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The Fight for Socialism

A Must Book Explaining
the Program of the Workers Party

(22 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 29, 22 July 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Fight For Socialism, The Principles and Program of the Workers Party
by Max Shachtman
New International Publishing Co. – Price $1.

The Fight for Socialism, Max Shachtman’s book on the why and how of socialism, fulfills a long-felt need in our movement. Here is a book of 182 pages, easily tucked into a coat or overall pocket or into a handbag, for reading in subways, trolleys and buses. Here is a book that gives in broad outline what every contact and newcomer to socialism wants to know.

Because the coverage is so comprehensive, this little book can serve as the basis and outline for further study. A class conducted with The Fight for Socialism as the textbook, would lead to that kind of inquiry and discussion that would net the students a pretty sound grasp of the principles and program of socialism, which are, of course, the principles and program of the Workers Party. Likewise can an individual by himself, making an acquaintance with these fundamentals through the pages of Comrade Shachtman’s book, feel impelled to further study of points only concisely developed in this necessarily concise little book.

This does not mean that it is merely a base for further study and cannot stand on its own. Quite the contrary. Comrade Shachtman has written not only a very readable and intrinsically informative book, but an enjoyable one as well. Several distinctive factors of style have contributed to this result.

A Smoothly Written and Clear Book

First, while the writing is expository, explaining as it does such phenomena as the economic laws of the capitalist system, the democracy of a workers state, the composition and function of the revolutionary socialist party, it is not weighted with lead. Rather the logical sequences flow so smoothly that for pages at a time it is like reading a narrative.

In the second place, Shachtman had in mind when writing, and put down on paper, certain capitalist myths, capitalist-inspired objections and legitimate workers’ doubts which have to be answered. Picking at random, here is how the section What Is Politics? of Chapter VI begins:

“What does the word ‘politics’ mean to the average worker? It brings to his mind a picture of graft, bribery and corruption. If he sees two men fighting madly to grab off a rich office-plum, he says, ‘That is politics for you.’ If he sees a public figure (or sometimes a figure in the labor movement!) doing something underhanded in order to line his pockets or to climb up the ladder of officialdom, he says, ‘That is politics.’ If he sees a man getting a summons for speeding cancelled by telephoning a friendly ward-heeler, he says, ‘That is politics for you.’ If he hears a labor leader shout, ‘We don’t want any politics in the unions,’ he nods his head in agreement.”

Against this common vulgarization of politics, the writer develops the idea of political action and state power, leading the reader to an explanation of an independent labor party and a Workers’ Government.

Socialism – the Alternative to Barbarism

Again, in the same style, the important Chapter IX entitled Socialism – The Alternative to Barbarism, begins with a direct address to the reader and what he may be thinking:

“Suppose you do not join in the fight for socialism. Suppose you do not organize and work for its victory. Will the society you live in remain just as it is, will it move forward, or will it slip backward? This question is of vital concern to everyone, especially to every worker. It is most important to understand what will happen to capitalist society, if it is not replaced by socialism. To answer the question, let us examine the direction in which capitalism is moving, why it is moving that way, and what are the consequences for society.”

It might also be added, on the score of style, that the “theoretical stuff” is not reduced to abstractions over which a reader would have to puzzle to no avail. Wherever possible the economic theory is clothed in illustrative material and developed in terms of living meaning to the worker. A good example of this style is the story of capitalist depressions at the end of Chapter III.

Now a few remarks about the excellence of the content, so lucid and clear-cut throughout. This reviewer was struck particularly with the first section of Chapter VII, the section entitled The First Steps of a Workers’ Government. So much is said, and so clearly, in a few short pages! The section answers the questions so often repeated! “Shall the property of the big capitalists be confiscated without compensation? – Shall all private property be nationalized immediately? – Shall economic life be centrally organized and planned? – Shall economic life be democratically managed and controlled?”

When these questions are succinctly answered, the conclusion is drawn: “The Workers’ Government has taken the first important steps toward the achievement of Socialism!” It is a conclusion that really flows from what precedes.

A Chapter That Requires Thought

A meaty chapter, requiring very thorough chewing, is VIII, entitled The Need for a Revolutionary Socialist Party. Here are no routine formulations. Introducing the division dealing with The Principles and Program of the Workers Party, we read:

“There are several parties which proclaim the same goal. This is often very confusing to a worker. He will say: ‘How am I to tell which party is the right one for me to join or support?’ Or, ‘Why don’t all those who are in favor of socialism unite into a single party?’ Or, ‘If you cannot agree among yourselves, how do you expect me to agree with any of you?’”

“It should not be too hard to answer these questions,” continues Comrade Shachtman. “When a worker learns that a tool is useful and necessary, he does not throw up his hands in despair merely because there are many varieties of that tool offered to him. He reads carefully the claims made for each variety and the description given of what it can do, and he judges from experience which one really serves the purpose best.”

A Book You’ll Want to Have

The chapter goes on to lay all the cards on the table so the reader knows exactly where the Workers Party hails from, what it stands for, where it is going. There remains no doubt as to the Workers Party’s position on revolution, on immediate demands, on democracy, and so on. Then this unequivocal revolutionary party is compared with others, the Social-Democratic and the Stalinist parties, so that the reader can have a basis for making his choice, or at least for studying further in order finally to make his choice. One criticism of this excellent Chapter VIII is that it could stand a few more sub-heads for more facile reading.

One final tribute to the utility value of The Fight for Socialism. A member of the Workers Party or any socialist confronting a worker who needs an explanation of a certain subject, can refer to chapter, subdivision and page of Comrade Shachtman’s book. This reviewer can hear herself saying to a friend who, for example, might object to a workers’ state as being opposed to democracy: “You ought to read pages 122 to 130 in The Fight for Socialism. This section entitled Between Capitalism and Socialism answers all your doubts and misgivings. Do you want to borrow my copy or would you like to buy your own?” And, of course, this reviewer would have on hand her own copy – as well as one to sell.

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