Hal Draper

Hook Purges Marxism

(May 1941)

From New International, Vol. 7 No. 4, May 1941, pp. 76–82.
Written: by Hal Draper under the name “Paul Temple“
Transcribed & marked up: by Damon Maxwell for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread: Einde O’Callaghan (December 2012).

AMONG THE STRICTLY MINOR successes of Marxist analysis is the outcome of Professor Sidney Hook’s political evolution. Two and a half years ago Burnham and Shachtman pointed out in their New International article, Intellectuals in Retreat, this his political course was leading him straight to old-fashioned reformism. This prediction, after an interval of a year and a half, was verified by Hook in documented form with the publication of his last book, Reason, Social Myths and Democracy, a collection of articles from various magazines. He there poses the question, “What Is Living and Dead in Marxism?” and answers it with an obituary.

An obituary it is, in spite of tentative qualifications. “How much of traditional Marxism will remain after it is scientifically purged cannot be foretold in advance,” he writes, but leaves precious little for future purgatives. Revolutionary seizure of power, dictatorship of the proletariat and soviet power are dismissed out of hand; the Marxist theory of the state is first patted on the back and then sent packing; the existence of any laws of social revolution is denied; historical materialism is implicitly condemned as so one-sided as to be false or else so ambiguous as to be incapable of present discussion.

Readers who approach this book in the hope or fear that it contains the slightest degree of novelty in the way of anti-Marxist argument or evidence are doomed to disappointment. To a great degree it could be dismissed in one sentence: “See Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx, the defense of Marxism which the same author wrote in 1933.” This is not merely to show that the man has changed his line: the very same anti-Marxian stand-bys which Towards the Understanding is largely devoted to riddling, are blandly repeated by Hook in 1940 as if he had just invented them.

One reads Reason, etc., from cover to cover without a hint that its ideas have not been part of Hook’s equipment since the cradle. It would be nasty to point out that this is typically a Stalinist procedure. It is not, however, too much to expect of an honest, scientifically objective thinker that he should “settle accounts” with his former self, especially with those works which gave him the only reputation he has. It is also relevant to add (since Hook coolly includes “Machiavellianism” as part of the nature of Bolshevism) that our own regular practice has been to change political positions by public proclamation and explanation.

Perhaps Hook is wise in not motivating, by argument and evidence, the series of assertions which make up the bulk of his “annihilation” of Marxism. For as he notes himself, he is not yet through with the purge. At the present time “Hookism” represents not so much a political position as a process. His book is a snapshot album of an intellectual in full flight; and like most still photographs of an object in rapid motion, the definition of outlines is blurred and vague.

Some Demonstrations in Scientific Method

Of science and logic he chatters,
As fine and as fast as he can;
Though I am no judge of such matters,
I’m sure he’s a talented man.
– W.M. Praed.

Before proceeding to take up the roster of Marxist principles, Hook presents three reasons why Marxism is unscientific. We consider them now in order to display his critical methods.

(1) “Historical reason”:

“What is meant for anything to be a science was determined by the nineteenth century formulations of Engels which were already antiquated at the time he penned them. It was a deistic view of the world without Deity in which terms like infinity, necessity, universality were used in emotionally free but intellectually unprecise ways.”

Neither Marx nor Engels ever sat down to “formulate” the scientific method. But it is not here a question of a general and all-embracing definition. Hook is concerned specifically with the question: How is the truth of a statement to be ascertained, and how is a meaningless abstraction to be distinguished from a meaningful assertion? For Hook a statement is meaningful “if we know how to go about testing it, and what would constitute evidence tending to confirm or refute it.”

Good, truth is ascertained in practice and verified by the consequences of action; and this concept was not prevalent in Marx’s day. But it was Marx who proclaimed precisely this principle in his Theses on Feuerbach:

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth ...” (Thesis II.)

Hook knows this: in 1933 he devoted a chapter to demonstrating the scientific character of Marxism, basing himself on Marx’s writings. In 1940 he “proves” the reverse ... by ignoring Marx and referring to unspecified, uncited “antiquated formulations of Engels.”

But let us keep in mind the criterion for a meaningful statement and apply it to Hook’s second reason.

(2) “Analytic reason”:

“It [Marxism] would assert: ‘Marxism is not a dogma’ but it never made clear what the difference was between a dogma and an hypothesis.”

Hook need only call to mind the second half of this truncated citation: “Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action.” (Emphasis mine. – P.T.)

“It looked to experience, but only to confirm Marxist pronouncements, not to test them.”

What does this sentence mean? Hook cannot mean that Marx, Lenin, Trotsky or the other great theoreticians of Marx-ism never posed the question: “Do these facts refute Marxism?” On the contrary, the history of Marxism is a long polemic against alleged facts refuting Marxism – from Duhring to Bernstein to Hook. He can only be saying: “Yes, they pre-tended to take them up but they were not really, subjectively interested in testing Marxism thereby but only anxious to slay their critics.” But it is as impossible to refute such an assertion about the psychology of these men as it is to prove it (and Hook, here and throughout, does not even make a show of proving such assertions). It is strictly unverifiable nonsense, in Hook’s terminology.

But isn’t the professor confirmed by the fact that every time the Marxists looked at experience, they did as a matter of fact draw the conclusion that Marxism was thereby confirmed and never drew the conclusion that it was refused? That is precisely why they remained Marxists. While on innumerable occasions specific conclusions arrived at, or statements made by, Marx and his successors have been discarded by the movement on the basis of the test of experience, we are certainly not convinced that history has invalidated the Marxist method or its basic principles; on the contrary.

Hook’s nonsense boils down to this: either (a) Marxists are by nature, and because of their Marxism, incapable of accepting evidence invalidating Marxism – a proposition refuted by the existence of Hook himself; or (b) the trouble with Marxists is that they believe history has confirmed their theory. Again:

“We search in vain in the canonic writings of the pre-war or post-war periods for any indication as to what empirical evidence Marxists were prepared to accept as constituting even a possible refutation of their doctrines.”

This is truly amazing. Bernstein, Böhm-Bawerk, Struve, Professor Carver and a century of anti-Marxists threw volumes of “empirical evidence” at the movement and the Marxists accepted their challenge because they constituted “a possible refutation of their doctrines.” Of course, they were “dogmatic” enough to go about refuting this evidence, as Kautsky and others did in the case of Bernstein’s contention that class antagonisms were softening. But that is not a crime against scientific method.

And where is Hook’s empirical evidence against Marxism? Unlike his more distinguished predecessors, there is scarcely a shred of empirical evidence, appeal to facts, presented in the whole section. Hook’s purge of Marxism is based almost exclusively upon “logical” analyses, bald assertions, psychological probings into the Marxist subconscious.

(3) The last two of these three methods are used exclusively in putting forward the third reason for the unscientific character of Marxism. Marxists, says Hook, have “never” considered the relationship between their socialist ideals and their means. In actuality, he means that we have not come to his conclusions in making such consideration. In writing, to concretize his generalizations, he makes only one concrete reference.

“Before the First World War, ‘the propaganda of the Marxist movement was infused with moral passion and idealism.” But “with the coming of the Bolsheviks” these faded into the background! There you have the historical distinction between the old rotten Second International and the Leninists – the “moral passion” of Kautsky and Legien, Hillquit and Algernon Lee, and its absence in Lenin and Trotsky, Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

As a matter of fact. Hook is half right: the pre-war socialist movement substituted “moral passion” for revolutionary agitation for the same reason that it substituted practical opportunism for revolutionary action. Norman Thomas’ highly “moral” declamations against capitalism demonstrate how necessary it is for the opportunist to resort to a steady fare of idealistic verbiage as a substitute for a political program.

Hook’s Critical Methods

Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying!
– Shakespeare

We shall find the section just discussed typical of Hook’s critical method in Reason, Social Myths and Democracy, (1) A complete lack of documentation for crucial statements on what Marx or “the Marxists” believe. Hook can even remark that Marx believed in the possibility of peaceful revolution without adding a word of qualification, a half-sentence of explanation, or even a reference note for check.

(2) This characteristic merges into another: outright falsification and distortion. The example given in the above paragraph is close to this category – for Hook, who has written whole chapters disproving the assertion he now flings out in a phrase. But there are more direct examples. Here is how Hook quotes Lenin:

“There is no more eloquent testimony of the practical ruthlessness and theoretical naiveté of Lenin than his reply to those dissident communists who warned against the cult of political leadership which was involved in the Bolshevik substitution of the dictatorship of the party for working class democracy. ‘The mere presentation of the question,’ he says, ‘[of] “dictatorship of the party or the dictatorship of the class” is ... childishness . . . evidence of the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind.’ To contrast the dictatorship of leaders and the dictatorship of the masses, he adds, ‘is ridiculously absurd and stupid.’ It is worse. It is ‘repudiation of the party, principle and party discipline . . . for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. It is to carry out the work of the agent-provocateur.’ His discussion never even reached the level of an argument.”

I have reproduced this paragraph exactly as it appears in Hook’s volume, with all the excisions. Hook gives the source: Selected Works, Eng. ed., vol. x, pp. 80ff. Look it up; it is the famous Left-Wing Communism. [1]

Hook conveys the notion – does he not? – that a group of democratically inclined communists protested against the concept of party dictatorship and that Lenin merely threw epithets at their heads. The fact is the reverse!

(a) The dissident communists involved were the “Left communists” who were opposed to parliamentary action and working in the reactionary trade unions. Far from opposing the concept of one-party dictatorship, they were explicitly in favor of it, as their transition to class dictatorship. Their program stated: “The opposition ... is of the opinion that the question of the rule of the Communist Party and of its dictatorship is only a question of tactics. At all events, the rule of the Communist Party is the final form of all party rule ... Accordingly, it is necessary to reject most emphatically all compromise with other parties ...” One of their leaders wrote “The working class cannot destroy the bourgeois state without destroying bourgeois democracy, and it cannot destroy bourgeois democracy without destroying parties.” They condemned the official communists for seeking collaboration with the independent socialists. This is one-party dictatorship with a vengeance. (Incidentally, Lenin presents these facts in the pages from which Hook assembles his quotation.)

The Left communists made a distinction between party and class dictatorship, only in order to insist upon the former for the present and to present the latter as something which they must “strive toward” after all parties had been destroyed! This is what Lenin was polemizing against.

(b) Through the party dictatorship the Left communists were going to abolish all other parties and organize all workers in the “workers’ union” (red trade union). Then the class dictatorship was to come into being – with the workers’ union replacing the party as the rallying point for the revolutionists and the party itself becoming merely an educational and training instrument. In effect, the Communist Party also was to be abolished under the “class dictatorship.” This is what Lenin was polemizing against. To these ideas Lenin counterposed the concept of a class dictatorship, led by an iron party enjoying the confidence of the revolutionary workers.

(3) Hook’s third method is psychoanalysis a la Edmund Wilson, not as an addendum to an argument but as a substitute for it. This is the substance of his entire section on “The Party as Instrument,” which begins fittingly enough with the falsification of Lenin cited above. Following up the remark about Lenin’s “theoretical naivete, it continues:

“Lenin’s naiveté was the reflection of his inability to imagine that his conception of the best interests of the workers could ever in fact be different from what their best interests actually were. His indignation was a reaction to a criticism which in virtue of his naive Messianic faith, he could not interpret otherwise than as an attack upon his personal integrity. Stalin was the ‘price’ that Lenin paid for this naivety ... Given this naiveté, it was perfectly natural for Lenin to charge that the Workers’ Opposition which fought for more democracy within the Soviets was trying to overthrow the Soviet Power.”

Lenin, you see, wasn’t a bad man; he was just ... naive, took all political criticism personally, thought he was Jesus Christ himself, in short, a bad case of superiority complex. Hook sums it all up as “simple-minded infamy,” an epithet generated by a reflection upon Lenin’s detestable habit of shooting people he disagreed with. (Hook calls it “actual murder” but it would be too much to expect this scientific investigator to cite an instance; he doesn’t.)

You have before you Hook’s critical annihilation of the Leninist conception of the party. The rest of the section presents a “positive alternative” to this conception which we shall not fail to take up later. Though Hook can seriously present such psychological dribble, how distressed he would be if an answer were to be rendered in like terms:

“Professor Hook’s renegacy is to be expected of a man with a vulcanized spine; it is no accident that his running to cover coincides precisely with the outbreak of the war. His book is obviously addressed more to Chancellor Chase than to the Marxists; he bids fair to get ahead in the world. Having once entered upon the path of intellectual dishonesty, it is perfectly natural for him to lie, falsify, distort and conceal known facts in order to prove himself a useful turncoat.”

(4) The last general consideration we shall make is that Hook pretty consistently takes the Stalinists as the representatives of Marxism (without saying so) and by criticizing the former, smears the latter.

Nine out of ten times when Hook ascribes an idea to, or makes an accusation against, “the Marxists,” “most Marxists,” or “contemporary Marxist movements” (in the plural), he does not specify whom he is talking about. We may overlook this for the moment although it is his regular procedure when-ever he produces a whopper. A certain suspicion is aroused, however, when we read the following:

“The Marxist movement in every country of the world seems to have lost that sense of direction and assurance which had sustained it in previous crises. Articles of faith and doctrine have been abandoned in a precipitate scramble for slogans and formulae that will work for a day, a week, or a month” (page 106).

What “Marxist” movements, we wonder, is Hook referring to, that have lost their assurance and abandoned their doctrines? He cannot be referring to our movement, because his complaint there is that we’re too assured and too orthodox. Unless he is merely being autobiographical, can it be that the “Marxists” he is considering are the Stalinists and Social-Democrats?

“Until recently most Marxists deduced the nature of the cultural superstructure of socialism ... as a simple corollary of socialist production” (page 127).

What this describes is the New Masses school of “proletarian literature” and the Stalinist nonsense about the “Bolshevisation of culture.”

“It was not because they lacked enthusiasm that Marxists lost out to fascists in Europe. It was partly because they lacked the courage to act boldly at the height of their power, partly because their doctrines were inflexible and their specific practices unintelligent” (page 133).

There it is: the “Marxists” are ... the Stalinists and the Social-Democrats! Hook began by describing how these movements have abandoned Marxism, their “articles of faith and doctrine.” That is a count against Marxism. Then he notes that these movements (which had abandoned Marxism) failed to defeat fascism.

To confound confusion, on page 141 we find him referring to these same Stalinists and Social-Democrats as “counterfeit” Marxists, that is, they only claimed to be such and were not. This does not prevent him from using them (anonymously!) as horrible examples when it is necessary to misrepresent Marxist theory and practice.

What a congeries of deception and confusion by this very scientific professor of philosophy! On one page he can write: “The Stalinists, who have long since betrayed the ideals of socialism, still call themselves Marxists . . .” and on another draw a portrait of the Marxist soul with the Communist Party sitting as the model:

“As everyone knows who follows the day by day activity of Marxist groups, it is marked more by zealotry than intelligence, more by narrow organizational loyalty than cool appraisal of events. Slander is the weapon more often employed than argument, and hate the ruling emotion.”

The State –

We may with advantage at times forget what we know.
– Publius Syrus

Professor Hook’s method of disposing of Marx’s theory of the state is to crush it to his bosom, with the flattering remark that it is “fundamentally empirical.” But when the baby emerges from that lethal embrace, its visage has been changed beyond recognition.

“The state is what it does,” writes Hook. This may mean that the test of the class nature of the state is to be sought in an observation of state activities, not in definitions. This is perfectly correct. But what the professor means to say is that one can make no generalizations about the class nature of a given state; all that is possible is to make a series of observations holding only for given situations. Even the soundest generalizations from long experience “are formally irrelevant to the question of whether the state here and now and in respect to this proposal will act to further or frustrate the interests of a particular class.” “What it usually does gives it its class character,” but it is false to assert that “the legislatures, the courts, the army, police and militia cannot change their nature by functioning differently or for different purposes.” (Hook’s emphasis.) It is a Marxist error to believe that the state is still acting in the interests of the ruling class when “a Labor Relations Act, helpful to workers, was adopted in the teeth of organized opposition by employers.”

It is said, continues Hook, that in the case of the Labor Relations Act “the ‘ruling class’ yielded to pressure in order to escape more drastic demands being made up on.” (The quotes around “ruling class” are his. Apparently he does not subscribe to the term.) He answers: “But the fact that the ‘ruling class’ could be made to yield is just as significant in understanding the nature of the state as its reasons for yielding.” (My emphasis. – P.T.)

Certainly, the susceptibility of the state to pressure from below, the degree to which it will yield and the form in which this pressure is exerted, bear upon the difference between the fascist-totalitarian state and the democratic state – i.e., upon the political form of the capitalist state. If Hook is accusing us, the Marxists (not the third-period Stalinists), of overlooking this important difference, he is asserting a falsehood. But his implication here (and Hook works greatly through implied rather than frontal attacks) is that somehow the democratic capitalist state is less, or not at all, a capitalist class state. From this point on he can proceed to develop theories in which the capitalist democracies function in practice as non-class organizations.

To bolster this non-class theory of the state, our professor appeals to ... Marx. Not, you understand, by referring to a line he ever wrote (he exhausted all the quotations in proving the opposite in Towards the Understanding) , but by assertion:

“Now, historically Marx may have been justified in asserting that in a given situation in a given country the state institutions, in virtue of their traditions and personnel, could not function to achieve socialist purposes, and that the workers and their allies, therefore, could not rest with capturing the state machinery but had to destroy it. [My emphasis. – P.T.] But Lenin converted the conclusion of a specific analysis into a dogma and asserted that by its very nature, the existing state could never under any circumstances change its nature by new uses and new functions. He defined the state in such a way as to preclude this possibility.”

It would be useless to ask wherein Lenin’s definition or views on the state differed from those of Marx and Engels. Hook says not a word more about this new-found distinction between Marx and Lenin. But note:

“(1) Hook passes from “The state is what it does,” to “The state at any moment in any situation is what it does in that situation.” We know the character of a given state only from specific situation to situation. To generalize on the class nature of that state as a guide to future action is a metaphysical vagary of the Marxists. This is the sheerest vulgar empiricism: we know only what is before our noses; one cannot dogmatically assert that the National Guard may not be used to herd the company bosses into jail and install the strikers into workers’ control of the plant!

(a) Is it merely because of its “traditions and personnel” that the capitalist state’s class character is determined, according to Marx’s theory? Nonsense: basically, it is because of the capitalists’ control of economic power. But this fact is precisely the one which disrupts Hook’s pretty non-class theory. His sleight-of-hand, put forward in a parenthetical phrase, enables him to imply that the way to change the class character of the state and achieve socialism is by changing the personnel and then ignoring the traditions. And of course capitalist democracy itself offers the method of “changing personnel,” namely, the ballot box ... Like the rest of the book, this link between reformist state theory and reformist practice was already noted in Towards the Understanding (page 262):

“Sometimes it is even expected that the existing state will gradually abolish capitalism and introduce socialism. This dangerous illusion disappears once it is realized that the existing state cannot be dissociated from the existing economic society.”

– And Revolution

Mortality, behold and fear!
What a change of flesh is here!
– Inscription on Tombs in Westminster Abbey

This dissociation of the state from capitalist economy and its conversion into a non-class institution is, as it always has been, only the prelude to a theory of peaceful, constitutional transition to socialism. Now this theory can be (and has been) argued for on its merits. Hook does not choose to do so. He prefers once again to pin it to Marx’s coattails – in what is the most amazing passage of the entire book:

“The confusion on this point [theory of the state] was obscured by the completely independent question of whether the transition to social-ism could be achieved peacefully. From Marx’s point of view, it must be achieved peacefully; but peacefully or not, always democratically. [My emphasis. – P.T.] According to Lenin’s revision of Marx, the transition to socialism cannot be achieved either democratically or peacefully.”

At the risk of tedium, I repeat that not a word more is added to this interesting statement, incredible as it appears.

(1) There is no point in going through the long list of passages in which Marx made his views on “peaceful revolution” clear, beginning with the Communist Manifesto. But didn’t Marx once say that England and the United States might be exceptions?

  1. If it is this gray-bearded subterfuge that Hook has in mind, the paragraph is at the least, to speak very moderately, a highly dishonest representation of Marx’s views.
  2. Marx did once say in a speech (in 1872) that “we do not deny that there are certain countries, such as the United States and England, in which the workers may hope to secure their ends by peaceful means.” It was in the same year that he wrote: “It is to force that in due time the workers will have to appeal if the dominion of labor is at long last to be established.” Taking up Marx’s exception in 1886, Engels remarked: “He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling class to submit, without a ‘pro-slavery rebellion,’ to this peaceful and legal revolution.” As a matter of fact, the Leninists are also acquainted with “peaceful and legal revolutions: in 1918 the Finnish socialists captured a majority of Parliament; in 1919 the Hungarian socialists took over power peacefully from the Karolyi regime; in both cases this formal act was immediately followed by civil war and intervention. The thesis that the workers’ revolution must be based on armed force has hardly been disproved by experience.
  3. If peaceful revolution in England and America could be “hoped for” in 1872, that hope can scarcely remain after two world wars, three decades of revolution, the arrival of an era of reactionary finance-capital and bloody imperialism. In 1940 it is hardly possible for Hook to rest his case by (indirectly) referring to one sentence of Marx and ignoring the rest.
  4. As is well known, Lenin explained Marx’s exception in the above manner. In 1933 also, Hook took issue with Lenin on this point – in order to prove that Marx had no right to make the exception even in 1872! “If anything,” he wrote then, “it would have been more difficult to achieve the social revolution peacefully in these countries than elsewhere.” With utmost tolerance, we find it impossible not to make a presumption of conscious dishonesty when Hook writes the above-quoted unsupported paragraph.

(2) According to Marx the revolution is always to be achieved “democratically,” says Hook, distinguishing him from Lenin. What does “democratically” mean here? It might mean (a) through the democratic machinery, legally, constitutionally. But it is hard to believe that even Hook could rep-resent Marx (who did not consider that would ever be true with the exception noted), as asserting that it must always be so. Or it may mean (b) with the support – active or passive – of a majority of the masses. But Lenin and his present-day followers (not the Stalinists) have emphasized and argued for this principle on every occasion. Where is Lenin’s “revision”? As a matter of fact. Hook’s passage bears both implications, that Marx believed in a constitutional assumption of power and that Lenin was a putschist, thereby cramming more falsifications into two sentences than an honest man can refute in two pages.

But it is not in any of the sections explicitly devoted to that subject that Hook reveals his complete acceptance of Bernsteinian gradualism. That is to be found tucked away in a description of the ideal party:

“Its task will be to guide, and not to dictate, the organized struggle for socialism in such a way that ‘the conquest of power’ becomes a phase in the unfolding of democratic institutions and tendencies already present in the community” (page 116. My emphasis. – P.T.)

There it is, in chemically pure form. We will wake up one fine day and find that socialism has crept up on us as imperceptibly as a bald head. “My friend! Be not so lengthy in preparing the banquet, lest you die of hunger,” wrote Walter Pater, thinking of neither Bernstein nor Hook.

Blueprint for a Party

“On a level plain, mere mounds look like hills. We can measure the imbecile flatness of the modern bourgeoisie by the altitudes its great intellects can reach.” – Karl Marx

Hook has been busy for some time making clear that the root of all evil is the Leninist conception of the party. What is the alternative? “The alternative to the Leninist conception of the political party is not the traditional Social-Democratic conception,” he answers. Good! but there’s a catch.

“The latter assumed that a party dedicated to the heroic task of transforming existing society could succeed with the same organizational forms, the same leisure-time holiday effort, the same evaluation of electoral gains, which characterized capitalist parties for whom politics was, by and large, a business.”

It is not necessary to analyze fully the inadequacy of this definition of the Social-Democratic type of party to see that two vital characteristics are glossed over or omitted, (1) The structure of the Social-Democratic party is derived from its political goal – the amassing of socialist votes for election-time. If the road to socialism lies through the polling-place, all considerations must be organizationally subordinated to this.

Hence its moderate demands upon members, its toleration of autonomy for the local electoral machines of the party, its disregard for internationalism – only a complicating factor, its disciplinary control over the leftists (and over them alone) and other elements who might impair its reputation in the eyes of the good citizens, and the draconic, arbitrary measures it takes in such cases, etc. But Hook also now sees the coming of socialism along the same route; if he permits himself a sneer at the entirely logical practice of the Social-Democrats it is be-cause he himself is not confronted with the necessity for any practice at all. (2) The second characteristic of the Social-Democratic party likewise flows from its political perspective: toleration for all shades of political opinion and ideology within the ranks of the party (with the exception of the revolutionists), from the pinkest liberal to the most radical left-centrist, the latter being as useful in garnering leftward-moving workers (provided he doesn’t act like a Bolshevik) as the former is for attracting substantial burghers. This is Norman Thomas’ “all-inclusive party.” Hook doesn’t mention this vital feature of the Social-Democratic party because he him-self, as we see below, insists upon it, even in exaggerated form.

Having caricatured the Social-Democrats in order that he might be able to distinguish himself from them in words, Hook presents his own picture. We quote every word of it, especially for those who are enamored of the punctiliously precise and pellucid phraseology for which Hook is so famous in certain circles. My emphasis throughout:

“The genuine alternative to the Leninist conception of the political party is a party not less disciplined but more flexibly disciplined in virtue of a better grasp of both scientific method and the democratic process ...

“Its task will be to guide, and not to dictate, the organized struggle for socialism in such a way that ‘the conquest of power’ becomes a phase in the unfolding of democratic institutions and tendencies already present in the community.”

Aside from the political content of these words, already noted: the deep distinction between “guiding” and “dictating” is, if it has any meaning, a warning against laying down a political program in advance, for the achievement of socialism. This does not prevent Hook from doing just that in the same sentence.

“It recognizes and respects the relative autonomy of the arts and sciences from politics, and thus avoids both the horror and the foolishness of a ‘party line’ in anything but politics.”

The old forgery: as Hook well knows, Lenin’s party had no party line on art and science, nor has ours. This is Stalinism.

“It is built around principles and not a cult of leadership. Its perspective is neither one of blood and thunder nor of milk and water. It must yield to none in realism which means nothing more than applied intelligence. It therefore will have no doctrinal dogmas, acceptance of which is a prerequisite of membership.

This is all-inclusiveness which makes the Social-Democrats appear sectarian in comparison. No principles need be accepted to joint Hook’s party; still, a discipline not less than the Leninists’ is to prevail over this ideological Babel! In any case, how the “therefore” clause flows from the preceding three bromides is a mystery to applied intelligence. The enlightening passage closes with a final declamation:

“Its confidence will extend to a point where it is prepared to take account of the dangers and obstacles which its own organized activities may create, even with the best of intentions, to the successful consummation of socialism.”

Paean to Democracy

Come weal, come woe, my status is quo.
– Samuel Hoffenstein

Hook is certain that every particle of revolutionary content in Marxism must be purged. The “class struggle” is a meaningless phrase (page 263). The working class is incapable of leading the struggle for socialism. (His proof? Ironically enough in the light of the current strike wave, it is a Fortune poll purporting to show that most American workers believe that Henry Ford has done more for them than their trade unions.) Socialism itself peels down from “democratic socialism” to “economic democracy” to just plain “democracy” as the pages go by. What then is left of Marxism, with the purge still uncompleted? Nothing more than “an organized activity to achieve, by applied intelligence” economic democracy. Hook even has a candidate to succeed Marx as the “old man” of his movement – John Dewey, who represents “the best elements of Marx’s thought,” “independently developed by him and systematically elaborated beyond anything found in Marx.” We can only be grateful that after presenting this carefully strained puree-of-Marxism with Deweyan croutons, Hook concedes that probably the term “Marxism” ought also to be dropped.

What now is Hook’s “credo”? It is “the promise of the Great American Dream” (I am quoting) whose ideals are “still substantially those of the French Revolution.” It is “the democratic way of life.” But he is broadminded enough to agree that the defense of democracy in a “crucial situation” requires an approach to totalitarian control:

“Effective defense against a foreign totalitarian enemy may require extraordinary and exceptional measures of co-ordination and control. Some fear that this is the road to totalitarianism. It may be. But the alternative is certain totalitarianism. (Hook’s emphasis.)

The specific “extraordinary” measure he recommends is that any opposition group which does not confine itself within the framework of the “democratic process” be “swiftly dealt with.” In this category he lumps the revolutionary Marxists together with the Stalinists and Nazis. To put it crudely, he is advocating their immediate and forcible governmental suppression. But this does not prevent him from preaching (in the very next paragraph) that the democratic method of solving negotiable social problems is to approach them as “difficulties to be solved by experiment and analysis, not as battles to be fought out in the heat of blood lust.” With this synthesis of the best elements of J. Dewey and J. Christ, the professor retires to his brownstone tower on Washington Square.


Professor Hook’s intellectual contortions do not arise from an affection of the brain plasm or regrettable personal characteristics. It is as clear as day that they are the philosophical rationalizations of a mood of pessimism, defeatism, disappointment with the working class. For Hook says as much at the very outset of his argument: “impressive evidence of the debacle of Marxism is to be derived from a direct examination of the dwindling influence of Marxist movements on contemporary social and political affairs.” (My emphasis.) Marxism must be wrong because it has not led to victory – yet. To be sure, the influence of Hook’s democratic ideal has dwindled even more considerably in the world today. But there is this important difference, for Hook: the socialist revolution still has to be fought for; the remains of the democratic way of life need only be clutched to the bosom and held tightly: while there’s life, there’s still hope of retaining one’s stake in the present. The workers, with little stake in the present and an unprecedented amount of preoccupation about the absence of a stake for them in the future, cannot so easily give way to despair and quietism. Never has their class struggle risen to such intensity in a comparable social period; 1941 and 1916 need only be compared. And the revolutionary Marxist movement has scarcely dwindled from that of. 1916, when Lenin stood almost alone.

The workers have lost one world revolution, that of 1917–1921, and not by too great a margin. If the second revolutionary storm finds a party of revolutionary Marxism to guide its lightnings, then that destruction of civilization which will sweep away even professorships can be avoided.



1. Two minor falsifications first, (a) The fragments quoted by Hook are culled from four pages of a chapter which contains one of the most cogent discussions of the relations between party, class and masses to be found in Lenin. That his discussion never reached the level of argument may be Hook’s opinion, but his jig-saw quotation is selected to give the impression that this is all there is to the chapter, (b) The last sentence quoted by Hook is not in Lenin. The quotation mark is apparently misplaced. But it is false even as a paraphrase: Lenin makes no amalgam between Left communists and agents-provocateurs.

Last updated on: 27.12.2012