The Interaction of the Historical and the Social
zeynept at turk.net
Mon May 20 01:56:16 MDT 1996
The Interaction of the Historical and the Social - From Russia to Latin
America to Turkey (and India, Rakesh?)
In some of the arguments we've entered in the list, I've been referring to
the distinction between the historical and social dynamics, sometimes by
name, sometimes by association.
Before I go on with the worthy debate about the "urban poor" or post about
"political Islam" I found it necessary to clarify this method of
conceptualising I'm employing.
This distinction has been developed to great length by some Turkish
Marxists, but I'm almost certain it exists in Latin America, or other
countries lumped as the "South". My knowledge of India is not very
authoritative but I think we have many parallels.
Now, the idea goes something like this.
Capitalism in western countries, which capitalism first developed, and in
late-comers which capitalism was introduced while the world
imperialist/capitalist system was already in place differs in some manners
that Marxist thought is not very competent in explaining the situation
thereof and developing the tools for political intervention.
First, let's define a category besides a class. The category is a group
capable of "collective action" , in the sense of force and violence. This
group may overlap with a homogeneous class position, but then as usual, may
be heterogeneous to some degree. Usually individual members of such a group
that become bourgeois per se shed their own collective action group
identity. For example, how "black" is Ron Brown or O.J? (But the reaction of
the blacks in the states to O.J. case, I think, clearly demonstrates a
collective action category not yet dominated by class positions.)
Now, a class is also a collective action subject. (Subject in the sense of
being an actor, not "subject to"). In a capitalist society, which almost the
whole world today is, the only force capable of being the subject of a
social revolution is the proletariat. In the west, it is the sole collective
action group capable of reflecting its opposition to the system in an
organised manner, and which may channel that opposition into a
However, in the Eastern societies and Latin America and similar places (I'll
call it the South for the sake of ease of use) all the relation groupings of
pre-capitalistic formations have not been liquidated. There are other
categories of collective action.
In the west distinction is but disappeared, but I can think of blacks in the
States, Irish in the 6 provinces under occupation by England, and throughout
history one may find such reflections say in the Barcelona anarchism of the
Spanish civil war, where the social and the historical intertwine in a very
In the South as well, it is the capitalistic relations of production that
dominate. But, here capitalistic relations commingle with antiquated social
relations. They are contradictions that have not been resolved in the
transition to capitalism. Every social contradiction also involves the
subjective and objective elements that will fight for its resolution. Such
is the action of social categories that are also now subject to the
exploitation and oppression of imperialism/capitalism.
Now, in such a picture, every rebellion against the existing capitalist
system shakes the regime in the country, and hence weakens the
imperialist/capitalist chain these countries are a link of.
We are obliged, then, to call these collective action categories; besides
the working class which is actually the only force capable of changing the
overall system; revolutionary subjects (actors).
But, a revolution is the transformation of the class nature of the society,
and it would be wrong to accept these collective action categories as the
actor of revolution. Another mistake would be to look down upon and/or
neglect these groups since social revolution will only come through the
The question then is to develop a programmatic and tactical alliance between
the main force of the revolution, the working class, and other revolutionary
actors existing within and outside of it. (Identities maybe might be a
Social revolution will not take place if the real actor of that revolution
does not play its role. Other revolutionary actors that take up the scene in
that setting are doomed to fail most of the time.
Also, how the state is formed is another important factor in analysing the
alignments and some weird forms of the state that arise that seem to defy a
classic Marxist explanation. It is not good enough to label them as
"bonapartist", the term is of limited use.
Latin America, with its coups, with its backwardness in spite of riches, and
question of why North America became the imperialist while the Latin section
became what it is a very rich example of how the social and the historical
mix and produce interesting and from a western point of view, unusual, forms.
It is intriguing to note how the indigenous culture of Latin America,
imperialism finds its voice through the magical, and in a sense seductive,
style of its literature. It is intriguing to note the many currents in Latin
America that are Marxist maybe politically, as they correspond to class
positions, but are philosophically reject materialism and Marxism. It is
interesting that religion, Catholics of all, emerge as a collective action
category, sometimes allying themselves with Marxist forces.
In Russia, it is interesting to see how the Slav identity feeds to and from
socialism. Sometimes it taints socialism with nationalism, sometimes it
draws masses to the defense of "socialism and fatherland". It is not quite
enough to say Marxists are not nationalists, period. Such is the soil, and
one must recognise and work for transforming that soil. Disgust or
negligence are of no help.
To put it in a picture, the numerous historical streams must be separated
into class rivers.
Historical dynamics cause riots, not revolutions. Marxists must develop
their parties, programmes, strategies and tactics so that the "historical"
is organised under and is *subjected to* social class relations.
Ok, for those patient enough to read so far. Next I plan to move into
political Islam, never ending coups and forms as Peronism of Latin America
and the urban poor in the light of what I've said so far. I hope it will
illustrate what I'm trying to get at in a more concrete manner.
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