Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monthly Review Review

The Musings of the Professors
Sometimes you can't take politics too seriously.  The latest edition of Monthly Review (Vol. 69, #3) is a somewhat labored overview of the Russian Revolution and the conditions that have arisen since then, including the fall of that very revolution.  Various left thinkers weigh in.  Deep thoughts are had, and not so deep thoughts.  Familiar ideas repeat themselves.  Good ideas break through.  And things stand the same.

For the most part it does not dwell on the great popular social and economic gains of the Russian Revolution or its progressive role in world politics regarding national liberation struggles, anti-fascism or its role in taking some economies away from the market or from capital. Even its role in providing a 'global class war' presence that affected internal politics in capitalist countries is not covered.  It is generally a critical history in this volume, so I'll stay on that path.

Stalwart Marxist publication
The roots of Monthly Review from what I understand are among the supporters of the Soviet CP and then Maoism and the Chinese CP.  Both of these entities have fallen on hard times as 'revolutionary beacons' or fallen on no times at all.  Tiptoeing around this is a difficult job.  Professor John Bellamy Foster introduces the edition as editor and clearly makes the point that the Soviet nomenklatura 'failed to carry forth the socialist revolution' and became a 'bureaucratic ruling class.'  I think Foster is a supporter of Nicolai Bukharin at this time, who was both a close ally and then victim of the nomenklatura. 

But Foster also says upfront -" 'Socialism in one country' the basic defensive posture of the USSR though out its history, was thus to a large extent a geopolitical reality imposed on it from outside."  Bukharin came up with the theory of 'socialism in one country.'  What kind of socialism was this?   In spite of its later giddy proclamation by that very same nomenklatura - it was not a socialism recognized by Marx.  What socialism Foster is talking about then?  The one with a bureaucratic ruling class?  This robs the word of any real meaning.

According to Foster, no responsibility arises from the internal politics of the nomenklatura, the bureaucratic strata - it was imposed from the outside.   They were passive victims.  Yet it was advocated by internal forces for their own ends. The adoption of this idea actually was one of the main props which strengthened and solidified the nomenklatura, which moved the whole of the USSR to the right internally; which created the gulag state, which allowed the USSR to follow an international popular front policy or an ultra-left policy (as in Germany) internationally.  These policies prevented working-class revolutions. It is self-imposed exile.  This changed little after WWII.

The later deformed revolutions that did occur after WWII were imposed mostly by tanks, or were products of national liberation struggles in the context of that war, not just frontal assaults on capitalism.  Yugoslavia, which broke with the Soviet CP, was one of the only struggles that actually had independence.  Even in Cuba, the CP did not support the armed revolution at first.  Ultimately it was the nomenklatura, as every detailed study has shown, that became the core of the new capitalist class.  It assisted the reestablishment of capitalism, or the large growth of the capitalist sectors, for instance in China and Vietnam.

Conditions have changed however, as the working class is now the largest in history, and the prospects for world revolution - the revolution Lenin worked for - are greater than ever, as even Samir Amin notes.

Yet a spectre still haunts the intellectuals and professors at Monthly Review.   An Indian professor, Prabhat Patnaik, attacks the 'stages' theory, opposes 'forced collectivization' and endorses the view that the working class would participate in an 'uninterrupted revolutionary process.'  These are advanced views that are invisible as to their history.  'Who' might have developed them, if not Lenin...?

A Hungarian professor from Budapest, Tamas Krausz, is a little more clear.  Krausz includes a fellow named Leon Trotsky and actually never says anything hostile about him.  He describes what came after October/November in the 1920s as a 'bureaucratic counterrevolution' that led to a failed experiment in 'state socialism.' 

Bernard, D'Mello, the editor of "Economic and Political Weekly," points out the great internal defeats of the USSR:  the suppression of Kronstadt; the banning of factions; the defeat of the Left Opposition; forced collectivization and the purges and show trials of the late 1930s.  But he lauds Stalin as the leader who 'led the Soviet Union to victory over fascist barbarism.'  This even though Stalin's block with Hitler and refusal to listen to warnings of a German invasion or prepare for it brought German armies to the gates of Leningrad and Moscow!  He also comments that "sadly, Mao did not approve" the establishment of the Shanghai Commune during the Cultural Revolution.  In this "The Maoist leadership had failed to lay the basis for a genuine workers state."   D'Mello is a supporter of the Indian Maoist Naxalite rebellion, but feels it has no chance of overthrowing Indian capitalism.  He, oddly, endorses a party of "middle-class revolutionaries in the vanguard party of the 1917 type."  Muse on that.

Of most humor is Dublin professor Helena Sheehan's travels among the intellectuals of the central European workers states - Yugoslavia, Hungary, the GDR, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia - as these workers states began to unravel in the late 1980s.  You might be surprised at the ideas that 'intellectuals' nourished at the breast of bureaucratic 'socialism' come up with. For instance, they cannot decide whether a 'one party state' or a bourgeois 'multi-party state' is the correct way to go.  They obviously are unaware of another position - legality for only working-class or socialist parties.  This was the position of the 4th International. 

Diana Johnstone heroically manages to drag Monthly Review backwards.  Johnstone wrote a valuable book on the war to dismantle Yugoslavia and a somewhat easy takedown of the war queen, Hillary Clinton.  Here she dutifully includes a whole section on the evilness of Trotskyism.  Granted some Trotskyists would be disowned by Trotsky, just as some 'Marxists' and 'Leninists' would be disowned too.  But that is not the context.  Essentially she labels Trotskyism 'permanent counterrevolution.'  Which is not quite calling it the agent of 'Hitler and the Mikado' as Stalin did, but close.  Unfortunately, bureaucratic socialism is a corpse that has died, at least politically.  Johnstone's reactionary nostalgia does not permit going beyond it.

Then we have an odd celebration of Bertrand Russell by two professors from France and Quebec, John Bricmont and Normand Baillargeon.  They attack Lenin and Trotsky from the mild socialist left, though Russell at one point defended Trotsky against Stalin.    

Lastly Samir Amin weighs in, attacking Lenin for not being pro-peasant enough, even though the Bolsheviks adopted the SR platform of 'land to the peasantry' in toto.  And attacking Trotsky for not 'accepting the challenge' of building 'socialism in one country,' thus ignoring Trotsky's lifelong defense of the USSR, and his roles in creating the Soviet workers state as the second leader of the Bolshevik Party, leader of the 1917 St. Petersburg Soviet and it's military section, and leader of the Red Army that defeated the Whites. 

Again, as history might say, how did that theory work out?  For instance, the analysis that the 'bureaucracy' basically deteriorated the revolutions was first developed by the Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky and the 4th International.  Now it is an unattributed common understanding, even among these writers.  Why the timidity? 

Monthly Review is good on economics and on ecology, but this review of the Russian revolution and its aftermath seems to be missing some cylinders.

Prior reviews of Monthly Review, Foster or Amin, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books, which has many Left magazines and newspapers.
Red Frog
July 29, 2017

No comments: