Introduction to The Fight For Socialism
Introductory works on socialism too often oversimplify to the point of being liberal mush. At the same time the author should avoid such vapid abstractions from reality that he cannot be easily understood. The essential value of The Fight for Socialism by Max Shachtman is that it is systematic, does not talk down, and concretises its generalizations in terms of the life-experience of a conscious worker. The book sets forth the lessons from the history of class struggles, analyzes modern society by applying those lessons, and outlines the means by which “socialism…—a practical possibility and urgent necessity” can be achieved.
Those acquainted with the socialist movement of 1965 may know Max Shachtman only as a certified political swine, who as a leader of the right-wing of the American social-democracy, defended the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion and today supports the imperialist rape of Vietnam, both the counter-revolutionary war in the South and the bombing of the North. He was for a good part of his earlier life, however, a dedicated and able revolutionist, who was extremely proficient at expressing Marxist ideas clearly in the form of the written word. The Fight for Socialism was authored in an intermediate period when Shachtman had not yet degenerated sufficiently to impair his general ability to write about socialist values and ideas. However, in the field of philosophy and methodology he had already definitively broken with the Marxian dialectic in favor of an explicit indifferentism. Consequently discussion of these subjects is notably absent from this book.
The political position occupied by Shachtman and his party in the period this book was written can best be described as centrist, that is revolutionary in words but opportunist in actions. Such a position is the result of the incessant and at times extreme material and ideological pressures brought to bear on the consciousness of the workers’ movement by capitalist society. This pressure first broke through in the case of Shachtman at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact when it became extremely difficult in the United States to hold to a position of military defense of the USSR against imperialism. Shachtman at that point clashed with Leon Trotsky, and began to develop a new theory of the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy and of the world’s “Communist” parties. Shachtman saw Stalinism as a new ruling force which was seeking to conquer the world. Consequently he gave no credit to the nationalized and planned economy in the Soviet Union for eliminating gaping contradictions of the capitalist economy, e.g., the tendency for the rate of profit to fall leading to the recurring crises of overproduction and the insatiable drive to continually expand markets and investment abroad.
Since the bureaucracy ruled totally in a political sense, it was too easy in 1946 to project the Stalinist oppressions and slave-labor camps into essentials of the social system. Later experience, particularly the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, has confirmed that the strongest class force in the Soviet-bloc countries in a long-term historic sense is the working class, and that the bureaucracy is merely an appendage which sits on top of the collective economy–the social basis for workers’ power. But according to Shachtman, the revolutionary potential of the working class had been largely forfeited in the world to the Stalinists. Gradually Shachtman drew away from the logical conclusions of a revolutionary Marxist perspective in this country (the need for a revolutionary vanguard party), so that he and his group, overawed by the advances of Stalinist totalitarianism since World War II, finally capitulated completely to their own country’s ruling class and in 1958 dissolved into the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation.
This book remains the best of its kind available, despite the serious differences which revolutionary Marxists have with it on the Russian question. It is recommended to those who are new to socialist ideas and want a systematic exposition of them.
Resident Editorial Board 12 July 1965
(Text inserted into previously published copies of book)