joseph at indigo.ie
Wed Aug 14 06:42:59 MDT 1996
KARL: Below Nick is a reply to your message. My apologies for my
delayed reply. I was engaged in very urgent activity not unrelated to
the class struggle. It entailed travelling from one end o f the
country to the other. Consequently I was unable to provide a more
NICK: Karl, I do not wish to be rude, but are you a lecturer, or have
some other academic background?
I ask because your whole response is framed around not taking
for granted any of the things I thought would be "givens" on a
Marxism discussion list. Now it may be that I am wrong, and that
'education' has to be called 'Marxist education' for comrades to
know what I am getting at, even when in obvious context. But it
might also be that you are being unnecessarily abstract.
I showed your response to my partner, who immediately said, "Is
he a teacher?"
KARL: Yes you are wrong. Sloppy language means sloppy thinking and
allows for fudging and misunderstanding. If revolution is to be
taken seriously then language must too. Language must be used with a
s much precision as possible by marxists. Furthermore it is not as
if there was just a problem with your use of the word "education" as
opposed to "marxist education". Both your messages are characte rised
by a serious misunderstanding as to what marxism is. Your use of the
word "education" is merely one of many manifestations of this
NICK: I'll try to explain what I mean.
KARL: You have already done that. The problem is not how hard you try
but the character of your explanations.
NICK: I didn't mean power abstractly, or even power in principle to
change society - I meant conscious power.
KARL: You didn't mean this and you didn't mean that! The meaning of
your last despatch was quite clear to me. The point is that it was wrong.
Even a quick examination of what you say you really meant in the
current despatch of yours compels me to conclude that you are still
wrong. Lets have a look at some of your stuff:
NICK: I meant it's power to take state power, i.e. the power to
actively pursue a revolutionary path.
KARL: These above remarks of yours indicate your acknowledgement
that the working class do have power before they take state power.
This means that you now accept that it has developed political pow er
before taking state power. This clashes with what you claimed in
your previous posting.
NICK: The bourgeoisie were
revolutionary in an essentially involuntary fashion. They simply
did what they needed to do to carve out a niche in society for
themselves INDIVIDUALLY, and the net result was a wholesale
change in the balance of power in society. They could do this
because each one could exploit a handful of workers, and use the
surplus value thus created to improve their relative wealth, and
eventually be wealthy and powerful enough to challenge the old
order, leading to scientific, moral and political revolutions.
KARL: Your comments suggest that in the development of capitalism
individualism transcends the specific social relations of production
and thereby class relations. So now the individual is a principa l
motive power of history, of the development of the class struggle.
This is an obviously false interpretation of marxism. Aint I glad I
did not take things for granted on this list?
Under the feudal system of production individual guild masters
exploited the labour power of "a handful of workers and thereby
improved his/her relative wealth and became wealthy and powerful.
Yet, generally speaking, they never challenged the old order. You
mistakenly suggest that being wealthy and powerful has been the
basis for challenging a social system. You, in effect, collapse
surplus val ue into surplus product and mistakenly abstract from
NICK: The working class cannot become revolutionary as individuals.
We are made increasingly powerless as individuals by capitalism. Thus
the only way we can realise our potential is by class action. That
presupposes some means of collective action, and that's where the
debate about revolutionary parties comes from. I assumed Hal Draper
took that much for granted, and that therefore you did too. Sorry.
KARL: The above remarks have nothing to do with with my criticism
of your message. You claim that the working class can only reach its
potential through class action while the capitalist class can r each
its potential on an individual basis. If the latter is the case then
none of the bourgeois revolutions would have been historically
necessary for the bourgeoisie. This understanding constitutes crude
NICK: The cultural developments have, in the main, resulted in the
acceptance into proletarian society BOURGEOIS culture. While I
recognise the opportunities this presents (Eleanor Marx, for
example, had to start her strike support work, by teaching
strikers to read, never mind to read Marx - I don't have that
problem, much), I am also acutely aware of the downside. Workers
have been educated to accept bourgeois ideology. They therefore
require re-educating, out of bourgeois culture into a
proletarian one. The bourgeoisie in contrast, could use their
wealth in feudal society to build their own universities.
KARL: Now according to you there are two societies: capitalist
society and proletarian society. If this is so then social
revolution is superfluous since there is already in place your
NICK: The working class cannot. Unless they act in a conscious way,
conscious of the need to do so.
KARL: Of course the workers act in a conscious way. But what is
required is that it acts in a politically class conscious way.
NICK'S dishonest distortion of my message: As for living standards,
owning a video recorder doesn't make someone more likely to be a
revolutionary. The workers are POLITICALLY impoverished. We are less
able to control our own lives in an economic sense. That's what I
KARL: I never suggested anything concerning owning a video recorder.
Where did this come form? In your last message you said:
NICK: With no-one left to exploit, the workers do not have options
such as this, and are left, in terms of spontaneous development,
continually impoverished (economically and culturally) by capitalism,
even in its very final stages.
KARL: Now in the current message you shy away from your "continually
impoverished thesis", the very thesis which I challenged and which
you tacitly imply should take for granted.
NICK: Capitalism provides the possibility, but unless the class
arranges the potential, the revolution will not happen. And
class consciousness will not happen spontaneously precisely
because the education of the proletariat takes place in
bourgeois terms. Workers have their revolutionary potential
educated out of them from the day they go to school until the
day they die. Unless some other force operates in the opposite
direction. That force, I suspect, needs to be a Marxist current
in the class.
KARL: The above passage is nonsense. If the possibility is present
then to use your unfortunate phraseology "the potential" is by
definition there. More sloppy language. Am I to take things for gran
ted here too, Perhaps Marx should have taken things for granted
instead of engaging in critique of Ricardo's political economy.
This is astonishing stuff. If "workers have their potential educated
out of them", as you put it then, there can be possibility of
revolution. The possibility and potential for revolution is a class
fact that is not determined by what does or does not happen to
individuals workers. Anyway "the potential" (an unfortunate use of
language by Nick) of workers cannot be educated out of them".
NICK: Remind me again of the class credentials of Marx and Engels. I
know it sounds stupid, but for some reason I have this barmy idea
that one of them was a petty bourgeois intellectual, and the other
was a bougeois factory owner. Couldn't have been, though, could they?
KARL: You miss the entire point. Marx and Engels were revolutionaries
by virtue of their politics not by virtue of their class position.
NICK: The "we" in my posting referred to the Marxist movement.
KARL: What marxist movement? There is no marxist movement. There are
relatively small organizations and individuals who may describe
themselves as marxists. However that does not necessarily mean the y
are marxists. There are many stalinists who genuinely believe they
are marxists. Yet there are trotskyists who would say that
stalinists are not marxists.
NICK: I conceive of this containing two elements. The first, and most
important, are the politically conscious workers, the leading
elements of the class. Without them Marxism is a sterile theory,
devoid of any means of influencing history.
KARL: You miss one of the chief problems facing marxism today. This
problem is that there are no politically conscious workers that one
can talk about. There is the odd individual worker who is class
conscious just The problem facing marxism today is the very fact
that there are no politically class conscious workers in any
minimally significant sense.
NICK: But alongside them
will be the most progressive of the intellectuals & petty
bourgeois (and even, it is possible) bourgeois - because they
are the people who will have the time and facilities to study
history and economics and so on and develop the theories of
Marxism - like Marx himself. He often talked about synthesis
between intellectuals and the class.
KARL: Workers can be marxist intellectuals too. The aim of marxism,
in a sense, is to convert the working class into a marxist
intelligentsia. This is how I could say, in a previous post, that
the cl ass struggle is, in a sense, a pedagogical process.
NICK: The Marxist movement has to be situated in the class - has to
see itself as the political leadership of the class. But it also
has to be willing to incorporate into itself those intellectuals
and so on willing to make the leap to identifying with the
proletarian on theoretical basis. That after all, is what most
Marxist academics are - non-workers who side with the workers in
the class struggle.
KARL: Your concept of working class is ambiguous. In another
posting you seemed to suggest that non factory occupations were
constituted working class occupations. Some would say that a
lecturer in a college is a worker as much as a local authority
labourer who cleans streets in a local authority housing estate.
You now say the marxist movement has to be situated in the class. In
you previous message you indicated the opposite. The point you miss
is that a marxist movement cannot be entirely situated within the
working class. However it must be entirely situated within the
working class movement . There is a significant distinction between
the working class and the working class movement.
Anyway you contradict yourself. If the marxist movement has to be
situated in the working class, as you falsely claim, then it must
NICK: Once again, I had taken much of this as given, not requiring
explanation. It seems I was wrong. But your criticisms of the
"Leninist tenet" are actually criticisms of M&E.
KARL: More contradictions. My criticism of a leninsist tenet is not
necessarily a criticism of M&E but of Lenin. The three are not
identical. This is said as if it absolves you from discussing the ma
Err, only history proves it didn't work like that. It's a nice
KARL: Err, only it does work like that. Even you acknowledged this
when you said the marxist movement has to be situated within the
working class. It is not a matter of whether it is a nice theory o r
not. It is a matter of whether it is correct or not.
NICK: Oh sh*t. Of course it is the job of the Marxists to move the
whole class. Karl has got the wrong Greek though.
KARL: Oh sh*t. Of course it is not the job of marxists to move the
whole class. Nick has got the wrong Greek though.
NICK: The one we need is Archimedes - what the marxists seek to do is
find the right levers, and the right points of leverage to swing
the whole class into battle in the right fashion in order for
the working class to be victorious.
KARL: Again this is to suggest that the class can be manipulated by
an element that stands outside it. This invests this manipulative
element with agency and thereby subjectivity which means that sub
jectivism must be infused into the working class. This flies in the
face of marxism.
NICK: Of course the class moves by
KARL: You contradict yourself. Above you asserted the very opposite.
I quote: "Oh sh*t. Of course it is the job of the Marxists to move the
whole class." If the class moves by itself then marxists are not
needed to move that class.
NICK: But left to itself it moves towards trade unions and
defensive formations. Nothing wrong with that, but without the
conscious leadership (not injection) of Marxism, it will never
*spontaneously* become revolutionary. It can't. The dynamic of
capitalism works to prevent it.
KARL:To you mistakenly claim that the working class will never
spontaneously become revolutionary. History provides ample evidence
that the working class has been spontaneously revolutionary in revol
utionary situations. However this evidence does not mean that a
marxist party is not necessary.
NICK: Once again, you are assuming that my "will push the whole
class" is an abstract, from the sidelines view. I assumed that no-one
would take such a view and that therefore I had no need to discount
it. Seems I was wrong, again.
KARL: I did not assume anything. My criticism proceeds from what you
NICK: I took for granted that we would automatically recognise the
need for *marxist* education. The proletariat needs to educate
itself. I need to educate myself, you yourself, and all of us,
collectively, each other.
KARL: This is a fudge. Marxist education means different things to
do different political elements. stalinists who claim to be marxists
would have a very different conception as to what is marxist ed
ucation from some non-stalinists who would regard themselves as
NICK: I had no intention of discussing education in the abstract -
such a discussion is utterly pointless.
KARL: Then why did you do just that?
NICK: Yes of course it is a political issue. I (once again) took that
for granted. > Indeed the political differences that manifest
themselves on this > mailing list are a manifestation of the
differences that obtain > concerning the content and form of the
education of the working > class. In short, in many ways the
class struggle is a pedagogical > issue.
So what is your prescription for the development of the class
struggle? You've dissected my previous posting without once
putting forward a practical alternative at any stage. Why not?
Do you not participate in the class struggle, merely observe?
KARL: This is an absurd question. Genuine marxists, today, cannot
have any "prescription for the development of the class struggle."
Marxists cannot dictate how the contemporary class struggle will
You asked do I "participate in the class struggle or observe".
There obtains no separation between participating in the class
struggle and observation. Marx was a participant in the class
struggle a nd yet a keen observer. All humanity is the participant in
the class struggle whether as bourgeois or worker or petty
bourgeois. It is not possible to step outside the class struggle.
Overall your response fails to challenge my criticism of your post.
which largely consists of confusion, evasion, dishonest
re-qualification of your last message, distortion of what I wrote
and down right misunderstanding of marxism.
Incidentally there were other features of your message that were
open to criticism, such as your irrelevant reference to your
partner's speculations etc., which I chose to omit .
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