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International Socialist Review, Winter 1957


From Our Readers


From International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.1, Winter 1957, pp.2, 35.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We received the following interesting letter from one of our readers after he noticed the International Socialist Review on a newsstand for the first time.


I recently picked up a copy of your paper, attracted by the title. I don’t think I had ever read the Fourth International.

I found the most readable article to be the To Our Readers column. Actually the bulk of the magazine seems petrified in the sectarian past and, unfortunately, present of family quarrels. It seems to me that socialism must be presented from a fresh new viewpoint, divorced from the Lenin’s, Trotsky’s, and Stalin’s. American workers are not interested in a worship of icons and relics. And with all due respect to Trotsky (whom time has proven correct in many of his judgments) there isn’t much sense to this narrow sectarian approach.

I should think that both the atomic age and the recent revelations (at least recent to many) prove the inadequacy of a materialism devoid of humanism and of rigid dogmas of “dictatorships of the proletariat,” “vanguard party,” etc.

In your socialism, you certainly have the support of many more Americans than read your press. However, in your sectarianism and involvement in and preoccupation with past inter-party struggles, you just leave thousands and hundreds of thousands of people behind and untouched.


* * *

We appreciate F.H.T.’s interest in the success of socialism in America and the good will he displayed in telling us about his first reaction to the International Socialist Review. These provide a common ground for fruitful discussion of the problem he suggests for our consideration.

First of all, we readily admit that recognition of the desirability of socialism does not confer immunity to the enormous pressures that capitalist society is capable of exerting. Some socialists, in reaction to these pressures, tend to retreat within a sectarian shell. The opportunistic way of escaping is

to forsake principles. The socialist movement, as it has developed historically, has often enough exhibited both phenomena, which are really only two sides of a single weakness – withdrawal from active struggle for the revolutionary goal of socialism. But it does not appear to us that F.H.T. is discussing sectarianism as it is understood by the revolutionary socialist movement.

If we understand F.H.T. correctly, he places the label “sectarianism” on what we consider to be some of the basic theoretical conclusions of Marxism. For example, our correspondent considers such concepts as “dictatorship of the proletariat” and “vanguard party” to be “rigid dogmas.” In our view “dictatorship of the proletariat” is an exact term for the rule of the working class as against the rule of the capitalist class. If you hold the rule of the working class to be a rigid dogma, then through whose rule do you expect to achieve socialism? Obviously through the rule of the capitalist class – by appealing to their intelligence and humanitarianism. But that concept was not born with the atomic age. It was a Utopian dogma before the days of Marx and Engels.

Similarly with the concept of the “vanguard party.” This is an exact term for the theory of socialists getting together in a political party capable of subordinating its internal differences through majority rule so that it can act in the class struggle as a cohesive force. The opposing theories offer a party that either stifles minority opinion or grades into anarchism where effective leadership gives way to the dogma of “spontaneity of the masses” with its concomitant dogma of “electrifying” them by adventuristic individual actions. The years of debate over this question were settled pretty definitively, it seems to us, by the success of the Bolshevik Party in 1917.

It is not at all a matter of converting the great Marxist theoreticians into “icons and relics,” as F.H.T. seems to think. The problem is to learn their theories, to offer them for the study of others, and to apply them as a guide to action in the world of today. Of course, one might argue that the old basic theories have been outmoded by newer and better ones more in keeping with the “atomic age.” But where are these theories ? Until they are submitted for critical appraisal we are forced to continue with those that have been tested and proved.

Are differences within the socialist movement over such questions simply “family quarrels”? (Which we join F.H.T. in abhorring.) That seems to us a narrow way of looking at the process of growth in the socialist movement. How can socialism develop except through discussion, through comparison of rival theories, critical evaluation of different experiences? How else can the old be modified, the really new absorbed ?

Some differences, we should add, have borne fearful consequences. Stalin’s anti-Marxist theory of socialism in one country, for instance, eventually signified the Moscow Frame-up Trials, mass purges, the murder of an entire generation of revolutionary socialists and the opening of the defenses of the Soviet Union to Hitler’s armies. Can such developments be avoided in the future by simply agreeing to overlook what happened in the past? An easy solution!

Is our concern over who turned out to be right an evidence of being ‘’petrified in the sectarian past”? That seems to us a deprecatory view of the value of history. Can nothing, then, be learned from the past? Science, we choose to believe, is more optimistic about the value of checking human experience. Only special interests, such as the Stalinist bureaucracy, feel impelled to tear out certain pages from the history books and to replace them, if possible, with false ones.

In conclusion let us define the function of the International Socialist Review. Its first concern is with theory – Marxist theory, its development and defense. No theory in the whole world of science has suffered such sustained attack as this one; and the attack does not come from scientists competent to judge but from powerful economic and political interests who feel their privileged positions undermined and threatened by Marxist theory and who foster against it the most abysmal dogmas, superstitions, and degrading prejudices. Consequently, one of our first duties is to defend this theory with all our ability. Much that we say is, therefore, inevitably polemical. Militant defense of truth, however, appears to us compatible with truth itself and indeed the only way that truth can survive at certain stages. – Ed.

* * *


I read through the Fall ’56 issue of the International Socialist Review and decided, after studying the editorial on page 113 etc. [On the Regroupment of Revolutionary Socialist Forces in the US] to send along a few views of my own for your consideration.

Leon Trotsky said, “The moral qualities of Bolshevism, self-renunciation, disinterestedness, audacity and contempt for every kind of tinsel and falsehood – the highest qualities of human nature! – flow from revolutionary intransigence in the service of the oppressed.” The CP leadership is thrown up by the state of an organization in a decadent condition; it is infiltrated with opportunism, careerism, power-seekers, and police-minded politicians. The party, as Lenin and Trotsky knew it, was dedicated wholeheartedly to the cause of doing good for the oppressed, building a better world and proletarian internationalism.

Lenin’s quotation in the editorial read beautifully to me, and the regroupment of socialist forces can be made around his contribution. The fact that place names are being changed in the USSR is an indication that the awareness of the evil that was Stalin is growing and that the Soviet Union “will emerge from the dark night of his protracted tyranny.”

I am circulating some of Trotsky’s books amongst so-called Stalinists and for the first time they are opening their eyes. They are questioning themselves: are they dedicated wholeheartedly, unreservedly to the cause of building a socialist world, in spite of the bureaucratic distortion that prevails in the Soviet Union? Are they beginning to see that all men (all proletarians in particular) are their brothers, that now – particularly with the threat of H-bomb – the time has come to take a new look at history?


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