[Marxism] Reply to Carl Davidson

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 14 07:52:49 MST 2005

(Carl Davidson was a leader of the new left in the 1960s and early 1970s. 
Along with other SDS'ers and Guardian newspaper figures--he was associated 
with both--Davidson discovered "Marxism-Leninism" in the mid 1970s, which 
meant Maoist ultraleftist party-building experiments of the sort described 
by Max Elbaum in "Revolution in the Air." For the Maoists, a large part of 
the CPUSA traditions remained valid, especially those that figured heavily 
during the period when Stalin was dictating policies. This meant accepting 
the party line on WWII, which tended to blur class distinctions between 
trade unions and the black community on one side and the American ruling 
class on the other. Supposedly the war was being fought to defend democracy 
rather than Anglo-American imperialist interests. Davidson defends this 
perspective in a comment on "Unrepentant Marxist," a blog I maintain that 
consists exclusively of longer posts made originally on Marxmail. He also 
defends backing John Kerry in the last election. Davidson nowadays is 
affiliated with the Committees of Correspondence, a group that I belonged 
to briefly until I discovered how committed they were to working in the DP. 
My reply to Davidson follows his comments, which appear under my original 
blog entry titled "Left in form, right in essence," a reference to a 
pamphlet written by Davidson in his Maoist phase. It can be read at: 

Carl Davidson:
I just now came across these comments you made a while back. While there 
are surely a number of things in that old pamphlet I would put differently 
today, Louis, I'm curious about what you find so offensive as to call that 
particular quote a 'disgusting smear.'

Didn't the Trotskyists take a 'revolutionary defeatist' line toward the US 
government in WW2?

Didn't they oppose the Allied offensive against Hitler, when it finally 
came, by calling for the revolutionary defeat of both sides, which had no 
basis in any real revolutionary leadership on the ground, especially in 
fascist Germany?

Didn't they also call for the political overthrow of the CPSU in the Soviet 
Union during WW2?

Didn't they also oppose Mao's effort to work with those elements of the 
Chinese bourgeoisie, mainly in the KMT, who were also willing to fight 
Japan in WW2?

If any of this isn't true historically, I'm willing to be corrected. I 
wouldn't call WW2 a 'peoples war.' To a certain extent it was, but it was 
much more complex than that. It was at least four wars at once: an 
anti-colonial war by China and others against fascist Japan, Italy and 
Germany; a war of self-defense by the USSR against fascist Germany; an 
inter-imperialist war between the bourgeois democratic bloc and the fascist 
bloc of great powers; and a popular resistance to the fascists in the 
countries occupied by them.

But I'm very clear on which side was basically a just cause and which was 
unjust, which I would have wanted to see defeated and which side do the the 
defeating, which army I would have joined and which I would have opposed.

All these forces together made up the 'united and popular front against 
fascism,' with all its strengths and weaknesses that, when all is said and 
done, brought about the demise of the Third Reich and it allies. And the 
fact remains that the Trotskyists of the time opposes this particular 
united front with another supposedly more revolutionary version that 
existed only in their revolutionary imagination and pamphlets.

Would you have tried to mount mass antiwar protests against the D-Day 
Invasion of Normandy at the time? That's what 'revolutionary defeatism' 
would mean in practice in WW2, wouldn't it?

I know these are uncomfortable questions for those who want to defend every 
major policy of Trotskyism, since the idea that it was right for all 
countries to be 'defencist' against fascism and to join together to crush 
Hitler is now nearly hegemonic across the board.

But just because a situation is uncomfortable, it doesn't mean you call and 
apparant statement of the facts a 'digusting smear' and just leave it at 
that, does it?

I should also say that I wouldn't use any of this to attack Nader-Camejo. I 
supported their right to run and told those clamoring for them to get off 
the ballot to lighten up, because whatever differences we had in this 
election, the Nader-Camejo forces and other Greens are our longer term allies.

But I also read Camejo's 'Avocado Statement.' It basically calls for aiming 
the main blow at the Democratic Party these days, since the Dems are the 
main 'social prop' of the Republicans, and if that means the GOP and the 
right get stronger, so be it. We'll deal with them later, after we clean up 
the debris. I think that piece of it is a bit ultraleft, don't you?

Perhaps you think it's just fine. But my diagreement with Camejo is over 
tactics, not objectives. I don't think the Dems can be reformed. I want a 
breakup of the Dems too, and replaced with a people's party. But I want to 
find a way to do it that strengthens the progressive forces and not the far 
right. But that's another discussion...

Carl Davidson, Chicago


Just to recapitulate, this is the quote from Davidson that I found disgusting:

"The Trotskyists believe they are the only authentic practitioners of the 
policy of the united front. Yet in practice, they have opposed full 
implementation, either from rightist or 'leftist' positions. The most 
apparent example of this role was the Trotskyist attitude toward World War 
2, in which they took a 'defeatist' position towards the capitalist 
governments fighting the fascists, called for the 'revolutionary' overthrow 
of the Soviet government and opposed the united front with the national 
bourgeoisie in the colonial countries invaded by the fascists. The fact 
that the Trotskyist line led them inevitably to these positions 
substantiated the charge that they objectively served the interests of the 

Carl, this is just a bald-faced lie. The Trotskyists *supported* the defeat 
of Hitler and Mussolini. They argued--quite rightly--that the imperialists 
would not fight resolutely and that it would require a revolutionary 
mobilization to do the job. Their position was analogous to Radical 
Republicans during the Civil War who were sharply critical of any 
temporizing by Lincoln and big business interests, but fought in the union 
army to crush the confederacy.

SWP members served in the military or in the merchant marines. One of them, 
Sol Dollinger, was a friend of mine and a subscriber to Marxmail until his 
death. His wife Genora Johnson Dollinger was a leader of the Flint auto 
workers woman's auxiliary during the sit-down strikes. Sol was on a boat 
that was torpedoed on the way to Murmansk. He spent 6 months in a Soviet 
hospital recovering from his wounds.

Sol, like all other SWP members, talked politics with their fellow soldiers 
or sailors. They stressed the imperialist nature of the war, especially in 
the Pacific, but never sought to undermine the war effort. In other words, 
they behaved in exactly the opposite manner as SWP members who were drafted 
in the 1960s and 70s. Those SWP members sought to emulate the spirit of 
*resistance* that manifested itself in the "Bring Us Home" movement 
immediately after WWII, when troops stationed in the far east protested 
moves to involve them in the war against Mao's Red Army.

With respect to the ostensible examples you offer of SWP "defeatism", they 
are both unduly hypothetical and ridiculous. You write, "Would you have 
tried to mount mass antiwar protests against the D-Day Invasion of Normandy 
at the time? That's what 'revolutionary defeatism' would mean in practice 
in WW2, wouldn't it?"

Actually, the SWP would never have organized such a protest but it surely 
did support A. Philip Randolph's proposed March on Washington, which 
demanded equal rights for African-Americans. It also opposed the No Strike 
Pledge forced upon the trade union movement by the CPUSA. The SWP believed 
that a war against fascism abroad should not encourage the "democratic" 
ruling class at home to exploit working people above and beyond what takes 
place normally.

Finally, on the question of the Democratic Party. You assert that you are 
in favor of a "people's party." Carl, you should realize that Gus Hall 
always favored the construction of a "people's party," even when the CPUSA 
backed LBJ to the hilt. This kind of lip service is essential to 
maintaining some kind of credibility in the radical movement. It is 
understandable that somebody who had spent a lifetime taking marching 
orders from the Kremlin would develop a finely honed ability to speak out 
of both sides of his mouth. It is singularly depressing, however, to see a 
1960s fire-breathing radical like yourself end up in the same position 
today as the Gus Hall of the 1960s. When you use Marxist jargon to back a 
slug like John Kerry, you deserve to get nailed on the Internet along with 
Ted Glick and other opponents of independent political action.

You and other apologists for John Kerry led the radical movement into a 
*defeat*. It would be better for you to come to terms with your own failure 
rather than to scold people like Peter Camejo or myself. If the 1960s was 
about anything, it was about the need to build a radical movement from the 
bottom up. In order to do so, we need honesty and principles of the kind 
that marked the left before it became tainted with Stalinism. Our exemplar 
should be Eugene V. Debs rather than Gus Hall. Remember what Debs said: "It 
is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what 
you don't want and get it."



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