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New International, January–February 1950



The Need for Politics


From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 1, January–February 1950, pp. 3–4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The past decade, apart from its tremendous political developments, has seen a significant shift in the political temper of American life. The over-all political scene has been marked by the rise of a sickly neo-liberalism, a liberalism intimately tied to the development of state bureaucracy, semi-permanent war economy, and the welfare-garrison concept of the capitalist state. On the part of large masses of people, the support of this neo-liberalism has been motivated by a lack of faith in the ability of unrestricted capitalism to provide a healthy economy and by a wish for increasing services and legislative reforms. But it has been a catastrophe of this period that just as this increasing politicalization, primitive to be sure but still significant, has been taking place among sections of the middle class and the working class, there has occurred a severe disintegration of political commitments and interests among intellectuals and radicals.

It is possible to trace this disintegration in three distinct though overlapping stages. First, the movement away from Marxism which began in the second half of the 1930’s; then, the loss of interest in political theory as a whole (who does not remember the numerous ex-Marxists who promised to develop substitute conceptions and, in the press of writing OWI leaflets or composing articles for The New Leader, never managed to get around to it?); and thirdly, the loss of interest in politics as such. Everyone is familiar with this latter phenomenon: the world-weariness of people who gave as much as two of their best college years to the movement; the guilty contempt of those who learned, so to speak, their ABC’s in the movement and then, having used it as a stepping stone to a personal career, would mumble about “values,” ”morality,” and “reconsiderations.” Everyone is familiar with the heroes of yesterday who discovered the flaws of Marxism and then, as if in revenge, retired to the glory of trade-union flunkeydom, publicity composition and city planning.

As for ourselves we reiterate the need for politics: politics as an inevitable necessity under the present circumstances of society. Without politics, there can be no solution of the problems that threaten to destroy what is left of modern civilization. Without politics, the private islands of escape are certain to be blown into nothingness by the realities of the modern world. Without politics, the only future, no matter how uneasily pleasant the momentary interregnum of quasi-prosperity, is war, totalitarianism, death. Either we shall attend to politics – or it will attend to us.

There has probably never before been a time in 20th century American life when the radical political atmosphere was so atomized. Not only is there the visible flight to rotten compromise and ancient utopias; almost all political life, of no matter what radical variety, seems on the decline. Dwight Macdonald’s Politics, a whimsically entitled magazine which served certain journalistic uses skillfully until its editor attempted to work out new political programs, has ended its existence. The Modern Review, which recently announced ambitious plans for revival under more sophisticated Social-Democratic auspices, has folded up – and in view of the Social-Democratic resources and “connections,” it is hard to believe that its demise was due to financial reasons. The organ of the Socialist Party, a sad little sheet for so boastful an organization, is of an abysmally low intellectual level; and in any case is merely awaiting the happy day when the Social Democrats will allow it to cut its throat. And the Fourth International is trapped in its sterile, almost ludicrous sectarianism, its gross stupidity of the “finished program,” and its stubborn unwillingness to allow reality to affect its thinking.

We say these things less in anger than in sorrow, for the disintegration of these radical journals is due, not to the growth of some healthier tendency, but to the decline of the radical movement as a whole. But we feel, nonetheless, that there is today a great need for a journal which shall view world events and intellectual developments from the viewpoint of Marxism – ready to battle intransigently for its ideas, yet generous in spirit and objective in tone, willing to consider and reconsider all questions once more. (Our objection, incidentally, to those who say that all aspects of Marxism must be reconsidered is less to their statement of wish than their failure to do anything about it.)

What is above all necessary is the reconstitution of a radical milieu; an arena of discussion and controversy, clarification and challenge. To this end, The New International rededicates itself anew, and extends an invitation to all socialists, both those who agree with its general position and those who disagree with one or another of its views, to contribute to its pages. In our new format, which we hope will make for more convenient reading, and our new frequency of appearance, which will result in about the same quantity of printed material over a given year as was possible before, we shall speak for the need for politics, for theory, and for Marxism.

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Last updated on 18 October 2018