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International Socialism, July 1978




From International Socialism, 2:1, July 1978, p. 1.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


There are at least two main areas of marxist theory where we lack, and urgently need, adequate answers. These are (a) the implications for the critique of political economy of the enormous growth of the state in the West, and (b) the role of the family, women’s oppression and domestic labour in the reproduction of the capitalist system as a whole.

These two, therefore, will be central, recurring questions in this new series of the journal. They also figure prominently here in our first issue.

In her article, What Keeps the Family Going, Irene Bruegel develops a critique of recent marxist alternatives to the theory of patriarchy, which she argues are essentially functionalist in form, ignoring the contradictory tendencies inherent in capitalism today that simultaneously support and undermine the proletarian family. She argues that the latter tendency is possibly the more significant, and that therefore an explanation for the family form must be found elsewhere. She suggests following Ann Foreman that alienation at the workplace may provide the best starting point for this.

On the question of he role of the state, we publish an article by Colin Barker, The State as Capital. Along with a number of recent German theorists, he attacks those like Miliband and Poulantzas who pose the existence of the state outside the framework of a critique of the political economy of capitalism itself. But unlike the German school, he goes on to argue that the state sector is not limited to the reproduction of the general conditions for capitalist production, but can, and increasingly does, take on the role of directly productive capital. Again, the importance of this question, both in terms of providing the necessary underpinning for debates that took place in the first series of International Socialism (such as the debate between Harman and Kidron in IS 100 on the Arms Economy and State Capitalism), and also for providing the tools to understand the state in western capitalism today, cannot be overestimated.

It is not just the state today, but also at the dawn of capitalism that is problematic. If, as many “Marxists” have maintained, real class struggles between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie did not begin before the 18th or even the 19th century, how are we to explain the growth of the Absolutist state long before that? Why was it that in so many cases the new capitalists and the old ruling class subordinated themselves to the kings and the princes? Norah Carlin’s Medieval Workers and the Permanent Revolution, in uncovering a rich vein of workers’ struggles from the 13th century onwards, provides an answer to this based upon the real threat that these struggles posed to the propertied rulers. Whether this by itself vindicates the theory of Permanent Revolution, as she maintains, is another matter.

Martin Shaw’s article, Back to the Maginot Line: Harman’s new Gramsci, is much more than a critique of Chris Harman’s interpretation of Gramsci. He argues that Harman reduces Gramsci’s original contributions on the struggle within western civil society to a gloss on the politics to be found already in Lenin and Trotsky. But he sees this as more importantly reflecting a refusal by the SWP to engage in activities that go too far beyond the workplace and the economic struggle. He asserts that Gramsci’s insights are more, not less important today, and that without a “hegemonic strategy” the revolutionary party cannot develop along healthy lines.

Another article that stresses the importance of the revolutionary party relating to cultural phenomena (though without the suggestion that the SWP has the wrong orientation here) is Ian Birchall’s The Spectre of Zhdanov. With the growth of new working-class cultural forces which are overtly political in content (the fantastic response to the Carnival against the Nazis was cultural as well as political), central question of the politics of culture and art must not be avoided. In attacking the new liberalism of the European CPs today, Ian Birchall argues that the party must play an active role in cultural, as in every other level of working class activity. He stresses that the error of Stalinism is not the attempt to influence art with politics, but the attempt to influence art with the wrong politics.

Finally we include a major review by Chris Harman of Ernest Mandel’s Late Capitalism. He asserts that Mandel reduces Marx’s method to merely producing a list of factors which characterise capitalism today, without showing how they combine and interact to affect the system as a whole. He argues that the method can, and does lead to reformist conclusions. Against Mandel, Harman also argues that the facts do not support the view that the combativeness of the workers caused the crisis: it is rather the other way round. Nor could technological progress explain the length of the post-war boom for it could only accelerate the onset of the crisis. Mandel’s central error is diagnosed as a failure to appreciate the role played by the Arms Economy in temporarily stabilising the system.

We have invited Ernest Mandel to reply to these criticisms and look forward to publishing his reply in a future issue of International Socialism.

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