Leon Trotsky

On A Petty Bourgeois Philistine

A Letter to Albert Goldman

(August 1940)

Written: 9 August 1940 in English.
First Published: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, p.126.
Reprinted: In Defense of Marxism, New York 1942.
Checked against: In Defence of Marxism, London 1966, pp.229-230.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Transcriber’s comments:
This letter is a part of a series of letters published in this issue of Fourth International
under the heading of Trotsky’s Last Letters,
D.W., 2002.

August 9, 1940
Albert Goldman

Dear Friend:

I don’t know whether you have seen Dwight Macdonald’s article in the August issue of his Partisan Review.

This man was a disciple of Burnham, the intellectual snob. After Burnham deserted, Dwight Macdonald was left in Shachtman’s party as the lone representative of “Science”.

On the question of fascism, Macdonald serves up a poor compilation of plagiarisms from our arsenal which he represents as his own discoveries and to which he opposes some banalities that he characterizes as our ideas. The whole-without perspective, without proportion and without elementary intellectual honesty.

However, this is not the worst. Burnham’s orphan proclaims: “We must examine again with a cold and skeptical eye, the most basic premises of Marxism.” (Page 266) And what must the poor “Workers Party” do during this period of examination? What must the proletariat do? They should wait of course, for the result of Dwight Macdonald’s study. This result will probably be Macdonald’s desertion himself into the camp of Burnham.

The last four lines of the article can be nothing but preparation for personal desertion. “Only if we meet the stormy and terrible years ahead with both skepticism and devotion – skepticism towards all theories, governments and social systems; devotion to the revolutionary fight of the masses – only then can we justify ourselves as intellectuals.”

Revolutionary activity based upon theoretical skepticism is the most awkward of inner contradictions. “Devotion to the revolutionary fight of the masses” is impossible without theoretical understanding of the laws of this revolutionary fight. Revolutionary devotion is possible only if one gains the assurance that his devotion is reasonable, adequate; that it corresponds to its aim. Such assurance can be created only by theoretical insight into the class struggle. “ Skepticism towards all theories” is nothing but preparation for personal desertion.

Shachtman remains silent; as “General Secretary” he is too busy to defend the “most basic premises of Marxism” from petty bourgeois philistines and snobs ...

Fraternally yours,

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