Pick of the quarter

Issue: 174

Joseph Choonara and Richard Donnelly

The obituary pages of the left press are today increasingly reminding us of the vitality and intellectual vibrancy of the Marxism of the generation of 1968. In March, we lost Alain Krivine, a leading figure in the Trotskyist Fourth International and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France. The NPA can trace its roots back to the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist Youth), which Krivine helped to found in 1966, and which intervened in and helped to shape the great revolts in France two years later. Socialist Worker has carried an obituary for Krivine (https://socialistworker.co.uk/alex-callinicos/alain-krivine-a-resolute-revolutionary) and a number of translations of his articles can be found on the Marxist Internet Archive (www.marxists.org/archive/krivine).

Also in March, Aijaz Ahmad, almost an exact contemporary of Krivine, died. Ahmad was among the best-known intellectuals associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Authors in International Socialism have had their differences with Ahmad, notably over his analysis of the Arab Spring (see http://isj.org.uk/spectres-of-counter-revolution). Nonetheless, he was an important figure in defending Karl Marx’s writings on India from the charge of Eurocentrism in books such as In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literature. Ahmad contributed to a number of publications over the years, including Monthly Review and Socialist Register, where some of his articles can be read.

Lenin is today rarely taken seriously within academic discussions, but the journal Critical Sociology contains an interesting piece on his view of the Marxist theory of alienation, authored by Joe Pateman (https://doi.org/10.1177/08969205221080552). It has often been claimed that Lenin overlooked the concept of alienation, through which human creative powers become subject to the control of alien force under capitalism, not least because Marx’s key work on the subject, his 1844 Manuscripts, was only published after Lenin’s death. The issue is important, because some of those who defend a “humanist” interpretation of Marxism, which emphasises both alienation and the emancipatory potential in humans to overcome it through revolutionary change, see Lenin’s ignorance of this theory as underpinning the oppressive nature of the Soviet Union.

Pateman shows that Lenin was, in fact, familiar with writings by Marx from the period around 1844 that discuss the concept of alienation. Not only that, but ideas about alienation also appear frequently in own work, including in State and Revolution, which outlines how a socialist society could be constructed following a revolution. As Pateman argues, the failure of revolution to spread beyond Russia forced Lenin and the Bolsheviks to make a number of compromises and retreats from the vision espoused by those who led the 1917 Revolution. However, these were, for Lenin, enforced departures from a vision close to that of humanist Marxism.

When the Budapest City Council voted to remove a statue of the Jewish philosopher and revolutionary Georg Lukács from a public park in 2017, it was a clear drive to bury the legacy of Hungary’s greatest Marxist thinker. The vote took place on the initiative of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party and was supported by the ruling far-right Fidesz party. In 2018, state cultural authorities went a step further and closed the Lukács archives, breaking up and dispersing their contents. Happily, it seems these efforts have backfired. International outrage at the attempt to destroy the memory of Lukács has actually fuelled a modest but significant re-engagement with his ideas, producing a spate of new books and conferences about his work as well as a recent documentary, Georg. The latest manifestation of this renewed interest is the republication of his The Destruction of Reason, first printed in 1954, by Verso—with a new introduction from the historian and Holocaust scholar Enzo Traverso.

The aim of The Destruction of Reason is to provide a history of reactionary currents in German philosophy and expose how they prepared Germany’s intelligentsia to embrace Nazism. However, the book has been widely maligned ever since it was published, with Theodor Adorno labelling it “the destruction of Lukács’s reason”. A recent conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsmoihSKvpg), hosted by the Study Groups on Psychoanalysis and Politics, focused on whether the book is, as many claim, fatally flawed by Lukács’s relationship to Stalinism. Of greatest interest are the conference papers about Lukács’s critique of the right-wing philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Although Nietzsche and Heidegger served as touchstones for post-structuralist theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, today they are re-emerging as central to the intellectual culture of the international far right. Whatever one thinks about The Destruction of Reason, it provides a jumping off point for thinking about the relationship between philosophy, fascism and right-wing ideology.