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International Socialism, Winter 1964/5


P. Mansell

Radical Errors


From International Socialism, No.19, Winter 1964/5, pp.32-33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Marxists
C. Wright Mills
Penguin, 6s.

This book is described as ‘a primer on Marxisms, written mainly for those who do not know these philosophies.’ So it is perhaps unfair to judge it except as a very elementary textbook. But even on this level there is not very much to be said for it. Over three-quarters of the book consists of snippets from the writings of Marx and Engels and of no fewer than fifteen ‘Marxists’ of varying complexions. The newcomer to Marxist theory would get something of the flavour of these diverse writers from this Readers Digest technique, but little else – unless he were a student needing quotations for exam papers but too lazy to read the originals. And any normally critical reader would be suspicious that the quotations were not necessarily representative.

The rest of the book expounds the author’s views on what are the essential features of Marxism and of the differing ‘Marxist’ traditions. Marx is put in his place as a creative philosopher of the nineteenth century, whose main contribution was the ‘principle of historical specificity’, a typically high-sounding phrase to describe Marx’s ability to discern trends characteristic of a particular historical epoch. Marx’s ideas are reduced to 17 ‘points’, each of them discussed in a paragraph or two, so that there is only space for sweeping comments, not balanced discussion. The same is true of the discussion of bolshevism, and the familiar criticism is advanced that the Russian Revoluton was achieved by a small group of professional revolutionaries – the role of the Soviets, for example, is not even mentioned. A flagrant piece of distortion appears on p.139 where it is stated as one of the tenets of ‘bolshevism’ that, after the revolution, ‘The Bolshevik Party ... will be the only party.’ Yet a footnote to this paragraph says: ‘Even after October 1917, the bolsheviks sought the collaboration of other parties ... Only when these parties engaged in “counter-revolutionary” activity did the bolsheviks declare them illegal, and this was regarded as a temporary military measure, to be abandoned as soon as the civil war ended. The dogma of the single party ... became in due course a basic feature of Stalinism.’ Thus by sleight-of-hand is Lenin convicted of Stalinism.

The author’s general thesis is that Marxism has proved to be irrelevant to advanced capitalist countries (because the workers have been getting more comfortable and not more miserable, because the boom/slump cycle has been broken, etc). It is in the backward under-developed countries that its future lies. But there is no analysis of the character of the developments in these countries and the words ‘socialism’ and ‘revolution’ are used so loosely – for example, in relation to Ghana, Guinea and Indonesia – that they cease to be meaningful.

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