They Must Be Made By Those Who Make History
Meanings of Key Terms
The Elite. Defining this term is like designating the fittest referred to in Darwin’s law of the survival of the fittest. The in-elite are the people who run things. To describe them thus is not to say that one thinks they ought to run things or that one considers them morally or otherwise the best people or those most deserving to rule. The out-elite are those who might be running things if there occurred a shift in power. There can be no question as to who are the ins. I avoid use of the term ruling class because it carries certain regal connotations which are inappropriate in a republic and also as it might be thought to exclude that large class of economically powerful persons who never soil their hands with politics but who form part of the crowd running things. One cannot designate conclusively the future elite among the outs. One has to wait until they come into power. But one is justified in saying that there always is an out or potential elite which might become the in or actual elite in a change of circumstances. In the new revolution, the new elite will obviously be much in view and will be held to a higher or more definite degree of responsibility for what happens than the present elite. This always occurs in a major shift of power which focuses public attention on the facts of power and the personalities who hold power.
Revolution and Revolutionary. These terms are used simply to denote social change that is profound and widespread. By themselves, they do not refer to any particular kind of social change but to any and every sort of social change; or, in each instance used, to the particular type of change there under discussion. Thus, reference is constantly made to the capitalist as well as the socialist revolution; to the industrial revolution as well as to innumerable other varieties of revolution.
Unfortunately, most people think of revolution as a process of mob violence, disorder, anarchy and chaos. Mention of the French Revolution, for example, evokes to their minds lurid scenes in the streets of Paris and not the far-reaching social changes which constituted the substantial reality of the French Revolution. The fact is, the violent incidents of a great social revolution are to it about what the foam on the crest of the wave is to the rising tide.
This book is not a tract for revolution, or a diatribe against the present status quo. It is intended as a guide to the times which are nothing if not revolutionary, whether one likes the idea or not. It is not written for those who use the process of name-calling to make and unmake things to their liking. The purpose is to explain the end of one revolution and the beginning of another. If the purpose were to sell a specific variety of social revolution, whether capitalist or socialist, great care would be taken not to call what was being touted revolution, and to call its opposites or alternatives revolutionary. What was being advocated would be called evolution or progress or by some other popular term which, unlike revolution, encounters no sales resistance.
Dynamism and Dynamic. These terms are used merely to indicate what makes the wheels of society go round. A driving force, so considered, is neither good nor bad. It is merely instrumental. In a given situation and moment it may produce what, according to the point of view, are deemed good or bad actions or results. The dynamism or dynamics of a society must be thought of simply as its vital energy, its power to go places and do things, good or evil.
Democracy and Capitalism. These are companion terms. They describe two aspects of the same social system. Democracy may be called the political, and capitalism the economic, side of the system. Throughout this book the term democracy is used in the sense in which it is currently employed in popular speech. This usage is in keeping with the idea that definitions are not in themselves, as subjects of possible disagreement, worth arguing about and that words should be accepted and used in whatever sense they are generally current. Democracy, as the term is used in this book and in popular speech, refers to a certain pattern of ways and institutions which may be further identified by the phrases, parliamentary government, liberalism, a government of checks and balances,—all these terms meaning, among other things, a governmental system in which the rights of minorities to oppose the majority in certain approved ways is respected.
In my opinion, which I would not waste time trying to prove, an entirely different pattern of ways and institutions may with equal propriety and etymological correctness be termed democratic. Taking Lincoln’s celebrated formulation “of the people, for the people and by the people” as being the essence of democracy, it may, I think, be fairly held that a socialist dictatorship of the most arbitrary sort, and one I personally might not care to live under, is as democratic as the government of Britain, America or France. The trouble is that we make it a sine qua non of democracy that it recognize certain minority rights which the socialist dictatorships deny.
In general, the American definition of democracy is merely government and society as we are used to them and like them. And, in this connection, we generally do not realize that the pattern we are used to, like and call democracy includes many other features, such as a perpetual land boom, which are not included in our idealistic definitions of democracy but which are part and parcel of our mental picture of the thing. Democracy may be abstractly defined, whenever a definition is demanded. But the people, in using the term, do not think of that abstract definition. They think instead of a complex of concrete realities of personal experience, one of which is a perpetual land boom and another of which is limitless opportunities for individuals to get rich quick.
In defining democracy, we Americans are apt to assume that nowhere can the people govern themselves unless they do so in the particular way we are used to and like. That is to say, we assume that wherever the people may be governed in a radically different way, their government cannot be of the people, by the people and for the people. I consider these assumptions and this definition of democracy wholly incorrect, etymologically, historically and rationally. But I do not consider the inaccuracy of such a definition of democracy a matter worth arguing about. I use the word only as we are accustomed to hearing it used. There are more important errors to clear up than those of popular definition. I am willing, then, to restrict the application of the term democracy to social systems the American people consider democratic. I am the more willing to do this because the systems we say are not democratic are not claimed by their supporters to be democratic. The Russian communists for a time attempted under the Trojan horse policy of the Popular Front to masquerade under the cloak of democracy. But now the communist wolves no longer seek to go about in sheep’s clothing. Communists, Fascists and Nazis now leave the term democracy to the capitalist powers. So be it, then, for all purposes of definition.
It has always seemed to me that, in any objective sense of the term, all governments and societies everywhere in the world today, above the level of the tribal stage of culture, have to be democratic. That is to say, they must be governments more or less of the people, by the people and for the people. It would seem to me that the more arbitrarily and violently a people are governed today, the more dependent their government must be on continuous sanction by the will of a substantial majority. Otherwise, such a government would be overthrown overnight by an almost spontaneous revolt of the dissatisfied majority. It seems to me silly to say that the people cannot make an uprising because the dictator commands several million uniformed, disciplined and armed men. It is precisely because of the existence of large mass armies of soldiers and party legionaries that the dictator must enjoy continuous popularity in order to survive. A people’s army must be assumed to share the feelings of the people. To say that the people’s army or the popular party legion suppresses the will of the people at the command of the dictator does not make sense. Who coerces the millions of armed soldiers and legionaries? It is absurd to ask a realist to believe that a single man could survive twenty-four hours as dictator if the majority of his armed forces thought he should be ousted. This is especially true in a non-supernaturalist and materialist age and regime. The feeling of a majority of a people’s army can never long be different from the feeling of the majority of the unarmed people of which they are a part. There may be some plausibility to saying that a Hitler or Stalin hypnotizes his armed millions with his personality and words. But surely it is implausible to say that he terrorizes them with physical force, since the physical force at his command is entirely in the hands of the popular army or party legions. The simplest proof of the inherent democracy of all dictatorships, using the term democracy this time in its etymological sense and not in the sense in which it is employed currently and throughout this book, is to be found in the importance given by the dictatorships to propaganda. The dictators may deceive the people but it is nonsense to talk about a small clique of leaders terrorizing with force millions of armed men. Neither Pitt, Napoleon nor even Disraeli or Gladstone went to the same great pains as the present-day dictators in selling their policies to the people for the simple reason that there was then far less democracy. The masses then were largely uninterested in politics. In those days only a small mercenary army had arms. But as I have already made clear, I do not in the least mind reserving the term democracy exclusively for systems which tolerate minority political opposition.
Where my use of terms like democracy and socialism will encounter most criticism and contradiction will be in connections I shall now try to explain. In general, when I talk about democracy, capitalism or socialism I refer to what is actual rather than to what is the ideal. Most readers will be entirely content with my calling the United States, Great Britain and the self-governing British colonies, France, the low countries, the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland democracies, and with my not calling the dictatorships democracies. They would be annoyed if I did otherwise. But they will be furious with me for linking certain conditions like chronic unemployment or resort to deficits and war, with democracy. In general, their view as to the correct use of terms like democracy is as follows: Everything they like about America must be identified with democracy and everything they dislike in dictatorships must be associated with dictatorship; nothing good must be mentioned in connection with dictatorships; nothing bad in connection with democracy.
I shall be told that the United States is not a perfect democracy and that democracy is not to blame for our failure to solve unemployment. Yet if one uses terms in this way, intellectual discourse about social problems becomes impossible. It may be fair for me to say that when my children behave as I want them to they are true to their name, family tradition and home training and that when they behave otherwise they are not good Dennises. The fact remains, however, that no matter what my children do, they are always my children. Similarly, no matter what crimes I may commit here or abroad, I can never cease to be a native of this country. The nation can terminate my citizenship or my life but it cannot ever alter the facts of my birth here or my American ancestry. It would be easy to say that Americans never commit crimes nor get smallpox by making it a law that an American ceases to be an American by committing a crime or getting smallpox. In the same way it can be made a matter of definition that nothing bad can be called democratic or attributed to democracy. To insist that democracy be discussed only in terms of its ideals and of such realities as accord with them is to make realistic discussion wholly impossible. The Nazis cannot say that concentration camps are alien to their system and Americans cannot say that chronic unemployment is alien to our system. Facts are normative.
Socialism. It is in applying the term socialism to the systems actually in operation in Germany, Russia and Italy that I invite some of the most violent criticism I shall receive. Believers in democracy and capitalism all want to have the system discussed in terms of its ideals and contrary-to-fact assumptions, but they are used to having to account for its realities. After all, democracy and capitalism have existed now for many years as a system both of ideals and working institutions. But socialism, up to the Russian Revolution, has never existed in a national way except as a system of ideals. Hence believers in socialism and persons well informed about the subject have applied the term socialism solely to the theory or ideals of socialism. In this book I never mean utopian socialism when I use the term socialism, unless I so qualify it. When one has before one’s eyes socialism in practice, why talk about socialism in theory as opposed to or different from socialism in action? I am not interested in Bellamy’s, Norman Thomas’s, Ramsay McDonald’s or Caspar Milquetoast’s brand of socialism. I am interested in socialism only as an operating fact, whether in the degree found in Russia or in the New Deal.
Many American socialists will say that Russia and Germany do not have socialism, meaning their variety, which is unimportant. The observation is like the statement of those of one Christian sect that another Christian sect is not Christian. After all, if most of one hundred and eighty million Russians or eighty million Germans call what they have socialism, this fact is more important for purposes of definition than the opinion of a handful of American or British idealists who are politically insignificant, but who believe theirs to be the only genuine variety of socialism. The definitions of the doers are more important than the definitions of the talkers. I adhere to the definitions of socialism embodied in the deeds of foreign socialists in power and not to the verbal and academic definitions of socialism made by American socialists not in power. This I do not only because actions speak louder than words but also because there is no widely current and accepted definition of socialism among the American people.
If socialism is to be a useful term and concept, it must be broad and elastic in meaning. It must apply to realities as well as to ideals, to real situations as well as to utopias. No definition of socialism in the abstract can be valid as against a definition of something in action called socialism by those in command. G. D. H. Cole, in a pamphlet published in October 1938 entitled Socialism in Evolution, tried without success to formulate a definition of socialism and admitted his failure by saying “As I see it, this idea of human fellowship is the root idea of socialism.” With this the followers of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini would all agree.
Socialism as a term or a concept must, if it is to be a useful tool of thought and discussion, apply to trends as well as working systems. More public ownership in displacement of private ownership, more public control in substitution for private control of industry, trade and agriculture, more progressive taxation aimed at the equalization of fortunes and income and in general more collectivism and less individualism, must all be considered socialist trends. Briefly, socialism is a relative and not an absolute term. In political practice, as distinguished from political theory, there are no absolutes. To say that anything is not socialism because it does not conform to the standards of some absolute is absurd, just as it would be absurd to say that there are no democracies because there are none conforming to any given set of standards. Most thinking about democracy or socialism is wrong in this respect. It is assumed that there are certain abstract standards defining democracy or socialism and that any given system called by its exponents a democracy or a socialist society must be judged by these standards and accordingly pronounced to be or not to be the real thing.
One’s thinking should run the other way round. America and England are examples setting the present standards of democracy as a system in operation. Russia and Germany are examples setting the present standards of socialism as a system in operation. To say that America is not a democracy or that Russia and Germany are not socialistic because they do not measure up to one’s own standards for both terms is merely to show conceit. Definitions must be made by those who make history, for a definition which has no historical basis is not different from a dream. One great trouble with the social sciences in the democracies today is the habit of seeking escape from facts in the processes of definition.
Many believers in utopian socialism insist that it must be democratic. I am inclined to conclude from recent and current experiments that socialism is incompatible with democracy in the sense we commonly use the latter term. But on this point I keep an open mind. When I can be shown democratic socialism in operation I shall believe it possible. Until then I shall not say that it is impossible. But, while conceding the possibility in the future of a democratic socialism, I shall insist that a non-democratic or non-parliamentary socialism be recognized as the only working model of socialism we have in the world today. To say that an undemocratic socialism is not socialism is sillier than saying that an American convict in the penitentiary is not an American or that a businessman who fails to make money is not a businessman. Anyone has the right to say that his brand of socialism in theory or as an ideal is preferable to another brand of socialism in operation. But no one has the right to say that the idealist has a monopoly on a term like socialism or democracy.
I concede the idealist’s right to apply any term he chooses to his unrealized dream but not to deny the same right to the realist to apply any term he chooses to his realized accomplishment. I grant Norman Thomas’s right to call himself a socialist but not to deny to Hitler or Stalin the right to call themselves socialists. For me, democracy and socialism are primarily historical and not moral or ethical terms. An unrealized dream or ideal may be an historical event quite as much as a realized achievement. Therefore, utopian socialism has a place in the history of ideas and cultural forces. But it must not be overlooked or denied that those who make history also have the right to make definitions and that every reality has its corresponding idea though every idea does not necessarily have its corresponding reality. In other words, Hitler’s definition of socialism is as valid as that of Leon Blum or Norman Thomas.
Communism, Fascism and Nazism. As for these terms, there should be no question as to definition: First, because each is authoritatively defined by its official governmental exponent; second, because, in this book these terms are little used and never as important elements in any statement. In the theory of this book communism (Russian style), Fascism, and Nazism are merely different national variants of socialism. And all these variants combine many of the features of capitalism, laissez-faire and the free market with socialism, state capitalism and planning.
In the United States it is obvious that we shall not have a Russian, Italian or German, but an American brand of national socialism. What we call it is of little importance. As for the question what will it be like, the most important and informative answer that can be given at present is that it will be a permanent revolution.
And so this book is about the new revolution in the United States as a process of change already begun rather than about some dream of a new American utopia. One cannot talk realistically about a new order to be realized years hence either here or anywhere else. One can, however, talk realistically about a current process of change.
In linking together Russian communism, Italian Fascism and German Nazism and in declaring that the New Deal is a movement in the same general direction, I do not say or imply that these different national phases of the same world-wide revolution of socialism are entirely alike. Still less do I imply that they are friendly to each other. In this there is nothing contradictory. Capitalistic and democratic countries have fought each other in the past and, in all probability, socialistic countries will fight each other in the future. People fight because of their similarities more often than because of their dissimilarities. There is for the time being a natural tendency among the capitalist great powers to combine against and resist the socialist great powers, because the latter are challenging the status quo.
The world-wide revolution of socialism, however, is greater than this conflict and will go on during, and in spite of, and after these wars just as the capitalist revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries went on through the inter-capitalist wars of that era. One can follow intelligently the new revolution, though not the day-to-day military and diplomatic moves of the leading contestants.
Fascism and Nazism differ from communism mainly in the manner of coming into operation. A vital element of the Fascist and Nazi way of coming to power was the taking of the big businessmen and middle classes into the socialist camp without resistance and, even, with enthusiasm on their part for a revolutionary movement which they lacked the social intelligence to understand. Bringing about socialism through the deception of the industrialists and middle classes in Germany was the alternative to bringing it about through civil war. This achievement was partly the result of guile on the part of the Fascist and Nazi leaders whose thought was steeped in radical socialist ideology, and partly the result of the inherent naivete of the industrialists and middle classes who were easily made to believe that Fascist and Nazi radicals would avert communism and preserve capitalism. Back in 1933 and 1934 I was one of the few writing Americans who saw that both Fascism and Nazism had to end in an extreme form of socialism by reason of the pressures of inevitable trends in social change. I derided the interpretations of Fascism and Nazism made equally by the conservatives and the communists at that time. Incidentally, it is to be remarked that American communists and fellow travelers, who are as unsophisticated in politics as Wall Streeters or Mrs. Roosevelt, helped both Mussolini and Hitler no end in the early days by denouncing them as capitalist stooges. My book, The Coming American Fascism, was treated by many leftist critics as wholly irrelevant to Fascism because it did not accord with the then orthodox Moscow interpretation of this new phenomenon. On this point, the orthodox line of Union Square and the Union League Club was the same. Both of these areas, incidentally, are as remote from reality as they are from America in their political opinions.
To me, in 1933-1936, as now, the idea then being advanced on Park Avenue and lower Third Avenue that the demagogue of a popular national socialist movement with a private army of the people under his orders could be the Charlie McCarthy of big businessmen was utterly preposterous. I have known intimately too many big businessmen to have any uncertainty as to the role they would be playing in any Charlie McCarthy act with a Hitler. Businessmen are socially the least intelligent and creative members of our ruling classes. Without their legal, spiritual and advertising advisers at their elbows, they are less articulate than the average taxi driver or longshoreman, and they make much less sense. I am firmly convinced that the chief reason for Charlie McCarthy’s popularity is that so many millions of Americans who have to go through life as stooges enjoy hearing for a few minutes a week one of their kind talk back as they have the will but not the wit to do themselves.
The instruments of power are guns and propaganda. Whoever commands these commands money. Why should a political regime enjoying a monopoly of propaganda and guns take orders from men who have nothing but money? Money can never have more power than guns and propaganda give it. Property rights derive from guns and propaganda, not guns and propaganda from property rights. Once a propertyless elite of political demagogy capture the instruments of guns and propaganda, i.e., the state, the formerly propertied elite enjoy property rights only on the sufferance and conditions fixed by the new holders of the perennial instruments of power, arms and idea propagating machinery. The notion that a socialist Caesar could be given orders by a man with nothing but pieces of paper called property always seemed to me absurd. I have no doubt that it now seems equally absurd to Herr Thyssen.
The Fascist-Nazi method of transition from capitalism to socialism was obviously more humane for the capitalists and business executives and far better for the community than the communist way of sudden liquidation of one system with its managing personnel, and inauguration of the successor system without adequate experts. It is better to make socialist commissars of industry of the capitalist industrialists than to make corpses of them, both for their sakes and for society’s sake, which can use them better alive than dead. Thus the socialist state is given time to train its personnel under experts while the latter are able to end their lives in service and in comfort.
The fact that the Fascist-Nazi detour around communist liquidation had to be made by means of deception of the capitalists is merely another proof of the unworkability of democracy and the political genius of Mussolini and Hitler. If industrial democracy were feasible, the industrialists of capitalism would cooperate in the working out of solutions for unemployment and progressive socialization of industry without necessity for Fascist deception, the communist firing squad or our getting into a world war to get socialism via the Industrial Mobilization Plan.
A repetition of the Hitler formula in the United States seems unlikely for several reasons. One reason is that capitalists are now on to it. The American capitalist fly probably cannot be kidded into walking into the Fascist spider's parlor as a refuge against communism. When Hitler came to power the “best” society in Germany, as elsewhere, regarded Mussolini as a savior of capitalism and Hitler as a promising model of the same leadership. The losers are always wrong. But it would now be futile for any aspiring American national socialist to pass the hat among the American plutocracy unless he offered promise of such reaction that he could not possibly secure a popular following. Contrary to the apparent belief of the Republican party sponsors of reactionary stooges, no political movement anywhere today can long succeed as the ostensible cause of the rich versus the poor. Hitler was able to exploit with guile the gullibility of the “best” people, and with the utmost sincerity the patriotism of the nationalists who wanted to see Versailles avenged. The anti-communist line got the capitalists, the anti-Versailles line got the army and the nationalists, the anti-Semitic line got the masses as well as the classes while, at the same time, sugar-coating the initial pill of anticapitalism. Marx said that anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools, by which he probably meant that only fools would fail to understand that anti-Semitism was usually a manifestation of selective anticapitalism.
A second reason the Hitler formula will not work in the United States is that we have no counterpart of the treaty of Versailles which a demagogic leader can use to line up the veterans and patriots who want a respectable and conventional reason to go places and do things. To work up nationalist fever in America one has to invoke some alien nationalism. One must either wave the Union jack or else emote over the oppression of some foreign minority. The most dynamic nationalism we have in this country, of course, is that of the Jews, which is international. Americans have yet to become a nation.
The most important thing to understand about revolution is that it never comes in any two countries in the same way. In this book I hazard the opinion that it will come in an entirely original and unforseeable way. It will come, most likely, under leadership of the returned soldiers and the new wartime bureaucracy in charge of industrial mobilization, all, or most of whom, will face after the war the alternatives of heading up a new revolution or an old bread line. The things the leaders say to win mass support will have no long-run importance. They will be significant only as indications of the type of propaganda needed at the moment to catch the masses. It may be good minor tactics to call the socialism they are inaugurating antisocialism. What the resulting system eventually turns out to be will be wholly determined by the imperatives of the situation and only to a very slight extent by the wishes of either the leaders or the masses. If the leaders are, as they are likely to be, inspired geniuses, they will understand the demands of the situation and will adopt the necessary measures to meet them. It is with forecasting these exigencies of the near future on the basis of current conditions and trends that this book is chiefly concerned. The two needs of tomorrow’s revolutionary leadership are first, understanding of the situation and second, a will to meet it. Hitler’s revolutionary genius has consisted in understanding since the war, as no liberal democratic leaders anywhere have understood, that capitalism is doomed, and in having always a will to do concrete things about it. Given an understanding of the situation and a will to action, plans and their execution follow as matters of course. Whatever else it may be, the result is action which is the only cure for stagnation.