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Dwight Macdonald

Letters to the Editor

(December 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 53, 10 December 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

To The Editor:

The Socialist Appeal did a magnificent job during the recent war crisis, but there is one bone which I must pick with it. Its October 10 issue stated editorially, apropos of the Lovestoneites: “During the crisis, their paper too failed to appear. And when it did – a faltering voice, a party afraid of its own shadow ...” I have looked up the files of the Workers Age and find that it appeared regularly every week throughout September and October. Nor did its voice seem so faltering to me, even compared to the Appeal. Both papers gave the war crisis front page prominence on October 1, for example. It is worth comparing their major formulations.

The Workers Age said:

“The war which threatens us today will ... not be a war of liberation on the part of the ‘democratic’ imperialist states.”

“Czechoslovakian national capitalism has oppressed workers in Czechoslovakia, whatever their nationality ... How can it he trusted to fight for liberty?”

“Only a revolutionary workers government will be capable of waging, if necessary, a really anti-fascist war for the liberation of the peoples.”

The Socialist Appeal said:

“Not democracy but the rivalries over spoils and tribute is at stake between Hitler and the ‘democratic nations.’

“The interest of the Czech government is to uphold the property and the profits of the Czech capitalists and bankers, to enable them to continue their twenty-year exploitation of all the peoples of Czechoslovakia.”

“But there is only one way to fight Hitler and Hitlerism: by breaking away altogether from your own bourgeoisie ... by launching your own firm and independent struggle under your own leaders.”

Both papers also called for the defense of the Soviet Union. It is true that the Age’s formulations were academic and dry as compared to the ardent and moving tones of the Appeal, and it is true that the Appeal exploited the

crisis more boldly and effectively. But the basic programs of both papers seem to me too similar for the Appeal to be justified in contemptuously dismissing the Lovestoneites as “another small group which makes big claims for its anti-war position.” And, of course, there is no excuse for stating that the Age failed to appear when it actually did appear. I dwell at such length on this point because it seems to me a good example of a tendency on the part of Marxist groups to blackguard each other with more enthusiasm than sense of responsibility. Let us have polemics, by all means, but let us also have fair play.

Dwight Macdonald

Our Reply

On the factual point raised in comrade Macdonald’s communication, we cannot but agree. The Lovestone paper did not fail to appear, and the statement in our editorial of October 10 was therefore erroneous, based on a report we received but failed to check up. Hence, a public rectification is called for and we duly record it.

On the political point, we find no reason for amending our judgment of the Lovestoneite anti-war position. Far from being “too similar” – as they seem to be to comrade Macdonald – we believe that the “basic programs of both papers,” the Appeal and the Workers Age, are irreconcilable. The struggle against imperialist war is possible only on the basis of a revolutionary struggle against capitalism and for the class independence of the proletariat. It is therefore only a combination of export-radicalism, phrase-mongering and duplicity when Lovestone speaks of a “revolutionary workers government” – for far-off Czechoslovakia! – and at the same time follows a People’s Front or “Democratic” Front course in the United States, with all that it implies in the realities of the anti-war struggle.

It is precisely the revolutionary Marxist who refuses to separate the “struggle against war” and the “struggle against capitalism” into two different compartments, for all experience shows that the separation leads inexorably to social-patriotism. Lovestone’s support of the LaGuardia People’s Front in the last New York Mayoralty election; of the Lehman-Wagner-Rose-Browder Front in the last New York state election; and of the outright Roosevelt-Democratic candidates in Michigan, California and Massachusetts – show, as we have repeatedly emphasized, how Lovestone’s policy in practice voids all claims to a revolutionary position on the war question.

Remaining doubts may be removed by an examination of the program of the Lovestone-Thomas-Libby-Lapp-Fish edition of the People’s Front and League for Peace, namely, the “Keep America Out of War Committee.”

To us it is self-evident that no one can pursue a policy of class collaboration and petty bourgeois pacifism and yet lay claim to a proletarian anti-war position, much less to one “similar” to ours. Whoever tries to do both these things is perpetrating a fraud, which deserves no less vigorous exposure and condemnation than the fraud of the Stalinists, who also know how to use a revolutionary phrase or two on holiday occasions. If criticism is due the Socialist Appeal it would be in place to apply it to its failure to deal more systematically and adequately with the shoddy opportunistic realities behind Lovestone’s pretentious lip-service to principles he has long ago abandoned. – The Editor.

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