[Fwd: From Here to There, by David Schweickart]
rsp at SPAMuniserve.com
Mon Dec 6 00:13:52 MST 1999
I don't know if this piece has been forwarded yet and I certainly hope
David doesn't mind my passing it along to other left lists.
Date: Sun, 5 Dec 1999 15:42:09 -0500
From: James Lawler <james.lawler at SYMPATICO.CA>
Subject: From Here to There, by David Schweickart
>From Here to There:
Imagining the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, with a Little Help
from The Communist Manifesto
Let me begin, not with Marx and Engels, but with T.S. Eliot:
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.
This famous concluding stanza of "The Hollow Men" seems eerily appropriate
today. Contrary to widespread expectation, our species has pulled back from
nuclear Armageddon. The twenty thousand nuclear warheads that the United
States and the Soviet Union had pointed at each other, which could have, if
launched, rendered our planet unfit for human habitation, have been
redirected and some of them destroyed. Of course the warheads still exist
and could be retargeted, but we are right to celebrate. The "logic of
exterminism," to use E. P.Thompson's unnerving phrase, has been broken.
But not all good things go together. The end of the nuclear arms race has
not ushered in an era of global stability and prosperity. The "peace
dividend" that was supposed to fund educational, environmental and
anti-poverty programs has proved to be utterly illusory--as anyone with a
Marxian understanding of how a capitalist economy works would have
predicted. The nexus of events that culminated in the break-up of the Soviet
Union not only diminished the threat of nuclear war; it also removed one of
the main checks to capitalism's inherent rapacity, so that we now find in
ascendancy a globalized capitalism that bears striking resemblance to the
system described by Marx and Engels 150 years ago. In fact the description
is, as Eric Hobsbawm has noted, more accurate as a description of our world
than it was of theirs.
"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a
cosmopolitan character to production and consumption everywhere. . . . All
old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being
destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes
a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no
longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw materials drawn from the
remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home,
but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by
the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their
satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old
local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in
every direction, universal interdependence of nations."
Marx and Engels do not minimize the disruption and destruction attendant of
the global extension of Europe's self-proclaimed "civilization."
"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production,
by the immensely facilitated means of communications, draws all, even the
most barbaric, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its
commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese
walls. . . . It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the
bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce *what it calls
civilization* into their midst. . . . In one word, it creates a world after
its own image."
Indeed it does--and with ominous implications. It is precisely the
contemporary image of modern capitalism according to which the whole world
is being created, that of a globalized consumer culture, at once infinitely
alluring, savagely unequal, and seemingly unstoppable, that now threatens,
among other things, the ecological stability of our planet, giving new
currency to Eliot's chilling prediction.
But in an important sense Eliot's phrase misrepresents the current
situation. Barring a big-bang nuclear war, the human species is not going to
end anytime soon. Ecological degradation is not going to extinguish
humankind--as a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union
might have done. Our species, in overexploiting its resources and soiling
its nest, is not going to render the planet unlivable. Climate change,
increasing incidents of environmental diseases, declining food and water
supplies may cause massive amounts of human suffering, but none of these
factors threatens the species with extinction. Billions may die prematurely
(even more than now) and billions more may find their quality of life
deteriorate (even more than now), but billions will adapt and survive. We
should be wary of ecological doomsdayism--and of Left analyses that seek to
substitute ecological for economic crises in an otherwise unmodified theory
of socialist revolution.
So in once sense Eliot is wrong, but in another, equally important, sense
Eliot may prove to be right. The world may well end with a whimper--if by
"world" we mean, not our biological species, but the cultural world we who
are alive have inherited from our recent ancestors, with its modernist,
species-being dream of human happiness for all. At precisely the moment in
human history when we have the technological and organizational capacities
to approach this dream--not in the Utopian sense of guaranteeing happiness
for all, but it the non-Utopian sense of making it a reasonable aspiration
for every human being--the dream itself is being extinguished. Global
capital is triumphant and arrogant. Neither the poor nor the meek nor those
who hunger and thirst for justice are going to inherit the earth, it says.
Are you kidding? The earth will belong to the smart investors.
Will it? The arrogance of global capital is not without objective
foundation. Capitalism's economic scope and power have never been greater,
certainly not in this century, and its intellectual hegemony is still on the
ascendancy, as disillusioned, dispirited Leftists cash in their
revolutionary aspirations and now turn their attention to other matters.
But we should not succumb to what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has
termed "bankers' fatalism." Bourdieu notes that the economic determinism
that once infected Marxism has been taken over with a vengeance by the
prophets of the New World Order. This "neoliberal" determinism "ratifies the
spontaneous philosophy of the people who run the large multinationals and of
the agents of high finance. Relayed throughout the world by national and
international politicians, civil servants, and most of all the universe of
senior journalists--all more or less ignorant of the underlying mathematical
theology--is becoming a sort of universal belief, a new ecumenical
Bourdieu correctly observes that the fatalism of this new gospel serves to
redouble the force of the economic realities it supposedly represents.
Now clearly, this fatalism must be challenged. It must be more than
challenged. It must be defeated. Not just the neoliberal theology that
undergirds the bankers' fatalism, but--let us proclaim this openly--global
capitalism itself must be defeated. Resistance, which in fact is widespread,
is not enough. To change the world--which, let us be frank, is what must be
done--the forces of resistance must coalesce into a "counter-project."
This counter-project does not yet exit. Virtually all the concrete
resistance right now to global capital's neoliberal agenda is either
straightforwardly defensive (First World struggles to impede the dismantling
of social democracy) or attempts by Third World workers, women, peasants,
and indigenous minorities to achieve the gains that (some of) their First
World counterparts have already achieved (e.g., struggles for human rights,
worker rights, women's rights, minority self-determination). As important as
these struggles are, they do not amount to a counter-project.
An important component of the counter-project, a crucial component, is an
alternative vision--a plausible picture of how we as a species might live in
harmony with one another and with our fragile eco-system. This vision must
be ethically and psychologically appealing. It must be a vision capable of
inspiring the virtues of hope, courage, perseverance, and personal
responsibility, which will be necessary if the vision is ever to become a
This vision can no longer afford to be abstract. The failure of so many of
the socialist experiments of this century no longer permit such intellectual
luxury. Our vision must contain an elaborated conception of a
successor-system to capitalism, an orienting model that is specified
concretely enough to be rationally defensible as both economically viable
and ethically desirable. We must be able to assert with confidence that
capitalism as an economic system is technically obsolete, and that an
efficient, innovative, ecologically-sustainable democratic socialism is now
My own work, in *Against Capitalism* and elsewhere, has been largely
concerned with the question of the successor- system. It is my contention
that what I call Economic Democracy, a market economy that replaces wage
labor by worker-self-management and private investors by
democratically-accountable public investment banks, fulfills the above
I won't rehearse my arguments here. I do want to emphasize here that such a
model is only a *part* of an alternative vision. Relying as it does (as it
must) on democracy, the model, even if implemented, will not guarantee that
we as a species will *in fact* live in harmony with one another and with our
fragile eco-system. Workplace democracy introduced into a sexist, racist,
homophobic society could have sharply alienating consequences for many
workers. The pain of daily life could become worse, not better. Social
control of investment introduced into a society dominated by consumerist
values need not result in heightened ecological sensitivity. We could decide
to invest more, not less, in all-terrain vehicles and shopping malls.
Democracy is a necessary condition for the world we want, but it is by no
So we can see how vitally important to the counter- project are the current
struggles *against* racism, sexism and homophobia, *against* senseless
violence, rampant consumerism and environmental destruction, and *for* new
ways of living with one another and with nature. Without major advances
along these fronts, Economic Democracy, even if achieved, will not fulfill
Needless to say, there is no guarantee that a genuine counter-project will
develop and come to fruition. At present it is difficult to even *imagine*
the transition from capitalism to a new society beyond capitalism. Indeed,
this is a major lacuna in Left thinking that needs to be addressed. We need
to be able to say, not only where it is we want to go (which is difficult
enough), but how it is we propose to get there. The counter-project needs a
new theory of transition-- a new theory of "revolution."
We don't yet have such a theory, but I think we are now in position to
suggest its general contours. It seems clear to me that an adequate theory
will have to have several key features.
1. It will recognize that the old models of social revolution, drawing their
inspiration from the French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban Revolutions are
largely inappropriate to the world today, even in poor countries.
2. It will be animated by a more concrete telos than has been customary in
the past. It is not enough to say "Seize state power and establish
socialism." The concept of a successor system fits in here. We must be able
to say where it is we want to go before trying to say how we hope to get
3. The theory will emphasize the need for reform struggles now, before the
time is ripe for truly fundamental socio-economic changes. What we get, if
and when conjunctural historical forces open up space for genuine structural
transformation, will depend crucially on what we have already gotten--and on
who, during the course of many struggles, we have become.
4. The theory will underscore the need for diverse strategies. How we get to
where we want to go will depend crucially on where we happen to be. The
transition to a genuinely democratic socialism will necessarily be
different, depending on whether the country is rich or poor, whether the
country has undergone a socialist revolution in the past, and if so, the
degree to which a new capitalist class has come into being and succeeded in
5. An adequate theory of the transition from global capitalism to
democratic, sustainable socialism will doubtless stress the need for an
*international* social movement--which brings us back to Marx and Engels. I
suspect that the theory will call for something that looks rather like the
"communist" movement envisaged by Marx and Engels in *The Manifesto*.
Let me elaborate on this last point by recalling and commenting on some of
A. Communists do not comprise a separate political party opposed to other
working class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those
of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles
of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. 
This, we observe, is something very different from the Leninist model that
came to be hegemonic on the Left. There is no talk here of democratic
centralism, of a tightly organized, tightly disciplined party with an acute
sense of its doctrinal correctness.
B. In the national struggles of the proletarians of different countries,
[communists] point out and bring to the front the common interests of the
entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 
C. The proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise
to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself as the nation
. . . The first step in the revolution by the working class is to . . . win
the battle of democracy. 
Notice, although communism is envisaged as a international movement, Marx
and Engels do not call for the abolition of the nation-state, nor do they
declaim on the futility of national struggles. To the contrary, they insist
that the essential struggles must take place on precisely that terrain--and
can be won only insofar as genuine democracy is truly established.
D. In the beginning, this cannot be effected except . . . on the conditions
of bourgeois production, by means of measures, therefore, which seem
economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the
movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old
social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the
mode of production. 
We see here that Marx and Engels not only *endorse* a reform agenda, but see
such reforms as *unavoidable* as a means to radical transformation. (The ten
specific reforms urged upon "most advanced countries" are well worth a
careful look, but there's no space for that here.)
To summarize briefly: The conception of a revolutionary movement that
emanates from the pages of *The Manifesto* is something quite different from
the kinds of revolutionary movements that have in fact emerged in this
century. Marx and Engels advocate an international organization of committed
activists who share a more-or-less common global vision, who represent the
most progressive elements of all progressive organizations and parties, who
work primarily within the confines of their own nation-state, but who keep
the international dimensions of the struggle in focus, and who recognize
that many reforms are possible and desirable *before* global capitalism
gives way to socialist reconstruction.
We don't yet have a "new communist movement," nor an adequate theory of the
counter-project that would animate such a movement. Some of the theoretical
and practical pieces are in formation, but many others need to be developed.
Clearly there is much that needs to be done. Clearly, we have much work to
University of Loyola, Chicago
1. The Communist Manifesto, (London, Verso, 1998), pp. 39-40 Hobsbaum's
remark is on p. 17.
2. Pierre Bourdieu, "A Reasoned Utopia and Economic Fatalism," New Left
Review 227 (January-February, 1998): 126.
3. The Communist Manifesto, p. 50.
4. Manifesto, p. 51.
5. Manifesto, pp. 58, 60.
6. Manifesto, p. 60.
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