The work of four arduous years is completed with the publication of Comrade Weisbord’s book “The Conquest of Power”, (Covici Friede, March, 1937, $7.50). We can say in hailing its appearance that for the first time in the English speaking working class movement a Marxist work of great scope has been attempted. The Stalinist hacks pour out their pamphlets in rapid succession, rehashing the documents received from the Comintern and adulating Stalin on every page. Such original work as has been attempted at all has come from the pens of the “pseudo-Communist” intellectuals, the Sydney Hooks, the Max Eastmans, the Coreys and Stracheys. But these writers are either Stalinized to a great extent like Strachey or they are outspokenly revisionists of Marx.
The Conquest of Power rests upon a firm Marxist foundation and may be called a brilliant exposition of the method of dialectical materialism. The book deals with the political covenants that have struggled for power during the capitalist epoch, (Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism). The book is thus in effect a political history of capitalism in all the major countries. But it is much more than that.
It shows the rise, apogee and decline of each of the movements and their connections and inter-relations one with the other and as the whole and each one changed from time to time and varied in different countries. Each movement is treated as a stranded cable of events for which the movement is responsible and from which it springs, of men, who struggled and of program, philosophic, political, economic and social, which they espouse. The book analyzes the evolution of revolutions and serves to expose the hidden laws of motion in the various movements of modern times. For the first time an attempt is made to probe and generalize on the methods by which a class arrives at power.
The book is also a guide to the every day reader who wants to familiarize himself with the meaning of the political movements he constantly hears about. It is a basis for understanding such things as the clashes in Europe, the victory of Hitler, the civil war in Spain, or the supreme Court controversy, or the Moscow trials. It throws new light on many problems of American life. It attempts to arrive at a synthesis of the various movements dealt with, tracing them through the victory of capitalism, the rise of the working class political movements to the titanic struggle of our day between Fascism and Communism. And, finally, it gives a guide to action for the sake of proletarian leaders and who will find the book in every way invaluable in their work. From this point of view the Conquest of Power may be called a manual of insurrection.
The part dealing with Liberalism begins with the rise of capitalism at the end of the Middle Ages, takes us from the English Civil Wars and the origins of the monarchy through the modern industrialist period. From there we go to the French Revolution, then to the United States. As far as these countries are concerned we have a complete history of their development, with glimpses of other countries such as Italy, Germany, the Netherlands. etc.
“Anarchism” and “Syndicalism” clarify two movements, which have come to the fore in the Spanish revolution today. The opinions of the anarchists and syndicalists of all countries are given objectively, substantiated by quotations from their works. This part shows the differences that exist between the various shades of anarchism,—liberal anarchism, mutualism, libertarianism, collectivist and communist anarchism. The analysis of the Syndicalist movement not only gives us the differences between the syndicalism of France, of Italy and Spain, it gives also a history of the trade union movements of these countries as well as the United States. The reasons are shown why these two movements never attained very great influence among workers, and why they have been superseded by Socialism and Communism, to a great extent.
The section on Socialism is the most complete that can be found within the confines of any one study. Marxism, the foundations of the socialist movement, is carefully outlined, and the movement is traced from its early origins with the Utopian Socialists to the development of the First International, then through the Second International, Revisionism, the breakdown of the movement during the World War, and its history since.
“Fascism” begins with an analysis of the material basis for the development of this last phase of capitalism in the sections on the Age of Violence and the Chronic Crisis. The section on Fascist Prototypes, bringing to light the little known facts on the forerunners of the Fascist movement from Macniavelli to Carlyle, will be much appreciated. A thorough study of the developments and philosophy of Fascism in Germany and Italy, and the differences between them is followed by a section on “Fascist Trends in the United States” and “The Future Physiognomy of American Fascism.
“Communism” is the largest part of all as this is the movement destined to supersede all others. Beginning with the communist uprisings of the early capitalist period, we proceed, following a red thread running consistently through the actions of the oppressed sections of the population, to the Paris Commune. Bolshevism is then thoroughly analyzed, based upon the works of Lenin. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 are gone into. Under the chapter on “The Third International Under Lenin”, we see not only the principles upon which that International was founded, we see also its weaknesses, points which are rarely brought to light in spite of the many polemics that have taken place. We see the work accomplished by the first four Congresses and at the same time the poor quality of the groups adhering to these Congresses, thus laying the basis for the corruption of the whole Comintern.
Under “Stalinism” the history of the degeneration of the Comintern is unrolled in page after page of convincing argument always substantiated by facts. Let the Stalinists answer these facts if they can. We know how the Stalinist press treats scientific works proceeding from the opposition communist movement. For example Souvarine’s huge volume on Stalin was designated as a “pamphlet". Perhaps the 1200 pages of Comrade Weisbord’s monumental work will be boiled down to an “article” by the Stalinist slanders. But the glaring facts of the errors of the right-wing period of the Comintern in 1925-27, and isolation and collapse of the “Third Period” stand mountains high, above any lying distortions that may be launched against the book.
Finally a chapter on the Fourth International gives a program of action, based on the theoretical struggle and active participation in the movement of the C.L.S. during its six years of existence.
We cannot fail to mention a number of points which are original contributions and which add to the great value of this work. First, there is the analysis of the Catholic Church as based not on land tenure, but rather on the development of commerce in a society still agrarian. This is far from the orthodox treatment of the Catholic Church since most historians make the material basis of that Church rest on the land system of feudalism rather than on the commercial systems arising within the framework of feudalism. This is a point that must give an entirely new light to the activities of the Catholic Church from the 12th to the 19th century.
Second, there is the exposure of the relationship of the Constitution of the United States to the Secret Society of Cincinnati. It is common knowledge that the body of men who came together in Philadelphia to create the Federal Constitution, “put something over” on the people of the country. But there never has been an exposure before of just what group did the job and how they did it. It is plain from the study of original documents made by Comrade Weisbord that the group of men who did the actual plotting and caucus work was none other than the Society of Cincinnati. This point alone would have had a book written about it had some college professor uncovered it.
Third, there is the bringing to light the all but buried material on Abraham Lincoln and his relation to slavery and the slave system. Today, the people of the United States are no longer familiar with Lincoln as the prosperous railroad lawyer denounced by Abolitionists as the “slave hound from Illinois". Nor has there ever been adequately illuminated his miserable role in the Civil War. Here then, this book gives a new picture of one of the greatest figures in American History.
Fourth, what is new in “Liberalism” is the thorough examination of the national peculiarities in the customs and politics of the people of different countries. We see the Germans different from the Italians, the English different from the American. True, this theme has been done before and even overworked, but never has it been so done, as here, that the national peculiarities of each people become part of the study of political science.
We are not mentioning here a host of other points, such as the thesis that the West really had no “democracy” for a long time, because it had no state. Nor the point made under “Fascism” that deals with criminality in the United States, based upon a first hand study of little known of official reports. Little has been written, also, on the question of the forerunners of Fascism.
The Conquest of Power, monumental though it is in its scope, is no mere encyclopedia of facts, but a live, vital work written by one, though a young man has already given 20 years to the labor movement. The thoroughness of its documentation is matched by intimacy of Comrade Weisbord’s contact with the socialist and communist movements, the National Secretary of the Y.P.S.L. as well as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party down to 1929 and as the organizer of many prominent strikes. No one, who feels concerned with the truth or that wants to understand world affairs can afford to be without this book.
Apr 13 1937
St. Louis, M0
Social Theories Ably Discussed
THE CONQUEST OF POWER. By Albert Weisbord. 2 Vols. (Covici-Friede, New York.)
From the early peasant uprisings of feudal Europe and the beginnings of Liberalism in the Reformation and English Civil Wars, Albert Weisbord here presents an exhaustive review of politico-social philosophies to modern Communism.
He classifies modern political philosophies under six heads: Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism, which he describes as phases of man’s effort to gain power over social chaos. Capitalism he does not regard as a distinct political or social philosophy; it is treated as a condition which exists as a successor to Feudalism.
Anarchism and Syndicalism, he finds, are strongest in Spain and France. They advocate direct action by strikes and sabotage, and are dismissed as futile-Anarchism because of its lack of organization, Syndicalism because, represented primarily by the I.W.W. and trade unions, it has been inadequate “in the face of events” such as war and unemployment. Socialism has been too opportunistic, he maintains. Socialists desired “to appear as revolutionists but to be free to act as reformists.”
So Weisbord’s researches, and exhaustive and absorbing they are, simmer down to his premise of a world-struggle between Communism and Fascism. It is possible, Weisbord says, to pass from pre-Fascist Capitalism directly to the rule of the working class, but he believes that in this country, “the measures of the Roosevelt administration have been in line with those which Fascists in other countries have brought forth.”
Fascism, he asserts, can not have a long future in America, for: so virile, so energetic, so intrinsically unspoiled is the American laborer that “there can be no long period of time between labor’s awakening and victory.” Labor’s victory to Weisbord means, of course, Communism’s victory.
Regardless of the author’s conclusions, this work should prove valuable to many for its searching analysis of social and political theories.
STAR EAGLE           May 17, 1937
SHORTS: “The Conquest of Power” by Albert Weisbord (Covici-Friede; 2 volumes, $7.50):
Here, in more than a thousand pages, is a complete and authoritative analysis of the origins and development of six socio-political philosophies: Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism. (Capitalism, while discussed at length during the course of this study, is not treated as a distinct philosophy.) The author, maintaining that only Fascism and Communism have any real validity in the modern world, argues that the latter will eventually prevail.
While few readers will be inclined to accept all of Mr. Weisbord’s ultimate conclusions, no one can deny that “The Conquest of Power” is a major work in its field. The author’s analyses are as clarifying as they are exhaustive, and his two-volume treatise will supply serious students of world trends with many weeks of stimulating and provocative reading fare.
THE CONQUEST OF POWER. By Albert Weisbord. Covici-Friede. 2 vols, $7.50
Albert Weisbord is a graduate of the Harvard Law School; he joined the Communist Party not long after its formation, led some brilliant strikes in the early 20’s, went into opposition along with Trotsky, broke with Trotsky as a compromiser a couple of years ago, and now leads a small left-wing sect of his own, the Communist League of Struggle. Aspiring, with better reason than most, to the mantle of both Marx and Lenin, he has spent five years in libraries and produced 1,200 close-packed pages of historical interpretation and theory.
Ostensibly the two volumes comprise an outline of the revolutionary movements of the western world. Under “Liberalism” Mr. Weisbord covers the overthrow of feudalism by capitalism in the Cromwellian, American and French Revolutions. He then takes up successively the philosophy, leadership and achievements of Syndicalism, Anarchism, Socialism, Fascism, and Communism. Before he is through he has reviewed every major development in political thought and action of modern times, and he contributes much in the way of fresh insight and original source material.
The serious student who is not afraid of a big job will find in these volumes the best summary of the radical faiths since Bertrand Russell’s Roads to Freedom. The Marxist scholar will find new illumination on many dark corners. Whether posterity will hold that Mr. Weisbord’s book has done for politics what Marx’s Capital did for economics is likely to depend on whether Mr. Weisbord’s brand of dissident Marxism is to dominate future events through such a “Fourth International” as he advocates—which this reviewer certainly questions.
There is thorough and profound Marxism behind this work. But it may be taken as argument that Marxism, like any other self-sufficient system of thought, runs itself into the ground in the end. Thus, for example, Mr. Weisbord explains the lack of a class-conscious labor movement in nineteenth century America as due in no small measure to the presence of the Negro, who, under slavery, provided a class below the proletariat. With emancipation the Negro became the only true proletarian in America, hence Mr. Weisbord must honestly conclude that leadership in the coming revolution belongs primarily to the Negro.
In spite of such strained logic the Conquest of Power deserves the most thoughtful attention, especially from those Marxist radicals who are capable of profiting from a new critique.
ALFRED M. BINGHAM
BOSTON, MASS           April 21, 1937
Christian Science Monitor
Place aux Liberals
Book News of the Day
Lenin assured the well-wishers of the revolution that the state would ultimately wither away and that the dictatorship over the proletariat would be transformed into the dictatorship by the proletariat. Orthodox Marxists, ever since, have been conjuring: “Wither state. Wither dictatorship. Come forth ye perfect communism.”
And lo, the state has fattened; bureaucracy has waxed; nationalism has enjoyed a lusty springtide. So Albert Weisbord in THE CONQUEST OF POWER (New York: Covici. Friede, 2 vols. $7.50) removes his Marxist furniture from Russia. To him it is the world revolution that has withered under the withering fire of Stalin’s executioners. Russia has fallen upon the Thermidorian days. As Robespierre lost out to the Directory, as the Paris Commune was swallowed up by the petty bourgeoisie, and as even the American Revolution abutted on reaction, so Stalin is found stepping with the iron heel of bureaucracy and nationalism upon the most promising bid for power ever made in the name of the masses.
It is to America that Mr. Weisbord would now carry his Communist furniture. In the United States, the author discovers most of the Marxist conditions for a successful revolution. There are millions of industrial workers there possessed of a heritage of violence and direct action; the traditions of the nation are rooted in revolution; capitalism has evolved in accord with the Marxist prophecy; the masses are relatively enlightened and there could be developed a nucleus of intellectual leaders.
Here are Mr. Weisbord’s ingredients of a revolution that will carry through. A sigh for the past, for the lack of organization of the French, the inadequate initiative of the Germans, the mellow Parliamentarianism of the British; the “sell-out” of Russia. With direct action—strikes, boycotts and lynchings—with militant industrial organizations of the unskilled, with intellectual Pied Pipers playing American slogans, the Fourth International he thinks will come to full strength in the United States. It will revivify the European radicals; it will awaken the masses of darkest Africa.
The fallacy of Mr. Weisbord’s 1175 page historical argument is patent. He reveals that communism in post-war Germany, ripe, according to the tenets of Marxism, for revolution, burned swiftly out after a flare-up in Bavaria. Counter-revolution dislodged communism wherever it got a foothold. In Russia, devoid even of a strong bourgeoisie, Mr. Weisbord admits that by 1923 the counter-revolution, in the very guise of the proletariat itself, had destroyed communism.
What, then, must be the counter-revolutionary impact to be anticipated in America, where there are such potent forces of reaction as are represented by the most powerful middle class in the world?
Mr. Weisbord recognizes this middle class and concedes that it may turn to the right or to the left, to fascism or to communism. But perhaps the middle class will turn neither way but remain itself, strengthening all the time its liberal tradition. The author, in his monumental labor of bringing the materialistic history of men’s political thinking up to date, concludes that the final struggle will be between fascism and communism. Maybe not; the liberals have seen that there is no happy ending over the bridges of violence and suppression. Confronted with the decree of fascism or communism, liberals may decide that the safest way is to give as many people as possible as quickly as possible a constantly expanding stake in the existing order. Such an undertaking, successfully consummated, would complete the evolution of liberalism—and there is no counter-evolution as there is counter-revolution. R. M. B.
THE CONQUEST OF POWER: LIBERALISM, ANARCHISM, SYNDICALISM, SOCIALISM, FASCISM AND COMMUNISM, by Albert Weisbord. Covici-Friede, 2 vols., $7.50.
All the apparatus of scholarship is here except the unbiased mind. The author hardly commends his own philosophy to the unconverted reader by such ethical pronouncements as this: “This penchant for direct action can be utilized mightily by the revolutionary proletarian forces, as the I. W. W. already have shown. With such a background, the communists need have no fear of such a slogan as ‘Lynch the lynchers of the Negroes and poor toilers.’”
A Trotskyist-Marxian Interpretation
THE CONQUEST OF POWER by Albert Weisbord. Covici-Friede. 2 vols. 1688 pp. Price $7.50 a set postpaid of Survey Graphic.
Albert Weisbord’s huge text of 1175 pages, divided into two volumes, devotes seven chapters to rise and dissolution of liberalism, five chapters to anarchism of the several varieties, three chapters to trade unionism (reformist and revolutionary), eight chapters to rise and nature of socialism (up to “the proletarian revolution"), ten chapters to fascism (including two on American fascist trends and their future), and sixteen chapters to communism from early uprisings to the present situation. In the main the text rests upon secondary sources and works by “bourgeois” writers. There are, to be sure, many references to original sources, such as the works of Rousseau, Lincoln, Emerson and Marx, but Mr. Weisbord has relied heavily upon the researches of others has unearthed no startling amount of buried materials unknown to informed students of the topics he covers. This is, of course, no criticism of his work, but a mere indication to possible readers already familiar with a few hundred standard treatises dealing with the topics in question. What distinguishes Mr. Weisbord’s volumes is the selection of, and emphasis on, facts fairly well known, under an overarching hypothesis which may fairly be called Trotskyist-Marxian. Naturally this emphasis puts many old events and personalities in a light somewhat strange, and invites a fresh review of old acceptances. Nowhere else can be found such a copious documentation of the preconceptions adopted by the author.
Besides selecting and emphasizing his facts in the run of the text, Mr. Weisbord sometimes indulges in collateral comments of a moral or speculative nature. He makes the American Revolution in the main “a sordid fight for control over the wealth and resources of the New World.” Again, speaking of the draft riots in New York City during the Civil War, he declares: “Had the workers won in New York City, their real victory would have precipitated a workers’ revolt throughout the Union which, far from ending the Civil War, would have carried it out in a much more radical manner and would have attempted to complete the democratic revolution which ended up by freeing the chattel slaves, with a proletarian revolution to end wage slavery.” “Sordid” expresses a moral judgment, and the guess about the draft riots is certainly speculative.
In keeping with his preconceptions, Mr. Weisbord regards Marxism, as he interprets it, as a kind of exact science, and all doubters as rather poor creatures. The social agnosticism of Marxian science. Under the same preconceptions, John of persons called “liberals” flies in the face of the revelations Dewey, Lewis Mumford, and the present reviewer are apparently helping on the trends to fascism, “with all the claptrap so prevalent now in Europe.” The city manager plan seems to be fascist also. The Socialist and Communist parties are treated as “middle class bodies” in connection with the survey of fascism. Rooseveltism will “mature into a well-rounded Bonapartism.”
Mr. Weisbord is rather critical of European communists who do not “know” America. Even Lenin was mistaken about the American Revolution. So Mr. Weisbord lays out his program with special reference to what he regards as Americanisms. First he places the Negro question; Negroes are to have a separate territory and government in the United States if they so desire. The workers are so well educated in the United States that they can declare their independence of the bourgeois intelligentsia—to which Mr. Weisbord belongs. Stalin and the liberals are wrong; proletarians in America have little use of parliamentarism and elections. The general strike is something that an American understands; it can be used in lining up workers against capitalists. “Lynching is something for every American communist to understand and not to scold.” It is American. The thing to do, says Mr. Weisbord, is to rally proletarians as lynchers and take action on “the wealthy employers and financiers.” “Here, then, is a program which a truly American communist movement will not hesitate to adopt” in due time. Then will come that famous spring into freedom and happiness. “The victory of communism,” concludes Mr. Weisbord, “spells the end of all further conquest of power. Once the working class has established its firm control, the whole system of politics, of the rule of one individual over another, will disappear forever.”
New Milford, Conn.           CHARLES A. BEARD
EAGLE           Apr 25 1937
PROMETHEUS, MARX, LENIN, Etc.
’The Conquest of Power,’ by Albert Weisbord. New York: Covici-Friede (two vols.). $7.50
The initial premise of “The Conquest of Power” is that capitalism has outlived its usefulness. The book is an ambitious two-volume attempt to cover every phase of radical and revolutionary thought since the Middle Ages. The author combines criticism with his history. He regards it as his mission not only to record the failures of popular leaders, but to expose them as misleaders and betrayers, and the heads of revolutionists and social thinkers strew his pages. None escape the fury of his pen but Marx, Engels, Lenin and the author himself, who, having had some experience in the field, emerges at the end as the only living possessor of the true gospel.
It is a work of tremendous scope, marred by a tremendous dogmatism. The objection is not that the author is biased. The fault with most histories is that the authors do not take the pains to explain their own bias and sympathies, as the author does here. It is another thing, however, to make sweeping statements that remain either unproved or are simply not true. In the first pages, for one example, we read, “Art, that crowing cock, found itself increasingly displaced by the prosaic cackling hen of science regularly laying its golden eggs. In Holland there was not only a Rembrandt and a Franz Hals, but also a Spinoza and a Descartes, both of whom deliberately chose to make the Netherlands their adopted country.” It is not true that either Spinoza or Descartes were practical scientists who “laid golden eggs” for their times. And in similar manner throughout the book Mr. Weisbord, who tries to use the technique of historical materialism, fails to be materialist enough to let history speak for itself. Instead of an understanding treatment of his characters as products of their times, he attributes to them a kind of prophetic foresight and then denounces them for not following out what they saw.
Liberalism today is the subject of a most intense study and inquiry. To Mr. Weisbord, who takes up the subject for some 200 pages, it is merely a noble-sounding handmaid of capitalism, helping it first to defeat feudalism and then to mystify the workers. Every figure in the American Revolution comes in for a scathing denunciation. “He (George Washington) utilized Paine’s revolutionary writings as declamatory material for the soldiers at Valley Forge, in order to divert their minds from the same ruling cliques that Washington represented.” Voltaire, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Jefferson, the English Chartists, are all painted in black. Even Lincoln betrayed America by not immediately freeing the slaves, arming them, and starting with them a worker’s revolution.
It is true that liberalism has many sins to answer for. Its doctrines have been lightly used; it has provided slogans many times for wars which accomplished nothing for the men who fought in them. But it is not true that like any other doctrine, it had painfully to work out its own application? A Marx is as much a product of liberalism as a Gladstone. Turned against itself many times, it has yet, with its companion, democracy, proved to be a cumulative force in men’s minds, its ideals of freedom and equality lying behind the most sweeping modifications of and attacks on capitalism as well as behind its proponents. And in the end, Mr. Weisbord’s stony logic leads him into an absurd position. When the imagination of liberalism the world over is caught by the people of Spain, fighting for the right to freely solve their own destiny, he regards the whole affair as a mere capitalist squabble!
A history of “Anarchism” follows that of Liberalism, with a similar lack of logic. Mr. Weisbord accuses most of the anarchist leaders of advocating or starting insurrections when the time was “not ripe,” forgetting that he had previously denounced the Chartist and other “liberal” movements for not starting insurrections when, by his own theory, the time would have been even less ripe. And in the section on Syndicalism, which takes up the history and theory of the trade union movement, a worker looking for progress will find some good historical material but very little illumination. Apparently craft unions are bad, because they represent the “skilled aristocracy” and divide the workers. Industrial unions, however, are equally bad! “In its craft union form, the A. F. of L. as an agency for social control, is not of much use to the Government. Vertical unions are needed.”
There are chapters included also on Socialism and Fascism. The largest section of the book, however, which takes up 440 pages, is that on Communism, the subject being closest to the author’s heart. He goes through a detailed account of the rise and factional differences of the old Russian Social Democrats, using largely Lenin’s writings. For the actual revolution and the events afterwards he then turns to the writings of Trotsky, which are generally considered by historians to be marred not only by partisanship, but by the author’s own egotism. Accepting them completely, however, and using them to demolish Stalin and his group, he now turns on Trotsky, denouncing him alike as a betrayer, thus leaving Weisbord himself on a lonely eminence, a combination of Prometheus, Marx, Lenin and Napoleon at St. Helena.
Evening Public Ledger           April 17, 1937
THE CONQUEST OF POWER. Two volumes. By Albert Weisbord. Covici Friede. $7.50.
Two weighty volumes in which the author discusses modern political philosophies, giving their historical background as well as their tenets. The subjects treated are Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism. It is a concise, scholarly work, furnishing a shortcut of mankind’s march toward the future.
Friday, October 7, 1938           THE NEW LEADER
TOWARDS THE CONQUEST OF POWER
BY C. A. SMITH
Over the greater part of the world today, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries alike are concerned with one outstanding problem—how to seize and keep power, how to “capture the State.” This has attracted increasing attention to the nature of the State itself, causing the thoughtful to inquire into the difference between the Government, the State, and the society they rule, and reviving the debates conducted between Engels and Dühring, between Oppenheimer and the Marxists. In these last few days Mr. Chamberlain has been trying to bargain with Herr Hitler. Wielding the force of the British State he has negotiated without pretending to consult the people or Parliament. (The King was informed what Chamberlain had done, but this was a mere constitutional courtesy.) And again men were driven to enquire: “What is this power which Chamberlain wields, and what is this democracy we are supposed to enjoy?”
The theoretical problem of the nature of the State, and the practical problem of the seizure of powers, form the connecting thread running through Albert Weisbord’s work, The Conquest of Power (Secker and Warburg, 2 vol., 25s.). It is one of the greatest works on political theory written since the first world war, and merits the attention of every serious student of politics. Its 1,200 pages are packed with fascinating historical detail and with stimulating generalisations. The scope of its subject and the amazing weight of learning of its author would alone suffice to give it a very distinguished position.
“The Conquest of Power” is a guide for revolutionaries. Its tone is set by the opening paragraph:
“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 organise 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 policy 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 ….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!”
That question, “Who rules whom?” Weisbord essays to answer by a study first of Liberalism as revealed in the English Civil War (17th century) and American and French Revolutions (18th century). His treatment of each of these great upheavals is of gripping interest, whether one agrees with all his conclusions or not. He examines the social conflict under the Stuarts, the class-composition of the opposing forces, the grievances of the rebels, the correlation between their economic interests and religious and political creeds. He applies the “onion” theory to show how one layer of the revolutionary forces after another peels off and becomes counter-revolutionary. It does not want the revolution to go “too far,” and turns against its former allies of the Left. So Cromwell puts down his Levellers, the victorious leaders of the revolting Americans are faced by Shay’s Rebellion, and Robespierre guillotines Danton and is in turn eliminated by the middle and upper bourgeoisie.
The treatment of the American revolution is of especial interest to British readers. George Washington is revealed as the class-conscious bourgeois, speculator in real estate, who “would rather have lost the War than permitted the lower orders to triumph.” The American Revolution was “by no means a people’s revolution,…far less of a people’s revolution than the English Civil War had been more than a century previously.” From “the paradoxical situation where the officers of the Army make rules designed to prevent the mass of the people from entering it and adopting the Revolutionary cause as their own,” through the jerrymandering of the counter-revolutionary U.S.A. Constitution, to the Secret Society Cincinatti, a political organisation united by ex-officers and remarkably similar in anti-democratic temper to Franco’s Military Union which started the rebellion in 1936—the whole development by which the upper classes repressed the lower is outlined almost as the successive acts in a drama.
The American Civil War is subjected to a similarly devastating and debunking class analysis. Lincoln is seen congratulating the murderers of abolitionists, pledging himself to carry out the provisions of the iniquitous Fugitive Slave Law, and denying that the war was an Abolitionist war. The suspension of Habeas Corpus, muzzling of the Press, and imposition of conscription, complete the picture of this war “for democracy.”
From militant, insurgent Liberalism the story goes on through Liberalism triumphant, respectable, and no longer revolutionary to Liberalism in decline. Then the history of Anarchism is traced from its early individualistic period through the Utopian period of Communist-Anarchism to the anarcho-syndicalism of today. The section on Syndicalism includes a useful chapter on American industrial unionism.
There is no space here for comment on the sections dealing with Socialism and Fascism. They are very useful, but less distinguished than the others.
After tracing the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, Weisbord outlines the development of the Third International under Lenin, devotes 150 pages to Stalinism, and concludes with a sub-section entitled, “The Fourth International.” He considers that the Third International has failed, because it subordinated the social revolution to the shifting needs of Stalin’s regime. This is traced in detail with regard to the Chinese Revolution, events in Germany, and the almost incredible somersaults and acrobatics of the Communist Party in U.S.A., now one of the most aggressively patriotic, imperialist and warmongering Parties in the world. He proceeds to deal in detail with the tactics of revolution today, and has many stimulating suggestions relating to workers’ control and direct action, mobile barricades of automobiles, and the “physical destruction” of Fascism in our streets.
Such an ambitious enterprise cannot, of course, be flawless in its execution. We may not agree with all of Weisbord’s conclusions. We can detect errors of detail, such as his mistaken opinion that the English agricultural labourers’ rising of 1831 was a strong pressure on the Government to pass the Reform Act. We may in places dissent from his judgment on contemporary events and Parties.
But to ignore or affect to despise this great and weighty work is sheer folly. It is one of the best syntheses of social history and political theory ever written, and contains food for thought for every serious Socialist.
I myself differ from Weisbord in matters of importance. His realist forecast of trends in U.S.A., for instance, seems to me to be at variance with his almost uncritical acceptance of Marxism predictions. But I do most strongly and urgently commend this book to all students, hoping that it will be purchased by public and by co-operative libraries, used in W.E.A. and N.C.I.C. classes and, wherever possible, procured for the student’s own bookshelf. It has a solid and enduring character which ensures its survival for many years after the disappearance of a host of the superficial and ephemeral efforts now being wished by mass production on to political babes who swallow them as being the Law and the Prophets.
A “Pathfinder” Gets Lost           By JAMES ONEAL
THE CONQUEST OF POWER. By Albert Weisbord. New York: Covici-Friede. Two volumes. $7.50.
About ten years ago the writer of this review received a letter challenging him to debate on “Marxism-Leninism.” The challenger had flopped over night into the Communist camp and was already an expert in the use of the lingo peculiar to those afflicted with the ailment. The author of the challenge was a youngster and is now the author of these two fat volumes of more than 1,100 pages.
Nutty as American Communism is, Weisbord achieves unusual distinction in this output. Jack London once wrote of those who could reason themselves into madness. Weisbord’s Communism has reached the stage of paresis, a distilled product of some years of reading and brooding over tiresome Communist “theses” and literary duels between the several schools of Communism and their “splinter” offshoots. The result is over a thousand pages to reach the conclusion that what the working masses of this country should know is that lynching is their means of obtaining power!
Before turning to this remarkable “revolutionary tactic,” it should be noted that Weisbord does his best to impress his readers with the idea that they have before them a work of profund scholarship, and the publisher also does his bit in conveying the same impression. Says Weisbord: “The task before me was primarily that of a pathfinder.” If that isn’t sufficiently impressive, he reminds the reader that he had finally eliminated chapters on Feminism, pacifism, on the Negro, the Spanish Revolution, on India, the Irish Rebellion and a number of other subjects; for if he had inserted all his reference notes, they would have “amounted to another book.”
The publisher also does his bit for the “pathfinder” on the book jacket by saying that the book “performs a major function in the ordering of political thought” and that Weisbord’s profound research “leads him over the face of the globe.” Moreover, he “includes all political philosophy since man began thinking about improved society” and “even projects the inevitable development of society in the future.” The idea of vast erudition is rounded out by the jacket statement that Weisbord is the “editor of the Class Struggle, the official organ of the Communist League of Struggle” in the United States.”
Thus the publisher’s announcement ends in comedy. First, a few facts. The parent Communism of the world is that bearing the label of Stalin. The others are “splinters” which include the output of Trotsky and Lovestone. Now Weisbord’s stuff has not reached the stage of a “splinter.” It is a sliver of a “splinter” and so insignificant that he cannot attract a brick or a bottle from the other two. Then that “Class Struggle,” of which Weisbord is editor, is a mimeograph publication, so sickly that it appears only on rare occasions when he and two or three others can raise a dollar or two to get out an issue!
There is little that is new in these two volumes. The author attempts to deal with Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism from a Communist point of view and he says nothing that cannot be found in other Communist literature. The only difference is that, as he cannot accept Stalin and is not satisfied with Trotsky, he must as a “pathfinder” try to formulate another “line.” Even the falsehoods regarding the Socialist movement of the world are not new. What is new is his recommendation of “lynching” as a “revolutionary tactic,” and it is interesting to note why he presents the “slogan” “Lynch the Lynchers.”
There were riots in New York City against the draft act in the Civil War. That the workers had a sound grievance against the act which permitted the rich to escape military service by purchasing substitutes is certain, but Weisbord presents a view of these riots which shows how easily Communists can limp into lunacy. I quote:
“These draft riots were the first indications that the struggle between North and South would soon give way to the struggle between capital and labor. The New York City riots against the Conscription Act stand as one of the harbingers of the proletarian revolution and are a direct forerunner to the Paris Commune of 1871.”
The fact is that New York City under the dominion of Tammany Hall, because of its commercial and financial ties with the ruling class of the South, was pro-slavery and its large population of Catholic workers hated Negroes, who were hunted by the rioters, mobbed and killed. They even burned a Negro orphan asylum, and Archbishop Hughes issued two public appeals to the Catholics to return to their homes. A demonstration against the draft act was turned into a lynching of Negroes, and it is this atrocity which Weisbord commends to his readers!
The “pathfinder” overlooked similar riots against the draft in the South which were also turned against the Negroes in that region. Thousands of illiterate poor whites, angered by the profiterring, by the southern draft act and the privations due to the war, ran amuck, sacked plantations, and mobbed and lynched defenseless Negroes.
We will let him speak for himself. I quote:
"The Communist will not bewail the institution of lynching, but will try to use that institution against the instigators of lynching. The slogan, ‘Lynch the lynchers of the Negroes and poor toilers’ will mark the adoption of American methods to terminate the slaughter of innocent workers ….Direct action logically leads to insurrection.”
He returns to this several times near the close of the second volume. The “pathfinder” is so ignorant of past and contemporary history that he does not understand that if his “slogan” is carried out the workers will lynch each other. Who participates in lynching? It is not the trust magnate, great banker and others of the upper section of society, but workers. They lynch and if we are to “lynch the lynchers” we will be engaged in lynching each other!
Let other Communists laugh at Weisbord if they want to, but this crazy stuff legitimately stems from the Communism spawned by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
NEW MASSES           JUNE 8, 1937
New York, N.Y.
"Testament and Program”
THE CONQUEST OF POWER, by Albert Weisbord. Covici, Friede. 2 vols. $7.50.
Albert Weisbord made the front pages in 1926 as leader of the Passaic textile strike, the first in this country to be directed by the Communist Party. Subsequently, the party expelled him for violations of discipline. He fell in and out of the Trotsky and Lovestone groups, and finally wound up as a one-man party of his own.
The two volumes under review are thus at once a personal testament and personal program. You are struck immediately by the author’s enormous capacity for work and even more enormous ambition. He undertakes to settle all the major problems of our times; he expounds, analyzes, and disposes of liberalism, anarchism, syndicalism, socialism, fascism, and communism.
Despite the wide-open pages at his disposal, the author fails to be half as illuminating as Strachey on the same subjects in two smaller and wiser volumes. This failure lies in Weisbord’s lack of consistent method. Convinced that he is the sole living Marxist, he is actually an eclectic and a solipsist.
It is impossible to follow him through the thick wood of words which obscure the trees of fact, but his approach to everything may be gleaned from his analysis of communism. It seems the “Stalinites” are wrong on every subject under the sun; alleged proof for this thesis is taken directly from Trotsky’s arsenal of stock accusations. But Trotsky is also wrong. In fact, everybody is out of step but Albert Weisbord. The upshot of this ponderous flow of verbiage is a four-point program offered as a substitute for the Communist Party’s program as well as for that of the Socialists, the Syndicalists, and the Fourth International:
“(1) To develop the direct action of the masses through raising the slogans General Strike, Lynch the Lynchers of the Negroes and Poor Toilers, Open the Factories to the Unemployed and the Warehouses to the Hungry, Workers’ Control over Production. (2) To build up the revolutionary mass organizations of the proletariat, particularly their independent militant unions and mass defense groups. (3) To utilize every form possible by which to move the workers from the old liberal classless ideology to the Communist ideology of the class struggle. (4) To conduct a vigorous struggle against all the out-worn forms of European socialism and communism, the lack of initiative of the Germans, the lack of organization of the French, the idealization of the peasantry of the Russians, the parliamentarianism of the English and so forth.”
These few lines are all that Weisbord contributes to the solution of the tremendous problems with which he has fumbled. This is the so-called program “which a truly American Communist movement will not hesitate to adopt when the American proletariat has come of age and is ready to take its rightful place in the world struggle for power”—under the leadership, presumably, of the author. What is sensible in this program stems, of course, from the Communist Party; what is silly is the author’s own contribution. The whole of it is so meager, so poverty-stricken, so unrelated to the actual world, that it can only be dismissed as the pathetic fantasy of a political narcist. ROBERT EVANS.
SLOGANS FOR UTOPIA
The Conquest of Power: Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism,
by Albert Weisbord, New York: Covici, Friede, 2 vols., 1208 pages. $7.50.
After a careful reading of these immense volumes, I do not feel certain that I understand the aim they intended to serve. Mr. Weisbord has worked patiently on a history of ideologies since the English civil wars. In the first volume, he gives us a history of liberalism, of anarchism and of syndicalism, together with an account of the rise and breakdown of socialist democracy. In the second, he deals with fascism and communism. His account of the latter ends with a resounding attack on Stalinism. The whole concludes with a section of some fifty pages on the need of a fourth international, together with an account of the slogans necessary to achieve the victory of communism (a la Weisbord) in America.
It is obvious that a great deal of hard work has gone into the making of this book. Though most of it, not all naturally, is based on second-hand sources, rather than a knowledge of the texts themselves, the picture that emerges is, up to the period of the War, clear and coherent. I think it is oversimplified, and it would have been improved by greater conciseness. But it does usefully convey a sense of what has been implied in two hundred and fifty years of class struggle. It brings out, often quite admirably, the inherent limitations of doctrines which presented themselves as universals when they were, in fact, particulars masquerading under that appearance. The student who observed certain great events—the French Revolution, for instance—from the angle of the clues with which Weisbord has provided him, would be usefully safeguarded against the bias of ordinary historians. Though I myself take the view that the best way to apply Marxism to history is rather by the actual analysis in detail of the ideas and events of a period than by Mr. Weisbord’s method of illustrating at large a canon of which the validity depends on detail and its measurement—the kind of work Mr. Louis Hacker has done so remarkably in his study of the first American revolution—still there is no doubt room for the kind of philosophy-by-example that Mr. Weisbord here offers. I should argue that only too often there is not enough detail in his account to make it really valuable. It is too much a rag-bag of interesting oddments to have coherence and perspective.
I did not find the same interest in the remainder of Mr. Weisbord’s work. Though I find myself largely in agreement with his conclusions on social democracy, I do not think his explanation of its failure is really adequate. The problem of why social-democratic parties were content to remain “welfare liberal” parties is not really attacked in any profound way. The issues are much more complicated than Mr. Weisbord makes them; and he is too content with phrases that conceal problems rather than clarify them. This is especially true, to take one example only, of his comparison of the First with the Second Internation. There is little, either, that is original or arresting in the account of fascism; it is either too short, because of what it fails to do, or too long because its substance is Attitudinous.
The section on communism begins with a brief account of early communism and then moves, through the Paris Commune and 1905, to a discussion of 1917. The post-Lenin period is then treated very much in the way that Trotsky has made well known in recent times. There is little here that is new; and perhaps the least controversial way of stating the result is to say that those who, with Mr. Weisbord, believe that Stalin has betrayed the Revolution, will find here, in both the domestic and the international fields, the grounds upon which to uphold that view. It would require too long a discussion to controvert the arguments Mr. Weisbord employs. I can only say that I do not myself find Mr. Weisbord’s argument convincing; that, with all its errors and faults, the achievement of the Soviet Union under Stalin seems to me to have been immense, and that, in the main, its foreign policy has been wise. On the other hand, I think he makes out a much stronger case against the policy of the Communist International; and certain phases of its work, notably in China and Great Britain, seem to me to have been dangerously ignorant.
I do not myself draw from this last period Mr. Weisbord’s inferences. The first step toward a reinvigoration of the Left seems to me to be the united front; and I should argue that the achievement of this unity must look to the defense of what remains of capitalist democracy as a necessary step to the overthrow of fascism. The “slogans” Mr. Weisbord presents as the basis of his strategy seem to me, in their present form, singularly bare and empty of content. He desires, for instance, a “vigorous struggle against all the outworn forms of European socialism … the parliamentarism of the English, and so forth.” I should argue, on the contrary, that apart from the special circumstances of war, the capture of Parliament by a united front of Socialists and Communists is the first step of importance to the conquest of power. It would have been helpful if Mr. Weisbord had related his strategy to Lenin’s explanation of the conditions of successful revolution. He is anxious “to utilize every form possible by which to move the workers from the old liberal classless ideology to the communist ideology of class struggle.” It is an admirable anxiety. But in England is there any better way to its realization than the proof that Parliament is inadequate for socialist tasks? And is there any better way of proving its inadequacy than by the demonstration of its inefficacy in socialist hands? Mr. Weisbord’s conclusions seem to me incantations rather than remedies; and his treatment of the last ten years of socialist history persuades me that he has written very much in the mood of the old lady who, as she watched the regiment go by, thought “every man out of step except my Jock.” By the time Mr. Weisbord’s new international has been founded, I wonder what free countries would be left in the world where it could have the opportunity of operation. HAROLD J. Laski
TIMES-STAR           April 29, 1937
MODERN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES
THE CONQUEST OF POWER. By Albert Weisbord. (Covici-Friede.)
In two fat volumes, comprising altogether some 1,200 pages, Mr. Weisbord considers the major modern political philosophies—Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Socialism, Fascism and Communism—from the orthodox Marxian point of view. The author, who is editor of the American Communist organ, Class Struggle, holds an LL.B. from Harvard. More to the point, he organized the Passaic textile strike of 1926 and the Gastonia strike of 1929. Thus, according to the best Marxian standards, he has the practical experience requisite to an understanding of political theory. On the academic side, he is obviously well drilled in Marxian dialectic and has apparently read widely in history. How carefully he has read is another matter.
Probably Mr. Weisbord’s study of the six political philosophies covers more territory than any other familiar work in English. This is not to say that it is the most comprehensive study in the field. The author, in fact, is not writing what non-Communists would recognize as history or political theory at all. He is writing propaganda. Innumerable historical facts which do not suit his thesis are blandly ignored. Great historic movements of the utmost complexity, like the rise of Liberalism in England, are telescoped into brief, dogmatic discussions of one phase or another of the class struggle.
Mr. Weisbord follows, of course, the familiar Marxian custom of treating one historic force as the whole story of mankind, ignoring or twisting beyond recognition every human motive save the economic. The fact that he writes a simple, often vivid style, only serves to put the wary reader more carefully on his guard against accepting so flagrant a piece of special pleading as history. For example, he writes: “The Constitution of the United States proved to be an excellent mechanism through which the few thousand slave-owners, for many years, were able completely to dominate the entire country’s policy.” That’s typical of hundreds of pages.
The second volume of which the greater part is devoted to Communism, reflects the author’s marked Trotskyist bias. Thus it is more interesting reading—though perhaps not in the sense that Mr. Weisbord would prefer. Anticipating a general war to which Russia will be a party, he hopes that the Russian masses will be able to dictate to the Stalin bureaucracy. Like all right-thinking Communists, he preaches opposition to all wars save those in which Russia may be engaged. But he thinks foreign aid should not be given to Russia until the workers of other countries overthrow their capitalists and set up the workers’ state. The reader is left to imagine how Russia would emerge victorious if the government were forced to accept dictation from the workers and had to look for help to countries in which the proletariat was busy overturning the state.
This, and much more like it, may seem pretty wild, so wild as to be quite harmless. But then, one remembers Passaic and Gastonia. Most interesting—it should be to the police, at any rate—is the author’s detailed instructions to the American workers on ways and means of undermining the Army, the National Guard, the CCC and—save the mark!—the Boy Scouts. A good deal of this section reads like frank treason.
But what’s treason in this most easy-going of democracies? One is left wondering what fate would befall Mr. Weisbord should he write a democratic manifesto in Communist Russia, whether on Stalin or the Trotsky model.—J. W. S.
WORKERS AGE           BOOKS of the AGE
THE CONQUEST OF POWER, by Albert Weisbord, 2 volumes. Covici-Friede. New York. $7.50.
Reviewed by D. Swift
In these two volumes, which weigh more than five pounds, Mr. Weisbord attempts to describe Liberalism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Fascism, and the various shades of Communism. Of course, he is not content with merely describing; he also attempts to evaluate these forces and to correlate them with the contemporary American scene. The purely historical sections in the volumes reveal a very cursory reading of the sources and standard commentaries, a reading no more thorough than that usually to be detected in the general run of thesis for the master’s degree in American universities. Mr. Weisbord’s interpretations leave even more to be desired. They are either absurd or devoid of all sense. A few examples will be sufficient.
Mr. Weisbord believes that “the fascist movement is inevitable in the United States,” and that already it is showing its head in every branch of American life, including “the intellectual and engineering fields.” He states it as a fact that the Friends of New Germany, a Nazi organization, in New York City alone has “over ten thousand” members, whereas the latest figures of the Federal Department of Justice show that the number is in the neighborhood of 2500. Technocracy, it seems, was a herald of Fascism. “Characteristically enough, the movement received inspiration from the works of Professor Thorstein Veblen who, in turn, was inspired by the utopian, Edward Bellamy.” To say that Veblen was inspired by Bellamy is like saying that Marx was inspired by the nightingale.
But to continue with Mr. Weisbord’s ideas. He sees Fascism almost everywhere and in every body. He gives it as his considered opinion that “in the professional world, the liberal Charles A. Beard has now written a whole series of tomes that tend toward Fascism.” Even the good and kindly John Dewey is tainted. He ‘seems to be changing his liberalism in a direction that Fascism might welcome.” Then there are the city managers in a score or so American cities. They are all the forerunners of the American totalitarian state, for the city manager plan of municipal administration is “a fertile field for the growth of Fascist forces.” In spite of all this, Mr. Weisbord likes the American people, because he thinks they are full of a “natural pacifism,” whatever that may mean. Mr. Weisbord also doesn’t like the American people, as witness this polite sneer at them: “The proletarian movement in Europe is showing an incapacity further to lead the world. It may well be that the enormous weight of America is too heavy for the workers of Europe to remove from their necks.” Finally, Mr. Weisbord has some profound thoughts on the American Negro problem. “If the Negro people want to form a Separate Negro Republic for themselves,” he says, then all Communists of whatever shade should fight to the limit “to support the choice of the Negro people.”
Mr. Weisbord, it should be clear by now, doesn’t know what he is talking about. He is no more than a verbose and bewildered radical. It is difficult to imagine any possible value in his present two volumes. They do not add one proton to the sum of human knowledge.