Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

International Socialism 118

What can one say? With articles on 1968 (discussing for example Martin Luther King and Tony Cliff*), Foucault, Imperial China, etc etc perhaps all one can say is that people should subscribe to the ISJ if they do not already...

*"History, that old horse, does nothing...If the study of history—even the most recent—were enough by itself to solve political questions, social democracy would have died a long time ago, and so would Stalinism. Alas, this is not how history works. And there is nothing more foreign to socialism than fatalism"
-Tony Cliff, 1968.

"Reformism can never be defeated by programmes. It can only be defeated by deeds… Only struggle discloses to the workers the magnitude of the struggle, widens their horizons, and clarifies their mind."
-Tony Cliff, 1969.



At 11:04 pm, Anonymous lazynative said...

I do buy the issues but the selection of topics makes some less valuable than others and to be honest the tone and some of the analysis does get preachy and heavy-handed after a while so I doubt if I could stomach having a standing subscription. The New Left Review on the other hand despite being a bit wishy-washy and pink is more interesting imo.

At 10:00 am, Blogger Snowball said...

LN, well I currently have a sibscription to the NLR as well, and while there is usually something in each issue worth reading - and sometimes it is very good - too much of the NLR I find unreadable frankly. Given you are much smarter than me, I am sure you can get more out of it, but I think my point still stands. Take the latest issue for example - the article by Badiou is readable but very 'wishy-washy and pink' - he is saying nothing and yet disguises the fact he is saying nothing with his delicate prose style. However, with the ISJ, while sometimes the tone is preachy, at least pretty much everything in it has some (or a lot) of substance to it - it is much better value in that sense. Its range and coverage of contemporary politics is also far superior to that of the NLR - which as Ian Birchall has pointed out, has a tendency to duck awkward issues.

At 2:24 pm, Blogger Editorial Collective said...

The cover of this issue looks great!

Birchall's Cliff article was interesting. Now I'm off to read some more of the articles.

I certainly hope we get our copies shipped here in Canada by next month - our Marxism conference, entitled "The Fire This Time", has a focus on 1968 and the period in general.


At 2:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was me on a different account


At 1:42 pm, Anonymous Lazynative said...


Nice of you to say but I am not smarter than you, just more jaded and probably older! Partly I think it depends on your background, the NLR appeals to those who are disillusioned with traditional organised politics that depends on the working classes and sees this as the way forward to systemic change. It is of course a truism to note that the NLR has abandoned any hope of a revolutionary path out of capitalism as mapped out by orthodox Marxist movements unlike the IS which is an organ very much for believers and practitioners of revolutionary class struggle. If you have become more cynical about revolutionary alternatives and less enthused by the prospect of successful class struggle then the NLR tends to fit your world view better (guess I slot into this frame). For believers it will invariably be to weak-kneed and status quoist.

I do disagree about the coverage though and the subject matter; you can get excellent reports on different countries particularly of their economic policy and political economy that is wide ranging, thoughtful and less overtly one-sided than what you get in the IS. I can remember a great piece that took apart Brazil’s success story a couple of years ago, another one on the real mechanics of URibe’s success in Colombia and a still worthwhile essay by Achin Vanaik on the politics of the New Right in India and how it coincided with the agenda of economic liberalisation that India was experiencing in the 1990s. More recently they had a couple of pentrating pieces on Putin’s Russia, health reform in China, workers in Syria etc. They combine rich empirical analysis with a good knowledge of local and national politics and a sophisticated understanding of history. Even if you disagree with their left-of-centre perspectives you can walk away having learnt a lot and better for the experience. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about IS pieces; which while the best can provide a good Marxist analysis of a particular situation are very orthodox and almost entirely predicatable in their conclusions which fall into the camp of: (i) heralding a great upsurge in worker-based struggles that anticipates some major socio-economic change, (ii) explains the failure past or present or why worker based struggles have not achieved what they intended to do. Reading the pieces covering the part of the world I am most familiar with – eg South Asia, one gets the feeling that either some great revolutionary upsurge is imminent or was only just thwarted by contingent circumstances. This is unfortunately just not true; there are other problems with the IS but this is its biggest one imo.

But you are right about the NLR, its general line is moderate and while it has attractions for those into theory like me; the actual quality of the essays that take this approach tends to be quite poor. The Badiou piece you cite is a good example; their inclusion of articles on cultural topics such as film and literature is also very disappointing given their espousal of post-structuralist methodology and post-modernist frames of analysis, with the result either being very little actually interesting being said and increasingly obscure and arcane prose and frameworks disguising a lack of substantive analysis. These articles are best avoided.


Post a Comment

<< Home