Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 29, 2010

Answering some questions about Marxism and socialism

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

Dear Mr. Proyect,

I am very much interested in Marxism – or theories resulting from Marxism – which deal with the question as to what a Marxist Government would look like. I do not subscribe to any notions that under a Marxist – or similar system, that there would not be a Government which is hierarchical, as I believe our world is much too complex. At the same time, my understanding of Marx is limited and I get very confused about what is Marx or is not Marx, and what is Maoist or Leninist etc.

For example what kind of Government is Cuba? or what was the Soviet Union? China, Vietnam? What is Chavez doing? What is the real difference between Marxism and Socialism. What are the differences between Lenin and Stalin and Trotsky?

When I was in the Trotskyist movement in the 60s and 70s, I used to use the term “workers state” to describe Cuba, the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam. This term tried to convey the sense that these were transitional societies that retained features both of capitalism and socialism. This concept is not exclusive to the modern age. In the 1600s most of Western Europe could be described as being in transition from feudalism to capitalism. Of the four countries mentioned above, I would say that Cuba is the only one that can still be described as a workers state. The rest have relapsed back into capitalism, although some Marxists would disagree with me about China and Vietnam, comparing the two to the USSR in the 1920s when the New Economic Policy allowed the capitalist mode of production some leeway. Perhaps Vietnam is still not as far-gone as China but I remain to be persuaded.

The problem I have is that these subjects are often discussed as textbook without real world application. On the one hand are those such as the Democratic Socialists who claim that they would use for example the Democratic Party of the USA as long as it would help them reach socialism, then there are the Revolutionary Marxists who claim that they refuse to vote for any party, and evidently are waiting for some big proletarian uprising in the USA which I don’t see coming for another one hundred years.

I don’t know about one hundred years but a proletarian revolution is certainly nowhere as near as the “revolutionaries” claim. Leaving aside the proximity of such an event, the real political issue facing us is how to achieve substantial reforms on issues such as health care, gay marriage and climate change. My direct experience from the 1960s and from studies of the 1930s tells me that real change takes place because of direct action, such as demonstrations, rallies, petition drives, picket lines, and even individual acts of conscience like burning a draft card. Unfortunately, those on the left seem to have lost the appetite for activism of this sort while our enemies on the right, especially the tea party movement, are going like gang-busters.

Therefore I spend my time trying to keep the fascist right from coming into power, yes I realize that both parties are flirting with Fascism in the USA, however I am taking my chances with the Democrats, to at least advance more to the left.

I strongly disagree with you on the Democratic Party. In my view the DP is the main obstacle to the kind of principled and uncompromising direct action that will lead to major reforms. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than Obama’s refusal to call upon the countless numbers of young people who volunteered to elect him. A huge network of idealistic and energetic young people could have been mobilized to press for single-payer but instead the movement was turned off like a faucet once Obama was elected. Interestingly enough, the Republican Party is much better at mobilizing people in action, even if it is for reactionary ends. This is one of the reasons I was a supporter of the Green Party until it decided to tail-end the DP. It could have been an electoral party that had an activist dimension. We still need something like that and I hope that worsening economic conditions can bring into being.

So in conclusion, if I am a Marxist, what the heck am I trying to establish?? Dumb question? I hope not. I am looking for some kind of specifics. Can Marx incorporate into such things as World Federal systems? Like World Parliament movements for example. I see this as necessary in my understanding.

What type of political system we can look forward to on a national or global level will be answered down the road when people in the USA finally take power and begin producing for human need rather than private profit. Since that is not on the agenda for the foreseeable future, but let’s hope sooner than a hundred years, I wouldn’t worry about it. I suspect that we will not see the typical separation of powers you see today, which is largely designed to frustrate direct democracy.

Thank you for your response if you can find the time. I am asking you these questions as you seem like you may have some answers to these questions.

I do have answers. Whether they are correct or not is of course another question altogether.

12 Comments »

  1. This was a good Q&A. For the person who asked the questions, I would recommend reading John Reed’s book “10 Days That Shook the World.” That is what a socialist revolution and a workers’ government looks like in practice.

    On “fascism,” the Democratic party voted for Alito, Roberts, and every piece of Bush’s agenda. How does that make the Democrats any “less fascist” than the G.O.P.?

    Comment by Binh — March 30, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

  2. “I do not subscribe to any notions that under a Marxist – or similar system, that there would not be a Government which is hierarchical, as I believe our world is much too complex.”

    This precisely where the questioner goes wrong. From what I understand,

    1. There is no “Marxist system” S/he means socialism, perhaps, as a transitional form to communism, its ultimate destination.
    2. With regards to the ultimate destination, there is no government – there is an administration of the economic mechanism.
    3. With regard to the socialist stage, there is a residual government (coercive) function, which is expected to die off from lack of use.

    Why would there not be a government under communism? Because a communism is composed of a free association of individuals based on the self-directed activity of these individuals. How can there be a coercive instrument in a voluntary association?

    Kotz believes that socialism is impossible without democracy. On this assumption, what of undemocratic forms of public ownership and management? I would argue that these are forms of capital – not “capitalism” which requires commodity production, but a single encompassing capital. Kotz nevertheless defines them as socialism because of the absence of commodity relations, public property, and management according to a plan. I would argue that this makes democracy a non-essential feature of socialism. Since there is a government, there is politics and coercion; the absence of democracy make Kotz’s definition untenable.

    I would also add that any definition of socialism has to include the economic transition toward communism as well. This means that work for pay has to be progressively extinguished by continuous reduction of hours of work.

    Comment by charley2u — March 30, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  3. On the one hand, anything other than the ‘official’ line is labeled as ‘holocaust denier’ , on the other hand the Iranian (Persian) Holocaust during WWI (1917- 1919) has been totally ignored. Dr. Mohammad Gholi Majd in his book, ‘The Great Famine and Genocide in Persia, 1917 – 1910’ exposes Iranian holocaust where 8 to 10 million Iranians were perished due to British colonial policy since Iranian crops were used to feed the British occupied forces and left Iranian people to die out of hunger, mal nutrition and diseases, the same way many Jews and other groups were perished in W WII. The West has yet to acknowledge her genocide against Iranian people. At the same time, by reducing WWII to ‘Jewish holocaust’ and destruction of Jews, they are trying to make ‘holocaust industry’ as world religion where no one will accept. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykd-syzZ4ZY
    Dr. Ahmadinejad in the following video has pointed out that there were more than 55 million victims during WWII, majority of who were civilians but select group has been ‘chosen’ for ‘holocaust industry.’
    In this book, Mohammad Gholi Majd argues that Persia was the greatest victim of World War I, and victim of possibly the worst genocide of the 20th century. Using U.S. State Department records, as well as Persian and British sources, Majd describes and documents a veritable holocaust about which practically nothing has been written.
    The zionist colonists and phony ‘left’, where majority of them are Trotskysts using victimization card to turn the stolen Palestine into a ‘jewish state’. These ‘leftist’ groups are known as gatekeepers.
    Whoever is interest to know Dr. Ahmadinejad’s position on holocaust should watch the following video and tell the Zionist propagandists shut up. We never accept holocaust as world religion.

    Comment by Azadeh — March 30, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

  4. Your answers are helpful and avoid the trap (common on the Left these days) of lapsing into cynicism. I especially like the way you handle the Democrat question. I’ve been posting a lot on this topic left (e.g. http://pink-scare.blogspot.com/2010/03/kucinich-sucks.html or http://pink-scare.blogspot.com/2010/03/political-questions-we-cannot-raise.html )

    I’ve had a hard time talking to left-liberals lately about the health “reform” bill, given that they seem to take one of two cynical routes in making sense of it: either they throw up their hands and claim that this is all we can hope for in such an unjust political system, or they try to claim that this is a “stepping stone” for future reforms. Hope aside, I do think we can demand more ambitious reforms if we start talking about organizing people independently of the Democrats. And to the second route, I reply that if the Democrats cannot put together anything remotely progressive with a massive majorities and control of the white house, then I don’t see why we should expect that some more ambitious push for reform is on offering in the future. Bills such as the one that just passed are ways of *stopping* debate, of ending conversations about further reform, not beginning new, more open ones.

    Still, I’ve been surprised that more disaffected liberals haven’t been willing to be more critical given that the bill is so awful (even by their own lights).

    Comment by T — March 31, 2010 @ 3:00 am

  5. Sounds like Azadeh learned about Marxism in general and Trotskyists in particular somehere in Iran circa 1980-82 when they were all being slaughtered to ensure that the revolution didn’t move to far left, that is, to make sure that private property relations weren’t significantly altered.

    To the apparent youth who made the inquiry to Louis I think the link below contains a helpful analysis about what the USSR was. Written in a style easy for any layperson to grasp, Sam Marcy’s 1990 Introduction to “Perestroika: A Marxist Critique” is valuable to the beginner trying to grasp the class character of the USSR, albeit Marcy’s conclusions about the unlikelihood of capitlsit restoration in the USSR were wrong, being wishful thinking & written at a time when the USSR was still unraveling.

    http://www.workers.org/marcy/perestroika/intro.html

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 31, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  6. Mr. Proyect ( or anyone else),

    Might you point me toward some passages from Marx or Engels which suggest they are (lowercase) democrats? Any help you could offer would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Jon

    Comment by Jon — April 1, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  7. I would take a look at August Nimtz’s “Marx and Engels: their contribution to the democratic breakthrough” which is reviewed here:

    http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article381

    You can also read portions of the book online here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=vIjvSd_lIcAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=august+nimtz&hl=en&ei=u6K0S4_BOoH6lwfVkJQ2&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Comment by louisproyect — April 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  8. “I would take a look at August Nimtz’s “Marx and Engels: their contribution to the democratic breakthrough”

    Yep exhaustively researched and highly recommended.

    Available here:

    http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Marx-and-Engels-Their-Contribution-to-the-Democratic-Breakthrou

    Comment by meltrc — April 2, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  9. I liked Azadeh’s comment and the interrogation to Ahmedinejad with his response on the industry of ‘Holocaust’ a propaganda by the Zionists and Jews dreaming of setting up a purely Jewish entity of Israel. Please note, I said ‘entity’ for this inhumane piece of land wanting to ethnically clean out Palestinians. They are no victims any longer but have turned into perpetrators of atrocities against humanity.

    As for the original question, China has a State Economy as opposed to State Capitalism of America. I found Rory Bremner chairing a debate on this subject that listened to, parts of, I admit on Intelligence 2 TV on Livestation on my pc! I am no Marxist or have any labels, merely a pragmatist!

    Comment by Joke! — April 4, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

  10. To #6 Jon re: Democracy —

    Marx & Engels don’t really dwell on “democracy” with a capital or lower case d because democracy was an enlightenment concept born from the emerging bourgeoisie and their intelligentsia who were lashing out against the feudal order and as such was a concept alien to the toiling multitudes.

    Historically the proletariat as a class didn’t (and still doesn’t) have much culture or use for democracy per se, since democracy never prevented a single war or settled a single strike. It was (and still rightly is) perceived largely as a facade rigged for for the men of means, elections fielding white male propertied candidates who represent the interests of the bosses, bankers & landlords.

    Ya or Nay on a strike vote was the main use workers historically have had with formal democracy. Hence the obsession with democracy wasn’t historically proletarian, and its obsession with it in Marxist circles is often suspicious, typically motivated by a historical reaction to Stalinism, but used today in efforts to undermine places like Cuba.

    After all, in an advanced industrial society like that which Marx & Engels foresaw, the workers would be the defacto democratic majority, so formal democracy wasn’t regarded nearly as important as real political democracy, that is — who gets what?

    If Marx & Engels thought that workers could bring about socialism by pulling levers or punching cards in ballot boxes they would have said so.

    That they didn’t ever regard that as a realistic option is precisely why Marx & Engels’ legacies are still so powerful and why their ideas are still today so reviled by the ruling class, to say nothing of Lenin, whose praxis did more to shake up the world in the interests of the toilers over the last 100 years than any other living being.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 4, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

  11. […] that I had very strong convictions about this when I read the following comments on the “Unrepentant Marxist” […]

    Pingback by Radical Political Strategy « Radical Progress — April 14, 2010 @ 4:50 am

  12. With the socialist regimes since 1919, the following statement seems apt.

    More inhumanity to man, since 1919, has been done in the name of socialism than any other cause

    Comment by John R Carpenter — June 14, 2010 @ 5:10 am


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