[Marxism] The criticism of religion [was: RE: Vnzla: reasons to be optimistic]

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Thu Aug 23 10:15:45 MDT 2007

Joaquin, because your points are matters of interest to me, I can't
help reflecting on your comments. I'm not sure I understood them all,
and if not, my apologies in advance.

> Gary writes: ...  I am reminded of the Brecht line about communism -
> 'The simple thing; so hard to achieve'.  Whether we achieve it or
> not is of course all up to how hard we struggle."
> I know it is rude or worse, but let me say that whether we achieve
> communism is NOT NOT NOT "all up to how hard we struggle." This is
> an ILLUSION, an expression of the mindless voluntarism so prevalent
> on the pseudo-Leninist left (and not only).

This on the face of it seems an extraordinary assertion, and I suspect
that is because there is a certain ambivalence about just what you
mean by "communism" here. In context, you refer to specific political
parties (SWP, etc.) and whether they really are needed. At one point
you may imply that the proletariat should seize power without such
political formations.

I won't bother to address a proposition that spontaneity is a workable
tactic. However, I am concerned about how "struggle" ties in to this
thesis. It is easy to prove in unambivalent terms that any kind of
constructive change requires the expenditure of effort, which is
struggle. People are used to associating the word "struggle" with
class and "work" with one's place of employment, but there is really
no difference between them. All struggle/work/effort entails the
dissipation of energy so that that change take place.

If "communism" is a different kind of social order, is it not obvious
that it will take work/effort/struggle to achieve it? Certainly the
bourgeoisie had to undergo a difficult birth as they left the feudal
system behind.

> By any number of measures, it would be impossible to "struggle" as
> "hard" for "communism" as is done by the comrades of the American
> SWP. Yet the single biggest contribution these comrades could make
> to the socialist cause TODAY would be, simply, to CUT IT OUT.

Another ambiguity I fear. Are you saying that the SWP is flawed
because of its ideology or organization, or are you saying that any
political formation is flawed. If the latter, surely you must offer a
case, for it flies in the face of the consensus that politics is
needed to address emergent needs specific to a social whole. I will
not debate anarchism, for it is an ideology of a social class other
than my own; I am only asking for a clarification of your point. 

> And the SWP is NOT the only group that could make this
> contribution. It's when you ask me for the names of the groups that
> SHOULDN'T at least have a real, honest, soul-searing discussion
> about whether they should exist AT ALL that I start having a hard
> time coming up with examples.
> I know there are damn few people who would agree with
> this. "Something is better than nothing," they say.

Another ambiguity. Are not those who say that something is better than
nothing implying that while an existing political formation may be
weak or flawed, you can't do without one? You appear to be insisting
on something else entirely: that any political formation is in
principle undesirable. Again, I will not bother to discuss such a
point, but only seek clarification of where you stand.

> Contrary to what Gary says, we do NOT NOT NOT "live in a world so
> ripe for socialism." Socialism is not brought about simply by
> technology, the expansion of the world market, or imperialist
> domination. What is decisive is the reaction of social forces to
> those developments.
> Viewed from the standpoint of the imperialist countries, the world
> of 100 years ago was much RIPER for socialism, qualitatively so,
> incomparably so.  Mass workers parties, of AT LEAST a socialistic or
> Marxian bent, existed in virtually every country where capitalism
> was significantly implanted.

I've not bothered to follow the discussion up to this point, but on
the face of your message, there seem to be problems. It seems to me
that implications of your first paragraph here are correct in that a
transition to communism entails both objective and subjective factors;
conditions have to have develop sufficiently to make transition
possible, but that change is never automatic and requires struggle.

I mention this because in the next paragraph you make the odd
suggestion that the world a century ago was more ripe for socialism
than today. You fail to distinguish the world and Europe, for the
world was surely not ripe for revolution (arguably it was ripe for
the bourgeois revolution). As for Europe, it may objectively have been
fairly ripe for revolution in 1907, but there was an insufficiently
developed subjective factor (working class unity and determination, as
events during WWI show). However, today, in objective terms, thanks to
globalization, the world may be getting ripe for revolution. I'm not
quibbling here over specific points of interpretation, but instead
over your implication that history can go backwards.

> OF COURSE, we know now what no-one even suspected then, that the
> working class of the West, bathed in imperialist privilege, would
> FAIL; and not just fail, but wither away in the political sense of
> the word "class."
> A catastrophic failure of world-historic proportions -- AND, it
> should be noted, one entirely unforeseen by Marx, Engels, Lenin or
> even Trotsky.

Yes, but of course there was success in the USSR, and later on in
China, etc. Even in just Western Europe, there seemed to be a
possibility of change at the end of WWII. The working class in
_Europe_ failed in _one_ respect, although it probably developed in
other respects. That is, I believe we need to be clear about
geographic context in our statements and avoid any implication that
all class struggle reduces to the immediate political implementation
of communism. The working class after WWII arguably made progress in
various places and in various ways. Only a portion of the working
class aimed at social transformation, and there are reasons why it
failed to unite the working class behind such a project. My point is
that working-class struggle is multifaceted, has regional differences,
and has its ups and downs. The aim of the working class is not to
attain some ideal order off in the future, but to realize our
real potentials despite the constraints of ircumstance. 

> The fundamental theses of the Transitional Programme: "The world
> political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a
> historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat" is
> fundamentally wrong. Instead, "The world political situation as a
> whole is chiefly characterized by" the failure of the proletariat of
> the imperialist West to take power -- or even to maintain its
> coherence as a CLASS in the political struggle. This failure is
> rooted in material realities, in the social relations of the
> imperialist epoch, and not fundamentally in the "mistakes,"
> "betrayals" and so on of Stalinism and Social Democracy.

I'm inclined to agree with some of this, but not that the working
class is to blame. The working class in Europe is exploited by
the capitalist system, and more so in Europe than most other places in
terms of relative exploitation. It is destructive of the global
working class movement to pillory the victims of capitalism in Europe
and represent it as the cause of exploitation.  

> The victory of such opportunist currents was not the CAUSE, but the
> MANIFESTATION of the failure of the imperialist proletariat.

What? You just finished emphasizing that the European proletariat was
the victim of circumstance (imperialism), and here you seem to imply
that the proletariat _in Western Europe_ backed imperialism. This
strikes me as highly ambivalent. Yes, major sections of the organized
and unorganized working class were co-opted by imperialism, but are
they to blame for it as your term "imperialist proletariat" seems
to imply? I enjoy a comfortable life (in global terms), and that is
because of capitalism and imperialism, but does that make me a
capitalist and imperialist? It is said that that if you are not part
of the solution you are part of the problem, but in my small way I
struggle against the system and hopefully to some extent escape the
onus. I am ready to admit failures, but I resent being called
imperialist just because I happen to benefit from it. I benefit from
the nice weather today, but I'm not responsible for it.

> ... one obvious route to the elimination of this root cause is the
> elimination of the relatively privileged position of imperialist
> working classes, for example, by the liberation of most peoples who
> are today oppressed/exploited by imperialism.]

If you are suggesting that the global working class attack the US and
European working class, that I find unacceptable. That the struggle of
the world's working class will lower the standard of living of the
better off sectors of the working class I suspect is already
taking place, but that's not at all what you suggest. You are talking
about an attack on one sector of the working class by the rest of the
working class, when the object of attack should be capitalism and
imperialism. Already (in minor ways), the better
off sectors of the working class realize that its own interest is best
served through solidarity with workers in less developed countries so
that they all rise together at the expense of capitalist surplus
value. Even the AFL-CIO has recently come around to this view.

> At least for right now, we need to stop thinking in terms of HOW to
> combat opportunist (popular frontist/reformist) and outright,
> nakedly bourgeois currents in the working class movement, and,
> adopting a broad framework of decades, many decades, try to figure
> out WHY those currents won, not in THIS confrontation or on THAT
> issue or in a given country, but world-wide, in the main imperialist
> countries taken as a whole, and for what has clearly been an entire
> historical epoch.

My experience here, such as introducing progressive motions in
meetings of a local labor council, is that if done right they can be
well received as long as they do not distract from the pressing need
to negotiate a decent contract or address bad conditions at work.

The delegates to my central labor council (and the workers they
represent) have a serviceable car, a modest home, can to some extent
send their kids to college, often expect enough income to retire
decently, and take a couple weeks of vacation each year. Do you
criticize them for this? Although they are far better off than workers
in many counties, their standard of living is what the current
development of capitalism can and needs to support. Imperialism is of
course relevant, but things don't reduce to that one factor. Would you
take away peoples' home, their car, and the college education of their
children? These advantages exist primarily because they represent
conditions necessary for the capitalist system, and to a much lesser
extent (only 10% even for unionized labor) result from class
struggle. My standard of living is not the result of my greed, but is
needed by the capitalist system.

> This is the truth: the U.S. has TODAY a BOURGEOIS-IMPERIALIST
> working class, and I believe that is ALSO quite likely true at least
> of Britain, France, Germany and Japan, or put another way, these
> countries don't have a working class movement worthy of the name.

You seem to differ with some conventional views, but without offering
any justification for doing so. Without venturing to defend the
conventional views, let me just describe them.

First, class consciousness is generally understood to arise from
objective and subjective factors. The objective factor is not absolute
deprivation, but relative deprivation (that is, the relation of one's
needs to surplus value). The subjective factor seems to consist of
both static and dynamic aspects. The static aspect our awareness of
our relative deprivation, while the dynamic aspect is the feeling that
something can be done about it. In sociological jargon, it is the
frustration of rising expectations. Expectations can rise because
things are not getting better as much as they should, or it can arise
from our awareness of the evidence of the power of class solidarity.

The point is that misery in itself does not spur revolution, for,
unfortunately, people do manage to adapt to it. Class struggle cannot
be separated from a dynamic grasp of the capitalist system.

The second point is about class. You use the term "proletariat", which
in places like the US really refers to a minority of the working class
as it exports industrial work and shifts toward a service
economy. While it is true that unionized industrial workers are
relatively well off (in terms of absolute exploitation, but not of
relative exploitation), they are hardly typical.

Also, the way things are headed, I'm not comfortable with any sharp
distinction between workers in advanced economies and those in less
developed economies. Just as one can't dismiss the former as
hopelessly co-opted for reasons I've indicated, we can't romanticize
the latter. People the world over (I suppose with the exception of
religious fundamentalists who reject prevailing values), workers would
very much like to have the standard of living they see in the advanced
countries. They would like job security, a decent income, a home,
nutritious food, education, etc. Besides the global sharing of values,
with the increased mobility of labor we are all finding ourselves in
the same stew. Present trends extrapolated suggest that there will be
little to differentiate the bulk of the world's working class. Urban
workers in China are experiencing a rising standard of living; while
those in the US have a stagnant or declining standard of living.

> Rah-rah cheerleading for "our" class accompanied by ringing
> declarations of loyalty to its cause and the most deeply felt
> expressions of our conviction as to its ultimate victory are THE

Sorry, but I can't agree. The "we" is not a cause and not a political
movement, but a social class, a social process. I rally to the working
class not because we all have the same standard of living or even the
same values, but because we have the same relation of production. That
is, we all share the exploitation of our labor by the capitalist
system, and that system constrains what we have the potential to
become. As a social being, my class is me; my self-identify is at the
same time a class identification. I stick up for my class, not because
it must be right or because it is the epitome of virtue, but
existentially because it is to a large extent what I am. I bond with
my family not because it is superior to other families, but because it
is part of me.

> Statements such as those Gary made are simply the liturgy of what
> has become our *RELIGION*.
> And this is where Marx STARTED. With the criticism of RELIGION: ...
> One of our MOST URGENT tasks is the criticism of the religion that
we have > turned Marxism into. The first step is to subject Marxist
dogma to the > withering fire of Marxist analysis.
> If we have the nerve.

I'm not comfortable with your apparent equation of religion and class
consciousness. Marx was advocating a materialist basis for
consciousness in lieu of idealizations that can have no worldly
efficacy. Marxism, in contrast to religion, is working-class
consciousness arising from its material circumstances. But perhaps you
are instead arguing that while Marxism may have started as the
ideology of the working class, it soon evolved into a rigid dogma, and
as such it needs to left in the dustbin of history.  I don't think
anyone would disagree with this if your premise were true. But it
almost appears that your critique of Marxist dogmatism justifies your
disposing of any scientific grasp of working-class circumstances. You
are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath.

Working-class ideology is (loosely) our world view, and we can't
dispose of our world view without undergoing a lobotomy. Certainly
that outlook has its weaknesses and undoubtedly must develop as
circumstances change, but the need to critique and develop our
working-class ideology is obviously not the same as rejecting the
existence of class and class ideology altogether.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM


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