Marxism and Democracy

Marxism and Democracy

Marxism and Democracy

Marxism and Democracy

Synopsis

The collapse of the Soviet Union would seem to sound the death knell for Marxism as a blueprint for social change. Why has this doctrine--the repository of so many hopes and dreams--failed in its grand ambition to liberate the human race from poverty and oppression? Through a critical and systematic analysis of what Marx and his interpreters had to say about democracy, Joseph Femia sheds light on the reasons for this failure. His book explores the bewildering variety of Marxist attitudes to democracy, and relates this diversity to Marxism's inconsistent goals: active political participation and all-embracing central planning, human emancipation and collective submission to the dialectical "truths" of history. Dr. Femia explains why Marxism's internal contradictions have always, in practice, been "solved" through the imposition of despotic modes of government. Marxism's tragic flaw, he concludes, is its unwillingness to recognize the distinctiveness and independence of the individual.

Excerpt

This book arose out of a desire to challenge entrenched attitudes. For many people, Marxism is purely and simply the enemy of democracy, as illustrated by communist tyrannies the world over. For others, however, Marxism represents the highest achievement of democratic thought, whose grand ambitions were betrayed by those very same tyrannies, and only a malevolent Cold Warrior would argue otherwise. The aim of the present study is to show why the truth is much more complex than either side would allow.

An earlier version of my final, and most controversial, chapter was discussed at two workshops, convened at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities (in September 1990 and May 1992 respectively). I am grateful to all the participants for their often critical but usually constructive comments. Two of these participants, Richard Bellamy and John Hoffman, should be singled out, as their lengthy discussions with me went well beyond the call of duty. David Miller also read the chapter in question and provided detailed observations which enabled me to strengthen it considerably. I owe him a debt of gratitude. My thanks are also due to the British Academy, which awarded me a Visiting Professorship at the European University Institute in Florence. While there, in the autumn of 1989, I benefited from discussions with numerous people, especially Steven Lukes, who merits special thanks for reading the entire manuscript, and for offering valuable advice and encouragement over a number of years. I hasten to add that none of the friends and colleagues mentioned above would necessarily endorse all my arguments.

In writing this book, I have drawn upon two of my published articles: 'Marxism and Radical Democracy', Inquiry, 28 (1985), 293-319; and 'Ideological Obstacles to the Political Evolution of Communist Systems', Studies in Soviet Thought, 34 . . .

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