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Political Stagnation and Marxist Critique: 1968 and Beyond in Comparative East European Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2009


Specialists in communist affairs, as is well known, differ significantly in their interpretation of Soviet-type systems. Such divergence notwithstanding, numerous scholars seem to agree that under ‘real socialism’, Marxist-Leninist ideology is visibly ‘withering away’ as a meaningful category in analysing society at large or leadership groups. In the ‘Bureaucratic Leviathan’ states of the communist world, Maria Hirszowicz writes, interest in Marxism is nowadays either non-existent or very limited. In these polities there seems to be ‘a widespread belief (shared by many enlightened party members) that Marxist methodology does not have much to offer in relation to what is really important in understanding social life in communist countries’. In a similar manner, Robert F. Byrnes indicates that Marxism has lost ‘any relevance or vitality’ and adds that Marxist thought and revisions of it are far more common in France, the United States and the underdeveloped countries than in communist Eastern Europe, where the doctrine or doctrinal approaches seem to have been spurned for practical reasons. In other words, as Wayne S. Vuchinich put it, ideology ‘has been made the servant of realpolitik and thereby it… has been reduced to hollow ritualism’. The validity of such remarks is often corroborated not only by members of the overtly anti-Marxist opposition, such as Solzhenitsyn, but also by former or present-day dissidents, such as Kołakowski or Sakharov.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1984

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6 I owe this distinction to Ž. Hejzlar, , ‘Poland – a Failed Attempt at Emancipation’, Socialist Affairs, No. 5 (1982), p. 207.Google Scholar This rendered, I should add that I disagree with everything else in this article. The distinction between ‘political stagnation’ and ‘political stability’ has often escaped the attention of analysts. The Soviet dissident A. Zimitin, for example, adopting the ‘Asiatic modes’ explanation to developments in post-1917 Russia, writes of ‘a radical distortion’ of Marx's model, which is said to have resulted ‘in the establishment, instead of it, of a social order which, though stable, led nowhere in its growth and development, and was in this sense stagnant’ (quoted in Hirszowicz, , The Bureaucratic Leviathan, p. 4Google Scholar; emphasis mine).

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16 For example A. Hegedüs, G. Márkus or I. Szelényi among the Hungarians, or Bahro, R. in East Germany. Cf. ‘Une opposition est-elle possible et souhaitable? Une discussion avec trois opposants hongrois: András Hegedüs, Támas Főldvary et Zóltan Zsille’, L'Alternative, No. 3 (03 1980), p. 15Google Scholar: Márkus, G., ‘Western Marxism and Eastern Societies’, Dialectical Anthropology, VI, No. 4 (06 1982), pp. 291318CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Szelényi, I., ‘Socialist Opposition in Eastern Europe: Dilemmas and Perspectives’ in Tőkés, R., ed., Opposition in Eastern Europe (London: Macmillan, 1979), pp. 187207CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bahro, , The Alternative in Eastern Europe.Google Scholar

17 The evidence here is superabundant. Cf., among others, Michnik, A., ‘The New Evolutionism’, Survey, XXII (1976), 267–77Google Scholar; and ‘What We Want to Do and What We Can Do’, Telos, No. 47 (1981), p. 77Google Scholar; Slánský, R., ‘Le dialogue et non l'affrontement’, L'Alternative, No. 2 (01 1980), p. 8Google Scholar; Kenedi, J., ‘Comment je suis devenu idiot’, L'Alternative, No. 10–11 (0508 1981), pp. 71–9Google Scholar; Skilling, , Charter 77, pp. 47, 177Google Scholar; Schöpflin, G., ‘Opposition and Para-Opposition: Critical Currents in Hungary, 1968–1978’Google Scholar in Tőkés, , ed., Opposition in Eastern Europe, pp. 142–67Google Scholar; Lomax, B., ‘L'essoir de l'opposition democratique hongroise’, L'Alternative, No. 19 (1112 1982), pp. 1926.Google Scholar

18 Cf. Szelényi, , ‘Socialist Opposition’, p. 188Google Scholar and Oleszczuk, T., ‘Dissident Marxism in Eastern Europe’, World Politics, XXIV (1982), 527–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for an analysis of the combination of Marxist critique and non-Marxist general ‘democratic’ ideas in criticism of East European societies emanating from Marxist circles. ‘It is worth noting’, Hirszowicz indicates, ‘that the views of the opposition movements in Eastern Europe are evolving in a direction that has less and less affinity with the dogmas of the communist parties and the socialist left’ (The Bureaucratic Leviathan, p. 6).Google Scholar

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21 Cf. Michnik, , ‘What We Want to Do and What We Can Do’, p. 67.Google Scholar

22 ‘An important feature of political communication in Eastern Europe has been the ability to camouflage material so as to give it an outwardly orthodox appearance. Controversial proposals or arguments can be dressed up in Marxist jargon and published, sometimes with the connivance of the party, and sometimes despite the censor.’ (White, Stephen, Gardner, John and Schöpflin, George, Communist Political Systems: An Introduction (London: Macmillan, 1982), p. 241).CrossRefGoogle Scholar Such ‘disguise’ is occasionally deemed necessary even in societies which have ‘left behind’ the ‘reformist’ stage. Commenting on a resolution proposed by the ‘fundamentalist’ group of Solidarity, which employed some Marxist terminology, two members of the Laboratory of Organizational Sociology of the Polish Academy of Science write that this ‘has to be taken as a desire to speak up a language comprehensible to the other side, rather than take up the formulations binding on the other side’ (Kostecki, Marian J. and Mreła, Krzysztof, ‘Workers and Intelligentsia in Poland: During the Hot Days and In Between’, Media, Culture and Society, IV (1982), p. 233.Google Scholar

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37 Cf. my ‘Autonomy and Conformity in Romania’ in Schöpflin, G., ed., State, Society and Autonomy in Eastern Europe (forthcoming).Google Scholar

38 Cf. my ‘The Socialist Republic of Romania’ in Szajkowski, B., ed., Marxist Governments: A World Survey (London: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 589639 and ‘Autonomy and Conformity in Romania’.Google Scholar

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69 It is not clear what happened to this group after Bretter's death in 1977. I owe the information on the activity of these intellectuals to George Schöpflin.

70 Cf. for example, Bretter, G., ‘Az elidegendedés és forrasai’, Korunk, XXV, No. 3 (03 1966), pp. 371–7Google Scholar, and Bretter, G., Rácz, G., ‘Termékeny speculacio’, Korunk, XXVII, No. 3 (03 1968), No. 12 (December 1968), pp. 387–93 and 1861–4, respectively.Google Scholar

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83 Axelrod, P., ‘Bericht über den Fortgang der sozialistische Bewegung: Rumänien’, Jahrbuch für Sozialwissenschaft, II (1881), 320–6Google Scholar as quoted in Haupt, G., ‘Naissance du socialisme par la critique: La Roumanie’, Le Mouvement Social, No. 59 (1967), p. 31.Google Scholar

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86 The analogy belongs to Kenedi, who paraphrases Marx, in ‘Comment je suis devenu idiot’ p. 76.Google Scholar

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88 Cf. his Tragicul: O fenomenologie a limitei şi depâţirii (Bucureşti: Univers, 1975).Google Scholar

89 Shafir, , ‘Political Culture, Intellectual Dissent and Intellectual Consent’.Google Scholar

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92 Cf. Márkus, , ‘Western Marxism and Eastern Societies’, p. 291.Google Scholar

93 Cf. their essays in Silnitsky, Fr., Silnitsky, R. and Reyman, K., eds., Communism and Eastern Europe (Brighton: Harvester, 1979).Google Scholar

94 Cf. Wishnevsky, J., ‘More Details Emerge About “Socialists” Arrested in USSR Earlier This Year’, Radio Liberty Research 341/82, 23 08 1982Google Scholar. It is doubtful that Medvedev's advocacy of a ‘return to Leninism’ belongs to the same line of thought. Cf. Medvedev, R., Leninism and Western Socialism (London: Verso, 1981).Google Scholar

95 The attraction to Eurocommunism, for example, is non-existent in Romania (or Bulgaria), much in contrast to the Soviet, Czechoslovak, Polish and East German cases. Cf. Wesson, R., ‘Eurocommunism and Eastern Europe’Google Scholar in Drachkovitch, , ed., East Central Europe, p. 72.Google Scholar

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