Marxists.org has done a wonderful job putting up, with the original colour covers scanned to boot, the run of the International Socialism quarterly, from 1958 on into the 1980’s. That is a fairly exciting development, if only because the complete collection is a fine example of why online archives must continue to expand. On the other hand, IS is rather dowdy compared to the sexy and ephemeral avant-garde, counter-culture and Situationist publications that grew in prominence during the 60’s, stealing the thunder of the ‘Old Left.’ Nor was IS a theoretical juggernaut, full of new ideas on organisation and ideology of the student movement, aside from what seems an interminable debate about bureaucratic collectivism and state capitalist that filled the letters and debate page. Nonetheless, it’s an incredible treasure trove, especially for a fellow traveller and historical enthusiast.
Issue by issue, a serious of major preoccupations emerge and decline: the atomic bomb in Britain and decolonisation and the Soviet Union in the 1950’s, worker’s management and the student movement in the 60’s, international crisis, economic and political, in the 1970’s (there is an article every month on crisis in Russia, Britain, the Middle East, Vietnam, the Left in general). This gives a false impression, though, of the range and depth of the coverage, which remained, in its dowdy, rather restrained, tone overall resistant to trendiness. There is a remarkably consistent focus on what may have been considered ‘dull’ issues, but vitally important to a magazine claiming to be a mass socialist publication: strikes, tenant’s struggles, welfare, workplace management, the rank-and-file experience in mass parties share space with larger structural, political and economic analysis. There is a pleasant combination of urgency and thoughtful analysis, no doubt became the issues came out as quarterlies. Whether, of course, the analysis is always accurate, or is still useful today, is besides the point in many cases; its a bit jarring and yet all too familiar to have fascist thrown about as a epithet without qualification in many cases. Your mileage will vary: some articles, like this one from 1960 by Kan-ichi Kuroda, are useful to few: the first two paragraphs are about the protests against Japanese alignment with America, a subterranean history well worth unearthing, the rest is about Trotskyism and its travails in Japan. Ahem. On the other hand, two lengthy pieces on the 1961 general strike in Belgium, one by a participant valuable as historical document (who knew Belgium was on the edge of revolution in 1961?) if nothing else. Or this short story from the same issue, by Jacques Egyptian Compton, which gives an impression of the intellectual world of black nationalism. Much of it is short reviews and analyses of situations then that were pressing: a survey of the origins of the Cyprus crisis from 1974, and beside it an article on the Tupamaros movement of Uruguay. Two essays on “The Two Crises of Richard Nixon,” situating him within Cold War politics and the Vietnam war, on the way in which “the priorities of the Cold War have been overtaken” by Vietnam; Cambodia is being discussed here, in that its invasion is “a breakthrough to independence” for South Vietnam, to reinforce nationalism and thus the American position. In 1967, you get briefings on the West German electoral situation, and the policies of the new junta in Ghana, and in 1975 you get a full book on Portugal and its revolution. Much of the rest is on British trade unionism, labour activity and contemporary debates: again, interesting historically, perhaps even useful now, though I suppose most of this is rather esoteric, and occasionally laden in deep Marxist jargon. Still, thrill to a young Noam Chomsky writing a letter in! Chill to their takes on SOLZHENITSYN! Be baffled or enlightened by a Marxist attempt to explain the stability of the 50’s and 60’s by recourse to “the permanent arms economy”! I don’t mean to jest, but it’s certainly true that I’m probably a better audience than most: I could actually summarise what is at stake in the debate about bureaucratic collectivism, for instance (it’s about the nature of the Soviet Union, for starters). But, if you can stomach a sometimes overly schematic, but not always, Marxist analysis of what are now historical events, then by all means, go and read.