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New International, August 1935


Hans V.

England’s Intellectuals

From New International, Vol. II No. 5, August 1935, pp. 174–175.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Intelligentsia of Great Britain
by Dmitri Mirsky
248 pp. New York. Covici, Friede. $2.50.

The Intelligentsia of Great Britain is an instance of what might be called dialectical irony. Whether D. Mirsky was commissioned to write it or volunteered to do so I do not know. But it is certain that to acquire the requisite methodology he had to undergo a severe “Marxian training”, that is he had to study the then recent theoretical publications of the Third International. He diligently soaked himself in the products of the “Third Period” and in his opus applied them on the grand scale.

In the meantime, however, the policy of the International, under the pressure of events, performed one of its customary changes into its polar opposite, and so Mirsky’s book appears on the scene – a stillborn but grandiloquent last Mohican of the theory of social-Fascism which in Moscow has just expired.

To understand what the resultant product actually is and how it came to be what it is, we must lay bare its main traits:

  1. The theory of social-Fascism as a method of social analysis.
  2. Vulgar Marxism of the most vulgar sort.
  3. The author’s ignorance of his subject matter which is partly natural (for instance, when he deals with science of philosophy); and partly conditioned by 1 and 2.
  4. The author’s complete inability, in consequence of 1, 2 and 3, to present his work as a chronologically or logically coherent whole.
  5. The author’s personal attitude to his subject matter which is one of bull-headed impudent ignorance – an unsavory combination of the adolescent schoolboy and an average army officer.

Superimposed on all this is the pompous hollow tone of the typical Stalinist theoretician absolving or condemning with papal infallibility.

It might seem that a book like this is in reality harmless. Its total inadequacy should be self-evident to its readers – among whom there will be no workers for the simple reason that this Philippic against the intelligentsia is composed largely in a jargon the intelligentsia alone can understand.

But this, although true in itself, is on the whole a short-sighted view. At present, when the contradictions of capitalism are becoming more and more unbearable, the intellectuals of all kinds – students, technical specialists with a university training – are becoming vividly aware of them and beginning to look for a solution. In short, a large scale radicalization of the intellectuals is taking place. They start reading “Marxism” and on the whole they will begin, not with Marx and Engels, but with what has immediate present-day application. Now, if we allow to pass unchallenged the claim of the Stalinists that their productions alone are revolutionary Marxism, Leninism, etc., then a process of unnatural selection will begin. Those who are intelligent enough to recognize the stupidity will for a long time fight shy of what they believe to be Marxism, whereas those to whom the tone and the intellectual level appeals will rapidly become loud-mouthed “champions of the working-class” under the leadership of the 3rd International. It is our duty, therefore, to raise our voice not only against the strictly political publications of the CI but against such “cultural” attempts. They demonstrate once more the truth of the materialist conception of history; Stalinist theoreticians are now totally unable to produce a theoretical work which is more than a miserable persiflage of Marxism, because the political views they are compelled to hold, views whose glaring self-contradictions are but the intellectual expression of the ultimate concrete contradiction between the rational “socialism” of Russia and the international revolutionary necessities of the world proletariat.

The book begins with an account and explanation of the genesis of the intelligentsia in England. This chapter is the best and, considering the rest is in fact a surprisingly good analysis.

But with the 20th century the general confusion begins. It is impossible to give a detailed analysis of it. It is not even worth the trouble of following the author along all his zigzags. A few illustrative quotations should suffice.

The effect of the war on the intelligentsia is described in the following charming sentence:

“... and hand in hand with the agonized individualism of ‘war victims’ there grew up another current contributed by the parasitic bourgeoisie – that of a pure morbid revelling in their individualism and estheticism. There had, of course, been something of all this before, but it was only now there were the social conditions for such individualism to couple with this individualism of intellectuals who had lost all illusions which had become a social phenomenon of very wide significance.” (p. 30)

Later, he says:

“Catholicism took the van and there was a marked tendency to neglect its emotional tricks and make more use of rigid mediaeval scholastic dogmata. The barren intellectuals here found salvation from the burden of individualism and went through a schooling which was a preparation for the class discipline of Fascism.” (p. 35)

Of the general strike Mirsky says:

“The revolutionary vanguard of the working class was defeated in 1926 – by the reformist leaders.” (p. 37)

We do not learn of the existence of the Anglo-Russian Committee, or are they included in the sentence quoted?

Analyses of representative intellectuals are given. Those which are of any value are simply paraphrased from Strachey’s Coming Struggle for Power.

But Mirsky can be creative too:

“... not that Russell is unable to take the step [to dialectics] because he is a believer in mechanistic materialism, but rather that he is a mechanistic materialist because he is incapable of coming over to the proletariat.” (p. 84)

On page 188, again speaking of Russell, he says:

He has no clear-cut logical discipline – fruit of direct study of the pre-German classics of philosophy – nor do we find in him either an open identification of Mach-ism with idealism, nor any connection with Right wing bourgeois currents.”

From Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex he can draw great conclusions:

“... in his Elizabeth and Essex [Strachey] attempted to serve up to the British public a queen more in keeping with their imperial hearts than one who was completely wrapped up in her world of industrial capitalism. Thus did the liberal æstheticism of Bloomsbury reach the season of moulting its ironical feathers disappeared and the world beheld it in a banal senile coat of imperialist worship of ‘greatness’ and ‘grandeur’ and ‘the picturesque’.” (p. 121)

Malinowsky serves British imperialism “very faithfully”, but how he does it we are not told.

But individuals are not all. We have passages of broad movement:

“The opening era of imperialism was the period of rapid growth of the American intelligentsia ... and their growth found expression in a luxuriation of literature that one of the leaders of the time called ‘our first national art’. This new reading matter first reached Great Britain after the war, and as a cry of protest it was found to fit in with other influences of the order of dissatisfaction. Together with America’s first ‘national art’ the word ‘highbrow’ came to Europe.” (p. 91)

The army officer with his eyeglass:

“Both writers [Jeans and Eddington] are particularly épatés by the part played by Planck’s quantity ‘h’ as a stable unit in quantum mechanics. This astonishment and delight is the very starting-point of Eddington and Jeans philosophizing.” (p. 199)

Finally, the Stalinist theoretician:

“They [the social democrats] act as a sort of feint, a manoeuvring body to divert the working class from its proper path, to confuse it and disorganize and disarm it, and that is why we describe them as social-Fascists. It is scarcely an honorable job, and German events have shown that it is even rather an unsafe one. But then all agent-provocateur work is risky. Fascism when victorious will immolate these gentry.”

About Dmitri Mirsky little more remains to be said. On page 199 he dismisses symbolic logic (one of the many sciences of which he knows nothing) as “mathematical cretinism”. There can be no doubt left as to who the cretin is.

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