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The New International, February 1946


A. Arlins


[On the Fourth International]

(March 1946)


From New International, Vol. XII No. 5, May 1946, pp. 158–159.
Corrected in line with Correction, New International, Vol. XII No. 6, August 1946, p. 162.
The text omitted in the printed edition is indicated by square brackets.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Dear Comrade:

I was overjoyed about your (R. Phillips’) letter To the Editors in The New International (Jan. ’46). With this answer, I hope to clear up a few definite misunderstandings and to put aside certain obstacles. Your letter starts with the statement that “the ‘retrogression theory,’ which is the basis of the analysis of the article, has never been adopted as the position of the party, or even discussed to any extent” in the WP. This statement is undoubtedly correct. You are therefore of the opinion that the article in question should not have been printed “without any comment from the editors.”

In the meantime, however, the correction you ask for has already been made and the article has been declared a discussion article in two issues of the NI (Nov. and Dec. ’45). The Editorial Note of Dec. ’45, states: “It is primarily in so far as Comrade Arlins’ article deals with the theory of retrogression that the Correction (of Nov. ’45) referred to it as a discussion article.”

If the formal part of the objection is thus answered, the actual justification for it is yet to be proven. What I challenge here is the charge that the retrogression theory is the basis of the analysis in the article. You and the editors of NI have missed the point of the question entirely. In reality, the retrogression theory does not even play the smallest part in the article. Insofar as the retrogression theory is mentioned at all, it is in relation to facts which exist independently of it. It is therefore possible to leave out all passages that mention the retrogression theory, without changing the content of the article.

What Is in Question?

You reproach me for having rejected the theses laid down by the Fourth InternationaI, which includes the Transitional Program upon which the WP stands.

In our opinion, however, the great fault of the Fourth is precisely the fact that it has totally neglected the transitional program. If the fight in the last few years was about anything at all, then it pertained to those tasks which had some connection with the direct preparation for the revolution or with the practical application of the transitional program. The substance of our struggle is best expressed in the following sentence: Whereas we (in collaboration with the WP) have demanded a concrete carrying out of the transitional program and a realistic policy, the “official” Fourth has answered us passively, that is, with abstract phrases about the abstract proletarian revolution. As you know, the fight has centered around the so-called “national question,” which (as long as the revolution is not victorious) is only an especially important case of the democratic transitional program. In other words, we have not in any way attacked the transitional program, but rather we have defended it against the stupidity of the “official” Fourth. In this connection alone, have we (for which you reproach us again) characterized the theses, resolutions, etc., of the “official” Fourth as “simply a dead alphabet for the feeble-minded.” In relation to the above, it should be understood what is meant by the “official Fourth” and its theses, etc. I think I have expressed myself in this connection often enough, but if an especially precise definition is needed to prevent any further misunderstandings, I shall furnish it gladly. I say therefore:

By the “official Fourth,” we mean all those majority groups that were created in the most important sections, after Trotsky’s death. In contrast, we think of ourselves, the WP and certain minorities as the “unofficial Fourth.” The point of departure is a purely political one and means that the differences of opinion are not about the programmatic documents, the transitional program, the principles, etc., but rather about the rubbish which has been produced by the majorities during the past few years. As does the WP, we also consider the Cannon-fraction as the decisive majority, and therefore hold it responsible for the miserable condition of the Fourth.

Where Is the Difference?

In the above outline, it is true that we reject the theses, resolutions, etc., of the “official Fourth” and that we used very strong words. In any case, we tried our best to show the political confusion, the sterility, the word-juggling, etc., in a series of concrete examples. (By the way, whatever has been published about it in The New International, is by far not all of it.) This, I think, distinguishes us radically from the Cannonites and other opponents, who work with falsification, lies and calumny, instead of political arguments. Have we ever complained when we were called “revisionists, opportunists, lost emigrants, pessimists,” etc.? No! the one and only thing we complain about is this – we are slandered and called all sorts of names, without any attempt to justify any of the accusations factually. You write for instance: “His (Arlins’) blindness is caused by the reactionary-pessimistic tint of the glasses through which he looks at the development of the workers’ revolution.”

You will certainly admit, that blindness and reactionary-pessimism are not “mild” expressions. If taken personally, they are on the contrary the worst injury one could inflict on a comrade that has been in the movement for close to 29 years. You are perfectly right in using these expressions, and I would only feel silly, if I were to charge you (as you have charged me) with using an “uncomradely tone” or with “psychological” suspicions. All things must be taken concretely; there is a tremendous difference between you and (let us say) an E.R. Frank. Where you have an honest opinion and good reasons for your sharp verdict, an E.R. Frank has always proven himself to be an imposter and an intentional slanderer. You see, it does not matter to me whether your judgment is correct or not. I often say in a joking mood: “To err is to be human; and the more you err, the more human you are.” So, no matter how wrong you are in my opinion – as long as your judgment is based on honest conviction, it is all right with me. For this reason all these people, who supposedly have a “strong conviction” but dare not make any definite decisions, should be eyed suspiciously by revolutionaries. One cannot discuss fruitfully with such people. They have no character and refuse the responsibility to let themselves be taken at their word. As I mentioned above, you criticize me harshly in an “uncomradely tone,” proceed to pass a sharp judgment upon me, view me without the encumbrance of conciliatory considerations and demand in consequence that the party clearly separates itself from us. I consider this as a good sign, and consequently it is your courage that I admired so much in your letter. You are insisting, as we are, to work out the differences to a finer degree – we can therefore discuss profitably.

And so, the Editorial Note of December which corrected the “correction” and my critique of the political course of the Fourth, regardless of their severity, have established a community of interest.

[However, a whole month before my article was published in The New International, Max Shachtman wrote as follows on the Fourth International:

“During the war, the Fourth International simply ceased to exist as any (!) kind of real movement. It is amazing, but a fact, that for five or six years the International had nothing (!) to say (or was prevented from saying anything) on a dozen of the most important problems of world politics. There was no (!) international leadership; and that which arrogated this role to itself was far worse than bad (!): it was arrogantly bureaucratic (!), theoretically sterile (!) or psittacotic (!), politically a thousand times ( !) wrong or impotent (!). In a word: the International failed completely (!) during the war, failed in every (!) respect, failed inexcusably (!). If we do not (!) start by establishing this fact, we will not (!) make the progress that must be made ...) It is possible, we think, to overcome the terrible theoretical confusion (! ) and political disorientation (!) of the various sections, provided the problem is tackled correctly.” (My exclamations – A.A.)]

In other words, if you compare carefully, you will find that there isn’t the slightest difference between our findings and those of the WP.

A General Conclusion

In reality, therefore, your reproaches have only served to make an exception of us, in as much as you are silent as far as Shachtman is concerned, while at the same time you criticize us harshly for the same “offense.” The same is true of our “position” in regard to “Trotsky’s example,” the French organization and the English section. In order to realizethat, I repeat, it is only necessary to compare carefully, although I am still not discussing the question as to whether our position (and that of The New International) is right or wrong. I am therefore leaving the real political question which your letter raises for another time. I beg of you to follow the clarification of these problems in my Answer to Comrade J.R. Johnson, which has now become due because of his critique of our study of Barbarism or Socialism. In this, I shall also take up those problems, which are merely misunderstandings due to the fact that they had been presented without the necessary context. Of all that we attempted to clarify here, there is one general conclusion:

Criticisms of “tone,” “attitude,” “style,” etc., are in themselves generally unfruitful and untenable. What is up for judgment is only the actual content, whose inherent truth we have to establish. Every other “approach” leads objectively (as our example shows) to nothing but unwarranted partiality or to the beclouding of facts and differences of opinion.

And so, even the most negative has its positive angle. If your letter then contributes to this general conclusion, it has served a good purpose and we have advanced quite a bit.

March 4, 1946

Fraternally yours,
A. Arlins

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