Remaking Marxism in the 1990s

By Wald, Alan | Monthly Review, October 1991 | Go to article overview
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Remaking Marxism in the 1990s

Wald, Alan, Monthly Review

Manning Marable's "Remaking American Marxism" (MR, January 1991) is among the most compelling of recent efforts by theorists and activists to reconceptualize an effective socialist strategy for the 1990s. Manning acknowledges that there are profound changes in the world and national situation. Yet he resists the temptation to embrace the fashionable new slogans of retreat, including the most tragic-comic of them all: "Marxism and Leninism are dead! Long live post-Marxism and post-Leninism!"

Manning cogently argues that to "remake" Marxism is not to categorically reject the components that still render it a superior mode of analysis and guide for practice, especially when one lacks a more convincing alternative. Moreover, Manning outlines a general framework for common socialist regroupment which should elicit agreement from many of those still committed to socialist struggle: (1) Capitalism continues to fail in the United States, and is unlikely to relieve the miseries of the crumbling Stalinist states and the Third World; (2) liberalism and reformism remain inadequate to deal with the systemic causes of oppression; (3) revolutionary socialism as a politics and a vision must be reformulated to provide a workable and progressive amelioration of the horrors of urban poverty, a creative response to the roots of the environmental crisis, a strategic alternative to reliance on electoral politics (and specifically the Democratic Party), a growing collaboration among many political currents on the left, and, ultimately, the creation of a "national formation" that openly and militantly campaigns for socialism.

So many aspects of Manning's commentary are helpful and clarifying that I would like to offer mainly praise and endorsement in the spirit of regroupment and unity. However, given limited space for critical commentary, I think it might advance the discussion more to take up a few areas where his conclusion differ from my own.

(1) Manning's survey of the possible consequences of the upheaval in the USSR seems to me to insufficiently acknowledge certain complicating factors. First, in terms of the consequences for the Third World, I think there is abundant evidence to challenge the claim that the USSR is now suddenly abandoning a "socialist orientation," a policy of confrontation with imperialism, support for armed struggle, etc. In fact, while the recent changes certainly have some features of a "new stage," Soviet policy has been ambiguous in every one of these areas at least since the "peaceful coexistence" era, not to mention the Comintern's opposition to national liberation struggles in Allied colonies during the Second World War.

At the moment it certainly seems as if the abandonment of even the minimal military and economic aid formerly given by the USSR and Eastern bloc countries to victims of imperialism constitutes a major setback. Yet we should not entirely forget the political flipside of the present situation: there is hope that the demise of Stalinism has been an obstacle to socialism that may yet propel forward Third World struggles. (The notion that the legacy of Stalinism has been an obstacle to socialism is not foreign to Manning's thinking, since on p. 44 he points out that "the emergence of Soviet-allied states in Eastern Europe . . . actually preempted the possibility of a genuinely socialist society.")

Likewise, Manning's statement that the only probable roads for the USSR are either Gorbachevism (a regulated market bounded by a social-democratized but Communist Party-controlled command economy) or Yeltsenism (a decentralized capitalist economy) certainly reflects the major (depressing) choices of the moment. Still, while a part of me responds to this wise "pessimism of the intellect," I also think that one succumbs to fatalism if one fails to vigorously champion what small signs emerge of the more positive alternative of "bottom-up" socialism in which a market sector may exist but in which the seats of economic power are under workers' control in a democratic multiparty system.

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