In a bit I’m going to post some notes on what I’ve read by Ingo Elbe, which I found interesting and thought provoking. I look forward to more of Elbe’s work being translated. Reading Elbe sent me down the rabbit hole of reading Perry Anderson, something I’ve mean to do for a while. So here are my notes on Anderson’s Considerations on Western Marxism.

Some general thoughts.
1. The book is very good and I’m enjoying it a lot. I like that it connects a kind of high intellectual history – elite-ish books and their writers, analyzed largely through the words of their books – with some degree of social and economic history – providing some larger structural context to those individuals. That said, it’s basically a book about great individuals who think amid very large scale political and economic transformations. There’s nothing there on, say, the cultural history of marxism and workers’ movements in the sense of collective thought among relative non-elites in marxism and movements.
2. The transformation Anderson describes among mid-20th century Marxist academics reminds me of what Daniel Rodgers describes happening among U.S. academics in the late 20th century. Rodgers calls this an Age of Fracture. Reading Anderson, it seems like European Marxists had their own Age of Fracture first, and at least via the reception of some figures like Althusser and Gramsci, the European Marxists’ writing played a role in the U.S. Age of Fracture. It’d be interesting to compare what was happening in non-Marxist official intellectual culture during the time Anderson describes. It’s notable for instance that the Marxist philosophers he writes about who had so little to say about the economy and politics existed at a time when pro-capitalist economists studied institutions and history.
3. Anderson places these academics against backgrounds of structural change, as I said, but he leaves out figures like the British Communist Party Historians’ Group and the New Left historians in the U.S. The omission isn’t a big problem – the book is comprehensive enough as it is – but I think that juxtaposing Anderson’s European Marxist philosophers to those Anglophone historians is productive because it shows how other writers responded differently (and maybe also similarly?) to similar structural conditions. (A comparison between these might be interesting. Maybe Anderson takes it up in In the Tracks of Historical Materialism and/or Arguments within English Marxism. He says that “the three studies can be taken as an unpremeditated trilogy.” page ix. I dunno, I’ve not read those yet.)

**

My notes:

“Among the specific reflections with which the text ends was the expectation, and hope, that Marxist history and philosophy would . cease to lead such separate lives, and start to meet in a common socialist culture in which each took the challenge and stimulus of the other. The first major occasion of this encounter was the subject of a subsequent book, Arguments within English Alarxism (1980), which reviews the cumulative work of Edward Thompson, and the significance of its critique of the thought of Louis Althusser. The wider pattern of development of Marxism in the West, since the mid seventies, I have tried to resume in the lectures entitled In the Tracks of Ifistorical ]v!aterialism, published in 1983-a study that is not quite a sequel to Considerations on TJ7estern Marxism, since its focus includes currents of thought rival or antagonistic to historical materialism, as well as the fate of Marxism itself. But it does start with the series of forecasts with which the earlier work concludes, and then looks at how the real history, intellectual and political, of the subsequent decade treated them. Many of these predictions, I argue, have been fulfilled; others, significantly, have not. ” Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, page ix.

“The group of theorists who succeeded Marx and Engels in the generation after them was still small in number. It was comprised of men who for the most part came to historical materialism relatively late in their personal development. The four major figures of this period were Labriola (born in 1843), Mehring (born in 1846), Kautsky (born in 1854) and Plekhanov (born in 1856).” In a footnote Anderson adds “Bernstein (1850-1932), intellectually a minor figure, belonged to the same generation. Morris (1834-96), older than any of this group, was of much greater significance, but unjusdy remained without much influence even within his own country, and was unknown outside it. ” (page 5)

“All four men personally corresponded with Engels, who was a formative influence on them. The main direction of their work can be seen, in fact, as a continuation of Engels’s own final period. In other words, they were concerned in different ways to systematir.e historical materialism as a comprehensive theory of man and nature, capable of replacing rival bourgeois disciplines and providing the workerst movement with a broad and coherent vision of the world that could be easily grasped by its militants. This task involved them, as it had done for Engels, in a two-fold commitment: to produce general philosophical statements of Marxism as a conception of history, and to extend it into domains that had not been directly touched by Marx. ” (6.)

“The immediate heirs of Marx and Engels had been formed in a period of relative lull. The next generation of Marxists came of age in a much more turbulent environment, as European capitalism began to scud towards the tempest of the First World War. The theoreticians of this levy were much more numerous than their predecessors; and they confirmed still more dramatically a shift that had already started to be visible in the previous period -the transference of the whole geographical axis of Marxist culture towards Eastern and Central Europe. The dominant figures of the new generation came without exception from regions east of Berlin. Lenin was the son of a civil servant from Astrakhan, Luxemburg the daughter of a timber-merchant from Galicia, Trotsky the son of a farmer from the Ukraine, Hilferding of an insurance functionary and Bauer of a textile manufacturer in Austria. All of these wrote major works before the First World War. Bukharin, the son of a teacher in Moscow, and Preobrazhensky, whose father was a priest from Orel, made their mark after it, but can be considered as later products of the same formation.” (7) For this second generation of marxists, “their concerns lay essentially in two novel directions. Firstly, the manifest transformations of the capitalist mode of production that had generated monopolization and imperialism demanded sustained economic analysis and explanation. (…) Capital [the book] could no longer be simply rested on: it had to be developed.” (9.)
“The first decade and a half of the century thus saw a great florescence of Marxist economic thought in Germany, Austria and Russia. Every major theorist of the time took for granted the vital importance of deciphering the fundamental laws of motion of capitalism in its new stage of historical development. At the same time, however, there was also a meteoric emergence of a Marxist political theory for the first time. Whereas the economic studies of the period could build directly on the imposing foundations of Capital, neither Marx nor Engels had bequeathed any comparable corpus of concepts for the political strategy and tactics of the proletarian revolution.” (10-11. By the way, Anderson describes Lenin as having “created the concepts and methods necessary for the conduct of a successful proletarian struggle for power in Russia.” 11. I don’t buy it, nor do I buy that “the limitations and oversights of Lenin’s work (…) were all basically related to the particular backwardness of the Russian-social formation.” 12.)

“the First World War was to part the ranks of Marxist theory in Europe as radically as it split the working-class movement itself.” (13.) “from the early twenties onwards European Marxism became increasingly concentrated in Germany, France and Italy” (18) The real focus is from 1918-1968.

“from 1924 to 1968, Marxism did not ‘stop’, as Sartre was later to claim; but it advanced via an unending detour from any revolutionary political practice. (…) Western Marxism as a whole is (…)a product of defeat. (…) Its major works were, without exception, produced in situations of political isolation and despair. ” (42.) Western marxists grappled with “the problem of how to relate Marxist theory to proletarian politics.” (43.) And they all failed at this problem They “were all equally incapable of uniting Marxist theory and mass struggle.” (43.)

For all of them “the official Communist movement represented the central or sole pole of relationship to organized socialist politics, whether they accepted or rejected it. Two broad choices could be adopted, within the framework of this relationship. Either the theorist could enroll in a Communist Party and accept the rigour of its discipline. In this case, he could retain a certain nominal level of contact with the life of the national working class (to which despite everything the party was inevitably bound), and an at least philological continuity with the classical texts of Marxism and Leninism (whose study was mandatory within the party). The price of this proximity, however relative, to the realities of daily working-class struggle was silence about its actual conduct. No intellectual (or worker) within a mass Communist Party of this period, not integrated into its leadership, could make the smallest independent pronouncement on major political issues, except in the most oracular form. Lukacs or Althusser exemplify this choice. The opposite option was to remain outside any party organization whatever, as an intellectual freelance. In this case, there was no institutional control on political forms of expression: but vice-versa there was also no anchorage within the social class for whose benefit theoretical work in Marxism alone has ultimate meaning.” (44. This leaves aside the small groupings like Socialism or Barbarism, the Situationists, the Johnson-Forest Tendency, the various councilist groupings/milieu etc.)

“The consequence of this impasse was to be the studied silence of Western Marxism in those areas most central to the classical traditions of historical materialism: scrutiny of the economic laws of motion of capitalism as a mode of production, analysis of the political machinery of the bourgeois state, strategy of the class struggle necessary to overthrow it.” (44-45.)

“The progressive relinquishment of economic or political structures as the central concerns of theory was accompanied by a basic shift in the whole centre of gravity of European Marxism towards philosophy. The most striking single fact about the whole tradition from Lukacs to Althusser, Korsch to Colletti, is the overwhelming predominance of professional philosophers within it. Socially, this change meant an ever increasing academic emplacement of the theory that was produced in the new epoch. In the time of the Second International, Luxemburg and Kautsky alike had been united in their scorn for KathedersorJalisten, ‘professorial socialists’ teaching in the universities, without party commitments. The Marxist intellectuals of the pre-First World War generation had never been integrated into the university systems of Central or Eastern Europe. The form of political unity between theory and practice which they represented was incompatible with any academic position. ” (49.) “After the end of the Second World War, however, Marxist theory had migrated virtually completely into the universities -precincts at once of refuge and exile from the political struggles in the world outside. In this period, Lukacs, Lefebvre, Goldmann, Korsch, Marcuse, Della Volpe, Adorno, Colletti and Althusser all occupied university posts of professorial rank;l Sartre, rising into a university career, left it after success as a writer. In all cases, the discipline in which chairs were held was philosophy. ” (50.)

“Western Marxism as a whole thus paradoxically inverted the trajectory of Marx’s own development itself. Where the founder of historical materialism moved progressively from philosophy to politics and then economics, as the central terrain of his thought, the successors of the tradition that emerged after 1920 increasingly turned back from economics and politics to philosophy -abandoning direct engagement with what had been the great concerns of the mature Marx, nearly as completely as he had abandoned direct pursuit of the discursive issues of his youth. The wheel, in this sense, appeared to have turned full circle.” (52.)

Among this tradition “Marx’s oeuvre was typically treated as the source material from which philosophical analysis would extract the epistemological principles for a systematic use of Marxism to interpret (and transform) the world -principles never explicitly or fully set out by Marx himself. No philosopher within the Western Marxist tradition ever claimed that the main or ultimate aim of historical materialism was a theory of knowledge. But the common assumption of virtually all was that the preliminary task of theoretical research within Marxism was to disengage the rules of social enquiry discovered by Marx, yet buried within the topical particularity of his work, and if necessary to complete them. The result was that a remarkable amount of the output of Western Marxism became a prolonged and intricate Discourse on Method. The primacy accorded to this endeavour was foreign to Marx, in any phase of his development. (…) epistemological themes dominated this whole tradition” and it came to be characterized by “obsessive methodologism.” (52-53.)

Anderson describes this tradition as having a “second-order nature,” making them “works -on Marxism, rather than in Marxism,” which contributed to these works becoming deeply esoteric: “The language in which they were written came to acquire an increasingly specialized and inaccessible cast. Theory became, for a whole historical period, an esoteric discipline whose highly technical idiom measured its distance from politics.” (53.) “Most of these writers were capable of communicating with clarity and directness. Some of them Sartre, Adorno, Benjamin -were major literary artists in their own right. Yet virtually none of them spoke an even or uncontorted language in the major theoretical works for which they are usually remembered. Individual or subjective explanations cannot account for this recurrent, collective phenomenon.” (54.)

“The case of Gramsci symbolizes, in its very exception, the historical rule that governed this general retreat of theory from classical Marxist parlance. The Prison Notebooks (…) contain numerous enigmas, (…) because of the brute censorship and privation of imprisonment, which forced Gramsci to resort to allusive codes rather than coherent expositions. This physical reclusion, the consequence of defeat in class struggle, was to be a foreshadowed image of the isolation which surrounded the theorists who followed -freer than Gramsci, but remoter from the masses. The language of Western Marxism, in this sense, was subject to a wider historical censor: the gulf for nearly fifty years between socialist thought and the soil of popular revolution.” (54-55.)

Anderson writes that the mid20th century European marxist academics drew heavily on non-marxist sources in a new way, not as critics but as borrowers. He says that “This constant concourse with contemporary thought-systems outside historical materialism, often avowedly antagonistic to it, was something unknown to Marxist theory before the First World War.” (58.) I wondered though about Lenin’s borrowing from Hobson.

Another characteristic of these marxists was the “compulsive return behind Marx in quest of a prior vantage-point from which to interpret the meaning of Marx’s work itself.” This was an insistence on “construction of a philosophical ancestry extending back before Marx. All the main theoretical systems of Western Marxism (…) had recourse to pre-Marxist philosophies -to legitimate, explicate or supplement the philosophy of Marx himself.” (59.)

“The new dominance of philosophers within the tradition was, as we have seen, one of the signs of the general sea-change that came over Marxist culture after 1920.” This “professional ascendancy” explains much about the tradition, for Anderson. “Marx himself had left no systematic work of philosophy, in the classical sense (…) The latent and partial nature of Marx’s philosophical output had been compensated by Engels’s later writings, above all the Anti-Diihring, for his immediate successors. But these fell into general discredit after 1920.” (59.) “Western Marxism, in fact, was to start with a decisive double rejection of Engels’s philosophical heritage -by Korsch and Lukacs (…) Thereafter, aversion to the later texts of Engels was to be common to virtually all currents within it (…) Once Engels’s contribution was ruled out of court, however, the limitation of Marx’s own legacy appeared more evident than before, and the need to supplement it more pressing.” Hence “resort to earlier philosophical authority within European thought for this purpose” of supplementing Marx. (60.)

“one of the most striking and paradoxical features of the new theoretical culture that developed after 1920 – its -lack of internationalism. This pattern, too, marked a radical departure from the canons of classical Marxism.” (68.)

“Theory gradually contracted into national compartments, sealed off from each other by comparative indifference or ignorance. This development was all the stranger, in that the overwhelming majority of the new theorists -as we have seen -were academic specialists at the highest levels of their respective university systems, in principle ideally equipped with capacities of both language and leisure for serious study and knowledge of intellectual systems outside their own nation. Yet in fact, the philosophers of this tradition -complex and recondite as never before in their own idiom -were virtually without exception utterly provincial and uninformed about the theoretical cultures of neighbouring countries. Astonishingly, within the entire corpus of West em Marxism, there is not one single serious appraisal or sustained critique of the work of one major theorist by another, revealing close textual knowledge or minimal analytic care in its treatment. (…) There is no case within Western Marxism of a full theoretical engagement or conflict of one thinker or school with another -let alone any overall command of the international range of the tradition as such. (69. Thompson’s engagement with Althusser seems to me like a major exception to this, though Anderson doesn’t seem to count Thompson here.)

“Western Marxism (…) was progressively inhibited from theoretical confrontation of major economic or political problems, from the 1920S onwards. (…) Western Marxism as a whole, when it proceeded beyond questions of method to matters of substance, came to concentrate overwhelmingly on study of superstructures. Moreover, the specific superstructural orders with which it showed the most constant and close concern were those ranking ‘highest’ in the hierarchy of distance from the economic infrastructure, in Engels’s phrase” (75)
“In other words, it was not the State or Law which provided the typical objects of its research. It was culture that held the central focus of its attention.” And more specifically, high or elite culture, Art with a capital A.” (75-76. Anderson adds that “Gramsci represents, as usual, a related but distinct case” in that “the primary object of his theoretical enquiry was not the realm of art, but the total structure and function of culture for systems of political power in Europe (…) Thus his most profound and original investigations were institutional analyses of the historical fonnation and division of intellectuals, the social nature of education, and the role of mediate ideologies in cementing blocs between classes. Gramsci’s whole work was unremittingly centred on superstructural objects, but unlike any other theorist in Western Marxism he took the autonomy and efficacy of cultural superstructures as a political problem, to be explicitly theorized as such -in its relationship to the maintenance or subversion of the social order.” (77-78.)

Western Marxists “share one fundamental emblem: a common and latent pessimism. All the major departures or developments of substance within this tradition are distinguished from the classical heritage of historical materialism by the darkness of their implications or conclusions. In this respect, between 1920 and 1960, Marxism slowly changed colours in the West. The confidence and optimism of the founders of historical materialism, and of their successors, progressively disappeared . Virtually every one of the significant new themes in the intellectual muster of this epoch reveals the same diminution of hope and loss of certainty.” (88-89)

“The circle of traits defining Western Marxism as a distinct tradition can now be summarized. Born from the failure of proletarian revolutions in the advanced zones of European capitalism after the First World War, it developed within an ever increasing scission between socialist theory and working-class practice. The gulf between the two, originally opened up by the imperialist isolation of the Soviet State, was institutionally widened and fixed by the bureaucratization of the USSR and of the Comintern under Stalin. To the exponents of the new Marxism that emerged in the West, the official Communist movement represented the sole real embodiment of the international working class with meaning for them -whether they joined it, allied with it or rejected it. The structural divorce of theory and practice inherent in the nature of the Communist Parties of this epoch precluded unitary politico-intellectual work of the type that defined classical Marxism. The result was a seclusion of theorists in universities, far from the life of the proletariat in their own countries, and a contraction of theory from economics and politics into philosophy. This specialization was accompanied by an increasing difficulty of language, whose technical barriers were a function of its distance from the masses. It was also conversely attended by a decreasing level of international knowledge or communication between theorists themselves from different countries. The loss of any dynamic contact with working-class practice in turn displaced Marxist theory towards contemporary nonMarxist and idealist systems of thought, with which it now typically developed in close if contradictory symbiosis. At the same time, the concentration of theorists into professional philosophy, together with the discovery of Marx’s own early writings, led to a general retrospective search for intellectual ancestries to Marxism in anterior European philosophical thought, and a reinterpretation of historical materialism itself in the light of them. The results of this pattern were three-fold. Firstly, there was a marked predominance of epistemological work, focused essentially on problems of method. Secondly, the major substantive field in which method was actually applied became aesthetics -or cultural superstructures in a broader sense. Finally the main theoretical departures outside this field, which developed new themes absent from classical Marxism -mostly in a speculative manner -revealed a consistent pessimism. Method as impotence, art as consolation, pessimism as quiescence: it is not difficult to perceive elements of all these in the complexion of Western Marxism. For the root determinant of this tradition was its formation by defeat -the long decades of set-back and stagnation, many of them terrible ones in any historical perspective, undergone by the Western working class after 1920.” (92-93.) Anderson immediately adds in the next section that the tradition can’t be reduced to this, however, which seems to me like a way of saying it’s still worth reading (and so, presumably, still worth writing a book about). More to the point, he adds, “the full experience of the past fifty years of imperialism remains a central and unavoidable sum still to be reckoned up by the workers’ movement. Western Marxism has been an integral part of that history, and no new generation of revolutionary socialists in the imperialist countries can simply ignore or bypass it. To settle accounts with this tradition -both learning and breaking from it -is thus one of the preconditions of a local renewal of Marxist theory today.” (94.)

In the last chapter, referring to the unrest and conflict of the mid-1970s, Anderson writes that “The chance of a revolutionary circuit reopening between Marxist theory and mass practice, looped through real struggles of the industrial working class, has become steadily greater. The consequences of such a reunification of theory and practice would be to transform Marxism itself -recreating conditions which, in their time, produced the founders of historical materialism.” (96.) Anderson is quite clear on what this ‘reunification’ would mean for Western Marxism: “The eventual reunification of theory and practice in a mass revolutionary movement, free of bureaucratic trammels, would mean the end of this tradition. As a historical form, it will fall into extinction when the divorce which produced it is overcome.” (101.)

In this last chapter Anderson adds that “Western Marxism (…) occupied in many respects the front of the stage in the whole intellectual history of the European Left, after the victory of Stalin in the USSR. But throughout this period, another tradition of an entirely different character subsisted and developed ‘off-stage.'” Unfortunately Anderson reduces this ‘off-stage’ Marxism to Trotskyism. Anderson adds, and I don’t buy it, “Trotsky’s life from the death of Lenin onwards was devoted to a practical and theoretical struggle to free the international workers’ movement from bureaucratic domination so that it could resume a successful overthrow of capitalism on a world scale.” (96.) He has a point, though, when he writes that “The tradition descended from Trotsky has thus been a polar contrast, in most essential respects, to that of Western Marxism. It concentrated on politics and economics, not philosophy. It was resolutely internationalist, never confined in concern or horizon to a single culture or country.” (100.) There were other contrasting traditions, however, and their omission seems quite important. And like Western Marxism, Trotskyism suffered from “enforced isolation from the main detachments of the organized working class throughout the world, and protracted absence of revolutionary mass upsurges in the central lands of industrial capitalism.” Among the problems which resulted: “The preservation of classical doctrines took priority over their development. Triumphalism in the cause of the working class, and catastrophism in the analysis of capitalism, asserted more by will than by intellect, were to be the typical vices of this tradition in its routine forms. ” (101.) Anderson seems hopeful of a renewal of Trotskyism in some form. Ugh.

In the last chapter Anderson mentions a possible turn back to economic and political study, citing Poulantzas. He adds that in England there hadn’t been much in the way of marxist theory but “the calibre of Marxist historiographY has probably been superior to that of any other country.” (102. I want to add as an aside that lack of study of the IWW and its intellectual life, and I think maybe the SLP is worth mentioning as well, makes his gesture toward the importance of the US even more incomplete; study of that marxism and the relationships between theory and practice in the ‘classical’ era prior to and through WWI, would make for an interesting comparison with Anderson’s account of events in Europe. Also, umm, the anarchist traditions.)

“the questions left unanswered by Lenin’s generation (…) continue to await replies. They do not lie within the jurisdiction of philosophy. They concern the central economic and political realities that have dominated world history in the last fifty years.” (103.) These questions include: “what is the real nature and structure of bourgeois democracy as a type of State system, that has become the normal mode of capitalist power in the advanced countries? What type of revolutionary strategy is capable of overthrowing this historical form of State, so distinct from that of Tsarist Russia? What would be the institutional forms of socialist aemocracy in the West, beyond it? (…) What are the contemporary laws of motion of capitalism as a mode of production; and are there new forms of crisis specific to them?” (103.)

“The precondition of their solution is, as we have teen, the rite of a mass revolutionary movement, free of organizational constraint, In the homelands of industrial capitalism. Only then will a new unity of socialist theory and working-class practice be possible, capable of endowing Marxism with the powers necessary to produce the knowledge it lacks today. The forms in which this theory of the future will emerge cannot be foreseen, nor its bearers. It would be a mistake to assume that they will necessarily repeat the classical models of the past.” (104.)

“Revolutionary theory can be undertaken in relative isolation -Marx in the British Museum, Lenin in war-bound Zurich: but it can only acquire a correct and final form when bound to the collective struggles of the working class itself. Mere formal membership of a party organization, of the type familiar in recent history, does not suffice to provide such a bond: a close connection with the practical activity of the proletariat is necessary. Nor is militancy in a small revolutionary group enough: there must be a linkage with actual masses. Conversely, linkage with a mass movement is not enough either, for the latter may be reformist: it is only when the masses are themselves revolutionary, that theory can complete its eminent vocation. These five conditions for the successful pursuit of Marxism have not been assembled anywhere in the advanced capitalist world since the Second World War. The prospects for their reappearance are now, however, at last increasing. When a truly revolutionary movement is born in a mature working class, the ‘final shape’ of theory will have no exact precedent. All that can be said is that when the masses themselves speak, theoreticians -of the sort the West has produced for fifty years -will necessarily be silent.” (105-106)

In the afterward, Anderson adds that marxism in particular needs historical investigation: “To confine Marxism to the contemporary is to condemn it to a perpetual oblivion.” (110.) Yet the relationship between marxism and historical investigation is unclear. Anderson poses this as “the question, hitherto unduly neglected, of the relationship -actual and potential -between ‘historiography’ and ‘theory’ within Marxist culture as a whole.” (111.)

“advances within Marxist historiography are potentially of critical importance for the development of Marxist theory. Yet, despite the formation of major schools of Marxist historiography in nearly all the advanced capitalist countries, it cannot be said that historical materialism as a theoretical system has benefited commensurately. There has been comparatively little integration of the findings of Marxist history into Marxist politics or economics, to date. This anomaly appears all the greater when it is recollected that no professional historiography of this type existed in the epoch of classical Marxism; while its advent in a later epoch has not had many noticeable effects within post-classical Marxism. Because of its novelty, the nature of its import for the structure of historical materialism as a whole has thus yet to be seen. At the least, it might be surmised that the balance between ‘history’ and ‘theory’ may be ‘ redressed in any Marxist culture of the future, altering its present configuration.” (111-112.)

Anderson criticizes his study of western marxism by noting that “unity of theory and practice is used to develop a structural contrast between classical and ‘Western’ Marxism. Thia contralt is certainly not a false one. Yet the manner of its presentation here tends to exempt classical Marxism unduly from critical scrutiny. (…) The possibility that there may have been elements in the classical heritage which were not so much incomplete as incorrect is not taken with sufficient seriousness. It is in part precisely the accumulation of historical knowledge about the past , that was unavailable to the first generations of Marxists as they lived through it as their present, which permits and enjoins new scientific . interrogation of their work today.” (112.) That’s one role for historical inquiry. This reminds me of this quote from Thompson: “This is the importance of the real history: it not only tests theory, it reconstructs theory.” (From the interview with Thompson in Radical History Review in 1976.)

Anderson call for a critical (which means at least in part, richly historically informed) return to classical marxism. For Anderson this return means a new approach, though. “The study of classical Marxism today needs a combination of scholarly knowledge and sceptical honesty that it has not yet received. In the post-war epoch, the best and most original work in this field has usually taken the form of ingenious reinterpretations of one canonical text or author, Marx or Engels or Lenin, to refute conventional notions about another, often with the aim of combating bourgeois criticisms or misinterpretations of Marxism as such. Today, it is necessary to abandon this practice, and to proceed instead to scrutinize the credentials of the texts of classical Marxism themselves, without any prior assumption· of their necessary coherence or · correctness. In fact, the most important responsibility for contemporary socialists may be to isolate the main theoretical weaknesses of classical Marxism, to explain the historical reasons for these, and to remedy them.” (113.) With regard to Marx Anderson suggests three areas of inquiry – theory of the state, theory and history of the international system of states, and value theory. Anderson lists questions about Lenin and Trotsky; they strike me as less interesting and that there are other, better figures to look at with such care and attention, and with the kind of sympathetic criticism Anderson implies. Rather, Lenin and Trotsky should be criticized much more polemically and unsympathetically, preferably in a way that draws heavily from their historical critics and, to some extent, victims.

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