The Socialist Register 2014, Registering Class

By Doughty, Howard A. | The Innovation Journal, May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Socialist Register 2014, Registering Class


Doughty, Howard A., The Innovation Journal


Leo Panitch, Greg Albo and Vivek Chibber, eds. The Socialist Register 2014, Registering Class New York, NY: Monthly Review Press, 2014

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

It seems that, despite the disrepute that Marxism has endured since the implosion of the Soviet Union, the old fellow may have gotten a few more things right than is commonly accepted within briefly triumphant neoliberal circles. These circles have pretty much defined the dominant ideological perspective among Western liberal democracies and also in those developing nations, especially on the Pacific Rim, that have displayed remarkable economic growth over the past few decades.

Mainly stuck away in small fissures in the solid rocks of the North American academy and in the geological crannies and nooks of European intellectual formations, Marxist theory and scholarship is fairly safely contained. It barely intrudes into the world of corporate think-tanks, financial media and the policy development stratagems of mainstream political parties. In fact, it seems no longer to be very interesting to agents of the national security state who are apparently more preoccupied with Islamic jihads, Ukrainian separatists and opportunities for covert actions and regime changes elsewhere.

That said, initially in the land where "the Moor" spent his most fruitful years in the British Museum, and now at York University in Canada, one of the most durable intellectual journals devoted to leftist perspectives on events continues to offer refreshing analyses and criticisms of late capitalist political economy. I speak, of course, of The Socialist Register. (Another is The Monthly Review which has been operating since 1949 and which enjoys convivial relations with The Socialist Register, an annual publication printed in North America by the Monthly Review Press and in London, England by Merlin.)

The Socialist Register was begun by the exemplary British historians, John Saville and Ralph Miliband (whose son, Ed, currently leads Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the United Kingdom). This year marks its Fiftieth Anniversary and the event should be marked with celebration by any serious student (or teacher) of contemporary political thought whether or not the annual periodical's expressed views are consistent with their own. You don't have to be a "socialist" to enjoy The Socialist Register, all that's needed is an appreciation of rigorous thinking and intelligent writing on matters of global political importance.

Each year, The Socialist Register addresses a main theme. This year, the theme is social class. And this is where Marx's prescience becomes pertinent. When I said at the outset that Marx got some things right, I was thinking of his view (controversial within certain circles), that social evolution required that human societies, like biological species, must follow a logical (but not a predetermined) evolutionary path. Just as humanity could not have sprung fully formed from the loins of "Lucy" or any other Australopithecine some millions of years ago, socialism and ultimately communism could not be created out of the semi-feudal wreckage of Asian societies. So, just as Homo sapiens needed interim stages of development to become fully modern humans, so also human social development needs to go through stages to fulfill Marx's admittedly vague premonition of what might happen when (as it must, all things do) capitalism falls victim to its own "internal contradictions."

Impatient souls such as V. I. Lenin and Mao Zedong were unwilling to wait for history to take its natural course. They were convinced that they could defy the evolutionists' creed that Natura non facit saltus (Nature does not make leaps), which had been part of scientific thinking at least since Aristotle, made explicit by either Newton or Leibniz (or vice versa) and made an essential part of Darwin's particular theory of evolution. Besotted with the idea of a "vanguard of the proletariat," both the Bolsheviks and the Maoists insisted that they could make a "great leap forward" or maybe two of them and thus catapult pre-capitalist Russia and China into fully-formed communist societies. …

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