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From: Books and Bookmen, July 1978, Vol. 23, No. 10, page 42. Thanks to Joseph Auciello

According to the newspapers and the television programmes the ‘spirit of 1968’ is dead.  The ‘idealistic hopes’ aroused in that year throughout the world lie shattered on the rock of hard political realities.  So say the television programmes and the quality newspapers. But in reality the essence of 1968 has not been put down, only the chimera.  And if further evidence was needed that the explosion of 1968 still marks contemporary intellectual debates, one has only to draw attention to the continuing boom in Marxist publishing.

Robin Blackburn’s reader (1) has the advantage that it brings together in one volume a wide-ranging set of essays, whose purpose is to demonstrate the existence of an anti-Stalinist political tradition.  Gramsci, Isaac Deutscher, Ernest Mandel, Lucio Colletti mingle with Jiri Pelikan, Michael Lowy, Norman Geras, Tom Nairn and Robin Blackburn himself.  The result is a comprehensive guide to Marxist politics.  Blackburn’s thematic message is enshrined in the formula: the primacy of politics.  He stresses the necessity of Marxist political strategy as a vital prerequisite of socialist advance.  There is no such thing as the inevitable transition to socialism.  It has to be fought for by the only social class capable of bringing it about in the conditions of late capitalism: the working class.

What Blackburn and his carefully selected contributors take for granted is now coming under increasing attack from the theoreticians of ‘Eurocommunism’ in the West.  What is this Eurocommunism?  It is the result of Chile and Czechoslovakia.  It is the petrified response of the Italian and Spanish Communist parties to the economic crisis of the capitalist system.  It is the reflection of a partial break with Moscow and Stalinism.  The question which arises is whether this break is going to lead to a strategic accomodation with Western European capitalism (in which case why not a historic fusion with the social-democratic parties) or whether a move towards the latter is going to lead to the emergence of left currents within these parties.  Such currents will contain within them the germs of a new organisation.

Fernando Claudin is a veteran Spanish communist, whose previous book was reviewed extensively in these pages (b & b, March 76).  His new work (2) is more in the nature of an immediatist political commentary.  It is critical of the Eurocommunist parties, but it does not subject them to the lash of the Marxist whip.  That task is carried out in a devastating polemic by Ernest Mandel (3) in his writings on Eurocommunism.  Mandel’s argument can be summarised as follows: the specificity of Eurocommunism lies in the fact that a systematic theoretical codification has occurred, whereby these parties, to different degrees are systematically reviewing and rejecting the basic writings of Marx and Lenin.  This goes hand in hand with public criticism of the most repressive features of the USSR and Eastern Europe.  The Carillo leadership in Spain has travelled the furthest away from the Soviet Union.  Hence Moscow’s violent polemics against Eurocommunism.  Mandel points out that despite the growing divisions the Eurocommunist leaders cannot break all links with Moscow for material and political reasons.  To do so would leave them no other choice but to duplicate the work of social democracy.  There would be a clash of interests between the two apparatuses.

While Mandel is, in general, correct, there is a certain abstraction in some of his essays.  An important question is posed by tensions within Eurocommunism for the far left groupings.  It is well-known that the European workers’ movement clings tenaciously to its traditional organisations.  It required the Russian revolution and two world wars for French and Italian communism to displace social democracy. So if there are significant splits at the base of the Communist parties in France and Spain, the direction in which they move will also depend on the attitude of the far-left groups toward them. Mandel is not simply a theoretician. He is an important leader of the Fourth International. One would therefore have expected at least one essay on the tasks confronted by the FI in relation to these  parties. The omission tends to weaken the overall impact of what is otherwise a splendid volume.  Mandel’s critical appreciation of the East German dissident Marxist (at present resident in Honecker’s prisons) Rudolf Bahro’s new book The Alternative (at present published only in 
German) shows his ability to respond to new ideas.

Mandel’s other book (4) is a baic reader.  It explains Marxist ideas in simple and concise language.  Such a guide has been sorely needed for some time and this volume fulfils the task fairly well.  It is based on a series of educational talks given by Mandel to trade unionists in Belgium in the late Sixties.  As such it needs to be updated for its next edition.  Its publisher is Ink Links, yet another left publishing house, which makes its appearance this year, showing that the explosion of critical thought and debate symbolised by 1968 is far from finished.

1.  Robin Blackburn, ed. Revolution and Class Struggle, (Fontana), 2.  Fernando Claudin, Eurocommunism and Socialism, ((New Left Books), 3.  Ernest Mandel, From Stalinism to Eurocommunism (New Left Books), 4.  Ernest Mandel, From Class Society to Communism (Ink Link Books)


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