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Labour Review, February–March 1960

Bill Parry

Left Bookmen

Communism and British Intellectuals. By Neal Wood. Gollancz, 21s.

The feigned modesty of authors in their prefatory remarks is commonplace enough. Dr. Neal Wood suggests that the limitations of his book, Communism and British Intellectuals, are the limitations of Social Science, which views man not as: ‘a concrete individual of flesh and blood, who feels, thinks and acts’, but as ‘an artifice that “behaves” ’. The acknowledgment of his book’s weaknesses is anything but disarming, especially since he attributes the same weaknesses to Marxism.

To judge by his comments in Part II, Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach might as well not have been formulated; ‘The danger of the Freudian and Marxist approaches to politics is that politics with all its unique features and problems disappears. Political theory is transformed by their skill into ideologies, a rationalisation of childhood maladjustment or economic interest’.

What is the explanation of the mass defection of intellectuals from the Communist Party and its periphery? The last part of the book, on bureaucracy, which purports to show how, in the words of the cover blurb, the intellectual’s fundamental allegiance ‘to truth and beauty, has to be compromised, and how he must achieve an uneasy equilibrium of conflicting values’, provides no satisfactory answer.

Apart from the occasional references to the relationship between Moscow and King Street, there is a tendency for Dr. Wood to regard the bureaucracy as a purely organisational phenomenon. Thus almost one third of the book is devoted to the organisations in and around the Communist Party—the Political Bureau, Friendship Societies, Defence Committees, etc. Consequently one has to be satisfied with the sterile tautology that bureaucracy creates bureaucracy, as an explanation of the degeneration of the Communist Party.

The Communist Party was shaped to absorb the shocks of frequent changes of line and reflects the common denominator of all its manifold policies held since the early ’20s; Moscow is right because the job has been done there.

The Communist Party needed from the start a stable and sizeable group of intellectuals to offset the pressures of empiricism,, which has traditionally plagued the British working-class movement. However, the flirtation between the intellectuals and the Party in the ’30s was fraught with discord from the outset, precisely because Moscow was not always right.

This book provides a wealth of material on the galaxy of brilliant scientists and artists associated with the Communist Party, few of whom remain there. Both its thesis-style and the frequent identification of Communism and Stalinism betray, however, the author’s academic approach to a subject which is of paramount importance to the Marxist movement in this country.

The Seventh World Congress is bypassed and consequently the important questions are not even posed: to what extent was the waste-land created by unemployment and Fascism the driving force behind the Left? To what extent was neo-Liberalism and Popular-Frontisrn the main attraction?

Undoubtedly it was a combination of both. The striking similarity, between 1931 and 1959 makes these questions so important. The existence of a confident and strongly organised working-class is the vital difference between these periods. Consequently there is every hope that the fusion between intellectuals and the working-class will be realised in the Marxist Movement.

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