[Marxism] The movement/layer of revolutionary leftists (was: Criticism of Religion)
jbustelo at gmail.com
Tue Aug 28 17:47:16 MDT 2007
Mark, Joaquin, myself, a number of people on the lbo & pen-l lists are all
part of the largest single group of conscious marxists in the u.s.
-- independent marxists who are not attached, or not strongly attached, to
any formal marxist organization. I would expand that a bit. Many who are not
marxists, or say they are not, have essentially the same understanding of
and attitude towards socialism as do the conscious marxists in this group.
Do we want to characterize this grouping as a "social layer"? How does it
fit into the arguments Joaquin and Mark are advancing?
* * *
I agree with Carrol that this is a topic worth discussing. For convenience's
sake I'll call this the "revolutionary left" or "revolutionary leftists" to
avoid the misunderstanding that Mark Lause brought out, of the broader left
composed of progressive-minded people and so on, the left of millions.
The revolutionary left I'm talking about certainly includes people in
socialist organizations, but not just them, and I believe today not mostly
them. It is a layer of several thousands today; it may have been one many
times that size "back in the day."
In an immediate sense it is the product of social struggles, but not just
that. It is those people who also have been influenced/shaped by the
historical critique of this system as a whole as we inherited it when we
became active, the *revolutionary* critique of the system, one major, and
perhaps the central strand of which is the Marxist critique, but also in the
post-WWII period incorporating an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist,
antiracist critique as well as a feminist/anti-patriarchal critique.
I don't mean to present a sharply defined current or even broad drift among
revolutionary anticapitalists/antimperialist people but rather to encompass
pretty much all of them -- at least in this first initial stage of this
It seems to me this set of people should be viewed historically, as a social
product. It is not the same as the social and protest movement where such
people mostly get their start, not even the same as the most active or
long-time or leading layer in these movements. What defines it for me I
think is somehow incorporating yourself into a tradition of revolutionary
thought and struggle. It is the activism PLUS the ideology. Except that this
makes it seem what I'm really talking about is a layer of the professoriat,
the revolutionary petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, and while I think this is
PART of it (and does in fact very precisely describe my own social status)
there are lots more people --especially among women, and most of all Black
and Latino women, as well as some men-- who I believe are organically a part
of this layer, but could not provide you the book references and so on that
those of us from the intelligentsia can.
This sort of layer was first described by Marx and Engels, and when they saw
it for what it was, they made it their task (in 1846-1847) to win them over
to what we today call Marxism viewing it as the most conscious and
systematic theoretical basis for what was ALREADY then "the communist
And for M&E, there was ALSO no mystery where this came from -- on the
continent, the primary, and very direct influence was the left of the French
Revolution, the wing that did not want the revolution declared finished, but
rather continuing in permanence. In Britain it also had roots but had
already become a mass class political movement --a "party"-- the Chartists,
which stamped it with its own character.
This is where Marxism as a theory came from, from the interaction of Marx
and Engels and their insights into economics and history with the most
advanced and far-seeing people in the revolutionary movement of the
mid-1840's in Britain and Western Europe.
And from there, you can trace a lot of history, and OTHER revolutionary
elements/traditions flowing into what was, well into the second half of the
XXth Century, the MAINSTREAM of revolutionary anticapitalist,
anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal thought, which was largely
Marxist in inspiration and tradition. And then eventually down to our day.
And what you're dealing with is a complicated social product, a layer of
cadre shaped by the interplay of "objective" material factors, the economic,
social and political struggles the "objective" situation of exploitation,
oppression and repression gives rise to, the attempts to theoretically
explain and present these struggles as right, just, inevitable, or
necessary, and the incorporation of elements/traditions/manifestations of
these struggles into the cultural inheritance of varying layers of the
Why talk about and focus on THIS layer?
Because if there is some sort of anticapitalist/anti-imperialist/socialist
political/ideological pole to be but together in the United States, this
social layer is the only one that can do it. And even if only a major shift
in the objective situation is likely to lead to such an outcome, what that
outcome looks like is going to be shaped to some degree, and probably a very
significant degree, by the ideas of those who are there at the beginning
when it first starts to take off, who are going to be people from this layer
and others influenced by them.
The large (and as far as I can tell, growing) non-affiliation or
half-hearted affiliation of these comrades with the really-existing
socialist organizations is a GOOD thing, at least from this angle: if you
believe that the organized, structured socialist left in the United States
really fell WAY SHORT of what it could and should have been over these past
few decades, THEN a discussion of our mistakes can contribute to the
emergence of a much more intelligent revolutionary socialist movement in the
And there is a lot to criticize, everything from the zombifying effects of
"Democratic Centralism" (as it was usually practiced) to the class
reductionist bias in many/most Marxist organizations to the anti-materialist
idealism of various sects preserving "the correct program" fossilized in
amber in complete laboratory isolation from any social forces that might
contaminate it, to issues of social composition, orientation, and the
reproduction within socialist organization of patterns of power and
privilege inherited from broader society.
And then there is the situation TODAY. We must develop, build up, generalize
and systematize the critique of the QUANGO (Quasi "Non Governmental
Organization"), non-profit, social service, community and union organizing
sector as essentially, taken as a whole, something that serves BOURGEOIS
Yes, to SOME degree, they also represent concessions, but overwhelmingly in
the nature of scraps from the imperialist banquet table consciously aimed
both at mollifying and CREATING DEPENDENCE.
We should stop bullshitting ourselves and recognized that with perhaps, at
the very most, a very few, tiny number of exceptions, there are no REAL
popular organizations sufficiently rooted among the oppressed and exploited
to successfully resist the strings that come with
Are we organizing self-empowered collective resistance or are we organizing
a disempowered, atomized and dependent client base? That is, I think, one of
the essential questions to be asked.
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