Millennium Post

Behold Oxford handbook of communism

‘Communism is indeed the beginning, and not the end, of human history’ and furthermore, the process of revolutionalisation of capitalist (bourgeois) more of production would continue ‘till the whole existing mode of production is transformed. This is the profound meaning of what Marx called the ‘revolutionary transformation period’ between capitalism and communism, dominated by the working class rule, which begins with the destruction of the existing bourgeois state machinery and the installation of the proletarian rule – the ‘rule of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’, the ‘conquest of democracy’, which, far from signifying the victory of the revolution’ wrote Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay in a seminal essay,
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On  Communism
in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Communism, edited by Steve Smith, professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence, presently senior research fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford.

Arguably, the India’s most erudite and reflective scholar on Marx and Marxism, Chattopadhyay was assigned to pen the most theoretically important essay in the six volume work – ideology,  global moments, global communism, communist polities and economies, communism and everyday life and communism and culture – and split into 35 chapters like ideologies of Marx & Engels, Lenin and Leninism, Stalin and Stalinism, Maoism, Comintern, Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Collectivisation & Famine and Communism & Religion. Now on the teaching staff in the Department of Political Economy at the Quebec University in, he is currently a member of the workshop (werkstatt) of the ongoing 15 volume
Historical – Critical Dictionary of Marxism
(Historisch Kritisches Worterbuch Des Marxismus) project being published under the sponsorship of Insitut Fur Kritische Theorie, INKRIT, Berlin where he is a fellow too, thanks to his command over French, Russian, German, Russian and Italian. He is also a guest research fellow at the Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Prof Smith himself wrote to Chattopadhyay after reading the first draft, ‘Your erudition – across the range of Marx’s writing and in various languages – is staggering and I learned a great deal that I didn’t know before’.

Among other scholars who wrote for the OHC are Lars T Lih (author of
How a Founding Document Was Found,
or 100 Years of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done) – Lenin and Bolshevism, Kevin McDermott (Stalin – Revolutionary in an Era of War) Stalin and Stalinism and Timothy Cheek (Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions: A Brief History with Documents) – Mao and Maoism, all well-known in their areas of specialisation and recognition thereof.  

Explaining the rationale of the project, Smith candidly stated, ‘Communism was the 20th century’s most idealistic political experiment, yet major Communist regimes evolved into some of that century’s most bloody tyrannies.

At the peak of its influence in the 1970s, states purporting to espouse Communist principles (I leave aside the question of whether they were in any genuine sense ‘Communist’) governed about a third of the world’s landmass. Throughout the colonial, post-colonial and underdeveloped worlds millions viewed such states with sympathy for having apparently broken with the injustices and inequalities of capitalism and big-power politics. Yet within less than two decades, the Communist experiment was finished. Its history, which lasted just over 70 years – roughly the same as the reign of Louis XIV – was hardly long by the standards of the great empires such as China or Spain, and hardly any time at all by the standards of Marx’s own stages of historical development. Nevertheless, if Communism was at some level a blip in world history, its influence in the turbulent history of the 20th century was massive.’

He assured that it would ‘strive to get away from an earlier historiography of Communism that consisted to a large extent of baffling acronyms, arcane ideological battles, of congresses called and resolutions passed’ away from the ‘top-down’ approach during the Comintern years, practiced by the Communist Parties, regarded as ‘sections’ of the controlling apex in Moscow until its dissolution in 1945.

Chattopadhyay in his very introductory stated poignantly, ‘Though the representation of communism as an ideal society is at least as old as Plato, it was Marx and Engels who made communism famous as the projection of a society that could arise logically after capitalism from the internal contradictions of capitalism itself as the outcome of a self-emancipatory proletarian revolution. They of course drew on the writings of their great predecessors, mainly Saint Simon, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, the ‘utopians’, who, however, propagated their ideas of the post-capitalist society during a period of the undeveloped state of the working class movement and of the material conditions of the emancipation of the working class’.

Communism, he infers, appears in ‘two different senses in the works of Marx and Engels. First, as a theoretical expression.. As Engels succinctly underlines: ‘to the extent that it (communism) is theoretical, it is the theoretical expression of the place of the proletariat in the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the resume of the conditions of the emancipation of the proletariat  echoing the Communist Manifesto that the theoretical principles of the communists ‘are only the general expressions of the real relations of the existing class struggle, of a historical movement that is going on before our eyes’ and in second sense it  ‘refers to the society which is envisaged as arising after the demise of capital. He reasserted that Marx ‘alternatively and equivalently, used concepts or connotations Socialism, Communism  (Re)union of Free Individuals, Republic of Labour, , Cooperative Society, Society of Free and Associated Producers’ or the like as ‘Associated Mode of Production’ as opposed to the ‘capitalist mode of production’.

While the Handbook is expected to be of immense use for scholars, how the official communist parties take it is to be awaited. Criticisms are very likely to be heard.

Well-known Commintern and Gramsci scholar Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta has already pointed out that one of the crucial area, ignored, is communism in the South Asia. Dutta Gupta, formerly Surendranath Banerjee chair of political science, University of Calcutta, worked at the Comintern Archive and other archives too. He did commendable work on Comintern and the Indian communism. (IPA)
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