Dear Cyril,

I got your e-mail address from Andy Blunden. Andy told me of your collaboration in the past. I am sending you a copy of a review I did of your book which we have put out in Melbourne as an issue of our journal Labour & Socialism. It is also on the internet on our website

As you'll see from the review I liked your book a lot, mainly because it coincided with a number of conclusions I had drawn myself about Marx and 'Marxism'.

Andy, as you'll know is now a member of the Militant in Australia. (although for how long I'm not sure, they've got some problems at the moment) I was also a member of the same tendency during the '80's (in the UK) until we had a big bust up in 1992. This was not long after the tendency internationally split down the middle and parted company with Ted Grant and its other leading theoretician Alan Woods. These went on to form Socialist Appeal and our small group in Melbourne in turn decided to team up with them. We're still formally members, however, in the recent period we've come to reassess our position. You'll understand what I mean when I say that they Ted and Alan can safely be called orthodox 'Marxists', which is all very well for them but leaves us here in a bit of an awkward position given our criticisms of this 'orthodoxy'.

The '90's have not been kind to Marxists, expecially those of us actively engaged in trying to build an organisation. For some time now I've felt the need to move beyond 'organisational' explanations of the difficulties we have faced and develop a better understanding of why our ideas have failed to attract new support in the recent period, especially among the younger generation for who socialism has little pulling power today.

Over the last couple of years I've pulled back from activity and gone to university. This has exposed me to the intellectual climate that includes trends like postmodernism, and has allowed me to gain some idea of what it is that people (including radically minded youth) object to in both Marxism and socialism. Of course its possible to dismiss the academic world (Andy is a good example of this anti-academic attitude), but I've been reluctant to do this for two reasons - firstly that its been my fellow students and their outlook that I've been concerned with rather than the academics, and secondly because the intellectual trends both reflect and to some extent influence the general mood out there in the 'real' world of the labour movement and society.

My experience has led me to the conclusion that if our movement is to stand any prospect of revival, we face a major intellectual challenge to redefine socialism in a form that is both viable, and even more importantly - attractive. In relation to Marxism, while I still believe Marx's ideas have an enormous amount to offer, there is an urgent need for Marxism to get to grips with a whole series of developments in global capitalism (such as the shift away from the production of material goods with a use value to 'symbolic' or cultural production) over the past couple of decades or so if it is to regain any relevancy in its analysis. I think this can be done - but its a big job.

If we take just one example, one that relates to some extent to your book, we have to respond to the critique of socialism that places it firmly in the context of the 'project of modernity', in other words as the application of reason to human affairs, of science to society, through the means of planning. The 20th century has dealt a massive blow to this conception, which is by no means the only way socialism could be conceived, (Oscar Wilde's 'The Soul Of Man Under Socialism' is my personal favourite at the moment) however too many socialists still argue the case for socialism as the 'rational' society compared to the irrationality of capitalism.

Of course capitalism is a crazy system, to the extent that its a system at all.(The first chapter of your book by the way is excellent) However as long ago as the 1860's Dostoyevsky made a (in my view) devastating response to this line of argument, which he rightly identified with the Western bourgeois. (Dostoyevsky was replying in his 'Notes From The Underground' to Chernyshevsky's utopian vision in 'What Is To Be Done') Today, its precisely the crisis of this kind of rationality that Chernyshevsky represented that has caught socialism in the crossfire. This is only one example of the challenges we face. There are plenty of others. And while its true the difficulties global capitalism is snared in (the Asian meltdown etc) will make it easier to raise alternative visions to the world we live in, it is by no means automatic that socialism will be seen as the way out of the crisis. It certainly isn't at present.

I think Marx's vision still has plenty of mileage in it, especially the early, more 'Hegelian' works. (By the way, I read Kevin Anderson's 'Lenin, Hegel & Western Marxism' the week after reading your book. If you haven't seen this book I would strongly recommend it. It discusses the impact of his study of Hegel's Logik on Lenin's thought and casts the whole (somewhat sterile in my view) debate within Marxism over materialism versus idealism in a completely different light. It's a book that relates very closely to some of the themes in yours and strengthens your argument in a number of ways). Alienation and the overpowering spread of commodity relations into every sphere of human activity today have to be the starting point on which to build any program of human emancipation. And at the level of method and in terms of philosophy these works have much to offer. The little passage on the future convergence of human and natural science into one world view cited in your book is the sort of nugget whole tomes could, and should, be generated out of.

Nevertheless, I think we as Marxists need to get away from the idea that philosophy came to a halt with Marx and that its been downhill ever since. Alan Woods unfortunately is a classic example of this kind of view. He has a long article on the internet at the moment on the history of philosophy. Hegel and Marx were indeed giants, but so were Nietzsche and Heidegger and the world will never be the same for their contributions to philosophy. Furthermore, none of the four above can be done away with for any real grasp of the state of the planet today. Nor can any vision of a new form of society ignore these thinkers, despite the sometimes (but by no means always) conflicting ideas they represent.

I see from your e-mail discussion with Andy you are tackling Heidegger. I'm in the middle of Being & Time myself just now. This guy is far and away the most important thinker of this century, and as you say yourself, his Nazism was no accident, but its still not possible to dismiss him, his ideas are just too powerful to ignore. I still don't know what to make of him, and won't for a few weeks yet at least while I wade through the literature surrounding him, but I'd be interested to hear your impressions.

I hope you like my review of your book. I'll be following your discussion over at Andy's site and will probably chip something in at some point. I'll also ask Andy for a look at the journal (International Socialist Forum) you're involved with. In the meantime,

yours comradely,

Davie Maclean