[OPE-L] Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jul 25 2007 - 14:48:51 EDT

Prof. Marcel van der Linden's book on "Western Marxism and the Soviet
Union", translated by yours truly and published with the kind assistance of
Sebastien Budgen, is now available from Brill publishers.

I do not know why they don't publish a cheaper paperback version, but no
doubt there are reasons for that (some books in the HM series have been
published in paperback as well as hardback).

From the introduction of Marcel's book:

"The 'Russian Question' was an absolutely central problem for Marxism in the
20th century. It was and remains, as Castoriadis put it, 'the touchstone of
theoretical and practical attitudes which lay claim to revolution.' For that
reason, it is all the more astonishing that, until this very day, not one
scholar has tried to portray the historical development of Marxist thought
about the Soviet Union from 1917 until the present in a coherent,
comprehensive appraisal. Quite possibly the reason for this lacuna has not
so much to do with the specific topic area, but with the underdeveloped
historiography of Marxist theories generally. Anderson concluded years ago
in his Considerations on Western Marxism that 'the causes and forms of
[Marxism's] successive metamorphoses and transferences remain largely
unexplored.' Likewise, in the history of ideas Marxist theories have not
received the attention they deserve. Nevertheless not only the primary
literature, but also the secondary literature about 'Western Marxism and the
Soviet Union' is quite extensive, as can be easily verified from the
bibliography at the end of this study. (...) My own inquiry diverges from
earlier research in two main respects: (i)   It aims to present the
development of the Marxist critique of the Soviet Union across a rather
large period in history (from 1917 to the present) and in a large region
(Western Europe and North America). Within this demarcation of limits in
time and space, an effort has been made to ensure completeness, by paying
attention to all Marxist analyses which in some way deviated from or added
to the older contributions. (ii)  On the basis of the presentation defined
in (i), my research moreover aims to begin, at least in outline, with the
elaboration of a meta-theory of this theoretical evolution, in order to
identify what the logic of the development sketched has been."

The English edition is a bit larger than the Dutch and German versions
appearing previously, including some new text and documentation, and
re-edited somewhat. Marxist literature appearing in English, German, French,
Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch is included. Although
this was a point of discussion between us at one time, Marcel did not
analyse those Western Marxist views, not themselves reflective of/derived
from CPSU opinion, according to which the USSR was nevertheless some kind of
"socialist" or "state-socialist" formation. I personally would have liked
those to have been included, for the sake of completeness, but then, I was
only the translator. Nevertheless he makes a good job of showing - sometimes
with a glint of Dutch humor - how a whole gallery of Western Marxist
intellects strained to interpret the unprecedented society of the Soviet
Union, mainly from afar and often without knowing Russian language, within a
categorical framework that not infrequently stretched the bounds of
credulity. At some points, Marcel diverges from the "regional" limits he
imposed on his study, discussing for example critiques from East-European or
Russian dissidents/migrant intellectuals which were published in the West,
and which became part of the controversy.

I suppose this book, like any other, can be critiqued (I hope it will be),
but I'm glad it's there, as an historical reference work, and with any luck
it might stimulate some better theorising in future. I certainly learnt a
lot from translating it, not just in respect of small matters of style but
also with regard to the human co-operation such a project requires.


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