The late Marx, Lenin and the Russian Road
1. Shanin's Thesis
Shanin's thesis in The Late Marx and the Russian Road is that Marx, in
the twilight of his life, substantially reconsidered his views of the
typical path of capitalist development, on the gounds that the communal
property forms of the Russian peasantry, is a basis for socialism.
Shanin's argument is based on an essay by the Japanese Marxist Wada.
Whilst Shanin's intent is to overthrow Lenin's reputation, Louis Proyect
extends the thesis, arguing that Lenin, too, came round to see the
virtues of the peasant commune.
Shanin's thesis is, to put it mildly, extremely tendentious based on
forcibly imaginative misreadings of some already ambiguous materials. It
is, in the words of Derek Sayer and Peter Corrigan, whose essay is
reproduced in the same volume, 'special pleading with a vengeance' (The
Late Marx and the Russian Road, p80).
2. Many Marxes?
The method of subdividing Marx has always been a suspect one, whose
purpose is generally to distance Marx's reputation from his own work.
Louis Althusser was the most famous proponent of different Marxes,
counterposing the humanist work of the young Marx, that offended his own
anti-humanist project, from the scientific mature Marx. Althusser's
counterposition has long been exposed as nothing more that Althusser's
discomfort with Marx's own attitudes, and unsustainable in the face of
the continuity of the Marx's humanism. Why does Althusser's theory
depend on such a forced re-reading of Marx, instead of simply developing
his own ideas? Because Althusser needs the reputation of Marxism as a
theory of socialism to serve as an 'origin myth' for his own theory; by
formulating his own anti-Marxist ideas with the outward appearance of
Marxist orthodoxy, Althusser seeks to overthrow Marxism from within.
Shanin's division between Marx the dogmatic theorist of stages, and the
late, enlightened Marx is even more obviously hostile to Marxism. Shanin
moved in two worlds, the Soviet Union, where Marx's reputation was
artificially associated with a reactionary regime, and the sociology
department in Manchester, where Marx was still well considered. Shanin's
comparatively dismissive attitude towards the main body of Marx's work
reflects the waning authority of Marxism in the Western intelligentsia.
So Shanin is cavalier in his dismissal of Marx's writings on colonialism
('an embarrassment', p 6), in Capital ('unilinear simplicities of the
evolutionist scheme', p5) and so on. In fact Shanin's hostility to Marx
is undisguised, and the attempts to present his criticisms as a
differentiation between the late Marx and his predecessor are lazy and
off-hand, as if merely going through the motions of doffing his cap to
Marx, for the purposes of making his attack more palatable to his fellow
In substance the differentiation of many Marxes is only a staging post
on the way to dumping Marxism altogether. Marx's work did of course
develop in his life, and where he felt he needed to correct a previous
theory, he did (as for example in the development