The Incoherence of the Intellectual:
C. Wright Mills’ Struggle to Unite
Knowledge and Action

Fredy Perlman

Black & Red


Introduction�                                                                                     5

The Search for Radical Strategy 1939‑1948��                                    6

A Political Commitment and a Definition of Strategy������ ������������������� 8
Elements for a Retreat from Political Commitment���� �������������     � ��� 12
The Powerless Intellectual�                                                               16
A Radical Strategy and a Liberating Agency of Change����������� ��� ���� 24

The Mindless Years 1950‑1956                                                       38

The Cheerful Robot and the Rift between Thought and Action�����������40
Intellectual Default and Escape into Academic Cynicism��������� ����������49
Rejection of Crackpot Realism and Academic Incoherence���� ����������59

The Intellectual as Historical Agency of Change 1958‑1962              72

The Showdown between Idiocy and Coherence �����������������             74
The Whole Man as Promethean History‑Maker �����������������              86
The Intellectual as Revolutionary�����������������                                      95
An Ambiguous Retreat and an Incomplete Task��������������� ��������������106

Man as History‑Maker

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. — Karl Marx

For C. Wright Mills, the most important issue of political reflection�and of political action�in our time is the problem of the historical agency of change, of the social and institutional means of structural change. [1] The problem of social change, of revolutionary practice, occupies a central place in Mills' writings, which stretch over a period of two decades. For Mills, this is not a speculative problem; it is not a subject for contemplation. It is an intensely practical and personal problem. It raises questions about the relation of the individual to history, about the relevance of intellectual activity to the making of history, about the unity of thought and action, theory and practice. It raises questions about the difference or lack of difference an individual's life makes, and questions about man's choice of himself as practical or meditative, active or passive, whole or fragmented. It raises questions about the professor's relations to his job and to his contemporaries, and questions about the insurgent's relations to those to whom he tries to communicate a revolutionary strategy. Mills did not answer these questions; he posed them, and for posing them he was left standing alone in a United States which contained no revolutionaries during a period he called the mindless years. Alone, he could not always defend his positions, and was frequently pushed back. He died a short time before he would have been joined by a new American left prepared to act boldly and win over the less bold by their success. [2] He did not leave the new insurgents clear answers; he left them lucidly posed questions. And he left the world revolutionary movement the model of a rebel who continued to struggle in complete isolation, and the task of finding answers to the questions he posed. [—> contents]

Notes to Introduction

1 C. Wright Mills, "Letter to the New Left," New Left Review, No. 5 (September‑October, 1960), pp, 18‑23; republished in Power, Politics and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills (edited by Irving L. Horowitz), New York: Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 254. [—> main text]

2 Mills, The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders, New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1948, p. 274. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Perlman, Fredy. The Incoherence of the Intellectual: C. Wright Mills’ Struggle to Unite Knowledge and Action. Detroit: Black & Red, 1970.

Note: The original booklet from which this is taken has graphics intermixed with the text on each page. Neither the graphics nor the layout are preserved here. A few spelling errors in the original have been corrected.

Chapter 1: The Search for Radical Strategy 1939‑1948

The Philosophy of Theory and Practice: Selected Bibliography

Fredy Perlman Reference Archive

Fredy Perlman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Gray web site: Fredy Perlman


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