The second thought of Mark Jones

Jurriaan Bendien J.Bendien at
Mon Dec 2 13:56:24 MST 2002

Mark, I find myself agreeing with many of your points, however you wrote:

"My second thought is that we should avoid utopian schemes and concentrate
on building parties and viable political coalitions in the here and now".

This is exactly what the Dutch Left is doing now, they may be Dutch, but
they sure ain't stupid. However, I think you should not discount "utopian

Utopias have a bad name for several reasons: they are supposed to be
unrealistic, unscientific, and have totalitarian implications (imposing some
crackpot scheme on a population with bloody consequences). But paradoxically
if you study it more closely, any revolutionary movement, any movement for
social change has a vision of an alternative society, an alternative way of
doing things which is better for people.

Real Marxism, real socialism is about having an incredibly rich stock of
alternatives, alternative courses of action and thought, which gives a
superior behavioural flexibility, and it is the people with superior
behavioural flexibility who win in the end (I will add in all modesty the
usual disclaimer, that I do not pretend to be good at it). The best way to
see Marxism is as a critical, scientific corrective of the socialist
movement, not as a substitute for it.

What we need is not utopias in the sense of idyllic blueprints, but utopias
in the sense of specific feasible goals, specific feasible alternatives,
framed in positive terms. There is a lot of apathy and cynicism in modern
society, but if people do not even have any idea of how things could be
different, what difference we could make, then we have already conceded the
argument, we have already conceded "There Is No Alternative".

Marx and Engels introduced a distinction between "utopian socialism" and
"scientific socialism", and subsequently Luxemburg and the Bolsheviks
introduced a distinction between "reform and revolution". These distinctions
were made in a specific historical context, but they have been generalised
in socialist ideology, such that utopian socialism is counterposed to
scientific socialism, and reformist socialism is counterposed to
revolutionary socialism. How very conservative. How very wrong.

For what is the end result of those counterpositions ? Mainly, a bunch of
boring sectarian dissidents bereft of any clear political vision, afraid to
innovate lest they be seen as unorthodox, reciting prophets from the past,
who convince very few people - on the one hand, and boring wishywashy
conformists without any real vision, whose "innovations"consist mainly of
how we can make markets work better, borrowing an eclectic mix of ideas from
the past. Plus a bunch of independent socialists who can somehow maneouvre
around the contradictions, perhaps in small groups, but reject both Leninist
and socialdemocratic parties. So then the only parties that really grow are
parties like the Greens or the Scottish Socialist Party or the Dutch
Socialist Party or some coalition arrangements.

What each country needs from socialists, is a new "what is to be done ?"
based on the highest level of understanding available to us now. And that
involves science, art, a vision of the future, and at least a partial break
with the past.

Here in Holland, the Socialist Party has changed from an oppositionalist
party to a party which has real alternatives, they generated 150
alternatives to lib-lab government policy. Even if just 20-30 of those
policy alternatives are adopted, that generates new hope and new members, it
affirms our values and norms.

Well what you will say is, this is just left socialdemocratic reformism.
Okay, you can hang that label on it if you like, but you have explained
nothing, and you have made no political progress by doing that. You are
still hung up on the counterpositions I described.

I have already said it several times before, if you don't even have anybody
struggling for reforms or changes which make a real difference to people's
lives now, then as a revolutionary you are pissing in the wind. It is only
when people are really fighting for alternatives, that you can sharpen up
your political aims. But if you weren't there campaigning with them, they
are not even going to take you seriously (I haven't been on the campaign
trail, so I cannot expect people to take me seriously, nevertheless I can
moot my idea as a writer, Louis permitting).

That is the real problem with ultraleftism, with the pure revolutionary
ideology, it may be perfectly correct in theory but it doesn't work other
than in a specific context which you have to bring about first, but which
you cannot bring about with ultraleftist ideology (that is why the Furedi
people end up saying, well I will just concentrate on an interesting life
and defending liberal values, and wait until the shit really hits the fan
before I start serious political organisation, serious intervention).

In practice, the ultraleftists who swear about reformism often circulate
around movements for reform, in order to persuade them to be more "left",
but this does not generate any new radical movement, that's the problem. If
you want to generate such a movement, I think you have to break through the
counterpositions which I described first of all. The authorities on living
socialism aren't dead people, they are living people, they're the ones that
count, that is what people look at. It is up to us, and even if that
mountain seems to steep to climb (as it often does to me), it is still up to
us, it is up to us to help shape the future, by whatever means of expression
at our disposal.

We can of course entertain all sorts of visions of the doom and gloom that
hangs over humanity, but we have to ask ourselves whether those sorts of
visions are conducive to our political aims. Here I think Furedi & Co. have
a real point; if you think that nothing is really possible, if you start off
by limiting your expectations, then nothing is possible, then we are all


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