My name is Marc Mulholland. I am a Fellow (lecturer and tutor) in the History Faculty of Oxford University. My College is St Catherine's. I come from Ireland.

This is a blog relating to my book published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, Bourgeois Liberty and the Politics of Fear: From Absolutism to Neo-Conservativism.
Now on sale here and here. If you want 20 per cent off the price, I can arrange that! Send me a message or leave a comment, and I'll tell you how.

The thesis my book is examining was rather pithily summarised by Leon Trotsky in 1939: "Wherever the proletariat appeared as an independent force, the bourgeoisie shifted to the camp of the counter-revolution. The bolder the struggle of the masses, the quicker the reactionary transformation of liberalism." [Context is here]

However, my book isn't a defence of Trotskyism, or indeed any particular ideology. It's a study of an idea that took shape in Left, Right, and Centre variations.

This blog has tid-bits not included in the book, and other thoughts that occur.

You can see book details at the
OUP website.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On Socialism in One Country

In my review of the Sperber biography of Marx, I have a bit of a go at the 'impossibility of socialism in one country' meme, which is now virtually a truism for the hard left. I say:

In our pessimistic age much of the Marxian left combines hopeless nationalism in its defence of unreformed welfarism and labour market rigidity, with hopeless internationalism in its insistence that only global socialism may hope to prosper.

Arguing that socialism in one country is impossible (I prefer 'social republicanism', but that's a different matter) is a handy way to dismiss the failures of the planned economy in the USSR as somehow contingent on the failure of revolution to spread internationally in the Red Years of 1918-1920. As an idea, it is most closely associated with Trotsky, and popularised I'd guess by Isaac Deutscher.

The better to differentiate himself from Stalin, Trotsky in exile more or less came to wear Stalin's charge that he had objected to the notion of building 'socialism in one country' (Sotsilizm v Odnoi Strane). In donning the caricature, Trotsky effectively adopted utopian obfuscation.

The initial Bolshevik assumption in 1917 and the few years afterwards had been that unless the revolution spread from Russia it would be crushed by intervention or blockade. This turned out not to be so: the regime survived, if only on the basis of war and Terror.

But while the Bolsheviks had hoped for immediate military and political solidarity from a spreading revolution, they never expected that international revolution would solve their domestic problems of Russian social and economic backwardness.

The idea that Russian Sovietism would have flourished economically and democratically if only Germany had fallen to Sparticism makes no sense. There was no realistic prospect for a socialist Marshall Aid Plan. International revolution in 1918 would have meant (as Trotsky and Lenin said) a Europe prostrated by civil war. There was never an option of workers in advanced countries, having thrown out their governments, cheerfully handing over huge surpluses for Russian modernisation. Socialist modernisation to be credible had to be endogenous, certainly  not reliant on a deus ex machina.

Trotsky's position in the 1920s was indeed sensible (in some respects): that the USSR's development required serious engagement with world markets. He was then opposed to Stalin's autarchic notion of 'socialism in a separate country' (Sotsilizm v Otdel'noi Strane). This was not utopianism.

Trotsky's 1930s position, when he adopted the idea that socialism could not be built (not completed) in one country, was the rhetoric and metaphysics of defeat. It served as an alibi for the Bolsheviks taking power in a country that clearly did not have the requisites for a humane socialist experiment. Trotsky didn't want to acknowledge that if Stalin was wrong, the Mensheviks were right. Russia's legacy of backwardness could never have been simply wished away by international revolution.

In this regard, Trotsky's legacy is one of pipe-dreaming on the part of the post-war ultra-left: everything will be fine so long as revolution is international across much of the globe; otherwise nothing can be done. Day-dreaming replaces economics.

Marx and the Educative Dictatorship

I've written a a looong review of Jonanthan Sperber's new biography of Marx over at Dublin Review of Books. Why not read and share!

There are lots of other reviews on-line: some very interesting, some a bit predictable. Richard Overy in Literary Review is very interesting (it's an omnibus discussion of Sperber and Hosfeld):

Neither Hosfeld nor Sperber brings out clearly enough the role of consciousness in Marx's theory. This he borrowed from Hegel and never lost sight of. Consciousness - Vernunft in Hegelian terms - was not mere understanding (Verstand), but a deeper appreciation of the existing reality of the material world whose actual conditions would determine the possibility of revolutionary transformation. Workers who developed this conscious apprehension of the real world were the communists of the Communist Manifesto, who saw further and more deeply than their proletarian peers. The whole purposes of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (a term Marx first used in 1850) was not to impose the harsh dictatorship of characteristic of the 20th century. rather, it was a moment of transition while those with heightened consciousness educated those who had little or none.
I don't agree that Marx meant by the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' an 'educative dictatorship' (it's an argument made by Hosfeld - page 47 - which is maybe where Overy got it from). It seems clear to me that Marx wished to suggest an urban and plebeian intimidation of the counter-revolutionary soldiery and constitutionalist waverers. This comes across in his writings for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848. As I put it in my book:
Marx and Engels were concerned that the Frankfurt Parliament, being located in a relatively small city and thus isolated from the revolutionary crowd, would be timid in the face of counter-revolutionary aggression. In essence, they hoped that the urban revolutionary crowd would harass the Frankfurt assembly in order to counteract the pressure of the princely governments and armed forces: ‘Intimidation by the unarmed people or intimidation by an armed soldiery - that is the choice before the Assembly.’ (p. 72)
This is what Marx meant by popular 'dictatorship', and as the proletariat matured it would be 'proletarian dictatorship'. If education was to happen, it would be in the course of struggle. Take his rebuke to August Willich in 1850: "we say to the workers: you have 15 or 20 years of bourgeois and national wars to go through, not merely to alter conditions but to alter yourselves and make yourselves fit to take political power". Or his comments in Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875):
Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc. ... is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! ... the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.

I don't want to prettify 'dictatorship of the proletariat': it clearly implied the suspension of the rule of law. But the idea of an educative dictatorship was Blanquist rather than Marxist.

But my main point is that I'm very interested by Overy's distinction between Vernunft and Verstand. Does anyone know if Overy writes on this elsewhere? Or where else I might look?