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James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928

Bryan D. Palmer

Publication Year: 2007

Bryan D. Palmer's award-winning study of James P. Cannon's early years (1890-1928) details how the life of a Wobbly hobo agitator gave way to leadership in the emerging communist underground of the 1919 era. Written with panache, Palmer's richly detailed book situates American communism's formative decade of the 1920s in the dynamics of a specific political and economic context.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xviii

Jim Cannon found writing difficult.He was something of a master of procrastination.Were he looking over my shoulder at various times during the last decade, he would, I am sure, have found himself laughing at, and sometimes with, me, for this book has been a long time coming. This is not entirely my fault. ...

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Introduction: The Communist Can(n)on

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pp. 1-20

We ask questions of radicalism in the United States. Expectations and preconceived notions of what radicalism should look like abound, and our queries reflect this. Why is there no socialism in America? Why are workers in the world’s most advanced capitalist nation not class-conscious? ...

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1. Rosedale Roots: Facts and Fictions

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pp. 21-38

11 February 1890: A boy child is born in the working-class hamlet of Rosedale, Kansas. Childbirth does not occasion a great deal of fanfare in the poor industrial districts of the Greater Kansas City region, where Rosedale is situated adjacent to both of the Kansas and Missouri cities of the same name. ...

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2. Youth's Discoveries

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pp. 39-51

Ann Cannon died in 1904. No older than forty-seven, she had lived a hard life. It was her fate never to see her modest aspirations realized, or, at best, to experience them only partially and briefly. Her disappointments would have been evident to young Jim Cannon, who was a mere fourteen years old at the time of his mother’s passing, ...

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3. Hobo Rebel/Homeguard

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pp. 52-86

Jim Cannon dated his entry into the ranks of the revolutionary movement from 1911, rather than from 1908 when he joined the Socialist Party.1 “I committed myself when I joined the IWW in 1911,” he told Reba Hansen in 1948. “Before that I was a sympathizer. I make a distinction.When I joined the IWW, my life was decided.” ...

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4. Red Dawn

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pp. 87-112

Harrison George sat in a Cook County, Illinois, jail cell in December 1917, awaiting the trial that would net him a $30,000 fine and a total of seventeen years on four criminal counts. He heard much of new developments in the East, where workers had turfed out their feudal-like ruler, the czar, and supposedly established a society governed by “soviets,” an “industrial parliament.” ...

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5. Underground

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pp. 113-134

Cannon was often pressed by comrades to write an autobiography. Those who knew his character, especially, as he would have put it, “the merit of his defects,” could have predicted that it would never come to pass.1 But had he managed to pen his life’s story, Cannon once claimed that he would have entitled one of the chapters, “A Suit of Clothes.” ...

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6. Geese in Flight

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pp. 135-165

Manhattan’s New Star Casino was the site of the founding of the Workers’ Party, 23–26 December 1921. The casino convention summoned a diversity of early bodies, many of them overlapping in their constituencies, and some less integrated than others into the consolidated communist underground: ...

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7. Pepper Spray

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pp. 166-201

Cannon returned to the United States late in January 1923.1 The Workers’ Party (WP) that he chaired was now the undisputed center of American communism, and a few months later, in April 1923, the underground Communist Party of America finally dissolved itself. ...

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8. Stalinist Suspensions

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pp. 202-251

The years from 1924 to late 1928 appear to most historians of the United States revolutionary Left to be a communist wasteland, a landscape scarred by incessant party wrangling and bizarre reconfigurations of leadership. First-person recollections, such as those of Benjamin Gitlow and Peggy Dennis, as well as commentaries by historians ...

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9. Labor Defender

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pp. 252-284

As Cannon embarked upon yet another transatlantic crossing, his sense of the politics of revolutionary communism was anything but settled. A public advocate of Bolshevization, he could not have helped but be aware of the human costs that were being exacted, month by grueling month,with the hard turn against the cultural softness ...

Illustrations follow page 284

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10. Living with Lovestone

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pp. 285-315

The International Labor Defense (ILD) mobilizations of the 1920s gave Jim Cannon a respite from the factional intrigues that had become a ubiquitous feature of the social and political relations within a divided Workers (Communist) Party of America leadership. As we have seen, though, such united-front labor defense work was never thoroughly insulated ...

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11. Expulsion

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pp. 316-349

The Sixth World Congress of the Communist International convened in Moscow from 17 July through 1 September 1928. It was the first time the Congress had assembled in four years. The internal situation in the Soviet Union was largely hidden from the revolutionary ranks who descended on the first workers’ state from all corners of the globe. ...

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Conclusion: James P. Cannon, the United States Revolutionary Movement, and the End of an Age of Innocence

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pp. 350-370

The revolutionary Left in the United States has never had an easy time of it. Opposed, at times quite vehemently, by capital and the state, it has also had an uphill battle in its efforts to lift the ideological weights of supposed affluence and democracy from the shoulders of dissidence ...

Notes

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pp. 371-526

Index

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pp. 527-542

back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252092084
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252031090

Page Count: 576
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: The Working Class in American History

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Subject Headings

  • Cannon, James Patrick, 1890-1974.
  • Socialists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Communists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Socialism -- United States -- History.
  • Communism -- United States -- History.
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