1920s >> 1927 >> no-274-june-1927

The Science of Revoution

A crimson-covered volume of some two hundred and odd pages has come to hand possessing the above ambitious title. The author, Max Eastman, poses as something of a psychologist of the analytical type, having apparently imbibed Freud in large doses. Thus fortified, he trains his critical guns upon what he regards as the tottering fabric of the Marxian philosophy, or as he terms it, “dialectic materialism” ; which procedure, he would have us believe, is animated by nothing more than a friendly desire to rid Marxism of a paralysing encumbrance, and to convert it, at last, into a real practical science.

The effect is somewhat bewildering, to say the least of it, and the present scribe, afflicted with a mere working-class education, candidly confesses his inability to make any practical head or tail of the involved argumentation in which Mr. Eastman indulges. In his first chapter on “The Function of Thinking,” he drills into the reader the idea that “Thought is purposive,” yet at the end of the book the said reader is left guessing as to just what purpose the author con¬siders himself to have served.

There is not a single criticism of Marx that is new in the whole volume, and nothing is added, even by way of suggestion or example, to our knowledge of the social revolution. All that the author attempts is to shake the confidence of the Marxist in the reality and objective basis of his conclusions. Economic knowledge is derided and belittled, and a simple faith in our own desires and will is offered as a substitute. All this, of course, the author would have us lay at the door of psychology.

According to Mr. Eastman, Marx’s conception of history as a process based upon economic development, was merely a “rationalisation” of his desire for a revolution. We are asked to believe that in the “ideological” and “metaphysical” pages of “Capital,” Marx satisfied the mystic yearnings of his soul by philosophical communion with an “Economic God” of his own invention.

The present writer is not, of course, in a position to divulge what subtle “complex” dominates Mr. Eastman’s mind, but it appears to be one which leads him, for some obscure reason, into hostility against any form of abstract thought as applied to history and economics. He would throw overboard both metaphysics and dialectics and confine himself to the common-sense methods of practical investigation. Yet in the realm of biology he accepts Darwin and in psychology he accepts Freud.

He appears to be unable to see that both of these investigators are compelled to use the dialectical method whenever they generalise their conclusions, and leave for the nonce the realm of particular facts.

Darwin was forced to connect the evolution of organisms with changes in the earth’s crust. Are we therefore entitled to suggest that he was merely “rationalising” a subconscious hostility to the Book of Genesis? Marx, we are told, does not explain the practical variations in prices, etc., by his theory of value. Neither did Darwin attempt to explain the variations which occur in every succeeding generation. He looked for the law of survival and found it—horror of horrors, Mr. Eastman—in the material conditions of existence which alone could determine what were “favourable” variations, regardless of the will and desire of unfavourable ones.

In the sphere of psychological theory, Freud elaborates the conception of a conflict between the conscious and the unconscious mental processes. This he attributes to the existence of a censorship which represses the thoughts and feelings incompatible with civilised behaviour. Obviously, as Freud himself admits, this censorship is nothing but the reflection in the individual mind of the social conventions necessarily arising from a given stage of economic development. The professed object of psychoanalysts is to resolve the conflict, i.e., to bring the buried “wish” into harmony with reality, and what is this, Mr. Eastman, but the essence of dialectics?

It matters not to what realm of investigation we turn, the same law holds good, that a thing is and moves, and has its being only in relation to that which is not itself. So-called realists like our author may wriggle this way and that, but the only practical way of escape from the barren waste of metaphysics is the dialectical materialism which they affect to despise.

This is obvious whenever a scientist leaves his own realm and pronounces as with pontifical authority upon some subject of general interest of which his knowledge may easily be less than that of the average man. Men like Crookes and Lodge, for example, exhibit all the vices of the metaphysician when dealing with the subject of spiritism, while the number of Anti-Socialist professors has not been counted.

Marx’s “metaphysics” were attacked and the attacks answered by him in his own preface to “Capital” long before Mr. Eastman was heard of. Economic forces being social in character, cannot be dealt with in the same way as chemical compounds. Acids and microscopes are useless when we want to analyse a commodity.

Only the force of abstraction can help us. Abandon that force, and a science of economics becomes impossible, and we are left a prey to every Utopian fantasy liable to be misled by any will-o’-the-wisp “reform,” whether proposed by the professional politician or the crack-brained “rebel.”

Mr. Eastman endeavours to maintain that an idea cannot at one and the same time be a “reflex” of conditions, expressing some class interest, and also have objective validity. He holds that the Marxian “ideology” is thus no more scientific than the “ideologies” of the capitalist class, which it attempts to replace. In other words, Marx only saw what he wanted to see and described the result as “science !” This line of argument leads us to the conclusion that a truth ceases to be such if we want to make use of it. Thus, mechanics are no more scientific than magicians, since they simply express in their theories a “rationalised” form of their desire to control the universe.

For sheer puerility, some of the self-styled “psychologists” would be hard to beat, but as Engels has it, “The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and human action had solved the problem long before human ingenuity had invented it.”

The soundness of Marx’s economic view is evidenced by facts which become daily more obvious, e.g., the concentration of capital and the intensification of exploitation, and of the consequent class-struggle. Mr. Eastman affects to regard these facts as immaterial to the main issue. “Look at Russia !” he exclaims. “Never mind about whether the triumph of the proletariat is in¬evitable ! Suffice that it is possible.” Yet in a very few pages further on he has to lament the appalling growth of bureaucracy in Russia !

Lenin, of course, comes in for eulogy in comparison with poor old Marx.

We have the “brilliant social revolutionary engineer” held up to admiration in comparison with the “foggy old metaphysician.”

The Bolshevik upheaval proved Marx wrong according to Mr. Eastman. Had it succeeded in its alleged object, we might agree with him, but all the evidence of its failure surely proves that Marx was right, and that social and political forms cannot be forced upon countries where the backward economic conditions make them premature.

Throughout the book the author negligently confuses historical materialism with “economic determinism,” and blind fatalism. He follows innumerable bourgeois “critics” of Marx in attributing contradictions to his thought which do not exist, and generally re-hashes all the stale metaphysical dualism in the guise of psychology. It is difficult, however, to believe that Professor Freud would recognise many of his “disciples” who appear anxious to show themselves off as “Jacks” in all and sundry branches of inquiry and “masters” of none.

As for dialectics, this method of reasoning will no doubt survive the attempts on the part of the “Communists” to drag it in as a support for their alternate criticism and support of Labour leaders; but this is a practical question of working-class politics here and now, which appears to be beneath the notice of such a “practical scientist” as Mr. Eastman.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, June 1927)

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