[Marxism] Totally awesome proletarian positions
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."
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