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International Socialism, Spring 1960



Dead Mutton


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 1, Spring 1960, p. 31.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Philosophy for Socialists
Maurice Cornforth
London, Lawrence & Wishart 1960. 64 pp. 2/6

Judged as a piece of cheap book production – full marks. Sixty-two pages printed on reasonable paper with clear type and a pleasing format for half-a-dollar is a rarity in political publishing these days, except for subsidised P.R.O. hand-outs. However, the particular words on the pages and their arrangement still remains of importance to some prospective book-buyers; it is here, unfortunately, that the book has weaknesses. Designed apparently as a philosophical cook-book for worker-militants of the Communist Party, it enjoins its readers to look around at the contradictory and perplexing world and then to observe its underlying order – Russia’s steady march to socialism. As a Hungarian student once paraphrased Marx, apropos of Stalin’s re-writing of history, ‘ the philosophers of the world hithertofore have merely interpreted history; the point, however, is to change it.’ This book is a monumental example of how to change the living creative power of Marx’s thought into – dead mutton.

By a series of quite outrageously far-fetched analogies from the physical world, we are asked to take a comprehensive view of social development. The following example is typical. ‘For example, water at the same temperature feels hotter or colder according as the hand plunged into it is hot or cold. Similarly, if judged by its effects on the fortunes of surviving relics of capitalism, socialism appears to be an extremely oppressive regime, while from the point of view of the ordinary worker (sic!) it is just the opposite.’ (p. 23) In this way the crudest of analogies is used by Maurice Cornforth (who in 1956–7 looked as if he might break with Britain’s ‘old guard’ Stalinists) to rationalize away his former doubts about the justification of the judicial murder of millions of workers, peasants, Trotskyists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bukharinists, Jews and just plain ordinary folk who fell foul of Stalin’s evil regime. Trotsky a ‘relic of capitalism’! Phew!

If you want to study how to work the sort of sophistry which can prove this black white – this is one of the best second-stage text books available. The best first-stage text book however remains … J.V. Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism.

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Last updated on 6 November 2015