A Timely Pamphlet

(July 1938)

Books for Workers, Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 28, 9 July 1938, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

What Is Socialism?
by Albert Goldman
48 pp. New York. Pioneer Publishers. 10 cents

The pressing need for explaining the revolutionary position on current problems and advanced aspects of socialist policy has meant that up to now the reformists have preempted the field of cheap popular pamphlets which set forth the elementary notions of the socialist philosophy. For the worker who wants to know what socialism is, before entering upon a consideration of more abstruse questions, there has been little that one could furnish since the publication of Engels’ Socialism Utopian and Scientific, other than the usual essays on Fabian socialism by Laidler or the tracts put out by the Old Guard social-democrats when they were still in control of the Socialist Party. The new pamphlet by Albert Goldman is the first published which answers the question “What is Socialism?” on the basis of the real problems of today and from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism. That in itself is enough to indicate why it should be in the hands of every questioning worker.

A Concrete Approach

The three lectures were originally delivered before a study group of trade union workers in Chicago, and it is one of the characteristics of the pamphlet that it approaches the question not from the side of abstract doctrine but from the viewpoint of the workers’ experiences and problems. Goldman begins by posing the three major problems facing the workers: unemployment and insecurity, the low standard of living which exists under capitalism for the masses even in the best of times, and war. It goes on to show how socialism would solve these problems.

In simple terms he sketches the socialist answer to the basic questions: what the profit system is and why it leads to the subjection of the working class; the cause of unemployment and crises; why capitalism must engage in a murderous imperialist war; how socialism would raise the standard of living of the masses. Is socialism contrary to “human nature?” Isn’t it enough to defend “democracy” and thereby gain what we want? Goldman answers with a clear explanation of the Marxist philosophy of why things happen in present-day society, emphasizing throughout that the struggle of the classes lies at the bottom of the question.

Applying Principles

More than half the pamphlet, however, deals with the application of socialist principles to actual problems of the day – the Popular Front, united front, what kind of party is needed by the workers, the Communist and Socialist Parties, revolutionary internationalism, etc. Above all is emphasized the question of the present situation of the Soviet Union, which to so many workers stands as a question mark over the whole ideal of the socialist society; and the author fulfills his promise “to show the reasons why the situation in the Soviet Union is so contrary to the theories and ideals of socialism, and that conditions in the Soviet Union, instead of disproving socialist theories, actually confirm them.”

As is true of most attempts to compress an explanation of socialism in a small number of pages, some points are over-simplified (for example, the section on the cause of crises) and others are treated in too abstract a manner. In any case, a whole series of elementary propaganda pamphlets is needed along the lines of this one. The success of What is Socialism? should be a good start.


Last updated on 11 September 2015