An Impudent Slander

(April 1942)

From New International, Vol. VIII No. 3, April 1942, pp. 70–71.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan (December 2012).

The following article is in the nature of an introduction to the final sections of the Indian thesis, the first part of which was published in the March issue of The New International. The Indian thesis immediately follows this article. – Editor

A slander is a slander, no matter who utters it. There is such a thing as “proletarian politics”; there is even such a thing as “proletarian violence.” But there is no such thing as a “proletarian slander” any more than there is a “proletarian frame-up.” Here is a case in point.

Several weeks ago we received from the Orient a thesis of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India on the situation in that country which we began to publish in the last issue of The New International. We were requested by our comrades to make copies of the material received available to the Socialist Workers Party. This request was forthwith complied with by us. The thesis is now also reproduced in the theoretical organ of the Cannonites, the Fourth International, for March 1942.

In his introduction to the thesis, the editor of the Fourth International writes:

Together with the Ceylon Socialist Party (the Lanka Sama Samaj Party) and a recently formed organization in Burma, our Indian comrades have established the Federation of Bolshevik-Leninist Parties of Burma, Ceylon and India, for the revolutionary destiny of these three peoples is closely linked together.

All three parties stand firmly on the program of the Fourth International. On the decisive question of defense of the Soviet Union and the character of the USSR as a workers state, they stand with Trotsky and the Socialist Workers Party against the petty-bourgeois opposition of Burnham-Shachtman, which abandoned Trotskyism. In documents which we have received, the parties of the Federation make unambiguously clear their agreement on the Russian and all other questions with the Fourth International against the petty bourgeois opposition, which has been spreading false stories about the position of the Indian and Ceylonese comrades.

The individual who wrote this is a common slanderer.

What honorable or “educational” purpose is served by linking Burnham and Shachtman today? Is it in order to suggest that these two persons and those they respectively represent have political views or activities in common? We speak freely of Hitler and Mussolini in brackets; we link Roosevelt and Willkie; we hyphenate Churchill-Stalin – because in each case those whom we thus combine are held together in one common bond or other. What common bond is supposed to unite Burnham and Shachtman? The former is an avowed enemy of socialism and has been for two years; the latter remains a revolutionary socialist. The only way they can be linked is by means of a malicious amalgam, that is, the method notoriously employed by Stalinism against its adversaries.

But is it not true that Burnham was once associated with Shachtman? And doesn’t this fact justify the device employed by the editor of the Fourth International? No, not in the least. Otherwise, the editor would have written that the Federation “stand with Trotsky and the Socialist Workers Party” and with Jean Rous, Fred Zeller and Walter Dauge “against the petty bourgeois opposition of Burnham-Shachtman.”

Rous, Zeller and Dauge supported the Cannonites against us “on the decisive question of defense of the Soviet Union”; their authority as the leaders of the French and Belgian sections of the Fourth International and as members of the latter’s executive committee was cited as additional warrant for the decision to “expel” us from the International at the farcical rump “emergency conference” which the Cannonites convoked for that sole purpose almost two years ago? Why, we repeat, are not these three worthies mentioned among the adversaries of the “petty bourgeois oppositions”? Could the reason for the omission be that shortly after the “conference” the three of them began to orient toward a more or less open fascist position?

If someone were to speak today of the “Trotsky-Cannon-Rous-Dauge position on the Russian question,” he would rightly be denounced as a slanderous demagogue who does not aim at clarifying a question but at muddying it up. Not two years ago, when such a characterization was accurately descriptive and expressive, but today. No less slanderous a demagogue is anyone who writes today of the “petty bourgeois opposition of Burnham-Shachtman.” We are ready to admit that such a characterization might be permissible even if Burnham were no longer associated with Shachtman or the Workers Party, provided – for example – it could be demonstrated that Burnham’s political evolution as an urbane capitulator to fascism (to put it mildly) followed logically from the position of the Workers Party, or that the Workers Party itself has capitulated to the imperialist reaction in the war. But even to attempt to demonstrate this would be very risky, especially on the part of a spokesman for the only working-class party in this country which has failed to issue a declaration of its position on the United States in the war since war was declared, that, is, which has failed to make that formal public statement which, under the circumstances, is a political action against the imperialist war of the first importance for a consistently Marxist organization.

Finally, the editor charges that the Workers Party “has been spreading false stories about the position of the Indian and Ceylonese comrades.” We stare at this almost in disbelief of what our eyes reveal. Where did this man acquire such cool effrontery? What “false stories” have we spread about our Indian and Ceylonese comrades? Perhaps the editor will condescend to name one – not many, just one. We never spread false stories about these comrades or about anyone else; and we never disseminated slanders about them, either. But – Only a few months ago, toward the end of 1941, the people with whom the editor of the Fourth International is associated, issued an international bulletin which we open to page 16. Under the heading of India, the following appears, and we print it word for word:

From a letter from India, dated March, 1941:

I should like to say that I am now – as before – 100 per cent in support of your policy and ideas. The policy of Messrs. Burnham, Shachtman, Sherman Stanley and Abern is obviously wrong on each of the disputed issues ... Stanley’s ideas of the business in the Indian Empire, and especially about Ceylon, have to be thoroughly scrutinized. The opinions he enunciated here were fundamentally wrong. Neither the aristocratic planters of Ceylon, nor the stockbrokers of Calcutta are suitable representatives for our business in India.

(Editor’s Note: Sherman Stanley made a trip to India some time ago and the writer of this letter had the opportunity to speak with him directly.)

We do not know what “false stories” we are supposed to have spread. We do know, however, that we, at least, never disseminated such poisonous slanders about our Asiatic comrades as “aristocratic planters of Ceylon” and “stockbrokers of Calcutta,” only to hail them a few brief months later as “Marxists revolutionists” and “our comrades” – and to attack others for “spreading false stories” about them!

A slander is a slander; a slanderer is a slanderer. The man who burned fingers once by abusing his authority when entrusted with the editorship of a workers’ paper, evidently does not fear the fire. Or perhaps he is under the illusion that persecution at the hands of the class enemy confers upon him a special right to slander political adversaries with impudence and with impunity. He is mistaken. That “right” does not exist. At least, we shall continue seeing to it that it doesn’t.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 23 December 2014