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The New International, May–June 1952

B. Mott

Books in Review

A Poor Try


From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 3, May–June 1952, pp. 169–171.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Anatomy of Communism
by Andrew Scott MacKay
Philosophical Library, 190 pp.

At other times and under other circumstances, this extraordinary pitiful 190 page volume might just have squirmed its way past the technical requirements of a Ph.D. thesis; perhaps published privately by the author (if at all) and distributed proudly to friends and relatives.

But these are not other times and circumstances, for today there is an open market for any and every assault on “communism,” however puerile and clumsy. This little intellectual atrocity symbolizes the degree to which scientific standards have been degraded.

The book presumes to be an analysis of the relation of Marxist doctrine to “contemporary communism.” It is immediately apparent, however, that despite some energetic quotation-gathering and heavy cramming in the works of Marx and Engels, the author’s ignorance is so pure and unqualified as to make it easy for him to reach the longest conclusions by the shortest route possible. In light of the state of literature on precisely the same theme, it is amusing to see the author write that “an examination of a sizeable part of the secondary literature on Marxism and Communism revealed no discussion of these ideas ...” To be sure, if all the secondary sources are those he has listed in his bibliography under “secondary sources” (Eastman’s Marx and Lenin; Finer’s Mussolini’s Italy; J.J. Rousseau’s Confessions and the Social Contract and Discourses) then what he says is quite true. But then he should have used a library just a shade larger.

The technique of the book is quite simple. For example, Chapter I is entitled The Marxian Psychology; Its Nature and Implications. This subject is disposed of in nine brief pages as follows: a quotation from Marx and/or Engels on the subject; then a general remark designed to annihilate them. One example will suffice. Marx is quoted: “But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.” Thus Marx. Now Scott’s translation: “The individual is not the master of his social life, but its creature. He is dissolved into his conditions of production.” Obviously, this is ridiculous since people are not dissolved, they exist, they function, etc. Thus Marx is all wet. It doesn’t matter that even in some of the other Scott quotations that Marx says that people’s natures depend on material conditions and that in fact the Marxist theory of human nature is not so simple and crude and insists upon man’s role as a changer of this environment. Scott literally disposes of the subject by a few words, by giving it a name “The reflection theory of psychology” and concludes that since Marx can only show that "the ‘superstructure’ is influenced by the economic ‘substructure’ rather than determined by it, his entire one-sided theory of social change must be rejected” (p. 7). And if that is not enough “since Marx and Engels cannot show that men as individuals are compelled to ‘reflect’ objective economic conditions, they are further unable to show that ‘classes’ are a reflection of these same economic conditions. Thus, the Marxian conception of ‘class’ must also be rejected.” And, I suppose, if there is anything else the reader might like rejected at the same time, he can throw it into the basket of the “reflection theory of psychology.” This is the stuff the book is made of.

In this manner the book begins and it must be said that there is no let down. There are, of course, some sections which scintillate more than others. One such nugget on page 84 says: “The workings of ‘class consciousness’ are never illustrated or explained by Marx and Engels because they cannot be illustrated or explained. Psychologically and physiologically speaking ‘class consciousness’ is a fiction. There is no sixth sense represented by an awareness of class. There is no instinct revealing the mystical importance of class.” The brilliance of that stroke requires no comment. Or on page 118: “On close examination (perhaps that means some deep digging into Rousseau’s Confessions among his secondary sources) the mighty ‘proletarian revolution’ appears to have been nothing more than a coup d’etat ... almost deserving to be described as a palace revolution ...”

There is lots more of the same for those who make a morbid hobby of collecting specimens of political mutilation and ignorance. Needless to add, the book has its quota of comments about Lenin as a man who dissembled belief in democracy in order to subvert it, of Communism being evil, etc. As for any comprehension of Stalinism and “contemporary Communism” the author cannot in all fairness be accused of having a trace of any such thing. And in a way it can’t be expected of him, for judging from his bibliography, he had not read anything on the subject except the works of Stalin.

From a scientific point of view, the book borders on the hilarious. What is not so funny is that it gets published. If a book like this were written by, let us say, an Eastman or a Burnham (although it could not be so crude in their hands) it would have had its “justification” as written by “experts” and would have had the special virtue of measuring the metamorphosis of these erstwhile socialists. But from someone whose name means nothing and whose book merits even less, the publication confirms what seems to be so evident, that the main requirement today is to sledgehammer Marxism with a bagful of quotations interlarded with commentary to hit the starved market. This may be good for aspiring young writers who can’t get published but is that worth the degradation of serious scientific thought?

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