NICK HOLDEN (& partner)...

Wed Aug 14 17:26:07 MDT 1996

Hi Karl

Nick showed me your response to his message and I felt moved to make a
comment or two myself. I hope that you don't object to the discussion
widening out to include me as well.

It seems to me that you are being unneccessarily pedantic in your objections
to Nick's original message. Yes, he did take a number of things for granted,
but this is, after all, a Marxism list - it ought to be permissable in that
context to have some comradely attitude to another's opinion, don't you
think? Instead, you appear to have searched through Nick's posting for every
ambiguity merely so that you could pounce upon it.

In your reply you said:
> 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.

If you think that Nick's use of language is sloppy, then perhaps you should
have asked for clarification of the points you did not understand. Instead,
you chose to put your own interpretation on his words and condemn him for

> 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.

If the meaning was so clear, what was so sloppy about either the words or
the thinking?

> 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.

Of course the working class has some power. It has power now under
capitalism in the sense that it is the efforts of the working class that
drive the whole economy. It follows automatically therefore that the working
class already possesses the capacity (i.e. the power) to halt the capitalist
economy. This is so fundamental to any understanding of economics - Marxist
or otherwise - that I would have hardly thought it needed restating on a
list such as this. However, I can see that it is futile to assume anything
in terms of common ground in this discussion, so I shall attempt to refrain
>from now on.

> 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 principal
> 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
> social form.

Lets look at what Marx says shall we?

>From The Communist Manifesto: "The feudal system of industry, under which
industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer
sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system
took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the
maufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different
corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single

"...We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a
long course of devlopment, of a series of revolutions in the modes of
production and of exchange.

"Each step in the development of the bourgeiosie was accompanied by a
corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the
sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the
medieval commune; here taxable 'third estate' of the monarchy (as in
France), afterwards, in teh period of manufacture proper, serving either the
semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility,
and in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie
has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world
market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive
political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for
managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."

In other words, the bourgeoisie first took control of the economic sphere,
and then progressed onto taking control of the political sphere. It was not
a concious desire to run the state that drove them, but the automatic
consequence of having already seized control of the economy. Taking control
of the state was merely the finishing touch to a change in society that had
been taking place for decade before.

> KARL: You claim that the working class can only reach its
> potential through class action while the capitalist class can reach
> 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
> revisionism.

You appear to be falling in to the trap of assuming that the revolutionary
aspect of the transition from feudalism to capitalism was only the actual
seizing of state power. Not so. The change in the economic framework in
which that state operated was by far the more important aspect, and it
happened first. In the course of the change from capitalism to
socialism/communism this option is not open to us (by us, I am, of course,
referring to the international working class). We are obliged to seize
political power *before* we can begin to change the ecnomic framework. This
will, of necessity mean that the first action of the proletarian revolution
must be a *consciously* revolutionary act, because by itself it will not
achieve the changes in society that the working class desires. The seizure
of state power by the bourgeoisie, by contrast, did not need to be based on
a collective conscious decision of the class, because it was simply bringing
the control of the state into line with who had control in the rest of

> KARL: Of course the workers act in a conscious way. But what is
> required is that it acts in a politically class conscious way.

Surely this is just pure posturing on your part! Explain to me why you
consider this sentence worth the time it took you to write it. If this was a
philosophy list, I would think it puerile, but nevertheless appropriate to
discuss the semantic difference between "conscious" and "politically class
conscious". Since this is a Marxism list, then you ought to know already,
that the working class currently does not act in a "conscious" way - I use
the term in the same sense that Marx, Engels and every other marxist writer
since has used it.

> 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".

To use your own phrase (lest I also be accused of unfortunate language) The
above passage is nonsense.

The possibilty and potential for revolution is a class fact that surely is
entirely determined by what does or does not happen to individual workers.
What else is the working class made up of?

> 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.

Then surely a key task for anyone who considers themselves to be marxist
today is to be working as hard as they can to encourage the political
development of as many workers as they can. I don't want to just talk about
politically conscious workers, I would far rather talk with them.
> 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 class struggle is, in a sense, a pedagogical process.

Rubbish. The aim of Marxism, is to provide a method through which the
proletariat can emancipate themselves from oppression.

That the class struggle has pedagogical aspects to it is inevitable. But it
is hardly the primary point.

(Your use of this word, incidentally, is why I asked if you were a teacher.
My dictionary defines a pedagogue as "a teacher; a pedant. Since you are
clearly the latter, I suspected that you might also be the former.)

> 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.

Definition of working class: "that class of society  which procures its
means of livelihood entirely and solely from the sale  of its labour and not
>from the profit derived from any capital" - Marx

Doesn't matter what you do, so long as you have to sell it to live.

> You now say the marxist movement has to be situated in the class. In
> you previous message you indicated the opposite.

When? Where?

> 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.

What is the distinction? I would consider it fairly sloppy to make an
assertion such as this and then not elucidate upon it.

> Anyway you contradict yourself. If the marxist movement has to be
> situated in the working class, as you falsely claim, then it must
> exclude non-workers.

I refer you to the point you yourself made about the revolutionary nature of
Marx and Engels despite their class origins. They chose to place themselves
with the working class in the crucial battle.

>  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.

Oh good grief! Not only a pedant, but a literalist. Have you ever considered
that the right levers might be within the working class?

> NICK: Of course the class moves by
> itself.
> 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.

Read on, Karl
> 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.


> 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
> develop.

But if you consider yourself a Marxist, then surely you should consider
yourself to have an obligation to do what you can to encourage the class
struggle to develop it a manner you think would aid the class. Anything less
is an abdication of your responsibility.

> 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 and 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.

Cop out.

> 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 .

I hope that my comments to this posting are more "relevant" than my
speculations about your last one. I look forward to reading your reply


Kate (NickH's partner)

     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list