Copyright, 1937, by Albert Weisbord



To Samuel Fisher,

Loyal comrade who perished in the class struggle.


The sign-posts of the nineteenth century are gone. At a dead end of the road America must now take a new direction. Which way out shall we choose that will not mean this way out, that is, which will not spell the rapid exit of large portions of civilized humanity?

In this outline I propose to give an exposition and critique of the principal political movements that have arisen through attempts to solve the modern social antagonisms which threaten to overwhelm us. That the problems can and will be solved there can be no doubt. For the problems themselves cannot arise unless there are present those very material forces which in turn provide the basis for their solution. If, then, we study Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism, it is not merely to understand the world, but to change it. And precisely for this reason must we comprehend these various “isms,” not simply as systems of thought, but as movements made up of people fighting for the realization of definite wants and needs, and expressing the material interests of particular social classes of a given historical environment through programs by which they hope to transform the world.

Such political programs are essentially programs of action. Whenever these programs change, it is not because the ideas embodied in them have a life or an evolution of their own, but because the material factors of the world have changed, giving rise to new interests and to new problems reflected by the programs. Ideas, even political ideas, have no history, no development, no more than do reflections of objects in a mirror. It is men, it is society, it is nature that moves, that evolves, and to whose history we must turn.

A word is necessary as to the present writing itself. At first I contemplated merely a political primer; I soon found the subject too complicated to be treated so handily, especially as there was no other single book to which I could refer the reader. Not a popular digest but a standard treatise was needed, and I was compelled to change both the material and the method of treatment. Because the task before me was primarily that of a pathfinder, the duty of incorporating the large number of references needed to support the argument lay heavily upon me. The insertion of all the reference notes, however, would have so burdened the text as to have amounted to another book in itself, and to have made the volume inaccessible to many to whom this work is addressed. I decided, therefore, to eliminate many of the notes and references and to simplify the style as far as possible. Thus I have attempted to strike a balance between a pedantic professorial tome and a popular synopsis. I shall be well satisfied if the plain man in the street understands its purport.

The present work has many defects of which I am all too painfully conscious. The necessity to compress the material gathered into two volumes has compelled me to eliminate important parts: chapters on feminism and pacifism, which were to go under Liberalism; a chapter on the Jew, capitalism and communism, which was to be placed under Fascism; chapters on the present Spanish Revolution and on the Negro and communism which were to appear in the last book. Besides’ there have been deleted sections on the early peasants’ wars, on the ferment in India, on the Irish Rebellion, and other material of a similar nature.

In passing, may I say that most of the work was done in the libraries in New York City and Chicago and in the special libraries of the University of Michigan and of the University of Chicago? Especially generous were the Law Library and the Clements Memorial Library at Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I must express my indebtedness to Vera Buch for her invaluable assistance in going over the entire work and for her contributions especially to the part dealing with the Russian Revolution of 1905. To Murray H. Braun I owe many thanks for his persistent and capable labors in checking the notes.

A. W.


POLITICS is the science dealing with the State; revolutionary politics with the overthrow of the existing State. And by the State is meant the specific social forces which the economically dominant classes organize to enforce their will over the people of a given territory. The State is an instrument by which the ruling classes hold the power and compel the other classes to remain in subjection. Tax-gathering and military-police supervision are the principal activities of the State as such. With the development of capitalism, the State has performed increasing industrial and other social functions. This growth of State activity, far from identifying the State with society, rather has brought the antagonisms of that society to a head. In every case the State is the answer to the question: Through what does the ruling class dictate its will to the oppressed? From that point of view, every State signifies the dictatorship of a class over other economic classes. (*1) America is not exempt, although for a long time unique circumstances have made it appear otherwise.

At bottom, Democracy, as a type of State, far from being opposed to Dictatorship, is a mode of Dictatorship. For example, it has been through a sort of Democracy, which in essence means the right of a more or less large section of the population to express its will by the vote and by the election of officers of the State, that the Dictatorship of the capitalist class in the United States has been expressed for generations. Here, highly propagandized Democracy has tended to conceal the factual Dictatorship. Or, to take a converse case, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat established in the Soviet Union has gone hand in hand with an enormous extension of the franchise. It is the prominence of the Dictatorship and its openly avowed character which have induced many superficial observers to overlook Russia’s inherent Democracy.

The term “Dictatorship” may be used in two senses: to designate the essence of the State or to characterize the form the State takes. Thus, the Dictatorship of the capitalist class, i.e., theCapitalist State, can be and has been expressed through a Military Dictatorship, a Fascist Dictatorship, or through a Democracy, etc. Again, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, i.e., the Workers’ State, at least as established in the days of Lenin, was expressed in a form of democratic mechanism by which the proletariat dictated its will and directly controlled the government.

Open or concealed, Class Dictatorship exists in every State. Nor does it make any difference whether the State be republican or monarchical. For that matter, Democracy may appear under a monarchy (Great Britain) and a Republic may be anti-democratic. (*2)

This conception of the State renders irrelevant what kind of government may exist. By “Government” we mean simply the mechanics, the apparatus, through which the ruling class functions. By “Administration” we mean the functionaries and representatives of the State. (*3) Whether the Administration controls the workings of the Government in one manner or another, whether the Government operates within the framework of this Constitution or that, whether the ruling class rules directly or indirectly, through its own members or those of another class, these questions, important enough in themselves and sometimes even decisive, have to do simply with the technique of governing. Questions of statecraft, problems of government, and the art of administration become important only after the fundamental political question in society is solved: Who rules whom?

We must note, in passing, that the apparatus of the State, although expressing the will of the economically dominant classes and acting as their servant, nevertheless can have a certain independence of these classes. Bonapartism is a classic example of this situation. Indeed, those in actual power in the government may be members of another class, hostile to the interests of the dominant class and yet forced to carry out these interests.

The various political tendencies struggling for power have been characterized as reactionary, conservative, reformist, and revolutionary. In this work, each of these terms will have an exact meaning. “Reactionary” will be used to designate that tendency or movement which would turnthe world backward, that is to say, which would give political power to social classes already pushed into the discard by the present capitalist classes. A Royalist movement, for example, that would make pre-eminent the interests of the remnants of old feudal landlord classes, that would supersede science and industry with backward village economy—such a movement can be called reactionary in every sense of the term.

However, it must be borne in mind always that the remnants of the past are still with us in the present, and indeed make up part of the present. Capitalism has always made compromises with the past; Royalty and aristocracy, for example, still remain in England; the Negroes still exist as a separate caste in the United States; the economic category of Absolute Rent still prevails in all capitalistic countries. (*4)

Hence, even the conservative, who wants things to remain just as they are, is a reactionary. He is reactionary in a double sense; first, because he struggles to perpetuate the compromises of the past, even creating new decadent forces; and second, because he refuses to change with the movement of events, and, in lagging behind, drags the whole world backward.

Considering society as actually evolving, we may go even farther than this and term “reactionary” not merely those movements which take us backward but also those which would, in any degree, hinder us from going forward as far as possible under the circumstances. It is from this point of view that the Revolutionist properly calls the Liberal, or “fellow travelers” of all kinds, “reactionary,” both for not advancing society as far as it possibly could go under the given circumstances and for struggling against those who would go farther and quicker. Even the Revolutionist can be reactionary, if his policies and actions are such as to fail to bring the advancement for which the world is ready. On this level of social dynamics, all terms are relative: a Reactionary can be a Liberal Reformer, while a foolish Revolutionist can also be reactionary.

For the purpose of the present analysis, we will say that a reactionary movement is one that would return to old and outworn systems and methods no longer compatible with the development of the productive forces; a conservative movement is one that on the whole wants things to remain as they are; reformism, standing fundamentally on the ground of things as they are, would like to change the superstructural social relations so as better to perpetuate the existing system; finally, revolutionary movements advocate the building of a really new society from the foundations up.

Even here classification gets into difficulties. The most hardened conservative will concede the necessity for some degree of change, but will quickly add that the needed modifications are slight and must be brought about slowly. The difference between the conservative and the reformist tendencies is one of degree rather than of kind; one fades naturally into the other. Yet these differences can at times assume a bitter, sanguinary character.

Reformist movements can be subdivided into two principal streams: reformist movements of a dynamically reactionary nature (Fascism), and those of a progressive nature (Liberalism). Here again the reader must be reminded that, as used herein, these terms have a nice content.

Fascism is considered a reformist movement because Fascism does not struggle for the abolition of the capitalist system. Quite the contrary, the changes it accomplishes are entirely upon the basis of capitalism, in order to preserve it. The most modern highly developed forms of finance capital and trustified industry are the powers behind Fascism. If, in spite of this, we declare that Fascism has reactionary characteristics, it is because it would destroy certain productive forces that have been developed under capitalism, and above all, because it would destroy those labor organizations which alone can drive the world forward.

Liberalism is termed a reformist movement of a progressive nature. Here, too, certain qualifications must be made. In what sense has Liberalism been progressive? The contradictory processes of nature work in such a manner that, within the shell of the old, the elements of the new appear and develop before they burst forth from their integument and form a new order. Liberalism is progressive only in so far as it protects the elements of the new that are appearing and permits them to grow until they can fulfill their revolutionary mission of destroying the old. But that Liberalism which defends the right of free speech for the Czar in the Soviet Union, or for the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, takes on, indeed, a reactionary tinge.

Placing both Fascism and Liberalism under the heading of reformist tendencies. we find that Fascism is reformist, though reactionary, while Liberalism, though reformist, may not be progressive.

In the category of revolutionary we place all those movements which have as their goal the creation of an entirely new system of society on a political basis calculated to release the fettered energies of the present. We exclude from consideration here those revolutionists, “palace” or otherwise, who agitate for insurrection simply to overthrow the existing political machine so as to win power for their own cliques. Of course, it has often happened that the revolutionarycharacter of a given political program consists solely in the aim it expresses and in the hopes and wishes of its adherents. But, after all, the only really revolutionary program is one that is scientifically verifiable: in short, one that in practice can lead to victory. Any utopian, unscientific political trend, even while claiming to be revolutionary, harbors the possibility of becoming actually counter-revolutionary.

The revolutionary camps, also, have been divided into two main branches: the non-Marxian, which includes Anarchism and Syndicalism (and sometimes forms of peasant Populism), and the Marxian, including Socialism and Communism (and sometimes forms of Laborism). This is not an artificial division; the monumental works of Karl Marx (1818- 1883) and of Frederick Engels (1820-1895) stand as a great barrier separating them. Life, however, is more complicated than any formula. In practice Marxism has constantly been corrupted by alien elements within the Marxist camp, sometimes to such an extent that it was the corruption which assumed the name of Marxism, often leading to split-offs of one kind or another. Similarly, non-Marxists were forced to borrow from Marxism so that, in many cases, it became possible for elements within both camps to approach each other and to work together.

If the State is defined as the instrument of the economically dominant classes, then the revolutionary movement may be described as the force of the economically oppressed classes who wish to rise to power. Generally speaking, it is the poor sections of the population that support and nourish the revolutionary organizations and groups. The reformist movements, on the other hand, are supported by those propertied classes who have still something to gain from the present social system. But the line between rich and poor, between the propertied and the propertyless, is not always so clear. All sorts of middle elements appear, blurring distinctions.

Precisely such a middle grouping is Radicalism. The term “Radicalism” is employed here in the fine European sense and not as a generic term to cover any sort of revolutionary movement whatever. In this treatise, Radicalism is the extreme left wing of Liberalism, standing approximately upon the same basic theoretical ground as Liberalism, but organized separately, and made up of poorer class elements leaning towards egalitarianism, willing to break with tradition and ready to take extreme measures to insure victory. Radicals generally are not afraid of the masses or of violence. Throughout this book the term “Radicalism” is used in this precise sense.

Radicalism may take the form of a “People’s Party.” This was the case with the agrarian “People’s” movement in the United States in the letter part of the nineteenth century. In Russia, on the contrary, before the War, agrarian Populism adapted itself to definite Socialist and revolutionary tendencies. Under certain conditions, revolutionary Populism can ally itself even to Communism.

Just as Liberalism and Fascism filter down from the propertied classes and may embrace masses of toilers, so revolutionary movements may become completely diluted by tendencies belonging to the ruling class. In one country Liberalism may give rise to Anarchism, in another place, to Socialism. On the other hand, Anarchism has split into two parts, one of an out-and-out bourgeois nature, and the other with a revolutionary character; Socialism has developed a section so thoroughly penetrated by Liberalism that all of its so-called revolutionary character has been dissolved. Communism may be so corroded by alien tendencies as to become the tool of imperialists to shatter the labor movement to fragments.

Thus the whole revolutionary movement is unavoidably one of splits and fusions that bewilder the uninitiated. Yet these splits are not meaningless, nor are they based merely upon personalities. They but reflect the dialectical processes of life that must be understood if we are to become politically mature.

Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism, and Communism influence the lives of tens and hundreds of millions. Liberalism in England and the United States, Anarchism in the Latin and South and Central American countries, Syndicalism in Spain, Socialism in Europe, Fascism in Italy and in Germany, and Communism in the Soviet Union carry behind them the weight and momentum of enormous masses. These “isms” have become powers and forces that clash for the mastery of the world.


1 By classes we mean groups bound together, on the whole, by common interests springing from their role in the productive process and in the social distribution of wealth. Such a class is, for example, the capitalist, subdivided into landlords, industrialists, merchants, bankers, and others. Such also is the proletariat, and similar groupings. Classes change with the mode of production.

No classes, no State. The State has its origin in the class struggle. The State is marked according to which class system is expressed through the State power. Thus there is a Slave State, a Feudal State, a Capitalist State, a Workers’ State.

2 .The Athenian City State in Ancient Greece was an anti-democratic Republic based on slavery. When the thirteen colonies formed the United States of America, they created a non-democratic Republic.

3. The distinction that we make between Government and Administration is more or less an arbitrary one for the convenience of American readers. With us it is ordinarily the Administration that falls, not the Government. In Europe it is the Government that falls or is changed. The difference is due to the difference in the development of capitalism in the United States and in Europe. We have been accustomed in political theory to separate laws and the machinery of government from men and classes. Not so in Europe. Governments and Administrations change according to the tactical and strategical needs of the ruling classes.

4. Absolute Rent has been attacked many times in America. Benjamin Franklin, as a Physiocrat, was for its removal. The largest movement of this kind designed to free the capitalists generally from the monopoly hold of their landlord section was the Single Tax movement headed by Henry George in the late nineteenth century.