Leo's contribution

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Mon Aug 21 01:06:00 MDT 1995

I felt I was a bit hard on Leo, because both sides contributed to the
heat of the exchanges. But I would say this. Even if
Jeff is from his point of view incorrigible, there are merits in
keeping his own contributions lucid and reasonable, not for the
sake of Jeff but  for the sake of
perhaps a dozen other people who might sympathise with Jeff, but
not go the whole way with him.

Similarly I feel Leo is a valuable member of this list when he argues
from a left radical or, if Louis is correct, a social democratic point
of view, because it represents an important position with which
marxists have to be able to engage. Even if Leo is incorrigible from
the point of view of his critics any political activity is going to
have to rub shoulders with people who may hold a similar point of

Therefore having expressed disappointment with what came over to me as
a provocative post by Leo, I felt some  obligation to go
back to his first post that had intrigued me. I had the feeling
that Leo had been posting since February, but it was only 31st May that
I believe he contributed for the first time; saying, among other things,

 Over the course of the years, I have gone from being a somewhat
unorthodox, Gramscian Marxist to a radical democratic (some would call it,
post-Marxist perspective). I don't recognize many kindred voices in these
discussions. Is there room on this list for such a viewpoint?

On 10th June he wrote at length perceiving a subject-object dualism in
Marx. One of the most central passages was:

The only way I have found out of this dualism, with all of its attendant
myopia of social analysis, is to engage in a fundamental critique of this
aspect of Marxism, and to reconceptualize individuals as subject-object
dualities,  that is, as simultaneously shaped and determined by social and
historical processes (object) and as actors shaping and determining those
same social and historical processes (subject). Thus, Marx's formula in the
Eighteenth Brumaire -- men (sic) make history, but they do not make it as
they please; they make it under conditions inherited from the past -- is
much closer to the point then his philosophical cum political formulations.

Others debated whether Marx inherently had the error that Leo perceived,
and I rather doubt it too, though I accept that many marxists have
written in the mechanical way Leo criticises.

I like

a)Leo's prose style

b) the fact that I could understand him better than Laclau and Mouffe

c) at the end of the same post he posed a question which in sharper
form, I believe very threatening to marxism:

4. And yes, this means that the utopian notions of Marxian communism, in
which the state is completely eliminated, and fully realized human beings
live in transparent unity with each other without conflict, must be
abandoned. Secularized notions of  heaven are not particularly useful in
politics, and when implementation is attempted, they tend to lead to
authoritarian projects. Thus, Jerry's conclusion -- "Police brutality will
only end when a new social order is established and the police are dismantled
as a social institution." - leads us right into a dead end. If we reject the
notion that there is a world out there free of conflict just waiting to be
born, there will always be a state and a police - and our concrete political
task is to think through how we can make them more democratic, more
accountable and responsible.

The threat is this. It is more immediate than the question of whether
communism is a utopia; it is a question of whether socialism is a
utopia. I have posted previously several times that we should expect
contradictions and conflict under socialism too. It is not nirvana. It
may have some disadvantages, eg a slowing of the pace of technological
change, a more socially coherent society which therefore feels less
"free" to the individual.

But above all Leo's argument poses the problem that in all our condemnations
of capitalist society with the private ownership of the means of
production, if commodity exchange is not abolished, and yet we fight
for social control of the means of production, are we thinking
of socialism as some sort of hypostasised state of being, out there,
in the former Soviet Union, for a few years in the 1920's, or in China at
one time, or in Albania, or in some even more distant place, when it really
is a process of trying to bring the maximum social control and
accountability over a production process that tends to the other direction.
In other words socialism is one pole of a contradiction that is inherent in
commodity producing class-based society?

Hence Leo's emphasis on deepening democracy, perhaps, rather than
on achieving socialism.

So long as Leo does not ridicule a socialist agenda but just asks for
evidence, I don't see why such a position would be incompatible
with cooperating in concrete action on some questions.

Chris B, London.

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