Marxism in rich countries

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Wed Jun 6 17:56:36 MDT 2001

Charles Brown <CharlesB at>:

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

Marx used the terms 'material production' and 'material reproduction'.  Some
Marxists (e.g., Soviet Marxists) interpreted this as if it excluded
(predominantly) mental activity, e.g., the production of ideas.  But the
production of ideas, to the extent that they are useful and expand the
opportunities of human achievement, is production of wealth.  For instance,
as a product of human labor, each ton of corn in the US Midwest embeds not
only organic stuff but also a lot of knowledge.  This type of useful ideas
are basically non-tangible wealth.  The production of knowledge (e.g.,
genetic research in Celera Genomics) falls into this category.

[Of course, knowledge doesn't exist in the Platonic world of ideas.  It is
embedded in symbols, printed material, electronic signals, etc. and they are
material in a very physical sense.  But symbols, signals, and materials are
carriers of knowledge with secondary significance.  It is knowledge which is
useful and not its material appearance.  Genetic sequencing and mapping IS
the product (or, if you prefer, its core).  The bits and bytes are the
physical envelope.]

My point is that the category 'material production' is not to be paired with
'ideal' or 'mental production' (predominantly, of course, since all
production involves labor, which involves the mind), but with the 'social'
aspects of production instead.

If we don't get this clear, then it appears that technological progress by
itself refutes the predictions of Marxism. Knowledge, 'information', 'data',
whatever... seems to be an increasingly prominent ingredient in today's
products.  If this means that the historical agency of communism is losing
social ground, then we're fried.  My point is that the Marxist method
doesn't entail this.  The opposite is true, IMO.

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

Right.  I think the distinction may be important for some purposes, but not
to regard 'mental' workers as second-class members of the working class or,
worse yet, to deny them membership or look at them with suspicion.  IMO,
Stalinists and Maoists (say, during the 'cultural revolution') fostered this
type of suspicion against these layers of the working class.  'Predominantly
physical labor' is as one-sided as 'predominantly mental labor'.  Some
'intellectual workers' may be inclined to share the values of the petty
bourgeoisie (this is not to be ignored), but their position in the economic
structure is entirely similar to the position of 'physical workers'.  The
social and economic role of 'intellectuals' in social formations where the
capitalist mode of production is underdeveloped needs to be examined
separately.  I'm talking about rich capitalist countries.

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

I don't know.  It depends on the country.  I regard wage workers as members
of the working class, whether they are engaged in productive activities or
non-productive activities.  The term 'productive' or 'nonproductive' has no
immediate moral connotation and I try to use it in the sense of Marx's in
the Theories.  Of course, nonproductive activities may be socially necessary
in a given society.

>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.

In the first paragraphs of my posting, I mention that there are deep social
roots of the rift between Marxism and workers' movement in the rich
countries.  I'm just trying to focus how theoretical confusion on the issue
of historical agency contributed to the rift.  So, it is likely that there's
something along the lines of Engels and even Lenin's workers' aristocracy,
but IMO not the point of generating an antagonism between workers in the
'core' and the 'periphery'.  The working class is heterogeneous.  We have to
live with that.  Heterogeneity doesn't make things easy, but it cannot by
itself be the source of antagonism within the international wage working
class from a historical perspective.  The fundamental commonality of
interests (they are all exploited by capital) subsists in spite of the
heterogeneity.  IMO, at least partially, Lenin's theory of imperialism has
been used as an alibi to give up on the workers' movement in the 'core'
countries.  I'm thinking of the attitude of Stalin and the CPSU towards the
trade-unions in Western Europe and the US.  In a way, it was the story of
the fox that couldn't reach the grapes and decided they were sour anyway.

Notice that I'm not saying that the heterogeneity is to be ignored or
denied.  In fact, I've been trying to insist on the opposite.  IMO, it
doesn't help much to identify or conflate the working conditions of
automobile workers in Detroit or software developers in Silicon Valley with
those of jail inmates forced to work under the supervision of the guards
just because the two realities coexist and are mingled in a social

>CB: Weren't these [Russian] "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 ?

Indeed.  But Lenin's agenda was one of distrust in the 'spontaneous'
workers' movement (which is for sure related to the 'backward' conditions of
Russia).  [Lenin, Trotsky, etc. used the term 'backward'.]  So, the control
of the political activity fell entirely on the 'professional
revolutionaries'.  And I'm talking here about the party under Lenin.   Under
Stalin, it was something else.  But even Lenin's organization was entirely
at odds with the tradition of the 2nd International (under the auspices of
Engels), not to mention with the views of the radical wing (Luxembourg,
Liebnecht).  Luxembourg criticized Lenin's organizational blueprint.

My point here is that we should not shy away from deciding what sectors of
the collective producer are better positioned, better enabled to advance
communism in the existing conditions.  And focus on connecting with them.
By exposing themselves to these sectors of the working class in the rich
countries, Marxists will have to change -- to change their views, beliefs,
and practices.  But change is what the communist movement is all about.

>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.

I'm not an authority.  I may be wrong here.  I just fail to see evidence of
this connection, even if failed.  There has to be a lot of iterations, trial
and error in this.  Now, you say the attempts have failed.  I'd like to know
more about this.

>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.

What I have in mind is my own experience and discussions.  In Mexico, the
tendency in the political organization I've been involved with has been to
socially (even regionally) surround the industrial and modern sectors of the
proletariat.  The reason, Marxists would need to take over the leadership in
those sectors of the proletariat only after a lot of struggle, since
capitalists, the state, and the 'charros' (corrupt leaders) were going to
fight fiercely to retain control.  So the original idea was to focus first
on fostering a students' movement, then a peasants' movement, then a
neighborhood movement, and once enough strength had been accrued, approach
the workers' movement from a position of power.  I'm simplifying, of course.
  Things turned out to be much more complicated and mixed.  But you get the
idea.  The ability to disrupt gets developed, but the ability to tilt the
political scale and have a feasible chance to build a sustainable
alternative lags behind, way behind.  Capitalism keeps the upper hand.  The
paradoxical thing is that the more developed capitalist production, the more
capitalism retains the upper hand.  Mutatis mutandis, it's similar to the
anti-imperialist strategy: Focus on the weakest link, the 'core' will fall
when it is deprived of the blood from the 'periphery'.  IMO, the roundabout
way may seem easier at first, but it is less economical over time.  I'm open
to discussing these issues.  They are not clear in my head.  Anyway, this is
contrary to Lenin's approach, which was: Focus on industrial, urban workers.
  At the end, poor peasants will be better served this way.

In brief, I don't disagree with what you say.

>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 ?

No. Educated workers are NOT the most revolutionary sector of the working
class in rich countries.  I don't think that the revolutionary character of
a class or group in a class depends only on their position in the economic
structure.  It depends on their position on the social structure, on their
consciousness, beliefs, traditions, history, etc.  The revolutionary
character is to be acquired.  It doesn't preexist the struggle.

All I'm saying is that if Marxists want to find the most effective and
economical way to promote social change, it makes a lot of sense to focus on
the segments of the working class empowered by their very position in the
economic structure to induce change.  Of course, it may turn out that they
are not fundamentally interested in such change because of reasons beyond
the mere position in the economic structure.  But this is not clear to me.
So, prima facie, Marxists should be interested in connecting with them.
>From the point of view of the economic structure, they are exploited and
their interests are fundamentally opposed to those of capitalists.  So there
must be a way for Marxists to connect.  At this speculative level, we can't
really say much more.

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

I wouldn't oppose that.  Now, when I say 'educated' I don't necessarily mean
it in an academic way.  I use in the broader sense of the term 'education'.
Another term I can use is 'highly productive'.

Now, I'm not sure 'radicalizing' is the way.  I mean, if their
radicalization coincides with the broader radicalization of the working
class, of course.  But if not, their radicalization -- if it is to mean
isolation from the rest of the working class is not desirable.  Now,
radicalization of sectors of the working class does not happen by decree,
obviously.  But bottom line, radical social change has to be effected by the
workers (in mass).  This entails a profound transformation in the political
behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and day to day practices of millions of smart,
independently-minded, tough, mature, real people.  The slogan of the
International, the emancipation of workers is to be carried out by the
workers themselves, is to be taken seriously.  Marxists need to connect with
the masses at the level they actually are, help them unleash their
tremendous potential.  Wishful thinking or fox-versus-grapes approaches
don't help.  That's why I insist that Marxists -- by exposing themselves to
their fundamental task (bridging the Marxist worldview and the workers'
movement) -- end up transforming themselves radically.

How do you help these masses of workers to educate themselves?  Are you
going to try to persuade them to engage in what we traditionally call
'revolutionary', 'anti-imperialist' politics?  What's going to be the
attitude towards the legal system, the constitution, the state in the rich
countries?  In the current state of affairs, there's not much to lose.
Someone needs to break the isolation.  Those who are aware of it in the
first place.  Obviously, it has to be the Marxists who take the steps.

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