Marxism in rich countries

Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Wed Jun 6 14:43:15 MDT 2001


>>> juliohuato at hotmail.com 06/06/01 02:04PM >>>
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But, whatever our judgment of Lenin's theory of imperialism is, if we are to
remain in the tradition of scientific socialism and avoid utopianism or
anarchism, it is indispensable to re-think seriously the prospects of
revolutionary Marxism and the communist struggle in the rich capitalist
countries.

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CB: As we say, workers of the West , it's our turn.

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Insofar as this view is attributed to Marx, it is mistaken.  Gerald Cohen
(Marx's Theory of History) has clarified that the term 'material' production
or reproduction is to be paired with his notion of 'social' production or
reproduction.  'Material' production is not to be contrasted with 'ideal'
production.  In brief, 'material' production refers to the technical aspect
of production and 'social' production to the social relations in which it
takes place.

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CB: What would be an example of non-material production ?  What type of production has non-material , technical aspects ?


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If productive forces are labor power, then they prominently include (as the
characteristically human attribute of labor) human intelligence, foresight,
imagination, creativity, and emotional engagement.  Productive forces are
'material' in the sense that they represent our power over nature, but they
are not 'material' in a sense opposed to 'ideal'.  The productive force of
labor is conspicuously IDEAL.  For instance, scientific knowledge (to the
extent that it is applied or applicable to direct production) is a
productive force.  Knowledge is IDEAS.  Etc.

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CB: Soviet and other lit use the distinction "predominantly mental vs predominantly physical labor " for as you say , all labor involves thinking.

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The issue then hinges on what is meant by the production of 'use values'.
Anwar Shaikh (Measuring the Wealth of Nations) has shown that use values are
'useful effects' in general.  Therefore, they should not be confused with
physically tangible objects.  A host of productive activities do not yield
products that are tangible objects (haircuts, transportation, genetic data,
etc.) because the product does not exist in tangible form or its production
coincides with the act of consumption.  Excluding labor spent under
sub-standard technical conditions and therefore wasted, non-productive labor
under capitalism is labor spent in (1) the change of forms (pushing
commodity exchange) and (2) social and political control (in the workplace
or outside).  Supervisory labor that is technically required under
capitalist production is productive labor in this sense.

While a lot of hair-splitting can be done here, the thing is that when we
take this into consideration, the collective producer (regardless of the
color of their collars) remains an absolute majority of the adult-and-able
population in rich capitalist societies.

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CB: How about WAGE-LABORERS, as 85 % of the adult pop.  ?

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  In
accordance with this view, most workers in the rich capitalist societies are
proletarians.

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CB: Agree

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Marxists who perceive the working class in the rich capitalist countries as
spoiled by higher real incomes, and better working and living conditions,
overestimate the ability of wealth to satisfy human needs, particularly to
please and pacify the human condition of people who are systematically
engaged in shaping up the world with their hands and minds.  IMO, it is
inherent to Marxism the belief that our outlook stems not so much from our
consumption activities as it does from our productive activities, from our
engagement as workers.  If we believe that the acquisition and consumption
of modest amounts of wealth render workers submissive, vain, and powerless,
then we have abandoned the spirit of Marxism.  [The counterpart of this is
the idealization of poverty as a revolutionary engine, the denial of its
demoralizing effects.]

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CB: So your explanation for the failure of revolution in the rich countries is that it is entirely the fault of the socialists and communists , who lost the propaganda war, the battle of ideas with the bourgeoisie to win the hearts and minds of the working classes of those countries ? You give no credence to the material basis explanation ( booty from imperialism generating opportunism in the wc in rich countries) for this given not only by Lenin , but by Marx and Engels ? The latter discussed the "bourgeoisification" of much of the British working class based on imperialist booty.

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I have alluded in another posting to Lenin's frank assessment of the
historical, revolutionary role of urban proletarians in Russia, in spite of
its smallness, which contrasted with a large peasantry.  The specific weight
of proletarians in the Russian society depended crucially on the position
they occupied in the economic structure.  Their ability to transform society
(not only to paralyze and dislocate but mainly to resist and build) was a
potency invested on them by their role in social production.

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CB: Weren't these "urban proletarians" overwhelmingly industrial proletarians , too ?  Giving an empirical basis for strategy of industrial concentration ( not exclusive attention) by the Leninists in the rich countries ?

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Analogously, in rich capitalist societies nowadays, the educated and highly
skilled segments of the working class occupied in dynamic and strategic
areas of social production are to be regarded as the potential leaders of
the social revolutions to come.  Marxists have an obligation to investigate
their living and working conditions, their interests and view of the world,
and engage with them.  The challenge is to do it in a way that is consistent
with workers' solidarity, the support of the most vulnerable and
impoverished sectors of the working class, and the assistance to the direct
producers in the poorer societies.

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CB: What is your evidence that communists in rich countries have not investigated and engaged educated and highly skilled segments of the working class ?  They have. It would be more pertinent to advise on why those investigations and engagements have failed.

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An undeniable practical problem is that highly educated workers are 'harder'
to persuade and organize.

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CB: Why do you say this ? What is the evidence and argument for this claim ? More highly educated workers are more likely to have read some Marxism-Leninism, studied science ( a basis for understanding the Marxist worldview), etc.

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For good or ill, the further advance of Marxism in the rich capitalist world
is to be measured by a triple standard: (1) How effective they become in
attracting educated workers in the dynamic sectors of the economy in the
rich capitalist countries,

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CB: Are you saying that the "educated workers" are the most revolutionary sector of the working class in rich countries , and not the "industrial workers" ?  If so, where has this strategy been demonstrated ?  Or is it a hypothesis ?

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 (2) how effective they become in protecting and
defending the rights, living and working conditions of impoverished and
vulnerable workers in the traditional sectors of the economy and poor direct
producers in the 'Third World', and (3) how effective they become in
engaging in a revolutionary political struggle in the rich capitalist
countries.

It's a path set with tensions and contradictions, but the anti-imperialist
strategy can only bring more insignificance and irrelevance to revolutionary
Marxism as a method and worldview.  Anti-imperialism is a democratic
ingredient in the class struggle of workers in the whole world, it is in
itself an important struggle, but it cannot be the core of the strategy
against capitalism.

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CB: Are you saying the core strategy must be to concentrate on  radicalizing educated workers in the rich countries ?



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