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International Socialist Review, Summer 1956



John G. Wright


From International Socialist Review, Vol.17 No.3, Summer 1956, p.77.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The death June 21 of Joseph Vanzler, who wrote under the pen name of John G. Wright, was a grievous blow to the International Socialist Review. For many years an editor of the magazine when it appeared under the name Fourth International, he was one of our most dependable contributors to the very end.

The main facts about the political life of Usick, as his friends affectionately called him, are given in The Militant of July 2 and July 9. The appreciations expressed there of his personality and his services to the cause of socialism are shared by us. We refer our readers especially to the articles by Art Preis and James P. Cannon and to Harry Ring’s report of the memorial services in New York City.

As most of our readers well know, Comrade Wright was an outstanding Marxist theoretician. Following the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940, he had no equal, in our opinion, in his special field, that of unraveling the contradictory developments in the Soviet Union. The world Trotskyist movement as a whole is deeply indebted to Comrade Wright for his timely and penetrating analyses of the course of the struggle between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Soviet people in the past 16 years. As an ardent defender of the great conquests of the October 1917 Russian revolution, he followed the latest crisis in Stalinism with avid interest, seeing it as the beginning of the regeneration of the workers state founded by Lenin and Trotsky.

In addition to his analyses of Soviet affairs, Comrade Wright was known to our readers for his contribution in economics. He was profoundly convinced of the unstable character of the current prosperity, seeing it based mainly on government spending for war and certain to end in a crisis of major proportions if the capitalist rulers do not decide to take the worse alternative of atomic war.

In the complex field of international politics, Comrade Wright kept abreast of events, being among the first to spot significant new developments in many countries. One of his achievements, for instance, was to call attention to the importance of the civil war in Yugoslavia when it broke out in the first years of World War II.

His greatest interest, however, was in philosophy and particularly dialectical materialism. Outside of the great Marxists, his predilection was for Kant, Schelling. Fichte and Hegel. He never hesitated to acknowledge his debt to these thinkers, especially Hegel, and to try to win another student to their writings. Since his approach was materialist, he was critical of the idealism of these philosophers and therefore highly appreciative of the insight the Marxist masters have given us of their views and their works. He did what he could to make available to the English-speaking world some of the best representative material of this kind. His latest endeavor was to translate Plekhanov’s study of Belinski, a contribution that was much appreciated by our readers.

As a defender of Marxist theory, Comrade Wright stood in the forefront not only against hostile bourgeois opinion but in the various factional struggles involving questions of theory in the world Trotskyist movement. Here, as in everything else he did, he was no lukewarm participant. He took as his model the movement created by Lenin where ardent defense of Marxist positions was the norm. For this he won not a few foes – but foes of the right kind.

As a collaborator and teacher in the struggle for socialism you could not ask for a better friend and teammate than Usick. He did not hesitate to express a difference if he saw it that way, but always gently, for he was a gentle and kindly man. And what he saw generally had a point to it. On the other hand, he did not hesitate to change when he became convinced that he might have been wrong. He tried to be objective. He knew how to fit into a team, too, subordinating himself without difficulty when that was required. To him, the organized revolutionary socialist movement constituted a collective, a collective in thought and theory, and a collective in action. He put consciousness above everything else, holding consciousness, in the final analysis, to be the mightiest power of all when it correctly reflects reality. When the world working class finally sees the capitalist system as it really is – and it is certain to do this in the not distant future – then the victory of socialism, he was profoundly convinced, will prove inevitable.

It will not be easy to fill the gap Usick leaves in our ranks. As a stimulating thinker, loyal collaborator and warmest of friends, our staff will miss him for a long time to come.

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Last updated on: 21. April 2009