This letter was written by Trotsky in English.
February 23, 1940
I received Burnham’s “Science and Style.” The abscess is open and this is an important political advantage. The theoretical backwardness of the American “radical” opinion is expressed by the fact that Burnham repeats only—with some “modernized” illustrations—what Struve wrote in Russia more than forty years ago and to a great degree what Dühring tried to teach German Social Democracy three-quarters of a century ago. So much from the point of view of “science.” As far as “style” is concerned, I frankly prefer Eastman.
The interest of the document is not at all of a theoretical character: the thousand and first professorial refutation of dialectics has no more worth than all its precedents. But, from the political point of view the importance of the document is indisputable. It shows that the theoretical inspirer of the opposition is not at all nearer to scientific socialism than was Muste, the former associate of Abern. Shachtman mentioned Bogdanov’s philosophy. But it is absolutely impossible to imagine Bogdanov’s signature under such a document, even after his definite rupture with Bolshevism. I believe the Party should ask Comrades Abern and Shachtman, as I do at this moment: What do you think of Burnham’s “science” and of Burnham’s “style”? The question of Finland is important but it is finally only an episode and the change of the international situation, revealing the genuine factors of events, can at once dissipate the divergences on this concrete issue. But can Comrades Abern and Shachtman now, after the appearance of “Science and Style,” continue to carry the slightest responsibility, not for the poor document as such, but for Burnham’s entire conception on science, Marxism, politics, and “morals.” Those Minorityites who prepared themselves for a split should consider that they would be connected not for a week and not for the duration of the Soviet-Finnish War, but for years with a “leader” who has in his entire conception nothing in common with the proletarian revolution.
The abscess is open. Abern and Shachtman can no longer repeat that they wish only to discuss Finland and Cannon a bit. They can no longer play blind man’s bluff with Marxism and with the Fourth International. Should the Socialist Workers Party remain in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Franz Mehring, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg—a tradition which Burnham proclaims “reactionary”—or should it accept Burnham’s conceptions which are only a belated reproduction of pre-Marxian petty-bourgeois socialism?
We know too well what such revisionism signified politically in the past. Now in the epoch of the death agony of the bourgeois society, the political consequences of Burnhamism would be incomparably more immediate and anti-revolutionary. Comrades Abern and Shachtman, you have the floor!