Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(17 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 79, 17 October 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Lovestoneites and Thomasites, who so painstakingly restrained their opposition to war when Alex Rose and Luigi Antonini, with their support, rammed the pro-war resolution down the throat of the ALP, are bravely giving their opposition free play in a concerted attack upon us.

They, you see, really oppose the entry of the United States into the war and they believe that their objective can be accomplished if they can find enough men and women of good will to associate with them. On the other hand, we, benighted Trotskyists, are paralyzing the struggle against war because we say that American participation in the World War is inevitable.

“Leon Trotsky’s hate of Stalin rather than any logic makes him insist that the United States must get into this war. Inevitability is born of his personal desire. That kind of ‘inevitability’ is paralyzing, to any social determination of destiny.”

Thus Norman Thomas in the Call (formerly the Socialist Call).

In his column in the Lovestoneite Workers Age, Bertram D. Wolfe takes up the cry against us. He reproaches “the Trotskyites for the pseudo-Marxist theory of ‘inevitability’ and fatalism. We assumed we were dealing with sincere opponents of our entrance into war and we limited ourselves to warning that the doctrine of ‘inevitable involvement’ was theoretically false, refuted by history; that involvement or non-involvement would depend upon a living struggle which would be paralyzed by the wide acceptance of the fatalistic doctrine of inevitability.”

Exposing a Fraud

Although things look pretty black for us, we shall nevertheless try to explain our position on the question – our real position, of course. It will then be easy to understand what a deliberate fraud is being practised by Messrs. Thomas and Wolfe.

Let us consider Thomas and his S.P. first. He doesn’t believe America is bound to enter the war, it is not inevitable; it must be stopped; it can be stopped. Good. But if that is the case, why does Travers Clement, National Secretary of Thomas’ Socialist Party, send out a National Office Bulletin over his signature, dated October 1, 1939, and addressed “To All State, Local and Branch Secretaries” which contains the following “paralyzing” and “pessimistic” paragraph:’

“In a few months, despite our efforts and those of all anti-war forces, we must realize that the United States may be plunged into this war. If that day comes, we shall be hounded as never before in our history.”

When Norman Thomas doesn’t let his right hand know what his left hand is doing, isn’t that just a little bit of duplicity?

The case of Wolfe is even more deplorable, if only because he knows better than Thomas. He never believed it, in his old Stalinist days, when he bracketed Trotsky with the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolution. He doesn’t believe it now, when he brackets us in his column with Roosevelt and Browder.

Wolfe knows perfectly well – he taught it long enough – that so long as capitalist imperialism lives, war is just as inevitable as crises and other manifestations of the inherent contradictions of modern class society. He knows also that in the present World War, the inevitability of involvement applies to a far greater number of countries than were affected in the last war. (A glance at the newspaper accounts of developments in the Scandinavian countries and Finland will help illustrate this point.)

Does this mean that the United States is bound to enter this war and enter it now? The question is concrete and specific and Wolfe knows the answer to it as well as we do. And he knows also that when a Marxist declares that America’s entry into the Second World War is inevitable, he means:

So long as the Roosevelt pro-war regime, authentic representative of American imperialism and its interests, is in power in the country, participation in the war is inevitable. In point of fact, the United States already has at least one leg in the war. What else does Roosevelt’s declaration on the defense of Canada mean? What else is the meaning of the Panama Declaration brought home by Sumner Welles?

Truth Must Be Known

Do pessimistic conclusions follow from this? Does this mean paralyzing the struggle against war? Not at all. In general, the workers cannot carry on any effective struggle without knowing the truth. At bottom, Thomas and Wolfe are really saying that the workers will oppose war more strongly if they are kidded about the realities of the situation. The truth, the realities, are that under a capitalist government in this country, the entrance of the United States into the war is dead certain. Conclusion? Drive the present government out of power and put in its place a genuine government of peace. And that can only mean a workers’ government. Whoever tells the workers less than this is at best a miserable pacifist phrase-monger who is doing his own bit towards dragging the workers into war by distracting them with utopias and drugging them with illusions. Whoever tells them less than this is failing to lay the basis today for the only serious struggle that can be conducted against the war after it has broken out.

* * *

A Correction

Our attention has been called to the need of correcting a wrong impression created in last week’s issue. We did not mean to imply that all the signers of the “open letter” to the League of American Writers were members of the League for Cultural Freedom. Some of them, like James T. Farrell, Philip Rahv, William Phillips and a few others, are not. Nor did we mean to imply, as some readers seem to have concluded, that we were ignorant of the position on the war question taken by this or that individual. We were and are interested in the position on the war question of the League for Cultural Freedom as an organization, for the signatories to the open letter include all the recognized spokesmen of the League. They demand a formal statement from the League of American Writers. And we demanded the same kind of statement from the Hook Committee. Thus far, of course, with no results but the continued silence of the past.

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