From New International, Vol. 10 No. 11, November 1944, pp. 381.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
This letter should be self-explanatory. As the date on it will indicate, it was written last summer and mailed to the editors of the Fourth International. They refused to print it. As a consequence of protests made within the Socialist Workers Party, I then withheld it from publication. It was published, in deference to such protest, in the Internal Bulletin which that party distributes to its membership. I consented to this publication in order that my protest might be read by the membership of this party in an atmosphere that might not be heated with factionalism. But in consenting, I stressed that I should not be satisfied unless the letter were publicly printed. Its contents reveal that it was written as a public, not a private, protest. I have heard – although not what is called “officially” – that the Fourth International still will not print this letter. A large percentage of the leadership – and also an apparently large majority of the membership – of the Socialist Workers Party endorses the methods and altitudes embodied in the articles I criticized. I continue to consider them to be reprehensible.
The Fourth International
116 University Place
New York City
Dear Friends and Comrades:
For some time, I have been disturbed by two articles which have appeared in your pages, How the Trotskyists Went to Jail, by Joseph Hansen (February 1944) and A Defamer of Marxism, by Harry Frankel (May 1944). I have decided to send you this public protest against them.
What is most lamentable in Joseph Hansen’s article is the gross emotional reaction to events which it reveals. Such an attitude must be condemned. There are fine models of Marxist writing; there are other fine models of writing, such as the letters of Vanzetti. Instead of learning from these, it seems as if Hansen imitated the very worst of bourgeois journalism, the sob sisters. I cannot escape the conclusion that Hansen used the Marxist conception of history and the Marxist conception of morality as a means of mere sentimental personalization. If such is not the adulation of leadership, I do not know what it is. I admire the fine example which the eighteen showed during the trial: I admire them for the way in which they have preserved their morale while in jail. But this does not mean that I should adulate them, no more than that I should hope for them or anyone else to adulate me for any reason whatsoever. I also wish strongly to object to the assertion that only the Trotskyists are moral. When party leaders and leading party journalists make such assertions in public, the time has come for such a party to turn a sharp lens of criticism on itself. Hansen’s attitude can only create distorted images of reality. I consider it dangerous. The other criticism of Hansen’s article – his bad taste, his sloppiness, his bathos – which one can make – these are secondary to its dangerous orientation. I deem it absolutely necessary to criticize that – the emotional reaction to events, and with it, the emotional concept of history.
I reject the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. But I consider that Harry Frankel’s review of Max Shachtman can well be described as literary apache work. It was not principled in its arguments. It substituted vituperation for argument and analysis. In consequence, it destroyed the effect of the good points which it made. For instance, Frankel indicated that during the Finnish War, Max Shachtman used the low morale of the Red Army as one argument substantiating his position. Thereby, he established morale as a criterion of argument. In consequence, it should be obligatory for him to explain the high morale of the Red Army in repulsing the Nazi invasion. But the fact that I agree with some of the points made by Frankel does not mean that I should defend his unfairness, his uncouth efforts to strip his adversary of all dignity, all honor, all sincerity. I consider it highly objectionable to polemicize with shabby arguments. And that is precisely what Frankel did in this article. For instance, he wrote that Shachtman had issued a “new edition” of Trotsky’s The New Course. Here is an innuendo which helps Frankel discredit Shachtman, to call him, in the manner of a fishwife, a black market charlatan. Now, where is the old edition of The New Course? Who sells it? When has it been advertised in your press? When I read this book, I immediately regretted that it had not been available sooner; I regretted in particular that it was not available during the period of the struggle against the Moscow Trials. Among other things, this book contains a brilliant description of the methods of Leninism, one which I hope will be widely read. I hope Harry Frankel will read it again. For I am convinced that he has much to learn from it. Also: Harry Frankel asked an empty question as a means of discrediting his opponent. Issuing a challenge, he asked why Max Shachtman did not republish The Revolution Betrayed. First of all, there is easy access to this book for all who want to read it. Second, it is a known fact that the publication rights to this book are owned by Doubleday, Doran & Co. If Max Shachtman published it, he would, undoubtedly, be faced with a lawsuit. And if that happened, I am rather sure that Frankel, or one of his comrades who is equally rigid in attitude, would then write of this lawsuit in order to prove the low morals of Max Shachtman. When one indulges in such cheap argument, what moral right has one to call anybody a black market merchant in tripe? Why ask empty questions as a means of destroying the character of an adversary? Also, Harry Frankel would have us believe that in the United States, Max Shachtman has abandoned the Marxist conception of a trade union: in other words that he is a scab and a strikebreaker. I wonder who will believe that? And while he indulges in such miserable means of refutation, Frankel is, at the same time, guilty of one serious omission. Trotsky conceded that it might happen that history will prove Bruno to have been correct, and that if this turns out to be the case, then Marxists will have to reorientate themselves totally. But, Trotsky, added, he was not convinced that events had, as yet, justified Bruno, and that therefore, it was wrong for Marxists to abandon their program. This concession was a very important one. Frankel should have discussed it. It would have been more important to have it discussed than to have wasted space in the cheapest of abuse. The fact that I reject Max Shachtman’s acceptance of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism does not, in my eyes, justify me in approving of unfair, unprincipled, utterly unjust attacks upon him and his character. I consider such methods to be unworthy of Marxism.
I am, as is well known, not a member of your party. But I have collaborated with you on defense cases. I have expressed sympathy with you. On more than one occasion, I have made it clear to Max Shachtman and his collaborators that I did not agree with the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. The fact that I have done this causes me to feel all the more imperatively that it is my duty to send you this protest. Also: I admire the organized will which your party has shown. I admire your spirit of optimism and confidence. I admire the many examples of dedication to ideals and sacrifice for super-personal loyalties which your party has displayed. But none of these virtues can, in any way, excuse the Frankel attack.
I am fearful that if articles such as these two continue to appear, their only effect will be that of working harm, not good. Gross sentimentality, unbending rigidity, unfair attacks on opponents – these are all dangerous. I hold them to be indefensible.
Last updated on 16 November 2016