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International Socialism, Spring 1967


Robin Derricourt



From International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Socialist Register 1966
Ed. Ralph Miliband & John Saville
Merlin, 15s

The third in this series of annual volumes of essays is largely devoted to surveys of the political or economic situations in selected areas of Europe, Asia and Africa. Malcolm Caldwell contributes a useful survey of the South-East Asian countries (excepting Vietnam) and discusses the problems of socialist movements in the area. A similar assessment of movements and pressures in independent African territories is given by Basil Davidson, whose essay generalises rather too widely to be entirely satisfactory: he does not delimit the area under discussion. While claiming to discuss all Africa he omits any mention of the Maghreb yet includes Egypt. The discussion by Jitandra Mohan on the different theories (or non-theories) of socialism held by African nationalist parties provides a useful supplement to Davidson. An urbane and amusing sketch of modern India and Pakistan by V.G. Kiernan makes interesting reading but is somewhat out of place among the more detailed factual articles in the rest of the book.

The two essays on Britain are the most disappointing in the volume. John Hughes’ discussion of British Trade Unionism in the Sixties treats unions as little more than central bureaucracies which he believes should have the role of pressing for some industrial reforms from the state and improvements to an incomes policy while adapting themselves to a changing capitalism by structural alterations within the unions – for example, mergers. Hughes recognises no dichotomy between the unions’ leadership and the rank and file: the latter in fact hardly receive a mention. A few gratuitous quotes from Marx do not conceal the fact that this is a very timid approach to the whole problem and is hardly more man a study of how unions should keep up with capitalism and not fall too far behind: significant advance is out of the question. Ralph Miliband contributes an analysis of Wilson’s policies which offers nothing new to surprise the committed socialists at whom this volume is presumably aimed. Having produced a reasonable description of the predicament which faces socialists (by which he means intellectuals) within the Labour Party, he concludes that the best strategy to take now is one of ‘socialist education,’ though quite whom we are to educate and what is to be done with the educated socialists is not made clear. This is an article for the disillusioned and confused ex-Wilsonite; to most readers of IS it will be a bore.

There is regrettably only one essay of general Marxist theory in the book, but it is itself of fair importance. Under the title Natural Science and Human Theory Peter Sedgwick offers a criticism of the near-metaphysical strand of socialism epitomised in the recent work of Herbert Marcuse, where he presents an attack on empirical science on the grounds that the totality of scientific knowledge must be subject to critical reasoning from a socialist standpoint – a mystic approach which remains an easy temptation for those socialists who reject a ‘struggle towards objectivity’ as an aim desirable or compatible with action. Sedgwick’s article may rekindle an interest in exploring such a struggle and the need to synthesise natural science with a positive theory of commitment. It is to be hoped that at some time Sedgwick will expand fully the unsatisfactorily brief rejection he makes of the increasingly influential Laing/Cooper school of psychoanalysis.

The Register has become part of the required reading of socialists, though this year’s volume hardly fulfils Lichtheim’s analysis of an emergent ‘Anglo-Marxism.’ It is to be hoped that a return to more general essays on theory will take place in future Registers, where open discussion between committed socialists could take place without bias or irrelevant excess dogmatics.

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