[Marxism] Gerald Levy Plays Hide and Seek on Holloway Debate
M. Junaid Alam
mjunaidalam at msalam.net
Tue May 17 18:08:03 MDT 2005
Brought up recently here has been the kind of hide and seek game
Holloway has played in failing to defend his thesis in light of events
in Venezuela, and in failing to comment on any critique of his ideas.
On my critique, he wrote that he would respond personally, but of course
Now he's been outdone on this score by Gerald/Jerry Levy, who moderates
the ultra-exclusive OPE-L list, where Holloway also resides. Levy not
only fired off a couple attacks on my position vis. Holloway to a couple
list-servs I'm not on without so much as having the courtesy to tell me,
so that I might respond to them, but he sidestepped the actual article
in which I made the critique. Instead, he resorted to constructing
strawman arguments based on bizarre inferences he drew by
decontextualizing a couple sentences I wrote in passing on the Left Hook
discussion list. I only found out about it after someone else forwarded
it to me. A true sign of how desperate these defenders of "changing the
world without taking power" have really become.
My responses and his own initial post are included below:
[my second reply]
I just noticed this, so I should add that Jerry's assertion that I said
the Zapatistas are "dangerous" - never mind his further comment that I
am therefore in league with "the imperialists" - is an outright
distortion. Here is what I actually said on the discussion list where
the word "dangerous" appeared:
" I defend the Chavez approach as being far more useful. I don't think
the Zapatistas are a useful model, not so much as a function of their
strategy but because of their composition as a motley collection of some
indigenous groups. (Which is why I didn't criticize them i the article)
But what they are doing, as quite a marginalized force, is really just
surviving, which is no doubt crucial, but dangerous, in that if you
don't change the economic basis which underpins your ability to survive,
you are in serious trouble. So I don't think the Zapatistas are a useful
model when it comes to broader social forces operating in national
terms, where you need to be able to set the basis for national economic
development. I think Chavez is definitely trying to do this, way beyond
any kind of populist rhetoric, he is trying to fundamentally reorient
the national structure of the economy agriculturally and financially. He
is just not just going on a spending spree with petro dollars but break
apart the civil bureaucracy."
So what I said was "dangerous" was only in reference to *themselves* -
that they do not control the economic levers to improve their material
standards, and not that they are terrorists, or a danger to Mexico, or
whatever else Jerry tries to insinuate.
[my first reply]
Please forward to relevant lists.
Quite silly for Jerry to go hunting for some small comment I made on a
list-serv in passing, and fail to actually engage the written piece I
produced.What kind of intellectual engagement is that? How much siller
can you get, really, that you can't even address the argument one
presents in the form of an essay for public view, and instead try to
squeeze water out of stone by "critiquing" a few passing comments made
in a discussion with somebody on a list-serv? He didn't even bother
contacting me about this "critique", as if in hopes that no one would
notice the jarring flaw in "engaging" an argument by overlooking the
piece in which the argument was advanced. In my book that's called
More silly, though, is this nonsensical rhetoric about "aid and comfort"
to the enemy...this is what passes for analysis now? Sad, really.
Apparently I'm guilty on this count because I characterize the
Zapatistas as a motely collection of indigenous groups. No reason is
given as to why this is an incorrect designation; apparently cheap ad
hominem attacks and mere characterizations of the term as "demeaning"
more than suffices. The Zapatistas *are* operating in a milieu of
various indigenous groups, and it is from them that they draw some
measure of support. This is a fact, not an insult.
It's bad enough Jerry wasted so much time trying to "critique" one
sentence from a discussion-list, and didn't have the honesty to actually
take on the written argument I produced; it's even worse that he (a)
thinks facts are "demeaning" and (b) utterly fails to see that I only
pointed out they were indigenous in order to say that there is no basis
for comparing models with them vis-a-vis Venezuela, it's apples and
oranges. Of course, Jerry fails to notice this context, and therefore
goes on ranting about my *non-existent* comparison between a Zapatista
model and a Chavez model. In my actual article I never even mentioned
the Zapatistas, precisely because it's not a model for comparison.
Not that Jerry would know since he doesn't like reading articles written
for a debate; he prefers to construct strawmen based on one
decontextualized sentence taken from a discussion list.
I write this only to address the most jarringly bizarrre mistake Jerry
makes, namely retreating from the article and clutching at strawmen
based on inferences made from brief discussion list comments. The rest
is sheer nonsense simply because Jerry is pontificating to himself, as
if to reassure his own mind. Clearly he is not addressing me, since he
never actually read the article in question.
I'd only say in closing that the most revealing characteristic of this
display of intellectual dishonesty by Jerry is the most amusing
"defense" he mounts for Holloway, which amounts to maybe one sentence of
handwringing denials about his fetishization of the Zapatistas, and of
course, the *total absence* of engagement about the *massive
improvement* made in real people's lives as a result of the
revolutionary process in Venezuela. Though in Jerry's defense, his
friend Holloway himself hasn't done much better on this score. Aside
from a few words of contempt about the revolution being a kind of
conspiracy of "oil and international Trotskyists", he has been damningly
silent about the whole thing. Perhaps he is just waiting it out, in
hopes that it fails, so he can then preach on about the evils of state
struggle on more solid ground.
Reality does have a nasty habit of interfering with theory, after all;
who cares about things like government-funded literacy, and housing, and
food, when you can just jump up and down and declaim, "the state always
[Jerry's original message]
M. Junaid Alam, co-editor of "Left Hook", wrote a critique of John
Holloway's book _How to Change the World Without Taking Power_
As the title of his contribution makes clear, Alam believes that John H.
has not taken _power_ seriously. In seeking clarification from John on
perspective on the ongoing revolutionary process in Venezuela, Alam
(like Paul Z and Michael L on OPE-L) helps to advance the debate among
leftists on the character of the Bolivarian revolution. I agree that the
questions that Alam raises are important and need to be discussed.
However, there are some important problems with Alam's perspective
and approach to this debate. These problems, which were not visible in
his widely-circulated Zmag article, can be seen in the following:
< http://lists.riseup.net/www/arc/lefthook/2005-04/msg00083.html >
I. Defending the Bolivarian Revolution Shouldn't Mean Opposing
Alam is certainly within his rights to defend Chavez's approach as being
"far more useful than Holloway's model" (although why does Chavez
have an approach, whereas John H and the Zapatistas have a "model"?
-- this is a subtle example of loaded terminology, I believe).
Why, though, does Alam dismiss the Zapatista experience in such a
contemptuous way? Isn't calling the Zapatistas a "motley collection
of indigenous groups" being dismissive towards their struggle? The
Zapatistas, Alam claims, are "quite a marginalized force" which is
"really just surviving". Not only that -- the Zappatista movement,
Alam claims, is "dangerous". On that point, at least, he would find
much agreement -- from the state and federal government in Mexico,
local ranchers, the bourgeoisie, and US imperialism.
By claiming that the Zapatistas are a "motley collection", a "marginalized
force" and "dangerous", he gives aid and comfort not to revolutionaries.
Is this his perspective of what "solidarity" with the Zapatistas means?
If so, you can appreciate why they might not welcome such "solidarity"
from leftists who share this perspective.
Why is it necessary for Alam -- or others -- in supporting the
revolutionary process in Venezuela to demean and undervalue
the experience of the autonomous communities in Chiapas?
Is it really "useful" to counterpose one "model" to another? Useful
to whom? I think that these leftists need to do a little soul-searching
and critical self-evaluation.
II. The Zapatista and Bolivarian experiences are not "models"
Wherever and whenever there is a revolutionary experience, those
who claim to be revolutionaries should evaluate that experience.
To make the claim, though, that an individual experience represents
a "model" requires one to _demonstrate_ that the conditions and
characteristics which gave rise to and nourished a revolution in one
country can be replicated in other countries. As I have in another
post to OPE-L
(> http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/ope/archive/0505/0084.html >)
suggested why the experience in Venezuela is in
many ways exceptional (i.e. specific to that social formation), I will
not repeat those points now. But I do want to make a couple of
additional points here:
i) The way in which events unfolded in Venezuela were crucially
related to the particular nature of the Venezuelan military. In how
many other nations in Latin America is the military a source of
support for revolutionary change? In how many other nations in
Latin America or elsewhere has a career military officer -- running
on a radical democratic platform and with the support of the poor
and working class -- been elected president? Isn't it _far_ more
often the case that the military is a _reactionary_ social institution
and that its ranks -- _especially_ the military -- are composed of
right-wingers? Alam recognizes that the coup in Venezuela was
defeated, in part, by "leftist military elements" but he does not go
on to ask the obvious question regarding the extent to which
Chavez's "approach" can be generalized in other nations -- where
else are "leftists military elements" so strong that they have
prevented a coup from being successful?
ii) Hasn't Chavez's challenge to US imperialism and struggle for
economic self-determination been at least _partially_ related to
the fact that Venezuela is an import oil-producing and oil-
exporting nation? While this by no means _defines_ Chavez or
the national economic policy of Venezuela, it would be absurd
to deny that the national economic strategy is _related_ to this
condition -- a condition that no other country in Latin America
shares to the same extent.
As for the Zapatistas, I think they would be the _first_ to say
that they are _not_ advocating a "model". Nor do I think that for
John H the Zapatistas are a "model". For revolutionaries in
many countries they are an _inspiration_, but this does not mean
that we should "model" our praxis on their experience. Indeed,
I would go so far as to suggest that an implied principle of
autonomists Marxists and anarchists is that _all_ models -- and
other expressions of authoritarianism -- should be rejected;
we should not let our thought be imprisoned by "models" drawn
from the past or specific social formations.
III. Alam's Main Beef
Alam tells us in his post what his "main beef" with "Holloway
et al" is.
My main beef with Alam is that in his Zmag article he didn't
tell the readers of that magazine what his main beef was. By
doing so, he showed a great disrespect for the readers of that
magazine. Doesn't he believe that in an article which alleges
to be a critique of John's perspective that he honestly tells the
readers what his main complaint is? Those readers, though,
would not discover that from a reading of his article -- they
would have to read instead a post he sent to the Left Hook
This is an important debate which needs to be taken seriously.
Yet, Alam has not taken debate itself seriously since he hasn't
even honestly represented his own position in Zmag.
The "main beef", it turns out, concerns the perspective of John
H "et al" on;
a) the character of "really existing socialism"; and
b) social-democratic movements.
Alam claims that John H (and autonomists and anarchists, more
generally) look at these historical experiences and movements
"one-sidedly as simply one of betrayal". From Alam's perspective,
John H "shits on all this", i.e. the alleged positive aspects of
"really existing socialism" and social democracy.
Yet, much of what Alam claims as the "partially good things" that
came out of "really existing socialism" are at best debatable. Does
he really believe, for instance, that the USSR helped anti-
colonial forces to defeat imperialism, et. al? Many of those anti-
colonial and anti-imperialist fighters would disagree with him
on that evaluation.
While he mentions that a "good thing" was the USSR helping
to defeat Nazism, he doesn't mention some rather important
historical details such as the Stalin-Hitler pact, the fact that
Stalin opposed the war until the day that the Nazis invaded
the USSR, and that Stalin ignored military intelligence about
that attach and botched the defense of the Soviet Republic
(in many ways, which I will not catalog here).
Alam's defense -- of sorts -- of social democracy is odd.
Indeed, he even implies that social democracy (like 'really
existing socialism') is a "baby" that shouldn't be thrown out with
the bathwater. Whatever else can be said about Lula -- he
is no "baby"! While it is, of course, true that in some capitalist
nations that are led by social-democrats, such as Sweden, workers
have often won significant reforms, it is _also_ true that they
_have_ been betrayed. Let us recall that social democracy
when it was led by Marx and Lasalle was a revolutionary anti-
capitalist political movement. It has long since ceased to
be revolutionary -- instead it is a political force which in power
seeks to maintain capitalism. That _is_ a betrayal. Similarly,
the social-democratic "leadership" of trade unions -- because
it embraces "labor-management cooperation" -- _does_ betray
rank-and-file trade union members. When, in the US, social
democratic leaders support liberal (or conservative!) bourgeois
political candidates or took positions in the Clinton administration,
that also was a betrayal. To say this is not to be one-sided: it's
speaking truth to power.
It is not that "Holloway et al shit on" social democrats and the
leaders of really existing socialism. Rather, the social dems and
most of the leadership of those nations have shat upon workers
and peasants everywhere!
While he probably does not recognize it, Alam's argument could
also be used as a defense of *liberalism*. After all, didn't some
liberals like FDR make some "concrete improvements in people's
lives"? Are we then to say that we should be more even-handed
and less "one-sided" in our evaluation of liberalism? No. "Concrete
improvements" notwithstanding (which were not gifts from liberals
or social democrats but were fought for by the working-class),
social democrats betrayed the working class and liberals faithfully
serve the bourgeoisie and the preservation of capitalism. Indeed,
some of those same "concrete improvements" happened as a
way of diffusing mass mobilizations, thwarting radicalization,
and defending capitalist relations of production.
Of course, Alam has every right to disagree with John on
"really existing socialism" and social democracy. He has every
right to state and defend his perspective. But, he didn't do that
-- he held something back, a _crucial_ part of his own perspective
-- his "main beef". I hope that he does better in the future. There
should be a debate, but it should be a _genuine_ debate.
In solidarity, Jerry
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