Nationalism (final)

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Fri Jul 18 11:32:17 MDT 2003


Dear David,

You wrote:

1.  What the bourgeoisie say in public is designed to
obscure, not clarify, the terms of the struggle.  When
the bourgeoisie speak to members of their own class,
they speak clearly about the real terms of their struggle
for property, wealth, control,  and even then they get
it wrong, but at least they are articulating their class
interest.

Reply:

This is not always true. They specify the terms of the struggle "from their
point of view". If what you say is true, then the bourgeoisie would be
incapable of any scientific activity, but they are so capable. This is why
our very own Karl Marx devotes a great deal of attention to correcting the
insights of David Ricardo. You may of course wish to argue that the
bourgeoisie in 2003 has a different sort of "character mask" from the
bourgeoisie in the 1850s, even so, there are also honest bourgeois. The
bourgeoisie is not a monlithic class, as I previously explained in an
exchange with Tom, and some functions permit honesty, others do not. Not
infrequently, the British journal The Economist is quite capable of clearly
and unambiguously expressing the "struggle for property, wealth, control".

You say:

When "we" speak to members of "our class," we should speak clearly, get it
right, about the real forces
at work, about real classes, and real control of the means of production.

Reply:

Agreed, but any proletarian politician, as distinct from a schoolmaster,
such as e.g.  Lula de Silva, does not just need to speak to "members of our
class" but to all social classes, from the point of view of a government
that represents those social classes.

You say:

2. Ideology is not an issue.  We don't need ideology.
Revolution requires organization and program. Those things
can only be formulated on specific, defined class lines
that will embrace the general needs of the entire
population.

Reply:

In that case, you have not been an activist, or if you have been an
activist, you have not been a self-reflective and self-critical activist. Of
course ideology is an issue. If you have had experience of canvassing large
numbers of people, as I have, then you know through talking with ordinary
folks that their consciousness is partly ideological, that they have a
differential receptivity for bourgeois and middle-class ideas. This
receptivity exists precisely in function of the fact that they have no or
little access to any alternative source for comprehending the "big picture".
The bourgeois media are constantly working on that consciousness, and if you
do not grasp this, you are in no position for political combat. The idea
that "Revolution requires organization and program" is essentially a fascist
New Left idea about the meaning of political activity, which seeks to
obliterate the subjectivities of other people, rather than engage with them.

You wrote:

3. We are dutibound to defend the interests of a class and
show how those interests represent the way forward for
everyone who wants a future free of oppression.  There is
no real substance to the ideologies of "national sovereignty,"
and no real substance to the notion of "people."  There
is concrete substance to analysis of classes and how
those classes engage in conflict within specific circum-
stances.

Reply:

Excuse me, but this is the kind of fake Hegelianising Marxism for which I
have absolutely no use whatsoever. Try telling the people of Iraq that
"There is no real substance to the ideologies of "national sovereignty," and
no real substance to the notion of "people." You are liable to get your head
shot off.

You say:

We can study comparative advantage without
studying Ricardo-- the history of "less developed" areas
is the best textbook.  But the manifestations of capital
in the less developed areas are the manifestations of
the fundamental social relation between capital and wage-labor
and the conflicts are only resolved through that same force
capable, and necessary, for the overthrow of capital everywhere.

Reply:

In a sense you are right, we can study things in all manner of ways, of
course, nobody can disagree with that. However, the scientific task is to
understand imperialism as the specific expression of the development of the
forms of capital, for which Marx provides the basis. In modern economics,
and part of heterodox economics and Marxian/socialist economics, the
Ricardian theory or a variant thereof still has intellectual hegemony in the
analysis of world economy and world trade. Therefore, intellectuals must
attack this whole theoretical superstructure of imperialist exploitation at
the core. It is all very well for you to state generalities such as "the
fundamental social relation between capital and wage-labor" but I do not
operate like that, because I am aware, even if you are not, that the working
class comprises not even the majority of the economically active population
in the world. Peasant economy, subsistence economy, self-employed economy,
tribal economy etc. etc. still occpies an even larger mass of people.
Sitting in your office in New York, or wherever you are located, you may be
blissfully unaware of all this, nevertheless an African person who might
perchance read my miserable prose would confirm what I say.

You say:

3. I do not agree that socialists "believe in the importance
of the rule of law."  Law serves property.  Property serves
class.  Or class serves property.  The rule of law makes
strikes, demonstrations, illegal.  Do we believe in that?

Reply:

If you go around saying that socialists do not believe in the rule of law,
you may soon find yourself in big problems, because effectively you are
saying that any old crime is okay. The Dutch working class at least does not
believe that. Law not just serves property, it spells out rights, duties,
responsibilities and obligations of citizens, normally on a constitutional
basis. hence we talk about civil law, property law and all sorts of branches
of the law. You rhetorically ask, "The rule of law makes
strikes, demonstrations, illegal.  Do we believe in that?". Of course not,
and I have demonstrated in my previous analysis why this is occurring.
However, try for example telling a trade unionist that the law has no
importance, and he will laugh his head off. He has to utilise the law in
order to defend his union members, and fight against bad laws to obtain
better laws. He cannot very do so on the basis that justice and juridical
principles are irrelevant or a monolithic bourgeois class plot.

You say:

4.  The US Constitution does not proclaim all human beings
are equal.  The US Constitutions proclaims that slaves
equal a fraction of white.  That's your rule of law....
fractional equivalent which is really imposed bondage.
The 13th, 14th, 15th amendments attempt to expand equality
and due process to men of color, but Plessy v. Ferguson,
a legal decision, was the result of the bourgeois historical
affirmation of "formal equality".

Reply:

This is true, but without the law we are back to slavery, wanton criminality
and barbarism. You disprove your own thesis, because you admit that through
a legal battle, backed up with social protest, an increase in justice could
be won.

You say:

5. Our critique of bourgeois justice is not that it is formal
or hypocritical.  Our critique is that it is bourgeois,
representing an equality of propertyowners. And moreover,
it is futile imagine an equality in law when the essence
of society, its relation of production, is exploitation.

Reply:

Again you are being schematic, rather than viewing the matter in motion, as
a developmental process. Not even a bourgeois would agree with your thesis
of the legal equality of property owners !!!

You say:

6. And finally, the fundamental contradiction is not between
nations, oppressor and oppressed.  No fan of Lenin's
Imperialism, I give him credit for pointing out that all
these manifestations of imperialism introduce the "fundamental
social relations of capitalism" into the "less developed" areas.
That fundamental relation is the conflict between wage-labor
and capital.  While the conflict will assume a variety
of manifestations, including an echo of the "national
struggle," the essence is social, international, and requires
a program to articulate that.

I have already drawn attention to the real class structure of world society,
which, if you would study it, would cause you to discard your fundamentalist
abstract theorems about "the conflict between wage-labor and capital." Even
in the realm of theory, this concept is pure nonsense on two counts, since
(1) this conflict is only the most basic conflict, but numerous other
conflicts exists at the level of production, distribution and consumption.
If Marx did not mention them or analyse them in detail, this does not mean
that they do not exist. (2) what the contradictions are, and how they
manifest themselves, is something which is constantly changing, requiring
constant new analyses to discover them and point out their evolution.
Naturally, a programme is required, but socialist activity is not the same
as writing a computer programme and ask people the buy it. Why do you think
that the Trotskyist movement almost completely failed to build mass
revolutionary parties in imperialist countries ? Because they were fixated
on the programme, they thought that articulating the programme and seeking
to win people to it was the political method to be used. They would have
been better off becoming computer programmers, and indeed some of our mutual
friends are. In reality, a programme is formed organically out of the real
experience of large numbers of people, and is continually adjusted to those
real experiences. The idea that we can pick up some stone tablets from Mount
Sinai and vent those to the people as the certified revolutionary programme,
is not exactly a recipe that leads to political success.

To repeat something I posted on PEN-L (might as well do a bit of recycling
here to save me time):

Marx wrote to Arnold Ruge, "Nothing prevents us from making criticism of
politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the
starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with
them. [But] in that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way
with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop
new principles for the world out of the world's own principles. We do not
say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you
the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really
fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if
it does not want to." That is the basis of a serious political engagement,
except that the "principles" today have to be articulated in terms of a
vision about the socialist goal, and that we need to use the contradictions
and fissures that emerge in popular consciousness to introduce new ideas
conducive to socialist advances. The conclusions people draw from the same
experience can be various, this is known even in the philosophical critique
of empiricism and pragmatism, and so we need to set up processes which help
people learn from experience, with our goals clearly out front.

Regards

J.











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