The Larger Aspects of Socialism. By William English Walling. The Macmillan Co., New York, $1.50 net.
THIS book is a welcome recognition of the fact that the Socialist political party does not embrace all the factors of the proletarian revolution. The political party eschews philosophy and religion; but these are as much alive today as ever, though they generally go under other names. The author finds in the pragmatism of John Dewey the elements of the coming Socialist philosophy. A large portion of his book is taken up with comments on and quotations from Spencer, Stirner, Nietzsche, John Dewey on education and Ellen Key on sex matters. It almost seems as if the book were an attempt to claim for Socialism the brilliant writers of the individualist-anarchist school, to whom proletarian literature is an abomination. We doubt if the attempt would be approved either by those writers themselves or by the Socialists in whose interest the claim purports to be made.
How does it happen, asks Walling, that the modern Socialist philosophy did not come from the Socialist movement? What I mean is, that since Marx and Engels made a decided beginning in the direction of pragmatism more than half a century ago, we might have expected that the socialist movement would also produce the socially radical philosophy of the present day. The answer is, it has produced such a philosophy, though it is not known by the name of pragmatism, but by the name of Dietzgenism, and it differs from the former in substance as well as in name.
For pragmatism the logical unity of the world is a negligible abstraction. In his 11th letter on logic Dietzgen says: All distinctions must logically be based on the consciousness of the absolute and universal unity, of the interconnection of all things. For this reason some pious people, with their God, in whom all things live and have their being, have more logic than some free-thinkers who have no coherence in their method of thought. How can a man who is out of touch with the mass of the ʻshifting population feel that he is one with the universe?
It is doubtful whether an admirer of Spencer, Stirmer and Nietzsche would take kindly to the Dietzgen philosophy, but the obligations of pretentious authorship require at least a fair discussion of it.
Walling disposes of Dietzgen in a single sentence, as follows: lf, then, we find a Socialist philosopher like Dietzgen offering a system of scientific reasoning as a key to the riddles of the universe, we will certainly attach no particular significance to the fact that he was a Socialist, but merely remember that he was caught, as even Socialists must frequently be (according to their own philosophy) in the current of his times.
Having erroneously put Dietzgen in the same class of materialists as Haeckel, he apologizes for poor Joseph, who, though a good Socialist, was, so far as his science goes, swept away in the current of his times. Yes, he was; but in which current—the current of one-sided materialism or the current of all-around materialism, which wipes out materialism as the all-classism of labor wipes out classes?
For Dietzgen there is no riddle of the universe; the riddle is in the mind; it is the riddle of cognition. He completely solved this riddle by showing what knowledge is and what it is not, and that no difficulty arises except by trying to make out of knowledge more than there. is to it and straining after some other and different kind of knowledge than simple human knowledge, and thus gratuitously manufacturing a riddle where none actually exists.
The Socialist movement, especially in America, needs greatly the broadening and deepening that can only come from a philosophy and religion that harmonize with the needs and aims of the working class. Feuerbach achieved on the religious field what Marx did on the economic, any disparagement of Engels to the contrary notwithstanding. Engels was temperamentally incapable of fully appreciating Feuerbachs work.
Wallings knowledge of Feuerbach seems to be confined to Engels well-known pamphlet, with the appendix containing eleven fragmentary notes or paragraphs hurriedly scribbled down by Marx in 1845; it was after this date that Feuerbach wrote his most important works, all of which are now accessible in a new edition of his complete works. Lassalle frankly recognized the importance of Feuerbachs labors; in a letter to him dated October 21, 1863, Lassalle says: The progressives are rationalists of the shallowest sort, and the same battle which you wage on the theological field I am now waging on the political and economic field. I should be exceedingly sorry to have this deep, inner identity unrecognized,—an identity which, even though unrecognized, would remain a historical and philosophical fact.
The seed sown by Feuerbach found its proper soil in the sweet, well-balanced soul of Joseph Dietzgen, whose open mind was free from the blind fury of the old materialists against everything called religious. Prepared by Feuerbach and by his own independent studies he was able to assimilate the teachings of Marxs Kapital with marvelous rapidity. See his letter to Marx of Nov. 5, 1867. His keen intellect read between the lines of Marxs economic writings, not pragmatism (a new name for some old ways of thinking), but a
new philosophy, a new materialism, broad enough to include both the world of matter and the world of mind; call it monism, pan-materialism, systematic world-view or anything you please. Seeing that Marx would probably never get time enough to develop this philosophy Dietzgen was spurred on in his work. A year and a half later he went back to Kant and brought out in 1869 his little book entitled A Renewed Critique of Pure and Practical Reason. We respectfully recommend his writings to all pragmatists and others who are interested in the larger aspects of Socialism.
Though Walling devotes one whole sentence to Joseph Dietzgen, he does not deign to waste a single word on Ernest Untermann, Eugene Dietzgen. Adolf Hepner, Henriette Roland-Holst and other Dietzgenists. Shall we attribute this to the authors shortcomings, or was he, even though a pragmatist, swept away in the current of his environment?
It is difficult at best to interest the masses in improving their methods of thought. If it is true that pragmatism is the best expression of the Socialist philosophy, every effort should be made to spread a knowledge of it among the masses. Its doctrines should be published in cheap form and their bearing pointed out as affecting the actual struggles of the workers on both the industrial and political field, as has been done for Dietzgenism by Roland-Holst and others. We were not aware that the pragmatists had distinguished themselves in the Socialist movement in any way, not even by showing the usefulness of their philosophy to the working class. In fact, Walling assures us that the struggle is not between the working class and the capitalist class; that it is improper to speak of a working class in this connection; that there is a privileged ruling class on one side, and over against it all the rest of the population, called the mass or the people.
The Dietzgenists say that the only practical nucleus for a fighting force to overthrow privilege is that class which is the peculiar product of capitalism, namely, the wage-earning class, assisted by such others as are willing to help.
The unpragmaticalness of the pragmatists consists in their self-imposed distrust, in that ultra-keenness of intellect which condemns them to inaction, because they perceive it is possible that every way may be wrong. I once asked a university professor (one of the high spots) why he did not come out openly for Socialism; he replied that by doing so he feared he would lose his scientific attitude of mind) He was a typical pragmatist. The bourgeois scientific attitude of mind requires him to keep his philosophy and religion separate from politics; the proletarians scientific attitude of mind requires him to mix up thoroughly his philosophy and religion with his politics.
No doubt some of the sayings of the pragmatists could be interpreted favorably to Socialism; no doubt such was not the intention of the pragmatists themselves. Pragmatism is a philosophy of method only without a goal. Dietzgenism is a philosophy both of method and of goal which are inseparable. The class struggle method itself is a part of the essence of Socialism, which distinguishes it from that reformed society which philanthropists claim to be the same goal.
SOURCE: Hitch, Marcus. Pragmatism [review of The Larger Aspects of Socialism by William English Walling], The International Socialist Review, vol. 14, no. 4, October 1913, pp. 234-235.
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