Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, October 1935


Reuben Grote

Philosophy of Confusion

From New International, Vol.2 No.6, October 1935, pp.207-208.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Philosophy of Communism
by John Macmurray
166 pp. New York. John Wiley. $1.50.

Professor Macmurray’s little book, Philosophy of Communism, combines occasional deep insights with more frequent deeper contradictions and errors. His intention in writing the book was to explain communist philosophy to those who are interested but know nothing about it. To facilitate understanding, he suggests that the reader avoid two confusions:

  1. thinking the Soviet Union a communist society [1] and
  2. identifying the theory of communism with the steps by which a communist society is achieved.

Why he asks his readers to avoid these confusions or why these matters might confuse, he nowhere explains.

At this point, he turns to a consideration of the relation of Hegelianism to dialectical materialism. Communist philosophy, he says, accepts two assumptions of Hegelianism and rejects a third. It willingly accepts the assumptions that

  1. “all organic processes are dialectical”, and
  2. reality is an organic process,

but it flatly rejects the assumption

  1. that reality is idea.

The reasons why it accepts the first two and rejects the third are

  1. that nature, the world, is continually evolving or becoming, and
  2. that all thinking is subordinate to doing: the principle of the unity of theory and practise.

His analysis of the reasons why communism subordinates ideas to things, subjects ideas to the test of action, is much superior to Stalinist discussions: but we cannot deal with it here. What is of particular interest, however, is his unexpected assertion that the belief in dialectics involves a denial of both mechanism and causal determinism. [2] It is impossible to understand why the denial of the first should involve the denial of the second. A statement of this kind can only be based on two criteria: either that of authority or that of argument. As for authority, where in Marx, Engels or Lenin will he find substantiating quotations? As for argument, Professor Mac-murray offers none; and he makes this astounding assertion casually as though it were generally accepted by Marxists. His casualness may grow out of the unfortunate confusion of “mechanism” denied by orthodox Marxists, with causality or determinism in general, which has never been denied and is rigorously accepted.

His analysis of the meaning of the “unity of theory and practise” is implemented through the materialist interpretation of history. In essence, he tries to show how the latter derives from the former. Unfortunately for Professor Macmurray, this is not true, for the unity of theory and practise is actually a broad generalization from the universal practise of science. His failure to realize this makes him declare that the assumption of the “unity of theory and practise” is the one principle which Marxists can not cast overboard and remain Marxists. It may also be worth while to add that his re-statement of the materialist conception is set in terms so very different from those used by Marxists, that one is hard put to determine how completely accurate it is. In essentials, however, the theory seems present.

His exposition concludes with two criticisms of Marxian philosophy and a critique of Fascism. Both the criticisms and the critique are a complete expose of his understanding of Marxism. We begin with the criticisms.

  1. The acceptance of the materialist conceptions, Professor Macmurray says, is entirely independent of the labor theory of value. He deduces this from the fact that the labor theory was not essential for his exposition of the materialist conception. The fact, however, that a certain theory is not required for a particular expository purpose does not prove that it is independent of that theory, particularly when the labor theory flows, in fact, inevitably from an application of the materialist conception to any commodity society. The bravado, however, of Professor Macmurray’s statement compels us to challenge him to produce an economics based on other assumptions than the labor theory which will explain capitalism as completely and arrive at the same conclusions as Marx. The test of the cooking is in the eating, a proposition to which Professor Macmurray theoretically adheres.
  2. Nature and even society, he continues, or rather certain aspects of society like friendship and certain stages of society like the classless society, are super-organic: i.e., not susceptible of explanation by dialectics. Friendship is not susceptible to change and remains the same for all societies, although he admits in another place (p.74) that economic relations do make a difference. The classless society, too, is non-dialectic, not because it is eternal, but for another reason – it no longer has to adapt itself to its environment, since it has control of natural laws. No arguments are produced to prove this point.

The argument from friendship is insupportable by his own admission. If economic relations make a difference to friendship, then the character of friendship must change according to the character of the economic order. The second point is equally inadmissible. There can be no meaning to saying that society does not have to adapt itself to its environment because it understands the laws of nature. Such understanding only makes a radical difference in the mode of adaptation; it cannot possibly mean that society has stopped adapting itself. Thus Professor Macmurray’s contention that there are some things which can not be explained by dialectics, has no foundation, at least, in his own arguments.

His analysis of Fascism is full of mistakes in principle. Fascism, he says, is the negation of politics, since politics is the instrument for the freeing of mankind; and Fascism enslaves. It is also more revolutionary than communism, since it tries to reduce politics to a purely economic function, that of administering, not to the interests of freedom, but “for the sake of economic efficiency”. The fault, however, is with the communists who have asserted that politics is simply congealed economics. Lastly, it is something new, of which no social system ever dreamed.

It is difficult to imagine an intelligent man, who is even slightly acquainted with Marxism, making such silly mistakes. Fascism is not the negation of politics; only communism can be, for only communism destroys politics by destroying the state. It is as silly to blame communists for asserting that politics is an instrument of economics in the class society, as to blame biologists for pointing out that there is a struggle for existence. Professor Macmurray defines politics, as it ought to be, or, more accurately, as he wishes it to be, instead of attempting to determine scientifically its function in society. In his case it is a confusion of politics as an instrument of a class, with the progressive role which it does play under given circumstances. In the hands of the proletariat, politics must be ultimately an instrument of freedom, freedom from politics, despite the omnipresent fact that Stalinism, in the Soviet Union, has suppressed fundamental rights of the masses. In the hands of the bourgeoisie, it must be an instrument of oppression. It is nonsensical to say that Fascism exists to produce greater economic efficiency in the general interests of the masses, although unfortunately accompanied with a corresponding loss of freedom. If this were true, Fascism would indeed be more revolutionary than communism.

Fascism superficially has this character for Professor Macmurray through a false analogy. The two dictatorships, the Soviet and the Fascist, are fundamentally different in their social content, in that one is ruled by the proletariat, the other by the bourgeoisie ; but they have a certain similarity in that both dictatorships take the form of political “dictatorships”, i.e., the ruling classes do not rule directly but indirectly through special groups which tyrannize over them. This political “dictatorship” is necessary, at the present stage, for the bourgeoisie of certain countries like Germany or Italy, but it is not necessary for the proletariat. In the proletarian state, its existence is a mark of degeneration. The bourgeoisie accept the costly burden of Fascist control, even though deprived of political rights, for fear of a greater evil: the proletarian dictatorship. The proletariat of the Soviet Union accepts the parasitic burden of the bureaucracy for a similar reason: the false fear, propagated by the Soviet ruling apparatus, that its downfall is identical with the overthrow of the proletarian state. In time, the Soviet proletariat will know better. Because of the similarity in the political superstructure of both dictatorships, it was not difficult for Professor Macmurray, who sees the suppression of freedom in the Soviet Union combined with great economic progress, to assume that Fascism is identical in aim with the dictatorship of the proletariat, and, therefore, to consider Fascism, in this sense, even more revolutionary than communism. The truth is, however, the opposite. Fascism is not concerned with greater economic efficiency, which is what the Soviet bureaucracy must concern itself with in order to retain power. Fascism is concerned with safeguarding the interests of a decaying bourgeoisie by destroying the organizations of the proletariat and seeing that they remain destroyed. For the bourgeoisie knows that the proletariat, without these organizations, cannot win its freedom from bourgeois oppression. Finally, it is not true to say that Fascism is something new and undreamed-of on the political horizon. The open terroristic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the bloody suppression politically of the proletariat, was long ago explained by Marx. Its novelty lies only in the forms it has assumed today.

In conclusion, let us say there is only one true remark of any importance made by Professor Macmurray in his entire discussion of Fascism: to wit, that the defeat of Trotsky by Stalin was basically the reason for the recrudescence of Fascism throughout the world. This is only another proof that disturbing truths can come from the lips of people, who, in nearly everything else, are profoundly mistaken.



1. At this point, he makes an egregious mistake. He declares the “existence of the dictatorship is inconsistent with the realization of communism.” (p.10) We might ask: “How, then, is it to be realized? What other means exist for its attainment?”

2. The phrase “causal determinism” also had a strange sound. It is either a pleonasm or has some unusual meaning known only to Professor Macmurray, since he does not trouble to explain it. Is there any determinism which is not causal?

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3.8.2006