Synopsis

Not everyone agrees, even today and even in this book, that reflection on Marxism and communism is already posthumous. There are Marxists, for example, who — like Mark Twain — consider reports of their death to be exaggerated. Piotr MARCINIAK’s essay in this book argues to this effect. And not all communists believe that they should be written off either. Nevertheless, the point of the adjective will be lost on no one. For when — in the annus mirabilis, 1989 — apparently impregnable communist regimes toppled in accelerating succession, the face of Europe, and maybe the fate of the world, were fundamentally transformed. Communism has disappeared from many parts of the world, and nowhere can it be again what it was before 1989. And though it is less obvious that this should follow, intellectual engagement with Marxism seems also to have suffered irrevocably. Whether that suffering proves fatal, only time will tell.

Whatever survives, however, certain elements of Marxism — both as explanatory theory and as prophecy — have certainly died and are unlikely to be reborn. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of European communism, nothing would have seemed less appropriate than to publish yet another book to do with Marxism, let alone Marxism and . . ., still less Marxism and communism. The message of political liberalism seemed triumphant, and the prescriptions of economic liberalism were making all the running. Few people in the region admitted to being Marxists let alone communists, and equally few saw in Marxism anything of relevance to their current predicaments — except perhaps as an object of blame.

After four years, however, the lessons to be learnt from the collapse of communism are somewhat more controversial. Political liberalism faces severe competition from nationalist and religious forces, and from post-commmunist ones; economic liberalism has had painful consequences, and not everyone is agreed that those consequences were necessary or their causes desirable. There has even been some rethinking of the legacies of communism, at least in some of the countries — such as Poland — where communism was less rabid than elsewhere, or in Russia where it was more deeply entrenched. Whatever else they disagree on, most observers agree that these legacies are more complex, and harder to ignore or discard, than was originally imagined. More complicated, too, is the transition from communism to something (what thing?) else. Now is an appropriate time, then, to ask questions about communist political systems, and to examine their connections with the bodies of ideas and ideals by which they claimed to be inspired. To that end, the essays in this volume have approached a range of problems to do with Marxism, communism and relationships between them.

There is no common line — certainly no Party line — in the essays and, as is appropriate to the complexity and controvery of the subjects with which they deal, there is a good deal of disagreement among them. What they have in common is that all the authors have reflected on both Marxism and its connections with the character and activities of communist regimes. Most of these authors, though not all, have also spent their lives under such regimes. There are disadvantages in such experience, but there are also certain advantages. In particular, people who have it are less likely than academics in the West to discuss these questions as though they were abstract intellectual exercises, to be resolved by faith or logic, barely tainted by experience. Whatever their differences on other matters, there is a certain vigour and concreteness in their engagement which has not always been apparent in discussion of these topics. Even if vigour and concreteness were the only positive qualities of the essays collected here, they would be welcome. However, they also make important and interesting contributions to our understanding of Marxism, communism, and the relations between them — on a number of planes. That is equally welcome, after the — sometimes fevered, sometimes pallid — ways in which these subjects have been discussed for many years. To speak of possible connections between Marxism and communism is to speak of many things, and the articles in this book do so. There are four issues to which these essays repeatedly return:

1. What are the phenomena — ideas, ideals, events, practices, institutions, people — with which discussion of Marxism and communism should be concerned? Communist political systems are not so hard to identify. Marxism, however, is more controversial. Any argument about relationships between Marxism and communism has a lot of “Marxisms” to choose between: the Founders’ writings, the innumerable interpretations of those writings, the beliefs of self-proclaimed Marxists, beliefs attributed to the leaders of erstwhile communist states on the basis of what they said and did, the authorized versions of Marxism preached and imposed by ideological apparatchiks in communist states: histmat (historical materialism) and diamat (dialectical materialism). And combinations and permutations of any of the above. Many of these combinations are discussed and distinguished in the articles collected here.

2. However one understands Marxism, a second question has to do with postulated relationships of influence between it and communism. This question is posed centrally by FLIS and KRYGIER, and commented on in various ways by MARCINIAK, CZARNOTA and SKAPSKA. At issue is whether it makes sense, and if so what sort of sense, to postulate such relationships between the writings of Marx and Engels and what was done in their name. Flis, Krygier and Skapska believe it does make sense and that there are important, if complex, connections between what Marx wrote and what communists did. Marciniak thinks the connections one can postulate are weak, and Czarnota believes that Marxism was compatible with a variety of developments. That chosen, he claims, was the one compatible with the interests of communist power- holders, rather than one necessitated by the body of doctrine to which they subscribed.

3. A third question is of a different sort: less about influence than about theoretical usefulness. Here the question is not whether Marxism was historically connected with communism, but whether it offers any basis for interesting analysis of communism. Here, three Polish writers — Leszek NOWAK, Edmund MOKRZYCKI, and Roman BACKER — are confident that the specificity of real socialism has defied Marxist, and not only Marxist, analysis. CLARK and WILDAVSKY disagree. They detect a perversely unintended power in Marxism. Far from being a theory applicable to capitalism, which comes apart when faced with real socialism, they think that Marxism made a brilliant hit on the wrong target. Aimed at capitalism, it turns out on their reading to have missed that target pretty well totally. On the other hand, it provided a prophetic analysis and critique of communism.

4. Fourthly, “Marxism” is not, of course, a term reserved for a certain sort of theoretical analysis or political philosophy. It is also used to describe the compulsory ideology of a particular sort of regime. Asking about Marxism and communism necessarily involves asking about the purposes which Marxist ideology was enlisted to serve, and about how well or ill it served them. FLIS, MARCINIAK, ZYBERTOWICZ, CZARNOTA, and SAJO all pursue this theme. The issues raised hitherto are very general in scope. They apply to a wide variety of matters in respect of which questions about relationships between Marxism and communism might occur. The last four articles in the book — those by KRYGIER, CZARNOTA, SKAPSKA, and SAJO — examine many of these issues in a particular context: specifically, though not exclusively, in relation to law. These essays examine the role of law under communism, the relationships between that role and Marxism, and the legacies of that experience for law after communism. In particular, they are concerned with the possibility of restraint on power by law — the rule of law — in polities whose predecessors on the whole rejected it, in practice and often in principle.

The epoch which began with Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin — depending on one’s view of these things — arguably ended with Boris Pugo. Tragedy to farce, indeed. Few predicted the tragedy and even fewer the farce. So, whether or not discussion of Marxism and communism is posthumous, it is clear that it is not exhausted. It is also clear that it involves a wealth of live issues — about ideas and historical practice, about ideals and their consequences, about the nature and adequacy of social theories, about power and its restraint, and about the future of post-communist societies — some of which are only beginning to be discussed. This volume has sought to contribute to that discussion, by opening up some of these issues. It has not sought to, nor could it, close off any of them.