Top Menu

Dear Reader, we make this and other articles available for free online to serve those unable to afford or access the print edition of Monthly Review. If you read the magazine online and can afford a print subscription, we hope you will consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.

Socialism—A Time to Retreat?

The Perspective of 'Monthly Review' at the Opening of the Twenty-First Century

Monthly Review Volume 52, Number 4 (September 2000) [PDF]
From Harry Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Robert W. McChesney, “Socialism: A Time for Retreat?,” Monthly Review 52, no. 4 (September 2000): 1–7.

Some wags claim that it is the conservatives who fear socialism, while the radicals believe that capitalism will last forever. Conservatives, they say, fear widespread popular discontent, while radicals abandon hope of a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. An exaggeration? Of course. Even so, this witticism is not inappropriate. Many on the left have indeed retreated from class and a vision of a democratic, egalitarian socialism. The important social issues of our day—race, gender, and the environment—more often than not are divorced from the role of class structure. The rule of the capitalist class and the class struggle are shoved to the back burner. Whether consciously or not, the implicit assumption underlying the retreat from class is that capitalism will somehow or other go on and on as it creates miraculous new technology. Best then to stick to making those adjustments in social conditions that the system will presumably allow.

This article will be released in full online May 27, 2023. Current subscribers: please log in to view this article.
This retreat from class is often reinforced by the categorical dismissal of the possibility of socialism. The evidence for this comes from a superficial and ahistorical examination of the kind of socialism that emerged in the Soviet bloc. Thus, the contradictions of “socialism from above” and the emergence of privileged sectors of society disappear from view. Ignored are the wide differences among the people, between elite and masses, between town and country, and between less developed and advantaged regions. Also not taken into account is the interest of the ruling elite in new property relations as a way of ensuring their and their children’s privileged positions. Instead of observing the tensions arising from conflicting interests, a leading tendency among radicals is to zero in on the presumably inevitable failure of central planning as the essential cause of the collapse.…

Does [Karl] Marx [as some have recently argued] teach that the first task of the left “is to attend to the development of capitalism?” The Marx we know was first and foremost a social revolutionary. He remained one throughout the vicissitudes of social change, during the advance and retreat of social struggles. Neither the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, the end of the Communist League, nor the destruction of the Paris Commune were occasions for him to forsake revolutionary struggle. Marx and [Frederick] Engels were not summer soldiers. Theirs was the long view. Defeats had to be studied and analyzed to prepare a path for renewed struggle. Moreover, Marx’s intensive study of the “actual development of capitalism” was not a departure from struggle, but viewed as a contribution to the working-class struggle for power to transform society. The first volume of Capital was often referred to in the nineteenth century as the workers’ bible.…

It should go without saying where we stand [in all of this]. MR was founded to spread the word on socialism and the struggle to attain it. We find it hard to understand how people who hate social injustice in this country and elsewhere on the planet can be uninvolved in one way or another with the pursuit of socialism. That is not to deny that we have learned a great deal along the way. These lessons, however, have not altered the basic thrust of MR. Despite mistakes, setbacks, and recognition that the road is long and arduous, we must not waver as we continue to study, educate, and be missionaries for the transcendence of the social system of capitalism and the development eventually in its place of a society of equals.

2024, Volume 76, Number 01 (May 2024)
Comments are closed.