[Marxism] A final reply to critics

Graham M. gkmilner at v-app.com.au
Mon May 2 04:14:59 MDT 2005


----- Original Message -----
From: Jurriaan Bendien <andromeda246 at hetnet.nl>
To: Marxmail List <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Saturday, February 19, 2005 11:31 PM
Subject: [Marxism] A final reply to critics


> I don't really care about having the last word, and would rather lurk, but
> for the record I will just copy these notes to the list (as Robert
Heinlein
> said, a writer must write!).
>
> I
>
> I would be difficult to categorise in Carlos's spectrum. I will not deal
> with his derisive polemic at great length, as promised to Louis. Suffice
to
> say that in reality, in the 1917 revolution, militant workers were much
> ahead of the RSDLP party "committee men" and initially the RSDLP party had
> very little control over what happened.
>
> Throughout the eventful year of 1917 there were a lot of heated debates
> about what direction party organisations should take, and a great deal of
> uncertainty. This is all well described and documented in the quality
> histories of that period; Trotsky recorded very precisely and in detail,
> using contemporary accounts, just how much different leaders, groups and
> parties were taken by surprise in the events, and themselves literally
> affirmed this.
>
> So any idea of the omnipotent, all-seeing party "initiating and steering
the
> revolutionary process" in 1917 is simply false. What you can say is, that
at
> crucial points the RSDLP was able to provide real leadership in the
process,
> more so than many other parties, which in turn boosted its membership
base.
> Even so, a major event like the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly
was
> not even really agreed to by many people within the RSDLP.
>
> Possibly Carlos is correct that I've caricatured Marxism-Leninism a bit,
for
> the purpose of making a point about how historical analogies and legacies
> still inform present practice and orientations. But I was talking about a
> theoretical conception and a view which I regard as anachronistic, not
> indicting specific people.  For all I know, some Marxist-Leninists are
> perfectly okay as people and some of them are fine politicians.
>
> In 2003 I sailed on a boat with an amiable retired ex-ML worker from
Holland
> to France, who had been involved in the Rotterdam portworkers strike. He
> wouldn't say all that much about his experience, but he did indicate some
> regret that doctrine had got in the way of a fuller life. Some people who
> had been strictly religious said to me the same thing.
>
> My hunch is that some leaders of the Dutch SP would still regard
themselves
> as true Marxist-Leninists, at heart, the difference however being that
they
> no longer see their political task as propagating Marxism-Leninism as
> ideology (this is simply not at all credible anymore in Holland, in this
day
> and age), but rather that everything they do politically is about applying
> their beliefs, living their beliefs, realising them, within a specific
> society which has its own national culture and which is totally different
> from Russia in 1917 (not "advocating ML" but "doing ML" and inviting
others
> to participate).
>
> The same would apply to various ML parties in Western Europe who have
> changed themselves into "parties of democratic socialism".
>
> As I already said, in Europe socialism covers "numerous sins" - a whole
> spectrum of beliefs and practices exists from very conservative
> social -democratic trends to ultra-radical "let's get on the barricades
and
> plunder shops" kind of stuff. If anything there is a crisis of
collectively
> held belief systems. But the real gain is that nowadays it is recognised
> that socialism isn't a homogeneous thing/concept/movement, that there are
> all kinds of socialisms. That means that Stalinist monolithism has been
> broken up forever, and that debate returns to the values we really share
as
> moral subjects, and which of those are most important.
>
> II
>
> You can of course argue like the ISO does, that there was no Chinese
> socialist revolution from 1949 because the working class did not truly
lead
> the process; if anything, a peasant-based revolution accomplished the
> transformation of millions of peasants into urban proletarians. But who is
> to say that socialism is necessarily a proletarian movement, and that a
> non-proletarian socialist movement is necessarily bad? Why cannot there be
a
> "socialism with chinese characteristics" (regardless of whether you agree
> with it)?
>
> Marx himself of course was in truth fully cognizant of the fact that there
> were many different sorts of socialist trends in the different social
> classes. This was ably covered by Hal Draper in the fourth volume of his
> magnum opus on Karl Marx, subtitled "The Critique of Other Socialisms". In
> reality, Marx & Engels sought to extend their own influence in a much
> broader movement containing all sorts of tendencies and panaceas for human
> liberation, and this was the original source of the tension between
"Marxism
> as critical science" and "Marxism as ideology" (a tension which existed in
a
> social milieu within which christian religion was still very influential,
> and socialism was often a sort of faith). Marx dissented from people
trying
> to turn his ideas into a general philosophy, yet on the other hand, he
also
> did want to have an influence.
>
> III
>
> The same sort of situation exists today, but the words, practices and
> languages have changed, and people are different. Somebody might be in
> despair about the lack of socialism in the United States for example. But
> like I said, what is really happening here is that concepts and words are
> blotting out reality. The a priori categories which supposedly constitute
an
> emancipatory ideology may blind people to what is really happening. In
truth
> there exists an enormous array of emancipatory movements in the USA which
> are the basis of a future party "of the people, by the people, for the
> people" rather than just for the wealthy. If you are not hung up on words
> and concepts, and concentrate on what people really do and think, there's
> tremendous potential there.
>
> In response to Gilles, we could ask the question, "what should socialists
be
> in favour of?" but we could also ask, "what are the progressive-thinking
> people ACTUALLY in favour of?". If you accurately articulated and
> synthesised the latter from experience, identifying the unifying themes,
> then you would have the basis for a system of values and a program that
> really responds to the aspirations of masses of people. And then you have
a
> chance of success.
>
> IV
>
> Marx himself thundered irritably once "one real step forward for the
> movement is worth a dozen programs", i.e. anybody could dream up a
program,
> but it was another thing for a program to inspire masses of people and
> advance the movement.
>
> Sadly though, the very concept of a program is not well-understood by the
> far left, which seeks to inject a pre-fabricated program or ideological
> baggage into a popular movement ("win people to the program"), and more
> often than not (beyond the work of a propaganda group) in that case "the
> traditions of the dead generations weigh like nightmares on the brains of
> the living". You end up with a small bunch of people talking to
themselves.
> Point is, the program itself has to emerge out of what people actually do,
> and in the process of what people do, living authorities emerge. The
tactic
> of the "mass line" is also intended for this purpose. In this context
also,
> the young Marx wrote to Arnold Ruge in 1843:
>
> "I am therefore not in favor of setting up any dogmatic flag. On the
> contrary, we must try to help the dogmatics to clarify to themselves the
> meaning of their own positions. Nothing prevents us, then, from tying our
> criticism to the criticism of politics and to a definite party position in
> politics, and hence from identifying our criticism with real struggles.
Then
> we shall confront the world not as doctrinaires with a new principle:
"Here
> is the truth, bow down
> before it!" We develop new principles to the world out of its old
> principles. We do not say to the world: "Stop fighting, your struggle is
of
> no account. We want to shout the true slogan of the struggle at you." We
> only show the world what it is fighting for, and consciousness is
something
> that the world must acquire, like it or not. The reform of consciousness
> consists only in enabling the world to clarify its consciousness, in
waking
> it from its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own
> actions. Our whole task can consist only in
> putting religious and political questions into self- conscious human form.
> Our motto must therefore be: Reform of consciousness not through dogmas,
but
> through analyzing the mystical consciousness, the consciousness which is
> unclear to itself, whether it appears in religious or political form. Then
> it will transpire that the world has long been dreaming of something that
it
> can acquire if only it becomes conscious of it. It will transpire that it
is
> not a matter of drawing a great dividing line between past and future, but
> of carrying out the thoughts of the past."
>
> If socialism is something which has to be thought into existence or to be
> created from scratch, then we have a terribly difficult job and quite
> possibly engage in utopianism in the bad sense.
>
> But if all sorts of socialist and emancipatory impulses already exist in
> society now, whatever the specific names they may have, things get a lot
> easier, because rather than basing ourselves on the Hegelian Idea, we base
> ourselves on, and affirm what is already there, and we feel good about
doing
> it. But like I said, if you base yourselves on a narrow, pre-fabricated
idea
> of what is radical, progressive or emancipatory, it is difficult to see
any
> solution or way forward.
>
> V
>
> I recall having conversations in the past with people where I tried to
> elicit their real beliefs about society, and I would end up saying "er,
> given all this, you must mean you are really a socialist" and they might
> reply "I hadn't thought of it like that, yes, perhaps" or "I don't really
> know what you mean" or "it that something to do with the Soviet Union?".
> They might not have an elaborate system of categories to describe it, but
> for all intents and purposes they were socialists of some description. The
> views you come across are very diverse, but presumably the point is not to
> promulgate diversity in general as intrinsic good, but accentuate and
> encourage those trends which are progressive, and include those that tend
> towards it as much as possible.
>
> I recall also discussing all this in 1987,  at which time we had decided
to
> create a Socialist Alliance in New Zealand (this was before SA in Britain
> and Australia were set up). I wrote an article in the rag of the group at
> that time about "the socialism we want and the socialism we don't want"
but
> one of the leading members, a sociologist, had a more interesting idea for
> an exercise in thinking through what we stood for. He arranged a
collective
> "values-elicitation exercise" as thought experiment, where we all
> inventorised and ranked through voting what we as people aspired to (right
> up to immortality!).
>
> What was really interesting was, once people were honest and cut through
the
> intellectual bullshit, how alike they really were in the basic structure
of
> their belief systems. They might dispute about all kinds of issues, but
> empirically what was being overlooked was really how alike they were in
all
> their core values. They were used to thinking of themselves as unique
> individuals often with incompatible beliefs causing strife, but a little
> digging revealed that "how they differed" really masked just how much they
> had in common. A simple exercise brought it out.  I like to think it
changed
> perceptions in the group quite a bit, also, it affirmed people in what
they
> believed. It took them out of the idea that the unifying factor of the
group
> had to be a correct understanding about who was right in 1789, 1867, 1917,
> in 1938, in 1953 or 1969.
>
> Jurriaan
>
>
> Why do we isolate each other
> All the walls we build between us
> Make it so hard to be together
> How can we tear at one another
> When the thing we have in common
> Is an uncommon love
>
> - Carol King, "Uncommon Love"
>
>
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