[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Fri Dec 8 17:33:15 MST 2006

Robert Montgomery thinks I contradict myself because onthe one hand I say
that many white workers, when asked, will express anti-racist or progressive
positions on various issues; but on the other hand, I say that they identify
more with their "whiteness" than their class. 

Robert is right, of course, that there is a contradiction, but it isn't my
fault, it is there in the real world. It is the contradiction that results
from  being both a member of an oppressed class and an oppressor nation, and
having come under the pretty much complete political-ideological domination
of your ruling class. 

As to how this could be, I think the situation of relative privelege of
white workers (and white folks in general) does explain it well, and goes
right back to the origins of the movement, because that's how Marx and
Engels understood what had happened to the British working class. 

What doesn't really fit the classics or flow from the classics is that such
a situation could perdure for many decades. I propose that the explanation
is to be found in that classical Marxism did not give sufficient weight to
gender and the national question; these were discounted as things that were
already disappearing or being reduced to such a minimum expression that they
weren't all that important to understanding the system as a whole. 

Robert says "The basic materialist question is whether
they have both a theoretical and a practical basis for unity in
struggle with workers who suffer special oppression by virtue of race.
In theory the answer is obvious or we wouldn't be Marxists. In
practice, even in a society built upon the labor of black slaves and
Jim Crow, workers have shown the capacity in the past to unite in
struggle across class lines . How many books need to be cited?"

And you can also give examples today of where workers have united "across"
class lines, that is not the issue. The issue is the inability of the
working class to constitute itself as a class in the political sense.

Marx and Engels describe the process this way in the Manifesto:

*  *  *

But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in
number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and
it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life
within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in
proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly
everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition
among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of
the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery,
ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more
precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual
bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two
classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions)
against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of
wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision
beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks
out into riots. 

Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit
of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding
union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of
communication that are created by Modern Industry, and that place the
workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just
this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all
of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every
class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the
burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required
centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few

This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently, into
a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition
between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger,
firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests
of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie
itself. Thus, the Ten-Hours Bill in England was carried.

*  *  *

This process is constantly being restarted in U.S. society but it is being
interrupted. We don't get to the "ever expanding union of the workers," this
is what gets frustrated or cut off. 

Robert can prove all he wants that eventually the working class will rise
again as a self-conscious social and political movement. That doesn't help
us any, because *right now* that isn't happening, and it hasn't been
happening in THIS country for DECADES, a half century or more. That requires
an analysis at a more concrete, specific, time-bound level than the one
Robert takes up to show that a class movement is possible, and ought to

Yes, of course, but the real question is why *doesn't* it exist *right now.*
And how does our understanding of this then impact what we do politically?

It may seem that in trying to answer this question, I hypothesize that the
current situation can last, well, forever. I actually don't believe that. I
believe this situation is rooted in the imperialist domination of the Third
World and in the extreme case of the U.S., it is intimately connected with
with the extremely privileged situation of the United States among the

I don't know when or how the imperialist system will go into crisis, but I'm
fairly comfortable saying that it will. It might even be in a few weeks,
with the financial markets going splat, or in a few decades, as the result
of advances in the anti-imperialist struggles in the global south. The
question is, what do you do until that circumstance or a depression or some
other that we don't yet understand opens the door to the reconstitution of
the working class that "objectively" exists into a "subjective" working

Now Marx and Engels had a VERY firm opinion of what to do politically under
the sorts of circumstances we face in relation to the class movement, which
can be summed up in one word: NOTHING. Do nothing. The class movement will
reassert itself shortly and the organization you build in the meantime,
prevented from being the conscious expression of the actual class movement,
is going to be either sectarian or adventurist or both, get people
victimized and so on.

That's what they thought and that's the basis they acted upon and it makes
complete sense to me.

Except that our situation just doesn't happen to be at all comparable to
what Marx and Engels lived through from 1849 until the mid-1860s, especially
because of the other social movements distinct from the movement of the
class as a whole that exist today and did not then. 

And because the "globalization" processes that Marx outlined in the
Manifesto (even if he did not really appreciate their complexity) are
basically true and much more advanced; hence the socialist movement of a
given country is not just the conscious expression of the actual movement of
its own working class right then BUT ALSO of the world working class and, as
a conscious expression, that socialist movement is not just a summing up of
the "moment" but of a whole historical development. 

So I am not at all sure that you can get the right answer to the
"organization question" as 2007 begins simply by copy-pasting from 1857. But
I am also fairly comfortable with saying if you don't understand WHAT Marx
and his friends were doing in 1857 and WHY, you're unlikely to have very
good answers in 2007.

That's why it is quite disappointing to read Robert's speculations about
Stan being demoralized or abandoning the struggle or my being frustrated. 

It is true, I am frustrated, but mostly by the unwillingness of people who
claim to be Marxists and even Trotskyists to look at reality, to try to
understand it, and adjust their political activity to it rather than keeping
on doing the same old thing with the faith that someday, somehow reality
will adjust itself to our activity.


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