Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, August 1945


The Party and the Intellectuals
The Debate in the SWP Continues


Goldman’s reply

From New International, Vol. XI, No. 5, August 1945.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In Comrade Cannon’s comment on the letter of James T. Farrell, in which Farrell criticizes the articles of Comrades Hansen and Frankel, there is revealed an attitude which is not only incorrect but Stalinist in character. If all the leading comrades were to adopt a similar attitude it would bring great harm to the party.

The comments are handed down to posterity in the form of excerpts from letters written by Cannon and published under the title of Notes on the Party Discussion in the Internal Bulletin of April 1945. Taken as a whole the “notes” constitute a pail of filth without a single reasoned argument and hence cannot be answered. Hurled at the intended victims the filth can only dirty the author and, unfortunately, the party. One is compelled, however, to take notice of the comments on Farrell’s letter because the intelligent party members must be warned of the harm that a Stalinist attitude to the revolutionary intellectuals can do to the party.

It is not my intention to analyze all of the statements made by Cannon in his remarks dealing with the Farrell letter. Practically every sentence in both of Cannon’s letters dealing with Farrell’s criticism contains gross errors and obvious half-truths. It would be of no great value, however, to prove that this is so. What is of value is to analyze the attitude which Cannon has toward people like Farrell when they are critical of anyone in the party who faithfully follows Cannon’s leadership.

Intellectuals and the Marxist Movement

That the Marxist movement should attract to itself many intellectuals is only to be expected. Even before it reaches a stage of decay, capitalist society is full of so many repelling contrasts that the best elements of those who are busy in the world of ideas are attracted to a movement which proposes to transform the world, abolish exploitation of man by man and at the same time create the possibility of true intellectual freedom.

Unfortunately a socialist movement that grows in numbers and influence and has at its disposal positions with some remuneration and a good deal of prestige, attracts to itself many careerists. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, professors who are willing to represent the workers in parliament constitute an opportunist element dangerous to the movement.

It must not be forgotten that those intellectuals who devoted their lives to the socialist movement without any thought of remuneration or prestige played an exceedingly important role in the growth and development of revolutionary parties. It was Lenin who held to the theory – how correct it is need not be discussed at this time – that socialist consciousness was brought to the working masses by the revolutionary intellectuals, that without the aid of these intellectuals the workers can only arrive at trade-union consciousness. One can dispute that theory, but no one can dispute the fact that revolutionary intellectuals of the type of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky gave guidance and furnished leadership to the revolutionary working class movement.

In addition to the intellectuals who participated directly in the work of the party, there were in the past and there will undoubtedly be in the future many writers and artists who see the injustices and hypocrisies of capitalist society and reveal a strong sympathy for the aims of socialism. Such intellectuals can be of tremendous help to the revolutionary party. An attitude which repels the best of these intellectuals can do nothing but harm to the party.

The Stalinist Attitude

At present it is hardly conceivable that an intellectual with any intelligence would support the Stalinist party on the theory that it is a revolutionary party. But there were many revolutionary intellectuals who, in the mistaken belief that the Stalinist party was a revolutionary party, supported that party before the days of the Moscow Trials. For the intellectual who indicated sympathy for the Stalinist party nothing was too good – so long as he accepted the voice of the big Stalinist bureaucrats, especially the voice of Stalin, as an emanation of the divine will. Such an intellectual could be fairly certain that his works of art in his own field would not be subjected to any artistic standard but would be proclaimed the works of genius. The price the intellectual had to pay to receive recognition as a great artist was the unconditional acceptance of the party line.

If the intellectual, however, became critical of the party line or of something that was done by an important party bureaucrat, the wrath of the apparatus would be sure to descend upon him. His artistic creations were either ignored or shown to be mediocre in character; he became an enemy of the people.

Is it difficult to see that a revolutionary intellectual with some regard for his ideas could not possibly remain sympathetic to such a party? One of the many great crimes perpetrated by Stalinism consists in the fact that it succeeded in bringing disillusionment to many intellectuals who had been attracted to the revolutionary movement.

By and large the intellectuals who were sympathetic to the Stalinist parties in the late Twenties and the early Thirties were not of the type who were attracted to a radical party because it was a large and powerful party. These intellectuals were not experts in Marxist theory and could not see the implications of the theory of socialism in one country but they were willing to help in the struggle for socialism. True, the prestige of the Soviet Union was behind the Stalinist party and that was some compensation for the unpopularity of the Stalinists, but, after all, not all the intellectuals could hope to go to the Soviet Union, where they would be feted in return for their willingness to advertise the merits of the Soviet bureaucracy.

It can be truthfully contended that most of the intellectuals actively supporting the Stalinist party prior to the days of the Popular Front were not seeking to make a career out of their connections with the Stalinist movement. They were devoted to the idea of socialism but were alienated and driven away by the attitude of the Stalinists toward them.

If the critical and independent intellectuals were disillusioned and driven away from the revolutionary movement, those who were not so independent were corrupted. A party that had to defend itself against Trotskyism by falsehoods and slanders was corroded through and through. No critical intellectual could have remained a supporter of the Stalinist party for long without suppressing his critical faculties or becoming thoroughly dishonest. It is impossible for a human being to tolerate that which he deems to be wrong and dishonest without destroying his moral fibre.

Able intellectuals who could contribute to the revolutionary movement were either corrupted or disillusioned by their experience with the Stalinist party. Instead of a party which feared no criticism because it felt itself able to defend its ideas and practices against the whole world, the intellectuals were confronted by a party which demanded complete and unconditional acceptance of all its ideas and actions and would not tolerate any criticism.

Either to accept and praise everything the party did and said or to be considered an enemy of the party were the alternatives confronting the intellectual in his relationship to the Stalinist party. They who accepted and praised became corrupt; the independent intellectuals were either completely disillusioned with the ideas of revolutionary Marxism which they thought were represented by Stalinism, or else, in the case of a very small number, turned to the true exponent of revolutionary socialism – the Trotskyist movement.

Cannon’s Attitude to Farrell

A revolutionary party does not kowtow to any intellectual, but that does not mean that any responsible party leader is justified in ridiculing a criticism offered by an intellectual who has clearly indicated his sympathy to the party. Whenever a revolutionary intellectual sympathetic to the party undertakes to interpret the ideas of the party to the outside world he must expect criticism if criticism is due. He is given the right to be critical of the party or of anything said or done by a representative of the party. He can expect a reply from someone connected with the party but not a pail of garbage hurled at him.

It is only natural that a revolutionary intellectual having any respect for himself should not hesitate to criticize anything a party member says or does when he disagrees with it. He would not be a revolutionary intellectual if he refrained from criticizing that which he disagrees with. If the criticism has something to do with the party line, the party does not hesitate to answer the critical intellectual. I am certain that Farrell understands that simple rule very well. If he criticizes party policy he expects an answer.

The letter which Farrell wrote for publication in Fourth International had nothing to do with party policy. His criticisms of Hansen and Frankel were not directed at anything officially adopted by the party. The refusal to publish his letter was undoubtedly construed by him as an act of a Stalinist character. In so construing the refusal he was correct. In addition the leader of the party comments on his letter in such a way that Farrell cannot help but be driven away from our party. He is not a party person whose duty it is to fight any manifestations of a Stalinist character. He is a revolutionary intellectual sympathetic to the party, and Stalinist rudeness and stupidity repel him.

What is the essential attitude that Cannon reveals in his comments on the Farrell letter? It is this: so long as the intellectual does nothing that I dislike, so long as he praises me and my followers, so long is he acceptable. But let him raise his voice in criticism either of myself or of my followers and he will feel the full weight of a rude and boorish attack.

Instead of publishing Farrell’s letter in our press and presenting a reasoned argument showing that Farrell was wrong in his criticism, the letter is refused publication. And then Cannon proceeds to write a reply shocking in its implications and conceals it from the public by publishing it in the Internal Bulletin, indicating thereby that he feels himself incompetent to answer Farrell’s letter in the public press. Of course Cannon boasts that he had to restrain himself from answering Farrell’s letter the way it deserved to be answered and let the press publish both Farrell’s letter and the answer. Vain and empty boast! The best answer Cannon could give consists of the comments published in the Internal Bulletin. And the main point that these comments make is to tell Farrell not to interfere with the esoteric science of politics.

Politics as a Mysterious Science

According to Cannon, Farrell, although only an amateur, dared invade the precincts of the art and science of revolutionary politics by writing a letter criticizing Hansen and Frankel. Let us see what aspect of the art and science of revolutionary politics Farrell concerned himself with in his letter.

Did he give the party advice on some political theory, on some question of Marxist politics or economics? Had he done so it would have been incumbent upon some leading member of the party to show him that he was wrong, assuming that he was in error. But when one analyzes the actual contents of Farrell’s letter, one can clearly see that Cannon’s comments have no relevancy whatever. Farrell did not take issue with any party policy or theory of Marxism; he simply criticized the contents and tone of certain articles.

I know very little about astronomy and would certainly refuse to offer an opinion on some theory involving knowledge of astrophysics. But if a scientist presents an article arguing that the theory of an opponent is senseless because the opponent is a member of an “inferior race” I could certainly intervene and give my opinion of that argument. I would not be intervening as an expert in astronomy but as a person who understands that proof in all controversies requires logic and reason.

When it concerns questions of politics the matter is still more simple. Politics is in fact the only art or science which has aspects upon which every person is able to offer an opinion. Do we not urge every worker to participate in the science of politics? Do we not, by asking the masses to support us, also ask them to give us their opinion about our science of politics?

Indeed, Farrell has in all probability read and studied as much of Marxist theory as most of the leading elements in our party. Although not a party person, his opinion on questions of politics can be given serious consideration. But the fact remains that in his letter he did not deal with party policy or theory; he criticized what to him seemed articles miserable both in content and tone. Whether he is correct or not is immaterial; what is material is that as an intelligent person Farrell was justified in making his criticism and Cannon’s sneer at his being an amateur is utterly out of place.

Browder, the Intellectuals and the Moscow Trials

It is significant that in attacking the intellectuals who questioned the methods used and the convictions obtained in the Moscow Trials, Browder used an almost identical argument that Cannon used in attacking Farrell. In polemicizing against Reinhold, Niebuhr, Browder stated that Niebuhr’s attitude

“... can be explained only by assuming that he claims special privileges for the artist to go free-lancing in the field of sharpest political struggles without accountability to anyone. According [to] this theory the artist may decide to try to put a whole government on trial, a socialist government at that, and propose as judges the highest legal talent in the bourgeois world, unconnected with revolutionary politics in any way – and because he is an artist – even a ‘great artist’ – we are to treat such nonsense with respectful consideration.” (Communism and Culture, by Earl Browder.)

What does Browder in effect state to those intellectuals who, outraged by Stalin’s murder of the Old Bolsheviks and his charge that Trotsky was a fascist conspirator, were willing to interfere in politics to the extent of participating in an impartial investigation of the charges?

“You are only artists and intellectuals. Keep your hands out of politics, which is a science and an art requiring great learning and experience for proficiency. You are amateurs. Leave the art and science of politics to Stalin and to me, humble servant of the great genius.”

I do not know whether anyone in our ranks answered Browder. The answer is of course obvious. Under the claim that politics is an esoteric science and an art requiring great knowledge and experience, Browder wants the intellectuals to keep aloof from the Moscow trials. But the politics involved in the Moscow frame-ups is just the kind of politics that every intellectual and worker should concern himself with. This kind of politics deals with questions of fact, of reason and of truth. Not only do the intellectuals have a right but a duty to interfere in such politics.

Is it necessary for me to remind Cannon and others that we strongly urged every intellectual to interfere in the politics of the Moscow Trials? We die not tell them then that politics is not their business. We were of course ready to take issue with them if they deduced from the trials a political conclusion with which we could not agree, but we were anxious for them to intervene.

When Farrell intervenes in practical politics by criticizing the contents and tone of certain articles that appeared in our press, Cannon tells him that he knows nothing about politics and should stick to his profession. When Farrell intervened in politics to defend the name of Trotsky against the slanders of the Stalinists, Browder told him that he knew nothing about politics and should stick to his profession.

Correct Attitude to Intellectuals

Stalinism has created a great dread among the best type of revolutionary intellectuals – the dread that a revolutionary party calling itself Bolshevik demands unconditional acceptance of its ideas and practices and tolerates no criticism. The intellectual interested in revolutionary politics constantly tends to confuse Stalinism with Bolshevism. This fact requires extraordinary patience on our part. Even where an honest intellectual makes a mistake, our correction of him should in the first instance be garbed in a friendly tone. But if, as in the case of Farrell, the criticism is entirely friendly and, in my opinion, essentially correct, then the kind of reply Cannon made can only confirm the suspicion of the intellectual that Stalinism and Bolshevism are one and the same thing. Fortunately, Farrell know that Cannon’s attitude to the revolutionary intellectual has nothing to do with Bolshevism.

But why, I can hear some comrades say, is Goldman worried about alienating the revolutionary intellectuals? The answer is that alienating any group by a wrong attitude is harmful to our cause. If the intellectual elements are alienated by our program and correct activities, then there is nothing to fear. But if any intellectuals are alienated by an attitude which Cannon reveals in his comments on Farrell’s letter, then it is not only the intellectual but every intelligent worker who is alienated.

And are there any prospects for getting the support of intellectual elements? We can expect nothing from the intellectual elements of the type of Eastman who in their younger days fought a valiant battle for the ideals of socialism. Disillusioned by Stalinism, they have succumbed to the temptations of bourgeois democracy at the very time when its rotting corpse is bringing forth totalitarian barbarism.

But a new generation of intellectuals is coming on the scene. These intellectuals are not likely to listen to the Eastmans who have given up the struggle. From among them, the best elements can be won over to Trotskyism and our movement can be greatly benefited. But to win them over we must first convince them that there is not a single trace of Stalinism in our movement.

To win the support of the worthwhile intellectuals they must be made to feel that the party encourages a critical and independent attitude; that they are free to criticize us and that they can expect answers based on facts and reasoned argument and need not expect Stalinist filth to be thrown at them. A correct attitude to the intellectuals has absolutely nothing to do with yielding to their incorrect ideas. It means a confident attitude – confident in our ideas and our ability to defend them. It is this confidence that leads to a correct relationship between us and revolutionary intellectuals attracted to our party. Cannon’s attitude is in reality a result of his inability to defend his ideas and his actions.

May 21, 1945

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 16 November 2016