Soma Marik, Indian Marxist and feminist activist has recently written Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy, dealing with the theory and practice of workers democracy from the Manifesto of the Communist Party to 1921 and published by http://www.aakarbooks.com/ where ordering information can be found.
“The collapse of the Soviet Union stressed the need for a thorough re-examination of the whole body of “revolutionary Marxist” theory on the issues of revolution, democracy and the transition toward a socialist society. Not that this collapse and the restoration of capitalism had not been foreseen by some Marxists. They had – Leon Trotsky himself being the most prominent among the forecasters. But the ignominious end of the Soviet Union less than 75 years after the 1917 Russian Revolution led neverthless to a strong questioning of the validity of the programmatic views that sustained the Russian experience. This questioning is undoubtedly legitimate in view of the historical balance-sheet and must therefore be addressed.
Soma Marik’s well-researched work is a most welcome and useful contribution to this huge and crucial theoretical undertaking. While defending the essentials of Classical Marxism as well as those ofthe Bolshevik legacy up to the turning point on 1921, while confronting all the time the programmatic pronouncements with the unfolding of the “really existing” revolutionary experience, the author sympathises with Rosa Luxemburg’s famous critique of her Russian fellow revolutionaries, a critique that has been vindicated by History.”
-Gilbert Achcar, editor of The Legacy of Ernest Mandel, author of The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder and Eastern Cauldron.
By Professor David McLellan
(Visiting Professor of Political Theory, Goldsmiths’ College, University of London)
It is with great pleasure that I introduce to the reader this very scholarly – but also profoundly politically relevant – book.
For too long, particularly in the West but not exclusively there, the revolutionary core of Marx’s thought has been obscured by interpretations that professed to investigate superstructural elements at the expense of political engagement.
From the beginning of the twentieth century the ongoing debate centred on the relationship of the Party to the proletariat and the development of a revolutionary consciousness among the working class. Even those who seemed to believe in a semi-automatic breakdown of capitalism – Kautsky or Luxemburg in their different ways – were enthusiastic about party organisation (Kautsky) or such tactics as the mass strike (Luxemburg). But with the growing reformism of large sections of the working class in the West, including the Trade Union leadership, and the lack of the clear polarisation of society, Lenin’s idea of a “vanguard” party which would instil revolutionary ideas into the working class became attractive. With the success of 1917, the Leninist model in which the Party incarnated the consciousness of the working class (as theorised by Lukacs) became dominant. In the Soviet Union under Stalin, this conception was used to implement a violent revolution from above. In China the Party, claiming to embody the consciousness of a largely non-existing proletariat, tended to become equally divorced from the people, in spite of such efforts as the Cultural Revolution. Those in the West, like Korsch and the Council Communists, who retained their commitment to workers’ self-emancipation, were disillusioned. The Frankfurt School and the structuralists both reflected this lack of faith in the revolutionary potential of the working class. The only thinker to unite predominant interest in the superstructure with active commitment to politics was Gramsci.
It is in this context that the return to the revolutionary and democratic core of Marxism in the present work is welcome. In the careful dissection of the ways in which Marx and the Bolsheviks united theory and practice, Dr Marik gives us an important contribution to our understanding of the relation of Marx and the Bolsheviks to democracy. There is an excellent discussion of Marx’s views on the Paris Commune. The contributions of Engels, Bebel and Zetkin are well explicated. And Dr Marik clearly shows the effect of the fateful ban on factions within the Party in 1921 – no control over the leadership and growing bureaucratization. It is no surprise, therefore, that the thinker for whom Dr Marik has the most admiration is Luxemburg. It should be noted also that the analysis is much enriched by the careful attention to the question of gender displayed in the various political/historical contexts discussed.
This is a major work of scholarship. The footnotes alone embody an excellent bibliographical guide to the vast literature involved. This book is unsurpassed as a guide to the theoretical and practical achievements of Marx and the Bolsheviks – and to their shortcomings. I recommend it to all potential readers unreservedly.