Energy and Strategy

Ed George edgeorge at usuarios.retecal.es
Fri Dec 6 03:32:42 MST 2002


Kay asks Mark, 'What is your vision of the socialist future? At the
moment it seems distinctly distopian. In fact let's make it easier: why
are you a socialist?'

But this completely misses the point.  We are not going to win socialism
on the basis of a superior happy-clappy vision of a future socialist
utopia.  As shouldn't need saying again but obviously does, if the
socialist revolution was winnable solely on the basis of superior
rational argument then we would have arrived there a long time ago.  But
as Isaac Deutscher once pointed out, contrary to the widespread belief
in Anglo-Saxon countries Marxism is precisely *not* rationalist in its
philosophy: it does not assume that humanity is generally guided by
rational motives and can be argued into socialism by reason.  The class
struggle is anything *but* a rational process.  And the very tendency of
capitalism to descend into the irrational is what drives it into crisis:
crises of the character of those that Mark - in what is in my view
sustained historical-materialist analysis of the very highest order
indeed (read, in particular, his post 'Energy and Imperialism' of last
Wednesday (<http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/msg22662.html>) carefully -
talks about.  The effect of these crises is to push both oppressors and
oppressed into intolerable conditions of life, and it is this inevitable
tendency of capitalism which creates the conditions in which revolution
is possible.  The hyper-rationalist, socialist-utopianist approach is
just a form of voluntarism, which forgets that socialist revolution
needs these objective conditions for it to flourish.  But to say this is
not to descend into catastrophism either, be it a catastrophism of the
Second Internationalist or extreme Fourth Internationalist (i.e.
Healyite) variety.  For without acts of human will capitalism - if it
doesn't destroy humanity first - will always create the conditions for
resolving, on its own terms, its own crises.  The history of the
twentieth century has shown, both negatively as well as positively, the
truth that ultimately capitalism will need to be consciously
*overthrown*.

But in fact the general tendency towards a 'rationalised' Marxism in the
Anglo-Saxon world is a result of the very fact that it has historically
not been here that these contradictions of capitalist operation have
expressed themselves most sharply: in part this super-rationalism is a
result of the failure to see how capitalism operates as a *global*
whole.  For as the record of the twentieth-century socialist revolution
has shown, the breakdown of capitalist rule, like the operation of
capitalist economy, is nothing if not *international*.  The pattern is a
recurring one in twentieth-century European history: 1914-23, the 1930s,
the mid 1940s, 1968-9, the early to mid 1970s - each of these periods
witnessed not single national revolutionary crises but a crisis of
capitalist rule on an international scale.  And the breaching of
capitalist rule has not and never will take place first in the
metropolis, in the heartlands of bourgeois rule.  For there is another
striking and recurring feature to be found in the historical record of
the twentieth-century European socialist revolution: the moment of
revolutionary crisis within international revolutionary crises tends to
move from periphery to centre: bourgeois rule breaks at its weakest
link.

But where is this periphery to be found?  Bukharin once remarked that
the socialist revolution broke out first in Russia because Russia was
the poorest of the poor; Lenin rebuked him: the socialist revolution
broke out in Russia because Russia was the poorest of the rich.  The
periphery of bourgeois rule is not the geographical or economic
periphery of capitalism but that geographical area, social sector or
political region where the contradictions of bourgeois rule are posed
most sharply.  Generalised capitalist crisis is a necessary precondition
for the outbreak of revolutionary crisis: this cannot be willed into
being by subjective revolutionary optimism - capitalism will not wilt
before the orator.  But when, under the whip of crisis, revolutionary
crises do break out they tend to appear first at the weakest social,
political or economic point of capitalist rule: in the revolutionary
wave at the end of the First World War, from Russia, spreading west; in
the mid 1930s, from backward Spain to metropolitan France; in May 1968,
from the revolutionary students to the industrial working class; in
1974-5, impelled by the collapse of the remains of the Portuguese
empire, from the junior officers of the MFA to the Portuguese peasants
and workers.  Periphery and centre are not closed geographical (or
national) areas but dialectically related sectors of the international
socialist revolution.  And there is nothing in human history that says
that this pattern will not repeat itself as long as bourgeois rule is
maintained.

This is the framework in which we as Marxists have to think: this is the
strategic dimension that we have to give to our thought, and which needs
to provide the context within which we do everything else.  For what we
do in the here and now will be the necessary preparation for those
precise points at which acts of supreme human will can mark the
difference between revolutionary triumph and failure.  But what the
twentieth century should have taught us if nothing else is that a
failure to address this necessity of revolutionary 'preparation' -
building the organisations of the future today - upon which these acts
are dependent is the decisive - and I mean *decisive* - intervention
that Marxists can make in non-revolutionary situations.

With this in mind, what Mark is presently engaged in on this list is
abslutely fundamental, and we ignore it at our peril.  But, like Marx
and Engels, we need to remember that our historical responsibility is
not idle naval-gazing speculation on what wonders the socialist age of
humanity might bring forth, but how the hell we can open up the very
possibility of getting there in the first place.

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