[Marxism] navigating between the Scylla of sectarian abstentionism and the Charybdis of opportunism

John Reimann 1999wildcat at gmail.com
Thu Jul 5 08:39:36 MDT 2018

Okay. I read the letters from Maass, Roesch and LeBlanc. They are
interesting and make some good points, but my first response is that we
need a balanced view.

The capitalist media is making a big deal out of Ocasio-Cortez being a
socialist. It’s the same form of slightly disguised red-baiting that they
did with Sanders. The fact that it didn’t work then and isn’t really
working now (especially among many younger people) is certainly positive.
It shows that, at least among millenials, the red scare is largely over,
that “socialism” is no longer a dirty word. That’s the positive.

But let’s not get carried away here, first with the role of Sanders and now
with Ocasio-Cortez. The increased popularity of “socialism” started several
years before Sanders ran for president. He is by no means largely
responsible for that, contrary to what Alan Maass and Jen Roesch claim.

Equally important is that what both Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have done is
add to the confusion of what “socialism” really is. In reality, what
they’re advocating is not socialism at all, but capitalist reformism,
Keynesianism of a sort. “Socialism” really means that the commanding
heights of the economy are publicly owned and that the economy is run based
on economic planning, not based on private profit and the anarchy of the
“free” market. It also means democratic control and management by the
working class and a workers’ state.

None of the authors of the letters - Alan Maass, Jen Roesch, nor Paul Le
Blanc - recognizes this central distinction.

It is no accident that Ocasio-Cortez, and Sanders before her, combine
adding to this confusion about “socialism” with encouraging the movement
back into the Democratic Party, and we should be pointing this out.

As far as DSA: Le Blanc seems to see it as simply a wing of the Democratic
Party. If it were, then I would agree with him about socialists not joining
DSA, but my experience as a DSA member shows that it’s much more amorphous.
Even some DSA leaders who are most strong advocates of supporting Democrats
pay lip service to the need to build an alternative working class political
party… sometime. You won’t find any Democratic politicians, including
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, saying that.

But the main difference I have with the authors of these letters is over
method and general approach. “Marxism” means starting from what is and
where it seems headed, not what we want. In other words, perspectives. It
also means recognizing that all politics is *class* politics, that it is
not a matter of being “socialists” first and foremost, but a class question
- how and through what channels can the working class start to develop its
own, independent role in society?

Le Blanc, for example, agrees that “the place of socialists is not in one
of the two capitalist political parties.” Well, yes, but the real basic
question is not ideological (socialism vs. capitalism), but the class
question - that the working class cannot play an independent role in
society as long as it is confined within a party based on the capitalist

So, to repeat (once again): What concrete steps do these comrades advocate
for the working class to at least start to establish an independent role in
society? How do they propose this to happen? I am guessing that they’d
agree with the need for a mass, working class party, but none of them makes
that explicit. My suspicion is that this is because their orientation is
too much towards the “socialist” movement such as it is, and not enough
towards the actual working class. Related to this, none of them makes clear
what concrete steps should be taken, either.

And that’s the rub.

John Reimann

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