[Marxism] RE: Reply to Carl Davidson - or, Why Democrats Really *Are* Worse than Republicans
juliohuato at gmail.com
Thu Mar 17 10:41:33 MST 2005
M. Junaid Alam wrote:
> I fundamentally disagree with you, Julio, because what you describe as
> an exercise in mere formal abstraction, ie. my model, I see as
> representative of the historical facts and political realities of this
Even if your "model" were a good *description* of the dynamics of the
two-party system, still -- it doesn't get to the bottom of the
problem. *Therefore* it doesn't provide us with a sensible formula to
solve the problem.
The bottom of the problem is mainly the division and weakness of the
working class in the U.S. Of course, the two-party system and many
other elements of the social formation reproduce the division and
weakness of the working class. But we need to see through those
chicken-and-egg riddles. That's what the historical materialist
approach is all about.
At the end of the day, we need to know where to exercise political
agency. And that is always in those elements of social life that are
more fluid, not in those that are more hardened. You don't change the
social structure of a country by sheer will exerted directly on the
social structure. No. Your efforts will be diluted by the force of
such hardened social structure. It's like people who think that they
can subvert capitalism by merely refusing to buy Coca Cola. That may
subvert the Coca Cola marketing department, but that won't subvert
capitalism. In fact, Pepsi will help you in that.
No, you start by changing the legal and political superstructures,
which are more fluid, and constitute concentrated power that can help
you alter the social structure -- given time. In turn, you don't
change the hardened elements of the legal and political superstructure
first (unless you hold full state power already, your enemies are
totally defeated, and your treasury balance is plus infinite). No,
you start with the elements of the superstructure that are more fluid
and pliable. You start by changing people's minds. And, at the end
of the day, you can only change people's minds one by one -- you have
to do retail, lots of it.
(And just in case you're thinking that social upheavals change minds
massively for you -- no, they do not; they only create better or worse
*conditions* for retail persuasion to yield results. Read Fidel's
speech to the last congress of the UJC, where Fidel explains *how* the
UJC helped the CCP hold the country together during the "Special
Period." I'll give you a summary: It was retail, individual, genuine,
caring attention to people -- particularly the most needy. Helping
them solve their concrete problems the way comrades help comrades at a
short distance. Answering their questions starting by recognizing
that the questions were not bogus, but real dilemmas. That's how you
change minds, one at a time.)
Say you are overweight. You cannot just drop 50 lbs in an instant.
Your metabolism is a hardened reality. You start by changing your
habits: diet, exercise, lifestyle, etc. But habits are hardened
elements of your behavior. Literally, they're hardened because they
are associated to large pathways in your brain circuitry. You need
the dendrites to reconnect, new synaptic connections to form, etc.
And the brain chemistry is greatly influenced by your metabolism,
something that has a heavy inertia. So you cannot change those things
ipso facto. So, what do you do?
You start by taking baby steps. If you repeat those baby steps a
sufficient number of times, they may stick and become new habits,
second nature. Or not! Ultimately, the easier thing to change is
your mind, which is good because it means that you can really drop
weight (if you only stick to the plan of changing your habits, etc.),
but it's bad because you can change your mind the other way too.
That's real life.
It is analogous in matters of social change. You cannot will your way
out of the two-party trap, because there are all sorts of legal locks
keeping it in place, and you cannot change laws that easily. You have
to effect change in those areas where change is easier, more doable.
And take it from there. The kind of social change Marxists are after
entails not that one single smart, energetic, and willful young man
like you change his ways. Masses of people (some of them old dogs
that will need to learn new tricks) have to change their behavior.
That takes a long time and a tremendous amount of *sustained* effort
with a laser-like focus.
> I therefore disagree with what you choose to posit as present political
> realities - the need to form an alliance with the Democrats for whatever
> practical political purposes.
That's fine. Disagreement is fine. As long as we weigh each other's
arguments fairly and not just talk past each other. I got to be
direct with you though -- I fail to see how, in these times, attacking
the Democrats is a badge of political courage while confronting the
Republicans is an act of cowardice. At the same time, I'm trying to
show you how in these times attacking the Democrats (and *objectively*
helping the Republicans) is an act of utter political stupidity.
Furthermore, it may be suicidal.
> Though I didn't actually write anything
> about forming blocs with Democrats per se, and I don't disagree with the
> idea of forming temporary alliances with enemies, this proposition is
> precluded by what I consider to be the overall nature and function the
> Democratic party plays, which is, again, where we disagree.
Well, you've said it already. You'd rather have a tacit alliance with
the Republicans. There's no way around the law of "universal
interconnectedness of all phenomena in the universe" -- to use one of
Lenin's favorite phrases in the Philosophical Notebooks. And no
matter how you try to justify it, in a contested political arena with
two large contenders, attacking one of them strengthens the other.
That's another reason why we need to play our hand very carefully so
that on balance we really get ahead.
You've read Lenin's writings on Leftism, which are right on the money.
The issue is not whether we should compromise. Existing, living in
this world of ours is already the ultimate compromise. So, the issue
is what kind of compromises we should pick so that our movement
advances and doesn't go backwards.
> I think my idea on this solid based on one simple test - you spend reams
> of paragraphs defending the concept of alliance, but this has already
> been tried a million times.
So? Will a no-alliance-with-the-Democrats policy, which in the
context of our discussion really means tacit alliances with the
Republicans, get us out of the trap? How?
> It's not as if those to the left of the DP
> have been sectarians fanatically avoiding trying to work with the
I am not saying that joining forces with the DP is a *sufficient*
condition to advance. I'm saying that, in the current conditions in
the U.S., joining forces with the DP in concrete struggles (e.g., 2004
presidential election, today's struggle to defend Social Security,
etc.) is a necessary (not a sufficient) condition to advance. I
haven't gotten into the sufficient conditions yet, as I haven't gotten
into the criteria to decide in *which* concrete struggles we join
forces with the DP, because Louis Proyect, you, and others on this
list reject *any* and *all* kinds of cooperation with the Democrats.
So I need to argue with you guys why, in general, it is *stupid* --
and I'll repeat this, *stupid* -- to rule out such cooperation.
> The problem is actually that working with the Democrats is
> what has gotten us into our current national mess.
Why do you keep repeating this as if it were an established fact?
Just because some groups or individuals on the left (e.g., the CP,
Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, the Nation editorial, etc.) joined forces
with the Democrats in particular struggles (e.g., the 2004
presidential election) *and* subsequently the U.S. dollar depreciated
doesn't mean that the U.S. dollar depreciated because of the CP, Ali,
Chomsky, the Nation, etc. supported the Democrats. Covariation is not
the same as causation.
Yes, we're in a mess. Yes, some groups and individuals on the left
have supported the Democrats in the past, but you have not established
yet that the reason why we're in this mess is *because* those or other
leftists supported the Democrats in the past. You won't be able to
establish that fact, because it's not a fact -- it's bunk. You are
giving those people on the left who cooperate with the DP too much
credit for the things that have happened in U.S. history. They are
not that powerful.
> The position of
> rejectionism that I am advancing, or comes out of an understanding of
> the party that I am advancing, is a reaction to this pre-existing status
What's the party that you're advancing by rejecting any and all
alliances or cooperation with the DP? The Republicans! And that's
based on what understanding?
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