[Marxism] The absence of real forces [was: The low point]
Jscotlive at aol.com
Jscotlive at aol.com
Thu Aug 2 00:50:33 MDT 2007
By which he appears to mean a combination of "slogans in support of the Arab
Resistance, in order to help inspire their people on the front lines against
imperialism" and ones designed to "attract those motivated by material
necessity" within the imperialist countries, which sectors he defines as,
"workers, poor blacks, whites, immigrants." This, he says, "will and can
only be done by connecting the war overseas with the war on the working
class and the poor at home. This is not being done to any large degree at
I'm going to leave aside the obvious idiocy of listing "whites" as such in
this context, while limiting ourselves to targeting only *poor* Blacks. It
seems fairly clear that Jscotlive's fingers got ahead of his capacity for
careful formulation at this point, and what we have should probably just be
read as "working people and the oppressed."
Let me clarify. In the UK, of late, there have been a series of one and two
day strikes across the public sector - mail workers, rail workers, govt civil
servants, social workers - all have been taking industrial action, albeit on
a small scale, in response to below inflation wage rises on offer and/or
changes to their employment contracts, this as the govt continues its process of
deregulation and casualisation of the British economy in line with free
market prerogatives. My argument is that we need to take the antiwar movement
into the trade union disputes and trade union disputes into the antiwar movement
- in order to provide an analysis which identifies the common denominator
that underpins both struggles, namely the prerogatives of the free market.
As Malcolm X once said: 'You can't understand what's going on in Mississippi
unless you understand what's going on in the Congo.' Conversely, though, you
can't understand what's going on in the Congo until you understand what's
going on in Mississippi.
Re my formulation, yes, you are right, working people and the oppressed. I
meant poor blacks and poor whites in that sentence, however, in case you
misconstrued my meaning there.
Now, here's the problem with the approach of linking "the war abroad and the
war at home" on that sort of scale as I see it. And that is that most
working people --white folks especially, but not only-- do not perceive
themselves as being targets of some war. At least not in this country. (I
leave aside the ones that DO in the sense that "angloness" or "whiteness"
considers itself to be under siege from the brown hordes invading from the
The fact that people do not perceive the link does not in any way diminish
the fact that the link does exist and that our task is to attempt to draw that
link and help them perceive it. Yes, here in the UK too, most working class
people lack consciousness. What of it? Twas ever thus.
False divisions set up by the ruling class on the lines of race, ethnicity,
religion, gender, etc., are nothing new. But just because the task is
difficult doesn't mean we don't set out to achieve it. There is a subjective factor
in all this.
There has been a tendency on the left in the United States for decades to
cherry-pick wage statistics to make the case that working people are under a
relentless and largely successful assault to drive down their standard of
living. I've argued with comrades on this list and internally in Solidarity
that insofar as the RESULT is concerned, it simply isn't so -- the standard
of living of working people has not, in fact decreased, it has increased.
Careful examination of statistics --especially per capita household
incomes-- to try to figure out what the life experience of typical
individual working people has been will show that from where most workers
sit, their standard of living has gradually improved. And overall statistics
about housing --square footage, amenities like central heating and air,
etc.-- number of televisions, radio sets, phone lines, cars, etc. etc. etc.
per household all confirm this general picture.
It IS true that total wages and salaries as a percentage of national income
has steadily declined to pre-1930s levels, that economic inequality is at
peaks not seen since the "gilded age" of the 1890's, that many, perhaps most
entry-level jobs pay less than they used to, ditto wages in mining and
manufacturing and so on, that median wages have been stagnant for decades,
that consumer debt levels are astronomical, that economic insecurity haunts
working people in ways that were unthinkable during the post-WWII boom. And
all sorts of other bad things.
>From this it appears you're living in a parallel universe. Perhaps a stratum
of the working class are doing okay, a result of the easy availability of
consumer credit, etc., but what about the millions of immigrants, documented
and undocumented, those who came out in such huge numbers in recent years to
demonstrate? What about the poor blacks who continue to occupy the bottom rung
of the economic ladder? What about catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina,
which demonstrated emphatically without need for Marxist tracts the social and
economic injustice which underpins US society? What about the over 2 million
currently incarcerated in US prisons, a full quarter of the entire world's
prison population? What about the 30 million living in poverty in the US?
The organised working class cannot be our only focus. Millions, tens of
millions, of workers remain unorganised.
It seems to me Jscotlive's position suffers from voluntarism. He is
determined to make a difference, insists that all of us should share that
determination. These are fine sentiments. My problem is that he is unwilling
to use the tools of a historical and dialectical materialist analysis to
illuminate where and what kind of activism might make a real contribution at
And I don't believe this voluntarism is an odd, peculiar failing of
Jscotlive as an individual but rather something quite generalized on the
left. A mostly shrinking socialist left in the United States, organized in
various groups and through forms such as this list, circles of leading
activists in antiwar coalitions and so on, is engaged --IMHO-- in a
political praxis that I fear is increasingly orthogonal to the main lines of
political and social development.
Completely wrong. Voluntarism, no, an attempt to deepen consciousness, yes.
If I was interested in voluntarism I wouldn't be interested in reaching
anybody, would I?
Also, and I say this again, everything we do anywhere must be tailored to
what is in the interests of the international working class, not just a segment
or section of the class.
But what of your alternative. It seems you advocate passivity in the face of
difficulties in making headway. Theory without practice is like a car without
an engine. Our theory is and must be informed by practice.
Instead, the most visible and dramatic motor of change on a world scale
became the anticolonial struggles of the Third World (including by oppressed
peoples within imperialist countries, for example, of Blacks within the
United States), national movements but of a type radically different from
those analyzed by Marxists before WWI, because these are movements evoked by
imperialist domination (indeed, some of the nations involved have been
created by arbitrary imperialist imposition of a common oppression, for
example, slavery of Africans and their descendants in the U.S., or
line-drawing on maps in Africa and the Middle East).
Now, the counterpart to these national movements is imperialism, and within
the main imperialist countries we see a stabilization of capitalism and a
degree of bourgeois ideological-political hegemony that was previously
unheard of and with it the disappearance of the working class movement, even
as a minority movement within the population of wage workers.
Enough time has now gone by --way more than enough-- and my impression is
that these tendencies I describe drawn from the U.S. experience also
manifest strongly in other imperialist countries, that all sorts of
explanations that in decades past seemed plausible need to be discarded.
Anything that says that the situation we face is an unusual, anomalous,
exceptional, peculiar, unstable, momentary situation has to go. The idea
that this is not really what capitalism is like, these aren't the real
social and political conditions that are likely to prevail in places like
the U.S., Britain, Japan, etc.; that this is some sort of parenthesis of
detour caused by Stalinism and the post-WWII boom (roughly the "official"
SWP (USA) theory in the 70's), given where we are today, six decades after
the end of the post-WWII strike wave and nearly two decades after the fall
of the Berlin Wall, all such theories and explanations have to be discarded.
The fact is this is "normal" capitalism in imperialist countries in our day
and age. Our theory needs to account for that.
I'm sorry, but these interminable tracts are deadening and hardly jermaine
to the thread under discussion. Brevity is a virtue, comrade.
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