Martin Abern

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Martin Abern, c. 1931

Martin Abern (né Martin Abramowitz) (1898–1949) was a Marxist politician who was an important leader of the Communist youth movement of the 1920s as well as a founder of the American Trotskyist movement.


Early years

Martin "Marty" Abern was born December 2, 1898 in Bessarabia, a Romanian speaking province of Imperial Russia, the son of an ethnic Jewish peddler.[1] The family emigrated to the United States in 1902, moving to Minneapolis the following year.[1]

Political career

The young man was radically inclined from an early age, joining the Socialist Party of America's youth section, the Young People's Socialist League in 1912, the Socialist Party itself in 1915, and the Industrial Workers of the World circa 1916. He seems to have been a member of the Communist Party of America at the time of its establishment in the fall of 1919 or shortly thereafter. He attended the University of Minnesota for two years but was expelled for his radical views in 1920. In November 1920, the US Department of Justice attempted to make Abern a test case for the deportation of alien radicals citing Communist Party membership as sole grounds for action.[2] He was saved from deportation at the last minute by a court order obtained by his attorney.[3]

Abern was a delegate to the 2nd World Congress of the Young Communist International (YCI), held in Moscow in June 1921. He was on the governing National Executive Committee of the Young Workers League of America (YWL) from May 1922 and was reelected by the convention of that organization held the following year. Abern served as Secretary of the YWL from May 30, 1922 to October 19, 1922, resigning for reasons of health. Abern was a fraternal delegate of the YWL to the ill-fated 1922 Bridgman Convention of the Communist Party in August 1922 and served on a 3 man editorial committee of the YWL from that same fall. Abern also briefly was part of a 3 person Secretariat running the Young Workers League in the summer and fall of 1924 before being replaced as National Secretary on October 15 by John Williamson.

Abern then took an important leadership role in the adult Workers (Communist) Party of America, becoming the District Organizer of the party's important Chicago district in 1928 and sitting on the governing Central Executive Committee of the organization.[3] Abern was a steadfast supporter of the majority faction of Foster-Cannon-Lore during the bitter factional fighting that continued ceaselessly throughout the decade.

Trotskyist years

Abern was expelled from the Workers (Communist) Party in 1928 for supporting Leon Trotsky and James P. Cannon. He was a founding member of the Communist League of America (CLA) in May 1928 and sat on the governing National Committee of that organization from 1931 to 1934. He was an ally of Max Shachtman against Cannon in the factional fighting of this period. Abern was also a founding member of Workers Party of the United States in 1934, formed when the CLA merged with A.J. Muste's Workers Party. He was a member of the National Committee of that organization from 1934 to 1936. In that year he and other Trotskyists entered the Socialist Party en masse, a brief interlude ending with their expulsion in 1937.

In 1938, Abern helped found the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and he was on the National Committee of that organization from 1938 until 1940. The April 1940 convention of the SWP instructed the National Committee of the party to take disciplinary action against Abern, Shachtman, James Burnham, and their factional supporters if that group failed to abide by the decisions of the convention. In accordance with these instructions, the National Committee suspended Burnham, Shachtman, and Abern at its meeting of April 22, 1940, giving the members of this so-called "petty-bourgeois opposition" an opportunity to recant and return to the party. Burham left the radical movement at this time, while Abern joined Max Shachtman's in establishing a new organization called the Workers Party of the United States. The pair were expelled from the SWP by a Plenum Conference held in Chicago from Sept. 27 to 29, 1940.[4]

Death and legacy

Abern continued to support Trotsky's unconditional defense of the Soviet Union and broke politically with Shachtman in 1940, but he remained in the Workers Party organization until his death from a heart attack in April 1949.[5] Abern was just 51 years old at the time of his death.

Abern's papers comprise part of the John Dwyer Papers held by Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Solon DeLeon with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole, The American Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pg. 1.
  2. Document in DoJ/BoI Investigative Files, NARA collection M-1085, microfilm reel 925.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991; pg. 764.
  4. "The Expulsion of the Shachtman-Abern Group: Resolution adopted by the Plenum Conference of the SWP held at Chicago, September 27 to 29, 1940. First published in The Socialist Appeal, October 5, 1940, reprinted in James P. Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1943; pp. 253-254.
  5. Wolfgang Lubitz and Petra Lubitz, "Martin Abern," Lubitz TrotskyanaNet. Revised edition, November 2009; pg. 3.
  6. John Dwyer was an activist in the Trotskyist movement who frequently wrote under the pen name "John Fredericks."

External links

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