2. The Main Course of American History and Its Next Stage

Название2. The Main Course of American History and Its Next Stage
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About the author 5

The Long View of History 9

Foreword 9

1. How Humanity Climbed to Civilisation 11

2. The Main Course of American History and Its Next Stage 29

From Lenin to Castro 48

Major Theories of History from the Greeks to Marxism 59

Uneven and Combined Development in History 75

1. The Uneven Course of History 75

The dual nature of the law — 75 ! The historical background — 76 ! An example from Lenin — 76 ! The formulator of the law — 77 ! Uneven development in nature — 78 ! The uneven evolution of primitive societies — 80 ! The new world and the old — 82 ! The backwardness of colonial life — 82 ! The inequality of continents and countries — 83 ! Internal inequalities — 84 ! Irregularities in society — 85 ! From barbarism to civilisation — 86 ! The march of civilisation — 87 ! The uneven evolution of capitalism — 87 ! Same causes — different effects — 88 ! National peculiarities — 89 ! The limits of national peculiarities — 90

2. Combined Development and Its Consequences 92

Fusion of different historical factors — 93 ! The dialectics of combination — 94 ! Britain’s social structure — 96 ! Forward leaps in history — 97 ! Historical reversions — 98 ! The disintegration of combinations — 99 ! Slavery and capitalism — 100 ! The substitution of classes — 101 ! The penalties of progressiveness and the privileges of backwardness — 102 ! The twisted course of the Russian Revolution — 103

3. Disproportions of American Development 106

The ‘War of Independence’ — 106 ! Major sources of unevenness in American life — 107 ! Prospects of American development — 109 ! The contrast of British and American labour — 112 ! ‘Explosive expansion’ — 114

4. APPENDIX: How to Apply a Law of Sociology 115

The material source of unevenness — 116 ! The further course of evolution — 117 ! ‘Circumstances alter cases’ — 118 ! Russian development — 118 ! China and Japan under imperialism — 120 ! After the Russian Revolution — 121 ! ‘The truth is concrete’ — 122

The Problem of Transitional Formations 123

The exceptional duality of transitional states — 124 ! Problems of classification — 126 ! The transition from food gathering to food production — 129 ! Village, town and city — 132 ! The transition from Roman slavery to feudalism — 133 ! Manufacture: the stepping stone from the craft guild to machine industry — 136 ! Transitional regimes and societies in the 20th century — 137

Sociology and Historical Materialism 143

The place of sociology among the sciences — 143 ! Sociology and the philosophy of history — 145 ! Types of sociological theory — 146 ! Historical materialism — 149 ! The class character of sociology — 150

Positivism and Marxism in Sociology 155

Marxism Versus Existentialism 167

Science and the absurdity of reality — 168 ! The predominance of ambiguity — 170 ! Individuals and their environment — 173 ! Freedom, necessity and morality — 176 ! The destiny of humanity — 179 ! Alienation in modern society — 181 ! The meaning of life and death — 184 ! Can existentialism and Marxism be reconciled? — 186

Is Nature Dialectical? 189

A comment and a response203

Trotsky’s Views on Dialectical Materialism 211

Alienation 229

The people and their rulers — 229 ! The new socialist humanists — 230 ! Hegel’s contribution — 232 ! The young Marx — 235 ! Development of the concept of labour — 238 ! Primitive source of alienation — 239 ! Dialectical development of alienation — 239 ! Alienation of labour under capitalism — 241 ! The great fetishes of capitalism — 242 ! Alienation between the state and society — 243 ! Alienation of science from society — 245 ! The humanism of Erich Fromm — 246 ! Is alienation everlasting? — 247 ! Prime cause of alienation in deformed workers’ states — 249 ! The ultra-bureaucratic state and the workers — 252 ! Organisation of industry — 252 ! Dictatorship of the lie — 253 ! Cult of the individual — 254 ! The cure for bureaucratism — 255 ! Stalinism and capitalism — 256 ! Toward the abolition of alienation — 258 ! Labour time and free time — 261

Appendix: Existentialism and Marxism by Doug Lorimer 263

The origins of existentialism— 263 ! Sartrean existentialism — 264 ! Althusserian structuralism — 266 ! Existentialism and post-structuralism — 267

Notes 268

George Novack was born in Boston in 1905 to Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe.

Radicalised by the 1929 economic crash, he moved toward Marxism. In 1933 he joined the Trotskyist Communist League of America, the organisation founded by veteran revolutionary James P. Cannon after his break with the Stalinised Communist Party in 1928. Novack remained active in the Trotskyist movement — first the CLA and then its successor organisations, most notably the Socialist Workers Party — until his death in 1992.

Novack early developed an interest in philosophy. In the 1930s he belonged to a broad layer of radical New York intellectuals who were attracted to Marxism. However, while the small US Trotskyist movement in this period attracted a significant milieu of fellow-travelling intellectuals, very few actually joined the movement and became revolutionary activists. Some — like Felix Morrow and James Burnham — did so but either did not fully make the transition or did not stay the distance.

George Novack stands out as one of the handful of radical intellectuals of the Depression years who remained true to his early convictions. As he wrote in an autobiographical memoir in 1976:

I had to watch most of my generation fall by the wayside and conclude a separate peace with the ruling powers in the universities, the publishing fields, the professional and business worlds. Today, at the age of 70, I am one of a very few: a radical intellectual of 1930s vintage who remains active as an unrepentant Marxist and fulltime professional in the revolutionary movement.1

Novack had a long involvement in civil rights defence campaigns. In 1932 he became active in the CP-aligned National Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners. In 1937-40 Novack served as the secretary of the American Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky. This body initiated the celebrated 1937 Dewey Commission of Inquiry into the charges made against Trotsky in the Moscow show trials and whose verdict pronounced them a complete frame-up. In 1941-50 Novack was secretary of the Civil Rights Defence Committee. It was through this body that the SWP organised support for the 18 party leaders and members indicted and jailed in the wartime Minneapolis sedition trial.

In 1940 Novack was elected to the SWP National Committee and served on it until 1973. From 1965 to 1974 he was an associate editor of the International Socialist Review, the SWP’s monthly journal. Most of the articles in this selection first appeared in the ISR (many under the name William F. Warde, the pseudonym he frequently used in his party work).

Apart from the example of a life of steadfast commitment and activity in the revolutionary socialist movement, Novack’s greatest contribution to socialism consists of his Marxist historical and philosophical writings. Over the years he wrote numerous articles for the theoretical journals of the US Trotskyist movement (successively New International, Fourth International and then International Socialist Review) as well as a number of books.

Many of his writings are historical studies of the development of US capitalism through two great revolutions (the War of Independence and the Civil War), the question of slavery, the destruction of native American society, and of resistance to the new bourgeois plutocracy. A number of his historical contributions appear in the collection he edited, America’s Radical Heritage (Pathfinder Press: New York, 1976).

However, Novack will be most remembered as an outstanding exponent and populariser of Marxist philosophy and theory. He produced a number of books on various aspects of this question: An Introduction to the Logic of Marxism (Pioneer Publishers: New York, 1942), The Origins of Materialism (Merit Publishers: New York, 1968), Empiricism and Its Evolution (Merit, 1968), Democracy and Revolution (Pathfinder, 1971), Understanding History (Pathfinder, 1972), Humanism and Socialism (Pathfinder, 1973), Pragmatism Versus Marxism (Pathfinder, 1975), Polemics in Marxist Philosophy (Pathfinder, 1978).

Although ignored by bourgeois academia, Novack had an undoubted impact on generations of activists in the revolutionary socialist movement, not only in the United States but also in Australia (which he toured for the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance in 1973, speaking to large campus and city meetings). The publishers hope that this selection of George Novack’s writings will help equip new generations of fighters for socialism with the Marxist education which is so essential for the struggle.

Dave Holmes

January 2002

These two talks were originally given at the West Coast school and camp held near Los Angeles, California, in September 1955. They offer a popularised account of the main line of evolution from fish to mankind, from savagery to civilisation, and from Indian life to contemporary capitalism in the United States. This is an extremely simplified outline of the immense and complex range of that evolutionary process. The facts set forth are well enough known — but their interpretation here differs from that taught in the schools and universities of capitalist America.

These talks were designed as an introduction to a study of the march of mankind from the viewpoint of scientific socialism.

It is especially directed toward newly awakened minds, concerned about the fundamental problems of life in our time and seeking enlightenment on the main issues of the social and political struggle.

Its arguments are aimed against two prevailing notions which tend to reinforce antisocialist prejudices and uphold belief in the sanctity of the existing system. One is the general idea that it is impossible, undesirable or somehow unscientific to seek out the central course of development in history, above all in the history of society; to link together its successive stages and place them in proper sequence; to distinguish the lower form from the higher; and indicate the nature of the next steps.

The second prejudice is more specific, although it is supported by the first. This is the assumption that the established capitalist regime in the United States embodies the highest attainable mode of life and an unsurpassable type of social organisation.

These propositions, I hope to show, are wrong in theory and thoroughly reactionary in their practical consequences. Socialist theory has the merit of explaining how and why the growing discontent with the existing setup among the working people and their strivings for a better way of life are reasonable, realistic, and founded on sound scientific premises. The instinctive drive of the workers toward a fundamental reorganisation of the capitalist social and political structure accords with the main line of human progress.

These conclusions are already taken for granted in many parts of the globe which are usually regarded as backward by the American people. However, it must be said that although our country is the most modernised in many respects, from superhighways to colour television, it is most backward in recognising — and acting upon — the elementary truths of evolutionary science and revolutionary socialism.

I hope this little pamphlet will help some fellow countrymen and women to catch up with the thinking of the more progressive sections of mankind by clearing away capitalist-fostered prejudices, which obscure the real meaning of American history and block the road to the next stage of American civilisation.

October 1956

I propose first to trace the main line of human development, from our remote animal ancestors to the present, when humanity has become lord of the earth but not yet master of its own creations, not to mention its own social system. After that, I will deal with the central course of evolution in that specific segment of society that occupies the bulk of North America and represents the most developed form of capitalist society.

I will try to show not only how our national history is related to world development but also how we, collectively and individually, fit into the picture. This is a broad and bold undertaking, a sort of jet-propelled journey through the stratosphere of world history. It is forced upon us by the urge to grasp the whole vast spread of events and to understand our specific place within them, as well as by the very dynamic of scientific theory in sociology, which has its highest expression in Marxism. The movement based upon scientific socialism, which prepares most energetically for the future, likewise must probe most deeply into the past.


I shall start from the political case history of an individual. In January 1935 a book appeared which set the style for a series of reflective reports on the trends of our times. It had considerable influence upon radicalised intellectuals here until the outbreak of the Second World War. That book, Personal History, was written by Vincent Sheean. This autobiography was a serious effort to find out what the history of his generation was leading to and what his attitude should be toward its mainstream and its cross currents.

Sheean told how he started as an ignorant student at the University of Chicago at the close of the First World War. He knew as little about the fundamental forces at work in the world then as millions like him today who are encased in a similar provincialism. As he remarked:

The bourgeois system insulated all its children as much as possible from a knowledge of the processes of human development, and in my case succeeded admirably in its purpose. Few Hottentots or South Sea Islanders could have been less prepared for life in the great world than I was at 21.

This innocent American went abroad as a newspaperman and learned from the great events of the twenties. He observed the effects of the First World War and the Russian revolution; he witnessed the stirrings in the Near East, in Morocco and Palestine — precursors of the vaster colonial disturbances after the Second World War. He was also a spectator and played an incidental role in the defeated second Chinese revolution of 1926. His experiences were topped by the economic collapse of capitalism after 1929 and the spread of fascism in Europe.

These upheavals jolted Sheean from his doze, opened his eyes, and propelled him toward Marxism and the revolutionary socialist movement. He was swept along in the swirling torrent of that first stage in the crack-up of capitalist civilisation — and began to recognise it as such. Great social, economic, and political events exposed the bankruptcy of the ideas about the world he had acquired through his middle-class education in the Midwest and impelled him to cast them off.

Sheean found in Marxism the most convincing explanation of the processes of social development and the causes of the decisive events of his own age. He was inspired by its ability to answer the question that besets every thinking person: What relation does my own life have to those who have preceded me on this earth, all my contemporaries, and the incalculable generations who will come later?

Scientific, political, and moral considerations combined to attract him to the science of the socialist movement. Sheean admired Marxism, he emphasised, because it took “the long view”. This is not a phrase he coined, but one he borrowed from a participant in the struggle. Marxists, he noted, were or should be guided not by partial views and episodic considerations but by the most comprehensive outlook over the expanse of biological evolution and human achievement.

The all-embracing synthesis of history offered by Marxism contrasted sharply with the worm’s-eye view he had had in the Midwest. The interior of the United States had the most up-to-date gadgets, but it was dominated by extremely old-fashioned ideas about social evolution.

Sheean had caught on to one of the outstanding features of that system of thought that bears the name of its creator, Karl Marx. Scientific socialism does provide the most consistent, many-sided, and far-reaching of all the doctrines of evolution — and revolution. “The long view” it presents is the march of mankind seen in its full scope, its current reality, and its ultimate consequences, so far as that is possible under present limitations.


What was this long view that attracted Vincent Sheean and so many millions before him and since? What can a review of the process of evolution, analysed by Marxist methods, teach us about the way things change in this world?

We can single out four critical turning points in the timetable of evolution. The first was the origin of our planet about three or four billion years ago. The second was the emergence of life in the form of simple one-celled sea organisms about two and a half billion years ago. (These are only approximate but commonly accepted dates at the present time.) Third was the appearance of the first backboned animals about four to five hundred million years ago. Last was the creation of mankind, within the past million years or so.

Let us begin with the third great chapter in this historical panorama — the first fish species. The American Museum of Natural History has prepared a chart that portrays the principal stages in organic evolution from the first fish up to ourselves, the highest form of mammalian creatures. The backbone introduced by the fish was one of the basic structures for subsequent higher evolution.

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