[Marxism] Reply to Carl Davidson

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Thu Mar 17 10:28:33 MST 2005

Mark Lause wrote:

> Anyone who's been around for any time has heard each and every one of
> the incantations of Democratic apologists and they become no more
> rational or persuasive with their dizzying repetition...but let's take
> the dramamine and see if we can follow the bobbing without getting
> overly nauseous. 
> In response to the very concrete concerns about the rightward drift of
> the Democrats, they conjure the spirit of reformism.  However, they will
> also brush aside 170 years of serving slavery, violent gang-controlled
> machines, monopoly, and empire building, to describe the Democratic
> Party as somehow yet undefined and innocent.  You see, our experience in
> the real world with the Democrats are very important...and totally
> irrelevant.

If the history of a political formation (e.g., the DP) predetermines
the political possibilities in dealing with it, then what part of its
history is the relevant one?  The slavery part, which happened over a
century ago, or the social-reform part from less than half a century
ago, or which combination of both?

History matters in the sense that it helps us know where a political
formation comes from.  That helps us understand its "logic" (which is
not necessarily coincident with its historical "genesis").  It's good
information to assess, for example, how susceptible that formation is
to change.  But its history doesn't necessarily predetermine its
future.  If social and political formations are not susceptible to
change, then what is this Marxism business all about?  We're just
running around in circles anyway, aren't we?

If one extrapolates the sentiment in your statement to the U.S.
society as a social formation, then one would be advocating for
massively leaving the country, moving to Canada, or overall dissolving
this society.  I don't even think the anarchists hold such nihilistic
view.  This is *our* monster, because we have inherited it and because
we reproduce it by action and omission.  That's what social alienation
is all about: we create and feed the monster, the monster takes a life
of its own and ends up tormenting us.  Since it is *our* monster, it's
*our* responsibility to tame it.

The thrust of Marxist communism is that we can abolish social
alienation: We people can recover control over the things we create,
over the processes by which we create them, and over the relations we
establish among one another to create them and re-create them.  In so
doing, we give birth to new institutions, reform or liquidate old
ones, and transform ourselves.

So, no, I don't share your sentiment.  Not at all.  The workers in the
DP do have a shot at transforming its political formation and they
should definitely try.  And whether we're in or out, we should help
them.  If they succeed in transforming it, then long live the new DP. 
I'm with them.  If they find it more sensible to abandon it in mass,
join another political formation, and let the old DP die, then long
live the other political formation.  I'm with them.

> We need to be Democrats because it's where the toiling masses are,
> ignoring the admittedly often treacherous leaders.  However, the reason
> we need to deal with electoral politics at all is because the
> well-heeled leaders share power with--and are potential alternatives
> to--the Republicans.  What's important, is the ranks not the
> leaders...who are immensely more important than the ranks.

I don't think *we* (you, Louis Proyect, and I) *need* to be Democrats.
 The fact is that *there are* toiling masses in the DP already,
whatever such membership may mean to them and to the party.  And they
stick to it.  And those toiling masses have the same right as any
other toiling masses to promote their best economic and political
interests.  I believe that, *as is*, the DP is not a good vehicle for
them to promote their best interests, but I'm not them.

So, I believe we should not impose as a condition for unity that they
abandon the DP and join whatever group we belong to.  Because, why
should *we* not instead abandon the groups we're in and join *them* in
the DP?  They are more than we are.  Or do we believe that our little
formations have been predestined by Carlos Castañeda's Source to be
the embryo of The Revolutionary Party while theirs have been shun by
the Source?  We may believe that literal conformity to the "true"
"Leninist," "Trotskyist," "Maoist," "Fidelist," or "Chavezist" codes
of organization or particular style of propaganda has granted us that
Divine Right, but why should "history" care?

In brief, we should not criticize the Democrats for *being* Democrats.
 We should criticize the Democrats (and the Leninists, Maoists,
Fidelists, Proyectists, etc.) for *saying* or, worse, *doing* the
wrong things, and to the extent they *say* or *do* the wrong things.

Moreover, if the workers in the DP strive to make their political
formation a better vehicle to promote their interests (to the extent
those interests are not incompatible with the necessity to unite the
class as a whole, to advance its education, organization, and
militancy -- something that can only be assessed concretely), then we
should view those attempts with sympathy at least, if not actively
cooperate with them.

Should you and I infiltrate the DP and try to stage a revolt against
Howard Dean and the increasingly noxious influence of the Liebermans
and Clintons?  Well, do you have a concrete, feasible plan in mind? 
I'd like to see it.

> Put another way, the Democrats aren't exactly like Republicans or they'd
> just be Republicans.  We have to believe this because the Democrats are
> our only alternative to the Republicans because--unlike the Greens,
> Socialists, etc.--the Democrats have power and legitimacy.  That is, the
> Democrats share power with the Republicans.

You say it tongue in cheek, but the first sentence is exactly true:
The Democrats are not identical to the Republicans, and the formal
difference matters a great deal in the current setting.  But you're
right, nobody *has to* believe this.  We always have the right to
stick our heads in the sand.

The rationale to cooperate with the DP in particular struggles is not
that it allow us to borrow power or legitimacy from them.  Why should
they lend us power or legitimacy anyway?  The real rationale is that
some of those struggles (e.g., out of Iraq, defend Social Security)
are deeply-felt struggles of the historical, actually-existing U.S.
working class, in and out of the DP.  Those struggles are not
incompatible with the larger interests of the workers of the world. 
Those struggles, *if well conducted*, can only strengthen the U.S. and
the international working class.

Now, let me explain an aspect of what I call a "well-conducted"
struggle. It is a principle of politics that when you set out to
assault a position, you deploy the most power you can to take it over.
 This means that you need *more* people doing the right things in the
smartest ways.  People obsessed with "drawing class lines" (e.g.,
Louis Proyect) are conflating strategy with tactics.  The end result
of that conflation is getting less people trying to do the right
things but doing them in the stupidest ways.

Any strategy presupposes that you know your own interests and goals. 
But that's the strategy.  In your strategy, you determine what's to be
expected in dealing with the DP in general.  But to put it in
classical terms: "Our viewpoint, from which the evolution of the DP is
viewed as *a process of natural history*, doesn't make the individual
member responsible for relations whose creature she socially remains,
however much she may think subjectively she's above them."

In our tactics, we determine concretely how to gain the most we can in
our dealing with the DP.  But by then we already have a hypothesis of
what's reasonable to expect from them as a political formation.  You
don't get much if you tell an individual member of the DP that, since
the DP sucks, she sucks.  Marxists ought to be capable of
distinguishing between people and the social relations in which they
are immersed.  We can blast the character of a social structure and
*at the same time* respect (or disrespect) the dignity of the people
involved in that social structure.

> Finally, the Republican war on civilized life makes embracing the
> Democrats a matter of immediate urgency, but building an alternative to
> bourgeois politics has no urgency because it can begin as a mass
> alternative.

This is a false dichotomy.  

To be formulaic: Real life is not dichotomous.  Real life is
dialectical.  Or what do you mean?  Say, you have a baby.  You want
him to become a decent, productive, independent human being.  Now, the
baby needs to be fed, burped.  You need to change his diapers -- oh
yes, you do!  He's crying, so you better tend to him.  That's urgent! 
If you let that baby cry for long, he's going to get *structurally*
cranky and then you'll really be in deep.

Now, you say, "No, I don't care about the baby crying or his diaper
stinking.  This baby is already *too dependent* on adults and we
adults are rotten to the core.  I want him to be an independent,
productive man, which in our times means a Marxist revolutionary.  So
I'll rather subscribe him to Marxmail right now.  And I'll start right
now to read him Lenin's complete works.  That way he can really be
ready to contribute to the ultimate well-being of the human race." 
But Mark, he's NOT ready for that yet!  And if you keep trying to
impose on him an agenda that doesn't correspond to his current stage
of development, you're going to cripple his development.  He can
become a productive, independent, decent adult, but not that way.

In the current conditions, building an alternative to bourgeois
politics in the U.S. means feeding, burping, and changing the diapers
of a workers' movement that is still too dependent on rotten adult
political formations like the Republicans and the Democrats.  It is in
that process of feeding it, burping it, and changing its diapers that
the baby workers' movement will evolve most rapidly the conditions for
its self-sustenance and effective independence.

As I've said repeatedly, independence does not mean mechanical
separation from an organization.  We're attached to one another
anyhow.  That's what social relations are, ties that attach us to one
another.  They constrain us and/or enable us.  We deceive ourselves if
we believe that, without a fundamental change of conditions (which
won't happen spontaneously), by not being INSIDE of the DP the U.S.
working class will be politically INDEPENDENT.  No, it won't.  It'll
simply be caught in another bourgeois political trap.

It's like thinking that because you don't change the baby's diaper,
the baby will suddenly get potty trained.  No.  The crap will be
there, waiting for you -- believe me.  The U.S. working class is
trapped in a two-party prison until it develops itself to a point
where breaking the two-party system becomes its immediate, burning
need.  And that process of evolution in the U.S. can and will happen
mostly (mark my words) not outside, but *inside* and *through* the DP.
 The bulk of the historical data available leads to that conclusion. 
The sooner we understand it, the less costly the process will be for
the U.S. workers.

Believing that a tiny group of ultra leftists launching a separate,
obviously doomed, presidential campaign in the face of a tight
election with high stakes is a sign of political independence is like
believing that a 10 year running away from home is a sign of
individual independence.  It may be good material for a revised and
updated version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,"
but it has nothing to do with independence.  It is a political

David McDonald says he wants to hurt the DP.  Let me tell you
something: In 2004, given the tightness of the election's prospects,
even a small insurgent campaign *with the masses ready to rock* could
have hurt the DP *and* the RP big time.  BIG TIME.  Yet, it was hardly
an itch.  The Democrats spent the absolute bulk of their resources in
their frontal battle against the Republicans.  The Nader campaign was
so meaningless that the Democrats used only a few lawyerly thugs to
bluf and try to preempt Nader in some ballots and the Republicans
spent a proportional insignificant amount of resources to help Nader
get in some ballots.  That's the measure of how both parties assessed
the weight of the Nader campaign.  And, again, the dispute was highly
contested between the two large parties, so the abstract possibility
of hurting them was there.  Yet they were right, because they saw it
clearly that *the people was not ready to rock*.  Almost everybody
could see that.  Nader got 0.3% of the vote -- i.e., a share of the
popular vote statistically indistinguishable from zero.  A pathetic

I'll tell you what will really hurt the Democrats *and* the
Republicans -- *getting the people ready to rock*.  And that means
three things: organize, organize, organize -- and better if along the
lines I've proposed in my postings.

> Whenever we discuss the class nature of politics, we are told that we
> need to discuss concretes about who's in the Senate right now ready to
> resist the Republican efforts to raise the cost of postal stamps.
> Whenever we want to discuss how the concrete of Democratic practice in
> its non-opposition to the Republicans, we find ourselves treated to
> abstract generalizations.

So... What's your point?


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