A fiftieth birthday for Marxist theoryIssue: 120
Posted: 6 October 08
September 1958 saw the first issue of a journal called International Socialism. It was in duplicated form and undoubtedly had a very limited circulation, being produced and distributed by the tiny Socialist Review Group which counted its members in tens rather than hundreds. Even in the small world of 1950s British Marxism it was marginal in comparison to the Communist Party’s monumentally tedious Marxism Today,1 to the New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review, which in 1960 would merge to form New Left Review, and, on the Trotskyist fringe, to the Socialist Labour League’s Labour Review, which in the late 1950s was a lively journal with such contributors as Peter Fryer, Brian Pearce and Alasdair MacIntyre.2
But for the far left it was a time of new opportunities. The ferment of debate provoked by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 continued. At Easter 1958 the first Aldermaston march for unilateral nuclear disarmament had taken place. In the summer and autumn there was a minor wave of industrial struggle involving bus crews, dockers and building workers. There were also threats: over the Channel in France the Fourth Republic had collapsed and been replaced by a more authoritarian regime under General de Gaulle. The presentation of the new journal was, in a modest and highly realistic manner, optimistic:
The decline in Western capitalism—however protracted—is steadily undermining the stranglehold of reformism, its servant, over the working class. Stalinism—the ideological expression of the state capitalist world—is losing its potency as an alternative. Once again the international working class is looking to its own resources for strength and inspiration.
The two main articles were by the main theoreticians of the group Tony Cliff and Mike Kidron. Cliff’s article, “Changes in Stalinist Russia”, examined changes in industrial management in the Khrushchev period and the attempts to deal with lagging labour productivity.3 Despite developments since Joseph Stalin’s death Russia remained a repressive, irrational society. Kidron’s “The Economic Background of the Recent Strikes” took up two themes that would be developed in his later contributions to the journal: the decline in Britain’s imperial role and the significance of the arms budget.4
In a sense the launch of the journal was a false start. In 1959 what purported to be a double issue of the journal was in fact a small book by Cliff on Rosa Luxemburg.5 Then, in the autumn of 1960, the journal was relaunched as a quarterly. This time its editorial board was not limited to the Socialist Review Group but included supporters of the Fourth International (including two who were to become followers of Juan Posadas6) and others who would become members of the Solidarity grouping.7 As so often this effort at left unity collapsed, and from 1963 the journal was simply the organ of the International Socialism group (as the Socialist Review Group was now known).8 It appeared quarterly and then monthly until 1977 when it was replaced by a new quarterly series in book format which has continued to the present.
Fifty years for a theoretical journal is a substantial achievement.9 There are close on 1,000 articles plus editorials, reviews and letters. Obviously the quality is uneven. There are mediocre, boring and obscure articles, and polemics that seemed terribly important at the time but are now of little interest. There are also some historical curiosities of particular interest to students of renegacy. These include youthful efforts by Christopher Hitchens,10 actually more intelligent and better written than his current output, and some industrial commentaries by Roger Rosewell,11 later unofficial spokesperson for Dame Shirley Porter and more recently author of a tome on medieval wall paintings. There are also some dubious predictions such as Duncan Hallas’s claim in 1977 that “it may well be the case that Callaghan’s is the last majority Labour government”.12
However, overall a collection of the two series provides a rich store of political analysis and commentary. In comparison with its main rival, New Left Review, which for long periods produced relatively little that was directly relevant to contemporary struggle,13 International Socialism was always geared to practice, to an interpretation of the current world in the perspective of changing it.
But if the journal has always been a party journal, geared to the priorities of the organisation, it has been alive to the various debates on the British and international left. It has published contributions from all parts of the spectrum of the left on both directly political and broader cultural questions. Thus the journal has carried pieces by Tariq Ali and others on the Fourth International (IS2/6), Robin Blackburn on Cuba (IS2/9), John Saville on the Marshall Plan and the Cold War (IS2/46), Dan Atkinson and Larry Elliot on Keynes and the economic crisis,14 John Berger on mass demonstrations15 and Picasso (IS2/40), Terry Eagleton on Shakespeare (IS2/49) and Steven Rose on animal rights (IS2/54).
From the international left there have been contributions from Jean-Jacques Marie on Gaullism (IS1/3), Ellen Wood on alternatives to reformism (IS2/35), Ernest Mandel on the analysis of Russian society (IS2/49, IS2/56), and Susan George,16 Walden Bello17 and Boris Kagarlitsky18 on perspectives for the anti-capitalist movement.
Until recently comrades who wished to consult material from back issues had to hunt it down in libraries or beg, steal or borrow it from older comrades who had kept files. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology,19 a great many articles from the past 50 years are available at the click of a mouse. In particular comrades can consult three valuable websites.
The Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism Online has a complete index of the first series of International Socialism with the full text of many articles and reviews.20 It is worth checking this site regularly as new material is being added all the time. The Socialist Review and International Socialism Journal Index has an index arranged by subject covering the first 108 issues of the second series with the full text of articles from issue 61 onwards.21 And the International Socialism website has the full text of all issues from 100 onwards together with a small archive of items from earlier issues.22 Again it is worth checking for updates.23
What follows is intended simply as a guide to a small selection of articles that comrades may find of interest. It will be no more than a brief survey of International Socialism over the past 50 years. This is not a greatest hits compilation. The decision of what to include has been largely subjective. My sincere apologies to comrades whose late night labours and cherished brainchildren do not get a name-check. I hope it will encourage readers to explore the resources available and make their own discoveries. If I have devoted more space to the earlier period, it is because it is probably less familiar to most readers.
In many ways the years before 1968 were the golden age of the journal. Doubtless that claim contains an element of nostalgia on my part (as anyone from my age group will tell you, music and sex were better in those days too). But it was also a question of the journal’s role in relation to the organisation. Membership was very small—well under 100 in 1960, just over 400 by the start of 1968. Comrades were active in campaigns—nuclear disarmament and anti-apartheid, then in the mid-1960s tenants’ movements and some industrial struggles—but the organisation was far too small to intervene in its own name. In the early 1960s most activity took place in the sectarian hothouse of the Labour Party Young Socialists.
As a result the struggle for ideas was vital, and the fact that in 1962 the Socialist Review Group was renamed the International Socialism group was a clear indication of just how central the role of the journal was. The Marxism of the journal in those years was confident and flexible. Confident because unlike those who saw Russia as socialist or even a “degenerated workers’ state” we had nothing to make contorted apologies for. Confident too because first Harold Macmillan’s Tories and then Harold Wilson’s Labour government showed themselves utterly inept at solving the problems of British society. Meanwhile a rising level of industrial struggle showed that the class struggle was far from dead, as it had been pronounced by Labour politicians. Marxism was clearly relevant to the world we lived in.
But because the Marxism of International Socialism was confident it was also adaptable. Tony Cliff was quite happy to describe his work as “revisionist”.24 Some of the central tenets of orthodox Trotskyism were called into question. Mike Kidron showed that Lenin’s Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism was “supremely good theory in its day” but in a radically changed world “no more the complete manual”.25 Cliff showed that the theory of permanent revolution needed updating in the light of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions.26
The work of Cliff and Kidron provided the theoretical core of the journal. Cliff had spent most of the 1950s developing the theory of state capitalism with books on Russia, China and the Eastern European satellites. Now he was pursuing the implications of this into a more general attempt to develop and revise Marxism for the modern epoch. In “Trotsky on Substitutionism” he discussed what form of organisation was appropriate for revolutionary socialists in the modern period.27 In so doing he was polemicising against both the ultra-Bolshevism of the Socialist Labour League and the anti-Leninists of the Solidarity current. In “The Labour Party in Perspective” he made some important observations on the nature of class consciousness, though his conclusion was that Marxists would continue working within the Labour Party for the foreseeable future.28 There was also a savage polemic entitled “The End of the Road” against Isaac Deutscher,29 who had just published the final volume of his biographical trilogy on Trotsky. Cliff claimed that “under Deutscher’s pen, Stalinism is the legitimate child of the revolution”. The article should be read alongside Peter Sedgwick’s “Tragedy of the Tragedian”30 which recalls Deutscher’s very real merits, neglected by Cliff in his polemical zeal.
Meanwhile Mike Kidron was developing his work on the “permanent arms economy”—an explanation of the very real but impermanent boom in post-war capitalism.31 Kidron’s work was an important corrective to the Third Worldism widespread on the left. Amid the relative tranquillity of British society many were tempted to believe that the real action was in Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba. In “International Capitalism” Kidron sternly reminded them that the main struggle was at home:
To believe nowadays that the short route to revolution in London, New York or Paris lies through Calcutta, Havana or Algiers, is to pass the buck to where it has no currency. To act on this belief is to rob the revolutionary socialist movement of the few dollars it still possesses.32
Cliff and Kidron had gathered around themselves a talented team of writers. For a few years Alasdair MacIntyre, later a world renowned philosopher, was a regular contributor to the journal.33 One of his more controversial offerings was “Prediction and Politics”34 which argued that the overthrow of capitalism depended on a “long-term mass change in consciousness; and there are no conditions which can make such a change either inevitable or impossible”. Cliff and Kidron, feeling that this made too many concessions to voluntarism, insisted on reprinting Hal Draper’s “The ‘Inevitability of Socialism’” which argued for “strict determinism” and “the historic inevitability of man’s ascent to humanity”.35 Belief in the inevitability of socialism is not much of a problem today as the spectre of barbarism looms ever larger, but the debate is well worth reading to see two powerful minds exploring the logic of Marxism.
Peter Sedgwick was a remarkable and original writer who had the rare gift of being very funny and profoundly serious at the same time. He will be remembered among other things for his translations of Victor Serge.36 His essay on “Victor Serge and Socialism” introduced a writer who was virtually unknown to the British left.37 Serge was a dissident even among dissidents and Sedgwick’s fascination with Serge reflected his own unease at accepting any orthodoxy.38 Sedgwick also contributed an article on “The Two New Lefts”, a perceptive critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the post-1956 British left.39 A complement to this was Sedgwick’s “Pseud Left Review”, a caustic scatological parody of the convoluted style which characterised Perry Anderson’s New Left Review: “Nowhere has the archaic insularity and parochialism of the British intelligentsia been more suffocating than in its failure to render a totalising synthesis of the means of excretion in our society”.40 It was an important reminder to International Socialism contributors to keep their writing concrete and accessible.
Labour historian Ray Challinor’s “Zigzag: The Communist Party and the Bomb” (IS1/3) provided useful ammunition for comrades in the nuclear disarmament movement faced with a Communist Party which was enjoying a brief revival. Jim Higgins’s “Ten Years for the Locust” gave a pioneering account of British Trotskyism during and after the Second World War (“a history of failure but…also a history of struggle and high endeavour”) providing valuable background to current disputes in the Young Socialists.41
By the mid-1960s some of the new generation recruited as students around 1960 were contributing to the journal. Nigel Harris, who took over as editor in 1965, wrote among other things on the rise of Maoism, now a significant current on the left following the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s. In “Marxism: Leninism-Stalinism-Maoism” he concluded that “Stalin and Mao…have revised Marxism sufficiently to render it a contradiction of its original purposes”.42 “China: What Price Culture?” dismissed the Cultural Revolution (which was provoking great enthusiasm on some parts of the left) as “irrelevant to the poverty of the mass of the population” and a “battle…between different factions of an embryonic ruling class”.43
Chris Harman’s “Tribune of the People” (a history of the Labour left’s weekly newspaper) provided a valuable critique of the mainstream Labour left which after the years of Bevanism was now largely capitulating to Harold Wilson.44 He concluded sourly, “When the working class itself begins to solve its own problems, Tribune will no doubt…be looking the other way.” For the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 1967 Harman wrote the much republished “How the Revolution was Lost”,45 which provided a historical complement to Cliff’s work on state capitalism and answered frequently raised questions as to when and how Russia became state capitalist.
It is often claimed that New Left Review introduced the British left to a range of hitherto unknown foreign Marxists. This contribution was a real one, though some of its discoveries might have been better left undisturbed. But International Socialism also played a part. A proposal to translate Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness had to be abandoned for copyright reasons.46 Erich Gerlach’s essay on “Karl Korsch’s Undogmatic Marxism” introduced an unknown thinker to a new generation47 and Chris Harman’s enthusiastic review article on Antonio Gramsci appeared at a time when the Italian communist was still little known in Britain.48
For those who have heard International Socialism derided as “-workerist” and “economistic” it may come as a surprise to learn that in the Kidron-Harris years the journal often published poetry. There were poems by Hugh MacDiarmid (IS1/1), Adrian Mitchell49 and Roger McGough (IS1/29) before they achieved their present eminence. More directly rooted in struggle were a selection of “Songs with Teeth”,50 several of them from the Scottish anti-nuclear movement and including Eric Morse’s legendary “Worker’s Bomb”. An obituary of the surrealist poet André Breton51 apparently persuaded the young David Widgery to join the organisation.52 And one good reason to seek out the originals, despite availability on-line, is the magnificent series of covers designed by Reuben Fior.53
With the advent of the Labour government there was a rising level of industrial struggle and the group was able to make some small interventions especially around the 1966 book Incomes Policy, Legislation and Shop Stewards by Cliff and Colin Barker. The journal reflected this development with Barker’s article “The British Labour Movement—Aspects of Current Experience”54 and an analysis by Joyce Rosser and Barker of “A Working Class Defeat: The ENV Story”55 telling the story of the organisation’s first factory branch in north west London and drawing the lessons of the way trade union organisation there was eventually smashed.
The period after 1968 saw major changes in the organisation.56 The membership grew amid a rising wave of industrial struggle that lasted until 1975. The role of the journal necessarily changed but its main aim was to provide a strategic framework for the organisation’s activity. Chris Harman took over as editor; there would be no more poetry but a number of articles related to the tasks of the new period. Cliff’s “On Perspectives” set out the economic analysis and political priorities for the coming years57 while Harman’s “Party and Class” provided a retrospective assessment of issues emerging from the fierce internal debate on internal organisation.58
At the beginning of the 1970s the journal published two major analyses of international perspectives for the coming decade, which were discussed at the International Socialism conference in spring 1970, and later that year at an international conference the group sponsored along with the French organisation Lutte Ouvrière and the American International Socialists. Chris Harman wrote on “The Stalinist States”, observing that Russia and its satellites were facing “a chronic crisis of slowing growth rates” and predicting that “the chronic crises of state capitalism will inevitably reach a nodal point at which the whole system is threatened”.59 Nigel Harris examined “The Third World” and concluded:
What is centrally lacking in the backward countries today is a clearly expressed strategy to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without this aim the sporadic involvement of workers in broader movements has no specific political implications except as a possible prelude to proletarian independence.60
In 1973 the journal moved to monthly publication under the editorship of Duncan Hallas. Initially this was not a success. Articles were limited to a maximum of two pages and the journal became an uneasy halfway house between a theoretical journal and a current affairs magazine. The only memorable contribution was a piece by Hallas, “Fourth International in decline”, which broke the length rules and provided an account of the post-war degeneration of the Fourth International.61 As the euphoria of 1968 faded some comrades were tempted by the formulations of “orthodox” Trotskyism. Hallas’s article was a stern warning against any such reversion.
After an abortive attempt to bring Kidron back as editor Chris Harman resumed the editorship in the autumn of 1973. It was a stormy period for the left. The Chilean coup was followed by the 1974 British general election, where working class action brought down a Tory government. Central to the organisation’s aims was the building of a rank and file movement in the unions. The general perspective on which such a strategy was based was set out in Andreas Nagliati’s article “Towards a Rank and File Movement”.62 This began from the assumption that “we are at the beginning of a period of growing sharp conflict” and argued that revolutionaries must take “the greatest care…to involve broad support” but also “to put their more general political ideas across”. In the following years a number of articles addressed the question of rank and file organisation and the history of such movements. Pete Glatter, a working busman, contributed a piece on the London busmen’s rank and file movement of the 1930s63 drawing on rank and file papers from the period and recalling a bus workers’ song to the tune of Clementine that asked, “What’s the use of having a pension unless you are still alive?”
Another important piece from this period was Duncan Hallas’s “White Collar Workers”.64 There had been a tendency in the International Socialists to identify the working class with manual workers but in the 1970s there was a rise in militancy from groups of workers with few previous traditions of struggle. By 1974 white collar workers constituted “around 42 percent of the workforce in Britain”. Hallas concluded with a longstanding theme of the International Socialist tradition: the insistence that the main struggle is always that on one’s own doorstep. “It is no use looking with vicarious pleasure at members working in a big car plant or a steelworks if you work in a civil service office. The job is to build in that office.”
These years also saw a sharp internal struggle in the organisation about strategy and perspectives and a number of articles in the journal were thinly veiled polemics. Cliff’s “Lenin’s Pravda$9_$ (based on material for his later biography of Lenin) was part of his campaign to change the orientation and style of _Socialist Worker.65 Jim Higgins’s “Now Let Us Praise Leon Trotsky” was a parting shot from a veteran comrade soon to be excluded from the organisation and can be read as a veiled polemic against Cliff’s version of Leninism.66
In 1975 a special issue written by Cliff was devoted to “Portugal at the Crossroads”.67 This was rapidly translated into six languages. While the history of 1968 has been travestied and distorted the Portuguese Revolution of 1974-5, the biggest and most potentially revolutionary explosion of working class self-activity that Europe has seen since 1945, has been simply written out of history, and nowadays few people are aware of the events. Cliff’s analysis is open to retrospective criticisms—he focused too much on the choice between socialist revolution and “extreme reaction” on the Chilean model and underestimated the threat posed by social democracy. But as a record of a memorable period of working class struggle it deserves to be read and remembered.
Harman was succeeded as editor by Duncan Hallas and then Alex Callinicos. In 1977, to celebrate the journal’s hundredth issue, Callinicos published contributions from all four former editors. Kidron’s piece, “Two Insights Don’t Make a Theory”,68 made a sharp critique of his own earlier work. It was effectively a farewell from the man who had once so brilliantly edited the journal.69 Chris Harman’s “Better a Valid Insight than a Wrong Theory” was a valiant defence of the young Kidron against his later self.70
The year 1977 also saw the Lewisham demonstration against the National Front following which the Socialist Workers Party (as the organisation had now become) was widely vilified.71 The journal made no concessions but sought to arm comrades for the inevitable arguments with an article by Callinicos and Alistair Hatchett, brazenly entitled “In Defence of Violence”, which concluded that “the only real answer to the violence of ruling class power is the organised power of the working class”.72
At the beginning of 1978 the first series of International Socialism came to an end and was replaced by the monthly Socialist Review which in its early issues aimed to relate to the new milieu around the Anti Nazi League. The initiative to launch a new series of International Socialism came initially from a group of comrades outside the Central Committee but the new quarterly, edited for its first ten years by Peter Binns, rapidly took its place in the Socialist Workers Party’s range of publications.
The new journal reflected many of the crucial arguments going on within the party. One heated debate concerned the relation of Marxism to feminism and in particular the role of the Women$7_$_s Voice magazine in the party. Tony Cliff presented articles on Clara Zetkin (IS2/13) and Alexandra Kollontai (IS2/14), first drafts of chapters from his 1984 book Class Struggle and Women$7_$_s Liberation, but containing additional material not in the book. There were sharp criticisms of his treatment of Zetkin from Lin James and Anna Paczuska, Juliet Ash and Janet Vaux (IS2/14). Irene Bruegel (IS2/1), Floya Anthias (IS2/2), Joan Smith (IS2/3), Barbara Winslow (IS2/4) and Lin James (IS2/7) presented a range of positions on the question of the family and women’s oppression. Lindsey German’s “Theories of Patriarchy” challenged ideas widespread in the women’s movement by setting out to “show that it is not men who ‘benefit’ from the oppression of women but capital”.73 The continuing threat from the far right was covered in two articles by Colin Sparks on fascism and the working class: “The German Experience” (IS2/2) and “The National Front Today” (IS2/3).
There was also a broader debate about perspectives for the current period as the Labour government collapsed and Margaret Thatcher came to power. Chris Harman’s “Crisis of the European revolutionary left” (IS2/4) was an informative survey of developments on the far left in Europe and also raised questions relevant to the difficulties which the SWP faced in this period. Steve Jeffreys’ article “Striking into the Eighties” (IS2/5), which looked to a continuation of the current level of industrial struggle, drew a swift rejoinder from Cliff who, in “The Balance of Class Forces in Recent Years”, set out his argument that the movement was now entering a period of “downturn”.74 This was Cliff at his best. His argument did not rely simply on statistics but contained extensive quotations from industrial militants speaking in their own voice about the changing situation in the workplace. Alex Callinicos’s “The Rank and File Movement Today” (IS2/17) marked the abandonment of the rank and file strategy while insisting that such a perspective was “essentially correct—in the appropriate conditions”.
The journal continued to respond quickly to events. When Jaruzelski’s coup crushed the Solidarity movement in Poland in December 1981 a book length special issue, “Solidarnosc: From Gdansk to Military Repression”, was produced within weeks by Colin Barker and Kara Weber (IS2/15).
The Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 was central to the Socialist Workers Party’s activity for a year. The story of the strike was told in another special book length issue, The Great Strike by Alex Callinicos and Mike Simons (IS2/27 & IS2/8), and Cliff analysed “Patterns of Mass Strike” from 1905 to 1985.75 The strike also gave rise to an interesting covert polemic. Early in 1986 Paul Foot published a short pamphlet on the miners’ leader of the 1920s AJ Cook.76 Cliff responded with an article entitled “The Tragedy of AJ Cook” which never named Foot but was a direct attack on what Cliff saw as Foot’s excessive sympathy for Cook (IS2/31). Cliff and Foot greatly liked and respected each other but there were real tensions between the two men. The polemic was doubly veiled for though the name was never mentioned by Cliff it was clear that the real subject of debate was not Cook but Scargill.
There were also lively exchanges on philosophical and cultural questions. Alex Callinicos’s 1982 book Is There A Future for Marxism? provoked a debate between Binns (IS2/17), Callinicos (IS2/19) and Harman (IS2/21) showing that the party leadership was far from monolithic on philosophical questions. A critical review of Dave Widgery’s 1986 work Beating Time, a history of Rock Against Racism (IS2/33) by myself drew a vigorous response from Widgery (IS2/35) in which I was categorised among “the sniffer dogs of Orthodox Trotskyism”.
In 1988 John Rees replaced Binns as editor. The journal continued to produced a wide range of material on political and theoretical questions. There were special issues on the French Revolution (IS2/43) and the Frederick Engels centenary.77 Rees’s “In Defence of October” (IS2/52) provoked a wide ranging debate about Leninism and Stalinism eliciting responses from, among others, Samuel Farber, Robert Service and Robin Blackburn (IS2/55).
The collapse of “Communism” in the Eastern bloc was in some ways a confirmation of analyses developed by Cliff and others many years earlier but it also required further elucidation. In particular Chris Harman’s article “The Storm Breaks” (IS2/46) attempted to show at considerable length how the state capitalist theory could explain the “contradictory development” in Eastern Europe. Despite dramatic political changes, he argued, “the central power of the ruling class was untouched”. What had happened was that “the pygmy state capitalisms of Eastern Europe have cracked apart in the face of competition from the new giants of the world order”.
The rise of New Labour during the 1990s produced a number of commentaries. Chris Harman’s “From Bernstein to Blair: One Hundred Years of Revisionism” showed that while Bernstein and Anthony Crosland had tried to offer a “reformism of hope”, all that Blair could promise was a “reformism of despair”.78 Lindsey German’s “The Blair Project Cracks”79 made a devastating critique of Tony Blair’s record in power before his entanglement in foreign wars and her “How Labour Lost its Roots” described “disillusion and despair” among Labour Party activists.80
The Seattle demonstrations of November 1999 gave rise to a new international anti-capitalist movement which in the post-9/11 world merged into a massive anti-war movement. The new challenges of the period were covered extensively in the journal. Chris Harman’s “Anti_capitalism: Theory and Practice” stressed that “it is up to all of us to help build the new movement” but warned that “clarity of ideas is not a luxury in such cases”.81 Several other articles in the same spirit followed.
John Rees’s “The Broad Party, the Revolutionary Party and the United Front” confronted some of the problems posed by united fronts and electoral alliances in a new phase of activity noting that “the most difficult struggles and the toughest decisions still lie ahead”.82 Paul McGarr’s “Why Green is Red: Marxism and the Threat to the Environment” provided a valuable introduction to the emerging issues of environmental politics deploying extensive scientific knowledge in terms easily grasped by the lay reader.83 His “Capitalism and Climate Change” gave an equally lucid account of 21st century barbarism’s most menacing face.84 He concluded grimly:
The record of human history is that those who control societies have often been prepared to see the whole of society plunge into disastrous chaos and collapse rather than accept change which undermined their power. I see no reason to suppose the most powerful ruling class in human history, those who today head the giant global corporations at whose centre stand the fossil fuel corporations, will behave any differently to their predecessors whose societies’ fate is witnessed only by ruined monuments.
When Socialist Review celebrated its 200th issue in 1996 Tony Cliff stated that he hoped there would not be another 200 issues, for he expected the revolution would come by then. Whether there will be another 50 years of International Socialism we do not know, and I for one am unlikely to find out. But at a time when capitalism is “an unconscionable time a-dying” and the prospect of what Marx called the “common ruin of the contending classes” is ever more likely, we need a Marxism like that of Cliff and Kidron that is unafraid to confront new and changing realities.
As the founders of this journal wrote 50 years ago in words still relevant today:
Marxism has a crucial role to play. A science of action, constantly assimilating and formulating the experiences of the international working class, it is the most biting weapon in the struggle against class society…
We present International Socialism as a small contribution to Marxist thought. Its function is to bring the traditions of scientific socialism to bear on the constantly changing pattern of class struggle, to help clarify its nature and, conversely, to keep the science of working class action a living one and not the compendium of quotations to which it is so often and so tragically reduced.
1 September 1958
1: This was drably orthodox in its Stalinism, quite unlike the Eurocommunist Marxism Today of the 1980s, which impaled itself on its own trendiness.
6: Posadas advocated a pre-emptive nuclear strike by Russia against the West.
7: Solidarity was a “libertarian” (ie anti-Leninist) group, inspired by the French organisation Socialisme ou Barbarie, which opposed activity in the Labour Party and focused on workplace struggle.
8: See my obituary of Mike Kidron, Birchall 2003a, and my account of Kidron’s editorship, Birchall, 2003b.
9: References to articles from the two series are indicated by IS1/ and IS2/ plus the issue number. Wherever there is an online version available at the time of writing I have given a URL.
10: In 1972 Hitchens was joint reviews editor of the journal. See IS1/50 www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1972/no050/hitchens.htm and IS1/51 www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1972/no051/hitchens.htm
13: See Birchall, 1980.
19: As any Marxist knows, “wonders” always derive from human labour. Einde O’Callaghan, Bob Cox, Edward Crawford and several other comrades are to be warmly thanked for their efforts in making this material available.
23: It is also worth checking the collections on the Marxist Internet Archive (www.marxists.org)
for Cliff, Kidron, Hallas, Jim Higgins, Peter Sedgwick, David Widgery and Paul Foot. These archives contain articles from International Socialism and from other publications.
28: After 15 years in Britain this was Cliff’s first article on the British labour movement. IS1/9 www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1962/xx/labour.htm
33: A collection of MacIntyre’s Marxist writings has recently been published. See Blackledge and Davidson, 2008.
36: Serge, 1963, and Serge 1972.
38: Mike Kidron’s comment on the article was: “This isn’t a portrait of Serge, it’s a portrait of Sedge.”
46: IS1/24 & IS1/25 www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/hcc-alt/orthmarx.htm
52: Widgery, 1989, p xiii.
53: As I write, I learn that the indefatigable Einde O’Callaghan is now adding reproductions of the covers to the archive.
56: See Birchall, 2008.
67: IS1/81 & IS1/82 www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1975/portugal/
69: Shortly before his death Kidron published one further article in International Socialism: “Failing Growth and Rampant Costs: Two Ghosts in the Machine of Modern Capitalism”. It was marked with his customary wit and perceptiveness. IS2/96
71: For details see Renton, 2006, pp69-70.
76: Foot, 1986.
Birchall, Ian, 1980, “The Autonomy of Theory: A Short History of New Left Review”, International Socialism 10, second series (winter 1980).
Birchall, Ian, 2003a, Obituary: Michael Kidron, Revolutionary History, volume 8, number 3.
Birchall, Ian, 2003b, “Michael Kidron 1930-2003”, International Socialism 99, second series (summer 2003), http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj99/birchall.htm
Birchall, Ian, 2008, “Seizing the Time: Tony Cliff and 1968”, International Socialism 118, second series (spring 2008), www.isj.org.uk/?id=426
Blackledge, Paul, and Neil Davidson (eds), 2008, Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism: Selected Writings, 1953-1974 (Brill).
Foot, Paul, 1986, An Agitator of the Worst Type (Socialist Workers Party) www.marxists.org/archive/foot-paul/1986/01/ajcook.htm
Renton, Dave, 2006, When We Touched the Sky: The Anti Nazi League, 1977-1981 (New Clarion).
Serge, Victor, 1963 , Memoirs of a Revolutionary, translated by Peter Sedgwick (Oxford University)
Serge, Victor, 1972 , Year One of the Russian Revolution, translated by Peter Sedgwick (Holt, Reinhart and Winston), www.marxists.org/archive/serge/1930/year-one/
Widgery, David, 1989, Preserving Disorder (Pluto).