On class, misquotes, sophism and the Holy Family (was Re: [Marxism] re:Re: Chomsky profile/interview
Carlos A. Rivera
cerejota at optonline.net
Tue Mar 22 12:10:31 MST 2005
----- Original Message -----
From: "M. Junaid Alam" <mjunaidalam at msalam.net>
> Not quite. I simply hate the silly posturing of sectarian soapbox
> denunciations of dedicated leftists.
All those except yours, it seems.
If they gave out medals for leftist dedication, I would get me a
Distinguished service one, even if I say so myself.
Yet in the same manner I am not weary of soapbox denounciations, I don't
expect them to be.
What kind of arrogance is it that makes one be above soapbox denounciations
simply because one is generally right when it comes to certain questions?
What kind of lazyness is that makes us surrender so easily from facing the
I love soapbox denounciations. Not only do they make fun excercise, but you
actually learn more from them than from marching in a picket line under a
noon sun in July. Certainly more than speaking Fidel-syle from a tribune for
> Actually, let me start out by noting that it is worse than useless to try
> to discuss anything with you Carlos,
> since you take this same "proletarian hero" approach to everything,
> whereby the world is fairly
> even divided between guilt-ridden white liberal academics on the one hand
> subverting revolution at every corner,
> and the heroic masses on the other.
Again you repeat this line. I have no illusions as to the abilities and
content of my class
> You have forgotten, perhaps even never learned, that Marx himself did not
> construct the false image of workers
> as gods:
I don't forget it, and did learn it. But I am much more keen on taking up
Marx as a whole and not as a single quote. And more importantly, the history
of the class struggle as influenced by Marx, that is, Marxism, and latter
Marxism-Leninism, as political practices and scientific theories.
Then again, I won't deny quotes are important, so let me provide context and
complete the misquote by Marx and Enels in the Holy Family you provided:
"When socialist writers ascribe this world-historic role to the proletariat,
it is not at all, as Critical Criticism pretends to believe, because they
regard the proletarians as gods. Rather the contrary. Since in the
fully-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, even of the
semblance of humanity, is practically complete; since the conditions of life
of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in
their most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet
at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss,
but through urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely
imperative need -- the practical expression of necessity -- is driven
directly to revolt against this inhumanity, it follows that the proletariat
can and must emancipate itself."
There are two key parts you misquote:
1) Marx critique on seeing the propletarians as gods was directed at an
specific idealist current, a huge influence on 20th century
anarcho-communism, called "Critical Criticism", also vulgary called
Proudhounism. To teleologize this specific debate without having a certain
understanding of Critical Criticism, its history, political relationship to
Marx's movements and intellectual influence is a groundless excercise, and
in the context you provided the quote, it is pure sophism.
Marx was not being critical of class-centered politics in general, like you
apparently are, but was being critical of a *particular* approach to
class-politics: Critical Criticism, and was responding to a particular claim
of the C.Cs that socialist writers were turning the proletariat into gods.
Now, I can accept, but not necesarily agree, with criticism of the sort of
Mass Line approach I advocate in the USA, but to answer my approach with a
misquote is dishonest.
Ironicaly, your attacks upon the working class in the USA smell more like
Critical Criticism than Marxism. After all, it is you that alleges that a
socialist writer (me) is turning the working class into gods, in the same
manner the Criticals castigated Marx & Co. at the time.
Am comfortable with the company, are you?
2) The other part you miss, and probably the most important, its that Marx
re-instates the self-emancipatory nature of Marxist politics:
"it follows that the proletariat can and must emancipate itself"
It "can". And it "must". Emancipate. Itself.
Now, this is important because it puts to lie your argument that referencing
the working class in and of itself is turning them to gods. I don't
romanticize the working class anywhere, as I have stated time and again.
Quite the contrary, I usually have contemp for the incredibly stupid things
my class does, like scabing, voting in corrupt union officials and
politicians, not joining unions, selling out co-workers, becoming police,
joining the army, selling drugs, becoming gangsters, etc etc etc.
Yet, these proletarians here, this people, are the revolutionary subject.
Not because we will them into the position, not for some romantic attachment
but for the reasons Marx enumerates above, and in almost all of his body of
Is Marx himself turning them into gods when he says that they *can* and
*must* emancipate *themselves*?
The working class for the most part adopts all too willingly bourgeoise
ideology, and becomes one of it most solid defenders. Fascism, which is
reaction on a march - a revolutionary reaction-, wouldn't have existed if it
weren't for this fact.
Yet, fascism and the working class support it generated actually proves the
point. Fascism is nothing but the re-direction of this ability to the ends
of the bourgeoise. The revolutionary subject *is* the working class; that is
the "can" part of the ecuation.
Capitalism has outlived its social usefulness and its world-historic
mission, it has become reactionary. It was in fact a progressive excercise
at one point, a result of the class struggle between an invalid feudal
system and a vital bourgeoise. It has now become an impediment to
qualitative and quantitative progress. It has also simplified the class
question, reducing it to the essential divergence between the owners of the
means and the producers, making it live constantly in crisis. Hence it must
be overturned, that is the "must" part of the ecuation.
The working class has to wield a struggle against the objective oppression
they suffer but also a subjective struggle against the bourgeoise ideology
that overcomes its life. A two-fold struggle if you will.
"Self-emancipation" in Marxist terms has variously been taking to mean a
complete tailist strategy (ie the IST/Cliffites) or fusion of class and
Party (ie Sovietism, Ortho-Trots). But Marx is rather clear on the question,
self-emancipation means that the working class must be a concious
participant in its emancipation, nothing more, nothing less. He was less
clear on how this concioussness might develop. Marx was also clear on
something, since the proletariat can and must emancipate itself, the
revolution is a proletarian revolution.
The revolutionary object *is* the working class; this is the "emancipate
itself" part of the equation.
This here quote is almost axiomatic in Marxism, and we can boil it down:
If we weren't the bastard children of the bourgeois it wouldn't be
neccesary to smash it. And only the bastard children can turn unto thier
(Hence the word "proletarian", from the Latin for "children", but we all
Your misquote obscures this fact rather conviniently for your arguement.
Unfortunatelly for you, I have read and studied the Holy Family since a very
young age. The privelege of wearing a red diaper, if you will. So it didn't
get past even my dumb, unacademic eyes.
Marx, as was usual with him, and as is usual in the best of Marxist theory,
is being both critical of the tendency to elevate the proletariat to the
level of gods, of metaphysical objects devoid of subjective struggle and of
a static objective value, and equally of the tendency, which I see in your
posts (I might be wrong, but I see it) of denying the world-historic role of
the working class as revolutionary subject. And he seeks, even more grandly,
to synthetise both tendencies into one that both serves as if they were gods
the working-class and pushes the working-class as if they were subjects of a
greater god. In this synthesis he was not entrirely successful.
Denial of the working classes as revolutionary subject is the cornerstone of
both pomos and their cousins the identpols. Which is why I see you as being
either one or the other, or a combination of the two. But not a marxist, at
leats not one outside of academia.
Now, me being ML and all that, I think the working class needs a little push
in the form of a vaguard Party, a Party that may contain people from other
classes, and even led by people from other classes. Marx was insuficient in
this direction, which is why we got Kautsky, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky,
Gramsci, Stalin, Mao etc etc etc.
But history has proven that the Party can't help those who won't help
themselves, proving that Marx was right when he insisted in
self-emancipation, and proving you wrong when you say that the (white)
working class in the USA is too reactionary to be revolutionary.
Actually, it is precisely because it is reactionary, because it defends the
interests of the bourgeoise, because it is mired in the cesspool of
mystification, racism and superstition, that we must struggle to transform
it into a revolutionary force.
The bourgeoise, devoid of its most loyal subjects, will crumble on its own
weigth. But while the bourgeoise is defended by those whose task is to
destroy it, the revolution is doomed to failure.
A hard struggle, but not facing it, and seeking to justify facing it by pure
sophism, its an excercise in anything but Marxism.
There, if you want, we can further engage book debates. That I choose not
to, doesn't mean I can't.
A confussion, I am sad to say, many have done before, some even are now my
friends even if we are not in agreement, and some are even comrades,
ideological fellow travellers. Others are still gasping for air at dealing
with what an organic intellectual actually looks like.
> Not only this, but your modus operandi is to literally put words in
> people's mouths with scare quotes, avoid like the
> plague any concrete references or readings or arguments,
This is called "analogy", a perfectly acceptable rhetorical excercise, and
something you have constantly done with me and others.
What is the same its no difference.
> and adopt right-wing populist rhetoric that
> counterposes muddle-headed "elitist" leftists to the all-knowing but
> somehow untapped masses to cover up for it.
Talking about putting words into other people's mouth?
Where have I adopted right-wing populist rhetoric?
I am guilty as charge of left-wing populism, of the sort Chavez practices.
Yeah, not ML, but a good reformist program, if you dig. Now, we need to find
ourselves a general in the US armed forces and viola, one step forward two
steps backwards... as if...
And when I complain of left-wing elitism I do so in the spirit of Lenin and
his Materialism and Empiro-criticism (If I am allowed the self-agrandizing).
Or what Mao called "book-learning". To be humble and learn from the masses
is as ML as it gets.
> Time and time again, when I tried to ground discussion with actual
> references or any kind of reading material that is relevant -
> whether it was Fanon, or Baran, or Yates, or Quadagno, or Harrington -
> you launch into evasion mode and prattle
> on with breathtaking madness in some other direction.
Yeah, I like to cover a lot of ground.
Godel to Guerillas. Zinn to Zimbawe.
They are all related, like Juriaan with his cooking.
Eat me. Can't keep up, drink some Red Bull or something.
> Even when you once admitted your hyperbole was all wrong
> about employment, AWOLers, etc., you charged forward bravely off the cliff
> of logic anyway.
I did no such thing. I said that even if the figures were not "relatively"
extraordinary when compared with other periods in the USA, they were indeed
"absolutely" extraordinary. Let me quote me:
"Yes, people are not going awol in great numbers (the right-wing goes great
pains to explain this), yes people have not voted in large percentages for a
long time, yes to all the points you raise on this regards. Yet, even those
things you seek (with the reactionaries) to minimize, are a *reality* that
to anyone with two fingers of foreheads tells you of a society in crisis.
And we do nothing about it but self-justify our failure to turn crisis into
The attack on my position is basically that the peoploe who go AWOL, voter
apathy, and unemployment have always been around, and hence are nothing to
get hung about. Yet, my argument is that while it might be true they are not
unique to this period, they are indeed overt signals of a society in crisis.
But let me go further, critizing specific points instead of facing the big
picture is an unuseful sophism, unless the discussion were about the details
and not the big picture.
Lets change the examples of crisis, lets talk about the income gap, the 12
million children who go hungry every day, the squalor of the ghetto and the
trailer park... there is so much things that are wrong in the USA, that
people bitch all the time about, and yet we are not able even to get a
sizeable minority to support us?
Man, that *is* failure and that *is* defeat. We are doing something wrong.
*We* are, I mean, aren't *we* the vanguard? Lets articulate an alternative
There, I got my B+ in carthography.
Unfortunatelly, if I have to draw you a map so you understand what I am
saying, it speaks more about your intellectual honesty than mine.
I got a gazillion private emails, some in complete agreement, others in
complete disagreement, most somewhere in between. But all of them seemed to
understand the point I was making. You are still trying to hit it as if you
had a blindfold and it were a piñata.
Lets disagree, and lets agree, but lets be honest about it.
> Frankly I tried, but I do not have the time for this kind of nonsense, so
> I am just going to ignore your posts from now on.
Awwww, cute... the great cop-out.
The problem you have, like that of Juriaan, is that you don't like to see
your ideas challenged, you don't want a conversation or a debate, but simple
a unilateral, professoral, enviroment in which ideas go unchallenged. You
dictate to us the unligthened the pearls of your wisdom, instead of seeing
others as valuable people from which to learn and sound off your ideas. Your
view on ideas is individualistic and self-centered, not as a collective
excercise of seeking knowledge and transforming reality.
You will never see me do that.
I am here to learn by dialectical confrontation, not by idle mutual
comtemplation of our navels... I have a much higher tolerance for Limousine
Bolsheviks than for Navelwatching-Leninists.
(At least expensive French wine tastes good, even if drinking it while
discussing the working class its an irony even a Frenchman might have a
little chuckle at.)
I am sorry you have so little trust in your own ideas you can't see fit to
> And for the record, Left Hook was one of the very few leftist outlets to
> take a principled anti-ABB line; I myself wrote and
> defended a couple pieces on the subject before the elections, and was
> glad to print those of several other youth leftists who
> in the months when the pressure was on, did not fall into the trap of
> supporting Kerry on any level.
How quaint, a sectarian jab from a proclaimed anti-sectarian.
Unfortunately, it migth as well be true.
Even the WWP looked like the SPUSA in the 2004 elections...
It was a sad election indeed for the left.
And not because Bush won, but in spite of Bush winning.
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