Wm. Paul

Book Review

An Indispensable Book

Source: The Communist Review, July 1922, Vol. 3, No. 3.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Social Struggles in Antiquity, by M. Beer.
Cloth covers. 222 pp. 6s.
L. Parsons, Ltd.

IT is a very great pleasure, on our part, to recommend this brief but valuable historical study by a celebrated Marxist scholar. Max Beer in Social Struggles in Antiquity presents us with the first volume of a history of the class struggle. We cannot imagine a better subject, nor a more important one. Judging by some statements which appeared in the columns of our distinguished contemporary, The Labour Monthly, it would seem that an historical sketch of the class struggle is not of much assistance to those who are actively participating in the modern class conflict. While yielding to none in recognising the value of specialist studies that examine the problems immediately confronting society, we contend that it is an essential part of the task of the revolutionarv movement to show the historic mission of the working class. But to drive this lesson home needs an historical background.

The Marxist method is historic. This is such a commonplace amongst Marxians that some of our more academic comrades, of University extraction, are apt to be impatient of any efforts devoted to it. Those of us who have received our theoretical training in the working class educational movement and under the guidance of proletarian teachers, can never forget how we were thrilled and enthused when we first heard of the titanic class conflict that has been waged throughout the centuries. The fact that our struggle to-day is but a continuation of the heoric efforts of those who have gone before, inspired us with a new hope and gave an added strength to our courage when battling against terrific odds. Some of us have spent a considerable amount of time tutoring workers at Marxian educational classes. This work brings one into close contact with the mentality of the most serious minded proletarian elements in the Labour movement; for good or evil these are the ones who are destined to play an important part in the rank and file of the revolutionary movement. We believe no teacher of such a class will deny that the subject which creates the greatest interest in the mind of the students is the history of the class struggle.

The greatest Marxian teachers, in dealing with any social institution, have always treated their subject from the historical standpoint. One of the great ambitions of Marx, one which, alas, had to remain unfulfilled, was to write up a study of gentile society based upon Lewis Morgan’s famous work on that subject. So important was this task to the mind of Frederick Engels that he, utilising some of the data prepared by Marx on the subject, felt compelled to write that brilliant little classic, The Origin of the Family. This book was the starting point for Lenin in his essay on State and Revolution. So keenly do Marxist propagandists feel the need for emphasising the historic nature of the class struggle and of tracing it from the downfall of gentile society up to the present day, that the great American socialist, Daniel De Leon, translated, into English, the twenty-one volumes of Eugene Sue’s famous narrative of The History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages. This was done by a revolutionary fighter who was busily engrossed in the everyday struggle of the masses and who was the editor of a daily and a weekly paper; he had, therefore, neither energy nor leisure to fritter away on fruitless tasks. De Leon knew that nothing so encouraged the workers in their present-day struggles as a knowledge of the great fights put up by the oppressed classes in the past. It was only natural to expect that when a splendid Marxist, like our friend Max Beer, wrote on the class struggle that he would place it in an historical setting, as be has done in Social Struggles in Antiquity.

On several occasions we have reviewed books, in these pages, dealing with the economic conditions of ancient Greece and Rome, and have drawn attention to the attempt of well-known historians to suppress the communistic nature (albeit it was of a crude agrarian character) of the mass struggles in those cities. The importance of Social Struggles in Antiquity is that it deals, very briefly, with this very point. It is an indispensable little volume for those who are anxious to study the underlying causes of the class conflict up to the fall of the Roman empire. The value of the data in this book is that it cannot easily be found in the works of our celebrated "impartial" historians. And this is an additional reason why Marxians should make it part of their work to see that those who are active in the modern revolutionary struggle should know as much as possible about the nature of the class conflict down the ages. To supply such information is the reason why Social Struggles in Antiquity was written and why we recommend it to our readers.

W. P.