Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Sun Jul 13 18:04:04 MDT 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Michael Pugliese" <debsian at pacbell.net>
To: <bendien at tomaatnet.nl>
Sent: Monday, July 14, 2003 12:39 AM
Subject: Diamat

> http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/Marx/2marxtoc.htm
> Junk that Engels, Plekhanov vulgar marxism.
> Gouldner is a great read.
> --
> Michael Pugliese

Hi Michael,

Thnaks for your comment. You cannot find me saying anywhere that Engels or
Plekhanov are guilty of "vulgar Marxism". Engels doesn't even use the term
"Marxism" hardly at all, and then only with reservations, his references to
"dialectical materialism" as scarce as well. What I do think is that they,
being involved in the socialdemocratic movement of their time, were under
pressure to provide a "world view", a "general perspective" which could
function as a party ideology. I think however that, although they gave in to
this, to some extent, they also resisted the vulgar generalisation of their
views, and their dogmatic application in inappropriate areas. There is
historical evidence for that. The gradual systematisation of Marxism into a
tidy justificatory ideology for state policy which slammed down hard on any
independently critical socialist thought is, I think, something they would
have utterly rejected. Engels fought against Bismarck's anti-socialist laws.
Plekhanov fought against the Czar.

Anyhow, this misses the real point, which is, what sort of programmatic
statements and party culture would permit both critical and scientific
thought, yet provide political cohesion ? In the Dutch Socialist Party, they
tackle this by spelling out general core values, such as social equality,
solidarity and social justice, projecting a vision of human nature and how
society should be, reflecting the ideals of the Dutch working class as it
is, choosing particular themes for political discussion which fits in what
workers locally and nationally are really concerned about, and engaging in a
range of activist projects covering all sorts of popular themes. All this is
done in a language, which is not an obscure or sectarian academic language,
but a language which people actually speak and are used to.  I do not say
that it is any perfect answer, the leadership would happily agree with that,
they'd love to do more and better, but it does keep 40,000 members
interested, and we have about 9 MP's and 140 councillors exercising
influence in central and local government. This is a great achievement, in a
cultural climate where it is often difficult to get people off their butt to
do anything that is not in their immediate selfinterest, or even express a
clear opinion in public forums. It means at the very least that, whatever
might happen in the future, there exists a group of people with a common
experience that could develop superior socialist answers to the difficult
conditions we face, in the future, and gives a political home to people who
would be isolated otherwise. But it actually does better than that, it
actually changes policy and influences public debate. Socialism is a
legitimate and acceptable political stance in The Netherlands.

There are plenty Marxists in the SP, but the emphasis is on applied theory,
not on ideological disputes which lead nowhere. People choose their own
level of involvement, at presently my involvement is low, I am rather
preoccupied with my own stuff. Although the SP are Maoist in origin (in the
1970s), they are for instance quite happy to have a copy of Trotsky's
History of the Russian Revolution in their Amsterdam council office. No
point in endlessly recycling the past, what matters is our own lives and the
world we must live in, and the future of our children, if we have them. The
July issue of the SP glossy covers the politics of professional football,
asbestos pollution, the Srebrenica disaster, local and national party news,
an interview with Dutch communist literary figure Theun de Vries, fraud in
the building industry, the housing crisis among youth, uranium poisoning in
Iraq, and letters.

I did read Gouldner's book when it came out, and cited it in a Phd thesis
which I completed with a friend in 1986. I agree it is an insightful book
and I read it with interest, because his voluntarism-determinism polarity is
a real problem and not an imaginary one, at least if you aspire to real
political responsibilities in your life. As I am a socialist, however, the
whole controversy about whether Marxism is really better viewed as a
critique or as a science does not concern me at all. In my personal opinion
it is neither, it is just an approach and a tradition of politics and
research, producing certain results which are forever contested anew. I can
drag it out, and say "look, here is my intellectual family tree" and people
will say, "that is really interesting, Jurriaan, well done, very erudite,
but they are all dead now".

Provided there is room in the socialist movement for both science and
critique, I am happy, and the question of precisely what sort of Marxist I
might fancy myself as (as I said, I don't at all), or others accuse me of
being, does not concern me.  It is typical of sociologists to consider all
sorts of intellectual dualisms, and pit different themes in Marxist
discussion against each other from afar. These dualisms will never be
resolved however, except through a real political practice in the real
world, even if just publishing an intervention (this being Marx's original
critique of philosophical armchair disputation), and that practice is per
definition socialist (or maybe in your case, communist) and not Marxist -
insofar as we are individual personalities living in 2003, who, try as we
might, cannot be carbon copies of dead people, and have to do our own
thinking about political issues, including ones which Marx and Engels could
not even dream of.

Any idea that two men, who lived in the 19th century, had an advance claim
on a uniquely correct solution to the problems of more than 6 billion people
in 2003, must be rejected as a phantasm of puny minds. This kind of stuff is
good only for children, or adults who think like children. We refer back to
those men, only because they defined best what the historic challenge for us
as socialists (or maybe in your case, communists) is.



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