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Sergio Junco

American Radical

(Autumn 1963)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 14, Autumn 1963, p. 34.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Power, Politics and People
The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills

edited by I.L. Horowitz
Oxford. 52s 6d.

Socialists who have libertarian and democratic principles can ill afford to ignore the intellectual and political legacy of this American radical sociologist. There is both encouragement and tragedy in the intellectual and political evolution of C. Wright Mills. The socialist reader is encouraged by such things as his attacks on the irrelevance of so much orthodox sociology as well as by his rejection of liberal ideology and practice.

Mills stresses the importance of asking and trying to answer central questions which are relevant to the freest development of mankind. The split between the social scientist and the social man may be welcomed by the smug research entrepreneur, but should be rejected by the committed humanist intellectual who is as interested in the transformation of society as in its description.

The political tragedy of Mills was intimately connected with a much greater political tragedy: the absence of a militant democratic and political labour movement in the developed countries of the West. The late Mills would have been indifferent to the socialist principle that the self-emancipation of the working class is a necessary prerequisite of the liberation of society as a whole. This indifference helped to pave the way for Mills’ dangerous approach to the thinking of Stalinist apologists. In 1959, during a discussion of the problems of economic development, Mills tells us, ‘I am less concerned here with the mechanics and forms of democracy than with its content. There is a distinction, which is one of the greatest moral dilemmas that men face today: the distinction between “what men are interested in” and “what is to the interest of men”.’ (p. 155) That this distinction has also been the cornerstone of the ideological justification for all present-day ruling classes, seems to have escaped the intellectual alertness of Mills at this stage of his life. In this connection, Mills would have done a great favour to the socialist cause, if he had remembered the immense relevance of something, which he himself wrote in 1942:

‘Men are not much less dependent in their economic lives under corporate capitalism, than perhaps they would be under collectivist planning. It is a question of who or what men are dependent upon, and of the institutional means they have available for control of this dependency. For security and freedom may live together under conditions where both of them mean a chance to control what you are dependent upon.’ (Mills’ emphasis, p. 181)

In spite of some repetitions and unevenness in quality, this book is worth buying. If you can’t afford it, get it from the local library.

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