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Sumit Guha

By Richard Gombin
Penguin, 1975, 144, 0.60

VOLUME I NUMBER 2 April - June 1976

Leftism, as commonly understood, is a blanket term covering everything from reformism to the more eccentric reaches of the New Left. What Gombin means by it, however, is those sections to the Left of the Communist parties which do not claim to be within the Marxist-Leninist tradition and which offer or hope to offer ‘a radical alternative to Marxism-­Leninism as a theory of the labour movement and its development’. The bulk of the book is devoted to an analysis of its principal ideas and their intellectual origins. One major theme of Leftist thought is the denial of the claims of the ‘Socialist’ countries to be called socialist. In the view of the periodical Socialisme Ou Barbarie bureaucratic domination in these countries corresponds to the needs of the present stage of Capitalism for an absolute concentration of social and economic power. There is an irresistible tendency towards such concentration in the West also, where ‘the bourgeoisie aspires to become a bureaucracy.’ This view implies a certain understanding of what constitutes Capitalism. It appears to be seen as little more than a division of society into managers and operatives. The permanent basis of domination of the ruling class is ‘the separation of management and work-force’. This Capitalist system has learnt to tame its crises and for the first time the workers in the advanced countries are assured of material comfort and security. The earlier period is seen as one of accumulation while in the present ‘consumption is the ultima ratio’. Leftism seems to be unaware that in the 1950's and 1960's the rates of capital accumulation in most western countries were above those of the last part of the 19th century, and much above those of the 1930's. This view of modern society as economically stable at a high level is of considerable importance for Leftist thought. It sees alienated production as having been supplanted by alienated consumption. The proletarian ‘is no longer so much the producer separated from his product as a consumer.’ Socialism therefore also implies a destruction of thus degraded everyday life and the inauguration of ‘a reign of creativity, spontaneity, pleasure’. Furthermore, it seems that in the past the workers have been concerned with material gains and hence allowed managerial bureaucracies to dominate the workers' movement; that is how the bulk of the leaders of the labour movement are characterized. But the present affluence ‘encourages man to ...

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