Peter Sedgwick

Soviets Without Socialism

(Winter 1964-65)

Peter Sedgwick, Soviets Without Socialism, International Socialism ((1st series), No.19, Winter 1964-65, p.33. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On Revolution
Hannah Arendt
Faber, 30s.

Dr Arendt’s essay is an extraordinary attempt to produce an American mystique of revolution. Her revolutionary model is the foundation of the United States as ‘a new body politic’ offering the possibility of the exercise of freedom by the citizenry in a consensual ‘political space’. The argument is held together by a set of internally validated concepts and definitions; any consideration of the social element in revolution is ruled out. ‘The social question’ belongs to the realm of necessity, which is incompatible with the public realm. Administration, and particularly economic administration, are again part of the ‘sphere of the household’, outside the operation of specifically political institutions. Political parties are counter-revolutionary, both because they threaten the untrammelled functioning of soviets, Councils’ Clubs and similar ‘spaces of freedom’ and because of their representative role, which denies the importance of political participation by the citizen himself.

Arendt at times ascribes an apocalyptic significance to the War of Independence and the pronouncements of the Founding Fathers. The modern revolutionary concern for social equality ‘grew directly out of the American colonial experience.’ (Like most of Arendt’s dicta, the evidence for this statement consists of some truncated quotations from eighteenth-century political theorists, interspersed with her own exegesis, and is shortly contradicted by her admission that the American revolution had little influence upon European movements.) It is not until the last few pages that we can get any concrete political advocacy from Dr Arendt; here she suggests that the ‘responsibilities for public business’ should become ‘the share of those few from all walks of life who have a taste for public “freedom” and cannot he happy without it. Politically, they are the best ... such an aristocratic form of government would spell the end of universal suffrage as we understand it today.’ Compared with this prospect, the ideal of the revolutionary party working with mass-based institutions to reduce the realm of necessity and enlarge the realms of freedom seems positively liberal. Dr Arendt seems to have argued herself into a remarkably poky corner.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 20.8.2007