Intended by its editors to be ‘the first of a series of annual volumes of socialist analysis and discussion’, The Socialist Register 1964footnote1 is an event in socialist publishing in Britain of great importance. Not only are certain articles likely to stand as permanent contributions to the development of socialist thought, but a good proportion of the more ephemeral articles are only more ephemeral inasmuch as they are more axed to the situation we find ourselves in now: some of them pose problems of the utmost urgency to us in Britain today. Particularly encouraging is the editorial conception of the range of phenomena with which British socialists should be concerned—as is the manner in which these subjects are treated. Only a minority of articles are devoted exclusively to British affairs: and the internationalism of the volume stretches to the point at which Egyptian and Chinese experience is considered as well as that of Latin America and—a bit nearer home—West Germany and Italy. Not only is the geographical range more extended than one might expect, but also its theoretical bent. With only a few exceptions, the articles deal with their empirical material—nationalization in Britain, Italian Communism, and so forth—in a theoretically enlightening way. This apart, of course, from the explicitly theoretical articles of Hamza Alavi on ‘Imperialism Old and New’ and Ernest Mandel on ‘The Economics of Neo-Capitalism’ whose theorizing is both clear and related to the empirical material with which it is concerned—unlike the verbosity of the article on Marxist ethics.
The task of singling out particular articles from a selection is, of course, difficult. Isaac Deutscher’s analysis of the origins, background and outlook of Maoism comes first in the volume and is, as might be expected, the most original and illuminating, comparing and relating the course of the Chinese Revolution with that of the Russian Revolution, noting in particular the reasons for its relative lack of internal repression and Stalinization and in general discussing the implications for Marxist theory of a Communist Party in an overwhelmingly rural society. This is, undoubtedly, a major essay.
Abdel-Malek’s article on ‘Nasserism and Socialism’ is an attempt to
There are three ‘European’ articles to deal with matters nearer home: Michel Bosquet on the original development of the Italian Communist Party’s industrial-political strategy with its emphasis on a ‘genuine alternative to Italian capitalism’ springing out of concrete reforms—stimulating, but perhaps too uncritical of the pci’s actual political practice; J. M. Vincent’s competent piece on West Germany, making progress of the working-class there almost entirely dependent on destalinization elsewhere; and Ernest Mandel’s article on ‘The Economics of Neo-Capitalism’. This latter, though rather abbreviated, provides many ideas which bear out the sketch given by Bosquet of Italian C.P. strategy and make it capable of generalization to other neo-capitalist societies of which Britain would count as one. He stresses the ‘growing contradiction between the needs of neo-capitalist programming and the trade union freedom of bargaining’ which he sees the capitalist class attempting to circumvent by investing in labour saving machinery (automation and consequent structural under employment) on the one hand and restriction on the free use of bargaining power by the unions on the other. In relation to the present drive for planning, Mandel holds that ‘socialists should neither oppose to these planning techniques the reactionary ideal of laissez-faire nor support them as a “step forward”, but insist on the reality of socialist planning which does not imply only technical differences (such as greatly increased volume of direct State investment and an enlarged public sector which will make possible a centrally planned direction of the economy) but which involves social priorities quite different from those which obtain today’. Believing that socialists should stress ‘the inability of neo-capitalism to change in any way the autocratic structure of business’, he sees the demand for workers’ control as the ‘strategically central demand’ of the Labour Movements in general. Although one may disagree with his prognostications that economic growth in Europe must soon come to an end (this has been argued before), his account of the developing central issues confronting Labour Movements in a changing capitalist context commands respect.
As capitalism becomes neo-capitalism, requiring fresh analyses and descriptions, so imperialism supplements its arsenal by new tactics generally alluded to as ‘neo-colonialist’ but rarely analyzed with any
The proportion of the book devoted exclusively to British developments is in comparison relatively slight in weight. Two articles, by Jim Mortimer and Vic Allen, are concerned with the trade union movement, both rather administrative in mood. It is noticeable that the Continental contributors gain a certain incisive power by their explicitly Marxist standpoint: both Allen’s and Mortimer’s contributions lack the force of argument and context which pervade even the slighter articles on Western European developments.
The editors, jointly and separately contribute stimulating essays, without the weight of the more systematic efforts of Abdel-Malek, Mandel or Bosquet. Milliband’s ‘Socialism and the Myth of the Golden Past’ sets out to break down a common assumption—that the possibilities for British socialists were far greater in the past than they are today or could be tomorrow—and does so very successfully: after reading his essay, lamentations about the inevitable de-politicization created by affluence will never sound the same again, and the whole history of the Labour Movements in Western Europe is seen in a very different light.