[Marxism] Latest issue of Science & Society (April 2006)
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Fri Apr 14 09:43:40 MDT 2006
Jim referred to his comments from six years ago on Cohen and related issues.
Jim quotes Lou below commenting on the "inevitability of the victory of the
proletariat" comment by Marx and Engels.
* From: Jim Farmelant * Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000 14:19:05 -0700
On Sat, 24 Jun 2000 13:00:57 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at xxxxxxxxx> writes:
The question of *why* one should be a socialist revolutionary is in
> Cohen's eyes a major problem since Marx and Engels said in the Communist
Manifesto >that the "fall [of the bourgeoisie] and the victory of the >
proletariat are> inevitable." Cohen is thrown into >a profound political and
spiritual crisis by this conundrum. He raises his eyes to the heavens and
cries out, "But,if the advent of socialism is inevitable, then why should
Marx and Engels,> and
>>those who they hoped to activate, strive to achieve socialism?"
CB, 2006: Andrew and Mark were joking about inevitability the other day,
and dower Carrol was discouraging reference to it.
Socialism won't come about if people don't strive for it. However, people
are likely to strive for it , as oppressed and exploited classes have always
struggled against their oppression and exploitation. This is the thesis of
_The Manifesto of the Communist Party_, the inevitability of oppressed class
struggle , almost like a human instinct. But with socialism, unlike previous
struggles of oppressed classes, the most oppressed classes must be more
precisely conscious of the goal, not just generally struggling against their
oppression and exploitation.
I think Cohen may not understand two important aspects of Marxism here 1)
the unity of theory and practice in Marx and Engels quote on inevitability ,
and 2)the necessity that workers be _enthusiastic and inspired_ , as well as
class conscious, for there to be socialist revolution.
Marx and Engels are practicing as they theorize, in that _The Manifesto_ is
meant to fire up the working class for revolution, while at the same time
giving a scientific and objective understanding of history as a basis for
revolution. It deals with both subjective and objective factors in
revolution at the same time. If Marx and Engels say "well, there's a good
possibility that socialism will come about, but it's not certain " that is
just not likely to be strong enough to inspire workers to go through all the
tough struggles, generations of struggles, that are going to be a necessary
premise to winning socialism. M & E are speaking somewhat as in the vein of
the ANC slogan "The struggle continues; victory is certain !"
There is an objective tendency in capitalism toward socialism in the sense
that the only rational solution of the contradictions of capitalism is to
reorganize as socialism. But this objective tendency is not sufficient.
Socialist revolution cannot occur without class and socialist conscious
masses of workers, workers who believe firmly that socialism can be won and
will be won. Marx and Engels want _The Manifesto_ to increase the chances
that the working class will fulfill the _possibility_ of winning socialism
Marx and Engels also of course famously noted that class struggles can end
in the common ruin of the contending classes. So, the end of capitalism (
which is not logiclly identical with the victory of the proletariat) is
inevitable, but the contingencies are, as Luxemberg formulated it, Socialism
or Barbarism !
Put more simply, there is an element of cheerleading in "the victory of the
proletariat is inevitable". The inevitability of the end of capitalism is
like the Chinese symbol for crisis - both dangerous and opportune
Jim F, 2000: In fairness to Cohen, he thinks that such a question ought to
be taken seriously because in his opinion the Marxist understanding of how
socialism was to develop from capitalism has been falsified by recent
history including the collapse of the USSR.
CB: I once had a passage where Engels discussed the possibility of the
success of counterrevolution against the first socialist revolutions. Marx
and Engels conception is not so dumb as to deny the possibility that a
counterrevolution can't succeed against socialism.
Jim F: Cohen like many ex-Marxists
of the past has become convinced that the proletariat can no longer
be counted upon as main force that will drive the transition to
socialism. The achievement of socialism when and if it occurs will in his
view be most likely to occur through the efforts of an inter-class coalition
(of which workers will undoubtedly constitute the main portion but will also
also include many non-proletarians as well).
CB: This may be an issue of definitions of class. One version of class
defines the working class as 85% or more of the population in the U.S., for
example, today. The working class is all wage-laborers, not just industrial
wage-laborers. This definition is flexible enough to include "service"
workers. Non-productive workers are still working class, because they are
paid wages. Anyway , this means any future rev is still going to involve
overwhelmingly majority working class, because the overwhelming majority of
the population is still working class in capitalism. If most workers are not
wage-laborers , it's not capitalism.
Jim: As Cohen sees it traditional Marxism has relied upon the self-interest
of workers driving them towards socialist revolution as their circumstances
deterioated under capitalism. Cohen contends that such a scenario is
unlikely and that therefore any plausible political coalition in favor of
socialism will have to rely in large part upon moral appeals. This in his
view justifies his concern with moral & political philosophy as practiced by
people like John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Ronald Dworkin. Hence, his
tendency to reduce socialism (and what remains of his Marxism) to a kind of
left-liberal political philosophy.
CB: This issue is worth discussing. Marxism refers to this moral
consciousness as class consciousness, but I think it is inherently moral
more than admitted in the classic Marxist characteristic of it as appealing
entirely to self-interest. It appeals to "class, self-interest" , which is
something of a contradiction. The better off workers and sections of workers
are only going to join a revolutionary struggle based on component of
altruistic class solidarity, a longview of their "self" interest, interest
in future generations, their grandchildren , species being, etc.
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