Marxism is not dead

November 8, 1996

John Ashworth and Helena Cronin (THES, October 18) assert that so called "Marxist political systems" across the world have been repudiated following the dissolution of the USSR and that, along with this, there has been a collapse of Marxism "as a philosophical system that claimed to provide a basis for most, if not all, the social sciences".

Ashworth and Cronin do not appear to be aware that there are many Marxists (as opposed to Leninists) who would interpret the break up of the USSR in a totally different light - not as a defeat of Marxism but as a vindication of it and indeed, confirmation of its efficacy as a philosophical tool. The fact is that what existed in the Soviet Union (and the same can be said of China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere) was not a system of socialism or communism as Marx or Engels would have described it, but rather a form of capitalism run by the state - state capitalism - where commodity production, wage labour, money and all the other essential characteristics of a capitalist economy obtain.

Nor is this construction made - post USSR - merely with the benefit of hindsight. Indeed there are Marxist political organisations in existence, most notably in this country the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which, at the time of the Russian Revolution, unequivocally declared that it could not possibly bring about socialism - because the material and psychological pre-conditions of a truly socialist society were completely absent in Russia - and that it would result instead in a totalitarian state capitalist dictatorship.

Furthermore, the SPGB then went on to argue, applying its historical materialism, that the development of increasingly sophisticated methods of production required an increasingly educated workforce which in the long run was incompatible with the maintenance of state dictatorship. This has in fact been borne out by the developments we have seen in recent years.

So is Marxism dead? I suspect that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, all talk of its death is somewhat premature to say the least.

Robin Cox Caledonian Road London N7

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