authored the "Open Letter to Trotskyists of the World", which laid the groundwork for the formation of the International Committee of the Fourth International. However, he later became a proponent of the reunification of the two factions, which took place in 1963. Cannon participated in discussions among various tendencies that took place between 1963 and 1967.

James Patrick Cannon passed away in Los Angeles in August 1974.