A Note on World War 2, Determinism vs Imaginative Realism and Philip Roth

Revolutionary Worker #1272, March 27, 2005, posted at rwor.org

The United States' entry into World War II against the Germans was not arbitrary or accidental; the interests and consequent imperatives of empire drove that decision. The interested reader can look over America in Decline , by Raymond Lotta, pp. 205-219. Lotta shows how the particular configuration of allies (Britain and the Soviet Union) and enemies (Germany and Japan), along with the particular ideological cover ("defender of democracy"), flowed out of material interests, and specifically the class interests, of the imperialist rulers of the U.S.—and not some deep American attachment to democratic values.

At the same time, the communist movement has had a long-standing tendency to read inevitability back into history and to do it in a way that deifies the "underlying material forces" and essentially cuts out the scope—sometime entirely—for the relatively autonomous role of people and their ideas. That role exists in dialectical relation to those (real) underlying forces, but exist it surely does. The critique of this determinist tendency, including the ways in which it has crippled the imaginations of revolutionaries, has been undertaken and led by Bob Avakian, as has the re-fashioning of a Marxism that correctly gives play to scope of consciousness; I'd refer the reader to any number of his works, the most recent of which include "On Truth: On Knowing and Changing the World," ( Revolutionary Worker 1262), as well as the Revolutionary Worker 's series of excerpts from the book by Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call to the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics.(See, for instance, the discussion of Tecumseh in RW 1267. All RW articles can be downloaded at rwor.org.)

Finally, as to Philip Roth's intent in writing this book: there has been quite a bit of debate and commentary devoted to this, and no small amount of spin—or, to use the scientific term for "spin," bullshit. Rather than add to the piles, I'd recommend Roth's fascinating and unusual essay "The Story Behind 'The Plot Against America,' " which appeared in the September 19, 2004, New York Times Book Review , and can be downloaded at The Complete Review.

But in case you don't go there, I'll end this with a quote from that essay: "History claims everybody, whether they know it or not and whether they like it or not."