James P. Cannon was a leader of the US Trotskyist movement from its very beginning. He was expelled from the US Communist Party because of his support of Trotsky, but he always hated being in a small group: his background was as a syndicalist trade union militant, and he never forgot it. Cannon had many faults, but he always remained true to the working class and the labour movement. Here he describes the time in the early 1930’s when the US Trotskyists were isolated and had little contact with the working class. A bit like the British left at the moment (so we should harken unto Cannon):
“In those dog days of the movement we were shut off from all contact. We had no friends, no sympathizers, no periphery around our movement. We had no chance whatsoever to participate in the mass movement. Whenever we tried to get into a workers organization we would be expelled as counterrevolutionary Trotskyists. We tried to send delegations to the unemployed meetings. our credentials would be rejected on the ground that we were enemies of the working class. We were utterly isolated, forced in upon ourselves. Our recruitment dropped to almost nothing. The Communist Party and its vast periphery seemed to be hermetically sealed against us.
“Then, as is always the case with new political movements, we began to recruit from sources none too healthy. If you are ever reduced again to a small handfull, as well the Marxists may be in the mutations of the class struggle; if things go badly once more and you have to begin over again, then I can tell you in advance some of the headaches you are going to have. Every new movement attracts certain elements which might properly be called the lunatic fringe. Freaks always looking for the most extreme expression of radicalism, misfits, windbags, chronic oppositionists who have been thrown out of half a dozen organizations-such people began to come to us in our isolation, shouting, “Hello Comrades.” I was always against admitting such people, but the tide was too strong. I waged a bitter fight in the New York branch of the Communist League against admitting a man to membership on the sole grounds of his appearance and dress.
“They asked ‘What have you against him?’
“I said, ‘He wears a corduroy suit up and down Greenwich Village, with a trick mustache and long hair. There is something wrong with this guy.”
“I wasn’t making a joke, either. I said, people of this type are not going to be suitable for approaching the ordinary American worker. They are going to mark our organisation as something freakish, abnormal, exotic: something that has nothing to do with the normal life of the American worker. I was dead right in general, and in this mentioned case case in particular. Our corduroy-suit lad, after making all kinds of trouble in the organization, eventually became an Oehlerite”.