Primary contradictions and slogans: reply to David Schanoes's criticism

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Sat Jul 26 16:25:31 MDT 2003

David Schanoes wrote:

IF I catch the drift of Marxmail right,  the primary contradiction is
between oppressed and oppressor nations, but when the oppressor nation
engages in military assaults on oppressed nations, it is the duty of salon
socialists everywhere to support and unfurl the banners saying, "Support Our
Imperial Troops Invading and Occupying the Oppressed Country, Bring Them
Home Now, Intact, Armed, and Ready to Go Again, Since There are More
Countries to Oppress.  You Might Have to Vote for Military Appropriations to
Bring the Assault Forces Home Now, But We'll Talk About That LATER."


We seem to be hitting solid metaphysical territory here...

The idea of dialectical contradictions is that they are not fixed or
constant once and for all. Rather, what the primary contradiction is, might
change, and depending on what level of analysis we are talking about, what
the primary contradiction is might change very quickly. There are certain
objective structural conflicts in the world, between rich and poor
countries, between Capital and Labour, between social classes and class
fractions, between parties and groups and so on and so forth. But no
particular political implication immediately follows, because how these
contradictions express themselves in popular consciousness is quite another
thing. How the contradictions within the public debate might evolve and
change, may not even reflect adequately what objectively is going on, and
what the real or "deeper" conflicts are in social reality. We hypothesize
and theorise about that, based on background knowledge and lived experience,
even so, we do not know absolutely for sure we are correct. As Marx said, de
omnibus dubitandum, you have to have a level of constructive doubt allowing
for self-reflection, self-criticism and openness to other viewpoints.  We
just have working hypotheses and theories, which guide us along, and we try
to establish a constructive relationship between our theories and our lived
(collective) experience.

A slogan must be understood within the context in which it is raised. If the
context changes, the slogan may not be appropriate anymore and we might
raise a different one. The slogan aims to specify simply "what to do" as a
rallying point for large numbers of people and a basis for unity among them.
David seems to forget this context, or at any rate he refuses to discuss the
validity of the slogan in relation to a specific context. Nor does he prove
that circumstances are such, that the slogan is now inappropriate, never
mind suggesting a better slogan. Instead he just advances a summary
judgement which ridicules the slogan, without explaining why or the
reasoning behind it in any adequate way.

This is all not helping a great deal. Yoshie makes an argument for saying
why she opts to use the slogan of "Troops Out", she says she is dealing with
"incipient socialists" and has to watch her communication style, to fit with
where the people she is working with, really are at. She could of course
raise the slogan "Revolution Now" but then few people would understand it,
they might even understand it as an advertising gimmick or a popsong by U2.
If you do not have a large socialist party capable of tackling militarism
across the board in many different ways, you first need to get to the point
where you could found one. And to do that, you first need to raise political
awareness to the point where people see the necessity for such a party and
are willing to participate in organising it, because they are keen to get
active politically in this way. That is what she is talking about, it is a
step by step process, where people gain common experience, learn to work
together and trust each other sufficiently to collaborate on more
comprehensive projects, over time.

It may be that somebody else has an analysis far superior to Yoshie's, but
the point is, that even if this is the case, this still does not mean
workers will necessarily accept that superior analysis, or be convinced
about it. Because they might just not like the people who are advancing this
superior analysis in terms of personalities, stule, or method of working. In
that case, we ought to be talking about what really convinces or persuades,
and that is an empirical matter which we cannot judge in advance of
experience. Thus, when David Schanoes ridicules a slogan, a priori, because
it does not fit with his analysis of the world, this is largely irrelevant,
because what matters is whether the slogan mobilises lots of people, and
gets them going on a path of increasing their political awareness, and the
need to do something about militarism, imperialism, the disempowerment of
the working class and attacks on civil liberties. He does not prove at all
in advance, that the slogan cannot do this by definition, because this is
only an experiential question, gauged by the number of people who support
it, and where those people are heading politically.

Yoshie is not a salon socialist, she does indeed engage in activism. I don't
see myself as a salon socialist either, I do not have any salon at home, and
would not know where to find a salon where socialist congregate here, beyond
party clubs and leftist bookshops. I have engaged in considerable activism
in my time, but it was time to stand back a little, and attend to a few
other things. My philosophical observations are only intended to help
stimulate good discussion on the List. If I could find a good socialist
salon, I would probably go there ! David wants to dismiss what peace
activists do in advance as "social socialism", and ridicule their activity,
but without reference to specific contexts or specific experiences. And then
he accuses me of lack of integrity lateron as well, because I make his
opinion public. My, my, what a "quality discussion"....

I will leave it at that, Les.


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