Joseph Hansen

Go Forward

(9 November 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 45, 9 November 1940, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Paralyzing Poison from the Ivory Tower of Pacifism

Among the few professional pacifists who made their presence known on registration day, Reverend A.J. Muste, secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, issued a “personal statement” that if he were of draft age he would “refuse to register.” Members of the War Resisters League, the Church of Christ Scientist, and some who simply classified themselves as “Christians” who “object to the slaughter of other men,” likewise rejected military training.

“You must not hate or be bitter against those who will make it unpleasant for you,” they proclaim. “Turn the other cheek if any one annoys you.” And they even get a bit of a belligerent feeling about their pacifism and take a “pledge” to oppose war to the bitter end by “methods of non-violence.”

Pastors, reverends, vegetarians, old maids, and students soaking in a petty-bourgeois milieu constitute the majority of this pious crew. Some of them will end up waving a flag; the rest will disappear in the upheavals to come without leaving a trace.

Noble Norman’s Pious Prayer

Among these religious objectors to military training wc find some with a political tinge such as Norman Thomas. They base themselves on the tradition of the last war when it was considered a revolutionary action to announce yourself as a “conscientious objector” and to isolate yourself from the workers as they were armed and trained in military conflict.

If this kind of politics was understandable in the last war as the result of the immaturity pf the revolutionary movement in America, it is now completely inexcusable after the example of the Russian workers in 1917.

Yet we find Judah Drob, secretary of the Norman Thomas youth group, coming out as a “conscientious objector.” In brief, piously repeating the errors of the past. Drob it seems is in favor of democracy and socialism and nice things like that, but he “is sincerely convinced that militarism is one of the most antidemocratic forces in our society.” How shall we fight it as an “anti-democratic” force? By retiring from the struggle, proclaims Drob, and presumably uniting in prayer.

The Headless Horseman

A special case is that of the petty-bourgeois revisionists who split from the Fourth International and set up what they call the “Workers Party.” Since Burnham, their former head, went hurtling into the camp of the big bourgeoisie, this pacifist splinter group has lacked a “brain.” Shachtman, it is true seems firmly fixed in the saddle borne by long-suffering Ahern and tries to scare people now and then by waving a jack-o-lantern of analogies and quotations carved out of the texts of Marxism. However, Shachtman still remains nothing in politics but a headless horseman.

As such he has been jousting fiercely in his newspaper against the military policy advocated by the Socialist Workers Party. He will have nothing to do with fighting for trade union control of military training. This slogan he proclaims with a righteous air and more than a touch of snobbery – probably from his association with professor Burnham who also took an academic interest in the working class – is a departure from Marxism.

Why all Shachtman’s sudden interest in Marxism, its theory and defense? Just Shachtman’s way of scaring off any undue questioning on the part of his followers concerning the heresies of Campaign-Manager Dwight Macdonald. Dwight has been laying down a public barrage against the “most basic premises of Marxism.” An embarrassing position for candidate-for-Congress Shachtman, who tells his following that he is running on a simon-pure Marxist platform! For Shachtman finds it inconvenient to lay rough hands on his own Campaign-Manager. What if anti-Marxist Dwight should decide to fulfill Trotsky’s prediction and, like Burnham, make a personal desertion from the movement – right in the middle of the electoral campaign!

The answer? Attack the “deviations” of the Socialist Workers Party and if you can’t find a real deviation, get friend Dwight into a bloc to dig up some quotations with which to concoct one.

We are not interested in cluttering this short article with the bleached bones which Shachtman has tied together as the framework of his argument in support of his pacifist tendency. Shachtman himself will hasten to hide this skeleton in his closet where it will collect cobwebs in the dark along with the previous articles he wrote against the ideas of Trotsky.

We admit quite frankly what Shachtman only dares insinuate in a veiled and cowardly fashion – that our military policy:

  1. Was formulated by Comrade Leon Trotsky as his last great contribution to the Fourth International.
  2. Is Trotsky’s application of his Transitional Program to the conditions of world war and the militarization of the United States.

The Marxist Answer

Marxism has a different answer from that of pacifism. It advocates that the class-conscious worker stay with his class. If the workers are farced into a war he goes along side by side taking all the chances, on every occasion struggling for their interests. But even more, understanding that unless socialism gains power imperialist war is inevitable, he advocates military training for the workers. He advocates military training for the workers under their own control.

In the face of universal militarization, to the workers’ question: What to do next? our answer for the present period is the slogan launched by Trotsky, struggle for TRADE UNION CONTROL OF MILITARY TRAINING.

That is the Marxist answer.


Last updated on: 14 November 2020