[Marxism] Rethinking Dilemma of Western Marxism
cwarren at pcug.org.au
Sat Jan 28 20:06:05 MST 2006
Dilemma of Western Marxism Needs Rethinking - Not Sectarian Initiatives.
In the recent past Western Marxists have played with the tactic of creating
new organisations to supposedly solve their problems. In America this was
represented by New America Movement (D Healy) and Committees of
Correspondance. The same tendencies exist in Australia (NLP, Socialist
Alliance). All such initiatives are sectarian wastes of time.
The problem for OECD upper-class Marxists is not organisational; it is
theoretical. You cannot fix an ideological problem by crafting trendy
organisations to "recruit more members" particularly if such new
organisations are swamped by people who hold that it is not the workers but
progressive activists who can tackle 'the problems plaguing humanity'.
This view is currently being pushed by ex-CPA Natoinal Officer Eric Aarons
in his book, What's Right?. The middle class strata they attract compromise
such organisations. They also leave orthodox issues such as the destruction
of minimum wages, awards and unions, and the underlying crisis of capitalism
(eg mounting consumer debt, foreign debt and current account deficit)
In addition, most of the potential recruits for any new organisations are
already preoccupied with other groups - various Trot groups, Democrats, as
well as organised Lefts within Social Democratic and Labour parties, Green
Parties, Communist Parties and other electoral initiatives of the labour
movement. This means that any new sectarian initiative will be a certain
waste of time. Also, in effect, we will be asking OECD wealthy society
"what do you want us to do? What should we say? so you will join us"? This
is akin to asking capitalism "What is to be done"?
Marxists should be looking at what is not being done within existing
progressive organisations. We should be considering what workers will need
in the future as circumstances change. Present organisations including
trade unions generally have no knowledge of Marxism and do not understand
the exploitative nature of capitalism. Addressing this problem should be at
the top of our agenda. Of course, in present circumstances, most members
and officials of trade unions and of various political parties and social
movements are not too concerned about the exploitative nature of capitalism.
But they will come to see that this is a gigantic mistake.
Given the highly developed nature of modern Western political institutions I
do not think it acceptable for self-avowed revolutionaries, militants or
Marxists to desert existing parliamentary organisations such as the Labour
parties, Greens or Democrats. We have to understand them. Since the 1960's
they have become increasingly based on graduates, yuppies and aspirational
careerists who are easily dazed by the apparent magnificance of Western
imported wealth. The middle class is quite comfortable and does not want
fundamental changes to the present distribution of wealth. Everywhere
within social democracy, class politics has been replaced by degenerate
'Blairite' agendas. This process was analysed by Michael Thompson in "Labor
without class" and Andrew Scott in "Running on empty".
Canberra provides an example. In Canberra, the trade union role in Labour
Party politics was destroyed by the ALP gentry and trade union right. They
bribed the Transport Workers Union to vote against their own role in the
preselection of parliamentarians. Subsequently the local TWU secretary was
preselected (but he failed at the ballot-box). This completed the tragedy
initiated by an earlier Peter Staples' 1995 Report and continued through
Michael Aird's and Jenny Beacham's 1998 campaign (with Gary Grey and Bob
McMullan in the background). The final act took place at a ALP conference
in November 1999. Aird and McMullan were parliamentarians, Grey and Beacham
were senior Labourite officials.
Of course the middle-class do protest and express floods of concern when
needed but scarcely lift a finger to assist workers. In any case, most of
the adverse circumstances (globalisation, economic rationalism and
managerialism) we now experience were introduced by middle-class gentry and
labour aristocratic elements within labour and social democratic movements.
If, by left abstention, these pro-capitalist strata remain unchallenged,
they will continue sacrificing working conditions as our economies are
exposed to savage capitalist exploitation in the Third World.
We should not be too surprised at the present situation. The same
environment,based on savage British colonialism, swamped Marx's own era. He
decried the opportunism of Ernest Jones who transformed his own politics to
recruit within the progressive middle class of his time. It is tragic that
we seem to throwing ourselves down the same drain. From his grave Marx is
probably shouting: 'Are we imbeciles'? Lenin and Engels also expressed
concern about the 'influx of literati and students' into the movement and
the "most amazing rubbish" produced by these pseudo-Marxists [Engels to
Boenigk, 21 August 1890; Engels to Bloch, 21-22 September 1890. Lenin, What
is to be done?].
In times of capitalist prosperity, noting that future circumstances may
change, Marx disavowed participation in political organisations that anyway
only fostered allusions [see Marx to Freiligrath, 29 February 1860].
Instead, as Engels thought, the best thing to do was to establish the
'historical rehabilitation' of the movement in its literature ahead of time
should events take such a turn [Engels to Weydemeyer, 12 April 1853 MECW
Forward thinking Marxists need to concentrate on developing a clear
objective alternative to capitalism. Present concepts of 'self-management'
or 'free-market socialism' are too vague and do not yet represent useful
alternative policies. Identifying an alternative to capitalism is our
'rehabilitation'. Repetitive conferences, committees and meetings are not
needed. In current circumstances, any benefit from a conference or
committee is a placebo. As the older more experienced Engels noted in 1885;
"The simple, self-evident, interconnection of like-minded class comrades
suffices, without any rules, boards, resolutions or other tangible forms..."
[On the History of the Communist League]. An example of such an
interconnection project was the now defunct LeftLink. www.portside.org is a
continuing good example of helpful activity. On the other hand, the DSP's
Socialist Alliance is an example of a squabbling, sectarian waste of time
that contradicts the politics in the Communist Manifesto. Building
progressive politics around individuals such as George Galloway (UK), Ralph
Nader (USA) or Phil Cleary (AUS) does not look after the long-terms
interests of the proletarian movement.
This was demonstrated by the recent post by Brian Shannon.
A self-analysis of his 1960s radicalism by a just-retired professor.
from Brian Shannon
The Last Page: Being a Liberal
I retired in August 2004, with two presentations at literature
meetings in Liverpool providing a satisfying punctuation, then
returned to volunteer for the MoveOn.org effort to change the
administration in Washington. The effort worked in Maine but not well
enough across the country, and I descended into depression and
alienation, the intensity of which startled me.
This fit of the blues, is exactly as Marx predicted. Why do we not learn
from our mistakes?
The key to all this, and to a worthy future direction, is not "values",
"gender politics", "identity politics", "ecology", "social justice"
"anti-racism", "progressive people" or whatever. These themes are keys for
social movements that rely on a welfare state to fund their reforms and on
the media for their impact. The key for Marxists is to focus on capitalist
exploitation and what this may portend. Organisation will then emerge with
the right people when and if needed. In the meantime, selected conferences
of the trade union left, with other left participation, to consider wages,
job security, globalisation and the quality of Green and Labor parliamentary
activities might be worthwhile but only if a new non-sectarian political
impetus from this quarter is feasible (and the social movements can be held
Those wanting to drag Marxism into progressive activism and 'good works'
need to explain why they cannot pursue this within the huge range of
existing groups. As the Greens and social democracy have members in
Parliament, questions must be put to all our 'new organisation' pundits:
What are you doing within these present political organisations? Why would
your past failures magically work in yet another small sectarian boutique of
so-called "forward thinking people"? Don't you realise that another
political fiasco will only make matters worse? Selected 'good works' can be
considered but only where they do not duplicate other social movements, such
as an organisation of the unemployed when conditions arise.
Capitalism, particularly evolving globalised capitalism, must be our object,
not the idealistic, subjective notions presently being floated. In the
future, new mass-based organisation centred on class, able to respond to
capitalism, may be our goal - but not now.
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