[Marxism] Reply to Joel Kovel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jun 26 10:41:20 MDT 2004

(Joel's reply appears in its entirety. My comments are interspersed.)

joel kovel wrote:
> Hi Louis,
> "Bushism" is a term used on a number of occasions by Howie Hawkins--with
> whom I have worked a lot in the past--to describe the identity between the
> mainstream parties. I absolutely agree that both parties share equal
> responsibility for imperialism, for perfectly transparent reasons--and as I
> have said on a number of occasions, for that reason I would never support
> Kerry. (For example, recently asked to join a group called Greens for Kerry,
> I refused, stating: "I cannot lend my name to any support for Kerry so long
> as his views are those of imperialism and the reflex support of Ariel
> Sharon.") I also agree with your paragraph on how fundamental imperialism
> is.

But Joel, anybody who reads your article will be reminded of how the 
Daily Worker used to get people to vote for the Democrats. You never 
actually saw them specifically instruct people to vote for LBJ or Jimmy 
Carter. But with the torrent of words about how the Republicans were 
qualitatively different from the Democrats and objectively fascist, 
etc., anybody would get the message. You just have to connect the dots.

> However, I reject the identity theory of the major bourgeois parties. This
> is only Marxist in the vulgar sense of the term, which argues reductively by
> replacing concrete analysis wth reified categories. It's as if Gramsci never
> existed, calling us to look at the real fabric of things rather than relying
> on reflex invocation of economistic "laws." Certainly this would include
> incorporating the social bases of parties and their legitimation strategies
> rather than resorting over and over again to their ruling class loyalities

Of course the parties are different. If the Democrats ran Zell Miller, 
the nitwit Senator from Georgia who goes on the Don Imus show to blast 
his own party, there would be such outrage that the system would risk 
collapse. This is not Coke and Pepsi we are talking about after all. The 
  Democrats include many good people in their ranks like the late Paul 
Wellstone, the late Ted Weiss in NYC, et al. In many ways, their 
politics is the same as the Green Party's--heart-felt progressivism and 
anti-corporatism. The difference, however, is not in program but in the 
refusal to help preserve a *system* that underpins capitalism. At the 
risk of being tedious, I would like to repeat a point I already made. 
Chattel slavery relied on a kind of 2-party system as well. The 
Democrats (the same party as today) were adamantly pro-slavery. The 
Whigs were critical of the abuses of the slave masters but would not 
call for the abolition of the system. Any initiative that challenged 
this duopoly should have been encouraged--like the Free Soil Party. At 
this point in American history, we should be encouraging challenges to 
the 2-party system based on wage slavery, no matter the faults of 
individual candidates like Ralph Nader.

> There are deep and complex reasons why this country has slid so far to the
> right in recent decades--which I can't take up here--but the Republicans
> have been able to exploit them while the Democrats play catch up and suffer
> from a permanent case of bad faith. Christian fundamentalism has become the
> ideological linchpin of the Republicans, and it grows with the unending
> social and economic crises of capital. I see Bushism (though I would never
> use the term as such) as the specific fusion in the Bush administration
> between big oil capital and the religious right. I suspect that W. will be
> dumped by the ruling class this time around because he has made such a
> disaster of Iraq; but the structural problems remain. No one can say with
> certainty that the Bushites will further institutionalize theocratic fascism
> if he prevails in November, but no one can deny this as a real possibility.

Hate to sound like a Trotskyite brontosaurus, Joel, but I don't think 
that fascism is a threat in the USA as long as the working class is 
quiescent. To suspend elections and the bill of rights in the face of 
massive resignation to the current state of affairs would be an 
overreaction on the part of the ruling class. They are much smarter than 
that. Fascism is a system of last resort. It is tremendously expensive 
since it relies on a beefed up security force to keep track of the 
citizenry. It is also politically risky since it poses the question of 
armed struggle, the only possible way to overthrow totalitarian rule. 
You'll notive how ineffective attempts have been to stop "Farenheit 911" 
in its tracks. If we were anywhere near fascism, this film would have 
been quashed before it ever finished being filmed.

> If Nader were offering a real alternative, I would say it's worth the risk.
> But I don't see that he does. He may give that impression because of his
> charisma, but that's a very dangerous trap to fall into and it does no
> credit to otherwise sophisticated leftists to go along with a program that
> is essentially a reheated Democratic party vision of the future. There is
> neither radical Green nor radical socialist content to Naderism. Given how
> awful things are, I say we set aside false prophets and concentrate on
> building ecological socialism. And so I agree as well with the tenor of your
> concluding remarks, except as seeing Nader as the suitable candidate. He
> simply doesn¹t oppose the capitalist system, but wants to humanize it and
> offset its malignancy. That's hardly enough to justify running the risks of
> enhancing Bush's chances.
> Best,
> joel

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Joel, even if I remain unconvinced of 
your arguments.

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