no apology

Jurriaan Bendien j.bendien at SPAMwolmail.nl
Sun Dec 31 13:44:18 MST 2000


Carol writes:

If we are going to fix the "blame" on anyone
>it should be the Second International, with the obsession of so many
>at that time with "evolution."

I am not concerned with laying blame, and there is a world of difference
between Kautsky and Stalin. The steady growth of the political labour
movement around the turn of the 20th century did indeed produce views of a
steady unstoppable evolution towards socialism led by the social democratic
parties. Even so those views are a far cry from the Stalinist monolithism
and diamat. It is true however that the Stalinist concept of socialist
construction owed a lot to the Second International concept of what
socialism means, specifically the total statification of production. In a
certain way, the Stalinist regime was the implementation of the social
democratic state without popular democracy.

>The (necessary) implication of your beginning
>with a reference to Stalin, moreove, is that any position held by Stalin
>is a distortion of Marxism.

I don't see how that logically follows at all. I used to own a copy of the
Stalin Collected Works at one time, and you could find ideas in it which
were quite unexceptional from the point of view of the Marxist ABC
(particularly when you forget about the context in which he wrote it).
Nevertheless I hate Stalin's guts.

>Stalin's
>argument that language is *not* part of the base, *not* part of the
>forces of production, *not* part of the superstrucure, is an important
>argument -- and this view of language must be held in some form even
>by those, such as me, who have decided that the base/superstructure
>metaphor is a bad metaphor.

It seems an odd interpretation to me. As Ernest Mandel pointed out in an
article of his, "Labour and the capacity for advanced communication are the
two most important characteristics of people as social beings from a
Marxist standpoint. Social labour is impossible without advanced, mutual
human communication, which presupposes the capacity to use structured
linguistic tools, for the formation of concepts and for the development of
consciousness. As materialists we know that the capacity for more than
rudimentary communication - which is also found among animals - is based on
the compulsion to participate in social production for a livelihood. The
indissoluble connection between labour and communication means, among other
things, that as Engels says ...we simply cannot get away from the fact that
everything that sets men acting must find its way through their brains.."
etc. [E. Mandel, "Anticipation and hope as categories of historical
materialism", my own translation of the 1980 article].  He makes a very
similar point in "Why I am a Marxist" which I translated for the book "The
Legacy of Ernest Mandel" (Verso press), page 233.
If language is an aspect of labour, it is also an aspect of the base and of
the superstructure. Anybody who is familiar with computers knows that
language can also be a real productive force.
The base/superstructure metaphor is perfectly legitimate provided it is not
made to do things that it isn't designed to do, and provided it is not
viewed statically, but within the movement of time. Marx is thinking of a
society as a moving social totality within a given historical epoch.
Actually Perry Anderson gives an excellent summary of that metaphor in his
book "Arguments with English Marxism" somewhere, near page 50 from memory
where he discusses the problem of social order en social change in relation
to Sartre, Thompson and Althusser.
I think the base/superstructure metaphor is essential to Marxism because,
to rephrase Mandel,  Marxism precisely tries to explain how ideas arise
from (re)production of material life, become disconnected from that
process, react back on it, and what determines this interaction. For an
example, how computers change the popular consciousness and patterns of
social behaviour.

Cheers

J.






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