Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

How Could It Happen?

First Published: The New Masses, Vol. 56, No. 6, August 7, 1945.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Why did NEW MASSES together with almost every single American Communist become opportunist and revise Marxism for eighteen months? Objectively why did the editors, who now so readily accept Duclos and Foster, unanimously swallow the Teheran line then? Let us examine possible sources of the error. Was it because not one editor of NM, not one member except Foster and Darcy, was a good Marxist? Did we really forget? Were we bad thinkers? This is only partly true, but it does not explain the overwhelming shame that NM and our movement must bear namely the unanimous agreement on the Teheran line. We did not all forget simultaneously. Furthermore, if we really did forget, how come we can have the healthy discussion taking place since the Duclos letter let down the gates of self-criticism? Did we simultaneously “remember”?

Was it first the tremendous influence of capitalist ideology on the nation and the labor movement? Hardly so. For this does not explain the unanimous acceptance by tried, tested and long-time comrades. It does not explain the action of every NM contributing editor, one of whom I personally know to be a fine American Marxist. It does not explain the action of every Marxist theoretician and NM collaborator who recognized this trend for years and argued against it. It can explain why some of them went over, but it cannot explain why everyone acted together. It does not explain why every National Committee member accepted Teheran over Foster’s criticism. And it does not explain why we pursued it so long–eighteen months–over and against Foster’s incessant criticism. The error arose primarily because the mentality of NM editors, like that of our entire organization, excluded independent thinking. Democratic centralism became a farce and since this is the source of the mistake, this is the greatest threat to NM and our movement, not the revisionist error itself. Policy was only handed down for clarification by NM editors and unanimous agreement always followed. You followed blindly National Committee policy without stopping to think. You never once disagreed with Worker editorials or National Committee statements. Your editors, like all Communist speakers, asked for and answered questions at open meetings only to guide us to agreement with national policy. Self-criticism and independent thinking was not–and to my great disgust, still is not a part of your editorial policy. You flatter yourselves uncritically when you say (June 26) “We accepted it (Teheran) because it seemed to us to tally with the course of history and the imperatives of our time.” I insist that you accepted it because you were followers. And to prove it, look at the same article later on when you say “We want particularly to emphasize that the National Board Resolution calls for ... the utilization of the Labor-Management Charter to press for organization of the unorganized,” etc., etc. I am positive that the day the amended National Committee Resolution appeared you too dropped that clause at once. If that isn’t following, what is? Real self-criticism for the lack of independent thinking was painful for Thompson and Amter. But NM goes blithely along in its positiveness in “already seeing the shape of things that reaction plots for America” (July 24).

Because of acts like these you grew to be, as you were so often correctly charged by liberals, a magazine written by and for followers. Independent thinking editorially outside prescribed limits was severely excluded. It is this suppression of free discussion which results in wrong editorial policy and the present challenge to the integrity of every editor and comrade, myself included. Unless this criticism is considered and corrections follow, together with the necessary changes of revisionist policy, we will fail to learn and gain from these errors and similar deviations may again occur.

Blind following should be eliminated once and for all. The guarantee of correct policy, within human limits, is the consistent application of democracy and independent thinking, for it is only this that insures the complete collective thinking. The current discussion on your letter page has gratifyingly shown that many friends can make significant, intelligent contributions, even at times more than the entrenched, smug and uncritical editors themselves.

If NM conducts its affairs in the future in an air of democracy and self-criticism because of the present discussion then and only then will NM truly mature into the Marxist magazine we all want, one truly worthy of its glorious heritage.