[Marxism] Troubled times

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Fri Nov 24 13:53:45 MST 2006

I wrote that "'Classical' class-centered Marxism has proven to be
insufficient, caught by surprise at every turn by nation and gender," to
which Louis replied: 

"This is not so. Betty Friedan, who had been in the CP, launched the 
modern-day feminist movement. Harry Hay, who founded the Mattachine 
Society, was a CP'er. Even if the CP had a fucked up position on such 
questions as an organization, it took cadre from their ranks to put things 
into motion. That is an historical fact. Their Marxist training *helped* 
them identify areas of oppression that it took a radical movement to fight."

Frankly, I am surprised by Louis's response and his point eludes me. Is it
true that Marxists generally understood and embraced the feminist movement,
pulling out all the pamphlets and propaganda that they had been doing over
the years on the women question when the new wave of feminism hit in the
1960s? Or that the CP or anyone else had a qualitatively better position
than the SWP, which formally banned gay members? 

I don't actually believe that Louis or I disagree on the political substance
of these points nor on the history. The area where we might disagree (and I
actually don't know, because it seems to me in the couple of things he has
written in response to my recent posts, he is carrying out very strange
polemics that really aren't on point to what I say, or at least what I think
I'm trying to say) is on the need to honestly and openly confront these
things on the level of generalization  that we call "theory" for lack of a
better term. 

I maintain you can only say something is exceptional or abnormal for so
long, at a certain point you need to recognize the "abnormality" as being,
well, normal for the capitalism of our times, rather than "exceptional,"
stop viewing yourself as primarily preparing for what is to come, but
instead focusing on WHAT IS.

It may seem that this is merely a word game, Louis and others prefer to say
we're incorporating into Marxism insights or whatever from the feminist
movement and the anti-imperialist struggles of the last decades whereas I
for some reason am insisting on saying we need to REVISE Marxism to
incorporate the insights etc.

The difference between the two ways of formulating the issue is more about
immediate politics and how that relates to theory. If you say, exception,
then what the movement or at least some wings of it have been doing isn't
that bad. Sure, it needs adjusting to the exceptional circumstances, fine
tuning, and so on, but it isn't mistaken in any basic sense.

If you say, no, the theory is in crisis, you're saying that we need new
theoretical advances and a new praxis to go with it. 

And actually, MY evolution, as well as that of a few other comrades I'm in
touch with who are thinking along the same lines did not at all start with
the *theory,* which I think it is true to say I've been rather disinclined
to touch, but with practice, and the realization that, in terms of building
a socialist movement for the 21st Century, we've come to a dead end.

That dead end is the current fragmentation of the organizational U.S. left
and the atomization and dispersal of the rest of the left. The quote from
Louis at the top of this post highlights the importance of cadre. But I
don't know of any way to train and develop cadre save through collaboration
in a common organization. And I don't see where we're going anywhere with
the current organizations, and especially their number and fragmentation.

Building a socialist movement for the 21st Century means starting from the
premise, and very palpable reality, that the socialist movement of the
second half of 20th Century, viewed as a whole, largely DID NOT WORK. And it
especially did not work in the places where Marxist theory says it was
SUPPOSED to work, in the advanced capitalist countries with a
fully-developed working class that is the big majority of the population. 


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