Chris Harman


Academy awards

(September 1997)

Reviews, Socialist Review, No.211, September 1997.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive at
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Socialist Register 1997
Ed: Leo Panitch
Merlin £12.99

Socialist Register is usually a disappointment. An annual collection of essays from different left wing academics, it is too often like one of those benefits you feel under an obligation to go to, where the occasional brilliant act is interspersed among performances that wouldn’t even measure up to a poor night on Channel 5.

But this year’s is different. It concentrates on challenging precisely those arguments that enthuse the Blairites and their cheerleaders from magazines like the New Statesman.

So the different pieces take up: the way in which the growth of global finance creates instability and ever greater pressure on people’s lives; the way in which talk of ‘market socialism’ in China is a cover for capitalist exploitation; the way in which New Labour’s talk of ‘family and community’ justifies an attempted onslaught on the welfare state; the detrimental effect of Clinton’s policies in the US and Felipé Gonzalez’ in Spain on working class living standards.

Other articles point to the bankruptcy of ‘postmodernist’ and ‘postcolonialist’ theories of culture and ‘social constructivist’ theories of science.

There remains one weakness, however, to virtually all the pieces. They are written by academics for academics, and so although they will be useful to students faced with the onslaught of globalisation, postmodernist and postcolonialist theories from their professors, they do not say much abut how to fight back in practice.

In the past, ‘practice’ for the typical Socialist Register contributors meant trying to persuade some left social democrat or reform Communist leader to accept their advice. Now that most of these leaders have slid to the right, the contributors cannot see any audience except for an academic one. To that extent they provide a few useful last kicks at the system from those of the generation of the 1960s and 1970s who have progressed in academia, not a way forward for those still fighting in the late 1990s.

Last updated on 21 December 2009