[Marxism] Totally awesome proletarian positions

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 3 12:58:24 MDT 2013

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.

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. Furthermore, it would be interesting to 
do a rigorous class analysis of the Shachtman-Burnham-Abern opposition. 
Most of its rank- and-file members were probably Jewish working-class 
people who more than anybody would be susceptible to pro-war sentiment 
during this period. When the Nazis were repressing Jews throughout 
Europe, it's no surprise that American Jews would end up supporting US 
participation in WWII.

With Trotsky's help, Cannon defeated the opposition. Burnham shifted to 
the right almost immediately and eventually became a columnist with 
William F. Buckley's "National Review". Shachtman remained a socialist 
until his final years, but like Lovestone who preceded him, eventually 
embraced a right-wing version of socialism that was largely 
indistinguishable from cold-war liberalism. Unreconstructed Trotskyists 
might point to the trajectory of Shachtman and Burnham and crow 
triumphantly, "See it was destined to happen! The middle-class will 
always betray socialism."

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/organization/lenin_in_context.htm

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