[Marxism] America No. 1?

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Sat Mar 5 09:54:59 MST 2005

[Sorry about the format.  Same posting reformatted:]

Joaquín Bustelo wrote:

> Half of the U.S. population is so well educated that they believe an 
> invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing being created the world 5,000 
> years ago and did stuff like put all those dinosaur bones in the ground 
> to test our faith: because being infintely wise and merciful and loving, 
> he's going to send you to hell for an eternity of torture if he succeeds 
> in tricking you into dissing him by believing the evidence he set out to 
> mislead us.

In other words, Americans are ignorant and stupid -- the working class
included or perhaps (worse) the working class especially...

Even if we ignore the misanthropy exuded in generalizations of this
kind, Joaquín's statement is so general that it is politically
useless.  In the current state of disunity and fragmentation in the
U.S. working class, most politics is *local*: local organizing, local
actions.  And the premise of local actions is that people are capable
of solving their immediate problems.  Otherwise, why bother?

Deep down, Joaquín's statement provides a justification for giving up
the struggle.

Joaquín says that American stupidity is incompatible with modern
technology.  Indeed, the U.S. is being dragged backwards by Christian
fundamentalism while the rest of the world is  gradually catching up.
So, that makes the U.S. society fundamentally unfit to lead further
historical progress in the world.  While this is correct in general,
again it is too general to be politically useful.  The question is,
How do we battle Christian obscurantism concretely, i.e., locally or
at whatever level we can act effectively?

How do we make sure that our children get a more rational, modern
education, so that they become better apt to functioning in an
increasingly complex, technological, and connected world?  That's what
can make the working people in the U.S. act now and not rely on future
luck.  People are not going to say, Oh well, the U.S. is going down
the drain, we'll just give up our aspiration to educate our children.
We can and should tell parents that if they're serious about ensuring
a future for their children, their actions need to transcend local
politics, but that propagandistic effort can only work if we're
*seriously* involved in local politics, patiently fighting on their
side concretely, locally, and effectively.

> Another way the U.S. rulers seek to compensate is technology, but here 
> the lack of what we call in Spanish "culture" is also devastating. All 
> sorts of hare-brained schemes are hatched, everything from air force 
> studies of teleportation to putting everybody's records from everywhere 
> in a computer that would tell them who the terrorists are, originally a 
> project known as TIA, or Total Information Awareness, under the Pentagon 
> and now seconded for political reasons to the states in the form of the 
> appropriately named Matrix.

Just a parenthetical note here: Technology means contracts.  It means
that the enrichment and strengthening of the military-industrial
complex at the expense of the public.  They justify it by saying that
there's public opposition to the draft and that they care about the
dear lives of American soldiers.  If the lives of U.S. soldiers are so
valuable, let's spend developing war robots, etc.  The driving force
here is profit making.  I think we should focus on denouncing this.

> This isn't just a society but a culture --to call it a "civilization" 
> would be ridiculous-- well on its way to a crisis and collapse.

Yes.  But what do we do?  Do we passively let it implode at a great
human social cost?  Or do we actively try to turn it into a
consciously led, organized *revolutionary* process?  What is the right
thing to do in this case?

> The economy is a hollow shell propped up by "intellectual property" 
> monopolies and the domination of world financial markets inherited from 
> when the U.S. was the world's leading economy. Its waning vigor can be 
> seen in its military adventures. An insurgency that is, in reality, is 
> quite a bit smaller than the one in Vietnam has it completely bogged down, 
> and dissent from and even contempt for the military leadership is spreading 
> in the armed forces, both in the theater of operations and in the rearguard, 
> even absent a massive civilian movement against the war.

I tend to agree with the diagnosis.  But, again, the responsibility of
social fighters is not to let the collapse happen spontaneously.  But
to turn it into a *social revolution* that limits human cost to the
extent possible so that something better can be built.  The only way
to minimize this human cost is by preemptively increasing the unity,
organization, and militancy of those who live off their work,
something that requires that short-distance political action I
mentioned above.  If in retrospect, even that proves insufficient to
limit the social cost, we can be absolutely sure -- beforehand -- that
not doing anything will invite the worst case scenario.

Yoshie is right in implying that we should defend the little good
there is in the system of public education in the U.S.  Public
education in the U.S. is a tremendous source of inequity *as is*.  But
abandoning the system altogether would not improve things for the
working poor.  On the contrary, it'd worsen them, because they do not
have available alternatives.  There can be individual "solutions"
(vouchers, NCLB, blah blah blah).  Educated and savvy parents can get
around the system and provide something better for their children, but
most poor people in the U.S. can't and won't.  So efforts to defend
public education and calls to reform it are the right thing to do.
Otherwise we're giving up.

> The United States is a declining power with a society and culture in an 
> advanced state of decay and decomposition. What the exact form of the 
> crisis that will topple this naked emperor from its tottering throne no 
> one can predict; but that it will be toppled looks more inevitable every 
> day. And I don't mean in the fullness of time with the withering away of 
> commodity production and all that; I fully expect it well within my lifetime, 
> and I'm in my mid-50's.

To rivet my idea: There are different ways for the emperor to go down.
One way is having an organized, potent force to overthrow it, replace
it, and rebuild society on new foundations.  And another way is to let
the whole world go to hell.  That seems to be the alternative Joaquín
insinuates -- and I strongly disagree.

> Of course, one could argue that this really applies only to the ruling class. 
> But, first, the ideology of a country is that of its ruling class, especially 
> one that enjoys such absolute hegemony as the U.S. ruling class enjoys; and 
> second, no working class anywhere has shown itself as incapable of acting as a 
> class as this one. In its majority, it has been quite happy to drink the poison 
> of male privilege, white privilege, "legal" privilege, imperialist privilege. The 
> few remaining traces of the last time the class acted as a class in an independent 
> movement, the rise of the CIO, are passing out of all living memory. The American 
> working class is quite thoroughly under the political and ideological domination 
> and hegemony of the U.S. imperialists.

This sounds to me like an excuse to give up on the U.S. working class.
We need to fight the political and ideological domination of the
ruling class.  Theirs is becoming a house of cards, and we need to
apply force where we can get better results.  There's discontent and a
lot of palpable energy in the working class.  Progress is by no means

> It is a mistake for Marxists to put themselves in the stance of defending one of 
> the central instruments used to impose and reproduce this domination and hegemony, 
> the educational system. As Marx explained in the Critique of the Gotha Program:

[Then Joaquín quotes Marx.]

Joaquín cites Marx criticizing a program in an ascending, potent
socialist movement in a relatively new German state (so weak that will
soon be forced to relax its political controls over the socialists and
even try to buy it with social reforms) to back up his view that, in
the U.S., the opposition should not defend the traces of public
education available.  But, doesn't that contradict his saying that the
U.S. working class has demonstrated an utter inability to act as a
class and that the U.S. ruling class exercises total political and
ideological domination over society?

Marx's notes on Gotha's program are not universal verities to be
applied regardless of context.  The historical contexts in these two
instances cannot be more different.  Removing Prussian public schools
from the toxic influence of the church and the state bureaucracy in
the 1870s presupposed that those schools were funded -- that they
*existed* in the first place.  Marx took this for granted, because the
Prussian state (leading the unification of Germany and obsessed with
catching up with England) wasn't about to starve the beast of public

Clearly, the underlying assumption in Marx's remarks is that the state
funds -- should fund -- education.  What Marx wrote is that the state
and the church should not control *the content* of education.  Mutatis
mutandis, in the U.S. the problem is more dire: the Bushies want to
starve the beast.  They want to renege the state's obligation to fund
public education with taxpayers' money.  Our first order of business
in this case is to protect the little public education the state
provides funds for.

Moreover, we should point to the obvious gap between the needs of a
modern technological society and the sad state of public education to
demand expansion and EQUITY in the allocation of public funds for
education.  There's an opening.  Even prominent tycoons are
complaining about this!  Bill Gates, in the meeting of the governors
call the U.S. to abandon the deeply classist philosophical premise of
public high schooling: that not all kids are fit for higher education.

> U.S. schools are not primarily educational institutions in any sense of 
> the word "education" which is connected with culture or knowledge or 
> science. Their overriding function is social conditioning and control.

Generalization.  Things are more complicated.  And local conditions vary.


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