James Farrell and James Cain (was Re: Michael Moore Responds)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jun 1 05:47:58 PDT 1998

Dan Lazare:
>What are you suggesting -- that ideology has no effect on one's political
>development? That it's all the result of "powerful class forces" exerted by
>"bourgeois society"? Nonsense. The relationship between an ideological
>starting point and one's subsequent political path is not mechanical.
Some of
>those who embraced the state-capitalist line, such as IS and its various
>offshoots, remained in the socialist camp. But others, most famously
>Schachtman and Burnham, did not.

You still don't get what I am saying. Many professional left-wing intellectuals, whether they believed in state capitalism, Trotsky's degenerated workers state theory, or were camp followers of the Kremlin, capitulated to the State Department in the 1950s. The main explanation of anticommunism in this period is not theoretical bad seeds, or as Trotsky put it, the "scratch that leads to gangrene."

It was rather material forces, including loss of one's job, ostracization, marginalization, etc. When you are living in a prosperous country that is in the middle of frightening witch-hunt, people who make their livings as professional intellectuals are bound to react to those pressures. This explains Schachtman much more than his particular view of the Soviet Union. The pressures he was responding to were the same that caused the Nation Magazine to drop its pro-Soviet stance in this period. It also explained the phenomenon of "naming names."

I can understand why ideology is so important to you. You received your training in Gerry Healy's sect and you still have some lingering traces of his methodology, which is to struggle against "anti-Marxist" deviations in the movement as if we all belonged to a school of philosophy, like Kantianism or something. It is a sectarian methodology. Marxism explains ideas as being rooted in the material conditions of society. During a period of ferocious attack on the livelihood of left intellectuals and spectacular capitalist prosperity, many of them turned into anticommunists. The rank-and-file Schachtmanites, who had jobs as garment workers, cabdrivers, school teachers, auto workers, etc., never took the same turn that Schachtman did.

At a certain point, his movement split. He took all the professional intellectuals with him and they found sinecures in the AFL-CIA. The left-wingers went with Hal Draper and they went on to form International Socialism. These comrades were the bedrock support for the Teamsters for a Democratic Union. No other left-wing tendency has had more success in the union movement since the 1960s. Their ideas on the class nature of the Soviet Union have had nothing to do with their class-struggle approach to politics.

Louis Proyect


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