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Erich Fromm, Alex Garber & Max Shachtman: the Foreign Policy Debates

April 30, 2013
by Lawrence Gulotta

Alex Garber’s article, “Berlin: The key to the International Crisis,”  in the Spring 1962 Socialist Call, singled a rupture between Erich Fromm and Max Shachtman and his followers on Socialist Foreign Affairs, in particular on nuclear disarmament, the peace movement, the status of Berlin, German rearmament, Eastern Europe, the “Russian Question,” and the Cold War. See

 Dr. Alex Garber had sufficient magnetism among students that he twice formed 30 member YPSL Chapters at the University of Colorado at Boulder and California State University at Sacramento. Dr. Garber influenced YPSL foreign policy into the 1970s.  I regard Dr. Garber as Max Shachtman’s spokesperson on international affairs.  Garber recruited Penn Kemble, Tom Milstein, Ms. Sally Muravchik (Sally Milstein), David Jessup, and numerous other YPSL luminaries. This cadre would go on to play important roles in the AFL-CIO’s international affairs activities and ultimately, neo-conservativism. 

Dr. Garber argues in the Socialist Call, “….Unilateralists insinuate that the West’s abandonment of the Bomb will undermine the Soviet annihilative stand.” Dr. Garber notes that this “mystique of exemplary action” is psychologizing international relations and trying to build a foreign policy around a psychological presumption. Further, he notes, “To be preoccupied with the Weapon as is the unilateralist, tends to substitute a moral stance for political analysis.” (emphasis added). By 1962, Fromm was advising the Oval Office about steps to be taken toward disarmament.

Garber advocates the essential position of Shachtmanite foreign policy, “the West should reaffirm national self-determination for all peoples including the Germans,” and “national self-determination among all the satellite peoples,” and “offer material and military aid to any popular rebellion showing promise and success.” 

Garber believes his approach , “can lay the groundwork for demilitarization of all Europe and perhaps universal disarmament itself.” There were members of the Independent Socialist League, as early as the mid-1950s, who met and discussed the feasibility of offering material and military aid to Eastern European liberation movements. By the 1970s, Tom David Kahn, Max Shachtman’s disciple, was implementing this policy in Poland as International Affairs Director of the AFL-CIO.

The Worker’s Party/ISL/YSL apparently nurtured a young Albert Wolhstetter, a mathematically gifted comrade, in the 30s and  40s, who went on to become a prominent “defense intellectual,” working for the RAND Corporation  and the Defense Department. An auditorium at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC is named in his honor.  In 1958 he wrote  ‘The Delicate Balance of Terror,”  highly influential in shaping the thinking of the Washington foreign policy establishment, particularly in its emphasis on the looming threat of Soviet attack.

Dr. Fromm goes on to co-found the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Amnesty International. His sizable income from royalties from his books allows him to contribute heavily to these organizations.  In the case of AI, Fromm kept the organization funded for the first 10 years of its existence.  I doubt that post 1965, Fromm contributed significantly to the SP-SDF, if at all.  The Party launched, together with ADA leader John Kenneth Galbraith, the Negotiations Now! campaign. Negotiations Now! was as far as the Shachtmanites were willing to go in the peace movement.  Meanwhile, the anti-Viet Nam War movement grows and grows.

Max Shachtman’s foreign policy template was to be increasing applied to the SP-SDF/YPSL’s  political work, precluding an opening to the burgeoning peace movement.


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