[Marxism] Awesome Proletarian Positions

turbulo at aol.com turbulo at aol.com
Fri Apr 5 12:13:06 MDT 2013

I agree that accusing anyone with a different opinion of representing 
"alien class influences" is a favorite technique of Trotskyist sect leaders for
maintaining organizational control. But I don't think the 1940 fight was exactly 
a prototype for this. In fact, Lous's account (below) isn't quite accurate.
There was in fact some basis for thinking that Burnham/Shachtman headed a petty bourgeois 

The American Trotskyist movement differed from others in that it was the only one headed by 
a a workers' leader, as opposed to petty bourgeois intellectuals. James Cannon went back to the IWW, 
and was a seasoned party politician as well.
In the late 30s, American Trotskyists executed a maneuver called the "French turn".
They entered the Socialist Party to recruit among its leftward-moving youth, and succeeded
fairly well. Most of these new recruits were "City College boys"-- students at City College of NY. They were overwhelmingly
Jewish, and many were not exactly working class, but the children of small business people in New York.
They formed a distinct--and somewhat insular--milieu, with all the usual conceits of bright young intellectuals.
Shachtman and Abern may have been of working class background, but they became the spokesmenof this 
milieu within the SWP. Cannon, on the other hand, was not nearly as impressed by the new recruits, or as 
sensitive to their needs.
Beginning in late 1939, Burnham and Shachtman began to attack the party's
position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union. They did not, as Louis
seems to think, say that it was no longer a workers' state. (They didn't say that until after
the split.) They only said that the future position of the party should be determined by the
"course of the war". Throughout the fight, the minority could not articulate a coherent reason for
wanting to abandon Soviet defensism, but that made them no less adamant. Finally, Trotsky, 
in an attempt to give the debate some coherence, suggested that a possible basis for their position
might be a recently published book,"The Bureaucratization of the World" by Bruno Rizzi. Rizzi was one of the first to argue 
that capitalist classes the world over were being replaced by a new managerial class--a position that
Burnham ultimately adopted, but not in 1940.

It was the failure of the minority to state the basis for their views that led Trotsky to probe for the 
underlying social-psychological basis of their position. His ultimate conclusion that Burnham-Shachtman spoke for 
a petty bourgeois opposition was not that workers opposed war and petty bourgeois favored it. It was rather based on what Trorsky
 saw as their nervousness and tendency to play with ideas--things
he thought to be petty bourgeois characteristics. He thought workers were steadier and a good deal more
reluctant to jettison long-held positions without firm reasons. As anyone who reads "In Defense of Marxism" will discover, this sociological characterization was not mainly directed
at James Burnham, but at Shachtman and "City college kids", whom Trosky saw as comprising an inward-looking student-intellectual
Jewish cohort, which was isolated from the working class. This characterization, IMO, was not  wide of the mark.

Nor were the real reasons for the minority's dissent difficult to fathom. What probably freaked them out more than anything else
was the Stalin-Hitler pact that had been signed shortly before the fight broke out. But was this a sufficient basis for questioning
the party's theoretical appraisal of the USSR?. And were they not reacting more as Jews and petty bourgeois Democarats
than as Marxists?  They were, at any rate, encouraged by Cannon and Trotsky to stay in the party as long as possible. The decision to 
split was theirs.   
Jim Creegan   
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


Message: 5
Date: Wed, 3 Apr 2013 14:57:27 -0500
From: Tristan Sloughter <tristan.sloughter at gmail.com>
To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
	<marxism at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu>
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Thoughts on Harper?s Magazine and intellectual
	<CAAQdjxcVjnp_6Ea1ZO3BZMT2AA8_CM-93HyjBdRChB0yfu5QAA at mail.gmail.com>
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This is jus

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