Leon Trotsky

After Burnham – Macdonald

(August 1940)

First Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 33, 17 August 1940, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2020. Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike).

The following is from a letter to a friend by Leon Trotsky.

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 plagiarism 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 sceptical 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 scepticism and devotion – scepticism 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 scepticism 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 alm. Such assurance can be created only by theoretical insight into the class struggle. “Scepticism 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 ...

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Last updated on: 23 May 2019