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Michael Kidron (1930–2003) was a revolutionary thinker and cartographer. He was part of the leadership of the International Socialists (forerunners of the SWP) through the 1960s and 1970s. He is perhaps best remembered for his visually arresting The State Of The World Atlas.
Early life and career
Kidron was born on 20 September 1930, in South Africa to a family of Zionists. He became a leading theoretician of the Socialist Review Group (SRG) which he joined on emigrating to Britain. He took up doctoral studies at Balliol College, Oxford in 1955. In the early years of the SRG he was to be found in the extended family of Tony Cliff (Ygael Gluckstein), who had married Kidron's sister Chanie Rosenberg, which was the informal core of the group. He would also serve as editor and writer on various group publications through these years.
It is Kidron's name that appears as publisher of the first public edition of Cliff's central work State Capitalism in Russia which was published in 1955. A small pamphlet on automation appeared in 1956, which although not dissimilar to the ideas of the Johnson-Forest Tendency or Socialisme ou Barbarie, did not simply dismiss existing workers organisations as these tended to do. From then on Kidron was a major source of theoretical writing within the SRG and later the Socialist Workers Party.
Among Kidron's many writings were Western Capitalism Since the War and Capitalism and Theory. His main contribution was to develop the theory of the permanent arms economy, which argued that capitalism had been temporarily stabilized by the production of arms, which acted as a counter tendency to the falling rate of profit. Crisis, then, was not eliminated from the system, but merely postponed. This came at a time when other tendencies were emblazoning their publications with banner headlines proclaiming that capitalism had entered its final crisis. Related to this was the conception that state capitalism was a distinct period within the imperialist stage of capitalism and not simply a new label to be plastered upon the Russian state.
These ideas and experience of the workers movement in Britain were to develop a deeply rooted understanding in Kidron's writings that the revolutionary movement must be democratic in order to fit the working class to rule. The PAE also meant that this analysis was reflected in the understanding of the IS that the 'locus of reformism' had moved from parliamentary bodies to the shop floor. In short workers were seeking gains through localized class struggle at the point of production where the institution of the elected and recallable shop steward was key. The task of revolutionaries was to generalize and politicize such struggles.
Kidron was critical of the move within IS to a more traditionally democratic centralist structure in the wake of the events of 1968, and as IS grew, he moved away from its core, both physically, obtaining an academic post in Kingston upon Hull, and politically. Nonetheless, he took no direct part in the factional struggle which saw a split in the central IS cadre in 1975.
Kidron's last major articles in the International Socialism journal cast doubt on his own earlier work, but without renouncing Marxism as so many former revolutionaries would during the downturn of class struggle that marked the eighties. Yet following a debate in the pages of the International Socialism Journal with Chris Harman, who defended what is now the traditional IS position, he was to leave active revolutionary politics.
Closely associated with Pluto Press since the early 1970s (the IS had helped set up the company in its first period), his talents were expended on works like State of the World Atlas, and The War Atlas (with Dan Smith). Kidron remained a Marxist committed to changing the world and therefore understood the necessity of developing a theoretical understanding of how the world works precisely in order to change it. His final article appeared in the Autumn 2002 issue of the International Socialism Journal on The Decline of Capitalism, and spoke of a sure and certain knowledge that another world is not just possible but demanded. As ever, the revolutionary role of the working class in the core countries of capitalism was reasserted and the goal of a communist society reaffirmed.
Kidron died on 25 March 2003.
- Michael Kidron Internet Archive
- Failing growth and rampant costs: two ghosts in the machine of modern capitalism by Michael Kidron, 2002
- Michael Kidron (1930-2003) by Ian Birchall
- Michael Kidron - Permanent legacy by Chris Harman
- Marxist Political Economy and the Crisis (1974 speech)