International Council Correspondence

Marxism Without Doctors

Review of The Inevitability of Communism[1] by Paul Mattick


Published: in International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.5, February 1935, pp. 22-26.
Source: Antonie Pannekoek Archives
Transcribed: by Graham Dyer

It has been the misfortune of Marxism in the United States that its greatest development took place under the influence of the Russian Revolution. Our native radicals have displayed a pig-headedness almost equal to that of the bourgeoisie itself in continuing to regard ‘Leninism’ or ‘Marxism-Leninism’ as synonymous with, or at least a logical extension of Marxism, and Bolshevism as synonymous with Communism. Even two such embattled antagonists as Sidney Hook and Max Eastman - the one wanting to be a Marxist and the other a Leninist - are in fundamental agreement on this point, and their heated disputes accordingly reduce largely to a mere matter of words. It has not yet dawned upon the American intellectuals that the Bolshevik Revolution was essentially only a bourgeois revolution directed to overthrowing Czarism and doing away with the vestiges of feudalism in Russia, thus preparing the way for an unrestricted state-capitalist development.

It has been the misfortune of Mattick personally - apart from the circumstance that he brought with him from Germany a philosophic mind and style - that his work is directed to breaking down these illusions and prejudices and to “cleansing Marxism from the filth of epigonity”. He recognizes that Marxism in its pure and original form was impossible of application during the upgrade period of capitalism; that it was necessarily adapted to suit the needs of the governing bureaucracy of the old labor movement, and that it is only now, in the “permanent crisis” when the objective conditions are ripe for the overthrow of capitalism, that it is really possible for Marxism to come into its own. Which is merely another manner of saying that Marxism can be actualized only through the revolutionary proletariat in the act of throwing off the fetters of capitalism. Mattick accordingly rejects all forms of marxian ‘orthodoxy’, including particularly those associated with the names of Lenin and Kautsky. Yet, he is an ‘orthodox’ Marxist himself - but with a difference. In the first place, he makes a distinction between mere lip-service to Marxism, or the use of revolutionary phrases to conceal reformist or counter-revolutionary practice, on the one hand, and the practical application of Marxist principles in the proletarian struggle against capitalism on the other. And secondly, to him, as to George Lukacs, orthodox Marxism “does not mean an uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations, does not mean a ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a “sacred book”. Orthodoxy in questions of Marxism relates rather exclusively to the method. It is the scientific conviction that in dialectical Marxism the correct method of investigation has been found, that this method can be developed, extended and deepened only in the sense of its founder, and that all attempts to overcome or ‘improve’ it have led, and necessarily so, merely to flatness, triviality and eclecticism”.

Such a view of orthodoxy enables Mattick to be the most uncompromising of Marxists, and at the same time one of those who are least hampered by traditions. He recognizes the historical character of all the traditional forms of the labor movement, inclusive of parliamentarism and the political party. The political party, for instance, is just an expression of formal democracy - one which will be permitted to function only so long as the bourgeoisie can afford so much leniency - but the revolution itself, under modern conditions in highly developed capitalist countries, “is not a party matter, but the affair of the class” (of the proletarian class be it understood and not of a proletarian-peasant alliance such as was indispensable to the overthrow of Czarism). All expressions of “formal democracy”, inclusive of labor organizations, become more and more intolerable to the bourgeoisie in the permanent crisis, when the continued existence of capitalism depends on a perfectly smooth functioning of the economic organism; but the class struggle itself cannot be suppressed - it is simply obliged to assume new forms adapted to the new conditions. These new forms are essentially embraced in the workers’ councils (soviets), led by committees of action - that is under the direct control of the workers themselves, hence not dependent upon the existence of parties, not subject to the personal sway of professional “labor leaders”, but functioning over the heads of all parties and bureaucracies and hence capable of effecting a real united front and waging a really common struggle against capitalism in its final and more or less ‘fascist’ form.

Ever since fascism first made its appearance in Italy, shortly after the War, and particularly since the rise of Hitler in Germany and the suppression of the Social Democracy in Austria, a reorientation of the labor movement has been under way. In this process are revealed two opposite tendencies. One is headed in the direction of compromise with capitalistic prejudices, abandonment of revolutionary principles and winning the middle classes, as best illustrated in this country by the recent “American Workers’ Party” (now combined with the Communist League to form the “Workers Party”). The other sees in the proletariat itself the only reliable instrument of the communist revolution and avoids all compromise with revolutionary principles as merely calculated to throw confusion into the ranks of the workers. It is that latter position which is represented by Mattick, in harmony with the “United Workers’ Party” of America and the “Groups of International Communists” of the various countries throughout the world. It is essentially the same position as that combatted by Lenin under the name of Left Communism - a position which, from the point of view of the Russian Revolution, with its petty-bourgeois and jacobinical ideology, was naturally anathema at the time to any Bolshevik - as it was also to Noske and Ebert – but which from the international proletarian point of view is revealing itself as the one truly revolutionary force in contemporary society.

In the present pamphlet, The Inevitability of Communism, as well as in various other writings, such as his critique of the American Workers Party (One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward, The Modern Monthly, Dec.1934), Mattick has taken pains to show the disastrous consequences of the compromising attitude and of the reformist position in all its phases. He understands that fascism itself is merely an Ablenkungsmanoever, an attempt to mislead the workers by the use of pseudo-revolutionary or at least pseudo-radical phrases, as illustrated in the Hitlerian “National-Socialist German Labor Party.” Fascism has copied the tactics of the bolshevik movement in Russia and of the national bolshevik parties controlled by the Third International. Fascism too pretends to be aiming at a form of “socialism”, that is, state capitalism, which generally passes for socialism not only among the workers and petty-bourgeoisie but even among the so-called socialists themselves. What wonder, then, that the workers turn to fascism - a form of ‘socialism’ which can be introduced by the simple process of voting, without the necessity of a revolution with all its unpleasant connotations. Thus when the members of the reformist, petty-bourgeois parties - a term which includes even the self-styled revolutionary political parties - reproach the workers with being stupid, they fail to consider that these parties themselves are largely responsible for that ‘stupidity’, in that they put reformist notions into the heads of the workers and fail to make a clear-cut distinction between capitalism (in its fascist form) and communism (as conceived by Marx, the “society of free and equal producers”). Thus reformism in its various aspects, including participation in capitalist politics, leads logically to fascism, and all the reformist parties (regardless of their revolutionary phrases or intentions) will be forced in the end either to capitulate to fascism or be suppressed by it - or even both at the same time, as in the case of the German C.P., which had lost all revolutionary character and become almost as fascist as the Nazis, but which nevertheless has to be swept aside as unadapted, or at least less adapted than Hitler’s party, to the needs of the bourgeoisie in the permanent crisis.

These two opposed tendencies in the labor movement imply, of course, differences in theoretical base, involving questions not merely of psychology but of philosophy and economics. The reformist position is essentially opportunistic and undialectical. It is accordingly superficial, content with momentary successes, however won and with the aid of whatever elements, without regard for ulterior effects on the revolutionary movement and the form of society resulting from it. It fails to see in the capitalistic relations themselves and in the growth of the forces of production (in particular, the growth of the proletariat) the circumstance which makes the eventual triumph of communism inevitable, however long that triumph may be postponed by fascism and other varieties of reformism. On the one hand, the truly revolutionary tendency, which sees in the proletariat itself the antithesis engendered by capitalism, and in communism the synthesis resulting from this antagonism, is not concerned with catering to the petty-bourgeoisie but with developing the strength and the consciousness and the self-confidence of the workers, so that these latter will be capable of leading the petty-bourgeoisie instead of being led by it. In other words, as Mattick makes plain in the concluding sections of his work, it is not so much a question of ‘educating’ the workers in communist ideology, but one of developing their militancy. Education, in the sense in which the word is employed by Sidney Hook and on which he lays so much stress - in common, we might say, with socialists and reformists generally - is a matter in which the capitalists, so long as capitalism endures, will always have the advantage, if not practically a complete monopoly. The great mass of the workers, under capitalist conditions, cannot be reached by education at all; and hence to depend upon education and propaganda as the main forms of pre-revolutionary activity is merely to play into the hands of the reactionaries by indulging the sort of illusions characteristic of the socialists, who hold that nothing can be done about a new state of society until they have convinced enough people of the desirability of socialism to vote the socialist ticket into office. But to promote the militancy and self-confidence of the workers, even to the exclusion of communist ideology and what, is generally referred to as class consciousness in its more intellectual form, is to make the collapse of capitalism inevitable in the shortest possible space of time. Their economic struggles under existing conditions naturally tend to assume a political form and acquire a revolutionary character; the workers may not be Marxists or conscious revolutionists while engaged in these struggles, but, as Mattick says , “the revolution makes them Marxists.”

NO attempt will be made in this brief review to indicate the wealth of theoretical material which Mattick brings to the support of his views. Our aim is merely to point out the revolutionary significance of his work and to suggest the manner in which it differentiates itself from the ‘orthodox’ and all forms of ‘vulgar’ Marxism. The pamphlet was written mainly as a reply to Sidney Hook’s book Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx which is perhaps the one distinctively American contribution to Marxism which could be named as in any sense worthy of such a critique. Mattick and Hook are, of course, in agreement on many specific points (omitted as obvious in the present pamphlet), and their differences are sometimes more a matter of emphasis than of fundamental opposition. But Hook, in common with all the other people who have tried to “make sense of Marx” has, we think Mattick clearly shows, merely succeeded in reducing what is essentially science to the ‘common-sense’ level of understanding and not only abandoned Marxism himself but made it all the easier for liberals and ‘nice people’ generally to feel that they were perfectly justified in never concerning themselves with the matter or never taking it seriously if they did. Mattick reveals that Marx is more modern than all his critics, whether of the pseudo-scientific radical camp like Max Eastman, or of the purely liberal type like Stuart Chase. Marx is not only the symbol of revolution, which is the only present alternative to world-wide fascism he is also the man who has provided the most profound understanding of capitalist society, and that insight into economic laws and the movement of social classes which is the only sure guide to pursuing a really radical course of action under capitalism in its stage of decline. And Mattick, in spite or because of his comparative youth, has brought into Marxist theory and the political labor movement, a freshness of insight and depth of understanding gained in the course of years of experience here and abroad and hitherto lacking in this country.



[1] A 48 page pamphlet just published by Polemic Publishers, 122 East 25th St., New York City. – 25c per copy postage prepaid from publisher; or order from U.W.P. -1604 N. California Ave., Chicago, Ill.


Last updated on: 4.15.2016