Blogs > Cliopatria > Back from the Grave and Ready to Party

Jun 3, 2010 6:03 pm

Back from the Grave and Ready to Party

Ralph Luker has pointed out, in that gentle way of his, that six months have passed since my last post to this blog. There are various reasons for this delinquincy, none of them interesting. But one motive to resume, apart from fear of banishment, is to recommend items noticed while reading, as Ralph does with his daily roundups. And all the more so when it is something that deserves more attention than it will probably get otherwise.

The new blog Marxist Marginalia has a perceptive short discussion of Bryan Palmer's James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928, the first of two volumes on an important but neglected figure. So little work has been done on the first decade of the American Communist movement that it would be nice to think the book will inspire imitators.

The blog post begins to think about connections between Palmer's book and the development of Marxist thinking on the African-American struggle. The blogger (a graduate student whose name isn't given so far as I can see) includes four scanned articles by Robert Minor -- only one of which is to be found in the collection Philip Foner and James Allen edited, American Communism and Black Americans: A Documentary History, 1919-1929. This is an encouraging sign.

Last year I spent some time talking with people in the marketing department for the University of Illinois Press making the case for why this book, of all things, should be made available in paperback in a timely manner -- as happily it now is, if not exactly in a cheap edition. And this, too, is encouraging. Just because something is specialized doesn't mean its interest is necessarily confined to specialists. A two-volume biography of James P. Cannon isn't going to climb any best-seller list but I would guess there are at least a few thousand people who will want to read it.

By the way, Palmer himself has a review-essay on the recent (and considerably less satisfying) biography of Ernst Mandel. Apart from touching on various topics that will be central to Palmer's account of the second part of Cannon's life, this essay is of interest for its reflections on the issues involved in writing the biography of such a figure. It also refers to"the species academicus supercilious," an expression that made at least one reader laugh out loud.

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