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Unity on the "Left"? July 19, 2003 by RedStar2000


quote:

You've got to sort out your priorities, and the end of capitalism should come first before squabbles between the various ideologies of the left.


Maybe it "should", but it won't.

Sometimes "squabbles" on the "left" are just that...but usually they represent substantive disagreements on the shape of post-capitalist society.

It's not enough to just say "overthrow capitalism" and then we'll sort out the differences. If it were, then we could sign up some feudal aristocrats...who would also like to see capitalism come to an end. I suspect there are even clerical fascists who would regulate capitalism so heavily that it would be almost unrecognizable to us now. And that's not to mention "National Bolsheviks"...who want to nationalize the means of production and exterminate whoever they designate as "inferior races" at the same time.

Consider the range of opinions on this message board:

Anarchists (more than one kind)

Leninist-Stalinists

Leninist-Trotskyists

Leninist-Maoists

Libertarian Marxists

Social Democrats (Both "Left" and "Right"...)

And perhaps others I've overlooked.

These people are all opposed to capitalism--in one sense or another--but disagree profoundly on the shape of post-capitalist society.

To ask them to refrain from struggling for their respective visions "until after the revolution" is to demand that pigs commence flying. They won't do it.

Should they do it?

Obviously, things would look bleaker for capitalism if every single individual in the world who was opposed to capitalism for any reason joined into one unified effort to overthrow it.

But when you ask people to do that, what you're really saying to them is "bet your life and your hopes and your dreams on a roll of the historical dice and hope for the best".

Die-hard gamblers will bet on anything; most people are much more cautious. Why become involved in the "risky business" of major social upheaval unless there's a good chance you can influence the outcome in the direction you want?

And that's not an easy thing to do when you have other "anti-capitalists" who are trying just as hard as you are to make things "turn out" the way they want them to...so you react to them just as you would react to any obstacle in your chosen path--with resentment, anger, and hatred.

"If those pig-headed fools would just see things my way, then victory would be inevitable"...or, at least, more probable.

Now, what about objective reality? Suppose there really are better ways and worse ways to both conduct the struggle to overthrow capitalism and to construct a post-capitalist society?

Of that list I posted above, suppose some of those ideas actually retard the struggle, while others really advance the struggle? Suppose some of those ideas would create a post-capitalist society that would hardly be any improvement on what we have now and, moreover, would degenerate quickly back into what we have now? And suppose some of those other ideas would really work, would free us once and for all from class society...would transform human existence in ways we can hardly even imagine now?

Wouldn't you, wouldn't anyone, want to oppose the bad ideas and fight for the good ideas with all the strength and passion that you possess?

I know that all this is (or can be) very bewildering to people who are "new" to left politics...it seems often enough like petty squabbling. And I agree, sometimes that is really all that's going on.

But there's something else going on as well and often it's very clear and out in the open for everyone to see: what will be the shape of post-capitalist society?

In pre-revolutionary France, people spent a half-century arguing about what a just society ought to look like...before getting around to the petty detail of removing the king's head. In Russia, they were arguing about overthrowing the Czar in 1820...it took nearly a century to actually do it.

I think it is in the very nature of "revolutionary politics" to be full of internal struggle, both before and after the revolution itself.

In the long run, the "transfer of power" is a petty detail. What really counts is the quality of the new society. And the stakes are far too high to simply "roll the dice" and "hope for the best".

So people will struggle with each other as hard as they can...not because they're incurable sectarians (though some are) or "just stupid" (though some are), but because the stakes are so high.

It's not just a pile of chips on a felt-covered table...it's the future.
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First posted at Che-Lives on July 7, 2003
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quote:

Recently I've been reading about Marx himself, and he seems to have often been quite insufferable.


Well, he had a lot on his mind and suffered from nagging illnesses, especially late in his life. Some contemporary accounts emphasize his warmth toward "newbies" and willingness to patiently explain things to people.

He did have an intense dislike for those he regarded (rightly or wrongly) as charlatans, "fake" leftists interested only in their own careers and ambitions.

Looking back, I suspect that those who portrayed Marx in a bad light personally were mostly if not entirely people who didn't like his ideas either. That's usually the way it goes.

quote:

He choose to alienate all those leftists who did not exactly follow his vision of communism, and as a result weakened the left. Moreover, rather than engaging in productive discussions with other great thinkers like Proudhon and Bakunin, he merely inveighed against them, destroying the possibility of fruitful colloboration.


I think if Marx himself were present, he might tell a different tale. In any event, one would have to know a great deal that was never set down on paper to tell for sure who alienated who.

One thing is certainly clear; regardless of his sentiments, Proudhon's actual ideas were not revolutionary. I can see very easily why Marx would have regarded Proudhon as a representative of bourgeois ideology "within" the left.

quote:

As modern leftists, should we follow this example and ignore or attack all non-Communist or non-orhtodox Communist leftist, or should we merely accept Marx's ideas a starting point and examine the ideas of Bakunin, Proudhon, Chomsky, and other thinkers who were not stictly Marxist?


Obviously, we should "examine" all ideas that are critical of capitalist society or some portion thereof. I've even made an effort, on occasion, to read serious conservative critiques of modern capitalism...just to see if they might have come up with something interesting and useful.

And certainly no idea should be rejected "out of hand" just because it's "not Marxist"--that would be degrading Marxism to the level of theology.

But there was a reason that Marx was critical of many of the ideas of his era--it wasn't simply because he was personally an "egotistical bastard".

If you propose a revolutionary change in the prevailing social order as a result of decades of theoretical study, you are not apt to look kindly upon competing ideas which you regard as ill-founded, poorly researched, lacking evidence, and nothing but a distraction from the serious tasks that need to be undertaken.

Again, that's not simply a matter of Marx's "insufferable personality"--prior to the 20th century, many controversies in the sciences were fought in a "polemical" fashion...sometimes as nasty and bitter as any exchange of leftist polemics and sometimes even more so. Accusations of fraud, trickery, falsified data, plagarism, etc. were fairly common.

There's also a kind of fundamental question which perhaps has no "universal" answer--correct at all times in all historical situations. But, for example, in our present historical moment, what is a leftist, anyway?

Is it anyone who says they're one? And if that's not the case, how do you tell the "real" ones from the "fakes"? And is it correct to support and unite with the "real" ones and ruthlessly criticize and drive out the "fakes"?

As an example: what is the quality of Noam Chomsky's "leftism" insofar as he took it upon himself to publicly criticize the Cuban government not for any of the good reasons that the Cuban government might be criticized, but because they locked up a gang of paid agents of U.S. imperialism?

See what I mean?
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First posted at Che-Lives on July 15, 2003
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quote:

You're basically saying "Anyone who disagrees with my vision of what fits Marxism, is not a leftist."


So it must appear...to anyone who disagrees with me. But you and everyone else "draws a line" between leftists and non-leftists, and the argument, as I suggested, is where is that line to be drawn?

The only way to "avoid" that question is to simply accept everyone's description of themselves as accurate...which lands you in endless subjectivity and confusion. One of the ongoing problems with anarchism as a revolutionary theory is that they've never been able to draw clear lines between who is legitimately part of their movement and who is not; if you call yourself an "anarchist", you will be accepted as "legitimate" by most other anarchists almost regardless of your actual political views.

I do draw some pretty clear lines between what I consider "real leftism" and "fake leftism" and, naturally, I use my own views as a major, though not the only, criterion. Marx did likewise. So do you.

quote:

It just seems that often he chose confrontation without attempting reconciliation - often he outright attacked others' ideas, before trying to convince them of his own.


Well, he was "combative" by nature. It's possible that he cared more about the opinions of future revolutionaries than he did about the opinions of his contemporaries...many of whom he thought were "idiots". Having read a little bit about that period, it's difficult to disagree with him.

In our own era, I see on the internet a good deal of utter nonsense trying to pass itself off as "leftist". I'm not interested in "reconciling" my views with nonsense; I want the nonsense to be abandoned. That doesn't necessarily require a harsh polemical style--I'm a "nicer" guy than Marx was--but it does require the willingness to get up in public and say "that's wrong!"...even if you know that saying that will upset people.

Speaking the truth, as best you can, is the first duty of the real revolutionary.
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First posted at Che-Lives on July 16, 2003
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