Forwarded from Jim Craven
juliohuato at hotmail.com
Fri Jan 17 20:46:46 MST 2003
One thing I like about Chomsky is his emphasis on the fact that we are
personally responsible for the institutions or governments we elect or
tolerate. Yes, there are different degrees of responsibility. In our
particular contexts, different individuals have different constraints as we
try to influence the course of things. But the idea that we are personally
responsible for the state of the world, our communities, and our
institutions is not only the basis of any political ethos but -- in my view
-- also deeply Marxist. We need to assume our historical agency as
individuals, so that we can go about turning things around.
But Marxists tend to use their understanding of alienation -- a structural
reality of this society -- to rationalize our political disconnect. As if
understanding drug addiction authorized anyone to snort coke on a regular
basis. The emphasis is on how unresponsive institutions and governments are
to the needs and concerns of regular people so that we give up trying to
I remember Gerald Walters' biography of Lenin. According to Walters, Lenin
admired the great cultural achievements of old Europe, yet he refer to them
as "theirs." Lenin's writings reflect this attitude. They are they. We
are we. Isaac Deutscher describes a Stalin who is at once ignorant,
disdainful, and fearful of European cultural sophistication. Mao's
sentiment of inferiority before Western culture was also proverbial.
Stalin's and Mao's was not (or at least not explicitly) a critique of the
narrowness of Western culture.
The state is a class instrument -- or whichever mushier Gramscian metaphor
we use to similar effect. The government is intrinsically wedded to the
interests of the capitalist class. So, by definition, our interests are
excluded from the scope of daily governance -- particularly in issues that
matter most. The class character of the state as the alibi of a victimized
Left. The only acceptable ways to influence the government of the
capitalists are mass political struggle and outright rebellion.
God forbid Marxists thinking of electoral participation or "sharing power"
in the bourgeois state. If they do, they'll forever carry the burning
stigma of Millerandism and "parliamentary cretinism." Some people even
think we're not in the business of telling the White House what to do.
Meanwhile Republicans like John McCain are the ones campaigning for some
formula that returns the government to citizens' control.
There are also strands of the so-called "anti-globalization" movement that
oppose "corporate" capitalism. Why the adjective? What are those reified
corporations anyway? I guess, poor stockholders, they are so alienated from
the decisions CEOs and Boards of Directors make on their behalf that they
cannot be held responsible. John Galbraith and others a few decades ago
described a corporate inertia in the US that turned even company executives
into victims of some impersonal force. How Hegelian. Each corporation was
like a Soviet CP or like the Soviet state.
Well, of course that's how it works. Under certain conditions OUR OWN
creatures turn against us, our own products and relations with others
oppress us, our own political groups and organizations betray our cause. So
we look out for that blue-prince political party or for that organizational
vaccine that will prevent bureaucratization ex ante. Alienation as a cover
up for political disengagement. If we just avoid parliamentarism and/or
stick to some enlightened interpretation of "democratic centralism."
I believe Marx had a subtler stance. The indomitable revolutionary was
expelled from Germany, but he remained loyal to Germany, Goethe, and Heine.
He wrote Capital in German. But he was just as engaged with "France"'s
Balzac or "England"'s Dickens or "Russia"'s Chernishevsky. Mehring's
biography of Marx says that the old man felt entitled to the best of
European bourgeois culture. Nothing less. I also remember an interview of
Marx by an American journalist, almost by the end of the old man's life. If
I remember correctly, Marx impressed him as an "insider" with his detailed,
authoritative knowledge of minute legislative matters. He also praised his
"intimacy" with the US.
Well, yes. That was Marx. How about Engels? Well, he apparently was even
more sociable and worldly. But that was they. Marxists now are very much
trapped in the civil society-vs.-state alienation that we are supposed to
uncover, and that the movement we want to lead is supposed to eliminate.
The fact that eliminating political alienation (the appropriation of
political life by the associated producers) is a complicated struggle that
takes a long time doesn't change a bit. It was even more complicated and
long when Marx told his daughter about his adoption of Dante's dictum:
"Nothing human is alien to me."
In a sense, communists advocate, if need be, the revolutionary appropriation
and preservation of the broader human culture by workers, its
universalization and expansion -- once its oppressive elements are removed.
That's what the revolution is for. Nothing human is alien to us.
Like nothing American should be alien to those who live in the United
States. Make no mistake: It is us who are cutting taxes for the rich and
threatening a war on Iraq. And it's us who can stop it. It's personal. If
a war is launched against Iraq, we will be waging it. Not "the" government,
but OUR government, the one we pay taxes to, the one US people vote in or
It follows from this that a universal draft -- like the one Rep. Charles
Rangel proposed -- is the right thing to do. I would extend it to all
permanent residents in the US. There's nothing like paying taxes and waging
wars for our government to make us want to take control of it or overthrow
it if need be. That's why Jim Craven et alia's Call to Conscience is so
effective and we must salute it. The war is on our name, that's one reason
why we must stop it.
I saw Rep. Charles Rangel defend his proposal in a PBS news show. Astute
fellow and a Korean war veteran. The argument of his opponent, a leading
member of the Congress' Armed Forces Committee, was that disgruntled youth
in the army would sabotage the army's plans! Thank you very much.
Precisely, that's why the draft is so good.
That guy wants a pliable professional, mercenary army easy to use by an
irresponsible White House. Not our army, no. They want to keep their guys
from being contaminated by rebellious youth. Instead of caricaturizing
those guys (e.g., "Bowling for Columbine"), we want to engage them. It's
tough. But they should want to run away from us, not us from them.
Alienation is not a badge of honor. It's what we want to overcome.
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