Fourth International, May 1940


The Pathology of Renegacy

Source: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.2, June 1940, pp.52-55.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.

RECENTLY I have been reading some popular accounts of the scientific work of the pioneer microbe hunters. It is extremely interesting to follow their patient and unrelenting pursuit of the tiny agents of human disease, the obscure germs working in the dark unknown to the victims. They finally tracked them down and brought them to view wriggling on a glass slide under the microscope. Thus, one after another, the microbes of tuberculosis, syphilis, diphtheria, and other devastating sicknesses were identified and their life habits exposed. Only after this, could the cures be prescribed.

In my week-end reading I alternated some of the chapters of The Microbe Hunters, which I read for pleasure and instruction, with an examination of some of the latest effusions of numerous fugitives from Marxism, which I read without pleasure in the line of duty. Both readings, however, could properly be classified under the same head: the study of harmful bacteria. Like the human organism, the revolutionary labor movement, a social organism, must be guarded against infections. A fighter in the cause of socialism is obliged to take notice of what is said and done by its enemies, especially those enemies who pretend to be its friends. Such are those deserters who invite the revolutionary workers to pass over with them into the camp of democratic imperialism under guise of “reconsidering” socialism and Marxism. Such are those who, in the name of morality and truth, serve the social system founded on lies. The operations of these hypocritical morality-fakers, who seek to spread pessimism and demoralization in the workers’ movement, are of interest to us in the same way that malignant disease germs are of interest to people who want to safeguard the public health.

The death agony of capitalism not only repels some enlightened individuals of the bourgeois class who foresee its inevitable downfall and identify themselves with the proletarian struggle for socialism; it also attracts to its side a peculiar species of supporters, ex-socialists and ex-radicals – deserters from the workers’ movement – who have become converted to a fanatical belief in the indestructibility of the capitalist world order and who do everything they can to shield it from the revolutionary blows of the proletariat. In recent years, parallel with the feverish advance of capitalist decay, these anomalous conversions have increased and multiplied, particularly among the camp followers of the workers’ movement. Overwhelmed by the violent social convulsions which characterize our epoch, not a few intellectuals who once sympathized with the workers’ movement, and even some of its former representatives, have been seized with capitulatory panic and insist upon communicating it to others. Mistaking their visceral disturbances for the processes of profound thought, they seek to translate their own personal demoralization into a “way of life” for the masses.

They have discovered, on the eve of the explosion of bankrupt capitalism in a new world war, that the revolutionary struggle for socialism is not worth while. Boiled down to its essentials, and stripped of its hypocritical pretentions and moralistic vaporings, this is the message of all of them, incuding the uncouth and not very intellectual rookie in the legion of renegacy, the repentant ex-communist, Benjamin Gitlow.

The fight for socialism is a hard fight, and they are not the first to desert it. Nor are they able, despite their frantic search for novelty, to discover or say anything new. As for their theories, they are nothing but a warmed-over hash of the old revisionism and standardized bourgeois criticism, mixed with the conceptions of the pre-Marxian Utopians, who deduced their socialistic schemes from moral considerations divorced from the real process of historical development. As for their actions, the neo-renegades follow in the footsteps of their masters, the social-democrats of 1914. Their psychological motivation is the same: an inexplicable confidence in the durability of capitalism when it is cracking at every seam, and a disbelief in the power of the masses when they are gathering their forces for colossal efforts.

But the American would-be saviors of democratic capitalism are different from the social-democrats of 1914 in two respects. First, the latter were more decent; they waited for the entry of their governments into the war before they rushed to their support. The traitors of 1940 are deliberately preparing in advance to summon the submerged and cruelly exploited millions in the mass production hells, the unemployed, the sharecroppers and the Negroes to pour out their blood on the battlefields in defense of American democracy. That is the political meaning of all their moralistic fulminations against “totalitarianism.” Secondly, the social patriots of 1914 represented great mass organizations of the workers which they in part had helped to build. Their little brothers of 1940 represent nothing and nobody but themselves. The measure of their seriousness and their social value is indicated by the fact that they could not create even a small organization under conditions of the free democracy which they recommend so highly.

They are all isolated individuals, yet each one of them considers his disillusionment with the proletarian revolution an important public event and continually makes all kinds of elaborate explanations of how it came to pass. On the eve of the real beginning of capitalism’s second world war, which will crush out the lives of millions and tens of millions of human beings, they write about themselves, their disappointments and reactions as though these were the most interesting and important subjects in the world. Well aware of their own shabbiness, they feel the need of self-justification and public approval. They are uneasy of conscience and seek to stifle it by shouting imprecations at those who have remained faithful to the banner they have deserted. They give every explanation of their motivation but the real one – the fact that they have no confidence in the socialist future of humanity and no stomach for the struggle to achieve it.

Isolated from the workers’ movement and only conditionally accepted by the real masters of bourgeois society, they constitute a little coterie of their own, a sort of apostates’ fraternity, engaged in log-rolling and back-scratching for each other, and fore-gathering in that house of ill-fame known as the New Leader. Conscious of the fact that they are practicing fraud, they insist on their “morality,” as every confidence man wants to be known as “Honest John.” Each of them, separately, is “reconsidering,” revaluating, and revising Marxism, and collectively they hold discussions and symposia on the various individual revelations – only to discover that they all add up to the same zero.

After each discussion the fact remains that there is no way out for humanity on the capitalist road. The continued private ownership of socially operated industry and the artificial national barriers between competitive states can yield not progress any more, but only stagnation and decay, ever more devastating economic crises and civilization-devouring wars. In one country after another rotting capitalism turns to its last reserve – fascism. Wars have become totalitarian, and the so-called democratic countries at war are transformed into military camps under dictatorial rule. Capitalism in its death crisis is incompatible with peace, or security, or – if the democratic gentlemen will permit me – democracy. The revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is a burning historic necessity. This prognosis of Marx remains unassailable, asserting itself ever stronger after each new experience.

Capitalism had landed in a blind alley already thirty years ago. The first World War gave violent notice of this fact at the cost of more than ten million dead and twenty million wounded. Capitalism, after the war, could not save itself. It is incontestable that the social patriots at the head of the German labor movement, who believed in the viability of capitalism after its authentic representatives had lost all faith and all authority, saved the tottering structure of German capitalism. They prolonged its life artificially until it slipped into fascism and then plunged into the second World War. The revisionists and reformists of all shades never tire of repeating that the world revolution envisaged by Lenin and Trotsky after the war did not materialize on schedule, and imagine that this refutes the Marxist thesis. They conveniently overlook the services which the reformist leaders of the German socialist and labor movement rendered to German capitalism. And they never think of mentioning the fact that these worthy German democrats utilized the most reactionary military forces to drown the developing workers’ revolution in the blood of thousands of its best sons.

The first World War and its aftermath produced revolutions in Russia and Hungary, revolutionary situations in Germany and Italy and a mighty upsurge of the labor movement throughout the entire world. In the two decades since the defeat of the German revolution there was the grandiose revolutionary upheaval in China, the British general strike, the revolution in Spain and the great wave of sit-down strikes which signalized a revolutionary situation in France. There has been no lack of revolutionary situations in the past twenty-five years. The thesis of Lenin and the early Comintern proved to be infinitely more realistic than that of the skeptics, pessimists and traitors who are ready to believe in anything except the power of the masses to take their destiny into their own hands and reshape the world on socialist lines. Capitalism long ago lost all capacity to survive by its own resources. Its firmest bases of support are provided by the reformists and revisionists in the labor movement, who do not understand that capitalism is historically doomed and do not believe in the capacity of the workers to accomplish their historic mission.

Stalinism which is not Marxist but revisionist, not communism but its mortal enemy, plays fundamentally the same role in the international labor movement as the social-democracy. The Stalinist betrayal brought even more devastating results because it was able to exploit the tremendous authority of the Russian revolution with the advanced workers who had broken with social-democracy and its perfidious twin, anarcho-syndicalism. The deceptiveness of Stalinism was a mighty power for the demoralization of the vanguard labor movement of the whole world. The phenomenon of a degenerated and traitorous bureaucracy, operating in the name of a workers’ state which symbolized the Russian revolution in the minds of millions of militant workers throughout the world, was unique in history. It worked all the more destructively because it was not understood; and in part because it did not understand itself, working blindly in the service of alien class forces.

In politics and theory Stalinism introduced nothing new; it simply took over the baggage of the reformists and revisionists of social-democracy. Even in methods it invented nothing. Stalin only borrowed, adapted and intensified enormously the methods of the bourgeois world and its reformist agents in the struggle against the proletariat. Misrepresentation and falsification? These are the stock in trade of the ruling class and its agents; a society founded on class exploitation could not live without them. Stalin did not originate the newspaper lie or any other lie. He simply took over the art of lying and adapted it to his purposes. Frame-ups against revolutionary opponents? Kerensky and his gang, the Mensheviks and social revolutionists, set the pattern in their characterization of Lenin and Trotsky as the mercenary agents of the Kaiser. The murder of revolutionists in the name of socialism? Noske and Scheidemann and similar champions of democracy began this ghastly business. Stalin originated nothing. He only copied and developed the arts of deception, violence and perfidy to an unprecedented degree.

The social basis of the renegacy of Stalinism is fundamentally the same as that of social-democracy – a privileged stratum which seeks to serve its interests against the interests of the great mass. The psychological source of the politics of Stalinism is likewise identical with that of all the other renegades – a terribly exaggerated estimate of the strength and durability of world capitalism and a lack of confidence in the world revolution. Acting on this falsely motivated and at bottom unrealistic premise, Stalinism dealt its heaviest blows against the world proletariat just at the time when the bankruptcy of capitalism was engendering revolutionary situations in one country after another.

It is an ironical circumstance that revulsion against Stalinism has been instrumental in leading a whole school of its opponents to a position which, from a class point of view, is on the same level as that of the Stalinists. Seeing in Stalinism the incarnation of all things evil and fighting it to the point of phobia, they arrive at a prescription for the proletariat which is no better and not fundamentally different from that of Stalinism. Stalin recommends to the workers of the world a reconciliation with their exploiters at home in behalf of a fictitious socialism in the Soviet Union. The professional anti-Stalinists recommend an alliance against Communism with the masters of America in the name of a fictitious democracy which can’t even tell a hungry worker where he can get a job or show a dispossessed sharecropper where he can find a roof to shelter his family from the elements.

All opportunists and renegades – Stalinist and anti-Stalinist – have common traits. They see only the power of the present-day and bow down before it. The fact that rich American capitalism is caught in the insoluble crisis of the world system and cannot escape from it; that it is already past the peak of its development and has also entered into decline and decay; that the all-powerful American proletariat must and will take the road of social revolution in order to save itself – these pitiful skeptics don’t believe in that. They don’t believe in anything but defeat.

Renegacy is not a doctrine, not a new idea, it is a disease. The reconsiderers and revisers of Marxism cannot teach the advanced workers anything and do not seriously try. They have no program to substitute for the scientific program of Marxism. Farthest from their minds is any plan to organize a movement to lead an attack on capitalism. Their function, insofar as they have one, is simply to spread skepticism in the ranks of the workers’ movement and undermine its morale.

In order to save themselves and all humanity from the chaos breaking over the world with the death agony of capitalism, the advanced workers must know the road to the socialist future and take it resolutely. The richest gift of the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels to the proletarian vanguard is the knowledge that the downfall of the capitalist order and the victory of the proletariat are alike historically necessary and inevitable. It is the assurance that the historic process works unceasingly on the side of the proletarian revolution which gives to the conscious movement of the workers’ vanguard its confidence, its morale. The disciples of Marx who fight for socialism, not as a Utopian scheme but as the realization of a historic necessity – it is they alone, as experience has already shown, who never doubt the future, who keep their heads and persevere in the face of temporary set-backs and defeats. The Marxist doctrine is the greatest treasure of the proletariat precisely because it shows the way. Marxism is for the workers’ movement what military theory, maps, superior equipment and realistic confidence are to an army. The struggle against Marxism, now more than ever, serves only to undermine the confidence and paralyze the striking power of the proletariat. The defense of Marxism against any and all opponents and critics, remains the most progressive and revolutionary of all tasks.

To be sure, the latest American crop of revisionists and traitors to socialism don’t amount to much at the present time. They are only disillusioned individuals who are trying to spread their demoralization to others. But they talk a lot; and later, speaking with the authority of former socialists, they might get a hearing and help to disorient some workers from the path of resolute struggle. It is that possibility, rather than their present importance, that justifies and necessitates a brutal struggle against them. The smallest infection should be treated with antiseptic. So taught the pioneers of scientific medicine who discovered disease germs and the way to fight them. The revolutionary labor movement must guard its health by the same method.

Last updated on: 17.6.2006