Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 20, 2012

John Holloway’s lowered horizons

Filed under: autonomism,Greece — louisproyect @ 6:42 pm

John Holloway

Last Friday John Holloway wrote a piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free titled “Greece shows us how to protest against a failed system” that encapsulates the weakness of autonomist Marxism.  Best known for his controversial 2002 “Change the World without Taking Power”, Holloway’s article addresses itself mostly to the liberating effects of rioting:

I do not like violence. I do not think that very much is gained by burning banks and smashing windows. And yet I feel a surge of pleasure when I see the reaction in Athens and the other cities in Greece to the acceptance by the Greek parliament of the measures imposed by the European Union. More: if there had not been an explosion of anger, I would have felt adrift in a sea of depression.

But when it comes to the concrete measures that can finally remove the stinger from the neck of the Greek people, he sets the bar rather low:

Behind the spectacle of the burning banks in Greece lies a deeper process, a quieter movement of people refusing to pay bus fares, electricity bills, motorway tolls, bank debts; a movement, born of necessity and conviction, of people organising their lives in a different way, creating communities of mutual support and food networks, squatting empty buildings and land, creating community gardens, returning to the countryside, turning their backs on the politicians (who are now afraid to show themselves in the streets) and creating directly democratic forms of taking social decisions.

You’ll notice that every single one of these measures amount to a kind of counter-culture that effectively accept the continuation of corporate/financial predation. It is as if somebody wrote an article in 1932 putting the best possible face on people in the American countryside going out to shoot squirrels because they lacked the money to buy meat. It also makes you wonder how tuned in Holloway is to the needs of ordinary working people. An unemployed father of six children who cannot pay his rent is not likely to be cheered by the advice that he and his family can go squat in an abandoned building. In general, what Holloway is offering is a kind of life-style that might be attractive—so to speak—to people who have not entered the work force to begin with but it is not the sort of thing that can rally the vast majority of Greeks who are wage slaves, past or present.

With respect to returning to the countryside, this is a “solution” that the N.Y. Times Sunday Magazine finds quite acceptable:

Astoundingly, about 80 percent of Greeks own a home. It may be on family land on a distant island, but it is still a home. Zacharias, for example, lives on land that his grandfather bought decades ago with coupons from a newspaper promotion. Many of those who have lost jobs in the city therefore have rural homes to retreat to, though whether there is income once they get there is another matter.

The real consideration that does not seem to enter Holloway’s mind, however, is whether such a forced retreat to the countryside is consistent with the emancipatory agenda of Marxism. Freedom is not really about finding personal solutions to capitalist crisis, like going to live in the countryside until the storm blows over. When you stop and think about it, this is about as liberating as some college graduate moving in with their parents because he or she can’t find a job.

This leads us to the question of what this has to do with Marxism at all. The autonomist Marxists, particularly those roosting in the academy like Holloway, Harry Cleaver, and even Toni Negri, are all serious Marxist scholars having written oceans of ink over commodity fetishism, value theory, etc. What they don’t appear to understand is the political agenda of Marxism, which is to make a socialist revolution that will lead to working class power over the economy.

To some extent, they all reflect the spirit of the 1960s New Left that was oriented to “alternative” institutions, ranging from food coops to squats. There is, of course, nothing wrong with such initiatives but to turn them into the ultimate goal of radical politics is selling us short for as long as the bourgeoisie has its fingers on the trigger, no such institutions can last very long.

I first became aware of the ideological evolution away from politics in the direction of community-based institutions when reading “Globalization and its Discontents: the rise of postmodernist socialisms” in 1997. Authors Orlando Núñez (an FSLN leader), Boris Kagarlitsky (Kargalitsky would eventually disown the book), and Roger Burbach (a scholar/activist I retain great respect for despite this book) wrote:

The left has to accept the fact that the Marxist project for revolution launched by the Communist Manifesto is dead. There will certainly be revolutions (the Irananian Revolution is probably a harbinger of what to expect in the short term), but they will not be explicitly socialist ones that follow in the Marxist tradition begun by the First International.

Instead, they lowered their horizons as Holloway has:

In both the developed and underdeveloped countries, a wide variety of critical needs and interests are being neglected at the local level, including the building, or rebuilding, of roads, schools and social services. A new spirit of volunteerism and community participation, backed by a campaign to secure complimentary resources from local and national governments, can open up entirely new job markets and areas of work to deal with these basic needs.

It must be said, however, that Holloway probably would not be the least bit interested in securing “complementary resources” from local and national governments. Who would want to be tainted by money received from the evil state apparatus?

Back in 2003, before I began blogging, I reviewed John Holloway’s “Change the World without Taking Power”.  Now would be a good time to reproduce it here:

Fetishizing the Zapatistas: a critique of “Change the World Without Taking Power”

As should be clear to even the most casual observer on the left, the Chiapas rebellion has become as much of a paradigm for the post-Marxist left as October 1917 was for an earlier generation of Marxists. The collapse of the USSR, the difficulties faced by socialist Cuba and an ostensibly brand-new way of doing politics in Chiapas put wind in the sails of ideological currents that never were committed to classical Marxism to begin with, including the autonomist and anarchist movements. In contrast to the anarchists, autonomism has positioned itself as retaining the emancipatory core of Marxism, while disposing of the dross. This is one of the central messages of John Holloway’s “To Change the World Without Taking Power”. We will assess this claim in due time, but first some background on the Zapatista left in general and how it took shape.

Although the Chiapas revolt grew out of Mayan resentment over unemployment, land hunger, racism and other injustices that face indigenous peoples everywhere in the world, it transformed itself very rapidly into a global movement that at time appeared as spokes radiating from Subcommandante Marcos’s laptop, just as an earlier generation rotated around the Kremlin.

The Zapatistas became hosts of a series of ‘encuentros’ (encounters) in Mexico and elsewhere, the first of which was held in Chiapas in August 1996, two and a half years after the start of their revolt. Some 3,000 guests from 43 different countries came together as part of an International Encounter Against Neoliberalism and for Humanity to discuss how to “change the world”.

With the armed revolt at an end, the EZLN had begun to explore nonviolent options. According to the August 5, 1996 Guardian, some high profile guests including Danielle Mitterrand (the wife of the French social democratic leader), Eduardo Galeano and Douglas Bravo were encouraged by this transition. Bravo was himself a former guerrilla fighter in Venezuela during the 1960s but became committed to a kind of “civil society” reformism that eventually led him to join the opposition to Hugo Chavez.

When asked what he expected from the gathering, Subcommandante Marcos said: “I haven’t a damn clue.” This led French intellectual Regis Debray to comment. “This is a return to the essential resistance.” Debray, like Bravo, was once part of the foquismo left in Latin America but in more recent years has become part of the French cultural establishment, serving for a time as adviser to President Mitterand whose wife shared Debray’s enthusiasms for heterodox leftisms.

These encuentros had a tremendously energizing effect on the post-Marxist left in the same way that Comintern conferences in the early 1920s had on people like John Reed. Unlike the Comintern, these gatherings adopted the discourse of the anti-globalization movement. Instead of hearing Bukharin presenting an analysis of the latest stage of imperialism, the delegations focused on ‘neoliberalism’, privatization and other symptoms of the underlying capitalist crisis. The search for solutions in Chiapas stopped short of obviously passé measures such as socialist revolution.

Even though the imagination-challenged Marxist movement tended to shy away from these gatherings, as early as the second–held in Spain in 1996–some stodgy participants were beginning to get impatient and think in terms of goals, even though this was the last thing on Subcommandante’s mind. As Gustavo Esteva writes in the collection “Auroras of the Zapatistas” (Midnight Notes, 2001), a tension arose between those “who fully enjoyed the opportunity to meet and share with others” and those who sought “a manifesto, an organization, a political platform…”

By 1998, the encuentros began to shift perceptibly toward becoming the anti-globalization movement of today (well, perhaps not post 9/11, but of a couple of years ago at least). Yale Professor David Graeber, who has become a highly visible opponent of Marxism and defender of this new way of doing politics (or rather not doing politics), claims that this movement was born in Barcelona that year:

The real origins of the movement, for example, lie in an international network called People’s Global Action (PGA). PGA emerged from a 1998 Zapatista encuentro in Barcelona, and its founding members include not only anarchist groups in Spain, Britain and Germany, but a Gandhian socialist peasant league in India, the Argentinian teachers’ union, indigenous groups such as the Maori of New Zealand and Kuna of Ecuador, the Brazilian landless peasants movement and a network made up of communities founded by escaped slaves in South and Central America.

http://flag.blackened.net/pipermail/infoshop-news/2001-November/000276.html

One year later the Seattle protests erupted and the world’s attention became riveted on this new movement that apparently had its origins in Chiapas, Mexico. While some of the popularizers of this new movement put their message across in the mass media, a significant number were based in academia. At the University of Texas, Harry Cleaver synthesized autonomist Marxism and fashionable ideas about the power of the Internet in order to advance the idea that Subcommandante Marcos’s laptop represented something entirely new. He writes:

The rhizomatic pattern of collaboration has emerged as a partial solution to the failure of old organizational forms; it has –by definition– no single formula to guide the kinds of elaboration required. The power of The Net in the Zapatista struggle has lain in connection and circulation, in the way widely dispersed nodes of antagonism set themselves in motion in response to the uprising in Chiapas.

While it would be foolish to underestimate the power of the Internet, one might plausibly raise the question of whether technical-organizational dichotomies between hierarchies and networks get to the heart of the challenges facing the left. As we move into a period of deepening social and economic crisis punctuated by brutal imperialist adventures, the Internet will eventually become part of the political landscape just as the mimeograph was in years past. But technology can be no substitute for a careful assessment of the relationship of class forces on the ground and intelligent strategies and tactics based on that analysis.

A balance sheet on the progress made by the EZLN in overcoming historic injustices to the Mayan people must be made on the basis of tangible gains. It is doubtful whether the Internet can ever serve as a panacea for problems that nag away at the Mexican left, Chiapas included. While the telephone and mimeograph machine undoubtedly did a lot to empower the trade union and social movements in the USA, it was ultimately strategy and tactics that determined the outcome.

Turning now to John Holloway’s “To Change the World Without Taking Power”, we enter a terrain where such mundane matters seem to matter little. Taking Subcommandante Marcos’s refusal to specify goals or the methods necessary to achieve them as a starting point, Holloway has written a book that effectively inflates the Zapatista style of politics into a post-Marxist Communist Manifesto.

For narrow-minded technicians like myself who like to keep databases of such things, this is now the third new communist manifesto to occupy a place on my bookshelf alongside Hardt-Negri’s “Empire” (Zizek, “Nothing less than a rewriting of the Communist Manifesto for our time”) and Guattari-Negri’s “Communists Like Us” which purports modestly to “rescue ‘communism’ from its own disrepute.”

At first blush, all of these books seem driven by the need to proceed directly to something called communism without passing go. All the sordid business associated with what Bukharin called “the transition period” will somehow be leapfrogged by a monumental act of will, especially the bugbear of the autonomist movement: the state.

In chapter two (Beyond the State), Holloway argues that it doesn’t do any good for working people to create their own state: “If the state paradigm was the vehicle of hope for much of the century, it became more and more the assassin of hope as the century progressed.” Correctly observing that China and Russia failed to “promote the reign of freedom”, Holloway manages to avoid any reference to Cuba. Since Cuba defies any easy pigeonholing as a totalitarian dungeon, it tends to be swept under the rug in autonomist literature.

Holloway explains that Marxist assumptions about transforming society fail to take into account that “capitalist social relations, by their nature, have always gone beyond territorial limitations”. So, it becomes an exercise in futility to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers state of the kind conceived by Lenin in “State and Revolution” for to do so would simply re-introduce oppressive power relations, especially those refracted through a nominally socialist society’s ties to the outside capitalist world. Or, as the Who once put it in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

Holloway expresses the same sentiments in a more polished manner: “You cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost.”

Far be it for me to even suggest that something as passé as Marxist dialectics can still have some value, it would appear to me that speaking in terms of power versus non-power cedes too much to formal logic. While it is true that a woman cannot be pregnant and not pregnant at the same time, certain social phenomena have contradictory aspects. For example, when Father Gapon organized a demonstration to present a petition to the Czar, some 200,000 St Petersburg workers marched behind him with pictures of the Tsar, religious icons and church banners. Instead of dismissing this as a genuflection before Czarism, Trotsky saw the other side of the process: “Gapon did not create the revolutionary energy of the workers of St Petersburg, he merely released it and events completely overtook him.”

Oddly enough, despite a tendency toward cryptic formulations, Subcommandante Marcos himself can be quite specific on the value of power:

When we governed, we lowered to zero the rate of alcoholism, and the women here became very fierce and they said that drink only served to make the men beat their women and children, and to act barbarically, and therefore they gave the order that no drink was allowed, and that we could not allow drinking to go on, and the people who received the most benefit were the children and women, and the ones most damaged were the businessmen and the government…

The destruction of trees also was prohibited, and laws were made to protect the forests, and the hunting of wild animals was prohibited, even if they were from the government, and the cultivation, consumption and trafficking in drugs were prohibited, and these laws were upheld. The infant death rate went way down, and became very small, just like the children are. And the Zapatista laws were applied uniformly, without regard for social position or income level. And we made all of the major decisions, or the ‘strategic’ ones, of our struggle, by means of a method that they call the ‘referendum’ and the ‘plebiscite’. And we got rid of prostitution and unemployment disappeared as well as begging. The children had sweets and toys. And we made many errors and had many failures. And we also accomplished what no other government in the world, regardless of its political affiliation, is capable of doing honestly, and that is to recognize its errors and to take steps to remedy them.

http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/mexico/ezln/marcos_one_year.html

In a certain sense, attempts to seize power and transform all of society along the lines described by the Subcommandante are doomed to failure unless humanity overcomes something called “fetishization” which functions in Holloway’s schema as a kind of tragic flaw, like Oedipus’s pride or Dr. Frankenstein’s mad desire to create life from the parts of dead bodies.

As most people are probably aware, fetish is a term that has its origins in anthropology. It is a charm or amulet that has magical powers for so-called primitive peoples. It is etymologically related to the word factitious, which means artificial. Freud and other experts on abnormal psychology have used the word to describe sexual attachments to objects like shoes and other garments. For example, according to the tell-all memoir of his mistress, President Salinas of Mexico had an Imelda Marcos-like fetish for charro suits, the silver-buckled outfits and matching sombrero, boots and spurs worn by mariachi singers. She reported that over 70 were hidden away in his closet.

Holloway uses the term in its Marxist sense, which he describes as a “central category” in Capital even though “it is almost completely ignored by those who regard themselves as Marxist economists”. As understood by Marx and by Holloway as well, it is tied up with alienation, especially that between the worker and the commodity he or she produces. He sees fetishization as the main target for those who would change the world: “Any thought or practice which aims at the emancipation of humanity from the dehumanization of capitalism is necessarily directed against fetishism.” But Holloway takes Marx one step further. It is not simply the separation between worker and commodity; it is also by extension the separation between doing and done, and between subject and object. Thus, what begins as an attempt grounded in political economy to elucidate how capitalism appears to the ruled as a permanent system shades off into a kind of philosophical critique of Cartesian dualism:

Constitution and existence are sundered. The constituted denies the constituting, the done the doing, the object the subject. The object constituted acquires a durable identity. It becomes an apparently autonomous structure. This sundering (both real and apparent) is crucial to the stability of capitalism. The statement that ‘that’s the way things are’ presupposes that separation. The separation of constitution and existence is the closure of radical alternatives.

Leaving aside the question of how to translate this sort of thing into a punchy leaflet that will grab the attention of the average worker, it does not really convey what Marx was all about in philosophical terms. As a materialist, Marx saw human beings as part of the physical universe: “The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature.” (German Ideology)

Within this context, ideas arise from social relationships: “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour.” (German Ideology)

While expressed in somewhat different terms than Holloway’s heterodox views on “fetishization”, the notion ideas arising from material conditions conveys much more accurately Marx’s understanding of the relationship between humanity, ideology and class society. Historical and material conditions govern the way we think. In order to become free human beings unconstrained by bourgeois ideology, it is necessary to abolish commodity production, which is the substratum of bourgeois society. Struggles against “fetishism” are rather futile as long as commodity production is generalized throughout society.

For Marx, the only way to overcome alienation (and fetishism, by implication) is to change material conditions:

This ‘alienation’ (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an ‘intolerable’ power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity ‘propertyless’, and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the ‘propertyless’ mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones. (German Ideology)

This is the reason that Marxists have historically targeted the state. In order to achieve a classless society, it is necessary to develop the productive forces to such a high degree that competition for goods becomes more and more unnecessary. As leisure time and the general level of culture increases, human beings will enjoy a level of freedom that has never been attainable in class society.

For a variety of reasons, socialist revolutions have occurred in backward countries where the development of productive forces has been hampered by a number of factors, including imperialist blockade, technological and industrial underdevelopment, low productivity of labor and the need to stave off invasions and subversion–in other words, the kinds of conditions that make a country like Cuba fall short of communist ideals. Notwithstanding Cuba’s difficulties, the revolution has made a significant impact on peoples’ lives, so much so that it earned the praise of James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, in May of 2001: “Cuba has done a great job on education and health and if you judge the country by education and health they’ve done a terrific job.”

Wolfensohn was simply recognizing the reality of statistics in the bank’s World Development Indicators report that showed Cubans living longer than other Latin Americans, including residents of the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Literacy levels were on a par with Uruguay, while the life expectancy rate was 76 years, second only to Costa Rica at 77. Infant mortality in Cuba was seven deaths per 1,000 live births, much lower than the rest of Latin America.

While it is true that Cuba is enmeshed in a myriad of ways within the world capitalist economy, it did withdrew from the World Bank and its sister lending agency, the International Monetary Fund, in 1959. Despite the collapse of the USSR and continuing efforts to destroy the country economically by the USA, Cuba continues to develop its productive capabilities and raise the cultural level of the people.

Turning to Chiapas, the general picture is far less encouraging. In a February 3, 2003 Newsday article titled “Infant Deaths Plague Mexico”, we learn that the Comitan hospital serves nearly 500,000 people in Chiapas. Burdened by inadequate staffing and supplies, babies die at twice the national rate. Meanwhile, the February 21, 2001 Financial Times reported on a study conducted by the Association for the Health of Indigenous Children in Mexico in the village of Las Canadas, Chiapas. It found that not one girl had adequate nutritional levels compared with 39.4 per cent of boys. Female malnutrition has actually led to physical shrinking over the last decade from an average height of 1.42 meters to 1.32 meters. At the same time, more than half of women who speak an indigenous language are illiterate – five times the national average.

While nobody can blame the EZLN for failing to make a revolution in Mexico, we would be remiss if we did not point out the obvious material differences between the two societies, especially in the countryside where poverty has traditionally been extreme. With its abundant natural resources, including oil and fertile farmland, it is not too difficult to imagine how much of a difference a socialist Mexico would have made in the lives of the poor.

For John Holloway, access to decent medical care seems far less important than “visibility”, a term that he sees as practically defining Zapatismo and presumably missing altogether in dreary Cuban state socialism. This is expressed through the balaclava, the mask that Subcommandante wore at press conferences and which has since been appropriated by Black Block activists breaking Starbucks windows in the name of anti-capitalism: “The struggle for visibility is also central to the current indigenous movement, expressed most forcefully in the Zapatista wearing of the balaclava: we cover our face so that we can be seen, our struggle is the struggle of those without face.”

While every movement certainly needs an element of mystique, it is doubtful that the Zapatista movement could sustain itself over the long haul using such symbols. Nor is it likely that it could succeed without linking up to a dynamic, rising mass movement in the rest of Mexico. Localized peasant struggles have a long history in Mexico going back to the 19th century. If you strip away the balaclava and Subcommandante Marcos’s laptop, you will find all the elements that ultimately frustrated the efforts of the original Zapata, namely the failure of a regional uprising to become part of a general assault on state power and the social and economic transformation of society.

To fetishize these sorts of incomplete and partial rebellions as a new way of doing politics not only does a disservice to the valiant efforts of the Mayan people, it also creates obstacles to those of us who also want to change the world but on a more favorable basis. For in the final analysis, it requires a democratic and centralized movement of the working class and its allies to take power in a country like Mexico.

16 Comments »

  1. Leave it to Proyect the wordsmith to smash with a hammer a nail on it’s head like a warrior would slay with a sword his adversary.

    Words like these are the only thing that gives sentient beings a lust for life, a sense that justice in this world might prevail.

    What a timely, prescient article, particularly its conclusion, for not only does it reiterate old Anarchist truisms like “all property is theft” but old Marxist ones like “labor creates all wealth” and “capitalism is organized crime.”

    It’s insulting in light of the world today the idea that creators of wealth, the world’s workers, should aspire to anything less that what the apolitical anarchist poet Jim Morrisson sung about as early as 1967:

    _____________________________________________________________

    “What have they done to Earth?”
    “What have they done to our fair sister?”
    “Ravaged & plundered & ripped her & bit her”
    “Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn”
    “Tied her with fences & draggged her down”
    “I hear a very gentle sound”
    “Put your ear down to the ground”
    “WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT NOW!”

    ______________________________________________________________

    The point is if a drug & alchohol ravaged anarchist poet from the late 60’s can point to the fatal flaws of capitalist modernity almost half a century ago, never-mind what is to be done, then it’s certainly plausible that people can organize for victory today. The key word of course is “organize” for which victory? Bottom line is ORGANIZE is an easy word to type but a hard concept to implement — always has been and always will be.

    Needless to say that the future rests with the idea that “in the final analysis, it requires a democratic and centralized movement of the working class and its allies to take power in a country like Mexico” just as it does in the United States.

    Whoever doesn’t embrace the notion that bottom up working class power is the solution to the top down staus quo is part of the problem as against the solution.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 21, 2012 @ 2:37 am

  2. Argentine philosopher Ruben Dri calls Holloway’s and Negri’s work, the “politics of defeat”. I can only hearken back to my Berkeley days in the late 1990’s where the Zapatistas were all the rage and going to Chiapas was akin to a Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Rome. Even then, it seemed to be much more of a “lifestyle choice” than a political strategy. It really says little, so it can end up meaning whatever you want it to mean. I think “defeat” is a good way to think of it: give up on the rest of society and just focus on your own little thing going on in your neighborhood. Somehow Hegel’s bad infinity comes to mind.

    Dri himself speaks also in the Latin American context in saying that the utopia as a nationwide and international entity is necessary for the development of the Subject in the fight for liberation. In other words, you cannot abandon the process of building the nation because, in the end, everything is related. Power on the macrolevel is just something that will inevitably come up, and shirking the issue is definitely conceding defeat. In reality, it is doing capital’s job for it in terms of de-fanging the struggles of the masses for a better future.

    Comment by El Pelón — February 21, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

  3. Aris from Greece. I agrre with a lot of the article. It seems that there is a return now to among marxists or revolutionary socialists pf primitivism.
    a forced retreat to our conytriside homes is not the solution and not the life that i want. Some other are talking or somethinng like a barter economy “i give you tow shirts give me a loaf of bread etc” and it is gaining ground unfortunately, with a lot of help by bourgeois media. The people i fight with (yes i continue to be a trotskyist and believing in revolution) as well the people we meet on the street fight for a movement that will incorporate the “uncontrolled” youth, the people fighting agianst new fines and taxes in an all iclusive movement that challenges capitalism in all its respects, from the smallest things (how not to get hungry) to the big questions (classeless societies), a movement that will have to surpass the limits of our country and become a european and global movement. In order for humanity to lead a truly human life. I dont want just to creat small cracks in capitalism, i want to destroy it.

    Comment by aris — February 21, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  4. “To some extent, they all reflect the spirit of the 1960s New Left that was oriented to “alternative” institutions, ranging from food coops to squats. There is, of course, nothing wrong with such initiatives but to turn them into the ultimate goal of radical politics is selling us short for as long as the bourgeoisie has its fingers on the trigger, no such institutions can last very long.”

    All implied in the article, this is a fault line that runs through both contemporary Marxism and anarchism. From my simplistic perspective, there remains, on one side, leftists who still believe in the revolutionary potential of the working class, while, on the other, there are the pessimists who take the approach described here. One can see this fault line beneath the surface in relation to Occupy. And, also in Venezuela, as revealed through the participation of Douglas Bravo in one of the encuentros. Given the forced proletarianization of much of the world’s populace in special economic zones throughout the lesser developed world in recent decades, it is curious that so many leftists seized upon Chiapas so strongly. As suggested by ari, there is within this perspective a romantized pastoralism, one that perceives the pre-industrialized world as more benign. Of course, that’s pretty dubious historically, anomalies aside.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 21, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  5. oops, aris, not ari

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 21, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  6. Smashing a window is not violence, it is minor vandalism.

    That a prominent academic leftist would casually equate smashing a window (vandalism) with — for instance — smashing a human face (violence) shows how far we have retreated ideologically.

    This guy has worked his whole life amongst leftist activists and still unflinchingly leashes himself to the mandated lexicon of the ruling class. Pathetic.

    Comment by purple — February 21, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  7. Smashing a window is not violence, it is minor vandalism.

    Exactly. But it is still viewed by the ordinary working person as idiotic, especially when it is a ritualized gratuitous act carried out by people wearing masks. These are not people trying to organize a trade union or something. They are just assholes trying to “make a statement”. Socialists are about organizing a trade union at Whole Foods, not spraypainting the windows. Spraypainting windows is not an organizing tool, it is a disorganizing tool.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 21, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

  8. This is why Richard Rubenstein’s 1985 book “The Alchemists of Revolution” is such a timely read because it succinctly weighs the pros & cons from a Bolshevik perspective where black bloc tactics will inexorably lead movements like OCCUPY today, and that’s likely into a blind alley. Point is that even if you disagree with the Bolshevik perspective on individual terror you have to confront the alternatives that Rubenstein addresses in a historic context.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 22, 2012 @ 3:55 am

  9. El Pelon @ # 2 rightly employs Argentine philosophy and the pitfalls of worshiping Commandante Marcos just as certain currents of leftism fetishiszed Nelson Mandella — which only goes to show how easily organic working class movements can be thwarted, aka “bought off” by imprerialist turpitude.

    The historic coincidence of the failures of these two leaders in virtual silmultaneous conjunction with the collapse of the USSR only demonstrates that Stalinism was the bureaucratic Superstructure while the Base, that is, the progressive significance of the Bolshevik revolution, is something that any thoughtful worker today should miss as a tragic loss, a setback of ginormous proportions that will not be soon forgotten no mater how different the situation portends today.

    That the average worker today knows nothing of this class struggle is of no particular worry, for in the end Marxism is ultimately the history of the working class that wouldn’t otherwise be told.

    The truth, we affirm, always comes out in the end, with, of course, the exceptions of Palestinian rights and a number of other Zionist axioms.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — February 22, 2012 @ 4:48 am

  10. The Marxist academics theorize there has to be class struggle, and they get a little impatient when there appears to be no evidence of class struggle. Then, when large and violent protests burst out against the government in Greece, they become all enthusiastic, and they present themselves as the cheerleaders and intellectual mentors of the movement. The point is, is that the Greek Left uses methods of struggle from the preceding generations to tackle the problems of 2012, and they are again and again plainly ineffective. So Holloway is just a cheerleader for a mostly ineffective political movement, from a safe distance in Puebla.

    The real “crisis of the euro” is, that you cannot prevent the Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish etc. from using the euro even although their economies break down. If these economies had had their own currencies, their own currencies would be close to worthless by now. So ironically, the euro as a stable currency has actually prevented a complete collapse of capitalism in the “problem countries”. A situation of the type that occurred in the Eastern bloc after the Wende has been avoided. So, when the Marxist academics tell the Greeks to reintroduce the drachma, this is rather laughable – all that would happen is that you would get a gigantic black market in euro’s, USD, Swiss francs, Turkish Lira etc.

    At first, the EU policymakers – being unfamiliar with financial economics – were full of angst that a collapse of the Greek economy, notwithstanding is comparatively small size, would cause “contagion” in the financial markets and therefore that the crisis would quickly spread to other parts of Europe. Dire scenarios were put about in the media. But as it became clearer that the scope of “contagïon” was not very significant, and the eurobourgeoisie reassured itself, they became more confident that even if the Greek economy breaks down totally, the Eurozone will survive it relatively unscathed. Thus, Financial Times editor Martin Wolf, in an article titled “Much too much ado about Greece”, talks about Greece’s “largely self-inflicted plight” and says “Greece itself, though an important irritant, cannot be decisive for the future of the currency area.”

    In reality, the political and economic problems in Greece will drag on for years and years. Very likely, the Greek economy will neither break down totally, nor recover to its former glory for many years. That’s the real issue.

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — February 22, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

  11. Louis,

    Interesting comments on Cuba. I’d like to convey one aspect of my experience when visiting Cuba two years ago that might be relevant to this discussion.

    In Havana I got to know a taxi driver (he owned his taxi and served those staying at Hotel Vedado and Hotel Habana Libre). One day he took me to his comfortable but modest home. He is intelligent and sincere, and especially proud of his daughter, who was excelling in her talent as a dancer. One day I asked about his thoughts regarding discussions I had the day before with two musicians, one of Spanish descent and the other of African descent, while attending a musical event at a mansion converted into the offices of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists. Both adamantly expressed their disgust with life in Cuba, and with the government in particular.

    When I asked the taxi driver his views on this, he showed visible disgust and even slight anger. He wondered out loud what these people are doing to better their lives. He went on to say that they complain about the government but they don’t do anything to change conditions around them. He said there was a legitimate need to change the government, to allow for more open political and cultural space for people to bring about change. But people had to work for this.

    The taxi driver, a supporter of the Cuban government, might be considered the more conservative, in that he benefited from the status quo, while the musicians might be considered progressives who voiced their criticism and yearning for a more open society. Yet it was the taxi driver who was able to articulate the need for that change, not the musicians (at least not in conversation with me). It was the Cuban government supporter who implicitly advocated engaging the state to make change, as opposed to the musicians with a cultural persuasion who wanted social change that allowed them to express themselves more freely, yet seemed unable to propose how this might be done.

    This may shine some light on the tension between those who advocate resistance that sidesteps engaging state power and those who propose the opposite.

    Comment by don — February 22, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

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