Harold Draper

Civil Liberties in the Fight Against Fascism

A Reply to James Barrett [1*]

(December 1945)

From New International, Vol.11 No.9, December 1945, pp.270-275.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(This reply to Barrett’s article was written at the invitation of the Editorial Board.)

James Barrett’s discussion on Civil Liberties performs an important service for every thinking Socialist. He has attempted to think his way through a pretty complex question. And if it is added that, as I see it, Barrett is ninety-nine per cent wrong, his proposed policy is a terrible mistake, and his very learned discussion is a very confused piece of thinking – I trust that no reader will feel there is a contradiction.

Barrett makes clear at the very beginning that the danger he is concerned with in his article is that of totalitarian movements arising “from below” (like Gerald Smith) rather than the danger of totalitarian encroachments on liberty by the capitalist state itself “from above.” Such a particular emphasis is of course perfectly possible. But apparently feeling the need to justify his choice of theme, he begins by answering “that most liberals have by now been sufficiently schooled through recent events to detect encroachments by the state.”

This is enough to set anyone back on his heels. To use Barrett’s own words: Did most liberals “react ‘instinctively’ against such frontal attacks as no-strike pledges,” etc.? In short, did “most liberals” react against the myriad of controls which the government imposed on labor during the war in the name of all-out production and victory?

No, “most liberals” supported these war-time controls in the name of the very same gods. Some even began to talk about fighting fire with fire, fighting the bad Nazi totalitarianism with “our own” good totalitarianism (Freda Kirchwey). A more usual line was the one about “giving up some liberties so that we may preserve Liberty.” The tendency among many liberals is precisely the reverse of what Barrett indicates. It is rather a totalitarian-ization of the liberal mind, marked by enthusiasm for increased state controls as being progressive per se.

Now throughout his article, Barrett refers to “the” attitude of the liberals, “the” attitude of the radicals, and to “the” totalitarians. It is self-defeatingly superficial. His very first paragraph bravely sets out to define these classifications (which he is going to use in every paragraph without further reference) and gets nowhere. “ ‘Liberalism’ will be explained in the context of the views herein presented,” he says. That is all.

“Radical” is to be construed as synonymous with “Socialist” and is chosen for its inclusiveness lest any specific group ... feel that my criticisms have validity as every other organization is concerned, but not its own.

It is only fair to expect, therefore, that whenever he uses the term what he says shall really apply to all Socialist groups in inclusive fashion. There is hardly a handful of times when it does. In short, when Barrett thrashes about with the terms [1] “liberal” and “radical,” his false and obscurantist “inclusiveness” merely makes it difficult to know whom or what he is talking about.

Totalitarianism and Racial Bigotry

But his use of the term “totalitarianism” sheds more light on the sources of Barrett’s confusion. His reader will have noticed: although Barrett talks in terms of how to fight totalitarianism, what he is mainly concerned with is racial bigotry. lie constantly treats the two as interchangeable. This is unfortunate for two reasons:

  1. The most important and characteristic aspect of totalitarianism is not race-baiting, but union-smashing and labor-baiting. Naturally Barrett knows as much, but his article concerns itself with that not at all. We shall see why this unacountable “omission” is necessary to his argumentation.
  2. Just as a totalitarian is not necessarily a race bigot, so also a race bigot is not necessarily a totalitarian. This obvious fact – especially when considered not merely in terms of organized groups – likewise shows that Barrett’s specific proposals are aimed not at fighting totalitarianism as such, but at racial bigotry as such. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with writing an article on how to oppose racism – if that is what Barrett wants to do – but it is inaccurate and foggy to dress this up as the saving solution to the fight against native fascism (see his last paragraph).

This might be deemed only an incidental criticism of Barrett it were it not for the fact that it is the very nature of Barrett’s proposal which imposes these distortions on his thinking.

For what Barrett proposes as his “new” policy is a far-reaching reliance on action by the existing capitalist state against these totalitarian movements.

That is why it is so convenient for him to soft-pedal the fact that the “greater danger” of totalitarianism comes not from movements like Smith’s, but from that capitalist state itself – not the absurd rationalization that “most liberals have by now been sufficiently schooled.” That is why it is convenient for him to talk only of using the capitalist state to fight race bigotry, rather than of using the state to fight totalitarianism, namely, in the first place union-smashing and labor-baiting. For with respect to the latter, it is the capitalist state which is showing the lead to the Gerald Smiths.

At the present stage of capitalist decay in America, the state does not yet need to call on the Gerald Smiths for an integrated totalitarian state policy of labor-smashing. It is still relying mainly on its own bureaucratic apparatus (labor boards, courts, the army when necessary, etc.) with the help of trade-union bureaucrats to soften up the resistance of the workers. Racism is still only, 1, a sporadic and localized weapon of the state, as in the South; and 2, a reserve weapon – e.g., Detroit – to be winked at but not officially recognized.

The Democratic Illusion

Now because of this, it is a common enough illusion that lliere is therefore a wide chasm between our present “democratic” state and the undemocratic phenomenon of race persecution, any connection between the two being a removable blemish on the fair face of capitalist democracy. This view by its very nature opens the doors wide to the illusion that it is possible to make unlimited use of the capitalist “democracy” to smash race bigotry and other tokens of totalitarianism. The Marxist, on the other hand, views the struggle against race-hatred as one front – a very important but not the major one – in the struggle against capitalist totalitarianism (fascism).

What is the major front? The struggle for maintaining and developing the independent action of the working class. Independent of what? Independent of the capitalist state machine, of course. Does this exclude making demands on the state? Of course not! All it does is determine what demands we do and do not make, with what aim we make them, what role and specific weight we assign in our action and propaganda to making such demands, and how we carry it out. This, of course, is what we will have to discuss with Barrett before we are through.

Naturally, Barrett gives his subjective allegiance to the Marxist view – that is why this discussion is being carried on in the pages of the New International rather than elsewhere. But his program of action takes its color from the pervasive democratic illusion. That, once again, is why he does not consider it at all necessary to tie up his discussion with the Marxist analysis of the relationships between race-bigotry, union-smashing, fascism and the capitalist state; but rather considers the first in practical isolation.

Far from being contradicted, this interpretation is underlined by Barrett’s passage headed On Relation between Capitalism and Fascism. As the only possible way of avoiding a head-on collision with the Marxist fundamentals he is busily ignoring, he sets up a straw dummy, knocks it down and turns his attention to other matters just as if he had something to the point.

He actually writes that “the radical” contents himself with the formula “capitalism is the cause of bigotry, racism, etc., and therefore only socialism can eradicate them” but suggests no program for action now to “those most needful of your help.” [2]

Now, now, friend Barrett! Also: tut, tut! Who is it that tells such nonsense to the persecuted Negro or Jew? What that describes is the fantastic policy of the SLP, no one else. (See how convenient this very inclusive use of “radical” is?) Suppose we drop it and talk about the revolutionary Marxist policy, specifically the policy of the Workers Party.

Mass Action and Government Action

Certainly we tell the persecuted minorities that only under socialism can race bigotry be eradicated. Barrett agrees, for that matter, but implies that “radicals” say only that. If nothing else, two recent WP pamphlets should make it unnecessary for him to write such fairy-tales in a magazine read by friends of the WP who are not living on the moon. Reference is to David Coolidge’s The New York Elections and the Fight Against Jim Crow and to my The Truth About Gerald Smith. Both are chockful of proposals for action now, including proposals for government action! The WP election platform says for example:

End discrimination against Negro and other racial and national minorities! Make anti-Negro and anti-Semitic practices by employers and landlords a criminal offense. End high rents and prices in Harlem by enforcing the right of Negroes to live in any section of the city at equal rents. Withdraw building rights from landlords and real estate companies that bar Negroes and Jews. No Jim Crow projects like the proposed Stuyvesant Town.

The pamphlet on Smith is equally emphatic about proposals for immediate action against this race bigot. Surely every reader, and also friend Barrett, knows that the Party has not limited itself to “proposals.” May we boast (just slightly) that the Party has just gone through several months of initiating, organizing and supporting a consistent campaign of action against Smith, far beyond what is indicated by the relative size of our organization? Then there is the story of our fight against race discrimination in the trade unions, within the limits of our forces ... but all this is quite useless.

For Barrett would not thereby be jolted a whit. It is the usual thing: when he talks about the “radicals” not having a fighting program, he does not really mean what his pen seems to be writing. What he means is that we do not have his program, his “new” idea. We might as well discuss that right now. But first we must sweep away still another bit of fog.

Having come out for a certain kind of government action against totalitarians, Barrett yields once more to his very bad habit of painting the “radicals” as being at the very opposite extreme – as being opposed on principle to any government action whatsoever! Everything is either black or white to Barrett, no two ways about it. All educated and semi-educated Marxists in the house will please exercise patience while Barrett is quoted on the very anonymous “radicals”:

Since the state, he [the radical] argues, is the coercive instrumentality of the “enemy class,” all problems concerning the working class must be solved by that class alone ...

The radical, however, actually engages in activities which flatly contradict his absolutistic anti-state theory. [3] He is often forced to call upon the state for protection. When a Tresca or a Trotsky is murdered ... he demands that the state’s police investigate and make public the facts involved in the deaths of these men – the very state which, he tells us, is not to be called upon or pressured into action for the suppression of the fascists!

You see how easy it is to write a critical article: you cite cases where the Marxists make demands on the capitalist government (a thousand more are possible), and then you flatly assert that they do not really believe in doing so. Voila, you have “proven” a contradiction ... Evidence for the flat assertion? None, none at all. If Barrett says he met a person who told him so, we can lend a sympathetic ear, but one does not therefore rush into several thousand words of print about “the radicals.”

Suppress Opinions – or Discriminatory Practices?

No, Barrett is caricaturing Marxism, very crudely too I must say. Let us take one of the demands from the WP election platform as an example:

Make anti-Negro and anti-Semitic practices by employers and landlords a criminal offense!

One immediately notes that this says nothing about the private opinions of such employers and landlords. It does not call for the imprisonment of anti-Semitic employers. It calls for such action only against employers who refuse jobs, or landlords who refuse rentals, to Jews or Negroes on racial grounds. It is aimed at definite social acts, such as these, or such as firing a worker for union activity.

Take the latter as another example of the difference. We are in favor of enforcement of closed-shop contracts by the government (hear, hear! friend Barrett) – and if the government agencies swindle on it, we “expose” them sure enough, as Barrett says, and appeal for workers’ mass action. But how about any employer who says that he doesn’t like unions, but still observes the union contract? We do not demand that the government jail him for his anti-union opinions!

This is where Barrett takes up the cudgels. What he advocates explicitly is legal punishment for expressing an opinion. Of course he applies that idea specifically only to racist opinions. There is no reason – and he gives no reason – for making the distinction, unless he thinks it is so much more terrible to think Jews are no good than to think unions are no good. But let us contemplate his ideas on his own narrower basis first.

The following is what Barrett sets forth as “a more realistic and fundamental approach” (no less!):

... first, in demanding that all opinions libelling any race, color or nationality be severely prosecuted; second, in requiring that every writer or speaker state whether his views are fact or opinion.

This modest proposal would not be hard to enforce – it would merely require that at least 95 per cent of the population be put in jail. The reader with lively imagination will call to mind the unfortunate prevalence of unflattering opinions about (not only Negroes and Jews but also) Mexicans, Russians, Japanese, Germans, Britishers, Italians, Okies and Arkies, Mississippi Congressmen, blondes, brunette and redheads, Indians and Eskimos ... And as I have pointed out, since there is not reason to limit Barrett’s demand for “group libel” laws to his categories, it raises the question of what shall be done with “group libel” against Socialists, Communists, Republicans, Holy Rollers, Seventh-Day Adventists, cultists, astrologists, cat-lovers and mothers-in-law. If this picture of a witch-hunt against “dangerous thoughts” be considered overdrawn, I shall be glad to limit it to imprisonment for opinions about trade-unions and trade-union leaders, capitalists and coupon-clippers, government politicians and generals.

Barrett perceives one of the difficulties of course: how shall the rampaging state draw the line between opinion and fact? It bothers him not at all since he cuts the Gordian knot with a “realistic” sweep of the pen:

Third, even facts should not be entirely free from social control if they are utilized in order to bring malicious persecution upon someone.

And he cites Pegler’s use of “Hillman, born in Lithuania,” etc. Does that mean, he asks, that one cannot refer to the past record of, say, a candidate: for example. Chief Justice Black’s early association with the Ku Klux Klan? No, that’s all right with Barrett (no reason given for the distinction). Would Black think so? Obviously not, but Barrett does and that’s enough. How about referring to a past prison sentence? This is jailable if done “constantly and maliciously.” Is it then “malicious” for a union to expose the prison records of paid goons? What a field day for the lawyers!

Barrett’s “Benevolent Totalitarianism”

The “theory” that Barrett advances is simply this: An anti-Semitic opinion “logically” leads to anti-Semitic acts, the latter “logically” lead to totalitarianism – therefore suppress the whole chain at its root, suppress initial opinion, and you have a “fundamental” solution. Simple. Let us see where this leads.

Mortimer Adler accused [Prof. Sidney] Hook and his associates of being “atheistic saboteurs ... more dangerous to democracy than Hitler.” Hook and other “rationalists” countered later by charging their opponents with nothing less than “authoritarianism,” “reaction,” “corporate thinking,” “irresponsibility.”

A fine tempest in a philosophic teapot, you might say. But no – according to Barrett’s fundamental solution, both sides are in duty bound to call on the district attorney: you’re not going to “wait” (crushingly asks Barrett) till Adler marches on Washington or Hook makes a blood-pact with the Anti-Christ? Well, who shall suppress whom? Naturally, whoever is in the right. Democratically, a jury of good men and true will decide on the Relationship of Philosophy and Religion to the Good Life.

There is, furthermore, quite a school of thought which considers that Marxists are inherently totalitarian (Victor Serge, to take a piquant example). I trust that they are never convinced of Barrett’s “realistic and fundamental” solution.

Again: naturally if mere capitalist democracy has to be defended by Barrettism, a workers’ state has twice as much call on it. What shall a workers’ state do about “malicious” folk with old-fashioned capitalist opinions? It goes without saying that they are ten times more dangerous than anti-Semites – jail them. It goes without saying that the same applies to anarchist or even misguided socialist opponents of the ruling regime ... or their sympathizers ... or their relatives and close friends ... Are you going to “wait” (crushingly asks Barrett) till they become a “clear and present danger”?

It is truly wonderful to behold, but Barrett’s “new” and oh-so-realisiic policy to cope with totalitarianism turns out to be ... the very heart and soul of the totalitarian rationale! Of course, of course, Barrett’s would be a benevolent totalitarian, the good kind (like Freda Kirchwey’s), rock-ribbed with the best of intentions ...

That is why Barrett’s proposal is, as he realizes, double-edged – because it accepts the premises of totalitarianism and merely cavils at the type of victims it may select. This could not be more clearly certified that by Barrett himself, when he attempts to grapple with this objection.

How to Be on Optimist

Suppose, friend Barrett, this capitalist state of ours – having been authorized and encouraged to suppress opinions which are anti-democratic in its opinion – concentrates its attention not on the Gerald Smith minority but on the revolutionary socialist minority?

BARRETT: Why, then you expose the “duplicity” of the state.

... What “duplicity”? They are acting according to their rights – since they “honestly” believe that revolutionary opinions are a danger to their democracy, the only democracy they can conceive.

BARRETT: Yes, but I didn’t intend it to be distorted that way.

... That’s too bad. Then we must first elect you President so that you can insure the proper direction of the suppression ... or better still get rid of capitalism first.

BARRETT: The trouble with you is that you are admitting defeat in advance. Don’t you realize that you are “not just a minority,” but rather “unlike any other political current, express the basic interests of the majority of mankind”?

... Yes, we realize that, but the capitalist state is stupid enough to differ with us. In fact, Henry Ford and Morgan and Rickenbacker claim that they express the basic interests of mankind – so do Henry Wallace, Father Divine, Sidney Hook, General Patton and also Dwight Macdonald.

BARRETT: I nominate you for the “League of Abandoned Hopes” since you obviously consider it “an unsurmountable task to make clear to others the difference between political pathology and Marxism.”

... When that task is surmounted for the majority of people, we will be on the eve of socialist revolution. That is coming. Meanwhile it has not come. Therefore you, who have not “abandoned hopes,” put your hope in ... the existing capitalist state!

Come, come, friend Barrett, where have we seen that called “optimism” before – not to speak of realism?

BARRETT: First you call me a totalitarian, now you accuse me of reformism. Make up your mind.

... No need to. The two are closely enough connected. Their common basis is no reliance on the independent action of the masses. Is not this the thread that runs from the early Stalin of “socialism in one country” to the present Stalin of totalitarian terror? Besides, I am not calling you a totalitarian: 1 am merely pointing out that you give the totalitarians – of the capitalist state, the ones you ignored, you remember – everything they may need and then optimistically gird your loins to object to their use of it.

Capitalist Courts and Hearst Press

Barrett ties all this up with the Marxist’s objection to asking the capitalist courts and the Hearst press to take a hand in exposing and stopping anti-democratic practices in the trade unions. Although he mentions that there are reasons for this, he does not deem it necessary to discuss these reasons at all. Instead he considers his case proved when he asserts that the “radical’s” alternative to this practice is a “hush hush policy,” that the result is that they “have not separated themselves aggressively from their [anti-democratic union] leaders and taken the initiative in exposing and prosecuting their perfidy,” and that they therefore give the impression they “have more in common with corruption than with elementary democratic procedures.”

This is Barrett all over. He is in favor of “calling the cops,” to use a phrase he mentions. If you’re not, then you are objectively in league with corruption.

One example will be enough – the fight put up in the CIO Shipyard Workers Local 9 in San Pedro against a dictator’s bossdom over the union. Labor Action was filled with articles for two years. (Hush, hush, says Barrett.) A progressive group was formed and the dictatorship was fought inside the local and international. (Did not take the initiative in exposing, says Barrett.) There was not an interested union man for thirty miles around, let alone inside the local, who did not know that the “Trotskyites” were giving the dictator hell. Now Barrett may think of claiming that this was “ineffective” (he should know better, but that is a different story), but effective or no, it has nothing to do with the absurd remarks which he actually made in his article.

Workers Party adherents do not take these fights to the courts or to Hearst or Pegler because they know two things: 1. These gentlemen would publicize their troubles not to democratize the union but to smear the whole labor movement, and 2. it would be only an excuse for putting across government and court control of the trade union. The reactionaries have always demanded government control of union treasuries – naturally to prevent “corruption”! Socialists have always fought for the independence of the unions from the government ... But elaboration on these points belongs in an elementary class on trade-unionism. It is unnecessary to go further here because Barrett says nothing beyond what has been mentioned. [4]

What it does illustrate, from a fresh angle, is Barrett’s scorn of action independent of the government as “ineffective,” and his perfect willingness to entrust the existing capitalist state with these “double-edged weapons” just as if it were an impartial agency. Optimistic is the word.

Role Played by Demands on Government

Let us put Barrett’s argument more bluntly than he does himself: If we are in favor of independent mass action (picket lines, defense guards, etc.) to break up fascist formations, why not ask the government to take steps against them too?

1. As I pointed out, we do make such demands on the government. But I have also pointed out limitations on such demands – the question of “double-edged weapon” – and it is this that Barrett is completely blind to. The function of our demands is twofold. One is to expose the unwillingness and inability of the government to fight fascist tendencies vigorously and consistently and in the last analysis to fight them at all. (The other is considered below.)

In the first place, this function requires that one’s demands be selected with it in mind, and the outlawry of opinion à la Barrett exposes no one but ourselves. In the second place, Barrett is not primarily interested in this function: he is presenting his program of juridical action not because it will expose the government but because he claims it will really “cope audaciously” with totalitarian threats. This is the very opposite. While his last paragraph makes this perfectly clear, I also refer to his section headed Liberal View on Slander, where he defends the practical effectiveness of his scheme as the answer to totalitarianism.

2. The other function of our demands is more short-range. It is to take whatever advantage is possible in the earlier stages of totalitarian development of (a) differences of perspective within the capitalist ranks at the given moment, and (b) the capitalist government’s initial reluctance to adopt totalitarianism as its political method.

Our understanding of fascism teaches us that as the issues become sharper, the capitalist class and its state will tend to adopt this method more unitedly and more enthusiastically. If fascism is not inevitable, it is only because the alternative is socialist revolution – not because of any faith in the capitalist “democrats.” I will forbear from citing the experiences of Germany and Italy, or even the quite convincing correspondence in American developments.

What then will “cope audaciously” with fascist tendencies? Not the degree to which we manage to “pressure” the government into taking partial, temporary and in the last analysis ineffective, steps against the totalitarians. But in the long run, the degree to which we teach and train labor to rely on its own strength and forces and to distrust this capitalist government.

This in itself excludes a big campaign for legal action of the scope and with the perspective that Barrett proposes. For you cannot fix attention in two directions at once; this is quite literally cock-eyed. If, as Barrett admits in one place, a juridical campaign is really to be “a supplementary weapon within a larger framework of struggle,” it is thereby limited; it cannot be permitted to contradict the larger framework of struggle. One must be subordinate to the other. What this means is that in the case of double-edged legal weapons, the cutting edge that faces us is not of the same quality as the cutting edge that is supposed to be menacing the totalitarians. The hand that grasps the weapon is that of the existing capitalist state-which-is-becoming-totalitarian. Barrett sees no limits at all.

Independent Mass Action vs. Legal Suppression

3. Is it “inconsistent” to fight against something and yet not ask for its legal suppression? I propose three interesting examples, not merely because they are examples but because they have a wider connotation for Barrettism.

(a) In a militant strike, the union attempts by its own independent action (pickets, special squads, direct action, etc.) to keep scabs out of the plant. Naturally this is supplementary to propaganda and education. No campaign is raised, however, that the cops keep the scabs out or that a law be passed to that effect. The union does make certain demands on the government (while telling the workers that they will win only by depending on their own action) but not that one. The boss press yells that it is undemocratic for the strikers to refuse the scabs the “right to work.” For the strikers it is obvious this is an issue that can be settled only by class power. To put it in a nutshell, this is precisely what marks the Marxist attitude on the fight against the fascist scabs and scab-herders.

(b) The attitude of a workers’ state toward religion. In revolutionary Russia, the church was not only a source of ideological infection with the “opium of the people,” but an organized center of counter-revolutionary intrigue. Yet Lenin specifically excluded government illegalization of either religious opinions or institutions. His attitude was: an educational campaign against religion by the party, but no government suppression unless the church asked for it by counterrevolutionary acts.

Barrett might reply: Yes, but that was a workers’ state; we can trust it not to yield to these ideological undertows.

But the capitalist state, which we cannot trust ... is it all right to put the weapon of ideological suppression in its hands?

(c) In the trade union movement, the demand is often raised by reactionaries for constitutional provisions against Communist Party members holding office or membership. (It is often, of course, directed more loosely against “Communists,” but to sharpen the case let us assume it is worded “CP members.”) Our attitude is that we will vote against Stalinists for office because they are Stalinists (and therefore cannot be for democratic, militant unionism) but we are not for keeping Stalinists out by union law. This is not the way to fight either Stalinists or any other reactionary tendency in the unions.

Barrett disagrees. He is for expelling Stalinists from unions. He chides Counts only because the latter expelled the Stalinists from his union and did not follow up by seeking to expel them from “every other organization.”

If this is proper because the Stalinists are a species of totalitarians, we must assume first that there is no practical distinction between the conscious leaders of the Stalinists and their misguided rank and file. We must also ignore any distinction between CP members and sympathizers (“opinion” is Barrett’s test). We must also expel all who express anti-Semitic, anti-Negro, anti-Mexican, anti-British, anti-Russian, etc., opinions, instead of dealing with them as educational problems and taking action only when their acts affect the integrity of the union. We must also expel any member who is misled to defend Coughlin, Gerald Smith, the Dies Committee, Hearst ... or Henry Ford, Rickenbacker, Lindbergh ... where does the purge stop – with Republicans? This is as fine a prescription for union-wrecking as any well-intentioned blunderer ever prescribed.

Besides, why stop with expelling Stalinists from unions? Should not they all be jailed along with the rest of Barrett’s candidates for the clink? Was it negligence that caused Barrett to forget to mention this? [5]

To summarize the difference between the point of view of Barrett and of this article:

Is it that Barrett “emphasizes” government action more than I? Is it that he thinks radicals should spend more time and thought on making demands on the government – perhaps draw up a model bill for something?

This would be very superficial and miss the point completely, just as the difference between a revolutionary Marxist and a reformist is not merely how much “emphasis” each gives to the fight for reforms.

In his introduction Barrett says he is taking up cudgels against the “libertarians,” meaning thereby both the radicals and liberals who object to his proposal. Insofar as this term has a definite meaning, it refers to the view of “liberty” as existing in the abstract for the individual conscience, like the

Holy Ghost, quite above any social class context. This has no relation to Marxism, which cannot think of liberty apart from the conflict of real class forces.

Barrett does not do that any more than the libertarians he scorns. His is libertarianism turned inside out, with all the whites replaced with blacks. Both varieties are equally untrustworthy as guides to tactics in the fight against fascism.




1. Take merely the couple of paragraphs immediately following Barrett’s “definition” of radical, (a) What radicals “persist in their supercilious attitude of looking upon the fascists as ‘crackpots’ and the Stalinists as ‘harmless fanatics’?” (b) Which kind of radical “feels that he has dispensed with his revolutionary duty simply by ascribing the growing bigotry to the ‘capitalist system’?” The Socialist Labor Party only obviously, (c) When Barrett refers to “radical’s theory of the state,” the context shows he means the Marxist theory of the state. But the Socialist Party and the New Leader Social Democrats do not share it, to take only two radical groups, in Barrett’s lingo. – Or take the very specific question of the picket lines against Gerald Smith In Los Angeles: We of the Workers Party (“radicals”) helped organize the picketing. The SP (“radicals”) denounced interfering with Smith’s meeting as itself totalitarianism. The SLP (“radicals”) denounced the mass picketing as violating Smith’s constitutional rights. This was also the point of view of many liberals, hut not of many others. Even the liberals of the local ACLU took different views on the picketing (Director Taft vs. Counsel Wirin). Generalizing on The Liberal Policy or The Radical Policy on this knotty question does not get us anywhere. It certainly does not get Barrett anywhere. – This could go on for more since than it is worth. Why on earth then does Barrett go out of his way to insist that every “radical” reading his article, must be sure to apply all his strictures made inclusively against “radicals” to his own group, and yet so very blatantly ignore the obligation of scrupulousness that this imposes on him. the writer? That isn’t nice. He does himself more justice when he refers his remarks to a real policy and organization, like the Workers Party. This has the estimable advantage of permitting the reader to (a) make sense of what he is trying to say. and (b) discuss it intelligently.

2. Besides setting up and knocking down this dummy policy in the section referred to, Barrett for some reason then wanders oft to lecture about the “areas of non-rationality” in race bigotry – about taboos, guilt neuroses, projections. jealousy, illogicality, and the rest. He merely winds up with: ‘The radical, therefore, must also learn to cope with these areas of non-rationality.” I should have wished that he had somehow connected this psychoanalytic excursion with something he had said either before or after. Especially since the method of “coping with” that Barrett is boosting in his article is simply the heavy hand of the cop. How this will cope with guilt neuroses, I do not know. As it appears in the article. It has a tantalising resemblance to an argument, but the Lord knows for what – certainly not for Barrett’s thesis.

3. For a man who wrote a series of articles against The Anti-Marxist Offensive, in the name of defending Marxism, Barrett permits himself a shockingly loose phrase. I suppose what Barrett intends by “absolutistic anti-state theory” is his fairy-tale that Socialists do not believe in making demands of the state in the fight against fascism. But the phrase he uses to describe it (something he heard, no doubt) is the standard one for describing something quite different: the anti-state theory of the anarchist who is opposed to the existence of any state on principle, or even to “recognizing” its existence. Barrett should ... be more careful.

4. Another word about Barrett’s passage on writing for Hearst. He refers to “Lenin’s alleged remark that he would have given the capitalists a page in Pravda if he could have written a column in their press.” On what? The Russian capitalist press was against German imperialism; so was Lenin: would Lenin therefore write a column for this press limited to denouncing German imperialism? The capitalist press would have been only too glad to print it. Would Lenin have written a column denouncing both sides in the war? Yes, but then Hearst – pardon, the Russian capitalist press would not have printed it. Get the point? The rest of this passage by Barrett is based entirely on a very awkward blunder. He writes (my emphasis): “The same radical (including Trotsky himself), who sees no political distinction between democratic capitalism and fascism and who has accused the Stalinists of almost every crime in the calendar, will draw the line at attacking the latter in the ‘reactionary press.’ How this press differs fundamentally from any other capitalist organ, since even fascism is politically equated with capitalism, is never explained.” Everyone who has been exposed to an ABC of Marxism class knows that the distinction between democratic capitalism and fascism is precisely in the political form. It is in respect to the socio-economic system and class-rulership that they are fundamentally the same. If the political differences between democratic capitalism and fascism mean nothing to Barrett, why make a special point of fighting fascism at all? Barrett looked so hard for an argument that he finds himself on the opposite side of the fence without knowing it, sees the Trotskyists still on the other side, and puts his complete disorientation down on paper like a chart.

5. In a footnote about the campaign against Smith in Los Angeles, Barrett inquires: “Labor Action refers to the Stalinists as the ‘Copperheads of the labor movement’ while Draper taunts them for refusing a united front. Suppose they had accepted. Is it correct to unite with ‘Copperheads’ of labor in order to save that very labor?” This sounds like a translation from the German Social Democrats rejecting any united front with the Communists against Hitler, and vice versa. Does Barrett think he is arguing with Draper, or has he not read Trotsky? But there is no space to go into the question of united fronts with political opponents – a question on which practically everything has already been said by the Marxist movement, and to which Barrett devotes nothing but a question-mark, with that offhand superficiality which raises two new questions with every wrong answer.


Note by MIA

1*. This article is a reply to a two-part article by James Barrett, which appeared in New International in the issues of November and December 1945.

Last updated on 25.8.2005