'The Militant' joins liberals in denouncing Supreme Court voucher decision

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 8 06:48:07 MDT 2002

At 10:08 AM 7/8/2002 +0100, you wrote:
>I haven't been following this discussion, but isn't
>petty bourgeois also a technical term sometimes? What
>do people think of Trotsky's use of the phrase in In
>Defence of Marxism? I can see the points he is making
>with the term there, but it also seems to have some
>almost intimidating derogatory connotations, which
>might have served to sway people in favour of his
>arguments illegitmately...


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

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

However, it is simply wrong to set up a dichotomy between some kind of
intrinsically proletarian opposition to imperialist war and petty-bourgeois
acceptance of it. The workers have shown themselves just as capable of
bending to imperialist war propaganda as events surrounding the Gulf War
show. The primarily petty-bourgeois based antiwar movement helped the
Vietnamese achieve victory. It was not coal miners or steel workers who
provided the shock-troops for the Central America solidarity movement of
the 1980's. It was lawyers, doctors, computer programmers, Maryknoll nuns,
and aspiring circus clowns like the martyred Ben Linder who did.

Louis Proyect
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