On a method of discussion that answers all questions

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Mon Sep 29 13:00:32 MDT 2003

Paul wrote:

My memory was the the Sparts identified Solidarity as a movement aiming for
capitalist restoration, as did Arthur Scargill, they were both obvious right
in retrospect.

This is true, but how correct were they really ?

The Spartacists were extremely intelligent people, but seemed to have very
little idea of the role of ideas in politics, I always regarded them as the
Platonists of Trotskyism. Back in the mid-1980s, we had a modest leftwing
unity conference in Christchurch, New Zealand with the idea to get some
people talking about a new leftwing opposition to the Fourth Labour
Government, and two Spartacists came over from Australia especially to tell
us that Ernest Mandel had sold out the revolution in Afghanistan, Poland and
everywhere else. They loved the Red Army. They were so good, that they could
pinpoint the epicentre of the world revolution at any given moment. As I
recall, one of them was an Australian teacher. I had actually read what
Mandel said, and they had not, so I wasn't impressed with their allegations.
Then they went off and drank a bottle of whisky out on the stairs. It was as
though they were so brilliant, that they couldn't understand how stupid we
were. In one of his last trips to the USA, Mandel actually debated Seymour
of the Spartacists, and the debate is hilarious to read, but also a little
sad, sort of clownish, showing simultaneously how bad and how good
Trotskyists can be, their best and their worst sides.

As regards Poland, Solidarity grew into a mass workingclass movement, and as
far as I know the Poles were very glad to get rid of the Communist regime
and Jaruzelskism, and I don't think that many people there would like to go
back to ways of the past. Poland has been invaded by more other countries
than practically any other country in Europe, historically speaking. At the
same time, I've met many Poles who aren't very happy with the amount of
poverty in Poland today either. Which is to say they are looking for a
positive alternative, that transcends their historical experience, but it is
not yet really forthcoming.

The Solidarity movement in Poland really wanted to get rid of the regime,
but they had little idea of what might replace it - in the sense of some
kind of democratic socialism that could really work, economically and
politically and culturally. That was the real problem, and I consider this
the main problem of socialist theory. How could you combine planning,
markets and democracy in a way that really worked well, without foreign
interference stuffing things up ? You have written on it, Samary, Kornai and
Itoh have written on it etc., but obviously we ought to do much more
thinking about it, and get much more specific. It's all very well to argue
that socialism can only emerge in the context of a war, but even if this is
true (I don't think so) then the war still has to have aims, specifiable in
terms of cultural, political and economic values people have, and the
implementation of those values.

Now why say all this ? Because the debate about capitalist restoration is so
confused. History in the Eastern bloc just didn't develop as many Marxists
thought it would, and then the dillemma seems to be either Stalinist-type
communism or else capitalist restoration, and people work up a froth about
issues of historical justification, or get lost in dogma's about some or
other market socialism. It was clear, that in the Eastern Bloc nationalist
feelings, hatred of the Stalinist regimes, the intellectual discredit of
Marxism, and the inability to organise a revolutionary party under
totalitarian conditions played a big role in the outcome. But given that the
old socialisms have been wiped out (apart from Cuba, where most people
probably realise they are better off with Castro than with imperialist
murder and poverty), the real job is to discover the tendencies of the new
socialism within market society such as it exists today.

The historical debate Marxists have now about previous socialist
experiments, is a moral debate, but it is pretty useless in my opinion, I
mean if you really want to make a contribution, then you would need to study
e.g. the Polish situation how it is today, and discover ways of rebuilding a
socialist movement in Poland (I don't speak any Polish, so I don't think I
am the one to do it, but that is what I think). Ernest Mandel went there
again late in his life, and gave a university paper about the Marxist theory
of social classes, I think Ralph Miliband also gave a paper at that time,
but whether this addressed the real problems of concern in Poland I am
doubtful about. You can of course defend Jaruzelskism or Brezhnevism, but I
think that the majority of the world population thinks this is rather
irrelevant, and I don't think you get many takers. It is just another form
of lesser-evil thinking, which is caused by the fact that, although
capitalism is massively unpopular in the world, and although the bourgeoisie
has a massive political leadership crisis, people cannot see an alternative
so easily, and the alternatives that they know of, might be a lot worse.
That is what feeds neo-conservative fundamentalism.

The real issue is how you would go about creating real job security,
creating real democracy, and creating economic efficiency. And because the
issues are large and complex, many people have to work together on it to get
the answers. That is why I personally opt for a sort of additive, heterodox
socialist approach. I say additive, because a good, experientially based and
verifiable theory of socialism requires the input of masses of different
people, who know that they cannot provide all the answers by themselves,
that there are many different facets and areas of concern which need to be
combined, and to combine them requires organisation. Applying a
paraconsistent-type logic probably works much better.

Which gets me back to the Spartacists, because they had a universal theory
covering all cases, and there was no issue anywhere in the world that they
could not take a position on. That is not an approach I support, because I
think it is epistemically wrong. The way I learnt my socialism, the point is
not to take a position on everything, but do something wherever you happen
to be, talk about what you think you can talk about, without pretending to
have all the answers. The universal theory idea, which seeks to provide one
correct categorisation of reality for everybody, just produces sectarianism,
and in that case we might as well go to church, and we would have a better
time there. Categorisations are fine, but it is the application that counts.

Forming the Communist International in 1919 was maybe a good idea or perhaps
inevitable, but if you look at the implementation of that idea, it turns out
it was a political disaster for the socialist Left leading to bizarre
schematism. To be sure, many CP activists did very good work and helped a
lot of people and a lot of just causes, but the idea that the party line
could be determined from Moscow, Peking, Tirana etc. in a more or less
monolithic way, did much more harm than good. I am personally completely
convinced of this through looking at New Zealand political history, and
examining in detail what people actually did, why they did it, and what the
result of that was.


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