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Colin Barker


(January 1978)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 104, January 1978, pp. 25–26.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume One, State and Revolution, two parts
by Hal Draper
Monthly Review Press, £17.50 the set

Hal Draper is setting out to provide a completely comprehensive account of the political thought of Marx and Engels. This first two-part volume will be followed by two more – each, no doubt, equally expensive. Monthly Review Press have taken on a major publishing venture, whose costs are obviously terrifying. I can only hope that the hard-back venture recovers its capital outlay rapidly, so that a cheaper paperback edition can follow. Readers of this journal should try hard to get Hal Draper into every library.

For Draper’s first volume indicates that this is going to be a stupendous work of Marxology. As a work of reference, clearly written and admirably organised, Draper is going to be indispensable to anyone who wants to know exactly what Marx and Engels really thought. Those who have appreciated the work of scholarship Draper has already put into various articles that have already appeared in different journals over the past decade (including this one) will know how significant this massive enterprise is going to be. Draper is a committed revolutionary socialist, of enormous scholarship, every page of whose work is a vindication of the democratic emancipatory vision he shares with the theoretical founders of our movement.

A brief review of this kind can do no more, firstly, than celebrate the publication of Draper’s first volume, and hope for the opportunity to review the whole work, when it finally appears, at greater length. That said, reading the first volume raises some doubts, concerning potential weaknesses in the work. (The remaining two volumes may prove me wrong, I admit with anticipation.)

First, Draper seems to underplay the ‘philosophical’ elements in Marx’s critique of the state and of bureaucracy, in particular in connection with Marx’s theory of alienation and freedom. Second, and perhaps more seriously, I fear that Draper may turn out not to develop further those aspects of Marx’s work which he himself left very incomplete. We know that Marx planned to continue, after the three volumes of Capital, with a major work on the state, and another on the world market. To my knowledge, not even outline sketches of these works survive. As a result, Marxist theorising on the ‘political economy’ of the capitalist state remains seriously underdeveloped. In the 20th century, the gaps in our theory have become increasingly significant: We have little in the way of developed theory concerning the nation-state, the growth of state ‘welfare’, nationalisation of industry, state economic ‘planning’, and the like.

Third, where Draper engages with Marxist debate since Marx, his focus is narrow. He is brilliant at refuting those who have drawn wildly mistaken inferences from Marx’s text (see for instance his superb demolition job on Karl Wittfogel), but he does not engage at all with the mass of writing that has appeared in the past few years. A whole new generation of Marxist theorists has sprung up in the world, especially in the 1970s, trying – often crudely, sometimes very excitingly – to grapple with the problems of developing Marxist ideas to make them relevant to the world of today. Judging by the first volume, Draper has ignored them all, good and bad alike. Sometimes, Draper hints at the relevance of Marx’s ideas to the contemporary world (e.g. in passing remarks on Stalinist Russia), but infuriatingly he leaves the matter at the level of hints.

My fear, I suppose, is that this extraordinary enterprise will – through some regrettable self-denying ordinance on Draper’s part – stay stuck at the level of ‘Marxology’, at the level of brilliant and authoritative explication of what Marx said, but with only a tangential relevance to contemporary political and theoretical struggles. It will, in that case, be for others to use Draper’s book as Marxists, uniting theory and practice more directly and less academically. That said, the socialist movement has been rendered a great service by Hal Draper, and we should wish it very well.

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Last updated: 6 March 2015