[Marxism] Felix Morrow

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 22 17:49:57 MDT 2004

David Walters wrote:
>In November of 2002 there was a short thread regarding Felix Morrow, a US 
>Over the last Month, Ted Crawford of Revolutionary History magazine and 
>the Marxists Internet Archive has been transcribing from old copies of 
>"New International" and "Fourth International" articles and documents by 
>Morrow. It's is only a start but his writings are located at:
>Ted will be transcribing more as he gets a hold of documents and I will 
>format them as I get them for the MIA.

Felix Morrow

Scott McLemee sent me a impressive article by Peter Jenkins called "Where 
Trotskyism Got Lost: World War Two and the Prospects for Revolution in 
Europe". It is an analysis of the political fight between Felix Morrow on 
one side and the leaders of the Fourth International on the other. I will 
present Jenkins' account, which I am in complete agreement with, and add 
some thoughts of my own.

Felix Morrow was one of the top intellectuals of American Trotskyism. He is 
the author of the superlative "The Civil War in Spain". During the 1940s, 
he and other of the leaders of the SWP were imprisoned under the terms of 
the Smith Act for their vocal opposition to World War 2 as an imperialist 
war. Morrow eventually became a journalist for Fortune magazine after his 
release from prison.

In 1943 and 1944 the world Trotskyist movement expected the end of WWII to 
usher in the same types of revolutionary cataclysms as WWI. The 
International Resolution under consideration by the FI stated categorically 
that the allies would impose military dictatorships. It considered American 
capitalism to have begun an "absolute decline" in 1929. This decadent 
system said the resolution "has no programme for Europe other than its 
further dismemberment and degradation, and the propping up of the 
capitalist system with American bayonets".

The choice for the worker's movement was stark. Unless they made socialist 
revolutions, they would face "savage dictatorship of the capitalists 
consequent upon the victory of the counter-revolution." The workers would 
rise to the task since it was "in a revolutionary mood" continent-wide.

This analysis of the world situation was strongly influenced by Trotsky's 
conceptions from the start of the second world war which were of a 
"catastrophist nature". He could not anticipate any new upturn in the world 
capitalist economy based on Keynesianism and arms spending. Trotsky's 
catastrophism can be traced back to the early days of the Comintern. I 
recommend Nicos Poulantzas's "Fascism and the Third International" as a 
critique of this tendency in the early Communist movement. No Bolshevik 
leader was immune from this tendency to see capitalism as being in its 
death throes. Stalin and Zinoviev incorporated this thinking into their 
"third period" strategy. Stalin eventually lurched back and adopted a 
right-opportunist policy. What is not commonly appreciated is the degree to 
which Trotskyism has a lineal descent to the ultraleftism of the early 
1920s Comintern.

This ultraleftism stared Felix Morrow in the face, who like a small boy 
declaring that the emperor has no clothes, ventured to state that American 
imperialism might not have been on its last legs in 1945. He argued 
forcefully that the most likely outcome of allied victory was an extended 
period of bourgeois democracy and not capitalist dictatorship. Therefore it 
is necessary for revolutionists, Morrow advised, to be sensitive to 
democratic demands:

"...if one recognizes the probability of a slower tempo for the development 
of the European revolution, and in it a period of bourgeois-democratic 
regimes -- unstable, short-lived, but existing nevertheless for a period -- 
then the importance of the role of democratic and transitional demands 
becomes obvious. For the revolutionary answer to bourgeois democracy is the 
first instance more democracy -- the demand for real democracy as against 
the pseudo-democracy of the bourgeoisie. For bourgeois-democracy can exist 
only thanks to the democratic illusions of the masses; and those can be 
dispelled first of all only by mobilizing the masses for the democracy they 
want and need."

One of the main areas of contention between Morrow and the leaders of the 
FI was how these differences in policy would play out against the 
background of German politics. The SWP was convinced that the German 
working-class would lead the rest of Europe in the fight for socialism. A 
document states that "the German revolution constitutes the essential base 
of the European revolution, that it alone can provide the indispensable, 
genuinely harmonious political and economic organization for the Socialist 
United States of Europe."

Morrow disagreed completely with these projections. He stated that the 
document contains not "a single reference to the fact that the German 
proletariat would begin its life after Nazi defeat under military 
occupation and without a revolutionary party."

What was the source of these false projections? "To put it bluntly: all the 
phrases in its prediction about the German revolution -- that the 
proletariat would from the first play a decisive role, soldiers' 
committees, workers' and peasants' soviets, etc. -- were copied down once 
again in January 1945 by the European Secretariat from the 1938 program of 
the Fourth International. Seven years, and such years, had passed by but 
the European Secretariat did not change a comma. Exactly the same piece of 
copying had been done by the SWP majority in its October 1943 Plenum 
resolution in spite of the criticisms of the minority." Evidently dogmatism 
is not a recent trend in the Trotskyist movement.

Morrow stood his ground against all attacks. He appeared as a heretic. One 
of the charges against him made by Pierre Frank contained an interesting 
thought. If Morrow was right, what implications would this have for the 
world Trotskyist movement? Frank seemed to be thinking out loud when he said:

"The false perspective of Morrow has a farther implication if it is really 
drawn to its logical end. If American imperialism has such inexhaustible 
powers that it can, as he thinks, improve the standard of living in Europe, 
then of course there exists a certain basis, on however low a foundation, 
for the establishment of bourgeois-democracy in the immediate period ahead. 
 From that we must assume the softening of class conflicts for a period 
that the class struggle will be very largely refracted through the 
parliamentary struggle, that for a time the parliamentary arena will 
dominate the stage. If that were true, we would have to revise our 
conception of American imperialism. And of course the Trotskyist movement 
would have to attune its work to these new conditions -- conditions for a 
while of slow painful growth, propaganda, election campaigns, etc., etc."

Frank's fears were of course grounded in reality. This would be the fate of 
the Trotskyist movement and the rest of the left. The 1950s were not even a 
period of slow, painful growth, however. They were a period of decline. The 
FI only woke up to new realities when it shifted toward the student 
movement in the early 1960s. After a period of sustained growth, it 
returned to its "catastrophist" roots and proclaimed in 1975 that the 
workers were ready to launch an attack on capitalist power in the United 
States and the other industrialized countries. SWP leader Jack Barnes not 
only led this return to Comintern ultraleftism, he did the early communists 
one better and predicted war, fascism and proletarian revolution nearly 
every year or so for the last 20.

The "catastrophism" of the Trotskyist movement is built into the manifesto 
that created it, the Transitional Program. This is the political legacy of 
Trotsky's uncritical acceptance of the perfect wisdom of the early 
Comintern. How could it be otherwise, since at that time Trotsky itself was 
one of the key leaders. He made it his business to straighten out any 
wayward Communists, like the French, who stepped out of line. The 
organizational legacy of the Trotskyist movement is in Zinoviev's schematic 
"Marxist-Leninist" model. The ultraleftism of the political roots and the 
sectarianism of the organizational roots make for a powerful inhibition to 
growth. As we struggle to create new political and organizational 
paradigms, it will be important to shed ourselves of such counterproductive 

Louis Proyect

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