Felix Morrow

Soule’s Revolution

(August 1934)

Source: The New International, Vol. 1 No. 2, August 1934, pp. 61–62.
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The Coming American Revolution
by George Soule
314 pp. New York. The Macmillan Co.

Mr. Soule and Bruce Bliven control the New Republic; and Mr. Soule is its chief spokesman on social and economic policy. Hope for an enlightened capitalism, envisioned as a form of Jeffersonian Democracy, was the early orientation of the New Republic. This ideal has, however, become so completely fantastic, that in recent years the New Republic has shifted to an ideal of enlightened capitalism guided by governmental control and checked by the power of organized labor, professions, and that mythical entity, “consumers”. The theory of the “New Deal”, as enunciated on paper, came close to that envisioned by the New Republic. With true liberal caution, to be sure, the pro-Roosevelt editorials, of the honeymoon were given a quota of ifs and buts, to which the New Republic now points whenever accused of being taken in by Roosevelt. Soule himself added to his editorials a book which appeared early this year describing the possibilities of social planning under capitalism.

At long last the New Republic sadly discovered that the NRA’s principal accomplishment, the code authorities, was a charter to monopoly capitalism. That belated realization was recorded in a lachrymose editorial, bRoosevelt Turns Rightb. But ever and anon come editorials to the effect that If Roosevelt Would Only ...

When Mr. Soule’s present book appeared, only some six months or so after the earlier optimistic dithyrambs on social planning, the capitalist reviews reported that Mr. Soule had abandoned his hope in capitalist planning and was dedicating himself to the revolution. I confess to have felt some skepticism as to the nature of the transformation in Mr. Soule. He is an intellectual entrepreneur for strata of the middle class who can in no serious sense be expected to move independently. A mass revolutionary movement sweeping along triumphantly will drag along in its wake many for whom Mr. Soule speaks; but to-day it is to be expected that they remain dreamers of capitalist utopias.

It was no surprise, therefore, to find that Mr. Soule’s Coming American Revolution was merely a sorrowful reaction to the realities of the Roosevelt regime, with a consequent radicalization of phraseology. The phraseology goes a long way; so far, indeed, that only by close attention to the progress of the argument is one aware of the intricate manoeuvres by which Mr. Soule comes out at the end at his usual place of business. Or, to put it more accurately, Mr. Soule ends up doing business at the old stand, but his wares have new names: the process is similar to the Centrist shift in the Socialist party.

Mr. Soule is, no doubt, an honest man according to his lights; but his book reminds me of nothing so much as of a game called three card monte (also known in variations as the old army game, the shell or pea game). The gambler shows you three or more cards, one of which is an ace. Facing them down on the table separately, the gambler pushes them about. Your eyes carefully follow the card which you know is the ace. The gambler asks you to point to the ace. You do. He turns it over and it isn’t the ace.

Mr. Soule starts out by showing us, not one but a flock of aces. With much scorn for the “literary radicals”, who don’t know what a real revolution is, he lays out on the table a flock of fundamental principles of revolutions. Among these are:

“1. The old regime never is in danger from the popular violence which attacks it from without until it has been weakened from within.

“2. What touches off insurrection is hope, not lack of it, rising confidence, not bleak suffering.”

(This second point is the only one on which Mr. Soule is justified in criticizing the “literary radicals”, who follow the Stalinists in hailing every intensification of mass misery as a further step to revolution.)

“3. When a shift in power actually occurs, it is usually begun ... with reforms ... caused, not by sudden violence, but by the irresistible pressure of events.

“4. Those newcomers who seize authority at the end of a successful revolution are not chance members of an insensate mob, but highly intelligent men with solid organizations back of them, men confident of their own ideas and abilities ...

“5. The most serious revolutionary violence – and there often is a great deal of it – occurs after the new regime has seized power, and must defend itself against reaction in civil or foreign war. Even the domestic ‘terror’ usually occurs some time after the seizure of power itself.”

These principles, while none too well put, are satisfactory enough for a beginning; and Mr. Soule’s application of them, rather rapidly and superficially, to the French, American, English and Russian revolutions, which makes the first section of the book, is equivalent to the first move: we are still looking at the real aces, faces up.

Then the aces are faced down, and the game begins. They aren’t pushed around too rapidly and much that we see is quite genuine. Parts II and III, describing the economic developments leading up to the New Deal and then giving the steps until now made by the Roosevelt regime, are the larger half of the book, and are well worth reading for their marshalling of the facts.

It is only in reading the last section, Part IV, that one realizes that ace No. 1 has really been slipped off the table somewhere during Parts II and III. We realize, then, that ace No. 1 wasn’t very clear. We had taken it for granted that by “the old regime ... weakened from within” Mr Soule meant the capitalist method of production, convulsed by the contradiction between it and the developing forces of production which it has fostered. But, retracing our steps, we find that Mr. Soule has looked for the weaknesses of “the old regime”, not at all at the point where the Marxist looks.

The Marxist finds the basic weakness at the point of production. He knows that today’s socio-economic form of production, which is what we mean by “capitalism”, has been the main factor responsible for technological development. The pursuit of profit has had this social value, that it has made possible improvements in productivity. Today, of course, this increased productivity menaces the stability of capitalism, which is unable to find sufficient markets, and wonderful inventions are bought up and suppressed by corporations because their use would involve the scrapping of present investments. On the other hand, further increases of productivity – thereby cutting costs of production – still remain one of the means of “getting out” of crises. In either case, the very fact that the socio-economic form of production (capital) can foster or suppress technological aspects of production, shows that one cannot talk intelligently about the possibilities of technology today without talking about the socio-economic form of production. Hence, it is at the point of the socio-economic form of production, how production is carried on, that the Marxist seeks the solution of social organisation. The Marxist says the remedy lies where the illness is: at the point of production.

The non-Marxian “radical” proceeds very differently. He isolates the machine from its private ownership and gives the development of technological productivity an independent life of its own. Completely misunderstanding the dominating role of the socio-economic form of production, he seeks for the solution of society’s ills anywhere except at the right place, the point of production. This fallacy generally takes the form of discovering a “problem of distribution”. A typical example of this is Stuart Chase, who talks about capitalists automatically disappearing, says “the problem of production is solved”, and seeks the solution of the “problem of distribution” by providing purchasing power for the masses while leaving the whole system of production in the hands of capitalists.

Mr. Soule is not as crude as Chase, but at bottom he comes to the same position. He criticizes the usual loose talk about indefinite governmental spending as a means of transforming society; but his criticism is limited to the difficulties of prying the money loose from the capitalists. At no point is he aware that increase of purchasing power by governmental expenditures cannot mean anything but priming the capitalist pump; that “aids to distribution”, so-called, can never be anything but aids to capitalist production, for so long as productive means are owned by capitalists, they will run only at a profit. So that, while Mr. Soule does not follow the usual naive solutions of the “problem of distribution” by way of expanding purchasing power, he does stand with the “new economics” in seeking for the fundamental solution at the point of “distribution”. Thus, he says: “It is obvious that the main problem arises, not from the mere existence of the machine, but from the way the goods are distributed” (p. 87)

Like all reformists, therefore (including those reformist socialists who claim to be Marxists and even use the slogan “production for use instead of profit”, but render it meaningless by their actions), Mr. Soule sees higher wages, and shorter hours, restrictions on price-raising, and easy credits – typical aspects of the “problem of distribution” – not as issues primarily important for rallying the masses to build powerful organisations and for heightening their class-consciousness, while these concessions momentarily ease their conditions; but, in line with looking at the point of distribution for the solution, Mr. Soule sees these as “requirements of successful social planning”. He says, “capitalism must in the end give way to the rise of the working classes and socialism” but you will search his book high and low and fail to find any suggestion of the taking over by the working classes of the means of production. If higher wages, etc., are “social planning”, then to say that capitalism “must surrender to social planning” apparently comes down to meaning that capitalism must surrender to higher wages, price-raising restrictions, etc. So this is the revolution!

To show that I have not misunderstood what is handled so cautiously and ambiguously in his book, I quote an editorial from the New Republic of August 22, written by Mr. Soule, on “Mr. Roosevelt’s intentions”.

“Will the President continue to yield on the chief issues to dominant industrial and financial groups? Or will he take the advice of John Maynard Keynes and others, and try once more to push out government money in large enough quantities to furnish a backlog of consumer purchasing power? ... If the New Deal is to be kept new, and if it is ever to be made over into that newer deal which this country so urgently needs, it is imperative that every force of public opinion be marshalled in support of such a development.”

Here we see that Mr. Soule, in an unguarded moment, reveals with a baldness equal to that of Stuart Chase, his fallacious belief that social planning can be arrived at by way of the “problem of distribution”, leaving the capitalist system of production untouched.

So the first ace that Mr. Soule showed us turns out, after a little sleight-of-hand, to be nothing but a deuce. After which the other aces disappear with very little manoeuvring.

The word “insurrection”, in No. 2, and the phraseology in No. 6 – “seize power” etc. – turn out to be just phraseology. Based on Trotsky’s undeniably true observation, that the most violence occurs after the seizure of power, it is reinterpreted, at the conclusion of the book, to mean that it is possible for a “revolution” to occur in America, not by seizing power, mind you, but by winning an elective majority.

Ace No. 4, referring to the real revolutionists who follow the stop-gap reformers, disappears without a trace? This is achieved almost inconspicuously, by a little phrase: Mr. Soule says that communist or similar parties in futurer evolutions will have their role at a late stage in the proceedings, “if at all”!! Mr. Soule thus ignores what he has himself said in the first pages, of the inevitableness of the later stage; he ignores, too, the significant role to be played by communists in the earlier stages. For example, the decisive role played by the revolutionists in preventing a successful counter-revolution (Bolsheviks and Kornilov); the role of revolutionists in propagandizing for a democratic revolution in Fascist countries; the role of revolutionists everywhere in heightening the class-struggle to the point where the stop-gap reformists are brought in.

It must now be more than clear that in its final sections Mr. Soule’s book degenerates to the point where serious analysis is fruitless. I should like, however, to finish with a description of what Mr. Soule does to Ace No. 4, the “solid organizations” led by “highly intelligent men”, which “seize authority at the end of a successful revolution”. In applying this principle to previous revolutions, Mr. Soule points out the decisive role of the organized Puritans, the highly centralized Jacobins, the Bolshevik party. But the American revolution is apparently immune from this general principle. It is sufficiently characteristic of Mr. Soule’s lack of understanding to point out that he not only fails to distinguish between the ills of Stalinist parties and the difficulties of genuinely revolutionary parties, but even says of a revolutionary movement, that “in so far as it grows in numbers it must lose its fighting edge”. Who, then, is to make the American revolution? Mr. Soule, after many hints about the importance of the intellectuals, lists among the “reforms which strengthen new classes” the following:

“There are now in the government machinery members of the professional and intellectual classes who are concerned with collecting and putting together the information necessary for social planning, and with making that information of use in the regulation of industry.”

There is much that is vague in the last chapters; there is something to the effect that “sooner or later, if not under the present administration, then in a succeeding one ... a serious and informed attempt at social planning is to be made”. Also, “probably by peaceful and possibly even by constitutional means, the control of production and exchange may easily pass to one of the more moderate movements op-posed to the profit system”. What kind of movement, he does not say. He warns, however, that “if all this does occur so painlessly, it will be the first time in history”. But what stands out in my mind at the end is the repeated references to the importance of intellectuals as an independent entity, and particularly the reference to those “now in the government machinery”. I wonder if, deep down, too deep to talk much about it, Mr. Smile believes that the American revolution will be made by his friends in the Brain Trust?




Last updated on: 21 August 2015