[Marxism] Galloway faction splits from Respect

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 4 06:51:00 MST 2007

Fred Feldman wrote:
> The latter volume highlights. among manu other things, the weaknesses of
> Cannon's factional approach to advancing a  proletarian orientation for the
> group, weaknesses that may be detectable on all sides of the current
> disputes. (This was in the process of learning the revolutionary-Bolshevik
> tradition that Trotsky offered in this dispute.

Unfortunately, the "revolutionary-Bolshevik tradition" that Trotsky 
offered left a lot to be desired. Trotsky never understood these issues 
even though on most other issues he was completely correct. The chief 
value of Cannon's writings in this period that are available from the 
Spartacist League is that they instruct you what not to do. They are 
filled with what my Turkish teacher describes as "excellent mistakes" 
when he is trying to be tactful when he is reviewing somebody's homework 
in front of the class.


American Trotskyism advanced fitfully through the 1930's. Its "entryist" 
tactic into the Socialist Party was a defining moment for its 
sectarianism. Trotsky had noticed that the Socialist Parties worldwide 
were once again becoming a pole of attraction for radicalizing workers 
because many of these workers could not stomach the brutal, totalitarian 
Stalin regime. He advised his followers to enter the SPs as a bloc, 
capture the left-wing and then engineer a split in order to build 
Trotskyism and smash Social Democracy. The American Trotskyists were 
quite successful. They did wreck American Social Democracy and did 
expand their sect. After the success of the "entryist" tactic, American 
workers had 2 choices: 1) the CP 2)a Trotskyist party that would feature 
articles in its newspaper advising working people to "vote Trotskyist." 
The loss of the SP as a left-wing alternative to the CP partially 
explains the weakness of American socialism today.

Another key element of Trotskyist sectarianism is its tendency to turn 
every serious political fight into a conflict between worker and 
petty-bourgeoisie. Every challenge to party orthodoxy, unless the party 
leader himself mounts it, represents the influence of alien class 
influences into the proletarian vanguard. Every Trotskyist party in 
history has suffered from this crude sociological reductionism, but the 
American Trotskyists were the unchallenged masters of it.

Soon after the split from the SP and the formation of the Socialist 
Workers Party, a fight broke out in the party over the character of the 
Soviet Union. Max Shachtman, Martin Abern and James Burnham led one 
faction based primarily in New York. It stated that the Soviet Union was 
no longer a worker's state and it saw the economic system there as being 
in no way superior to capitalism. This opposition also seemed to be less 
willing to oppose US entry into WWII than the Cannon group, which stood 
on Zimmerwald "defeatist" orthodoxy.

Shachtman and Abern were full-time party workers with backgrounds 
similar to Cannon's. Burnham was a horse of a different color. He was an 
NYU philosophy professor who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. 
He reputedly would show up at party meetings in top hat and tails, since 
he was often on the way to the opera.

Burnham became the paradigm of the whole opposition, despite the fact 
that Shachtman and Abern's family backgrounds were identical to 
Cannon's. Cannon and Trotsky tarred the whole opposition with the petty- 
bourgeois brush. They stated that the workers would resist war while the 
petty-bourgeois would welcome it. It was the immense pressure of the 
petty-bourgeois intelligentsia outside the SWP that served as a source 
for these alien class influences. Burnham was the "Typhoid Mary" of 
these petty-bourgeois germs.


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