Discussions with Trotsky V - Defense Organization and Attitude Toward Intellectuals

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Trotsky: I agree with Comrade Cannon that we must begin immediately with the forces which are at our disposal and with forces we are sure of and not rely on the unreliable elements; thus a choice will be inevitable by the peripheral groups and the liberals, and even our excellent friend Solow will see that he remains a political celibate. If we are successful – and we will have some success – we will win the vacillating elements by and by. It is absolutely certain now that if we make an amalgam with such elements as Freda Kirchwey – the Stalinists will exert more pressure than even during the Defense Committee – these elements will betray us at the most critical moment, just at the moment when our comrades will need defense, in wartime, say. That is why the committee must be a body that educates and selects its elements and puts them to the test. It cannot resemble those liberals who are pacifists during peacetime and when war comes they are all militarists.

When we discussed the question here during the hearings – we must, of course, recognize that the Defense Committee accomplished its task with success in spite of elements who in the critical moment deserted it – I insisted that it was absolutely necessary to surround the committee with workers' groups. Even if we have only 200 such workers, it's better than 1,000 intellectuals, and if these workers are in contact through their delegates with a [Suzanne] La Follette or a Solow, these latter can't act so capricious; the workers discipline them. Our own comrades should join the organization and sympathizers from trade unions. Every liberal is a bit timid when he meets a worker. As to maneuvers with the Lovestoneites, we can abandon them to their own fate. And we can say to Solow: "You are not satisfied with us, create your own committee and we will enter into a united front with you – if you are capable of creating a committee without us."

Shachtman: The fact of the matter is that the letter they sent to us is very interesting – it was signed by about twelve – and had something very significant. They referred to the NPLD, which became one with Socialist labor defense when we joined the SP, and stated: you withdrew from the NPLD and as a result the organization collapsed.

Cannon: Oh, yes, Solow threatened to write and expose us in the Modern Monthly.

Trotsky: The Modern Monthly? But I believe that you can win even Solow by pursuing a firm policy.

Shachtman: As for the attitude toward the intellectuals as a whole, we saw your reply to Rahv. We are discussing the attitude and the relationship of the party towards the radical intellectuals. The great difficulty rests in the fact that they are not homogeneous. They are not a party: you have a type like Sidney Hook, who nine times out of ten agrees with the party. His differences are on the philosophic field; in the committee Hook defended us. It is interesting that even in some details where he did not agree with us he defended us. Then there are the intellectuals who broke with the CP, and they burned their fingers a bit in that experience. There are isolated intellectuals who joined the party and became party people, like Novackand Morrow, but they are very rare. The other intellectuals are represented by Solow. Then there are intellectuals like [James T.] Farrell, who are with us sometimes and not with us at others, but who signed the call for the defense organization.

To what extent should we make efforts to have them speak on our platform, to what extent should we have them collaborate with us on the magazine, and if they collaborate what are the limits of the differences that may be represented, and to what extent should we collaborate on their reviews, like the Partisan Review?

It is almost certain that in the inevitable disintegration in the Stalinist movement the better elements from the CP will tend to come toward us. What attitude should we have in order to bring them close to us? There is another question which Cannon mentioned the other day, and with which I agree, about the New International: Is it feasible, correct, preferable to enlarge the magazine from thirty-two to forty-eight pages and use the additional pages for a literary section – not poetry but a section of literary criticism, book reviews, criticisms of other magazines – and to have such a section edited by such elements as Farrell, Rahv, [James] Rorty? Types like those are thus brought closer to the party, and it gives them more elbow room to express different ideas than in the more political section of the periodical. Would this have a tendency to replace such magazines as Partisan Review or to function alongside of Partisan Review, which is moving toward us? They don't represent the same elements as Solow, who is moving away from us; they represent the elements who have been with the CP and who are coming close to us.

Trotsky: I believe the best situation would be a division of labor between the New International and Partisan Review. To permit the New International to be invaded by Marxist dilettantes, even if only on the question of literature, is not free from a certain danger, for the party will carry the responsibility for their cliques, little squabbles, frictions, etc. It would be a bit dangerous and compromising to introduce this into the New International. On the other hand, it would be very good to enlarge the New International, if not by eight to twelve pages, at least somewhat, not for literary purposes but to follow the ideological events in the workers' movement. There are many magazines, German magazines, Marxist and semi-Marxist; it would be good to mention them and criticize them. It is more important for us than literary criticism.

The New International must embrace everything that can interest the workers' movement. But to give a section of some twelve pages to literature would be too dangerous, especially since we devote too few pages to the natural sciences, to the trade union movement, to Marxist theory. It would be better also to establish collaboration with Partisan Review, criticize them in a friendly manner, and not take any responsibility for them. Many of the intellectuals will rather adhere to Partisan Review than to the New International, and we will consider it as a reserve from which we can attract some from time to time to the party.

If the movement toward us is rapid, especially from the Stalinists, we must have a period of probation of six to twelve months; for the workers no probation, but for the intellectuals, at least six to twelve months. Then give them specific tasks. For example, we won a group of fifteen trade unionists, put some intellectuals to work with them, to find for them materials, statistics, etc. But the intellectuals have only a consultative voice at meetings. They are the ones to be educated by our worker members. If the trade union workers say that the intellectual is useful, has no pretensions, then we can accept him into the party. If we are to have a workers' party we are to make the intellectuals feel that it is a great honor to be accepted by our party and that they will be accepted only if they are approved by the workers. Then they will understand that it is not an intellectual petty-bourgeois party but a workers' movement, which from time to time can use them for its purpose. Otherwise we can be invaded by intellectuals, and if discussions begin with intellectuals coming from the Stalinists, then the workers will avoid our party. We must establish strict rules about intellectuals coming from other parties. We can have a very elastic and liberal policy toward sympathizers; we can have our representative on their editorial board; we can accept the best of them to work on our papers, for the Appeal, if it should appear two or three times a week. But let them remain independent; have a very severe attitude toward the intellectuals who enter our party. If it is a matter of a young intellectual who has been in our movement, that's another thing; a worker is also another thing; but an intellectual with an education gained in the Stalinist party, that's a dangerous element for us.

At the same time we must mercilessly attack types like Max Eastman, Eugene Lyons. We must show them that we take things like Marxist theory very seriously, and we must not permit the impression that Max Eastman can be our friend and at the same time, incidentally, an enemy of socialism.

Then it's important that our youth organization have nuclei in colleges for the young intellectuals. We can hope now that America will produce the best Marxists. The crisis will make the American youth think and the American youth will produce the best elements. Such nuclei are not party members but we can survey them, select them, and win the new generation of Marxists for our movement. Most of the old generation is corrupted by the Stalinists, and people who tolerated Stalinism till today are not very critical. The old generation is demoralized and we must begin with the young.

Dunne: What about such a man as Liston Oak?

Trotsky: Where is he now?

Cannon: He tries to be an independent radical; he speaks everywhere, writes everywhere.

Trotsky: Possibly it is best to close our papers to him.

Shachtman: The trouble is that he comes, gives me an article, asks that it should be printed in Socialist Appeal; then I pick up the Vanguard and see an article for them.

Trotsky: Yes, we should cut off with him. We did that with Ciliga. You know he collaborated in our Russian Biulleten. Then he went to the Mensheviks, and we immediately cut him off.

Karsner: It seems to me that we need something for these types, a peripheral organization.

Trotsky: Yes, they can work in an organization like the NPLD. We can explain, even when we reject their articles, that the journalist for a workers' paper must be a teacher. How can he, if he himself does not have a program? If he wishes to help in movements like the NPLD, all right, but he cannot work on the paper, cannot pretend to be a teacher before he knows his own way. Even if we lose one or two of them by such a measure we will teach many others, and they will become more serious.

Cannon: Organizationally we are in a much better position to follow a firmer policy right now. When we were such a small group and the CP had not yet disintegrated and the SP seemed to move to the left, we did not have such an advantageous position. Now the SP is killed, the Lovestoneites can't expand; all the sectarian groups who tried to fight us are wiped out. In the whole anti-Stalinite field we are now the clearly established leaders. People who used to wonder whether the WP or the SP would prevail, whether the Fieldites, Oehlerites, or we would prevail, know that that has all been settled. Then we have a youth movement, a most significant and promising movement. The Lovestoneites and the SP have no youth movements.

Trotsky: From the Communist youth we have new adherents –

that's of the greatest historical importance.

Cannon: There is great self-confidence in our youth – the Stalinists are much more on the defensive than ever before.

Trotsky: I don't know the structure of our youth organization; it's necessary to have a section for the intellectuals and students and an organization for workers.

Shachtman: Our youth is predominantly student; there is now going on an intense discussion on the ways and means of reaching the working youth. There is only one point on which I do not agree with Jim. It is true the Lovestoneites are essentially a New York movement. Nevertheless, there is an unmistakable, though not big, increase in their movement: in Philadelphia they had fifteen members of the Young Communist League. As a result of their collaboration with Homer Martin they have a small organization in Detroit. They are going through an interesting turn in policy. They speak now of the dead Third International. They are orienting along with the whole Brandler movement to the London Bureau.

There is no doubt in my mind that in New York the Lovestoneites have some very serious trade union posts – unfortunately, more serious than ours. It is confined, it is true, to the needle trades, but they have fairly substantial influence there; we have virtually none. If the Lovestoneites announce a meeting, his people boost it in the needle trades section and he gets a few hundred.

Our comrades report a friendlier attitude on the part of the Lovestoneite rank-and-file comrades toward us. One of them said: "We don't support the Comintern now. We are against the Moscow trials; why don't we have a united organization?" You understand of course that I'm not proposing a united organization; the remark is just symptomatic of the feeling in their ranks. We are still stronger, far stronger, than they in our youth movement, in our membership, in our meetings. The question is one of trying to get some of their rank-and-file elements into our organization. The fact that Wolfe came to our meeting is very significant

[Here there was some more discussion on work in the Stalinist ranks but the question was left over in connection with the Russian question, which was to be discussed the next day.]