History Of Communism

Resurrection of Marx

Sankar Ray

If all goes well as per schedule, scholars across the world— especially the Marx-researchers who refuse to attune themselves to 'partyocracy'—shall have a unique Christmas gift—Oxford Handbook in the History of Communism (OHC). Enriched with 35 papers, under six chapters and edited by Steve Smith, professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence, presently senior research fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford.

Smith in his preface Towards a Global History of Communism said ingenuously "Communism was the twentieth century's most idealistic political experiment, yet major Communist regimes evolved into some of that century's most bloody tyrannies. At the peak of its influence in the 1970s, states purporting to espouse Communist principles governed about a third of the world's landmass. Throughout the colonial, post-colonial and underdeveloped worlds millions viewed such states with sympathy for having apparently broken with the injustices and inequalities of capitalism and big-power politics." But he thinks "the Communist experiment was finished" in contrast to a doyen among political theorists of India, Dr Randhir Singh that the collapse of the once-mighty Soviet Union didn't mean the defeat of Marxism but fall of 'official Marxism'. Small wonder, Bloomberg News carried an opinion piece by George Magnus, captioned, Give Karl Maix a Chance to Save the World Economy : "The spirit of Marx, who is buried in a cemetery close to where I live in north London, has risen from the grave amid the financial crisis and subsequent economic slump. The wily philosopher's analysis of capitalism had a lot of flaws, but today's global economy bears some uncanny resemblances to the conditions he foresaw".

The six chapters are (a) Ideology, (b) Global Moments, (c) Global Communism, (d) Communist Polities and Economies, (e) Communism and Social Relations and (f) Communism and Culture. Smith co-authored two papers in the chapter, Global Communism : Communism in China with Yang Kuisong (Smith too knows Chinese well) and The Comintern with Alexander Vatlin.

Those who are deeply interested in Marx outside 'partyocracy' have reasons to pull their collars up as the most theoretically significant paper is written by an outstanding Marx scholar of the Indian subcontinent Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay : Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on Communism. Belonging to this subcontinent and on the teaching staff of the Department of Political Economy at the Quebec University , Chatopadhyay is a member of the workshop (werkstatt) of the ongoing project of 15 volume 'Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism' (Historisch Kritisches Worterbuch Des Marxismus), under the sponsorship of Insitut Fur Kritische Theorie, INKRIT, Berlin. His advantage of having been at home with French, Russian, German, and Italian languages helped him study the texts. After reading the first draft, Smith wrote candidly "Your erudition—across the range of Marx's writing and in various languages—is staggering and I learned a great deal that I didn't know before".

Among others who contributed to the invaluable treatise in the theoretical section (ideology—Marx and Engels in German Ideology warned the proletariat against ideologies and ideologues, arguing that 'in all ideology, men and their circumstances appear upside down as camera) are Lars T Lih (Lenin and Bolshevism), Kevin McDermott (Stalin and Stalinism) and Timothy Cheek (Mao and Maoism).

Chatopadhyay takes up cudgels for the validity of Marx and his works, "The proletariat is the 'bad side' of the present society, and 'history moves by the bad side', as Marx reminded Proudhon in 1847". Marx and Engels, he reminds, enunciated that the 'consciousness of the necessity of a profound revolution, the communist revolution, arises from this class itself. Communism indeed is "the beginning, and not the end of human history".

But the brass of Indian communist parties, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, various Maoist groups of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and other so-called Marxist parties such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India are lukewarm to the OHC. The reasons are not difficult to conjecture. Chatto-padhyay, taking cue from the topmost Marx scholars of the 20th Century like Maximillien Rubel (next only to David Borisovich Riazanov, the architect in discovering the shelved texts like Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology, Holy Family, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and Grundrisse, Anton Pannenkoe, formulator of Council Communism and Charles Bettelheim (author of four volume—Class Struggles in the USSR), demolished the basis of 20th Century socialism through his seminal works such as The Marxian Concept of Capital and The Soviet Experience and papers like Myth of Twentieth Century Socialism and Two Approaches to Socialist Revolution : Marx versus Lenin-Trotsky Russia 1917—available on the internet. Agonising as it may seem to the present generations that gravitated to Marx through Lenin's works, Lenin's distortions of Marx did considerable damage to the possibilities of proletarian revolution. For instance, Marx never stated that socialism is the lower stage of communism, but conceived Socialism, Communism, Republic of Labour, Cooperative Society, Society of Free and Associated Producers as interchangeable and synonymous. Lenin's formulations—namely, 'socialist state' or 'commune state' are brazen deviations from the fundamentals of Marx and Engels. "The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery", Marx categorically stated in the Critical Notes on the Article "The King of Prussia and Social Reform". State and freedom are mutually exclusive, Lenin himself stated in his State and Revolution. Not only Chattopadhyay, but Cyril Smith, Marcello Musto and other scholars who studied Marx and Engels in original (some are in French and Russian too) stated unhesitatingly that all the so-called socialist states were actually capitalist states. Even Russia, Lenin in his Better Fewer, But Better, one of his last works, lamented that Bolsheviks at the helm didn't represent the proletarians and were bureaucrats.

But the magnetism of OHC (pre-publication price is £95.00, the likely price in Indian rupee is a little more than Rs 10,000) for the scholars—not alone Marx-scholars insulated from the Leninist tradition—is irresistible. The first task before them and posterity is to present Marx in the Marxian way.

Vol. 46, No. 23, Dec 15 -21, 2013

Your Comment if any