Source: The New International (February 1947), pp. 59-60
Transcription: Ted Crawford 2008
Markup: Niklas 2008
In the August issue of Workers’ International News an article was published on the nature of the regimes in Europe (1). In dealing with the arguments of Comrade Pierre Frank as to whether bourgeois democratic or Bonapartist regimes had been established in Western Europe, the following point was made:
“Comrade Frank says the existence of democratic liberties does not suffice to make a democratic regime. A profound observation! What follows? The existence of Bonapartist measures does not make a regime Bonapartist either, Comrade Frank! This argument is about as profound as those of the ‘bureaucratic collectivists’ who argued that we had the intervention of the state in the economy in Germany under Hitler, in France under Blum, in America under Roosevelt (NRA), in Russia under Stalin…consequently all those regimes were the same. It is not the points of similarity only—all human societies have points of similarity, particularly different types of capitalist societies—it is the decisive traits which determine our definition of regimes.” (My emphasis—E. G.)
To anyone reading the article conscientiously, it should be clear that this analogy is there to elucidate the point that repressive measures do not necessarily convert a regime into a Bonapartist dictatorship. However, The New International of October 1946 contains an article by M. S. (2) which asserts that this point was introduced for the sinister purpose of distorting the views of that school of “bureaucratic collectivists” gathered around Max Shachtman. M. S. writes:
“By ‘bureaucratic collectivists’ Grant can but have in mind the comrades of the Workers’ Party and The New International who have put forward and defended the theory that Stalinist Russia represents what we call a ‘bureaucratic collectivist state.’
“…According to Grant, the ‘bureaucratic collectivists’ argue (where they do this arguing remains a secret not only to us but also, to Grant) that the Roosevelt, Hitler, Blum and Stalin regimes are all the same; but again according to Grant—and this time with a sarcasm guaranteed, as the English say, to hit us for six—this argument is not very profound.” (My emphasis—E. G.)
We call your readers’ attention to the quotation of M. S. in the second paragraph. He has changed the tense. The article reads: “those of the bureaucratic collectivists who argued”; Shachtman changes it to “the bureaucratic collectivists argue.”
If we used the polemical method of Shachtman we would ask him, in his own language, which category of readers does he fall into: those who read and misrepresent or those who read and do not understand?
The significance of this change will be apparent in a moment. It should be noted that the article in dispute referred to “those of the bureaucratic collectivists,” not specifically to all the bureaucratic collectivists, of which there are varying schools. M. S. has thus not only changed the tense, but the very essence of the sentence. It is rather a curious method for one so righteous in his plea for scrupulousness in criticism and polemic.
Shachtman imagines that he is the only minnow in the pond. He forgets that there were many forerunners. We will let him into the “secret” as to which of the bureaucratic collectivists we [were] referring to.
In the discussion which Trotsky had with Burnham in 1940, long before M. S. had branched out on his own version of “bureaucratic collectivism,” Trotsky wrote:
“Recently, an Italian ‘left communist,’ Bruno R., who formerly adhered to the Fourth International, came to the conclusion that “bureaucratic collectivism” was about to replace capitalism… Bruno R. brackets together planned economy in the USSR, fascism, National Socialism, and Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal.’ All these regimes undoubtedly possess common traits, which in the last analysis are determined by the collectivist tendencies of modern economy… The traits of centralization and collectivization determine both the politics of revolution and the politics of counter-revolution; but this by no means signifies that it is possible to equate revolution, Thermidor, fascism and American ‘reformism’.”
If we decide to discuss Shachtman’s particular “bureaucratic collectivist” tendency, we will discuss it for the ideas it represents, and not other ideas. If it will give solace to M. S., we hereby declare that his particular tendency was not referred to in the above reference. Had he read the passage scrupulously, this would have been clear to him before he embarked on his irresponsible outburst in “Setting the Record Straight.”
(1) Just after the end of the Second World War a debate opened up between the European Secretariat of the Fourth International and the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain on the character of the post-war period. An article by Pierre Frank, “Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe?” published in Fourth International in February 1946 was answered by Ted Grant in “Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe—A Reply to Pierre Frank”, Workers’ International News, August 1946.
(2) Max Shachtman, “Setting the Record Straight”, New International, October 1946.
Comrade Grant charges me with a failure to read his article conscientiously, with changing not only the tense but the very essence of an important sentence in his article and with an irresponsible outburst. In reply, I hasten to plead guilty to the charge of changing the tense—but to no other. I think, however, there is ground for a very merciful sentence. Grant spoke of the bureaucratic collectivists who “argued.” Paraphrasing him, I spoke of bureaucratic collectivists who “argue.” I would put my neck under the knife—reluctantly, of course, but with the knowledge that I was getting no less than my due—only if it could be pointed out that by having changed the tense I somehow did violence to “the very essence of the sentence.” To point this out it is only necessary for Grant to do one thing: to show that the “bureaucratic collectivists”—no matter who they are, no matter what “school” they belong to, no matter which minnow Grant had in mind—used to have the views that Grant rejects but no longer have them today, that is, who “argued” but no longer “argue.” I doubt very much if Grant will be able to find any such bureaucratic collectivist minnow. In any case, I have never seen one and I do not know of its existence.
Grant says that the word “those” in the sentence in dispute referred not to the word “argument” but to the term “bureaucratic collectivists.” As I read it then and as I read it now, “those” refers to the kind of arguments made by the bureaucratic collectivists. It appears that I am in error; I cheerfully acknowledge it. According to Comrade Grant, the sentence should be construed as meaning the argument made, so to speak, by those particular bureaucratic collectivists who argue (pardon, argued!) that “all those regimes were the same.” I do not want to lose myself in a discussion over syntax, which is a field in which I readily yield to Grant. But in spite of what he writes, I am compelled again to ask the question: In referring to “bureaucratic collectivists,” to whom could Grant possibly have referred if not to the comrades of the Workers’ Party?
Perhaps to Burnham and his followers? But Burnham does not even speak of bureaucratic collectivism and, so far as we understand his viewpoint, he does not contend that the regimes of Hitlerite Germany, Blum’s France, Roosevelt’s America and Stalinist Russia are (were) “the same.”
Perhaps to MacDonald and those who agree with him, since they do use the term bureaucratic collectivism? But if we understand MacDonald’s view in this question (or in any other) he “argued” very emphatically that while the Stalinist and Hitlerite regimes “were the same,” they were, by virtue of their non-capitalist and anti-capitalist nature, fundamentally different from those of Roosevelt and Blum.
It is then neither the Burnhamite nor the MacDonaldites who could be meant. And in order to give solace to M. S., Grant declares that our “particular tendency was not referred to” either.
Who, then? He lets us into the “secret” without hesitation. He was referring—it is perfectly plain to see—to Bruno R. The unfindable, unquotable, more or less incorporeal and altogether mysterious Bruno R. is materialized before our very eyes as “those of the bureaucratic collectivists.” Good. I will not say another word about Bruno’s pluralization (def., the act of pluralizing; the attributing of plurality to a person by the use of a plural pronoun. Webster). But if we do not have to defend ourselves because we were not meant, our unknown and unfindable fellow minnow ought to get at least some defense.
Whether Bruno believed that “consequently all those regimes were the same” or believed something quite different, we do not begin to profess to know. But our ignorance on this point is no greater than Grant’s, or than the ignorance of anyone else we know of, except for Trotsky himself. With that exception, no one we know of has read Bruno’s work; no one has quoted one single sentence from it; no one has so much as seen a copy of the book (if it is a book and not an unpublished manuscript, as is possible). All that Grant or we or anyone we ever heard of knows about the views of Bruno R. is what Trotsky wrote about him in 1939 in In Defense of Marxism. But not even Trotsky’s paraphrase of Bruno’s views gives one the right to attribute to this mysterious writer the opinion that the regimes in the four countries mentioned “were the same.” Trotsky writes, for example, that Bruno R. places both the Soviet and fascist regimes under the category of ‘bureaucratic collectivism,’ because the U.S.S.R., Italy and Germany are all ruled by bureaucracies...” (op. cit., p. 52). He writes that Bruno “came to the conclusion that ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ was about to replace capitalism” (op. cit., p. 10. My emphasis) and that Bruno “brackets together planned economy in the USSR, fascism, National Socialism and Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’.” (same page). But while these rather skimpy descriptions may permit all sorts of conclusions as to Bruno’s views as he actually elaborated them in his work, they give us, I repeat, no right to conclude that Bruno held all these regimes to be the same.
In general, people concerned with scrupulousness and conscientiousness and methods which are not curious, might do well in theoretical and political discussion to refrain from categorical expressions of opinions about views which they have not read, which they cannot read, which are not available to anyone for examination and verification. The observance of this rule will help us all confine our offenses to harmless tense changing, and nothing worse than that.
Comrade Grant notifies us that “if we decide to discuss Shachtman’s particular ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ tendency, we would discuss it for the ideas it represents and not other ideas.” I will not add to my already numerous offenses by asking why it has taken so long to “decide” or what stands in the way of this decision. In the ranks of the Fourth International the supporters of bureaucratic collectivism are, to our knowledge, confined to those who agree substantially with the viewpoint of the Workers’ Party. Whatever pond the other minnows may swim in, it is not in the ranks of the Fourth International. With appropriate modesty we suggest that it is time to decide in favor of an open discussion of our views on the “Russian question.” Along with Grant, we suggest that “if” it is decided to discuss our position, it will be discussed “for the ideas it represents and not other ideas.” Up to now, we have not had very much luck in this respect. Comrade Grant’s promise encourages us to hope for the best.