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Colin Barker

Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution

(April 1979)

From Socialist Review, No.11, April 1979, pp.35-36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution
Vol II: The Politics of Social Classes

Hal Draper
Monthly Review Press £11.80

I had the privilege of reviewing the first volume of this work (State and Bureaucracy), which is now happily available in paperback (£5.60). At that time, I was more dismissive of the project than I now care to recall. In particular, I suggested that Draper’s work was one of ‘marxology’, a term which – for myself as for Draper – is a term of subtle marxist abuse.

Having recently had the occasion to re-read the first volume, and now also the pleasure of reading the second. I should like publicly to alter my previous ever-so-slightly ‘superior’ judgement. Hal Draper is not producing marxology, but scholarly marxism of the highest order.

The scholarship is simply amazing. Draper has read everything there is to read, and has organised his resulting mass of material into a wonderfully clear and systematic presentation of the political ideas of Marx and his comrade Fred Engels. I noted the indispensability of the first volume as a reference work, and can only reiterate that point again.

But something more must be said, about the politics of the work. Hal Draper is well-known and some publisher should make him still better known by a re-issue – for a marvellous short pamphlet of the 1950s: The Two Souls of Socialism. The burden of that pamphlet was the sharp distinction within the socialist tradition between all the manifold varieties of ‘socialism from above’ (including reformism, stalinism, maoism, etc.) and the revolutionary tradition of ‘socialism from below’.

We hear a good deal these days from the reformist communist parties of Western Europe about ‘democratic socialism’, by which they mean a lukewarm struggle to expand popular control, and a mild dose of national-state planning. They urge the retention of the semi-sham democracy of parliamentary government, of ‘representative democracy’ where the electorate have no real control over their parliamentary misrepresentatives.

Faced with real popular movements towards workers’ control and workers’ power, they are at best uneasy and more commonly positively hostile (consider the shameful history of the Italian and French parties in every significant crisis for more than forty years).

Hal Draper is a marxist. and will have no truck with such perversions. His Marx and his Engels defiantly quoted over hundreds of pages are consistent, red revolutionaries, ever concerned with the expansion of popular freedoms, and with an expansion of freedom and control won by the working classes themselves, by their own efforts and their own power.

The Marx and Engels who shine through every carefully annotated page of this monumental work are revolutionary socialists whose central principle was collective self-emancipation, workers’ power. True, they were intellectuals, but intellectuals whose whole lives were organised around the principle of struggle, of political engagement, whose intellectual work aimed always at the central point: making it easier for freedom to conquer.

They were acid in their condemnation of idiots, not out of love of their own cleverness (as we find in so many latter-day academic marxoids) but because the truth mattered to the working class, because ignorance and muddle were impediments to their struggle. For them, reason and freedom went hand in hand.

Hal Draper aims to recover Marx and Engels as revolutionary activists and thinkers. In this volume, he discusses the anatomy of classes, the role of the modern proletariat as the key agent in the overthrow of capitalism, and the relation defined in struggle of the working class to other classes and strata.

Initially, one further volume was planned, but the author now announces that the remaining materials will occupy two further substantial tomes. No question: if the next volumes are up to the standard of the first two, we should be pleased at his excesses.

The term ‘work of reference’ may turn prospective readers away, so do not imagine this work is as dull as an index. Despite the massive scope of the work, and its integrated conception, the various separate parts are themselves a whole series of smaller pleasures. This is a hook to dip into, as well as to read right through.

If you want to know why marxists emphasise the working class before all others, the materials are all here. Students can shiver at Marx and Engels’ remarks on their forebears’ roles in the revolutions of 1848-9. and their reported enthusiasm for knowing the plans of the revolution while not liking sore feet. Academics should ponder what Marx and Fngels thought of them.

Anyone having to argue with the disordered residues of maoism should rejoice in the most definitive collection of Marx and Engels’ very clearheaded views on the peasant question available anywhere: these three long chapters, in themselves, are political dynamite. The Marxist attitude to trade unionism is clearly spelled out, together with the issues of reformism, the need for an independent revolutionary party of the working class, and so on.

Perhaps most important of all for revolutionary strategy, Hal Draper presents an extremely clear and unambiguous account of Marx and Engels’ development, through their experience of the 1848 revolutions, of the theory of ‘permanent revolution’: Leon Trotsky’s claim that he did not invent the theory, but developed it from its foundations in Marx, is amply supported by this fully documented analysis.

Over and over again. Draper shows the theoretical founders of our movement insisting on the central and revolutionary role of the modern working class, as the class which alone hears within its forms of life the seeds of the future society.

I cannot do this book justice. The publishers should be urged to rush out a paperback edition of the second volume. This work should be welcomed, read, studied, used. It is indispensable.

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