'Living Marxism'

Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Mar 20 23:28:07 MST 2001

Brian Cahill:
> they managed
>to produce a fantastic looking magazine with a relatively mainstream
>distribution network in newsagents. That, whatever you think of their
>political trajectory, was an impressive accomplishment. It didn't hurt that
>the writing style was sharp and nearly cliche-free. The title, "Living
>Marxism", was good too.

The 'Living Marxism' of around its first six years or so served as a model
for 'revolution', the magazine which I am involved in and which started
here in NZ in 1997.  I started reading LM when I lived in Dublin and I
recall how impressed I was by it.  Once a month I would go and buy a copy
at the Well-Red bookshop in Crow Street and wander over the Ha'penny Bridge
to the Winding Stair book and coffee shop.  I'd spend a pleasant Saturday
morning, reading LM and drinking coffee while looking down at the Liffey.
Several friends of mine used to borrow it and read it.  They were Dublin
working class, and one of them, a guy who fitted windows and did glazing,
used to take it to his work and read it at tea breaks and show it to his
workmates.  He thought it was a great magazine.  This, to me, was crucial
about intelligent Marxism.  LM could present hardcore ideas in a sharp,
pretty much cliche-free way, that could be read by ordinary workers,
whereas much of the far left insulted workers by serving up dumbed-down
tripe in the name of Marxism and then wrote ultra-academic gobbledygook in
their 'theoretical' publications.  This just reproduced the capitalist
division between manual and mental labour, whereas the RCP, in its best
days, had a high enough opinion of workers' intelligence to believe you
could present Marxist ideas to workers in a way which was not dumbed down.

Unfortunately the LM site, now an archive site, only begins with LMs from
about 1993 or 94, whereas the very best years of LM were really from its
beginning in 1988 until about 93/94.  So the best LMs are not available on
the internet and now are never likely to be.  Regardless of the RCP
trajectory in the mid-90s, I'd strongly suggest to anyone thinking of
starting up a good Marxist mag, or revamping any existing one, that it
would be well worth their while to try to get a look at the early LMs.

The name of the mag, btw, was taken from the magazine that Paul Mattick ran
in the USA in the late 1930s.

In fact, that was something else that I liked about them.  Although many
people on the British left regarded them as ultraleft sectarians, they were
far less sectarian than most when it came to recognising the contributions
made to Marxism by a whole series of revolutionaries.  They could recognise
the contributions of people like Mattick, Korsch, CLR James, Gramsci,
Lukacs and others to Marxism, despite disagreeing with much of the
practical politics of such figures.  And, while being absolutely scathing
about the politics of someone like E.P. Thompson, especially his whole
'exterminism' thesis and its anti-Soviet political implications, they could
still massively admire works such as his 'Making of the English Working
Class' and also his polemics against Althusser.  And if someone in some
rival left group wrote a good book, they had no trouyble recognising it.
For instance they gave a glowing review to Geof Pilling's book on 'Capital'
although Pilling was a central leader of a rival left group.  And Tom
Kemp's book on US capitalism was part of their educational kit on the USA,
regardless of Kemp being also a leader of a rival left group.  The
'non-sectarian' left, on the other hand, did everything possible to
prevent/discourage their members reading RCP stuff.

As I understand it, their view was that Stalinism had effectively destroyed
the continuity of revolutionary Marxism, and you couldn't really just latch
onto a single tradition (like the FI and Trotskyism) to re-knit the
threads.  You had to recognise that different people had preserved and
developed strands of Marxism and understand what was positive in a range of
different people, such as the above, and try to draw the best strands of
their contributions together.

Philip Ferguson

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