George Novack’s Understanding History

The Long View Of History


These two talks were originally given at the West Coast school and camp held near Los Angeles, California, in September 1955. They offer a popularised account of the main line of evolution from fish to mankind, from savagery to civilisation, and from Indian life to contemporary capitalism in the United States. This is an extremely simplified outline of the immense and complex range of that evolutionary process. The facts set forth are well enough known—but their interpretation here differs from that taught in the schools and universities of capitalist America.

These talks were designed as an introduction to a study of the march of mankind from the viewpoint of scientific socialism.

It is especially directed toward newly awakened minds, concerned about the fundamental problems of life in our time and seeking enlightenment on the main issues of the social and political struggle.

Its arguments are aimed against two prevailing notions which tend to reinforce antisocialist prejudices and uphold belief in the sanctity of the existing system. One is the general idea that it is impossible, undesirable or somehow unscientific to seek out the central course of development in history, above all in the history of society; to link together its successive stages and place them in proper sequence; to distinguish the lower form from the higher; and indicate the nature of the next steps.

The second prejudice is more specific, although it is supported by the first. This is the assumption that the established capitalist regime in the United States embodies the highest attainable mode of life and an unsurpassable type of social organisation.

These propositions, I hope to show, are wrong in theory and thoroughly reactionary in their practical consequences. Socialist theory has the merit of explaining how and why the growing discontent with the existing setup among the working people and their strivings for a better way of life are reasonable, realistic, and founded on sound scientific premises. The instinctive drive of the workers toward a fundamental reorganisation of the capitalist social and political structure accords with the main line of human progress.

These conclusions are already taken for granted in many parts of the globe which are usually regarded as backward by the American people. However, it must be said that although our country is the most modernised in many respects, from superhighways to colour television, it is most backward in recognising—and acting upon—the elementary truths of evolutionary science and revolutionary socialism.

I hope this little pamphlet will help some fellow countrymen and women to catch up with the thinking of the more progressive sections of mankind by clearing away capitalist-fostered prejudices, which obscure the real meaning of American history and block the road to the next stage of American civilisation.

October 1956