[Marxism] A reply by Lebowitz to comments on his article "The Spectre of Socialism for the Twentieth Century"

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Fri Jul 11 17:16:26 MDT 2008

Below is a reply posted on the Links website www.links.org.au by
Michael Lebowitz to a comment from Richard Fidler (reposted here by
Fred Feldman) on Lebowitz's initial article
Original article by Michael Lebowitz "The Spectre of Socialism for the
Twentieth Century"
Comment by Richard Fidler
Reply by Lebowitz

A Missing Strategy... or a Different One?
There is a curious phenomenon among some putative revolutionaries --
they reason that distance from a revolutionary process is an advantage
because it gives one a perspective that is not available to those too
close to the ground. To fill in the inevitable knowledge gaps, the
formulae of old texts, the scripts of old movies and the score-sheets
of revolutions past are always available.

Happily, Richard Fidler in his recent comment in Links
("internationalism, strategy and 21st century socialism") avoids most
of this theoretical substitutionism; however, he is not entirely
immune. Note, for example, his references to "the negative effects of
the law of value" upon Venezuelan cooperatives and recovered factories
"in determining investments and organizing worker self-management" (as
if this were the central problem of those workplaces), his plaint
about the absence of a "revolutionary cadre" that can assimilate
lessons of past experiences (as if Venezuela's problem was a
revolutionary cadre deficit), and his muted reference to the catechism
about the impossibility of building socialism in one country (as if
anyone these days was arguing otherwise).

I certainly appreciate Richard's favourable comments about my
theoretical work, my discussions of socialism for the 21st century,
and my descriptions of the situation in Venezuela. However, his caveat
with reference to my talk in Canada (published in Links as "the
spectre of socialism for the 21st century") that what he finds
"lacking in much of this material, including this article, is
strategy" puzzles me! What have I been writing about all along (both
in general and in relation to Venezuela) if it is not revolutionary

As my response ("The Politics of Beyond Capital", Historical
Materialism, 14:4, 2006) to a symposium on Beyond Capital: Marx's
political economy of the working class (Palgrave Macmillan, 1992,
2003) demonstrates, a political strategy was present in that book. Its
implications for a political theory for the working class included (1)
a focus on human development, (2) the importance of a vision of a
socialist alternative, (3) the centrality of revolutionary practice,
(4) the necessity of theory, (6) the critique of social democracy
(which enforces the logic of capital), (7) the necessity for a
worker's state which stresses the centrality of revolutionary
practice, (8) the need to go beyond exploitation as the basis for
entitlement within the new society, (9) the recognition that the
subjects of revolutionary change go well beyond industrial workers,
(10) the need for a political instrument to unite the collective
worker, (11) the need for an organized effort to communicate theory,
and (12) the need for a party of a different type (because "nothing
could be more contrary to a theory which stresses the self-development
of the working class through revolutionary practice than a party which
sees itself as superior to social movements and as the place where the
masses of members are meant to learn the merits of discipline in
following the decisions made by infallible central committees").

Look back at the talk that provoked Fidler, a talk intended to reach
out to despairing, dormant left Canadians with a vision of a socialist
alternative based upon the key link of human development and
revolutionary practice. The theme of a "democratic, participatory,
protagonistic society as the necessary way for the complete
development of people, individually and collectively", the ideas of a
state based upon communal councils, of democracy in the workplace, of
a "political instrument which respects the creative energy and
revolutionary practice of masses rather than substitutes its own
wisdom" -- it is all there. "Why," I asked, "is this not a spectre
that can appeal to Canadians in their communities and workplaces? Why
is there not the potential for a political instrument here that can
focus on these aspects, that can put forward a vision and that can be
a medium for coordinating the struggles from below?"

Obviously, there is a strategy there -- one distinct from social
democracy, entrism and the "banked knowledge" of the Leninist party.
So, it must be the lack of strategy with respect to Venezuela that is
my sin in Fidler's eyes. But, that charge is simply not true. Consider
Build it Now's emphasis upon the importance of democratic
decision-making from below in communities and workplaces, its
indication of the high-level opposition to worker-management and its
stress upon the need for "a political instrument that can bring
together those fighting for protagonistic democracy in the workplace
and in the community"--- i.e., "a party from below that can continue
the process of revolutionary democracy that is needed to build this
new type of socialism". As can be seen easily on-line at Monthly
Review, MRZine and Links, I have continued since to stress these
points in talks that I have given in Venezuela and have made
increasingly explicit the centrality of and necessity for class
struggle within the Chavist movement.

Last year, in "Venezuela: a Good Example of the Bad Left of Latin
America" (Monthly Review, July-August 2007), I wrote that the
dialectic between leadership and the movement of masses, "a dialectic
of masses which understand that there is an alternative and a
revolutionary leadership prepared to move in rather than give in" had
been essential in the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution. But what
happens when that dialectic is suspended or reversed?

Given the current dismay (which may be difficult to see from a
distance) among many supporters of the process over the increased
inflation generated by the removal of price controls on food and by
Chavez's June 11th "productive re-impulse" speech proposing an
alliance with national capitalists, it is useful to look back at what
I also wrote in "the Bad Left". In looking at the obstacles to
socialism from within the Bolivarian Revolution, I noted that "there
is also a very clear tendency which supports the growth of a domestic
capitalist class as one leg upon which the Bolivarian Revolution must
walk for the foreseeable future." Mixed signals, I warned, were being
sent out, and "what is being strengthened is the 'capitalist
triangle': private ownership of the means of production, exploitation
of wage laborers, for the purpose of profits." Indeed, the Bolivarian
Revolution was producing "its own potential gravediggers. To the
extent that it fosters the infection of the logic of capital, the
Bolivarian Revolution does not walk on two legs but, rather, has one
leg walking backward."

Which brings us back to the "claim" I made which Fidler explicitly
questions--- that "the internal struggle within Chavism [is] the main
obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution" (although,
curiously, he seems to accept my statement that "the struggle between
this 'endogenous right' [the right from within] and the masses who
have been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the
fate of the Bolivarian Revolution"). It's obvious that it is not the
lack of a strategy in my arguments with respect to Venezuela that
bothers Fidler. Rather, he just doesn't seem to agree with the
strategy there.

And, why? The answer appears to be signaled in his title---
"Internationalism, strategy and 21st Century Socialism" and in his
emphasis upon learning from the experience of the Cuban Revolution
(presumably not with respect to communal councils and
worker-management) and upon allying with Cuba. The implicit suggestion
(which can be read as well into the comments of his old comrade Phil
Cournoyer) seems to be that the principal contradiction is with
imperialism. Certainly, that calls for a strategy which differs from
one which stresses the need to struggle for socialism within the
Chavist movement against the 'bolibourgeoisie'; and, this position has
been most explicitly advanced by the PCV (the Venezuelan Communist
Party) which has argued for a broad, multi-class alliance against
imperialism at this time and, at a later stage, a struggle for
socialism led by a Marxist-Leninist Party.

Obviously, imperialism has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate
that it is a major threat to the Bolivarian Revolution--- I have made
that point repeatedly. And, no one can deny the importance of Cuba's
success to date in the struggle against U.S. imperialism. In "New
Wings for Socialism" (Monthly Review, April 2007), I wrote that "I
regard Cuba's victory over imperialism in the Special Period not as
the last chapter of twentieth-century socialism but as a new beginning
-- the first chapter of socialism for the twenty-first century." The
question, though, is whether Cuba could have succeeded with one leg
marching backward.

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