To my 312 Readers — I have finally recovered from brain-fog, indecision, and other symptoms of pandemic life and lockdown.

‘The second world war is now in its eighth month, and it seems not yet really to have begun’, is how Philip Rahv opens this collage of comments and positions from his Editorial staff at PR, in 1940 It is not hard to see in his opening sentence similarities to the pandemic we are enduring now — brain fog, indecision, confusion, innit? —

Yet the war had been going on — in Norway, where Rahv finds barbarism of a primitive type easily associated with both Nazi barbarism and with the dark prehistoric lands of fjords and mountains in the time of the old Norse Tales.’

Rahv theorises the language of war through the phrases, ‘Free State’, and ‘State Capitalism’ and both are explained as trouble with and from the degenerating course of monopoly capitalism. Rahv had joined the US Communist Party in 1933, but was expelled as a ‘Trotskyist,’ by 1937. So it was that when this piece was written,

Rahv gives space to a critique of ‘weak’ liberalism by Dwight Macdonald, easily the wittiest and liveliest writer of the Jewish Intellectuals, except that he wasn’t Jewish. He had gone to the elite boarding school, Philips Exeter, and then to Yale University. Macdonald writes a screed against the Poet Stephen Spender’s type of ‘weak liberalism, in which he laughs at Spender’s anxiety about the Neville Chamberlain’s approach to this war: ” Would Mr. spender be so concerned about losing his freedom if he happened to be functioning in the ‘Chamberlain System not as an upper-class literary man, but as a cook or a bus driver or a coal miner?

Macdonald goes on: Several years ago, when he was a Stalinist fellow-traveler, he wrote a book to expound his faith in the Popular Front and the Soviet Union. Having lost his faith, Mr. Spender now finds himself retreating once more to his liberal base.

Today the masses are apathetic because they cannot accept neither of the two alternatives offered them in the war –either Berlin-Rome-Moscow or Paris-London- Washington

“It is a ‘Free War’ in that the governments on both sides have a freedom of action they did not have in 1914, being able to exploit either simultaneously or alternatively both military and economic weapons. The two stages of imperialist struggle have been telescoped into one. The distinction between war and peace as ways of life under capitalism, this has been broken down, and war has been fused into the normal everyday structure of existence of both the State and the individual.”

And what of the Nazi-Soviet compact? ‘The USSR, where the bureaucracy, faced with a contradiction between its own interests, and the interests of the nationalised form of economy which is at least as explosive as those of modern capitalism. This is, of course, especially true of totalitarian states like Germany, It is also true of the USSR, which is at least as explosive as those of modern capitalism, must likewise suppress the class struggle or perish.’

So where do we end up? Rahv goes on to make it plain ‘that the crisis in Marxism is primarily caused by the fact that everywhere, including the Soviet Union, it is not the social revolution but th ecounter-revolution which has triumphed. For if science, as a French physicist once defined it, as a ‘rule of action that succeeds.’ then certainly the the credit of Marxism, which has always insisted in being regarded as a science, is rapidly running short. Since the big one, and at that time seemingly conclusive, victory in 1917, the failure of the socialist cause has been continuous and disastrous; and, furthermore, the Russian victory itself turned, within a few years, into a source of confusion, disillusionment and outright treachery. Clearly, what has happened is that the negative predictions of Marxism have come true, but not its positive ones. The curse has been fulfilled, but not the promise. In the main, events have confirmed the Marxist analysis of bourgeois economy, of the bourgeois state, and of the imperialist wars; but so far events have failed to confirm the Marxist prognosis that once the objective conditions have ripened, the masses will know how to dismember the profit system in order to reconstruct society on a more rational basis.

One thought on “The War is 8 Months old, and Philip Rahv gives Partisan Review’s notes and comments ‘on a Strange War’.

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