inevitability

Jurriaan Bendien j.bendien at SPAMwolmail.nl
Sat Dec 30 14:57:21 MST 2000


Charles, I know what I wrote, and what you wrote. I realise that the
Stalinist world view can be propped up with selective quotation from Marx,
and it is precisely in the nature of the Stalinist mind to do that. Marx's
and Engels's "gravedigger" formula is based on the idea that the
accumulation and concentration of capital goes hand in hand with the
increase in wage and salary earners, to the extent that competition and
mergers reduce an increasing number of employers and self-employed to
ordinary wage slavery and to the extent that it becomes difficult to earn
an income by any other means than waged labour. This has proved broadly
correct as historical trend; if you include the semi-proletariat there are
something like close to a billion wage and salary earners today (I don't
have exact estimates handy but I imagine something like 900 million). But
this development was not an "inevitability" in fact Engels at one point
said "we shall not let it go that far" (i.e. we will overthrow capitalism
before a global capitalism purified of the past modes of production exist).
And from this it does not yet follow that the bourgeoisie creates its own
gravediggers, that is just a political conjecture phrased in rhetorical
terms. Apart from the fact that the bourgeoisie also reproduces itself
globally, the vast numerical increase of wage and salary earners creates
all sorts of new stratifications and divisions within the broad class of
wage and salary earners. In fact the term working class, apart from its
sociological or economic use, isn't all that useful any more as a political
category when wage and salary earners comprise up to 90 percent of the
population. It isn't very useful as a general category when workers in the
advanced capitalist countries earn 80 times more than in some developing
countries and have a completely different lifestyle. And as E.P. Thompson
emphasised, contra Althusser, the working class is not an "it" or an army
looking for Marxist generals to lead it.
The working classes may in fact be their own grave diggers in view of the
looming ecological problems facing us now and in the next 200 years, or it
may attain a "phyrric victory". So anyway I don't think "the victory of the
working class is inevitable" and I don't share the Stalinist interpretation
of historical materialism on almost any issue, even though I remain
optimistic about the possibilities for a liveable socialism.
In part, Marx's own rhetoric about "inexorable and inevitable tendencies"
and inevitable developments has to do with his Hegelian background and with
the scientism of the 19th century, from which he never breaks free; he was
a man of his time.  Stalinist rhetoric about historical inevitability is
more a way of saying "we - the CC of the CPSU - march in step with the laws
of history, and all resistance is useless". And of course any politician
likes to have history on his side ! (When I lived in New Zealand, there was
actually an old Stalinist there called Bill McAra who published a book
called "Laws of the socialist revolution in New Zealand"). As Terry
Eagleton observes once again in his Marxist primer "Marx and Freedom", if
socialism is an inevitable outcome of history, why shouldn't we just sit
back and do nothing ?

Cheers

J.






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