Henry Schnautz letter to comrades Feb 1940

This letter from Henry Schnautz was tucked between the pages of the February 1940 bulletin of "The New International, A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism", a magazine of and for Trotskyists, with normally at least one long article per month by Trotsky himself. The editors were James Burnham and Max Shachtman, men who would have long interesting careers. The fight had been on for months, mostly led by Burnham, encouraged by Shachtman. First Burnham had expressed doubts about the uses of dialectical materialism as a Marxist decision making tool. Then a much more serious problem developed - the surprise treaty between Hitler and Stalin, and the immediate brutal invasions, from east and west, of Poland. Next came the Russian invasion of Finland.

Under fire is the position of Trotsky that the Soviet Union was a degenerate workers state, but nevertheless, a workers state, and it must be defended in a war with a capitalist state. Burnham and Shachtman defect and take nearly half the membership with them. In the April 1940 issue they declare a new policy. The Soviet Union is merely another imperialist state. No one in the Socialist camp, they say, thought Russia would take offensive action. The attack on Finland was decisive. We were wrong, Trotsky was wrong, we must adjust. Rather than backing the imperialist West or imperialist Russia, there is a "Third Camp", the army of international Socialism not tied in any way to Berlin-Moscow or Paris-London. Burnham and Shachtman, as editors, declare their intention to publish their opinion. Having been forewarned, they know this is a split, but according to their figures, 40% of the membership and 75% of the youth movement support them. The Trotsky camp accuses them of stealing the magazine. In May 1940, there are two magazines. The "Majority" line, the Trotsky line, is called "The Fourth International" and it has a new group of editors. The "Minority" line is Burnham and Shactman. Burnham immediately rethinks all his Marxist convictions and resigns all Socialist positions, writes a book about the new world to come, becomes an OSS agent, and starts a new career as anti-communist editor of William Buckley's conservative magazine.

Evansville, Ind.

Dear Comrades,

I have exchanged several letters recently, or since the big whoop and holler started in the party, with various comrades who always ask - "What is your position?" In the beginning (the first 2 letters) I answered serenely, "I'm for the majority, the official position, everything adopted by the last convention," etc. It's not so easy as that now. When I got the minority publication on Bureaucratic Conservatism I was bored. I realized there was some merit in certain accusations but not enough to warrant a convention. That seems to have been long ago, so much has been said since. So much ill feeling has been aroused, so little accomplished.

I had several times started to reduce to writing my ideas on the subject, but found too much writing was involved for before I had completed my case either a majority or minority publication would be received which altered my outlook. I have these two partially completed before me now. I have since crept off in a neutral corner. Nothing will tempt me to put myself on record unless I have my questions answered.

I'm given broadsides from both sides. I'm asked to form an opinion.

My opinion is -

I don't have to support either side.

I hate to support anything I don't understand.

I wont accept comrade Trotsky's statements just because it's Trotsky (this is crossed out in the original)

Each side has made statements denied by the others. I can't be sure of accuracy of material on which opinion is based.

Normally we outsiders aren't told too much, only when suckers are wanted to put this or that over in a dispute. I don't know why (the) party is bogged down.

I'm alone here and get my inner party disputes thru the mail. I seldom get a reply from ghq(?) to an urgent question until long after I've been forced to act on my own judgment. (don't ask me to cite more than 2 or 3 examples - I don't keep a diary).

I don't believe side issues should be brought into the dispute. I consider the row over dialectical materialism as a side issue. I believe getting the right answer is more important than using the right method. The party can't expect us to use dialectics, it has never given us instruction. The public library likewise has nothing on it. Conze's book (only thing I have on subject) is no help at all. I'm just a working stiff and those who imagine the revolution must be postponed until American proletariat learn Hegel are nuts.

Sticking label "petty bourgeois" on an opponent is no proof at all that his ideas are wrong. If I could get whole petty bourgeois population of U.S. to accept our program I believe party would be glad to recruit them - since almost no other converts are available.

I'm saying nothing more until I know how each group answers these questions.

1. In the present war in Finland we
a. hope USSR gets licked.
b. hope USSR wins.

2. If USSR enters war we
a. will work with Stalin to beat enemy.
b. will work against Stalin to beat enemy.

3. If we lose at the convention
a. we will stay in the party.
b. we will split from the party.

p.s. why doesn't party start a circulation or lending library? I'm always broke and can't buy Marx and Lenin except in 25ยข size.