The Destruction of a Workers Paper. C. L. R. James 1962
The first part of this pamphlet consists of two articles, “Marxism and the Intellectuals,” by J. R. Johnson which were denied publication in the newspaper, Correspondence. The articles are a review of two books by Raymond Williams, a leading British left socialist, and deal with the most fundamental problem facing the socialist movement – the working class and its place in the struggle for socialism. The fact that these articles were excluded from Correspondence has its particular irony. That they are a significant contribution to modern socialist thought, the reader can judge for himself. What must be noted, however, is that the author of these articles was the founder of the group which later developed into the Correspondence Editing Committees and the originator of the theories on which the newspaper was based.
Correspondence was published by an organization of Editing Committees which had its beginnings in 1941. At that time a group of people, workers and intellectuals, saw the need to break away from the sterile theorizing and bureaucratic conceptions of leadership of the traditional Marxist organizations and to apply Marxism to the living realities of our time. Most of us were in the Trotskyist movement. Patiently and carefully we devoted ten years to the study of Marxism in all its aspects, to the study of the working class, particularly in the United States and Russia, and to the study of the specific stage which capitalism had reached on a world-wide scale.
During these years we published a series of articles and pamphlets on a whole range of subjects to prepare ourselves and our friends for the tasks before us. Two in particular stand out: The American Worker, the first statement by a worker of the concrete life of the worker in the crucial arena of production in the United States combined with a philosophical analysis of the modern American working class; and State Capitalism and World Revolution, a theoretical analysis from a Marxist point of view of the stage of state capitalism in its two leading forms, Russian totalitarianism and the American welfare state.
In 1951 we felt ourselves equipped to go directly to the American working class and the American public and we formed an independent organization with the purpose of publishing a newspaper, Correspondence. It was to be a working class paper (not a theoretical journal) based on the conception that the decisive force for a new society, for socialism, was the working class, its thoughts and its activity. It was to combine the talents of workers and intellectuals to produce a paper that was to be a weapon that workers could use in the class struggle but that would concern itself with the struggle for the new society in all its aspects and in every section of society – among Negroes, among women, among youth, among intellectuals, as well as among workers. It would reject the conception of an elite, a vanguard party, to lead the workers. As we later stated our purpose in the book, Facing Reality, it was “to recognize that the new society exists and to record the facts of its existence.” We rejected not only bureaucrats but the bureaucratic organizations, such as unions and parties, which act as the main barrier to the realization of the new society.
Correspondence began publication in 1953 and our first years were spent in the dark period of McCarthyism. In 1956 the Hungarian working class revolution not only confirmed and extended our views, both theoretically and practically, but opened up a whole new era of revolutionary transformations – in Africa, in Asia, in Latin American, in Europe and in the United States – bringing new nations and classes into the struggle for the new society.
The tremendous possibilities, for the world and for us, opened up by these revolutionary developments, however, contained their temptations and their dangers. It has been a long experience of the Marxist movement that periods of revolutionary rise, as well as periods of revolutionary decline, give rise to impatience and dissatisfaction with what workers are doing or are not doing. The radical verbiage of middle class intellectuals expressing their dissatisfactions with capitalist society seems to provide an easy short cut to success which avoids the painstaking work and study of maintaining the closest ties, in theory and in practice, with the workers. Both intellectuals and certain types of workers, accustomed to leadership in the trade union movement, succumb to these temptations. They substitute a new conception of an elite, convincing themselves that they embody the new society, for the rigorous theoretical discipline of Marxism which seeks the new society in the activity of rank and file workers and ordinary people of all classes. We presented a study of just such a case in our pamphlet, Wildcat Strikes and the Left Wing Committeemen.
It was this development which took place in the Correspondence Editing Committees. In the summer and fall of 1961 the editor, Grace Lee, and chairman of the editorial board, James Boggs, worked out a whole new set of theories in order to reject Marxism as a guide for the organization. These theories had already begun to find their way into the paper earlier. They embraced the idea that the workers were backward. In spite of our participation in the workers’ movement, they confused the activities and desires of rank and file workers with the limitations and deficiencies of the organized union movement and union activities. They substituted for the concept of class the middle class abstractions of “rights” and “morals.” They rejected the Marxist conception of the inevitability of socialism. They adopted the view that a new elite was needed to lead and educate the people to socialism. They adopted the idea of American exceptionalism in the mistaken belief that the U. S. was somehow immune to the laws and crises of capitalism because of its relative affluence. In short, without ever once admitting it openly, they abandoned Marxism and substituted for it a Utopian, bureaucratic socialism.
The consequences in organizational practice for those who make such a theoretical break were inevitable. They did not see fit to discuss their new policies with the organization -they merely introduced them into the paper. They were called to order on this in the organization. The third part of this pamphlet consists of extracts from letters that were part of the discussion in the Editing Committees. In these letters by Martin Glaberman and Frank are analyzed the concrete articles in the paper which indicated the growing rejection of both Marxism and the working class and the high-handed organizational procedure.
They retreated in words but not in fact. The editor and chairman refused to print the articles, “Marxism and the Intellectuals,” although they were based upon and extended the ideas held by the organization. In reply to this action, J. R. Johnson presented a statement to the Editorial Board which attacked both the actions and the theory on which they were based and reaffirmed the most fundamental tenet of the organization: the revolutionary capacity of the working class. This statement appears as the second part of this pamphlet.
When the majority of the organization voted to print the articles, the editor and chairman chose to split the organization. With them went Lyman Paine, a member who was legally the owner of Correspondence. Despite the fact that responsibility for editing, financing and circulating the paper had always rested with the membership, they decided to use the legal technicality of ownership to take the paper away from the majority of the membership so that Correspondence no longer represented either the organization or the policies on which it had always been based. Although they speak glibly of morality and human relations, they have not yet seen fit to put in their paper for their readers’ information any news of their split.
We present this material to make known to the readers of Correspondence and those who are interested why, politically and organizationally, a workers paper was destroyed. But its value goes beyond the particular dispute from which it arose. The workers paper which will have to appear in the United States must start with the political and journalistic conceptions contained in this pamphlet. It is both a report on a past experience and a basis for a new beginning.