Eduard Batalov and the Philosophy of Revolt:
The New Left through Soviet Eyes

Ileana Rodríguez
University of Minnesota

1. Introduction

Eduard Batalov's book, The Philosophy of Revolt, [1] introduces us to a Soviet Marxist view of that multi‑dimensional phenomenon of the 1960s generically known as "The New Left." The book opens the Marxist theory of the period to a dimension of criticism unknown or ignored in the West, that of the more advanced thinkers in the socialist countries.

Although Batalov's work aims at a complete comprehension of the New Left, the focus of attention is on Herbert Marcuse, with turns toward Sartre, Fanon and Debray for the New Left tendencies Marcuse cannot cover. New Left predecessors like Erich Fromm and C. Wright Mills come into play, and some other directions are explored; but in general the Frankfurt School predominates, while Charles Reich and Theodor Roszak are taken to represent more recent developments. Thus the configuration of certain major strains in recent U.S. critical theory gradually emerges.

To the degree that the book brings together the intellectual production of the advanced capitalist and the socialist countries, its presentation and critique must be situated on three levels: [9/10]

Batalov's comprehension and examination of the texts he cites, his own political orientation, and the adequation and interpretation of the versions of Marxism put forth by the group Batalov represents and the group he studies. While the groups have their own politics, naturally each one's view of Marxism involves a critique of political theory aimed at transforming reality. What is achieved here is the meeting of two Marxisms in order to highlight agreements and disagreements and thus re‑establish a dialog that was interrupted and deformed by the Cold War and the McCarthy years.

The most polemical level is that of the reading and interpretation of New Left texts because it is here that the group's partisan view of Marx surfaces. On many occasions Batalov's reading seems deliberately mal‑intentioned and tendentious, and New Left weaknesses and lapses seem exaggerated. But Batalov's hyperbole accomplishes an indispensable function of ideological clarification. With his strategy of simplification and caricature, his main differences with the New Left emerge, in relation to the orientation articulated by Marx in his last thesis on Feuerbach.

The book points out the non‑proletarian and petty‑bourgeois base of the New Left, and the structural changes this base has undergone (Batalov notes that New Left intellectuals have been called theorists of the "urban middle classes in revolt"); in addition, an analysis is made of several specific questions that serve as touchstones to this group: the category of negation with its two variants, the "Great Refusal" and the "Dialectic of Negation"; the role of technology and its concomitants; the various totalitarian tendencies of the new stage of capitalism; consumerism and its effects; the denial of the proletariat's revolutionary character; the radical role of students and intellectuals; the romanticization of Third World countries, and the emphasis on the peasantry as a revolutionary group; the championing of spontaneity and violence as tactics; and finally, the idea of Utopia.

Batalov does not ignore the divisions and peculiarities of the heterogeneous political groupings that came to be known as the "New Left," and he has decided to accept the designation in question because it brings together the most important elements that served to form the consciousness and political tendencies characterizing a significant social sector. But Batalov does distinguish between those groups which stress culture and enlightenment—that is, the critical theorists—and those which are dedicated to radical politics, primarily of a Third World orientation. He believes that the New Left's historical emergence is a consequence of the crisis of capitalist reaccommodation after two world wars. [10/11] New Leftists are confronting four important political forces: the technocrats, the right wing, the liberal bourgeoisie and the Old Left, which the new group believes to consist of Social Democrats and Communists. Their primary target is the bourgeois "establishment," and all those social groups and political parties that have integrated themselves into the state monopoly system and have thus lost their "revolutionary spirit."

2. The Dominant Traits of the New Left

Batalov adheres to an apparently normative, or "classical," interpretation of Marxism, and from this point of view, he selects the most significant traits, the most constant concepts and the most open contradictions of New Left theorists.

The world view of the New Left is preoccupied with the image of disintegration operating on all levels—moral, political, cultural. This world view has its tie with consumption and technology, which have united as the basis for a totalitarian society in which "technological rationality" and "voluntary submission" have replaced the force of bayonets to create an integrated proletarian class.

Starting with this undifferentiated supposition, the New Leftists suggest the creation of a new world by a new man, who, serving as the agent of history, produces new social relations based not on domination and subjugation, but on the full expression of "creative human nature."

The matter, so set forth, has two basic requirements: to identify a new historical subject, able to serve as the vehicle for this necessary task of historical creation, and to find a theory able to provide the basis for this subject's education and coming to consciousness. Many New Left factions believed they had found their historical agent in marginal groups, ethnic minorities, students and intellectuals, and in Third World peoples; and they believed they had found their theory in a particular interpretation of Marxism.

A series of paradoxes issue from such beliefs, two of which emerge with particular force. The groups mentioned are revolutionary because they are marginal—i.e., either because they lack access to consumption, or, like most of the students, because they reject, or claim to reject, the world of consumption. The proletariat in the developed countries is not revolutionary for the opposite [11/12] reasons: It has, and wishes to have still more, access to consumption. The first contradiction emerges when a group asserts that material needs are not the only ones that motivate the militant revolutionary trends in Third World countries and those groups identifying with them: There are also spiritual needs—those associated with the terms, alienation, lack of power, creativity and self‑determination—that constitute the motor force of anti‑capitalist protest. But, curiously enough, consumerism only affects the proletariat in a negative way, while it leaves other groups (the big bourgeoisie excluded, of course) virtually pure in their discontent and revolutionary aspirations.

If the Third World fulfills certain revolutionary needs for New Left theorists, they also need certain indigenous theorists able to articulate the relations between Third World militancy, the passivity of workers in the developed countries and Marxist theory. It is in this context that such theorists do in fact emerge.

But New Left thinkers, in both advanced and underdeveloped countries, take from Marxism only what is useful for themselves, as a counter‑theory denoting the destruction of the power structure; the elements in existing society that Marxists see as positive are identified as signs of capitulation to the bourgeoisie and are thus rejected. There are three dominant ways in which the New Left sees Marx: One tries to complete Marxism with social theories invented by bourgeois social scientists; another contrasts some aspects of Marx with others—e.g., economism versus humanism; a third divides Marx from Engels, or Marx from Lenin.

3. Evaluation of the New Left: Three Perspectives

Batalov presents at least three interpretations of the radicalism of the '60s and early '70s. The most simplistic flourishes in the camp of the bourgeois social sciences. Here, the decade of protests is a mystery made clear only in terms which are without true meaning or value, such as "youth rebellion," "sexual development," or "generation conflict." Bourgeois theorists turn to these physiological or psychological explanations and never base their findings on an analysis of capitalist society, when, in fact, it is only with such an analysis that one could uncover the roots of those contradictions out of which the protest movement actually emerges. [12/13]

The second interpretation comes from the very center of the New Left itself. From this point of view, the protest is not a by-product, but the essential product of the age. The recent wave of radicalism is said to signal a new stage of capitalism, in the midst of which a generation of militant youth is replacing the proletariat as the new agent of history. Further, since the New Leftists do not, nor are about to, constitute an independent class, they have difficulty in defining their socio‑political position, and, as usually happens in such cases, they appropriate and identify with the functions that characterize other, already existing social groups or classes. Thus, while they deny the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, they identify with it, but because they prize their own "revolutionary" ideas as having exclusive validity, they are quick to specify the differences in class consciousness which separate them from the working class.

It should suffice to point out the abyss across which the New Leftists hoped to leap with these identifications, but this identification process leads to the New Left characteristic which Batalov criticizes most: their utopianism.

The third interpretation is Batalov's. According to him, the radical protests emerge as an expression of the collision between an older industrial civilization and a newer technological‑scientific one which is in the process of being born. The protests incarnate the inevitable price Western society pays for its entry into a "technetronic, post‑industrial" era in which the capitalist framework of relations becomes increasingly narrow. The Soviet critic, then, agrees with the New Left in their view of a change of stages, but does not agree to the corollary the new stage is supposed to imply. For him, the militant aspects of the proletariat change historically, but do not disappear. The accelerating appearance of newer and newer forms of productive development leads to what Batalov calls the "cognitive barrier" between generations. By this he means that at times it is difficult to distinguish the new forms of proletarian militancy. The technical revolution, which shortens the time between innovation and its production for mass consumption that generates new life‑styles, is the origin of the world of things in which a generation develops and experiences rapid change. Though the effort is often unsuccessful in consumer society, young people in each new generation attempt to construct their own language, their own sub‑ or anti‑culture; so, in the same way, each new generation of workers tries to resolve its own problems.

The true source of the radical protests of the '60s is found in the two dominant tendencies of contemporary society: the radical [13/14] change in the social function of science, and the narrowing of the human base needed for the reproduction of bourgeois relations. These two characteristics significantly affect the position of intellectuals: They lose the relative freedom they enjoyed in not seeing themselves directly tied to the production of surplus value, and in not being the direct object of control and domination. Now social changes have left a surplus of intelligence: The intellectual is converted into a proletarian of intellectual labor and is directly employed in material production.

In their current dilemma, the intellectuals are no longer bourgeois, but are not yet proletarian. Batalov coins a new term of doubtful semantic standing: The intellectual is a lumpen bourgeois. Students increasingly find themselves veering toward this status, and gradually join the swelling ranks of the surplus intelligentsia.

Finding their class position fluid and ever decaying, intellectuals have recourse to their metier which allows them to elaborate a theory that elucidates their situation and expresses their protest. For a moment, anarchism fills the requirements, because it stresses only the negative features of criticism and gives support to the destructive side of the revolutionary process, without retaining anything positive. Thus it expresses the ideology of a group which has not yet crystallized and which has not been able to find a solution to the dilemma which confronts it.

In a short, summary history, Batalov shows how, since the 19th century, anarchism has been the reaction of the petit bourgeoisie in the face of the growing role of the state, and he cites Lenin to reinforce his thesis, since Lenin sees anarchism as the product of desperation. Anarchism attracts those who, in an effort to rectify the loss of their privileges, overlook theory and rely on the spontaneity of action. Thus, the New Left, situated between two stages of capitalism and two class positions, remains locked into two polar categories: anarchism and utopianism.

4. Marcuse and Batalov: Four Concepts

In direct opposition to the New Left's somber views that posit the imminent disintegration of society, Batalov notes that the statistics of the '60s show a relatively stable world. True, there is war and a war economy, but these feed a high and rising level of production. [14/15] At the same time, this is also the period in which the idea of integration begins to show its illusory character.

Trapped in the dilemmas created by consumption, the New Left develops a theory of society based on the conception of a unitary and closed capitalist world. Marcuse, who most fully articulates this view, describes a society in which the submission of the subject to the whole is practically absolute; technology has come to dominate capitalist relations, and the designated historical agent of Marxist theory is left without any space for action and is confounded by "one‑dimensionality."

This term comes to be synonymous with the absence of social forces of opposition and criticism that can submit the system to their negation; it implies a total reconciliation with the status quo. For this reason the problem of consciousness acquires primary importance, as does the idea that proletarians and managers, united by consumption and mass media, have lost their peculiar, distinctive character.

Within this schema, the basic question lies in determining the role of technology in the system and the degree of human tolerance or resistance possible in the current processes of production, distribution and consumption.

As a first answer, Marcuse puts forth the idea of the "Great Refusal." Even with all its qualifications, this idea is for Batalov little more than a reformulation of Adorno's "negative dialectics," in which only the total negation of society expresses the possibilities for rebellion and change. Marcuse indicates that the Marxist dialectic does not take into account the changes that have occurred today and underestimates the possible forces of integration. Because of this internal rigidity without spaces, Marcuse believes that only external action on the system can constitute a source of fundamental qualitative change, as it is projected from beyond the confines of the antagonistic opposites which bind the closed system. This is the context which gives Third World movements their importance for the New Left and its theorists.

Adorno takes issue with the Hegelian "dictatorship of concepts," which he finds present in most Marxist constructs. Situating himself on a level even more radical than Marcuse's, he is at odds with the idea of any sort of integral system. For him, everything is always in movement, and he proposes to destroy concepts and lay bare their contradictions. He also wishes to emphasize the perpetual thesis and anti‑thesis of things, even at the expense of excluding any possible synthesis. This universalization of contradictions—and, significantly, Batalov finds a similar conception in [15/16] Mao—is Adorno's way of shaking off sleeping and integrated consciousness; it is, from his perspective, the best theoretical basis for analyzing reality.

The theorists of the New Left in the Third World concur with Adorno‑style negation; hence they reject Western culture, deny class differences in capitalist countries, and continue believing in the power of criticism against bourgeois structures.

With reference to the lack of proletarian militancy in the developed countries, we have already noted how Marcuse attributes this phenomenon to the way consumerism and mass media create a set of false needs that manipulate the class consciousness of the proletariat to the point of integrating it. According to Marcuse, consumption levels the needs of workers and managers, and by closing the abyss that separates the two classes, it negates the dynamics that impel class struggle.

Batalov shows that, for all its apparent sophistication, Marcuse's theory is ultimately mechanistic and reductionist. The satisfaction of material needs becomes the motor of class struggle; this struggle seemingly absent, one must identify those poor and dispossessed groups that can restore the dynamism to history. We have already seen who these groups are supposed to be. Since they are cut off from the processes that, according to classical Marxism, would lead them toward revolutionary consciousness and action, it follows that a basic New Left tenet must be that of a radical rupture with false needs in order to create true ones. Hence the unilateral emphasis on negation is confirmed by tautology.

Batalov does not fail to recognize Marcuse's sharpest insights into the material and cultural tendencies of capitalism, but he does not concede that bourgeois society has arrived at its point of saturation. He pinpoints the paradoxical nature of New Left arguments in their identification of social integration with disintegration. Here the New Left takes up the liberal bourgeois view of preserving the status quo; integration, although alienated, is said to draw militancy from the worker and perpetuate immobility. But it is false to believe that economic integration leads automatically to political and social integration, and that a fusion of workers and capitalists has taken place.

In his refutation of the New Left's class analysis, Batalov becomes most critical. As a classical Marxist, he affirms that sociological study must be based on production and not the circulation and consumption of commodities. If consumption presupposes production—and Marcuse always refers to technology and [16/17] its effects—this does not guarantee that worker and capitalist needs are the same. A genuine equalizing process assumes a qualitative change in the system and the transition from capitalism to socialism.

The satisfaction of vital needs does not eliminate the production of surplus value, or private ownership of the means of production. Even if vital needs are satisfied, other secondary needs remain: The demand for culture and self-determination impels the struggle for disalienation and political power. Even conceding the empirical value of Marcuse's analysis, Batalov criticizes the New Left for assuming that capitalist successes are permanent and that the system will no longer have crises. Marcuse overlooks the qualitative development of those needs created by the very technological transformations he stresses. The new needs only neutralize economic gains, since they are essential conditions for the normal functioning of capitalism. Meanwhile, the gains are compensations for losses that find expression in a greater intensification of exploitation, in an expenditure of mental energy, a diminution of creativity, in a growth rate which finds no equivalent in wage hikes, and in the anxieties generated by productive and social transformations.

Batalov recalls that Marx himself had asserted that with the growth of wealth and productive forces, the worker's situation improves. In 1891, Engels denied the thesis of the progressive and absolute immiserization of the working class, pointing out how growing worker militancy and organization resist immiserization; but Engels was quick to add that such successes do not diminish the insecurity continually plaguing workers. Later, Lenin denied any direct relation between the proletariat's economic impoverishment and its revolutionary potential; rather the latter can develop from the disruption or deterioration of the proletariat's way of life.

Marcuse's formula for revolutionary development is to create new and authentic needs. But this solution should be based in production; otherwise, it is anarchistic and utopian. The new needs do not emerge spontaneously, at the call of the intelligentsia; they sleep in the shadow of the means of production, and only awaken in the process of productive transformation. New cultural and political needs are not separated from older ones; rather new and old interconnect genetically and functionally. The main contradictions impelling transformation are not in the superstructures, although sometimes the struggle appears to be occurring there; the lightest wind of crisis carries apparently superstructural demands to the economic base. [17/18]

Pessimism and negation are the two faces of Marcuse's theory. His analysis does not emerge from a concrete grasp of the system of dominant relations, but from a speculative conception of the power of the negative dialectic that corresponds to the transitional situation of his own social group. Now we may understand why Marcuse sees Hegel as the philosopher of negation, when, on the contrary, the main point of Hegel is contradiction. Negation is a process and a result; it is the manifestation of the contradiction already resolved. Marcuse's dialectic cannot express or do much to bring about the social transformation which it so partially and inadequately grasps.

For Batalov, changes in class consciousness wrought by new relations are slow in emerging; thus intellectuals do not yet perceive the reality of their changing class situation. But their discontent is patent, and extends beyond the confines of the intellect, to become a manifestation of the revolutionary spirit otherwise peculiar to the classical proletariat. To the degree that the intellectuals' demands do not return to the past, they become proletarian. But the practical activity of the intelligentsia does not deny the conception of the proletariat as a revolutionary force; on the contrary, it nourishes and confirms that conception.

5. Utopia, Violence, Imagination and Liberty

The only viable route for transforming reality that the followers of Marcuse propose is constant criticism aimed at realizing all that the capitalist establishment considers utopian. To be utopian, for the New Leftists, is to cross the line between the possible and impossible—to dispense with the obstacles, so that what is repressed may emerge, and thus, to "bring the imagination to power." Since the New Left sees no revolutionary possibilities in the present, the need is for a violent rupture and a leap to a world only thinkable by the most fantastic imaginings. For them there is no possibility of conservation in the negation process, since what is, seems completely barren of socialist possibilities. Instead, the limited and solid extant world must be completely negated, smashed by a violent act that opens out on the plasticity of an inconceivable but possible [18/19] world that humans can fabricate through revolutionary will and élan.

Here, "utopia" is something other than the bourgeois notion of a fantastic place without basis in the historical world. New Left utopianism sets the stage for their notions of plasticity, consciousness and imagination, which connect Marcuse with the views of Sartre and Camus. An objectivistic positivism about the present veers toward an existential‑style subjectivism about the future: Liberty is affirmed as the absolute activity of the subject which may project and leap beyond the constraints of what Sartre calls the practico‑inert.

Together, liberty and imagination may cross the frontiers dividing politics and aesthetics. In social terms, imagination is the means for liberating humanity from a deterministic and positivistic vision of the world; in aesthetics, it is the means for creating beauty and harmony. Utopia is half way between science and art, because the utopian perspective appeals to emotive and imaginative impulses generated in periods of individual exhaustion and pessimism.

A political‑aesthetic union emerges, once humanistic relations and social institutions are liberated from the restraints of capitalism. Before this moment, the imagination serves only as a psychological defense mechanism rather than as a revolutionary means for distinguishing the viable from the impossible.

Related to this utopia of political‑aesthetic union is the carnival and festive character attributed to the revolutionary process. This is especially the case in the New Left's view of May, '68, and the U.S. student protests. Carnival and rebellion merge in an ecstatic and lurid surrealism. The slightest turn of events reveals the most politically suspect dimensions of the social orgy.

Examined closely, the New Leftist's view of liberated imagination exposes their sectarian and elitist character. They propose liberty for the vanguard, but fear to place it in the hands of the still‑sleeping masses. Liberated imagination points toward violence.

New Leftists claim that we live in a totalitarian world where violence structures all aspects of modern life. They distinguish between open violence and a masked form that permits the opposition to act whenever it does not trespass legal limits and menace established power. Democracy creates ill-founded illusions and hopes that ultimately disunite and discourage the opposition: Parliament and law are only mechanisms that catch up the opposition in a bourgeois game that threatens to neutralize their will to revolution. [19/20]

Given this view of capitalist politics, the only answer to violence is intolerance toward all that is or seems bourgeois, and adulation of all that is marginal and outside the law. Fanon, for example, praises the cathartic power of revolutionary violence, and argues for a change of place between exploited and exploiter. Violence exerts its benevolent power over the consciousness of both oppressed and oppressor: It restores dignity to the oppressed; it leads to a recognition of error by the oppressor. In this way, revolutionary methods are appropriate to the forces from without that will divest the system of its repressive character. Thus, guerrilla fighters represent the truly revolutionary forces; the party that does not dedicate itself to guerrilla warfare is not revolutionary.

The other side of this critique is directed at the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries. The New Left criticizes them for their bureaucratization and the values engendered by competition with the West. They believe that Socialism has been sidetracked; ergo, capitalism and Soviet Socialism are one and the same, and the same logic of revolution applies to both.

Batalov recalls how "utopia" has generally evoked images of an ideal social organization, but for him, significant utopian thought leads to a type of action directed toward a specific goal that is possible and rational; and it also denotes the dividing line between the interests of conformative and oppositional groups. Under present capitalist conditions, New Left theorists play a positive role by stressing the possibility of those projects the bourgeoisie wishes to dispose of as utopian, and in emphasizing the importance of going beyond the limits. The existential notion of liberty served a similar function during the Resistance, when the Nazis posed their occupation as inevitable and irreversible. But Batalov shows that New Leftists fail to distinguish between abstract and concrete possibilities, that they abstract and absolutize ideas as applicable to all times and places. The true problem remains without resolution: to define the objective role of liberty and imagination, and to distinguish this from the subjectivistic and arbitrary one theorized by the New Left.

Batalov sees liberty as the product of the interaction between the subject and historical necessity; it is not absolute because it is not exterior to the cognitive process: Its conception of the non‑existent is always tied to the existent, which determines and conditions it. It is undeniable that, in relation to the exterior world, its role is that of negation; but as it negates one necessity, it creates another one—precisely so as not to remain in the realm of [20/21] the utopian. New needs are born in an interaction with ultimate reality; the imaginative process should not have arbitrary goals, but ones which follow the specific objective logic of historical development.

Today high production rates have made possible things that were only utopian yesterday; but this does not mean we can accelerate historical development in order to see our desires fulfilled immediately. If the subjective desire to change reality is not supported by objective conditions, utopian projects are not realistic; consciousness alone is not sufficient, if only because it is not determined arbitrarily by the subject, but by pre-existing objective conditions. Subjectivism, or the lack of objective consciousness, is itself an objective characteristic with which the theorist must contend.

The problem of violence has cultural implications, since the violent act reveals a will to destroy, preserve or develop a cultural inheritance. According to Batalov, the matter exposes the New Left's lack of vision with respect to the correlation of class forces. Certainly in our epoch revolutionary transformations have thus far been carried out by means of violence; and the urgency of transformation is made more patent to the degree that capitalist development continues. But a premature outbreak of violence incites an overwhelming reaction from the right. Necessity, or realism, and non‑necessity, or utopianism, must be determined and weighed in an analysis of class alignments and forces.

Reformist tendencies have clearly affected sectors of the working class; but Batalov denies the effort to generalize and eternalize these tendencies and make them the basis for a critique of the CPSU's position on peaceful coexistence that is full of misconceptions and ultimately meaningless. He begins his argument by clarifying the difference between the political implications of "peaceful" pacifism and parliamentarianism, in order to mark out the dividing line between New Left tactics and those he champions.

The New Leftists make a literal interpretation of "peaceful coexistence" and conclude that it implies the negation of revolutionary violence. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie sees revolutionary violence as treason against one's country. For Batalov, both views obstruct the passage to class struggle.

In the face of New Left misconceptions, he takes such notions as "repressive tolerance," "law," and "military force," and demonstrates that while based in reality, they overplay the extent of bourgeois control of the masses. Batalov does not deny that "repressive tolerance" exists, that the law is the expression of the will [21/22] of the ruling class, or that the military‑industrial apparatus is powerful. Such factors help us understand the demand for revolutionary violence, but we should not forget that laws, for example constitute limits to oppression which the proletariat has forced the bourgeoisie to place on the books through arduous and costly battles. On this basis, Batalov roundly opposes the New Left's depreciation of the democratic process. Even where democracy has no real power, and where the space conceded is very narrow, the opposition does not stop seeking and utilizing the legal means of expression available. Such activity prepares the socialist revolution that is born in the transformation of old‑style democracy into socialist democracy: The form of the new society is determined by the maturity of the society destroyed.

As for guerrilla warfare, Batalov asserts that seeing this form of struggle as the revolutionary method par excellence is a reversion to long‑discarded Trotskyist views that today find their correlative in Maoism. Guerrilla warfare is used as a pretense for attacking "Soviet revisionism" and détente—even though no other country has been a stronger supporter of guerrilla movements, when they have been determined to constitute a viable mode of revolutionary activity. For Batalov, the New Left's manner of articulating the problem is based on misconceptions of the history of revolutionary movements and on the casual and superficial way the post‑war generation sees warlike conflicts. Detente is a form of competition between distinct systems and classes on a world‑wide level. As such, it submits capitalism to two pressures, the external one of socialism and the internal one of the working class. In detente, capitalism risks its profits and its overall system; thus its efforts to regulate the market and permit the intervention of the state: All these, says Batalov, are preliminary steps for the formation of socialism.

Detente favors the liberation of people from imperialism, and helps consolidate socialism; in no way do its advocates subordinate revolutionary wars to their own interests. By way of example, Batalov cites the case of Vietnam.

For the New Left, Vietnam is the locus of guerrilla warfare, the school of revolutionary apprenticeship. The emphasis in New Left analysis goes unilaterally toward the militance of the Vietnamese masses, while the socialist world's military and economic aid and the pressure it exerts over the aggressor are conveniently forgotten or left unspoken. Here, as is the customary case, one aspect of revolutionary practice dominates over the rest, and revolutionary theory born of past experiences continues to be relegated to the [22/23] bin of dogmatism. In this case, New Leftists reveal their ahistorical and ultimately ignorant view of the past and present of the socialist countries: They see socialism with the eyes of philosophers and moralists, forgetting that if socialism breaks with the previous order, it is born out of it. For the New Left, the ideal socialism is measured with the development of capitalism and is presented as its opposite; if real, concrete socialism does not fill their abstract requisites, they reject it for the same reasons they reject capitalism.

Finally, Batalov asks, what is the idea of the future and the "New Man," and what are the New Left's plans for implementing this idea? For him, the New Left mentors perceive a new world in the distance—a happy or anti‑world, in which the utopian "New Man" frees himself from work by converting it into play. The theorists do not elaborate how this world will come to emerge in the midst of present‑day capitalism. On the contrary, this happiness tends to create islands within bourgeois society; such are the hippies in communes and cooperatives before their commercialization. While having no direct relation with the New Left, the hippies are very close to them in attitude and behavior. Obviously, the communal island is viable for a small sector of capitalist society, but it is not so for the masses involved in material production and trapped in daily routine.

The organizational principles of the new society are collective property, control and distribution: This is the model of Marcuse. Roszak's model elaborates a combination of heterogeneous elements adequate to everything: artisanal, medium and heavy industry, self‑regulated and non‑exploitative activity, anti‑bureaucracy, the coordination of the industries controlled by workers. Everyone speaks out against organization because the pariah of bureaucracy is associated with it. Certainly, says Batalov, the bureaucracy is one of the most vulnerable aspects of capitalism; it extends its power to all parts of the social organism—e.g., the augmentation of the military bureaucracy and its concentration of power. Further, capitalist bureaucracies are united to national institutions, to factories, etc.: To destroy the bureaucracy is equivalent to destroying the administrative apparatus of the state. Under socialism, however, the point is not to destroy but to reorganize the administrative apparatus because it organizes and sustains social life. [23/24]


The Philosophy of Revolt has all the virtues of the most serious academic investigation. By examining the most salient traits of New Left theory and praxis during their most fruitful years, Batalov evinces an effort to study his subject critically, but not without sympathy. He fully concedes that New Left theorists produced a telling empirical assessment of the sixties. But for the reasons cited above, the New Left is seen as so trapped by the immediacy of their situation that they may only think about future possibilities for change in utopian terms. Batalov attempts to set New Left theory "back on its feet." While his concurrences with it are frequent, his, differences are extensive and fundamental, and the perspective of our own present enables us to see that he is more totalizing and historical.

Batalov's method is to take those aspects best defining the New Left and push them toward their extreme logical limits. He then shows that the innovative concepts of the New Left cannot survive the thrust of a rigorous Marxist analysis. First, a view of capitalism based on consumption and technology falsifies class relations and negates class struggle; second, an emphasis on negation and violence distorts the nature of the revolutionary process—it is inclined unilaterally toward the destructive and disregards the constructive; third, a utopianism projected beyond concrete possibilities posits a historical trajectory that is illusory and improbable; fourth, a unilateral and undifferentiated view of the socialist countries negates the positive influence and pressure they exert on international revolutionary movements.

In all this, Batalov would seem to be correct. Nevertheless, his book has deficiencies that cannot be left unnoticed. While we insist that Batalov is more fully historical than most New Left theorists, we must still contend that he underplays history for the sake of a critique of theory, and he too readily identifies New Left concepts with the ideology of the group they represent. He sometimes confuses constructs necessitated by the discursive method with the reality those constructs only approximate. Thus, for example, his emphasis on Marcuse duplicates the very problem he criticizes: Just as not all capitalist countries are the same, neither are all New Leftists. Marcuse is highly representative, but he is not the only New Left thinker—nor can Sartre, Fanon and Debray round out the picture. In fact, Batalov's critique cannot be considered as truly opposed to all of the New Left, since many important aspects of his attack on Marcuse's lack of class analysis coincide with certain recent [24/25] re‑evaluations emanating from sectors of the New Left itself. Batalov's perspective on the future positive development of particular New Left strains would have probably been different if he had dealt with Lucien Goldmann and the New Working Class theorists of France and Italy, instead of with figures so unrepresentative of the best of the New Left as Reich and Roszak.

We can point to a related but still more important instance of our point in Batalov's approach to the historical context in which the New Left emerges. A more adequate analysis of the group would have to account for the fact that it represents the most progressive members of a generation that grew up in the McCarthyist fifties—those who succeeded in conserving at least part of their critical power. The McCarthyist context is one of the sources for the New Left stress on negation and criticism, and the group cannot be fully understood without a rigorous scrutiny of the impact of the repression and anti‑Communist propaganda so prevalent in the Cold War period. That the New Left theorists turned to radical, but non‑Communist intellectuals who developed their theories under the sway of European Fascism and World War II is a fact that needs careful exploration. A historical comprehension of the origins of the generation first articulating those ideas that culminate in New Left theories would throw light on the class situation and ideological possibilities of the student rebels of the sixties. A better hold on the future evolution of New Left ideas and the groups generating them could only emerge from an analysis that is more ready than Batalov's to deal with those political affinities and antipathies mediating between a group's economic situation and its praxis. In this respect, Batalov is unable to grasp the historical irony in the New Left's greatest single accomplishment: that its overtly anti‑Soviet leftism served as the ideology for a mass movement ultimately helpful to national liberation movements which drew their primary material support from the Soviet Union.

Batalov handles New Left anti‑Sovietism too gingerly. He fails to penetrate its sources and thereby only gives us a partial view of its consequences. The result is an inadequate theorization of those developments that in one case have led certain New Leftists to join with the Communist Party in the Common Program for France, and that in the wake of Angola and the Italian elections, pave the road for a slow but noticeable turn toward the Old Left by the New, in many parts of the capitalist world.

But in writing this book, Batalov does confront at least one significant cause and effect of this aspect of New Left ideology: their general ignorance and misreading of the socialist countries. It [25/26] is absolutely essential to know the historical reality of these countries to enter into the debate over socialism. It is not enough to construct models and then judge reality by them. But that is what New Left utopianism leads to. Batalov opposes that utopianism with sound arguments which demonstrate the power and vitality of critical thinking in the socialist world.

By translating books like The Philosophy of Revolt, Progress Publishers open a true dialog between socialist thinkers and those progressive groups who struggle against capitalist forces in their very centers of power.


1. Eduard Batalov, The Philosophy of Revolt: Criticism of Left Radical Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975).

SOURCE: Rodríguez, Ileana. “Eduard Batalov and the Philosophy of Revolt: The New Left through Soviet Eyes,” in Marxism and New Left Ideology, ed. Ileana Rodríguez and William L. Rowe (Minneapolis: Marxist Educational Press, 1977), pp. 9-26. (Studies in Marxism; v. 1) Proceedings of the First Midwest Marxist Scholars Conference, University of Minnesota, 1976.

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