[OPE-L] Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (was: (new book) Paul Burkett _Marxism and Ecological Economics_)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon May 08 2006 - 12:24:46 EDT

Jerry asked:

How long is this book?

I do not know exactly, that's because a few sections and chapters were added
and so on, but I would think it would be well over 300 pages, more like 400
though, once they set the text it might come out different. It was a long
job, took me the best part of three months (heaps of notes as well).

Because it is an historical survey of how the critical theories evolved, it
does not necessarily delve into the foundational questions as much as I
personally like, beyond alluding to them. But just about all the theoretical
variants are represented. However, Cockshott & Cottrell's theory isn't
there, i.e. the Western Marxist variant that believes the Soviet Union was
some kind of "state socialism", and Marcel doesn't really recognise the
possibility that there might be *different kinds* of socialisms, some of
which deserve support and others not, i.e. you might have a socialism, but
it is not one you would support even if you were a socialist. But this is
not entirely his fault, since most Marxists argued you either have socialism
or you haven't (Marx himself of course explicitly argued contrary to the
Marxists in this sense - i.e. he was well aware that there were all kinds of
socialisms, propagated by different individuals and social classes, and he
liked some, but vigorously opposed others - see e.g. Vol. 4 of Hal Draper's
magnum opus).

But I do like Marcel's book as a sympathetically critical statement which
shows you what the problems and pitfalls of Marxist theorising are. In
particular, he shows in detail how the Marxists generally had a unilinear
view of historical progress - from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, and
how basically that meant that societies had to be either feudal, capitalist
or socialist, or in transition from one to the other, ruled either by the
bourgeoisie or the proletariat or some kind of new class (Djilas) or new
elite (Ticktin) (well, bar the odd theory such as Dutschke's concerning a
Russian "Asiatic mode of production"). This explicit or implicit assumption
shaped all the perspectives that people had, yet it often evaded the deeper
questions concerning the meaning of human progress as such. That is,
Marxists assumed that they knew the "general march of history" in advance,
and when history moved in a different, unexpected direction, there were
various theoretical contortions to reconcile presumption with reality (some
of them so absurd, that they're in retrospect just wildly funny, even
although at the time they were mooted with utmost seriousness). Marcel
suggests in the end that really the Western Marxists could not explain the
historically novel phenomenon of the Soviet Union (and its allied states) at
all, without either twisting logic or the facts, or departing from Marx's
own conceptual apparatus. And that makes for a thought-provoking read,
especially since he dragged out some anecdotes and quotes from the archives
few people would know.


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