Joseph Hansen

Macdonald Cries Out Against
Shachtman’s Internal Regime

(21 December 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 51, 21 December 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.

For some time reports have been reaching us that factional war is convulsing the ranks of the petty-bourgeois opposition which split from the Fourth International last spring. A new wing of oppositionists to the official oppositionist leadership has cropped up in much the same way that lesser fleas are reputed to crop up on bigger fleas.

It is reported that a wing which rejects Marxism openly is struggling for domination of the so-called Workers Party against the wing which rejects Marxism surreptitiously, and that this is the reason for the voluminous polemics which have been appearing under the name of Max Shachtman in Labor Action.

Now that the electoral campaign is over and it is safe to attack one’s campaign manager, the polemics have been directed particularly against Dwight Macdonald, who heads the Burnham residue in the “Workers Party” and who publicly advocates revision of the basic doctrines of Marxism.

However Macdonald is struggling not only against Marxism as he did together with Shachtman in the ranks of the Fourth International, he is also struggling against the internal regime in his party.

Recently he wrote an exposé of conditions in his party which we think deserves more wide-spread publicity than Shachtman is willing to give it. Here are some of the more salient points of Macdonald’s exposé as mimeographed for the membership of the group:

The exposéis entitled, Fraternity – A Note on the Intellectual Atmosphere in the Party, that is, the “Workers Party.” It appears that J.R. Johnson, fellow-editor with Dwight of the New International, without consulting the other editors, or the ruling body of the party nevertheless polemized “in the sharpest terms against another member of the party, namely myself, while ostensibly attacking the bourgeois press.”

“I have dwelt at such length on this episode,” complains Macdonald, “not because of its intrinsic importance, but because it is a specially good example of the serious degeneration in the intellectual life of the party since the split. Under the pressure of the war crisis and, at least in my opinion, of the impotence of Johnson and other leading comrades to cope with international developments on the basis of their simple-minded mechanical-Marxist approach, there has been generated a really poisonous atmosphere. Comrades who, like myself, dissatisfied, with the official ‘answers’ and are casting about, for more satisfactory interpretations, are regarded with the same fear and bitterness and suspicion as Cannon used to regard all of us during the faction fight. Why, after all, was Johnson impelled to go to such fantastic lengths in order to score a point off my Partisan Review article? Not because of the point he criticizes—a minor part of the article—but for an entirely different reason: because my general conception of fascism is ‘unorthodox’ and, in his opinion dangerous. This is what is believed the whole business, this is the real issue.”

Corrupt, Degenerate Regime

So corrupt and degenerated has become the regime in the so-called Workers Party that it is apparently denying the very principle upon which it justified its split from the Fourth International. It will be recalled that the Burnham-Shachtman group insisted at the time of the split upon their “right” to publish their attacks on Marxism in the public party press whenever they felt like it.

They insisted that it was necessary for them to split so that they could publish their own press. “Mere” internal party bulletins were not enough for them.

Now they deny their own principles, for Macdonald is compelled to ask: “Let’s have the argument conducted in the open, not (by means of such envenomed masked attacks as this one of Johnson.”

Macdonald sums up his exposé of the regime of the so-called Workers Party very succinctly:

“We have one editor launching a venomous polemic against another editor in the very editorial columns ... He has done this without mentioning either me or Partisan Review by name, so that those inside the party would realize what he meant, while the outside public would remain in ignorance of the real aim of the attack ... Johnson went to such lengths that to have mentioned me by name would have not only provoked a real scandal but would have made the NI look like a very peculiar sort of magazine, with one editor denouncing another as a counter-revolutionary squawker ... His editorial thus has the character of a lynching rather than a legal execution ... I cannot see how revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries can exist side by side either on the editorial board of a Marxist magazine or in a revolutionary party.”

If Macdonald is not satisfied with what publicity we have been able to give his exposé we suggest that he start his own journal under the protecting wing of the political committee of his party and blast that committee publicly for what he terms the “serious degeneration” they have permitted “in the intellectual life of the party since the split.”


Last updated on: 13 November 2020