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Cannon, James P. (1890–1974) and American Trotskyism

Bryan D. Palmer


Growing up in Rosedale, Kansas in the 1890s, James P. Cannon was the son of Irish immigrants. But he would have fit comfortably in a Mark Twain novel, his Midwestern twang and homespun aphorisms marking him as very much a native son. By 1911, however, he was a self-identified professional revolutionary, committed to the creation of a world in which the exploitation of the working class was brought to a decisive halt. Cannon's father, John, was a small-town socialist who supported a complicated and changing family (two wives predeceased him and a third did not remain in his home long) through waged work and, by the turn of the century, on the earnings of marginal business ventures. He revered Eugene Debs and had socialist publications like the Appeal to Reason in the home. Jim Cannon was won to radical ideas by reading such journals and through active involvement in labor defense campaigns. Joining the Socialist Party in 1908, Jim Cannon thirsted for knowledge. After a stint working in Kansas City's packinghouses, he returned to high school, where he quickly gained a reputation as Rosedale's boy orator and star debater. Older than his fellow students by four-to-five years, Cannon struck up an intimate bond with his teacher, a free-thinking woman of Scandinavian descent, Lista Makimson. Economic pressures forced Cannon out of his classes and back into the job market. Keen to be ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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