[Marxism] Imperialism, orthodoxy etc. (reply to Calvin Broadbent)

Rob Lucas roblucas at lucasandblench.com
Sat May 22 10:33:50 MDT 2004

Hi Calvin,

Thanks to you too, for what is proving an interesting discussion. Whilst I
would maintain that there are many that would appoint themselves true
adherents to the Marxist cause whilst at the same time peddling simplistic
"Marxisms", I never cease to be impressed by the breadth of historical
understanding that remains present in the movement- my self-distancing from
"orthodoxy" is not based on a wholly negative assessment of what happens
within the movement. Even if there were nothing else to be said for the
inheritance of Marxist thought, it would remain undeniable that it is still
a rich intellectual tradition that still has blood coursing through it's
veins. Before I turn from debate to making this a slushy eulogy, however,
I'll try to answer some of your many points..

> 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.

Certainly. However, maintaining our focus on class struggle, I think we have
to maintain that the reaction of fascism, insofar as it was a desperate bid
to rail in the revolutionary forces developing in those states (particularly
Germany & Japan- I think the case of Italy is a little different), and
insofar as it developed in a world context defined by the classical
imperialisms, simply cannot be separated wholly from anti-imperialism. This
is particularly the case with Japan, whose sudden thrusting into the modern
world was the result of the gunboat diplomacy that forced open it's ports.
In the case of Japan, nationalist chauvinism, pan-Asianism,
anti-imperialism, fascism (or militarism as some prefer to call it in this
case) and Japanese imperialism itself are all closely connected
manifestations of the complex class movement that was underway with such
breathtaking speed throughout the earlier years of the century. Furthermore,
the actual effects of Japanese imperialism, whether intentional or not, were
fundamentally destructive of the classical empires and, (as is obviously not
the case the case with European fascisms) were strongly supported by an
anti-imperial (pan-Asianist) ideology. We could probably argue this in
circles- we certainly shouldn't regard the case of Japan in any sense as a
systematically anti-imperialist imperialism (if this were possible), but it
is equally clearly not a case of simple imperialism- at least not in the
classical sense- and it did not operate with an imperialist logic in any way
identical with that of, say, the British empire.

> 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.

I would not say that the nation-state per se that has an intrinsically
disastrous effect; again, we can't abstract the "nation state" as a single
model with singularly predictable effects. But, as a false form of
identification, when it has not actually been used effectively to the
interest of the populations under it's aegis (namely, in an effectively
anti-imperialist cause), it has undoubtedly caused a lot of damage in many
> 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 would agree wholeheartedly here. When I use the term "transcendent global"
I point merely to the global as the field to which class struggle pointing,
as it necessarily does, beyond the nation state, must move. The
"transcendent" global IS the "concrete" global. The global, in any case, is
not the point from which we start, but that towards which we move.
Incidentally, while I am here, the primary danger of some recent though like
Hardt & Negri's, is that it lays to much emphasis on an established global
field of action which simply does not yet exist.

> 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.

Again, I would only agree here. On these points, it seems, there is little
substantial difference between our two apparent positions; our choices of
emphasis may however cause us to run around in circles a little here...

> 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.

I think fascism is incomprehensible without reference to the immediate
danger the working class movement of the time posed to property relations in
the respective nations. It is clearly possible to understand the murder of
the representatives of the working class in this context, whilst
acknowledging that fascism did indeed attempt to channel the energies of the
working class in ways which did not threaten property relations so
significantly. If it had not aimed to channel these energies it would have
been insignificant as a political force.

> 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.

Marxism is in no sense reducible to a system of "Newtonian" laws. This would
involve much false abstraction- false abstraction which does, I believe, dog
the worst kinds of Marxist thought- the type of thought I wish to criticise
as that which dubs itself "orthodox". This is not to denigrate the
scientificity of Marxist thought; it is, in fact, to emphasise what is
strongest about it. Just as grammar cannot be thought of as a system of
"laws" which determine language without being part of it, but should be
thought of as a description of the functioning of the living body of
language from within that language, and one which assists us in our
meaningful action within that language, Marxism must be understood to be
wholly and dynamically within the world that it describes, and not
"objective" in the limited sense of conventionally conceived science. I
would argue that this intrinsically involves that it must be dialectically
open to the future, and to it's own transformation. Dialectical thought is
always as provisional as it is objective, and this is it's greatest
strength; indeed, that which defines it as "dialectical" in the strongest
sense. Marxism and it's most valuable inheritance, to put it most crudely,
must be science "on the fly"; analysis from within the context of action,
and knowingly subject to that context.

Anyway, time for sleep!



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