The Militant: a brief history of its publication

Written by Archivo Leon Trotsky
Monday, 06 July 2015 18:43
The Militant is one of the most emblematic Trotskyist-oriented publications. It was the chief organ of the old American SWP [Socialist Workers Party] during decades. A workers’ party that had close advising of Leon Trotsky himself.
The history of this socialist weekly newspaper “published in the interests of the working people,” as its subhead reads (as from December 1941), is very important as it is intertwined with the history of Trotskyism itself in U.S.
As we know, the press of the SWP went through several phases and has had several names, in line with the development of the party itself. In this sense, the Leon Trotsky Archive has a collection of newspapers The Militant,The New Militant, Labor Action and Socialist Appeal, for the period 1928-1969, a total of 2025 editions. 562 editions out of this number were published during Leon Trotsky’s life, who was a frequent collaborator until his assassination in 1940. In this collection, we offer, for now, the numbers by the year 1942. All editions are scanned, cataloged and organized chronologically.
The Militant, Trotsky and American Trotskyism
The Sixth Congress of the Comintern [Third International] was held in Moscow in 1928. James Cannon [1] (1890-1974), who attended the event as a delegate of the Communist Party USA, enters the program committee. Due to an oversight of the Moscow apparatus, two Russian reports translated to English [2] were delivered to the committee members: a letter to the VI Congress of the Communist International named What Now?, and The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals [3], written by Trotsky in his exile in Alma Ata [Kazakhstan] to criticize Bukharin-Stalin’s draft program for the Third International.
J. Cannon and Morris Spector, Canadian CP delegate, were deeply impressed by Trotsky’s criticisms, so much so that after returning to their countries they joined the International Left Opposition and hence were expelled from the Communist Parties (already Stalinists) of their respective countries.
From this fact, J. Cannon, Max Shachtman [2] and Martin Abern [3] founded the Communist League of America (CLA), which, with about 100 members, it turns fully to work in the labor movement especially in Minneapolis and New York.
This first Trotskyist nucleus launches the first edition of The Militant on November 15, 1928.
The devastating global economic crisis that erupted in 1929 radicalized the political situation throughout the 1930s, especially in Europe. This was reflected in the U.S. and the American working class were back to the stage. The intervention in the workers upsurge process leads the young LCA to reach 200 members.
In 1934, the party led by Cannon discusses a merger with the American Workers’ Party, led by a former pastor, called Abraham Muste [4], and by James Burnham [5]. The merger occurs in December of that same year with the creation of the Workers’ Party of the United States, better known as Workers’ Party.
Both parties had addressed two very important victorious strikes. The Communist League of America led the historic strike of truck drivers in Minneapolis (May-August 1934); the followers of Muste had a leading role in the strike against the company Electric Auto-Lite (April-June 1934), during which about 6,000 workers faced 1,300 National Guard troops in Ohio for five days. The merger process was based on these two great facts of the class struggle in the U.S., which served as a catalyst for the entire American labor upsurge of the 1930s.
In the context of this intense labor and political process, The Militant is renamed The New Militant on December 15, 1934 [6].
The deepening economic crisis and the new political situation opens up new growth opportunities for the American Trotskyists. Guided by Trotsky, the Workers’ Party begins to discuss the possible application of the tactic of “entrism” in the Socialist Party, which then attracted important workers and youth sectors.
The tactic of “entrism”, also known as “French turn” [7] consisted of joining the ranks of the Socialist Party keeping a complete political independence of the revolutionary group. Thereafter, the central task was to develop a programmatic and systematic ideological battle within the reformist apparatus, to try to win their left wing to Marxism and break in the short term.
The controversy over the validity of this tactic was installed in the Workers Party.In favor: Cannon, Shachtman and Burnham. Against: Muste, Abern and a party minority.
After intense discussion, the conference of the Workers’ Party, at the time with just under 1,000 members, approved “entrism”. On June 6, 1936, a statement was published in the latest issue of The New Militant, announcing that the party would join the PS and suspend the publication of the newspaper, as required by the SP leadership. [8]
On November 28, 1936, the Trotskyists were able to convey their positions through Labor Action [9], the “official” newspaper of the SP in California. This tactical change allowed Cannon to launch a weekly newspaper. The Labor Action appeared until April 1937. [10]
On August 14, 1937, the Trotskyists founded a monthly magazine of political debate, the Socialist Appeal [11].
At first the Socialist Appeal was a small mimeographed newsletter published in Chicago by Albert Goldman, former leader of the CLA, which had entered individually in the SP a year before Cannon’s party. The point is that theSocialist Appeal, for other reasons, was an organ that had been already “authorized” by the SP leadership. As Goldman had not left the CLA for programmatic reasons – he would just anticipate joining the SP – it was possible to reach an agreement with him, so that the Socialist Appeal became the official organ of the Trotskyist faction.
The Socialist Appeal was the means by which the performance of the Trotskyist faction was “legalized” in the SP, fulfilling a key role in building the American section.
It was through its pages that it was articulated, for example, the famous campaign against the farce of the Moscow Trials and the creation of the famous Dewey Commission. [12]
Through the Socialist Appeal, the sector led by Cannon became the most dynamic wing of the SP, attracting hundreds of workers and most of the socialist youth to their program and ideas.
Due to this intolerable situation for the SP, the Trotskyites were expelled in 1937. The experience only lasted a year. However, the tactic was successful. The Trotskyist bloc came out stronger than when they joined. In addition, according to Cannon, the expulsion of the Trotskyists from the SP and SWP’s foundation dealt with a mortal blow to the PS: “Since then, the SP disintegrates gradually to lose any kind of influence as a labor party”. [13] Trotsky opined that SP’s fate justified the validity of the tactic, even if a single member had not been won.
Doubled in number and with much greater inclusion in the labor movement, the SWP would be founded in 1938, the same year of the Fourth International’s foundation. With more than two thousand members from the working class and the SP out of the way, the SWP could be postulated directly as an alternative to the Communist Party.
From 1937, the pages of Socialist Appeal also show the polemics about the characterization of the USSR as a workers’ state; the validity of dialectics as a method of analysis of reality; the social composition of the party and democratic centralism. This theoretical and political discussion put Trotsky and Cannon on one side and on the other, a minority that became known as “anti-defensist” led by Burnham, Shachtman and Abern. In the April 1940 Congress, the “anti-defensists” broke with the SWP.
In 1941, the publication of The Militant is resumed and live together with the Socialist Appeal until 1942.
After Trotsky’s assassination, which occurred on August 20, 1940, leaders as Cannon, Farrell Dobbs [14] and Joseph Hansen [15] played an active role in the difficult task of keeping the Fourth International alive and functioning because it had been hit hard (its main leader was murdered) and dispersed by the combined actions of Stalinism and Nazism during the terrible years of World War II.
At the time of Trotsky’s death, the SWP was, arguably, the most numerous and strong section of the Fourth International. The core of its leadership was guided directly by the experienced Russian revolutionary. During World War II until the 1970s, the role of the leadership of the American party was very important for the process of revolutionary regroupment in the face of successive crises and disruptions in the Fourth International. They were a reference point, for example, for the Latin American Trotskyist current led by Nahuel Moreno, who considered Cannon and other SWP leaders his “masters”.
However, the ways of “Morenism” and the SWP, which had fought together the great battles of principles and program in the international Trotskyist movement since the 1950s, were definitely separated in the second half of the 1970s, when Jack Barnes became the main leader of the SWP. In 1990, the SWP formally breaks with the Fourth International.
However, the legacy that remains in the pages of the American Trotskyist press is invaluable to new generations of revolutionaries and researchers in general.
[1] CANNON, James Patrick (1890-1974): Born in Kansas City, he was elected to the Central Committee of the unified American CP in 1920 and became leader of one of the internal factions until 1928, when he is convinced of the Trotskyist positions and starts the construction of the U.S. Left Opposition. It was the founder and main leader of the SWP until 1953. For a deeper understanding of his political legacy and the relationship of American Trotskyism with the “Morenist” trend, see the article by Martín Hernández titled James Cannon, um Fio de Continuidade (James Cannon, a Continuity Link), published in Marxism Alive N. 4, New Era, São Paulo, 2014.
[2] Trotsky’s work – a sharp criticism against the opposing program supporting “socialism in one country” – was never distributed to or discussed by the main body at the Congress. Parts of it were made available to the program committee, but then recalled, and were smuggled out of the country by James Cannon. It was first published under the title The Third International After Lenin on the pages of The Militant, in 1929.
[3] Shachtman, Max (1903-1972): Coming from the CP since 1928, he became one of the American Left Opposition leaders. He was one of the main leaders of the SWP, with which broke in 1940 for his differences on the Soviet state class nature. He joined the Socialist Party in 1958.
[4] Abern, Martin (1898-1949): CPUSA founder, then of the Left Opposition and the SWP. He broke with the SWP in 1940 to form the Workers’ Party, in which he remained until his death.
[5] Muste, Abraham (1885-1967): pastor, pacifist Protestant, he was attached to the labor movement during the First World War. In 1933 he founded the American Workers’ Party (AWP), whose members actively participated in major strikes and unemployed workers struggles. In 1934 the AWP joined the  Communist League of America to form the U.S. Workers’ Party (WPUS). In 1936, after the WPUS voted the “entrism” in the Socialist Party, Muste broke with Marxism and returned to the Church. In the 1960s he played an important role in the anti-war movement.
[6] BURNHAM, James (1905-1987): SWP leader. Leader of the “anti-defensist” faction, he broke in 1940; subsequently became a propagandist of McCarthyism and other ultra-right movements and director of the right-wingNational Review. After his break, he secretly integrated the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of CIA. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the hands of President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
[8] The “French turn”, also known as “entrism” was the name given to the political tactics adopted between 1934-1936 by the French Trotskyists to act as a bloc in the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO, currently Socialist Party).
[10] CANNON, James. The History of American Trotskyism.
[13] The “Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials”, better known as the Dewey Commission, after the name of its chairman, the philosopher and educator John Dewey, was a “countersuit” which included a number of personalities completely unrelated to the Trotskyist movement. After months of extensive work, the commission gave its verdict in September 1937, concluding that the Moscow Trials were a “frame-up” and declared Trotsky and his son, Leon Sedov, not guilt of all charges.
[14] CANNON, James: The History of American Trotskyism
[15] DOBBS, Farrell (1907-1983): He was the leader of the Teamsters Labor Union in Minneapolis and general secretary of the SWP since 1953.
[16] HANSEN, Joseph (1910-1979): Trotsky’s secretary between 1937 and 1940, he was elected for the national leadership of the SWP in 1940.

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