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Ian H. Birchall

Socialism and Revolution

(June 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.79, June 1976, pp.39-40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Socialism and Revolution
André Gorz
Allen Lane, £4.50.

DOES THE transition to socialism require the smashing of the existing state, or can it be achieved through piecemeal reforms? This has been the most fundamental question in the socialist movement for the last century, and important arguments have been produced by the partisans of both sides.

There are also those who hedge their bets, who argue that ‘the destruction of the bourgeois apparatus pf repression ... is no longer the first priority, as it was fifty years ago’, and that what is needed is ‘a socialist strategy of progressive reform’. In Marxist jargon such people are called ‘centrists’. And although centrists have been known to fight bravely on the barricades, they cannot – by definition, as it were, since they duck the fundamental question – contribute to Marxist theory.

André Gorz – from whose book of essays the above quotations come – is a centrist. M. Gorz is friends with everyone. On page 64 he quotes with unbounded admiration the Italian spontaneists of Lotta Continua; on page 86 he tells us that the trade union bureaucrats of the Italian CGIL and the Belgian FGTB have understood the need to attack ‘the whole system’.

As a result, all the main issues are missed. The essays – all but one written in the mid-sixties – assume that capitalism can continue indefinitely to provide workers with ‘a basic livelihood and even a modest surplus’. With the flavour of a ‘revived forty-five’, readers can taste again the clapped out rhetoric of the New Left of the early sixties, complete with that particularly absurd and sexist notion that the working class are corrupted by possessing washing machines. Politics becomes, not a necessity flowing from the very guts of the struggle, but something superimposed in glossy and ill-translated volumes from Allen Lane.

Likewise the question of Stalinism. Russia is ‘socialist’, its ‘authoritarian planification’ was ‘scarcely avoidable’, but it is not a ‘model’.

And above all, the question of who is going to do the job is fudged Mr Gorz lectures us at length about the need for a ‘revolutionary mass party’, its strategy, tasks and structure. Just one small problem remains. Where is this party? Is Mr Gorz a member? Where do I sign on? Is he, by some strange chance, talking of the existing Communist Parties, or do these wonderful organisations have to be built from scratch? All is lost in verbiage. The British left needs theory, but it can do without Mr Gorz.

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Last updated: 16.2.2008