From International Socialism (1st series), No.50, January-March 1972, p.1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
‘The job we envisage for International Socialism is to bring together original contemporary social and political analysis that has special relevance to the waging of the class struggle and the deepening of working class consciousness.’ Editorial in International Socialism 1, Spring 1960
Ten years ago this journal was established on the initiative of the Socialist Review group, as a forum for the discussion of socialist theory. The intention was to draw in various strands and currents of socialist thought that were opposed to Stalinism and Reformism. In this it had only a limited success.
The 50 issues that have appeared to date have indeed contained many articles by writers outside the Socialist Review tradition and the journal has always retained a fairly open character. But it was as the journal of a political tendency that it made its mark. It soon came to supercede Socialist Review as the main vehicle for the development of the ideas of a small group, of trotskyist origin, which sought to restate the essentials of the communist tradition against the various ‘substitutionist’ tendencies which were influential in the 50’s and 60’s. In time the group became known by the title of this journal and Socialist Review disappeared.
The central core of International Socialism politics was the belief in socialism as the self emancipation of the working class. This involved a rejection of the then fashionable ‘Third World Socialisms’ of Nkrumah, Nasser, Ben Bella and Sukarno no less than the Stalinist ‘socialisms’ of Russia, China and the rest. It involved a persistent struggle against New Leftist and left reformist illusions that Western capitalism could be transformed by ‘structural reforms’ or by the action of various social groups – technocratic planners, students, etc. – without the conquest of power by the working class. It involved, above all, repudiation of the widespread belief that capitalism in the developed countries had permanently solved – or could permanently solve — its inherent tendency to crisis and the associated idea that the peasantries of the ‘Third World’ were the new ‘proletariat’ and the agency of socialist revolution. These ideas were unpopular amongst broad circles of the left. They were widely regarded as ‘dogmatic’ and ‘sectarian’. The journal had to swim against the current.
In short, International Socialism sought to defend the central ideas of Marxism in an adverse period. But not merely to defend them. The sterile repetition of slogans and formulas had no place in the journal. It sought to apply and to develop Marxist theory in new historical situations. The influence of all those trends that looked to planners, to peasants, to students, to ‘the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders’ (Marcuse) – in short to any social group except the workers – was based on real and substantial changes in the world.
The ‘new thinkers’ of the left in the late 50’s and 60’s were responding to, and reflecting, the extraordinary post-war expansion of capitalism and the consequent relative decline and fragmentation of the class struggle in the advanced countries in much of the period. They were influenced by the more or less rapid dismantling of the colonial empires and the emergence of regimes in the ex-colonies that described themselves as socialist and anti-imperialist. And, of course, they were profoundly affected by the survival and massive expansion of Stalinism, by the creation of a series of states on the Russian model in Eastern Europe (and North Korea), by the Chinese Revolution, and later, by Cuba and Vietnam.
These tremendous events had to be analysed, and a consistent and coherent theoretical explanation developed that would not be a mere commentary but a guide to action. The achievement of International Socialism was to make a serious contribution to the solution of this problem. A brief summary of that contribution is to be found in the book World Crisis, but to appreciate fully the circumstances in which it was made, the opponents against whom it was directed, the actual process of development, it is necessary to go to the back issues of the journal.
Only a very few of the key articles can be referred to here. On the development of capitalism: Imperialism – the Highest Stage but one (IS 9), International Capitalism (IS 20), A Permanent Arms Economy (IS 28). On Stalinism: The End of the Road (IS 15), Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism (IS 26). On the problems of the ‘Third World’ more than 70 contributions, some of them substantial pieces including, outstandingly, India: A First Approximation (IS 17 and IS 18), and The Revolutionary Role of the Peasantry (IS 41).
Basic issues of marxist theory were not neglected and such contributions as Reform or Revolution (IS 7), Permanent Revolution (IS 12) and Marx’s Theory of Value (IS 32) retain their importance at the present time. In the field of commentary and criticism it is hard to select, but Peter Sedgwick’s The New Lefts (IS 17) and Chris Harman’s Tribune of the People (IS 21 and IS 24) would appear in any anthology. Of course the journal has published its share of lightweight and ephemeral material as well. Nevertheless it can be fairly claimed that no other periodical on the British left in the last decade has a comparable record.
Today there are slightly different needs. During most of its existence International Socialism represented, mainly, a tendency struggling for influence within the existing socialist circles. It is now one of the publications of a growing revolutionary organisation which is beginning to implant itself in the working class. Inevitably the journal must reflect this change.
The change is one of emphasis, not of substance. The role of a theoretical journal in a revolutionary organisation is a vital one and never more so than when the organisation has grown rapidly. To meet the changing needs of the movements, issues 48 and 49 each had a central theme of immediate relevance -the trade union bureacracy and the Common Market. The core of the present issue deals with the British Communist Party but, at the cost of expanding the size from 32 to 40 pages, it has been possible to include much other valuable material. A continuance of the increased size must depend on a substantial rise in circulation (currently around 6,500). IS 51, which centres on Ireland, is in an advanced stage of preparation.
Comment and criticism are an essential stimulus to any serious publication. The editorial in the first issue began ‘Unless a journal has a specific job, it might as well not be published ...’
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Last updated on 22.6.2008