Raya Dunayevskaya on Bert Cochran and James P. Cannon

I never ceased to be amazed at the amount of S.W.P. nostalgia floating around out there (Alan Wald, Paul Le Blanc, etc). One consistent thread in much of this school of thought is the unnecessity of the many splits the party underwent in its history (for one example, see Paul Le Blanc’s “What Happened to the SWP,” a paper presented at the 2008 Trotsky Legacy Conference at Fordham University).

For a refreshing alternative to this line of thinking, see Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Bert Cochran, Caucus Builder,” which was recently made available by the Marxists Internet Archive. This piece appeared in Correspondence in 1954, right around the time that Cochran and his co-thinker Harry Braverman were expelled from the organization. Dunayevskaya, along with C.L.R. James and Grace Lee, had left Trotskyism for good in 1951 by resigning from the S.W.P. They launched a new organization called Correspondence Committees that year, which underwent a split in 1955 when Dunayevskaya—who had experienced increasing theoretical conflict with James and Lee—left to form News and Letters Committees.

Although Cochran was a critic of James P. Cannon, the godfather of American Trotskyism, both Cochan and Cannon are ruthlessly criticized by Dunayevskaya in this piece. Although the two were political foes, Dunayevskaya makes clear that neither of them was capable of facing the theoretic and practical challenges of the period. The “regroupment” that Cochan went on to advocate in The American Socialist was no less limited than the orthodox Trotskyism of the Cannonites. Simply put, regroupment always means nothing more than rearranging what already exists, when what is needed is the creation of new content.

The last issue of The American Socialist appeared in 1959. Cochran went on to write several books, including Welfare Capitalism—And After and Labor and Communism: The Conflict That Shook America. Braverman became an important member of the Monthly Review group and published the influential Labor and Monopoly Capital in 1974.

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