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Antiquity and Modernity of Soviet Marxism

 Invited co-editors: Maria Chehonadskih, Keti Chukhrov, Alexei Penzin

Fredric Jameson once pointed out that the Marxist tradition is already our Antiquity due to its significance and historical distance. This distance allows us to view it from the outside, able to reinvent Marxism for our own time. The same could be said about the most paradoxical version of this tradition – Soviet Marxism. However, there are particular qualities, which singles it out from the “classical antiquity” of Marxist tradition. Thus, even internationally-known Soviet works (by Vygotsky, Bakhtin and some others) are not perceived as belonging to a unitary theoretical tradition and are even less associated with Marxism and the heritage of 1917.
It may therefore seem that the October Revolution of 1917, although being recognised as the key event of the “short twentieth century,” has not created a universally-recognizable and consolidated body of thought. It is indeed, then, a difficult task to outline this field and that is why the current lens of historical distance might be helpful. First, because it was often expressed not in theoretical books but in literary works, manifestos, and political essays, the considerable part of which have remained unknown. Second, after the Second World War, in the conditions created by the Cold War this formation of thought was known only as an exotic object, labelled as “Eastern” or “Soviet” Marxism. In the presupposed dichotomy, “Western” Marxism was typically attributed an unconditional innovative value, whereas Soviet Marxism was seen under the vast umbrella of dogmatism or Stalinist diamat. Finally, any value of Soviet thought disappeared in the aggressive anti-Communist discourses coined by dissident milieus in the USSR and Eastern Europe before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The situation today of continuing economic and political crisis, as well as the crisis of ideas within formerly “Western” Marxist and radical thought, determines the urgent task to highlight and productively rethink them in confrontation with Soviet theory.
The core of Soviet theory was mostly variations on Hegelian Marxism but with original connections of ideas. From the very beginning, already in the 1920s, it began to formulate the dilemmas that would only much later become a focus of “Western” Marxist philosophy—questions such as “Hegel or Spinoza?” or “Dialectic or immanent thought?” that were debated in the West from the 1960s onwards. But it also tried to resolve these dilemmas in an innovative way, with interesting attempts to produce a theory which would avoid the traps of this alternative, in a Marxist anthropology of labour and activity theory, as well as materialist ontology (in the works of Lev Vygotsky, Evald Il’enkov, Boris Porshnev and some other thinkers). In the field of aesthetics, Soviet theory was able to produce daring and ambitious propositions, undertaking a radical critique of modernist culture—most prominently, in works by Mikhail Lifshitz, life-long friend of Georg Lukács. Besides, Isaak Rubin’s theorization of abstract labour and value form are of great interest today due to revived discussions on the economic theory of Marx in relation to the current conditions of global financial crisis.
It is important to note that the formation of Hegelian Marxism in the 50s and 60s and its peculiar relation to Spinozism is difficult to understand without the context of intellectual debates about materialism and monism before and after the October revolution. In this respect, a provocative fusion of empiricism and Marxism (Bogdanov, Bazarov) or Engels and Spinoza (Plekhanov, Deborin) corresponded to an uneasy task to answer ontological and epistemological questions which contemporary “Western” Marxism have somewhat ignored. Unlike “Western” Marxism, Soviet philosophy was not grounded on the post-Kantian idea of critique (in that case, of bourgeois culture and society). Its affirmative and speculative character emerged on the basis of revolutionary rupture with “old” society. Similar to the Soviet avant-garde, it prepared a clean canvas for the composition of a new world that has never previously existed or been explored. From today’s perspective, this world of Soviet antiquity still remains unknown; it is waiting for reintroduction to contemporary debates.
In previous issues of Stasis such as, ironically, What Is To Be Done With Sex?, which includes articles on the interpretations of sexuality and gender from Andrei Platonov to the discussions of the 1960s; or a special issue on the important late-Soviet philosopher Vladimir Bibikhin, Stasis has already tackled questions about the legacy of Soviet thought. In this issue, we would like to address them in a more systematic way, to explore this enormous blind spot of contemporary critical thought.

Articles can be submitted in English (the preferred language), Russian, or another European language. All pre-accepted articles are peer-reviewed. Maximum article length is 9000 words. Editorial instructions for authors are accessible here:

The deadline for submission is 1 July 2016.