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Correspondence:  New book on revolutionary democracy

24 September 2007

Dear Friends,

This book is slated to appear by the end of this year or the beginning of the next, as soon as the indexing is finished and given to the printer. I think you will or might be interested in this. It is being published by Aakar Books, who price books reasonably, as anyone seeing Trotsky's Results and Prospects and Permanent Revolution (ed., with an intro by three of us) or Dave Renton's Fascism, will know. 

I do not yet know what the price will exactly be. And as Soma never believes in promoting her writings, I am doing it.


Kunal Chattopadhyay


Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy

The collapse of Stalinist ‘socialism’ and the intensification of anti-communist ideological offensives meant a widespread conviction, based on ‘common sense’, to the effect that that Marxism had been an authoritarian political theory and practice. Mediated by a global campaign as well as a feeling of despair among those who had followed the bureaucratically ruled states as good socialist ones, the anti-Marxist claims were accepted even by many who had formerly claimed to be socialists or communists. 

This book seeks to re-examine this ‘common sense’ claim. There has been a clear gap between ‘history’ and ‘theory’ in conventional academic writings on Bolshevism and the Russian revolution, and even on Marx. The first aim of this study is to bridge this gap, by insisting on the historically specific ways in which Marxist theory was created, and by arguing that historically, it was liberalism that was hostile to democracy while Marxism, including pre-revolution Bolshevism, was firmly aligned with democracy. At the same time, the equation between Stalinist dictatorships of all varieties and classical Marxism has been questioned.

A detailed study of the way the Bolsheviks wielded power in the early years has been made, in order to examine the alternative arguments, one claiming that authoritarianism was inherent in bolshevism and the other locating the collapse of workers’ democracy in the civil war context. Finally, an attempt has been made through the book to integrate gender concerns, by integrating the gender issues in discussions on Marx, Engels, German Social Democrats and the Bolsheviks.

Soma Marik is Reader in History, Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Vivekananda Vidyabhavan, and also teaches Women’s Studies and History in Jadavpur University. She was educated in South Point School and Jadavpur University. She is involved as an activist in the women’s movement, through the Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha (Kolkata), and the network Maitree, as well as with general democratic and anti-communal work. She has published extensively on class and gender relations in socialist and communist history.


Endorsement for Soma Marik’s Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy

The collapse of the Soviet Union stressed the need for a thorough re-examination of the whole body of ‘revolutionary Marxist’ theory on the issues of revolution, democracy and the transition toward a socialist society. Not that this collapse and the restoration of capitalism had not been foreseen by some Marxists. They had—Leon Trotsky himself being the most prominent among the forecasters. But the ignominious end of the Soviet Union less than 75 years after the 1917 Russian Revolution led nevertheless to a strong questioning of the validity of the programmatic views that sustained the Russian experience. This questioning is undoubtedly legitimate in view of the historical balance-sheet and must therefore be addressed.

Soma Marik’s well-researched work is a most welcome and useful contribution to this huge and crucial theoretical undertaking. While defending the essentials of Classical Marxism as well as those of the Bolshevik legacy up to the turning point of 1921, while confronting all the time the programmatic pronouncements with the unfolding of the ‘really existing’ revolutionary experience, the author sympathises with Rosa Luxemburg’s famous critique of her Russian fellow revolutionaries, a critique that has been vindicated by History.

Gilbert Achcar, editor of The Legacy of Ernest Mandel, author of The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder and Eastern Cauldron.


This book will be of great interest to all students, researchers and practitioners of women’s movement. It unfolds, within the delineation of Marxist Socialist movement, the debates and practical organizational steps taken up around the ever-present ‘Women’s question’. It will help to lift the veil of unfamiliarity that still shrouds our awareness of the International Socialist Movement in the West. The book argues strongly against bureaucratization of the Communist movement that killed much of the lively gender issues addressed in early phases of the Socialist and Communist movement.

Apart from the well-known texts of Marx, Engels and August Bebel the book discusses at length the writings of Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai and Armand, not to mention many of the lesser known authors and texts.

Despite the book’s ideological thrust, with which one need not be in agreement this painstaking unveiling of the Western Socialist Feminism will contribute positively to the contemporary understanding of women’s work and sexuality and their thorny relation with Family.

Jasodhara Bagchi, Editor, Indian Women: Myth and Reality;  Editor, The Changing Status of Women in West Bengal 1970-2000: The Challenges Ahead and Co-Editor, The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India.



By Professor David McLellan

(Visiting Professor of Political Theory, Goldsmiths’ College, University of London)

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to the reader this very scholarly - but also profoundly politically relevant - book.

For too long, particularly in the West but not exclusively there, the revolutionary core of Marx's thought has been obscured by interpretations that professed to investigate superstructural elements at the expense of political engagement.

From the beginning of the twentieth century the ongoing debate centred on the relationship of the Party to the proletariat and the development of a revolutionary consciousness among the working class. Even those who seemed to believe in a semi-automatic breakdown of capitalism - Kautsky or Luxemburg in their different ways - were enthusiastic about party organisation (Kautsky) or such tactics as the mass strike (Luxemburg). But with the growing reformism of large sections of the working class in the West, including the Trade Union leadership, and the lack of the clear polarisation of society, Lenin's idea of a "vanguard" party which would instil revolutionary ideas into the working class became attractive. With the success of 1917, the Leninist model in which the Party incarnated the consciousness of the working class (as theorised by Lukacs) became dominant. In the Soviet Union under Stalin, this conception was used to implement a violent revolution from above. In China the Party, claiming to embody the consciousness of a largely non-existing proletariat, tended to become equally divorced from the people, in spite of such efforts as the Cultural Revolution. Those in the West, like Korsch and the Council Communists, who retained their commitment to workers' self-emancipation, were disillusioned. The Frankfurt School and the structuralists both reflected this lack of faith in the revolutionary potential of the working class. The only thinker to unite predominant interest in the superstructure with active commitment to politics was Gramsci.

It is in this context that the return to the revolutionary and democratic core of Marxism in the present work is welcome. In the careful dissection of the ways in which Marx and the Bolsheviks united theory and practice, Dr Marik gives us an important contribution to our understanding of the relation of Marx and the Bolsheviks to democracy. There is an excellent discussion of Marx's views on the Paris Commune. The contributions of Engels, Bebel and Zetkin are well explicated. And Dr Marik clearly shows the effect of the fateful ban on factions within the Party in 1921 - no control over the leadership and growing bureaucratization. It is no surprise, therefore, that the thinker for whom Dr Marik has the most admiration is Luxemburg. It should be noted also that the analysis is much enriched by the careful attention to the question of gender displayed in the various political/historical contexts discussed.

This is a major work of scholarship. The footnotes alone embody an excellent bibliographical guide to the vast literature involved. This book is unsurpassed as a guide to the theoretical and practical achievements of Marx and the Bolsheviks - and to their shortcomings. I recommend it to all potential readers unreservedly.



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