One more thing on the US Far Left (continuation of response to Gilles)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 3 12:10:53 MST 2002


Gilles d'Aymery wrote:
> David Peterson). To use Lou's metaphor, I experience some difficulty
> to graphically represent ZNet on the US ideological map.

Gilles is referring to Lou Paulsen but I'll jump in anyhow. ZNet is an
attempt to keep alive a kind of new leftism that website owner Michael
Albert cobbled together out of anarchism, utopianism and various other
strands when he was at MIT in the 1960s. The Rosa Luxemberg chapter of
SDS was strongly influenced by Chomsky, who was a professor there and he
and Albert have had a strong relationship over the years. In my opinion,
there is a fawning quality to the interviews he conducts with Chomsky
but they are useful nonetheless. Herman is a little bit harder to place
politically even though he is a fixture at Znet as well. He tends to lay
off the Marxism-bashing that Chomsky partakes in, but maybe there's
something that he's written that I haven't noticed yet.

Z Magazine is a fairly useful leftwing outlet but there are two
weaknesses that are probably related to bending the stick against
Marxism. To begin with, it is virtually hostile to the idea of any kind
of national organization with a democratically elected leadership even
though they might give lip-service to such an idea. They have a fetish
over localized affinity groups that is very much related to the 1960s
new left. It was this kind of stubborn decentralization that Lenin
fought against in "What is to be Done".

The other weakness is a utopianism that is fundamentally rooted in
philosophical idealism. Albert believes that bad ideas are responsible
for the degeneration of the USSR, not material conditions of isolation,
war, etc. Here is something I wrote on all that:

---

Turning to their (Albert and Hahnel) "Looking Forward", we find a
completely different set of politics and economic reasoning, but the
utopian methodology is essentially the same. Their vision of how social
transformation takes place is virtually identical to that of the 19th
century utopians. In a reply to somebody's question about social change
and human nature on the Z Magazine bulletin board, Albert states:

"I look at history and see even one admirable person--someone's aunt,
Che Guevara, doesn't matter--and say that is the hard thing to explain.
That is: that person's social attitudes and behavior runs contrary to
the pressures of society's dominant institutions. If it is part of human
nature to be a thug, and on top of that all the institutions are
structured to promote and reward thuggishness, then any non-thuggishness
becomes a kind of miracle. Hard to explain. Where did it come from, like
a plant growing out of the middle of a cement floor. Yet we see it all
around. To me it means that social traits are what is wired in, in fact,
though these are subject to violation under pressure."

Such obsessive moralizing was characteristic of the New Left of the
1960s. Who can forget the memorable slogan "if you are not part of the
solution, then you are part of the problem." With such a moralistic
approach, the hope for socialism is grounded not in the class struggle,
but on the utopian prospects of good people stepping forward. Guevara is
seen as moral agent rather than as an individual connected with powerful
class forces in motion such as the Cuban rural proletariat backed by the
Soviet socialist state.

Albert's [and Hahnel's] enthusiasm for the saintly Che Guevara is in
direct contrast to his judgement on the demon Leon Trotsky, who becomes
responsible along with Lenin for all of the evil that befell Russia
after 1917. Why? It is because Trotsky advocated "one-man management".
Lenin was also guilty because he argued that "all authority in the
factories be concentrated in the hands of management."

To explain Stalinist dictatorship, they look not to historical factors
such as economic isolation and military pressure, but the top-down
management policies of Lenin and Trotsky. To set things straight, Albert
and Hahnel provide a detailed description of counter-institutions that
avoid these nasty hierarchies. This forms the whole basis of their
particular schema called "participatory planning" described in "Looking
Forward":

"Participatory planning in the new economy is a means by which worker
and consumer councils negotiate and revise their proposals for what they
will produce and consume. All parties relay their proposals to one
another via 'facilitation boards'. In light of each round's new
information, workers and consumers revise their proposals in a way that
finally yields a workable match between consumption requests and
production proposals."

Their idea of a feasible socialism is beyond reproach, just as any
idealized schema will be. The problem is that it is doomed to meet the
same fate as ancestral schemas of the 19th century. It will be besides
the point. Socialism comes about through revolutionary upheavals, not as
the result of action inspired by flawless plans.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/economics/neo_utopian.htm


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