Dictator Marx?

Marxism After Marx

by David McLellan
Harper & Row, 355 pp., $18.50

The Two Marxisms: Contradictions and Anomalies in the Development of Theory

by Alvin W. Gouldner
Continuum Books/The Seabury Press, 397 pp., $17.50

Marx on the Choice between Socialism and Communism

by Stanley Moore
Harvard University Press, 135 pp., $12.50

Karl Marx and the Anarchists

by Paul Thomas
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 416 pp., $40.00

Marxism: For and Against

by Robert L. Heilbroner
Norton, 186 pp., $9.95

The one thing most readers have always wanted to learn from books about Marxism is how much responsibility Marx must bear for the authoritarian character of the regimes that claim to follow his doctrines. On the answer to this question our attitude to Marx must in large part rest. If the state created by Stalin can without distortion be traced back through Lenin to Marx’s ideas, Marx stands condemned by his own offspring. If, however, these same offspring can be shown to be bastards fathered onto Marx’s writings in violation of their letter and spirit, Marx can be cleared of the heaviest charge against his name.

Of the five books here under review only Robert Heilbroner’s Marxism: For and Against tackles this central question directly, but each has some bearing on it. I opened David McLellan’s Marxism after Marx with high expectations. McLellan is the author of the best recent biography of Marx, and has written half a dozen other useful studies of Marx’s thought and development. But this is not one of McLellan’s better books. It attempts to cover too much ground too quickly, whisking characters on and off the stage of history before we can get to know them. Engels, Kautsky, Bernstein, Luxemburg, and the Austro-Marxists are all rapidly dealt with. Then come the Russians: Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and post-Stalinists. Next the Europeans who wrote between the wars, including Korsch, Lukács, and Gramsci. Third World Marxists are not forgotten: Mao, Castro, and Regis Debray are discussed, although Kim 11 Sung is not, which will infuriate the North Koreans if they ever notice.

This is followed by a section on contemporary Marxism which attempts to cover the Frankfurt School, Existentialist Marxism, the Della Volpe School (all of one page on that), Structuralist Marxism, British Marxism (Raymond Williams gets a dozen lines, while E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill merely get their names dropped), and Marxism in the United States, under which heading McLellan gives three pages to the New Left and little more than a page to the reasons for Marxism’s lack of success.

After this breathless rush, I no longer expected much from McLellan’s “Conclusion,” which was just as well, because the profundity of this closing section can be gauged from its opening sentence which reads: “The above survey has adequately demonstrated the varied nature of Marxist thought over the past century” and its closing sentence, asserting that: “Thus the very variety of Marxism shows that the ambivalences inherent in Marx’s legacy have indeed been fully explored by his followers.”

Perhaps Marxism after Marx has its uses as a handbook, to be referred to but not to be read as a whole. In that case the absence of any analysis or interpretation of the development of Marxism might be excused. Yet surely McLellan could have been a little more venturesome. He is as well qualified as …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.

Letters

Marxism and Liberty December 18, 1980