Hal Draper

Books You Should Know

The New Men of Power

(18 October 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 42, 18 October 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The New Men of Power: America’s Labor Leaders
by C. Wright Mills
Harcourt, Brace, N.Y., 1948, 323 pp., $3.50.

The polite clichés of book-reviewing have never figured much in our press, fortunately; and so I hope it will be taken literally when I say: Mills’ book MUST be read by anyone interested in American labor, its perspectives and prospects, and the. perspectives and prospects of capitalist society in the U.S.

The author is the director of Columbia University’s Labor Research Division of the Bureau of Applied Social Research. But it is not merely just another book on the labor movement. And the title may. give the misleading impression that its scope is narrower than it really is. Actually it is not only the “labor leaders” in the sense of the trade- union officialdom who are here dissected – although much space is given to them and a heap of very interesting material assembled, some for the first time – but Mills’ method throughout is to discuss his topics’ in terms of the political and social viewpoints of class groups, in the context of the continuous struggle for class power that runs through society.

Dr. Mills’ point of view may be fairly described as generally Marxist with a violent effort to avoid “jargon,” that is, the standard terminology of the Marxist movement itself. (To achieve this he invents his own special jargon and, I believe, a less accurate and workable one at that; but such is usually the price of the sometimes laudable aim of avoiding Marxist terminology.) Naturally, to describe his viewpoint as generally Marxist is not equivalent to endorsing all of his conclusions and detail analyses, nor does it gainsay the fact that Mills does not push his conclusions as far as the content itself demands.

But in this brief notice, what is most important is that the reader will find his picture of the American labor movement today enormously stimulating and provocative of thought and understanding – from his statistical descriptions of the labor officialdom (AFL and CIO compared and contrasted) to his final chapters on the basic social and programmatic questions facing trade-unionism.

“Political Publics”

Mill’s opening chapter presents six political ideologies in terms of which his factual material is discussed. In his own jargon, these are:

  1. The “far left” or “Leninist left, as represented primarily by the two Trotskyist parties.”
  2. The “independent left,” vague by definition: “Until recently, many of them read such magazines as Politics and Partisan Review. Now Partisan Review has more or less retreated from left- wing political life, and Politics has become admittedly tired of politics and even of life.”
  3. The “liberal center,” in which is also included the New Leader and the Socialist Party.
  4. The Communist Party.
  5. The “practical right” or “practical conservatives,” by which term is meant the businessmen shortsightedly concerned with day-to-day measures for carrying on the class war of business against unionism.
  6. The “sophisticated conservatives” (like Fortune magazine), the more intelligent capitalist ideologists and leaders working in terms of a longer-range aim.

A large part of the book is devoted to presenting the very interesting results of the researches undertaken over a period of years by Dr. Mills’ research organization; the attitude of the “mass public” toward labor and labor leaders; the comparative views, backgrounds, education, etc., of labor leaders – CIO and AFL, upper strata and lower officialdom, city, state and national hierarchies, etc. On the background of a running factual study, excellent chapters are devoted to the spinelessness and futility of the “liberal rhetoric,” the connection between labor racketeering and the foundations of capitalism, the labor leaders’“‘image of business,” etc.

Issues Before Labor

The final section on social trends and alternatives in labor politics constitutes an essay very much worth reading for itself. Mills emphasizes the trend toward the bureaucratization of the relations between labor and the state, and this reviewer agrees with the importance he ascribes to the phenomenon:

“One of the trends characterizing U. S. society and accelerated by the New Deal is the increasing integration of real and, more particularly, potential democratic forces into the apparatus of the political state ... We cannot yet tell how fast the administration of the Taft-Hartley Law will move in this direction. But the dialectic of business and labor and government has reached a stage where the state, in the interests of domestic stability and international security, increasingly appropriates the aims of the employer and expropriates or abolishes the functions of the unions. This is the threat of increased labor-business cooperation within the system of private enterprise. This is the blind alley into which the liberal is led by the rhetoric of cooperation.”

This is excellent, and what is emphasized as the main line of countering this tendency is the necessity for the trade unions to fight on the political arena. “Only two political nublics.” writes Mills, “now seem to have programs; they represent the extreme political positions, the sophisticated right and the far left.” (Amendment: the CP also has a program of its own, outside of the other two.) And the concepts on political action cogently explained by Mills are essentially those of Labor Action.

How all this further ties up with the economic-expansionist aims of American capitalism on the international arena and with the drift toward a permanent war economy in the U.S. makes more valuable reading. But if we have not already made clear by this time why this book MUST be read, we do not have the space to do greater justice to it. In the spate of “books on labor,” it stands out like a fairly healthy thumb in the midst of a lot of sore ones.

Last updated on 5 October 2018