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Tim Wohlforth

Periodicals in Review

(Winter 1961)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.1, Winter 1961, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bohemia Not So Libre

Counter-revolution like revolution seeks its theoretical justifications, even if these justifications be on the level of Hitler’s race theory. However, the counter-revolutionist is not, like the revolutionist, naturally inclined toward theory – he is interested in more “concrete” things: power, money, etc. The counter-revolutionist therefore often recruits his theorists from the ranks of the deserters of the revolution. So it was with the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution; so it is today with Cuba. It doesn’t seem quite fair of history to require the revolutionary movement to train theorists for its enemies as well as for itself – but that is the way the onion peels.

When Miguel Quevedo turned against the Cuban Revolution and resigned as editor of Bohemia, the leading liberal popular magazine in Cuba, he swiftly departed for Venezuela. Today he is publishing a plush rival to his former publication called Bohemia Libre which is designed to look exactly like the original. Its distributors are attempting to replace the real with the counterfeit on the newstands which carry Spanish publications in New York City and we assume that this is going on throughout the Americas. One might be so naive as to query where M. Quevedo so quickly gathered the financial resources to issue in such large numbers such an obviously expensive publication with so few ads. The more suspicious, we suppose, might feel that the affluent “good neighbor” in the North might have something to do with it.

The main theoretical article in the first issue of this dubious publication is written by Joaquin Maurin, a former leader of the right wing of the POUM. The POUM was a centrist Marxist party in Spain. This party, while differentiating itself from the traitorous policies of the Popular Front Government in Spain which paved the way for Franco’s victory, nevertheless refused to struggle for working class revolution – the only way in which victory could have been secured. Many of Trotsky’s polemics in the late thirties were aimed at Maurin and other leaders of the POUM.

Having in no small way contributed to the downfall of one revolution, Maurin is offering his services to those who wish to smash another revolution. While most of Maurin’s article offers nothing new to a reader familiar with the American bourgeois press (watch out for the “Soviet Trojan Horse,” etc., ad nauseam), near the end of his polemic Maurin offers – a theory.

To those acquainted with the theoretical disputes surrounding the Russian Revolution, this may sound painfully familiar:

“Since Cuba is an economically backward country, the revolution has to be a democratic one and not a socialist one. A socialist revolution is theoretically possible only where there is a large industry and proletariat. Cuba is a preponderantly agrarian country, without any proletariat to speak of. A socialist revolution is not in the cards for Cuba, as it wasn’t for Russia during the first years of the revolution. To try to bring about a socialist revolution in a place where historical and economic conditions only favor a democratic-bourgeois revolution is to put the cart before the horse.”

Here we have the method of thought of the Mensheviks put to use, as was the Menshevik theory in its time, by the press of the counter-revolution and used to justify attempts at the military overthrow of the popular revolution. According to the formalist’s theory one cannot proceed beyond democratic demands (this is Marxist terminology for capitalist demands) and if one does, we lecture the revolutionary regime:

“... either to backtrack toward the democratic revolution, solidarizing itself with democratic America, or to continue its socialist revolution on a narrow path, with a more minimal than effective aid from Russia and the inevitable will ensue.”

That is, either you stay within the formal rigid framework we construct in our minds, or we will overthrow you and install, what – Czarism, Franco, Batista?

Trotsky grappled with this problem in 1906 and Lenin and Trotsky carried out in action a solution to it in the October Revolution of 1917. This solution has gone down in history as the “Theory of the Permanent Revolution.” Trotsky held that the struggle for simple democratic demands – land reform, freedom from foreign domination, etc., – would necessitate such resolute action against the capitalist class in modern times that one would be forced to go beyond democratic demands and raise socialist demands. This has been the experience of the Castro regime. Castro started with a simple bourgeois democratic program of opposition to dictatorship and foreign domination. In the process of carrying out this program he has been forced to take decisive socialist action against the capitalist class which resisted his program at every step. His only other alternative would have been to go the way of Quevedo and Maurin – to give in to American imperialism (Maurin euphemistically calls it solidarizing itself with democratic America).

Rather than listen to a ghost from the failure of another revolution who has offered his services to counter-revolution, it might be wiser for those interested in the future of the Cuban Revolution to study the works of Lenin and Trotsky – they won! The future of Cuba and the Latin American revolution lies not with the tired Maurins but with the new and vital working-class forces in these countries.

Eric Fromm Prevails

Normally this department paid little attention to the now defunct Socialist Call for there was little in it worthy of attention. However, the Summer issue of the Call which came out this Fall (it featured Labor Day ads) was devoted entirely to a manifesto by Eric Fromm entitled Let Man Prevail. One may not agree with Fromm on political or psychoanalytical matters but what Fromm writes is usually worth reading.

The bulk of Fromm’s manifesto is a well-written restatement of the basic socialist views on the question of alienation and humanist goals. Basing himself on Marx, Fromm states:

“The supreme principle of socialism is that man takes precedence over things, like over property, and hence work over capital; that power follows creation, and not possession; that man must not be governed by circumstances, circumstances must be governed by man.”

It is when Fromm leaves this abstract level and begins to deal with the problem of how we are to proceed from the present capitalist reality to the socialist future that he runs into trouble. Fromm, like many of the New Left and some of the oppositional intellectuals in the Soviet lands, in searching for a “new” approach to this problem, falls back to a pre-marxist point of view. His position runs something like this: under capitalism man is divided and alienated so that things dominate him and his own creation, society, controls him. Since all mankind is so alienated, we must appeal to all men to change this system of living and adopt a better, more rational system. Such a view was the dominant one in the early part of the nineteenth century in Utopian socialist circles before the development of Marxism.

Marx rejected such views as Utopian and saw in the class struggle in capitalist society the process which would lead to the final victory of all men. It was Marx’s view that the humanist interests of all men were represented in this historical period by the working class – the only class which had nothing to lose from the destruction of capitalism. In other words, the abolition of classes, allowing for the free development of all men, would be possible only following the triumph of one class – the working class.

It is indeed a sign of the rather low intellectual level of the socialist movement in the United States that we must still debate such a question today. Perhaps even more revealing is the fact that this hangover from the 1820s was introduced with an uncritical statement by the editors on the Call, an official organ of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation. This is but another reflection of the ideological degeneration of the social democratic parties the world over that we commented on in our last column.

Random Notes

This past Fall has seen the introduction of two new “radical” publications, New America and New Horizons. While these publications emanate from rather distinctly different circles – the social democracy and the Stalinist orbit respectively – there seems to be more similarity than divergence. As the two quite similar names suggest, both publications are attempting to take on the coloration of the liberal milieu they want so much to be a part of. There is very little in either publication that couldn’t be published in the Nation or the Reporter except that these latter publications have higher editorial standards. New Horizons probably has the edge over New America in this respect because it really breaks from “narrow sectarianism” and in the traditions of its predecessors, New Foundations and Campus Sense, it boasts a sports column and – yes, it’s true – a teenage fashion column (they’re wearing red this fall)! The Socialist party’s New America takes the cake for ingenious theory with its editorial which appeared just before the elections entitled A Total Vote. It seems that we must not vote for Nixon and maybe we shouldn’t even vote for Kennedy. Rather we must vote on the issues. (Where do we find the issues lever, comrades?) ...

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