Written: Summer, 1961
First Published: International Socialist Review, New York, Volume 22, No. 3, pp. 67-79.
Transcription/Editing: 2005 by Daniel Gaido
HTML Markup: 2005 by David Walters
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2005; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
In capitals as distant as Warsaw and Tokyo, London and New York a significant new current of thought has been taking shape among intellectuals on the left. Despite the differences in their surroundings and in their immediate problems, they have been formulating convergent political conclusions. These dissident intellectuals are increasingly critical of “orthodox Marxism,” as they understand or, more often, misunderstand it. They doubt or deny that the industrial workers can be the main agency of social change. They question whether a disciplined revolutionary vanguard, guided by scientific socialism, is required to lead the people in their efforts to get rid of capitalist evils and build a better world. They counterpoise the following ideas to the teachings of Marxism:
(1) Both liberalism and Marxism belong to the nineteenth century and are equally outmoded. These ideologies have proved unable to explain the dominant forces and trends of the mid-twentieth century and must therefore give way to a more up-to-date method of thought capable of analyzing the social reality of our age.
(2) Intellectuals and students in the advanced countries, or peasants in the backward colonial areas, can displace the weak or defaulted workers as the leading revolutionary force.
(3) Some novel political formation of an amorphous, multi-class, or even super-class character is more suited to contemporary conditions and needs than either the Social-Democratic organizations linked with the trade unions or the Leninist-type parties modeled on democratic centralism.
(4) In order to combat the highly centralized power elites in the modern super-states new forms of action must be developed in place of reliance on the old methods of working-class struggle.
These radicals may reject Marxism and materialism in favor of humanism and morality. But they are honestly animated by revulsion against what they call the Establishment, the policies of the prevailing powers in the state or in the labor organizations. They want an end to cold-war brinkmanship, the stalemate in international diplomacy, the precarious “balance of terror.” They want decisive action, and are ready to do something themselves, to head off nuclear catastrophe and World War III. They oppose imperialist militarism and the McCarthyism which accompanies the garrison state. In the United States their spokesmen resent a liberalism which is fearful of being liberal without permission from the authorities, cowers before the Pentagon and State Department, and has to swear unending loyalty oaths on anti-Communist scriptures in order to remain respectable.
In England the New Left mocks the servility of the social-reformist Labor party leaders who aim to refurbish and administer capitalism instead of working to abolish it. Official Communism has lost its attractiveness for them after the collapse of the Stalinist mythology at the Twentieth Congress of the Russian Communist party and the brutal intervention of the Soviet power in Hungary in 1956.
On the other side they have been aroused by the uprisings of the colonial peoples in Asia, the MiddIe East and Africa. They identify themselves with the student demonstrations in South Korea, Japan and Turkey. They have participated in anti-H-bomb marches in England and elsewhere. They sympathize with the refusal of young French conscripts to serve in the “filthy war” against the Algerians. They have backed up the sit-ins in this country. Now these exciting events have been crowned by the achievements of the Cuban Revolution.
In response to these developments, individuals of diverse origins—left liberals, socialists and Laborites, disillusioned Communists, militant pacifists and young people just plunging into radical politics—have been evolving similar views. Members of the Zengakuren in Japan and the New Left in England, ex-Stevensonians in the United States and ex-Stalinists in Warsaw and Belgrade recognize one another as kindred spirits.
This new generation of left intellectuals is grappling with great problems, trying to work out theoretical and programmatic positions and an orientation for themselves. They may lack experience in the class struggle and be confused about many matters. But they are not jaded or used up. They are ardent, eager for action, “against apathy.” They aspire to clean up “the old crap” around them and make a fresh start.
They must be listened to, for out of their midst, as they mature in thought and action, will come invaluable adherents and new leaders for the revolutionary movements of tomorrow. In turn they might learn from exchanging views, not only with one another, but with socialists who are not compromised by the crimes of the past and have important things to tell them.
The noted sociologist C. Wright Mills is becoming one of the chief mentors of this movement. In a “Letter to the New Left,” published in the September-October 1960 New Left Review, he presents a line of argument on social and political problems persuasive to many young intellectuals.
Professor Mills first disposes of the dried-up dissidents of the previous generation, now at ease in the university faculties and foundations, who have proclaimed “an end of ideology.” This pretentious pronouncement, he correctly observes, merely signalizes their end as progressive ideologists.
He sees their counterparts in the prudent Soviet intellectuals who confine criticism of their society to nonessentials and trim them to bureaucratic measure. No enlightened leadership can come from either set of smug conformists.
Left intellectuals must undertake a fearless, thoroughgoing criticism of the societies around them and the ideologies which justify them. “If there is to be a politics of the New Left, what needs to be analyzed is the structure of institutions, the foundations of policies,” he emphasizes. “To be ‘Left’ means to connect up cultural with political criticism, and both with demands and programs. And it means all this inside every country of the world.”
He regrets that some New Left writers still “cling so mightily to ‘the working class’ of the advanced capitalist societies as the historic agency, or even as the most important agency, in the face of the really impressive historical evidence that now stands against this expectation. Such a labor metaphysics, I think, is a legacy from Victorian Marxism that is now quite unrealistic.”
To this “labor metaphysics” he opposes the alternative of “the cultural apparatus, the intellectuals—as a possible, immediate radical agency of change.” Their potential power has been indicated by the militant student movements in the West and among the anti-bureaucratic students, professors and writers in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union.
“We’ve got to study these new generations of intellectuals around the world as real live agencies of historic change,” he asserts. “We must learn from their practice and work out with them new forms of action.” Mills rightly stresses the importance of studying the moods, ideas and actions of these intellectuals who have already helped shake, and even topple, some rotten regimes. His own conclusions deserve no less serious consideration, not only because of his influence on their thinking, but because of his impact on public opinion in this country. Unlike most professors, he has not hesitated to speak boldly on sensitive issues. His latest books have been in their own way significant political deeds. He has used his learning and authority to defy the militarists, monopolists and their retinue of scholarly cold warriors and to defend the Cuban Revolution. In American intellectual circles today he occupies a place comparable to that of Sartre in Europe.
Mills’ personal interventions on the questions of war and peace, revolution and reaction have been highly salutary. But the positions he takes and the proposals he makes in his advice to the New Left have a more dubious character. Let us examine them.
To clear the ground for fruitful debate, let us first state wherein we, as orthodox Marxists, find agreement with Mills and the New Left.
(1) The main enemy of the American people is the Big Money and the Big Brass.
(2) The imperialist war policies, symbolized by NATO, SEATO and the defunctive Baghdad Pact and resting upon the most reactionary political regimes, must be opposed.
(3) Their pernicious domestic consequences (the witch-hunt, thought control) must be combated and broken.
(4) Every progressive cause must be supported, regardless of its initiators and official leadership.
(5) Stalinism and Social-Democratic reformism, the ideological defenses of two different types of bureaucratic domination, are bankrupt.
(6) They must be replaced by new leaders and new programs which are democratic, humanist and socialist and promote reason, freedom and the highest morality.
(7) Honest intellectuals, radical students, and insurgent peasants have great roles to play in the struggles against “the old crap” and the building of a better world.
(8) Uninhibited criticism of the basic social and political establishments in the West and the East are in order.
As is well known, both Stalinism and Social Democracy fear freedom of criticism, especially from the left, wherever they exercise sovereign power. This is in itself evidence of their anti-Marxist disposition since the dialectical method of thought demands that everything, including its own social foundations and theoretical premises, be submitted to the most searching criticism and the most rigorous tests.
This area of agreement between us and the New Left is broad enough for joint action against the common enemy on many vital issues and a friendly and frank exchange of opinions. This can assist the regroupment of individuals coming from different quarters who earnestly desire to abolish capitalism and the scourge of labor bureaucratism.
Having said this, it is necessary to make clear our major differences with these non-Marxists.
(1) We deny that the discreditment of Stalinism or Social Democracy demonstrates the failure of Marxism or requires repudiation of dialectical and historical materialism as the indispensable method of thought for analyzing social processes and solving political problems.
(2) The demotion of the working class to an auxiliary or absentee role in the preparation, execution and fulfillment of the social and political revolutions of our time is factually misleading, theoretically unfounded and disastrous in political practice.
(3) The exaltation of intellectuals, college students (embryo intellectuals and professionals), or the youth into an independent social force which serves as the principal history-maker misrepresents their real auxiliary roles in the revolutionary events of our time.
(4) To assign political and social predominance to the peasants over the workers distorts the real relations and interactions between these two social classes in the unfolding of the revolutions in backward countries.
(5) The denial of the necessity for conscious and principled leadership by a vanguard combat party of the workers can only serve to disarm and derail the revolutionary movements and cause terrible deviations in the transition from the old order to socialism.
(6) Individualist and pacifist, purely parliamentary and propagandist methods of action are incapable of dislodging the monopolists and militarists from power. Serious struggle for power requires the all-sided mobilization of the masses with the industrial workers at their head.
The partisans of the New Left dispute or reject, in whole or in part, all these fundamental propositions of Marxism. Our discussion therefore will revolve around these six points.
Marxism has failed—an electronic computer would be needed to calculate the number of times this judgment has been made over the past hundred years by different kinds of opponents. Yet every time this hardy school of thought has been pronounced ready for burial, it has asserted renewed vigor and won new multitudes of adherents. Today its world influence is at its height.
If Marxism has proved so deficient, how did it acquire and why does it maintain such pre-eminence? It will not help matters to say it is the official ideology of the Soviet Union and China. How did it become so? Only through assisting the victory of the social revolutions in those great countries.
The truth is that Marxism owes its exceptional authority, not primarily to state powers, but to the many proofs of its superiority in practice. Millions have been convinced by their experience of life that its ideas explain the modern world better than any rival doctrine and can help change it more efficiently.
Since the Second World War, Marxism has spread most rapidly in the colonial countries. This has led some friendly critics to concede it may still be useful in backward areas that have not yet solved the problems of industrialization and mass consumption. But Marxism, they contend, is obsolete in rich and highly developed countries. As Mills says, it is essentially Victorian and is due to be displaced by a more up-to-date social theory.
This inverts the line of argument invoked in Russia against the Marxists before the 1917 Revolution. Then its opponents contended that Marxism suited only advanced capitalist countries and was out of place in back-ward semi-feudal countries which had not yet passed through their democratic revolutions. In reality the method and principles of historical materialism are applicable to all countries regardless of their level of social development, provided they are applied with full consideration of the facts in each case.
To be sure Marxism, like Darwinism, was an intellectual creation of the nineteenth century. But are scientific laws in either sociology or biology any less valid because they were discovered and formulated a while ago? Science does not start from scratch with every generation but builds upon accumulated knowledge and previously verified conclusions.
It is really insinuated that socialist theory has stood still since its birth while biology has advanced. After Darwin came Mendel, Morgan, Muller, Fisher and others who have added new insights to his original explanation of organic evolution.
But neither has Marxism stagnated since the Communist Manifesto, the publication of Capital, the founding of the First International and the other contributions of Marx and Engels. It has passed through the stages of Social Democracy, Bolshevism, and Trotskyism. It has found not only successive organizational expression but enriched programs in the Second and Third Internationals and today the Fourth International.
Marxism has proved as capable of growth, of assimilating new experiences and unanticipated events and drawing correct conclusions from them, as any other living branch of scientific knowledge. It has progressed, however, only to the extent that its followers have adhered to its original theoretical principles and further developed them.
Like every epoch-making tendency of thought, Marxism has often been debased, distorted, counterfeited. Many have paraded as Marxists while abandoning its principles. But such pretenders and falsifiers have, at every turn in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary workers movement over the past century, found themselves confronted by genuine defenders of scientific socialism who have redirected the movement onto its true course and safeguarded its future.
The test of Marxism and its worth does not lie in the continuity of its traditions or in its past accomplishments but in its continuing capacity to interpret evolving social phenomena. Has orthodox Marxism become so petrified and stultified, has it fallen so far behind the march of events, that it can no longer provide a reliable guide to the solution of mankind’s most pressing and perplexing problems? Is it really so irrelevant to the highly industrialized, mature, bureaucratically centralized mass societies of today as the New Left oracles assert?
They are especially concerned with such questions as the nature of the Soviet Union and its bureaucracy, the imperialist and militarist features of U.S. monopoly capitalism, and the conflict between these two. Orthodox Marxists have analyzed these matters at length and given clear answers to them. Moreover, they have worked out precise programs of political action to deal with them. The New Left critics, on the other hand, who so noisily proclaim the bankruptcy of Marxism, either have confused or ambiguous theoretical positions on these questions, or vague and inadequate proposals for action.
“We are in quest of new and better answers,” they say, “even though we have not yet found them.” Very well. Let us, as part of this search, put our respective views to a test by comparing notes on “the revolt of the intellectuals.” This is where the opponents of historical materialism profess to derive the most impressive evidence for their conclusions; these are the contemporary events on which they rest their case. Let us see which method, ours or theirs, can provide the most illuminating analysis and answers.
Marxism has been found wanting, conclude the anti-Marxists, because the working class has shown itself incapable of leading humanity out of capitalism into socialism. This contention is hardly new. It has been rediscovered and repeated countless times since Marx and Engels recognized and explained the revolutionary mission of the world working class in the 1840’s. And at every such juncture the authentic Marxists have had to refute the “new thinkers” who, in the name of “realism,” turned away from the working class to some other source of social salvation: liberal capitalists, brilliant intellectuals or some bureaucratic elite.
Scientific socialism derives the paramount role of the industrial workers in the transformation of society before and after abolishing capitalism from their central position in modern economy. This is based on large-scale industry and a scientific technology. The antagonistic relations of production between the profiteers and the producers of wealth are an unremitting and irrepressible source of social struggle.
As capitalism manifests its political, social and economic decadence in one country after another, these class conflicts intensify to the point where the workers feel impelled to throw off capitalist rule, nationalize the main sectors of the economy, and operate industry for the public benefit. Thus capitalism creates the instrument for its abolition in the very class it most exploits and oppresses.
This prognosis of social development projected by Marxism was first vindicated by the conquest of power by the workers in the 1917 Russian Revolution. This silenced the skeptics for a while. Four notable developments since then have caused them to lift their voices again. First came the bureaucratization of the Soviet regime under Stalin which signified the loss of political power by the Russian workers. Then came the failure of the workers of Western Europe to capture power after the Second World War and their immobility in the fifteen years since. Third was the enormous role of the peasants in the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions. Finally, these defaults are contrasted to the energy and initiative exhibited by students and intellectuals over the past two years.
“See,” they say, “power slipped from the hands of the workers in Russia. They didn’t take over when they had the chance in Western Europe. The peasants, not the workers, have been the major force in the successful revolutions in Yugoslavia and China. Middle-class intellectuals and peasants led the way in Cuba. While all these other forces have been active, the workers have been sleeping at the switch. They’re not going anywhere unless they’re dragged forward by some more intelligent and energetic agency.”
It must be acknowledged that the case of the anti-Marxists rests upon powerful facts which cannot be disregarded or dismissed offhand. Uncontrolled bureaucrats, and not the workers, govern the Soviet states. In Italy, France, Belgium, Greece in the 1944-1947 period, the Resistance movements led by Communist leaders helped the capitalists regain their rule where it was imperative to end it and quite possible to do so. While the mighty strike wave in the United States during 1946-47 preserved union strength in the basic industries, the workers did not change the national political setup in their favor. Then the prolonged arms-powered boom and the cold-war reaction softened, corrupted and broke the older generation of worker-militants and further depressed the ranks.
Do these phenomena mean that the workers “don’t have what it takes” to go through with the socialist revolution? Or do they rather testify to something else: the bankruptcy of their official leaders?
In our opinion both the defeats and the ensuing defeatism of the working class are primarily attributable to the established heads of the labor movement—Socialist, Communist, Laborite or pro-Democratic—who did their utmost to demoralize and disorient the workers and deter them from conducting effective struggles against the masters of capitalism. Despite their differences on many matters, the Stalinist authorities and their opponents among the labor officialdom have been equally responsible for this state of affairs.
The error of the New Left, therefore, consists in identifying and confusing the betrayals of the labor bureaucracies with the disorientation these cause in the ranks. The setbacks due to faulty leadership are read as evidence of a congenital incapacity of the working class to fulfill its historical mission.
Despite these defaults, the need for resistance to capitalist reaction and the imperialist war-makers has remained acute. Accordingly, in some countries, students, intellectuals and peasants have stepped into the arena vacated by the existing leaderships and temporarily unoccupied by the worker-militants.
The New Left theorists over-generalize from these exceptional circumstances of the postwar period and eternalize them. They fail to grasp the unstable and transitory causes for the lethargy of the laboring masses or to foresee the emergence of new conditions which can transform the mood and movements of labor into their opposite. Otherwise they would be unable to hang on to their prejudice that the working class has forever forfeited its role as the vanguard of progress and must yield priority to other social forces.
Mills is prudent enough to caution: “Of course we can’t write off the working class.” But he refuses to accord it any decisive or leading role in advance. Like the man from Missouri, he demands to be shown the accomplished fact. But how is the fact best to be accomplished? The sixties promise to show, far more than the previous decade, how much of a “Necessary Lever” for social change the industrial workers can be. Just as Mills’ article appeared in New Le ft Review, the British Trades Union Congress and the Labor party conference swung to the left on such key issues as nuclear disarmament and nationalization. 1960 closed with an imposing four-week political general strike of the Belgian workers.
It is true that during the fifties the colonial areas were the center of the most important revolutionary actions in the world and their eruptions and achievements are far from ended. But the other side of this movement should not be overlooked. The cumulative effect of these reverses inflicted on international imperialism has helped set the stage for the rebirth of labor militancy in the West. The impact of Algeria on France, the Congo on Belgium, Africa on Great Britain and Cuba on the United States foreshadows this eventuality.
Just as the advances of the colonial revolutions can upset the equilibrium of class forces within the imperialist nations, so are the activities of the students, intellectuals and minorities within them the precursors and preconditions of working class resurgence. The new generation of radical students and intellectuals have already announced their presence and made their influence felt on the scene. But the coming generation of young workers is still in the wings, awaiting the cue for entrance. They are destined to be the central figures in the drama, not only in the Western world but in the Soviet bloc.
The New Lefts mistake the prologue for the play. They applaud the supporting actors who have appeared in the first acts of the revolution of our time. But they have not waited until the hero has spoken and acted out his part.
Like all empiricists, they take a partial, superficial view of the historical process, limiting their gaze to what happens in a single country or during the preliminary phases of the revolutionary drama. They do not approach the elimination of the old order and the building of a new one as a world-wide task extending over a prolonged historical period. During this transitional time the working class, after scoring big triumphs, can be set back by adverse objective conditions or by its enemies and misleaders and then be helped to its feet and resume its role as the dynamo of social progress.
In place of the workers Mills and his co-thinkers look to the rebellious “young intelligentsia” as the prime agent of change. However, the events from which they draw their conclusions are not so clear-cut as they suppose.
Every profound protest movement against the established order draws in diverse social elements and unfolds in an irregular manner. Now one, now another dissident segment enters the struggle along a broad front.
It has often happened that other forces with intolerable grievances have risen up against the authorities before the industrial workers have cast off their inertia and gone into action. Over the past few years in the United States, for example, the Negroes have been battling segregation while organized labor has stood by. It has not only remained largely indifferent to the Negro demands for equality but has been slothful in defending its own immediate interests from attack.
Radicalized intellectuals are particularly prone to swing faster and farther to the left or to the right than the heavy battalions of labor. Their uprooted social status makes them much more mobile and responsive to shifts in the political atmosphere. The demonstrations and revolts of the students in South Korea, Japan and Turkey in 1960 had precedents in many countries, beginning with the Russian student protests against Czarist autocracy at the turn of this century.
These movements of the intellectuals are sensitive barometers to coming storms. “A rising wind stirs the topmost branches first.” The winds of revolt heralded by the actions of the intellectuals betoken more profound processes at work among the masses and for this reason can be quickly transmitted into the depths of the people. Thus the student demonstrations in South Korea and Turkey drew enough backing from the army, workers and peasants to oust the existing regime, though not enough to revolutionize the country.
In Japan the student initiators of the struggle against the U.S. Military Treaty were seconded by the general strike of the unions. In England the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament started by middle-class intellectuals first attracted the youth, then the unions and the Labor party. In Belgium, on the other hand, the workers took the field in general strike against the government without benefit of any external impulse. They received enthusiastic support from the young socialists.
The sit-ins of the Southern Negro college students illuminate the complex interplay between the different segments of a single struggle. The student actions had been prepared and preceded by the mass bus boycotts in Montgomery, Tallahassee and elsewhere. The younger generation did not lead but followed their elders. Now their example is lending further impetus to the broad movement against Jim Crow. To be sure, the student sit-ins have been more militant, aggressive, and independent of the old-line leaders and thereby represented a more advanced stage of the integration struggle in the South.
The totality of these experiences does not lead to the sweeping conclusion that students and intellectuals are the predestined leaders of revolt, as the New Left analysts would have it. The reality of the local struggles is much more complex and contradictory than their simplified representations.
The initiatives of radical intellectuals, militant students, oppressed minorities and insurrectionary peasants often serve to stimulate action by the proletariat. The demands and deeds of these other social layers are like catalysts speeding reactions in a heated situation. They proclaim and promote what the popular masses, with the workers at their head, follow up and carry through—provided the revolutionary movement doesn’t stop short, fall back and prove abortive.
The leading exponents of scientific socialism, Marx, Plekhanov, Kautsky, Lenin and Trotsky—themselves intellectuals of middle-class origin—wrote extensively on the problems presented by the interactions between the young and mature intellectuals and the labor and socialist movements. They were familiar with the claim that some intellectual elite would have to guide or supplant the inert mass of working people. The Holy Family, one of the first fruits of the collaboration of Marx and Engels, written in 1844, was directed against “New Left” intellectuals of their day who counterpoised the active, critical spirit incarnated in themselves to the passive unenlightened mass of workers. Bruno Bauer and his associates likewise contended that the masses always failed in their endeavors so that historical progress could be achieved only through critical-minded idealists.
From their first hour the Russian Marxists had to combat similar prejudices of the Populist intelligentsia. The Social Revolutionaries coupled their derogation of the industrial workers and idolization of the intellectuals with the belief that the peasants, comprising the vast bulk of the nation, would necessarily be the preponderant force in the revolution. When that revolution burst forth in February 1917, it was the women on the bread lines, not the workers in the factories, who took the first step in Petrograd. The workers, soldiers and peasants quickly swung into action and then, in the further course of events, the workers led the peasants to victory.
The social revolutions of our century have been filled with such chain reactions. These can be touched off by diverse stimuli and by quite unexpected combinations of circumstances and forces. But the matter is far from settled by noting which social force started the process. Still more important is the question: which class can be relied upon to shoulder the historical tasks of the revolution and carry through the struggle to the end against all upholders of the old order? In answering this question, what counts most is not who conditions the sequence of events but who determines its line of march and its ultimate outcome.
Marxism does not insist that any oppressed segment of society wait for the workers or their leadership to struggle on their own behalf against a reactionary ruling class and its regime. Such action is not only justifiable on its own merits but can quicken the momentum of the maturing mass revolt by energizing the workers and weakening their enemy. What Marxism does teach is that the proletariat is the sole force capable of sustaining the revolution throughout its entire course, giving it a correct program and perspective, and carrying it through to the abolition of capitalism and the creation of socialism. However important and imposing may be the parts played by other forces from the students to the peasants at any given stage, these remain secondary to the role of the proletariat in the total process.
This central proposition of scientific socialism applies, not only to the capitalist countries and the colonies where the workers have yet to conquer power, but to the Soviet bloc where capitalism has been abolished.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 has provided an instructive example of this decisive role of the workers even where the intellectuals took highly prominent parts in the events. In Hungary the literary resistance to Stalinist totalitarianism and its crimes preceded the uprising of the masses by several years. The writers were the first to protest openly against the abominations of Rakosi’s regime; the students took the first public actions against it. At first glance, then, Hungary would seem to offer perfect confirmation for Mills’ thesis that “the intellectual apparatus was the prime agency of social change.”
However, let us probe more deeply into the developments by calling upon two unimpeachable witnesses who participated in the revolution as leading members of the “intellectual apparatus.” They were the noted Hungarian novelists, Tamas Aczel and Tibor Meray, both winners of the Kossuth Prize. Now in exile, they have written a history of the literary side of the resistance movement entitled The Revolt of the Mind.
Aczel and Meray relate how the intellectuals were pushed into articulate opposition not simply by their direct observations and experiences of the evils of Stalinism but by what they learned when they went in quest of literary and journalistic materials. The workers and peasants they talked with bared the horrifying truth about the real conditions of life and labor created by the Communist party’s policies. The professors were re-educated by the queries of their students in the classrooms, students who in many cases came from worker or peasant families.
The attitude of the men of letters was transformed, their opposition fed, and their expressions shaped by the hostility of the masses to the upstart bureaucrats. Ashamed of their previous complicity, as moralizing persons by profession, the writers gave voice to the wrongs committed against the people: murders, tortures, frame-ups and imprisonment of innocent victims.
Their efforts at publicity and correction culminated in the debates at the Petoefi Circle in Budapest from March to October 1956 where party economists, historians, philosophers, journalists, scientists, poets spelled out the festering grievances. They raised demands for freedom of thought and speech, for a change in policies, and even in the government.
These meetings were attended by representatives of many circles of the city’s population: university students, white-collar workers, intellectuals, army officers, and workers. In this way the writers, hitherto alienated from the people, re-knit their ties with the genuine nation.
On the morning of October 23 the university students proclaimed the demands of the demonstrators; by nightfall hundreds of thousands were out in the streets. By that time, say the authors, “leadership had slipped from the hands of the writers and had been taken over by students, workers and soldiers.” However, the transmission of leadership did not stop there. In the ensuing battles the industrial workers constituted the hard core of the forces fighting for national liberation and socialist democracy. They formed Workers Councils in the factories, cities and industrial centers to organize and lead the rebellion. These Councils could have become the foundation for a new workers government. They called four general strikes against the oppressors. If the students were the first to get into the fray, the workers were the last to leave the field of battle and lower the banner of resistance. When finally they had to yield under overwhelming odds, the Hungarian Revolution was lost.
These developments do demonstrate how intellectuals can inspire and detonate the workers movement. That much the New Left grasps. But they demonstrate with greater force how the workers come forward as the center of the revolution. Once they have been crushed, the intellectual movement is strangled. Victory for all elements depends upon the success of the proletarian strivings to conquer supreme power.
Comparable events took place that year in Poland in a somewhat different order and with a less unhappy ending. There the anti-bureaucratic struggle was begun, not by students, but by the workers of Posnan. A few months later it culminated with the October showdown between Gomulka and Khrushchev where the armed workers in the factories and the Polish army exacted big concessions from the Kremlin.
The first act in the East German uprising of June 1953 resembled that of Poland while its upshot duplicated that of Hungary. Set off by the strike of the building workers of East Berlin, it was crushed by Soviet tanks and troops.
These three interlinked instances of revolt in Eastern Europe show how much the order and degree of participation of the dissident forces can vary from country to country and from me stage to another. But all tended to converge toward the concentration of ultimate decision through the power and participation of the industrial workers.
The New Lefts pin their hopes on the dissident intellectuals and students in the advanced or “overdeveloped” countries, they see the peasants as the leading mass force in the revolutions of the backward or underdeveloped areas. They either substitute an intellectual-peasant axis for the worker and peasant alliance or, where they admit the necessity for the latter, they give priority to the peasant masses.
The problem of the relation between the proletariat and the peasantry in the revolution against feudal hangovers and against native and foreign capitalism has a long history and an abundant literature. The different positions taken on this question formed one of the chief lines of division among the tendencies of the Russian “Left” before the 1917 Revolution. The Populists and Social Revolutionaries contended that the peasants would be the leading force in the coming revolution which would be democratic, not socialist, in character.
Beginning with Plekhanov, the Marxists asserted that even the democratic revolution against Czarism and landlordism would triumph as a workers revolution, or not at all. This view was further developed by Trotsky into his celebrated theory of the permanent revolution which stated that the Russian revolution could not solve its democratic problems, including agrarian reform, without placing the working class in power. Once it took power, the party of the working class would immediately be obliged to undertake the solution of socialist tasks by nationalizing industry, monopolizing foreign trade, planning the economy, etc.
This forecast was confirmed by the development of the Russian Revolution where the union of the workers and peasants directed by the Bolshevik party overthrew the landlord-capitalist regime and established the first workers state. This not only tackled the agrarian problem in a revolutionary manner but proceeded to reorganize the economy along socialist lines. The supremacy of the working class was so evident in these achievements that few were found to question it.
Since the end of the Second World War the basic teachings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky on the leading role of the workers have been challenged by referring to the experiences of the Yugoslav, Chinese, and now the Cuban revolutions. In these cases, the critics claim, the workers did not lead the peasants; the peasants led the workers—and both were led by middle-class intellectuals. Therefore, Marxism is incorrect, incomplete or outdated as a guide to revolutionary practice. Did the peasants really supersede the workers in these recent revolutions? Both sides agree that a coalition of classes fought and won the revolution. But, according to the anti-Marxists, the senior partner, the decisive element was the peasants.
It is true that the peasantry has heavily influenced the character and course of all three revolutions. This was inevitable in countries where a petty-bourgeois agrarian population predominated and which had not passed through any previous democratic transformation. The uprisings of the people traveled from the countryside to the city, from the hills, mountains and plains to the streets and factories of the capitals, whereas in Russia the revolution was from the beginning centered around the struggles between the workers and soldiers and the old regime in Petrograd and Moscow. The countryfolk made up the bulk of the armies that fought against the old regime and defended the new one. But the political direction, the basic program, and above all the perspectives of these revolutions did not come from the peasantry as such nor reflect its outlook.
The dynamism and the direction of the revolution were derived from a city class, from the socialist interests and aspirations of the industrial workers. If that was not clear in the earlier stages of the struggles, it has been made manifest by the march of the revolution which, beginning as national-democratic movements, passed beyond these limited aims and flowed into socialist channels. The programs of social reconstruction undertaken in Yugoslavia, China and Cuba, based upon collectivized property and production, correspond to the basic interests and outlook of the workers, not of any petty-bourgeois forces.
In all three countries the requirements of the revolutionary workers have not received as clear, correct or comprehensive an expression as they could or should either in theory or practice because of the deficiencies of the parties at their head. In Yugoslavia and China the Stalinist training of the official Readerships has damaged and distorted the revolution and its regime. In Cuba the non-socialist and non-Marxist background of the July 26th leaders prevented them from foreseeing and preparing in time all the necessary tasks and stages in the unfolding of their revolution. They themselves have acknowledged this and are now trying to make up for this deficiency. But all these political handicaps, which were not present in the Russian Revolution, do not detract from the fundamental fact that the type of industrialization, planning and collectivization characteristic of these countries today are proletarian, not peasant, in origin, principle, and evolution.
For example, the vast shifts in agrarian relations from individual land-ownership through the co-operatives to the communes which have taken place over the past ten years in China would be unthinkable and impossible under a peasant government devoted to the preservation and promotion of petty private holdings. Whatever one’s judgment on the methods used, only a workers state based on nationalized property could have carried through such colossal transformations on the land.
“Marxism,” Trotsky wrote, “never ascribed an absolute and immutable character to its estimation of the peasantry as a non-socialist class. Marx said long ago that the peasant is capable of judgment as well as prejudice. The very nature of the peasantry is altered under altered conditions. The regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat discovered great possibilities for influencing the peasantry and for re-educating it.” ( Stalin, p. 429.)
How does Cuba fit into this dialectical attitude of Marxism toward the peasantry? In Listen Ya nkee!, C. Wright Mills correctly designates the Castro government as “a revolutionary dictatorship of the workers and peasants.” Anyone who has seen the armed militia march and drill can grasp the force of this.
This worker-peasant regime was born in the Cuban countryside. But it has been growing to maturity and acquiring its definitive characteristics under the influence of the interests and aspirations of the industrial workers, not only within the country but from abroad. The achievements of China, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, which derive in the final analysis from the 1917 Russian workers revolution, serve as living models for the Cubans as well as sources of direct support. Unlike China and Yugoslavia, in rural Cuba there are more wage-workers than small peasant-owners. Under the leadership of the July 26th Movement, these two forces, with sympathy and support from the urban workers, succeeded in casting off imperialist servitude and their own capitalist exploiters.
They did this in two main stages. The program for the Cuban revolution originally enunciated by Castro was restricted to democratic aims. After overthrowing Batista, this democratic political movement mounted to higher ground, growing over into its proletarian socialist phase which is still in progress. This process of revolutionizing Cuba has been accelerated, not only by the needs of the campesinos and the demands of the workers, but by the menace of U.S. imperialism and the counterrevolution on the one side and the example and aid of the Soviet bloc on the other. Thus the internal and external dynamics on the class struggle have given the Cuban Revolution a more and more pronounced and profound anti-capitalist course and orientation.
Correctly and comprehensively interpreted, the Cuban events have exemplified the validity of the theory and program of the permanent revolution associated in our time with Trotsky’s name. This has been recognized by a qualified observer, Professor Paul A. Baran of Stanford University, who has not hitherto been known as an adherent of Trotskyism. In his “Reflections on the Cuban Revolution,” reprinted from the Monthly Review, Baran has summarized the course of the Cuban Revolution as follows:
“. . . Cuba’s Great Revolution followed the pattern of a ‘permanent revolution,’ passing rapidly from one stage of revolutionary struggle to the next, compressing more than a century of historical development into the narrow span of less than a year, and solving within weeks problems which elsewhere and earlier have occupied entire decades. Having started as a national, anti-imperialist, political revolution it had immediately to cope with the desperate animosity and bitter resistance of American imperialism, and was thus forced within a few months to enter the next phase and to turn into a social revolution. And the social revolution, by its very nature, could not but begin immediately to assume a proletarian, socialist character . . .
“It was the firm, unwavering reaction to American challenges, the courageous and uncompromising prosecution of the anti-imperialist struggle which ripened, hothouse fashion, the fledgling Cuban Revolution and pushed it in the direction of economic planning and socialism.
“All this was not ‘realization of an idea’ or execution of a previously conceived plan. Quite on the contrary, the Revolution groped its way from step to step, moving in response to the challenges and necessities of the historical situation, teaching the leadership and the masses the categorical imperatives of its own development, overcoming all obstacles to its progress, and destroying in the process its enemies as well as its false friends, the counterrevolutionaries as well as the traitors and the weaklings. By its experience it confirmed, however, a number of most important tenets of the theory of economic and social development. It demonstrated once more that in the present age all genuine efforts at liberation and economic and social advancement of colonial and dependent countries grow necessarily into political revolutions and that these political revolutions equally necessarily transcend themselves and evolve into social revolutions with a socialist content. It corroborated also the fundamental proposition that in our time all social revolutions are no longer intra-national revolutions, the fate of which is decided by class struggle within nations, but turn immediately into international revolutions the outcome of which is determined by the class struggle on the international arena, by the relative strength of the world’s socialist and imperialist camps.”
If the “socialist camp” is interpreted along Marxist lines as the sum-total of all the international forces struggling against capitalism, and not in the Stalinist sense of restricting it to the Soviet bloc of states, this appraisal of the development and class nature of the Cuban Revolution is in full accord with the facts—and, what is no less pertinent, with the principles of Marxism. As the July 26th leaders are themselves saying: “Our revolution has been evolving in obedience to the laws of class struggle discovered and expounded by Marx. Why blame us for that?” The restless members of the New Left keep casting about for new forms of action to release the energies of the people. This is essential, they say, to create a new revolutionary consciousness corresponding to the new conditions of the class struggle in the “acquisitive” and “affluent” mass society of today. They are not too sure or clear just what these methods should be. As the ex-Communist E. P. Thompson, one of the more left of the New Left spokesmen, wrote in New Left Review, November-December 1960: “We have no hankering after some enforced ideological conformity.”
Indeed, it would be difficult for so heterogeneous a group to arrive at a uniform opinion, forced or unforced, on this or any other question. The New Lefts comprise motley tendencies varying from pure pacifism and socialist reformism to “vestigial Bolshevism” and ultra-radicalism.
They are not even agreed among themselves on their attitude toward the revolutionary capacities of the workers. Thus Thompson takes exception to Mills’ disqualification of the workers and dependence upon the intellectuals as the chief agency of change. Since Thompson belongs to the British Labor party, he can hardly dismiss its working-class base so cavalierly as a sociology professor in the more politically undeveloped United States.
“It is possible,” he writes, “that when Wright Mills offers the intellectual ‘as a possible, immediate, radical agency of change’ he is thinking of them, not as the leading agents of revolution, but as the force which may precipitate a new consciousness and initiate much broader processes. In this case I am much closer to agreement with him [as we would be too—Novack], since it seems to me to be a crucial role of socialist intellectuals to do exactly this; and this in fact is what is happening all around the world today. But while socialist intellectuals may ‘trigger off’ these processes, they will only defeat and isolate themselves if they assume the hubris of ‘main agents,’ since the kind of socialism we want is one which is impossible without the participation of the whole people at every level.”
Disregarding the ambiguity of the phrase “the whole people,” this would be all right if these New Left intellectuals consistently aligned themselves with the worker ranks in the fight against the Laborite right wing and the union bureaucrats. Unfortunately, they fear or fail to carry through in practice their verbal recognition of the decisive power of the working people. That accounts in large measure for their hostility to the Trotskyist Socialist Labor League which acts the way it talks.
The anti-proletarian orientation of the New Left radicals inclines them to reject tested methods of working-class action and organization in favor of improvisations which appear to promise quicker results. There has been no lack of these over the past few years which have witnessed a wide and bewildering profusion of actions against the “Establishment.” In the capitalist countries these extend from mass meetings, marches and individual civil disobedience protests against nuclear war through street demonstrations and strikes in Japan, South Korea and Turkey to armed uprising in Cuba.
These actions cannot all be thrown into one sack and tied up together. Pacifist protests based on the individual conscience and purely literary propaganda divorced from the movements of the masses differ widely from strikes by organized workers and armed uprisings of the popular masses. In their search for panaceas, however, many New Lefts lump these antithetical methods together without bothering to note the contradictions between them.
How can consistent pacifist individualism be reconciled with the Cuban Revolution? Is it any wonder the militant pacifists of Liberation magazine are split on this question? To overthrow a tyranny arms in hand by welding rural workers and peasants into a fighting force around a program of social demands and political democracy, and then to defend the conquests of the revolution with a people’s militia, is far more Bolshevistic and fistic than pacifistic.
Pacifist protests have been useful in breaking public apathy to the dangers of nuclear war but they have done nothing to remove the imperialist power which holds the H-bomb in its hands—and over our heads. Demonstrations against the war danger have been most effective where they have been linked with and backed up by the labor movement, as in Japan and England. In Japan the strikes of the unions and the subsequent electoral campaign of the Socialist party boosted the protest against the U.S. Military Treaty started by the students. In England the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whose leaders have sought to remain above partisan and class politics, has gained real power to the extent that its aims have been taken up by the unions and the Labor party.
A year ago street demonstrations of the students, backed up by the army, overturned the governments of Syngman Rhee and Menderes. Now, a year later, it is obvious that the regimes that replaced them to the satisfaction of Washington have done little to solve the economic and social problems of South Korea and Turkey. Demonstrations calling for the ousting of the Chang government by students, unemployed and workers have been breaking out all over South Korea this spring. Unless these countries follow the Cuban road, they will go backward instead of forward.
The techniques of struggle necessarily differ from one country to another and from one stage of the revolutionary movement to the next. For example, the methods of guerrilla warfare used in Cuba may be applied to certain other Latin-American countries with similar geographical features and social conditions, as Che Guevara indicates. But they cannot be mechanically transferred to advanced countries with powerfully organized capitalist and working classes. After all, we should remember that John Brown and his heroic band at Harper’s Ferry failed to overthrow the slave power by guerilla attacks over a century ago. Quite different methods got rid of the slave power then and will be required to overcome the far more strongly entrenched power of monopoly capital today.
The sit-in techniques devised by the Southern students are dictated and justified by the fact that they must struggle for equal rights as a minority in the South and in the nation and must therefore carry on their offensive in defensive ways. But, as their enemies become more threatening and belligerent, sterner measures must be taken, as the defense guards organized by the North Carolina Negroes led by Robert Williams show. The youth among the New Lefts are impatient; they are looking for shortcuts. They mistakenly believe they can reach their goal faster by bypassing the labor organizations on the pretext that these won’t budge or can’t be budged.
This is to shirk the main job and court disillusion and disaster. There can be no substitute for arousing and enlisting the mass power of the workers. This can be exerted in many forms, according to the needs of the situation. It can be political. The formation of a Labor party in Canada is a great step forward. Or it can be industrial, like the slogan: “Stop Work on H-Bombs. Stop Work on Rocket Bases” proposed by the Socialist Labor League in England. Or it can combine the two, as the Belgian workers did in their recent general strike.
The specific means worked out for the occasion are not so important as the general strategic concept of Marxism that without conscious and organized intervention by the working class the struggle for peace, security and equality, a wider democracy and socialism cannot attain its ends.
The New Lefts are dissatisfied with both the Communist and the Social-Democratic parties. They want a new kind of party which will be democratic, humanistic, socialist. Unfortunately they do not know how to go about building such a party. They stand irresolute before that task because they fear to break clearly and completely with the ideas and practices of the old organizations and to set aside their prejudices against Leninism and Trotskyism.
Some fall back upon the hope of reforming the Socialist or Communist parties or pressuring their leaderships into taking power away from the capitalists. They expect the objective requirements of the heightening class struggle to push these parties forward and change them into unwilling instruments of revolutionary action. Others deny the necessity of a disciplined vanguard altogether as organizer and leader of the socialist revolution. They are anarchists without labeling themselves as such.
Whatever their differences on the nature, need and role of the revolutionary party, the New Lefts unite in rejecting Lenin’s concept of creating a democratically centralized workers’ organization around a Marxist program. This seems to them sectarian, totalitarian, or unsuited to their national traditions.
The dispensers of this not-so-new revelation that the working masses need no party with a Marxist leadership and program for a successful revolution try to buttress their position nowadays by citing the Cuban experience. Whatever else Cuba may or may not show, it certainly has demonstrated the key role that an audacious and disciplined leadership can play in organizing and consummating a revolutionary victory over foreign imperialism and native capitalism.
But, the New Lefts retort, this leadership was not Marxist in its ideology or inspiration. This is so. Yet Fidel Castro and his co-workers found themselves obliged to act, if they were to remain true to the objectives of the revolution, in obedience to the imperatives of the class struggle charted out by scientific socialism. They might have avoided some costly errors if they had been equipped beforehand with a thorough Marxist understanding. But so far they have surely done the best they could with what they had—and this has been enough to astound the world.
However, the Cuban revolution is far from over. Its militants inside and outside the July 26th Movement have still to forge the revolutionary party which can lead the struggle for socialism to the end. This task is not only before the Cuban Trotskyists but on the agenda of the official leaders of the revolution—and we hope that in the further course of events they can work out a satisfactory solution to this great problem.
In their enthusiasm over Cuba the proponents of the proposition that any old party will do in a pinch overlook the weightier lessons of the failures of the revolutionary movements in a series of countries since 1945 (and before!) for lack of a party and leadership adequate to the needs of the struggle. The policies of the Communist parties at the end of the war prevented the workers from taking power in France, Belgium, Italy and Greece. In the same period the Labor party, despite its nationalizations and improved social services, failed to dispossess the British monopolists whose Tory agents are now back in power. The political support given by the Communist parties to the national bourgeoisie in colonial countries from Indonesia to Iraq has kept the workers and peasants’ movements in those countries from fulfillment. Finally, the worker uprisings against the Stalinist autocracies in East Germany in 1953, Poland and Hungary in 1956 did not attain their objectives partly because a qualified revolutionary leadership was absent.
Even if it should be conceded that, thanks to an unrepeatable conjuncture of favorable circumstances, it proved feasible to drive imperialism from the island of Cuba, is it realistic to suppose that the job can be done that way in the United States? This is the stronghold of world capitalism. To place the working people at the head of the nation, it will be necessary to oppose and beat three highly centralized complexes of power: the plutocrats, the militarists, and the trade-union bureaucrats.
Can so prodigious a task be accomplished without an equally centralized, disciplined mass party of the workers, farmers and Negroes guided by socialist objectives? To defeat the established power of big business a greater power must be arrayed against it. That can come only from the working class and its allies. To help organize that power is what the Socialist Workers party aims to do.
The leaders of the New Left are mostly middle-class intellectuals, not merely by social origin (no person can help his social upbringing, although he can try to rise above and beyond it) but by political and theoretical decision. Many look upon the workers as little better than “cheerful idiots,” doped and duped by their huckster environment.
The working class of the West is undeniably a product of capitalist conditioning and, as such, far from impeccable. The workers have exhibited serious weaknesses in their acquiescence to capitalist standards and servitude. But they have likewise shown immense strengths in their resistance to them. These contradictory characteristics can be seen in the development of our own industrial workers. Until the 1930’s they were incapable of organizing themselves in basic industry—and then they took the open shops by storm. They have not taken a comparable giant step forward since. But, in our opinion, it would be as gross a mistake to discount the capacities of the American workers for independent political action in the future as it was to low-rate their capacities for independent organization in steel, auto and other industries before the CIO. If Canadian labor can organize a new party, can their brothers below the border be far behind?
The creative potential of the American working class has scarcely been tapped. A new radical mood and movement can make it spring quickly to life. Consider, for precedent, the people of Cuba. Visitors who saw them under the heel of Batista regarded them as slavish, craven, corrupt, hopelessly and helplessly backward. Now the revolution has liberated their energies, opened their eyes, straightened their backs, enlightened their minds, aroused their civic and class courage. They are a transformed nation! The working people of the United States ninety miles away are not made of inferior stuff. And when the time is right, they will prove it. Serious fighters against capitalism must foresee and prepare for that great awakening.
Not long ago the Southern Negroes were considered by many, even of their own race, incapable of fighting for equality on their own account. Who will say so now? The Africans, too, used to be classified and dismissed as cheerful but ignorant and impotent people. Their rising throughout the continent is refuting that myth.
The New Lefts discuss the problem of alienation endlessly. Their own disdain for the capacities of the working people is a sign of the alienation of intellectuals from the central source of power and progress. That is why they, too, need affiliation with the Marxist revolutionary party. It can be the means for overcoming this unwholesome estrangement by uniting workers and radical intellectuals in the common effort to build a Socialist America.
The question of the correct relations between radical intellectuals and students and the labor movement is not a purely theoretical one. It has been raised in close connection with practical policy in a number of countries. In the leadership of Zengakuren, the student organization of Japan, there are two contending factions in addition to the Stalinists. These belong to the Communist League, a split off from the Communist party, and the Revolutionary Communist League, the Trotskyist.
Ultra-left members of the Communist League have been proceeding on the premise that it is possible to electrify the masses and wear out the capitalist government by their own direct assault without the force of the workers’ organizations behind them and with them. The Trotskyist students oppose this conception of a solitary duel between the students and the capitalist power as adventuristic. They have urged instead an alliance with the organized workers in a concerted campaign of political and mass action directed at the replacement of the capitalist regime with a workers and farmers government.
In England the middle-class intellectuals at the head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament deny the desirability of bringing the unions or the Labor party into the forefront of the antiwar movement. They counterpoise pacifist and non-class methods to proletarian forms of struggle. The Trotskyist participants are foremost in advocating the involvement of the workers in the fight for peace by political and industrial action.
Because of the backwardness of labor’s political development, this same problem has been posed in a peculiar form in the United States. There is no labor or mass socialist party here yet. Nevertheless, radical intellectuals must take political positions. The national election last year put everyone who supports democracy, peace, Negro rights and socialism to a crucial test.
C. Wright Mills claims to have gone beyond liberalism and Marxism. Yet he has not in fact shaken off either the allegiances or the illusions of liberalism. He is against the right-wing liberals who are staking out posts on Kennedy’s New Frontier. But he remains with those irresolute liberals of the left who cannot swallow Kennedy but fear to vote for Dobbs, the only candidate who opposed the warmongers and witch-hunters and defended the Cuban Revolution.
Instead of going beyond Marxism, Mills is still behind it. In this respect his current political position continues the tradition of left liberalism in this country. John Dewey, for example, wavered between support for liberal Democrats like Al Smith in 1928 and Roosevelt in 1940 and proposals for a hybrid third party. In 1932 he opposed the old-line capitalist parties as well as the Socialist and Communist parties. He proposed a new Progressive party to reform capitalism on the grounds that the United States was essentially a middle-class country and the industrial workers could not and should not take the lead in national politics. But he cast his vote for Norman Thomas. Mills has not yet proceeded in practical politics even so far as John Dewey at that time.
When people announce that they are setting sail beyond Marxism, it is essential to see whether they are really moving onto advanced revolutionary ground—or circling by some unforeseen detour back toward reconciliation with the powers-that-be. It happens that Mills is calling upon us to repudiate scientific socialism, the class struggle, and the leading role of the working class just as the West German Social Democracy and its imitators in Europe and England are abandoning them in profession as well as in practice. Shouldn’t the New Left radicals ask themselves: why this ideological kinship or coincidence with the most reactionary elements in European Socialism whom we otherwise abhor?
The two tendencies are not the same despite their common front against historical materialism and the class-struggle methods of Marxism. Mills is headed in a different direction. He is separating himself from the monopolists and militarists while the right-wing Socialist leaders are further integrating themselves within capitalism. But Mills has not yet consistently developed his criticisms of capitalism and drawn all the necessary practical conclusions from them.
In the field of political reality he and his disciples remain suspended in space, without a party and without a political agency to realize their aims. Such an awkward position cannot be sustained for long. The national and international class struggle has imperatives that cannot be ignored.
The most pernicious aspect of his present views has apparently not dawned upon Mills. He is against bureaucratism, domination and direction by an elite, as a plague of modern society. Yet he proposes to give the intellectual apparatus, a special elite, the principal role in elevating mankind.
Isn’t this a highly bureaucratic, antidemocratic notion? All the Lords Bountiful of the present and enlightened absolutists of the past have promised to make the masses happier and better on one condition: that the administration of affairs be left to them. Marxism broke with all such arrogant aristocratic and bureaucratic schemes. It proclaimed: “The emancipation of the workers can only be the work of the workers themselves,” and not the gift of false saviors.
By placing the intellectual apparatus above the working people, Mills unwittingly aligns himself with all those from the union bureaucrats to the Stalinist autocrats who likewise distrust the capacities of the workers to rule themselves and reconstruct society.
The historical task of cleaning away “the old crap” and transforming the world along socialist lines cannot be accomplished by the single act of revolution or its victory in one country. It is an uninterrupted process, requiring a transitional period extending over an entire epoch and embracing all countries during which people change themselves while they are changing society.
In a recent communication James P. Cannon posed the question this way: if the workers are unable to carry through this historical task, it has to be assigned to some elite. But then we come to the embarrassing questions: Will this uncontrolled elite be benevolent? Will it extend freedom, purely from goodness of heart and nobility of intentions? Or will it curtail freedom until it is stamped out entirely?
Experience so far in the history of civilized humanity, and of this century in particular, speaks for the latter alternative—if the workers are unable to take control of public affairs and keep it.
We, orthodox Marxists, maintain that the record of the international working class, and the achievements to date of the American workers, testify to their prospective capacities for abolishing the evils of class society and creating free and equal relations among men. If they cannot, no other power on earth can or will do so. That is the issue at stake in our dispute with the anti-Marxists. It is no small matter.
“The age of complacency and apathy is ending,” exults Mills. “We are beginning to move again.” This is good news. But we have the right to know: what are we moving from, where are we going to, and how are we going to get there?
Marxism gives firm answers to these vital questions. Humanity is too slowly but surely moving from capitalism to socialism, from imperialism to independence, from the rule of the plutocrats and labor bureaucrats to the democratic rule of the working people, from war to peace, from foul reaction to unlimited progress. The indispensable means to these ends are scientific socialism as a theoretical guide and method, the revolutionary party as the political instrument, the working class as the prime agency of social transformation, backed by the peasants, and assisted by the intellectuals and all other victims of capitalist conditions.
These views are consistent and definite. The ideas of the New Lefts are hazy, ambiguous and misleading. “We are looking for the truth,” they say. They will not attain it unless they introduce more consistency into their ideas, fill out the gaping holes in their positions—and follow through in practice. Without clear and precise revolutionary ideas neither intellectuals nor workers can conduct the most effective struggle against the enemies of progress.