T. A. Jackson

The Mechanics of the Mind

Source: The Communist, January 7, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

An Outline of Psychology: Plebs Text Book Number One.
The Plebs League,
11a, Penywern Road, London, S.W. 5.
Limp cloth, 2s. 6d. net.
Post paid, 2s. 9d.

THE Plebs League has earned the gratitude of the whole working-class movement, and that of all intelligent citizens by the publication of this truly excellent text book. I do not know whether to admire most the beautiful lucidity of its style, the masterly skill with which an immense amount of matter is crammed into a small compass, the clearness of the type, the general smartness of its get-up, or the really beautiful diagrams by J.F.H. The whole thing is much more than a credit to its compilers and progenitors. It is a cause of rejoicing and gives anticipation of further delights when Text Book Number One shall be followed by Numbers Two, Three, and so on up to—one feels—a hundred.

The subject of the book is one that more than any other lends itself triumphantly to the “Plebs” treatment. It enables the authors to justify in every line of its 150 pages the Plebs slogan—candid but not impartial. It is a text book, too, upon a subject on which we are all amateurs—and none proficient. However true it may be that few and weary are they who have emerged conquerors after a struggle with the three volumes of Marx’s Capital yet none the less those competent to expound the Marxian Economics are by many degrees more common than those competent to handle the subject matter of the mind and the mode of its operation.

In the course of one revolving moon, or one evening’s conversation, one may expect to be offered anything from Locke to Loeb and assorted oddments at third hand from every speculator from Plato to William Trotter. And nowadays the Freud fashion has brought upon us the Psycho-analysts to remind us of the Biblical character who only lost one devil to give habitation to seven.

The curse of it was that every one of them was so plausible and so convincing that in one’s ignorance one could but bow the head and agree, waiting until “silence like a poultice comes to heal the blows of sound” for a return to normal self-confidence. It has always seemed to me that, culturally speaking, the theoretical battle between the forces of revolution and reaction will be fought out upon grounds of psychology. The panorama of cultural advance might well be termed the Tragi-Comedy of the Spooks. When men knew little they believed much and their beliefs were and had to be of alike nature with themselves. When men knew little of the earth around them the Great Spooks abounded. They were enclosed in every tree, they lurked in every stream, they lay hidden in every bush and shadow. Every function of the body and every operation of Nature was explained by reference to some Great, Greater, or Less Great Spook. The Spooks dwelled in the land and bade fair to enjoy it for ever.

But, lo! there came a day when the land had been learned in all its parts and phases. Now that men know they had little need to guess or to believe in their guesses. So it came to be that the Great Spooks retired to the more inaccessible places, and things—to the tops of the mountains and to inner physiological recesses. When the mountains were scaled the Great Spooks retired to the skies. Chased thence by the telescope and the astronomers they doubled back into the obscurities of chemical combination and mystic metamorpheses of physical energy. Banished thence again by the advance of Chemistry and Physics, banished from the digestion, the circulation and the organs of reproduction by the ruthless zeal of the physiologists there was left for the much harrassed spooks no refuge but the mind of man and its collective manifestations.

Here they were able to make a rally, a last stand. How many times have we not been told that our proposals were impossible—until we “altered human nature!” Who has not been accused of leaving out of account the “miraculous mind of man?” Who has escaped the desolating query—“does not man’s intelligence bear witness to a Cause that is intelligent?” Who of us has not been told that his policy was hostile to the “British character and mentality?”

On the field of psychology for the better part of a century the forces of reaction have mobilised their hosts and established their headquarters. But the end is at hand. It is seldom noted either by friend or foe that the Marxian “Materialist Conception of History” is essentially a concept of social psychology. It will be clearer to many after this text book has been read and assimilated that in that master generalisation Marx tore away a whole side of the four-square citadel of reaction and laid its garrison naked to the swords of the avenger. When “forms of social consciousness or so called public opinion” were equated to definite stages in social organisation resting in their turn upon positive degrees of command over the forces of nature it was merely a matter of time before the whole of that which had been deemed a mystic and non-accountable thing should be brought into line and made to fall into due categories in keeping with the remainder of the universe of which it forms a part. All that the French Materialists of the Revolution period had learned from their English tutors, Marx, Engels and Dietzgen took as materials for their task. And all that they accomplished has been used by the authors of this text book to make possible a workable conception of that once Spook haunted thing—the Mind.

They have followed up the Spook into his last Bluebeard’s chamber and strangled his last wheezy gasp with his own hoary whiskers. They have left us a weapon which shall enable all who will to begin from now on to lay the foundations for a real culture of the Proletariat—a weapon all the more praiseworthy because it would not have been possible to produce it without the class consciousness which found expression in the Plebs League and its activities.

I have said it is a book that everybody should read. If I thought it would serve to bring about that result I would repeat that assertion all the way down the column. I will content myself with affirming that only those who buy it and read will truly understand how impossible it is for me to give any adequate idea of its contents in any space less than that occupied by the contents of the book itself. Whatever else you go without you must not do without the Plebs “Outline of Psychology.”