- Capitalism and Alternatives -

sectarian Marxism and ecosocialism: are the tags closed?

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on November 25, 1999 at 17:46:49:

In Reply to: Revisionism posted by Barry Stoller on November 24, 1999 at 18:49:05:

SDF (previous): The principle that is supposed to smooth over all of that, to make the strategic blunders of sectarian Marxists acceptable, of course, is the "capitalism creates its own gravediggers" principle, the principle by which the proletarian movement is supposed to occur naturally as a result of capitalist exploitation...

Stoller: This statement is a distortion.

Stoller: Marx NEVER said that proletarian revolution would occur naturally---Berstein did.

SDF: Did I say that "Marx said" anything? The above sentence is itself a distortion of what I said. Furthermore, if sectarian Marxists believe it, that doesn't mean the belief of such people has any direct connection to what Marx said. At any rate, if Bernstein said that the proletarian revolution occurred "naturally," perhaps he got his inspiration from the purple passage of the Communist Manifesto where Marx said:

The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

-from The Portable Marx, ed. Eugene Kamenka (Viking Portable Library), p. 217

At any rate, such a piece of hubris is, as I recall, something the later Marx did not share -- I think volume 3 of CAPITAL allows for the possibility that capitalism may die and be replaced by social reversion, at least according to Ernest Mandel's introduction to the Penguin edition.

SDF: However, as I have shown, the victory of the proletariat is not inevitable, and the combination of the workers under the conditions of late capitalism can be reformist or even reactionary.

However, sectarian Marxists (this is not to include all Marxists, just as we do not define all Christianity through Puritanism) find it endlessly reinforcing to quote the Founding Fathers of Marxism, so much so that their idea of "scientific socialism" appears in form to be based upon Biblical exegesis rather than upon any model of experimental physical science or Marxist social science as practiced in the academy.

At any rate, the sectarian Marxist feels he or she has to ask Marx's permission (with perhaps a signature on the dotted line from Engels and Lenin too) before doing social scientific observation. One imagines fundamentalists adopting an analogous attitude, where they might say: "I am always CAUTIOUS about ADDING to Biblical truth -- BEFORE practice determines additions are necessary."

Since my attempt at independently assessing the REAL-LIFE STATUS of some of the basic concepts of Marxism was for the most part ignored, I will admit at this point to a limited patience and a limited tolerance for this whole frame of logic, regardless of my concern that revolutionary solidarity really be made into something possible for the working class, that it be something more than "solidarity behind me and me alone".

Marx doubtless had already learned "the lessons of 1848" when he made such decisions as Braunthal said he made in the Manifesto, in 1886, etc. Braunthal DID show how Marx's opinion on this matter didn't change -- to quote the inimitable Barry Stoller, it's "all one Marx." Still, if we are to understand the real-life leadership which Marx provided for the socialist movement, we will want to know his orientation toward the various ideological disagreements which characterized the First International. Once again, Braunthal cites hard evidence for his argument:

Marx levelled violent criticism against the Proudhon group in France, the Lassalle group in Germany, the reformist trade-union movement in Britain, Blanqui's method of putsch and, above all Bakunin's Anarchism. But it never occurred to him to set up an International of Marxist-Communist parties as a counter-movement. In a letter, dated 27 January 1887, to Florence K. Wischnevetzki (after 1848, mind you -- SDF), Friedrich Engels wrote,

when Marx established that International he drafted the general rules in such a way that all working-class Socialists of that time could come in -- Proudhon's supporters, Pierre Laroux's supporters and even the progressive part of the British trade unions -- and it was only thanks to this broad concept that the International was able to grow as it did... Supposing we had insisted from 1864 to 1872 on co-operating only with those who openly accepted our programme -- where would we be today? I think our whole record has proved that we can go along with the general working-class movement over every stretch of the road without renouncing or hiding our own particular attitude, or indeed our own organization, in any way.

Marx claimed the right of the General Council of the First International to suspend member sections. But he demanded that right, not in order to protect the International from tactical 'deviations,' or basic 'false doctrines,' but rather, as he explained to the Hague Congress, to ward off the danger of infiltration of the member parties by police spies and agents provocateurs, and this in fact had occurred in France and Austria. Marx had asked for Bakunin's expulsion from the International -- yet not because of his theoretical opposition to Bakunin's Anarchism, but because of Bakunin's 'intrigues', which were endangering the unity of the International. It never occurred to Marx to have individual members expelled from the International because of differences of opinion on theoretical issues.

-Julius Braunthal, from History of the Internationalvol. 2, p. 179

So, Marx was apparently willing to "get along with" groups he strenuously disagreed with, in order to forward the "definite objective" (Braunthal, same page) of the socialist mass movement. Sectarian Marxists, on the other hand, are mainly interested in "othering" moves, in turning "disagreements from within" into "disagreements from without," out of some illusion that endlessly demanding that the working class agree with their each and every opinion as the self-appointed True and Only Vanguard will not only count as "scientific socialism" but will also forward some real-life activist goal to be achieved when the activists hit the pavement. Whereas historically, turning minor ideological differences into partisan splits has been disastrous for the possibility of global revolution. Suggestion, hoping against hope: try and establish common ground before preparing to bicker over differences, maybe the situation will be clearer in the end.

Even if I conceded that some sectarian Marxists may not conceive of socialist class consciousness as "natural," I would have to admit that there's still a gap in the analysis of how the revolution comes to be, a gap which has often been filled with intra-partisan bickering. Here, Stoller says that "The whole Marxian paradigm is a sort of evolution of a society's mode of production---with the important addition of class consciousness resulting from the proletarianization (land expropriation) of the masses." The whole problem of reformist solidarity that Craig Calhoun mentioned, not to mention the problems of ideology as detailed by Lukacs, Gramsci, Horkheimer, Adorno etc., that capitalism creates its own powerful counter-trends against "class consciousness", is to be resolved by arguing that "class consciousness" is a product of the "proletarianization of the masses"? (Perhaps this is where I got the idea that the production of socialist class consciousness was conceived as "natural" in sectarian Marxism...) Sectarian Marxism from the Third International onward hasn't resulted in the physical triumph of the One True Doctrine as the guiding force of the "class consciousness" of the working class, so wouldn't it be a good idea to discover EXPERIMENTALLY what social strategy would promote the "class consciousness" we'd find most useful? Or would such an approach be mere heresy?

Stoller: But communes---due to their historically small membership--

SDF: History does not always repeat itself.

Stoller: -are the form of opposition LEAST LIKELY to have ANY impact on the polluting prectices of transnational corporations!

SDF: 1) Did I recommend communes as the ONLY form of acceptable resistance to capitalism? The point is that people are seeking ways to keep corporations from fucking with their lives -- communal organization is one way of manifesting and organizing this desire.

2) Unless you are talking about carbon dioxide pollution, pollution isn't the main environmental problem at present, since most other pollution problems can be sufficiently mitigated through government regulation under social democracy. The CO2 problem has to be resolved by a complete transformation of the economic infrastructure of capitalism, for the sake of its replacement with something less consumptive of the global fossil fuels -- so it requires the same solution we'll need to avoid the upcoming political and economic problems that will accompany the end of the Era of Cheap Oil under capitalism.

3) Only in the anti-environmentalist literature is the problem of capitalism's conflict with global carrying capacity wished away as "pollution." Please use this resource, flawed though it may be, to voice a more educated perspective upon the total problem.

Stoller:Your 'commune movement' relies on the same 'natural' spontaneousness

SDF: Did you bother to read the link I provided? There's a GREEN MOVEMENT, it exists in organized form in nearly every country in the world. Did you bother to read where I said "(Of course, if we were to make use of communes, we'd probably want to work to join their movement with the working-class struggle...)" ?

Stoller: as the proletarian movement you (erroneously) attribute to Marxism---and THEN dismiss.

SDF: As I said above, sectarian Marxism does not = all Marxism. I do not think that ALL Marxists do the sorts of things I said of sectarian Marxists in my last post on this thread. There are plenty of nonsectarian Marxist organizations in the world, there are furthermore more political organizations which have prominent Marxists (such as the Green Party) but which are not themselves officially Marxist. They don't all behave the same way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a more important post to respond to.

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