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Marxism

In response to:

Marxmanship from the September 16, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

I have just seen George Lichtheim’s references in your issue of September 16 to the book, Marxism in the Modern World, the first volume of essays written for a conference at Stanford University last October. Whatever short-comings this book may have, they are not those ascribed to it by Mr. Lichtheim.

Except for M. Raymond Aron,” Mr. Lichtheim writes, “none of the contributors has anything to say about Marxism—past, present or future.” This is simply a bizarre misrepresentation. Bertram D. Wolfe’s essay on “Leninism,” to cite a single example, contains several pages on the development of Marx’s thought, followed by a detailed examination of the kind of operations which Lenin made on that thought. It is one thing to disagree with Mr. Wolfe’s treatment; it is another thing to deny that such a treatment exists. Indeed, most of the other essays repeatedly touch on Marxism, past, present, and future, and could hardly fail to do so.

Except for M. Aron, Mr. Lichtheim also charges, all the contributors merely concern themselves “with the Cold War, the lessons of Stalinism, and the dissolution of the Sino-Soviet bloc.” This is another incredible invention. My essay on “Castroism,” for one, has nothing to say on these subjects. It is a more or less straight historical reconstruction of the programmatic development of Castro’s movement. The essays on Stalinism, Khrushchevism, Titoism and Maoism also happen to have little or nothing to do with those subjects. Ironically, only Richard Lowenthal deals with them somewhat systematically, as his theme demanded. But Mr. Lichtheim does not object to Lowenthal’s essay; he considers it, on the contrary, to be the “most substantial” of the lot. That may be, but it becomes a mystery how Mr. Lowenthal managed to do so well with what Mr. Lichtheim contemptuously calls “mental exercises.”

Can one really take seriously Mr. Lichtheim’s dictum that “there is nothing new to be said about Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or Tito”? If so, they must be unique historical figures. This and future generations of students will strive to say something new about historical figures of past centuries about whom much more is known and has been written. Since Mr. Lichtheim published his own book on Marxism in 1961, one wonders whether the subject was exhausted four years ago or even more recently. Anyone who has looked into the lives and works of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Tito must recognize that there is still much that we do not know about them, especially of the last two.

But Mr. Lichtheim has detected an even “graver fault” in the book: “The Conference organizers had built their program around the theme ‘One Hundred Years of Revolutionary Internationals’—reckoning back to September 1864, when the First International was founded in London. In other words, they made the explicit assumption that Stalin and Mao were and are the legitimate heirs of the European labor movement, and of democratic socialism in general.”

This “explicit assumption” is wholly the work of Mr. Lichtheim’s imagination. He makes a perfectly neutral, chronological title carry the burden of absurdly inflated significance. I can testify that each contributor was encouraged to deal with his subject in his own way, not on the basis of any “assumption” by the conference’s organizers. It is calumnious to suggest that Isaiah Berlin, Raymond Aron, Merle Fainsod, Richard Lowenthal and the others would have become parties to a conference program intended to put over the kind of explicit assumption that Mr. Lichtheim thinks he is exposing.

Not only was there no such “assumption” but the one thing that every contributor to this volume can probably agree on is that Stalin and Mao were not and are not the legitimate heirs of the European labor movement and of democratic socialism in general. The book itself provides evidence of this view. The editor, Milorad Drachkovitch, states explicitly: “The passage of Marxist movements from opposition to power brought with it a qualitative distinction between nineteenth- and twentieth-century Marxism.” Boris Souvarine concludes his survey of “Stalinism” by affirming that it “is the very negation of classical socialism and communism.”

An innocent reader might easily interpret Mr. Lichtheim’s words to mean that the conference was something of a Goldwaterish plot, with Mr. Drachkovitch the chief plotter. Why did the Hoover Institution sponsor the conference? Because, Mr. Lichtheim slyly suggests, it wanted to spread the “doctrine,” allegedly shared by right-wingers and Communists, that Stalin and Mao legitimately inherited the European labor and democratic socialist tradition. Even more ominously, Mr. Lichtheim divulges: “The Conference itself gathered at Stanford a few months after Senator Goldwater had swept California, and there is a distinctly Goldwaterish ring to Mr. Drachkovitch’s introduction…”

It might also be pointed out that the conference was conceived months before Mr. Goldwater’s candidacy. The notion that Mr. Goldwater’s victory in California had something to do with the holding of the conference is worthy of the conspiratorial type of mind that Mr. Lichtheim no doubt condemns in others.

If this was a right-wing plot, it was unbelievably inept. Of the thirty-five active participants, no more than five could be considered “right-wingers.” The liberal and even the democratic-socialist contingent was far larger and unquestionably dominated the proceedings. It is no less than insulting to insinuate that Carl Landauer, Lewis Feuer, Sidney Hook, Boris Nicolaievsky, Max Shachtman, Max Nomad, Hans Gerth, Daniel Bell, and all the rest of us were gullible pawns in a Goldwaterish machination to sell a right-wing (and Communist) “doctrine” on Stalin and Mao.

It is in his innuendoes against Mr. Drachkovitch, however, that Mr. Lichtheim touches bottom. I have reread Mr. Drachkovitch’s brief and incisive introduction, and I am utterly baffled by Mr. Lichtheim’s reference to its “distinctly Goldwaterish ring.” I could not find in it a single sentence or idea which could conceivably be called “Goldwaterish” or to which only Goldwaterites might subscribe. This kind of aspersion on a serious and honorable scholar who scrupulously abstained from imposing his personal views on the conference is no better than political name-calling.

Finally, the title of this volume, which Mr. Lichtheim finds so misleading, was chosen by the Stanford University Press, not by the Hoover Institution or the conference planners. And is it so misleading? Mr. Lichtheim himself tells us in his next paragraph that “Marxism has served both as the ideology of the European labor movement, and as the fighting creed of a totalitarian intelligentsia.” For better or worse, Marxism has become the lingua franca of the current wave of revolutionary movements. I would have preferred “Marxismin the Modern World, but I can understand that the publishers might have considered the quotation marks somewhat ungainly.

This portion of the review was unworthy of George Lichtheim. When Lichtheim is good, he is very, very good, but when he is bad, he is horrid.

Theodore Draper

Stanford, California

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