Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 16, 2019

From a Bookforum review of Bhaskar Sunkara’s “Socialist Manifesto”

Filed under: Jacobin — louisproyect @ 2:53 pm

These are the closing paragraphs of a review of Bhaskar Sunkara’s “Socialist Manifesto” by Frank Guan in the latest Bookforum (April/May 2019) that arrived in my mailbox last night. It is not even on their website yet. I was so anxious to cite it that I used OCR from the print copy. It should be up on their website in a couple of weeks or so. My advice is to check https://www.bookforum.com/inprint/ then and if it is up, and you want the entire article, drop me a line at lnp3@panix.com and I’ll be not only happy to send you a copy but urge you to spread it near and far. Guan is razor-sharp and has taken Bhaskar’s measure like a skilled surgeon.

How does one review a manifesto fairly? As Sunkara’s fifteenth point says, “History matters.” Like The Communist Manifesto, his book exemplifies how the past dictates the future. The reading of what was determines the horizons of what will be. The difference is that while Marx interpreted the history of capitalism to justify the future emergence of world communism, Sunkara is interpreting the history of Marx’s own apostles as he hopes for the future emergence of American socialism. The novelty of Marx’s manifesto electrifies; knowing that nothing like communism has existed before, it speeds toward the day when communism will be everything. The Socialist Manifesto is restrained, almost apologetic; it is haunted by the specters of pessimism and belatedness, the knowledge that socialism has already been tried, already been found wanting.

Lacking dialectical prowess, what’s left to fall back on? It’s no accident that Sunkara’s approach to facts resembles nothing so much as that of a Southern Baptist youth pastor; readers are coached like kids ready to stray at the slightest indication that faith is difficult to keep. The book applauds the lively disputes between socialists in prewar Germany and Russia, but the existence of Western Marxist currents other than its own is buried in silence. The pervasive and all but insoluble bigotry that characterized most of the American labor movement throughout its “long and distinguished history” is stowed away in endnotes. The critical role of the American state in exterminating socialist movements across the Third World is mentioned once; its role in shutting socialist parties out of power in Western Europe is not mentioned at all. The Cold War is barely mentioned and never examined.

The intent behind this airbrushing appears to be tactical, to render American socialism more palatable by playing down the degree to which socialism has been anti-American and America has been anti-socialist. Yet what is lost, really, by acknowledging how much the extreme hostility of the American capitalist state to socialist freedom movements across the world has contributed to their failure? By demonstrating how that state’s tremendous military, covert, and financial power has been consistently deployed to besiege and undermine its enemies, to the point that socialists must adopt a paranoid, militarized, hierarchical organization to survive (thereby surrendering democracy), open up to capital investment and exploitation (thereby surrendering socialism), or else surrender unconditionally? Why obscure the fact that capital, in the West, under neoliberalism, is on permanent strike, its primary profits divorced from both employment and the manufacturing sector, and thus essentially immune to labor agitation? Why pretend that an America under socialism would retain its privileged status in the world economy, despite that status being dependent on the linked imperial rents of Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, fossil-fuel conglomerates, and the military-industrial complex? “Better than others, we [socialists] can perceive class relations and how they offer common avenues of struggle,” Sunkara claims. But a sustained and penetrating analysis of present-day America—its economy, society, culture, and politics—is as absent from The Socialist Manifesto as the hard accounting of how much risk one runs in seeking to improve America for its most oppressed citizens. Not only does this book begin with make-believe, its unrealness never ends.

 

3 Comments »

  1. A brilliant contribution to the humanities!

    The 2 biggest myths of the 20th Century is that the Cold War started in 1948 rather than 1918 — and that Stalinism was ultimately a product of Bolshevism rather than a product of blockade and the strangulation of imperialist encirclement.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 16, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

  2. First, off, great photo of one of this country’s greatest con artists. A true heir of P.T. Barnum. This excerpt is devastating. To change up a bit what Robert DeNiro says in the film, A Boy’s Life” Sunkara doesn’t know a thing or two about a thing or two.” He and his ilk promote a make-believe “history” to make palatable a useless political project, aimed mainly at promoting their own “brand.” Scammers and hustlers, fitting denizens of modern-day United States. Bourgeois to their cores.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — March 16, 2019 @ 4:26 pm

  3. A real astrakhan-collar Russian-style overcoat like the one BS appears to be wearing in the photoshop job would run you something like $3,000 at Dolce & Gabana.

    Now that’s what I call revolutionary.

    BS may have the face of a throttled mud puppy, but he is fuckin sexy.

    Eat your hearts out

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 16, 2019 @ 6:31 pm


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