This quarter’s selection

Issue: 130

The accidents of publishing schedules mean that two issues of both New Left Review and Historical Materialism have appeared since International Socialism 129 came out. They also mean that Historical Materialism 18.3 posthumously publishes an article by Chris Harman. Chris was contributing to a symposium on Lenin Rediscovered, Lars Lih’s mammoth study of Lenin’s What is to be Done? While welcoming Lih’s book, Chris takes issue with his argument that Lenin, far from beginning to break with the orthodox Marxism of the Second International in this text, remained a loyal follower of the political and intellectual tradition developed by Karl Kautsky, chief theoretician of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Chris argues that, even though Lenin undoubtedly “believed he was a conventional follower of Kautsky”, his practice as leader of the Bolsheviks increasingly diverged from that of the SPD. Paul Le Blanc takes a broadly similar approach in his contribution to the symposium. In his lengthy reply Lih rejects this fundamental objection, and also takes issue with the interpretations of Lenin provided by two other writers in the International Socialism tradition, Tony Cliff and John Molyneux.

One of Cliff’s many acts of iconoclasm was to criticise Lenin’s theory of the labour aristocracy. Charles Post in the lead article of Historical Materialism 18.4 offers a systematic critique of different versions of this theory, which seeks to explain the hold of reformism on workers in the North by their participating in the exploitation of the Global South. Post shows that this doesn’t hold up economically—foreign direct investment is only a small fraction of total world investment, and most of it goes to the North. The theory also doesn’t fit the history of the Western workers’ movement, since often some of the best-paid sectors have shown the most militancy. The same issue contains two reviews of Andrew Kliman’s interpretation of Marx’s theory of value. Fred Moseley’s displays a clarity and balance all too rare in such discussions.

There’s quite a lot of meat in New Left Review 66—an interesting (though depressing) account by Richard Walker of how neoliberalism has changed California for the worse, Hung Ho-fung on Hong Kong, and Asef Bayat on Tehran. The latest issue leads with an article on Ireland by Daniel Finn whose focus on Republicanism seems a little misjudged, despite Sinn Féin’s electoral successes in the South. Benno Teschke’s review article of a new biography of the German legal and political philosopher Carl Schmitt offers a valuable critique of “an authoritarian and part-time fascist thinker” who is often presented these days, as Teschke points out, as “a radical—even critical—voice against a world-historical conjuncture characterised by liberal imperalism”.

Finally, a special edition of Socialism and Democracy from November 2010 contains a collection of articles which survey Marxist writings from various parts of the world. Alongside Paul Blackledge’s survey of the past decade of Marxism in the Anglophone world are articles which discuss works that have not been translated into English.