- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Scientific socialism and utopian dreams

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on October 13, 1999 at 12:38:31:

Lark says: : Utopias perform a very, very important component of any ideology, they inspire and motivate, aswell as providing a blueprint as to what would be preferable to the existing order...

And Barry Stoller responds: We've seen a millon of them! Myself included! They have never done anything but weaken the revolutionary resolve!

Now my response: So is this Barry Stoller's current opinion of Walden Two, Twin Oaks, Los Horcones etc., that they ought to be bulldozed because they "weaken the revolutionary resolve"? (BTW, isn't Twin Oaks expanding? Kat Kinkade's second book seemed to imply that it was...) I have to wonder if this position is a little more extreme than Engels' position on utopianism...

And another thing. If it is so, that, as Craig Calhoun says,

From Marx's day to the present, the conditions of revolutionary mobilization have been continuously eroded in the advanced capitalist countries.

Then "so what" about revolutionary mobilization? Adorno seemingly predicted this outcome, as regards radicalism in the West Germany of the 1960s, that talk of revolution only continued the cycles of repressive violence since the cultural obstruction to liberatory thought was become more powerful each day. (It's from Rolf Wiggershaus' THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL, I forget the page). I have yet to see any HARD DATA for or against the present strength or future potential of abovesaid "conditions of revolutionary mobilization." At any rate, it shouldn't be impossible to show that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not as imminent in the "most advanced nations" as the possibility (at best) that elected "red-green coalitions" will try to chip away at elite economic/political dominance in countries such as France and Germany, with insubstantial results. This should be an issue of critical importance for those supporting Barry Stoller's argument, the EMPIRICAL MEASUREMENT of the possibility of revolution in the "most advanced nations". So far I've seen no concerted social-scientific effort either way, and am likely to agree with Calhoun's pessimistic analysis, which relies largely upon historical studies such as E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. Today, apparently, no revolution is imminent, nor is a genuine one even starting, outside of desperate third-world nations such as Brazil, and I don't know if I'd trust the PT to commit to anything more than reformism in light of Brazil's slavery to IMF austerity plans.

In light of this, one would have to wonder about whether Engels' claim that his projection of Marxian socialism was "scientific" and not "utopian," whether in making such a claim today, one has to drop either the claim to "science" or the prognosis of "revolution." Let's read further into Calhoun to understand why he thinks as he does:

From Marx's day to the present, the conditions of revolutionary mobilization have been continuously eroded in the advanced capitalist countries. This does not in itself mean that workers have increased their share of capitalist wealth or lost the "objective interests" they may once have had in a different form of society. It need not even mean that techniques of ideological cooptation or police repression have improved or their use intensified. What it does mean is that the social strength of workers' communities, their links to each other, and their dependence on a traditional way of life incompatible with modern capitalism have been greatly reduced. At the same time, the distinction between the beneficiaries and victims of capitalism has become less clear.

Workers have almost never had nothing to lose but their chains, and in any case the degree of their immiseration hardly predicts their radicalism.

Interrupting slightly here, I might add that my own hopes of radical social change to be performed in light of imminent ecological collapse or catastrophic nasty oil politics or even huge natural catastrophes resulting from the greenhouse effect take a serious hit here. We might be more likely to envision a half-baked attempt to save Keynesian capitalism in the face of environmental dislocation, than an outright revolution. I'm not really interested in dashing my own hopes for a better future in this regard, BTW, I'm just commenting on the fact that I can't just dream them into existence, there's a reality to cope with. Continuing with Calhoun:

On the contrary, the question is what workers have had to defend. Some defenses need to be radical, even revolutionary, because workers (or peasants, or "the people") cannot both save what they value and adjust to capitalist, colonial, or imperialist conditions. Other defenses can be reformist, because there is no fundamental and immediate contradiction between what workers want and what elites need, only a quantitative competition. The economic, social, and cultural goods which people have are more important motivations and bases for collective action than what they stand possibly to gain. (all Calhoun quotes from p. 239 of his book THE QUESTION OF CLASS STRUGGLE (Chicago, U of Chicago P, 1982)).

Especially in light of Calhoun's last sentence, a product of historical research, we might ask about the basis of the revolution of the future, whether or not utopian hopes are merely a delusion or whether pursuing them can in fact be the basis for this "having something to lose" which might motivate the working class to revolutionary mobilization. At any rate, the case for a "more scientific than thou" attitude seems to founder in the absence of REAL SCIENCE regarding the matter-at-hand.

In further historical retrospect, Lenin appears to have misjudged the size of the working class in his attempt to purge the various Communist Parties of Europe in the early 1920s, as reported in Volume 2 of Julius Braunthal's HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL. The purges, apparently a byproduct of the Third International, were done in order to eliminate reformism within global communism, to create a trim, fit revolutionary fighting force. Lenin arranged all of this, says Braunthal, in anticipation of the imminent triumph of global communist revolution. As a result, says Braunthal, the various Communist Parties lost 3/4 of their collective membership to various advocacies of social democracy. The remainder was transformed by Stalinism into what Braunthal called a tourist agency for the Soviet Union. (Sorry I can't quote the page -- I returned the book to the library.)

(In a footnote, I cannot agree with Gee's assessment that the people "rejected" communism in 1920 or thereabouts, since it appears that neither the working class nor the so-called "vanguard" was ready for it. Similarly, the "choices" of young children about things they know nothing about cannot be taken seriously as choices, since they aren't "informed choices" in any way we can name.)

It would be a shame if the advocates of revolutionary hubris were to continue to dissolve their solidarities on accusations of "weakening the revolutionary resolve" without a SOBER empirical analysis of the present-day strength and future potential of such revolutionary resolve, or at least without a consultation of the historical record as regards what has been done with a certain insufficient amount of "revolutionary resolve" in the past.

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