William F. Warde

American Sociology

(March 1965)

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.26 No.3, Summer 1965, pp.71-76
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

An Article Review of two recent studies of modern sociology: What Is Sociology? by Alex Inkeles, and The New Sociology edited by Irving Louis Horowitz

Sociology is one of the booming departments in the universities. The United States leads the world in the amount of activity and money devoted to this branch of learning. In 1960 the American Sociological Association had more than 6,000 members and has been growing at the rate of 10 per cent in the postwar period. The total national expenditure for social science research in 1959 was $215 million.

These figures are taken from What is Sociology? [1] by Alex Inkeles of Harvard University. This is a new textbook written as an introduction to a series on the Foundations of Modern Sociology he is supervising for this publisher. It throws considerable light on the special features and most pronounced limitations of current American sociology, especially in theory and method.

The first question Professor Inkeles essays to answer is: what is sociology all about? His exposition shows that the expansion of sociology as an academic specialty has been attended by a contraction of the conception of its proper province and an impoverishment of its content. This narrowing stands out clearly when the views of the founders of sociology are contrasted with the outlook of its present professorial practitioners.

Auguste Comte gave sociology its name. Imitating Newtonian physics which provided the supreme model of scientific method and knowledge in the early nineteenth century, he divided its subject matter into two main parts: social statics and social dynamics. Social statics investigates the laws of action and reaction of the different parts of the social system. The sociologist singles out the major institutions of society – the economy, family, political, legal or military systems – as fundamental units of analysis and studies their interrelations.

Social dynamics investigates how the entire social structure made up of these components changes in the course of time. Comte himself concluded that all societies pass through three stages of conquest, defense and industry, while man’s thought progressed from the theological through the metaphysical to a positive or scientific view of the world. Whatever the inadequacies and errors of Comte’s social philosophy, it at least had the merit of historical comprehensiveness.

The Englishman Herbert Spencer likewise took a broad view of his subject. He stated that sociology dealt with the reciprocal influences between the different elements of society and compared societies of different kinds and in different stages in order to arrive at an overall conception of the development of social life from its most primitive to its most complex and advanced manifestations.

The sights of social science in the Western world have been lowered as the twentieth century has advanced. The scholars who have most decisively shaped contemporary sociological theory, Emile Durkheim of France and Max Weber of Germany, both added impetus to this trend which has deep-going social causes. Durkheim defined sociology as “the science of institutions.” He regarded comparative sociology as the essence of the science and stressed the need for greater specialization.

Sociology could not become a science, he said, “until it renounced its initial and overall claim upon the totality of social reality (and distinguished) even more among parts, elements and different aspects which would serve as subject matter for specific problems.” He and his disciples focused upon studying the kinship of social phenomena in particular social formations.

Max Weber likewise subordinated consideration of the full scope and dynamics of social development from primitive times to the present to concentrate upon the interrelations among different institutions in a specific social order and the comparison of the features of one social structure with those of another. In the name of the specificity of all social phenomena he denied that there were any general laws of social evolution.

The specialization and miniaturization of sociological investigation have been pushed to an extreme in the United States today. The lofty aim of the founders to encompass the whole of social development within the purview of the science has been abandoned as a hopeless enterprise and rejected as a worthless relic of nineteenth century evolutionism.

Micro-sociology, which examines what is here and now and concerns itself exclusively with tiny segments of social activity and relations, is taken as the center of sociological interest. The academicians have gone from a bird’s eye to an insect’s eye view of their speciality.

“The size of the social group studied is constantly being diminished,” points out Irving Louis Horowtiz in The New Sociology. [2] “In the decade of the ‘twenties, large-sized cities like Chicago were being tackled en bloc by the famed ecological school. In the decade of the ‘thirties, it was middle-sized cities that were studied, as in the Middletown studies of the Lynds. In the decade of the ‘forties, small towns became the fashion, as the work of Hollingshead and Kaufman revealed. By the decade of the ‘fifties, the size of the community had been reduced to dormitories, hospital wards and laboratories.”

This dwarfing of sociology has engendered absurd abstractions. Straining to snare some ultimate unit of social relationships, sociologists have set up “two-man groups” as the molecule and the “social act” of the individual as the atom of social life. Such a parody of physical phenomena results from suppressing or ignoring the fundamental characteristic of human existence – the economic interrelations which involve every individual in a determinate social organization.

Horowitz bitingly observes that the logical sequel to the minutiae of two-person groups would be to enter “one-person” analysis. This would take the abstractionists “out of sociology altogether and into psychology pure and simple.” And even this is not quite true since even the psyche of the individual is socially conditioned.

The diversification and specialization of a science are part of its growth and evidences of its enrichment. A sociologist may investigate the phenomena of a small group or a small group of phenomena; the reasons for changes in the relations between the administration, faculty and student body in a given university; or the buying preferences of housewives in a middle-class suburb. However, the scientific worth of the results is not likely to be great.

And when such lightweight work is esteemed and counterposed to the study of society in its evolution it has less justification than the telescope viewer who would dismiss the value and validity of cosmology in order to exalt the inspection of a square inch inside a crater on the moon’s surface. The differentiation of any branch of knowledge should go hand in hand with an increased integration of its structure of thought and the generalization of its principles.

Static Comparisons

While Inkeles admits that sociology may examine society as a whole, he interprets this in a highly restrictive way characteristic of the Weberian school. “Its purpose then would be to discover how the institutions which make up a society are related to one another in different social systems.” Beyond this static comparison of specific institutions sociology cannot go.

This self-imposed limitation upon the scope of sociology is tied up with the anti-evolutionary bias of the ordinary American sociologist. It is paradoxical that as the ideas of evolution, of universal and all-pervading change have more and more penetrated the physical and biological sciences in our century and been confirmed by their achievements, the evolutionary outlook has receded from the social sciences in this country. Here is a meaningful problem for the sociologist of knowledge to ponder!

Instead of regarding this retrogression as a problem, Inkeles endorses it. He holds that thinking in evolutionary terms is merely one style of sociology among others, and not the indispensable cornerstone of an up-to-date scientific method. He approvingly asserts that “the evolutionary model of social development in all its aspects has ... largely been abandoned by sociologists.”

He claims that it is pointless to inquire whether societies go through definite stages of development or whether humanity has followed any specific line of social progress. “Sociology has largely turned its back on such global theories of change.” At most it is legitimate to explore whether certain partial sequences of social change really exist, the most extensive being the shifts from p re-industrial to an industrialized type of society.

Sociologists who have given up the search for an all-encompassing theory of evolution “seek to deal with change more concretely, one might say more realistically, as it manifests itself in different types of social organization under various conditions.”

Example? A study at Bennington College in Vermont in which Theodore Newcomb explains why some girls discarded their more conservative views under the influence of the liberal faculty while others continued to adhere to the values of their home and community. It is interesting, though hardly world-shaking, to find out how and why one small set of students modified their social ideas. But this sort of research hardly warrants ruling out the Marxist theory of history (or any of its rivals for that matter) as Inkeles and his empiricist co-thinkers propose.

Marxism Rejected

The sociology of Marxism aims to discover and set forth the laws of evolution in social life from the earliest form of social organization to the contemporary world contest between capitalism and socialism. Inkeles doubts whether it is possible to discover any general laws of social phenomena, although he concedes that Durkheim may have forumulated one in his well-known proposition that the suicide rate varies inversely with the degree of social integration characteristic of any group. He believes that “the staggering complexity of social phenomena” presently precludes any other such generalizations, although he hopes that mathematical modes of analysis and computers may enable future social scientists to disclose a few more.

Most revealing is Inkeles’ position on the major purpose of sociology. The basic problem of the science, he says, is how to explain the nature of social order and disorder. There are those who advocate an “equilibrium theory” on the ground that the forces making for order are stronger than those making for disruption and those who urge the adoption of a “conflict theory” on the ground that society is constantly struggling to overcome chaos and achieve some stability. He attempts to mediate between these tendencies by insisting that a rounded sociology must study both the processes of order and disorder and of orderly and disorderly change. But he avows that he prefers “to assume order as man’s basic condition.”

He writes: “Yet with change, as with continuity, the sociologist assumes that the sequence of events is inherently orderly.” He here confuses and plays upon two quite different meanings of the term “order”: one signifying lawfulness of development, the other social stability. The most unruly and explosive events such as civil wars, international wars, revolutions and economic crises can have lawful explanations, however much they upset a given social structure.

It would be understandable for a Russian peasant inhabiting a remote village in the early nineteenth century to assume that order was “man’s basic condition,” though his twentieth century descendant would hardly share that view. How can a learned scholar uphold this outlook in a convulsive epoch like ours marked by world wars, revolutions, fascism and colonial uprisings?

This attitude is no less untenable in face of the facts of American history. The aboriginal tribal order was wiped out and a new colonial order installed in North America following fierce conflicts among the European maritime powers. This colonial regime was overthrown by revolution and an independent bourgeois-slave republic took its place.

The Civil War and Reconstruction shattered the Southern slave system. Since that time there has been no lack of conflicts within the plutocratic order from the struggles of labor to the Freedom Now movement.

The proponents of the “conflict school” at least have some inkling that antagonism and change are as much part of capitalist society as harmony and stability. However, they regard any cataclysmic events such as economic crises, wars and revolutions as avoidable and remediable rather than as built-in phenomena of the system. They envisage the role of the sociologist and the policy-makers guided by their analyses to divulge ways and means of relaxing tensions and reducing conflicts in order to maintain the existing order.

Max Weber, the mentor of most contemporary American sociologists regardless of their divergences, urged that sociology be “value-free.” Inkleles, too, champions a pure social science which pursues the quest for knowledge without being swayed by extrinsic considerations. He admits that this is hard to come by and “may in fact be unattainable.”

Professor Inkeles, who is also a well-known Sovietologist, favorably contrasts freedom of thought in the United States with the lack of it in the Soviet Union. Yet his concluding chapter offers instructive data on the difficulties in the way of social scientists who wish to be politically neutral, socially detached and strictly objective.

The universities where they teach receive as much as forty per cent of their annual income today through federal grants. Since World War II more and more professors have become advisers to or grantees of the government, “often moving back and forth between the university town and the seats of power.”

Large research funds come from industrial and commercial organizations, which in 1959 spent $137 million, or almost 64 per cent of the national total, for public opinion and marketing surveys. The sponsors of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan comprise a “who’s who” of the business world.

“Especially well represented are chemicals, oils and refining, communications, public utilities, banking and investment, philanthropic foundations, food and drug manufacturers, auto, steel, aircraft, insurance corporations and leading federal agencies,” writes Horowitz. “Interestingly enough, the list does not contain a single labor union, and, with the exception of the Boy Scouts of America, no non-corporate agencies or societies.”

Controlled Research

These corporate and government clients regulate what the sociologist studies and influence, if only indirectly, how he handles his subject matter.

Imagine, for example, the outcry that would greet a projected study to estimate as accurately as possible the total volume of waste in the American economy today resulting from the $55 billion military budget, unemployment, underutilization of productive plant, monopolist price-fixing, lack of planning, deterioration and destruction of agricultural surpluses, advertising and other swollen selling expenses, calculated obsolescence, needless duplication of facilities and products because of competition, etc. Especially if this provided the basis for a companion calculation showing how the national resources thus salvaged could be reallocated to socially useful purposes and really promote the war on poverty and inequality.

What group of reputable economists and sociologists would risk undertaking this sort of investigation? What university, government body or foundation would subsidize it? And if it could be completed and published, how fairly would the magazines and newspapers, TV and radio networks and other propaganda media owned and controlled by big business and supported by corporate advertising deal with its conclusions?

It would be a bold investigator who proceeded from premises or submitted findings detrimental to his powerful patrons. The few who dare get out of line are subjected to economic squeezes or academic freeze-outs. C. Wright Mills received none of the awards given yearly by his professional colleagues for his remarkable portrait of The Power Elite and after its publication was with one honorable exception turned down for every request of a grant from the big foundations. It is needless to speak of lesser figures if a Columbia professor of Mills’ world reputation was treated this way.

A case in point involved the late Paul Baran, Professor of Economics at Stanford and one of the very few avowed Marxists on an American faculty. The March 1965 issue of Monthly Review in homage to his life and work presents personal testimony on the harassment Baran suffered from his superiors after his courageous defiance of Washington and declaration of solidarity with the Cuban revolution. In answer to the campaign mounted against this highly qualified scholar the university President sent out a “despicable” letter.

“It did not point out that the University was committed to the principle of academic freedom or anything of the sort,” wrote Baran, “but stressed its having the very difficult problem of my having tenure. The business of freezing my salary, far from being treated a secret, is being widely advertised (among donors) to show that nothing would be done to ‘encourage me to stay here’.”

Equally indicative of the atmosphere in this “liberal” private university is the reported remark of the chairman of the Sociology Department who, in response to a suggestion that C. Wright Mills be offered a professorship at Stanford, said: “But Mills is not a sociologist, he is a Marxist.” The chairman was wrong on both counts.

Community and classroom inhibitions reinforce conformity and stunt inquiry to what is safe – and insignificant.

“The consequences of the atmosphere of suspicion, of thought control and of punitiveness which prevailed during ‘the McCarthy era’ cannot be realistically assessed by pointing to the small numbers of professors actually dismissed, nor even by proving that they were really subversives,” observes Inkeles. “Much more important is the effect on the free expression of those who were not subversive and who were not dismissed.”

Lazarsfeld-Thielen Study

“These effects are well-documented in Lazarsfeld and Thielen’s study, completed in 1955, of almost 2,500 social-science teachers, including historians, carefully chosen to represent all the colleges and universities in the United States. Of those teaching in larger schools rated as of higher quality, 70 per cent reported that they were familiar with at least one ‘incident’ involving an attack on a fellow faculty member for his views or associations. In the smaller and less outstanding schools, 28 per cent of the teachers knew of such incidents. It is not surprising, therefore, that 40 per cent of college teachers in the social sciences reported that they worried lest some student inadvertently pass on a warped version of what they said, and 22 per cent admitted direct self-censorship of one kind or another.”

Professor Inkeles, who typifies the moderate liberal, is worried lest our people get “that kind of sociology which guarantees, in advance, to produce results which affirm the established order and confirm received doctrine.” According to Professor Horowitz, that is precisely what the main body of American sociologists is producing. He expands upon this thesis in The New Sociology.

Most of the contributors, who are aligned with the New Left in the social sciences eminently represented by Mills, are severely critical of the trends in American sociology over the past twenty-five years. Their viewpoint is most vigorously presented in the editor’s introduction.

The New Left

These dissidents oppose the methodologies of the two dominant camps: the formalistic “Grand Theorists” who shuffle and reshuffle hollow and unproductive abstractions about human behavior, and the empiricists who shy away from any systematic theory of social development and are immersed in the trivial treatment of diminutive assignments.

They complain that, along with IBM cards and computers, an IBM-type hierarchy and mode of work have been instituted in the social science departments and research organizations. Academic sociology now has its own “power elite” which governs a “feudal structure” of graduate education. The department heads in the few higher-degree-granting universities control degrees, teaching posts and promotions, publications and jobs with swank foundations and corporations. They exalt the means of research – the questionnaire, sampling techniques, computers, etc. – at the expense of ends which are uncritically taken over from the military, governmental and business establishments. This forces students and researchers into standardized molds and deters deviation from the prevailing norms.

The “new sociologists” deny that a “value-free” social science is feasible or desirable. They cite as the most horrible example of such an approach the “crackpot realism” of civilian militarists like Herman Kahn. He brushes aside ways of preventing nuclear war in order to calculate how rapidly its survivors can restore their previous patterns on the assumption they will have learned nothing from the doomsday holocaust.

The formalists, they say, are conservatized by their presuppositions that integration, functionality, stability and harmony are the constant conditions of social life. The technocratic procedures of the empiricists are likewise designed to soothe the powers-that-be. To purge the discipline of its lingering associations with social protest or “socialism” and assure a free flow of funds from foundations and corporations, the academicians have renamed sociology “a behavioral science.”

The New Lefts maintain that swift change and convulsive conflicts are not marginal but central and unavoidable features of the history of our revolutionary epoch. The deepest need of the profession, writes Horowitz, is for a “sociology of wide range, an historically-anchored sociology” which will revive the broad perspectives of the classical tradition without sacrificing modern techniques of research. In Peter Worsley’s words, the enlightened sociological imagination should have “a place for the typical attitudes of the salesgirls in Macy’s; for the academics’ illusions about power in so far as they stem from their ‘middle level’ structural position; and for the macroscopic encounters of the giant powers.”

Global Outlook

Such a far-ranging science, unfettered by the big money, could come to grips with such master-problems of the age as “the multiplication of social forms of capitalism and socialism, the social costs and benefits of economic development, the new nationalism and the rise of polycentric doctrines of socialism, the relation of racial competition to democratic norms, the connection between industrial life and anomic [i.e. unlawful] responses, the problem of world population and human health, and, above all, the question of world conflict and conflict resolution ...,” says Horowitz.

American sociologists shudder when Russians speak of a Soviet physics but fail to see their own national-mindedness and “ethnocentrism.” Sociology must acquire a global outlook and foundation. “You can no longer settle any major sociological problem within the boundaries of the United States.” This necessitates the creation of a world sociology.

Finally, instead of chasing the chimera of a value-free, bloodless and inhumane body of knowledge, sociologists ought to reappraise the going value-systems and, if need be, bring forward new and better criteria for public consideration. They should not only examine and clarify but help formulate solutions to social problems. Ideological blindness or moral cowardice should not deter them from taking firm stands on controversial issues or devising proposals for social reconstruction.

The first responsibility of the professional scientist is to his fellow human beings, not to any official wielders and abusers of authority. Personal courage, integrity and honesty is required “to carve out a social science of present meaning.”

This diagnosis of the ailments of the sociological profession in the United States is penetrating and justified. The measures prescribed should infuse new vitality into the study of social affairs. But the debate about the future of American sociology cannot halt at this point. The questions remain: do the criticisms of the “new sociologists” go deeply enough into the weaknesses of their profession? Will their proposals for reform place sociology upon solid scientific foundations and give it a correct orientation which will assure steady advancement?

C. Wright Mills

After dealing with their colleagues to the right, they still have to settle accounts with the Marxists on their left. C. Wright Mills stated in The Sociological Imagination that “so much of modern social science has been a frequently unacknowledged debate with the work of Marx, and a reflection of the challenge of socialist movements and communist politics.” The New Left thinkers can hardly evade this confrontation.

At best they display an ambivalent and at worst an ambiguous attitude toward scientific socialism. Horowitz who evolved from Marxism to eclecticism has the same estimate of its current worth as Mills who moved from pragmatic liberalism toward a greater appreciation of Marxism.

Mills rated Marxism above liberalism. It was that part of the classical heritage most pertinent to contemporary issues. He further asserted that sociologists and students could learn very much about the times they live in from the writings of Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky. He was about to edit a Trotsky anthology when he died. He endeavored to break down the blockade around Marxism and accord it the same rights of citizenship in our halls of learning that it has elsewhere.

At the same time Mills taught that Marxism was no longer an adequate theory for explaining the novel features of what he called “The Fourth (or post-industrial) Epoch” in which the values of the Enlightenment: reason, democracy, freedom and humanism, were threatened by the monstrous bureaucratism of mass society. After assimilating whatever insights socialists and communists had to communicate, it was imperative to go beyond Marxism to construct a world sociology suited to our times.

He was embarked on such a project when his life was cut short at the age of 45. Here Mills was more the seeker than the finder. He candidly confessed in The Sociological Imagination: “I do not know the answer to the question of political irresponsibility in our time or to the cultural and political question of the Cheerful Robot.” These were not the only questions that stumped him. He drafted only fragments of a program for the New Left and did not promote its organization one step.

His admirers who subscribe to similar aims illuminate diverse subordinate aspects of social science and our social problems in this volume. But they have come no closer to fulfilling the grand scheme of a world sociology based on a superior system of sociological thought. The wish is there but not the deed.

Lack of Achievement

Is their paucity of achievement due to the immensity and complexities of the undertaking – or have they misjudged the nature of the crisis in official sociology and the way to overcome it? That depends to a considerable extent upon the truth or falsity of their cardinal dogma that Marxism is so out of touch with the world today, and especially with conditions in the United States, that it must be supplanted by some theory not yet brought to birth.

“Sociologists have been too willing to assume a neutralist posture in the face of ethical choices,” says Horowitz. “Confronting a world of conflicting standards, some sociologists have decided to take the courageous leap to the top of the fence! Equivocation will not suffice. ‘Objectivity’ is not the consequence of standing between two subjective truths ... it was Mills’ importance to see that scientific truth may just as easily reside at the extremes as in the middle.”

These fine words ought to be applied not only to moral choices but to choices in sociological theory and political practice. These thinkers have examined the roles, ideology and psychology of officials in different societies and specialists in many walks of life. They should also turn the instruments of critical analysis upon their own professional postures and motivations.

The Young Turks do not hesitate to accuse the Old Guard of taking positions which unwittingly placate the men of property and power. Yet they have no doubt that their estimate of the shortcomings and obsolescence of Marxism is predicated upon purely scientific considerations exempted from extraneous pressures, unconscious prepossessions or class partisanship. They would characterize that claim from any other source as a naive and illusory expression of false consciousness.

Wouldn’t a deeper probe inquire why, despite their greater benevolence, these middle class intellectuals ultimately concur with all shades of conservative opinion that the main tenets of scientific socialism are passe? Is it just happy coincidence that such an attitude is least likely to jeopardize academic preferment? Why is their aversion to espousing Marxism invariably coupled with refusal to identify with any revolutionary current or grouping in this country? (Mills, the most courageous among them, who pictured himself as an unreconstructed “Wobbly,” never voted or belonged to any political organization.) How is this uniform disaffiliation among the New Lefts, which is not so widespread in England or Western Europe, to be explained?

The “new sociologists” unquestionably put up stronger resistance to the plutocratic environment than their more respectable fellows. Yet they are not totally unaffected by encircling social circumstances and pressures. The limits of their theoretical and political commitments, individually and collectively, are fixed by the swollen power of the big money, the political immaturity of organized labor and the weakness of the anti-capitalist movement in this country. This configuration of class forces underlies their beliefs that American life and thought have already bypassed Marxism and therefore sociology must surpass it.

In reality our theoretically and politically retarded nation has yet to come abreast of its full application. Although the American economy has evolved from competition to monopoly in consonance with the laws set forth in Capital, the class struggle and its political and ideological reflections in the United States have still to catch up with other sectors of the modern world. The timidity and eclecticism of our better sociologists are tokens of this.

Horowitz’s colleague, Byron Fox, declares that:

“In this struggle of man against his environment, reaching out into space, the social scientist cannot be neutral. To attempt neutrality is to place one’s weight on the side of the old order which is on the way out. The only alternative is to place sociological science at the service of the order which is being born.”

As soon as this option is adopted, the question arises: What kind of order is coming out of the breakup of capitalism and colonialism? Marxism teaches that the only progressive outcome is socialism.

The New Lefts are not so sure or clear about the nature and prospects of the next stage of historical development. On the dark side they fear the advent of an oppressive regime presiding over a stupefied herd of Cheerful Idiots. On the brighter side they scan the horizon for the appearance of a virginal social system never before seen on land or sea.

Why, they ask, should historical creativity stop at what exists in the super-industrialized United States or Soviet Union? Why can’t further upheavals guided by intelligent leadership bring about a novel social order? Just as in the domain of theory they seek a third way apart from liberalism or Marxism and in politics steer a course somewhere between the center and the extreme left, so in the evolution of modern society they visualize the dawn of something essentially different than any existing capitalist or socialist-oriented nation.

The most radical, like Mills and Da Costa Pinto, anticipate the emergence of such a fresh model from the travails of the Third World, made up of the underdeveloped and newly independent countries liberated from imperialism and not yet in the clutches of bureaucratic gigantism. Is this expectation well-founded?

The countries of the Third World are in turbulent transition. They exist in different stages and on disparate levels of economic, social and political development. They have extremely variegated social structures in which tribal, feudal, capitalist and post-capitalist relations are unequally and often incongruously intermingled.

The archaic tribal and feudal institutions are surely doomed to destruction. That leaves the field open for the contest between the pro-capitalist and the socialist forces which is in full blast. Which will prevail in the death-grapple between them?

That question has already been settled in countries such as China and Cuba which have cast off colonialism and capitalism and are building the foundations of socialism. Where, even in embryo, is the third alternative heralded by the New Lefts to be found? The only possible place is in those areas where the struggle between the capitalist and anti-capitalist camps has not yet been fought to a conclusion and remains undecided.

Cuban Example

Here the case of Cuba is most relevant. Mills, Sartre and others like them expected something unprecedented in theory and social reconstruction to come out of the Cuban revolution along the lines of their preconceptions. The July 26th Movement did break much new ground. It headed the first socialist revolution in the Western hemisphere and the first since Lenin’s day to be untrammeled and uncontaminated by Stalinism.

No less significant is the fact, that with all its singularities, the course of the revolution in Cuba ran “true to type” for a thoroughgoing social and political overturn in our time. Its leadership passed from a combative democratic humanist ideology over to Marxism as the revolution advanced and deepened. The overthrow of Batista’s dictatorship shattered the old state and military apparatus and the worker-peasant government replaced foreign and native capitalist ownership with a socialized and planned economy.

Cuba provided a first-rate laboratory for a comparative test of the ideas projected by the New Left theorists and the Marxists. It has invalidated the hypotheses of the former while confirming the insight and foresight of the latter. Cuba’s transition from revolutionary nationalism to Marxism-Leninism and from anti-imperialism to anti-capitalism is so far the best prototype of progress for the entire Third World. Faraway Zanzibar has recently demonstrated how a small people can suddenly break out of colonialism and in one spectacular leap head for socialism.

The Cuban leaders and masses have set a precedent for social theorizing as well as revolutionary action. They have done so, not only for Latin America, but for the savants of North America, too, who admire their achievements. In combatting imperialism and abolishing capitalism they did not evolve a new sociology or world outlook which bypassed scientific socialism and superseded it. Instead they came to Marxism. They have taught those who are ready to learn that the more acute the disorders of our society and the more urgent their solution, the more relevant and necessary the method and ideas of Marxism become.

The major task before progressive American social analysts is not to downgrade or discard Marxism or treat it as a grab-bag from which to extract whatever is convenient for a particular purpose. They need to assimilate the doctrines developed by world Marxism in order to create a world sociology. Applied to American conditions, such a sociology can help work out effective solutions to the problems of economic growth, poverty, automation, alienation, bureaucracy, discrimination and the threat of atomic annihilation.

March 30, 1965



1. Prentice-Hall, 1964, 128 pp. $3.50 cloth, $1.50 paper.

2. Oxford University Press, 1964, 528pp., $8.50.


Last updated on: 16.2.2006