Posted to Progressive Sociologists Network by Alan Spector
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Jun 16 10:40:12 MDT 2001
Louis Proyect's comments [on Hardt-Negri] help push the discussion about
reform, revolution, Marxism, and "post-Marxism" forward.
The false dichotomy of
"social welfare liberalism" posing as "ultra-radical, decentralized,
anti-state, pro-grassroots, self-determination, quasi-anarchism (and often
a touch of pseudo-radical post-modernism and/or identity politics)
mechanically supporting a "stages" theory of revolution which admires the
efficiency and concentration of advanced capitalism in the hope that
capitalism will "modernize the world" and marshall all its forces in such a
concentrated way that it will then be easier to topple (maybe)
are both misreadings (in my opinion) of two aspects of Marx's (and Lenin's)
grasp of the relationship between reform and revolution, between
spontaneous struggles that oppressed people engage in the alleviate their
immediate suffering and grand plans for the liberation of humanity from all
This dichotomy is another expression of similar debates:
"Trust the profit-corrupted Western Medical Establishment"
"Trust untested herbal remedies and/or various cult therapies"
"Assimilate ethnic/racial minorities to be like the majority"
"a kind of hyper-diversity that calls for self-determination in ways that
promote nationalism/capitalism against
"Trust the modernistic, alienating, dehumanizing mental hospitals to
supposedly 'cure' people whose social problems are being diagnosed as
"deinsitutionalize them by closing the hospitals but offering no
alternative but living on the street with little or no medical care provided"
But the discussion outlined by Louis Proyect is one of the "granddaddies"
of all these debates. Marx said that capitalism was "progressive" but he
didn't particularly say that it was good. Marx said that modernization and
internationalism in support of capitalism was bad, but he didn't say that
modernization and internationalism, in themselves, were bad.
Dutt, in his work, "Fascism and Social Revolution" said that fascism was
organized chaos. Actually, capitalism itself is organized chaos, and
capitalism in its state of decay, as fascist trends intensify, is extreme
organized chaos. The system produces chaos, which destroys the lives of
many people, and the ruling class then tries to impose order on the chaos,
which results in more oppression for most working class people. Various
kinds of reformism just put us/the working class/oppressed people into a
kind of tennis game, where we are the ball, bouncing back and forth between
movements to protect us from the chaos and movements to protect us from
those who would regulate/regimentize the society in ways to protect their
class power. And both of them, by the way, are often as much as part of
"left wing liberalism", as they are of "right wing conservatism".
What is interesting about the false dichotomy is that they BOTH LEAD TO THE
SAME STRATEGIC CONCLUSIONS--THAT REVOLUTION IS IMPOSSIBLE! And not just on
the theoretical level. On the practical, tactical level we often see
coalitions and alliances between the "ordinary liberals" who favor a strong
capitalist state to supposedly free humanity from the supersititious,
primitive, sexist, prejudiced greedy interest groups and those who are
skeptical of a strong capitalist state and instead promote romanticized
illusions about how promoting loyalty to one's "own" group will protect
that group from the powerful forces of the Centralized ruling class.
For example, some "Marxists" promoted the use of NATO bombers (talk about
supporting the centralized big powers!) in support of what they saw was the
right of the Kosovar Albanians to have self-determination.
The relationship between reform struggles (including local struggles
against imperialism) and revolution is based on the strategy of the
oppressed learning about the fundamental contradictions of society, its
class oppression, as they/we struggle against its day to day abuses.
Winning the reform is not the fundamental point, although if the reform
struggle is not fought wholeheartedly, our ability to learn/teach about how
the system is corrupt will be limited.
But although the reform struggle should be carried out wholeheartedly, it
also must be criticized on two levels. The obvious level is the point that
the reform struggle "doesn't go far enough", and it is a point that is
often made. But there is a second, more subtle, and perhaps more important
point. Often the reform struggle has imbedded in it aspects that are
explicitly pro-capitalist. For example, anti-WTO struggles converge not
just with the "nationalism of the oppressed" but often with the nationalism
of certain forces that are part of the imperialist power. Some struggles
for "self-determination and black power" propose solutions that bolster
capitalism. Some feminist rhetoric promotes selfishness. Some labor
struggles promote nationalism. Some "amnesty" programs for immigrants might
isolate those immigrants who arrive later. Some environmental programs cut
workers' jobs; some pro-job programs destroy the environment. Some programs
that support access to professional school programs assert, explicitly or
implicitly, that there are some who are not worthy of becoming
"professionals." And especially, I think we can expect more "Job Programs"
that will appear to be "social welfare liberal" in character, but actually
be various types of forced-labor programs."
These are not just instances of the reform "not going far enough." These
are examples of the reform actually having reactionary aspects that must be
exposed. It is very difficult to participate in a reform struggle while you
criticize the struggle! But what are the alternatives? Not participating?
Or participating and allowing reactionary ideas to become strengthened? It
is difficult to participate in reform struggles while critizing them. But
it is more difficult to live with the consequences of failing to build a
movement that can destroy capitalism.
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