From New International, Vol.12 No.1, January 1946, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
To the Editors
The article, The International Significance of the British Elections, by A. Arlins, in the October issue of The New International is printed without any comment by the editors. Yet the “retrogression theory,” which is the basis of the analysis in the article, has never been adopted as the position of the party, or even discussed to any extent in our party. The article, in effect, rejects the theses laid down by the Fourth International, which includes the Transitional Program as our strategy in this period of the “Death Agony of Capitalism” and upon which our party stands. At least we have never rejected the main line of these theses, nor have there been any proposals to reject them. Arlins’ article throws out the window the basic Marxist tenet that the working class has the task of emancipating humanity (substituting the concept that the emancipation of humanity is the task of ... humanity). And it heaps abuse upon our sister sections of the Fourth International.
In order to really deal with Comrade Arlins’ article it would be necessary to demonstrate the incorrectness of his theory of retrogression. That can hardly be the job of this letter, except in so far as it calls attention to the political results of that theory as shown in his article. I want instead to deal briefly with the other points made above.
1. In the place of the transitional program as the strategy through which the masses are set on the road to proletarian revolution, the article substitutes national rebellions of the peoples leading to socialism. It should be noted that the official party position on the national question points out the importance of giving a class content to the slogan of national liberation and poses the perspective of proletarian revolution through the development of dual power (workers’ councils).
The theses, resolutions, etc., of the “official Fourth” are characterized by Arlins as “simply a dead alphabet for the feeble minded,” etc. To make very clear that he rejects the whole strategy of the Fourth International for our epoch, he points proudly to the fact that in previous writings he and his collaborators “did not occupy themselves with ‘proletarian’ revolutionary prospects. Except for scorn and contempt, not a single word will be found in all our writings about all this revolution rubbish of the Fourth.” The chief reason why occupying oneself with proletarian prospects is “revolution rubbish,” according to Arlins, is the non-existence or smallness of a revolutionary vanguard. When Leon Trotsky wrote his thesis on the “Death Agony of Capitalism,” the proletarian vanguard was also small and in many countries non-existent. And undoubtedly Comrade Arlins must put into the category of “revolution rubbish” a blazing headline in Labor Action some time ago which read “The Italian Revolution Has Begun.” Further, Arlins suggests that the Fourth International “prohibit itself for two years (just as a test!) from even speaking of the proletarian revolution and its leadership by the Fourth.” He should undertake a polemic against Trotsky, who did not hesitate to call upon the Spanish workers during the Civil War or the French workers in ‘36 to make their proletarian revolutions, despite the fact that the Fourth in those countries at the time was anything but mass parties.
2. But Comrade Arlins’ rejection of proletarian revolutionary prospects is really based on his theory that the emancipation of humanity is the task of ... humanity. To quote, “the development enters into a stage in an immediately practical sense, in which the realization of socialism is no longer chiefly the task of the working class but the equally immediately practical task of humanity itself.” We were taught by Marx that the task of emancipating humanity is the historic mission of the working class; not because we are anxious for the working class to have the sole honor, but for the scientific reason that the working class, by virtue of its role in production, is the only group in society capable of creating the dictatorship of the proletariat, which, to repeat more ABC’s, is the precondition for socialism. Obviously, that non-class entity, “humanity,” cannot create a class state, however much the working class state will need the support of all sections of capitalist-oppressed humanity.
Comrade Arlins has replaced the working class with “humanity” because for him Marx’s theory of the ever-increasing concentration of the proletariat is a “mechanical conception” which he replaces with “The new quality which forces its way through more and more in imperialism is called the decentralization of the proletariat, atomization, splintering.”
No one can deny that one of the political consequences of fascism for the working class movement is the atomization of the proletariat (although hardly forever). This political fact Arlins confuses with the economic fact that capitalism, especially in the era of monopoly imperialism, increases the concentration of the proletariat, with the consequent socialization of labor. It is precisely this socialization of labor which is the basis for socialism. This tendency is, if anything, strengthened by fascism.
3. It is no wonder that Arlins discovers that “outside of England, there is no labor movement in the world.” Not in France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Australia, America? Arlins’ “partiality” to the English extends even to the English section of the Fourth International (despite its adherence to the “theses for the feeble-minded”). It, presumably, is exempt from the “Political sterility, confusion, theoretical and propagandistic unscrupulousness, ludicrous phrase-mongering and factional maneuver...,” and the “legendary internationalism” of the Fourth International. Its exemption seems to be based on its “excellently conducted election campaign,” which is a sign that it is a “politically oriented organization.”
I, too, think that the work of the English comrades is “excellent.” But excellent organizational work must have some connection with a political line. The politics of the English Trotskyists is based on the theses of the Fourth International. Its newspaper continually talks about proletarian revolution, the transitional program, it is very friendly to the SWP in this country, etc. This, according to Arlins, should condemn it to “political sterility.”
But the English Trotskyists are exempted from the wholesale condemnation of the Fourth International which Arlins indulges in. The French comrades do not come off so easily. They are hit with every brick in Arlins’ arsenal. Now, Arlins is quite correct to criticize the French comrades if they were in “deserted factories” during the Nazi occupation. It is pretty stupid for anybody, let alone revolutionists, to hang out in deserted factories. I have the impression, however, from reprints of Verité in The Militant, that our French comrades were engaged in more creative revolutionary activity during the occupation. Nevertheless, if they spent any time at all in deserted factories while the masses were elsewhere, their error should be pointed out. But the criticism should be made in a comradely tone. Instead, Arlins relegates them to political limbo.
If it is possible to take a friendly attitude toward the English despite their support of Stalin’s army, it should be possible to see some hope for the French section of the Fourth International despite its alleged mistakes during the occupation. After all, both sections have fundamentally the same political line. And, after all, the French comrades must be somewhat “politically oriented.” They have just conducted an election campaign in which they received 8,000 votes in one section of Paris, and well over 2,000 votes in Grenoble. Quite a feat for politically sterile people in a country which doesn’t even have a labor movement.
I imagine, however, that Arlins will fail to see the votes gotten by the French Trotskyists, in the same way that he fails to see a labor movement in France. His blindness is caused by the reactionary-pessimistic tint of the glasses through which he looks at the development of the workers’ revolution.
The editors of The New International should make it clear to the magazine’s readers that Arlins’ views are not the official views of our party and that his attitude toward the Fourth International is not our attitude.
Last updated on 24.9.2005