Leon Trotsky

In Defense of Marxism

Petty-Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party [1]

(April 1940)

First Published: Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, New York 1942.
Checked against: Leon Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, London 1966, pp.207-211.
All footnotes stem from the latter edition.

The discussion in the Socialist Workers Party of the United States was thorough and democratic. The preparations for the convention were carried out with absolute loyalty. The minority participated in the convention, recognizing thereby its legality and authoritativeness. The majority offered the minority all the necessary guarantees permitting it to conduct a struggle for its own views after the convention. The minority demanded a license to appeal to the masses over the head of the party. The majority naturally rejected this monstrous pretension. Meanwhile, behind the back of the party the minority indulged in shady machinations and appropriated the New International which had been published through the efforts of the entire party and of the Fourth International. I should add that the majority had agreed to assign the minority two posts out of the five on the editorial board of this theoretical organ. But how can an intellectual “aristocracy” remain the minority in a workers’ party? To place a professor on equal plane with a worker – after all, that’s “bureaucratic conservatism”!

In his recent polemical article against me, Burnham explained that socialism is a “moral ideal.” To be sure, this is not so very new. At the opening of the last century, morality served as the basis for the “True German Socialism” which Marx and Engels criticized at the very beginning of their activity. At the beginning of our century, the Russian Social Revolutionaries counterpoised the “moral ideal” to materialistic socialism. Sad to say, these bearers of morality turned out to be common swindlers in the field of politics. In 1917 they betrayed the workers completely into the hands of the bourgeoisie and foreign imperialism.

Long political experience has taught me that whenever a petty- bourgeois professor or journalist begins talking about high moral standards it is necessary to keep a firm hand on one’s pocketbook. It happened this time, too. In the name of a “moral ideal” a petty-bourgeois intellectual has picked the proletarian party’s pocket of its theoretical organ. Here you have a tiny living example of the organizational methods of these innovators, moralists and champions of democracy.

What is party democracy in the eyes of an “educated” petty bourgeois? A regime which permits him to say and write whatever he pleases. What is “bureaucratism” in the eyes of an “educated” petty bourgeois? A regime in which the proletarian majority enforces by democratic methods its decisions and discipline. Workers, bear this firmly in mind!

The petty-bourgeois minority of the SWP split from the proletarian majority on the basis of a struggle against revolutionary Marxism. Burnham proclaimed dialectic materialism to be incompatible with his motheaten “science.” Shachtman proclaimed revolutionary Marxism to be of no moment from the standpoint of “practical tasks.” Abern hastened to hook up his little booth with the anti-Marxist bloc. And now these gentlemen label the magazine they filched from the party an “organ of revolutionary Marxism.” What is this, if not ideological charlatanism? Let the readers demand of these editors that they publish the sole programmatic work of the minority, namely, Burnham’s article, Science and Style. If the editors were not preparing to emulate a peddler who markets rotten merchandise under fancy labels, they would themselves have felt obliged to publish this article. Everybody could then see for himself just what kind of “revolutionary Marxism” is involved here, But they will not dare do so. They are ashamed to show their true faces. Burnham is skilled at hiding his all too revealing articles and resolutions in his briefcase, while Shachtman has made a profession of serving as an attorney for other people’s views through lack of any views of his own.

The very first “programmatic” articles of the purloined organ already reveal completely the light-mindedness and hollowness of this new anti-Marxist grouping which appears under the label of the “Third Camp.” What is this animal? There is the camp of capitalism; there is the camp of the proletariat. But is there perhaps a “third camp” – a petty-bourgeois sanctuary? In the nature of things, it is nothing else. But, as always, the petty bourgeois camouflages his “camp” with the paper flowers of rhetoric. Let us lend our ears! Here is one camp: France and England. There’s another camp: Hitler and Stalin. And a third camp: Burnham, with Shachtman. The Fourth International turns out for them to be in Hitler’s camp (Stalin made this discovery long ago). And so, a new great slogan: Muddlers and pacifists of the world, all ye suffering from the pin-pricks of fate, rally to the “third” camp!

But the whole trouble is that two warring camps do not at all exhaust the bourgeois world. What about all the neutral and semi- neutral countries? What about the United States? Where should Italy and Japan be assigned? The Scandinavian countries? India? China? We have in mind not the revolutionary Indian or Chinese workers but rather India and China as oppressed countries. The schoolboy schema of the three camps leaves out a trifling detail: the colonial world, the greater portion of mankind!

India is participating in the imperialist war on the side of Great Britain. Does this mean that our attitude toward India – not the Indian Bolsheviks but India – is the same as toward Great Britain? If there exist in this world, in addition to Shachtman and Burnham, only two imperialist camps, then where, permit me to ask, shall we put India? A Marxist will say that despite India’s being an integral part of the British Empire and India’s participating in the imperialist war; despite the perfidious policy of Gandhi and other nationalist leaders, our attitude toward India is altogether different from our attitude toward England. We defend India against England. Why then cannot our attitude toward the Soviet Union be different from our attitude toward Germany despite the fact that Stalin is allied with Hitler? Why can’t we defend the more progressive social forms which are capable of development against reactionary forms which are capable only of decomposition? We not only can but we must The theoreticians of the stolen magazine replace class analysis with a mechanistic construction very captivating to petty-bourgeois intellectuals because of its pseudo-symmetry. Just as the Stalinists camouflage their subservience to national socialism (the Nazis) with harsh epithets addressed to the imperialist democracies, so Shachtman and Co. cover up their capitulation to American petty. bourgeois public opinion with the pompous phraseology of the “third camp.” As if this “third camp” (what is it? a party? a club? a League of Abandoned Hopes? a “People’s Front”?) is free from the obligation of having a correct policy toward the petty bourgeoisie, the trade unions, India and the USSR!

Only the other day Shachtman referred to himself in the press as a “Trotskyist.” If this be Trotskyism then I at least am no Trotskyist. XVith the present ideas of Shachtman, not to mention Burn- ham, I have nothing in common. I used to collaborate actively with the New International, protesting in letters against Shachtman’s frivolous attitude toward theory and his unprincipled concessions to Burnham, the strutting petty-bourgeois pedant. But at the time both Burnham and Shachtman were kept in check by the party and the International. Today the pressure of petty-bourgeois democracy has unbridled them. Toward their new magazine my attitude can only be the same as toward all other petty-bourgeois counterfeits of Marxism. As for their “organizational methods” and political “morality,” these evoke in me nothing but contempt.

Had conscious agents of the class enemy operated through Shachtman, they could not have advised him to do anything different from what he himself has perpetrated. He united with anti-Marxists to wage a struggle against Marxism. He helped fuse together a petty-bourgeois faction against the workers. He refrained from utilizing internal party democracy and from making an honest effort to convince the proletarian majority. He engineered a split under the conditions of a world war. To crown it all, he threw over this split the veil of a petty and dirty scandal, which seems especially designed to provide our enemies with ammunition. Such are these “democrats,” such are their “morals”!

But all this will prove of no avail. They are bankrupt. Despite the betrayals of unstable intellectuals and the cheap gibes of all their democratic cousins, the Fourth International will march forward on its road, creating and educating a genuine selection of proletarian revolutionists capable of understanding what the party is, what loyalty to the banner means, and what revolutionary discipline signifies.

Advanced workers! Not one cent’s worth of confidence in the “third front” of the petty bourgeoisie!

April 23, 1940


1. This article was first printed in the Socialist appeal of May 4, 1940. The minority split from the SWP after the party convention in April 1940. Burnham, Shachtman and Abern, who held posts by party appointment on the party’s theoretical organ, The New International, and who were trustees for teh party in the New International Publishing Company, usurped the name of the magazine and appropriated its mailing rights as their personla property. – Ed.

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Last updated on: 12.4.2007