The slogan BHTTN: a heterodox socialist perspective

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Jul 24 10:33:00 MDT 2003

Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2003 5:31 PM
Subject: offlist....FW: The slogan BHTTN: a heterodox socialist perspective

> You and I are in agreement. The key is the purpose of the slogan: the
> organization of demonstrations, etc.
> Those who want to replace "Bring the Troops Home Now" with something
> else...without explaining what's gained by it...are not in agreement
> with us.
> Best,
> Mark

Thanks for your comment. We agree. My answer is of necessity very brief, it
is a big subject. The concept of heterodox socialism is partly serious,
partly a joke, made due to my exasperation with sectarian dogmatism stifling
the development of political and theoretical thought. It is an antidote to
sectarianism and dogmatism. The opposite of heterodoxy, is theoretical
orthodoxy or ideological homogeneity. So in a sense, heterodoxy contains
pluralism in its very essence, as a starting point in any discussion, an
acknowledgement that if you have five socialists in a room, you are going to
have at least five differences in emphasis or nuances of interpretation, no
matter what happens, and you acknowledge that for a start.

In the socialist movement, many claim to be orthodox following some or other
"tradition", but on closer inspection, the alleged orthodoxy is usually
spurious, as the orthodox do not actually understand the historical facts
and context anyhow, they just have a certain "reading of history" they find
comfortable. What is important, is not orthodoxy, but consistent political
reasoning and political integrity, based on consistent practice. Insistence
on orthodoxy is important, only if maintaining the same theoretical basis,
is the only way to retain political integrity and consistency, across the
board. But the proof of this theoretical basis is in what you do, not in
continuouslty asserting it.

Real orthodoxy is not proved by asserting axioms and principles over and
over again, rather it is proved by the ability to really use the theoretical
basis, to really make sense of a variety of different issues in a consistent
way. The main dialectical principle of heterodox socialism is the principle
of non-exclusion. This means, that if five activists are all opposed to
capitalism but do so on the basis of five different socialist theories, then
there is a basis for unity there, if it is a question of opposing capitalism
(one fist can be made), whereas the orthodox person would immediately go and
dispute, who of the five had the truly correct form of opposition, because
he believes they cannot all five be correct. So, anyway, most orthodoxy is
motivated by assuming the need for homogeneity and universal adherence to
the same principle, and searching in advance for a basis of differentiation,
coherence and distinction, whereas heterodoxy assumes differentiation,
plurality and distinction already exists, but searches for a basis of unity,
points of contact based on the most important common factor, and how we can
combine the five facets of the story for the purpose of realising a
socialist goal.

Example: Hilferding and Luxemburg were both Marxists. Hilferding wrote an
excellent Marxist book on Finance Capital, but he ended up as Finance
Minister in the German Government after 1918, trying to put German
capitalism back together again. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a very insightful but
theoretically flawed Marxist book, called The Accumulation of Capital, but
became a leader of the revolutionary Marxist Spartacus League, which played
a role in the failed German Revolution of 1919.

What does the "orthodox" Marxist do ? He says things like Luxemburg yes,
Hilferding no; he will say, Hilferdings political career proves that his
economics book on Finance Capital was wrong; he will support the economic
theories of Rosa Luxemburg even though they were flawed, because of her
revolutionary political stance; or he will say, to the extent that
Hilferding's book was used by Lenin or approved by Lenin, his book is
correct, in other respects to be rejected. This is the search, for a
coherent ideology ( as sort of masterkey to all political problems, a
philosophers stone) which however does not exist, and behind that, lies in
fact an incomprehension of what it's really about and an inability to
analyse a specific situation. Thus, the orthodox person hides his own
inability to do his own independent thinking and express that correctly, by
appealing to precedents, authorities and traditions to bolster his argument.
He does not understand the method, only the conclusion of the use of the
method. At a deeper level, the orthodox do not understand the correct and
appropriate relationship between theory and practice, usually, because his
own practice and life is very one-sided.

So a lot of the time, this orthodoxy means the sectarian, dogmatic,
scholastic mould. The heterodox socialist says: the world changes, and what
the precise relevance or merit of Hilferding and Luxemburg are, just depends
on the context, and on what we are doing. Hilferding may come in handy,
Luxemburg may come in handy, provided we do not lose sight of the socialist
goal and the steps towards it, the insights of both can be validly applied
at times, we have to evaluate that at a different practical level. So the
heterodox stance injects an element of pragmatism, which focuses on common
goals and suggests different paths and means might in fact lead to the same

Paradoxically, the heterodox end up being the most orthodox: by not
necessarily appealing to precedents, authorities and traditions to justify a
position, but by explaining clearly what position should be taken now. and
what should be done in a specific context now - based on the merits of the
case and the given situation, he shows the real way forward and people do
follow him, even if the approach is not traditional, but new.

In reality, Lenin was not "orthodox" at all, he had a specific
interpretation of Marxist thought. The Mensheviks had a much better grasp of
Marx's thought and writings than Lenin. But Lenin had a different main
purpose: his main purpose was to organise the workingclass politically for
revolution against the Czar, and against capitalism, in an effective way. So
he had a different framework for evaluation, in looking at different
interpretations of Marx. Somebody's interpretation might be fine and good,
but useless for his political purpose.

Because, in good part by sheer accident, Lenin survived and was successful,
later the epigones call themselves "orthodox Leninists" and nothing Lenin
says can be wrong, nothing Lenin says can be criticised according to them.
Orthodoxy then consists in always defending Lenin and always defending
Lenin's interpretation of Marx, nevermind what the situation is. The
heterodox socialist does not believe in this religious orthodoxy, because
Marx and Lenin made many mistakes, and anyway what it the best thing to do,
depends on the situation we are in, there is no rule book for political
activity or rulebook for revolution. So rejecting fake orthodoxy is the
first step out of political infantilism.



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