New York: Workers Party, 1940. Mimeographed sheets, stapled at left, 8.5 x 11 inches, 8 pp. Pencil marginalia and minor toning to sheets. Item #30
Original mimeograph sheets containing James Burnham’s (1905–1987) resignation from the Workers Party together with a response from the Party’s Political Committee. The Workers Party was born out of prolonged factional infighting within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and was organized in 1940 when Burnham, Max Shachtman, and other Trotskyists (estimated at forty percent of the SWP membership) resigned from the SWP in opposition to the Soviet invasion of Finland and the USSR’s direction under Stalin. Although Burnham supported the split, his alliance with Trotsky and Trotskyism, which dated back to the early 1930s, was in its final stage. Throughout his years as a Trotskyist, Burnham had sought to formulate an “American approach” to Marxism capable of addressing American, as opposed to European, causes and concerns. His youthful alignment with the Marxist program included his establishment of the American Workers Party in 1933 with fellow American philosopher and social democrat, Sidney Hook, and a sustained correspondence with Leon Trotsky. Despite his tireless efforts on behalf of several Trotskyist organizations, and his prolific writing campaign in defense of their principles, Burnham became disillusioned with Marxism’s utopian and ideological foundations, leading him to break with the Workers Party in 1940 and to terminate his alignment with Marxism. In this Supplement, Burnham memorializes his rejection of Marxism: “I reject, as you know, the ‘philosophy of Marxism,’ dialectical materialism. I have never, it is true, accepted this philosophy…On no ideological, theoretic or political ground, then, can I recognize, or do I feel, any bond or allegiance to the Workers Party (or to any other Marxist party). That is simply the case, and I can no longer pretend about it, either to myself or to others.” He concludes that, “[b]elieving as I do, I cannot wish success to the Workers Party; but I can and do wish its members well.” In the appended response from the Political Committee of the Workers Party, the Committee finds that “[t]he letter of resignation of James Burnham from the Workers Party makes it crystal clear that he has abandoned the struggle against the war and for socialism.” Indeed, he had, for in the following year Burnham would strike out in a conservative direction with the publication of his influential book The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World. In the years to follow, Burnham would help to found National Review with William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955 and lead the American post-war conservative movement. These original mimeograph sheets record Burnham’s final break from his Trotskyist past, and they remain an important artifact of American conservatism.