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Critique of Sidney Hook's
Interpretation of Marx

By Paul Mattick

Table of Contents

Editors Introduction (from the original pamphlet)

The publication of Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx by Sidney Hook in January 1933 served as the signal for the release of a virtual flood of controversial and interpretative literature on Marxism. Hailed and denounced, respected and suspected in different radical quarters, Hook's book sharply posed the question : Who are the Marxists ? Sentiment both for and against the validity of his interpretation was rapidly crystallized and the key-note was sounded for discussions that were to become heated and prolonged. That the controversies revolving around Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx have often bordered on bitterness and personalisms speaks emphatically for the relevant character and challenging brilliance of Hook's work. Few heads have been broken or egos aroused by the appearance of a new book on Etruscan pottery. Whatever else has been said of Hook's book, its vividness and pertinence have not been brought into question.

The Inevitability of Communism by Paul Mattick is a criticism of Hook's interpretation from what Mattick regards as the position of the orthodox dialectic materialist. The pamphlet, in effect, proposes to serve a dual purpose. First, it attempts to disprove Hook's right to the title : dialectic materialist. It attempts to show that Hook's interpretation of Marx is the viewpoint of latter nineteenth century revisionism in present-day fashionable philosophic clothing. To remove the principles of inevitability and spontaneity from Marxism, says Mattick, is to emasculate the teachings of Marx. It is to deny the concept of the universal operation of dialectic materialism and to ascribe to human consciousness a vastly over-rated role. Second, Mattick's essay serves as a positive presentation of the position of dialectic materialism as he interprets it. He takes issue with what he regards as the errors of Leninism, the viewpoint of which, he holds, does not differ in essence from the stand of social democracy. To him, social democracy and Bolshevism ( "revolutionary social democracy" ) issue from the same seed : Both-regard the highly centralized political party whose efficacy in the last analysis must depend on the activity of "great men," as an absolute prerequisite for the freedom of the working class. From this position, says Mattick, flow the evils of organizational bureaucratism with the possibilities of betrayal, misleadership and counter-revolutionary activity when it is necessary for the party to so behave in order to retain power and affluence.

The centralized "revolutionary" party, states Mattick, will be -- if anything -- only an insignificant instrument of the revolution. It will not be the prime mover of the revolution nor will the success of the struggle depend on its existence.

The workers gathered together in their industrial units, the factories, shops, offices, etc., will be increasingly exploited by a capitalism which in its death throes will try desperately to keep the rate of profit at a workable level. Finally, there will be only one way out for the proletariat which Mattick regards as "the actualization of revolutionary consciousness." Hungry, they will seek food; naked, they will seek clothing; shelterless, they will repossess living quarters. At that time, says Mattick, preceded by a "training period" of riots, local clashes with the ruling class and terror, will come the revolution. At the helm will stand not the centralized party but the "spontaneously" organized Workers' Councils created in the factories and shops.

The role of "great men" and their conscious ideologies plays its part only within narrow limits. Precisely how much they can accelerate or hinder the revolution can be determined not generally but only by reference to the specific, concrete situation.

At least to one observer Sidney Hook's answer to certain of the criticisms leveled against him will be awaited with no small measure of interest. Coming after the publication of various reviews of his interpretation, his reply will serve to complete the controversial balance sheet. It will then be possible, if we are permitted to extend the metaphor, to take account of the debits and credits of his position.

A word in conclusion : In the heat of controversy both participants and readers are often inclined to ascribe excessive significance to what may be called the vocabulary barrage. It is thus well to bear in mind what Mattick implies throughout his essay and what Marx succinctly stated in Die Deutsche Ideologie :

"Not criticism, but revolution, is the motive force of history".


Publication details

The Inevitability of Communism was published in 1936 in New York by Polemic Publishers ( Polemic Pamphlet No. 3 ), edited by S.L.Solon.

On The Author (from the original pamphlet)

Paul Mattick was born in Berlin in 1904. He attended public school there and then went to work in a factory where he learned the machinist trade. He joined the Spartacus League in Germany after the war. When the League split into two groups, the official Communist Party and the Communist Workers Party, Mattick went with the latter organization. He came to the United States in 1926 and for a while he was active in the I.W.W. Later he edited the Chicago Arbeiter-Zeitung for one year and assisted in the formation of the United Workers' Party in 1932. He has contributed to many periodicals both here and abroad. He is at present working on a book to be titled Marx for Workers whose purpose will be to present the teachings of Marx in a form which workers can read and understand.

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