Empire on Lenin

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Thu Dec 6 20:16:12 MST 2001

--- Message Received ---
From: "Charles Brown" <CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Thu, 06 Dec 2001 11:56:07 -0500
Subject: Re: Empire on Lenin
Charles to begin with your last point first on Negri-Hardt:

"Do Hardt and Negri propose a strategy for fighting the "Empire", or do they surrender to it like Kautsky ? That seems the key question to me."

I keep changing my mind on this. There is nothing worse than theoretical pieces which insert "working class" as if this solved problems "Empire" would certainly not be accused of this. But is the concept missing from their "multitude"?

The problem I find is that the political points and those of direction seem so ill-defined and loose as to be virtually absent from them - so I would say based on this one book, it is more like Kautsky then Lenin. However, I don't think their audiance is us, but post-modernists so I am not absolute in my convictions on this point - for a variety of reasons not least their methodology I do not propose that "Empire" itself is criticial to us other than it covers the territory we need to explore.

On the more substantial part of your reply (which is difficult to summerise), the great irony appears to be the "success" of the 1917 (however this is qualified) lead to that concentration of imperialism that might properly be thought of as "ultra-imperialism" under conditions niether Lenin nor Kautsky could envisage.

If this is a fair summation, I find I am in agreement with it. In the sense that imperialism did not simply naturally evolve but had to under these circumstances (ie the inner tendencies did not simply express themselves) I would only add that history never travels in a straight line - that the tendencies within it always express themselves akwardly in the contingances of the moment and practically never without counter-vieling contradictions.

For instance, the role of the US is playing at the moment is counter to the tendency within "Ultra-imperialism" to a world civility for the international bourgeoisie to operate through. In fact, I can only understand the US actions as mostly driven by a resistence to becoming enmeshed in such international civility and because of its historic position most of the international bourgeoisie is dragged along with it on this.

It could well be that US Global Hegemony will suceed in resisting this aspect of "ultra-imperialism" but the future is looking thereby as  the barbarism that Marx foresaw as the future of capitalism freed from proletarian socialism. In either case "Ultra-imperialism" (however we want to lable it) is working out different sets of contradictions then previous imperialism - in otherwords, the only thing we do know is where Imperialist contradictions have not entirely run their course the dominant contradictions have to be understood on a different basis.

As for the qualification of the persistence albeit of less geopolitical import of socialism in China, Vietnam, Korea and Cuba, insofar as they stand outside US hegemony they stand in a long list of enemies for unilateral actions for the US. Bush has been very clear in his "for us or against us" approach he aims to turn the US into a global Kingdom and the White House into its court.

Again there are obvious counter-vieling tendencies within capital, but these at the moment appear very weak indeed. What I was trying to say about understanding the different conditions that prevail, is that these tendencies have to be harnessed for the working class and as the world is becoming the dominion of the one power, national liberation looses its meaning (that is national liberation as a struggle against imperialism), all countries (even the US) have an equal interest in removing the rogue state as a superpower and providing a means for international civility to emerge.

Now I specifically don't say international socialism as a cure all, but international civility where the big bourgeoisie will have some interest, and I make no bones about calling this a reform. It is an achievable objective, it is no accident that the US needs to destroy international treaties, has to defy the UN and cower it into submission, has to exploit its alliance system to simply and unquestioningly follow the leader, and has to resort to force not only as its primary weapon, but apparently its only weapon. It is not simply that the US is acting Imperialistically, it is that it it is struggling, like Gulliver, against the lillputian threads which bind it whenever it is not militaristically striding the world.

To me this is the key to the present moment - we can help restrain the gaint, not by protesting the imperialistic designs, but by re-enforcing the desire for a more law abiding international civility - in this we will find many allies and in this the working class has a definite and immediate interest (it is being asked to do the slaughtering and also be the slaughtered) but other classes also have an immediate interest in this, including elements of the big bourgeoisie.

In terms of classic imperialism such an apporach was mere pie in the sky, afterall any form of international civility could only be a cover for imperialistic designs for other means - this will also be the case now but it is the degree which becomes important. To restrain the US, tie it down into the mire of internationalism which Bush is stuggling so hard against, will not provide proletarian socialism but will provide a better ground for it, after all what Bush is promising and has gone to some extent in providing is a form of fascism which will be used to bash working class struggle whenever its head appears.

Sorry to be so long winded, but simple calls for international civility will mean less than nothing unless coupled with democratic reforms of the states that make that civility and the fueling of worker's struggles (on any number of fronts) to make such a democratic movement real. In otherwords, the particular contradictions seem to point in the same direction, a new international civility based on democratised states guiding economic development to proletarian ends (these three things have to be seen as a single movement, as separate struggles they each fail).

I take very seriously the idea that proletarian interest must become the leading interests of the whole of society in order to realise proletarian socialism, traditionally we have discounted this and avoided the consequence that this means leading other classes (including intitially the bourgeoisie). In classic imperialism such a break was needed from its logic (national liberation) that such an idea was all but absurd in practice. I believe however, that this is not so today - in fact, rather then believing that ultra-imperialist Empire has arrived fully formed and we struggle within it for a better deal (Hardt and Negri), I believe the facts show that the tendency towards "Empire" has been at the moment thwarted by the history of Imperialism, that progressing under its own steam these contradictions will lead to barbarism on a world scale.

Ironically, the main struggle would seem to be for the working class to help realise "Empire" in order to grow past it, our struggle is therefore not against "Empire" but against the emergance of barabarianism which is the legacy of past imperialism.

Hence I am in great sympathy with your sentence:

"Anyway , this was a sort of "negative" dialectic. Imperialism  used the geopolitical dynamic of the first socialist revolutions to overcome them ( Shucks !!)"

I would add another negative dialectic, the working class now has to use capital's international character to overcome it.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

PS Charles, I think your point about Negri-Hardt is essentially correct, in a sense they have become Kautsky re-invented, but in this I see the challenge (as they have gained a large audience outside our movement) to do to them what Lenin did to Kautsky should be our aim, but without the polemic that would counter-productive - there is a chance here to win over a large section of the intellegensia (I don't know much of Negri-Hardt but this service should not be dismissed) plus refine our own concepts, however we seem to be letting the chance slip from our fingers (yet again).

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