Rules of the road

Kasama

On the Shelf

« People of the Shining Path video, readings on the PCP – and analysis of the "peace accords" | Main | Mexico Is Erupting »

November 30, 2006

Comments

the burningman

Anyone who thinks Marxism had "intellectual free reign" in the 1960s has literally no idea what they are talking about.

Christopher Day

I don't know where I suggested that the only criticism of Marxism has come from "capitalist ideologies." I'm well aware of the critical currents in and around Marxism. One can, of course go back even further to the council communists. But I'm not entirely sure what the point is of rehearsing this history. Of course it is quite possible for a trend to think of itself subjectively as anti-capitalist, but to in fact either reproduce elements of capitalist ideology or in some other way to ideologically disarm the oppressed classes. I would suggest that the spontaneist ideas advanced by many anarchists with the sincerest revolutionary intentions do just that.

The more salient point concerns whether the material improvements I described being made by communist-led states were "anything special." But frankly, it is comments like these that expose the bankruptcy of anarchism.

For a hundred years prior to the Chinese Revolution, China experienced a major famine at least every other year. The communist-led revolution effectively brought that cycle to an end (with the important exception of the two years following the Great Leap Forward). How is it "robbing people of their everyday conceptions of struggle" to recognize the importance of this accomplishment for any prospects for mass human emancipation in China? I don't view industrialization as some sort of unalloyed collective good either. But I have seen with my own eyes the difference in caloric intake made possible by the transition from hoe to tractor and if you don't think its anything special you are free to try your hand at feeding your family off a tiny plot of land with the former. I personally subscribe to the radical proposition that it is possible for a society to consciously choose to build tractors without promising every soul on the planet their own personal SUV in a heated garage.

Does literacy correspond with a certain set of human social relations? Well its a pretty broad set, stretching from the rise of ancient agrarian societies to the present. The real question is what does it mean to not have it when others in your society do have it. And the answer is, to be their slaves in one form or another. Like ensuring the fulfillment of certain minimal nutritional requirements, I would argue that it is a bare bones condition of our freedom to realize our potentials as individuals and collectively.

As for Tibet, are my only choices being a little red book waving apologist for Han chauvinism or a patchouli-scented apologist for theocratic slavery and feudalism? I think there must be an alternative.

anarchist

Just to respond to Bman quickly, when I say free reign I mean it relative to the radical discourse of the day. To give you a small example, Jacques Derrida who left it till 1993 to write a book critiquing Marxism aparently said that the reasons he did not do it earlier had to with the inconvenience of being called a traitor by all of the then radical milieu in France. And as I said there was no anarchism to really take it on as there was from Max Stirner up until that 1940 date. That is what I mean by free reign. There was never an anarchist equivalent to say Marcus (who said good things none the less).

Chris

As far as capitalist reproduction goes, it was Lenin and Mao who said that a period of state-capitalism was needed to carve a path for socialism. Not the subjectivist types who pointed out the fallacy of separating means from ends.

As for me and my milieus supposed "bankruptcy", it is hardly bankrupt at all when one really pears into the logic of claiming objectively that peoples lives have improved. It is the same logic that posited by Marx and Engles claiming that slavery was overall a necessary improvement for human agency. I leave supposed improvements to various singularities themselves. How do we know if improvements have really happened if the decisions to this 'improvement' have already been made by the changed power players, cause at best that's all that the Chinese revolution did.

As for the further substance that you mention, I tend to see the problem more as simple access to land that was lacking as apposed to pre-industrial problems. Interestingly enough I saw a news story on an old peasant village that boasted numerous people who lived over a hundred years. I have no doubt that the direct subsistence based nature of those places plays a positive aspect. Ultimately I don't think it has to be just a peasant mode of production. Permaculure is another positive example. As far as recognizing mass emancipation goes, that erases the fact that I and many others have a different idea of what emancipation is and it would be better served by a lack of macro-level utilitarian blue prints. It is not A world but worlds that want emancipation, and this can never be seen as a linear equation. As for building tractors, I might be open to a certain level of maintenance, however this should conform to what Mumford called democratic technics(sic) You have to realize that tractor building to begin with was ushered in and maintained by a particular mode of human instrumentality that was anything but egalitarian. Ultimately, building and maintaining tractor production follows those same complex technics regardless of what the ruling human agency of the day says.(basic Ellul)

As for literacy, I have a fairly neutral viewpoint of it as such. Obviously I am literate and do see its uses, however I take seriously what Jack Goody had to say about it, that is that it was used as a tool to ultimately decontextualize human relationships and governmentalize others. As such in my ideal scenario I can see literacy playing a role in a post-civilized context, however it should no longer be seen as the primary way of knowing. Particularly when people like Jared Diamond, Richard Lee, Marshall Sahlins, Pierre Clastres, ect have demonstrated how intelligent pre-literate primitive people can be.

To your last point, I don't like false choices either, but I want the people in those regions to make the decisions and not the "enlightened" revolutionary missionaries who claim to have their good in mind. This goes for pre-Mao Tibet, or the current tribal Pashtun regions in Pakistan. Those 20th century figures with their selective anti-imperialism could never get that.

Chuck Morse

Chris,

Your second-to-last post (December 06, 2006 at 01:35 PM) doesn’t address the questions I raised and it is not a Marxist defense of Marxist-Leninism. You simply skirt the responsibility of drawing conclusions about Marxist-Leninism based on twentieth century experiences by changing the temporal framework and saying that, no, we can only judge it in the context of *hundreds* of years. That’s all fine and well, but that isn't a defense of anything (in Marxist or other terms). In fact, you're not even making a point; you're just shifting the goalpost.

I also want to point out that your claim that communists have improved the material conditions of their subjects when they've taken power is also suspect. Consider China, North Korea, and Vietnam today. While these countries doubtlessly use more advanced technologies now than prior to communism, the communist governments have restored levels of inequality to pre-communist levels. Of course china is the most dramatic example. (I raise this issue primarily because you constantly urge us to put communism in a historical perspective: I think that's a good idea, but you can’t just focus on things that stimulate your political imagination (the “heroic” years and the dramatic conflicts between “liberation” and “oppression”, blah blah blah). The history is much more complicated than the GI-Joe soldier stuff.

You also tell us that we have a lot to learn from communism which, again, is not a defense of communism (we have a lot to learn from fascism: does that mean it’s a good thing?). The same goes for your repeated claims of anarchism’s weakness in relation to Marxism (they say nothing about Marxism's virtues).

Chris, if you can’t defend Marxist-Leninism in Marxist terms here, on this site, where can you defend it? Why would anyone want to embrace a doctrine that even its advocates can’t support? Doesn't it occur to you that Stan, by jumping ship, is on to something?

leftclick

C. Morse -

What are these 'Marxist terms' you speak of and why should we limit ourselves to your understanding?

Here's how you characterize Chris Day's position: "I also want to point out that your claim that communists have improved the material conditions of their subjects when they've taken power is also suspect. Consider China, North Korea, and Vietnam today. While these countries doubtlessly use more advanced technologies now than prior to communism, the communist governments have restored levels of inequality to pre-communist levels. Of course china is the most dramatic example. (I raise this issue primarily because you constantly urge us to put communism in a historical perspective: I think that's a good idea, but you can’t just focus on things that stimulate your political imagination (the “heroic” years and the dramatic conflicts between “liberation” and “oppression”, blah blah blah). The history is much more complicated than the GI-Joe soldier stuff."

The genuine material improvements in people's lives can be documented even by various non-Marxist sources. The nature of the various countries you mentioned are under continuous debate by Marxists so it's wrong of you to imply that there's a consensus. You conflate all historical periods even though many Marxists have indicated significant breaks even if we can't all agree on the time frame [did the USSR reverse itself with the rise of Stalin or Khruschev?] On top of that you grossly misrepresent Day's argument as focusing "GI-Joe soldier stuff". You mean well-documented but 'irrelevant' stuff like literacy rates and life expectancy? What exactly would count as an improvement?

You substitute your own mechanical approach to Marxism and want us to explain things in THOSE terms. Why should we? We have every right to challenge the myopic and self-serving limitations of your anarchist approach - one that would continually support the Paris Commune, even though it was crushed, but would reject other socialist experiments on the same basis. Even though you raise important questions, you already have your answers, but it's wrong of you to chastise us for not putting on your blinkers.

Marxism provides a methodology to concretely evaluate the balance of forces that drive history. Marxism recognizes that material concerns form the grounding from which we can evaluate the fullness of any social formation. What links seemingly disparate social phenomena is the means by which we produce and reproduce our lives. However the relationship between material and social relations is more one of establishing potentials and limitations [what I would call a 'dialectical' determination] than one of mechanical determination. There's more to be said but I just wanted to start with something. How does this apply to history? Refer back to Chris Day.

Maybe

Chuck's whole scholastic take here reminds me of inverted Trotskyism ala Ron Tabor's "Look at Leninism," an old anarchist pamphlet from the 80s.

What can I say, he wants a concrete analysis of concrete circumstances? Or a proven validation?

The only proof is the dignity of immediate actuality.

True true that the necessity for synthetic leadership in any mass movement (of any any kind) among the people is not a Leninist insight uniquely. Anarchists certainly have their ideological shops as much as anyone. Of course, every other political philosophy in the world takes this for granted.

Communists problematize leadership. That is what makes Leninism unique.

We seek the abolitition of the "four alls" – look it up – and that includes the very class relationships we are bound up in.

The essence of the Mass Line, MLM's method, is that the masses make history and the party leads. Contrasting this with Ella Baker's maxim that "strong people don't need strong leaders," which is wrong on so many levels despite the nobility of its sentiment.

Strong people needs strong leaders MORE than anyone, and most people in this sense aren't "strong."

Also, while it's important to recognize how things like literacy and physical health are important, and in the particular case of Cuba is heroic – THAT IS NOT SOCIALISM.

Socialism is about the proletariat governing! That's NOT Cuba. Cuba is a developed welfare state under seige, where the masses of people play literally NO PART in political life. Norway has a more developed welfare state than Cuba, and the differences are instructive in terms of why we defend Cuba (and don't have to "defend" Norway).

Without the people coming into ever-increasing management of society, not just conceptual "ownership" through the state, how can that state not replicate the relations of capitalism in state form?

Who collects all the dollars and euros from Cuban prostitutes if not the "socialist state?" If that's not an example of "Patriarchy and Accumulation on a Global Scale" – then I don't know what is!

While Chuck (and most people) see this is an example of something like hypocrisy, I'd argue that revolution makes no guarantee – and that without a developed line continuing the class struggle under socialism (and towards world revolution), a slide into those traditional relations is something like inevitable.

Learn from Nepal, because Nepal is trying to learn from the 20th Century. Socialism must come from the people, which requires their right and imperative to THINK, to have personal liberty and the right not just to "disagree", but to form distinct political parties, and in their case recognize great degrees of autonomy. That's MLM today.

Chuck or whoever can say it's not "Marxism-Leninism" as approved by whatever authority gives its stamp of approval – but it is what is happening, and that's where this movement is at.

No template, no ideal state – people in struggle doing their part for the world revolution. (Whether the conservative negative dialectics of Adorno would agree or not).

-------

PS – there is no "negation of the negation." Engels was wrong about a lot, that among others.

ok enuf

chris wrote (among a lot of good points):

"As for Tibet, are my only choices being a little red book waving apologist for Han chauvinism or a patchouli-scented apologist for theocratic slavery and feudalism? I think there must be an alternative."

Just a basic factual point:

The author of the Red Book had a very sophisticated approach to Tibet that cannot and should not be simply misdescribed as "han chauvinist." MTT brought a very lofty approach to the process of drawing minority peoples into the rev rooted in Han china.

Second those who "waved the red book" were not (in the main) Han chauvnists.

There was throughout post 1949 Chinese history a current that WAS deeply han chauvinist (and especially toward Tibetans) -- and those forces were concentrated among the modernizers (i.e. those who did not "wave the red book" and were the main political opponents those who did wave the red book.)

Christopher Day

Just to be clear, I was bemoaning the false options implicitly on offer in the initial reference to Tibet. I don't know enough of the history of Chinese-Tibet relations to usefully comment further on the perspectives of the different trends in the CCP. What is clear to me is that the Tibetans have gotten a raw deal at the hands of China. And just to be fair, not everybody in the Dalai Lama Fan Club wears patchouli either.

friendly fire

Not knowing the details, and with Goff's admiration for the social work of his comrades in Freedom Road noted, I think that it is quite likely they do treat Marxism-Leninism as a doctrine, with "classic texts" and so on. This is what Jed has called a "private vocabulary."

Freedom Road is not active where I am so I can in no way speak about them beyond what I see on their website and what I've heard. To be fair, most of what I've heard is about one of their pre-cursor organizations that upheld the restoration of capitalism in China and where many of those individuals ended up.

If Marxism is that vocabulary, and not a living science of revolution – then throw it out! But don't throw out the baby along with the bathwater, and I hope you don't assume that MLM and the rejuvinated international communist movement is synonymous with the worst examples you may have encountered.

It's always easy to find the worst.

n

leftclick writes: "if you can name situations in western countries that even approximate some of the above, where m-l parties continually fail, then i could see a case."

The problem is, the task we are faced with is not just to identify why revolution has failed, but to do something about it other than wait another couple hundred years for something to happen, maybe, we'll see. THAT is what has been called tailism and vulgar determinism, no? [Lucaks Defense of History and Class Consciousness is really worth reading].

"So is the [Zapatista] refusal to impose their will a matter of principle or pragmatism [when dealing with the reality of multiple powerful organizations]?"

None of us are immune from material facts and the situations we find ourselves in, and in that sense we must all be 'pragmatist'. But none of us are solely billiard balls either. Revolution is made by revolutionaries, or what's the point of revolutionaries? And in that sense the revolutionary must be principled, because opportunism just means waiting around for the revolution to happen, or keeping oneself busy while one waits. [Again Lucaks]

In this entire very long discussion which I have not read all of, I still keep being struck by disagrements where both sides are indeed exactly right in identifying a real trap, risk or problem. We are all very good at identifying problems and risks of certain approaches. Every (yes, really, every) approach has it's own charecteristic risks. Truthfully some more than others, but regardless it is not sufficient to identify problems, the task before us to work on figuring out how to accomplish something _despite_ the risks and problems of any approach. How to ameliorate the problems of any potentially useful approach, so we can find an approach that will work. I suppose choosing which problems and risks we would prefer to have is part of this, but blaming someone else for preferring different risks isn't as useful as figuring out how to avoid the dangers and helping them to do that also.

To me, the answers, the correct approach, is not clear at this point. Neither identifying our past failures, our reasons for present failure, or our risks of future failure are sufficient to identifying the path to success.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Hot Shots