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

Author: Bryan D. Palmer
The American revolutionary tradition reconsidered
Cloth – $125
Paper – $37
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 04/05/2010
Cloth: 01/01/2007
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About the Book

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. This historical drama unfolds alongside the life experiences of a native son of United States radicalism, the narrative moving from Rosedale, Kansas to Chicago, New York, and Moscow. 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. Our understanding of the indigenous currents of the American revolutionary left is widened, just as appreciation of the complex nature of its interaction with international forces is deepened.

About the Author

Bryan D. Palmer is the Canada Research Chair at Trent University. He edits Labour/Le Travail and is the author of ten other books, the most recent being Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era.


"An excellent portal through which to experience and better understand the radical Left in the United States."--American Historical Review

"One of the most inspiring leaders of the early United States Communist movement has at long last found a biographer worthy to recount the first four decades of his life."--Against the Current

"This book is a fitting tribute to Cannon--soapboxer, Wobbly, and American Bolshevik."--International Socialism

"Palmer's biography is destined to become a classic in the historiography of US Communism. It is the most serious treatment of the Communist movement's history in the 1920s since Draper's two volumes appeared approximately 50 years ago. . . . Palmer is currently preparing the second volume of his Cannon biography, chronicling the subject's Trotskyist years. I can hardly wait to read it."--Left History

"Palmer's faithful, moving account of the choices Cannon faced has important lessons for us. One of those lessons is that, even as we weigh the decisions the choices and hopes of previous radical generations, we need to attend to our own imperatives and dreams."--Canadian Dimension

"Palmer shows a superb grasp of the relevant secondary literature, combing memoirs, the Cannon and Browder papers, FBI reports, and microfilmed Russian documents. His clear writing carries readers through an arcane world of ever-shifting alliances, factions and ideological polemics. The book is particularly strong on Cannon's impoverished Kansas youth, dysfunctional family life, early days as a hobo, organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and participant in meetings of the Communist International. Highly recommended."--Choice

"An important contribution to the study of American radicalism."--Journal of American History

"Palmer has composed an elegant book that draws readers in with engaging chapter headings and does not disappoint, providing them with an immense amount of intriguing information about Cannon and the American revolutionary Left. Palmer’s writing is engaging and hard to put down; you can feel his passion for his subject."--H-SHGAPE

"An exhaustive account of Cannon's life and his place in the various machinations of the revolutionary Left."--Labor History


"In this magnificent biography of Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, Bryan Palmer recovers the lost history of the Left in the 1920s and completely reframes the debate about the origins and nature of the CPUSA. Beyond Cold War calumny or Popular Front fairy- tale, here is the true story of 'Reds,' told by a master historian."--Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz, Planet of Slums, Buda's Wagon, and other books

"Destined to become a path-breaking classic on American Communism, Bryan Palmer's study of Jim Cannon offers a coherent and richly detailed account of that movement's formative decade. Communism in the United States of the 1920s emerges from this volume not as a mere hotbed of sterile sectarianism, but as a promising outgrowth of U.S. radical traditions boldly intersecting with the contradictory realities of Russian Communism."--Paul Le Blanc, author of A Short History of the U.S. Working Class and Marx, Lenin and the Revolutionary Experience


Wallace K. Ferguson Prize, Canadian Historical Association, 2008