[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Mon Dec 4 20:07:06 MST 2006

Carrol Cox writes: "to blame the failure to make a revolution in the last 50
years on incorrect theory is, quite frankly, lunatic volutarism."

"It is possible, even probable, that we (stalinists, 'maoists,'
trotskyists, castroists, council communists, what have you) made all
sorts of mistakes, and it is possible that we WOULD HAVE failed even had
we had a chance of succeeding. But that is pure aery speculation,
because we never had a chance of winning. In fact, I think the left has
done amazingly well the last 30 years to even maintain itself in

Carrol is polemicizing with the positions he thinks I *ought* to have but a
re-reading of the post he is replying to should disabuse people from the
idea that I attribute the failure of the organized socialist left to bad
*ideas.* On the contrary, I find the *source* of a lot of the "bad ideas" in
the material circumstances of the organized U.S. left.

I wrote:

*  *  *

WHY do we criticize? Because it is quite evident, on its face, that this
left, the organized Marxist left of the second half of the XXth Century in
the United States, has failed in what just about every group said was its
purpose, building a revolutionary party, as well as in countless other ways.
And when we begin to examine these failures, we see everywhere dogmatism and
idealism run amock.

And then we begin to look at the material conditions under which this
failure has taken place, and we see that in the U.S., there's not been a
real working class movement, of the class as such, for many, many decades.
And that, for a dialectical and historical materialist, DEMANDS an
explanation, REQUIRES understanding, because Marxism is not a doctrine but a
MOVEMENT, the conscious and self-conscious expression of one side in a class
struggle actually underway. 

And 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.

*  *  *

Notice that I provide a MATERIALIST EXPLANATION for WHY we see "dogmatism
and idealism run amock." Because there is no actual class movement for THIS
Marxist movement to be grounded in. It is, in social and political terms,
floating quite adrift from any real anchor to the real class movement,
because the real class movement ain't there.

Marx and Engels were always very careful to never engage in politics like
fish out of water, otuside an actual class movement. In the Revolutions of
1848, for example, they took to the field of political battle NOT with a
Communist newspaper but one that styled itself as an organ of democracy.

Three and a half decades later, Engels defended this decision and castigated
the one that virtually all U.S. Marxists would opt for, publishing an
explicitly socialist (communist) proletarian newspaper: 

"[W]hen we founded a major newspaper in Germany, our banner was determined
as a matter of course. It could only be that of democracy, but that of a
democracy which everywhere emphasised in every point the specific
proletarian character which it could not yet inscribe once for all on its
banner. If we did not want to do that, if we did not want to take up the
movement, adhere to its already existing, most advanced, actually
proletarian side and to advance it further, then there was nothing left for
us to do but to preach communism in a little provincial sheet and to found a
tiny sect instead of a great party of action. But we had already been spoilt
for the role of preachers in the wilderness; we had studied the utopians too
well for that, nor was it for that we had drafted our programme."

And --PLEASE-- no lectures about how Germany was heading into a
bourgeois-democratic revolution of national unification to clear away the
feudal debris that stood in the way of capitalist development. Like, duh...

THE POINT is how M&E applied materialism and dialectics to their TACTICS. 

But what did Marx and Engels do when they faced a period where there was no
working class movement? They dissolved the Comunist League (which had been
reconstituted in the hope that what turned out to be the defeat of the
revolutions of 1848 was just a temporary setback) and pretty much abstained
from all practical political work including the kind of propaganda work we
(the organized socialist left in the U.S.) would say this is the right time

The situations are not, in reality, parallel, because my impression is there
was more motion in the working class in Germany and England of those years
than there is in the U.S., but also because we find in the United States
*social and protest movements* which are "in motion," despite the lack of a
class-for-itself movement.

Given this, to have a Marxist movement that is *rational* in the United
States today requires that it be one that has an understanding both of the
quiescence of the class movement and the existence of national movements
among oppressed peoples as well as substantial motion among women; and there
is also a great deal of ferment surrounding a whole cluster of
issues/questions around science and the environment.

And of course this is not just a U.S. question. We see similar trends on a
world scale, with ALL the major revolutions since WWII (more than half a
century!) having been NATIONAL movements and a marked tendency for the class
movement in the imperialist powers to be completely dissipated.

And what has the dawn of the XXIst Century brought us? The iraqi
resistance's defeat of the U.S. recolonization of Iraq, Venezuela and now
Bolivia. And the spreading "pink tide" in Latin America, which reflects the
collapse of neoliberalism as a hegemonic ideology, which in turn reflects
the weakening of Washington's control over what it views as its own back

And in some of the imperialist countries, massive and in cases explosive
protests of immigrant communities. And the spreading conviction among tens
or hundreds of millions of scientifically literate people that Man cannot
continue to rape the planet the way he has been doing. 

That last bit is something I got out of Stan's essay. If anyone has read
what I've been saying recently (and in reality longer) about the sort of
Marxism that I think is necessary, you will notice I contradict myself.
Sometimes I say capitalism rests on three intertwined pillars: gender,
nationality/race, and class oppression and exploitation. Notice the word
"exploitation." I believe, because it is what I see, that imperialist
countries EXPLOIT third world countries, as countries, and that men and
patriarchal systems/structures EXPLOIT women. 

And the sometimes I add a fourth "pillar," which is the destruction of the
environment, and sometimes I've even added that I think it belongs but I
can't quite figure how to make it "fit" because it isn't strictly social.
And in response to one of those comments, Stan sent me an email which I
didn't understand then, but which his new essay actually explains quite
well, which is the Man/nature duality, the "social/natural" duality, that
the failure to see society simply as part of the planetary ecosystem IS the
problem. And a part playing a very specific role in the "living organism"
that is the planetary ecosystem: it is the cancer that is killing the
planet. Perhaps not as quick-acting as Polonium-210, but just as deadly.

Louis will undoubtedly react to this by thinking, Joaquin, there's so much
of this that's ALREADY been done within Marxism. And I agree, we are NOT
starting from zero, and not just from the work done "within" Marxism but
also OUTSIDE, or at least outside mainstream orthodoxy.

But what we have NOT succeeded in doing is cohering and generalizing an
outlook or theory and politics that incorporates this work and completes it
so that it provides an explanation of the world we live in that MAKES SENSE
and is accompanied by a collective praxis coherent with this theory.


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