[Marxism] Reply to Carl Davidson

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Sat Mar 19 20:22:52 MST 2005


Mark Lause's latest reply doesn't deal with my argument.  Neither does
he correct any real historical inaccuracies in my previous posting. 
He says that I purposefully distorted historical facts because I'm
moved by irrational faith in "partisan politics."  But let's see who
appeals to faith and who distorted what.

First this:

> As I said at the start of this discussion, it's a waste of time to argue
> with the Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons or those who have faith in the
> legitimacy of partisan politics.  
>
> A few observations on Julio's last
> comments underscore that this is a matter of faith, service to a
> perceived higher truth, in the service of which, the perception of all
> other reality can justly be twisted....
>
> In the face of Louis' quoting of Marx from 1850, Julio reconciles his
> Democratic faith with his Marxism by trivializing Marx's advocacy of
> class independence, saying that Marx wrote what he did in 1850 under the
> specific expectation of an imminent revolutionary proletarian revolution
> in Germany and Europe that had nothing to do with the U.S. at that time
> (which I introduced.) 

It was Mark who claimed that Marx's 1850 speech to the CC of the LC
should be extrapolated to the U.S. in our times without further
qualification.  He supported the implicit claim made by Louis Proyect,
who cited Marx's speech out of context.  So, who appeals to faith or
the authority of sacred texts?

> Julio writes, "In the 1848-1849, Germany was still a confederation (as
> it had emerged from the end of the Napoleonic wars) that included a few
> kingdoms and a number of tiny states and free cities.  The central
> powers were pretty much located in Berlin and Vienna."  

But, Mark says, I was...

> WRONG! And WRONG! Although Napoleon established a Confederation of the
> Rhine and some of the major powers like Prussia had been long
> establishing arrangements over tariffs with some of the smaller states,
> Germany was nothing like a confederation in 1848, and it's condition was
> one of the inspirations for that rebellion.  And, had Germany been a
> confederation, it wouldn't have included Vienna, which was and is in
> Austria.  

I'm no historian, but it is a *well-established historical fact* that
the German Confederation, resulting from the Congress of Vienna
(1815), after Napoleon's defeat, created the German Confederation,
which not only included Austria (Prussia and 3 other kingdoms, plus a
bunch of states, etc.), but had its emperor as its head.  In spite of
the 1848-1849 revolutionary wave, the confederation did not dissolve
until 1866, when Bismarck's Prussia defeated Austria.

Mark, a historian, accuses me (a nonhistorian) of purposefully
misrepresenting this historical fact.  Austria, he says, was not a
member of the German Confederation in that period, something that
anybody can easily verify.  Not a big deal though.  He made a minor
error in the rush to disqualify my views.  But let's not get
distracted.  What was my real point here?

My point was that, unlike *today's* U.S., the German Confederation in
1850 was a loose cluster of states, with Prussia pushing ahead, and
Austria playing the drag.  So, the 1848-1849 revolutionary wave was a
widespread assault on the central powers of the German Confederation. 
Moreover, it was a revolutionary wave that engulfed virtually the
entire European continent.

And the German working class, although in alliance with the
bourgeoisie, acted as a relatively united and organized force in the
pursuit of their own interests.  So, Marx's 1850 speech, where he
rejected the demagoguery of the "democrats," is meant as a rallying
cry to *restore* the workers' political independence and continue the
revolutionary process, which Marx believed at the time could be
revived in the expectation of a new revolutionary explosion in France.
 Again, my point was that, given that the U.S. society *is* (note the
present tense) a fairly coherent social formation, then it was
erroneous to extrapolate Marx's assessment of the situation in Germany
to the U.S. today.

Mark, who claims that my views are faith based, nowhere refutes this. 
He just ignores it.  Worse, Mark says the following:

> The US to which
> Julio contrasts this fictional German Confederation is equally creative.
> It was a "coherent social formation, a large modern nation in a large,
> mostly compact territory with a ramified, federal but -- as far as the
> basic legal and political conditions for capitalism are concerned --
> fairly centralized state."  

This is appalling.  All this stuff is recent and is on the archives. 
Everyone can easily verify it.  This was the sequence of the latest
postings: (1) Louis Proyect posted Marx's 1850 citation with no
context implying it was applicable to the U.S. today.  (2) I replied
that, if we took into account the historical context, the situation in
Germany 1850 and today's U.S. are not analogous.  (3) In that posting,
I asked anybody to tell me when the U.S. working class, acting as a
relatively united and independence force, had challenged the status
quo, that is, the central powers that enforce the existence of
capitalist property.  (4) Mark, as an expert in U.S. history, argued
that there were in the past virulent *local* and *regional* class
struggles where workers acted as an independent political force. 
Clearly, *that* could not be taken as a positive response to my
question.  And I said so.

This is almost tautological:

If the U.S. working class has already acted massively as a united and
independent political force, and tested such unity and independence by
challenging the central powers backing up the rule of capital, and it
has *retained* such political independence and unity, then why do we
still have this Democratic Party?  Now, if it previously conquered its
political independence in some large-scale revolutionary movement in
U.S. history that escapes me, but then lost it, then...

How is that relevant to the question at hand?  The fact on which we
didn't disagree is that the U.S. working class in 2005 is not united
and is not acting as an independent political force.  So, if the U.S.
working class ever had the unity and independence to challenge the
central power of capital in the country,  then it lost it completely,
since we still have this DP.

Mark may think that just because *he* said something in response to my
question, his response was relevant.  Well, no, it wasn't.  I said,
and I'm explaining why, it was irrelevant.  And, as encapsulated by
the notion of "American exceptionalism" (see Jim Farmelant's posting),
the U.S. workers in 2005 are in such pit due to conditions that date
back at least to the 19th century, slavery, European immigration, etc.

So here's what I wrote in the first paragraph of my reply to Mark:

> So, effectively, you say: "No, it has not happened."  What have
> happened are local, relatively isolated episodes of class struggle. 
> Not to minimize those episodes, but the U.S. is a coherent social
> formation, a large modern nation in a large, mostly compact territory
> with a ramified, federal but -- as far as the basic legal and
> political conditions for capitalism are concerned -- fairly
> centralized state.  So, any serious challenge to the status quo
> requires a level of generalization of such proportion as to threaten
> central state power.

He admits that the issue of whether the political situation in Germany
1850 was analogous to the political situation in the U.S. 1850 was
introduced by *him*.  I had no interest in that issue, given that the
whole thread was focused on the policy of the U.S. working class in
2005 with regards to alliances or cooperation with the DP.  Clearly,
Mark wanted to shift the topic.   I made remarks paragraph by
paragraph, and I deliberately used the present tense ("the U.S. *is* a
coherent social formation" ... etc., "is," "is").  So, what was my
crime?  That in the mid 19th century, the U.S. *was* not always a
unified, coherent country, since it was heading to a civil war, etc.? 
Well, I said *is*, no *was*.

Based on *that*, pulled-by-the-hairs argument, Mark claims that I said
something I never said.  I could have ended my reply to him right
there, because the rest of his posting was irrelevant.  Yet in a
comment to his n-th paragraph, where he persisted in equating Germany
1850 and U.S. 1850, I made a short comment to the effect that such
idea was *also* farfetched.  Nowhere there did I say that the reason
why it was farfetched was that the U.S. social formation in the mid
19th century was coherent.  I just said that, even then, the political
situation in Germany 1850 was not the same as the U.S. in 1850.  So,
who distorted what?

Let me repeat this: I am no expert in U.S. history.  Mark is
apparently one.  But, doesn't Mark think he's pushing it a little too
far by making the claim that Germany 1850 and U.S. 1850 were so
similar that Marx's political assessment on Germany 1850 extrapolated
to the U.S. without further qualification?  I mean, Germany 1850 was a
confederation of small kingdoms and states still shaken by a series of
recent revolutionary insurrections in which the working class had
played a crucial, independent role, and in a political climate where
the possibilities of another wave of revolutions was still palpable. 
On the other hand, the U.S. industry was humming, the country was
expanding aggressively to the West, clashing with England, robbing
Mexico over half of its territory, having the question of slavery at
the center of its political life, about to enact the Homestead Act,
and about to head into the Civil War.  Where is the analogy Germany
1850-U.S. 1850 there?

The rest of Mark posting is just an elaboration on the same theme. 
Mark sets out to restore the Historical Truth.  I don't need to do
this, but let me reply to each of his points:

> Similarly fictionalized, the American social formation where
> you had cotton production based on human slavery was extremely different
> than it was in the rural Midwest, which was entirely distinct from life
> in the secondary and primary cities and people saw themselves primarily
> in terms of their state, their ethnicity, etc.  

That was in 19th century U.S.  I was referring to U.S. 2005.  That was
the issue.

> The belief that the US was a coherent, modern nation in a compact state
> is not going to lead to insight into the debates leading to the Civil
> War.  And the belief that Germany was a confederation of some sort in
> 1848 bodes poorly for understanding the rebellions of 1848-49?  
>
> Julio describes those rebellions as national outbreaks and discusses
> "the independent, leading role of the workers in 1848-1849"--a time when
> "the bourgeois parties were not nearly as effective in co-opting the
> working classes as they later became."  Indeed, he says "socialism
> looked like a social juggernaut in Europe," which it most definitely was
> not.  
>
> In fact, the outbreaks themselves were essentially LOCAL ones, but such
> local risings in geographically smaller countries that may have only one
> particularly key urban center are going to be different impact on that
> country.  There was no American Paris--and not even an American Berlin.
> Most importantly, the petty bourgeois and bourgeois forces were very
> heavily involved and continued to retain considerable revolutionary will
> and muscle, at least initially.  Understating this probably made it
> easier for Julio to fictionalize the national context of Germany into a
> confederation, In these abortive national and republican revolutions,
> workers were content to follow, so long as the dynamic remained
> revolutionary.

These three paragraphs are actually very funny.  My point was
*precisely* that for the German working class to act as a united and
independent force in 1850 all it needed was to assault the local
centers of power of a rather loose, conflictive confederacy of
kingdoms and states.  That the 1848-1849 revolution was generalized,
that it happened in the vital centers of power in the confederacy. 
Moreover, that the revolutionary wave overflowed the boundaries of the
German Confederacy and engulfed virtually the whole continent.

*On the other hand*, for the U.S. working class in 2005, the challenge
is *much more* formidable.  It faces a huge state with centralized
power in a vast territory and a huge population.  The U.S. state is
the largest, richest, and most powerful in human history.  And, beyond
a point, quantitative differences necessarily translate into
qualitative distinctions.  So Mark argues my point vehemently, except
that he keeps alluding to U.S. 1850 -- his fixation, not mine.  I have
no idea what point he imagined I was trying to make.  A more careful
reading of my posting would have avoided him the embarrassment.

> In fact, the bourgeois forces were strong enough to where the arts of
> "coopting" the workers was totally unnecessary--they put down those
> instances of class independence in blood.  Indeed, Marx was arguing for
> class independence precisely because the absence of that kind of
> independence had crippled the potential of 1848-49.  

No.  Marx clearly said in his speech that the predictions of the
Manifesto had been corroborated.  He never said the working class
should have not cooperated with the bourgeoisie during the revolution.
 His point is impossibly subtle for certain people, but it is actually
transparent to whoever wants to understand it:  the workers must
support the bourgeoisie to the extent the bourgeoisie acts as a
revolutionary force in Germany, i.e., capable of aggressively removing
the obstacles for a fuller development of capitalism.  By 1849, it was
clear that the bourgeoisie had reached a deal with the reactionary
forces of feudal restoration.  In 1850 Marx thought the revolution
still had momentum to pursue a directly revolutionary strategy.  If
you read Engels 1895 Introduction, you'll see how a seasoned leader
summarized in retrospect the experience of the 1848-1849 revolutionary
wave in Germany. And how subsequently, German socialists had to change
their strategy and tactics *repeatedly*, as the political situation
and the conditions for socialist activity fluctuated, during the
period that goes from 1850 to the end of the confederacy, to Bismark's
unification of northern Germany, to the II Reich.

> Still, the portrayal of a mass, independent workers' movement on the
> continent in 1848-49 is essential to Julio's description of Marx's
> expectation in 1850 that another such revolution was imminent.  Awash in
> radical nationalists émigrés in both Belgium and England, Marx was not
> appeal to a past proletarian independence but urging it as a formula for
> the future.  

Of course it was for the future.  But what does "let's restore X in
the future" means to you?  Doesn't that imply that X had already been
conquered?  So Marx in 1850 was rallying the troops to *persist* on
their acting as a united, independent, and revolutionary force, to
avoid sliding back to a situation of political dependence.

> And certainly, if Julio were correct in this conjuring of Marx's
> motives, shouldn't we expect to find something in the subsequent 33
> years of Marx's life indicating a reversal of that position.  Maybe an
> "Oops! Called that one wrong.  Let's go make nicey-nice with Prince
> Albert."  It never happened.

A "reversal" of Marx's position that the workers should exercise
political independence?  Why on earth would Marx have wanted to do
that?  If the German workers had already acquired a sense of their
strengtht as a united, independent political force, why reverse that
and say, now go and become dependent of the bourgeoisie again?  I'm
not talking about the political independence of the working class or
about the strategy to lose it.  No, I'm talking about the *strategy*
for the class to acquire, maintain, restore, or expand its political
independence.  And that *strategy*, even in Germany under Marx and
Engels, was changed repeatedly during the 1850-1895 period.  You seem
to think that political independence means "do not cooperate
politically with any section of the bourgeoisie."  As a result, that
workers cannot exercise their political independence and at the same
time cooperate politically with a bourgeois party.   But this is not
what Marx said in 1850.  The question is how to achieve political
independence in each particular set of conditions (see below my quote
of Marx's 1850's speech).  Again, please read Engels' summary.  It
puts things in perspective.  Read Engels' summary and then tell me
that Marx and Engels never varied their position regarding elections,
alliances, etc. after 1850 -- and how and why they did.

> In short, Julio ignored the content of what Marx said in order to
> fictionalize Marx's motives for saying it.  

Nope.  I didn't ignore what Marx said.  I tried to explain it.  And
you have not shown that my explanation was wrong.

> It is a classical logical
> fallacy, though it may win junior high school debates.  So, too, rather
> than to address the grossly mistaken arguments for workingclass support
> for the Democrats in the 1850s, he dismissively writes me "If you
> believe that history just repeats itself, then there's very little to
> gain in our discussion."   There's nothing in what I wrote to justify
> that assertion of my motives, but there was nothing in what Marx wrote
> to justify Julio's misrepresentation of his motives either.

My remark on your notion that history is cyclical was exactly right. 
You wrote that we didn't need to reinvent the wheel, since all we had
to do was to apply the same approach that, according to you, was
applicable in Germany in 1850, the U.S. in 1850, and the U.S. in 2005,
just as Marx outlined it in his call for the German workers to
maintain their 1848-1849 revolutionary energy and independence.  In
his 1850's speech, Marx said that "the revolution which will
accelerate the course of events is imminent, whether it is initiated
by an independent rising of the French proletariat or by an invasion
of the revolutionary Babel by the Holy Alliance."  See what was
Engels' assessment of this expectations in 1895.

But, even with the expectation of an "imminent" revolution, Marx did
*not* reject cooperation with the "democrats" as you presume he did. 
What he rejected was the attempt of the democrats to incorporate the
workers into the organization of the party to use their electoral
strength in the parliament to advance reforms that did not benefit the
workers, one of them being an attempt to block the further unification
of Germany, a condition Marx regarded essential for the further
development of capitalism in Germany.  They also wanted to push in the
parliament for reforms that Marx was convinced were unnecessary
compromises in the light of an imminent revolution.  Read Engels 1895
to see how things looked in retrospect.

So, who is really distorting the content of Marx's speech?  Do you
know that in the 1850 speech Marx explicitly said the following?

"The relationship of the revolutionary workers' party to the
petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the
party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish
to secure their own position."

Nowhere Marx rejected tabula rasa any and all cooperation with the
*democrats*, not even in the that mid 19th century speech that you
cite as the ultimate anticipation of the U.S. DP in the early 21st
century.

Julio




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