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International Socialist Review, Spring 1960


Bert Deck

A Short Glimpse of the Long View


From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.2, Spring 1960, pp.58-59.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Long View of History
by William F. Warde
Pioneer Publishers, New York City. 1960. 64 pp. 35 cents.

These lectures were originally given by William F. Warde at the West Coast Camp in September 1955. The publishers should be commended for reprinting them in their remarkable Pioneer Pocket Library series.

At first glance it would seem that the author had set himself an impossible task:

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

From the first vertebrates to the coming American labor party is the scope of this essay by William F. Warde, who is no stranger to readers of the International Socialist Review. The boldness of this venture would, in any case, deserve “A” for effort; but happily, the results match the daring of purpose.

Warde was part of that promising group of young intellectuals who, in the early thirties, attempted to break through the ideological restrictions of American pragmatism and achieve the Marxist “long view of history.” The group included such notables as Sidney Hook, James Burnham, Dwight MacDonald, Vincent Sheean and others of that calibre. However the rise of the Stalinist dictatorship in the USSR, the approach of World War II, the working class defeats and the fascist victories, demoralized and routed almost the entire group. Each of them, in his own way, “rediscovered” the more primitive method of pragmatism in the ideological sphere and thereby a political road back to support of American capitalism. Warde, alone of the whole group, went on to absorb fully the Marxist approach to social reality and is able to bring to a new generation the valid achievements of a previous period of intellectual upsurge in the United States.

“Many people,” the author notes, “became frightened by the immensity of the tasks, or crushed by adversity to the point of losing their moral and intellectual backbones, and losing sight of the main line of social evolution ... This ‘lost generation’ has forgotten, if they ever learned, the supreme lesson of both world history and American history. This is that the forces making for the advancement of mankind have overcome the most formidable obstacles and won out in the end.”

The anti-scientific view presents history as a mish-mash of unrelated accidents. Those holding this view may accept lawful progression or ascent in natural history, but deny it for social history. The social, material source of this denial of science is quite apparent. It would be impossible to maintain “that the established capitalist regime in the United States embodies the highest attainable mode of life and an unsurpassable type of social organization” if all of history disclosed but one absolute: the law of continuous change and progression to ever higher stages of social organization.

The idea, that American capitalism is the happy final chapter of human history, is but a repetition of the prejudice prevalent in both feudal and slave societies. Without a scientific or “long view” of history it is impossible for peoples at a given stage of culture to relate their past with their future; thus they accept their present as given and unchanging.

History not only shows that mankind has moved upward from level to level but also indicates that there is a discernible pattern which describes the manner of that movement; an extended period of slow evolutionary progress accompanied by a growth of internal contradictions; the development of an irreconcilable conflict between the forces striving for a higher level and those which wish to hold society back; the victory of the progressive forces through a revolutionary “leap” shattering the old social structure and the reconstruction of the social organization on a new and higher plane.

There have been three such “leaps” in human history since the advent of civilization: from slavery to feudalism; from feudalism to capitalism; and now, we are participating in the most significant leap of all, the transition from capitalism to socialism.

American history shows the same lawfulness, the same logical relationships between its various stages.

We have already experienced two revolutionary leaps forward: the War for Independence and the War Between the States. Each of these cataclysmic events was the end product of an evolutionary accumulation of irrepressible internal conflicts. Each permitted a social reorganization which allowed for a more rapid growth of the productive forces. Each in turn set the stage for a new and higher struggle which prepared for the subsequent development.

The “long view” dictates that an understanding of American society today requires that we analyze its contradictory aspects and seek in them the main spring for the next leap forward. Any other approach means to turn one’s back on history, on science, on reason itself.

Marxism has not only the distinction of applying scientific method to the study of all human history but it uncovered the internal mechanism in modern society which is preparing the evolution of man on to the higher stage of socialism: the class struggle between the working class and its direct opposite, the capitalist class.

Warde places our contemporary history in an international context.

“The movement for the advancement of capitalism which dominated world history from the 16th to the 19th century has been succeeded by the anti-capitalist movement of the socialist working class in the 20th century. This is the central line of world social development in our time.”

After noting the growing strength of the American labor movement the author concludes,

“Reviewing this country’s history from 1876 to 1955, together with the rate of growth of the working class movement on a world scale, the balance of forces has been steadily shifting, despite all oscillations, more and more toward the side of the working class power. Nothing whatsoever, including imperialist war, the Taft-Hartley Act, McCarthyism, have been able to stop this basic momentum of the US labor movement.”

We can expect that this evolutionary process will, as before, culminate in a revolutionary “leap.” And, as before, the leap will come totally unexpected to most. The Long View of History demonstrates that a socialist America is not so distant as it might appear.

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