[Marxism] Scott McLemee's exchange with an unhappy reader

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 8 18:26:35 MDT 2011

I have just heard from a reader who was unhappy with a certain aspect
of my recent column regarding Robert Service's book on Trotsky.
Wasting no time, I sought to respond to her concerns as seriously as
they seemed to deserve. Here is our exchange.


Dear Mr. McLemee,

While I appreciate that you found the time to write an article about
Bertrand Patenaude's condemnation of Robert Service's contemptible
biography of Leon Trotsky  ("Re-Assassination of Trotsky" Inside
Higher Ed, July 8, 2011), I was offended by your slighting of David
North's In Defense of Leon Trotsky, which I have read more than once
and by your referring to "something called the Socialist Equality
Party" as though the SEP were some sort of subversive reading room in
someone's basement.  This is an insulting way of referring to a
Marxist party with an international membership that has, in addition
to publishing the World Socialist Website since 1998 with a readership
in every country in the world, run candidates for public office in the
United States, the UK, Germany, Australia and Sri Lanka, and has run
in-depth stories on news that the mainstream media chooses to ignore
(or completely falsifies when it deigns to report it). The SEP,
formerly known as the Workers League, has been around for a long time.

Mehring Books has an extensive booklist of otherwise hard-to-come-by
texts about everything from the history of socialism to the present
day wars and outrages against working people. I recommend it to you.

In addition, I am particularly repulsed by your snide personal remarks
about David North, a man whose knowledge of the life of Leon Trotsky
is extensive and whose critique of Service's abortion of a tome was, I
thought, a model of restraint in light of the filth it had to wade
through.  In times of world crisis such as the present, there can be
nothing more important than the exposure of historical falsification
and biographical charlatanry, and in this regard we owe Mr. North not
only praise, but gratitude.  I also congratulate M. Patenaude for his
honesty in exposing Service's shoddy scholarship and outright lies,
thus proving himself to be an historian of honor, whatever his
personal politics may be.


C------ Z------
San Francisco, CA


Dear Ms. Z-----,

Thank you for your note. I have a substantial knowledge of the history
of the WL and SEP, as the article suggested, and have purchased quite
a few books from Mehring over the years.

For example, I have had the opportunity to examine the transcript of
the ridiculous and insane Gelfand case, in which the WL took a
left-wing group to trial in order to try to have its leadership
changed by court order ; and have studied the quite repulsive slanders
of Joseph Hansen and George Novack known as "Security and the Fourth

I have seen numerous dishonest characterizations of the political
positions of other organizations in the pages of various WL/SEP
publications. I have looked with rapt fascination, and no little
amusement, upon the efforts to whitewash WL's role in Gerry Healy
manifestly insane cult. I have pondered deep and long the question of
how a so-called socialist organization could join the bosses in
attacking labor unions -- then considered whether this might not
correspond to the class interests of the business owner who runs that
so-called socialist organization.

My article made clear that North's critique of Service is worth
reading. Hence, it was extremely generous towards a book by someone
who has otherwise produced a great deal of garbage, or perhaps more
accurately, toxic waste. You say you were "repulsed" by my lack of
deference to North/Green, but that is too pale a word for what
informed non-members of the cult feel for its history.

Scott McLemee

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