Humboldt University, Berlin
This article investigates the consequences of the rupture of 1989 for the self-image of radical intellectuals and for their production of critical and emancipative theory. It focuses on North American and British perspectives. Hence it is not strictly speaking ‘Inter-American’ but it illuminates similarities, differences and interactions of American and European discourses and suggests a comparative approach to the history of political ideas. To this purpose, it analyses the relevant contributions in four periodicals which combine ‘old-left’ and ‘new-left’ elements. Two of these periodicals, New Left Review and Socialist Register, have their organisational bases – and, arguably, their implied readerships – in Britain and two, Dissent and Monthly Review, in the United States. Rather than looking into the reflections of individual theorists, this emphasis on journals aims at illuminating collective discussion processes with the aim of reformulating a radical intellectual perspective and politics. In particular, the focus is on the consequences for Marxism as a theory of social change and as a strategic project, on discussions about remaining systemic alternatives (whether called socialist or otherwise), and on how to organise and work for their realisation. The paper discusses two questions: did 1989 have different meanings for the intellectual left in Britain and the USA? In how far did these differences reflect distinct ideas of history, as well as specific interpretations of the character of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc and of their role in international politics?
In 1991, Robin Blackburn, then editor of New Left Review, argued in a long article with the title “Fin de Siècle: Socialism after the Crash”, that “today’s moribund ‘Great Power Communism’ is not a spectre stalking the globe but an unhappy spirit, begging to be laid to rest.” (1991 p. 5) And although he conceded that “for Marxists, to disclaim any responsibility whatever for the October Revolution and the state which issued from it would be wrong” (ibid. p. 9), he believed in the possibility of a new beginning for radical and Marxist social theory – especially if theorists did not only consider the Eastern Bloc’s lack of democratic structures but analysed its economic problems and failures as well. About one year later, the American political philosopher and editor of the left-wing journal Dissent, Michael Walzer, seemed more sceptical:
We are in a period of uncertainty and confusion. The collapse of communism ought to open new opportunities for the democratic left, but its immediate effect has been to raise questions about many leftist (not only communist) orthodoxies: about the ‘direction’ of history, the role of state planning in the economy, the value and effectiveness of the market, the future of nationalism, and so on. (1992 p. 466)
Again three years later, American cultural sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander observed in the pages of New Left Review that the events of 1989 had to be understood as a “new transition”: “It is the transition from communism to capitalism, a phrase that seems oxymoronic even to our chastened ears. The sense of world-historical transformation remains, but the straight line of history seems to be running in reverse.” (1995 p. 65) Calling his article “Modern, Anti, Post and Neo”, Alexander described a return of North Atlantic intellectuals to a world of ideas quite similar to what he defined as the modernism of the 1950s. Finally, the Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn diagnosed in an article “After Dialectics. Radical Social Theory in a Post-Communist World”, published in New Left Review in early 2007, that a post-1945, and especially post-1968, Western Marxist triangle had been disentangled: social theory as the combination of historical social science, philosophy of dialectics and a working-class politics aiming at the overthrow of the existing order (cf. 2007 p. 69). Especially the third, the political, dimension had disappeared as a result of the historical defeats of Western European social democracy in the 1970s and 1980s, the intellectual challenge of postmodernism, and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. According to Therborn, the European Marxist and socialist left was more seriously affected than the traditionally weaker, more sober, and geographically farther removed American one (cf. ibid pp. 99-100).
About two decades after the events of 1989, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and slightly later of the Soviet Union is often characterised as a last stumbling block for a tired and disillusioned Western Marxist left (old as well as new). Especially in Britain, over the last ten years a number of studies have been published which diagnose, deplore, and criticise the end of intellectual Marxism as a project. They come up with a variety of explanations for this improper ending. Even more surprising than the diversity of the reasons suggested – some of which seem contradictory – is the empirical base on which they are founded. With the exception of Paul Newman’s study on Ralph Miliband (2002), they concentrate either on the journal New Left Review or on the individual often seen as its mastermind – Perry Anderson (Achcar 2000; Blackledge 2000; Blackledge 2002; Blackledge 2004; Elliott 1998; Thompson 2001; Thompson 2007). They elaborate his “Olympianism” (Elliott 1998), “Deutscherism” (Blackledge 2004), or his and New Left Review’s “historical pessimism” (Blackledge 2002, Thompson 2007), the journal’s over-reliance on short-lived social movements, its distrust of the British working class, and its too rosy picture of Third Worldism. Important as Anderson indubitably is for the history of the Anglophone intellectual left in the second half of the 20th century, the question remains in how far such studies suffice as analyses of the problems 1989 caused for certain strands of Marxist thinking. Reducing – at least implicitly – the history of a non-aligned, heterogeneous intellectual left (which can, if at all, be best characterised as neo-Gramscian) to a journal that admittedly calls itself the “flagship of the intellectual left” and further narrowing down this journal to the ideas of Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn, and – for its earlier phase – Tom Nairn, entails the danger of accusing individuals of ‘selling out’ their former political convictions. Many more Marxist and leftwing intellectuals than those writing in the pages of New Left Review had deeply ambivalent feelings about the changes of 1989 though they had declared again and again – at least since 1956 – that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc did not represent their idea of socialism.
A major methodological problem for an approach focusing less on individuals and their political biographies lies in the question of who belongs to the ‘intellectual left’ and points to a difficulty that always arises once one sets out to investigate the ideas of collectives that are more amorphous than, say, political parties or interest groups. I try to come to grips with this problem through a comparative approach. The article embarks on a close reading of relevant articles in New Left Review and three further journals, each of which shares certain, but not all, characteristics with it. One was, like New Left Review, originally British while two were American, and all tried to produce social theory with political surplus value. These are Dissent, Monthly Review, and Socialist Register; and the analysis covers those articles in which authors tried to make sense of recent developments within the five years from January 1990 to December 1994. Although these publications did not represent the intellectual left as a whole, they played important roles within its debates. And although discussions did not end in 1994, the time frame is deliberately chosen: five years are short enough to allow a detailed reading and long enough to explore longer-term trends. With this methodological design, the article tries to take more seriously the immediate effects of the conjuncture of 1989 than do historical-biographical long-term accounts.
There are strong arguments for choosing these publications as cases for a comparative study. Some are formal: the journals stand out, with birth years between 1949 and 1964, and uninterrupted activity since, through longevity and a high degree of personal continuity among editors and contributors. With Irving Howe, Paul Sweezy, Perry Anderson and Ralph Miliband, each has had a particularly influential, long-serving editor, though the journals can certainly not be reduced to being their brainchildren. All stand for a genre of writing that integrates essayistic elements into academic articles. Further reasons for this selection of journals lie in their content and political outlook. They were children of the early Cold War. Most of those setting them up belonged to a generation of leftwing intellectuals born in the 1910s and 1920s and politically socialised in the interwar years and the Second World War. During this time it was tremendously difficult to define one’s position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union – which stood for Stalinist violence but also for a decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazism. Whereas it seemed often impossible then to square the circle of expressing solidarity with both the USSR and with workers’ interests on a global scale, after the war it became increasingly difficult to react adequately to the developing block confrontation. With different approaches, all the journals tried to find a democratic-socialist position that was neither uncritically pro-communist nor dogmatically anti-communist. Having started their political activities in the orbit of radical-left organisations, the U.S. intellectuals around Dissent and Monthly Review had broken with Moscow already in the 1930s or 1940s or had always been “vague Marxists of the heart” rather than ‘party soldiers’ (Diggins 1992 p. 152). In Britain, they finally broke free from the Communist Party in 1956. From then on, the four journals saw themselves as allied primarily to the labour, peace, and civil rights movements in the respective countries (as well as internationally), and in a critical dialogue with the major political parties of the centre-left. However, the contributors represented a specific intellectual type: they were neither closely associated with parties nor, although sympathetic, intimately allied with radical movements. They became the first generation of an academic left which – to a large degree – substituted ‘theoretical practice’ for involvement in political struggles. Having preceded the student new left of the late 1960s, all the journals sympathised with their protests on many issues but on certain points also disagreed. Later, they expressed scepticism of a (post-) Marxist revisionism and of neo-Trotskyite approaches. They became severe critics of the rising neo-liberalism of the 1980s and did not follow many progressives’ turn towards post-structuralism and deconstruction. Instead, they kept their faith in historical-materialist and political economic explanations. Finally, from their early days, the journals acknowledged each other, followed each others’ debates, and criticised each other – at times rather heavily.
In the case of New Left Review the pessimism resulting from the experience of 1989 is explained with what Gregory Elliott called a ‘Deutscherite’ perspective (1998 passim). Its core was the perception, ascribed to Isaac Deutscher, of the USSR and its allies as non-capitalist or post-capitalist societies, despite their shortcomings (to be explained with the Soviet Union’s backward economy and hostile environment) (cf. van der Linden 2007 pp. 139-146). Deutscher was convinced that eventually these would be corrected:
Stalinism has exhausted its historical function. Like every other great revolution, the Russian revolution has made ruthless use of force and violence to bring into being a new social order and to ensure its survival. An old-established regime relies for its continuance on the force of social custom. A revolutionary order creates new custom by force. Only when its material framework has been firmly set and consolidated can it rely on its own inherent vitality; then it frees itself from the terror that formerly safeguarded it. (1953 p. 164)
As Thompson pointed out, according to Deutscher’s perspective, the principal achievement of the October Revolution, namely the abolition of private property, had never been reversed and thus the Soviet Union stood in the revolutionary tradition of 1917 (cf. 2007 p. 33). It was at least one step further than the capitalist West. Hence, change towards socialism could be implemented from above (cf. Elliott 1998 p. 30). There was no guarantee that it would, and the Cold-War climate diminished the likelihood of this to happen (cf. Thompson 2007 p. 33). Still, it remained more probable than a socialist transformation in the West, realised through working-class struggle – especially in a time in which the working class had declined in absolute numbers and had also become ever more fragmented (cf. Anderson 1992 pp. 279-375). According to Paul Blackledge, “this transposition of the extrinsic history of the class struggle from the point of production to the global arena of the Cold War effectively tied his [Perry Anderson’s; S.B.] vision of socialism to the fate of the Soviet Union” (2004 p. 99). For those who thought like Anderson, socialist agency, or at least the possibility of moves towards socialism, rested with the Soviet Union, and some of them saw the Gorbachev era as a delayed vindication of Deutscher’s thesis. But can this explanation help us to understand the intellectual left after 1989 beyond the specific cases of Anderson and New Left Review?
In the following, I will show that 1989 was experienced by leftwing intellectuals writing for the journals mentioned as traumatic not only because of the restoration or implementation of capitalism in the Eastern Bloc but because, with this process, Marxism was robbed of its teleological dimension. More than ever, history seemed to have lost direction. This moment of major disorientation confused those observers who identified the Soviet Union as post-capitalist but it irritated also those who claimed they had seen it more critically and yet as qualitatively different from the capitalist West. This teleological dimension had made Marxism a hybrid of theory and belief system. Its loss meant much more than correcting and revising a (partly) defective theory. It compelled one to rethink one’s own values, morals, political ethics and even one’s very personality on the most fundamental level.
Evidence from the Journals
In all the four journals, the sheer number of reactions to the moment of 1989 is impressive. The focus here is exclusively on comments dealing directly with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Often personal in tone, they revealed a feeling of urgency to grasp what was going on and to find adequate responses. These reflections peaked in the years 1990 and 1991; and their numbers decreased from 1992 on. They asked what the altered conditions meant for radical intellectuals individually, for their generation, and for sketching out an emancipatory project relevant to the new political context. In different ways, the contributions focused on four questions:
- What exactly did happen in 1989 – in the states and societies of the Eastern Bloc and elsewhere?
- What were the consequences of these events?
- What were ‘wrong’ reactions to them?
- What would be the ‘right’ responses?
The following sections investigate how these questions were discussed in each of the journals.
One would expect Dissent, post-Trotskyist and anti-Communist, to have been least affected by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, or even to have regarded it as a positive and liberating development. In fact, it moved from awe to scepticism. Norberto Bobbio described the events in 1990 as “total overturn of a utopia, of the greatest political utopia in history (…), an overturn into its exact opposite” (1990 p. 340). Most of the early comments emphasized, like Irving Howe’s, the positive effects for the Western left: “Intellectually, Stalinism evoked keener discomforts than did Nazism, since here the enemy seemed to have come out of ‘our own’ milieu, that of the left. Stalinism used words and symbols representing our hopes.” (1991 p. 63) But with the directions developments in Eastern Europe took, Howe realised in 1992 that the era of revolutions had come to an end (1992 p. 144). There were further problems. Ann Snitow was concerned about consequences for her generation of thinkers: “As a cultural group, we U.S. leftists (Old and New now shovelled together by recent events) may not recover spiritually from 1989. Our utopianism took root in other soil. Children of the cold war, we are not likely to be elected to the future.” (1994 p. 14)
In politics, social democracy could profit because the collapse of Communism had not put an end to the ‘social question’ within capitalism. Norberto Bobbio was firmly convinced that future social struggles lay ahead and, differing from Howe, he did not even preclude the possibility of revolutionary change:
In a world of frightful injustices to which the poor are condemned, crushed by unreachable and apparently unchangeable great economic powers, including those that are formally democratic – to think at this juncture that the hope for revolution has been extinguished only because the communist utopia has failed is tantamount to closing one’s eyes in order not to see. (1990 p. 341)
However, a deep insecurity about how to proceed in a “moment of political and intellectual confusion” remained (Howe 1992 p. 143). The central question for Dissenters was whether there still was a place for their radicalism – could a democratic socialism beyond social democracy be envisaged? Obviously, most of them hoped it could. The following words are from the opening paragraph of a Dissent symposium in 1994: “Are we now advocates only of an American version of social democratic reformism, reduced to piecemeal opponents of the liberal status quo, urging only that things be made a little more democratic? Can we still project some radical hope?” (Editors of Dissent 1994) Most contributions tried just that. But the symposium also contained voices such as Paul Berman’s which were more afraid of failing to make a radical break with the past than of giving up on radical change: “[I]f we keep trying to project radical hope by sticking more or less to our main arguments from the past, will our efforts be credible?” (1994 p. 9)
Confusion and difference of opinion notwithstanding, there were clear ideas what was needed: the intellectual left should develop a concrete utopianism. Several writers diagnosed Marxism’s reluctance to sketch out the details of a socialist society as its most serious deficiency (cf. Howe 1990 p. 301). And they clarified that the socialist imagination should be concerned with devising a better rather than a perfect society (cf. Howe 1992 p. 145). This has to be understood as demanding a ‘policy utopianism’ to replace a ‘theory utopianism’. Others added that new utopias ought to get rid of old ones – as well as of old myths and assumptions such as those of a revolutionary proletariat or a vanguard party (cf. Ryan 1990 p. 437). For Dissenters, the right place for the left was slightly to the left of what counted as progressive in the institutional political spectrum, and in conversation with social democracy (cf. Gitlin 1994 pp. 12-13). However, radical or socialist voices should avoid becoming identical with these centre-left forces: “Socialism is no longer a design but a disposition: a spirit with which we wish to animate political life, and from whose absence political life suffers.” (ibid. p. 13) The task was to keep the radicalism of a concrete and realistic utopianism as a ‘candle in the window’ and not to forget the old materialist assumption that the internal contradictions and social polarisations of capitalism would always create oppositional political forces.
For contributors to the second American journal, Monthly Review, the future of socialism was insecure and depended to a large extent on the Soviet Union:
Socialists all over the world have not only an interest but a personal and political stake in what happens in the Soviet Union in this coming and decisive phase of the process that began with Gorbachev’s accession to office in 1985. We can only hope that the outcome will be positive and that it will set the stage for a following phase of economic recovery. (Editors of Monthly Review 1990 p. 17)
Hence also in Monthly Review, a change of mood from hope to scepticism could be observed, though later than in Dissent. Additionally, writers in Monthly Review regarded the problems of the Western left after 1989 not just as the result of the ‘collapse of neo-Stalinism’ but also of the political ‘bankruptcy’ of social democracy and of epistemological doubts, associated with postmodern positions, about the left’s basic philosophical assumptions (cf. Singer 1994 p. 87; Buhle 1990).
Initially, there was a split in Monthly Review between more optimistic and more pessimistic voices. For optimists, like Howard J. Sherman, the Eastern European revolutions provided a “wonderful opportunity to begin the construction of a democratic socialist society”. He enthused that “[w]e are thus witnessing an end to statism and the possible – still fragile – beginnings of the worldwide triumph of socialism” (1990 p. 22). Sherman argued strongly for the grassroots activism and socialism Monthly Review had always stood for. Most were less optimistic, precisely because they had seen advances towards socialism in the West as being dependent on the maintenance of non-capitalist modernisation in the Soviet Union (cf. Sweezy 1990 pp. 20-21). With its demise, there seemed to be no alternative to global capitalism anymore, even though, due to its internationalist perspective, the magazine did not focus exclusively on the changes in the Eastern Bloc. But developments elsewhere were equally discouraging: by 1993, apart from the end of the Soviet Union, the left had to digest the recent defeat of the Sandinistas, new problems for an isolated Cuba, and the marginalisation of Marxism in Africa (cf. Meisenhelder 1993 p. 40). Nevertheless, activists and intellectuals writing for Monthly Review kept their faith in the possibility of an eventual renewal of socialism though they admitted that a very different form of socialist struggle, still difficult to discern, might develop:
This renewal will take time. The institutional forms of the old opposition – mass organizations, political parties, sovereign states – will mostly disappear and be replaced by new ones. The same will hold for ideas and ideologies, particularly the falsified and distorted versions of Marxism that acquired status of orthodoxies in the Social democratic and Communist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Sweezy 1994 p. 7)
This renewal needed self-confident intellectual work. Writers criticised what they regarded as lack of nerve among many on the intellectual left in terms of sticking to socialist and Marxist principles and deplored that this became part of a vicious circle: “The cycle is then complete: capital proclaims Marxism’s death; ordinary people take it for granted; left activists are loath to challenge them; Marxism atrophies even among the activists; and finally, Marxism is dead.” (Wallis 1991 p. 7)
Concretely the task of radical intellectuals was to reformulate a democratic socialist project as a Marxist one – as an alternative to political liberalism and intellectual postmodernism. This implied a discussion of strategies and values. The editors tried to initiate discussion about an ethical Marxism, compatible with environmentalist demands, in dialogue with liberation theology and new social movements. They did so, for example, through retrieving and discussing Cornel West’s study on The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought, which he had written in the early 1970s. In the introduction to a symposium on West’s book, John Bellamy Foster quoted the author’s argument for Marxism’s importance in the post-socialist and postmodernist 1990s:
My point is not that Marx’s social theory fully accounts for all social phenomena; rather, it is that social theory wedded in a nuanced manner to concrete historical analysis must be defended in our present moment of epistemic scepticism, explanatory agnosticism, political impotence (among progressives), and historical cynicism. (West quoted in Foster 1993 p. 14)
Also in the case of Monthly Review the immediate reaction to the events of the late 1980s consisted of the insistence on ‘keeping the candle in the window’ – though in this case a more narrowly defined Marxist candle – because capitalism would inevitably continue to produce injustice and, thus, opposition. Intellectuals still had an important function – through theorising a democratic and ethical Marxist socialism that could be used as a framework of orientation in grassroots struggles for political change.
New Left Review
Similar to Monthly Review, the majority of writers in New Left Review assumed the events of 1989 to have enormous consequences. There was unanimity that the demise of this particular version of state socialism was definite, no matter how it was explained and judged. Due to New Left Review’s ambivalent relationship with the USSR and the Eastern European states (criticising their authoritarianism but nevertheless regarding them as post-capitalist), considerable space was dedicated to finding the causes for the breakdown – and in how far these affected the future of socialist ideas in general. The majority of contributors named the West’s victory in the Cold War as major reason for the collapse. Fred Halliday expressed this position most succinctly in an argument with E. P. Thompson and Mary Kaldor (the latter two wrote as guests rather than as regulars) over Eastern and Western peace movements’ contributions to the end of the system of deterrence. As the second reason for the Eastern European states’ collapse writers identified the systems’ internal contradictions which unfortunately brought them down just at the time when they had – perhaps simply too late – developed potential for internal reform. Consequently, according to Halliday, the populations took political change into their own hands:
They [the events in Eastern Europe; SB] have restated in a dramatic form, the most neglected facet of political life, one spurned in east as much as in west, namely the capacity of the mass of the population to take sudden, rapid and novel political action after long periods of what appears to be indifference. (Halliday 1990 p. 5)
Despite its sympathy for democratic struggles, this might adversely affect the Western left. According to Mary Kaldor, leftists had failed to distance themselves clearly enough from the states of the Eastern Bloc, let alone actively opposed their oppressive practices (cf. 1990 p. 37). She was convinced that this failure played its part in discrediting socialist ideas. Whereas socialism had lost credibility only in its Eastern European guise, i.e. as nationalisation, central planning, bureaucracy, paternalism, belief in experts, these (distorted) elements were now generally taken for the whole. Hence “[t]he 1990s may well go down in history as the moment when Europe (and the world) took the wrong direction because of a commitment to capitalist orthodoxy. The dreaded word ‘socialism’ is no longer printable.” (ibid. p. 36)
The Western intellectual left was in a bad shape – this feeling was expressed more frequently and in more personal tones in New Left Review than in any of the other magazines. Lynne Segal’s bleak description is just one among many:
Today, depression, cynicism or political turnabouts are hard to avoid, even knowing we are not the first – and will not be the last – to face the defeat and disorderly retreat of the ideals, activities and lifestyles that transformed and gave meaning to our lives. Depression hits hardest when the withering of former struggles and aspirations begins to feel like personal defeat; often ending the friendships, the shared activities, and the opening up of public spaces, so necessary for the survival of any sense of optimism in the future. (1991 p. 81)
This quote clearly shows the personal dimension of the losses experienced and the psychological consequences they have – and Segal becomes even more drastic when explaining that “[t]en years of defeat for almost all egalitarian and collectivist endeavours has caused many of us on the Left to fall into chronic mutual abuse, to fall upon our own swords or to fall – some never to raise again – onto the analytic couch” (ibid. p. 82). Like Segal, also G. A. Cohen’s diagnosis is characterised by an emotional attitude – he compares the experience of recent events to the end of a tragic but important love affair: “What is more, depression about the failure of the Soviet Union, as it supervenes in those of us who reluctantly rejected its claims decades ago, perforce has a complex structure, one element in which is self-reproach, since what is lost is a long since denied (yet also fiercely clung to) love.” (1991 p. 13) This feeling intensified in the early 1990s, as Lucio Magri, a leading member of the Italian Rifondazione Comunista suggested:
When the Berlin Wall came down the judgement of many people was one of euphoria. They saw the coming of a new historical period marked by world cooperation, disarmament, and democratic advance which would provide a clear opportunity for democratic socialism with a human face. Now we can see that the reality is different and much harsher. (1991 p. 5)
This had consequences, however, far beyond the destabilisation of intellectuals’ identities and needed reactions other than navel-gazing. Also real political gains were in danger when the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, as again Halliday explained:
[M]uch that was positive and necessary is being abandoned: a commitment to social justice, insistence on the exclusion of religion from public life, the promotion by the state of equality of men and women, internationalism and solidarity, to name but four. The assertion of a need to intervene to plan and direct economic activity is now almost universally rejected, at a time when the cosmic destructiveness of production had never been more evident. What is occurring on these fronts in the ‘communist’ countries is not an advance, but a recidivism of epochal proportions. (1990 p. 22)
Soon it seemed beyond any doubt that the abolition of state socialism meant indeed the triumph of a more radical, liberated capitalism – especially since it was paralleled by the collapse of the Western labour movements and by the fizzling out of third world radicalism (cf. Ahmad 1994 p. 96). Nevertheless, trust remained in dialectical turns which might usher in eras of new social struggles in the future. Miliband pointed out:
As long as capitalism, with all its inherent faults, endures, so will the socialist alternative remain alive; indeed, it will again gain more and more ground as capitalism shows itself to be incapable of solving the major problems confronting humankind. For this reason, the collapse of Communism, far from delivering a fatal blow to the socialist alternative, will increasingly be seen as wholly irrelevant to its prospects. (1992 p. 113)
But dialectics should not be confused with pre-determined movements of history. And one should not underestimate the length of time which a reconfiguration of anti-capitalist forces might require. According to Immanuel Wallerstein, the horizon would stay open for a time of up to fifty years – a bleak period during which a new world system would emerge in a slow and complicated process (cf. 1994).
Contributors agreed that the intellectual left should involve themselves in developing the design of this new world system. Reflections on how this should not be done were comparatively rare. Some criticised tendencies to adopt the perspectives of a moderate social democracy or of transforming Marxism into an evanescent post-Marxist spirit of critique. The Indian literary scholar Aijaz Ahmad took issue with Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and criticised that the philosopher dissolved the anti-capitalist kernel of Marxism into a vague anti-neoliberalism. He added: “He [Derrida; SB] is in mourning (…) not so much because of the death of the Father per se, but because of the kind of death it has been, and for the fact that the kingdom has been inherited not by the Prince of Deconstruction but by the right-wing usurpers.” (1994 p. 93) But which would be the adequate status of Marxism after all? Contributors disagreed but the majority would have subscribed to an intermediate position between Ahmad and Derrida: it remained important as one of the strongest intellectual traditions within social theory but – as suggested by Norman Geras – it would have to play a much more modest role in future struggles (1994 p. 106).
The task of the intellectual left was twofold. It should re-identify and re-examine the “(often implicit) fundamentals” of Marxist and socialist theory (Halliday 1990 p. 5) and intervene in political struggles in the post-Cold War world. Writers suggested that Marxism should return to its core task: the criticism of capitalism and of political economy, including the reinstallation of capitalist relations of production in the former Eastern bloc and perhaps also in states, like China, that remained nominally socialist (cf. ibid. p. 21). Numerous proposals were discussed to whom of the many Marxist thinkers it would make sense to return in order to revive Marxism as theory. Favourites became those within the Marxist tradition who had expressed – occasionally or permanently – their concern about revolutionaries’ neglect of democratic procedures. Geras recommended to reread Rosa Luxemburg, claiming: “To ask what foothold may have been provided for this development [the socialist apologies for Stalinism; SB] by Marxist doctrine itself, its democratic commitments notwithstanding, is also to the point for those who care about the prospects of socialism.” (1994 p. 94) Peter Wollen, arguing for a revaluation of the writings of Karl Kautsky, suggested abandoning vanguardism and all attempts at accelerating history (cf. 1993).
Despite all those questions contributors felt so obviously unsure about, they did not doubt their persistent duty to produce a politically relevant critique of capitalism and capitalist democracy. Reflection and self-criticism notwithstanding, they simply had, as Wallerstein explained, to go on:
You may think that the programme I have outlined for judicious social and political action over the next twenty-five to fifty years is far too vague. But it is as concrete as one can be in the midst of a whirlpool. First, make sure to which shore you wish to swim. And second, make sure that your immediate efforts seem to be moving in that direction. If you want greater precision than that, you will not find it, and you will drown while you are looking for it. (1994 p. 17)
In Socialist Register, immediate reactions to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc resembled those in New Left Review. As an annual publication, its perspective was more detached and thus the personal dimensions were less visible though soul-searching and self-analysis occurred in its pages too. Like in the Review, contributors had no doubt about the definite nature of Eastern Europe’s breakdown and debated its meaning and consequences: for Wallerstein, who was more closely associated with Socialist Register than with New Left Review, East and West were compatible – components of the same liberal nation-state development model that had produced Wilsonian sovereign capitalist states as well as the idea of socialism-in-one-country (cf. 1992 p. 104). The years 1989-91 thus became a turning point not just for the countries of Eastern Europe. This to a certain extent positive reading of events was not shared by others such as Richard Levins who were convinced that socialists had to acknowledge a defeat of immense proportions as final result of several decades of decline: “Half a century ago, my grandmother could assure me that my grandchildren would live in a socialist republic. It now seems unlikely.” (1990 p. 328) Interestingly, Avishai Ehrlich, an Israeli intellectual, argued against assuming the end of an era and criticised this supposition as heavily Eurocentrist (cf. 1992 p. 227). While accepting this criticism, most agreed that, at least for European and North American socialists, the changes and consequences were serious and chances for building a socialist society had declined. Joel Kovel, shocked by eye-witnessing what he had considered as hardly thinkable – the victory of anti-Communism (cf. 1992 p. 254), was convinced that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc would reinforce a neoliberal onslaught on Western labour movements and make their lives extremely difficult – particularly in the USA:
The dream of the [US; SB] bourgeoisie had come true: the proletariat had withered away; anti-communism had helped secure class struggle on the most favourable possible terms to business, leaving in its wake a largely oppositionless society characterised by the accommodation of labour to capital, the functional identity of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the most threadbare left-wing politics of any nation in modern history. (ibid. p. 263)
Ralph Miliband repeated the dialectic perspective he had developed in New Left Review: the collapse of the Eastern states would strengthen the conservative forces in what he called the “international civil war”, but, together with the moral bankruptcy of social democracy, this might eventually contribute to the opening up of new spaces for socialism (cf. 1990 pp. 358-360).
Radical social criticism, for a long time the core of intellectual left activity, was at stake. Joel Kovel feared that transformative criticism would for the foreseeable future be regarded as quixotic and attempts at understanding history through the concept of class struggle suppressed:
A profound weariness and cynicism occupies the place where critical/dialectical thinking used to occur. Since the underlying structure which makes society intelligible is erased, society becomes a mystery, its various phenomena merely strung together like the words of a game of Scrabble, and as easily forgotten. Thus even factual understanding of the world is lost. (1992 p. 264)
Similarly, Daniel Singer stated that the term ‘utopianism’ was widely understood as being synonymous with unrealistic thinking or, worse, the gulag (cf. 1993 p. 249). Like Kovel, he anticipated the detrimental effects of this amnesia – not just for intellectuals but for society as a whole. Like many others, he identified the root of political apathy not only in the collapse of Communism (on which he claimed to have given up hope as early as 1968) but in the simultaneous surrender of social democracy to capitalism (cf. ibid. p. 251).
News of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc reached Socialist Register when its editors were preparing the 1990 issue on The Retreat of the Intellectuals. Thus the volume’s critical assessment of the post-Marxist and post-structuralist Anglo-American intellectual (former) left of the 1980s became overdetermined by political changes, as explained by the editors, Ralph Miliband and Leo Panitch, in the preface to the 1990 issue:
There are of course many Left intellectuals who would say that there has been no move away at all, but an essential reappraisal of socialist positions in the light of the extraordinary transformations which have occurred in recent times, and which have created an entirely new context, so it is claimed, in which to conceive socialist change. We too believe that constant reappraisal is essential for socialism to advance. But we also believe that much of the reappraisal undertaken by Left intellectuals in recent years has marked a retreat from socialist perspectives; and that such a retreat is unwarranted. (1990 not paginated)
Contributors pointed to two different responses to the changes of 1989, both of which they regarded as inadequate. The first, argued Arthur MacEwan, simply denied that the Soviet experience had any significance for socialist experiments. Even if, as he agreed, the USSR had never succeeded in setting up a socialist society, a burning question remained: “[W]hy is it that our efforts will lead to something better?” (1990 p. 312) The second was to give up socialism altogether, surprisingly widespread, as Norman Geras explained, even among those who had been critical of the USSR’s claim to Marxism. He complained about
a tendency, amongst people who have thought, insisted, for years that the Soviet and Eastern European regimes were not a genuine embodiment or product of Marxist belief, to wonder if the entire tradition is not now bankrupted by their wreckage – as though the ideas and values of Marxism were then, after all, wrapped up in these regimes, as before they were said not to be (1990 p. 32).
Contributors to Socialist Register were convinced that three essential tasks remained for socialists in the changed historical context of the early 1990s: firstly, they ought to explain why they still were Marxists and socialists – although history did not march with them anymore and the theory had lost, in other words, its teleological authority. Secondly, as Richard Levins said, they should act not as a vanguard anymore but as a rearguard, “defending the gains of 150 years of struggle, acknowledging the reality of the defeat and evaluating the reasons for it, regrouping and preparing for the second wave of revolutionary upsurge. It is an agenda of years and decades.” (1990 p. 329) Thirdly, producing social theory remained important. One aspect was to assess where exactly the former state socialist regimes had failed in creating socialist societies. Views of former dissidents needed to be taken seriously but left intellectuals should not adopt them uncritically. Although they were undoubtedly correct in condemning (post-) revolutionary atrocities, Levins maintained that “this validity held only in the small and immediate while their abandonment of the revolution in favour of the old regime was reactionary in the larger scale of things. We need this dual vision to understand these critics, from Dickens to Solshenitsyn.” (ibid. p. 333) To summarise: what was needed was intellectual honesty, stamina in sticking to Marxist views on social change and methods of analysis, the courage not to shy away from unpleasant conclusions, but also efforts not to lose touch with working-class struggles.
Coming to Terms with 1989 – the End of Teleology and the Last Socialists
Despite political differences, there was a large degree of unanimity among the magazines. They agreed (though Monthly Review took longer to come to this conclusion) on the definite demise of the Eastern European variant of ‘socialism’. Their feelings swayed between hope and despair with hope getting dimmer and despair deeper, despite a common emphasis that the crumbling regimes, even in the case that the progressive content of the October Revolution was accepted, did not represent – and hence did not devalue – Western Marxists’ and democratic socialists’ models and visions of socialism. They had no doubt that left intellectuals would be negatively affected by the changes, even if they hoped that dialectical movements of history would eventually create new political and theoretical opportunities. Whenever they discussed the reasons for the collapse, they hinted at the combination of military pressure from the West (especially during the final phase of the Cold War) and the regimes’ internal contradictions which produced popular protests. They had failed to ‘de-link’ from the capitalist world economy, and to transform the post-revolutionary socio-economic modernisations they had initiated (successfully, as most agreed) into dynamic strategies for a socialist mode of production and an egalitarian organisation of societal life. They had failed, in other words, to proceed from ‘state capitalism’ to (state) socialism.
Further, left intellectuals had no doubt that popular forces for progressive social change still existed in East and West, in the labour movements and in the new social movements, and were most likely to exist in the future. It was the intellectuals’ job to think about possibilities of aggregation – by formulating common values and an ethics relevant to all. Developing models for democratic, non-authoritarian routes to socialism was more urgent a task than ever – socialist and Marxist principles and theories had to be re-discussed. These discussions revealed uncertainty: within the journals, perhaps even more than between them, a difference of voices and an ambiguity of opinion is hard to overhear – some argued for emphasising, others for watering down socialist principles, some for immediately restating, others for radically rethinking them. A lot was at stake since the reflections would have consequences for assessing one’s own political biography and for designing one’s future tasks. This dimension might explain why silent co-existence of contradictory opinions was more widespread than open discussion.
Apart from these parallels and similarities, there were differences. As already mentioned, well into 1990 Monthly Review maintained hope that despite the collapse of the Eastern European regimes, the Soviet Union might survive. For Dissent, democratic socialism seemed to resemble social democracy (albeit of an ambitious type), while the others accepted social democracy, if at all, only as a vehicle for first moves into the right direction – though ideas on further steps remained vague. To a certain extent we can identify differences in personal reactions to the events of 1989: emotional expressions of loss were more widespread in the pages of Dissent and New Left Review than in the other two journals. This is surprising, given Dissent’s post-Trotskyist origin and New Left Review’s comparatively open theoretical horizon. One may explain this with the generational difference between the writers of the journals – Monthly Review and Socialist Register were still more dominated by an older generation of leftists who had had to survive ruptures before (for example, in 1956), while in the other two magazines the ‘1968’ generation was stronger. This generation had distanced itself from the Eastern European states as had the older, but originally was more optimistic about chances of social change – an optimism shattered by developments in the 1980s and further destabilised in 1989 (cf. Meiksins Wood 1995 pp. 39-43).
Other variations emerge in a more ‘quantitative’ comparison. Firstly, it is obvious that the two British magazines published more contributions discussing the change of 1989 as a whole. Geographical factors might be responsible – for the West European intellectual left Europe, including Eastern Europe, acted as frame of reference in a way it did not for American intellectuals who were, at the same time, more parochial and more internationalist. This supports Therborn’s thesis on Euro-American differences mentioned in the introductory part of this article. The difference Therborn diagnosed, however, does not apply to all the four questions raised. Concerning the meaning of 1989, one finds more reflections in Monthly Review and in Socialist Register than in the other two – this has to be related to their ‘stricter’ Marxist orientation, focusing on historical and economic approaches. On the other hand, concerning attempts at discussing the adequate answers to the collapse of state socialism, one counts more statements in the politically and methodically more open magazines Dissent and New Left Review. That the debate of wrong answers seemed to be more extensive in the US publications can be explained by the more marked turn to poststructuralist and identity issues within the American intellectual left in the 1980s to which contributors to both, Dissent and Monthly Review, had objected.
‘Deutscherism’, the perception of the Soviet Union as post-capitalist, is of some value in explaining pessimistic reactions. Especially in New Left Review one finds voices which defined what happened in Eastern Europe as restorative developments – Halliday’s diagnosis of ‘recidivism’ with regard to social achievements can serve as an example (cf. 1990 p. 22). These assets had, as several writers mentioned, not been limited to the Eastern Bloc but had positively affected the states of the West and the Third World. A similar perspective informed the pages of Socialist Register, for example, when Richard Levins’s criticised some dissidents’ perspective as “reactionary in the larger scale of things” (1990 p. 333). Additionally, Miliband’s high hopes on the potential of the Gorbachev reforms must also be seen as a manifestation of the ‘Deutscherite’ belief in change from above (cf. Newman 2002 pp. 308-309). Did the American journals share it? With Dissent’s Trotskyist origins, its self-declared anti-Deutscherite position, and its insistence that the acceptance of democratic norms and rules were a sine-qua-non for socialism, its contributors’ initial reactions to the collapse were more positive. But, as can be detected from their mood change outlined above, even they had to acknowledge the domesticating influence of the ‘state-socialist’ on the capitalist world. They also realised that agency for socialist change ‘from below’ developed neither in the Eastern European countries nor elsewhere in this period of capitalist restoration. They hoped for a social democratisation of the West which would have to start from above too. Hence, although they disagreed with Deutscher’s characterisation of the Soviet Union, they agreed with his idea of top-down political change. Similarly, Monthly Review was aware of the dilemma of a collapsing Eastern Bloc which on the one hand had falsified and distorted Marxism but on the other was an indispensable precondition for socialist advance in the West (cf. Sweezy 1994 p. 7, Editors of Monthly Review 1990 p. 17). Such differences, discernible in a close reading of the journals, might indeed be explicable with varying answers to the question whether the Soviet Union was in a teleological sense post-capitalist or just beneficial to emancipatory causes beyond its own sphere of influence. Even if the second position was taken, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc could not be unconditionally welcomed.
The ‘Deutscherite’ explanation needs to be complemented by a biographical one: the feeling of personal loss has become very evident. The Eastern Bloc was not socialist, but – following a teleological logic of historical progress – it was the part of the world that either could and should have been or had been at least more likely to become socialist than the historically retarded West. Disappointment was even more severe since for a short historical moment the Soviet Union seemed to move towards socialism. Paul Blackledge, Gregory Elliott and others criticised the intellectual left’s pessimism as the result of a specific view of the Soviet Union. However, intellectual perspectives are chosen, adopted and developed within specific historical and biographical contexts. In this case, they mirror an epoch of bipolar global conflict and its end, welfare-statist and corporatist politics on a national scale (with their ‘domesticating’ effects on the working classes) and later the long turn towards neo-liberalism, punctuated by small and medium-scale activities of social movements, infrequent incidents of working-class militancy, and the fizzling-out of internationalism. Hence, trust in grassroots self-emancipation in the Western World could only rest on shaky ground. This era of disillusionment culminated with the rupture of 1989 and produced a severe identity crisis among Marxists since history was running backwards or at least coming to a temporary halt. Obviously, it is hard to avoid linear teleological perspectives, even for those best trained in dialectical thinking. Later in the 1990s, the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement was welcomed as an attempt at confronting the realities of the new, transnational capitalism of the post-communist world and thus to put history back on track. It seems that radical theory needs radical practice at least as much as the other way round.
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 Alexander’s version of modernism is synonymous with modernisation theory. This theory held a hegemonic position within the social sciences from the 1940s to the 1960s. Modernisation theorists worked on the assumption that societies were coherently organized systems, traditional or modern, developing through evolutionary processes towards individualism, secularism, capitalism, democracy (cf. 1995: 67-68).
 Ralph Miliband, 1924-1994, Marxist political scientist, taught at LSE and the University of Leeds, and co-founded Socialist Register with John Saville in 1964.
 Perry Anderson, b. 1938, from 1962 editor of New Left Review for almost 20 years. Anderson became editor again in 2000 and stayed on until the end of 2003. He left Britain in the 1980s to take up a post as professor of history and sociology at UCLA. He is seen by many observers as the leading figure in New Left Review.
 Robin Blackburn, b. 1940, member of New Left Review’s editorial board since 1962 and editor from 1981 to 1999. Played an active role in British student protests in 1968. Close long-term cooperation with Anderson, professor of sociology at the University of Essex.
 Tom Nairn, b. 1932, member of New Left Review’s editorial board from the early 1960s until the late 1980s. Co-formulated the Anderson-Nairn thesis, claiming that Britain’s archaic political culture had to be explained with its proto-bourgeois revolution and a later alliance of aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Fell out with the editorial board due to different perceptions of nationalism. Professor of nationalism and cultural diversity at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
 This selection of journals allows for a consideration of many of those thinkers (and their intellectual environment) whose work is discussed by Alexander and Therborn.
 My analysis is limited to the British and the American intellectual left while Göran Therborn discussed the European intellectual left as a whole, not just the British. However, taking the British as an exemplary case seems legitimate since he regarded it as clearly forming a part of the European ‘family’.
 Irving Howe, 1920-1993, literary scholar and political activists, belonged to the ‘New York Intellectuals’, moved from Trotskyism to a loosely defined ‘democratic socialism’, co-founder, with Lewis Coser, of Dissent in 1954.
 Paul Sweezy, Marxist economist, academic and New Deal administrator, co-founder, with Leo Huberman, of Monthly Review in 1949. Sweezy is well-known for his work on ‘monopoly capitalism’.
 There are numerous discussions on editorial politics and mechanisms of decision making in New Left Review. The tenor is that Perry Anderson has played (and still plays) an extremely important role in its life, even at times, as in the early 1990s, when he was not the official editor. Anderson’s role was discussed by Paul Blackledge (2004), Lin Chun (1993); Dennis Dworkin (1997), Gregory Elliott (1998) and Michael Kenny (1995). None of the other journals’ internal lives have attracted comparable interest. Perhaps they were run more smoothly (Socialist Register, for example, did not work with an editorial committee before Ralph Miliband’s death in 1994) but apparently New Left Review is an exceptional case. The other publications are less frequently used as reference points for making statements about one’s own political position – a role that, to me as a foreign observer, seems quite evident in the case of New Left Review.
 This distinguished the journals from others, such as Marxism Today and International Socialism in Britain or The Nation and New Politics in the USA, which either moved, as a consequence of Marxist revisionism, closer to centre-left parties, or, because of a different understanding of the relation of structure and agency, claimed to have a more intimate link to the radical left sections of labour and social movements.
 It should be noted that several contributors published in more than one journal – for example, Daniel Singer in Socialist Register and Monthly Review, Norman Geras in New Left Review and Socialist Register, Cornel West in Monthly Review and Dissent, Ralph Miliband in New Left Review, Socialist Register and Monthly Review. Not surprisingly, there were and are differences between the four magazines – for example, different levels of theoretical abstraction, fields of empirical focus, varying prestige in the academic world, wider popular versus narrower academic recruitment areas of contributors, the degree of leftwing ecumenism, but also conceptual specificities like New Left Review’s short-lived sympathies for Mao and Althusser in the 1970s, a leftwing, critical Zionism among post-Trotskyist Dissenters, Miliband’s theory of the capitalist state shining through the pages of Socialist Register, or Sweezy’s theory of capitalist development visible in those of Monthly Review.
 For a short summary of Deutscher’s perspective see Marcel van der Linden, Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 139-146.
 This explains why I do not consider comments on, for example, developments in China, which received a new interest as the remaining example of a state-guided economic system. It also explains a certain blurring of boundaries between central and marginal articles. While some contributions more closely represented the ‘spirit’ of a particular journal, the conjuncture of 1989 obviously generated a moment of increased ecumenism in order to facilitate the process of rethinking that was required.
 These became the final exchanges in a long debate between E. P. Thompson and Fred Halliday over the characterisation of the (second) Cold War. Whereas Thompson considered the logic of ‘exterminism’ – the possibility of destroying the whole planet – as producing its own drive and momentum and making Nato and Warsaw Pact to collaborators in the same process of irresponsibility, Halliday interpreted the Cold War as fuelled by the conflict between capitalism and post-capitalism in which the former side, consequently, carried a higher amount of responsibility than the latter (cf. New Left Review 1982).
 Kaldor’s argument was obviously directed against, among others, many writers in, and editorial committee members of, New Left Review.
 Rehabilitating Kautsky was a surprising project because he had been widely criticized by the New Left and Neo-Marxists for his economic determinism.