HURTFUL WORDS REVISITED

Karl Carlile joseph at indigo.ie
Tue Jun 11 07:39:24 MDT 1996


 Louis: Karl, the problem with labeling other people as "opportunist" is
that it tends to freeze both your positions and theirs in a manner that
prevents debate, let alone discussion. (I suppose all you are interested
in is talking over my shoulder to other people on the list, but let's
pretend for a moment that you do want to speak to me as well.)

Karl: The avoidance of labels is linguistically impossible. In many
respects language is inherently a labelling or naming procedure. To
eliminate "labelling" is to eliminate language and thereby Homo Sapiens
Sapiens. Labelling or naming entails conceptual abstraction. Human
intelligence by its very nature conceptualises and thereby generates
abstractions. Without engaging in the process of conceptual abstraction
people would not be able to make sense of the world. In short, we would be
denying our humanity by refraining from "labelling". This would entail a
return to Neanderthal life. To prescribe a Neanderthal programme is
reactionary and a call for the reinforcement of irrationalism. Political
labelling rather than, as you claim, preventing debate encourages and
sharpens debate. With less emphasis on the public identification of
persons politically a cosy obscurantist smugness can be the result
generating fuzzy rather than sharp debate thereby suppressing political
clarity. Political issues would be inaccessible if any attempts to label a
position as fascist, social democratic, racist, right wing, reactionary
etc. were prohibited.

Contrary to your claim, only the individual concerned "freezes" his
position. Individuals are responsible for their own opinions not
anybody else. Consequently they have the power to choose and
thereby modify or change their opinions. It is an evasion of
responsibility to suggest that extraneous factors are responsible for
one's opinions. This is to deny the existence of individual freedom.
Indeed this view of yours ties in with the whole question of self-
confidence and self esteem discussed very briefly by me in one of my
very recent messages to the List. People with low self-esteem tend to
hold outside events responsible for their own conduct. They are not
self-confident enough to recognize and act on the basis of self
responsibility for both their own conduct and views. Consequently they
do not recognize that they have the power to change both their
individual conduct and opinions. Louis' false claim that my "labelling
other people...tends to freeze" their positions suggests that I control
other people and am, therefore, responsible for other people's actions.
Obviously this erroneous claim denies the existence of individual
freedom the very prerequisite necessary if individual workers are to
choose marxism. Incidentally "positions" entail labelling .

Louis: Words like "Menshevik", "opportunist" and "reformist" are loaded
words. In the 93 year history of the Bolshevik/Menshevik split, the
terminology has taken on a life of its own. When Lenin debated Martov or
Trotsky, these words were used in the context of Russian political
culture and didn't prevent shifting alliances from taking place across
party lines.

Louis: Categories such as "Menshevik" and "opportunist" are taxonomically
valid if used correctly rather than casually bandied about. I never
suggested Louis that alliances are impossible between principled marxists
and left opportunists.

Louis: I advocate that Marxist regroupment be based on trying to transcend
these rigid categories since the objective conditions that produced them
have all but disappeared.

Karl: "Marxist... "! Louis this is one of many examples of your use of a
label. There are those who even go so far as to argue that the label
"marxist" is redundant and that "the Left" can better get by without such
labels. Obviously these people are more extremist than you. However you
are still going down the same road as them. To suggest, as you do above,
that "the objective conditions that produced" these names "have all but
disappeared" virtually smacks of the view that the objective condition,
capitalism, has all but disappeared. Anyway since you make the false
claim that objective conditions produced these categories it
logically follows that objective conditions can eliminate them. However
objective conditions did not produce these categories. People that
invented these categories.

Louis: Stalinism is defunct as an international power since the USSR
broke up.

Karl: Stalinism is far from "defunct as an international power since the
USSR broke up." It is a mistake to exclusively identify Stalinism with the
Soviet Union. Stalinism is a political category that defines a political
phenomenon. It entails the view that socialism is possible
in one country, nationalism, and that socialism can be achieved
mechanically in stages. It also entails, which ties in with its latter
characteristics, the systematic containment of the class struggle through
bureaucracy the indispensable means through which stalinism contains
struggle. There is nothing to suggest that the conditions for this
political perspective are absent. Indeed to suggest the contrary is to
claim that capitalism has been abolished.

Louis:  Most workers and intellectuals realize that Social
Democracy is simply welfare state capitalism.

Karl: How could a political party be a form of capitalism?. Social
Democracy is not "simply welfare state capitalism." For one so ostensibly
concerned with caring for language this is rather sloppy language Louis.
Social democracy is a political form through which the subordination of
the working class to capitalism, from within the working class movement,
is sustained. One of the defining characteristics of social democracy is
its mass base. It is this that is its decisive characteristic not simply
its "welfarism". Social democratic parties are differentiated from other
bourgeois parties only by continuing organic links with the working class.
Such links are evidenced by, for example, mass individual working class
membership, readership of newspapers, youth organizations and open
identification with, or fractions within, the trade unions. As with the
British and Irish Labour Parties the direct affiliation of trade unions to the party
constitutes the principal mass base of the party. Indeed many non social
democratic  bourgeois parties have been principal promoters of the
welfare state. Yet they are not described as social democratic parties.

Louis:  Trotskyism is a spent force since it failed abjectly to
capitalize on the one opening afforded it in  the 1960s. When tens of
thousands of students gravitated to the Fourth International, including
myself, only to discover that this current has a self-destructive
sectarian logic, they moved on to other things.

Karl: Trotskyism cannot be identified with the specific forms it was
purported to  have assumed in the 1960s. The failure of Trotskyism to grip
the masses in the post-war period does not justify the conclusion that it
"is a spent force". Marxism (Trotskyism) has failed to grip the masses in
the post-war period too yet it cannot be regarded as superfluous. Again,
Trotskyism as a political category is an expression of the character of
the class struggle. While that struggle remains, while capitalism exists,
this category is taxonomically legitimate.

Louis: You mistake my determination to help create this party with
something you call "opportunism". I defied you to answer my analysis of
the history Bolshevik party with your own historical analysis and you
refused. My guess is that you, like Hugh Rodwell with respect to the FSLN,
have neither the time nor the interest to study Lenin's writings from this
period or any of the Marxist scholarship which places it in its historical
context. I call this political and intellectual laziness.

Karl: I have already adequately responded to you comments on the
Bolshevik party.

Louis: I call this political and intellectual laziness.

Karl: Louis you are labelling again! [Louis? "the problem with labelling
other people as" suffering from "political and intellectual laziness is
that it tends to freeze both your positions and theirs in a manner that
prevents debate, let alone discussion."]

Louis: I would just offer a few friendly words in closing. Your posts
don't seem to hint at any involvement with political activity on your
part. You come across as an intellectual who is interested in
revolutionary politics but who lacks experience in the mass movement.

Karl: The above false biographical impression of me could not be further
>from the truth. In conclusion I return to you opening comment.

Louis: Karl, the problem with labeling other people as "opportunist" is
that it tends to freeze both your positions and theirs in a manner that
prevents debate, let alone discussion.

Karl: You are essentially calling for the forgetting of differences  in
order to concentrate instead on what is doctrinally and politically shared
in common. Obviously, if it were possible to do this, the politics shared
in common would be  "the least common denominator". Consequently this
"least common denominator" would constitute a lower level of consciousness
and corresponding politics. This would mean that marxism has trimmed its
programme to suit the present backwardness of the working class movement
instead of providing leadership by promoting the need to change the
programmtic basis of the struggle. In doing this marxism would have
negated its very existence.


                                    Yours etc.,
                                                    Karl Carlile


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