Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Author's Preface

Author's Preface [to A Worker Looks At History].

'These Outlines would never have been written but for the fact that the writer, in the autumn of 1915, was fortunate to come into contact with the Central Labour College and the Plebs League, through being awarded a scholarship tenable at the C.L.C., by the Rhndda No. 1 District of the S.W.M.F. [South Wales Miner's Federation]. Then, for the first time, he saw the need of Independence in Working-Class Education, and the immense potentialities it possessed for those members of his class who, like himself were sound at heart yet muddled in head; lacking in knowledge of things as they are, and awaiting "the delivering power" of clear thinking and the new idea in order to secure the surest, quickest way of advance.

After an all too short and somewhat disturbed stay at the College, circumstances forced a return to work in August, 1916. The Aberdare Miners' District took up the provision of classes in Social Science, and the teaching of the Industrial History classes became part of my work. The suggestion was made to the Merthyr Pioneer that it should publish Outlines of the lessons given, in order to help the class students and others unable to attend; and to persuade outsiders of the benefits to be gained by the workers taking up the study of Industrial History from a definite working-class viewpoint. The kind consent of the Editor enabled us to follow the example set by the Railway Review and the London District Council of the N.U.R.[National Union of Railwaymen], in the case of W.W. Craik's articles. The Outlines served their purpose: general appreciation was expressed, and they even attracted the notice of a Times Special Correspondent (22/11/16).

To attempt full acknowledgement of all sources of information would be too large a task. Readers of Kerr & Co.'s publications will doubtless recognise information and ideas which have unconsciously become my own. The Bibliography might well be doubled, but the books mentioned have been selected with the limited money, time, and energy of the worker in view; and they include, in connection with some of the Outlines, works of fiction which contain interesting sidelights upon certain periods, and which may be read when the work-tired brain is unattracted by the text-books proper; though it is hoped these latter will be consulted also, as an Outline is only suggestive and needs filling in.

I am also indebted to W.W. Craik's unpublished Lectures-by-Post, and to his series of articles in the Railway Review - since republished, though (regrettably) condensed, in book-form; [Outlines of the History of the Modern Working Class Movement.(Published by London Dist. Council, NUR)] as well as to his oral instruction for much of the information, method of presentation, and illustrations used in these Outlines. The worth of the Sub-Warden of the Labour College to the working-class movement - and that of many other past and present scientific Socialists who have freely given their brains, and lived laborious nights and days for their fellows - has not yet been fully recognised. (Not that such individuals are anxious for any such recognition, believing as they do that the movement, not the man, is what matters, and that - "Never mind who gets the credit so long as they work is done").

Those students who kept cuttings of the original Outlines will notice alterations in their present form. Expansion of the earlier and some condensation of the later chapters has been attempted for reasons of proportion. This was made easier, and also necessary, because, when the Outlines were appearing, W.W. Craik's above-mentioned book had not been published. In preference to omitting the Outlines partially covered by his book, and thus breaking the continuity of the lessons, an effort has been made to deal here with certain points only briefly dealt with by him. The two books should, therefore, be read together when the later Outlines are being taken in the classes which this book endeavours to serve. The alternative groupings of the periods of Trade Union history need not prevent this; and the unanswerable case for Industry Unionism and its history, given in thirty pages of Craik's book, makes further emphasis superfluous in these Outlines.

Written by a wage worker for the use of other wage-workers, by one alternately using a mandrill and a pen, these Outlines were composed in weekends, evenings, and other intervals snatched from time occupied by classwork, and the getting of a living "by helping to milk the black cow". While the disadvantages of such conditions are obvious, yet they have had their compensations in keeping the writer close to the objective world of reality, often ignored by college professors, which will have to be faced and altered by the workers before they have the sufficiency of means, time and energy to demand for themselves books giving a more adequate treatment of the history of the Labour-process.

The 19th original Outline has been omitted. It dealt with the three varying phases of Capitalism and attempted to popularise the conclusions of a book [Boudin's Socialism and War] now more easily accessible than then; also, our comrades, J.T.W. Newbold & W. Paul, have, in pamphlets, given us special treatment of this subject [Politics of Capitalism (1d.), B.S.P, 21a, Maiden Lane, Strand, WC, and Labour and Empire (2d.), S.L.P., 50, Renfrew Street, Glasgow). Hence, the original 20th may be divided into two, and the theory stated by Boudin used in a general fashion in the previous Outlines.

My thanks are due to J.F. Horrabin for much advice regarding necessary re-drafting, and also to the same friend for correction of proofs; and to the Editor of the Merthyr Pioneer for permission to reprint.

Before the science of navigation was developed, the compass used, and continents and currents discovered, the early mariners could only sail within sight of the little land they knew. Before a clear knowledge of social science, leading on to a conscious control of social forces, was sought and found, we of a newer day in the Labour Movement (without disparaging any of the work of our fellows and their leaders in the past) feel that they, too, were forced to sail only in sight of the well-known lands of their limited experience, and to steer by rule of thumb and precedent. But when the science of society is developed, when we have the compass of working-class education, and when we have estimated the strength of the currents and mapped out the social world, then, in the same way, we as mariners of the organised Labour ship will be able to launch out across hitherto uncharted oceans and explore new worlds, where the workers will control the conditions of their life, and wage-slavery be but a memory. The purpose of this book is to aid the rapidly growing working-class movement, which gives fair promise to provide society with a chart and steering skills for future voyages.

Mark Starr.
November, 1917.

The success of the 1st edition proves encouraging. Several minor improvements have been made from the helpful criticism given. Thanks are especially due to G. Sims in this connection. Circumstances, however, prevent an expansion of the book and a full use of the suggestions made.
March, 1918.



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