Andrew Murray, Flashpoint: World War III, Pluto Press, 1997. Paperback, 198pp, £9.99.
Reviewed by Bob Pitt
THE FIRST half of the 20th century saw two horrific world wars, and for much of the post-1945 period it seemed more than likely that there would be a third. The cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union, which began in 1947 and continued with ebbs and flows for some four decades, always contained the threat of direct armed conflict between the two superpowers, and on occasion – the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis – it came close to the point of producing another global conflagration.
Now, however – according to the more optimistic of capitalism’s apologists – the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allied regimes in Eastern Europe has finally removed the threat of world war. Regional conflicts, in the form of atavistic inter-ethnic struggles, may continue for some time, or so the argument goes, but the overall thrust of development is towards global unity based on the universal acceptance of private enterprise and parliamentary democracy.
As you might expect from the title, Andrew Murray’s book Flashpoint: World War III rejects this Panglossian picture of capitalism’s future. Using material taken mainly from establishment publications like the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, it relentlessly depicts the reality of what was once laughably called the free world – a world of ruthlessly competing economic interests and cynical realpolitik, covered up by ruling class lies and hypocrisy. Murray’s argument is that capitalism tends to produce war and, in the absence of the countervailing force that the Soviet Union represented, war becomes more likely, not less.
However, while Murray does a thorough job of demolishing the view that the world is proceeding inexorably towards capitalist peace and harmony, he doesn’t really succeed in proving his thesis that capitalism is driving towards another world war. He identifies a number of possible "flashpoints" – Eastern Europe/the Balkans, the Far East, the Middle East – but fails to explain why an outbreak of military conflict in any of these areas should divide the world’s major capitalist powers into opposing camps. After all, a world war is not simply an aggregation of smaller conflicts but rather a fundamental clash between two rival power blocs.
The world wars earlier this century arose when the drive towards colonial conquest by late-developing capitalist nations, Germany in particular, came up against the strategic interests of the established imperialist powers. But today such crude military expansionism is no longer the primary means by which the major capitalist nations carve out their spheres of influence. And it is a fact that the irreconcilable antagonism between capitalist and non-capitalist blocs, which provided the potential source of a further world war after 1945, has been removed by the collapse of the Soviet Union together with "Communist" China’s enthusiastic embrace of market economics.
Furthermore, the Soviet Union’s demise has not only eradicated an antagonistic social system but has also destroyed the USA’s major military competitor. The US ruling class is now in the happy position where its armed forces are without a serious rival anywhere on the planet. And this in itself acts as a significant obstacle to a world war, the outbreak of which would require at least approximate military parity between the belligerent sides. It is of course possible that a future European super-state could compete with the USA in terms of military muscle. But even if the formation of such a state were possible – and the problems which existing national divisions have caused to the far more modest project of a single European currency suggest that there will be considerable difficulties in achieving complete political union – this would necessarily be a long term prospect.
Rather than a world war, a more likely scenario in the short to medium term is a continuation of bloody and barbaric armed conflicts on capitalism’s periphery. The dominant powers will foment and intervene in these conflicts, pursuing their own competing economic and political interests. But whenever such conflicts look like spilling over and destabilising the world capitalist order, differences will be put aside in favour of a joint military solution. As the experience of the closing decade of the century indicates, from the Gulf War to NATO’s intervention in ex-Yugoslavia, when push comes to shove collective capitalist self-interest takes precedence over inter-capitalist rivalries.
Nevertheless, even if Murray’s central thesis must be rejected as oversimplified, this is a well-researched, entertainingly written and thought-provoking book, which contains much useful material. It is worthwhile reading for anyone trying to come to grips with the complexities of the post-Soviet world.
Dimitri Volkogonov, Trotsky: the Eternal Revolutionary, HarperCollins, 1997. Paperback, 524pp, £12.99
Reviewed by Al Richardson
RUSSIA HAS centuries of experience of history written according to the dictates of state needs, beginning with the Kievan chronicles and reaching its height (or depth) with the notorious History of the CPSU/Bolsheviks (Short Course). Since the writer of this book rose through the Army Propaganda Department and the Institute of Military History to become Yeltsin’s Defence Advisor, it would indeed be surprising if he had departed from that tradition. And we are not surprised. However, although Russian historiography has "progressed" from eulogies of Lenin and Stalin to the denigration of them, this book shows that none of this change of climate has led to a positive reappraisal of Leon Trotsky. All we can say is that he has ceased to become an unperson and a hate figure, and official disapproval of him now has to be expressed in other ways.
The least subtle of these is a heavy dose of vapid moralising running all the way through this book, proving yet again – if it requires any further proof – that even when functionaries change sides they still dislike people who do their own thinking. According to Volkogonov, Trotsky "belonged to that category of people who believed that the end justifies everything.... For such people human life – if it is another’s – is as nothing when set against the goal, the ideal, the dream. Despite their attractive features and personal qualities, the minds of such people are often very dangerous" (p.162). Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution – which prophesied the exact mechanism of the 1917 revolution ten years before – "ignored the objective conditions; whether the shift was necessary, whether the masses were ready for more activity, and so on" (p.198). We realise that we are being led up the garden path here when Boris Savinkov, for many years leader of the terrorist wing of the Social Revolutionaries and a supporter of the Kornilov coup, is quoted condemning the violence of the Bolshevik army during the civil war (p.213). The only other component of Volkogonov’s theoretical construct is a dash of Slavic mysticism, such as when he dismisses Trotsky’s superb essay on the Intelligentsia and Socialism (that first published in Kievskaya Mysl, far superior to the well-known one still in print) as "a scandalous article ... which belittled many aspects of Russian achievement" (p. 220).
Even Trotsky’s classic analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet state is reduced to personal trivia by this treatment. His "total rejection of Stalinism" was "chiefly motivated by personal considerations" (p.6), because Trotsky was "one of the chief architects of "bureaucratic absolutism", although he showed no awareness of it in his writings’ (p.422). As evidence that Trotsky was himself largely to blame for the bureaucratism, we are offered the following: "He had what Stalin would later call ’staff’. This was not the same as domestic staff (!), but rather a silent, terrified Socialist staff who, for the privilege of the slave, for the possibility of being somewhat higher than ordinary mortals, were willing to carry out the leader’s wish. Trotsky was one of those who laid the foundations of this numerous and essential attribute of the bureaucratic Moloch" (p.172). And again: "as the ’second man’ in the country he had himself laid the foundations of lawlessness ... [and] Stalin had been well trained by Lenin and Trotsky" (p.383), so that "had Trotsky come to power, he would have carried out this programme [forced collectivisation] with energy" (p.487). Even Trotsky’s support for Lenin after 1917 has a personal explanation, because he "realised that if he were to change his political direction yet again, it would mean his intellectual death. Political life allows only one substantial revision, otherwise one loses credibility with one’s past comrades as well as one’s new friends" (p.96). Well, Volkogonov certainly has the advantage over us all here.
And his technique of reducing history to the level of a morality play makes the discussion of The Revolution Betrayed a classic of unconscious irony: "Then, however, he [Trotsky] suddenly came to the conclusion that the bureaucracy, as a new class [sic!], might bring about the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. This kind of thinking was not untypical of Trotsky. Having conducted a deep and accurate analysis and made startling predictions, he was capable at times of drawing false conclusions – an effect, no doubt, of his being constantly primed for revolution. Since the bureaucracy had ’consumed’ the revolution, he argued, it could end in bourgeois reaction" (p.369). Well – hasn’t it? Has Russian military intelligence failed yet again? Is Volkogonov the last person to know?
Speaking of military intelligence, perhaps John Archer, who is such an expert on control commissions (What Next? No.3) can explain this one about an old friend. The only two "remaining Trotskyists" in Britain thanked by Volkogonov in his introduction (p.xxxiv) are Tamara Deutscher and Stuart Kirby. The occurrence of the name of Isaac Deutscher’s widow needs no explanation – but Kirby? He played no part in the Trotskyist movement in this country since the mid-’30s, worked in military intelligence in India during the war, and as an academic of a distinctly cold war variety was subsequently discovered spying on students. Archer carefully avoids mentioning him in his thesis, even where it is almost impossible to do so.
Returning to our original text, even if the analysis remains on a superficial level, Volkogonov’s privileged access to classified material does give his account some value. He provides interesting details of how Stalin’s real position over the Brest Litovsk Treaty was falsified (p.107) and of how the idea of for the Comintern’s military manual, Neuberg’s Armed Insurrection, originated with Trotsky (p.210). He also includes some extracts from an early letter from Adolf Joffe analysing the rise of the bureaucracy (pp.236-7) and equally valuable excerpts from a letter by Krupskaya protesting against use of the Lenin cult against Trotsky (pp.249-50). A similar letter from the underground press comments upon the official invention of "Trotskyism" (p.271). J.T. Murphy’s disgraceful role in the expulsion of Trotsky from the Executive Committee of the Communist International is confirmed (p.292), as is the guess that the Alexander Orlov who defected to the United States was indeed the "senior security official" who was "resident" in Spain during the civil war (pp.355, 458). The NKVD murders there are openly admitted (pp.399-400), and La Pasionaria’s status as an NKVD agent is finally confirmed (p.441). From time to time other interesting snippets of information slip into the text, not necessarily adding anything substantial to history, but helping to illustrate its ways. We learn, for example, that as soon as Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata, the notorious Vyshinsky took over his apartment in Granovsky Street (p.372).
Even with these virtues, however, we are still left with a slovenly book. We are, for example, introduced to "a Dutchman called Van Heijenoort" (p.328), "the French Section of the Popular Revolutionary Party (a Trotskyist grouping)" (p.346), Trotsky’s "supporter, Angelica Balabanova" (p.428), Freda Zeller (p.449) and Jesus Fernandez Tomas’ book The Spanish Communists (p.450), as well as a description of Sudoplatov’s memoirs as "an authoritative account" (p.440).
Nor is it all the fault of the writer. Much of the blame for the sloppiness of the English version and its abysmal lack of Marxist culture is due to its editor and translator, Harold Shukman. Paraijanine’s name is misspelled throughout (pp.61, 334), Boris Souvarine’s name appears as "Suvorin" (p.333), Thermidor invariably picks up an "e" at the end, and Marx’s Herr Vogt comes out as Mr Fogt (p.303). The Report of the Siberian Delegation is quoted second hand from Deutscher when a full English version has long been in print (p.30), and the editor appears to have no knowledge at all of the existence in English of The Balkan Wars, while the titles of Trotsky’s major works appear in almost laughable forms – Results and Perspectives (p.43), The Stalinist School of Falsification (p.92), Questions of Lifestyle (p.222) and "The Fuss About Kronstadt" (p.394). Time has simply not been spared to look up a catalogue of Trotsky’s books in English, let alone to line up the translations made directly from the Russian with those already available and give page references. Obviously the duties of a Fellow of St Anthony’s College, Director of the Russian Centre and lecturer in Modern Russian History at Oxford University are a good deal more onerous than would appear to we outsiders.
Reviewed by Bob Pitt
Jack Conrad, Blair’s Rigged Referendum and Scotland’s Right to Self-Determination, With an Introduction by Mary Ward, CPGB/Weekly Worker 1997. Pamphlet, 44pp, £1.00.
THIS PAMPHLET sets out the political line on Scottish self-determination promoted by the group around the Weekly Worker, of which comrade Conrad is the leading theoretician, and it is a characteristic product of that tendency. It is well written, thoroughly researched, cogently argued – and almost entirely divorced from political reality!
A distinctive feature of the CPGB/Weekly Worker, and one which has separated it from virtually everyone else on the left in Scotland, has been its insistence that Marxists should campaign for a boycott of the 11 September referendum on a Scottish parliament. The pamphlet roundly denounces Scottish Militant Labour (SML) for advocating a double "yes" vote in the referendum (for a Scottish parliament and for tax-varying powers). This, it is argued, is a cop-out from the demand for a democratic republic of Scotland within a federal Britain and Europe – a demand supported by the Scottish Socialist Alliance, in which SML and the CPGB are both participants.
The CPGB comrades have been at pains to emphasise that they are not advocating political passivity. As Mary Ward, a leading CPGB member in Scotland, is quoted in the pamphlet as saying, they are in favour of "an active boycott". Jack Conrad expands on this point: "An active boycott means calling for political strikes, meetings and demonstrations, occupations and civil disobedience. Instead of fostering constitutional illusions in Blair’s sop and meekly queuing up to vote for it, our aim is to win the masses to use the most advanced, most militant, most resolute tactics the objective situation allows" (emphasis added).
But there’s the rub. Could any sober analysis of the objective situation lead you to the conclusion that Scottish workers would respond to the call for a boycott campaign with "political strikes, meetings and demonstrations, occupations and civil disobedience"? Certainly at the time of writing, two weeks before the date of the referendum, there hasn’t been the slightest sign of it.
What we have here is a classic example of the ultra-left method whereby agitational demands are conjured up by the self-appointed revolutionary vanguard without the slightest concern for the actual state of working class consciousness. It is fantasy politics. And, despite the orthodox Marxist emphasis on the leading political role of the working class, it is in fact based on a sectarian contempt for that class as it actually exists.
Myself, I find it impossible to understand how critical support for the proposed Scottish parliament is incompatible with advocating a genuine democratic republic and a parliament with full powers, including the right to secession. Indeed, in view of the widespread support among working people in Scotland for their own parliament, even in the restricted form presently on offer, it is difficult to see how Marxists could get a hearing for their programme without critically advocating a double "yes" in the referendum.
In a letter to the Weekly Worker, Tom Delargy of SML described the CPGB’s line on the referendum as "ultra-left nonsense", pointing out that working people in Scotland, even those who are critical of the referendum and of the limited powers that are proposed for the Scottish parliament, would regard the Weekly Worker’s policy as tantamount to scabbing. This was harsh, but almost certainly true. The question is – how did the comrades of the CPGB arrive at such a ridiculous political position, which has walled them off from the very people they seek to influence, thus dooming themselves to sectarian irrelevance during the referendum campaign?
I suspect that the explanation is not unconnected with the woodenly orthodox Leninism that informs the comrades’ understanding of the role of revolutionary leadership. Not so long ago I wrote an article in the Weekly Worker advocating a struggle against Blairism around basic demands that enjoy majority support in the movement – a minimum wage at median male earnings, reform of the anti-union laws and so on. In reply, I was given a stern lecture, replete with quotations from What Is To Be Done?, on the need to combat working class "spontaneity". The task of Marxists, according to this line of reasoning, is not to advance practical proposals that can actually take the workers’ movement forward, but to make maximalist propaganda which has no resonance within the class.
I’m not suggesting that Lenin ever descended to the sectarian depths reached by some of his self-proclaimed followers, but there was a fundamental flaw in his concept of socialist consciousness being brought into the working class "from without" which fuels such sectarianism. It is worth noting that Trotsky always opposed the one-sidedness of the formulation in What Is To Be Done?, believing to the end of his life that Plekhanov was correct against Lenin on this point. It seems to me that some clarity on this issue might enable us to avoid the trap of falling, as Blair’s Rigged Referendum so obviously does, into the sterile "vanguardism" which today disfigures so much of the revolutionary left and renders it politically impotent.
Roy Bhaskar, A Realist Theory of Science, Verso, New Edition 1997. Paperback, 282pp, £15.00
Reviewed by Jonathan Joseph
"MARXIST" PHILOSOPHY was going nowhere until critical realism came along. In fact part of the problem was that it saw itself as Marxist philosophy when the claim that there is such a thing as a Marxist philosophy is philosophically dubious in the first place.
In the 1970s we were treated to the transformation of unyielding Althusserian structuralism into amorphous post-structural garbage. Other alternatives were the rampant voluntarism or spontaneism of the romantic humanist schools of Marxism (E.P.Thompson, Sartre, Lukács, Marcuse, indeed the USec and SWP too). Marxism was often mixed with a heavy dose of Hegel, just to give us a little more confidence. And if this failed, there was always the Dialectics of Nature. In all these cases, Marxism and philosophy were mixed up in a heady blend of speculative metaphysics.
Roy Bhaskar’s seminal work, first published in 1975 and now available in a new edition, is a back-to-basics book. It sees philosophy’s role as that of an "underlabourer", clearing away the weeds. It makes no mention of Marxism; it rightly leaves these philosophers to their own confusions. The point, first of all is to understand what philosophy is.
Marxists do not recognise academic disciplines like sociology, politics and economics, whose claims to scientific status are phoney and partial. Marxism is the only theory capable of providing a scientific analysis of society. Disciplines like sociology wrap ideology up in the cloak of a scientific alternative to Marxism when none in fact exists.
Marxism is the only genuine social science – however, it is not the only science. If we view philosophy in relation to the various sciences, then it cannot be dismissed so easily. In relation to social science, philosophy is heavily entwined with the science of Marxism itself (not least because of the conceptual aspect of society). However, philosophy cannot be reduced to Marxist philosophy because it stands in relation to other sciences like physics, biology, mathematics or psychoanalysis.
Bhaskar’s first book is important because it looks at the relations between philosophy and science in this more general sense. It understands philosophy as a metatheory, an underlabourer for the sciences, a producer of second order knowledge. This is important because when we do start to sort through the confusions of Marxist theory, we need a tool which is intimately connected, but not reducible, to the scientific practice itself. If we abandon the distinction between Marxism and philosophy then we abandon any hope of critical scrutiny of Marxism’s method.
A Realist Theory of Science is the best available elaboration of philosophy’s relation to science and it is in keeping with the fundamentals of Marxist thinking – an understanding of materialism, dialectics, causality, ontology, structurality and the relation between theory and practice.
Critical realism begins by asserting the primacy of being over thought – a basic enough point, but one which is lost in Hegelian Marxism, not to mention postmodernism. Distinguishing between two realms, the transitive and the intransitive, Bhaskar argues that our transitive knowledge of the world is dependent upon the intransitive structures, processes and mechanisms which exist independently of our knowledge of them. Thus: "knowledge must be viewed as a produced means of production and science as an ongoing social activity in a continuing process of transformation. But the aim of science is the production of the knowledge of the mechanisms of the production of phenomena in nature that combine to generate the actual flux of phenomena of the world" (p.17).
Critical realism: "regards the objects of knowledge as the structures and mechanisms that generate phenomena; and the knowledge as produced in the social activity of science. These objects are neither phenomena (empiricism) nor human constructs imposed upon the phenomena (idealism), but real structures which endure and operate independently of our knowledge" (p.25).
Given that we have knowledge of the world, and that this knowledge is intelligible and explanatory, this presupposes that the world is structured in a certain way and that it consists of enduring mechanisms. Therefore "both knowledge and the world are structured, both are differentiated and changing [but] the latter exists independently of the former" (ibid).
The practice of science attempts to develop theories or laws of the actual processes and mechanisms which operate in the physical world. This is done through experimentation which seeks to isolate certain mechanisms and analyse the pattern of events. However, the real causal law cannot be reduced to the experimentally produced sequence of events (as positivist or verificationist science would have it). For experimentation under artificially closed conditions is necessary precisely because such patterns would not be obtained outside these conditions.
The causal mechanisms which experimentation helps us to identify exist outside the contexts under which these sequences of events are identified. There is thus "an ontological distinction between the empirical regularity which we produce and the causal law it enables us to identify" (p.33).
The nature of scientific practice therefore tells us that the world is structured and intelligible and that laws and mechanisms operate in a universal manner. But it also tells us that the processes occur in an open context where different mechanisms combine to produce different results. Therefore, causal laws operate as tendencies which may or may not be realised according to the specific conditions and combination of processes.
This allows us to say not only that causal processes exist whether or not we observe them, but also that they exist whether or not they are exercised as tendencies.
Much of Bhaskar’s fire is directed against positivist or deductive-nomological theories of science. These base themselves on securing a constant conjunction of events. These events are based on the simple conjunction of cause A and effect B. The consequent ontology is a that of a flat, atomistic world with no underlying mechanisms. Explanation is that A causes B rather than an analysis of the conditions under which A might be followed by B.
Such assumptions are the cornerstone of classical (e.g. Newtonian) physics and Bhaskar summarises this world view as upholding: (i) the externality of causation; (ii) the passivity of matter, and the immediacy of effects; (iii) the atomicity of fundamental entities (whether corpuscles, events or sense-data); (iv) the absence of internal structure and complexity; (v) the absence of pre-formation, and of material continuity; (vi) the subjectivity of transformation and of apparent variety in nature (p.83).
The reduction of knowledge to atomistic events based on sense-experience and empirical regularities is based on Hume’s theory of causality. Whilst classical empiricism is no longer considered a sufficient condition, it is still widely accepted as the starting point for scientific enquiry. "Modern" theories of verification or Popper’s falsification still base themselves on the observation of a sequence of events.
In contrast to the flat world of the empiricists, critical realism presents a depth realism. The world consists of mechanisms not events. The point is not that event A is followed by event B etc. in a regular pattern, but that underlying A and B is a generative mechanism. There is a distinction (not recognised by empiricism) between the real structures and mechanisms of the world and the patterns and events that they generate. These mechanisms combine in various ways in an open context so that it is not possible to reduce science to instance conformation/falsification as if there were only one mechanism in operation (as positivists or Popperians would have it).
Realist science must not only attempt to isolate a causal process, but also provide a plausible explanation for the working of an underlying mechanism that generates the events. When a stratum of reality has been described, the next move is to postulate further underlying mechanisms which account for that layer. The stratification of our (transitive) knowledge of reality reflects a real stratification in the (intransitive) world itself. In the development of chemistry, for example, Bhaskar (p.169) gives the following model of the layers:
As Bhaskar writes, "acknowledgement of the real stratification of the world allows us to reconcile scientific discovery (of new strata) with scientific change (of knowledge of strata)" (p.170). Scientific change must be assessed, not just on the basis of theory’s relation to its object, but also according to the social production of knowledge. It is therefore importance to emphasise the transitive nature of knowledge. "Recognition of the transitive dimension implies that scientific beliefs can no longer be distinguished by their content. For experiences and the facts they generate must now be viewed as socially produced and what is socially produced is socially changeable" (p.189).
Science is an ongoing practice which draws on the raw material of previous scientific knowledge. Knowledge is produced out of knowledge. Moreover, science, as a social activity, cannot be separated from wider social conditions – like the existence of the profit motive, or the demands of military research, or the effects of "Stalinist science".
The social production of knowledge is just one of the arguments of critical realist philosophy which is compatible with Marxism. Quite clearly, many of Bhaskar’s arguments have radical, material consequences. And Bhaskar’s analysis of natural science provides the foundation for an analysis of social science. This Bhaskar embarks upon in his next book, The Possibility of Naturalism.
Critical realism finally strays off the rails when it becomes overambitious. Bhaskar’s understanding of philosophy as an underlabourer gradually gives way to his attempts to make substantial social claims. Critical realism develops from being an underlabourer for Marxist social science into an attempt to replace Marxism as an explanatory theory.
However, Bhaskar’s early works are of great importance to Marxism. In particular they help reassert the primacy of being over thought and of structure over event. Of course, in the social world our ideas and our actions are of great importance. But they must be seen in their structural context. Social practices (including science) reproduce and transform a given situation. Society is both the necessary condition and reproduced outcome of human practice.
The social world, like the natural world, can be said to be structured in a certain way and consists of relatively enduring mechanisms. However, there are important qualifications. Social structures are obviously less enduring than natural ones, and can be transformed through human action. However, a critical realist would hold that this transformation still occurs within a structural context which provides possibilities and limitations. We never create from scratch; we transform existing material conditions.
The social world is complexly structured and stratified. Again, causal laws operate as tendencies which may or may not be realised according to the specific conditions and combination of processes. And unlike natural science we do not have the possibility of creating artificial closure to carry out experimental research.
However, we can see how the method of genuine Marxism operates by attempting to isolate and analyse certain mechanisms, structures and processes in abstraction before building up a picture of their operation in conjunction. Thus Marx analyses specific aspects of the capitalist process – for example, production and circulation. He isolates different circuits of capital and the process of metamorphosis.
One of the greatest misunderstandings of Marx is his treatment of value. However, the development of the labour theory of value – that qualitatively the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of abstract labour contained in it – is not invalidated by his theory of the prices of production. Rather, the labour theory of value is the key explanation. However, in the complex process of competition and exchange, of profit levels and the existence of different departments of goods, commodities exchange at prices of production rather than strictly at their values. The labour theory of value is still the key explanatory theory, but in the concrete case of competing processes and mechanisms, the price of production is a necessary measure. We can say that value and price (and indeed price of production and market price) refer to different levels of analytical stratification.
Such complexities are unavoidable in Marxist theory because of the number of complex mechanisms at work in the social world. Other examples of competing structures and mechanisms are revealed in the analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall or the various theories of capitalist crisis.
Indeed, the isolation of a particular social relation leads to a subsequent revelation of its dialectical complexity in the continuous process of social reproduction. Marx begins his analysis (in Capital Volume 1) with an analysis of the commodity. He ends up (in Volume 4) by stating: "the prerequisite, the starting-point, of the formation of capital and of capitalist production is the development of the product into a commodity, commodity circulation and consequently money circulation.... On the other hand, the product, the result of capitalist production, is the commodity. What appears as its element is later revealed to be its own product" (Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p.112).
The development of explanatory social theory is necessarily complex, dialectical and revolutionary. We know this theory as Marxism. The best works of critical realism are worthy accomplices. They deserve a place on the same bookshelf.
Phil Sharpe, John Maclean’s Principled Perspective of World Revolution, TUG, 1997. "Pamphlet", 26pp, £1.50.
Reviewed by Bob Pitt
DESPITE ITS minuscule size, the eccentric Trotskyist Unity Group (TUG) has never been short of pretensions. I’m told that when the two original English members of the group recruited a third from Scotland, they billed their next meeting as "an international conference"! The claim that this publication is a "TUG Educational Pamphlet" is in line with this inclination to exaggeration. Since when have a dozen A4 pages without a cover and stapled through one corner qualified as a pamphlet?
Phil Sharpe’s effort is however worth a short review as it aims to provide a detailed analysis of the political thought of the Scottish Marxist John Maclean, and in particular of Maclean’s distinctive position on the Scottish national question – an issue which is at the centre of the discussions taking place within the left in Scotland today. Unfortunately this publication serves mainly as an illustration of how not to study Maclean’s politics.
One problem lies with Sharpe’s almost exclusive concentration on the one-volume collection of Maclean’s writings, In the Rapids of Revolution. Even the editor of that book, Maclean’s daughter Nan Milton, felt obliged to point out that no great claims could be made for the articles reprinted there, many of which were written hastily on the train as Maclean was travelling from meeting to meeting. Yet Sharpe treats them as if they were profound contributions to Marxist theory, placing a weight of interpretation on the texts far in excess of what they will bear. Maclean’s words become a peg on which to hang the author’s own ideas.
Another problem is that Sharpe seeks to present a defence of Maclean’s political positions without making the slightest attempt to relate them to the political situation of the period. So we are offered an exposition of Maclean’s views on the Scottish national question which never bothers to examine what was actually happening in Scotland. Political ideas are thus divorced from the political reality they sought to address.
Did the slogan of a Scottish Workers’ Republic, which Maclean put forward in the final years of his life, have any connection with contemporary developments in the Scottish workers’ movement? Was Maclean’s proposal for a seizure of power in Scotland in advance of the rest of Britain a realistic one? Did Scotland indeed stand in a colonial relationship to England, as Maclean asserted? Was there any validity in the parallel he drew between his campaign for Scottish independence and the Irish liberation struggle?
None of these questions is even posed by Sharpe, never mind answered. But what can you expect from a sectarian grouplet which spends its time contemplating its theoretical navel and abstaining from any practical work in the labour movement?
Jim Higgins, More Years for the Locust: The Origins of the SWP, IS Group, 1997. Paperback, 177pp, £5.99
Reviewed by Jim Dye
THIS LITTLE book by ex-International Socialists (IS) member Jim Higgins is a useful addition to the history of the second generation of British Trotskyism after the Second World War. Starting with the arrival of future SWP guru Tony Cliff from Palestine (including some amusing gems about his early life), it focuses on the role of Cliff until the formation, in 1977, of the Socialist Workers Party.
It is a book that is part history, part autobiography, part memoir and part an attempt to settle some very bitter old scores with a number of former comrades, not least Cliff himself. It is this latter aspect of Higgins’ writing that is the most appealing, as he mixes invective with an extremely funny sarcastic treatment of the self-styled "British Lenin". Also continuing the humorous line are some wonderful cartoons by Phil Evans that pepper the book.
This is certainly not a definitive history of the IS, nor does it claim to be, but it is a interesting account of the growth of what is now the largest grouping of the British left. This in itself should make it worthy of study, and indeed Higgins provides us with a number of interesting documents of the period contained as appendices.
It is easy to see the attraction of the early IS organisation, and of the Socialist Review Group that preceded it. Compared with the thuggish rants of Gerry Healy’s WRP, or the woodenness of Ted Grant’s Militant group, Cliff led an organisation with an openness to new ideas and a relatively healthy internal life. The tragedy of the IS was not only that many of the ideas were fatally flawed, but that Cliff’s new found enthusiasm for democratic centralism after 1968 followed the well worn path of large doses of authoritarian centralism with very little democracy. Higgins outlines this process vividly, and in doing so illuminates some of the more unsavoury characteristics of many former and current leaders of the group. He also makes some valid attacks upon the weaknesses of "orthodox" Trotskyism, which is characterised for the most part by religious sects mindlessly quoting Trotsky, or their own guru’s version of Trotsky, and whose view of the world remains in a twisted time-warp that is stuck in 1940. So whilst I personally find Cliff’s theory of State Capitalism in the USSR to be completely unconvincing in terms of basic Marxist economics, I can agree with Higgins in that one of its great strengths was to focus upon the working class and their existence in the Stalinist monolith at a time when many Trotskyists had become lost in the minutiae of debate over property forms.
But comments on IS theory only take up a small part of this book. Rather more space is devoted to the various faction fights and the personalities that led them. In particular Higgins goes into detail about events he was closely involved in such as the Rank and File industrial organisations that Cliff unceremoniously dumped in one of his most damaging "turns", and the activities of the doomed IS Opposition faction of which Higgins, as National Secretary of the IS, was a leading member. However, whilst his account of this period contains much that is interesting and, in the case of the problems of organising in the unions, is still relevant, Higgins leaves many important issues out of his account. In the case of fraction organisations such as Women’s Voice and Flame this is somewhat strange given the continuing relevance of women’s liberation and black self-organisation within a revolutionary socialist perspective. Surely there is much to learn from the successes and failures of both organisations, and of the way they were also dumped by Cliff?
And what of Higgins’ own ideas? Unlike many of the former Cliff loyalists he describes who have since become class traitors (perhaps most notably in the shape of Roger Rosewell, latterly an advisor to Lady Porter, the well-known Westminster Council democrat and friend of the poor), Higgins remains a convinced socialist who is largely loyal to the old ideas of the IS, minus Cliff’s organisational talents. His experience of democratic centralism Cliff-style has led him to reject it out of hand as an unnecessary and outdated Bolshevik organisational form irrelevant to the society we live in today. In the sense of not slavishly following the Word according to Lenin as contained in What Is To Be Done? then Higgins is right, but there is more at stake here than that. Exactly what organisational forms do we need? What is the role of the revolutionary party, if indeed it has one? On these questions Higgins is rather more vague. His nods in the direction of Rosa Luxemburg are to be expected, but a wider discussion of how we can organise is missing here. After all, if Cliff’s once-liberal regime of the pre-1968 IS was so easily ended, and the experience of Healy and Grant is of similar or worse failings, then is this process inevitable?
I do not believe that it is; democratic centralism is a necessary method of organisation but only if it contains within it a genuine democratic heart. Where Higgins is correct is in locating social change in the future actions of working class people themselves, rather than a cardboard substitute in the style of the SWP. Workers deserve more than that; let us hope that enough SWP members realise this and fight to build a genuine revolutionary Marxist organisation rather than a sect, an organisation that can act as a lever in the class struggle and make the difference between victory and defeat. Hopefully this book will help to provoke at least some SWP members to begin to think for themselves and move in the right direction.