British Marxists on Seattle Protests

Philip L Ferguson PLF13 at
Wed Dec 15 15:40:52 MST 1999

>David W:
>Why should radicals, young or otherwise, be uninspired if they find out
>that that the working class is weak? And why should we be afraid to tell

>Paul B:
>What they would be uninspired about (or probably more correctly
>dissillussioned with) would be Marxists who's lead-in to a story on the
>biggest, most dynamic protests in "the belly-of-the-beast" for some time,
>is........wait for it.....
>.......that the protest showed the weakness of the working class.
>Yes, as I wrote previously, we agree that the working class is weak, and
>we shouldn't be afraid of saying so....but the WW flips to the other side
>by seeing possibly the most inspiring event in the US in a while as the
>correct time to outline this.

Paul, the problem here is that it is precisely because the Seattle protest
was the biggest and most news-covered protest in recent years in the USA,
that it was *especially* important to point out the weakness of the working

After all, there would little reason in taking a rock-throwing protest of 5
people in Hickville, Oregon, which no-one hears about, as the time to make
this point.

Moreover, think about what the union contingents at Seattle were saying:
they wanted protectionist measures for American industry.  This certainly
shows the weakness of the working class - in this case, and most
importantly, the *political* weakness of the class.

You seem to think that a moderate sized body of workers demonstrating is
automatically a good thing.  Never mind the politics, look at the size.
Well, size really ain't important in this case.  If thousands of workers in
the major imperialist country on earth are demonstrating in support of
American nationalism, I would get excited alright - excited that this is a
very dangerous development!!  And, as I say above, precisely the time when
it is *most important* to make the point about the weakness of the working
class at present.

PaulB to DavidW:
>Now, I don't think you or I would give ANY support to anti-immigrant
>protests. >So i think you are comparing apples and oranges.

I didn't get the impression that Mark Fischer's article was suggesting
critical support to the Seattle protests.  I took it that he was saying
communists should intervene, which is quite different.  Intervention does
not imply support.  Of course, a lot of the left, including often the DSP,
does not understand this.

It is one of those bizarre, illogical positions, where the dots just don't
join up, that the left assumes you can only intervene or engage people if
you support, or 'critically support' (the stock Trot phrase which,
translated into reality, usually means 'tail-end'), some organisation,
movement or protest.

It's a funny old world, because the magazine I'm involved in - 'revolution'
in New Zealand - is read by a number of people in both the Alliance and
Labour Party, including MPs and high office holders who have subs - and we
don't in any way support either of these parties or even call for a vote
for either of them.  If you have an intelligent argument to make about
contemporary politics, as I think our mag does, then you can and will
engage people without in any way having to offer political support -
critical or otherwise - to crappy politics.

It is also funny because the Trot groups here, which all 'critically
support' Labour and the Alliance, regard us as ultraleft sectarians and yet
we probably have more contact, and are read by more people who are members
or supporters of those two parties, than anyone on the left.  People in
Labour and the Alliance read our mag because it has something intelligent
to say that they won't find anywhere else on the left here, least of all in
the publications of groups which talk revolution and vote Labour.

PaulB to DavidW:
>it is THROUGH the struggle that people's politics and perspectives can
>develop, >and indeed there may be greater openings for socialists. That is
>why the >impressive fight and enthusiasm of the Seattle demonstrators is

this is, when you think about it, quite a strange idea too.  Yet it is one
of those strange ideas that has been repeated so much by a lot of the left,
especially Trotskyists and middle-of-the-road varieties of Stalinism, that
it has become accepted as a self-evident truth.  Yet from a Marxist point
of view it makes no sense at all.

Marx points out, and it is fundamental to his analysis of capitalism, that
the laws of motion of capital are *entirely different* from the surface
appearances.  You cannot understand the laws of motion of capital by simple
observation, nor by personal experience.  As Marx argues, if you could
there would be no need for science.

The reality is that people draw a host of different conclusions from
personal experience and struggle.  Often workers will draw quite
reactionary conclusions.  If a factory in an imperilaist country is shut
because it can't compete with cheap labour in Third World sweatshops,
workers will usually draw the conclusion that there should be import
controls.  This is a *reactionary conclusion*.

One of the things that really brought home to me the problem with the
notion that struggle makes people into revolutionaries was my *direct
experience* in Ireland from 1986-1994.  In Ireland you had nearly 30 years
of struggle that was about as revolutionary in form as you could get, and
unlike nationalism in the imperialist world, the struggle in ireland was
genuinely radical, genuinely came from the masses (certainly in the early
years) and fought British imperilaism to a standstill.  So far, so good.
But that struggle has been contained and sold down the river very easily in
the past 4 or 5 years.  The leadership of the republican Movement would
never have been able to get away with the sell-out if it was true that
struggle generates revolutionary politics.

The problem in Ireland was that the struggle, fantastic as it was in many
ways, never - and could never - generate the necessary analysis and
*political programme* for moving beyond revolutionary nationalism to
revolutionary socialism.

Lastly, I want to quote my favourite piece from Gramsci.  I don't have the
exact quote to hand, but it is along the lines that the old is dying but
the new cannot be born and inbetween there is an interregnum in which all
kinds of morbid symptoms appear.  I would suggest that a chunk of what the
DSP gets excited and supportive about these days is, unfortunately, the
morbid symptoms.

Philip Ferguson

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