Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(25 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 53, 25 July 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two objections have been received to the comments made in this column (June 13) on the Lovestoneite “socialist unity” campaign.

One comes from an S.P. member in New York, N.Y., who declares that he is for unity, even though he does not trust the leaders of any of the groups, including his own party.

“But the sort of unity I visualize is not the ‘unity’ the S.P. had with the ‘Trotskyites.’ I would be opposed to such unity today as I was opposed to it when you entered our party. Unity can be achieved on a programmatic basis only if there are organizational safeguards against factionalism and personalism, and an intelligent fostering of activity and not factional perspectives ...”

Another objector is a Brooklyn member of the Lovestone group, E.S., who claims to have been the first to raise the question of unity in his own organization and in an article in its pre-convention discussion. It was not, he states, instigated by Lovestone; indeed, “Lovestone ... rejects the idea that the S.W.P. can be absorbed into a healthy revolutionary movement.” The “unity” letters in the Workers Age are not a Machiavellian plot of Lovestone but reflect a widespread sentiment, a longing among radical workers.

“Although personally subscribing to everything Lovestone is purported to have said in France about Trotskyism, I am in favor of unity with the Trotskyites. I believe that the Trotskyite movement is inverted Stalinism; that Trotsky is an authoritarian Pope, leading his worshippers with the weapon of infallibility on one hand, and excommunication on the other; that he has his mind in the days of 1917–1923, and not in the events of today; that he would still return to the Comintern of its first Four Congresses, which contained the roots and manifestations of every evil which has since destroyed the world communist movement. But when I come out for unity with the Trotskyites, I mean that there is room for people even with such ideas in a united party ...

“You may believe that this unity plea is unfeasible; you may oppose it. But can’t we discuss it on the basis of its own merits? Must the net argument against it be that it is ‘inspired,’ ‘a trick,’ insincere and that Engels wouldn’t have been for it, so why should we?”

E.S., furthermore, sees a contradiction in our remarks a few weeks ago when we pointed out that we had consistently stood for unity then, “strangely enough, you dig up from Engels a quotation warning against unity howlers!”

We readily grant the good will and the good intentions of the two comrades who wrote in. We are ready to grant, further, that there is a sound sentiment among many militants who, realizing the weakness of the movement and the enormous tasks it must still fulfill, want to see a drawing together of all revolutionary socialists that can be united.

But we cannot agree with the conclusions of the correspondents nor do we find any reason for withdrawing the comments on the subject made on June 13.

A Few General Rules

The “Trotskyites” of the Communist League of America, quite unconcerned with the petty aspects of organizational prestige, did not hesitate for a minute in 1934 when the question arose of uniting into a larger organization with the American Workers Party (Muste group). Regardless of preceding criticisms and conflicts, we took the initiative in proposing a fusion of the two groups on an equal basis – but above all, on the basis of a revolutionary Marxian program. Our estimate of the A.W.P., briefly, was that it was a centrist group (the term is not an epithet with us, but a political characterization), but one that was moving to the left. Our estimate of that unity with the A.W.P. was possible on the basis of a principled program that would in no wise conflict with our own point of view. The Declaration of Principles finally adopted jointly by the two groups was eminently satisfactory and made possible a fruitful fusion into the Workers Party of the United States. Not only were the Trotskyites not obliged to yield a single inch of their principled position, but they succeeded in accelerating the leftward evolution of many A.W.P. militants (as well as in learning a good deal from them, in turn).

What possible analogy is there between that unity and that which is proposed by our two correspondents, among others? Each in his own way proposes, in effect, that the “Trotskyites” be included in the “unity” as second-class citizens, scarcely tolerated pariahs, people who must be circumscribed by all kinds of “safeguards,” A.Y. is not for “admitting” us into the unity in the way we were admitted into the S.P. three years ago. E.S., after an eloquent characterization of us, believes that “there is room for people even with such ideas in a united party” – but in a “united party” whose program is ... anti-Trotskyism. A rather odd conception of unity!

A Different Situation

– But wasn’t the S.P. “anti-Trotskyist” when you joined it three years ago?

The situation three years ago was entirely different from today. The S.P. was, or seemed to be, on the road to a mass party. It was attracting to itself many young revolutionists and militants hopeful of progress now that the S.P. had rid itself of “Old Guard” domination. The party was frankly in a state of flux. Its program was not fixed. It allowed wide latitude for discussion that would help shape its further evolution. Above all, it was moving to the left; it invited left-wing militants to join it; it did not make a profession of anti-Trotskyism.

When we joined the S.P., we did not forswear our principles; we were not asked to forswear them. On the contrary, we openly proclaimed them and also our intention to persuade all other members of the S.P. to adopt them as their own. The “unity” was an “open covenant, openly arrived at” – even if reluctantly on the part of the right wingers in the S.P.

Now the S.P. is a cracked shell. It is bureaucratized. It is moving not to the left but to the right (as is the Lovestone sect). It provides a “loyalty oath” for all collaborators. You can’t even be a member of its private unemployed organization if you believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat!

Unity between us and the S.P.-Lovestone combination is simply utopian, fantastic. Its advocates continue to belong to Engels’ category of “unity-howlers.”

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