[Marxism] Paul LeBlanc on "Marxism and Organization"
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 11 10:51:43 MDT 2011
This was a talk that he gave at the ISO conference a week ago. I
carved out some time today in order to prepare a response. I agree
with Paul on many things but have found him veering too much in a
"Zinovievist" direction for my own tastes (for lack of a better word.)
Surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly, I found nothing to
disagree with here:
I quote the section "Not getting it wrong" that is truly inspired:
One way of looking at it is to think of it [a socialist
organization] as a club, like an organisation for those who have a
special interest or hobby. If you are interested in history, you
might join a history club. If you are into stamp collecting, you
might join a stamp collecting club. If you have an incredibly high
IQ, you might join Mensa in order to be able to get together with
really smart people like yourself. One could see a socialist
organisation as a sort of affinity group for those who like socialism.
If that is how you see it, I hope you won’t be offended when I say
that I believe this is a stupid reason for organising a socialist
group. Because if you would really like to see socialism come into
existence, you won’t be able to make that happen in such a group.
A key to getting at the answer to the question is to realise that
Karl Marx and his co-thinker Frederick Engels -- politically
active in Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and elsewhere --
developed their thinking, what they called “scientific socialism”,
through a serious and ongoing interaction with working-class
This scientific socialism -- which after Marx’s death came to be
called “Marxism” -- is a complex and multi-faceted body of thought
with multiple sources. It was grounded in the ideas of the
Enlightenment and also of heroic Romanticism, drawing from German
philosophy, French revolutionary thought and British political
economy, powerfully influenced as well by the capitalist
Industrial Revolution and the rise of the working class, and by
the struggles of the working class.
It involves five basic components. One of these is a dynamic
philosophical orientation, or methodology, which is dialectical,
materialist and humanistic. Another of these involves a theory of
history -- which sees economic development and class struggle as
shaping the way history unfolds. A third component involves an
analysis of capitalism -- how it is structured, how it works, how
it exploits a growing number of people (the working class), how it
opens up new possibilities but also is incredibly irrational and
destructive when it comes to human needs. A fourth component of
Marxism is based on the notion that the working-class majority has
the power to replace capitalism with socialism, so here Marxism
provides a basic political program for the working class. And the
fifth component -- which we have already touched on -- involves
the vision of a socialist future.
What is essential to Marxism is the key notion that there must be
a fusion of socialism with the working class if they are each to
have a positive future.
The working class, the way Marx and Engels defined it, is composed
of those who make a living by selling their ability to work (which
consists of energy for manual labour, intellectual labour, or
both). It is those whose labour creates the goods and services all
of us depend on. It also includes family members and others
dependent on the paychecks of those who sell their ability to work
-- and also unemployed and retired workers. It is the creative
majority, whose labour creates and sustains the economy on which
society depends, those without whom capitalism could not function.
Marxists see this as a force that potentially has the interest and
the power to challenge capitalism. If they join together, the
workers have the power to bring to birth a new and better world.
This provides the basis for defining the purpose of a socialist
organisation -- but there is still room to get it wrong. If we
simply see ourselves as a bigger, better affinity group whose
purpose is to share our wisdom with the workers and recruit them
into our ranks, we may be in for a big disappointment.
Some of us may have had the kind of experience of being part of a
socialist group that appeals “from outside” to a romanticised
abstraction, the Heroic Working Class, urging people to listen to
our socialist ideas, buy our socialist literature, come to our
socialist meetings and join with us in thinking revolutionary
thoughts. This can be a way to attract some handfuls of thoughtful
people. It is actually because of such activities that some of us
may have become socialists and have become members of a socialist
organisation. But some of us have also had enough experience to
know that this doesn’t work as a means for mobilising a working
class majority in the effort to replace capitalism with socialism.
There has been a temptation for some anti-capitalists to conclude
that it is not possible to mobilise a working-class majority, and
that -- few as we are -- we should simply take matters into our
own hands, substituting ourselves for the “revolutionary
proletarian masses” who stubbornly refuse to materialise. Perhaps
if we take drastic action, we can shake up and radicalise a
working-class majority -- or at least we can become militant
avengers of the oppressed.
More information about the Marxism