[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Fri Dec 1 19:30:00 MST 2006

Mark Lause wrote:
> A few points--
> 1. Joaquin wrote, "the absence of the working class as such, as a
> class-for-itself, in the United States, as a social actor, as a protagonist
> in this struggle, probably has something to do with the state of the
> political/ideological movement that claims to be the expression of this
> class."
> The latter is clearly a rather gnat's tie-tac symptom of the former.
> Nothing particularly new in that observation

It is not at all clear what the reasons are for the absence of
collective and self-conscious struggle in large sectors of the u.s.
working class. Certainly those reasons cannot be identified and
explicated into a 500 or 50,000 word essay. If anything, the causal
force runs the opposite way from that Joaquin suggests: weaknesses in
"the political/ideological movement" (a somewhat vague entity) must be
primarily ascribed to the weakness of the u.s. working class -- which in
turn is probably (this would be a long argument) ascribable to the
strength of the u.s. capitalist class. Only a weakening of that class by
events not now predictable would open up the possibility of renewed
class struggle and thus of renewed theoretical vigor. And "Movements" 
don't "claim" anything -- only persons do. I don't happen to know any
serious marxists who claim to be "the expression of this class." Perhaps
some sects have, but as I argued a week or so ago, the core of u.s.
marxism is made up of marxists not members of any organized tendency.

> 2. Joaquin further wrote, "let's not have this idealist response that the
> theory, the doctrine, is o.k., the people doing it just fucked it up in
> practice, sort of what Neocons say about Bush in Iraq."

It's not good practice  make up counter-arguments to refute until
someone offers them. And again, Joaquin is using "the theory" in too
loose away. Does he mean the theory of surplus value. Does he mean the
theory of commodity fetishism. There are quite a few versions of those
theories floating around among activists. It is really quite mysterious
to me what is the content "The Theory" which has done all this damage. I
think, myself, that given the conditions under which u.s. leftists have
been struggling for 50 years that they/we have done pretty damn well, so
I'm certainly not going to defend "the theory" by blaming it on people.
Just as I'm not going to defend people by  blaming it on "the theory."
Joaquin and Stan are both crudely over-simplifying 50 years of struggle
against the strongest ruling class in the history of the world.

> It seems to me that the idea is a feature of a movement.  Without the
> latter, there is no idea to measure.  Just words on papers, variously
> interpreted and quibbled over by philosophers interested in solving the
> world rather than changing it.

I would agree with this roughly, but it's really not true that theories
are "just" words on papers, and while I have agreed strongly with Mark
in denying that social theory is usefully analogized to physical theory,
nevertheless I think we can understand the world we live in or our own
thoughts and actions much better through the lens of the core
understanding of capitalism worked out by Marx and by a number of later
marxists. That does NOT mean, however, that we can read a plan of action
off that theory. There is a huge element of contingency in social
relations and political/economic events, contingency which no theory can
account for. If Stan tries to build a whole political practice on his
theories of patriarchy, or if Joaquin tries to build a whole political
practice on his theories of racial oppression and national/ethnic
resistance (I know I haven't labelled them correctly), they (or their
followers a few decades down the road) will be making the same
complaints about _those_ theories that they are now making about "The
Theory" which is supposedly responsible for so much over the last 40
> 3. "Nationalism" merits a similar treatment as "Marxism"--or any other
> abstraction.  I want to see where a movement takes this....  Frankly, almost
> every discussion of this subject (interesting though some of them have been)
> has remained as completely abstract as the "Marxism" being measured here.

I guess I just said the same thing as this above. But I think it is
worth saying in many different ways and repeatedly; what we are dealing
with here, incidentally, is not non-theory but a meta-theory, the theory
of the relationship of theory to practice.

> As far as the masses are concerned--the masses not the theorizers--how is
> "nation" anything more concrete and coherent than is "class" among the most
> dogmatic Marxists.

I'll have to think about this.

> Solidarity!
> Mark L.
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