This book needs an introduction (1) to anticipate certain easy misconstructions of its major theses and, (2) to set the reader straight from the start as to the author’s attitude and purposes.
First, let it be said that I am undertaking to explain rather than to advocate (1) the current decline and fall of capitalism and democracy; and (2) the new revolution which is worldwide and just beginning in this country. I do not seek to show what can or should be done (1) to save democracy and capitalism or (2) to stop the new revolution. I am concerned only over what can and should be done for the best interests of the American people, not of a system, during developments which I consider inevitable and already in progress.
Second, I argue that permanent social revolution is the only alternative to stagnation, pointing out that democracy, or capitalism on its economic side, was a great revolution and is fast becoming only a great legend. In so doing, I seek to explain the new revolution in various countries as a great and more or less inevitable process of social change the world over. I shall, therefore, probably be accused, though wrongly, of defending all revolutions and everything done in each one of them. I do not say that all revolutions are absolutely good. I say merely that any revolution that is big enough will end stagnation which is the essence of the social problem of today.
Third, as to war, I hold it probable that nothing can keep America out and that our going to war will prove futile for the purposes for which we shall fight because, in going to war against the Have-nots, we shall be lighting a world revolution abroad only thereby to bring about here the same revolution which I consider inevitable everywhere. I am in favor of the revolution here but deem the war way of bringing it about regrettable though inevitable in the present emotional attitude of the American people toward world events.
It will be easy to misunderstand or distort my position as to our going to war. It will seem to many that it is contradictory, at the same time, to disapprove of our entering the war, to approve of our going through with the new revolution and to say that we shall do so through entering the war. Obviously, from what I have to say, my personal preference would be to have the new revolution carried out here without our going to war in a futile effort to stop war abroad. What will be hard for many to understand about this book is that it is primarily my analysis of the situation and the near-future probabilities rather than a statement of my personal preferences. As I see no likelihood of my preferences being realized in the transition from capitalism to socialism, I do not devote a whole book to expounding them, as a detailed program, though I do not hesitate to express or suggest them from time to time in different connections. But my preferences are brought in only incidentally to the development of the book’s main theses which are largely interpretative of actual trends and probable events.
The gravamen of the criticism against this book will probably be that it is defeatist, fatalistic, depressing, cynical, immoral, and lacking in faith in democracy and in the intelligence of the masses. All this boils down to the charge that the book is not utopian. To make the task of my critics as simple as possible, let me say categorically that I do not believe in democracy or the intelligence of the masses as my critics will generally use these terms. If democracy merited my believing in it or if the masses had social intelligence to which rational appeal could be made, we should not have fought the Civil War and the World War or be in the mess we have been in for the past ten years. If the masses had a social intelligence to which rational appeal could be made successfully, we should work out the new revolution in America without going to war. We should solve the problem of unemployment as quickly and as easily as we put two million soldiers in France in 1917-1918 to make the world safe for democracy. To suppose that an appeal to the intelligence of the masses to solve America’s internal problems without going to war has any chance against an appeal to the emotions of the masses to go to war against foreigners is naive. I refuse to appeal to something I find no evidence of ever having existed. The argument against our fighting in Europe’s wars can have appeal only for a small part of the elite capable of abstract reasoning. I shall be happy to be proved wrong in these conclusions. But, in my lack of faith in democracy, I can be proved wrong only by events, not by the words of my critics.
It will then be asked by many critics why, if I have so little faith in democracy and the intelligence of the masses, I write this book. The answer is that this book is addressed not to the masses but to the elite or to the ruling groups, actual and potential. It is the governing minority of wealth, prestige and power, economic and cultural, present and future, which determines whether, when, where, how, and whom we fight. The American people, of course, do not want to go to war at the moment. But neither have they wanted unemployment and huge relief deficits and taxes over the past ten years. What the people want and what they get are not always the same things. The trouble is that the masses do not understand and can never be made to understand clearly the implications of their desires.
If and when a majority of the elite or the ruling minority decide that the time has come for us to go to war, the masses will be made overnight to cry as lustily, sincerely, and innocently for war as a baby cries for milk. The elite, through their skilled medicine men, who manipulate the verbal symbols and moral concepts by which mass emotions are swayed and mass attitudes are created, can plunge us into war whenever they desire. The technique for doing this is the same as that explained in Pavlov’s experiments in conditioned reflexes with the dog whose mouth was made to water every time he heard the sound of a certain bell, having been so conditioned by reason of being fed several times when the bell was rung. Science has given experts more skill, knowledge and instruments for manipulating the masses than the medicine men and witch doctors of old ever commanded. Universal education has made the masses susceptible to large-scale opinion and attitude manipulation such as would have been impossible in the days when only a few could read and write. In those days wars had to be fought by comparatively small numbers of specialized fighters, who could be brought under the command of one leader by the then available means of communication. Now, thanks to the progress of democracy, industrialism and science, to quote from our army’s Industrial Mobilization Plan of 1936, “War is no longer simply a battle
between armed forces in the field, it is a struggle in which each side strives to bring to bear against the enemy the coordinated power of every individual and every material resource at its command. The conflict extends from the soldiers in the most forward line to the humblest citizen in the remotest hamlet in the rear.”
A simple proof of the people’s lack of social intelligence as to war may be found in the almost total indifference of American public opinion, the newspapers and writers to the Industrial Mobilization Plan of the War and Navy Departments for the event of war. This plan would set up overnight a totalitarian economic dictatorship, supposedly, of course, for only the duration of the war. Do our papers and magazines discuss the implications of such a plan? Is the public interested in them? The answer to both questions is “Practically, no.” Government officials give us long discourses on Secretary Hull’s irrelevant free-trade ideas, on international cooperation, on the wickedness of foreign dictatorships and on what can or ought to be done about it. To the masses, one must preach either utopia or hate to be persuasive. But realistic plans laid by our army and navy to turn the United States into a totalitarian dictatorship on the outbreak of war are hardly mentioned in the public prints. Why is this so? The answer is that the vested interests of politicians and businessmen normally require the hoodwinking of the public, and that the public loves to be fooled about war by its statesmen as much as it loves to be fooled about life by the movies.
This book is not addressed, then, to those who will be stampeded into war like cattle into a corral but to all the elite, some of whom will lead the stampede and others of whom, like the author, will be swept along with the herd. It is written not as a pamphlet against, but as a guide to, what is going to happen. A book written with this purpose cannot be agreeably persuasive, because it must deal with unpleasant actualities and probabilities. To argue persuasively for or against American participation in war, one must make certain contrary-to-fact assumptions the basis of one’s appeal. One of the many reasons for the breakdown of democracy is that, to be persuasive in propaganda or popular appeal, one has to be unrealistic, just as moving pictures have to be in order to command box-office appeal. It should need no explanation that while fictions or falsehoods may be successful for propaganda or box-office purposes, they are unsatisfactory for technical purposes. And this industrialized society of ours is an extremely technical affair. In a primitive society it made little difference what types of witchcraft the people believed in or practiced. But an industrialized civilization has to be run under rational control by an elite capable of a high order of rationality. Else we must get back, through a prolonged process of population decimation, to small communities which can be run successfully by witchcraft and the folklore about which Thurman Arnold writes with his tongue in his cheek.
Many critics will find it contradictory on my part, in a book which professes loyalty to rationality, to challenge eighteenth century rationalism and deny that the masses are susceptible to an appeal to reason. The explanation consists mainly of the paradox that eighteenth century rationalism was never entirely rational because never entirely true in its fundamental assumptions. The first requisite of rational centralized social control (which is now necessary and which eighteenth century rationalism held to be unnecessary by reason of the imputed rationality of mass behavior) is recognition that mass behavior and mass reactions are irrational. A rational manipulation of an irrational mass mind and irrational mass reactions must be the first objective of rational social control for any purpose. A theory or system of social control, politics or economics based on the assumed rationality of mass behavior is irrational because this assumption is untrue. It is doubtless rational for social control to use lies, as we did in war propaganda in 1917-1918 and as we shall doubtless do again, as instruments of mass manipulation. But it is not rational for the engineer to believe in and act on belief in lies. Successful technology requires empirical truth. Successful political democracy seemingly requires persuasive lies. Sometimes these lies are called idealism; the most favorable description of them to accord with the facts is to call them utopian factions or myths. But you cannot run a complex machine by myths and factions even of the law.
Many readers will, by reason of this book’s frank recognition of the limitations and failures of democracy, assail the author as lacking in respect for the people or the dignity of man. This, of course, is entirely an issue of conflicting assumptions, not of facts versus assumptions. I assume that love of one’s fellow men, respect for man and loyalty to one’s kind are best expressed in attitudes, actions and institutions which best serve human welfare; and that the failure of democracy and capitalism to end unemployment condemns that system as inadequate for human welfare.
Others may, with equal validity, assume that it is better to have constitutional rights to do the physically impossible than it is to have work without such precious rights. I do not despise liberty, but I do not hold precious a liberty without its corresponding opportunity. I do not hold human rights cheap, but I would not give two straws for a legal right to do the impossible. A bill of rights which does not include the right to a job or an old age pension, but which is rather incompatible with this type of security, is today an absurd anachronism.
In his monumental study of history, Professor Toynbee says that “a civilization breaks down through a loss of harmony between its parts” and that “one source of disharmony between the institutions of which a society is composed is the introduction of new social forces, aptitudes, or emotions or ideas which the existing set of institutions was not originally intended to carry.” And so he arrives at the conclusion that our Western civilization is struggling with the consequences of the introduction of two social forces, industrialism and democracy. Modern industrialism and democracy have developed conditions which only new forms of social organization can correct. To contradict successfully the foregoing statement it is necessary to show either that unemployment is a tolerable condition or that democracy can correct it. My critics are reminded that the burden of such proof lies on them and not on the challenger of democracy and capitalism.
Some readers may also, especially after we have gotten into a war which is called throughout this book a major mistake and misfortune for America, question the author’s patriotism. Of course, this book is not the stuff to give the troops going overseas to kill with the idea they will thereby make the world safe for America, capitalism, imperialism or democracy. But, let it be recalled that the book was written well before the war and that it was written for an elite to ponder over during the war in preparation for its sequels. It will not imbue the masses with defeatism for the next war because it will never be read by the masses. If the masses could read and understand this book, we should not go to war for the Allies. The book cannot be blamed for contributing to defeat. It was written prior to our entering the war. It does not encourage civil disobedience. And it is too rational to appeal to the masses.
Far from trying to stop this war, I shall rather try to help it along once it becomes clear that the majority have been inveigled into wanting it. The best way to cure the American people of wanting to die for foreigners and utopian ideals is to let enough of them have the experience and then explain to the survivors what leaders and ideas were responsible for the futile adventure. Probably only a futile war can teach the American people the lessons of this book. If they want this form of instruction, I say as a good American and respecter of the will of the people “By all means let them have the education they so much desire.”
* * *
A few words about the author may be in order at this point by way of clarifying his personal attitude towards this country’s wars. In the summer of 1915 I paid my expenses, along with several hundreds of other young Americans, to attend the reserve officers’ training camp which was the first Plattsburg camp experimentally inaugurated in that year by General Leonard Wood. I went to the first Plattsburg camp after we entered the war in 1917 and received a commission in August with the first graduating class. I served overseas as a lieutenant of infantry with the First Army Headquarters Regiment. I did not at any time during the entire course of the late world war believe in the war aims or idealism of the Allies or in our entering the war any more than I believed in or sympathized with the war aims of the central powers. In respect to that war I never ceased to be neutral in thought and feeling. As soon as we enter the next war I shall try to join up in any capacity in which I may be found useful. If I am found too old or incompetent for line duty, as is probable, as I am now 46 years old, I shall be delighted to serve my country with its war propaganda. I am just as ready to lie as to kill for my country. Any ethic which does not put a man’s country above all else is a stench in my nostrils. I have for no foreign country any sympathy which would make it difficult for me to kill its nationals if ordered by my country to do so. My opposition to our entry into war is based solely on my ideas of American national interest.
This book has not been written with a view to keeping us out of war, for, as already indicated, I consider that a hopeless undertaking. It has been written in the belief that the disaster of our going to war for foreign interests and futile ideals is now rendered inevitable by the ideology and leadership to which we are now voluntarily self-subordinated, and by the exigencies of an economic impasse from which democracy cannot escape. This book has been written to prepare some of the elite against the day when a disillusioned America returns from a feckless foreign adventure, sadder and wiser. Then it will be possible to tell the American people the truth with every chance of being listened to and heeded. Then we can begin to purge this country of the ideology and leadership which will have been responsible for our having committed this blunder and suffered this disaster. The disaster will, almost certainly, not take the form of an American defeat. Our shores will be as safe at all times after our entry into war as they were at all times before, as far back as 181 3. The disaster will have been a futile sacrifice of American life to stop revolutionary change in Europe, futile because it will not have stopped but rather accelerated and extended to the lands of the Allies the revolution we shall have fought in the lands of the Germans and Russians. It will be our inglorious retreat from a revolutionary Europe without achievement of our war aims. These will have been the saving of democracy and the stopping of the wicked revolution abroad. Having fought in vain to stop the revolution in Europe we shall have to carry it out over here. This disillusioning experience will generate in Americans a hate of the ideology and leadership responsible for it. Such hate may give birth to a new American folk unity and dynamism.
If it should transpire shortly before or after the publication of this book that the war in Europe abruptly ends, that event by itself would in no way impair the validity of any of the theses here presented. For one thing, the war between the Haves and Have-nots would still go on; for another, the revolution also would go on; for a third, we should still be faced with the eventual alternatives of autarchy within this hemisphere or further attempts to interfere with or obstruct the revolution in other parts of the world. At the time of writing, the most likely and most imminent form of American interference seems to be that of joining the side of the Allies. Should this war enter another phase, the most likely forms of American intervention would take on other appropriate forms. The principles involved would, however, remain unchanged. And our long-run choices would also remain the same: to intervene or not to intervene.
Finally, this book has no concern with and makes no prediction as to the personal future of any of the dictators. What happens to them as individual leaders matters little. The revolution is important, not the personal fate of its leaders. This book makes the predictions that the revolution which, naturally, is most advanced in the Have-not countries and only incipient in the Have empires, the three great democracies, will spread over the territory of the Haves during the war, so that before its close, which may not be for a generation, the revolution, the world over, will have merged more or less into one great revolt of the Have-nots against the Haves.
It would be fatuous to try to forecast in detail the eventual developments of this titanic struggle between capitalism and socialism or between liberal democracy and totalitarian, authoritarian collectivism. But I am prepared to record definitely and stand on the prediction that capitalism is doomed and socialism will triumph.