Back to Home Page
Back to 1990's Archives Index
Text coloring decodes as follows:
Black: Ken Ellis
Red: Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.
Green: Press report, etc.
Blue: Recent correspondent
Purple: Unreliable Info
Brown: Inaccurate quote
October 05, 1996
Dear Editorial Committee,
About the inevitability of bourgeois labor parties in the West, Franklin Dmitryev's review of Kevin Anderson's new book in the August-September 1996 edition of N+L stated, "But Lenin did not fully explain what was in the nature of revolutionary parties that allowed them to be transformed into their opposite." For more on this topic, I was directed to appropriate chapters in the works of Raya and Rosa, which others may use to further a discussion, but my own research into the past prompts the following reaction:
Some Marxists believed that socialism would turn into a more efficient mode of production than capitalism, even though capitalism is the only system yet that contains the incentive to put the entire working class out of work, so it is hard to imagine how any system could produce more efficiently than that. But, the old Marxist-Leninist theory of succession of social systems held that socialism would be more efficient than capitalism, and that, starting in Europe, socialists and lower classes would help middle (capitalist) classes to overthrow feudal monarchies, and then push the resulting democratic republics through to proletarian dictatorship. The Russian Revolutions were the best example of that scenario: the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty resulted in the Kerensky republic, then the Bolsheviks toppled the Kerensky republic in order to establish a semblance of proletarian dictatorship. The two strikes against the scenario perfectly matching what Marx predicted were: 1 - the first sustained 'proletarian' revolution didn't happen in the more advanced capitalist countries of Europe, and 2 - no other countries revolted simultaneously in support of the Bolsheviks [and lasted long enough to be useful to the cause].
A long-standing question is why socialist revolutions didn't conform to Marx's prediction of occurring in more advanced countries, but I have found that expecting socialists to answer the question in depth is akin to expecting people to declare every bit of their income on tax forms. Socialists seem to be in a state of denial over the issue, for it is difficult at best to admit that socialism was never the warm and fuzzy thing that socialists had long hoped it would turn into. Instead, converting to socialist property relations took a lot of raw force that was never available after winning mere elections in Western democracies, but did avail after socialists overthrew feudal monarchies, as in Russia, or after liberating colonies, as in Africa. Considering the amount of popular support behind Western traditions of protecting private property in democracies, this means that, in the future, the chances of Western workers abolishing democracies in order to redistribute property in an Asian or African style of communism will probably remain very small.
Another problem with the Marxist revolutionary scenario, before it even gets to the practice stage, is that it too closely apes the bourgeois revolutionary scenario. The outcomes of both proletarian and bourgeois revolutions, according to Marx and Lenin, are supposed to be democratic republics, with a strong distinction between a Red Republic vs. an ordinary bourgeois republic. Lenin favored centralized forms of democratic republics, as opposed to federal republics like the USA and Switzerland. Regardless of the distinctions, is it dialectical for socialist democratic republics to replace capitalist democratic republics by similar means of violent overthrow? Is socialism fated to replace capitalism as violently as capitalism replaced feudalism? Or will workers in bourgeois democracies get to socialism peacefully, as Marx hinted in 1872 at the Hague Congress of the First International? It appears as though Marx had two theories of the state, one for democracies that remains unfulfilled, and the other, more familiar theory of violent overthrow that was actually fulfilled in a manner approximately close to his predicted scenario, but which began in Russia instead of in the West.
Neither bourgeois nor proletarian types of revolutions would be revolutions, according to Lenin, without violence. And yet, unlike the violence Lenin advocated, there is no concrete instance I can find where Marx or Engels advocated that workers should overthrow any of the then existing democracies, of which there were only a handful in Marx's day, the most important being the USA, England, Holland and Switzerland. Marx's scenario for socialism in democracies was quite different from his scenario for the many existing feudal monarchies in Europe, Marx in 1872 at the Hague Congress claiming that workers in democracies could get what they want by peaceful means, which preceded the eventual repudiation of revolution by the social-democratic parties of Western Europe. There is a problem for Leninism here too, in that, if workers in democracies can 'get what they want' peacefully, then what could be the purpose of revolution other than to get rid of feudal monarchies? The republican sentiments of Marx's First International are well documented, but are not widely acknowledged among the left, the Paris Commune having been called more in defense of the new French Third Republic than for any other reason. That workers should overthrow the existing democracies of Europe in order to bring about socialism was never advocated by Marx, no matter how many modern-day communist and anarchist parties might advocate us overthrowing democracies in Marx's name.
If Marx thought that 'socialism' could be brought about peacefully*, what kind of socialism could he have had in mind(?), for history has amply shown the amounts of violence that have been needed to change property relations. In this country, the ideology of private property has been so strong for so long that it took a bloody Civil War just to abolish private ownership of other people, never mind wanting to provide freed slaves with 40 acres and a mule, which remained an unfulfilled promise, considering how much extra force the expropriation of the plantations would have required. Private ownership of everything but people was what they settled on.
* 2002 note: I made this mistake often. At the 1872 Hague Congress, Marx did not actually discuss the peaceful establishment of socialism. He said that "workers [in America, England and perhaps Holland] may achieve their aims by peaceful means." On the other hand, "in most countries on the Continent it is force which must be the lever of our revolution; it is force which will have to be resorted to for a time in order to establish the rule of the workers." In essence, he spoke of 'peaceful evolution for democracies, and violent revolution for monarchies'. (End of note.)
Lenin weakly critiqued Marx's theories of establishing socialism peacefully in democracies*...
* 2002 note: There I erred again. The whole rest of that paragraph was so riddled with mistakes that it was of greater service to eliminate that paragraph than to inflict it on anyone ever again. (End of note.)
If workers organize to overthrow democracies in order to bring about proletarian dictatorship, and in order to practice 'proletarian' democracy, then it is conceivable that 'proletarian' parties could be as secretive, bureaucratic and hierarchical as their bourgeois counterparts of the past few centuries. Western revolutionary parties could easily turn into their opposite as Western workers, en masse, refuse the task of undoing the private property relations that their ancestors had shed so much blood to bring about and defend, and relegate revolutionary movements to petty-bourgeois elements. As it is, top ideological bureaucrats in the worst of the parties presently operate in relative secrecy to perpetuate the purity of the ideologies that they market, and to perpetuate their own personal dominance. Rank and filers are routinely censored by bureaucrats who despair that the logical weaknesses of their ideologies might be discussed. Competition for the greatest market share of naive followers ensures rivalry between groups, even amid calls for unity. Sectarians abandon their favorite programs of revolutionary change little more frequently than religious sectarians forsake their favorite religions. In short, revolutionary movements behave like businesses.
Because expropriation was never appropriate to Western democracies, the decline of Marxism began even in Marx's lifetime. The question of socialist revolution is so tainted with logical problems that Marx's German party evolved away from revolutionary communism into Lassalleanism, anarchism and other tendencies, even as Marx fought against those tendencies. So much for the compelling appeal of Marxian political science, which can only be gleaned from rather exhaustive searches of his works. One could easily wonder if his revolutionary scenarios could be lain aside and replaced with activities that can be accomplished within the ranks of the lower classes, leaving property and government relatively unsullied.
In 1845, Engels himself stated that workers could end the rule of property if they just eliminated competition for scarce jobs within their own ranks. It's only evolutionary, but it could very well be the only valid way for Western society to evolve away from its conscienceless brutality against the lower classes. Seeing that every person in the lower classes has a chance to share what little work that has not yet been taken over by machines, and creating a positive demand for labor, could stop the slide of wages to the bottom, stop the prostitution of the workforce to the moneybags, free workers to blow the whistle on employers who do wrong, enable us to boycott the worst occupations, etc. If, as in the 'lump of work' theory subscribed to by labor, there is only so much work for the lower classes to do, then distributing the work more evenly and putting everyone to work for fewer, but more productive, hours, just might be one of the most valid and humane goals we can work for. Increasing productivity suggests that shorter hours, enforced by higher overtime premiums, is a more ecological way for humans to share what little work that remains for us to do, unless we would prefer to just race each other to the bottom of the heap while we make the rich richer.
While it may not be revolutionary enough for revolutionaries, jobs for everyone would mean a lot to the millions who are homeless, hungry and underemployed. All it would take would be an amendment or two to the Fair Labor Standards Act, increasing overtime premiums, mandating longer vacations, more guaranteed paid holidays, sabbaticals, shorter hours, and whatever else it might take to create the kind of shortage of labor that would raise wages, put everyone to work, and end the prostitution of the workforce to the moneybags. If you differ on any point, please disabuse me of my notions. Thank you.
December 15, 1996
Dear News and Letters,
At the November 10 discussion of my Oct. 5 written attempt to explain why revolutionary parties in Western countries became non-revolutionary, things were said that could be clarified or expanded upon. It is my hope that we will be able to find common denominators of understanding for all of the following issues.
1. It was said that Marx projected no linear model of societal development, and yet, what seems to be precisely such a linear model can be found in Marx's "Critique of the Gotha Program", where Marx predicted beyond interpretation that society would move through a transitional period of proletarian dictatorship on the way to classless, stateless society. If such a progression of society from capitalism to socialism to communism (using Lenin's definitions of the 'isms) did not constitute Marx's very own linear model, then the Committee should explain why it did not.
2. It was said that Marx did not believe that the socialist revolution would begin simultaneously in the most advanced capitalist countries, but that very theme is repeated so often in published works that it even earned its own place in the subject indexes of each of the three volumes of Selected Works of Marx and Engels. It can be found in Marx's 'German Ideology', 'Class Struggles in France', 'The Future Results of British Rule in India', 'The General Rules of the International Workingmen's Association', as well as in many of the works of Engels.
From Marx's 'German Ideology' (MESW I, p. 37): "Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples "all at once" and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them."
From Marx's 'General Rules of the International Workingmen's Association' (MESW II, p. 19): "That the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries;" ...
Excerpts from both early and mature Marx both indicate the same idea. Is the News and Letters Committee ready to admit that the theory of simultaneous revolution in the most advanced capitalist countries is indeed a theory of Marx, and not just a theory of post-Marx Marxists? Engels' works elucidate the idea much more clearly, as in the last paragraph of his 'Special Introduction to the English Edition of 1892' to his 'Socialism: Utopian and Scientific' (MESW III, p. 114):
"But the triumph of the European working class does not depend upon England alone. It can only be secured by the co-operation of, at least, England, France, and Germany. In both the latter countries the working-class movement is well ahead of England. In Germany it is even within measurable distance of success." .....
3. During the course of our discussion, the term 'normal working day' was mentioned, which I found to be unsettling in some undefined way, but which led me to research in Engels' tribute to 'Capital' (MESW II, p. 150): "Only where the law fixes the working day and supervises its observance can one really say that there exists a normal working day." In other words, Engels tied the state of being normal to legislation, regulation and enforcement, not to a particular number of hours, such as eight, which some people may consider to be 'normal', sane, or average in our century. Marx's chapters on the struggle for a normal work-day in 'Capital' indicate a struggle for the regulation of its hours, as in definitely knowing when the sale of working time ends, and when workers' own time begins. In Marx's century, 12, 10 or 9-hour days were only 'normal' when they were enforced.
4. It was stated that Marx was not all too concerned about converting private property into collective property, but my research shows that, from the Communist Manifesto onwards, Marx and Engels emphatically advocated divorcing the rich from ownership of means of production.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote (MESW I, p. 126): "The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class" ....
At the very end of Chapter 32 of 'Capital' (p. 764), Marx again advocated 'transforming capitalist private property' into 'socialized property', and advocated 'the mass of the people expropriating a few usurpers'.
In his "Civil
War in France", Marx wrote (MESW
II, p. 223):
... "Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class-property which makes the labour of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labour. - But this is Communism, "impossible" Communism!" ...
One good question would be, what specific measures did the Communards take to abolish class property? Remember the biting criticism Marx leveled at their failure to take over the bank. In "The Nationalization of the Land", Marx wrote (MESW II, p. 290):
"The nationalization of land will work a complete change in the relations between labour and capital, and finally, do away with the capitalist form of production, whether industrial or rural. Then class distinctions and privileges will disappear together with the economical basis upon which they rest. To live on other people's labour will become a thing of the past. There will be no longer any government of state power, distinct from society itself! Agriculture, mining, manufacture, in one word, all branches of production, will gradually be organised in the most adequate manner. National centralisation of the means of production will become the national basis of a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan. Such is the humanitarian goal to which the great economic movement of the 19th century is tending."
Is the N+L Committee ready to admit that changing ownership of means of production was as important to Marx as it has been to post-Marx Marxists?
5. With regard to the Paris Commune, doubt was expressed over whether the exciting cause was defense of the new French 3rd Republic. In his Aug. 10, 1871 letter to Hubert, Marx stated (MESC, pp. 252-3):
"2) The second Address, of September 9, 1870 (five days after the proclamation of the republic), is a very emphatic denunciation of the Prussian Government's plan of conquest. It is an appeal to the German and English workers to take the part of the French Republic ...
"In response to the appeal of the Council, the English workers held large meetings in London to force their government to recognise the French Republic and to oppose the dismemberment of France with all its strength ...
... "But all this proves that the French Government itself considered the International an ally of the French Republic against the Prussian conqueror - and it was indeed the only ally France had during the war."
With regard to the Republic proclaimed on Sept. 4, 1870, Marx, in his 2nd Address on the Franco-Prussian War, stated (MESW II, p. 200):
"That Republic has not subverted the throne, but only taken its place become vacant. It has been proclaimed, not as a social conquest, but as a national measure of defence.
... "The French working class moves, therefore, under circumstances of extreme difficulty. Any attempt at upsetting the new Government in the present crisis, when the enemy is almost knocking at the doors of Paris, would be a desperate folly ... Let them calmly and resolutely improve the opportunities of Republican liberty, for the work of their own class organization."
More influential citizens feared the workers of Paris more than they feared the Prussians. Capitulation to Prussia was planned very quickly after the declaration of the Republic, threatening its existence. From Marx's "Civil War in France":
... "It was only by the violent overthrow of the Republic that the appropriators of wealth could hope to shift on the shoulders of its producers the cost of a war which they, the appropriators, had themselves originated. ... (MESW II, p. 209)
"There stood in the way of this conspiracy one great obstacle - Paris. To disarm Paris was the first condition of success. Paris was therefore summoned by Thiers to surrender its arms. ... (p. 210)
... "The artillery of the Paris National Guard, said Thiers, belonged to the State, and to the State it must be returned. ... The National Guard reorganised themselves and intrusted their supreme control to a Central Committee elected by their whole body, save some fragments of the old Bonapartist formations. ... The republic [was the] work ... of the revolution of 4th of September. ... (p. 211)
... "And Paris was now either to lay down her arms at the insulting behest of the rebellious slaveholders of Bordeaux, and acknowledge that her Revolution of the 4th of September meant nothing but a simple transfer of power from Louis Bonaparte to his Royal rivals; or she had to stand forward as the self-sacrificing champion of France, whose salvation from ruin, and whose regeneration were impossible without the revolutionary overthrow of the political and social conditions that had engendered the Second Empire, and under its fostering care, matured into utter rottenness. Paris, emaciated by a five months' famine, did not hesitate one moment. ...
"Thiers opened the civil war by sending Vinoy ... to seize ... by surprise, the artillery of the National Guard. ... this attempt broke down ... The glorious working men's Revolution of the 18th March took undisputed sway of Paris. The Central Committee was its provisional government. ... (p. 212)
"The direct antithesis to the empire was the Commune. The cry of "social republic," with which the revolution of February  was ushered in by the Paris proletariat, did but express a vague aspiration after a Republic that was not only to supersede the monarchical form of class-rule, but class-rule itself. The Commune was the positive form of that Republic. ... (pp. 219-220)
... "The Commune['s] ... very existence presumed the non-existence of monarchy, which in Europe at least, is the normal incumbrance and indispensable cloak of class-rule. It supplied the Republic with the basis of really democratic institutions. But neither cheap Government nor the "true Republic" was its ultimate aim; they were its mere concomitants. ... (pp. 222-3)
... "In fact, after the exodus from Paris of the high Bonapartist and capitalist bohême, the true middle-class Party of Order came out in the shape of the "Union Républicaine," enrolling themselves under the colours of the Commune and defending it against the wilful misconstruction of Thiers." ... (p. 225)
So, even some of the middle classes went to the defense of the 'Republic of labor'.
"[Thiers] put down the revolution at Lyons and Marseilles in the name of the Republic, while the roars of his Rurals drowned the very mention of its name at Versailles." ... (p.. 232)
Bismarck gave Thiers the ultimatum of either restoration of the Second Empire, or very harsh terms of peace. For the extermination of the Republic, Bismarck offered to free Bonapartist troops captured at Sedan, as well as the assistance of Emperor William's troops, which Thiers accepted.
Without the power vacuum created by the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan, the 3rd Republic and the Commune might not have been possible. Lenin noted the connection between war and socialist revolution so many times in the 45 volumes of his Collected Works that there is a category devoted to the connection in its subject index. In general, no revolution was not connected with war. War is the crucible of socialist revolution, and, long before WWI, Marxists predicted a revolutionary situation growing out of such a war.
The research shows that there can be little question that lower class defense of the French Third Republic gave birth to the Commune, as opposed to any other impetus, such as a mere desire to build a workers' democracy, which Marx regarded as concomitant to the Commune. As Marx wrote to Nieuwenhuis on Feb. 22, 1881 (MESC, p. 318): "[T]he Paris Commune ... was merely the rising of a city under exceptional conditions, the majority of the Commune was by no means socialist, nor could it be."
6. It was stated that workers do not build bureaucracies, and I would agree that they do not build bureaucracies intentionally. But, the proof that they do saddle themselves with bureaucracies is to be found in an examination of many organizations. Certain patterns have become manifest:
Leaders of progressive and workers' organizations use bureaucratic structures to insulate themselves from popular pressure, such as from the rank and file.
Leaders practice internal secrecy, i.e., important information is often known only to leaders, and to those who supply the info.
Leaders many times resort to censorship in order to maintain their dominance. Some periodicals, such as Labor Notes, devote many columns to spreading information that otherwise would not be widely known to unionists.
Leaders of radical parties many times maintain the identity of their groups by defining their party lines on the basis of various interpretations of sacred texts, such as those of Marx, Engels, De Leon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. Members who take social change seriously enough to investigate the validity of the interpretations, and who challenge leaders when the interpretations prove to be all too tenuously based on the texts, then go on to find the avenues of internal debate closed for them, while leaders maintain the dominance of the party line through bureaucratic party structures, secrecy, and outright censorship. Sectarianism is one of the common results of the lack of concern with truth.
7. From the research, Marx and Engels believed that socialist revolutions would have to happen simultaneously in the most advanced capitalist countries in the world, viz., France, Germany, England and America, but they were wrong, flat wrong, for the wave of revolution went East and South after the Commune, and it swept into increasingly backward countries instead of staying in Europe. Successful socialist revolutions happened only in one country at a time, not in a whole lot of them simultaneously, except, perhaps, when Portugal pulled out of several African colonies at once in 1974.
8. If Marx was wrong about his predicted course of revolution, what else could he have been wrong about? Consistent with Marx's prediction of the course of the revolution was his prediction in his 'Critique of the Gotha Program' that society would evolve from capitalism to socialism to communism, i.e., from capitalist rule, to proletarian dictatorship, to classless, stateless society. The concept of simultaneous socialist revolutions in the most advanced capitalist countries complements the theory of proletarian dictatorship as the transition to classless, stateless society. Both theories rise and fall together.
Not only did the occurrence of socialism in one backward country at a time prove that Marx's prediction of simultaneous socialist revolutions in the most advanced countries was wrong, but the willingness of a billion people to abandon what they regarded as socialism, communism or state ownership in favor of capitalism and democracy also confirmed that Marx's theory of a linear progression of systems from capitalism to socialism to communism was equally faulty. Why Marx's predictions were mistaken is explained in greater detail below.
9. Up until recently, capitalism developed most completely in England, Western Europe and North America. Capitalism depends upon popular respect for private ownership of means of production, such as ownership of billions of dollars worth of property and means of production by single individuals. Private ownership of vast amounts of wealth can easily be contrasted to the impoverishment of great sections of the lower classes, such as contemporary figures in the USA of: 40 million people living in poverty and without health care plans, 6 million homeless, and other disparities of wealth and income distribution that only grow larger with time.
10. In spite of the huge disparities of income and wealth derived from private ownership of means of production, the only successful assault on private ownership in the USA was waged in the last century, when private ownership of people was outlawed, but it took a Civil War to do it. Private ownership of just about anything except other people was what Americans settled on.
11. Contrast our abolition of the immoral institution of private ownership of people to what occurred on the first day of the Russian Revolution, viz., the abolition of private ownership of land. Other nationalizations of land and means of production occurred in other socialist countries in the past century, countries whose economies were not as dominated by the worker-capitalist relationship as in the West, and whose populations many times have enjoyed enduring traditions of communal ownership of land and livestock.
12. Socialist revolutionary aspirations developed during the course of bourgeois-democratic revolutions, a form of revolution that is not yet over and done with, having spread from their modern point of origin in Western Europe to increasingly remote and primitive corners of the globe. Lenin somewhere credited Marx with observing that, in the earliest bourgeois-democratic revolutions, such as in Holland, England and America, the interests of workers and capitalists had scarcely differentiated. Back then, revolutionary middle classes armed workers to help overthrow feudal monarchies, or liberate themselves from colonial status, and had little fear of disarming workers after they helped to establish democratic republics.
13. After the tide of revolution bounced off America's shores and marched to the East into France in 1789, it was observed that workers tended increasingly to put forth their very own programs and agendas. The increasingly difficulty of disarming workers after bourgeois-democratic struggles taught German middle classes not to arm their workers in the democratic struggles of 1848-9, causing Marx and Engels to brand the German middle classes as cowardly.
14. Alliances between various classes have always been an important topic in revolutionary theory. In bourgeois-democratic struggles, workers were supposed to ally themselves with peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and revolutionary middle classes for the common purpose of overthrowing feudal monarchies. After establishing republics, workers were to break their alliances with the middle classes, and the lower classes were to help workers to push middle-class republics through to proletarian dictatorship.
15. The establishment of democracy was a definite goal of the workers' movement, just as Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto (MESW I, p. 126):
"We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy."
Engels' January 26, 1894 letter to Turati stressed the vital importance of democratic forms to the working class (MESC, p. 445):
... "Marx said the bourgeois republic is the only political form in which the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie can be fought to a finish;" ...
16. What does democracy have to do with proletarian dictatorship? There was so much confusion on that matter by 1891 that Engels thought it was about time to explain a few things to his German party that would be beyond interpretation (MESW III, p. 435):
"What are these ticklish, but very significant points?
"First. If one thing is certain it is that our Party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown."
Engels went on to explain that a republic would not be able to be won peacefully in a country like Germany, where the totalitarian regime in place at the time prohibited the party from demanding a republic in its program, giving rise to questions of legal and illegal party structures and propaganda that Lenin is famous for having dealt with during Russian struggles for democracy.
From the Great French Revolution to the Commune, history had proven to Marx, Engels and Lenin that the governmental form of proletarian dictatorship could be nothing but a democratic republic. After 1870's, though, France, Germany and other European countries gradually democratized their forms of governments through prolonged mass struggle, but generally without the kind of major revolutionary upheavals that had characterized earlier struggles for democracy. It was gradual democratization that caused workers in European parties to lean increasingly against revolution, and toward taking full advantage of the democratic opportunities that began to appear. The further East and South one went, however, the more likely it was that violence was required to establish democracy, especially in Russia, where the revolution bore many resemblances to the Commune scenario. They both occurred during wars, bourgeois republics were established first, and the republics were pushed through to twisted semblances of Marx's concept of proletarian dictatorship. Of the Communards, Marx wrote to Liebknecht on April 6, 1871 (MESC, p. 246):
... "they rather foolishly did not want to start a civil war - as if Thiers had not already started it by his attempt at the forcible disarming of Paris, as if the National Assembly ... had not immediately declared war on the Republic!"
The failure of the Communards to display very much revolutionary initiative was an early example of problems with Marx's socialist revolutionary scenario in general.
17. The Sept. 4, 1870 establishment of the French Third Republic touched off a series of conversations about republicanism in the General Council of the First International, where, in the meetings of Feb. 14 and 21 of 1871, Marx predicted that the French Republic would go socialistic, and that 'middle-class republics had become impossible on the Continent, causing both the French and German reactionaries to scheme against it'. On March 28, Marx stated that "The International wanted to establish the Social and Democratic Republic and therefore it was high treason to belong to it." Distinguishing the International's republicanism from the middle-class type, Marx also stated that: "no republican movement could become serious without becoming social."
18. In what perhaps might have been a concession to the common sense of people living in democracies, Marx predicted at the 1872 Hague Congress of the International that (MESW II, p. 293):
... "there are countries such as America, England, and I would add Holland if I knew your institutions better, where the working people may achieve their goal by peaceful means. If that is true, we must also recognise that in most of the continental countries it is force that will have to be the lever of our revolutions; it is force that we shall have to resort to in order to establish a reign of labour."
In the same breath, Marx juxtaposed two theories of socialist transformation* for all of Europe and America: the peaceful establishment of socialism in democracies* on the one hand, and a forceful replacement of feudal monarchies on the continent with democratic republics, pushing the republics through to socialist proletarian dictatorship, and using the force of the new workers' state to expropriate the expropriators. If a country already enjoyed a democratic form of government, Marx posited no reason to overthrow the existing government, but, on the continent of Europe, where few democracies existed at the time, Marx theorized that force would be required to replace old oppressive feudal monarchies with democratic republics. A good question to research is whether Marx ever expounded on the possible necessity to use more force to push the new republics through to proletarian dictatorship, or whether he thought it could be done by votes alone.
* 2002 note: There's my favorite mistake again. Marx was not speaking of socialism. (End of note.)
19. Notice that after overthrowing feudal monarchies, and after pushing the resulting republics through to proletarian dictatorship, socialists had the power of the state with which to change property relations, and on the very first day of the Bolshevik Revolution, private ownership of land was abolished in Russia. But, after merely winning elections in Western European Social-Democracies, socialists and communists did not have the physical force with which to expropriate expropriators without compensation. Due to a lack of available force, socialism could not be established in some of the very advanced capitalist countries where socialism was predicted by Marx to happen first, indicating very severe problems with his theories.
20. With no experience with successful proletarian revolutions in his lifetime, Marx may not have been able to see the contradiction between the ability of socialists to expropriate expropriators after overthrowing monarchies vs. after winning elections in democracies, even though, given his observation of the force required to abolish the private ownership of people in America, he should have been able to predict the inability of social-democrats to nationalize land and industries without compensation.
21. Abolitionists in this country could not abolish private ownership of people without a bloody Civil War, but the political will to expropriate plantations and provide freed slaves with 40 acres and a mule after the war did not exist in a country with such a strong tradition of respect for private ownership of land and means of production, no matter how concentrated the wealth.
22. Slavery, as a form of private ownership, had far less support among people than did private ownership of everything else. Private ownership of small amounts of land and means of production is widely regarded as a good thing; and private ownership of even vast amounts of land and means of production is not widely regarded as immoral a form of property ownership as slavery, so the scale of violence that would be required to abolish private ownership of land and means of production in this country would be far greater than that which was required to abolish slavery.
23. Marx promoted a program of property redistribution that was feasible after socialists helped middle classes to overthrow feudal monarchies, and after pushing those republics through to proletarian dictatorship, as in Russia, or, in this century, after socialists helped to liberate colonies and form socialistic governments, as in Africa.
24. Marx's program of property redistribution was not feasible after workers' parties won mere elections in Western democracies, for merely winning elections does not change the basis of state power. Without the force of the state, drastic changes in property relations are impossible. Expropriating expropriators, or nationalizing without compensation, was not possible after workers' parties won mere elections, as the history of European Social-Democracies has shown.
25. If redistributing ownership of land and means of production had ever made any sense for the advanced capitalist countries where Marx predicted it would happen first, socialism would have been easier to implement in advanced capitalist countries than in less advanced countries, where socialist expropriations did happen first. Communist property redistribution is a program based upon force, violence and having the requisite physical force available with which property can be expropriated without compensation, as in Russia in 1917, and in many other countries at other times. Because of the amount of physical force required to redistribute land and means of production, socialism is unlikely to happen in advanced capitalist democracies, where the requisite physical force has never availed to socialists and communists after merely winning elections.
Marx and Engels noted that workers in the most advanced countries were the least prepared for socialism, while those in Germany and Russia seemed more prepared. Why they didn't employ their observations as clues to problems with their theories might make a good research topic.
26. Because so many bourgeois-democratic activities centered themselves in Europe during Marx's lifetime, he cannot be faulted for not detecting its future motion to the East and South instead of remaining in Europe and resulting in his desired simultaneous proletarian revolutions. But, a mistake is a mistake, and it is useless for succeeding generations to compound error after error trying to implement social policies that a billion people have recently abandoned.
27. Western workers should have been given a program easier to implement in the West than in the East and South. Marx's failure to provide such a program caused widespread apathy toward his doctrines even during his lifetime, and enabled an equally faulty and unlikely program of expropriation, viz., anarchism, to compete quite well with communism in the marketplace of so-so ideas.
28. There is an infinite number of ways by which to revolutionize society. A similar plethora of meanings exists around the terms socialism, communism and anarchism, which all aim to redistribute property. A major split between socialists, communists and anarchists exists over which of three major programs to follow: Socialists would tax the upper classes to create a benevolent state, communists would smash the bourgeois state to create a workers' state, and anarchists would replace the state with a classless, stateless administration of things based on unions and workers' organizations. Because of the splits between the tendencies, it is hard to imagine them ever cooperating sufficiently to either make a revolution, or adopt a common plan to get to their common historical goal of classless, stateless society.
All of the above points to the futility of revolutionists, socialists, communists and anarchists living in democracies trying to take away the property of the rich, because, given our lack of cohesion, many millions of poor people are eager for the opportunity to die for the unsullied right of the rich to own and enjoy property.
29. The past century of socialist revolution is ending. The program of state ownership has been discredited in the eyes of a billion people, and has encouraged the power structure in this country to hop on the world-wide privatization bandwagon. What can be the future for any of the 'isms, anywhere?
What is the need for revolution in the USA, where democracy and freedom of speech already exist, and nothing stops working class parties from putting forth their own programs, no matter how sensible, insensible, or even revolutionary?
Is a revolution necessary to abolish exploitation of the proletariat?
How many revolutions to abolish exploitation of the proletariat have occurred?
How many revolutions have occurred to establish democracy?
What is revolution for?
Isn't it absurd to advocate revolution in a democracy, when history shows that the purpose of revolution is to bring democracy to where it doesn't exist?
Is it possible for dedicated revolutionaries give up on their revolutionism without first seeing its folly?
30. If trying to redistribute property in advanced capitalist democracies cannot be done without the vast amount of power that certainly does not avail to poverty-stricken disorganized fractions of the lower classes, then finding that which is more useful could be very valuable. Engels provided some clues by informing us of some true working class interests, such as in his letter to Bernstein of June 17, 1879 (MESC, p. 300):
"For a number of years past the English working-class movement has been hopelessly describing a narrow circle of strikes for higher wage and shorter hours, not, however, as an expedient or means of propaganda and organisation but as the ultimate goal. The Trades Unions even bar all political action on principle and in their charters, thus excluding all participation in any general activity of the working class as a class."
Engels to Eduard Bernstein in Zürich
(MEW 36, pp. 486-7) London, May 22, 1886
. . . "Our Frenchmen are doing fine. Here, on the other hand, everything remains amateurish play. The anarchist stupidities in America can become useful; it is not desirable that the American workers achieve too rapid successes while they are at their present still quite bourgeois stage of thinking - high wages and short working time. That could strengthen the one-sided trades-union spirit more than necessary." . . .
FREDERICK ENGELS TO LAURA LAFARGUE IN PARIS
(ELC I, p. 355) London, May 23, 1886
. . . "The victory at Dec[azeville] would have been exceedingly nice, but after all the defeat may be more useful to the movement in the long run. So I do believe, too, that the anarchist follies of Chicago will do much good. If the present American movement - which so far as it is not exclusively German, is still in the Trades Union stage - had got a great victory on the 8 hours question, Trades Unionism would have become a fixed and final dogma. While a mixed result will help to show them that it is necessary to go beyond "high wages and short hours.""
As passionately and consistently as Marx, Engels also wanted workers to lust after the kind of state power that would enable workers' states to expropriate property without compensation. But, contrast the above to what Engels wrote in 1845 in his 'Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844' (pp. 255-6):
"The active resistance of the English working-men has its effect in holding the money-greed of the bourgeoisie within certain limits, and keeping alive the opposition of the workers to the social and political omnipotence of the bourgeoisie, while it compels the admission that something more is needed than Trades Unions and strikes to break the power of the ruling class. But what gives these Unions and the strikes arising from them their real importance is this, that they are the first attempt of the workers to abolish competition. They imply the recognition of the fact that the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based wholly upon the competition of the workers among themselves; i.e., upon their want of cohesion. And precisely because the Unions direct themselves against the vital nerve of the present social order, however one-sidedly, in however narrow a way, are they so dangerous to this social order. The working-men cannot attack the bourgeoisie, and with it the whole existing order of society, at any sorer point then this. If the competition of the workers among themselves is destroyed, if all determine not to be further exploited by the bourgeoisie, the rule of property is at an end. Wages depend upon the relation of demand to supply, upon the accidental state of the labour market, simply because the workers have hitherto been content to be treated as chattels, to be bought and sold. The moment the workers resolve to be bought and sold no longer, when, in the determination of the value of labour, they take the part of men possessed of a will as well as of working-power, at that moment the whole Political Economy of to-day is at an end."
If 'the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based wholly upon the competition of the workers among themselves', then do we need a revolution to fix something that is going on within our own ranks?
If all we have to do in order to end the political economy of capitalism is to eliminate competition among ourselves for scarce jobs, why Engels did not stick with this formula will remain a mystery for now, but not sticking with this formula was a blunder without comparison, except for some of Marx's very own blunders.
Considering the consistency of the many volumes that Marx wrote about surplus value, he failed to correctly apply that very useful concept to workers' movements. Marx understood better than a lot of us that the rich get richer while workers willingly work far beyond the time necessary to reproduce the value of their labor power, or the value of their wages. Near the end of the 3rd volume of Capital (p. 820), Marx wrote in essence that 'the prerequisite to the true realm of freedom is a reduction in the length of the working day'. The longer the hours that people work, the less time available for workers to develop their finer qualities. With long hours, workers are as good as slaves. A good way to put everyone to work who needs to, and to take it easier on an over-strained environment, is for workers to agree with other workers to simply work less. Such an agreement would also eliminate the kind of competition for scarce jobs that drives wages down, as unionists of a century recognized in their slogan, "Whether you work by the piece, or work by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay." As Sam Gompers stated at the time, "As long as one person who wants work cannot find it, the hours of labor are too long." Back then, the issues fueling the shorter hours movement were technological unemployment, workers' health, workers' control, morality, public safety, and low wages. These issues have not gone away, especially the issue of the willingness of people to do anything they get paid to do, such as the willingness of the professional revolutionaries of my old party to keep selling anarcho-syndicalism disguised as socialism, come hell or high water.
No matter how many facts of life point to the necessity of eliminating poverty by redistributing work, professional revolutionaries who make cushy livings promoting impossibilities will never turn their backs on the best way of making a living that they know of. As Marx wrote to Nieuwenhuis on Feb. 22, 1881 (MESC, p. 318): "The doctrinaire and inevitably fantastic anticipation of the programme of action for a revolution of the future only diverts one from the struggle of the present."
Hoping that things will get bad enough to cause a revolution to begin is akin to playing a cruel waiting game, at the same time very concrete and immediate things could be advocated that would ameliorate the plight of the hungry, homeless, and underemployed. People seemingly wait for all kinds of questions to be somehow resolved satisfactorily in their minds while millions go homeless and hungry.
More of a bottom line issue is this: No matter how well or how badly anyone can quote Marx and Engels to persuade people of the validity of their own interpretations of Marxism, others may choose to differ until hell freezes over for what they may feel are their own very good reasons. At some point in exercises in quoting Marx, it just may become an exercise in futility. At the point at which we all agree to cordially disagree with each other, the question thereafter can only be "What good is a revolutionary 'ism that no group of radicals can agree with other radicals about?" We can argue and argue and argue over what Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Dunayevskaya, Althusser, C.L.R. James, Ebert, and so many others have said, and still do nothing concrete about the many millions of people, in this country alone, who go homeless and hungry.
The real problem with the 'isms is that they all aim to change property relations, or change what is going on in government, but the 'isms never address what is going on in the ranks of the workers, viz., the competition for scarce jobs that drives wages lower, and enables workers to turn blind eyes to the suffering within their own ranks. The preoccupation of the 'isms with property and state is evidence that the 'isms were never anything more than the private property of the petty-bourgeois elements who made small businesses out of them. The fact that socialism is now close to extinction indicates that the socialist era was never anything better than a petty-bourgeois distortion of the unfinished era of bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that after a century of the costly mistake of thinking that petty bourgeois dictatorship was much better than the dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie, people are returning to democratic values.
The best of the socialists, communists and anarchists have always recognized shorter hours as being in the interests of workers, and have supported such movements. It's easy enough to support, for the bosses are all in favor of loosening regulation to let us fight with each other for limited opportunities to work long hours to make bosses richer and the government more powerful, while workers would prefer an orderly and even distribution of access to means of making a living. This can be achieved either by union action alone, or by legislation and enforcement. If we ever see a working class whose every member is gainfully employed, housed and fed, we will also have a fully employed working class that will have both the change in its pockets and the free leisure time with which to work on political reforms and overturn bad laws.
Though there are zillions of ways to modify property relations and the state, there are only 3 basic things that can be done with hours of labor, which simplifies our task immensely. We can go along with the bosses' desires to deregulate hours of labor, we can leave them the same, or we can shorten them. The first two will happen as long as we leave the bosses in charge of the labor market.
We don't have to do a thing about hours of labor and things are guaranteed to get worse, because productivity of labor is dynamic, even with hours of labor constant. Productivity increases a percent or two each year, leaving that fewer percent workers needed to produce the same amount of goods and services. Alternatively, that productivity increase can be absorbed mainly by a combination of market expansion, population growth, increased profits, or increased unemployment, all of which are happening today. We don't have to lift a finger to see things get worse for the lower classes, but it would be more ecologically sane to shorten hours under any social system we choose to live with in order to keep the lowest classes involved in the economy, ensuring their right to earn a living, which should be recognized as a basic human right. Too many of us are willing to go along with the bosses' ideology that people are lazy and it is their fault if they choose to be homeless and hungry, when all along it is our national policy to maintain unemployment at a certain level to ensure competition for scarce jobs that drives wages down and profits up.
The research ('Work Without End', by Prof. B.K.Hunnicutt) shows that, ever since the early part of the 20th century, the choice was made by a few people at the top - rather than allow workers to keep on enjoying increased productivity in the form of increased leisure - to use workers increased productivity to make the bosses richer and the government more powerful. This is not a social policy that I would have chosen for myself or for anyone else, which is why I, for one, choose to try to influence others to join me in trying to change it, and hopefully give people good reasons to do so. What can I do to make my arguments more persuasive? If you agree that we should implement a basic human right to work, let me know how to improve the message. I know how easy it is to trash honest efforts.
With the distribution of this rebuttal, the ball has been tossed back into the court of the News and Letters Committees. I hope that your seeming willingness to dialogue will spur you to respond in kind, and you will respond in print, accepting, rejecting, and asking for clarification of any and all of the 30 points of argument. Mere verbal rebuttals will no longer pass muster. In our dialogue, let us all be guided by what Engels wrote in his August 1890 letter to Schmidt (MESC, p. 394):
... "Marx thought his best things were still not good enough for the workers, and that he considered it a crime to offer the workers anything but the very best!" ...
Any reaction to this rebuttal is conceivable. The Committees may very well decide that they have had enough of this challenge to revolutionism, and will put an end to it. They may also decide that it will be easy enough to rebut, and will present such good counter-arguments that I will be reconverted to revolutionism. Though business interests would rather have us hang separately, let us instead choose to learn together. I will be gone for the holidays, but when I return on Jan. 12, I will want to know how the Committees plan to deal with this.
It was a near futile attempt to find common ground on the 30 points that I raised. We had a hard time agreeing upon just about anything. We didn't go past the first point on the list, though we did touch upon most of the issues that I raised, except for some of the most important ones, due to our failure to agree on a basic foundation of understanding.
I ended up raising my voice, for which I apologize, though sometimes that's the only way I can get my brain to work, if that's any excuse. I am an imperfect person in an imperfect world. I was quite frustrated over the fact that the opposition preferred making revolution over enabling people to share what little work that hasn't yet been taken over by machines and computers, though the way I first phrased it, they must have interpreted what I was proposing as 'make-work', prison labor, imprisonment, sweat shops, and other forms of wasteful work. Still, at the end, the opposition seemed to favor revolution over anything else, in spite of my protest on the basis of Marx's 1872 Speech at the Hague Congress of the 1st International to the effect that 'workers in democracies can get to socialism by peaceful means', to which it was replied that 'few people believe that we live in a democracy, hence the need for revolution', though I replied that there are still a lot of people out there who would be glad to die to defend what we have, and I will add for the record that there have to be a lot more willing to defend what we have than to overthrow it.
I sometimes wonder if things will ever get bad enough in this country to force revolutionaries to think about doing something practical about the economic problems of the poorest sectors of society. At what point will revolutionaries openly come out and say that they hope things will get bad enough to cause a revolution? Why do revolutionaries prefer to advocate revolution, when revolution has little to do with what needs to elevate the lowest classes?
Sharing the work could put everyone to work, and fewer hours of labor for those who have jobs is a perfect way of sharing the work. Will anyone want to argue that we need a revolution against the bosses, capitalism and the state in order to share the work more equitably? If you think that we do, can your assertion be grounded in the actual experience of the lower classes? Our stinginess with the remaining work is something that is going on within our own ranks.
In democracies, if we organize to do anything, we will organize to do the easier thing rather than do the harder thing, much as it was easier to abolish private ownership of people than to even think very hard about expropriating the plantations to provide freed slaves with 40 acres and a mule. We should try to define and remember what people were able and willing to do in history, compared to what they were not able or willing to do.
It was saddening that others were not willing to recognize Marx's simple formula of peaceful change in democracies vs. violent overthrow of monarchies, preferring to follow along with the desperate Leninist philosophy of smashing whatever democracies that failed to revolt in support of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which led to CPUSA advocacy of violent revolution in the USA in the 20's and much of the 30's, but which demand was eventually dropped by the CPUSA's bureaucracy. No appreciation was expressed over the struggles that the First International waged to replace feudal monarchies with democracies, but not just with ordinary bourgeois democracies, but rather the establishment of red republics which would make the revolution permanent. Many leftists never recognize and honor this history of red republicanism. Movements congratulate themselves on their accomplishments in various aspects of Marxism, and yet took Marx's weak theories of political revolution out of the context of what actually happened in Marx's day, and adopted very abbreviated versions in order to serve as foundations for their theories of revolution in democracies, a notion that is so common on the left that few are they who ever question it, but which common belief doesn't make it any the less wrong, such wrong positions causing ineffectuality among the left.
Marxism both does and doesn't justify revolution in democracies, depending on what parts one reads. As mass movements slowly make themselves aware by being affected by changes in the economy, they will have to change in order to keep themselves from being squashed under the wheels of change.
If my research on the political body of Marxism can only draw responses like quizzical looks, outright denials, or promises to take the matter up at a later date, then there is little hope that revolutionists will examine the foundations of revolutionism so as to figure out what people in the West have been willing to do to create social justice for themselves, as opposed to what the people of the less developed East and South have been willing to do. People should question why the mode of struggle in the East and South was appropriate in some cases, but not in others. The East and South have been fertile fields for seeds of revolution to take root. Why did those same seeds of revolution find the soil of the West so inhospitable, allowing those seeds to quickly die out, no matter how many seeds may have been imported from Russia and other revolutionary countries? Research reveals a plausible path of reasoning about Western hostility to revolution.
The consequence of failing to look critically at ideologies that consistently fail to deliver the goods is an inappropriate attachment to mistaken paths and a failure to advocate simple social measures that could relieve so much hunger, homelessness, imprisonment, political oppression and other human sufferings in the West.
Engels wrote of rallying hatred as the means of getting workers to do what revolutionaries wanted them to do. But, after the violence is over, is the breakout of love guaranteed? In a technologically advanced democracy, a movement based on compassion for the lowest classes can succeed without bloodshed. Nothing stops workers from acting on their love and sharing what little work that remains for people to do, with everyone who can use it. But, if a revolution is wanted, one had better not push the option of sharing, and hope instead that enough hate can be rallied to cause a revolution, and a bourgeois democracy replaced with a workers' democracy, or a stateless anarchy.
Carry dialogue about the validity of the Marxist theory of the state to its natural conclusion, and there goes the revolution, which can never flow from an analysis of constantly increasing productivity of labor, while hours of labor for those who have jobs get longer. Increased surplus products take on forms like increased luxuries, more capital investment, absorption of surpluses by an increased population (or by a larger foreign market), increased consumption in the home market, and higher levels of unemployment, all of which are going on today in varying proportions. Shorter hours is the most logical solution that flows from the premises that have been lain out. If the premises of the argument are wrong, then the proposed solution has to be wrong as well, but who will argue with the basic premise that labor is more productive than ever, and that hours of labor have been going up for full time workers, robbing work from those who need it?
The SLP, the CP, and probably others adhere to revolution as the answer to changes in the economy. Party rank and file have been taught to repeat over and over that revolution is the answer, and think that their revolutionary, Marxist, and socialist duties are being done by repeating the revolutionary solution to those who know even less history and Marxism than they do.
In a situation of danger to the basis of a movements' ideology, rank and filers generally prove to be unsure of themselves, don't know what to do, are reluctant to display any independence or initiative, are content to take their cues from their leaders, rally very tightly around them, circle their wagons, and protect the essence of their movements to the greatest of their abilities.
April 13, 1997
I hope that you received my postcard thanking you for your 5 page letter. Sorry to be so late in getting back to you.
Let me begin with a paragraph about myself that I hope will amuse you. I got interested in socialism at the end of the sixties through reading Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth'. I was looking for something that went beyond psychology and sociology, and found his book to be just the extension of theory that I wanted, as Fanon linked the Algerian revolution to lower rates of committing the mentally ill to institutions. There thus had to be something to the thing called socialism, I thought, but had a hard time finding satisfactory definitions of it. I finally gussied myself up to approach socialist movements in order to see if they could help explain it to me, though I remained very suspicious of them. The literature that caught my interest due to its seeming deep tradition was from the SLP, which I joined in '72, ignoring all other groups, and learned how to be a good sectarian. By '74, the Party was set to move from Brooklyn to Palo Alto in the Bay Area, so I volunteered to help them, for I was looking for something to do with the rest of my life that would be more exciting than fixing cars. After the move, I joined the staff when the guy who was slated to be shipping clerk decided to quit. Then I was right where I wanted to be, at the heart of a revolutionary party, but soon began to wonder why we weren't getting anywhere. I did my homework, discovered how the Party program was justified by quotes out of context and lies cut from whole cloth, and proceeded to try to educate my comrades about what I was finding. But, no one was interested, so I finally quit in disgust, and returned to fixing cars, which I couldn't stand doing beyond a couple of years, so went to school to learn electronics, got a job in Berkeley, moved there, volunteered at KPFA-FM, and got a job there in '84 that lasted until '92.
In '92, Frank Girard of the Discussion Bulletin in Grand Rapids asked me to write down impressions of Party life in the 70's, so I started writing, but couldn't stop. I wrote a 641 page book over a period of 3 years. It is a rather careful refutation of the many lies that were told in 2 SLP pamphlets to justify their program of anarcho-syndicalism that had been carefully disguised to resemble socialism. By '94, I discovered that divorcing the upper classes from ownership of the means of production was much easier after overthrowing feudal monarchies, or after liberating colonies, but was never possible after winning mere elections in Western European Social-Democracies. What a discovery! It also meant that, if the socialist revolution had ever made any sense for the advanced capitalist democracies of the West, it would have been easier to implement in the West than in the less developed countries of the East and South, where socialism did start first. The multi-point challenge fleshes out these ideas more completely. Anyway, you can see what my background is, totally unsophisticated. If I make a mistake now and then, it's because I didn't spend much time studying again until 1992, so I still have an awful lot of catching up to do.
I thought that the N+L local would be a good place to get some feedback on my ideas, but I erred in too strongly pursuing demands for dialogue. The local and I have had two meetings on stuff that I've written, the first a four page commentary on Frank Dmitryev's review of Kevin's new book, and the second meeting on February 24 on my challenge to the ideas that were generated by the first meeting. There were only two others at the second meeting beside myself. We couldn't agree enough on the basics to get past the first point, tho we did cover a lot of ground, most of which we couldn't agree upon.
In my interactions, I discovered that the local seems to be less familiar with the First International's agenda of replacing feudal monarchies with red republics than what I had suspected. Perhaps another good portion of N+L might be in the same boat; we may see as time goes on if we can all be patient enough to wade through this together. Things either happened or they didn't; that's the level of 'theorizing' that I prefer to work with. Nothing too fancy or too speculative. Since '94, the more I study, the more it confirms my basic theories. When Olga was in town on March 9, she blew me away with the info that the name of the Chartist newsletter was 'The Red Republican'. Chartists apparently fought for Social and Democratic Republics just like the First International did. Olga's info gave substance to Engels' claim (MESW II, p. 356) that Chartists fought for proletarian dictatorship and supremacy in the state.
Anyway, to get to the problems that you had with my challenge: What I have done since December has been to more completely think through some of my positions based upon some of the critiques that were expressed by a few others, but the revision was pretty much completed before I had received your unexpected contribution to the dialogue. This new version I now include with this letter, and the new version perhaps could be the basis of further correspondence, since it even addresses some of your concerns. I will refer to the new version when appropriate in this present reply. So that the new version might flow more logically for the uninitiated than the first version, I also rearranged points 1-7.
1. This old #1 became number 7 in the updated version.
It made sense when you said that 'no one could plausibly deny such a distinction [between the upper and lower stages of socialism or communism]'. Part of the problem that I had with the SLP, and still have with some of its ex-members I still correspond with, is that they all deny those two stages, and compress the entire two-stage era of socialism down into one stage, though some of them will say that the single stage applies to the most industrialized countries (instead of to the most democratic). A major part of the brainwashing efforts of the SLP was to convince its members that 'Marx envisioned only one stage of socialism for technologically advanced countries, but he did conceive of the necessity of an intermediate stage of proletarian dictatorship in backward countries.' They fraudulently substituted the economic condition of technological advancement for the political condition of democracy as the prerequisite for peaceful change; they similarly substituted backwardness in the place of monarchy as the prerequisite for violence, and reasoned that: 'Proletarian dictatorship over peasants and middle classes in less developed countries makes no sense in more highly countries where those classes have been totally marginalized, so tiny middle classes in the USA need not be repressed as was needed in peasant countries like Russia, hence no need for proletarian dictatorship here.' Sad to say, this denial of the worker-peasant alliance is part of the pack of lies that the SLP believes in, which may be one of the reasons why they are down to just a couple of hundred members, if that. Denial of two stages of socialism may be more rampant among the left than what the two of us realize, and seems to be shared by a lot of anarchists. People in this country need to be bourgeois enough to afford to maintain such an ignorance of the theories that they think they believe in.
When I speak of the progression from socialism to communism, I use the definitions that Lenin gave to the terms in "The State and Revolution", pp. 470-5 of the Collected Works, Volume 25, just so that people can use a widely accepted standard of terminology. It's true that Marx made no such distinction between the terms, but Marx certainly distinguished between two phases, a lower phase of proletarian dictatorship, and a higher phase of classless, stateless society. If we can't agree on the terms socialism for the lower phase, and communism for the higher, then perhaps you would prefer to use proletarian dictatorship for the lower phase, and classless, stateless society for the upper, or some other agreeable terms, such as just plain 'lower' and 'higher'. It is easier to use one word to fix the same thing in our minds than it is to use two words. It is true that Lenin was a post-Marx Marxist, but most of us alive, if not all leftists, suffer from that very disease.
Thank you for the definition of unilinearism, which I accept. I also agree that the West was the only place where Marx believed that the sequence of feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism (using Lenin's definitions that probably a billion people adopted as their own) would have applied. The last couple of lines in point 5 of the updated version addresses the controversy that Marx had with Bakunin about jumping from feudalism or capitalism directly to the upper stage of communism. Like you say, unilinearism was not covered by Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program.
2. This becomes number 6 in the updated version.
A member of the local informed me that Marx did not believe that the socialist revolution would begin in the most advanced capitalist countries. I couldn't believe my ears at first, given all of the documentation I had already dug up. I didn't expect N+L to have an official position on this matter, but that which you outlined corresponds accurately with my perception. Thank you for bringing Marx's later writings into the discussion. Not doing so was an oversight on my part, which I hopefully sufficiently rectified in the update. Since Marx thought that the revolution could have happened either way, I find M+E, on balance, preferring that the revolution happen first in the West, and for a good reason that gets amplified in the new points 6 and 7 of the updated version.
Let me add to what you read in those points. The flow of history that actually occurred, i.e., socialist revolutions happening in less industrialized countries, and mostly one at a time, was an unfolding of history that Marx probably would have been very unhappy to observe, if he had lived long enough to see it. This is probably why I stressed the theory of socialist revolutions starting first in the West, but which perhaps gave the impression that I didn't think that Marx had written about the possibility of revolution happening first in the East, which I was aware of, but considered to be slightly off-point. The unexpected protest over my neglect of the Eastern possibility caused me to re-examine my approach to the question, and perhaps the approach in new points 6 and 7 more fully respects the sophistication of the audience.
3. This point is now number 1 in the updated challenge.
This particular point is not of the greatest importance to the basic theses of the challenge, and I didn't perceive in your reply any great protest over my answer to the group. Marx in 1866 gave credit to Americans for raising the demand for the 8 hour day, which was included in the program of the First International. Notice how well shorter hours applied to the most advanced countries, but would have been irrelevant in a country without a well-developed bourgeoisie and proletariat.
4. This is now number 3 in the updated version.
At the first meeting, one of the members of the group consisting of John, Urszula, Ron, Alan and Mitch stated that Marx was not all that concerned with converting private into collective property, though I can't remember if their argument was based upon what Marx wrote in the 1844 Manuscripts. You would have to ask some in the group about the specifics, for I cannot remember it well enough to repeat it. They know the argument well, and on a high philosophical plane. I do not gainsay what they say, for it very well may have been an important position for Marx to take at one time. But, even if it was, we know that taking away the property of the rich was the underlying reason for workers having to take state power, for without state power, workers (in history) have not been able to take away the property of the rich without compensation. When industries in Western Social-Democracies were nationalized, I believe that it was generally done with compensation.
Feel free to inform me of discrepancies with this theory, and whether anything so totally contradicts it as to render it worthless. You and I seem to be in general agreement that Marxist and socialist philosophy includes divorcing the rich from their property. After post-Marx Marxists put their theories into practice and bumped their heads into cold reality, problems then arose, but that was after Marx for the most part, with the brief exception of the Commune, a place where problems arising within the administration of that alleged proletarian dictatorship certainly disturbed both Marx and Engels.
Anyway, did Marx suggest any concrete measures for transforming alienated labor? I need a reference I could look up.
5. This point becomes number 4 in the updated version.
I am glad that I didn't have to convince you that at least one cause of the Commune was defense of the French Third Republic. Sorry not to have been lucky enough to have you on my side at the meeting. But, raising the issue enabled me to go back to the books and re-acquaint myself with the literature and figure out again why it is so important to have a proper perspective on republicanism, which all too many revolutionaries seem to deny, just like the SLP always did, which was part of their extremist denial of anything within the theories of Marx pointing to the necessity of creating a workers' state. Why people would want to call themselves Marxists, and then deny the essence of Marx's theories, was all about making a business out of a bastardization of Bakuninist theory that the SLP likes to call 'Marxian socialism for advanced capitalist countries'.
But, in reality, both the Republic and the Commune were mass responses to the monarchists' denial of representative governments to the people of Paris and France. To deny this is to deny the importance of democracy to the West. At least one member of your organization does not believe that the democracy that remains in this country is worth fighting to defend, but I think that such a denial may reflect a degree of detachment from the reality of popular devotion to democracy, no matter how ill-founded such devotion may be in reality, or in the opinions of revolutionaries. Sure, we can critique democracy accurately until the cows come home, but people are still going to fight for chances to defend it with everything they have. Should our democracy, real or illusioned, ever be worth the trouble for revolutionists to try to prove we don't have? Perhaps if belittling our democracy is a first and necessary step to encouraging people to abolish it. Is there an official N+L position on the overthrow of the government? This may not be an easy issue for revolutionaries to address. It never was for me while in the SLP, or even after, as a Marxist, which I considered myself to be until '94.
So, what was the Commune? Was it some kind of experiment in democracy that some wild-eyed dreamers decided to set up one day? Or, was it a reaction to orders to surrender? They were up against the wall and had the choice to capitulate, in which case their personal safety would have been better assured, or else they had to fight to keep their democracy, which is what they chose. Workers fighting for democracy? Does proletarian revolutionary theory allow for it? You bet it does.
While willing to admit that at least one cause of the Commune was defense of the Republic, can you come up with another? I don't understand why you went from discussing its cause to possibly beginning to discuss its meaning. The meaning of the Commune can include what caused it, but what caused the Commune could be considered to be only part of its meaning. I'd like to stick to its cause.
6. This point becomes number 2 in the updated version.
I should explain how 'workers building bureaucracies' became a topic of discussion. Not long after starting to attend local meetings, I read Franklin Dmitryev's review of Kevin Anderson's new book in the August-September 1996 edition of N+L that stated in part, "But Lenin did not fully explain what was in the nature of revolutionary parties that allowed them to be transformed into their opposite."
I then decided to throw my two cents into the fray with my own four page letter to the local that I guess you never saw, but which I append so that you can see how the whole thing got started. The local agreed to hold a special meeting at Ron and Urszula's for a discussion of the letter, which also included Mitch, Alan and John, and was the occasion of controversial statements.
The October letter contained statements that have since been corrected, but some of which got repeated in my 18 page December challenge, but which mistakes need not become too big of an issue here. The December challenge has been considerably revised, thanks to dialogues I have had.
The relevant passage in my four-page October letter went: [snip repetition]
I now do not think that the argument follows from top to bottom as logically as I had hoped at one time, but if anyone doesn't think that workers are saddled with bureaucracies, then they just might want to consider becoming part of the new Labor Party, whose founding convention I attended in Cleveland as a delegate from the East Bay Chapter. This Party seems to be mostly run from the top down, and my efforts to create the kind of dialogue that we are presently enjoying have been either completely ignored, or quashed. N+L is like a breath of fresh air in comparison, which is why I so highly value the present dialog that I try to avoid sarcasm and other non-productiveness. But, in comparison, even the Labor Party has to be a breath of fresh air compared to the SLP that I was a member of from '72-'77. That experience was so bad that I swore off parties for the next 19 years, the Labor Party being the only party that I've joined since '77, mainly because it promised to be for full employment, which was what I was most interested in. They have shorter hours and higher overtime premiums in their platform, but no longer openly advocate them as solutions, much to my disappointment, having turned instead to the government for the solution.
With regard to censorship, here is a portion of my book about my experiences with the SLP. A.P. refers to Arnold Petersen, National Secretary (top bureaucrat) in the SLP from 1913-68, who enjoyed 55 years of supremacy over his enemies in the SLP:
"A.P. may have learned his own undemocratic ways from his predecessors in a Danish party that Engels criticized in a December 1889 letter to Gerson Trier in Copenhagen, in which Engels philosophized about the relation of freedom of speech to the workers' party (MEW 37, pp. 327-8):
"With regard, now, to the procedure of the Hovedbestyrelsen toward you and your friends, such a summary expulsion from the party has happened in the secret societies from 1840-51; the secret organization made it unavoidable. It has furthermore happened, and often enough, with the English physical force Chartists under the dictatorship of O'Connors. But the Chartists were a party directly organized to strike out, as the name says, therefore they were under a dictatorship, and expulsion was a military measure. On the other hand, in times of peace, I know of a similar arbitrary procedure only of the Lassalleans of J. B. von Schweitzer's "strict organization"; von Schweitzer needed it because of his suspicious dealings with the Berlin Police, and thereby only hastened the dissolution of the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein. Among the socialist workers' parties existing today it would hardly occur to a single one - after Mr. Rosenberg in America eliminated himself - to treat an opposition, which grew out of it, after the Danish model. It belongs to the life and well-being of any party that out of it more moderate and more extreme directions develop and fight each other, and those who simply exclude the more extreme ones only encourage their growth. The workers' movement is based on the sharpest critique of existing society, critique is its vital element; how can it remove itself from criticism, forbid debate? Are we demanding from others free speech for us, only to abolish it again in our own ranks?"
"It's too bad that Rosenberg did not take his censorious techniques with him when he left the SLP, but this type of censorship is exactly what the Party bureaucracy has practiced for a long time. I also found it indicative of the immaturity of the American movement as a whole that this portion of Engels' letter to Trier has not previously been readily available in the English language. As far as I know, this excerpt may never have been published in English before. Did parties and groups lobby publishers to omit this portion of the letter so as to better be able to blame their totalitarian practices on ignorance of correct procedure? Food for thought.
"Lenin struggled for many years against the censorship of the czarist regime of Russia, and he also recognized the destructive effects of the lack of freedom to freely discuss theoretical material within his own party. More than once he campaigned for theoretical journals for the RSDLP members to discuss their views."
I then gave an example of Lenin's views, and on and on. Anyway, that was my experience.
7. This point became numbers 6 and 7 in the updated version.
True, the world revolution was not expected to happen at once. As you stated, that would have been an absurdity, but the new points 6 and 7 go into the subject in more detail. The old point 7, after so many careful rewrites, I later discovered didn't make as much sense as I had hoped, so most of it was dropped.
In his 1872 Speech at the Hague Congress, Marx seems to have lamented the fact that "a great revolutionary movement corresponding to that supreme rising of the Paris proletariat did not arise in all centres, in Berlin, Madrid and elsewhere." That statement certainly suggested simultaneity at least to the same extent as the reference you mentioned, and even surpassed it. In Marx's speech, it was the lack of simultaneous revolutions that caused the Commune to fail. I don't understand why modern revolutionists do not adopt the lesson that Marx drew out of the experience of the Commune and declare that, in order for the modern-day revolution to succeed, it had better happen simultaneously in all of the most advanced capitalist countries so that neighboring countries won't be able to gang up on the country that starts the revolution. That may have to include more countries than in Marx's day.
If the Commune failed because the revolution wasn't simultaneous, then simultaneity should be the most important lesson of the Commune for revolutionaries. In the kind of world that we live in today, however, the seeming absurdity of adhering to Marx's position on the necessity of simultaneity of such an enormous number of countries makes it all the more likely that revolutionists are going to downplay that most important of Marx's lessons of the Commune, and perhaps hope that no one else catches on to it, like I just did.
Your last sentence of this point raises a very important issue. I thought that the development of capitalism in Europe and America was going to throw all of the West into the same kind of crisis that would spark the simultaneous revolutions. I'll have to look up a reference for that, but it seems like an obvious corollary to his other theories. Do you know of a reference to the contrary, or in support?
You mentioned that 'Marx spent so much time looking for new passions and new forces of revolution to enable the revolution, wherever it first broke out, to succeed.' Where is the evidence for his looking for new forces and passions*? A reference, please.
* 2002 note: To answer my own question, it can be found towards the end of Capital (me35.749): "At a certain stage of development it brings forth the material agencies for its own dissolution. From that moment new forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society; but the old social organisation fetters them and keeps them down. It must be annihilated; it is annihilated." (End of note.)
8. This point becomes number 7 in the updated version.
You were right about my not having looked at the material that you are thankfully more familiar with, for it certainly helps me to get my arguments into shape. With that in mind, I think that you will find my new point 7 more satisfactory.
9. This point becomes number 8 in the updated version.
Capital accumulation need not occur to the present extent if the working class decided to withhold their services from the labor market. It's as easy for us to think about doing that as it is for business and government to plot to deregulate hours of labor so as to speed capital accumulation, forcing us into a situation more like that of the early part of the last century, before regulating hours of labor at all. It's difficult for people to find the right thing to do, for we are divided among ourselves over what's best, so many of us having been influenced to think that capital accumulation cannot be slowed, short of revolution. But, revolution is an absurd 'solution' flowing from the incorrect conclusion that we can't peacefully put brakes on capital accumulation.
I still see no reason to change what I wrote. Did you imply that people have little to no respect for private ownership of means of production? Where is the evidence? Is there a large portion of society that does not respect it? I need some data. Are you sure that it is not just a handful of leftists who presently think that way? If the Russians hadn't recently lost respect for state ownership, they wouldn't have allowed for so many things to be privatized. I can't imagine 'Joe Six-Pack' going along with an assault on American notions of private property.
10. This point becomes number 9 in the updated version.
I think that you raise a good point here, for taxing people has been interpreted by quite a few as an assault upon private property. Property taxes can be interpreted as more confiscatory than the income tax, however, since the latter is not applied until it can be shown that there is gain derived from capital, or from the confluence of labor with capital, and Reagan gave the rich more income tax loopholes than ever, whereas property taxes can apply to totally 'unproductive' property, causing ownership thereof to result in a net loss.
I guess that the kind of assault upon the institution of private ownership that I was driving at was that, before the Civil War, there may not have been many restrictions upon the kinds of things that people could own. It may not have been possible to own navigable rivers or lakes, the air that we breathe, or maybe some other identifiable things, but it was possible to own human beings, and to treat them the way a slave master wanted to treat them, and to deny them rights that were afforded to white males.
Taking away a form of ownership, no matter how immoral ownership of people came to be regarded, has to be orders of magnitude more difficult than taxing an entity that in some instances cannot even be taxed until gain or profit can be proven to occur. A lot of my arguments depend not so much upon differences as absolute as between apples and oranges as they do upon pointing out orders of magnitudes of difficulties of various tasks. The relative difficulty of changing ownership of means of production vs. the relative ease of putting everyone to work through shorter hours is the reef upon which socialist revolutionism goes aground. Nearly every social difficulty in this country that socialists regularly complain about can be better fixed by putting everyone to work than by revolution. The immediate effect of revolution is to merely raise another class to power, which will then proceed to fatten itself at the expense of workers, and may not get around to legislating shorter hours until forced to do so by us rioting in the street over many of the same old issues. Socialism doesn't carry anywhere near the money-back guarantee that 'less work' does.
As so many property owners presently sue over various 'takings' that have occurred in the interests of preserving the environment, or certain species, it's a wonder that descendants of slave owners are not now suing the government for compensation for it having taken away their 'right' to own slaves, unless they already have. It is a very sad world we live in.
11. This point becomes number 10 in the updated version.
My reference for the abolition of property in land in Russia was a statement from Lenin's "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky", where Lenin wrote (LCW 28, pp. 313-4):
"On October 26, 1917, i.e., on the very first day of the proletarian, socialist revolution, private ownership of land was abolished in Russia."
If that didn't mean what Lenin wrote, I guess that I've been fooled once again, for the umpteenth time in my little life. Actual documentation just may prove that to be so, for all I know.
Thank you for the additional information about Stalin's measures. Does the information detract from what Lenin wrote, or the way that I used it? I was only trying to make a rather general point about the ease with which property can be nationalized without compensation after socialist revolutions. What you wrote about 'abolishing private ownership over people in urban as well as rural sectors' interested me. Does that mean that slavery existed then? Please let me know what the significance of your information might be.
12. This point becomes number 11 in the updated version.
There might still be a role for bourgeois-democratic revolutions in the world, though I'm not sure exactly where. I heard somewhere at some time that there are still countries, as in the heart of Africa, that could use bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Surely replacing the Mobutu monarchy with a republic would be a step forward for Zaire. If the new republic never expressed a single socialist sentiment, that would still be a step forward. That sentiment goes back to Marx, where he advised French workers after establishing France's 3rd Republic not to do anything foolish, and to use their democracy to further their development. The same need for democracy goes for getting rid of Milosevic in Serbia, and installing a government that respects election outcomes. There is still lots of room for basic democracy in this world, and lots of room for establishing democracies without simultaneously trying to install administrations that want to change property relations the way Marx and Engels wanted.
Though not really a classical bourgeois-democratic revolution, the change in South Africa that finally got them to a 'one-man, one vote' kind of republic was a big step forward. Whites figured out that blacks would win their fight eventually, so if whites were to be foolish enough to hold out for too long, victorious blacks might possibly want to socialize white property as well, so it was better for them to make a deal to keep it, even if it meant giving up some political power. Whites held on to as much as they could for as long as they could, but were not so stupid as to be so intransigent as to cause themselves to lose everything.
For centuries, the bourgeoisie has shown itself to be democratic, right up to Kerensky, Sun-Yat-Sen, and Ghandi in this century, at the very least. Even Clinton restored the Aristide republic. But, let us not forget what Marx wrote in the '18th Brumaire' about the republic signifying 'in general only the political form of revolution of bourgeois society, and not its conservative form of life.' (MESW I, p. 405) So many of Marx's observations were potent, and this one was based upon observing so many new bourgeois republics paving the way for the restoration of monarchies. But, it was felt that the revolution could be made permanent by pushing new republics through to proletarian dictatorship.
I know very little about Iran. I probably know more about the kinds of torture that the Shah's police practiced than the kind of government that exists there now. I wish I wasn't so ignorant about their situation, but don't know if a crash course in anything about Iran would have much relevance to what needs to happen here and now. I also remember the relief that was expressed over getting rid of the Shah, though it rapidly became apparent that the new regime was not going to turn out to be all that much better. But, did Lenin or Stalin produce much to gloat over? Which socialist revolutions were so spectacularly successful that leftists in democracies wanted to make carbon copies of them for their own countries? Except for leftists in small sects who wanted just that, like the CPUSA, I guess, but small sects always seem to make themselves irrelevant to either the masses, or to correct thinking in general.
If I could read your sentence backward to you, it seems hard to believe that 'Marx always projected ... the IMMEDIATE passage from the bourgeois-democratic to the socialist stage ...'. In the literature, I never found the socialist stage to be the immediate outcome of bourgeois revolution that you seem to have suggested there was. Rather, I usually found Marx and/or Engels talking of variable periods of time between the establishment of bourgeois democracies and the establishment of red republics. After the French Third Republic was established, it took six months before the Commune was born. I'd be interested in further explanation of what you said, or some references that I could be pointed to. At the end of 'Principles of Communism' (MESW I, pp. 96-7), the only thing that changes, as the immediate result of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, is the enemy of the proletariat, who changes from the feudal nobility to the bourgeoisie, which situation, in theory, is then better resolved in a red republic, but which would take some time to create.
13. This point becomes number 12 in the updated version.
That was a good point that you made there, and I admit to a rather severe ignorance of that history of Italy. Did Marx or Engels write about that particular aspect of Italian revolutionary history?
14. This point becomes number 13 in the updated version.
I think you were right about the scope of my scenario as appearing to be too grand, and so the new point 13 restricts the scope of the scenario to Europe. On re-reading Engels 'On Social Relations in Russia', I reviewed the point you made about Marx projecting a possibility of an entirely different course of development in Russia.
Re: "never again with the bourgeoisie": I re-read the Speech to the Communist League, and it reconfirmed my suspicions of the uneasiness of the alliance between the communists and the democrats, but nowhere did the speech come out with anything as black and white as "never again with the bourgeoisie". In fact, the very word 'again' seems to imply that the proletariat had once before done something with the bourgeoisie, who messed things up for the proletariat, after which the proletariat decided 'never again'. So, was there an event where they collaborated together? Did that 'never again' refer to workers mindlessly replacing monarchies with bourgeois democratic republics without putting forward their own agendas and programs for that republic? Or with workers failing to ensure that republics turn out to be socially controlled, as well as democratic? Your answer could contain some valuable information for me.
15. This point becomes number 14 in the updated version.
I'm glad that you could agree. The new point 14 contains yet another quote to benefit anarchists who always seem to deny the republicanism of Marx and Engels, and ends with a work about fighting in the streets. See if you can still agree with it.
16. This point becomes number 15 in the updated version.
Thanks to the criticism that I received over this one, the new point 15 differentiates between the kind of revolutionary initiative that Marx found plenty of in the Commune with the kind of initiative that Engels found wanting, i.e., the Communards' failure to take over the bank, while Marx faulted the Communards for failing to restrain reactionary trouble-makers. Let me know if the new version still fails to pass muster.
17. This point becomes number 16 in the updated version.
I'm glad that you enjoyed Marx on the differences between red and bourgeois republicanism. The new point 16 adds an extra line to drive the point home.
18. This point becomes number 17 in the updated version, which seems to have text identical to the old one.
With regard to the term '"forceful" revolution': I never used it myself, having written instead: "forceful replacement of feudal monarchies", which to me is an amplification of the word 'revolution' as it applied to parts of the continent of Europe in the last century. To me the word revolution already implies the use of force to replace old regimes with new ones. If no force is required, then either the old regime takes a hike and is peacefully replaced, or else there are elections, or democratic reforms, as we in the West are familiar with. The worst offenders are people, like in the SLP, who assert that such an animal as a peaceful revolution can exist.
Absolute monarchies are, by definition, non-democratic. Being non-democratic, the only way in which change can take place is by violently replacing intransigent administrations (that cannot be peacefully modified) with democratic administrations that can be peacefully modified.
Perhaps the question of how many feudal monarchies were around in Marx's day can best be answered (or not answered) by instead trying to count the number of democracies. Of these can be included - depending upon the year - the USA, England, Holland (perhaps), Switzerland, and Iceland. At various times in the last century, France and Germany went through stages of red republicanism, bourgeois republicanism, and monarchies whose degree of absolute rule varied with time. The rest mostly seem to have been considered by Marx and Engels to be feudal monarchies, but some were considered to be other forms of state, or forms of non-state that may have been ripe for colonial conquest. I'm not sure how deep we have to go with this to get to where we have to go, but if you have a list or chart that shows what forms of state what countries enjoyed in what years, feel free to share. I'd love to have such a list.
If 'Marx left the door open as to the specific form by which "democratic" regimes would be overthrown', I guess that means that he specified revolution for democracies, but I can't find him advocating overthrowing any of the specific democracies of his time. But, he does seem to have a rather general theory of revolution for all of the advanced capitalist countries, feudal or democratic. The most economically advanced countries certainly seem to have corresponded to the most democratic, where, at the Hague Congress of 1872, a peaceful establishment of socialism was expressed as a possibility.
Now I think that I understand what you were driving at in your first sentence. Yes, I do feel safe in asserting that, to Marx, overthrowing monarchies was appropriate activity for workers to engage in, and that peaceful change, or evolution, was appropriate in democracies. In other words, he thought that a workers' party in America, for instance, could get elected on its program of putting the property of the rich in the hands of a state with a proletarian party at its helm. Whether or not that would be the start of a civil war is open for speculation. Maybe when everything that has been buried for so long in the archives finally gets printed in a language I can understand, we may know for sure. At the rate at which things are not being published, I do not expect to find out in my lifetime. If the liberation of the lower classes depended upon us learning what Marx was really all about, we would be enslaved for quite a while longer than what our inventive spirit might otherwise do for us.
The question that Marx addressed at the 1872 Hague Congress doesn't seem like the question of replacing bourgeois democracies with workers' democracies. Rather, it seems more like the question of replacing capitalism with socialism, peacefully or violently, and where. I once found it easy to confuse 'the replacement of capitalism with socialism' with 'the replacement of bourgeois states with workers states'. Earlier than that, in the more vulgar revolutionism I espoused, the question of replacing monarchies with democracies was barely a factor, mostly due to the fact that replacing monarchies with democracies was presented as a purely bourgeois agenda, instead of as something that would interest workers as well. But, we learn, do we not? Especially from the First International.
Marx said that socialism could peacefully replace capitalism in democracies. The reason for violent replacements of capitalism with socialism on the continent was due to* the presence of intransigent monarchies there. Since the first step in the victory of the proletariat was the establishment of democracy, that meant the violent overthrow of intransigent monarchies. As Engels wrote to Paul Lafargue in Paris on March 6, 1994 (MESC, p. 447):
"With respect to the proletariat the republic differs from the monarchy only in that it is the ready-for-use political form for the future rule of the proletariat. You are at an advantage compared with us in already having it; we for our part shall have to spend twenty-four hours to make it."
* 2002 note: 'Replacing capitalism with socialism' wasn't what Marx said. Furthermore, 'replacing capitalism with socialism' is vague enough to militate against great orations on that subject matter. (End of note.)
Spending those 24 hours to make democracy, as in Germany, was THE task for so many workers living under feudal monarchies on the continent of Europe. It wasn't particularly easy for me to understand this important aspect of Marxism, for the whole subject has either been denied, glossed over, or falsified by one pMM after another. While writing my book (that refutes the lies and denials of the SLP), I had to go over the research over and over again before I felt comfortable with it. I don't expect too many others to be able to fully understand it without a certain amount of exposure to the arguments. So, take your time. Don't just take my word for it, and do your own research if you think it's worth the time.
So, why overthrow democracies? It's socialism that workers supposedly want, on which platform they can win the election* in any democracy, according to Marx. On the other hand, Engels wrote in his Dec. 18, 1889 letter to Trier (MESC, p. 386):
"We are agreed on this: that the proletariat cannot conquer political power, the only door to the new society, without violent revolution."
* 2002 note: Win an American election by running on a socialist platform? Nothing in democratic theory prevents it from happening, but it will never happen in practice. Some overtly socialist parties won a mere 0.2% of the vote in some recent elections. (End of note.)
If the only type of 'new society' worth fighting for is one in which the rich have been divorced from their property by means of proletarian dictatorship, then the violent overthrow of any kind of bourgeois-dominated states, democratic or dictatorial, surely has to be the order of the day.
Engels in 1890 obviously excluded elections and reforms as the path to socialism when he said that violent revolution was the only door to the new society, while Marx in 1872 said that workers in democracies 'may achieve their goal' peacefully. Marx therefore has to be the father of what is popularly called 'Social-Democracy', or reformism for democracies, as well as the father of proletarian revolution. So, who do you want to believe? This is a real contradiction between M+E, and between Marx 1 and Marx 2. You, as a revolutionary, might want to choose to believe Engels in this instance. The contradiction enabled all kinds of different people to take M+E out of one context or another to build movements that also contradict one another, which is one of the reasons why I claim that M+E are only partially useful to honest efforts to create a new society. I wouldn't reject either of them totally for making mistakes based upon not having lived long enough to determine just what people are willing to do to create measures of social justice for themselves. If they had been able to survive until Lenin did everything he could to get Western workers to overthrow their democracies in favor of supporting the Bolsheviks, they might have been better able to refine their theories. If they had been able to hang around until the fall of what's vulgarly described as communism, they certainly would have reassessed their program of ripping off the property of the rich. But communists who are still making a buck promoting communism won't be able to reassess communism. They still have to make a living, so may never reassess the ideology that keeps them going, and which still can attract a follower or two.
I think that one plausible reason that M+E could contradict themselves and/or each other was that they might have been in the process of searching their souls on this issue. Marx was right, and he was wrong. He was right about workers being able do things in democracies that they could perhaps only dream about doing in monarchies, while he was wrong about workers in democracies being peacefully able to take away the property of the rich, which is why Lenin had to help him out a little*, as in V. 28, p. 238, but which argument did nothing for me. Lenin as well ignored the significance of our Civil War on the question of trying to change property relations. Look at how hard our South fought to preserve as immoral a form of property ownership as ownership of other people. If that's how hard they were willing to fight to preserve slavery, how could property owners be expected to play dead over the issue of property ownership in general? Didn't any of them know about the enthusiasm of land rushes? M, E and Lenin knew about our history. Why couldn't they have added 2 and 2 and predicted the difficulty of changing ownership of means of production in a country that looks upon private property as nearly inviolable, no matter if it was during Marx's time or in Lenin's time?
* 2002 note: My mistake. Instances of M+E speculating about workers expropriating after an election, or even after overthrowing a monarchy, appear to be non-existent. Expropriation seemed to lie solely within the realm of the proletarian dictatorship, which can arrive only after winning political power, peacefully or violently. (End of note.)
The unlikelihood of a Marxist-Leninist agenda for this country is the reason why people never discuss revolutionary theory the way we are presently doing, for revolutionary theory for this country at this time is mostly irrelevant. On the other hand, it was a real item for Europe in the last century, when revolution, and getting rid of feudal monarchies, was still the order of the day for Germany, Russia, and so many other countries around them. Is it now? Not everywhere, and certainly not in the Social-Democracies.
There would be no theoretical problem with a worker's party getting elected in democracies if they didn't have expropriation of the upper classes in their program (which is why the British Labor Party is getting rid of nationalization, even with compensation). If expropriation made any sense in the USA, then so many parties, like even the SLP I was a member of during the 70's, would have more of a following than what they presently do. The fact is that Joe Six-Pack doesn't want to have anything to do with a program that takes away the property of the rich, and doesn't even want to tax them. The socialist cause doesn't have much hope in this country, and is why socialist parties now concentrate more on affirmative action, racism, union struggles, upper crust scandals, government and corporate crimes against the people and the planet, the environment, etc. These are all important issues, without which the radical left would have little relevance at all. But, there is all too little connection between the problems of this country and 'having to overthrow the government', or 'having to do away with capitalism', for, any one of us, well, most of us in this country, could theoretically get elected to government, and we could far more easily share what little work that has yet to be taken over by automation than we could overthrow the government, which, in this country, is nearly the same thing as overthrowing ourselves. Joe Six-Pack can little more be enticed into joining a party of socialist expropriation than he could be enticed into going back to being ruled by the King of England. Socialism was for less developed countries in the old days.
If the Marxist theory of revolution had not been so unfit for democracies from the beginning, Marx would not have had to compound its difficulties in 1872 by proposing his alleged 'peaceful transition to socialism* in democracies'. His 1872 statement nailed the lid on the coffin of expropriation, which is why you never find revolutionaries taking lessons from it. Many hardly acknowledge the 1872 statement's existence at all.
* 2002 note: Instead of socialism, it should read 'political power'. (End of note.)
Because of the innate weaknesses of taking away the property of the rich, it was easy for people to make of socialism whatever they wanted, and for people like Höchberg, Lassalle, Bakunin and others to attract followings of their own, in spite of all of the protests and exposures by 'scientific socialists'. But, frankly, I'm a little or a lot ignorant of the history of why socialists are so hung up on taking away the property of the rich. Maybe you could point me in the direction of where to look for that philosophical answer that I suspect has to go back to before Marx's time.
For now, I take the position that, if ripping off the property of the rich is the goal of someone's movement, then that movement had better be in possession of the power of the state, that is, in control of the guns. That seems to be what history has shown. If, on the other hand, the goal of the movement is merely seeing to it that what little work that remains for people to do can be shared by the whole working class, then anything more highly evolved than an absolute monarchy, a dictatorship, or any other form of totalitarianism, may enable workers to share the remaining work.
If we based a new society on ensuring that what little productive work that remains gets shared by the entire working class, that would represent lots of new relations of production. Competition between workers for scarce jobs could be replaced by competition between bosses for scarce workers. Workers could be freed to boycott jobs that do not support life, enabling workers' control of what is produced. Far less alienation. Much more time to enjoy life. Limitations on surplus values. Not a bad world to live in. For those at the bottom, it would be a much better world than this one. But, revolutionaries might object on the basis of being deprived of their revolution.
19. This point becomes number 18 in the updated version, and contains a few more words than the original point 19, but neither version answers the questions that you raise.
I think that you are right about Marx having no illusion about a few socialist deputies establishing socialism. Even before the era of long-lasting socialist state power, M+E indicated that there would be problems with socialists merely taking posts in Western European governments that were becoming increasingly democratic. So, it begs the question of what an elected American socialist government would be able to do (as opposed to a socialist government that came about by violent overthrow). Probably no more than the kinds of reforms like what they passed in Europe, like a cradle-to-grave welfare system, or nationalizations with compensation, which surely isn't the kind of socialism that could be established in a real red republic, as in socialists pushing a newly formed democracy through to proletarian dictatorship, as in Russia, or after liberating a colony like Cuba. We seem to agree with the differences between what's possible after taking state power vs. after winning mere elections. I am glad that this doesn't seem to be an issue.
I'd hate to think that all I've been doing is trying to lay down 'universal strategies and laws' that all nations will have to obey or pass through. If that's all it looks like, then so far I must have truly failed in my mission, so I hope that the present positions will help persuade you otherwise. I hope that all of the talk of the crisis in socialism, even in your own literature, will convince you of the sincerity of at least some efforts to get to the bottom of the problems in socialism. I wish that I had the option in my life of being lazy intellectually or physically. If you think that I sometimes repeat dogma, it may be because I have so little time to devote to my studies and writings that I sometimes make mistakes. That is why I choose to dialogue with socialists, so that my critique of socialism will not be able to be critiqued as shallow. We will not get very far with the liberation of the working class if we cannot take this task seriously enough to make honest efforts to educate one other. You could help me to be true to Marx's intent.
When it comes to laying down universal laws and schemas each nation must go through, perhaps it could be argued that Marx himself was guilty of that very thing. Marx observed workers fighting alongside the bourgeoisie to replace old monarchies with new republics. Engels fought in revolutionary struggles in Germany for that very thing. The red agenda was plausible under the circumstance of workers helping to overthrow monarchies, and keeping guns that would [later] enable them to take away the property of the rich. After helping the bourgeoisie win democracies, reds would lead workers to take the power of the state for themselves, and to use the power of new workers' states to put the means of production into the hands of workers' states. I believe that to be the desired scenario.
In neighboring countries that were already democratic enough for workers not to want to overthrow them, and with no need for the bourgeoisie to arm workers to overthrow monarchies, and with only the moral force of elections of workers' parties, workers' parties would not be able to vote the property of the rich away from them, but yet we find the Marxist program of taking away the property of the rich seemingly being applied by Marxists to all of the West, feudal or democratic, and to democracies where little to no possibility of carrying through the program of revolutionary socialism exists. Workers overthrow democracies? Not too often. Workers have more often organized to help create democracies rather than to overthrow them, except maybe in Chile in the early '70's. That was a weird case, and perhaps you might want to comment on it.
This is why Marx's program is dead here, having never made sense in democracies, and with little to no chance of ever being implemented again, as the past century of establishing democracies in one country after another gains even more ground. But, both Marx and Marxists laid down a general law of expropriation that they would have liked to apply to democracies as much as it at one time could only have applied after overthrowing monarchies, as in Russia, or after liberating colonies, as in Africa. It should be as plain to you now as has been to me for awhile that the Marxist program of taking away the property of the rich in democracies was flawed from the beginning, failed the test of universality, and should have been recognized a long time ago as only partially useful for a relatively short period of time, but not for the lowest classes, who always get the short end of the stick. In more democratic countries, measures for social justice that make sense to highly productive economies must be sought, and can be found by examining struggles of working people that have already been waged for two centuries. Marxists should observe and take lessons from the battle over the regulation of hours that is occurring in California and in the nation's capital right at this very moment, a battle in which the bosses want deregulation and longer hours, while labor wants at least to preserve what it won in past battles. This is a differentiation in interests that we should all take note of, and act upon with workers' interests at heart.
There is a certain tension between shorter
hours and socialism. If workers are not allowed to put forth their
own program of shorter hours that would give them the time to
get more involved in political affairs, then they will necessarily
be more exploited by the bosses, and subject as well to ideologies
that seemingly guarantee a quick fix to their problems, viz.,
revolutionary socialism. That is why socialists cannot help but
deride and scoff at shorter hours, for socialists know that shorter
hours provides enough justice to
prevent growth of the kind of revolutionary sentiment that supposedly
drives workers to revolt, just as
the passage of the 10 Hours Bill
of 1847 helped make English workers the most bourgeois in the
world in the 1850's.
20. The new point 19 is perhaps a little more concise than the old.
The accusation of having created a straw man cuts deep, for I have already had to refute the straw man that Daniel De Leon of the SLP set up long ago. DDL pointed out how wasteful it would be for the working class to set itself up as a separate army to try to defeat the army belonging to the upper classes. His solution to his 'army combat' straw man was his equally unworkable Socialist Industrial Union program that had no basis in Marxism, or in history, in spite of the SLP's quotes from Marx out of context in seeming justification. So, I have at least a little experience with straw men, so I wonder what it was in what I wrote that you considered to be one.
Socialist governments didn't exist in Marx's day the way they came to rule in the 20th century. The red republics that existed during his day didn't last for more than a few hours, days or weeks, and didn't have any time or breathing room in which to embark on a truly socialist path. I think that M+E had enough of a feel for what was possible after elections vs. after taking state power. Their sense of what state power would have enabled socialists to do enabled them to critique what was passing for socialist movements in Europe in their day. They saw many socialists backing down from a real revolutionary agenda and going toward opportunism and reformism, for the rise of democracy in Europe turned into a good enough reason for many socialists to reject revolution, but M+E might have been uneasy about accepting the consequences of increasing democratization on the prospects of revolution. I think that a tremendous mass of confusion prevailed in those early days of socialism in Europe.
Lenin critiqued it all from a revolutionary perspective, taking a real hard line against reformism without detecting the possibility that the West could evolve programs that made more sense in the West than what they would have made in less-developed economies. The shorter hour movement has always expressed the natural solidarity of ever-more productive Western workers who were being put out of work by machines, and has been fought for in the USA even after it was denied to us in the 30's, after which we needed cradle to grave welfare to take up the slack that shorter hours by itself would have more naturally provided. The welfare state was no gift. It was reactionary in comparison to what was foremost on labor's agenda in the 30's. But, revolutionaries have yet to consider shorter hours to be anything more than just another crummy reform. Engels was certainly at least partly responsible for that socialist attitude, if his letters dug up in point 29 are any indication. I don't think he realized what evil his attitude would go on to generate, for I remain convinced that what M+E did and wrote was always sincerely done in the interests of the workers. Not so with our modern-day cynical revolutionists of the SLP who even admit in the rarefied atmosphere of their inner circles that what they have to offer is no better than bullshit. I was there in the '70's and was invited to shut up, enjoy my life, and to not rock the boat. How can the innermost bureaucracies of other revolutionary movements be anything but cynical? I used to think that bureaucracy and revolutionism were inimical, but unhappily learned that they are complementary, along with secrecy and censorship. It can't be any other way, which is why revolutionary movements can't help but make one 'mistake' after another. Movements whose chief functions are to preserve themselves and their ideologies cannot possibly make themselves useful to workers by teaching and practicing internal democracy.
Perhaps your straw-man thesis came about due to the flaw in how I thought through this particular point. I may very well have been guilty of mixing my issues like apples and oranges. Let me see if I can do better:
It can probably be stated that M+E very well projected differences between what was possible after taking state power vs. after winning mere elections; in that case, there goes the first half of the point I was trying to make. Kaput. Now what do I do? What was I really trying to say?
Part of the problem that I had, and which may have caused me to write something that was quite wrong, was that M+E may never have stated the difference between the two situations in the same manner that I just have, i.e., in juxtaposition, all in the same sentence or paragraph, so the evidence for them making such distinctions may be relatively obscure. If you know where I could go for some quick references in their works that would elucidate that issue, that would help. It could also be that the issue might have been a mere shadow player in people's consciousnesses back in the last century, so that clues to the attitudes of M+E may continue to have to be gathered in dribs and drabs. I can find no references to what I would like to see in the volumes of Selected Works, or in the Selected Correspondence, so the lack of an easy reference played a big role in creating a problem for me.
The next big problem with both of the ways in which I worded that point, both old and new, was that the second half of the sentence didn't logically follow the first half.* Tossing out the first half, which I think both of us will agree is very likely to be wrong, the second half then has to be dealt with, and I think that it is solid enough for me to stand by it, starting with the part "given his [Marx's] observation ...". Until I hear otherwise, I will stick with the second half. If we can agree on its validity, then it might fit better if it is integrated into the new point 23.
* 2002 note: Was I merely being too conciliatory? I don't see anything wrong with the original point #20 from the letter above from Dec. 15, 1996. (End of note.)
21. The updated point 20 contains pretty much the same
content as the old point 21.
I have little doubt that the alliance you mention had far more to do, on a concrete level, with the failure to extend the Civil War than any amount of respect commoners might have had for our rather widespread ownership of property. At the same time, could anyone deny that the political will to extend the Civil War for the benefit of the former slaves did not exist in sufficient quantity? If Americans had been more communistic, and/or less racist in attitudes, maybe the expropriation of the plantations would have been possible. But you're probably familiar enough with the argument around having to deal with human material as we find it, instead of merely wishing that we were something that we show little sign of becoming. It must be especially disconcerting to socialists to occasionally run into people who had been socialists at one time, but who no longer are. Is it the fault of the individuals, or the fault of the 'ism? That is one of the questions we should seek to answer as intelligently and unemotionally as possible. I have little interest in becoming another David Horowitz, for now at least. I sometimes wonder if the possible frustration of trying to pursue conversations with socialists will turn me into a D.H.
A unique part of the American dream has been the opportunity for such a vast proportion of commoners to set up their own businesses or farms, own their own homes, cars, etc. Consequently, we have as vast an amount of respect for private property as there are property owners. Private property seems to be as highly valued as democracy. American success was built upon those two. Or was it something else? It seems as though our interest in democracy is declining as rapidly as opportunities to acquire property are disappearing. What we do about those declines is the big question.
22. Similarly worded is the new point 21.
You must indeed have read over that point quickly, for it stated that "Private ownership of small amounts of land and means of production is widely regarded as a good thing ... ". I never wrote or implied that there was anything wrong with owning small amounts of land. I'm sure that you will quickly recognize that what you wrote was a mistake.
It is true that I have yet to discuss anything as abstract as 'transformations in production relations'. I prefer to stick with more concrete instances of transformations, such as creating such an artificial shortage of labor as to make prostitution to the money-bags a thing of the past. If, in our contact with the public, we can't stick to more concrete examples of what we mean by transformations, then there is a good chance that we may thus fail to reach anyone with our visions of new kinds of human relations.
With regard to failing to take into account various levels of violence required to do different tasks, it may be just like Arnold Petersen, the past National Secretary of the SLP from '15 to '68 said, even though he lied about most of everything else. Here is a quote with a possible grain of truth. Petersen was an anarchist disguised as a socialist, which is why smashing states appealed to him, though, like so many other revolutionaries, he never addressed the question of 'Which states shall we smash? Monarchies or republics?' Petersen wrote:
"Marx clearly realized the true nature of the proletarian revolution, ... clearly saw that the proletariat ... must smash up the old State machinery, [but] he failed (or did not think it necessary at the time) to take into account the development of a situation much more radically different from the seventies than the seventies were from 1847."
I used to think that everything Petersen wrote was a lie, but some of his brashest statements turned out to have grains of truth in them. With regard to American conditions, and considering the amount of force it took to abolish as immoral a form of ownership as private ownership of people, Marx had to have failed to take into account a real lesson that can be gleaned from the Civil War when he projected the possibility of Americans adopting socialism without a violent revolution. Our Civil War happened in his time, and he wrote about it, but he failed to take into account the different amounts of force it would take to abolish the private ownership of people vs. the private ownership of all means of production when he made his famous statement at the 1872 Hague Congress. All subsequent history has shown a glaring problem with 'peacefully getting to socialism [should read 'political power'] in democracies'. Does N+L deal with the possibilities of limitations to Marx? Or, was he considered perfect? Please enumerate the limitations you recognize.
23-27. These are now numbered from 22-26.
New points 22 and 23 may very well be repetitive, and could very well be dropped or recombined in a final draft, but they set the stage for the new point 24 (old 25), the logic of which hopefully drew upon the better portions of logic presented in the first 23 points. The first sentence of new point 24 contains my logical pièce de resistance, which you didn't mention at all.
28. This is now the new point 27.
I never suspected that a handful of revolutionists, socialists, communists and anarchists could be considered the extent of the masses. I was referring to about 100 million or more in the work force, while leftists constitute how many? One million? Ten mill?
I was sorry to see that you were unwilling to acknowledge the major split between communist and anarchist revolutionism, or to say anything about how reformism draws revolutionary sentiment away. If there is anything that is going on within the left, these splits can truly be said to be major things. Why not acknowledge them? I truly don't understand why you didn't. There's a sky up there, and the sky is blue, but it doesn't hurt to say that it's blue unless people would much rather have it be green. Similarly, revolutionaries would rather not have the split between revolutionists exist, for splits cannot help but retard revolutionism. Denial of the splits won't make them go away, will it? Valuable steps to take include: acknowledge, analyze, and dissolve the splits.
Secondly, how could anything I wrote there be interpreted as 'blaming the masses for failing to make the revolution', when I don't even think that the real masses will ever be revolutionary enough to make one? If not stated outright, that position of mine could probably have been deciphered from between the lines.
If anyone needs to be blamed for not making the revolution, it is the left (not the masses) who ought to be blamed for not being able to lead the masses down a single plausible revolutionary path, not that I'm advocating doing such. The left cannot decide whether to make a communist revolution, an anarchist revolution, or to simply go on reforming the system. But, blaming anyone for anything is way down the road from where we ought to be at the present moment, which is 'doing the close and painful investigation of why we don't cohere more closely to any kind of plausible program of change, revolutionary or otherwise, than what we do.' Let us first work on this task and figure out if and why revolutionism in democracies is misguided.
You mentioned that, rather than blame the masses, my contribution might be more positive if I instead dealt with 'problems in revolutionary movements/theories which can help to get us to [a revolution]'. Are there N+L publications that list or identify those problems? Perhaps I can help, but only if I am also aware of what the organization suspects that these problems might consist of. Would the anarchist-communist revolutionary split make it to the list? Or is that considered to be only a minor problem? I can't imagine it being considered not a problem at all.
29. This is pretty much the same as the new point 28.
I know that you can't possibly think that I 'define revolution in terms of changing property relations alone', for changing property relations is a post-revolutionary program, but so far only in less-developed countries, and in the past. My arguments show that I think that, in history, revolution, for the most part, was for bringing democracy and independence to where it didn't exist before. Modern revolutionaries may think they can easily change or adapt the term revolution to mean proletarian emancipation, or anything else they want it to mean, but how successful can they be in changing anyone's minds? Probably no more successful than anarchists have been in convincing communists that Marx projected only one conceivable stage of socialism or communism, viz., classless, stateless society. Or no more successful than anarchists who constantly try to convince the masses that socialism does not mean the state.
Somewhere, either M or E stated, approximately, at least, 'the abolition of capital is precisely the social revolution' [me44.307]. The abolition of capital is probably inseparable from, and identical to, "wresting, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie ...". As a social revolution, it is a process, rather than a heroic overthrow of a monarchy, or a liberation of a colony. Just as the expropriation of the land from English peasants was described as a social revolution [by Marx].
How many people come up to you on the street on any given day and tell you that progressives or revolutionaries should transform all conditions in which humanity materializes its essence in alienated opposition to itself? I'll bet that you will find many more on the sidelines simply asking for spare change. The latter people are the ones that I would like to be able to do something for, while the former people probably do well enough for themselves, financially. Securing liberation in all spheres of everyday life for me is a long-term goal, but is like putting the cart well before the horse to try to bring about immediately. I think that what makes a movement effective is that it can be guided by long-term goals at the same time as it takes care of more immediate concerns (MESW I, p. 136), such as seeing that the whole working class gets to share what little work that remains for people to do, which immediately and simultaneously reduces class distinctions. And, this struggle can be fought out in the present day state, in this democratic republic, which is the only form of state in which these particular battles can be fought out (MESW III, p. 27, middle of page).
Marxism needs to be observed in the context of the century in which it developed. If parts of it don't serve me well in this century, then I don't use those particular parts. It stands to reason that a philosophy that half the world adopted at one time should have something going for it. To preserve that part of it, and to define what is valid about Marxism in the first place is a good practical task. For Marxism to be suddenly discredited in the eyes of half the world shows that there has to be problems with it as well. To define those problems so that we do not allow them to be what guides our daily activities is surely a worthwhile task for intellectuals everywhere. This particular exercise can be an embarkation point for that task if we allow it to be, and don't just declare ourselves unilaterally to be the winner. Feel free to breathe some life into this. The proletariat demands it of us, for they are overworked and don't have the time to think in the depth that we try to.
30. This can certainly look like nonsense if the previous 29 points were disagreed with in substance. Was the whole point nonsense, or just parts of it? It would help me if you would identify the most egregious errors, and also if you would identify the parts that were worse than others.
If Marx and Engels hated state power, why did they advocate that workers take it into their own hands? Lust might be too strong a word to express their advocacy. Would you settle for 'advocate'? How else could workers wrest capital from the bourgeoisie other than by possessing state power? If, in order to do a certain task, one must have a certain thing, then one might as well want that certain thing. And how can you want something that you don't even like? Why take state power unless you intend to take away the prized and precious property away from the bourgeoisie without compensation? Nearly every other task can be implemented as reforms in a democracy. I thought that Engels well answered the anarchists when he wrote that (MESW II, p. 356) ".. each political party sets out to establish its rule in the state". It wasn't I who came up with the program of taking away the property of the rich, or with having to take state power in order to do it. Even though I don't think that the program applies to the USA, I'm trying to figure out what revolutionary socialism really is, or was, so that we can figure out whether it is relevant to what's happening today. Isn't that a worthwhile task? There are almost as many renditions of socialism as there are socialists, and the same can be said about the word revolution.
I must plead ignorance about Marx's issue with Lassalle on the question of state power. Where do I find the argument? Your seeming critique of state power has me wondering if you sufficiently differentiate between a workers' state and a bourgeois state. I think that Marx wanted to see workers' state power.
You mentioned hate twice in your first two sentences. That is the same number of times in the Selected Correspondence (p. 65 and 284) that Engels tied hate to the alleged proletarian agenda. He spoke of rallying hatred in order to make the revolution, and in yet another place mentioned that revolutionary times were no times for tenderness. On the other hand, sharing what little work that remains for people to do is based upon love and compassion, wouldn't you agree? You have to love your fellow man to want them to be as well stocked with work as what they need to be in order for them all to make a living. In a democracy, we can let love be our motive force, and need not overthrow the government, or rally hate, to do it.
I'm glad that you finally found something interesting at the end of the last point. I think that you are right about the impossibility of grasping the totality of a thinker's thought by relying on a mere hundredth part, or a thousandth part of what is available. But, I don't know French, German or Spanish very well, don't have the MEGA at my fingertips, so any ego-driven impulse on my part to say that the thousandth or ten-thousandth part of Marxism that I know I am only somewhat familiar with has made a Marxist out of me would have to be taken with a generous dose of salt. That is why I have tried to turn to people who know Marxism better than I do, but I have not been exactly overwhelmed by the quality of the response I have gotten from them so far, but I also know that you are very busy people. I hope to be considered to be one of those voices from below that your literature so often speaks of listening to, serving and nurturing.
I would like to know exactly how the 'liberation of humanity' you speak of will put bread on the table of each of the one out of six California kids who goes hungry. Be concrete in your answer, for the issues that I am most interested in doing something about are bread and butter issues. Changing the world is something I think seriously about, for there is little else worth while for me to do, having failed at all attempts to build anything resembling a career, and too disinterested at this age of nearly 54 to learn too many new tricks. But, even though I am not getting any younger, I identified when Laura Lafargue wrote to Engels, 'One has only to be a Marxist or an Engelsist to stay young forever.'
I learned at the end of last year that Arthur O. Dahlberg said 65 years ago in his book "Capitalism, Machinery and Jobs", or something close to that title, that capitalism could work well if forced to operate under a chronic shortage of labor, so, not much of my thinking, if any, is original. I only came to the same conclusion as A.O.D. without the benefit of having read him first. As you may be aware, socialists, communists and anarchists share a common goal of someday getting to classless, stateless society, a long term goal I share with them. Unlike them, however, I think that, instead of trying to redistribute property, redistributing work by sharing it through shorter hours of labor is a more valid way to get to that far-off goal. Constantly struggling for shorter hours as productivity increases, driven by the political will to share what little productive work that remains for people to do, will eventually get us to a zero-hour day, or an all-volunteer work force, a situation in which capitalism becomes - what? Without capital being able to dominate perfectly secure labor, what good will private ownership of means of production do for them? We can fix the ills between us by working directly on what causes those ills, rather than trying to address class divisions by revolutionary measures that revolutionists sometimes seem loath to define.
It's a shame that Marx, after all that he wrote about surplus value, didn't look upon reducing surplus values by means of shorter hours as the most valid way for the West to achieve all of the social and economic justice that they need, especially in parts of the world where shorter hours makes the most sense. But, he did indicate near the end of Volume 3 of Capital that shorter hours was a prerequisite to freedom, which only makes sense, considering how enslaved we presently are while fighting for decreasing opportunities to make the bosses richer, and the government more powerful. Consider how much more productive Western workers became, now 40 times more productive than they were 200 years ago, which roughly means that we could probably provide all of the necessities of life by each of us working a mere hour per week. Work used to be about producing necessities of life, and 200 years ago, probably 95% of us did, but how many of us produce necessities now? 5, 10, 20%? If tomorrow we were to decide to produce only necessities, some workers could perhaps choose to work a year per lifetime. We could starve the state of most of its reason for existence if we were smart enough to stop competing with each other in the labor market, but a lot of people in control prefer playing dumb about these issues, because they know what would happen to their profits if they were to suddenly get generous with access to their means of production. What remained of the state would be good to enforce access to means of making a living by regulating hours of labor. It's nearly that simple, and much simpler than trying to figure out what to do on the day after the revolution.
Well, I've gone on for probably much too long, but I invite you to be equally long in your response, if time permits, or even longer.
June 15, 1997
At the regular Sunday meeting on June 8, I brought up the issue of violence in revolution by mathematically comparing the probable amount of violence that would be required to abolish private ownership of means of production to the amount of violence that was required to abolish as unpopular a form of ownership as slavery.
I placed the known and unknown quantities in an equation of the form A/B=C/D, where A=Civil War, B=abolition of slavery, C=the unknown quantity of violence to accomplish D, and D=the abolition of private ownership of means of production.
Expressing the question in the form of an equation eliminates insertion of extraneous arguments. The equation reads, 'If it took a Civil War to abolish as unpopular a form of property ownership as slavery, then how much violence will it take to abolish private ownership of means of production in general?'
Since slavery was never a very popular form of property ownership in this country, its abolition was more feasible than the abolition of private ownership of everything else will ever be. In other words, it may not be possible to assemble the amount of force required to directly abolish private ownership.
The reaction to my mathematical comparison was an assertion that we already live in a very violent world, and that capital inflicts a tremendous amount of violence upon the working class, which I will not deny, but I wonder about its relevance. Further, it seemed to be implied that it wouldn't be too awful if some force was exerted to eliminate the rule of capital.
My reply is that, according to Marx, it would not take violence to establish a reign of labor in the USA. I support my thesis with 3 easily-found references.
The first is on page 35 of the Padover anthology of Marx's writings "On America and the Civil War" (McGraw-Hill, 1972), where the Correspondent from the New York Herald asks of Marx,
"Have you a strong organization in the United States"
"Dr. Marx: Yes, but we apprehend no violence or trouble there, unless, indeed, some of your great iron or other monopolists should take it into their hands to employ force to put down strikes, as they had done in one or two instances, in which case they will be swept away like chaff before the wind. ... let these men be warned in time; their ill-gotten goods shall be taken from them, and their wealth shall vanish like the baseless fabric of a vision."
The second is from the Critique of the Gotha Program, where Marx on page 27 of Volume 3 of the Selected Works, near the end of Part A of the 'democratic section', wrote:
"... it is precisely in this last form of state of bourgeois society [the democratic republic] that the class struggle has to be fought out to a conclusion ..."
The third reference can be found on pages 292-3 of Volume II of the Selected Works, in the reporter's record of Marx's Speech at the 1872 Hague Congress of the First International, in which Marx is alleged to have said:
"The worker will some day have to win political supremacy in order to organise labour along new lines ...
"But we have by no means affirmed that this goal would be achieved by identical means.
"We know of the allowances we must make for the institutions, customs and traditions of the various countries; and we do not deny that there are countries such as America, England, and I would add Holland if I knew your institutions better, where the working people may achieve their goal by peaceful means. If that is true, we must also recognise that in most of the continental countries it is force that will have to be the lever of our revolutions; it is force that we shall some day have to resort to in order to establish a reign of labour."
Do any quotes from Marx, here or anywhere else, indicate that workers in democracies need violence to get to their goal?
If not, is it safe to conclude that Marx felt that violence had its place in getting rid of old feudal monarchies, but would not be necessary to establish a reign of labor in democracies?
June 23, 1997
Dear Readers' Views Editor,
The myriad ways in which property relations can be altered may prevent the left from uniting around any one scheme, whereas humanitarian action requires that what little productive work that remains for humans to do gets equitably shared. Work can be shared by 'forcing' those who have work to take less so that others may have enough to live by. (Please! Force me to work less!) But, equitably sharing work may also diminish pressure to physically revolutionize society, which may make some revolutionaries reluctant to consider this. But, wouldn't a movement to share work represent a revolution in consciousness? Compare sharing work to the individualistic notion that 'Well-being depends upon work, so more work has to be better than less.' We are down to the age-old battle between the survival of the individual vs. the survival of the group. Shall it forever be 'every one for themselves'? No movement for substantive change will stand a chance of success unless leaders adopt for their philosophy - 'one for all, and all for one' - and apply it to every aspect of their practice.
June 29, 1997
Re: The June 2 REB Minutes. I had a couple of ideas, suggestions and questions about the subject matter.
On page 2, 1/3 of the way down, it was stated that 'the first responsibility of politicians is to politically represent the CAPITALIST interest of his district or city.' I underlined capitalist because I am unsure on that point. I find it hard to believe that politicians consistently uphold capitalist interests to the exclusion of all others. But, if it is true, then perhaps it is worthy of a positive statement to that effect.
A little beyond half-way down the same page, it was stated that 'there is no political remedy for racism or poverty.' I heartily agree, but I wonder if it was an oversight to fail to affirm that racism and poverty have an economic remedy.
On page 4, it was stated that 'American society moves to impoverish millions of people permanently .....' I had difficulty with the wording of that statement, for I can assure you that I do no such thing in my personal, political or economic life. I like to think that I do just the opposite. Perhaps the statement could be refined to exclude me, unless you can explain how I make the problem worse.
On page 6, end of second paragraph, 'supposed final concessions to the Black masses' was mentioned, which intrigued me, for I am unaware of the argument or thesis, which I hope can be included in the statement on the Black dimension, or at least in its final draft.
On page 8, 1/3 of the way down the page, Kevin mentioned that the 'discussion becomes somewhat reductionist regarding Black intellectuals.' I was left wondering what vital data he thought you left out.
At the bottom of page 8, I thought it was an excellent suggestion that the statement be something 'to take to the brother on the street corner that will let them see themselves in it.' Whether or not complete understandability can be achieved, at least we can all embrace it as a goal. Good luck with the project.
August 03, 1997
Thank you for your reply of July 7, though I must admit that I was disappointed in its brevity, which prevented you from getting to lots of matters that were pending feedback. You also gave no indication of when you would ever further respond to my 30-pager, all of which compounds the suggestion that you are not really interested in further discourse. Tacked onto the ends of REB Minutes are indications of correspondence far and wide, and yet I see no indication that you and I are corresponding. Are you keeping this a secret from your comrades? If so, why?
With regard to the mathematical equation that I developed around violence, private property and slavery, you might prefer that it be phrased in terms of elementary set theory. Maybe the conclusion I reached would be more acceptable if slavery were portrayed as an unpopular subset of the entire set of property ownership, and that it took a Civil War to abolish the unpopular subset. What then would be required to abolish the remaining larger set of ownership relations? Once again, the only answer can be: more violence than what was required to abolish the unpopular subset. In what Engels described as the most bourgeois country in the world, people cherish their right to own and accumulate property. It is probably one of our society's most well-agreed upon institutions, and enjoys a long tradition.
The other logical item that militates against expropriation is that, if expropriation had ever made any sense for the West (and, ultimately, for the entire world for the rest of time), then expropriation would have been easier for the West than it was in the East and South, where expropriation did happen. Because expropriation happened only after overthrowing monarchies and liberating colonies in relatively backward countries, where socialists did have the power with which to expropriate, and because expropriation was based on the use of force, expropriation's chances of being adopted by Western nations are thereby diminished accordingly.
No matter how badly Northern Generals bungled, it did take violence to solve the problem of slavery in America because of the initial aggression of the South. Instead of letting 'what people actually did' be what guides our conversation, you seemed in this instance to prefer letting 'what people would have done', or 'what would have happened' be the guides, which then opens the door to allowing an infinite number of variables into the discussion, which then suffers the conversation to go on forever without fruitful resolution.
You seem to downplay the significance of private property to the West, much as I once did. A pattern to modern history that cannot be disallowed is the willingness of ordinary people to fight to the death over property. If people fought over property for the past few centuries, they will probably fight over property for a long time more in the future. And what is the communist fight but a fight over property, and whether capitalists will be free to use it the way they want, or whether a new state based on a new class will use property according to a different set of standards? But, why should the lower classes fight over property, for that fight seems to have been incontrovertibly won by property owners? Why not instead merely fight over the amount of time we will be forced to serve property, a struggle over which we will have more chances of making headway. While property ownership, when exercised in a somewhat responsible manner, is regarded by the man on the street as an inviolable principle, the amount of time we serve property is ruled by no iron-clad principle, except that property owners will try to get us to spend our every living moment serving them, so as to increase profit. Instead of fighting property, we should fight the enormous profits that arise from too much competition over too little work.
In the middle of your discussion of the War, I was accused of 'falling into a logical fallacy of presuming that what occurs in the past must, through all its various shapes and phases, consist of some iron-clad of necessity.' It has been a long time since I've had a school session in the use of the English language, and though I can sense that the assemblage of words contained a critique of my theories, I had a hard time figuring out what you meant.
Did the 'necessity' you referred to have to do with the necessity of resorting to violence in order to suddenly change property relations? If that is the case, then are you hoping for a relatively peaceful revolution in state power and property relations?
My research about the past shows the disadvantages of trying to arrive at social justice by means of changing property relations, due to the recorded violence associated with doing so, whether for the purpose of abolishing a form of ownership as unpopular as slavery, or for the purpose of taking away the property of the rich. I want the left to succeed in its social justice goals. I share many of their same goals. I just don't want to see them spin their wheels ineffectively due to their having inherited the notion that 'the only way to get to lasting social justice is by taking away the property of the rich - by taxation, or by outright expropriation'. Perhaps I could have made my goal clearer earlier.
Slavery in the USA was a vestige of the past, for it was based upon force and violence, and the fears of force and violence instilled by providing examples of what could happen if obedience to the slavemaster was misplaced. You made an interesting point about how slavery could have been abolished much sooner with a more concerted effort, and I think that you and Marx are and were correct about that. If more political will to abolish slavery had existed back then, a swifter strike at the heart of slave-holding might have done wonders. But, the whole thing was a development, which took time. People got inspired one at a time, which expanded into a movement they became willing to die for. Probably the only reason Northerners became willing to die at all was that the South shot first, and looked like they were going to impose their slavocracy over the whole country by force of arms. I think that's what inspired the North to get off its duff. I think that it's safe to speculate that if the South hadn't been so aggressive as to shoot first, there's a good chance that slavery would have lasted longer than it did.
What you say about Marx thinking that violence would be necessary to abolish the property relations of capital is also correct. I just question the value of changing property relations in a democracy in order to achieve social justice. Violence may have been necessary to abolish slavery, but is violence necessary to fix what's wrong with our society today? As stated above, slavery was based upon force and violence and was truly barbaric. But, my experience in the world of work has been nowhere nearly as dramatic as that, once I got away from my father's repair shop. Neither is the relation of millions of other workers to their bosses based upon force and violence, because we find it more worth our while to go to work for a pay check than to sit around the house and/or starve to death.
As long as the majority of us get by from day to day in that way, then what or where is the reason to revolt? Certainly not over the opportunity to become millionaires working for Bill Gates. Nor even for the opportunity to live hand to mouth while we make millionaires out of the CEO's of companies like Staley and many others. Are we going to revolt in solidarity with prisoners? No more than we did in solidarity with slaves 140 years ago. Until bosses attempt to force us all to work under the conditions of the slaves of the last century, we may never revolt against the bosses. With all of the think tanks that the bosses have at their disposal, I doubt if they will do anything similar to that to force our hand. They now have us where they want us, a complacent and complicit work force. We are just as much their partners in crime as we ever were. Rocking the boat is a million miles from the minds of many millions of us. If only the system were not so cruel, I would feel a lot better. It is our job to remove the cruelty, not to try to do the impossible, i.e., destroy the system. Our main task is to enable everyone to take part in the economy who wants to, which means making room for everyone by means of us working less, if need be, but which does not mean government jobs, as many Social-Democrats want.
The big question is, given the kinds of things that leftists complain about in their journals, why do so many of them insist on changing property relations in order to solve those problems, when changing property relations can't be shown to do anything directly about those problems? Will we be able to solve our problems once we change property relations? I can't see that. One big change that has occurred over the past 200 years is that we have gone from 90% of the people being involved with production of necessities of life to only 10%, while nearly everyone on the left ignores that change, and what it implies with regard to the amount that we still allow ourselves to work. One of the results of our factionalization and disorganization is that we allow ourselves to work long hours, whereas the first thing that we would do upon getting organized is to keep ourselves from stealing work from those who need a little to get by. We will organize to do the easier thing than to do the more difficult thing. The amount we allow each other to work is a moral issue within our own class, and no one can blame the upper classes for taking advantage of our own unwillingness to organize around issues in which we have a ghost of a chance to make headway.
On the second page, it is granted that Marx did not exclude violence, which was why I quoted the whole thing, not wanting to be accused of taking Marx out of context. The unusual thing in each of the passages quoted was not that he allowed for violence, but that he could still imagine us make big changes here without violence.
I may have changed my mind a little about Marx's 1872 Speech at the 1872 Hague Congress. For republics, it seems less of an indication of a peaceful approach to socialism than an indication that workers could peacefully attain political supremacy.* That's closer to the written record, and also makes lots of sense. Marx also wrote of winning political supremacy in order to organize labor along new lines, whatever that was supposed to mean, though the program of the First International spoke of the association of free and equal producers. How this association of free and equal producers relates to taking away the property of the rich, if it does at all, is beyond me, at least for now. What do you think? The fuzziness of the whole thing does nothing to resolve the crisis in socialism.
* 2002 note: Whew! I finally got it straight! Raise the flag! (End of note.)
Workers organizing to merely put each and everyone of themselves to work would certainly be a humanitarian step toward such an association of free and equal producers. Though we could do it through union action alone, it would be more civil to amend laws and acts that are already on the books, viz., the Fair Labor Standards Act. Finding a law on the books that would only have to be amended to enable workers to expropriate the rich would be a lot more difficult.
I don't know how many vanguard parties you may think I have had to split from, but the total so far is 0. Until joining the recently founded Labor Party last year, I never joined or hung around another party after leaving the SLP. The number of parties, vanguard or not, that I have split from, is precisely 1 - the SLP - which never used the word 'vanguard' to describe itself, nor have I ever heard anyone else imply that it could be described that way. They certainly would deny such a label, so is there anything in its record to imply that it is a vanguard party according to the way you would define that term? You will probably never know my past as well as I do, so, if you don't wish to alienate me too pronouncedly at this point, it might behoove you to exercise more care in what you might like to assume about my past and repeat back to me. If you have any questions, I'd be glad to tell you as much about my past as you would ever want to know.
For many years after I left the SLP in the '70s, I felt bad about being unable to work within it to help correct its mistakes, as in Engels' Oct. 20, 1882 letter to Bernstein (MESC, p. 332):
"It seems that every workers' party of a big country can develop only through internal struggle, which accords with the laws of dialectical development in general."
The SLP was in a total state of denial with regard to their lack of internal democracy. They simply had no mechanism by which discussion could openly take place. Neither do quite a few other organizations I have heard about, or been part of. Engels wrote so many times about party mistakes that I must have included about 15 references to party mistakes in my book. As he wrote in his Dec. 1889 letter to Trier, but which may not yet be available in English, "Are we demanding from others free speech for us, only to abolish it again in our own ranks?"
There are certain principles associated with true proletarian parties, especially those in operation in republics which also enjoy certain guaranteed freedoms. For instance, a party should never offer less freedom of speech than what's offered in their country's democratic framework. The lack of a milieu to civilly discuss important matters remains a huge problem for the left, which is so defensive about the question of getting to social justice by expropriating the rich that it can't even put those two elements in the same sentence. If only some group would just have the guts to let their members debate whether the only way to get to social justice is by taking away the property of the rich. It is much more often merely taken as a given which they call socialism, which all members have to favor without question. Some may call this discipline, but I call it tyranny.
The legitimate politics of the lower classes are the politics of inclusion, while politics of exclusion are the politics of the bourgeoisie.
At the bottom of page 2, you mentioned that the British Republican Marxist Group is also for violent revolution, which I take to mean that N+L is for violent revolution as well. When I was a member of the SLP, I felt a little guilty whenever I openly advocated for revolution, as though it was a betrayal of all the values I had been taught all my life. It was as though the person with whom I was discussing it was ready to chide, "What's the matter with you? Didn't they teach you anything at all in school?" Not solidly enough in my neck of the woods, I suppose. I guess I should ask the same question of you, i.e., why you think we should have a revolution in the USA, whether the revolution is solely to enable us to expropriate the property of the rich, and at which point you will have to draw the line as to whom will be expropriated, and who will not. Surely you will not take away the property of the homeowner, the smallest business person, etc., so is there a natural demarcation point at which property will be expropriated, and, on the other side, will not? Defining a line that someone else will not argue with may not be easy.
With regard to the British monarchy, not all monarchies are equal, and somewhere Engels described the British monarchy as 'a good-enough democracy for workers to get what they want.' Their limited monarchy has to be a far cry from the Romanov monarchy of Lenin's day, and a far cry from other absolute monarchies. Of course, the British monarchy is a vestige of the days of feudalism, but has been rendered harmless by countless republican modifications, beginning many centuries ago, such as with the Magna Carta. On the other hand, Marx and Engels didn't think that the German state had any socially redeeming values, and thought that it should have been swept away, and would have been, were it not for the alleged cowardice of the German middle classes. Actually, the bourgeoisie was smarter than to arm the proletariat to abolish the old feudal vestiges, having seen the gleams in the eyes of the socialists, who would have been very glad to 'push' the resulting republic through to proletarian dictatorship.
3) It was reassuring to learn that many in N+L think that American democracy is worth fighting for, but which then made me wonder why you would also believe in violent revolution. Or, is that latter sentiment reserved for other countries?
4) You made a good point about a revolutionary movement developing a momentum that moves beyond the initial rational for the revolt, as in the 'growing over of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution'.
5) It is true that Marx didn't use the word 'simultaneously' in his 1872 Speech at the Hague, saying instead that "The revolution needs solidarity, and we have a great example of it in the Paris Commune, which fell because a great revolutionary movement corresponding to that supreme rising of the Paris proletariat did not arise in all centres, in Berlin, Madrid, and elsewhere."
Putting the underlined sections together, Marx said that "... the Paris Commune ... fell because a great revolutionary movement ... did not arise in all centres ..." If that didn't imply the need for simultaneous revolts in all of the major European cities, I may never know what could have said it better, except by using the word itself. I'm beginning to think that you might be in a state of denial over the issue of simultaneous revolution in the most advanced countries, which even earned its own place in the subject indexes of the 3 volumes of Selected Works. And those volumes were put together by communist scholars. They weren't afraid to admit the obvious. The day that the N+L Committees come into line with mainstream communist thought on this issue will be a day to celebrate. Even the anarchist SLP was not afraid to teach that Marx thought that the revolution would have to happen simultaneously in the most advanced countries. On page 37 of MESW I, M+E used that very word. What is N+L's problem? ["The communist revolution will therefore be no merely national one; it will be a revolution taking place simultaneously in all civilised countries, that is, at least in England, America, France and Germany." me6.352]
Naturally, I recognize what Marx said about the East possibly sparking the revolution in the West, but what good would a revolution be without the West? Look at the slim thread by which the Soviet Union survived their civil war, invasions, starvation, etc. Nothing in Marx shows that he would have been happy with isolated revolutions happening one at a time in less-developed countries, is there? Or with the whole underdeveloped world going socialist while the West remains capitalist? If socialism had made any sense for the West, it would have been easier to implement in the West than in the backward countries where it happened first, because, in the last century, the West was where the capitalists and proletariat were. But, we know that the reason why it happened in the East and South was that socialists there had the power of the state with which to socialize ownership of means of production after overthrowing monarchies and liberating colonies, but never had that kind of power after winning mere elections in Western Social-Democracies, which proves that socialism is based upon having the kind of force that it takes in order to take away the property of the rich. A regime based upon force is not a very pretty thing, and I don't know of too many who would fight to bring such a regime to the USA. Would you count that as one of the 'crises in socialism'?
I suspect that the reason that simultaneity is inadmissible evidence in your philosophy is that it is one of the weakest points of Marx's revolutionary philosophy, for, from the point at which one can see that there is a contradiction between simultaneity of socialist revolutions in the West and actual history, then one may eventually suspect that there is something wrong with the philosophy of socializing ownership of means of production, and putting a new despotic class in power in order to do that.
6) Thanks for the more exact cite.
8) It's true that I have yet to read the major works of Marxist-Humanism, which I would like to, if I had more time. I was hoping that, if those works were capable of illuminating the present discussion, those works would have been quoted by now. I'm disappointed that they haven't been more relevant to the important issues that I brought up.
Anyway, the point of this is to get at least some in your organization to start discussing issues of fundamental importance to the lower classes, at least once in a while. Even though I will not be able to attend your Plenum, I would like each of the attendants receive a copy of the following page of ideas. Please duplicate enough copies of page 9 as will reach all attendants of the Plenum. I'll be glad to defray the costs of duplication with interest. The cost and inconvenience to N+L will be piddling, so the only excuse that I will be able to imagine for your unwillingness to do this will be fear, which does not reflect well on revolutionism. Fear of ideas is not for the bold.
The history of actually existing socialisms shows that socializing ownership of property without compensation was feasible after overthrowing monarchies in relatively backward countries, starting in Russia in 1917, or after liberating colonies. But, socializing ownership without compensation was never feasible in the West after mere electoral victories of workers' parties, and too few workers in the West were willing to overthrow their democracies in support of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Because of its reliance upon force, is 'taking away the property of the rich without compensation' appropriate in the West, where it is widely believed that we can solve our problems more peacefully and democratically than forcefully?
Should the militant left in the West adopt a program that is more appropriate to advanced capitalist democracies than to non-democracies?
If so, what is the nature of that program?
(Maybe should have written: If taking
away the property of the rich was more feasible in backward
countries, is there a program that is more appropriate to more
productive Western democracies?)
Back to Home Page
Back to 1990's Archives Index