bounced from Jose Perez

Tue Aug 31 02:22:04 MDT 1999

Jose:  I'm
opposed to a "stages" theory only in the sense that I
believe an  attempt
to create an unambiguous distinction between a national
democratic and a
proletarian stage are artificial. Attempting to limit  the
process for a
prolonged period within certain bounds is I think a
mistake, because
working people suffer BOTH from lack of developed
capitalism AND from the
capitalism they do have. Having seized power,  working
people will attack
the problems they have independently of  whether a
particular task
corresponds to a "democratic" or a "socialist"  stage. And
it would be
through the process of those struggles that most  people
will become
convinced that it is necessary to expropriate the
bourgeoisie as a class,
and chop off the "invisible hand of the market"  as the
dominant force in
the economy. And when I was a Trotskyist, I did  not mean
anything more by
permanent revolution than this.

Tahir: I agree with a lot of the above, and I wouldn't like
merely to keep on noting areas of disagreement, but I would
like to raise another aspect, which has got a bit lost among
the economic aspects (important as those are). I think that
in societies where capitalism has flourished only as a
foreign imposition and where some of the early more
progressive elements of it that arose in Europe are absent,
it is in a sense easy for a socialist movement to propogate
an anti-capitalist sentiment. In Europe very large sections
of society can look back with a sense of smugness at the
'dark ages', they can feel that as modern and enlightened
folk with civil liberties, freedom of conscience, etc., they
have much to be thankful for - look how all those other
people in farflung conrners of the world are still living in
their dark ages of Islam, Hinduism, tribalism, etc., etc.

This modern and bourgeois worldview permeates society,
including the relaltively privileged working classes of
those countries, although it does have its discontents.

But in third world countries, where capitalism is an alien
and usually brutal imposition, it has a different aspect.
Firstly, it does not drive away superstition and ignorance -
rather it reinforces these by holding large numbers of rural
people captive in semi-feudal and semi-colonial conditions
and retards the development of an 'enlightened' and
scientific worldview. Here there is no smugness about being
modern and enlightened. As I say, an anti-capitalist
sentiment is relatively easy to propogate in such a
situation, but, crucially, this always fuses with an
anti-colonial one. Such is the expereince of capitalism as
the 'way of life' of the foreigner. This, literally facile
(i.e. im-mediate in Hegel's sense), rejection of capitalism
really has very little to do with marxist socialism. The
understanding of socialism that develops becomes fused with
the nationalist consciousness as a yearning for a lost and
indigenous communalism. This sentiment can be detected in
numerous slogans and sayings that arise in the course of the
struggle. One example from South Africa which is familiar to
all who participated in the anti-apartheid struggle -
mayibuye iAfrica! - means 'Africa, let it come back'. In
earlier posts I attempted to describe a similar phenomenon
with regard to Iran (and had to defend myself against a
somewhat infantile charge of 'idealism').

The subjective conditions in a revolution are hugely
important. Attempts by revolutionaries to solve these
problems of consciousness, specifically of BACKWARD
consciousness, can lead to further problems, such as cults
of personality and bizarre mutations of marxism mixed with
indigenous folklore, etc. The kind of sneer (typically
Trotskyist, it must be said) that greets these phenomena is
a sneer that betrays a lack of understanding of the whole
problematic that I am attempting to describe here. It is the
sneer of smug, uncomprehending Eurocentrism. It is the prime
reason why some of us will never embrace Trotskyism, or
anything that smacks of it.

So the problem is that the masses in most third world
countries, can, with effective leadership, attain a kind of
nationalistic anti-capitalism. In the case of Iran it was
very instructive how this anti-capitalist rhetoric permeated
the whole fundamentalist movement, even while it was
fashioning a new Islamised capitalist system for Iran. The
nationalist petty bourgeoisie, who have one foot in both
worlds, so to speak, and who lead the struggle, understand
this aspect of the people very well. They begin by
identifying with it sentimentally and end by manipulating it
cynically. This phenomenon has many psychological
permutations, which I will always be grateful to some of the
great marxists of the African continent for helping me to
understand, especially Franz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral.

The answer, I accept, is not to propogate a bourgeois
democratic stage, although I understand the thinking of
Lenin and Stalin and others who saw it that way. Mao
improved on their notion, with an idea of a capitalism with
politics rather than economics in command. Concerning this
he was right: the key issue IS democracy, and I would add
all the essential ingredients that go with it, literacy,
secularism, scientific worldview, etc. While I don't believe
that Mao or anyone else has finally solved these sorts of
problems, I find it hard to take seriously a marxism that
doesn't even acknowledge their existence. A short circuit
from peasant communalism to (post-capitalist) marxist
socialism doesn't make any sense to me. But I accept, that
for those who are unable to understand problems of
consciousness and culture as well as their economic
textbooks, this problem is obscure.

Just by the way, I do feel that in those cases where there
is a single national language, and this happens to be a
modernised international language, the problems I am
describing are more easily surmountable.


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