Friday, March 12, 2010
Collini, Stefan. "A Life in Politics: NEW LEFT at 50." GUARDIAN Februar 13, 2010.
New Left Review at 50: no balloons, of course, and definitely no party games. The very idea of "celebration" smacks of consumerist pseudo-optimism. Mere chronology is, after all, an untheorised concept. We should see it as not so much an anniversary, more an over-determined conjuncture. It is hard not to be intimidated by New Left Review. At times, the journal can seem like an elaborate contrivance for making us feel inadequate. One's relation to it conjugates as an irregular verb: I wish I knew more about industrialisation in China; you ought to have a better grasp of Brenner's analysis of global turbulence; he, she, or it needs to understand the significance of community-based activism in Latin America. For many Guardian readers (and others), the journal functions like a kind of older brother whom we look up to – more serious, better informed, better travelled, stronger, irreplaceable. Well, maybe a tiny bit solemn at times (we could draw lots for who gets the job of telling Perry Anderson to lighten up), and perhaps when we were out of touch for longish stretches, life seemed a bit easier. But then we meet up and it's a case of respect at first sight, all over again. It hasn't always been like this: even older brothers had rocky periods in their youth – misguided enthusiasms, failed relationships, moody withdrawals. Some readers may remember times when NLR seemed hell-bent on sectarian purism, theoretical slavishness and a wilful opacity. It has been through several changes of identity in the past 50 years, and memories of some of these earlier phases may hamper the efforts that it has made recently to reach out to a more diverse readership. But there is a lot in that history to be proud of. The journal has, in its own unbending fashion, registered and responded to huge changes in the world during this half-century, and in doing so has made a stock of ideas available well beyond the ranks of those who may at any point have shared its particular form, or forms, of Marxism (an allegiance that has itself modulated, perhaps even attenuated somewhat, over the decades). Some things about the journal, however, don't change. What other publication would take out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper announcing its "quinquagenary issue"? NLR has been accused of many things, but never of populist dumbing-down. The biography of the review cannot be reduced to a formula: its experience so far has been too rich and too contradictory. But it would be fair to say that a journal that began life hoping to animate and express organised popular movements on the left soon became a more emphatically theoretical enterprise, albeit with certain Leninist or Trotskyist longings held in reserve. Then, in the 1980s, it began to interpret its intellectual task in more expansive terms, and since 2000 it has been self-consciously a "journal of ideas" – on the left, to be sure, but distant from radical movements in the present or any worked-out political blueprint for the future. . . . Read the rest here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/13/new-left-review-stefan-collini.