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James Burnham & Max Shachtman

Intellectuals in Retreat

III: The Actual Program

THERE ARE ONLY FIVE significant and clearly-defined programs in present-day society, supported and acted upon with a more or less continuous tradition by organized social groups. Each of these offers a distinctive solution of the devastating crisis that threatens civilization itself. In the ranks of the working class: revolutionary Marxism, or the Fourth International, commonly referred to as the Trotskyist movement; Stalinism, the theory and practise of internationally-projected anti-Soviet totalitarianism; and reformism, or the social democracy of the Second International. [7] In the ranks of the bourgeoisie: liberalism, whose left wing merges with the labor reformists, and which is concerned with keeping capitalism alive by “making democracy work”; and fascism, which is concerned with keeping capitalism alive by putting an end to bourgeois democracy.

Stalinism has drawn increasingly close to social democracy. As far back as a dozen years ago, the Stalinists functioned as stand-in for the absent social democracy in the Chinese revolution. In the last three years especially, even theoretical and reminiscential distinctions have been abandoned, and no important differences exist between the two movements in any important practical political question. Their different origins, bases and functions—as well as narrower “job” interests—militate against their complete fusion or even unmarred collaboration; nor do we identify the two. But what is of paramount importance in connection with the point we are discussing is the common position they hold on such vital questions as: the class nature of the state; bourgeois democracy and socialist revolution; democracy and fascism; class struggle and class collaboration; independent political action and People’s Frontism or coalition government; class war and “war for democracy”; colonial independence; etc., etc. We shall have occasion to refer to this similarity of positions more concretely later on.

As for liberalism, it represents a period of capitalist development which, where it is not already outlived and irretrievable, is in rapid decay. Where it continues to subsist, it is on its last legs. There is no power on earth that can make it endure, which may well be why so many liberals have taken to prayer since Munich. If it is not replaced by workers’ rule that can reorganize society socialistically, it will be crushed inexorably by fascism. Not even those liberals who, like Max Lerner, rebaptize themselves “democratic collectivists”, can, we fear, redeem it from its fate. Even if it should be restored later in the now totalitarian countries—the post-1931 events in Spain show that it is not absolutely excluded—its resurrection can only be episodic, again as shown by the events in Spain.

So far as the working class movement goes, experience shows that all programs and tendencies that seek or claim to be independent and distinct from the two main streams—revolutionary Marxism and reformism (social-democratic or Stalinist)—merely move back and forth among them, never acquiring either stability or consistency, and coming to rest finally in one or the other. This holds true even of the sterile and miniscular sects which seem to accomplish the biological miracle of existing outside of life itself. Nobody has yet succeeded in holding together a centrist movement for any length of time. Depending on its point of departure and the direction in which it moves, it ends up sooner or later in the camp of revolution or reformism. It is the classic fate of Hamlet politics—centrism.

To the extent that it has a real program—and it has one—the group of radical intellectuals we have been discussing is centrist. Protests at this political characterization on the grounds of our “label-mania” can already be heard. More than anyone else, the centrist, who shows a cavalier lack of discrimination in ticketing everybody else, has a congenital dislike for being properly and bluntly designated by the name of his tendency. Yet there is no other way of describing politically a group made up of individuals who, in virtually every case, have been moving from a revolutionary Marxian position, or one close to it, towards reformism, or a little beyond it to bourgeois liberalism (or in some instances, scarcely concealed passivity). Factual evidence that has been accumulating throughout the recent past substantiates this conclusion.

Straws in the Wind

WE WILL NOT dwell here on the apparently trivial and unconnected incidents of the past year, except to point out that running through them all like a thread has been a series of “dissociations from Trotskyism”. They began during the period when the Commission of Inquiry was rendering its verdict on the Moscow Trials and the case of Leon Trotsky—for example, at the public meeting in December 1937 when several of the Commissioners went out of their way to assure the audience that they had nothing to do with Trotskyism. They have continued down to the present day. Oddly enough, the “dissociations” were made public on the most inappropriate and unwarranted occasions; the announcement never seemed to have any germane relationship to the context or the circumstances in which it was delivered. But lest we seem to insist too much on punctilio, we hasten to add that everyone has a right to pronounce himself on a program or a movement and even to choose an inauspicious moment in which to do it. We would go further: one who is not a supporter of “Trotskyism”, or who has convinced himself to cease being one, not only has the right to proclaim his opposition to this movement, but also the duty to do so. We would not be the last to urge him to fulfill it. Thus, we can only be grateful when Mr. Charles Yale Harrison writes in the New Leader that “as for myself, I must dissociate myself” from the Trotskyist movement, after he discovered the distilled essence of Truth in the pages of a posthumous brochure by Julius Martov. It is a blow hard to survive, but at least it is delivered in the open. (But then, it had to be delivered openly if the unemployment crisis in the United States was to be solved, at least so far as Mr. Harrison is concerned.)

We have said that if a person is sufficiently known to warrant being listened to, if only for a moment, on political questions, or even if that is not the case and he wants to express himself on such questions, he has both the right and duty to declare what program and movement he repudiates or opposes. But that is not always very interesting; certainly it is not his most important obligation. He must also state in one way or another the program or movement he advocates, especially in these times when everybody is looking for guidance to a way out of a situation widely acknowledged to be untenably bad. For it is not so much by what is opposed, but by what is proposed that a political tendency may be established. From the actions taken and proposals made by the group under consideration, it is not difficult to establish the political tendency of its component parts-more developed in some, less in others, to be sure—as one of rapprochement with the social democracy or even bourgeois liberalism. And a tendency which is in general away from revolutionary Marxism and towards social democracy, we are justified in designating as centrist. A few examples, so that we may follow the scriptural injunction of knowing people by their acts:

Item: Several months ago, the Thomasites and Lovestoneites launched their private imitation and would-be rival of the Stalinist anti-war farces under the name of the “Keep America Out of War” Committee. Such movements were inaugurated about a dozen years ago, and since produced in kaleidoscopic series, by Stalin-Münzenberg, as a petty bourgeois-pacifist substitute for independent working class struggle against imperialist war. Nowadays, whether of the frankly patriotic Stalinist variety or of the more subdued pacifist type established by Norman Thomas, they all proceed from the fatal premise that the fight against war is an independent task, above, outside of and separate from the class struggle and to be conducted with “special” (i.e., petty bourgeois) methods. It goes without saying that the KAOW included the standard quota of pacifist ladies of uncertain age and sure-fire nostrums (yesterday’s stand-bys for similar set-ups managed by the Stalinists), to say nothing of Hamilton Fish, Maj.-General Rivers (Retired) and Mr. Frederick J. Libby, who has the ingenious idea of warding off another war by dividing more equitably among the imperialist powers the present world’s colonies—without, of course, consulting the goddamn niggers who inhabit them. It goes without saying, also, that the founding conference of the KAOW endorsed the Roosevelt “good neighbor” policy—could it do less?—and adjured the government to show that it was really worthy of the name “democracy” by exerting America’s economic pressure upon the fascist “armament economy” nations (i.e., the policy of government sanctions which, when advocated by the Stalinists in slightly altered terms, arouses the horrified indignation of the Socialist Call and Workers Age.) In a word, we had here a less lurid variety, but only a variety, of the familiar social-democratic-Stalinist-pacifist trap. Yet, among the signatories to the call for the first KAOW meeting in New York’s Hippodrome were to be found Sidney Hook, James Rorty, James T. Farrell, Anita Brenner, Dwight Macdonald, Suzanne LaFollette, Ben Stolberg, John Chamberlain, Liston Oak, etc. That many of the signatories subsequently withdrew from the KAOW—naturally without explaining publicly why they had gone in or why they pulled out—is a tribute to the effects of the predictable policies of the KAOW on their conscience. That they sponsored it in the first place is not so complimentary to their foresight.

Item: Several weeks ago, the country voted in local elections. In New York, the ALP, the Stalinists and the Lovestone group, not being sectarians, supported No.18 of the Sixty Families, Herbert H. Lehman, Democratic party candidate for governor. But there were two labor candidates for the office. The Socialist party nominated Norman Thomas; the Socialist Workers party conducted a write-in campaign for James P. Cannon. Norman Thomas and the SP are social-democratic; Sidney Hook, presumably, is not. James P. Cannon and the SWP are revolutionary Marxists; so, presumably, is Sidney Hook. But Sidney Hook endorsed the candidate of the SP, without even a statement to show that he was not a supporter of Thomas and the SP in general. Since this was not a private, confidential matter, but a public political act, may we ask, also publicly, why? Surely Thomas was not supported on the “good man” theory. Surely also, he was not supported because he had a chance of being elected, whereas Cannon didn’t. Surely, again, he was not supported because his party’s program was superior from the revolutionary standpoint to the SWP’s. Surely, finally, the choice was not made by tossing a coin. Wasn’t Hook running the risk of letting the uninitiated conclude that he feels a closer political affinity with the party of social democracy than with the party of revolutionary Marxism?

The New Leader’s Dress Parade

LET US LOOK a bit further into the matter of political affinities.

In the last few months, there has been a veritable parade of new but not unknown contributors across the pages of the New Leader, the New York weekly edited by James Oneal. About half of the newcomers wrote an article apiece as the private guests, so to speak, of Eugene Lyons, for whom they substituted as “columnist” during his absence on a speaking tour; the other half appeared under more general editorial auspices. The political significance of their appearance cannot be denied. It is not a matter of an article written by one individual or two, which might therefore be dismissed as accidental or incidental. But the number of individuals involved, and above all their common characteristics (virtually all of them, regardless of other differences, have been avowed opponents of the Second International and what it stands for), make it possible and necessary to draw certain political conclusions. The writers include Leon Dennen, Charles Yale Harrison, Sidney Hook, Max Nomad, James Rorty, Ben Stolberg, Philip Rahv, James T. Farrell and Stephen Naft.

What is wrong, some will say, with writing for the New Leader if an invitation is extended by its editors? We pinch-hit for Lyons, others will say, as a personal favor to him while he was touring. These explanations for the sudden and concerted appearance of this group of radical intellectuals on the pages of the New Leader seem to us too simple and, in fact, irrelevant.

The New Leader is not an “ordinary” periodical, like, let us say, The Nation and the New Republic, or even the Saturday Evening Post and Liberty. It is a distinct party paper, the official organ of the Social Democratic Federation, American section of the Second International. As such, it has a distinct political line, and avowed political and organizational objectives. As a consequence, literary collaboration with it is willy-nilly an act of solidarity with the organization for which it speaks, and an aid to it.

What is this organization? The Social Democratic Federation is composed of the self-styled “Old Guard” of the split-up Socialist party. On every important political question of the day, the Federation and its paper take the position of the extreme right wing of the Second International. To them, Norman Thomas is (or rather, was!) the incarnation of Bolshevism. To them, in the words of the late Hillquit, the Russian Revolution has always been “the greatest disaster and calamity that has ever occurred to the socialist movement”; and they have never given up their vicious fight against it. This has not prevented them—quite the contrary!—from taking a position which is substantially indistinguishable from that of the Stalinists, on all the important questions of the day.

The New Leader is for the Popular Front because it is for class collaboration, and was for it long before the Stalinists adopted it. It stands for “collective security” and is for the holy crusade of “democracy against fascism”. It is for Rooseveltism and the New Deal with at least as much vigor and even more sincerity than the Daily Worker. It can give the Stalinists cards and spades in licking the boots of the trade union bureaucracy and still come out ahead of the game. Wherein does it differ on any urgent political question from totalitarian Stalinism—which, by the way, is not an abstract concept but a system of concrete policies and actions on concrete issues? It does not, it is true, entirely cover up or justify the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia, but it does its best to defend or conceal the no less reprehensible crimes of the social-democratic bureaucracy in Europe—including the deals it makes with the same Stalinism. And if it does not use the Stalinist formula of “Drive the Trotskyists and Lovestoneites out of the labor movement”, it is only because it believes that the slogan is too restricted: the Stalinists should be driven out too! (The New Leader has just heartily endorsed the Red-baiting resolution of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party bureaucracy, which calls for the automatic expulsion of all advocates of proletarian revolution.)

The New Leader is, however, respectable, ever so respectable. In its pro-war propaganda, it is not quite so blatant and clamorous as, let us say, the Daily Worker, but that does not lessen its comparative effectiveness as a recruiting sergeant in the coming imperialist war “for democracy”. Two of its chief editorial writers are Charles Edward Russell and William E. Bohn, a couple of social-patriotic renegades from socialism and the SP in 1917, who served their country in the last World War, even if at a safe distance (i.e., 3,500 miles) from the trenches. They are no doubt ready to serve again in the coming war, even if every able-bodied citizen must again be drafted. By pure chance, Messrs. Russell and Bohn are past 60; Mr. Oneal is 63, Mr. Algernon Lee is 65.

In brief, the New Leader is a rotten social-democratic sheet from which so overpowering an odor has emanated that even Norman Thomas, not so long ago, found it too much for him. A spray of respectability that will reduce the pungency of the odor has therefore become pretty much a physical necessity for the editors. To get it, they have laid a not unclever trap for incautious people. The paper has not only been given a snappier typographical dress, but the splenetic and hysterical abuse Oneal used to heap on everything radical has been given a somewhat primmer polish. Above all, a systematic, deliberate effort is made to draw into the paper especially those radical writers who were at one time connected with the communist movement and whose personal and even political probity is so high that when the eye focuses on their names, the name and repute of Oneal and Co. are automatically excluded from the field-scope of vision. All this helps to retrieve the political fortunes of the New Leader. It is able to point with pious pride to the unselfish hospitality it vouchsafes “all radicals”, even those who “disagree with us”, provided they aren’t “totalitarians”. It is enabled to foster the pernicious myth that the “decent” alternative to Stalinism is the right wing social democracy. It is enabled to fortify itself as a rallying ground for all “radicals”, and especially for those who are disillusioned with Stalinism, which the New Leader would like to equate with a disillusionment with revolutionary Marxism. These are the obvious political motives behind the invitations so generously extended by Oneal and Levitas, and not some weak-boned sentimental desire to convert their paper into a broad, all-inclusive “radical forum”. In a word, it is a political trap for wandering radicals.

—But in heaven’s name! are you so bitterly and narrow-mindedly sectarian that you cannot conceive of a revolutionary article being written in a social-democratic paper, whose editors, whatever their private motives, invite you to write whatever you please, without censorship?

This rejoinder has, unfortunately, more indignation in it than critical thoughtfulness, as may be seen from an examination of what the new crew of contributors has written in the New Leader.

Emily Post in the House of the Hanged

TAKE EUGENE LYONS, for example. And a very good example he is, our anti-sectarian objector will retort. Don’t the editors allow him full freedom of expression, even when he writes in opposition to the official editorial standpoint of the paper? Hasn’t Lyons attacked “collective security”, whereas Oneal and Co. defend it? How then dare you call him a social-patriot, as you have?!

Softly, softly, friends. Let us see by taking a typical “column” by Lyons. On October 8, he does indeed assail “collective security” and with vigor. “In effect, the Stalinists and other collective security advocates were saying: ‘Trust your government, despite the fact that it is a capitalist government. Declare a moratorium on your larger grievances in this hour of emergency.’” Good. Very good. A telling blow at the Stalinists. But who might the “other collective advocates” be? Why, unlike the Stalinists, are they relegated to anonymity? Lyons couldn’t possibly be referring to the Second International, could he? Or to the editor of his paper and the Federation for which it speaks? Yessir, they are exactly the ones to whom he is referring! But not by name, either in this or any other of his columns, so that the “uninitiated” reader would never know from Lyons (who, however, knows it perfectly well!) that at least so far as the “collective security” doctrine is concerned, the social democracy is just as guilty of the crime as the Stalinists, Oneal as much as Browder.

In his Assignment in Utopia, Lyons stoutly inveighs against the “devotees of the theory of multiple truths”. Moreover, he has a whole, moving chapter called To Tell or Not to Tell, in which he describes the psychologically painful process by which he “overcame those inhibitions” against giving a complete picture of Soviet reality; “I decided, for myself, that I must tell the truth as I saw it. The decision in time assumed the magnitude of a pressing moral obligation.” Bravo! None too soon, but ... Bravo! Now, would it be asking too much of an “uncensored” contributor to a social-democratic paper to write a polite and restrained footnote to his next column saying, in substance: “I must apologize to my readers for having omitted an important element in my criticism of ‘collective security’. In this respect, as in most others, the official international social, democracy, including my good friends who edit this paper, are just as despicable a gang of war-mongering flunkies of imperialism as are the Stalinists.”

What is there to prevent him from writing this down and thereby clarifying his own position? Can the moral obligation to tell the truth which Lyons writes about so eloquently, refer only to the truth about Stalin? Surely, also, there is no “censorship” for the “independent” writers in the New Leader, such as prevented Lyons from telling “the truth as I saw it” while he was correspondent in Moscow (and, shall we add, while he was publicity director for Messrs. Rose and Antonini of the ALP?).

Or can the nasty and uncapitalized truth be, as Germans say: Im Hause des Gehenkten spricht man nicht vom Strick—You don’t talk of the rope in the house of the hanged!

Or take the case of Stephen Naft, who also substituted for Lyons in one issue of the New Leader. A social democrat? Not for a minute. He’s far more radical than that. So he writes on a “neutral” subject, that is, he attacks the Stalinists, doing both a good and timely job. Two solid columns of unanswerable evidence are devoted to excoriating the Stalinists for their united Popular Front with the fascists in the recent Chilean election. Conclusion? “The two totalitarian parties, the Stalinist and the Nacistas of Chile, were thus again united against another totalitarian competitor ...” All right. But Naft mentions only in passing and without any commentary the fact that the Chilean social democrats were also in this bastard united front. Now, why does he exempt them from his contempt and his denunciations? Why does he flay the Stalinists and not even murmuringly chide the social democrats? One might think that an anti-social democrat, writing in a social-democratic paper untrammelled by censorship, would make a point of clarifying his position in the manner we indicated. Is it possible that, like so many others, he is so absorbed in an effort to identify Bolshevism and fascism that he simply cannot find time or space for a gentle criticism of social democratic abominations? Or is it a point of honor with the Association of Friends of Morality and Truth not to offend a hospitable host? Im Hause des Gehenkten spricht man nicht vom Strick!

Or take the case of Sidney Hook, another of Lyon’s substitutes. His article on the conduct of the Kremlin and the Stalinists towards the Jewish refugees is not merely a fine polemic; it is as savagely eloquent and moving a political indictment as has been written in a long time. It is hard to imagine even a Stalinist reading it without involuntarily blushing with shame at the shame which Hook so bitterly pillories. Yet there is something missing in his two full newspaper-columned article. Hook proclaimed himself not so long ago an exponent of the principles of communism as set forth by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. This would lead one to believe that in spite of the fact that he now calls himself a “democratic socialist” (in distinction from the “totalitarian socialists”!), he nevertheless has little if anything in common with “the” social democracy, that is, the Second International. For did he not say, only a few years ago, that the objective observer cannot deny “that the historic function of social democracy since 1918 has been to suppress or abort all revolutionary movements throughout the world independently of whether it shared power in a coalition government or not”?

Would it be too much, then, to conclude that once Hook has decided to risk creating confusion about his politics by accepting the invitation-without-strings to write for the New Leader, he would improve on the occasion by dissociating himself just the teeniest bit from the social democracy? Just the teeniest bit—so that while “using” a social-democratic paper as a tribune for the presentation of his own views, it would be amply clear to the reader that his criticism of Stalinism has nothing in common with the reactionary social-democratic criticism of communism. Would it not, therefore, have been in place, after his excoriation of the Stalinist regime for not opening Russia’s doors to a single Jewish refugee, to add just a few words—a paragraph, a sentence—not to condemn but, let us say, to ... deplore the fact that the social-democratic governments of the three Scandinavian countries haven’t thrown open their doors either? After all, one cannot expect much from the totalitarian Kremlin. But Oneal’s comrades-in-the-government of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, who are so completely immune to the virus of Bolshevism—shouldn’t they be called upon to give an account of themselves? Why this gentleness and even silence about the social-democratic criminals? Im Hause des Gehenkten spricht man nicht vom Strick!

Not only don’t you speak of rope in the house of the hanged, but we make bold to assert that you may not. The truth of our assertion should not be hard to test. We propose that Hook, Farrell, Stolberg and Dennen each submit a series of articles to the New Leader: Hook on the crimes of the German social democracy from 1914 to 1933, along the lines of his theory of the “historic function” of this movement; or the more topical subject of the Second International’s preparations for the new war; Farrell on the strangling of the French labor movement by Leon Blum and associates of the People’s Front; Stolberg on the shady and reactionary role played in the American trade union movement by the “Old Guard” socialists; Dennen on the role played by the Russian Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists as agents of Kerensky and foreign imperialism in the early years of the October revolution. Do they have any doubt about the editorial reception of such articles? Do they not know that when Listen Oak was invited by Managing Editor Levitas to contribute to the New Leader, and replied that while he was neither a Trotskyist nor a Stalinist he was also not a social democrat, and that in any article he wrote he would condemn the social democracy as strongly or even more strongly than Trotskyism or Stalinism—that was the last, he heard of Levitas and his invitation?

The Oneal-Levitas invitations to “write freely” in the New Leader are a characteristic fraud, a trap for wandering radicals. But the fact that the latter fell into it so easily, and that when they wrote their articles for the New Leader they neglected the little detail of indicating any differences between themselves and their hosts, has, when taken together with what we have writtten earlier in this article, a strong symptomatic political significance. It is evidence of the fact that while they have all established the irreconcilability between their views and those of Stalinism (which many of them now equate with Bolshevism), they seem to find no such irreconcilability between their views and those of social democracy. By their political writings and activities, therefore—and not their artistic or cultural work, which we do not even wish to consider in this connection—they occupy the position of centrism, a centrism which brings them continually closer to social democracy, which, unless checked and re-directed, will end by transforming them from revolutionary radicals into ordinary petty bourgeois radicals.

The League of Abandoned Hopes

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate—Dante

THIS PROCESS of transformation is best exemplified in the preparations now being made in this circle to launch the “League Against Totalitarianism”, sponsored by Sidney Hook.

The League is opposed, according to its draft manifesto, equally to the totalitarianism of Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union, that is, of Fascists, Nazis and Stalinists. What is it for? That detail is omitted; in its place there is a meaningless reference to the need of protecting artists and scientists from totalitarianism, and to the desirability of Freedom and Truth. The formula cannot be construed otherwise than as an evasion, which automatically opens the doors of the League not only to all sorts of conservatives and reactionaries, but reactionary policies as well.


On the face of it, so to speak, the projected League aims to be a united front organization. By its very nature, every united front is calculated to include different individuals or groups and at the same time to exclude those individuals or groups against whom the front is erected or directed. The united proletarian front aims to include all labor organizations in a common struggle against the capitalists. A united front for Tom Mooney aims to include those who stand for his freedom against those who stand for his imprisonment; it would not include Sidney Hook and ex-Governor Merriam. A united front to ferret out the truth about the Moscow Trials would include John Dewey and exclude Stalin-Browder-Lamont. The limits of any united front are established by its objectives.

Now, generally speaking, a united front against fascism could take one or more of three forms. It might be limited to giving material aid to the victims of fascism—political prisoners’ relief and defense, aid to refugees, etc.—and, by virtue of its specific, concrete and yet “broad” aims, would include people of the most divergent views. The League does not claim to be such a movement. The united front might be a movement of action against fascism in the strictest sense of the word, that is, for the organization of workers’ defense guards against fascist assaults. Such a movement, without committing itself to the program of any one “faction” in the working class, would nevertheless scrupulously and impartially defend from attack the newspapers and institutions of the trade unions, the social democrats, the Stalinists, the anarchists, the Trotskyists, etc., etc., and if need be, go over to the offensive against the fascist bands. The League does not claim to be such a movement, either; in all likelihood, it would disclaim such a program in the most vigorous terms. Finally, the joint organization or movement might be an “ideological united front”. That is precisely what the League is—an organization for combatting the ideology of totalitarianism.

But an ideology can be combatted only from the standpoint of another ideology, and in the given case, certainly, by a contrary ideology. Totalitarianism, especially if the term is applied both to the Italo-German and the Soviet regimes, represents a complex of political ideas, and not a social system. To capitalism, one can counterpose feudalism or socialism. To totalitarianism, one can counterpose democracy—bourgeois democracy or workers’ democracy. This restriction is all the more compelling in the case of the League, for the conflicting social views of those who make it up render impossible the presentation of anything more than a common political alternative to totalitarianism. The League makes no social distinction between Russia and Germany-Italy; it says not a word against the social order of capitalism or for the social order of socialism. That it may claim to concern itself with the supra-class interests of artists, intellectuals and scientists, does not alter the fact that it is confined to the question of alternative political regimes.

The League obviously would exclude avowed supporters of the German-Italian and Soviet regimes, that is, Nazis, fascists and Stalinists. But it would be interesting to learn on what grounds other than personal taste it would exclude Mr. Martin Dies who has spoken out categorically against totalitarianism of the fascist or communist variety and who champions “Americanism,” i.e., American capitalist democracy. On what grounds, further, would it exclude Mr. Matthew Woll, head of the newly-formed League for Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy, whose “faith is expressed in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights contained therein”? Woll adds: “Specifically included in the threats to this faith we feel it imperative to name those forms of autocracy known as communism, fascism and Nazism. To those we are implacably opposed, to the one as vigorously as to the others. Democracy can make no compromise with autocracy.” On what grounds would the League exclude Dorothy Thompson and Walter Lippman, who also oppose all three “totalitarianisms” and favor “democracy”, but go further than Hook in arguing that Rooseveltism personifies the encroachment of totalitarianism in America?

It would be enlightening to hear answers to these questions, for, on the basis of the League’s program, we can see no logical reason why the above-named reactionaries should be excluded.

Let us look a little closer at the League.

On what grounds would Max Eastman, opponent of Stalinist as well as Hitlerite totalitarianism, be excluded from the League? None, so far as we can see; on the contrary, there is every reason why his membership should be earnestly solicited. But if the League accepted Eastman’s conception of the struggle against totalitarianism in the United States—which is the only country in which he writes and acts on his beliefs—it would mean that at least its main efforts would have to be directed against the official Communist party, which, according to Eastman, represents in this country “the real menace of fascism” (the theory of Stalino-fascism at its worst!). But not only against the Stalinist party—according to Eastman, logically, also, against the Trotskyists who have their origin in communism (i.e., Leninism) together with Mussolini and Hitler.

On what reasonable grounds, further, would John Dewey, anti-totalitarian, be excluded from the League and on what grounds could he fail to take the position that the League must combat, not merely Stalinism, but communism (i.e., revolutionary Marxism) which, according to him, helps produce fascism? That Dewey is a man of outstanding intellectual probity, that he is among the last of the classic democrats—we do not even pretend to challenge. But we are concerned with his political position. His opposition to Stalinism is only derivative. He bases it upon his more fundamental opposition to what he believes it proceeds from: communism, Leninism, revolutionary Marxism. Thus:

Communism, then [the communism of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky which you once espoused, comrade Hook, and not merely “Stalinist totalitarianism”!], with its doctrine of the necessity of the forcible overthrow of the State by armed insurrection, with its doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat, with its threats to exclude all other classes from civil rights, to smash their political parties, and to deprive them of the rights of freedom of speech, press and assembly—which communists now claim for themselves under capitalism—communism is itself, an unwitting, but nonetheless, powerful factor in bringing about fascism. As an unalterable opponent of fascism in every form, I cannot be a communist. (John Dewey, Modern Monthly, Apr. 1934, p.136f.)

Dewey should not be excluded from the League. Nor is he. He is one of its sponsors. And that is fitting. It is proper.

On what grounds would Eugene Lyons be excluded from the League? He is already imbued with a “detestation of the soul of Bolshevism—its cruel, morbid, Jesuitical soul”, and there is little doubt as to what ideological line he would contribute to and support in the organization. A few samples:

We had gone to Russia believing there were good dictatorships and bad. We left convinced that defending one dictatorship is in fact defending the principles of tyranny. (Lyons, Assignment in Utopia, p.621.)

The talk of New Deal regimentation sounded absurd against my experience of totalitarian practises. Though I had given many years to the defense of political prisoners and civil liberties in America, I now found myself angered by glib and off-hand denunciations of American democracy by people who could not even imagine what total annihilation of democratic processes and civil rights meant. (Ibid., p.624.)

The very basic elements of the Leninist-Trotskyist-Stalinist methods of revolution are in disrepute. The cumulative and gigantic sacrifice may be justified ultimately, when history’s record is clearer, chiefly as an object lesson how not to make revolutions. [8] (Ibid., p.639.)

In light of these views, Lyons’ membership in the League should be assured. And so indeed it is. He is already one of its moving spirits.

From all the facts adduced, the unavowed but quite implicit program of the League is the defense of bourgeois democracy from fascism, Stalinism and ... Marxism, which is the theory and practise of the revolutionary proletariat .Whose “traditional” program is this? Who has always stood for the “struggle on two fronts”, against the “dictatorships of the left or the right”, for the hopeless not-so-golden mean? Hook, at least, is more than sufficiently aware of the fact that this is the classic outlook of the middle classes. The program of the League is nothing but a program of middle-class radicalism.

But it may be objected, however, whatever may be the individual views of this or that member of the League, do you not show your own totalitarian inclinations by your contempt for the struggle to preserve democracy from totalitarian extermination? The objection is based on a misunderstanding. The revolutionary Marxists are not only the staunchest partisans of a socialist republic. They are also the only consistent defenders of democracy in a very concrete and meaningful sense. Of “democracy” as an abstraction, or some absolutist conception? Not at all. Of the vicious fraud which is bourgeois democracy, that is, the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie? Not at all. But we are fierce partisans of those democratic rights which capitalism has been compelled in the course of decades of bitter struggle to grant the masses: democratic popular representation, the right of free speech, assembly and press, the right to organize and strike, etc., etc. Circumscribed as all these concrete democratic rights are under capitalism, we are not only for their preservation but for their extension, for converting them into genuine and not crippled rights, for anchoring them in social democracy—the socialist society.

We are anything but indifferent to the attempts of fascism to abolish these rights, and are ready to join with any progressive force to defend them, even in their present crippled state, from reactionary assault, as is confirmed concretely by our position in the Spanish civil war. But in our position there is a little “reservation”, which distinguishes us from all brands of liberals and social democrats and Stalinists. It is this: not only socialism, but even the defense of the democratic rights of the masses is impossible of attainment without the methods of the proletarian class struggle. Those who have not learned this elementary lesson, have learned nothing from the tragic but instructive experience in Germany, Austria, Spain and Czechoslovakia. Middle-class politics, class collaboration with the “progressive” bourgeoisie (and under its domination!), are perfectly fitted for paralyzing the masses and facilitating the victory of fascist totalitarianism. The attempt to ward off fascism by defending bourgeois democracy-made over and over again in the recent past with calamitous and not unknown results—is in direct conflict with the policy for the struggle against fascism and defense of democratic rights which revolutionary Marxists advocate—a policy confirmed by all recent events, both negatively and positively.

It is for this reason also—and not only because the “orthodox Trotskyists” are regarded by the League founders as totalitarian—that the revolutionary Marxists are neither invited nor desired as members of the new organization. For among the first questions we would raise in its as yet unimpressive ranks, would be included these:

Where does the League stand on the question of “Stalino-fascism”? Are there no differences between Stalinism and fascism, between Germany and the Soviet Union, and if there are, why are they not indicated in the League’s program? If a war broke out between Germany and France, we assume that the League would not feel called upon to take a position in favor of one or the other belligerent. But suppose Germany were to launch a war against the Soviet Union in order—as a beginning!—to detach the Ukraine, would the League also refrain from taking a position or would it declare itself neutral? In a word, is it for the defense of the Soviet Union from imperialist attack, regardless and in spite of the Stalinist regime? Whatever the answer, why does not the League say so? What is more, what position does the League take on the question of a war between “democracy” and fascism? (The League draft is simplicity itself on this score: It hasn’t a word—not one word—on war or imperialism or their direct relation to totalitarianism, thus leaving the membership doors open to supporters of “democratic” wars or imperialism.) Is it not mandatory, even for artists and intellectuals and scientists, to express themselves on this most vital question?

To be sure, these are concrete and far from remote or unreal questions; nor are they academic and abstract. It is far more important and interesting to have an anti-totalitarian League express itself unambiguously on these urgently real matters than to proclaim ever so sonorously its attachment to Truth, Freedom and Justice. But even if the League or its collective sponsors could ever be prevailed upon to give precise answers to these questions, the result would make it perfectly clear to everybody, we are convinced, that—regardless of their individual protestations—we are dealing with an association of democrats working on a program of middle-class radicalism. Or, to put it differently, these anti-Stalinists are forming a typically Stalinist People’s Front—without the Stalinists.

Where the Road Ends

IT IS THEIR evolution (at different speeds, to be sure) towards futile middle-class radicalism that is bringing so many of the members of “Group I” progressively closer to these whom we have classified in “Group II”, that is, to those who, we gratefully recall, never pretended to be Marxists, revolutionary or otherwise. Sidney Hook is now in a political alliance with John Dewey. Harrison, out of not such ideological considerations, has become an enthusiastic barker for the A.L.P. and presumably, like it, he is at least as enthusiastic a partisan of the New Deal as, let us say, Ferdinand Lundberg. The difference between Eastman’s estimate of the Russian Revolution and Lyons’ is rapidly approaching the political vanishing point, and such an estimate involves all the fundamental questions of Marxism.

Dewey’s views of communism, Marxism and class collaboration as against class struggle are too well known to require repetition here. John Chamberlain has recently written (in Common Sense) an exposition of his view that the degeneration of the Russian Revolution has its original source not so much in Stalinism or even in Leninism but in the pernicious and false doctrine of the class nature of the State which was set forth by Karl Marx. The State is not theirs, it is ours as well, it belongs to all of us, declaims Chamberlain. The point of view is not merely class-collaborationist but, fundamentally, patriotic. Hence he is able to write, more concretely, that “Sweden has a swell civilization, which is enough for me. I want a mixed economy under coalition rule ...” Adamic is frankly for the preservation of capitalism “for I have become convinced that labor cannot abolish capital if it would ...”

You would imagine that in our critical times, when the most paralyzing poison in the labor movement is the spirit and practise of class collaboration, of bourgeois or social-patriotism, the main fire of even the “dissident Marxists” would be directed at the ruinous doctrines disseminated by the Lundbergs and Adamics and Chamberlains and Deweys and Oneals and Lees, as well as against the Stalins and Browders who, in abandoning revolutionary socialism, have really taken over these doctrines from the former. We dare say that if any one of the members of “Group I” could now be persuaded to write a political criticism of the partisans of bourgeois democracy who compose “Group II”, it would be couched in the most conciliatory manner imaginable and would not generate one-fiftieth as much heat as is contained in their sharp polemics against Marxism. But the first group has simply forgotten to criticize the second. Virtually all the fire of our backsliding “Marxists” is aimed in the other direction, and they are so active in abandoning the revolutionary position that they have retreated, many without noticing it, towards the camp of the apostles of bourgeois democracy.

The centrism which develops in the course of a departure from Marxism moves, if not deliberately checked, gradually but inexorably to the program of social reformism, of middle-class radicalism. To the extent that they act politically, that is the actual program of the group we have been discussing.


7. For a number of reasons, we do not list independently the anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist movement. In Spain, where alone it stepped out of the pages of Kropotkin and Bakunin and into the arena of the real class struggle, it revealed itself as little more than a variety of reformism, with overtones of verbal radicalism. If the anarchists in Spain did not “outstrip” their social-democratic partners in the People’s Front, they at least “caught up with” them. As for the first French edition of anarcho-syndicalism, personified by M. Leon Jouhaux, it does not even have the Spanish version’s literary devotion to revolution to recommend it. The pitiful bankruptcy of anarchism in action—in the only country where it has assumed the proportions of a mass movement—and the mushroom growth of a bureaucracy at its head which has little to learn from its social-democratic contemporary, have not left its official spokesmen and defenders here unembarrassed. All the louder do they clamor in their press against “Trotsky, the butcher of Kronstadt” and against the unspeakable immorality of all Bolsheviks. Neither this noise, nor the demagogic references to the exemplary heroism of the anarchist workers, can dispel what is so obvious to the naked eye: the political collapse of anarchism in action. It is at the moment when this conclusion has become indisputable that Jean Mendez, who considers that the Trotskyism followed a sectarian line in Spain, abandons her Marxism to assume the post of an editor of a New York anarchist paper. It goes without saying that the editors of the paper who, unlike the Bolsheviks, are upright and forthright, speak of the disconcerting conduct of the FAI-CNT bureaucracy with all the painful delicacy and incoherence of, let us say. a Louis Fischer writing in The Nation to explain away the Kremlin’s anti-abortion ukase. Malicious tongues might even refer to them in the terms applied by Eugene Lyons to the Bolsheviks: “devotees of the theory of multiple truths.” But only malicious tongues.

8. Do not conclude from this pontifical judgment that Lyons has any idea of how a revolution should be made. Or for that matter, any idea as to what to do right now, today, to thrust the knife of fascism from our throats. In his New Leader column of October 22, 1938, he gives a good example of his complete demoralization and helplessness: “Questions pound at one’s conscience these days—as Hitlerism marches roughshod across Europe—but answers there are none [sic] ... In what direction shall we look for hope and for help? Perhaps to Great Britain?” No, he answers, quite accurately. To France? Again, no. To Russia? “The cemetery of our epoch’s greatest hope.” To Germany? Of course not. To “the socialist and internationalist ideals perhaps?” Alas, again no. Then where in heaven’s name are we to look and what are we to do? Look into the distant future. “A reorientation of socialist theory and socialist practice in the light of the last three decades of history is essential—and is taking place under the surface of the various socialist movements. It may be generations, for all we know, before a new and clearer and more effective pattern of thought will emerge.” Generations! Excuse our seeming impatience, but we fear that fascism is not obliging enough to wait with its headsman’s ax and concentration camp for 40-50-60 years while we produce a “new and clearer and more effective pattern of thought”. By virtue of the above declaration of bankruptcy, Lyons seems to us a fitting leader in the struggle of the League against totalitarianism. His may not know “in what direction” to look, or what to do, but he can repeat what Ezra Pound wrote of A.E. Housman’s message:

“O Woe, woe,
People are born and die,
We also shall be dead pretty soon
Therefore let us act as if we were dead already.”

Intellectuals in Retreat

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Last updated: 23.4.2005