Reply to Patrick Bond

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 9 09:00:22 MST 2001


On Sun, 9 Dec 2001 07:33:29 +0200, Patrick Bond wrote (referring to 
Sam Gindin and the RTL):

>That's not the impression I had from an
>afternoon chatting. I don't think he has any
>investment at all there. He's been one of the
>key comrades trying to link the best in the
>Canadian labour movement to the kids in the
>streets.

Patrick, the mass movement is well and good. But Marx and Engels were 
devoted to the construction of revolutionary parties based on the 
working class. Sometimes we tend to give this short shrift here 
because so many of the everyday posters to the list like Anthony from 
Bogota have had decades of experience building such parties, number 
one. And, number two, we are loath to be mistaken for the 
self-declared vanguard parties who have made a mockery of what Marx, 
Engels and Lenin stood for.

That being said, the discussion you were having with me offlist and 
the one over the RTL reflect some differences over the goal of 
Marxists. On one hand we can provide a clear-headed analysis of the 
economic and social situation in a given country, like the kind that 
you, Marty Hart-Landsberg or Gerard Greenfeld provide. Or on the 
other, we can help to move a mass movement forward by applying 
lessons learned in previous struggles. This means explaining to 
people why black bloc provocations must be avoided, etc.

But beyond all that there is an overarching concern that I tried to 
get across to Ben Cashdan and to which Danny Schechter was reacting 
to in such a heated manner. This has to do with the fundamental 
insight of Marx, namely that our goal as a movement is to fight for 
the proletarian dictatorship. I think that's the gist of what Henry 
was arguing for, even though he was bending the stick somewhat by 
trying to de-fetishize the notion of democracy. I think it is worth 
it to do so, since there is no question that sectors of our movement, 
like the SR editors, tend to be somewhat confused over this question.

For instance, the Leys-Panitch piece in the 1998 "The Communist 
Manifesto Now", which is titled "The Political Legacy of the 
Manifesto," states:

"And here the historic failure of Bolshevism weighs like a nightmare 
on the brains of the living. The Russian and Chinese revolutions and 
their aftermaths dominated our century; their brute achievements in 
face of the bitterest odds, the courage and intelligence they 
mobilised and consumed, the hopes they raised and ultimately 
disappointed, the immense human costs — the memory of all this is now 
an extra barrier that the anti-capitalist struggle has to overcome. 
Giving our goals their proper name — full democracy — will not 
prevent them being called communist. But the effect of that 
association will not forever be negative if we can figure out how to 
make our commitment to democracy genuine and our goals for it 
viable."

In other words, since proletarian revolution has been such a 
"nightmare", we have to concentrate on democracy. If we have dry runs 
of "radical democracy" under capitalism, then maybe things won't turn 
out so shitty. On page 38, they explain what they have in mind: job 
rotation, collective managements, representative supervisory and 
executive boards... Methinks that is not what Marx had in mind.

They also tip their hat to the 'socialised' information systems and 
institutions of the kind proposed by SR editor Diane Elson. I first 
heard about Elson from Henwood in the course of some debate about 
whether socialism was feasible. He called upon Elson as some kind of 
authority on the need to establish "democratic" reforms of the world 
finance system. To put it as succinctly as possible, Elson is a 
market socialist, just as Henwood was when he wrote "Wall Street." As 
we all know, he has since mutated into the prophet of the 
maquiladora.

Elson writes in the 2000 SR "Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias":

"The scenario I envision does have markets in which goods and 
services are brought and sold and markets in which labour power is 
bought and sold — so what is to prevent collectively-owned corporate 
property, such as public enterprises and workers co-operatives, from 
behaving like capitalist enterprises, and seeking to commodity more 
and more of life and to make as much money as possible? Without any 
wider social accountability outside the enterprise, such enterprises 
would be free to behave like capitalists, in so far as they could 
retain and distribute surplus income; or could reinvest their cash in 
new activities. The criteria of success would still be in terms of 
making money, and satisfaction of human needs would only enter the 
process indirectly through the mediation of buying and selling."

Whenever you see the word "scenario," it is a sure tip-off that you 
are dealing with the kind of blueprint approach to socialism that 
Marx avoided like the plague and which became popular during the 
1990s when intellectuals like Elson, Roemer and Nove were trying to 
concoct schemas which would avoid the "planning" nightmares of Russia 
that Leys and Panitch alluded to. However, this type of solution 
fails to truly understand what happened in the USSR. Planning was 
hobbled by Stalin's repression of all the top statisticians, 
engineers and economists during repeated purges. Once such purges 
were completed, vast projects such as the Dneiper dam were carried 
out by sheer diktat and without regard to feasibility, resource 
allocation or environmental consequences. And least of all, without 
regard to the health or safety of workers. All this obviously took 
place under the gun of imperialism and perhaps Bukharin or Trotsky, 
whose followers were victimized by Stalin, would have done the same 
thing in his place. In any case, to assume that more "rehearsal" 
under capitalism, as Leys, Panitch and Elson urge would preempt this 
is just foolish.

However, the most grievous error in the SR attempt to come up with an 
autopsy of 20th century Bolshevik experiments is the omission of 
Cuba, the only country that represents a direct tie to the living 
traditions of the USSR of the 1920s, before grave distortions put 
their stamp on the country. I am not sure why the SR editors display 
such apparent disdain of Cuba. Could it be Great Northern Chauvinism? 
I don't know. In any case, the 1991 SR "Communist Regimes: the 
Aftermath" fails to have a single article on Cuba.

In distinction to the "radical democracy"/market socialist nostrums 
of the SR editors, the more we study the Cuban revolutionary movement 
and the society it produced, the better off our movement will be. If 
only the SACP and Joe Slovo had not lost its nerve and forsaken the 
"dictatorship of the proletariat." If only instead they had tried to 
figure out ways to advance the revolution after the fall of apartheid 
in the direction set out by Cuban revolutionaries in 1960... Perhaps 
the world would look a lot different than it does today. Yes, as 
Danny Schechter pointed out, the conditions are less favorable today 
than they were in 1955 or 1965. But if we are waiting for more 
favorable circumstances to bubble up, we might as well call it a day 
and take up folk dancing instead.

-- 
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 12/09/2001

Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org



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