[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?
marvgandall at videotron.ca
Sat Dec 9 06:07:50 MST 2006
Joaquin: "The issue is the inability of the working class to constitute
itself as a class in the political sense."
MG: But the working class has been a class in the "political" sense since
the industrial revolution and, as I indicated in my previous post, remains
so. The passage Joaquin cites from the Manifesto described the process of
how the working class "compels legislative recognition of (the) particular
interests of the workers by taking advantage of the divisions among the
bourgeoisie itself." Marx and Engels used the winning of the Ten Hours Bill
in England as an illustration.
The issue is that the working class in the advanced capitalist countries has
never gone beyond that and established itself as the "revolutionary" class
anticipated by the Manifesto, aimed at the political and economic
expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the replacement of capitalism with
This is what has caused breast-beating among revolutionary socialists since
the inception of the working class movement, especially as the size of its
revolutionary wing has steadily diminished. Joaquin is the latest to
articulate the frustration and despair of dashed hopes.
Joaquin: "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
exist. Yes, of course, but the real question is why *doesn't* it exist
MG: There has been much good analysis on the left and across the political
spectrum, much of it pointing to the failure of capitalism to contract and
collapse, to explain why a potentially revolutionary class movement hasn't
arisen. We can't add much that is new and refreshing to it.
Joaquin: "And how does our understanding of this then impact what we do
MG: That continues to be debated daily between the "sectarians" and the
""sellouts" in the tiny left parties and new Internet groups - an old, old
debate going back to the First International.
Joaquin: "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 class?
"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."
MG: It makes sense to me too, although I don't think they said "do nothing";
only recognize that the possibilities for action were determined by
conditions, and that this had to form the basis of strategy for those who
were active in the existing mass organizations.
Joaquin: "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."
MG: It's stating the obvious to say a) that there are "social movements
distinct from the movement of the class as a whole that exist today" which
didn't exist in the 19th century and b) that globalization and the
international character of the socialist movement are more advanced today.
Nevertheless, it is not as though nationalism and the oppression of colonial
peoples, the oppression of women, and the international nature of the
struggle between the classes were something not understood by Marx and
Engels and their successors, and taken into account in developing their
It would help if Joaquin would explain how his understanding of these
phenomena is different from theirs, and in what practical respects, if any,
his approach to them would differ from theirs?
To this point it seems to me that Joaquin is simply repeating the lament of
our political generation that the socialist working class movement no longer
exists and is reiterating with some insistence (and unnecessarily gratuitous
remarks) that it is necessary, by default, for left-wing activists to
recognize the centrality of the anti-imperialist and national minority
movements and to approach these in a non-sectarian (ie. non-party) way.
This sounds like another variation on the theme of the "periphery to the
centre" proposed by the Mandel wing of the USFI in the late 60's which
reflected the practice of the student-led solidarity movements of the 60s in
which it was based.
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