Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


The Minton-McKenney Flight

First Published: The New Masses, September 24, 1946.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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MANY readers of the NEW MASSES were no doubt surprised to learn that Bruce Minton and Ruth McKenney had been expelled from the Communist Party. It is always sad to discover that those who have been thought to be staunch in the battle against human enslavement and degradation have proved weak and unworthy. To the editors of NEW MASSES, however, who were associated with Miss McKenney and Mr. Minton for more than ten years, this news has not been entirely unexpected. Our own experiences with these two writers, who are husband and wife, forced us to conclude months ago that they were moving toward a break with the Marxist movement. That break has come. In its statement on the expulsion the Connecticut State Committee of the Communist Party points out that Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney, following the recent meeting of the Party’s National Committee, issued an anti-Party document “attacking the basic line of the Party and slandering its leadership, and circulated this document outside of Connecticut.” The statement also characterized their position as “petty bourgeois ’radicalism’” and charged that they “were in contact with anti-Party forces” outside their own branch.

NM’s own relations with Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney came to an end five months ago when, beginning with our April 23 issue, we dropped them from our board of contributing editors. We took this action because over a period of months they had directed against NEW MASSES and its editors the same kind of destructive, factional attacks which they later launched against the Communist Party and its leadership. Nevertheless, we refrained from making public our differences in the hope that the passing of time and the grave national and international problems confronting the American people and its working-class party would cause Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney to abandon their puerile “leftism” and place the fight for peace, democracy and socialism above personal pique and petty individualism. Instead, they merely broadened their mud-slinging to include the Communist Party and developed their pseudo-radical posturing into an approach to domestic and foreign affairs which is in direct conflict with that of Marxists in this and other countries. Since the facts in the case are revealing and the issues have a significance beyond the activities of these two individuals, we want our readers to understand what has happened.

On August 29, 1945 there arrived in our office a letter, signed by Ruth McKenney and Bruce Minton, which stated that “in view of our continuing objections to the reformist, editorial policy pursued by the present editorial board of the magazine,” they were resigning as contributing editors. The letter also requested that the resignation be announced in the forthcoming issue.

This resignation came without warning. The “continuing objections to the reformist editorial policy” was news to us. On the contrary, only a few months earlier Mr. Minton had written letters expressing the greatest warmth toward NEW MASSES and toward the editors personally.

Instead of joining with the editors, contributors and readers of NEW MASSES in the effort to correct the serious errors which the magazine had made, Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney set themselves up as arbiters of Marxism and from their pinnacle of purity poured down abuse and calumny.

Mr. Minton claimed that he and Miss McKenney had disagreed from the beginning with the position of Earl Browder, former head of the American Communist Party, whose policies were castigated by Jacques Duclos, French Communist leader, as a “notorious revision of Marxism.” Even if true, this would not justify their later arrogance and disruption. We might add that rejection of error is not always synonymous with embracing of truth. Moreover, in a letter from San Francisco, dated May 19, 1945, Mr. Minton wrote: “I leave here optimistic and buoyed up. There are rough times ahead, very rough, but I have more confidence than ever in the correctness of our [that is, the Communist movement’s] basic position, which has survived the test of very stringent events.” This was written five days before the publication of the Duclos article.

MR. MINTON and Miss McKenney knew of course that their statement of resignation, which they insisted be published, would be picked up by the commercial press and used against NM and the entire Marxist movement. That, after so many years of association and in a time of crisis, they could take such a drastic, highly individualistic step indicated to us that there was more in the matter than met the eye. Nevertheless, the editors of NM held their tempers and sought to dissuade them from an act that would prove damaging to much more than NEW MASSES. To our efforts to arrange a conference Mr. Minton replied coldly and abusively. It soon became clear to us that the attack on NEW MASSES was only a pretext, that the real quarrel of Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney was with the Communist Party of the United States.

A second letter, dated August 31, 1945, also revealed something about the motivation of the attack. “. . . Because we have both some stake in this,” Mr. Minton wrote, “we do insist on our resignation. Ruth has a reputation to keep clean, I feel, and I insist for her future writing that she finally end her association with a magazine that can only harm her standing intellectually.” In what circles could her association with a Marxist magazine “harm her standing intellectually”? Mr. Minton didn’t specify, but we leave it to our readers to draw their own conclusions. Only shortly before, Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney had evidently felt differently on that subject. “Your approval of her [Miss McKenney’s] two pieces has meant a great deal to her,” wrote Mr. Minton from San Francisco on April 8, 1945. “She has not written anything she has considered of any integrity since she left Washington, that is for publication, and the fact that you liked what she did was an immense shot in the arm and gave her the reassurance she needed for quite a time.”

In another letter, dated Sept. 12, 1945, Mr. Minton demanded the immediate resignation of the entire NM staff. At this point we realized that discussion would be fruitless since we were no longer dealing with colleagues in a common cause, but with rabid factionalists whose criticism was aimed at destroying rather than improving NEW MASSES.

In later months Mr. Minton decided it would be expedient to retreat a bit. He expressed a desire to write for NM and offered us for publication a speech by Miss McKenney. However, since he continued to characterize NEW MASSES as revisionist and reformist, we decided there was no basis for collaboration. When last April we introduced changes in the magazine and recast our board of contributing editors, we eliminated the names of Bruce Minton and Ruth McKenney.

MORE important than these details are the political issues involved. Let no one be seduced by the commercial press canard that the expulsion of these two individuals is evidence of “intolerance” and suppression of freedom of criticism. No member of the Communist Party is prevented from making criticism or expressing differences of opinion. The constitution of the Communist Party of the USA specifically provides that members have “not only the right but the responsibility to participate in the making of policies and in the election of its leading committees.” It also provides that decisions shall be by majority vote, after which “all members are duty-bound to carry out such decisions.” It is Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney who are guilty of anti-democratic efforts to nullify the will of the majority. It is preposterous to speak of their intemperate diatribes and attempts to undermine Marxist institutions as criticism. The fact is that even non-Marxist organizations would not tolerate such venomous factionalism–a factionalism that helps only the enemies of the labor and progressive cause.

Ultra-leftism is not a new phenomenon in the American or international working-class movements. From the Eighties of the last, century, when Frederick Engels criticized the sectarian “purity” of the early American Marxists, through the Socialist Labor Party, the IWW, the left wing of the Socialist Party and the first years of the Communist Party, ultra-left tendencies plagued the efforts to build an American movement for socialism. Internationally the situation became serious enough to cause Lenin in 1920 to write his famous brochure, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Stating that the principal enemy of the working class is rightwing opportunism, Lenin in this work also pointed out: “It is not yet sufficiently known abroad that Bolshevism grew, took shape and became steeled in long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of, or borrows something from, anarchism, and which differs in all essentials from the conditions and requirements of the sustained proletarian class struggle. For Marxists it is well established theoretically–and the experience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements has fully confirmed it– that the small proprietor . . . who under capitalism suffers constant oppression and very often an incredibly sharp and rapid worsening of conditions of life and even ruin, easily becomes extremely revolutionary, but is incapable of displaying perseverance, ability to organize, discipline and firmness.” Elsewhere Lenin wrote that ultra-left is merely the obverse of the right-wing trend, both stemming from the same social roots.

This early ultra-leftism expressed the growing pains of the Marxist movement when it inevitably stumbled as part of the process of learning to walk. But that which in a child is part of healthful, if complex, progress, in a mature person becomes dangerous retrogression. That is why William Z. Foster, chairman of the Communist Party, who from the outset opposed Browder’s bourgeois liberal fantasies, after the ousting of Browder, while stressing the fight against right opportunism, persistently warned against swinging to the opposite–only apparently opposite–extreme, ultra-left sectarianism. There were some who refused to heed these warnings. They attempted to live out their day-dreams, to leap over the real problems of the present-day struggle against capitalist reaction into a more advanced, more “militant” stage. Such pseudo-revolutionary escapism merely serves to leave the forces of reaction unchallenged masters of the immediate situation and therefore of the future too.

It should be noted that intellectuals, because of their social origin and their functional role under capitalism, are peculiarly susceptible to such moods, especially in periods of difficulty. There are of course in the Communist movement in this and other countries many intellectuals of another type, men and women who have genuinely assimilated the Marxist outlook, have identified themselves with the working class as the only revolutionary class and have converted their talents and training into important assets in the battle for progress and socialism. Unfortunately, Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney, valuable as their work was in certain periods, were more consistent in their wavering than in their Marxism and were all too often addicted to “pett-ybourgeois revolutionism.” This is evident in Miss McKenney’s novel, Jake Home, which for all its virtues suffers both artistically and as social history from its hothouse approach to the American class struggle and its typically middle-class conception of Communist activity as the work of a few master-minds manipulating the masses. Such weaknesses were also evident in Mr. Minton on various occasions, notably in 1942 when as Washington correspondent of NM he opposed the policy of national unity pursued by Marxists throughout the world, a unity embracing all, including capitalist elements, who sought victory over the Axis. In a series of articles he wrote, which the editors of NM rejected in their original form, he attempted to narrow this policy and to develop an approach which would have divided the anti-Axis forces and disrupted the war effort.

ALL this would not be worth recalling were it not for the fact that these sporadic “leftist” tendencies have now grown into a factional monstrosity which has nothing in common with Marxism. Concretely, what is the position of Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney on the urgent questions before the American people? In the document they are circulating they attack William Z. Foster for stating in his report to the meeting of the Communist National Committee: “The most important of all questions is the fight to maintain world peace.” They insist that “there is no peace” to maintain, that the civil war in China is already an international war, and that the diplomatic war being waged by the United States against the Soviet Union and all democratic governments is tantamount to military war. Sounds very radical, doesn’t it? But stop to think: wouldn’t the American imperialists like nothing better than to have our people accept the notion that the fight for peace is already lost? That would relieve them of all homefront opposition to their war plans. The Minton-McKenney line on foreign affairs means in effect abandonment of the struggle against World War III.

There is the same berserk “leftism” on domestic policy. The document denounces as Browderism the use of the term “progressives,” describes all reference to “pro-Roosevelt forces” as “reformist illusion,” and demands the formation of “a class-conscious Labor Party.” Let us consider what this means. In the 1946 election the American people are not voting on the issue of socialism even though socialism is the historic perspective of the workingclass. What they are voting on through the candidates they elect and through the political movements they support or fail to support are such issues as cooperation for peace with the USSR, the ending of American intervention in China and the reactionary policies in Europe, Asia and Latin America, the eradication of all fascist vestiges; higher wages, firm price control, a vast housing program, expanded social security, curbs on monopoly and on big business profits, the outlawing of the poll-tax and lynching, etc.–all of them issues whose outcome will not only immediately affect the lives of the people of America and the world, but will advance or retard the struggle for socialism.

It is evident that the achievement of such a program or any reasonable facsimile thereof in the 1946 election requires in the first place a politically alert labor movement, acting independently to bring its maximum strength to bear these issues. Second, it requires the mobilization as labor’s allies of those sections of the population–the farmers, small business and professional veterans–who likewise suffer from big business control of our economy and government. Third, it requires the enlisting of allies wherever else they can be found, no matter how temporary, limited and vacillating they may be. Finally, it requires the concentration of the maximum power of such a coalition against those candidates and policies behind which the forces of reaction are concentrated.

Concretely, this means strengthening the independent efforts of the CIO Political Action Committee and of allied and potentially allied groups such the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, the National Citizens PAC, farm, Negro, veterans’ and other progressive groups, including the Communists. It means the building of the Marxist vanguard, the Communist Party. It means recognizing that the Republican Party nationally remains the principal party of big business reaction while at the same time the Truman administration, as Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party, pointed out in his report at the recent National Committee meeting, “is zealously carrying out the program of big business in both foreign and domestic affairs,” though at the same time it is “still sensitive to certain mass pressures,” is “still influenced by the conflicting trends, groups and opinions within the Democratic Party.” These conflicts within the Democratic Party (to some extent within the GOP too) make it “essential that–while pursuing an independent working class policy and expanding its independent political organizations and activity– labor helps influence a progressive regrouping within the Democratic Party” and “achieve a working agreement” with the pro-Roosevelt elements.

It should be obvious that a coalition of this kind, broadly conceived, cannot in 1946 be predicated on an organizational break with the two major parties, but rather on a political break with the policies of the dominant leadership of those parties. Such a political break, moreover, is the indispensable ploughing of the soil out of which can rise in the post-election period a new people’s anti-monopoly party led by labor. This year, however, most of the candidates supported by the coalition are Democrats with a sprinkling of progressive Republicans. At the same time, wherever the situation requires it and wherever it will strengthen the battle against reaction, communist or other independent candidates are being put forward. The aim must at all times be, in the words of Dennis, “consolidating the unity of action of the broadest coalition of all democratic forces in the 1946 elections to prevent a reactionary Republican victory, which now looms as a distinct possibility, as well as to defeat the reactionaries and allies of the GOP in the Democratic Party.” And looking beyond November, “the situation demands that broad political support for a new people’s party be organized.”

All this is the opposite pole of Browderism which, far from combatting monopoly capital and its reactionary program, depicted it as “progressive” and sought to make labor the submissive handyman of big business and the Truman administration.

All this is also the opposite pole of what Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney demand. A “class-conscious Labor Party” at this time would exclude most of the CIO and AFL, let alone middleclass elements. If this phrase has any meaning, it can only be synonymous with the Communist Party. The fact is the majority of trade union members are not even ready to establish an independent party with a more limited outlook. Simultaneously, Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney spurn alliances with progressives in the two capitalist parties. What they advocate is the self-isolation of the most advanced workers and the disruption of the movement for independent political action. Under cover of radical rhetoric, they propose to atomize the political opposition to reactionary big business.

Thus by different roads both Browder and the ultra-leftists same destination: abandonment of the struggle against the foreign and domestic policies of monopoly capital and its GOP and tory Democratic servitors.

There is fitting epilogue to all the super-revolutionary sound and fury. Mr. Minton and Miss McKenney are planning to leave for France for, a prolonged stay. The former has told friends that the victory of fascism is inevitable in this country, that the crackdown will soon come, and that he considers it his duty to leave and urges others to do likewise in order to preserve the revolutionary forces for the future. The circle is completed. They began by deserting first NEW MASSES and then the Communist Party; they end by deserting the struggle against reaction, fascism and war.