[Marxism] Tilting at windmills: Once Again On "What is to be donein 2008"

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Thu Aug 16 21:25:44 MDT 2007

Anthony Boynton writes:

Here is my response to Joaquin's very pessimistic essay.

My personal crystal ball is broken, and Marx's never worked, neither did
Lenin's - and I am not comparing myself to them. My point is that Jaoquin's
crystal ball may not be working either. Nobody knows, or can know when a
socialist revolution is going to happen.
In the case of Lenin he was caught completely by surprise in February, 1917.

My post about what the left should do in the 2008 election had nothing to do
with reading chicken entrails to predict any future social revolutions in
any country.

My aim is to point US leftists who want to change the world, not just suck
their toes, in a direction that is most likely to defend the working class
and poor of the world, including the young soldiers who are being sent to
the Middle East to be maimed and killed.

This means acting in a way designed to get the united States military out of
the Middle East, especially Iraq.

What direction of activity can do this? Organizing demonstrations against
the war is a good one, but its immediate impact on the war will be close to

Threatening the reelection of a member of Congress, or the electoral
ambitions of a Presidential candidate (and the ruling class faction behind
that candidate) will have a real impact, now in the real world. 

*  *  *

I'm not sure why Anthony Boynton thinks my "essay" was "very pessimistic." I
think, on the contrary, it was entirely realistic.

I agree, we do not, and cannot possibly, know the future. That was part of
the reason why I brought up the 60's. There was no reason to think a
social-political-cultural tsunami of the scale and scope was in the cards,
or if there were reasons to think that, not only were they not understood
then but they are still not understood.

But we do know the past and the present, and on that basis make projections
on the likely course of developments. And if things keep going pretty much
as they have over the past few decades, I don't think it takes a crystal
ball for one to say that the organized socialist left in the United States
is going to disappear. For most practical purposes, it already has.

And, I guess, one of the points of my posts is, why are we so afraid of
that? Mars and Engels didn't have fits when the time came to put aside or
wind up old organizations, they did so when the organizational forms no
longer corresponded to the political tasks.

The other reason for my bringing up the 60's is that this left really didn't
get off to such a bad start. And if we failed to make optimal use of the
human material historical development placed before us, there is no reason
to think the outcome of a new radicalization would be different. 

Anthony says his "aim is to point US leftists who want to change the world,
not just suck their toes, in a direction that is most likely to defend the
working class" and so on. And he says the immediate impact of demonstrations
on the war is "close to nill," but "threatening the reelection of a member
of Congress, or the electoral ambitions of a Presidential candidate ... will
have a real impact now, in the real world."

This IS PRECISELY "electoral cretinism," or to put it more gently, this
betrays electoral and parliamentary illusions. In last November's balloting,
millions of working people not only succeeded in "threatening the reelection
of a member of Congress," but despite monstrous gerrymandering, actually
took both the House and Senate OUT OF the hands of the Republicans and put
it in the hands of the Democrats so they would wind down or end this war.

And the result was the surge, a massive escalation of the war.

Just how this reality is changing the consciousness of millions of people
I'm not sure, but it clearly is, the symptoms are there in the public
opinion polls. And that is why I am hesitant to say the tactic of running an
independent campaign is obviously the thing to do. The "thing to do" may
well be to focus on organizing antiwar protests or social movements, and
argue that this is what really can change things, and not focus on the
electoral arena at all.

It is very nice to talk about actually changing the world and so on, but
precisely the reason Marx and Engels spent all that time writing books and
articles was to explain that the world doesn't change just because someone,
or many someones, want it to: societies evolve in certain ways, political
action has certain effects. And they were quite successful in describing how
that applied in the capitalist societies of their days. 

The problem is that we, their followers, turned Marxism into a dogma and
even a religion, instead of using it as a method of social analysis.

My observation is that the extreme divergence between the intended effects
of the actions of groups on the left and the actual results suggests that we
have an extremely deficient understanding of this society and therefore of
how to change it. I don't think what Marx and Engels did in trying to
understand the capitalism of their times was "just suck their toes," and I
don't think the U.S. left will have much success until it understands that
the crisis we face is not just of politics or organization, but of
understanding, of theory.


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