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Tim Wohlforth

Periodicals in Review

(Winter 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.1, Winter 1962, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Politics of New Politics

New Politics is the latest entry in the already crowded field of socialist theoretical magazines. The tiny radical movement in the United States already supports a greater number of publications than the much larger liberal community – in fact in number of publications, if not in circulation, American radicals can hold their own with the massive movements in Europe.

Considering this fact, it is distressing to note that so many of these publications are seeking to fulfill the same function. The older Dissent, the student publications Studies on the Left, New University Thought, and Root And Branch (scheduled to appear shortly out of Berkeley, California, we are told) and now New Politics all seek to play the same role in the United States that New Left Review plays in England. All disdain ties to existent radical political parties; all claim to be open to all points of view; all seek after some new political program around which to rebuild the socialist movement. Ironically, despite the profession of each publication to broadness, despite their proud proclamations of having no political platform, these radical intellectuals do not seem to be able to pool their resources and produce a single publication. The reason for this is obvious. Each publication has a political center of gravity somewhat different from the other. It would be a service to the radical movement of the editors of these publications would make explicit these implied political differences and defend their political views in a responsible manner before the radical public.

New Politics, if it is able to keep up to the standard its first issue sets, will be the most ambitious of all these efforts. It is typographically excellent, well edited and on the whole an interesting magazine. What gives the publication its life and interest is that it rejects, in large part, the academic jargon which so mars its competitors and it contains, within certain limits, real controversy around important political topics.

What are the politics of New Politics which made its creation necessary to its editors and contributors? Needless to say there is no clear editorial statement of political outlook – but a political point of view it certainly does have. For instance, three out of the four “views” presented in its symposium on Cuba are antagonistic to the Revolution, considering it “totalitarian.” The only contributions which are really divergent from the general tenor of the magazine are Cedric Belfrage’s defense of Revolutionary Cuba and Joseph Clark’s support to Deutscher’s concept of the reformability of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Both these contributions appear as part of symposiums rather than as articles by themselves. Absent from the publication, even in the form of a contribution to a symposium, is any presentation of a revolutionary socialist point of view.

The dominant political tone of the publication can be seen in Editor Julius Jacobson’s contribution on the USSR and Sam Bottone’s on Cuba. Jacobson, on the one hand, has discovered in capitalism “a liberal dynamic.” He puts it this way:

“Because industrial growth impelled the formation of a numerous and homogeneous working class and an intelligentsia, and provided leisure, culture, etc., it multiplied the physical agents and conditions for further democratization within the wide permissive limits of capitalism.”

Thus Jacobson takes an essentially classic reformist view of capitalism as a “permissive” society allowing for considerable amount of reform. He neglects to mention its not so “permissive” enslavement of the vast mass of humanity through its colonial policy, its two imperialist world wars, and fascism, the natural outgrowth of precisely this expansionism of the capitalist economy.

When it comes to the Soviet Union, on the other hand, Editor Jacobson is positively a rabid “revolutionist!” He denies completely the possibility of reform in the USSR and he is of course correct in this (our difference with Jacobson on this score is primarily his dredging up of Max Shachtman’s discredited theory of a “propertyless” ruling class in the USSR). The pattern here is what is called “Stalinophobia”: these people are ready in an instant to advocate the revolutionary overthrow of the regime in the USSR but when it comes to their own country we hear talk of the “permissive” limits of capitalism, of the seemingly limitless possibilities of reform.

The same theoretical outlook dominates Sam Bottone’s contribution on Cuba. The Cuban Revolution, to him, is a seizure of power by a small group of power-hungry intellectuals seeking totalitarian control. Everything is one big conspiracy. Yesterday Bottone’s counterparts talked of the “sealed train” which carried the “German agent” Lenin to Russia to take over a country of some 180 million souls; today it is the diabolical Castro. If only Lenin hadn’t dispersed the Constituent Assembly (that is, broken with capitalism); if only Castro hadn’t dissolved the coalition cabinet (that is, broken with capitalism). Anyone who cannot see in the Cuban Revolution a profound revolutionary mass struggle which has led to a social overturn – anyone who only sees a “conspiracy” on top – is blinded by Stalinophobia.

Such people are certainly not serious about bringing socialism to the United States. Even more important, their very softness towards capitalism disqualifies them from playing a progressive role in ridding the USSR of its bureaucratic ruling caste. The Russian people seek to overturn bureaucratic rule in order to go forward to real socialism on the basis of the planned economy they already have. They are not interested in those who do not recognize the gains of the October Revolution which they still have and talk instead of “permissive” capitalism – especially when such people make their home in the world’s most rapacious imperialist country.

Perhaps a future contributor to New Politics will really come to grips with the Stalinophobia which so poisons so many of its contributors. We will be watching future issues for such a contribution – but we are not holding our breath!

Postwar Jewish Intellectuals

Commentary should be warmly commended for publishing in its April issue a symposium on Jewishness and the Younger Intellectuals. The symposium includes a large number of contributions from Jewish intellectuals of the postwar period. Most of these intellectuals are not really young; they are of the generation which grew up in World War II and started on their careers during the prosperity of the postwar period. Thus they are a quite distinct group from the intellectuals whose formative years were during the Great Depression and who by and large went through the radical movement of that period – intellectuals like the present editors of Commentary.

The question that was asked these intellectuals which concerns us most, dealt with socialism:

“What are your feelings, if any, about the generation of Jewish intellectuals whose socialism provided the basis for their more or less antagonistic relation to the Jewish community in America and elsewhere? Do you believe there are viable elements in the tradititon they represented?”

The attitudes of this predominantly prosperous group of liberal intellectuals towards socialism are quite interesting. One detects a nostalgia for the socialism of the Thirties – a feeling of emptiness, as if this generation has turned from Marxism but has been unable to find any substitute. True, there are those contributors who redbait and deprecate their radical predecessors; but other contributors aptly characterize this type of intellectual. Ned Polsky refers to the intellectuals who

“try to make up with their parents and become ‘good Jews’ by writing neo-religious essays for Commentary; or tried for a hole-in-one by writing red-baiting essays for Commentary.” Nat Hentoff attacks “such daring empirical intellectuals as Max Lerner, whose flaccid optimism is an all too symptomatic omnibus of ‘liberal’ cliches.”

Andrew Hacker, a professor at Cornell, expresses this nostalgia this way:

“What impresses me ... is that so many of the prominent Jewish social scientists of today received their first exposure to the intellectual world as socialists in the 30s. This is not to say that the Marxist lens gave them an accurate depiction of reality. But the Marxist posture encouraged these young students to ask significant questions and to by-pass conventional approaches. The profit, in other words, was intellectual rather than political. My generation has undergone no such initiation. And our work shows it. In terms of the breadth of the subjects we choose for study and in terms of the power of imagination we bring to bear, our efforts are markedly inferior. Any intellectual who was a Marxist in the 30s never forgets all of his adolescent lessons. No one should apologize for having such a past, and it is important to note that a substitute for it has yet to be found.”

Thus this intellectual recognizes that even a little exposure to Marxism raises the stature of an intellectual far above those who have ignored Marxism. Perhaps a system of thought which has such an effect even on those who desert it deserves to be studied in its own right.

Allan Temko, who teaches English at the University of California, perhaps best sums up this liberal attitude:

“The socialism of the early 20th century was a crudely surfaced mirror in which the Jew – like everyone else – saw a distorted image. Today we have new mirrors, but I don’t know that they are more clear.”

What is important to note is not that these intellectuals do not understand Marxism and are opposed to Marxism – this we have known for a long time. What is new is that they have been able to find no substitute for Marxism; no alternative “mirror” through which to see reality.

Some of the contributors took an even more positive view of socialism, its meaning today, and its potentiality for the future. Particularly interesting were the remarks of Professor Samuel Shapiro who stands out among younger academicians because of his courageous defense of the Cuban Revolution. Professor Shapiro states:

“Socialism as a political issue seemed totally defunct during the last campaign. Nevertheless, having spent most of 1959 in half a dozen Latin American countries, where socialism is taken for granted by a majority of intellectuals and is in operation in a number of industries, I don’t feel that the socialist cause in America is as dead as it may seem to be. If the armaments race stops, and if Keynesian remedies don’t halt the next depression, there will be a revival of socialism; it is waiting to germinate, like a seed beneath the snow.”

Philip Green, who is a professor at Princeton University, goes beyond speculation as to whether or not there is a future for socialism. He urges his fellow Jewish intellectuals to become socialists.

“... A Jew can best fulfill his moral obligations not by becoming especially involved in ‘the Jewish community’ (which is not really a community at all); nor by joining up wholeheartedly with the Americanized majority; but by joining the community of radical political action (as well as by exemplary personal behavior). If one feels, as I do, that some of the special values which have been nurtured by Jewish life – humaneness, resistance to mechanized organized society, an emphasis on social justice – can enrich that community, it will be enough of a ‘Jewish’ contribution to American life and culture to maintain and transmit them. On the other hand, where elements of Judaism conflict with the necessities of radical action and thought, I would drop them instantly, as radical Jews have often done in the past, and call upon others to do the same. For commitment to broaden the contours of human freedom and justice must take precedence over everything else; to me, the Jewish tradition has no meaning except when it is incident to that greater tradition.”

Random Notes

The Soviet resumption of nuclear tests has stirred considerable discussion in radical periodicals. Editors Sweezey and Huberman wrote separate editorials on different sides of the issue in the Monthly Review. The National Guardian has printed the Linus Pauling and Khrushchev letters as well as a contribution from A.J. Muste. We can expect to see more discussion in these circles in the months to come on the meaning of the 22nd Congress ... Lewis Coser and Irving Howe take note of the growing radicalism among youth in the fall, 1961 issue of Dissent – in a rather demented way. To them the growth of support for the Cuban Revolution and opposition to the US war drive among students is – just another crop of Communist Dupes ... The October 28th issues of the Nation was devoted in its entirety to Fred Cook’s excellent study of the power of the military in American life, Juggernaut. We highly recommend it. ... The New Leader has been completely redesigned with very tasteful drawings on the front cover and new typography throughout. Sad to say its content of undiluted Stalinophobia remains the same ... Dwight Macdonald, a well known figure in radical circles for many years until he decided to “choose the West,” an act which inspired him so little that he pretty much dropped his political writing, is venting his spleen these days writing vitriolic movie reviews for Esquire. Perhaps this is best all around ... While radical journals continue to proliferate in number, if not expand greatly in circulation, the commercial giants are not having it so easy. Coronet has folded. Saturday Evening Post and Life have undergone drastic facelifting operations to counteract sagging circulation. McCalls and the Ladies Home Journal continue to merrily slice each other’s throat while all and sundry are engaged in a wild circulation war, virtually giving subscription away. Needless to say, no one is considering such a drastic step as putting meaningful content in their publication. So the public yawns, gets a beer out of the ice box, and turns on the TV set.

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