An argument as old as our movement, brilliantly engaged by the under-appreciated George Falconer. Pouring scorn on the Socialist Party’s Right which sought to moderate the language of Socialism for an ‘American audience,’ Falconer demands that the class war’s reality is recognized in the movement’s words and proves, again, that revolutionary Marxism in the U.S. is a tradition long predating the Russian Revolution or Communist Party’s founding. Great stuff.
Edinburgh-born George N. Falconer (1863-1947) was a central figure in the history of the Colorado left. A writer and editor, candidate for and leader of the Socialist Party of Colorado, he ran a bookstore in Grand Junction and was, like most of the Colorado S.P., a Red. He wrote extensively on the western class struggle and on debates within the movement. Comrade Falconer was also a member of the I.W.W., and would become a founding member of the Communist Labor Party in 1919 and the Workers (Communist) Party in 1921.
‘”Class Struggle” and “Class Consciousness”’ by George Falconer from New Review. Vol. 3 No. 11. August 1, 1915.
WE are oppressed by the tyranny of Words. Most of the wrong thinking is caused by the use of ambiguous words or by the confusion of facts with guesses. So many men travel on a pivot. It is difficult to convince them there are more points of view than one. If you don’t see things as they see them you’re troubled with Astigmatism. The Socialist movement suffers much from this malady. Many of our quarrels have been over words and phrases.
“A Motion to Substitute” by Mrs. Edward Russell is a polite invitation to call in our opinions, look them over, and examine our terminology. Two phrases or statements she “nominates for the dump heap are ‘Class Struggle and Class Consciousness’.” The objections raised against these words are very much like the objections raised by our Catholic brethren-they are “unattractive, unsound, unnecessary”; their use alienate many who might be with us. She would substitute for “Class Struggle” and “Class Consciousness” phrases more refined, more exact, “Force of Capital” and “Force of Labor.” Words, after all, are supposed to do something more than “conceal thought.” Our critic writes “Class Struggle and Class Consciousness” as if they were ossified formulae dropped from the clouds or evolved from the inner consciousness of a metaphysician, whereas both have risen from deep social-economic causes. Isn’t it a strong use of language to use these phrases as if they were beliefs to be accepted or rejected at will? Is not all history, as interpreted economically, the history of Class Struggles? Some of our most orthodox historians are coming to see this. Why then, if the Class Struggle is a fact, why blink it? An ugly truth is better, by far than a beautiful lie.
What of it, if “reference to the Class Struggle arouses antagonism in an American audience”? American audiences have surely much to learn. The United States is the most backward country on earth-on all matters pertaining to social evolution. No people are so smug, respectable and mentally complacent. They want none of your theories about society. With comfortable self-satisfaction, they declare only the incompetent are dissatisfied. Didn’t the American citizen work his way up unaided? Pursue him with facts about modern business and politics and he will retort that the wicked like the poor are always with us; human nature, you know, can’t be changed. It has taken “American audiences” even a decade to learn that Socialism is not Anarchy; they are just getting used to the word that spells hope for mankind. But they still shy at other words they do not understand. “Revolution” must be 150 years old before the “daughters” will honor it. “Materialistic conception” gives many the creeps. “Proletarian,” “Bourgeoise,” “Wage-slaves,” shocks the average American patriot. As for the “Red Flag,” “it has no place in American society” -so declare American respectables.
But this is nothing new. It took a century and over to convince “American audiences” that chattel slavery was a brutal infamy.
Because Socialists seek to arouse the workers to a consciousness of their servile condition in society, why should they be charged with rousing class hatred? As Eugene V. Debs says, “We didn’t make the struggle between the capitalist class and the working class, but it’s there, and it’s our business to uphold our own interest if we don’t want to go under.” Men, women and children are being murdered daily in American industrial hells because it is cheaper to kill them than to protect them. Who are responsible for this shameless brutality? The greedy, plundering, profit-mad, state-protected capitalists, whose one life function is to live from the labor of others. When Mrs. Russell declares “it is not the class of capital against which we must wage war, but the force of capital,” she merely hints the possibility of stopping the robbery of the workers without hurting the feelings of the robbers.
The idea that substituting the words “Force of Capital and Force of Labor for Capitalist Class and Laboring Class,” would bring Socialism a little nearer, implies a magic quality of certain words over other words. Such Arcadian simplicity must come as a surprise to the striking coal miners-victims of the class struggle-now rotting in Colorado Bastilles!
“Substituting” one phrase for another will not help the Socialist movement. We need to understand. Spite the boasted intelligence of “American audiences,” their learned proclivities and their masks of conservative broadmindedness, they are two generations behind modern science; their mental processes are medieval, while their thinking-sociologically speaking-is on a par with the cave man. The methods of the Socialist Party to educate the workers have, hitherto, been very much like Billy Sunday. The co-operative commonwealth was to be ushered in over night. “Socialism in our time” is the screech of one Socialist weekly. Vote the ticket and swell the sub-list and the trick is done. No wonder some of us believe a change of phrases will make friends and work wonders. The function of the thinker and every Socialist should be a thinker, not merely a believer, is to direct, to point out the way; not like politicians to discover what the crowd wants, regardless of the results to be obtained.
The Socialist subscribes to the sentiment expressed by Engels shortly before his death: “We are as yet at the very beginning of things.”
GEO. N. FALCONER. Salt Lake City.
The New Review: A Critical Survey of International Socialism was a New York-based, explicitly Marxist, sometimes weekly/sometimes monthly theoretical journal begun in 1913 and was an important vehicle for left discussion in the period before World War One. Bases in New York it declared in its aim the first issue: “The intellectual achievements of Marx and his successors have become the guiding star of the awakened, self-conscious proletariat on the toilsome road that leads to its emancipation. And it will be one of the principal tasks of The NEW REVIEW to make known these achievements,to the Socialists of America, so that we may attain to that fundamental unity of thought without which unity of action is impossible.” In the world of the East Coast Socialist Party, it included Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Herman Simpson, Louis Boudin, William English Walling, Moses Oppenheimer, Robert Rives La Monte, Walter Lippmann, William Bohn, Frank Bohn, John Spargo, Austin Lewis, WEB DuBois, Arturo Giovannitti, Harry W. Laidler, Austin Lewis, and Isaac Hourwich as editors. Louis Fraina played an increasing role from 1914 and lead the journal in a leftward direction as New Review addressed many of the leading international questions facing Marxists. International writers in New Review included Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly, Karl Kautsky, Anton Pannekoek, Lajpat Rai, Alexandra Kollontai, Tom Quelch, S.J. Rutgers, Edward Bernstein, and H.M. Hyndman, The journal folded in June, 1916 for financial reasons. Its issues are a formidable and invaluable archive of Marxist and Socialist discussion of the time.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/newreview/1915/v3n11-aug-01-1915.pdf