[Marxism] Hi Lana

Steve Gabosch bebop101 at comcast.net
Sat May 1 18:30:05 MDT 2004

Hi Lana,

I have only been able to skim most Marxmail posts in recent weeks, been too 
busy in other projects to participate.  But I've been reading your posts 
with interest.  Below is a rambling post in response to some of your most 
recent, and to some responses you have gotten

For me, in some ways, you reflect for me some important aspects of a 
radicalizing "middle America" that is curious about Marxism and socialism 
and figuring out how to create a better world for working people.  As I see 
it, many (millions, perhaps not yet tens of millions of) people in the US 
working classes and working middle classes are leaning toward asking - and 
revisiting - very radical questions about society and justice  - in one way 
or another.  Much of it is under the surface, taking place on an individual 
and often veiled way.  I see this for example in the aircraft factory where 
I have been working for many years.  People are changing.

(For you, in some ways, I may reflect - these are my words, of course - 
some important aspects of an aging American wave (I'm 52) of 
Marxist-influenced activists that came out of the '60's and '70's in an 
expression of a rebellion against American class society and injustice and 
world imperialism that is still thriving in many forms, but still trying to 
find ways to influence the "masses".)

You are obviously very bright, Lana - as are all who participate on this 
list - and deeply committed to interpreting the world and the behaviors of 
humans in a highly ethical way.  In these characteristics, all Marxmailers 
are on the same page and of the same heart.  Scholarliness has nothing to 
do with being bright or ethical - it is a special kind of activity.  What 
does have everything to do with being bright and ethical is how we go about 
using our heads and connecting our hearts to the world - and how we plan, 
execute and explain what we do -as you put it, our practice.  This is of 
course what generates intense discussion anywhere.  On this list, different 
Marxmailers have different opinions of what is true and what is not, and 
what is good behavior (practice) and what is bad, and therefore different 
ideas of who is good and who is bad.  These, of course, become the things 
we debate - politically, philosophically, factually, theoretically, 
ethically, logically.

I have been wondering when conversations with you here on Marxmail might 
start getting tense.  They now seem to be.  I am glad you are standing up 
to it, which prompts my response to you.

One side of my curiosity has been to observe how Marxmailers would respond 
to you.  You present several interesting problems for them.  And me, too, I 
suppose - anyone who posts on Marxmail is some kind of Marxmailer.

The main one of these interesting problems is the one that Louis Proyect 
explained - (in my words), that this list is designed for people who follow 
the basic protocols of Marxist discourse and use Marxist precepts as their 
framework. Some of your posts have not quite followed these discourse 
"norms."  More on this in a moment.

A second interesting problem your posts present is the one I am most 
interested in.  Although it is not a central purpose of Louis's list, his 
effort (and no one should underestimate the time and responsibility that 
Louis, Les and others dedicate to keeping this list going at all, let alone 
the specific form it aims for) does have a sub-theme of explaining basic 
ideas of Marxism to people who ask.  That is more or less the "category" 
that your posts have been falling in.  I have been curious about just how 
long experienced Marxmailers were going to be willing to "patiently 
explain" (Lenin's famous saying) before they began to get a little 
exasperated.  Behind this tension between patience and exasperation, for 
me, is the historic problem of how to relate Marxism to the general 
population of working people.  How long can one keep patiently explaining 
before one just says "damn it, you are just plain fucking wrong!"  On the 
other hand, how can such displays of exasperation ever teach anyone anything?

A third problem (for the norms of Marxmail-talk) is the framework you 
sometimes have used to justify your opinions in some of your posts, and 
this an important piece of this "scholarly" business that has been brought 
up.  You sometimes use a strong "personal experience" basis for your 
opinions.  A fancy term in philosophy for this question - the study of how 
do you know? - is the term "epistemology."  A ground breaking book in 
social science based on this very important question of how humans "know" 
was published in 1986 by four women - Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker 
Clinchy, Nanct Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule.  Their book, 
"Women's Ways of Knowing - The Development of Self, Voice and Mind" was 
based on extensive interviews with hundreds of middle class, working class 
and lower working class women and offered an extensive analysis of how they 
constructed their knowledge and how they conveyed it.  What made their book 
ground breaking was its focus on ways of knowing other than the scholarly, 
their focus on women, and their focus on working class women (including 
young welfare mothers).  They focused on both the subjective as well the 
"objective" ways that people know, using a line of questioning they call 
"educational dialectics" - differentiating various kinds of knowledge - 
using ideas such as process oriented versus goal oriented, constructed 
versus received, rational versus intuitive, compartmentalized versus 
synthesized, collaborative versus solitary, generalist versus specialist, 
supportive versus challenging, personal versus impersonal, self-concern 
versus caring for others, inner versus outer, validating versus 
nonvalidating, and listening versus speaking.  These authors are by no 
means Marxists, but this is the kind of study that I think Marxists can 
help generalize and incorporate into socialist thinking.

The topic of "how do we know" something often gets very contentious between 
any people in disagreement, and this certainly can be seen in some Marxmail 
discussions.  One problem is when people are not using equivalent 
epistemological methods.  If my data is based on my impressions of what my 
machinist co-workers feel, and yours is based on the latest Labor 
Department statistics, and we draw different conclusions (to make up an 
example, I think workers are getting more militant because their talk 
indicates it, but you say they are not because they are striking less), we 
are going to argue in circles.  In the end, I will win the argument on 
common sense terms because I "really" know from personal experience, 
whereas you only "think" you know from government statistics.  We have all 
had this kind of conversation many times from both sides, haven't we?

So let me return to the question of discourse, which is relevant not just 
here on Marxmail, but in the general discussion of socialism and Marxism in 
society.  I believe Marxist-minded socialists have some big challenges 
before us.  Since the time of Marx and Engels, mainstream bourgeois 
ideology has made enormous strides in setting the rules and norms for what 
people know - how people talk - how people argue - how people think they 
know.  However, Marxism has developed inadequate tools for solving this 
problem.  Radio, TV, the feature film, magazines, newspapers and books - 
and the classroom-based school system (religion also plays a big role in 
structuring knowledge and attitude) - have become enormous stages upon 
which mainstream pro-capitalist, sexist and racist ideas and ways of 
thinking - and ways of knowing - are generally promulgated and 
accepted.  In my opinion - and I believe nearly all Marxists agree on this 
- Marxism must develop ways to cut through this seemingly overwhelming and 
deafening concert.  It is so loud, we can literally complain that we can 
hardly hear ourselves think, let alone cut through it.

But we must, and this is one of the reasons I lurk and sometimes write on 
Marxmail.  Everyone here, including you, Lana, is seriously interested in 
how to cut through the garbage and begin to reveal the truth.

Louis Proyect I think very wisely shepherds our discussions toward a more 
"objective" style of discourse not because it is the only kind of way of 
knowing, but so we can create some kind of a space for Marxists to trade 
their thoughts, observations and inquiries in a common language.  This kind 
of "objective" exchange is what is known as "scientific" or "scholarly" 
discussion.  This style of discourse is not just about what I know because 
I see it, but what others are also seeing.  Claims are not just subjective 
- I know it because I see it - but are also objective - I know it because 
others also see it.

At the same time, it is a myth - and a very irritating one to those that 
are aware of the importance of subjective knowing - that "objective" 
knowers are not just overgrown and overschooled subjective knowers.  They 
are.  We are.  I am.  Marxists are.  Scholars are.  Everyone with any 
opinion, no matter how "expert" that opinion is, is first and foremost a 
subjective knower.  We can only believe what others see because we at root 
see it ourselves.

But Marxists do this in a different and new way.  It sounds so simple and 
obvious that it seems commonplace.  But it is anything but.  Carrol did a 
very nice job of hitting this nail right on the head when - okay, now I 
have to admit I still haven't figured out whether Carrol is male or female 
- when Carrol explained how questions must be looked at 
*historically."  Another term Marxists often use to capture this concept is 
"dialectical."  Marxists "know" by thinking historically.  Carrol's words 
were very wise.

What these terms and ideas refer to is the profound theory of *development* 
that makes Marxism such an enduring and such a revolutionary outlook.  This 
theory above all is what holds Marxism as a general movement together.  Its 
most developed expression is in historical materialism, a theory of how 
society develops.  All Marxist theorizing and analysis flows - or tries to 
flow - from this unique and powerful theory of development.

OK, I need to quit wandering now, and get to a conclusion.  Thank you for 
listening this far.  This notion of "development" may be what is missing in 
some of your posts, Lana.  In Marxist thinking, everything, including all 
our ideas, including the idea of development itself, is constantly 
developing.  Ethical ideas are developing.  Our opinions are 
developing.  Facts and theories are developing.  Our very conversations are 
developing.  Marxism is developing.  Society is developing.  Individually 
we are all developing.

In my opinion, finding ways to incorporate this notion of development into 
our discourse is part of the art of speaking "Marxist."  It is what 
ultimately holds this list together - we all see development everywhere we 
look, and we have enough common language and theory to be able to discuss 
it coherently.  And along with this sense of development, Marxists share a 
common framework of ethics - a humanist ethicss - where we place at our 
highest priority on holding human rights over property rights and divine 
rights.  In my opinion, the trick to keeping our discourse working well is 
to be both objectively and subjectively conscious of the developmental 
nature of being human in a constantly changing world.  This means, no 
matter how sure we are of any claim we make, to be ready for whatever this 
claim attempts to represent to develop.

Oh dear, I just peaked at Marxmail again, and the exasperation quotient 
seems to have gone up another notch - someone just called you a 
"nutcase."  Sigh.  This is a good example of not thinking or speaking 
developmentally (in Marxist terminology, dialectically).  [I would like to 
see a way for Marxmail to limit this kind of personal attack - which is 
infrequent - but I do not quite know how Louis can do that].  Besides its 
obvious rudeness, my problem with this kind of talk is that it conveys the 
message that a person does not belong on this list (this is Louis's 
decision and his alone, this discussion list is not and cannot be a 
membership democracy), and, emphasizing my general point, implies that 
certain people do not develop.  When one adopts the view that people - or 
certain people - do not develop, they lose sight of the human being.  I am 
ashamed that this kind of post appeared on this list.

The larger framework to keep in mind to finish this meandering thing I have 
just written is the problem of creating a successful dialogue between 
Marxism and the general population of working people.  There are many, many 
obstacles to doing so on both sides, including the exasperation Marxists 
inevitably feel themselves.  We have that and many more challenges before 
us in figuring out how to cut through the garbage and help tell the truth - 
and understand the truth - over the din.

Lana, I can see that you have been trying to participate in this dialogue, 
to better understand Marxism, and to offer your own ethical and political 
thoughts to it.  Whether you do it here or on other lists or anywhere, I 
wish you the best of luck.  For my part, I will keep trying, too, and take 
inspiration from your efforts.

- Steve Gabosch

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