It was perhaps too much to hope that under this grandiose title, M.R.P. would publish material of serious historico-analytic worth. Be that as it may, the Boggs have merely offered the world yet another example of the populist moral science that characterizes much of American radicalism today. The outstanding feature of the Boggs’s approach is the attitude of 1iberal journalism. The reader is treated to a strong dose of what Trotsky called ‘socialism for the radical tourist’. One is taken round the world, from Russia through to China, Vietnam, etc., and introduced to the Great Leaders, all of whom (naturally) are on The Right Path of Faith-in-the-People and Adaptation-to-the-Concrete. All the religious axiomatic categories of modern populism appear: the Nation, the Masses and the Dialectical Laws of History. Apart from this eager obeisance to the established fact, we are expected to believe that Lenin, of all people, was the godfather of the ‘from the masses, to the masses’ mantra of modern Maoism; and that Marx, because of his unfortunate preoccupation with making a scientific analysis of capitalist production, was not a revolutionary politician. The reader is just as well gearing himself for the worst, for the worst does come to pass, in a chapter on Dialectics where the laws of social science are explicated to us via the inevitable formula: temperature egg gives chicken; temperature stone—no chicken. In fact, an even more earth-shattering revelation is vouchsafed unto us: ‘Foxes don’t act like chickens, nor do foxes come from chickens.’ Apart from such useful insights into the Laws of History, we are also warned against the pitfalls of ‘mechanical materialism’.
One should not indulge in fantasies of ‘what might have been’, say the Boggs, referring to Trotsky’s struggle against the bureaucratization of the Bolsheviks. On the very next page, however we are told that Lenin in 1923, mutatis mutandis, ‘might have been’ ready for ‘a cultural revolution as drastic as that launched by Mao in 1966.’ They rail against the anti- intellectualism of the American radicals and yet refer sarcastically to the Mensheviks (whose base among the Russian Workers was for many years much wider than that of the Bolsheviks), as ‘Martov and his intellectual friends’—advertising not merely their attitude but also their ignorance of Russian history. We are informed that ‘masses have wants which are not necessarily related to human needs’, leaving us poor mortals to make of this amazing proposition what we may.
We must know what is the principal contradiction before we can decide who is on the right side and who is on the wrong side’, say the Boggs in a quaint paraphrase of the Chairman. What constitutes the rightness and wrongness of ‘sides’? The moral precepts of the authors, one supposes. The history of revolutions in the twentieth century has posed many problems. The rise of the nation state and nationalism has led to the question of whether this could be seen as a period of isolated, national revolutions. Is the continued failure of revolutions in Europe merely the result of the lack of a Leninist leadership, or does the political hegemony of reformism and chauvinism over working class organizations have a deeper root? What is ‘class’ and ‘class consciousness’? Does the Leninist notion of the ‘party’ necessarily posit the growth of an organization superior to and intolerant of the democratic urges of the class it purports to represent? If the ‘Party’ alone is the repository of ‘genuine’ proletarian consciousness, will it not inevitably end up constructing around itself a repressive and ideologically cohesive bureaucratic state, far removed from ‘proletarian dictatorship’? One does not have to be an anti-Leninist to at least recognize that such questions have arisen in the course of this century. But the Boggs are not interested in such red herrings. They have everything pat, from the ‘laws’ of the Universe to the ‘laws’ of revolution. All this, plus a rather forced women’s liberation grammar: ‘man/womankind’, ‘him/her’, ‘he/she’ etc. conveys the impression of a couple of Sunday School preachers of one of the lesser sects of the Midwest, shrilly calling upon humanity to see the light. Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century is a handbook of do’s and dont’s for Third-Worldist and nation-loving populists.
Dilip Simeon is Lecturer in History in Ramjas College, University of Delhi, Delhi.