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REFERENCES

Anderson, Perry. 1974. Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism. London: New Left Books.
Brass, Tom. 1995. “Reply to Utsa Patnaik: If the Cap Fits. . . .” International Review of
Social History, 40, 93–117.
———. 2002. “Rural Labour in Agrarian Transitions: The Semi-Feudal Thesis Revis-
ited.” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 32, 456–473.
Evans, Richard J. 2014. Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History. London: Little, Brown.
Whiteside, A. G. 1962. Austrian National Socialism Before 1918. The Hague, The Neth-
erlands: Martinus Nijhoff.
———. 1975. The Socialism of Fools: Georg Ritter von Schönerer and Austrian Pan-German-
ism. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

A PASSIONATE AND PATIENT CONTRIBUTION
TO REVOLUTIONARY THEORY AND POLITICS
David Laibman’s Passion and Patience offers a nicely and systematically
classified collection of his editorials for Science & Society. Contrary to
usual academic practice, which suffices to simply present a journal’s
contents, these editorials are opinion pieces on significant issues and
debates. This is one of the best traditions of scientific journals of the
left: not merely to publish articles but also to engage actively in cur-
rent intellectual and political issues. Needless to say this tradition is
becoming today an endangered species, even in radical and hetero-
dox journals, because of the withdrawal from active politics and the
retreat to a badly conceived specialization. Laibman’s editorials go
against this current. This book is an excellent and topical (despite
the passing of time) collection of his inquiries into a broad range of
issues of political economy, social theory, history, culture and politics
concerning modern capitalism and human emancipation from capi-
talist exploitation.
Passion and Patience is true to its title, borrowed from an old com-
munist dictum. It has both these virtues that are necessary for a Marx-
ist; especially in the current difficult era of collapse of many of the
first socialist experiments, capitalism’s increasing aggressiveness and
barbarism and at the same time acute crisis. It has passion in the
sense of unwavering commitment to revolutionary struggle and the
toiling masses. As Laibman appositely explains, this is not some form
of sentimentalism (“hot blood from the heart,” as an old anarchist

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wrote to Marx) but the guiding line (the organizing principle) for
analyzing and intervening in political and intellectual struggles. But
it also has patience. Not as a low-brow accommodation with objective
difficulties but as a deep understanding that revolutionary politics is a
long- distance track. It requires copious work, meticulous involvement
with even seemingly unimportant issues and especially continuous
self-criticism in order to confront problems, errors and contradictions.
In this endeavor Laibman shows the analytical vitality of Marxism
and its merits, compared to both bourgeois theory and other radical
traditions. Moreover, he demonstrates that Marxism is a dynamic and
evolving corpus of theory and practice — contrary to several attempts
to fossilize it in some form of “theological” and bureaucratic thinking
— and is the sole solid foundation for the struggle for a new human
society free from exploitation.
Such a principled and at the same time creative and produc-
tive development of Marxism is of paramount significance nowadays.
After a period of simplistic and crude denigration several quarters of
the capitalist system have differentiated their stance towards Marx-
ism. Faced with their own contradictions and failures — expressed in
recurrent crises, growing immiseration of increasing segments of the
society and aggravating imperialist conflicts — they attempt a quali-
fied domestication of Marxism. Laibman offers an excellent polemic
against them in his editorial on mainstream appraisal of The Commu-
nist Manifesto (P&P, 36–42) that glorify Marx’s political magnus opus
and, at the same time, sanitize it from any revolutionary content. It is
interesting that this attitude has recently expanded to various intel-
lectuals who refer to Marxism with acclaim but also with an open or
covert rejection of its revolutionary aspirations. There is a sudden
abundance nowadays of erratic or à la carte Marxists who eclectically
appraise some or other part of Marxist theory but at the same time
discard its commitment to overthrowing capitalism and constructing
socialism. These “bourgeois Marxists” (to use a contradiction in terms)
may even accept class analysis, but with the purpose of reforming
capitalism and making it more sustainable.
Against such attempts to domesticate Marxism, the answer cannot
be a “referential” defense by recourse to classical texts; nor a defensive
closure of Marxism in a small circle of “faithfuls.” Instead, a passionate
commitment to its core structure — and its revolutionary aspirations

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are the more fundamental part of it — and at the same time a patient
creative development of it is necessary.
Among the various issues that Laibman’s book tackles there are
several that, in my opinion, merit particular positive appraisal. First
among these are his unwavering commitment to labor value theory
and his numerous contributions to its creative development. Against
mainstream but also radical “academic respectability barriers” (as Laib-
man aptly brands it) the labor theory of value remains the main pillar
of Marxist economic analysis; moreover, it is more relevant than ever
for comprehending capitalism’s modus operandi. The Marxian value
theory of abstract labor (as differentiated from the Ricardian value
theory of embodied labor) offers the best platform for understand-
ing simultaneously capitalist exploitation and capitalism’s function-
ing. Moreover, its dialectical analysis of the primacy of the sphere of
production within the total circuit of capital offers critical guidance
not only to revolutionary analysis but to revolutionary politics as well.
A second issue is Laibman’s insistence on the significance of plan-
ning for socialism. In our times, this goes against the negative trend
within heterodoxy and radical theory to realign with mainstream
market solutions and to adhere, implicitly or explicitly, to versions of
market socialism. Socialism without planning is a vacuous concept.
The very essence of the vision of a new society free from exploitation
is that this society can organize its economy on the basis of collective,
democratically and participatory organized will. Despite failures and
deformations of the past, this remains the core of the socialist project.
Equally important is Laibman’s insistence on stadial thinking
and stages theory. He very accurately defines stadiality as the notion
that society advances through stages, and that given stages are pre-
conditions for ones that follow. This type of analysis comprehends
that society evolves through distinct phases rather than as an undif-
ferentiated continuum. These phases exhibit objective characteristics
— and pose related limitations to collective action — but also permit
specific “windows of opportunity” for breaking out from these phases
and surpassing them. In other words, each phase or stage posits both
constraints and degrees of freedom and alternatives for surpassing
these constraints. This Marxist dialectical understanding grasps better,
in Laibman’s own words, the intense interaction between the objec-
tive and subjective dimensions than does non-Marxist social science,

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which decouples and counterposes these two dimensions mechanisti-
cally. Stages theory offers not only better explanatory power, but is
also a crucial basis for revolutionary politics. Revolutionary politics, as
exemplified by the best traditions of the Communist current, cannot
be a simple sum of specific actions and campaigns. On the contrary, it
should be based on structured political programs. The basis for con-
structing a coherent political program is a mid-term analysis of society’s
evolution. That is an understanding of the distinct phases and stages
through which it proceeds and of the specific forms that the system’s
fundamental contradictions take in each of these stages. This mid-term
analysis (between long-run and short-run) offered by stadial think-
ing pinpoints the critical systemic weak links on which revolutionary
strategy should focus. Tactics follow suit from this programmatically
informed mid-term strategy. These valuable insights offered by
stadial thinking tend to be lost nowadays within radical theory and
movements. They are being replaced by either voluntarist notions
that “anything goes” and blind spontaneism, or by an
accommodation with existing capi-talist reality and mere reforms
for a “capitalism with a human face.” The reinstatement of stadial
analysis and a structured and program-matically organized
revolutionary strategy is of paramount importance nowadays.
There are a number of issues on which I must register my dis-
agreement with Laibman.
The first such issue touches upon his early writings on perestroika
and his positive appraisal of Mikhail Gorbachev. Laibman portrays
this as a positive experiment in socialist rejuvenation. Today it is clear
that it was a movement towards the restoration of capitalism in the
Soviet Union. Perestroika’s political and economic program was not
one of socialist democratization and participatory planning but one
of recourse to bourgeois polities and market solutions. Its end results
are tantamount to that.
The second issue is Laibman’s argument that Marxists should
“give principled support to all reform movements and currents.” He
argues that we should not make the distinction between radical and
non-radical reforms; we should not try to fool people by advancing
reforms that the system cannot deliver and that we should be part of all
the spontaneous movements that arise in workplaces and working-class
communities. In my opinion this argument goes against stadial think-
ing and the necessity of a revolutionary strategy based on a political

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program and not on mere spontaneism. Marxists of course have to
swim into the toiling masses and be part of even their most elementary
mobilizations. However, this does not imply a carte blanche. First, there
are mass mobilizations and popular demands that advance human
emancipation, but there are also those that may hinder it. The bleak
outcome of the “Arab Springs” is a case in point. Second, there may
be reforms that ameliorate for a period the position of the working
people but ultimately lead to disaster and an even greater deteriora-
tion of their living conditions. In the Greek case PASOK is a typical
example: an initial policy of income redistribution that, once popu-
lar radicalism was neutralized, led to an aggressive realignment with
neoliberalism. SYRIZA is another case in point. Kirchnerism in
Argentina offers another contemporary example. For all these
reasons Marxists should intervene in mass movements on the basis
of their political programs and strategies. This can involve both
reforms that can be accommodated by the system and those that
cannot be accommodated by the system in a particular historical
conjuncture. For example, the demands for peace and land
redistribution — and even all power to the soviets — were not infea-
sible in capitalism in general. They were infeasible for capitalism at
the particular historical moment of the Russian revolution. And at the
same time it was obvious to almost everybody that under a different
political and economic system these demands were feasible and to
the benefit of the great social majority. In the same vein, the
demand for disengaging from the European Union for the euro-
periphery countries is not something that is infeasible in general for
capitalism. But at this historical point the ruling classes of these
countries can-not even think such a move for both objective and
subjective reasons. At the same time, this is the only road for a pro-
popular solution of the crisis. And this is becoming increasingly
Marxists
obvious should
to the organize
working theirirrespective
people, political intervention on the basis
of their adherence or
of
notpolitical programs that pinpoint exactly such weak links and “win-
to socialism.
dows of opportunity.” This logic follows Marx’s brilliant thesis that
communism is not an ideal to which reality has to adjust itself but
“the real movement which abolishes the present state of things,” and
that the conditions of this movement exist in current societies. The
construction of this thin red line that leads from everyday struggles
for the improvement of the conditions of sale of labor power to the
abolition of the system of exploitation of labor power is the difficult

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task that Marxists have to accomplish. Laibman’s book contributes
both passionately and patiently to this task.
Stavros Mavroudeas
University of Macedonia
156 Egnatia
Thessaloniki, 55406
Greece
smavro@uom.gr

NATURE, TIME, AND
HISTORICAL MATERIALISM
Passion and Patience is a testament to the necessity of scientific inquiry
into society, which sees Marxism as “an open and evolving body of
theory . . . still the only sound foundation for critical thinking about
social reality and alternatives” (4). P&P reflects Laibman’s strong
methodological and analytical commitments, which enable an under-
standing of both the historical preconditions of the present (stadial-
ity), as well as the future possibilities that are latent in it. Laibman is a
skilled dialectician capable of uniting a range of seemingly disparate
phenomena — from various forms of social and cultural phenomena
to the ecological — and interpreting their interrelations.
In light of the vast scope of the text, we have chosen to focus our
commentary on the following two aspects: politics and its relation
to “time-impatience” (177), and the human relation to nature. Our
discussion relies on two key concepts that run throughout the book,
in explicit and implicit ways: conditional inevitability, and agency. We
ask the following questions: First, how do we think about the relation
between time and left politics?1 Second, to what extent is the ecological
question of upmost importance in understanding the relation between
human and non-human nature? How can this understanding promote
a socialism that places an ecological ethics at the center of the drive to
transcend class society? While other parts of the book deserve equal
attention, and still others are problematic in our view,2 we believe that

1 Additionally, the role of time is important from the standpoint of periodization. Laibman’s
Deep History (2007) is especially useful here, with his discussion of stadiality, theoretical stages
and preconditions, and his concept of the Abstract Social Totality (AST).
2 Examples are the section on the crisis of diffusion of capitalism, as this manifests itself in the
form of a much lesser degree of penetration of capitalist social relations “than we customarily
assume” (175); and Laibman’s definition of a Marxist (77).

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