[Marxism] RE: Imperialism, Marxism, Modernisation- Reply to Rob

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Fri May 21 11:05:45 MDT 2004


Hi Rob,

Thanks for the thoughtful message.

I WROTE:
>But it is not 'the nation' that decides the direction such modernisation
>will take, but rather, the particular form taken by modernisation depends
>upon the outcome and effects of the class struggle within that
>(inter)national context.

ROB WROTE:
>I would not argue with the point that class struggle has a
>more significant determining force than any structures like nation-state.
>However, it is undeniable that the nation-state has been the dominant
>political model of the last 100 years- again stating the obvious- and that
>nation-states have had a disastrously determinant effect in shaping
>political interest groups.

I did not say that class struggle has a more determining force (with regard 
to what?) than the nation-state. I think such a position tends towards 
abstractions and false dichotomies. The significance of 'national' struggle 
must be understood with reference to the specific class content of, and 
context in which, any 'national' claims are being made. One can only do this 
from an objective standpoint and we certainly should not take Nazi or 
Japanese fascist rhetoric seriously. Nazi claims that it was engaging in 
'proletarian imperialism' (as opposed to the decadent jewish finance 
imperialism of the British) is straightforwardly national chauvinist 
nonsense. On the other hand, any claim that the nation-state per se has a 
'disastrous effect' on the character of political groups risks lumping 
Cuban, Brazilian, Venezuelan, Soviet, or Irish nationalism, in the same 
category as, say, (particular chauvinist or, for want of a better word, 
'corporatist') British, German or American 'nationalism'. This, I think, is 
similarly reactionary. As ever, a case by case analysis starting from an 
understanding of the development of class struggle internally and externally 
to a given nation must be our starting point.


ROB WROTE:
>Furthermore, no matter how much Marxist thought
>must ultimately point dialectically towards a transcendent "global", and no
>matter how significant the various internationals have been in shaping
>working-class consciousness, it is undeniable that the field of action of
>working class movements has been primarily and necessarily the 
>nation-state.

We must start not from the 'transcendent global' but from the concrete 
global. You seem to suggest this yourself. It is absurd, in my view, either 
to abstractly treat the interests of the international working class as 
identical to those of particular national working classes (without taking 
into account such realities as the production of 'labour aristocracies', 
etc.), or to treat the interests of a particular national working class as 
separate from the interests of the international working class (by, say, 
effectively, transforming 'socialist' struggle into 'corporatist' struggle).


I WROTE:
>The imperialism of fascist nations is principally
>undertaken by the ruling elite to prevent the socialist expropriation of 
>the
>property of the ruling class, and the abolition of their class, and occurs
>after that threat has been overcome. There is indeed a sense in which 
>Syria,
>Cuba, and Venezuela can be lumped together- they are each socialist or
>quasi-socialist nations fighting imperialist onslaught upon their national
>sovereignty, and attempting 'modernisation' on that beleaguered basis. They
>are not themselves imperialistic. This is in direct contrast to Germany
>which, as I said, was already highly modernised and highly industrialised
>before the fascists took power.

ROB WROTE:
>I would hesitate to draw a strict line between
>imperialist and anti-imperialist nations. Note, for example, the
>anti-imperialist rhetoric of imperial Japan (rhetoric which many sincere
>japanese Marxists of the time actually believed), and it's effective role 
>in
>the freeing of much of Asia from the direct field of action of the Western
>imperialist powers. Note also, that much Nazi propaganda presented the Nazi
>cause as one of destroying the imperial grip which Britain held on the 
>world
>(e.g. pictures of Winston Churchill as some kind of grotesque
>octopus-monster with his tentacles inflicting vicious injuries across the
>continents!). Of course, this was most often propaganda aimed merely at
>recruiting the nobler sentiments of any sector of the population which 
>might
>have had doubts, and of course all nations typically referred to as
>"fascist" were relatively developed ones bidding desperately to appropriate
>the revolutionary force of the working class (appropriating the word
>"socialist" of course being only the most obvious example), but it is
>undeniable that the line is a blurred one, or at least that the case was 
>not
>just one of an imperialist world facing an anti-imperialist world, divided
>nation by nation (as I'm sure you would agree, the imperialism and
>anti-imperialism need to be viewed in terms of class dynamic primarily).

I think you can indeed draw definitive lines between imperialist and 
anti-imperialist nations. By this I do not suppose there is such a thing as 
an imperialist world facing an anti-imperialist world, since this would 
ignore the divisions, vis a vis imperialism,  both between the imperialist 
camps, and within and between their potential or actual (neo)colonies (as 
you point out). Nevertheless, the fact of imperialism of necessity puts the 
peoples of the world in two distinct camps: for (for whatever reason) or 
against (for whatever reason). For the future of the minds and bodies of 
humanity and the planet earth I support anti-imperialism from the 
perspective of socialism. As for the idea that the Nazis opposed imperialism 
in any meaningful way, see above. In all of this I do not mean or wish to 
suggest that any political scheme that would combat any particular 
imperialism ought to be supported regardless of that scheme's relation to 
class struggle. I think the form anti-imperialist struggle takes ought to be 
judged on a case-by-case basis. But the relaity is that socialism is NEVER 
achived by supporting imperialism, and thus imperialism should ALWAYS be 
opposed. At any rate, I am not sure of the morality of judging revolutionary 
struggle from the theoretical armchair.
I am not sure that you're quite right to say that fascist nations were 
really trying to harness the energy of the revolutionary working class. This 
would not explain the mass murder of all the representatives of the working 
class by the nazis in 1930s Germany, or the fact that such an approach would 
have totally alienated the Nazis' big business and conservative backers.

ROB WROTE:
>might we not say that your answer is thus (and please tell
>me if I am putting words into your mouth, so to speak) here that the
>"contemporary" of socialism ought to be distinct from that of the 
>capitalist
>West/ North/ 1st world? I am tempted to agree.. Yet it is still undeniable
>that the capitalist form of production remains THE determining factor
>globally, and that thus if other modes of production are possible the first
>thing that has to be addressed is the capitalist mode of production, and
>this is textbook Marxism! I remain as cynical as Marx about the viability 
>of
>any attempt at socialising the means of production that does not first
>address the globally dominant mode of production.


I don't know what you mean really by the latter part of this paragraph. 
Obviously socialism involves overturning capitalism. As for your imputatuion 
of a sort of 'third worldism' to me. I don't know the answer to that. Time 
will tell if there is a serious potential for radical socialism in the 
Western masses. I hope so.

I WROTE:
>As far as postmodernism goes- I'm not really interested in it, since it
>seems to have little serious social analytic worth (although it might 
>indeed
>have some significance to an understanding of the cultural logic of 'late
>capitalism'). And as far as Marxist 'orthodoxy' goes, with its alleged
>inability to understand the complexities of a 21st century world- I think 
>we
>could do with more, not less of it,  to be honest.

ROB WROTE:
>My point about Marxist "orthodoxy" was not the typical jab at the crusties
>of traditional Marxism, and a plea for some sort of "Marx Beyond Marx"- you
>misinterpret me here. Rather, the way I see it, many of those that call
>themselves "orthodox" Marxist are in fact some of the least intellectually/
>analytically rigourous, and are generally using some odd appeal to a
>specific type of Marxism as "orthodoxy" as a way of legitimising their
>positions (often within political parties)- as if they are somehow "closer"
>to the great A close reading of Marx's texts
>brings out an impression of a mind that is constantly active, incredibly
>flexible, and incredibly open, without being unsystematic. The ability to
>achieve this intellectually is one of the beauties of dialectical method in
>Marx & Hegel. Unfortunately much of the subtlety of the original thought 
>has
>been effaced by a history of varying appropriations of Marx by different
>political bodies, and the simplifications that must necessarily go along
>with such a process. Of course, I wouldn't contend that Marx should be left
>to the philosophers and be kept out of active politics, but I do believe we
>ought to be aiming more to think with at least the dialectical rigour of
>Marx, and less to simply cling to an inflexible "orthodox" Marxism,
>clutching our copies of Kapital like crucifixes and not paying too much
>attention to what is written inside. Marx's analysis was never meant to be
>some sort of complete description of the newtonian laws governing societies
>(as if this was achievable), and the "scientific" nature that is constantly
>appealed to had much less to do with a dualistically conceived world (i.e.
>one of conventionally conceived science) with discreetly and ultimately
>identifiable objects like "society" and "class"; it was dialectical and 
>thus
>pointed towards a transcendence of these objects as well as it's own
>involvement in the very system being analysed! Just as in Marx's writing
>everything begins as the individual worker faces the world with tools in 
>his
>hands, and sets to work, so does Marx, and so do we; and some of the most
>useful of the tools which we possess are those crafted by Marx. We have to
>use those tools and others with dexterity, and attend to them carefully, or
>they end up blunt, rusty & good for nothing but bashing things and throwing
>at people!

I think this is a bit of an academic strawman to be used, in the academy, to 
denounce dull-brained Marxist fanatics who don't know how to apply their 
(pseudo)science to the real world. In my experience, I find that most 
Marxists who actually think about Marxism use Marx's thoughts and writing to 
understand and investigate real events and processes in the world. I know of 
very few outside the academy who would stand a chance in a party simply by 
fetishising their copy of Capital. This would be just as hopeless as 
endlessly exegising Marx's work as the source of our answers to, say, who is 
going to win the US Presedential election.  At the same time I disagree with 
you that Marx was uninterested in formulating scientific ('Newtonian'!) laws 
about society in his work. I think he was (although that neither makes him a 
economistic reductionist nor a crude determinist), and that is where much of 
the value of his work lies. Anyway, 'class struggle' is quite useful for 
bashing people with.
Cheers.

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