More on Utopianism

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Mon Oct 10 12:11:09 MDT 1994


On Fri, 7 Oct 1994 SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU wrote:

> actions taken on the basis of
> existential conditions which are not materially advanced.
> Such people act politically AS IF their plans will have no
> unintended social consequences or deleterious effects.  To
> the extent that the Bolsheviks and the later Soviets did
> these things, they WERE utopians, at least epistemically.
> They acted under the "cover" of Marxist ideology in the
> absence of those material conditions which are necessary, in
> Marx's view, for genuine success.
>

Louis Proyect replies:

Up until 1921 Menshevik, anarchist and other opposition parties
published their newspapers freely in the USSR. The American
writer Louise Bryant on a visit to the USSR noted that she had
often "watched a crowd of rich bougeoisie bullying sailor guards
in front of the City Duma and marvelled at the patience of the
sailors. Street talks were common. Red Guards would stand
quietly listening to a speaker berate them without getting the
least bit ruffled; they often seemed deeply interested in the
arguments put up by their opponents."

But let's say all of this freedom was doomed to fail because of
the material and cultural backwardness of Russia at that time.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks were creating the illusion of socialist
democracy, but were ready to adapt totalitarian means to
preserve their utopian experiment.

But does Chris judge the bourgeoisie by the same stringent
standards? If Lenin's actions were "historically premature"
because they were based on existential conditions which were not
materially advanced, what are we to make of our own ruling
classes or the ruling classes of England, the most 'civilized'
capitalist rulers of the modern era.

Bourgeois parliamentary democracy in the advanced capitalist
countries was achieved through genocides and thievery that would
have made Stalin green with envy. The primitive capital
accumulation which afforded Great Britain and the USA the luxury
of a free press, free elections and other constitutional rights
took place over the bodies of African slaves and native peoples.
The gold stolen from Latin America financed English growth, as
slavery financed our own. The spoils of their conquest allowed
them to moderate the class-struggle. Countries with more modest
empires such as Italy and Germany could never afford such
extravagances as parliamentary democracy. For former colonies
like China, Vietnam and Cuba, the pressures are that much
greater: they never had the kind of booty to work with that
their European rulers enjoyed. What advice would Chris had given
Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, I wonder? Emulate the
Philipines, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic? Those are the
real choices third world countries confront.

All revolutions whether bourgeois or socialist involve violence
and class dictatorship and it is utopian to think otherwise. If
Chris can find examples to the contrary, I would like to discuss
them with him.

Columbia University (lnp3 at columbia.edu)

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| Thus to the extent that the for-itself is its own            |
| lack as a refusal correlative with its impulse toward self,  |
| being is revealed to the for-itself on the ground of the     |
| world as an instrumental thing, and the world rises as the   |
| undifferentiated ground of indicative complexes of           |
| instrumentality.                                             |
|   --JP SARTRE
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