From International Socialism, No.27, Winter 1966/67, p.37.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Marxism in the Modern World
Ed. Milorad M. Drachkovitch
In October 1964 35 American and European scholars met in Stanford, California, to discuss the history of Marxist movements over the last century and their future. This volume brings together a selection of the papers, some up-dated; two more volumes are to follow. The main emphasis here is on successful political movements since 1917 which have, or claim to have, drawn their inspiration from Marx. By successful is meant those movements that have overthrown an existing order and set up a new ‘socialist’ state or that have developed on a ‘socialist’ basis. Thus we have papers devoted to Leninism, Stalinism, Titoism, Maoism, Castroism, etc.
But what exactly are the authors attempting to analyse? The volume is presented as a coherent whole, yet the various papers are written from such different angles that the reader is left puzzled. Is the aim to explain how and why the different movements came to power, to relate their success to Marx’s prognostications? Or is it to analyse the theories elaborated by the leaders in terms of their Marxist content? Or is it simply to describe the main political features of the various states that claim or have claimed to be socialist? Somehow all these different angles have to be related, or at least made explicit, if a neat division into ‘isms’ is to be illuminating. Ulam, writing on Titoism, mentions the problem but other writers seem unaware of it. The three papers on the USSR provide good examples of how little is revealed, or made comprehensible, by a restricted approach. Bertram Wolfe, writing on Leninism, is concerned almost exclusively with Lenin’s theories, the points at which they diverge from Marx’s writings, and the reasons for the divergence. The latter is explained largely in terms of Lenin’s character, as understood by Wolfe. In Boris Souvarine’s account of Stalinism the coin is upturned. Reference is made briefly to some of Stalin’s theoretical innovations but Stalinism per se is seen primarily as the practice of Soviet rule from Lenin’s to Stalin’s death. This is in itself fair enough (although one would hope for some attempt to tie in theory and practice) but unfortunately Souvarine’s account of Stalinist practice is crude in the extreme. His method of oversimplification and ‘cursory listing of depravities, crimes and atrocities’ committed by Stalin (in the form of rather wild assertions) makes it impossible for him to explain the Stalin period except in terms of the General Secretary’s lust for power. Finally Khrushchevism is covered by Fainsod in a somewhat lifeless review of domestic and foreign policy changes since Stalin’s death. We are left little wiser as to what we should understand by Leninism or Khrushchevism; indeed, whether the terms themselves have any useful meaning. Perhaps the most stimulating paper is that by Lowenthal on future developments within the once rigid communist bloc: both western Europe and the underdeveloped countries are brought into the picture, and the attempt made to relate external alignments to the domestic problems, present and future, facing the USSR and China. But by and large it is a disappointing collection – let us hope the subsequent volumes are more exciting.
Last updated on 20.12.2007