Reply to Carl Davidson


posted to on March 14, 2005


(Carl Davidson was a leader of the new left in the 1960s and early 1970s. Along with other SDS'ers and Guardian newspaper figures--he was associated with both--Davidson discovered "Marxism-Leninism" in the mid 1970s, which meant Maoist ultraleftist party-building experiments of the sort described by Max Elbaum in "Revolution in the Air." For the Maoists, a large part of the CPUSA traditions remained valid, especially those that figured heavily during the period when Stalin was dictating policies. This meant accepting the party line on WWII, which tended to blur class distinctions between trade unions and the black community on one side and the American ruling class on the other. Supposedly the war was being fought to defend democracy rather than Anglo-American imperialist interests. Davidson defends this perspective in a comment on "Unrepentant Marxist," a blog I maintain that consists exclusively of longer posts made originally on Marxmail. He also defends backing John Kerry in the last election. Davidson nowadays is affiliated with the Committees of Correspondence, a group that I belonged to briefly until I discovered how committed they were to working in the DP. My reply to Davidson follows his comments, which appear under my original blog entry titled "Left in form, right in essence," a reference to a pamphlet written by Davidson in his Maoist phase. It can be read at:


Carl Davidson:

I just now came across these comments you made a while back. While there are surely a number of things in that old pamphlet I would put differently today, Louis, I'm curious about what you find so offensive as to call that particular quote a 'disgusting smear.'


Didn't the Trotskyists take a 'revolutionary defeatist' line toward the US government in WW2?


Didn't they oppose the Allied offensive against Hitler, when it finally came, by calling for the revolutionary defeat of both sides, which had no basis in any real revolutionary leadership on the ground, especially in fascist Germany?


Didn't they also call for the political overthrow of the CPSU in the Soviet Union during WW2?


Didn't they also oppose Mao's effort to work with those elements of the Chinese bourgeoisie, mainly in the KMT, who were also willing to fight Japan in WW2?


If any of this isn't true historically, I'm willing to be corrected. I wouldn't call WW2 a 'peoples war.' To a certain extent it was, but it was much more complex than that. It was at least four wars at once: an anti-colonial war by China and others against fascist Japan, Italy and Germany; a war of self-defense by the USSR against fascist Germany; an inter-imperialist war between the bourgeois democratic bloc and the fascist bloc of great powers; and a popular resistance to the fascists in the countries occupied by them.


But I'm very clear on which side was basically a just cause and which was unjust, which I would have wanted to see defeated and which side do the the defeating, which army I would have joined and which I would have opposed.


All these forces together made up the 'united and popular front against fascism,' with all its strengths and weaknesses that, when all is said and done, brought about the demise of the Third Reich and it allies. And the fact remains that the Trotskyists of the time opposes this particular united front with another supposedly more revolutionary version that existed only in their revolutionary imagination and pamphlets.


Would you have tried to mount mass antiwar protests against the D-Day Invasion of Normandy at the time? That's what 'revolutionary defeatism' would mean in practice in WW2, wouldn't it?


I know these are uncomfortable questions for those who want to defend every major policy of Trotskyism, since the idea that it was right for all countries to be 'defencist' against fascism and to join together to crush Hitler is now nearly hegemonic across the board.


But just because a situation is uncomfortable, it doesn't mean you call and apparant statement of the facts a 'digusting smear' and just leave it at that, does it?


I should also say that I wouldn't use any of this to attack Nader-Camejo. I supported their right to run and told those clamoring for them to get off the ballot to lighten up, because whatever differences we had in this election, the Nader-Camejo forces and other Greens are our longer term allies.


But I also read Camejo's 'Avocado Statement.' It basically calls for aiming the main blow at the Democratic Party these days, since the Dems are the main 'social prop' of the Republicans, and if that means the GOP and the right get stronger, so be it. We'll deal with them later, after we clean up the debris. I think that piece of it is a bit ultraleft, don't you?


Perhaps you think it's just fine. But my diagreement with Camejo is over tactics, not objectives. I don't think the Dems can be reformed. I want a breakup of the Dems too, and replaced with a people's party. But I want to find a way to do it that strengthens the progressive forces and not the far right. But that's another discussion...


Carl Davidson, Chicago




Just to recapitulate, this is the quote from Davidson that I found disgusting:


"The Trotskyists believe they are the only authentic practitioners of the policy of the united front. Yet in practice, they have opposed full implementation, either from rightist or 'leftist' positions. The most apparent example of this role was the Trotskyist attitude toward World War 2, in which they took a 'defeatist' position towards the capitalist governments fighting the fascists, called for the 'revolutionary' overthrow of the Soviet government and opposed the united front with the national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries invaded by the fascists. The fact that the Trotskyist line led them inevitably to these positions substantiated the charge that they objectively served the interests of the fascists."


Carl, this is just a bald-faced lie. The Trotskyists *supported* the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. They argued--quite rightly--that the imperialists would not fight resolutely and that it would require a revolutionary mobilization to do the job. Their position was analogous to Radical Republicans during the Civil War who were sharply critical of any temporizing by Lincoln and big business interests, but fought in the union army to crush the confederacy.


SWP members served in the military or in the merchant marines. One of them, Sol Dollinger, was a friend of mine and a subscriber to Marxmail until his death. His wife Genora Johnson Dollinger was a leader of the Flint auto workers woman's auxiliary during the sit-down strikes. Sol was on a boat that was torpedoed on the way to Murmansk. He spent 6 months in a Soviet hospital recovering from his wounds.


Sol, like all other SWP members, talked politics with their fellow soldiers or sailors. They stressed the imperialist nature of the war, especially in the Pacific, but never sought to undermine the war effort. In other words, they behaved in exactly the opposite manner as SWP members who were drafted in the 1960s and 70s. Those SWP members sought to emulate the spirit of *resistance* that manifested itself in the "Bring Us Home" movement immediately after WWII, when troops stationed in the far east protested moves to involve them in the war against Mao's Red Army.


With respect to the ostensible examples you offer of SWP "defeatism", they are both unduly hypothetical and ridiculous. You write, "Would you have tried to mount mass antiwar protests against the D-Day Invasion of Normandy at the time? That's what 'revolutionary defeatism' would mean in practice in WW2, wouldn't it?"


Actually, the SWP would never have organized such a protest but it surely did support A. Philip Randolph's proposed March on Washington, which demanded equal rights for African-Americans. It also opposed the No Strike Pledge forced upon the trade union movement by the CPUSA. The SWP believed that a war against fascism abroad should not encourage the "democratic" ruling class at home to exploit working people above and beyond what takes place normally.


Finally, on the question of the Democratic Party. You assert that you are in favor of a "people's party." Carl, you should realize that Gus Hall always favored the construction of a "people's party," even when the CPUSA backed LBJ to the hilt. This kind of lip service is essential to maintaining some kind of credibility in the radical movement. It is understandable that somebody who had spent a lifetime taking marching orders from the Kremlin would develop a finely honed ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth. It is singularly depressing, however, to see a 1960s fire-breathing radical like yourself end up in the same position today as the Gus Hall of the 1960s. When you use Marxist jargon to back a slug like John Kerry, you deserve to get nailed on the Internet along with Ted Glick and other opponents of independent political action.


You and other apologists for John Kerry led the radical movement into a *defeat*. It would be better for you to come to terms with your own failure rather than to scold people like Peter Camejo or myself. If the 1960s was about anything, it was about the need to build a radical movement from the bottom up. In order to do so, we need honesty and principles of the kind that marked the left before it became tainted with Stalinism. Our exemplar should be Eugene V. Debs rather than Gus Hall. Remember what Debs said: "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it."