James P. Cannon


(February 1983)

Written: February 1932.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. V No. 7, 13 February 1932, p. 4.
Source: Microfilm collection and original bound volumes for The Militant provided by the Holt Labor Library, San Francisco, California. Additional bound volumes from Earl Gilman’s collection, San Francisco, California.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Andrew Pollack.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (April 2013).
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The editorial board of the Militant owes an apology to its readers for the publication, in the issue of January 30, of the book review dealing with a recent biography of Lassalle. The superficial quality of this article, as well as its flippant and presumptuous tone, have been remarked as more appropriate for the New Masses than for our paper. The entire article contradicts our attitude toward the great historic figures of the proletariat, among whom we count Lassalle. Its appearance in these columns was entirely accidental. We are decidedly against the attitude expressed in the article, and we are still more against the spirit of it.

The founder of the German labor movement was not without shortcomings in the field of theory and tactics. Marx, who was his contemporary, explained them sufficiently, and they are known to the students of socialist history. But, for every serious revolutionist, Lassalle remains Lassalle, the sword and the flame of the proletariat. We do not grant to anyone the right to disparage and belittle him—and thereby to distort him altogether and to obscure his grandiose historic import.

Lenin, who was not so presumptuous, spoke of Lassalle many times, and always with respect. He began his famous brochure What Is to Be Done? by quoting, in thesis form, from a letter of Lassalle to Marx. In another place he speaks of “the historical service Lassalle rendered to the German labor movement.” Trotsky has referred to him in the same manner in Our Revolution and in other works. Such examples we lost on the reviewer who appraised Lassalle in the Militant. It is necessary to protest against the utterly false evaluation of Lassalle in the review under consideration. But it is no less important to react against the spirit it manifests. We have to be careful that such a move ment as ours, which is obliged, especially under present conditions, to emphasize the critical side of its work, does not become a playground for smart-aleckism and parvenu self-assurance. Tendencies of this kind are to be seen now and then, especially among the youth. The parvenu spirit is the petty-bourgeois spirit. It is alien to an organization of proletarian revolutionaries and has no legitimate rights within it.

Last updated on: 27.4.2013