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The New International, August 1945


Charles/A. Arlins

More Questions of Clarification

Scientific Socialism and the Labor Movement

(April 1945)

From New International, Vol. XI, No. 5, August 1945, pp. 153–154.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

As is indicated by the present article, the article by our German comrades in the May 1945 issue of the New International entitled Some Questions of Clarification, which was directed to “a French comrade,” elicited a letter from him which is printed herewith. The article itself is a commentary upon the letter and a reply to the questions raised in it. – Ed.

Dear Friends:

Up to now I have not had the time to read your latest article [1] more than quite superficially. Offhand, I believe that a clarification of the question can be better achieved if the posing of a new problem is not suddenly palmed off in place of the old one.

No doubt the concept of a labor movement can be defined the way it is now done by A.A. Only, this hardly has anything to do with our discussion. In all the debates, I have constantly emphasized that I speak of the labor movement in the traditional sense. And this is the basis on which the discussion occurred, when you, for example, acknowledged the existence of the English labor movement but denied the existence of the French. People with a proverbially sharp memory shouldn’t really have forgotten this.

What interests me at the moment, however, is only the first paragraph of your article. I assume that the French comrade who is referred to there is supposed to be me. My words there are given an authenticity, by means of quotation marks and direct quotation, which is not warranted by your presentation. What is involved here, in my opinion, is a fairly crude shift in emphasis. It would be in the interest of the cause to reword this paragraph. My formulation would read as follows:

“The German comrades stand on the viewpoint that there is no longer a labor movement in Europe. For this reason, they have concentrated upon the petty bourgeoisie in their treatment of the national question, and spoken of its leadership in the Resistance movement. We, on the contrary, did not consider the traditional labor movement dead, even though it was influenced to an increasing extent by Stalinism. It proved to be the backbone of the Resistance movement and, subsequently, the most significant factor of the European situation. For this reason, we advocated an orientation upon the workers and their organizations. That is the essential difference between us and the Germans.”

April 17, 1945

With best greetings,

* * *

The Reply of the German Comrade

Dear Charles:

P. gave me your letter to answer. You have slipped into a couple of mistakes that I should like to correct. You assert first of all that in the question of the non-existence of the labor movement, we have “suddenly palmed off the posing of a new problem in place of the old one.” Then you say:

“In all the debates, I have constantly emphasized that I speak of the labor movement in the traditional sense. And this is the basis on which the discussion occurred, when you, for example, acknowledged the existence of, the English labor movement but denied the existence of the French.”

As to that, I wish to observe:

Although I have no manuscript of my article at hand, I know quite well: the article proceeds from the posing of an allegedly “new” problem and arrives finally at a consideration of the special position of the labor movement in Europe. In it I emphasize, as before: Wherever Hitler came as victor, he also destroyed the “traditional” labor movement. If this was the basis of the discussion for you (it never was for us, as I shall soon show), then it is fully conceded also in my article: We denied the existence of the traditional labor movement in France, for example, and acknowledged its existence in England. With your first objection, therefore, you have only bored a hole in the air.

Furthermore: How did the distinction between the traditional labor movement and that which we call the politically organized labor movement (in the sense of scientific socialism) enter into the debate? The answer is clear: We injected it – nobody else insisted on this important distinction, nobody else as much as suspected that this was a problem, nobody else got involved in the polemic over the matter. Your own formulation tacitly acknowledges that we do not “suddenly” come forth with the posing of another problem but that we are discussing upon what is for us a very old basis. The rupture between scientific socialism and the labor movement is one of the most important questions, and a very complex one at that. The treatment of this question by us is in reality much older than is indicated in my article. In the European debate, we infiltrated it with the Three Theses, where if says:

“In order that socialism, isolated by the retrogressive movement, may again be linked with the labor movement and with the mass movement in general, the creation of revolutionary parties and the reestablishment of the labor movement itself are required.”

It was precisely this formulation and what followed from it for us (on the situation of the labor movement in general, on the situation of our own movement in particular), that constituted the “bone of contention” which set off the entire debate. And here: if this had not been the “basic” problem for us, we would have evaluated entirely differently the position of the labor movement, for example, in France even after its smash-up by Hitler. Looked at more profoundly: there would then have been no Hitler and the world today would have a different face.

Further: As things stand, this “basic” posing of the problem of ours is the reason why we have in actuality a fundamentally different political line from yours. In my article, I announced that I will deal with the “essential” or “fundamental” (any word you wish suits me) difference between you and us. For the moment, only this: What you regard as our “essential” difference, is a joke to us. I refrain entirely from examining here whether “the” Germans “concentrated upon the petty bourgeoisie in their treatment of the national question, and spoke of its leadership in the Resistance movement.” Every time you have made this assertion, we laughed and shook our heads. For the time being, we could do no more than that, for in strict contrast to us, you have avoided formulating your criticism in any manner that would permit an orderly reply. To tell stories, to “interpret” at will, to make assertions, etc. – Uncle Sam in America can do that too. That was too unreliable and too cheap for us. So we did not simply “speak” out, set ourselves down in print where we can be checked. Now, since all the protests against your interpretation (excluding public check) remained unsuccessful, I am glad to have found an opportunity at least to deal with the matter in writing.

So then: our characterization of the Resistance movements as “people’s movements” (see the Three Theses) is “old.”These people’s movements themselves could not, already in consequence of their characterization (naturally, on the basis of the situation as a whole), bear a “labor” character but only a general petty-bourgeois character. Whatever may have been the percentage of workers participating in it, is a matter of complete indifference in this connection. The question of the “leadership” stood for us exclusively only as the problem of leadership by the Fourth International. Beyond this problem, the whole movement was and is petty-bourgeois, and does not bear even the stamp of the “traditional” labor movement. This, dear friend, is our fundamental position in three strokes. You will surely observe for yourself how fin different it is from what I should like to call a “sovereign interpretation” à la Logan.

Now, anybody is at liberty to consider our viewpoint as false. But nobody can say that we did not set this viewpoint down in writing and convey it in print. Every one of the Germans involved is “oath-bound” by it, everyone of them is ready to let himself be “caught” at his real view. But here is what is involved: we could have such a viewpoint only because it rests upon that basis which you (excuse me: “suddenly”) call the posing of a “new “problem. In other words: Our posing of the actually “basic” problem asserts, itself obtrusively in everything we have written or even only – “spoken.”

All we have encountered in the discussion, to be sure, is complete incomprehension and still more bad will. As people with a “proverbially sharp memory,” we recall gloomily: the vanguard of the vanguard shone through its absence, and in place of what it should have done it raised a pile of extremely weakly-covered counsels of confusion. In view of the peculiar interpretation to which our Theses were subjected,we gave a systematic presentation of our standpoint in Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism. This document (and especially that part of it that applies to the present question), is now about two years old. There, is, therefore, nothing “sudden”about it, to say nothing of much older documents (for example, our Theses on the Construction of the Fourth International). We said two years ago about our “basic” posing of the problem:

“... in a certain sense, the proletariat has already suffered the ‘penalty of its own destruction’ because in most of the world it has been destroyed as a politically-organized, self-constituted arid freely-associated class. The proletariat has again, as formerly, become an amorphous mass, the characteristics of its rise and its formation have been lost ... Its consciousness is now only class-consciousness, in the sense of limitation, through belonging to a class. It is bourgeois consciousness and (not to speak of revisionism) is doubly reactionary in so far as it has received [the form of] Stalinism ...

“... the severed connection between scientific socialism and the labor movement (which now, exists almost only as a spontaneous, but no longer as a politically-organized movement) must be reconstructed under new conditions ...

“Scientific socialism is in the same situation as at the time of its emergence ... Otherwise there are only isolated and decimated propaganda groups, exactly as at that time (then emerging, now residual), which must endeavor to expand, to link themselves to the masses, and to arouse the political labor movement to life again.

“Political consciousness lives only in these groups and individuals – the alleged tradition of the masses is ... the true bourgeois tradition of revisionism and its Stalinist perversion, under whose influence the masses have stood for more than forty years and which is responsible for today’s situation.”

These are of course only especially striking passages for our theme. You find more of them in our document itself. In the English edition (Supplement of the New International) the most important passage is on page 339 (right, below) and page 340. In addition, however, there is also this:

“The recoupling of socialism with the labor movement is the point here around which everything revolves.”

I think: the point around which everything revolves, speaks for itself. You will therefore surely no longer assert that “no doubt the concept of a labor movement can be defined the way it is now done by A.A.” My dear friend, A.A. has an uncommonly sharp memory – he does not define it that way “now,” he simply does that always.

And what now? Quite simple! Proceeding from the discussion on the Paris uprising, you brought up the question of the labor movement again a few weeks ago and in connection with it you repeated your false interpretation of our views. I was therefore queried from all sides (M. asked, among others), as to what our denial of the labor movement is actually all about. Without looking into the reasons for the ignorance of our position, I decided to devote a special article once more to the whole question. As already said: there is no more complex and important theme. What is more: it presents new aspects with every day’s development and – it is not yet exhausted. That is all.

As to your desired reformulation of your views about us, it is a puzzle to me to find where I am supposed to be guilty of a “crude shift in emphasis.” But I welcome having a statement authorized by you. I will therefore see to it under all circumstances that your statement gets into print. If I do not come in time with the correction (the article is surely already on the press) I will give you completely authentic satisfaction in the next number of the N.I. Nobody there will offer objection. As soon as convenient, both letters will be published. A concluding observation: When you assert that I palmed off the posing of a new problem in place of the old, you stigmatize me, to put it plainly, as a political swindler, for I declare unmistakably in my article that I am speaking of our old position. However, do not be put out for a moment: I do not take it as a personal insult.

One should not react with positive assertions to an article that one has read “quite superficially” by one’s own admission. In spite of my positively “fabulous” memory, I would never dare to do that, in any case. I believe, moreover, that a sharp memory has a good deal to do with “sharp” thinking.

London, April 25, 1945

Sincerely yours,
A. Arlins


1. See: Some Questions of Clarification, N.I., May 1945.

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