Bring on the hypnotist

Neal Ascherson

  • After the Fall: The Failure of Communism and the Future of Socialism edited by Robin Blackburn
    Verso, 327 pp, £32.95, November 1991, ISBN 0 86091 540 9

The revolutions of 1989 were ‘the end of an era in which world history was about the October Revolution ... Those of us who believed that the October Revolution was the gate to the future of world history have been shown to be wrong.’ Not many of the contributors to After the Fall are able to face that wrongness with the stoic honesty of Eric Hobsbawm. They face it, but often fail to contain their rage and misery. Some perform their own version of ‘Back to the Drawing-Board’, a dive back into the warrens of classic Marxist literature where – somewhere – the plague-rat of error must be hiding. Others, with much justification, relieve their pain by belabouring the goblins dancing on the grave of ‘actually existing socialism’: carpet-baggers, warmongers, Thatcherites, nationalist demagogues, and gutless intellectual capitulators to the New World Order. After the Fall is, for the most part, the voice of that homeless Left which wandered and prophesied in the sands between Communism and Labourism (or Continental Social-Democracy). Most of the contributions appeared in New Left Review. All but about three were written before the collapse of Soviet Communism and then of the Soviet Union following the putsch in August 1991, which gives them a flavour of antiquity. But the reader’s hindsight does not greatly diminish their perception. These writers all knew the game was up. Exactly which game that was, however, is a matter which divides them.

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