Herbert Marcuse’s “Soviet Marxism”

Herbert Marcuse’s “Soviet Marxism”

SOVIET MARXISM: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS, by Herbert Marcuse Columbia University Press, New York 1958.

History written from the viewpoint of victorious politicians and generals always carries the onus of apology: apology for the present rulers who are the heirs of these victors. Consequently, the critic Walter Benjamin saw the duty of the historical materialist as “..die Geschichte gegen den Strich zu buersten”—to brush history against the grain. This does not entail—as in liberal history books— parading the defeated alongside the victorious, or the muted truth together with the truth which has had its day. It is rather the demand made of the historian to see his subject from the viewpoint of the defeated.

No view per se is “good” or “bad,” “justified” or “unjustified.” Its measure cannot but be the degree of inner coherency with which it answers the questions put to it by Man in search of orientation. The limits of inner coherency are socio-historical insofar as the given historical period defines its highest possible degree and individual in as much as the consequences of the inquiry may run counter to its methodological premises.

HERBERT MARCUSE, author of several valuable studies such as Reason and Revolution and Eros and Civilization, an unsurpassed guidepost of dialectical criticism, here in his latest study, Soviet Marxism, using what he calls the method of “immanent critique” is compelled to take a path opposite from the one proposed above. In presenting and assembling the basic elements of Soviet Marxism, Marcuse gives the reader the impression that there has been one straight line of development from 1917 until our day. We learn nothing of deviations, faction struggles etc., nor do we hear about the “Left Opposition” or the “Right Opposition.” Trotsky’s name is mentioned twice en passant; about the debate over E. Varga’s controversial book, Changes in the Economy of Capitalism Resulting from the Second World War, we hear only the extent to which his theories were rejected or accepted; the views of the philologist Mars- are mentioned only to be rejected, etc. The impression of an unbroken line of development is further strengthened by the author’s sweeping announcement that “There is theoretical continuity from the early Marxian notion of the Proletariat as the objectified truth of capitalist society to the Soviet Marxist concept of partinost (partisanship)” (p. 9), and “throughout all changes to which Soviet ethical theories have been subjected since the Bolshevik Revolution, they have been governed by one unifying principle, namely, the formulation and evaluation of ethical standards in accordance with the objectives of the Soviet state.” (p. 197) This image of continuity which, for professional anti-Bolshevism or Stalinism, was the result of vested political inter...