Friday, May 31, 2002
It's come to my attention that those of you who are either unintiated into the wonderful mysteries of Marxist-Leninism ;) or who have dissenting views on the nature of it might have some trouble understanding why I put Lenin, who's percieved by many to be a rigid dogmatic authoritarian, in the category of being a creative liberal....Let me explain. Creative liberty, in my view, is as much a stance as a doctrine. When the Socialist movement first started in the early nineteenth century it was up against a liberal orthodoxy which was highly rationalistic and which couldn't accommodate both the idea of individual liberty and people being determined by class at the same time. In other words it wasn't flexable enough to modify it's definition of individual liberty in the face of criticism...This forced the Socialist movement to be very creative in coming up with alternatives. Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Robert Owen, as well as many other Utopians blazed trails into unknown territory with their strange new conceptions of how society worked and of how it could be made to work better. But they were working with essentially no background resources. They were part of a larger reaction against sterile liberalism led by the Romantic philosophers and authors....Lenin's creativity comes out in the fact that his conception of Marxism and society was created in a similar vacuum. Marx, in fact, was one of the first to try to synthesize all these different types of Socialism in France and elsewhere into a coherent body of doctrine, but he didn't succeed in connecting his thought to practical matters. Leszek Kolakowski in "Main Currents of Marxism, vol. 2" points out that in contrast to the Second International, which was the coalition body of parties that included Lenin and Kautsky, the First International, which Marx himself was a leader of, was mainly an ideological body and not a practical one. In other words even the organization that Marx himself participated in experienced a sharp disconnect between the ideology of the leaders and the practical ground floor work of the member parties. I think it's effect, guaranteed by Marx, was to enforce an orthodoxy of German style socialism in the member parties--against the French socialism of Proudhon, who Marx had expelled. But the 2nd was different--it was largely a coalition of autonomous functioning working class bodies and parties....Lenin's creativity and his creative liberty come out in his extraordinarily creative reworking of Marxism to fit with the daily practical needs of his party and of the Russian political scene in general. He did this with little support from any previous tradition and blazed a trail parallel with that of the Romantics
I think this reworking of things is non ideological but instead is a practical embodiment of the sort of Utopian political ideals that people like Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in. Lenin, in my opinion, wanted to put a libertarian program into place---and demonstrated this by crafting, with the Bolsheviks and others, highly original concepts of political and social representation and interesting reconceptions of how political and social life could be organized in a new society. In particular, if you want to look for signs of Lenin's creativity, look at his conflicts with the Russian Populists (Narodniks), also look at his later works---there's one where he suggests that it's time to start thinking about putting the ideas of the Utopian socialists to work because the basic reorganization of society by the Revolution was accomplished...It's style, his thought is cast in libertarian terms at a time when most were talking about determinism. This heritage was preserved by Trotsky and Trotskyism, although it was killed in Stalinism.
Don't take my word for it though--Murray Bookchin, in his latest book of interviews about Anarchism, Marxism, and the future of the Left, makes a similar point about Trotsky. He adds, interestingly enough, that Trotsky became more and more libertarian as he got older. But Trotsky was not a totally independent thinker--many of his ideas were reworkings of Lenin, and I think that what Trotsky was doing when he was becoming more libertarian was sitting back and pursuing strands of Leninist and Bolshevik thought which had libertarian potentials in them, but whose potentials were overlooked during the revolution and after. Which brings me to another point
I think a good summary of Lenin would be that even though he was a great philosopher that as an individual he was still a Russian. He was still a Russian who had grown up during Tsarism and had come from a family of petty Aristocrats. His family aquired a small estate in return for his Father's service as a civil servant. No matter what in the abstract was contained in Lenin's philosophy when it came time for him to act he acted according to his background instead of according to the implications of his own thought. I hope that that spirit can be salvaged and that future movements can take some good lessons from Lenin without repeating his mistakes which he committed after the Revolution.
Monday, May 27, 2002
I agree that creativity needs to be put back into Socialism, but I think that the crisis between a creative vision of socialism and a technocratic one goes far deeper than the Fabian society theorists and the U.S. Progressives. Doesn't the cleavage go back to the resurgence of Labor activism and socialism that took place at the end of the nineteenth century? When the creative juices of society got flowing again, and Marxism was picked up as a philosophy which could make sense out of the origins of problems and of goals, a split occured between people who followed the interpretation of Marxism that Engels peddled after Marx's death and those who only saw Marxism as a useful analytical tool to help with already existing labor struggles. The first group was responding to social problems, but their response came in adopting Marxism as an ideology which had all the answers and which gave precise predictions about where society would go in the future. They were thus more deterministic and down played the activist role of the working class itself in changing the structure of society. They were also more bourgeois. Engels set the stage by proclaiming that Marxism was a universal philosophy that could be applied to science and mathematics just as well as it could be applied to an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and dependencies, of different groups within a society. Dialects of Nature, he wrote it....Engels also encouraged more cautious political activism than Marx did, which no doubt contributed to an atmosphere where eschatological philosophy replaced philosophy relating to practice.
Bernstein was not the beginning of the end for the SPD, in my opinion. Kautsky and the Second International in general had adopted this sort of reformism/ideological Marxism, independent of the dastardly corrupting influence of English reformism...I think you can probably see where I'm going with this: Kautsky, Bernstein, and to a lesser extent Rosa Luxemburg, all were advocates of an interpretation of Marxism which put the ideological on display instead of relating it to the struggles on the ground. Lenin, James Connoly, the Austro-Marxists, and others, related the ideology to the struggle and called for activist solution instead of sitting on their butts and waiting for the Revolution to start.
I think that the real break in creativity came when Trotskism/Bolshevism and Stalinism took seperate paths. Up to that point, even though the Bolsheviks had some negative tendencies, the creative, activist spirit of Lenin could still be found and mustered into service. When Stalin expelled those who would later reform around Trotsky he severed the head and the heart of Socialism: Trotsky held the intellectual high ground yet as time went by his movement became more and more intellectualized and less connected with workers' struggles, although before this really set in there was indeed a lot of creativity, mostly done by unsung heroes of the socialist movement who's writings are not generally known. Stalin appealed to the heart. Contrasting himself to Trotsky he built an ideology based on exploiting the fact that class isn't something that can be learned about from a book but was instead an experiential knowledge which any worker potentially had perfect knowledge of. Yet Stalinism, apart from the horrors that were inflicted within the Soviet Union, quickly hardened too into an ideology where experience was prized above intellectual activity and where in fact intellectual activity by workers was somewhat dismissed--even though they probably wanted it after becoming involved. Or sifted through the Party filters instead of being free to pursue what they wanted. Communism hardened into a form of Conservativism-where the Party Line, based on the authority of the Party in experiential matters, and becoming socialized into the general thought of the Party Line, was prized as the way to gain true insight into the nature of society.....
Eventually Trotskyism and Stalinism took on incongruous features:Stalinism took up the tradition of the Bourgeois ideologues of the Second International while at the same time focussing on the non-ideological knowledge that workers get through the process of work and struggle.
Stalinism also exposed the concealed weakness of the Socialist movement: that is relied on Bourgeois leaders and bourgeois led organization rather than on the impulses of the workers themselves.
Trotskyism maintained the impulse for mass activism by workers in order to change society, but at the same time shackled that impulse in increasingly intellectual debates about theory and dogma.
Heart and Hand....then of course Maoism just fucked everything up, but I won't get into that.....my point is that when Labor resurged at the end of the nineteenth century some key figures took Marxism and reformed it as a tool with which to gain some insight into the already existing struggles they were engaged in. This was good. This is what makes Lenin worth reading: Lenin really turned Marxism from a stale dogma into a fighting methodology, if there is such a thing. Because of this Lenin would be a good place to start for the recreation of creative socialism. But it needs to be balanced with more emphasis on woker's experience and self motivation.
I think that C.L.R. James was a good synthesizer of the two.
There has always been a cleavage between people who take things like Marxism as speculative ideology and those who see it as a tool. Fabians weren't the first and they won't be the last. The U.S. Progressives could be traced back to Lincoln, and before that back to Federalism, and before that back to Mercantilist Monarchism. Or alternately the bifurcation in struggle can be seen right now between largely irrelevant structuralists and post structuralists on the one hand, and anarchist and left communist anti-globalization activists on the other. The people have always maintained the connection with the real creative experience of life---it's just a question of getting them back on top again and piercing through this ideological bourgois shell surrounding large parts of left discourse.
Saturday, May 25, 2002
Putin's getting things back on track, it seems....He's moving Russia back to authoritarianism and away from market anarchy....in the context of Russia's recent history this isn't a bad thing. Unfortuanately you can't make seventy five years of history go away with a snap of the fingers. When the free marketeers plunged Russia into chaos it was done with the majority of the population being used to an authoritarian, centralized society. Those same social patterns still exist. Putin is giving voice to them, and beyond that is working within the shell of the USSR attitude towards government and society to try to move Russia closer to democratic norms....This is what should have happened in the first place, and it's what Gorbachev was advocating. You could say that this meeting represented the first compromise between the Soviet Union and the U.S. because Putin, the nationalist, authoritarian, and centralizer, made it clear in the questions that he was moving not a free market dominated Russia to rapproachment with the U.S. but a Russia with a big R to rapproachment...
Here's to the new understanding between the USSR and the U.S., hopefully this kind of cooperation can be deepened in the future..
Friday, May 24, 2002
Great start at some new ideas. Here are a few of my own two cents: first, democracy and civil liberties then enhanced public control over the production and distribution of resources. The State has to be the thing fought against first, and so before socialism gets on the agenda we need to bolster the civil liberties that we already have and fight back the cops and the state as best we can-reforming the political process as well and making it more honest-then we should deepen that commitment by advocating Unions-and not the sell out kind, welfare state taxation, social programs like universal healthcare, decrease in the hours worked, greater employee control and self management. Put citizen's rights before corporations and adjust regulation accordingly. We should build a mass working class based political party and movement, should do consciousness raising in working class areas, as well as outreach to minorities. Should be the ones that bring the message of how all the various problems are related through capitalism to people as a whole-through sites like this and our own local alternative media. Should declare class war on the biggest corporations while leaving the small businesses relatively intact as long as they are relatively just....we should be explicit in relating our demands for democratization and equalization of wealth and power in the U.S. with the fight against globalization and U.S. domination abroad....should campaign for local autonomy......health care, child care, comprehensive unemployment insurance, job creation, investing in education, in schools-not prisons, in scholarships and accessability of loans for college for low income and workingclass students, as well as minorities. Should reinstate affirmative action with a vengence.....End the War on drugs, decriminalize marijuana, offer amnesty to people in prison who were convicted of minor drug offenses. Should devote money to rebuilding the infrastructure of the inner city. Crack down on predatory lending, crack down on Slum Lords, reposses and rehabilitate decrepit buildings. We should build public housing that lets people live as people and not as animals crammed into mass produced boxes.
We should go to war to reposses inner cities from drug dealers and gangs...increase health and safety regulations at work. Broaden public assistance, in particular food stamp programs, and take away the means-testing stipulation-allow poor people on welfare to have jobs without fearing loss of benefits. Expand welfare to cover more than just single women with children. Expand Head Start preschool programs to cover every child. Give a child allowance for every household. Legislate mandatory paid maternity leave of a few months for all who need it. Give workers self management where possible. Decrease management beaurocracy. Campaign for safe working environments and for working environments that are geared towards the employee and not the other way around. Give amnesty to illegal immigrants. Expand Social Security and make it a means tested program instead of Welfare:what you pay geared towards how much you make and how much you get geared to how much you make at the same time that you're requesting benefits. Take away all benefits from inheritance. Tax stocks and bonds. Make the Tax code loophole free. ...just a few thoughts....a real revolution would go much further
Class Notes by Adolph Reed Jr.
The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood
The History of the Soviet Union from Beginning to End by Roger Kamenz
Living inside our Hope by Staughton Lynd
Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson
Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
Burning all Illusions by David Edwards
Theories of Political Economy by Carparoso and Levine
Industry and Empire by Eric Hobsbawm
Sex, Art and American Culture by Camille Paglia
Vamps and Tramps by Camille Paglia
Roots of Romanticism by Isaiah Berlin
Socialism in America: a documentary history edited by Fried & Saunders
Socialist Thought: a documentary history edited by Fried a& Saunders
A History of European Socialism by Lindemann
Paths in Utopia by Martin Buber
Salvador Allende Reader
Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cracking the Movement: History of the Dutch Squatters movement by ADILKNO
Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto
Working Class USA: the power and the movement by Gus Hall
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky
Earl Browder: the failure of American Communism by James G. Ryan
Being Red by Howard Fast
Encyclopedia of the American Left edited by Paul Buhle (get it from the Library!)
Community Technology by Karl Hess
On my Country and the World by Mikhail Gorbachev
The Frozen Republic (about the Constitution from a left perspective) by Daniel Lazare
Throwin' in my two cents here. You know people who own guns usually don't object to gun legislation with the intent to actually protect people. In my experience what really pisses people off isn't the sentiment that "there should be some regulations on guns" but the style that that sentiment is coached in. It's one thing to be nice and calm and argue for laws respecting handguns intended to cut down the amount of them getting into the hands of drug dealers and other criminals, but it's a whole 'nuther deal when liberals coach their argument as if they had the right to impose whatever restrictions they want on guns because they feel that the existence of guns, handguns or otherwise, is inherently immoral. That is what turns people off. It's almost something that people are obligated to oppose. I mean, those NRA infomercials where Charleton Heston talks about gun laws in Australia leading to chaos are off the wall,
but you know he does have a point: if radical liberals who think that they suddenly have a right to take away anything that they view as immoral succeed in passing those first laws it makes one nervous about where it all that may go....no matter that radical liberals of this type probably couldn't do squat. Still, this style of argument turns working class people against liberals without fail.
It represents bourgeois ideas of class entitlement: they think that they're better than everybody else and are so smart that they can dictate what everyone else should do.
Sorry about sounding like a Freeper for a second, but it's not really an irrational response given the context. Just a word of advice: if you're Liberal-try basing your arguments for gun control on the potential damage that too liberal gun laws do regarding criminal access, in other words justify an infringement on civil liberties by demonstrating a real need to do so-Just like John Locke, father of liberalism, proposed society should do.....
Oh yeah, I'm a socialist-so I'm not exactly on the side of those who think that Clinton's cock was the crime of the century.
As a younger person it's my opinion that a large part of the reason for apathy on campusses is that after a two decade war on youth a substantial part of the kids who actually get to college are stupid Yes-men. It's what you have to do to get in....This is a factor that's been overlooked time and time again...colleges don't want creative people anymore--and boomer parents of the bourgeois do their best to kill whatever creativity exists in their little ones....on the other side of the coin you have a bigger and bigger swath of working class and minority (actually minority working class) people who have been just plain shut out of college due to their schools crumbling and being terrible--and so not graduating kids into higher education....Even though more and more people are actually going to college a New York Review of Books article pegged the percent of people getting business degrees as higher than %50. Can't remember the exact figure, but it was some what higher....
Oh, and drugs are more accesabe to kids than political dissent. There's a whole culture of youth drug use out there which is tolerated by the powers that be, despite the "war on drugs", which gladly shepherds discontented youth away from the barricades and into a nice marijuana perma high. When people wake up from this, assuming they ever do, it is, of course, too late to fly straight and go to college...
Justice? In rich suburbs it's assumed that you'll go to college while in poor ones college is reserved for the best and brightest, and sometimes unfortuanately the best ass kissers. And if you do want to go to college? Well there's a little thing called "Tracking" where if you're not bourgeois you get put on a "Track" that guarantees you won't have the courses to get into a good school . And you can't change tracks that easily. We embarked upon a social engineering experiment when Reagan took office that's now generating a crop of college kids too dumb to fight their way out of a paper bag....
Monday, May 20, 2002
They're all welfare cheats driving cadillacs right? The threshing machine of society chews up more and more people everyday yet no one in power seems to feel that the life of a person in the inner city is worth saving.
At least the Soviet Union had the moral decency to declare that all of these things were in fact problems that any just society should expect to try to solve. At least they had a broad conception of a social contract in which social justice played a front and center role. We just leave our own people to die of exposure. The Soviet Union may have been poor but at least they tried to make social justice a reality in form if they were unable to carry through with the content.
If I was living twenty years ago and had the choice of whether to live in the U.S. or the Soviet Union I would without hesitation say that I want to stay in the U.S. I'm not about to hop on a ship taking me to the glorious socialist paradise of Communist China. I can only offer sympathy and support to those who's lives were crushed by the Soviet Regime and who suffered as a result of it's existence, or who escaped to the West to live out their lives in exile. But I refuse to jump on the Reaganite bandwagon and say that in the seventy five years that the Soviet Union existed nothing of value was produced-no innovations, no progress, no justice. We who won the cold war have the liberty of painting the enemy in the colors we choose, but I believe very strongly that the moral ideals which permeated Soviet society are stronger and more important than the Social Darwinistic ideology that dominates the U.S. today. I would like to preserve the memory of that moral heritage, and think that we in the U.S. should learn from what the Soviet people did, from what they created over those seventy five long years.
So it makes me very angry when people dismiss the Soviet Union with the autistic tools given to them by universities more concerned with being typical bourgeois following the latest trends then with any knowledge whatsoever about history. The struggle of the Soviet people for a better society was paved with blood and suffering. It's not a dead and superficial part of history. The struggle for social justice never is. People try and try and try and try and try, give up large parts of their lives and their futures just to try to make society a little more fair and a little more just. To dismiss the efforts of the Soviet people with the latest French theory is so appallingly disrespectful to all of the people who believed in the Soviet idea that I.....If they only knew, if they only understood a fraction of what people all over the world have given up to fight for a better society they'd hold their tongues. I'm reminded, ironicly, of the last scene in "The Last Emporer"
where the deposed emporer is working as a gardner in Comunist China and sees the local Red Guards, youth filled with vitality in support of Mao and Maoism, marching down the main street. This guy had been through all of the hurt and pain that China had suffered in the first half of the century and now he was watching zealous youth who wanted to paint over a half century of struggle with the latest sayings of Chairman Mao.....I feel very strongly that we should not let this happen with the socialist past. Althusserian post-structuralism, the Frankfort school, Habermas, Deleuze and Guattari, even Hardt & Negri all are positioning themselves to replace whatever memory there is of socialist struggle in the world with slick theory which has no historical consciousness and no relation to reality. It's they who want to kill history by offering up pat summaries of the past and not the socialists.....that these ideologies are now dominating the American University system makes me very wonder if the past can even persist against the onslaught. What will this new generation of graduates now about society? Any way, just a few thoughts about recent events.
Saturday, May 18, 2002
Friday, May 17, 2002
The main feature of Marxism, it's claim to fame so to speak, is historical materialism-or the way of looking at things that Marx developed which linked social and cultural features to the economic circumstances of the culture that they were found in. Also, somewhat inaccurately, known as economic determinism. However, Marx's theory hasn't been too well understood-by naming it historical materialism he inadvertantly opened up that door to people like Stalin who wanted to say that economics established class essences, material essences, and that Marxism was the philosophy of how to deal with a world in which this essentialism existed. This, like all other essentialisms, led to authoritarian consequences which I won't go into here.
What I want to do is to clarify the term a little bit so that understandings like that are corrected. First of all Historical Materialism isn't materialism in the traditional sense-instead it would be better to refer to it as historical empiricism with materialist assumptions. Empiricism was pretty much founded by John Locke and is based on the assumption that what we think we know from rational deductions-from pure thought and reason- can actually be shown to be arrived at from the brain assembling impressions recieved from the outside world into coherent thoughts. Locke claims to have started this type of enquiry after having an argument with friends over a political issue and saying to himself that before a question like this could be settled it would be better to find out where political opinions came from in the first place. So that's empiricism as opposed to rationalism-which believes that most of what we take to be our ideas, attitudes, positions, are generated from an inborn reasoning faculty that exists independently of the outside world.
Locke's empiricism dovetailed well with the scientific empirical tradition exemplified by Francis Bacon in that both advocated using a methodology based on skepticism and also a method of proof based on induction rather than deduction in order to overcome the problem of perspective. That problem can be stated as such: that if people are truly products of their environment one runs into a problem when one wants to investigate what's true and what isn't about the world- if people are determined by their environments then how can a person be sure that they aren't simply acting on their own prejudices instead of truly pursuing a valuable insight? The answer both philosophers gave was to employ a methodology for enquiry that took as a given that depended as little as possible on rational preconceptions and instead focussed on an artificially created environment of radical doubt-even when it seems that such doubt isn't needed. This approach has aged well, all science is based on it.
But, actually, Locke wasn't really concerned with finding something upon which to ground these impressions on-he wasn't an economic determinist. In fact, Locke's analysis flowed from the fact that the most immediate information we get is through sense impressions and that we can't really get behind them. So he didn't venture to say where these sense impressions came from or what exactly these sense impressions really were. He distinguished between various levels of qualities that we appear to percieve, making a distinction between those which are obviously variable and heavily dependent on the way we're set up and those which are less dependent on our nervous system, but he didn't do much speculation about the ultimate nature of reality. But Locke opened up the doors for people to start thinking critically about the origins of their ideas-about how they could be generally "Socially Constructed" even if it wasn't known just how that construction happened. He was a materialist in that he believed that sense impressions weren't divine in origin.
Enter the French Enlightenment. These guys altered Locke's philosophy a little bit by reimagining it through the lense of Cartesian rationalism. Of course they were reacting against Descartes but as so often happens they weren't able to emancipate themselves from it fully. The consequence of this was that they were much more ready to establish a ground or foundation for our sense impressions. These materialists, in the true term, blazed a path that included pioneering thought about the nature of consciousness and of the mind which was arrived at by looking for a material, biological cause that could explain the formation of sense perceptions and immpressions in the Lockean sense. They took a lot of cues from Newton, who seemed also to synthesize empiricism and rationalism by establishing mathematical science, and following him they tended to see the world and human beings as machines and the production of opinions and ideas as the result of mechanical processes in the social sphere.
But even at this point they weren't economic determinists in the Marxian way-although the economic interpretation of history had been floating out there for a long time the French Philosophes still left their notions of progress and production of knowledge floating in the air in the in between space between religion, family, culture, economics, geography, etc...But in viewing society and humanity like a machine they established materialism in the way that we're familiar with it now- reductive materialism which said that since there weren't any good arguments for a transcendental reality that any phenonmenon had to be reduced to material causes.
In Marx both these traditions are synthesized and grounded by a connection to a material cause, economics, of empirical phenomenon-culture,and then proceeded to use the connection to explain the material basis of the state and of national culture-which is a subject that's created by empirical means. It's like saying that once a possible connection between what people think and the social structures they inhabit and a material cause is established that it's then possible to train this insight onto particular features of society which fit the first criterion-either particular social structures or patterns of thought- and the state on political culture is a particular feature of society which meets both criteria. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Marx picked economics because of all of the possible material causes out there-geography, climate, technological level, economics is the only one that consistantly changes over time. A people can inhabit the same climate and geography for millenia but within that same context their economic life might change many times. This variability, of economic development, rise and fall, was then proposed as something that might parallel social variability.
Economics was picked by Marx for another reason as well- Economics was the one factor that is external to human beings that we nonetheless depend on and can not not depend on. Everyone has to eat, everyone has to have man made products to live in a comfortable way, someone has to work for this stuff, and because this drama of what we need to live has always been a factor in society it's just a short jump to say that the basic physical supports that we need to live can be linked to how people look at the world. How these basics of life are aquired and how the personal pattern of work and aquisition fits into the greater, in terms of amount for example, society can easily be said to have a major influence on how one views things. But we said before that economics are a variable factor in the collective life of a people right? Taken together these two insights mean that not only is economics a factor in how we view things but the rise, decline, flourishing and decaying of the economic substructure of society should account for collective changes in how people look at the world and in the social structures created by these same people. So social structure and change in personal viewpoint can be said to follow broader economic trends.
But it doesn't stop there: combining these two insights Marx made the judgment that if this was so that the most important social sphere with regards to understanding how society worked was the private sphere of work and businesses, and not the political spere as was the custom of thought in the western tradition. That said, Marx began to look at history as the history of civil society- of the development and change of the private sphere. He then made the distinction between life as it was lived by the people in the private sphere and life as the material factors in the private sphere caused people to think. Also he included the notion that economic production is never done equally by all members of society but that such a potential resevoir of force and comfort is always appropriated by one sector of society instead of being shared equally. Combined, these two insights yielded a third-that since one sector of society controls the material forces that the others have to work with and live in that it figures that that sector of society would try to change things so that the private sphere of what people thought would conform to their views and not the views that the material processes alone would give rise to. This was not a conspiracy but rather the use of force-spoken and unspoken-to assert authority based on a temporary position of power within society. Therefore the oppressors culture and thought became the thought of all of society and the repressive forces of society-the police and the state- which were supposedly there for everyone's equal benefit-were coopted by this new power accumulation into serving it's cause instead of treating everyone equally. Hence the state can be said to be the tool of the dominant class
There is a fundamental conflict between society as the controlling classes and power groups want people to see it and society as people actually involved in the productive processes tend to be led to see it. The productive processes of society-work, housing, food, the economic underpinnings of it all in other words, still yield the same empiricist cues for people to pick up on-but these cues are often opposed to what the controlling classes want people to believe. The tendency has been for the experience of work and life to point people to a conclusion that self governance and self direction in the economic sphere is both possible and desirable, and that by extrapolation workers' self control of the economy and social sphere on a society wide scale is desirable-with the state cut out as a middle man.. This is so because the experience of work is actually an enagement between men and nature which communicates to them in an empirical way that whatever work techniques they need to complete a job can be put in place without the boss.
This is a sort of perenial insight, which has been with us since the beginning and will be with us till the end, but it's not what the classes controlling society want people to believe. This is a general threat which has always existed--it existed before capitalism and will exist after it. So you have a basic difference: The controlling class has power by virtue of political power and the force of coercion, yet although they can order worker's around their place in society is not based on economic factors directly, they aren't connected to economics through work. The workers, on the other hand have all the cards to make society run and to stop society but are prevented from capturing political power with which they could overthrow the ruling class. The job of the workers, then, is to combine their inherent economic power with a fight for a new power-social power,not political power-because workers are connected with the basic workings of society and since civil society is where the real history of mankind exists it only figures that any serious challenge to the economic and social status quo has to come from a social movement which exists primarily in the social sphere as opposed to existing primarily in the political sphere. The economic base of the workers is the potential for social movements which should be exploited by the workers. The political sphere is already the sphere of the Bourgeois and so any attempt to work primarily within the political system is doomed to fail. The goal for social change then is to create a social sector movement which will press for revolutionary change and eventually become the core of the new society. They would then dissolve the political power of the state and remake society based on work and the natural political and social forms that the work experience creates. Whew.
That's historical materialism, it's Marx's great contribution that he was able to relate the empirical to the material through the medium of the economic because it opened up the path for people on the empirical side of things to look for cause and effect in a relevant way, not just to blindly grope around, and because of that has contributed greatly to people's understanding of how their society works. I hope this little intro to Historical Materialism will help with your understanding too.
Hands down the first wins. These gun nuts think that in any emergency they can pull out their firepower and defend their rights--it's a pipe dream! It's saying that you only have as many rights as you can actually defend yourself with high powered weapons-which is to say that you have about as much rights as a person living in a civil war zone in central Africa.
Guns won't stop you from being arrested for having a dissenting opinion, they won't stop you from being arrested while demonstrating against unjust policies. The first Amendment and the First Amendment tradition that's burned into the popular mind protect freedom better than any gun could. Most of the freedoms that gun nuts say they want to defend are covered in the first amendment anyways, so it's a question of either having a legal device at hand which will prevent the cops from arbitrarily arresting you for speaking your mind or having to resort to guerilla warfare for the right to do the exact same thing. The first amendment, the popular civil liberty awareness of people, and the legal system that supports enforcement of the first amendment will stop police and opposition groups with much more fire power and resources than an individual could ever muster from exploiting them. I haven't had this experience personally, but I imagine it must be the most wonderful feeling in the world to have been arrested and thrown in jail for something that you've said, faced the prospect of jail time, only to have the judge throw out your case on first amendment grounds. You're free from prison. I think that should be followed by period end of story. Guns can't free you from prison but the first amendment can. Otherwise you might be subject to any summary justice that the guards and the police want to inflict on you-not a good prospect.
Summing up, the reason why the first amendment works is because regular people support it--and their sensitivity to it has led over time to a set of legal concepts and processes which ensure that that support is translated into the power structures of society which have the most power to both defend and to persecute-the police, the justice system, and the prisons. It's a socially sanctioned sort of freedom-no one is holding a gun to anyone else's head enforcing it-it's an example of what collectively society can do to force an issue or a principle to be put into practice if it feels that it's right. No matter that it threatens the powers that be, the struggle for the first amendment is an example of a civilized way for society to put it's values into action. It's the possibilty of just such action which seperates normal society from a state of perpetual civil war-which is what we'd be left with if the 2nd amendment was our only recourse to defend freedom.
And unlike the use of guns to defend freedom the cultural values which are built up in society as a result of people struggling for popular support for first amendment rights does not go away as soon as the resources to defend this sort of freedom run out. If the ACLU was to go bankrupt now and go out of business the liberal cultural traditions that it's helped to establish would keep on working in communities through independent people stepping up to defend civil liberties-there by continuing the ACLU's work after it's demise. Eventually patterns and values of this sort get so embedded that they become a normal part of the greater culture-what it means to be American, for example. Once the guns run out of ammo or the financial support runs out the people cut off are toast. Look at Denmark and the non-violent resistance there to the Nazis. That was an example of a civil liberties tradition in action. As a result of the work of a loose network of pacifist ministers Denmark was never fully incorporated into the Nazi state even though it had been formally conquered.
Tuesday, May 14, 2002
At the risk of rehashing an article on black nationalism that some one wrote for Onward!, the Anarchist monthly, about Black Nationalism and Anarchism, I think that in light of all this patriotic bullshit it would be a good time to examine the place of that sort of nationalism within socialism.
My basic point has been echoed many times, by the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer, Manning Marable, and Noam Chomsky in a recent speach, and it's that there's a difference between the culture of the Bougeois and Bourgeois society and authentic nationalistic culture. Culture in the sense that these authors mean it is linked in many ways to Isaiah Berlin's notions of culture, which is that real culture, not a flag, is a particular way of viewing things and living life which is unique to a set group of people. This unique way of viewing things infiltrates so far down into a person's consciousness that to deny this unique way of looking at things to a person would be tantamount to denying that person's identity and potential self realization completely. This is a different nationalism than the nationalism promoted by the State- the Nationalism promoted by the state corresponds to the culture of the ruling class, no matter how redneck they make it out to be. In the U.S. this has been complicated because the ruling class has been exclusively white since the beginning and one of the major groups exploited and oppressed by American society has been exclusively black, but I think that it applies here as well: I know from experience that working class whites have a culture which does not correspond with the PC culture that Black Nationalists critique. The liberation of the hips that Eldridge Cleaver talked about only makes sense when applied to repressed upper class WASPS-not to regular working class whites. I also know from observation and experience how easily minorities who have been oppressed in the past-Asians in this case, can adopt the supposedly 'inherently white' upper class culture and become as racist and narrow minded as any rich kid or yuppy. So I think that cultural creation and innovation is essential to identity and to enriching society and the human experience and that Culture infiltrates our consciousness so deeply that living in the way that you were raised and in the cultural traditions and ways of looking at things that you were born into isn't a sign of dependency and weakness but is instead an essential part of establishing a fully human life and taking back control of your personal identity.
That said, I think that there isn't a contradiction between radical Black Nationalists and the white radical left, or the labor movement, or the environmental movement, because when national ways of looking things are taken into account and the enemy is identified as elite culture instead of white culture, and when furthermore cultural autonomy is established as a good goal, then half the problem is solved already. National identitiy in this sense isn't everything, and everyone has to live on this planet, in the environment, and everyone has to have a job......So if the left could just honor black, hispanic, native american, and working class asian, nationalism, along with allowing for cultural autonomy for women and working class gays if they want it, there would be no reason why "identity politics" should stand in the way of a united front on the left pushing for broad, anti-capitalistic social change. Capitalism is the enemy, and establishment white culture is just the tool.
It's absurd to think that a god damn flag can represent 280 million people- all that flag represents is Capitalism, the Rich, and the lap dog State that serves them- and keeps them in power. I suggest a return to regionalism as well as a resurgence in ethnic identity among whites as well as among minorities-but with the caveat that regionalism won't mean return to the good old days of corrupt white southern oligarchy but must be balanced by a commitment to democracy and egalitarianism.......The White working class should emancipate itself from the demands of the elite Bourgeois class on the one side and the reactionary Rural White class on the other and press for true cultural autonomy along with Blacks, Hispanics, Indians, and immigrants....while using class solidarity to build a wide ranging labor movement built on a commitment to tangible improvement of quality of living....you know the rest....that's all for this blast of theory
Thursday, May 09, 2002
Both conceits combine to maintain the status quo, which in our case is a bedrock conservativism founded on a dogmatic adherence to laissez-faire which is unique in the world for having persisted past World War I. I think that the experience of Bush obviously using the war on Terror for his own ends and the increasing lies of Enron and the proponents of Laissez-faire are leading to a discrediting of those conceits, and hopefully of that conservativism.
My point though, or at least one of them, is that as Jello Biafra put it “The New World Order has a dying empire oder”. What Bush is doing and what Enron was doing before it was caught do not seem to me to be things that groups of people who look forward to some sort of progress coming out of their actions do. They seem like things that people who have been painted into a corner engage in, and there seems to be no exit strategy planned. That’s why I think that social change will come out of both. But how does this relate to the IMF and the WTO?
Well, I think that they’re both parts of the same thing. I don’t know if many people remember it, but the reason why the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, NAFTA, and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), became the targets of protests and anger was because in the vaccuum caused by the end of the Cold War it was these entities and agreements which attempted to quietly put corporate capitalism into permanent power across the globe. IMF, World Bank, and the WTO’s predecessor GATT, had all existed before the Soviet Union fell, but what happened after that was that slowly but surely corporate capitalism saw it’s opportunity to gain a permanent legal foothold across the globe, and quietly started using these international organizations as the means to put that in place....IMF emergency loans were increasingly saddled with the stipulation that the countries recieving them open up their economies to foreign investment and cut social programs which threatened the profitability of corporations within the country. NAFTA made it possible for firms to relocate south of the border without facing either legal opposition here or Nationalistic policies in Mexico. World Bank development loans, geared more to the long term than IMF emergency loans, repeated the conventional wisdom of free markets and deregulation as paths that developing countries should take to enter the first world. WTO policies and membership requirements made it part of a country’s legal code that Free Trade could not be infringed on with pain of trade sanctions if an offending country broke the rules. MAI wanted to extend WTO even further by giving corporations veto power over laws. Now an agreement dealing with the service sector is threatening to deregulate the world economy even more.
I bring all this up because all of these trade agreements and international bodies started out at the fringes of the world economy, taking away just a few rights at the end of the cold war, and then started to gradually make their way inward so that by 1999 MAI, which would have substantially given the rights associated with governments to corporations, was seen as being possible. Enough was enough, and Seattle stopped MAI, and the protests across the globe have caused people to think twice, but the point I’m trying to make is that all of these agreements revealed the true nature of global capitalism in ways which the cold war obscured. The cold war was based on a few central myths, which overlap with the two conceits that I outlined above, and after it was over the grim realities of global capitalism started to come knocking on our door. It was no longer possible to suggest that the U.S. was all about freedom and democracy, and that economic concerns didn’t motivate things. What the trade agreements revealed was what had underlied the Cold War from the start. However, we had been told that these considerations weren’t what motivated our standoff with Russia....but the actions of global corporations since the end of the cold war have proven that this wasn’t so.
So slowly but surely the realities of global capitalism have been making themselves known, both at home and abroad, and increasingly it’s getting harder and harder to ignore them and act like they aren’t there and aren’t factors. Bush connects with this because his war on terror represents a similar situation, where no matter how hard people try to look it’s increasingly becoming clear that his reasons are bull and that the realities of global capitalism are again knocking at the door. Enron and the Enron scandal as well remind us in ways which are increasingly impossible to ignore that, yes, capitalism and greed are too knocking at our door and that the free market conciet isn’t going to provide ideological cover for it much longer.
So I guess what I’m saying is that the WTO, IMF and World Bank represent the start of a process whereby global capitalism revealed itself for it was, working from the outside edges of society inwards, and that Bush and Enron represent the end of that process, the decadent failures of free market capitalism which are now confronting us from the inside of society and are eating their way to the outside. Maybe these two processes will meet and we’ll be convinced once and for all about the nature of our society. Maybe that conservative laissez faire doctrine will be finally breached and something better will take it’s place.
Wednesday, May 08, 2002
Well, I think you're confusing a philosophical position, liberalism, with a scientific position, evolution. The two are not interdependent. Look at it this way: refusal to accept a commonly acknowledged scientific fact can be justified in many ways, some of which are accepted by liberals and the left. Take bio-technology for example. No one would say that by disagreeing with the establishment view of biotechnology that a person on the Left couldn't be a liberal. Or take having an ecological viewpoint. Saying that one believes that the earth is precious and that nature should be respected, even if it means less human prosperity, is a position that can be associated with a vague nature mysticism, which has absolutely nothing to do with science, yet when people take that position the consistancy of their political beliefs is not questioned.
The connection between this and liberalism is very shallow. Liberalism developed, and in fact has lived for most of it's existence, in a time when most people believed in some sort of higher power, were very religious, felt that a higher power was responsable for the creation of the world, etc...and the founders of liberalism, people like Locke and Rousseau, in fact didn't make the origin of the outside world one of the factors that their philosophy depended on. What liberalism did depend on, on the other hand, was the conception of human beings as not needing divine revelation, i.e. the bible, to lead a moral life.
The founders of liberalism eventually focussed on a materialistic view of human beings in which moral sense was an inborn characteristic that all people were equipped with, even though this inborn characteristic might not make people exemplarly moral on it's own. With this inborn sense people could lead normal lives without religion 'having' to intrude upon them in order to 'keep things from falling apart'.
Correspondingly, it was believed that since people had such natural moral insight that this was made self government possible. Democracy in the modern sense begins when the idea of elites governing society based on superior intellect, spiritual life, character, knowledge, etc...is overthrown and replaced with the idea that every person has a right to decide, or have the representatives of their choice decide, what key governmental decisions should be.
None of this has anything to do with the origin of the world, and indeed, although people from the late eighteenth century on started to take an atheistic view of the origins of the world, for most people believing that the world was the product of a creator was a pragmatic decision, based on lack of scientific knowledge, rather than an ideological one. Because of this numerous people were ready to sign onto liberalism in the 19th and even 20th centuries who were not ready to buy into evolution, the world not being created by God etc...
I think that in a free society we should give the benefit of the doubt to people who have unpopular views about science, considering that 'scientism' isn't the law of the land. Creationists have as much a right to dissent as ecologists, and to connect their beliefs with social and political penalties is to unjustly punish them for exercising their right to freedom of conscience.
New idea: Capitalist culture, especially American Capitalist culture, the state of it, is analogous to the collective experiencing of a conflict between pre-oedipal urges for security and comfort from the mother, consumer culture, and the rising sexual urges of production, the workers, which threaten to invalidate the security of the mother if they’re allowed to work themselves out.
The postwar WWII world has been characterized by the collective imposition of bourgeois culture onto all Americans, to some degree. This is a new feature in society because before WWII bourgeois culture was only experienced on either the individual or class level. The bourgeois culture is based on the assurance of consumerism. The assurance of consumerism is like the child depending on his mother for breast feeding, food, and security. However it is an inherently immature state. It has no critical understanding of the society around it-it just knows the immediate security of the mother, of consumer culture. Because the mother experience does not reflect social reality the bourgeois mindset does not know how to truely deal with the problems of society-it only knows the immediate comfort of consumption. But the natural sexual instincts are surely rising from below and surely need attention. Instincts reflect the reality of what it is to be human, where as consumption represents a temporary stage in human development.
The resistance of the bourgeois class to the demands of workers, the rising productive forces of society, is there because they believe that trusting production could threaten the viability of consumer culture. In other words, the working class is repressed by the bourgeois because they’re afraid that if workers truely gained power that it would destroy the consumer culture that’s been built up since the second world war. It might also invalidate the ideals of that consumer culture.
However, this is not so, because just like the child society as a whole understands the importance of security and safety. This crisis we’re in between the needs of the producers and the wants of the consumers is a fight on the way to a socialist society. The resolution of our collective Oedipus complex, which would entail giving the workers what they want even though there’s a chance that it might destroy consumer society, will lead to the acceptance of Socialism as a viable political and social philosophy in the United States and will hopefully pave the way for a socialist society here.
The individual resolution of the Oedipus complex entails the child recognizing that his instincts are natural and will not threaten his security. He recognizes them as having a natural place within his psychology. Correspondingly, the resolution of the Oedipus complex entails the entrance of the child into adult society and out of the special care of his mother. Entrance into adult society means giving up the oral experience of pure consumption and the anal experience of compulsive repression for a richer and more accurate picture of what society is and what it entails of the individual.
This is what socialists have been fighting for since the beginning: a recognition that beyond the uniform conceptions of liberalism and of enlightenment philosophy in general there lies real natural differences in society that must be reconned with. Any successful social philosophy needs to take the consumption-uniform conceptions of liberalism and the enlightenment and adapt them to the realities of the real world.
I'd like to respond to all this stuff about Nader costing Gore the election. When I voted for Nader I did it after spending months following the polls and weighing the possibilities....I cast my vote at a time when it appeared that Bush was going to beat Gore because of Gore's total lackluster platform...
So I had a lot invested in that decision and consequently followed the election debacle pretty closely and something that became clear in the first couple days was that in terms of electoral votes that the only place besides Florida that one could say that Nader potentially had any impact was in Vermont. I think that Vermont was the only place besides Florida where the number of Nader voters was actually greater than the margin by which Bush won over Gore. And Vermont had three electoral votes if I'm not mistaken.
Every other state that you mentioned was won by Bush by enough of a margin that evin if every single Nader voter had gone for Gore Bush would have still one the state.
About Florida- the Sunshine State was a swing state, but the results of this past election were so bizarre that I don't think anyone could have forseen it. It had never happened in the past and probably won't happen again in the forseeable future. With that in mind I wonder how you can blame people for not taking into account an almost totally impossible situation as a possible consequence when deciding whether of not to vote for Nader?
It's easy to read ignorance of bad intent into Florida Nader voters in light of what happened, but can you really blame people for not thinking that a weird situation like this would happen?
I think that because of that that Naderites really aren't responsable for Gore losing Florida. They voted according to what they believed they could reasonably expect to result-a protest vote showing Gore that people don't like the DLC and the expected outcome not changing.
About Nader as extremist and about Leftists not being committed to their own philosophy.....there was a phenomenon that I noticed a couple years ago that I called 'Spectrumming' that this seems to be representative of.
Spectruming is where you think that the range of political possibilities can be represented by a simple spectrum going from left to right. Liberals are on the left and conservatives on the right. It only takes into account two possibilities though, which means that Socialists, Progressives, are shoe horned into the category of 'ultra liberal' and on the far left of the spectrum.
This equates Socialists with people who think of themselves as ultra-liberals or liberal extremists...the problem with the spectrum is that there are more than two possibilities out there-and that socialism and progressivism are oriented on a totally different access than liberalism.
Correspondingly, Socialism has it's own Left, Right, and Center. The point I'm trying to get at is that since Socialism is an ideology unto itself being a Socialist or a Progressive does not mean that one is automatically an extremist as ultra-liberals are. Consequently I don't think that it's accurate to picture leftists as people getting their jollies out of extremism but who will give it up once they get it out of their system. I agree that people who thrive on being more radical than thou probably owe their ideology more to personal problems than to actual thought, but that doesn't automatically apply to the Left as a whole.
Indeed, one of the more ironic things that I've noticed since I've been on the Left is that most people on the Left are much more reasonable than ultra-liberals...it always seems that the ultra-liberals are the ones pushing for conspiracy theory and extremist rhetoric while the Left as a whole is smart enough not to stoop to that level.
I'm struck by the parallels between your reasons for supporting the duopoly and the reasons that the Communists have always given for a one party system.....Cuba puts forward the line that a one party state is ideal because it assures voters that there won't be any divisive ideological divisions which could divide the country or throw it into chaos. Contrary to popular belief the parties of the Communist countries were not monolithic, and in the case of Cuba there is substantial electoral activity on the grassroots level. Within all of these situations there were always factions and competing interests, just like there are in any political situation.....I'm thinking of statements given by Yakovlev, one of the architects of Glasnost and Perestroika in "Voices of Glasnost" where he says that even though Russia needs more democracy that he can't imagine going to a multiparty system-because the one party state allows extremist candidates and unreliable people to be filtered out before they get to the ballot. Matter 'a fact, this sort of thing comes up again and again in Voices of Glasnost....
I think it's symptomatic of our system that people are willing to use the same langauge to defend our duopoly that the Soviet Union and Cuba have done to defend their one party systems.....I believe in third parties and in a true multi-party system because, in part, I disagree with you on the idea that factions are already present in the Democratic and Republican parties and that therefore more parties wouldn't add anything-but would only make things more unstable. There isn't any democratic accountability in these half-formed half-imaginary factions....Primaries are scripted these days and not actually faction choosing events..But even if they were the fact is that as things are set up now there is no connection between informal factions within the parties and the public at large.
What you have instead are factions that are presented as fait accompli's to the public, who are then expected to line up with their respective ideological representatives. This isn't how a democracy works. Where exactly does the initiative to form these factions come from? We don't know. How are these factions actually organized? Mostly informally , the caucus system doesn't adequitly reflect them, and therefore they exist with formal democratic oversight. What can a person do if they don't like the way that the 'faction' that they identify with? Not much, because since they aren't the source of these divisions and the divisions themselves aren't formally organized there's no one to appeal or write to if you want a change.
A third party, and a fourth and a fifth, offer opportunities for people to really vote for what they believe in, rather than having to line up behind the leader that the party selects as their representative. The instability that you talk about is only as unstable as are the ideologies behind the parties. If parties are organized to reflect clear ideological differences then a many-party system would reflect all the different political persuasions and would therefore not collapse into chaos. Coalitions would not be chaotically made but would be made according to the compatability and incompatability of the respective party ideologies, ensuring again that if party reflects ideology that coalitions can be stably made. Ideological agreement and disagreement, and the general requirement that party express ideology, would be limited by the natural limitations in the number of political philosophies out there and in the limited number of alliances or divisions that that could lead to.
The way I see it a multi party system like the one I sketched above works if you believe that normal people can make intelligent decisions about what political philosophy they support. If they can do that then there's no need for over arching Liberal and Conservative parties which act as filters to keep Liberalism and Conservativism pure. The people would collectively make the decisions that the party bosses had made previously, and the U.S. would be that much more like a democracy and that much less like one party dictatorship.
The Spoiled Sequined thong under the Good Grey Lady's Skirt; Boobs dominate news at the New York Times.
Well, there's the link. It's a story about the NYT's new article about Erin Brokovich-where the focus is all on her breasts and dressing habits instead of on her activism. I think that the article that this link is referring to is indicative of more than just the decay of an establishment newspaper; the author of the article attributes this errant focus to increasing commercialism at the Times, but I think it has a deeper meaning....
Nothing conspiratorial, mind you. What I think it indicates is the poverty and possibly the start of a general breakdown of NeoConservatism....for those folks out there not familiar with the Times, contrary to what the Washington Times folks say the NYT isn't a bastion of liberalism. Instead it's the flagship of the neoconservative movement on the east coast. What is neoconservatism? Irving Kristol's definition is that a neocon is a liberal who's been mugged.
It's a term relating to the many sixties, and seventies, liberals who have since recanted their views, sold out, and gone on to lead relatively conventional lifestyles. The term itself doesn't necessarily have much to do with straight conservatism. The neocon viewpoint is less conservative than the Republican but is mindful to note the ways in which liberalism, or too much liberalism as the case may be, has failed.
It's an ideology that represents itself as the rational center in the midst of irrational liberalism and irrational ultra conservatism, consequently it likes to portray itself as a justified status quo. You probably know the type- some one who had strong beliefs when they were younger but who now feels that because they're older and wiser that they've given up some of their foolish youthful excesses and now have a more balanced political view. Like I said, the status quo justified.
The Times has been a silent neocon voice for quite a while. The general political view seems to be that the revolution failed and that now the writers at the Times are living out their golden years sad that serious social change isn't possible but content that they gave it a shot....this leads to a very passive and increasingly absentminded take on politics and society, which increasingly is voiced through the New York Times sunday Magazine.
In the NeoCon world most of the political problems have been solved, by Fiscal conservatism combined with a small measure of social liberalism...so there's not much to talk about, except to laugh at all those silly people who still think that there are things called 'issues' out there, or Erin Brokovich's tits as this case shows.....
But something seems to be amiss in neocon land. From a political absentmindedness they've seemed to have stepped into senility. Even though 9/11 gave their radical centrism a boost history is increasingly presenting the U.S. and the world with....parish the thought....'Issues'....which can't be explained away by dismissing them as liberal soft heartedness or conservative archaism. The neocon consensus is being increasingly put on the spot these days because of domestic issues, and, oh, yeah, the question of why somebody wanted to bomb New York and the Pentagon.
The NeoCons seem to be doing what every failing ideology does in it's dying days-it's covering it's ears, shutting it's eyes, and chanting to keep the outside world out. Witness an article on an environmental activist that only talks about T&A. I think that they, and I use they because the Times sets the tone for many newspapers across the country, simply don't know how to deal with the issues that today's world presents, and so are nervously talking about Brokovich's features in the hope that if they keep it up long enough the real world will go away.
It's not going to happen. The neocons are undoubtedly familiar with this sort of thinge because their philosophy is based on failure in the first place, but they've now boxed themselves into a corner with their defeatism that they can't get out of. First BoBos, bourgeois bohemians, bourgeois culture eating itself because it can't produce anything new of worthwhile value, and now september 11th nervous patriotism......their philosophy was valid as long as the post-cold war bourgeois order was not threatened. As long as the rich stayed rich and the poor didn't have a chance to challenge it things were all right. But time keeps on ticking....and this philosophy founded on the expectation of an endless status quo is now going down. Hopefully something new and positive will take it's place, and History will keep chugging on...
What's in a name? I think the first thing that should be fleshed out is exactly what is meant by an 'economic system'. This article acts like there are many different ways of organizing an economic system that can be easily placed into boxes like 'Capitalism' and 'Communism' so that it can be proved that Capitalism works while Communism doesn't.
I disagree. This is a very naieve way of looking at things. There is economic and social activity which involves the production and distribution of goods, work and decision making, consumption and technical knowledge. To that impromptu list can be added a bunch of secondary more sociological features like poltics and community, quality of life, etc...which can be seen as being effected by economics. What you have, in other words, are social phenomenon that are essential for the functioning of any society that has an economy above a subsistance level. Within that framework you have different ways that those features can manifest themselves-they can be determined by society, the government, the firms involved, consumers, workers, an aristocracy....etc... but there are certain economic constants that underlie it all.
That said how can you say that Capitalism has worked and that Communism has failed, or that Socialism in general failed? Capitalism is the name given to an economic system that displays a collection of general features, not something set in stone. Same goes for Communism and Socialism. Now even with this consideration it might seem that the demise of Communism means the failure of alternatives to Capitalism. But at this level we're really talking about evaluating how ideas, like Capitalism and Communism, or Socialism, which are in a sense a particular ordering of connected features, are or are not viable.
Capitalism and Communism, and Socialism, then, are primarily ideological constructs. Ideological constructs have the advantage of not being able to be proved wrong, since as ideas they can always be modified and changed around to deal with new challenges. This means that Capitalism as a functional concept can't be disproved, but it also means that it can't be proved either. What can be evaluated are the advantages and disadvantages of economic systems that manifest features consanant with the Capitalist or Socialist ideal. Socialism provides a good illustration of this because Socialism refers more to a set of potential social features than it does to something concrete in the here and now. But back to the main topic.
With this is mind it makes no sense to ask what the alternative to Capitalism is in the way that this Edinburgh editorial asks. Take this example: What was the difference between capitalist Austria, where most of the commanding heights of industry were nationalized, where there was intense local level democracy, huge unionization rates and huge union influence on national politics, and a very strong socialist consensus, and Communist Hungary right across the border to the east? Hungary was the most liberal of the Eastern European satelite states. Hungary experimented with letting small businesses exist, with decentralization, with relaxing central planning and letting the market do more of the work of allocating resources, it let small private farming exist.....and it's Party was one of the least intrusive. [p]
I know, I know, Communist Hungary was still Communist, and the two aren't really totally comparable because of the domination of the country by the Communist Party-but it's a good illustrative example of how what we consider Capitalism and Communism does not neccesarily have much of a relationship to reality......to take this example further, which capitalism does the author of the Edinburgh editorial think has suceeded with democratic constraints? Canadian Capitalism, which is mostly free-market, although not as much as the U.S. or Austrian Capitalism-which is severely limited by their adherence to the 'Social Market' concept? And which alternative does he think failed-Central planning and forced industrialization, like Stalin and Mao imposed, or the market socialism of Yugoslavia and Hungary-where society was basicly socialized but the market was let in to increase economic efficiciency, and in the case of Yugoslavia was bolstered by the Communist Party taking a smaller role in society and advocating worker's self management? Yugoslavia and Hungary were the two most prosperous Communist countries out there, excepting East Germany, which was wealthy because of it's industrialization prior to WWII.....What about Allende's Chile?
Hungary is doing much worse today than it did under Communism, mainly because in the wake of the overthrow of the Party the country was coerced into following a freemarket economic plan. As for Yugoslavia...as Eric Hobsbawm, the historian, has pointed out, you can talk all you want about ethnic strife going back for a thousand years, but the thing that set off genocide in Yugoslavia was the collapse of a Communist state which was regarded as one of the most democratic and which was one of the most prosperous of them all. [p]
Surely the author of the Edinburgh editorial wouldn't suggest that the Yugoslavians are better off today than they were in 'failed' Communism? I think that if his 'failure' had been allowed to persist and gradually reform itself rather than being totally overthrown we wouldn't have had rape camps and ethnic cleansing.
So I think that his idea that there are no alternatives, that the triumph of a democratically restrained capitalism has been the result of the cold war, is shite, to use a Scottish expression. There have always been alternatives to Capitalism and there always will be. You don't have to come up with a totally new philosophy to produce one...all you have to do is to reconceptualize those basic economic features that I started off with and viola, a new economic system...what's more since this deals with economic constants capitalism can easily be transformed into something different by starting to mess around with these economic constants without an epoch making, everything changes- at -once, sort of revolutionary change.
One final point. There was a debate between former CPUSA head Earl Browder and the Trotskyist Max Shachtman in the late '40s about whether or not the Soviet Union was really socialist or not. Browder took the path that the Edinburgh columnist took by saying that the improvement in the economic condition of the Russians was proof that Socialism had really come to the Soviet Union, just as the columnist asserted that Capitalism is the only possibility because it's produced so much material wealth in the last two hundred years.....Shachtman responded by talking about all the pain and suffering that the Soviet people had endured because of Stalin, and that if economic progress was used as the measurement of social progress Tsarist Russia in it's last years would have become the most progressive state in the world!
He made the point that the Stalinist State was so bad that it made the economic gains which were made irrelevant. He ended with a dramatic statement to Browder which went something like this, "The only reason that you're still alive is because you had the luck of being born in America instead of the Soviet Union" Browder had taken a reformist stance for which the Communist Party would later expel him. I can't help but wonder if many of the pro-'reformed capitalism' people in the UK correspondingly owe their prominance to the British Welfare state, which is more socialist.....maybe if they'd been born in the U.S. they'd have been shut out of their bully pulpit by that very market.
Tuesday, May 07, 2002
I think this world needs more of an awareness of this kind of love. The U.S. would get a lot out of it. Love and positive emotions in general are relegated to a superficial level here, people don't usually think of love as a force that can move mountains, even though it's as radical as the most cutting edge marxist analysis.
In the words of the Clash "Why do you lie and deceit, and trample people under your feet ,in such a small small game?"..yeah, life is truly just a small, small game, and there's always room to settle our differences by recognizing that.