[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Wed Dec 6 07:55:27 MST 2006

I agree with Charles Brown regarding objective conditions, but would
like to expand a little on his point. 

While the capacities of the capitalist ruling class to block and
co-opt the working class movement in the US is an unfortunate fact at
present, there may be factors we might consider that are not so
overwhelmingly discouraging. The answer is to see things in terms of
contradictory processes, and not just in static terms.

The ability of the ruling class to block and co-opt depends on its
resources, which in turn are the result of a necessarily contradictory
development. That is, these resources are necessarily won at a price,
and we have to keep that price in mind because it limits what the
capitalist class can do and how long it can continue doing it.

For example, it depends on US global hegemony, and there is good
reason to believe this hegemony won't last. For one thing, it creates
opposition, as we see in the revival of Latin American
Bolivarianism. And for another, the US depends on global market
expansion, which is reaching its limits. As the US shifts ever more to
a service economy, it becomes more subject to external factors
over which it has limited control, etc.

The effect of capitalist domination within the US is also
contradictory. There are many areas of life in which people have a
clear sense of a decline in the quality of life. For example, the
failures of the education system are neither accidental nor
irrelevant. People I know are very discouraged about having children,
in part because they have no effective access to a decent education
for them. In almost every area of life, the "system" is providing less
and less of what people feel they need. This is not just the empty
needs stimulated by capitalist marketing, but also real and
substantial needs.

If we can sit back in our armchairs and say, if such and such a policy
were changed, the country could then provide decent health care,
education, and social security, we are in fact putting our finger
on contradictions. That is, these contradictions represent real
shortcomings coupled with real potentials.

Contradictions make the development of new capacities dependent on the
development of new needs that in class society cannot be met because
of structural constraints (I'm assuming this is a conventional part of
Marxism which most of us understand and agree with). If the potentials
are real and if the needs are both real and unmet, then we have to
turn to subjective factors to understand why there is no significant
movement to bring potentials to bear on unmet needs.

Just because there is no movement does not mean the objective
conditions for it are absent, and that is why it is important to see
things in terms of contradictions rather than just describe the
overwhelming difficulties, for doing so at least ensures that as long
as there is objective development, there will necessarily also be at
least the potential for structural change (revolution).

We should not look at things too rigidly in conventional terms, but
instead systemically. To start out with the question of a Marxist
movement or party may be to put the cart before the horse. In my
community, it is a fact that most popularly-based organizations are
suffering serious difficulties. In my own city, we have seen the
collapse of grass roots institutions, and the only such advocacy
organization left is the NAACP, and that, at least at the local level,
is in jeopardy. And need I remind people of what's happened to
organized labor? In other words, progressive organizations of many
stripes, not just those explicitly focused on the working class, are
in trouble, and it it important to understand just why, and not be too
narrowly focused on just Marxist political formations. 

I hesitate to answer my own question, for it is a difficult subject
for which I lack expertise. However, in subjective terms and based on
my conversations with people in the community, there appear to be a
wide variety of factors. Let me just mention a few by way of
illustration: a) A dispersion of both residence and place of
employment tends to disconnect people's social ties from anything to
do with the workplace. b) In the service industry, for a variety of
reasons, people's work situation tends to be individualized rather
than collective. c) As Marx predicted, capitalist conditions tend to
reduce us to our biological nature, and therefore our concerns focus
on our social reproduction, such as family and creature comforts
rather than engage society more broadly. d) Increasingly our social
existence is impoverished, as we gain instant gratification through
the TV, DVDs, computer games, drugs. e) Many people are working
multiple jobs, are exhausted by work, and are under considerable other
stress. Worrying about the wider world just adds to one's stress and
seems unlikely to do any good. I'm not trying to develop an argument
here, but hope that this list is suggestive as to why people hesitate
to engage in social struggle.

It is not that life is a bowl of cherries, but in the absence of any
hope that real alternatives are possible, most people don't act. The
old sociological saw is that people act only when there is frustration
of rising expectations. That is, people get used to misery as long as
it seems to be their fate in life.

While this might imply that the system can continue to sink almost
indefinitely, with misery becoming a permanent feature of an
un-challengeable capitalist system, this is not so, for the
system is contradictory, and increasing misery is linked to potentials
for its change, not only objectively, but subjectively as well. That
is, it is always possible for people understand what is going on, and
so alawys the subjective conditions for action. Not everyone will act
upon the potentials, but there are always those who are willing to do
so, and their effort leads to rising expectations for everyone
else. This is not empty sociological speculation, for it is readily
seen all the time in the community; it is a commonplace. 

While this is put as a broad general statement, it ultimately involves
politics and it ultimately involves the working class. The reason is
that there can be no permanent satisfaction of needs without
structural change, and structural change involves political
action. There are economic forms of struggle that build a potential
for political change, but without political change the economic
struggle itself will have limited effect. It ultimately comes down to
the working class because only that class relies on social solidarity
as the basis of struggle. The petite bourgeoisie can form a
progressive association, but that association is merely the sum of its
members' talents and capacities, while a working class' potential
draws upon society as a whole.

I'm not sure the extent to which my glib generalizations will strike
people as obvious or problematic, but I assumed the former to keep
things short. But the conclusion is clear: there is always the need
and the possibility for a working-class political party to raise
people's hopes and help them focus their struggle. Yes, this sounds
like a justification for a vanguard party, but there is no need for it
to carry the negative implications of the term. I've been involved in
many struggles which required organized leadership, but that did not
mean the leaders' relation with the rank-and-file was in any way
oppositional. The danger may always be present, but that distortion is
not inevitable.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM
   	 Dialectical Materialist        

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