Revolutionary laws: On the cutting edge of liberation

 

 
Let's discuss this more deeply.

"People fundamentally emancipate themselves -- but establishing new revolutionary norms (and laws!) and the institutions to propagate (and yes enforce!) them are very important mechanisms by which people emancipate themselves."

"There is a mood on the left today that can't imagine people emancipating themselves any way but through "direct" (essentially interpersonal unmediated means).

"And that can't imagine a revolutionary army, a revolutionary court, a political organization, and (yes!) a new set of laws being integral (indispensable) to that self-emancipation."

"There is an ongoing desire for self-emancipation, but at the same time there is a (to me) strange alienation from the very forms and means by which people actually self-emancipate."

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Chegitz posted the graphic (right) on his Facebook page.

On one level, it may not seem controversial. People emancipate themselves -- or else the act of revolution is fragile, short lived and hollow. Oppressed classes are not "given" freedom by anything (including laws).

But, as the following discussion shows, there was reason to dig in more deeply. There immediately appeared real differences in the nature of revolutionary laws, and their role in the self-emancipation of people.

The underlying issue (as you will see) is whether laws merely "express" existing social relations or whether they can be (in the hands of a revolutionary movement) an active weapons for transforming existing oppressive relations. In other words, whether laws are one of the ways that people give themselves freedom (and rally themselves to create new freedom).

This exchange is lightly edited -- a few distracting snarky jibes are removed. But all comments of substance are retained.

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The graphic says: "No law can give you freedom."

Mike Ely: hmmmm. So after revolutions, we will not have laws?

ML: We will, but they won't make us free. Our social relations will make us free.

Counter: are not laws a social relationship?

counter-counter: Er, uhm, damn.

Mike Ely: Well, that's kind of my point: laws generalize the accomplishments in advanced areas. And often the arrival of las are an important part of the change in social relations.

MM: Ultimately it depends on who's making the laws and for what reason. And it's also helpful to define what we mean by 'freedom'. The freedom of the bosses means slavery for us. Gaining our freedom means taking away their freedom to impose and enforce their order.

Revolutionary laws often precede new social relations

Poster celebrating the New Marriage Law, which legally ended arranged marriage and declared the equality of men and women (China, 1953)

Mike Ely: For example I spent some time studying the New Marriage Law in China [proclaimed in 1950 as one of the first acts of the 1949 revolutionary victory] -- the key package of new social standards that presented the liberation of women.

There were huge social experiments (in the liberated zones before 1949 for example) that were the basis of that law (forbidding the sale of women and girls, ending arranged marriage, giving women right to own land, divorce laws, and establishing equality between the sexes).

This was probably the most radical law (or most extreme change of law) in world history. And for most people, the law didn't come after the social relations had changed.

The arrival of the law (and the new institutions to carry these new standards out) were the arrival of the struggle for that social change -- some of it came in the form of the new radical state saying to backward areas "This is how it is now done" and the core of it was women rising up (empowered by the revolution, by their own determination, and, yes, by the revolutionary law).

Part of what i'm saying is that people fundamentally emancipate themselves -- but establishing new revolutionary norms (and laws) and the institutions to propagate (and yes enforce) them are very important mechanisms by which people emancipate themselves.

And there is a mood on the left, that can't imagine people emancipating themselves any way but through "direct" (essentially interpersonal unmediated means) and can't imagine a revolutionary army, a revolutionary court, a political organization, and yes a new set of laws being integral (indespensible) to that self-emancipation.

There is an ongoing desire for self-emancipation, but a strange (to me) alienation from the very forms and means by which people self-emancipate.

Are laws always just an expression of social relations?

Neftali: They're the legal expression of those social relations. However it is quite true they don't give freedom. Rights are co-extensive with power. They're entirely secondary and can even be partially detrimental in the determination of the withering way of the state.

MM: I'm not clear on what you mean by that last point: expand a bit on how rights can be detrimental to the withering away of the state (if I understood your point correctly).

NP: ‎@Mike Ely; a stubborn persistence of the romanticization of the "rugged individualist" . . . in a society where the individual is all but outlawed. The only recourse for the rugged individualist in modern American Society - is either to be born wealthy, or to turn to the 2nd Amendment. (another mass-shooting today, by the way. . . :(

Neftali: The essence of transitional period of the dictatorship of the proletariat is ultimately the withering away of the state, and unlike the purpose of the bourgeois state (an instrument of bourgeois class rule), law in the dictatorship of the proletariat is not bound to the protection of social relations where the state puts itself forward as the Rechtsstaat (Universal State).

We objectively ground the state and clearly speak about it in terms of class dictatorship, the mass state is a revisionist concept. Legal codification of social-relations, etc. have the purpose that is entirely conservative in phenomenon.

In other words - socialism is not the rule of law, that ideology needs to be tossed and practically would never be possible anyway in the real movement towards communism.

Mike Ely: Let me examine Neftali's idea of "they are entirely secondary." (not just secondary, mind you, but entirely secondary.

I'll start with a historical example as a thought experiment:

The title page of the Bolshevik decree on land (1917)

When the Bolsheviks seized state power, in October 1917, they quickly issued a series of decrees (in the form of new laws, essentially) -- without hashing out the details here, these declarations (within days) announced the new government had nationalized the factories. The declarations/laws gave land to the peasants.

Now... the thought experiment:

Were these laws merely "legal expression of those social relations"?

Did they emerge in the wake of social relations that existed (preexisted, in some more real sense, somewhere else)?

Or was the promulgation of laws (in this case, and often in revolutions) a form by which the new social relations are called into being, and EVEN a form through which the people are mobilized to call them into being?

Was the law itself an active political form for helping to bring those social relations into being?

It is undialectical (and non-materialist, and also non-historical) to imagine that new revolutionary laws are just something that drags behind other somehow-more-real aspects of a revolution ("entirely secondary") as if law is merely the echo of the "real" revolution.

In fact the promulgation of laws is often a declaration of the next stage of war.

Just like (as is equally hard for some to imagine) the declaration of goals for a planned economy can be a shocking declaration of war under socialism, and a manifesto around which oppressed people rally to fight under socialism.

Part of this is because some people think of the word "laws" completely within their own experience under capitalism (as thick books of "statutes" that are only dusted off when there is some boring court hearing attend.)

But revolutionary laws (like agrarian revolutionary laws, or the laws liberating women, or the unprecented law in Soviet Russia granting legality to gay sexuality) are a mixture of manifesto, declaration, threat (!) and new social standards. They are part of how new social relations are declared, and how people are rallied to create them. And then they become the standard by which the future relations are *measured* and so become an important part of the ongoing class struggle under socialism.

There is (inevitably) times and ways in which a revolution moves beyond the standards set by its own *previous* laws. (So land to the tiller is a worldhistoric revolutionary act, but in a time of developing cooperatives it may establish an exhausted standard, and represent a backward pull.)

Neftali: ...I never said laws or legal expressions lag behind the development of social-relations. This is simply a strawman on your part.

In fact the point I am hitting on clearly is that legal expressions are secondary in so much as the real determination is the utilization of power, in the form of the state and mobilization of the masses. Your example of 1917 is precisely the example by which my point is demonstrated. State power is an instrument of class dictatorship, and therefore its utility as such must be clear and apparent - it is in opposition to the very concept of rule of law.

Have I also argued there will be no law under the dictatorship of the proletariat?...

What is a "law?" What are rights?

Mike Ely: Here is what is in dispute: There is an assumption (in many places) that only direct power is real -- and that laws, states, orders "from above", are somehow removed from (or derivative of) some pre-existing and independently existing "social relations" (including power relations).

It is a matter of understanding the actual relationship (which is not linearly one way -- from primary aspect to secondary aspect -- as you imagine.)

Look at your formulation:

‎"In fact the point I am hitting on clearly is that legal expressions are secondary in so much as the real determination is the utilization of power, in the form of the state. "

It posits that there is something "real" (and self-standing) to which "legal expressions" are secondary.

 

And what is "real" in this view? What is really "determinant"? It is the "utilization of power, in the form of the state."

But what does that mean? How is power utilized?

Well power is utilized in many ways, of course... but fundamentally it is (imho, as Mao said) ideas become a material force when they are taken up by people.

The exercise of new state power takes the form of people acting in concert to enact new relations, to enforce new relations, to promulgate new relations (and then, in the future, to revolutionize them all over again).

Neftali's view has two problems:

First he separates laws (like the decree of "land to the tiller") from the utilization of power (i.e. you view it as something derivative) -- when in fact, revolutionary laws (in particular) have had a key initiating role in the gathering and utilization of popular power.

Second, this politics privileges the state forms of violence -- and view most everything else as secondary. Who is the active agent here? And why separate laws from the exercise of power, and then elevate the organs of state in the exercise of power? It is a theory of force (which is expressed elsewhere in some political packages.)

Neftali: No no, comrade, your politics are liquidationist thats the difference... Now answer the question: What is a law? Define your terms. How do laws manifest themselves? Who executes law?

In this discussion it seems [Mike Ely] is arguing an essential idealist line on the question of law. It is quite obvious that law is means by which the instrument of class rule, the state apparatus, can transform definite relations. However he rejects the "entirely secondary" so let's ask - in what sense is the law ever primary?

Mike Ely: There is nothing "idealist" about seeing laws as integral part of how revolutionary people enact their power (and even rally themselves to enact their power). It is not like social relations pop up (apart from such events emerging in the realm of ideas), and then the laws emerge (totally secondary).

And part of the problem is that you think of revolutionary laws as regulators of a system (kind of like city council statutes affecting the Bronx) -- rather than what revolutionary laws actually are: Manifestos in the realm of ideas that become a material force in the context of a revolutionary series of moments.

Juneteenth has been the African American day of celebrating the end of slavery for kidnapped African people.

Mao similarly said that a plan for the socialist economy, is not some accounting (like some big socialist inventory) but a manifesto of change (and, as I said, often something with the character of a declaration of war). This is something that is also not well understood [in our current left] either historically, politically or philosophically.

ML: I wonder if both moments occur at the same time. The Land to the Tiller law was a reflection and recognition of a revolution that was taking place in the countryside for the better part of 1917, and a promise to those who lived where that revolution was not yet happening.

Mike Ely: Neftali asks an interesting question about primary and secondary:

It is, in a nutshell, the difference betwen the linearity of mechanical conceptions of "base and superstructure" and the Maoist one (also expressed by Althusser as "overdetermination").

In the mechanical view, the superstructure is simply subordinate to the base, and things move from one to the other (from the base of production relations and classes to the realm of ideas, politics and policy).

But in fact the relations are far more back and forth. Changes in the base are initiated in the superstructure (in the realm of ideas and politics) -- and back and forth.

That is why the term "entirely secondary" is a trigger: It is an assertion of the mechanical view. A mechanical view that "This is this. That is that." And a denial of the complexity of contradiction (in this case, the examples where the promulgations of laws might, ironically and excitingly, conjure the new social relations into being by becoming adopted by oppressed human beings.

Neftali: ‎"Mao said ideas become a material force when they are taken up by people." It's like you really don't know what this means.

The mobilization of the peasant masses in transforming the social-relations, in bringing land to the tiller is the effective means by which land to the tiller is brought - not the law. As mere declaration of the state it holds only a potentiality, not actuality. Please be Marxist Mr. Ely.

Exactly for the reasons that Marxists don't uphold the separation of the state and civil society is precisely the reason for which the material force of the masses in their actual self-movement is the determination of history. Its like the cultural revolution didn't happen for you, as if there was not a revolution within the revolution. There are many occasions historically within our very experience of making socialist revolution where the laws are outstripped quickly by such self-movement and where the laws are plainly meaningless (1936 constitution).

Laws are not separated from the exercise of power; its a question of their utility and means of which power is exercised. You keep creating strawmans on very simple propisitions.

And yes the politics privileges state forms of violence precisely because the era we're speaking about is the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLERTARIAT...what forms of violence should be privileged?

Mike said:

‎" There is nothing 'idealist' about seeing laws as integral part of how revolutionary people enact their power (and even rally themselves to enact their power). "

Again you miss the issue, I have not argued they're not integral. They're entirely secondary is what I've stated.

 

Again name a moment where the Law is primary - what is Law, how is it utilized, etc? You're indeed showing yourself as an idealist or a stubborn exhausted contrarian.

"And part of the problem is that you think of revolutionary laws as regulators of a system (kind of like city council statutes affecting the Bronx) -- rather than what *revolutionary* laws actually are manifestos in the realm of ideas that become a material force in the context of a revolutionary series of moments."

The transformation of ideas into material force has the conduit of those making the transformation, again this is why the State and the masses; i.e. existent and actual power is primary and fundamental. That is the mediation, the labor, is still primarily among who? The law is not heralded from up-high down-low and finds complete harmonious acceptance. It is declared in the real movement of class struggle, it is in fact a part of the class struggle and comes into contradiction in it. Its manifestation can only appear in such a realm where the real movement can allow it to be such.

 

It is entirely voluntarist of you, and that is an obvious error, to see it in this simple way. Something like "socialist planning" is a manifesto for change in so much as the vanguard Party seeks to mobilize the masses in the transformation of things; however in many respects such things are done scientifically with regard to the actual possibility and trajectory. What processes are going on here? Be materialist.

Mike Ely: here is a simpler way to pose it: Ask Black people why they celebrate June Teenth?

Is their acknowledgement of that law a denial of their own agency (and role in emancipation)?

June 19, 1865 -- slaves on this Texas plantation learn that, by declaration, slaves throughout the South are legally free. In many places, slaveowners had desperately tried to keep the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 secret from their slaves. And learning that the freedom struggle had achieved a milestone victory is an event celebrated ever since.

[Note: Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is the day when African American people historically celebrate the liberation from slavery. For the purposes of this discussion it is significant that this is the celebration of a law (the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln made on January 1, 1863). And interestingly enough, it is not celebrated on the day the Proclamation was issued, but on the day that news of the proclamation reached slaves in Texas, two and a half years later in 1865. So it is a sign of the power of a revolutionary declaration rippling through the old social relations, and having an impact on the ongoing and continuing struggle for emancipation among slaves.]

The anarchist opposition of revolutionary law to freedom misunderstands the role that revolutionary law plays in how people self-emancipate. It sees the representation inherent in revolutionary politics and only sees alienation and the negation of freedom.

Neftali: LOLZ - that whole history demonstrates the very issue here of effectivity of law. Whether or not a black person celebrates Juneteenth is not the actual question, it's whether or not the law in itself gave effective freedom.

Or was it the Union smashing the South. Is the celebration of the Fourth of July merely a celebration of the document written by Jefferson?

Mike Ely: Or, if the Emancipation Proclamation was "totally secondary" to the social revolution that ended slavery -- why celebrate it on June Teenth? Why not just celebrate the "real" event some other way?

The fact is that people who have experienced a revolutionary process understood this in ways the anarchists do not.

Neftali: Yes and you're putting forward an entirely statist position which is incorrect. You want to resurrect the ideology of law as it exists in the bourgeois context simply in socialist clothes. The whole point of emphasizing the material processes by which law are effective is to not make that revisionist mistake.

Mike Ely: Neftali is at least consistent: in his assumption that June Teenth celebrations (for all these years) is a sign of backwardness, not insight.

Neftali: I didn't make such a claim, you act as if people think in such simple means. Anyone who celebrates June teenth knows a history, knows a process, etc. No one is simply celebrating the law.

You've demonstrated a consistent and irreconciably simple understanding of the masses in regards to how they see laws.

BTW has anyone noticed how Ely is lumping all law together? Executive proclamations have a historically different function in the state than other laws. Much of his examples are of that kind.

Mike Ely: In the discussion of revolutionary law and its relation to social relations, the declaration of such laws in the course of class struggle is obviously relevant. I understand that you,

Neftali (and perhaps other people) may think of "laws" in the context of this society (where they, day after day, reflect, and reinforce the EXISTINGS social relations). But the point about revolutionary law is precisely that it doesn't (in some passive and totally secondary way) reflect or tail existing social relations -- but are part of the class struggle and the *overthrow* of the existing social relations.

That's the very point we are debating. They aren't some passive "expression" of existing social relations, and they aren't "totally secondary." they are often an active challenge to existing social relations (of the most profound kind), and play a key (manifesto-like) role in marshaling the material force that destroys the (still powerful, still fighting) forces of the old social relations.

When you talk of law, it is as if you haven't thought about revolution and role played by revolutionary laws in the success of a (still young, still fragile) process.

The anarchists are against laws in principle. They think laws are hostile to freedom, and at best irrelevant. But this is mistaken -- and an examination of actual revolutions -- including Emancipation Proclamation (which turned the war for Union into a war for emancipation), Chinese New Marriage Law, and Soviet decree on peasant land reveals.

And at the end, you and I may not yet agree, Neftali. But I think most people reading this at least get a much clearer sense of the issues, and of the outlines of a communist view on this.

Neftali: No. I am making a definite claim in regards to laws in socialist society, don't attempt to couch this as an error from looking at views from within this one. Let's approach this scientifically.

Laws are legal expressions manifested in the state of social relations.

The development of laws themselves accompanies the development in the complexity of the state, historically through class society, in the regulation of exchange relationships (civil society). Socialism is an abstract negation of class society, it is transitional in regards to the movement towards communism. Laws are indeed, and I haven't disagreed, function accordingly differently (or should) in so much as the genuine dictatorship of the proletariat is not a rule of laws, but a clear instrument of suppression of bourgeois classes and tendencies in society as well as an instrument itself in the development (by means of force) the social relations.

And yes - in a historical sweep (a historical sweep which is not the same view as the one which is the immediate subjectivity of those engaged in class struggle), the realization of socialist means of organization lagged into being or are anticipated in advanced when brought forward by revolutionary classes. The whole historical trajectory is already one of socialization of the means of production, with the contradiction of private accumulation embodied in the abstracted legal relations of the bourgeois class. ( Histomat )

Laws are also not simply just laws, that is there are different laws with different functions. The ones of near executive decision that immediately transform social relations arise in what context? Largely a political one of heightened struggle between historical forces. Emancipation proclamation arose from the war between Union and Confederacy. Bolsheviks seizure of the means of production under the state happened in the course of smashing the old state, civil war, and constituting a new state. I am not neutral on this question, for me the direct utilization of laws by executive decree of the state is an honest means by which the state mobilizes itself and the masses for transformation.

However isn't the very issue here one of civil law, as we're talking about freedom. Such laws give "rights" under the mandate of the state, but the entire point as I begun earlier is the law is secondary and merely co-extensive to power...in the final analysis.

There are no other means by which laws are effective but through the instrumentality of the state in class rule. Lets ask a more precise question, will Communism have laws?

The very issue here again is the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM )line vs the revisionist line which arose that saw the role of the state quite differently, as a mass state.

Mike Ely: We are debating whether laws are legal expressions of the existing state of social relations.

My point is that they are often (during revolutions) a part of overthrowing the existing state of social relations. In that case they are not an expression of the social relations, but part of the class struggle and the revolutionary process.

And (for those of us who see the value of continuing the revolution under socialism) this is not only true at the moments of revolutionary breach, but often continues to be true (in ways where new socialist laws challenge existing social relations *even under socialism* rather than reflect existing social relations).

There is historically within the communist movement (and within the Kautsky currents of the preceding socialist movement) a mechanistic view of the relations between base and superstructure. One (superstructure, ideas, politics) are simply derivative and subordinate expressions of the other (the base, i.e. class relations).

But (and here I agree with Mao) the relationship is far more dynamic -- and revolution (in particular) is a process by which leaps in the superstructure (new politics, new power, new ideas) react back on the base (the basic relations defining society) in dynamic and transformative ways.

If revolutionary law is merely an "expression of social relations" -- then a question: What social relations was the new Bolshevik laws abolishing feudal landholdings an expression? They didn't express existing social relations, they were part of overthrowing them.

[sidenote: You can mumble about "revisionism" all you want -- but you know, and I know, that the issue between us has always been your rightism, your adoption of rightist politics from the past, and your attempt to lacquer that rightism with half-understood phrases that you have picked up from a reading of Marxist classics.]

Neftali: Mike writes: ‎"We are debating whether laws are legal expressions of the existing state of social relations."

This is perhaps the debate you're having and attempting to fit my position into; however I stated laws are a historical development that express and regulate the real social-relationships in class societies.

It could give the legal legitimation for the state to construct new social-relations. The more complex the development of class society, the more complex the development of the state and the necessity for an abstraction of the state (as the bourgeois state in many occasions) to fulfill its need as an arbitrator of exchange and class dynamics, the legal expression of definite social relations and property relations correspond to an organization of the mode of production in league with the existent state instrument of class rule.

In the instances of revolutionary upheaval, the overturning of the state is an overturning of a definite class rule for another. It is accompanied subsequently by the creation and formation of new legal expressions of that society. Again your short-sightedness here is you rely on example from the immediate seizure of power in which the state issues executive decisions, i.e. law is the direct execution of the state with no mediation. The Emancipation Proclamation was inevitably followed by its Constitutional Amendments, the Bolsheviks themselves wrote a constitution enshrining those things in the immediate liquidation of property a year after its proclamation. In those instances law becomes merely the worded execution of the State, it is accompanied swiftly by the force of the State.

And this all to the point - Laws are a secondary feature in the utility of the instrument in the state and Communists should ultimately are for a withering of the state and its basic features, including laws. Free association of producers is lawless. It will be superseded, and there will be such manifestations of super-session as we go through the dictatorship of the proletariat, for another type of code that corresponds to a stateless and class society.

Sidenote: the issue in one sense is your revisionism - the attempt to integrate Gramscian styled social-movementist politics, with the reflection most readily seen in your cheer-leading of KOE and its essential Eurocommunist tailing. Your tailing of the petty-bourgeois social-movement Left in almost every detail. Your liquidation of the national question for a "spirit of self-determination." The continued reluctance to deal straightforwardly with those issues arising in the international communist movement. Your attempt to lacquer your essential liquidationism and opportunism in the half-understood readings you've picked up of Badiou and others.

That said, I was talking of a different sort of revisionism and not being general as that. The issue I was pointing to here is that of one particular sort of revisionism, without getting to the others, which is the reification of the state as a mass state. That was a revisionist position that was incorrect, ultimately was not the position of Marx, Lenin, etc. Twas not the position of Althusser (who you keep making a claim towards, but you are essentially reading in the same manner as someone like Poulantzas).

What however all the discussion on top demonstrates though is at the very core your inability to follow through a materialist thought and your unfortunate half-understood dogmatism of the past. Stuck to examples and slogans of one sort then not following through it terms of its trajectory and meaning otherwise. Your position here again is one which is not scientific, you put together a strawman argument and are not attempting to grasp the basic propositions here. Again you refuse basic definitions - what are laws?

I'll pose this another way - Democracy: Can we Do Better than That? But if you need a French guy to say it for you.

" Let us return to Lenin's phrase, which I quoted above: 'A power standing above the law'. Does this definition mean that a State power might exist without any law, without any organized legal system -- and here we must include the dictatorship of the proletariat, since the dictatorship of the proletariat is once again always a State power, as is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie? Absolutely not. It means on the contrary that every State imposes its power on society through the mediation of a system of law, and thus that the law cannot be the basis of this power. The real basis can only be a relation of forces between classes. It can only be a relation of historical forces, which extends to all the spheres of action and intervention of the State, i.e. to the whole of social life, since there is no sphere of social life (especially not the sphere of the 'private' interests defined by law) which escapes State intervention; for the sphere of action of the State is by definition universal.

"We might here deal with a current 'objection', which is of course in no way innocently meant, which creates confusion by surreptitiously reintroducing the point of view of legal ideology. According to this objection, Lenin's definition of the State is 'too narrow' , since it identifies State power with the repressive function, with the brutal violation by the ruling class of its own law. Apart from the fact that this objection is not at all new -- contrary to what one might think, given that, though it is in fact a theoretical revision of Leninism, it is presented as an example of theoretical progress and as 'transcending' Lenin's position -- it is particularly absurd from a Marxist or even quite simply from a materialist point of view.

"In Lenin's definition the essential factor is not repression or repressive violence, as exercized by the State apparatus about which we were just speaking, and by its specialized organs -- police, army, law courts, etc. He does not claim that the State operates only by violence, but that the State rests on a relation of forces between classes, and not on the public interest and the general will. This relation is itself indeed violent in the sense that it is in effect unlimited by any law, since it is only on the basis of the relation of social forces, and in the course of its evolution, that laws and a system of legislation can come to exist -- a form of legality which, far from calling this violent relation into question, only legitimates it."

Balibar on The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (Louis Althusser's student too).

Another point not be lost you made:

"If revolutionary law is merely an 'expression of social relations' -- then a question: What social relations was the new Bolshevik laws abolishing feudal landholdings an expression? They didn't express existing social relations, they were part of overthrowing them."

It as if we're no longer historical materialists, but accept a certain version of history which is accidental and has no trajectory.

 

As if the Peasant masses weren't already in the swell and prosecuting land seizures prior to October. First and foremost the proletarian revolution is a historical actuality, again as I've stated before from the sweep of history new social relations emerge within the old order, they give material basis for a new one. Political intervention is not accidental but a course of historical development, in which ideas become material force through the political utilization of force, but that is of course true of the bourgeois revolution. Again I have not denied ideas become material force, but where do correct ideas come from?

Mike Ely: These are important questions, and (as Neftali correctly points out) are entwined with the issue of law we have taken up here.

Neftali writes:

"It as if we're no longer historical materialists, but accept a certain version of history which is accidental and has no trajectory."

The issue in my view is not "historical materialism" but WHICH historical materialism. And I have been pointing out that there has been a long history of mechanical (overly determinist) version of historical materialism. The issue is not materialism here, but dialectics.

 

And it is possible to advocate a historical materialism that (correctly and necessarily) understands the role of accident (which has been often underappreciated) and which takes distance from quasi-religious assertions of "trajectory."

This has often been called a discussion of "inevitablism" -- which is rooted in a mechanical view of how base directs superstructure (how social relations determine politics).

It is also a major difference between the Stalin-era version of historical materialism (with their famous "ladder" of stages in human history) and the version developed in association with Mao and Maoism. This is not the place to respond with extensive quotes from Mao -- but i will just assert that the historical materialism that we need (and should espouse) has Mao's dialectical view of base and superstructure (and of how the superstructure can, and often does, lead the base). Revolution is itself precisely a moment where events in the superstructure (i.e. in the realm of politics and ideas -- including laws) react back on the base in a transformative way.

Laws are not simply or always "expressions" of existing social relations, they are (when they are revolutionary laws, especially in revolutionary moments) an expression of ideas and programs that are seeking to transform social relations (and establish new ones).

Neftali writes: "As if the Peasant masses weren't already in the swell and prosecuting land seizures prior to October"

And yes, as many of us know, there was an upsurge of peasants seizing land during the year before October -- and it is one of the objective conditions that made a socialist revolution possible. But it was (like all spontaneous acts of this kind) sporatic, uneven, often local in nature. The actual overthrow of semifeudal relations required something more -- the seizure of the heights of power and the establishment of radical new social norms on a countrywide basis. The Bolshevik declaration of a new land law was not simply an "after the fact" legitimization of something the peasants had actually done -- it was a manifesto of carrying that agrarian revolution through (to conclusion), and to the establishment of new social relations (which sporatic war-end rural uprisings could not do by themselves, and would not have done without the victory in Petrograd of the most radical party).

And I don't want to play with Neftali's confused use of the word "liquidationism" -- but I will point out that it is a mistaken assumption to think that agrarian revolution can be carried through by a series of scatter landseizures by unorganized peasants. It required the seizure of power, the creation of a Red Army and (yes) the popularization of a new laws (promising new norms and rallying peasants politically far beyond the bounds of the existing upheavals).

To deny that would (in fact) liquidate our understandings of the need for parties, for taking the heights of power, for creating a new *system* which coherently sought to integrate new socialist ownership of industry with new peastant ownership of land. 16 hours ago · Like

Neftali's closing question of "where do correct ideas come from?" is similarly tied to this larger debate over dialectical understandings vs. mechanical ones.

Ultimately, correct ideas arise from the creative summation of social experience (and a complex of human debate over such summation). But that doesn't mean (as rightists and economists believe) that correct understandings only arise among people based on their own (rather inherently narrow) experience.

Some times in life people encounter "correct ideas" very much from without -- from summations and debates far removed from their own spheres and experience. And the correct understandings brought to a class struggle *by communists* is often very much "from without." How many peasants understood that the victory of their own (most heartfelt) desires required a socialist revolution? How did they learn this? What was the genius of the Bolsheviks embracing and then enacting such an agrarian program -- and don't we know from history that even for more than a decade these ideas remained controvesial in rural areas of the new USSR?

Our ideas don't inherently tail behind the immediate experience of people. And believing that is one feature of those who would liquidate communist work, communist program and theory itself.

Dig in.

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  • <b>Neftali continues with further commentary:</b>

    <b>Neftali:</b> Ely writes:

    <blockquote>"The issue in my view is not 'historical materialism' but WHICH historical materialism. And I have been pointing out that there has been a long history of mechanical (overly determinist) version of historical materialism. The issue is not materialism here, but dialectics."</blockquote>



    Yes the issue is methodologically rooted here.

    I am speaking for a historical materialism which in the last instance is determined by the base. Scientifically speaking this determination in the last instance, as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Althusser, and many other plays off the useful analogy of base and super-structure. Indeed the mechanical world view of the Second International Marxists wrongfully held that in each instance the base is determining factor. The question of instances is the means by which history unfolds, history is not merely a progressive development of productive forces but is organized in definite class societies - modes of production, their prevailing social relations, and the superstructure of the domains of the state (legal, military, etc.), ideology (discourse, culture, religion, etc.). It is the development of productive forces (and denial of this is a liquidation of a Marxist historical materialism, precisely for a postmodern historical discourse) and the political play of class forces in the organization of those productive forces that produce definite modes of production. The issue of the last instance of the determination of the base (i.e. productive forces) as opposed to your misunderstanding of overdetermination is precisely why the methodology of yourself is not dialectical, and therefore not scientific in regards to history.

    Yours is a metaphysical mechanical materialism, ironically, that simply has the discourse of dialectics since in essence it can't give analysis to the process and development of history from the position of a materialist accounting of it. It as if things exist but have no connections at all.

    Trajectories are not religious conceptions, the irony is here YOU USE such a description (hence your slide to liquidationism throughout the Kasama Project).

    There is movement in history, in the development of productives, in the class struggle, and the possibility for new social-relations. We can understand accidents because what is in one instance accidental to the course of the development of class struggle, is in another instance not because of the ability to reflect and understand such accidents. Would you like to revisit Materialism and Empirico-critcism again? The basic attitude of Marxists is one that things need to be understood from the historical sweep and scientific analysis of material processes, we oppose the economist lines of the Second International and vulgar lines of position which in essence reduces things "simply" into labor and capital because we go into the particularity of contradiction; however such particularity in every instance, like a pallelogram of forces, has a definite determination but one which is bound to material possibility for production.

    Maybe we need to ask you more base Marxist questions - are there productive forces? is there modes of production? Etc. Is human society moving from the simple to the complex?

    Lets quote Mao



    <blockquote>"The causes of the transformation of matter is to be found not without, but within. It is not because of the impulsion of external mechanical forces, but because of the existence within the matter in question of two components different in their nature and mutually contradictory which struggle with one another, thus giving an impetus to the movement and development of the matter. As a result of the discovery of the laws of such movement and transformation, dialectical materialism is capable of enlarging the principle of the material unity of the world, extending it to the history of nature and society. Thus, not only it is possible to investigate the world considered as matter in perpetual movement, but the world can also be investigated as matter endlessly in movement from a lower form to a higher form. That is to say, it is possible to investigate the world as development and process.

    "Dialectical materialism investigate the development of the world as a progressive movement from the inorganic to the organic, and from thence to the highest form of the movement of matter (society)."

    Mao Zedong, On Dialectical Materialism.
    </blockquote>

    <blockquote>"Some people think that this is not true of certain contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the productive forces are the principal aspect; in the contradiction between theory and practice, practice is the principal aspect; in the contradiction between the economic base and the superstructure, the economic base is the principal aspect; and there is no change in their respective positions. This is the mechanical materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces, practice and the economic base generally play the principal and decisive role; whoever denies this is not a materialist. But it must also be admitted that in certain conditions, such aspects as the relations of production, theory and the superstructure in turn manifest themselves in the principal and decisive role. When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." [15] When a task, no maker which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also--and indeed must--recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism."

    Mao Zedong, <a href="/http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_17.htm" rel="nofollow">On Contradiction</a>.
    </blockquote>


    Part 2:
    I think these two positions articulate myself clearly. Matter moves from simple to complex, it happens because of the unity of opposities, the contradiction present in the thing. Transformation obeys definite processes of movement that are present in the real world. The developments of human societies are no different and reflect generally the development of matter from the simple to the complex. However this is not to say human societies obey simple laws that can be reasonable to articulate for the purposes of pedagogy (as Engels insisted in the base and superstructure analogy), as Engles puts it

    "It is the responsibility of the leaders to enlighten themselves more and more in theoretical issues, to liberate themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases that belong to the old worldview and to always keep in mind that from the time it became scientific, socialism demands to be treated as a science, that is, that is must be studied."

    Again here we come to the central issue of determinations. What is therefore the meaning and utility of the conception of the last instance in determination when as Mao spotlights here such determination can transform to its other-side. Ideas become material force, Class struggle leads the development of productive forces, something emerges from nothing in physics. The movement from the determination of the last instance - the base in relation to superstucture, ideas in relation to social-being, the void in relation to matter - to the determination of the otherside in the unity of opposites occurs as a result of a qualitative transformation proper within the strength of those opposites. The relative autonomous superstructure can be the sight for determination in the moment of a conjuncture where the basic (universal) contradiction is flushed in the explosion of contradiction in its very particularity. However the last instance of determination requires ultimately the resolution of contradiction in its very transformation, in the qualitative leap. The contradiction is a new contradiction. This is the spiral development of matter.

    Hence matter moves from the simple to the complex, in the complex it is still the case that we have one that divides into two.

    Let us look at the development of the Bolshevik revolution? Is this a matter of a simple political coup or a social revolution? If one where to insist on a version of events which maintains that no things are connected, there is no fundamental contradiction, no primary contradiction, no principle aspect of a contradiction...i.e. to not have a dialectical and historical materialist understanding, than this was nothing more than a coup that arose in extraordinary circumstances. However that version of understanding history, even in a materialist sense, is a bourgeois understanding. The Bolshevik Party represented the advanced detachment of the proletariat (Russian and internationally). The development of capitalism had a particular character distinct from other class societies hitherto where the slave, the peasant, the masses in their toiling majority, where in the condition of basic ignorance and unable to bring forward a society in which they had rule (in fact a basic question to you can be asked is if and whether or not slaves in Roman antiquity or Roman proletariat had the ability to bring a sustainable classless society) where the proletarian masses were concentrated and accessed the basic means of production in a technically viable way as opposed to before. They were brought into communication with each other, they began synthesizing their own experiences of rebellion and grasped the theoretical contributions of science and the struggles in philosophy. Capitalism produced grave-diggers among the only class that could materially eliminate the whole basis of class society. The Bolshevik Party, unlike anarchist detachments, didn't engage in base terrorism, it didn't catch itself ever in ultra-left insurrectionism, it anticipated a historical conjuncture in which it could move and intervene to smash the state and bring forward socialism. However the "stages of history" where all there because such stages corresponded to the actual development of Russian society and the material necessity to create ground for socialism, Russia was a semi-feudal society. Imperialist and dominated by imperialism. This overdetermination in contradiction fused altogether unique route for the Russian revolution, and made it the historical bridge for the revolutionary workers' movement and the peasant masses struggling against semi-feudalism, semi-colonialism or direct colonialism all over the world (a process which Marx didn't quite anticipate, not understanding how blocs of capital in their competition with each other would integrate reactionary modes of production within the general world system). But those stages were indeed real in the Russian revolution, as of 1905 the Bolsheviks put the line forward for the necessity of the proletariat to complete bourgeois revolution because of the incapacity of the liberal bourgeoisie to follow through on it (owing again to the uneveness of development in Russia). In fact the tendency which consistently trumpeted a forward march to socialism without a concrete analysis of Russia was entirely ultra-left among the Bolsheviks.

    But enough of this, the issue becomes whether or not the declarations of the Bolsheviks were the primary means by which transformation of social relations occurred - since again I posed that legal expressions of social relations are entirely secondary. As was already admitted by yourself, the peasant masses were already in upheaval, they were already in the midst of liquidating holdings of the landowners and building Soviets. Yes such things were "sporadic" and "spontaneous" but such things were occurring without the proclamations. Where not Hunan Peasants likewise also such sporadic and spontaneous types of peasant rebellions where liquidation of land holdings was taking place. But a digression, the fact remains in this context that the Bolshevik proclamation was made in the context of the actual smashing of one state by another in the midst of dual power, it was made in the context of an objectively revolutionary conjuncture where the subjective function of the Bolsheviks mobilized further activity among the masses. However what is the utility of the proclamations? It is more or less the same as the proclamations of the Bolsheviks not in power as well. The issuing of directives by the Military Revolutionary Committee (whether by printed paper, word of mouth, etc.) was the means by which the Bolsheviks organized the insurrection. Itself in power, as a state, in the issuing of executive law, carried the same mobilization prospects among cadre and among the masses they had won over in the lead up to civil war. So really we're speaking of the material force communication has, well that material force is equivalent to its actual power. If I were to issue the same proclamation it either would be ignored or I would be detained for treason (at this stage), the issue becomes the actuality of power and this is simply what you're missing. The legal expression of the State is the expression of the State, it is ultimately the State which exercises this expression through force. That is what is primary.

    Part 3:

    All the rest you've said again by your talk of Party, program, etc. is your attempt to reclaim MLM at the moment you liquidate its basic tools for any such Party to come to existence and to effectively mean anything. And my utilization of the word liquidate here is correct in the instance of the question of the Party as you flip-flop around from whether its nodule points (in fact a Bolshevik conception), networks, etc. What you keenly do in any argument is attempt to leave as much room for a type of agnosticism on a series of questions which makes your conception of Party abstract and meaningless because you have no conception of the content of it.

    Again on the matter of correct ideas - you create another strawman argument, where you have actually insisted upon an empiricist method in regards to understanding historical materialism and determinations. Remember you're the person who just asked me to ask a black person what they think of Juneteenth. Stupid.

    But actually even in your attempt to regain yourself as a materialist you fail.

    "Ultimately, correct ideas arise from the creative summation of social experience (and a complex of human debate over such summation)."

    This formulation is in fact not a materialist one. Correct ideas first and foremost correspond to objectivity, their "correctness" is attached to their this-sideness in the world. They in practice must correspond to such objectivity in mainly three spheres, how the fuck do you get this wrong? Its ULTIMATELY a creative summation of social-experiences (and a complex of human debate over such summation.)? I mean you couldn't be way off. How creative for instance is the idea to eat if I am hungry, what summation is required of social experience? For that matter "creative summations" as opposed to scientific. SMH.

    Moreover your whole talk of without and within are entirely superficial. There is no profound thing you have said there. I can learn from the experience of comrades in New Jersey, from "without" my state of New York. Whether it is from whatever geographic position of "without" or "within" you're upholding, correct ideas correspond to definite social practices. One create new ideas and put them to test based on older ideas in practice, that can be creative, its not ultimately necessarily correct BTW.

  • There are a number of things to raise here. I will be brief for now:

    1) N. writes:

    <blockquote>"Trajectories are not religious conceptions, the irony is here YOU USE such a description (hence your slide to liquidationism throughout the Kasama Project)."</blockquote>

    In fact, I did not reject "trajectories" (as such, as a whole) but and specifically the <em>quasi-religious</em> assertions of trajectory that inject one-sided notions of inevitability.

    My remarks were:

    <blockquote>"And it is possible to advocate a historical materialism that (correctly and necessarily) understands the role of accident (which has been often underappreciated) and which takes distance from quasi-religious assertions of “trajectory.”

    "This has often been called a discussion of “inevitablism” — which is rooted in a mechanical view of how base directs superstructure (how social relations determine politics).

    "It is also a major difference between the Stalin-era version of historical materialism (with their famous “ladder” of stages in human history) and the version developed in association with Mao and Maoism. This is not the place to respond with extensive quotes from Mao — but i will just assert that the historical materialism that we need (and should espouse) has Mao’s dialectical view of base and superstructure (and of how the superstructure can, and often does, lead the base). Revolution is itself precisely a moment where events in the superstructure (i.e. in the realm of politics and ideas — including laws) react back on the base in a transformative way."</blockquote>

    The physical world is full of trajectories. Throw a ball -- it follows a parabolic arc. Drop a glass, it falls to the ground. And simple events can be described (and even predicted) in those ways by physics.

    There has been a mistaken tendency (among some socialists and communists) to view historical developments as if they are as simple as such physical events -- and to exaggerate the necessity of <em>particular</em> trajectories in society.

    This is associated with the notion of "negation of negation" -- which mechanical currents of Marxism (including post WW2 Soviet era orthodoxies) declared to be <em>the</em> Marxist theory of development. By contrast, Mao Zedong coldly argued we should excise that theory (perhaps revise it) out of our methodology. I wrote about this some in the essay "What’s Normal for a Grain of Barley? On Negation of Negation."

    What emerges is that certain theories of inevitability in development are tied to certain exaggerations of essence in complex things.

    There is a larger discussion, obviously. There are pulls, tendencies, arcs and trajectories in social events -- but there is also the role of accident, and the emergence of unexpected new developments. Marx made certain predictive assumptions -- but it was because he did not (could not) see what would happen to capitalist relations (on a world scale, and in Europe) when colonial possessions got drawn more tightly into capitalist production.

    There was a kind of psychological reliance on the claims of "inevitable victory" -- where oppressed people facing incredible obstacles and vicious forces could take heart from the belief (and assertion) that their victory was "inevitable." However, on closer view, reality is more complex.

    Marx and Engels started their most famous work with these words:

    <blockquote>"The history of all hitherto existing society(2) is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."</blockquote>

    Note: They point out that victory was not inevitable for the revolutionary forces, but that there emerged (quite often actually) "ruin of the contending classes." What produces those two opposed possibilities? Does this deny trajectories embedded in the basic functioning of society? Isn't there a role of accident and contingency in how macro-events play out?

    We are not in the naive Euro-era of the 1900 turn of the century -- where progress seemed linear, inevitable, and immanent. In European capitalist thinking, such triumphalism did not survive World War 1 (and symbolic events like the sinking of the Titanic). Why should we angrily and jealously nurture it within communist thinking a century later?

    Why not liquidate naive mechanical orthodoxy, and embrace actual dialectics and actual materialism on the basis of a rich century of experience and summation?

    2) On Liquidation: The moment anyone challenges old orthodoxy, they are accused of "liquidating" known truths. In fact, ideas (like everything else) divide into two. Previous synthesis reveal their problems. The once vital, fresh and connected becomes exhausted.

    The language of orthodoxy versus revisionism doesn't serve communism well at a time when the existing orthodoxies are literally half a century old, and the larger communist movement has been terribly reluctant to touch a hair on inherited theories. We need to problematize even those ideas we expect to embrace. We need to discuss even those verdict we believe we will validate. And this is necessary because the whole (our communist synthesis) needs to be critically reconstructed in the course of our work.

    To those who confuse orthodoxy with truth, the very idea of critical thinking threatens to tear the project apart.

    To those who have recently discovered orthodox Marxism, it can seem refreshingly and excitingly whole (worked out, detailed, coherent). But the appearance of having "an answer for everything" is an illusion -- and that orthodoxy was (all along) too pat, to quick to declare itself settled. And its gaps and errors are (ironically) closely tied to its own mechanical assessment of itself.

    It was a tragedy that the New Communist Movement of the 1970s tried to solve the problems of the 1960s with the theory of the 1930s. But it would be doubly mistaken to try to repeat that again -- given what we experienced and learned. You want to learn from practice? Fine. Start by learning from the experience of the New Communist Movement -- and the weakness of grabbing quick orthodoxies and running into routinized and naive practice.

    3) It is easy to quote old passages, and strut around as if that settles anything. To pick just one example from the comments above; "Matter moves from simple to complex." Really? Always? Everywhere? Are there not cases where matter moves from complex to simple? Why not assert a dialectical relationship between simple and complex -- and acknowledge that it is (itself) not simple?

    It is worth examining the writing of Stephen Jay Gould on this kind of teleology, because he takes on notions like an overall tendency "from lower to higher" from many sides (with a profoundly scientific approach that is well informed about the controversies among communists).

  • Guest (carldavidson)

    Neftali: "Rights are co-extensive with power. They’re entirely secondary and can even be partially detrimental in the determination of the withering way of the state."

    I have no idea who this person is, but i would argue that the notion here is a fascist one, and not revolutionary or Marxist at all.

    Right is part of our species being, as is language and ritual. Right and obligation are aspects of our sociality that have allowed us to survive and thrive from our beginnings. Both Hegel and Marx divided right into two, natural right--as in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or even the right to rebel--and positive right, ie, rights as codified and written down, as in the Amendments to the Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and so on. All of them develop and change through time, along with place and circumstance. Governments may or may not recognize our natural rights, or try to thwart them, along with our rights as positive law, but they do not give them to us. They reside within and among us simply because of what we are. That last point, I would argue, is the core revolutionary view on the matter.

  • We have (obviously) several different discussions here -- and probably need to sharpen our understandings in several ways.

    Carl here is representing a view of "rights" that is rather straight out of liberalism -- i.e. where rights are "inalienable." He doesn't quite say we are "endowed" by a creator with those rights, but the Marxist-sounding concept of "species being" is inserted where Jefferson inserted god.

    And in the process many things become blurred. For example: We Maoists have always proclaimed "It is right to rebel against reactionaries" -- and seen that as a concentration of many of explorations and judgements developed in communist thinking. This statement is an expression of worldview and class stand. It is a judgement (about what is right and what is wrong).

    The people need a sense of their rights (including legal rights), but these are socially conditioned and social constructs (not innate) -- in ways that are worth discussing in more detail.

    In Carl's hand, by contrast, there now appears "the right to rebel" -- where it is not a judgement (by communists) about right and wrong, but "the right" as a natural right. We will need in a future society, a system of legal rights including (as Mao said) an assertion of the right to rule by the once oppressed.

    For those unfamiliar with that discussion, let me just mention Mao's <a href="/http://www.marx2mao.com/Mao/CSE58.html" rel="nofollow">Critique of Soviet Economics</a> where he writes a passage by passage criticism of how Soviet orthodoxy treats economic matters (and by extension treats people and political matters).

    Mao writes:

    <blockquote>"On page 414 we find a discussion of the rights labor enjoys but no discussion of labor's right to run the state, the various enterprises, education, and culture. Actually, this is labor's greatest right under socialism, the most fundamental right, without which there is no right to work, to an education, to vacation, etc.

    "The paramount issue for socialist democracy is: Does labor have the right to subdue the various antagonistic forces and their influences? For example, who controls things like the newspapers, journals, broadcast stations, the cinema? Who criticizes?

    "These are a part of the question of rights. If these things are in the hands of right opportunists (who are a minority) then the vast nationwide majority that urgently needs a great leap forward will find itself deprived of these rights. If the cinema is in the hands of people like Chung Tien-p'ei,[15] how are the people supposed to realize their own rights in that sector? There is a variety of factions among the people. Who is in control of the organs and enterprises bears tremendously on the issue of guaranteeing the people's rights. If Marxist-Leninists are in control, the rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed. If rightists or right opportunists are in control, these organs and enterprises may change qualitatively, and the people's rights with respect to them cannot be guaranteed. In sum, the people must have the right to manage the superstructure. We must not take the rights of the people to mean that the state is to be managed by only a section of the people, that the people can enjoy labor rights, education rights, social insurance, etc., only under the management of certain people."</blockquote>


    I won't write more about that now -- except to say we should not confuse the liberal enlightenment view of rights (however historically progressive it might have been for its time) with our own communist view.

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    @MikeE

    'Species being' is a term used by Marx to refer to us, human beings, not God. No need to mix them up.

    True, Jefferson used 'Endowed by their Creator...', but it's really not required for the argument. You could used 'nature as evolved through history' just as well, and many atheists among the rising bourgeois revolutionaries, like Thomas Paine, did so. Our capacity for right are obligation is unalienable because it's part of who we are, just as language. It comes with the fact that we have evolved as social creatures.

    I agree we will need a system of positive law, ie, legal rights, in a revolutionary order. But positive law only does well when it rests on natural law--life, liberty, the means to thrive (happiness), and the right to rebel against reactionaries, ie, those who would enslave you.

    Mao's point, that the people must have the right to manage the superstructure. is quite similar to Locke's, ie, sovereignty resides not in the state, but in the people themselves. Not that it was always observed in his time.

    It's rather important, and on a deep level.

  • Guest (Nat W)

    This is a challenging discussion, one of those to go back to again and again.

    The distinction between revolutionary law and other notions of law I think is very important.

    Revolutionary law being meant to qualitatively transform social relations and not to enforce existing norms. Thus revolutionary law is politcal and calls forth people to greater to action i.e its description as playing a role similar to a declaration of war.

    This is very related to our understanding of dialectics and the moments when "superstructure leads base".

    Think of this in terms of the postulation of law as "entirely" secondary. In dialectical motion is it ever possible for a process or thing to be entirely secondary. Does not the secondary at times become primary and thus doesn't that in fact happen when a revolutionary law is declared to call people into motion?

    In a transitional society struggling toward communism, and in the way we have talked on Kasama of "communism as road" doesn't it make sense to make this distinction in "type" of what law is? How we should we understand what law is for communists versus non-communists?

    This question of the force of the state as decisive in transforming "right" is also troubling. It is obviously tied to the notion of law as being "a historical development that express and regulate the real social-relationships in class societies."

    So the class in motion under its power (state power) thus establishes laws in tune with the level of "historical development".

    It's hard to reconcile this notion of law and power with the idea of continuing the revolution under the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Given what we might understand of the nature of socialism from the historical experience of Russia and China culminating in the Cultural Revolution, i.e. the basis for capitalist restoration and the need for a communist movement as part of the struggle of road, can we really understand law to be so tied up with some kind of such 'historical development" that moves from "simple to complex"?

    Given the nature of struggle in the transition to communism, the very sharp battle between forces going forward and those that are stagnant and ultimately in reverse, isn't a political notion of law and the role it plays in socialism necessary?

    Things are far too up for grabs and determined by struggle in a transitional period of socialism for a notion of law that is merely an expression of social relations. In fact there is a battle in socialist society being constantly fought out over law. Will they be revolutionary laws or capitalist laws? And this in fact implies a notion of law that is rooted in political questions over which way society will go. Again superstructure is leading base.

    In this sense even capitalist law (reactionary law) in socialist society is something which is being used to mobilize social bases.

    Obviously, this is tied to social relations. But it cannot be dialectical to say that the question of law is "entirely" secondary. In the flux of social development that can go in contradictory directions "complex to simple", "simple to complex", moving toward or away from a communist road; law can play a primary role in particular struggles (as can other aspects of superstructure). It seems important to understand this.

    Again this was a very challenging, high level discussion and deserves a multiple readings. This is the kind of discussion that is a big part of our development as communists in our project for historical summation and reconception. I love it! These are thus my inital, very basic, thoughts on the discussion.

  • Guest (Sks)

    <blockquote>"3) It is easy to quote old passages, and strut around as if that settles anything. To pick just one example from the comments above; “Matter moves from simple to complex.” Really? Always? Everywhere? Are there not cases where matter moves from complex to simple? Why not assert a dialectical relationship between simple and complex — and acknowledge that it is (itself) not simple?

    "It is worth examining the writing of Stephen Jay Gould on this kind of teleology, because he takes on notions like an overall tendency “from lower to higher” from many sides (with a profoundly scientific approach that is well informed about the controversies among communists)."</blockquote>

    In physics, in an open system, yes always. Its called Entropy, a fundamental discovery in physics that surprisingly applies to any open system.

    In the case of human society, the generalized tendency has also been towards complexity: from hunter/gatherers in small social bands, to the development of agriculture and settlements in primitive communist conditions, to the development of the city-state and class society, to the transformation of class society into increasingly complex systems - in a process not made less entropic by the fact it doesn't appear lineal.

    Even that old slogan: "socialism or barbarism" speaks to entropy: either we create a system for managing entropy that benefits all, or we go down the drain.

    Even the development of the revolutionary cadre is entropic: none of us became revolutionaries with a full and complete understanding of reality or theory and practice, nor will be die with such. Its too complex for a single human mind. Which is why capitalism is barbaric - it is reactionary in that it is anti-entropic in making the individual supreme.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    The thread here I think is edited in an all too particular way that gives way too much generosity to the position of Mike Ely. However as I've laid most of my position forward I will comment only on what Mike Ely has left me in response on this thread and some ca

    1) The issue of law here is a basic question. Law is in essence the codification of the rule of the state, it is the means by which it communicates and legitimates its imposition of force to create and reproduce definite social order. There is no difference between bourgeois law and socialist law in this regard. Again what Mike Ely plays with is a very narrow set of examples from the aftermath of the conquest of State Power. Such conquest smashing the old state and bringing forward the new one. Even in the bourgeois revolutions such utility of executive power and command had the effect of immediate transformation of social relations in accordance to the new ruling classes desire. However such things occur again, materially grounded in the possibility for such re-organization of production. Otherwise we're talking about political power that will very soon lose its basic legitimation to conduct itself in such a manner.

    Whether or not a law carries forward the material possibility of mobilization of the masses of people for its implementation is not at issue. That was never what was contested. What is contested here is how law is seen to mobilize people - if it is argued that it signifies and orients masses of people in action, that is of course what it does (and all laws do when there is basic legitimation of the state, and of course this has special enthusiasm in the revolutionary context) than it many way it can have special agitation and propaganda purposes in mobilization. What is at issue is the way Law is seen, and hence back to the earlier photo. The legal apparatus of the state is a historically developed institution of the state in class society, at a certain point of its development, to abstract the state from the position of common exchange as arbiter. Under the law, individual "freedoms" are transformed into right. Even in the socialist state we can only speak of "right" in regards to the law. There is in no sense however one can fundamentally speak of rights in any such sense as liberation in a communist sense, and in many instances where rights prevail in socialism they can be bourgeois rights which need to be overturned. The very reform of land to the tiller was a bourgeois right, the liquidation of banks or factories into the hands of the dictatorship of the proletariat was only an abstract negation of property, worker's ownership can still be entangled in exchange. In each such instance, the possibility of the capitalist-road, for lingering bourgeois right can return to dominate the heights of power as a process of degeneration.

    The ideology itself of law needs to be broken, its a matter of political struggle and the continuation of political struggle. Fostering allusions among the masses about the power of laws, an allusion fostered in the bourgeois system, and not stating definitely their secondary and instrumental relationship to state power and the balance of forces, to the class struggle and class rule, is a revisionist line.

    2) Mike Ely in his attempt to break away from teleological viewpoint that is a part of the revisionist legacy of the second international also simply breaks from Marxism itself. As is well-established in physics, and as he notes, there are simple phenomenon they obey definite laws in quite usually predictable means. Of course. Such things can also theoretically not obey these laws in every instance which is already established, but generally do. The evolution of human society moves from simple to complex based upon the development of the productive forces and their organization into modes of production. The general tendency towards development of the productive forces creates basic contradiction in the mode of production when such development reaches points where possibility allows for new organization of production that are in the interests of a larger section of the masses of people. Class struggle occurring already within each given body of a social formation can lead way to political revolutions that lay the basis for development of new modes of production. Hence the famous axis of the development of history for Marxism has always been the development of productive forces and the class struggle. It is the means by which the developments of human society are projected forward. There is of course added complexity (since simple moves to complex) in that there is particularity in question with each definite social formations and their contradictions between each other in regards to the whole system (national question) or the lingering primitive basis of accumulation and reproduction rooted at the very base the smallest economic units persisting forward (women's question), but this is precisely the point of connecting the universal to the particular, and creating an analysis and program that actually can bring forward revolution as opposed to liquidating such things for what is very much a weak Marxism that is ready to give itself over to the general politic of the theoretical schema of petty-bourgeoisie in the form of post-modernism.

    There is of course a role of "accident" in history, a role for surprise. However this role has no predictability and therefore it is utterly useless to speak about in such manners that are not subjective. Such subjectivity is important in so much as it already rooted in the practice of the class struggle, in the struggle for production. It is already both observer and participant in the phenomenon in question. But that's why we draw plans of actions, programs, create slogans, and attempt to build a Party. However as long as you keep this a scholastic issue you're indeed engaging another form of revisionism which is already engaged by the Bourgeoisie themselves in their own scholarship of producing counter-factual history, history of what-ifs, etc.

    Must we quote Marx? "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

    As long as you celebrate spontaneity you are navel-gazing and ceding the territory to the petty-bourgeoisie and their program or worse you've have accepted it and become someone among their forces. Your type of contrarianism, "critical Marxism" is bordering this, or as I fear is dehabilitating the possibility for the advancement of such forces that can combine the most advanced proletarian theory with proletarian practice. As long as you keep giving too much credit to those scholastic and petty-bourgeois (mainly white male) identarians who take refuge behind the new incarnations of systems philosophy, this is what you're doing.

    My position therefore must be distinguished from you in this way - whereas for me accident is addressed by practice, and theory accounts for the summation of our activity in concrete practice (in the scope of the whole sweep) you want accident to be addressed by theory. In essence your line is the course for metaphysics. Its basic function is to create universality out of particularity.

    3) On the matter of liquidationism

    As has been demonstrated above your methodology has fallen far from the reach of a proper dialectical materialist practice, it tails scholasticism, eclecticism, and new trends among the petty-bourgeoisie (as can readily be seen by most). The issue of liquidationism is connected to this; however I would not state it as such. I think (and this is my opinion) you've had an orientation towards a type of liquidationism for some time on many questions. It would be of course for me simply dogmatism if I would to hold positions which were in the light of the actuality of facts impossible to hold. However that is not really the case though you assert it. For instance when I state you liquidate the need for Democratic Centralist Vanguard Party, you liquidate the need for Leninism, it is because this is precisely what you do for the semi-Trotskyist orientation towards regroupment. In your attempts anticipate the "accidents" among the subjective forces, it seems there is such openness of position that is simply opportunist if you really are Communist. The "vibrancy" of discussion depends on its basic inaccessibility to the masses, the courting of the opinion (even giving it prominent display) of the most erroneous and reactionary trajectories among "Marxists," and overall the lack of direction, program, for genuine communists in the conjuncture where that is precisely needed.

    You uphold in abstraction the need for such things, but in its definite articulation as one you're opposed to it as either "encapsulated," "dogmatic," or "tired and old" (especially when referring to other Communist organizations) whereas I guess what is new is to be found among the opportunist new Economists in the East Coast, the scattered workerists and autonomists in the West coast, or the attempts of nat. bourg forces to put forward a municipal socialism (bureaucratic capitalist, popular democracy) in the South in the "spirit" of self-determination for yourself.

    If anything here, orthodoxy stands for honesty in two line struggle and participation the struggle of the masses of people, and not pursuing methodologies that have the dress of the dawn of the new age but at their very basic foundation is nothing more than playing with left-wing eclecticism in order to grasp to the coat-tails of what is moving.

    4) The fact that you're challenging the proposition of simple moving to complex (and Nat W. joining on this) is such contrarian form without argument is for me mind-boggling. Seriously it is mind-boggling.

    Matter moves from the simple to the complex in a general trajectory. As matter moves from simple to complex, such movement is contained within the progressive drive in the struggle of unity of opposites, in the underlying contradiction of force present within a thing. Things of course can go from complex to simple; however it does not do so in the same manner as it does from simple to complex. Such movement is altogether different and are not fluid with each other and often any move from the complex to the simple is altogether actively destructive to a thing resulting in its possible negation. Moreover such a move from complex to simple is resultant from the moment the complexity in the thing has reached the stage where it is unstable and prone to its own degeneration of annihilation. In other instances the movement is resultant from an outside force which acts upon the other body in such a way as to destroy or damage that body.

    In physics we know of the processes of radiation and gravity where the more complex moves to simpler forms precisely because the complexity of the thing. On the atomic level elements can degenerate from being heavy in atomic number, in the realm of the relatively large great masses can qualitatively transform to points of singularity within spatial-temporal existence.

    In instances where force acts on another object, we can think of an apocryphal atomic blast bringing the end of definite being in its shape and form.

    In the development of biological life, individual life lives, grows, weakens, and dies. It has as its basic life process the drive to its own negation. However we pulled away from the immediacy of each organism, the general process is one of simple to complex suited to the possible condition that can allow for such complexity. Things can return to a zero point of course with mass extinctions in the intervention of another element - killer virus, solar flares, comet hitting earth, etc.

    In human societies simple moves to the complex, and the complex is likewise unstable as other complex things are. Teaming in contradiction it is possible for there to be simple ruin in such things, especially human societies. Hence socialism or barbarism is the real trajectory of the future. Capitalism can't peacefully move forward endlessly, that is altogether impossible because of the very real and present material limits to it (that already taking root).

  • Guest (Neftali)

    What is also interesting is how very similar it seems to me that Mike Ely's presentation of the idea of complex moving into simple is very reminiscent to the idea of two into one.

  • Guest (Mike E)

    It is sad that Neftali accuses us of dishonesty, but gives no examples -- since he has none. He didn't ocntact us to ask that something be inserted (since nothing of substance was taken out). He simply makes a charge without substance.

    It is all too typical of a method that tried to turn political differences into hostility, and which portrays anyone who disagrees with Neftali as morally repulsive opportunists. (What a comforting self-image that must be!)

    As I mentioned in the into, the only thing "edited" in this exchange were a few snarkly personalized comments (attacking me for my age, for example) which are disconnected with the content and not allowed on our site. A few minor word/typo changes were also made for clarity.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Quite literally I did not use the word dishonesty throughout this thread. What I've accused you of is definite and real practices that can be observed in the light of the development of struggle which I've identified as liquidationist and opportunist in the main part. However I do fine certain methods of your argument dishonest, that I will say.

  • Neftali:

    <blockquote>"What is also interesting is how very similar it seems to me that Mike Ely’s presentation of the idea of complex moving into simple is very reminiscent to the idea of two into one."</blockquote>

    I'm not sure what to say about such a charge.

    First, is he implying that because he sees a similarity that this makes these equivalent ideas? Think of the logic: "two into one" is a formulation associated with conservative currents within Chinese Marxism. If Mike Ely makes a statement that Neftali thinks is "similar" to "two into one" -- are we supposed to conclude that Mike is therefore a revisionist?

    I think anyone reading this understands that it is an odd argument to say "To me, your argument looks similar to a wellknown stupid argument, therefore you are stupid."

    Second, is Neftali denying that complex things every become simplified (in nature and society)? Wouldn't that be a strange claim?

    If the discussion is going to sink to such a silly level, perhaps we should call this part of it off.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    No I said they're similar. You've added the rest. In so much as you merely made a contrarian claim that the complex moves into the simple without explanation of this movement or under what conditions it occurs, there is an open possibility that such a wide-open general contrarian statement of the sort can in fact fit the basic conception that is the classic line on two into one, that is that development of internal contradictions can find resolvement which simplifies the basic mechanicism of contradiction within the thing or resolves it entirely. In fact at first glance this is likely what it can mean without any basic description of the movement.

  • N. writes:

    <blockquote>"In so much as you merely made a contrarian claim that the complex moves into the simple without explanation of this movement or under what conditions it occurs, there is an open possibility that such a wide-open general contrarian statement of the sort can in fact fit the basic conception that is the classic line on two into one, that is that development of internal contradictions can find resolvement which simplifies the basic mechanicism of contradiction within the thing or resolves it entirely."</blockquote>

    There is much in this sentence that I don't understand -- largely because of your thinking and expression have a mix of pompous and fuzzy.

    But let me respond to what is clear: That you accuse me of having a "contrarian" view of dialectics.

    You have to be rather conservative and orthodox-minded to think my views on this are "contrarian" -- i.e. that there are settled verdicts on such matters, and any questioning of those verdicts is some shocking or suspect departure.

    No. It is not a "contrarian" claim to say that complex things sometimes simplify in our universe. It is, if anything, obvious to anyone who thinks about it for twenty seconds.


    The issue is that you said "simple to complex" is a <em>general</em> law of nature and society (and therefore of dialectics).

    Specifically, here are your words:

    <blockquote>"I think these two positions articulate myself clearly. Matter moves from simple to complex, it happens because of the unity of opposities, the contradiction present in the thing. "</blockquote>

    Actually this is a rather naive and dogmatic view -- removed from practice, history and science.

    Sure, <em>some</em> matter moves from simple to complex. (Some things, some processes leave matter more organized at the end than at the beginning -- for example crystalization, or the emergence of city-states from simple peasant farming).

    But it is not universal.

    In fact, some things go from complex to simple. (And if you think human society goes from simple to complex, you have to acknowledge that it also flows the other way: some areas that had city states went back to simple peasant farming (meet the Mayans...)

    For example, while crystalization leads to a more formal structure of atoms, but sublimation of crystals leads to a more chaotic gaseous order (this happens, for example to iodine crystals).

    Who would deny that change happens in both directions?

    <strong>For example: </strong>There was for decades debate among communists over whether capitalist restoration was possible. Some said no... that history did not flow backwards. That you couldn't stuff a baby back into its womb. That a post-revolutionary society might reveal problems and flaws, but it was idealist to think it could become capitalist and so on.

    It is not surprising that those who <em>denied</em> the possibility of capitalist restoration <em>invented</em> a rule that "the tape of history doesn't run backwards." And that some of those people were (surprise surprise) figures who were key figures in <em>carrying out</em> capitalist restoration.

    In short, the overestimation of directionality (in nature and society) is both wishful thinking and involved a linear view of how things developed (that denies how much development is complex and wavelike, and how often it often involves eddys, reversals, etc.) And is rooted (pretty obviously) in a particular kind of modernist assumption that emerged in 19th century Europe -- the assumptions that their current of development was "civilization" -- as opposed to the "barbarism" of anyone who resisted them. Who thought that humanity was on some great positive upward arc, inherently, and all the rapid changes they injected into human life were part of that great modernization.... I suspect we should adopt a more careful assessment of changes, and a fewer naive assumptions of inherent positive development.

    Things may well get better in human society, but only if we make it better.

    So, again, there is nothing particularly "contrarian" about me pointing out that things <em>both</em> go from "simple to complex", but also from "complex to simple."

    If you want to establish that the universe (and as you claim, human society) has a general trend of going from "simple to complex" then you have to prove it. You have to make that argument. You can't simply announce some old orthodoxy, and then accuse anyone who disagrees as being "contrarian."

    <strong>The example of hominid life</strong>

    <strong>Let me give an example of the discussion:</strong> Most of human society has been relatively stable and simple. For a million years Homo erectus used a toolkit of stone tools that didn't change. They were hunter gatherers and their form of culture was remarkably stable. For most of human society humans were huntergatherers, interspersed with sedentary peasant farmers.

    Suddenly, at one point, something very different starts to take off, about 10,000 years ago (after modern humans had existed for about 180,000 years) -- with the emergence of cities, states, armies, taxes, wealth, literacy, beginnings of science, class society etc. in a few particularly fertile areas with particularly domesticatable animals and crops.

    Now, was this sudden change in social complexity an aberration, some unique development in history that gave rise to modern class society? Or was there some inherent trend (from simple to complex) inherent in human society <em>from the very beginning</em>?

    Cities developed in several areas, and then often collapsed (again, the Mayans, or Ankor Wat, or a number of other examples).

    In fact, most city-based civilizations (about three quarters of them) that emerged didn't proceed toward more "higher" development and complexity, but receded back into the more dispersed forms it had arisen out of. That was the general trend -- i.e. from simplicity to complexity back to the previous simplicity.

    Given that, why is "simple to complex" a universal rule (as you assert)? Based on what? Based on what analysis?

    Was the <em>rise</em> of the Mayan city states an example of a <em>general</em> trend toward complexity, while their <em>decline</em> only an example of a <em>non-general</em> set of exceptions to that general trend? Based on what (philosophically and historically)?

    <strong>The whole question of complexity</strong>

    In addition, there is (in this discussion) several things to raise about "what rates as complexity anyway?" And whether a lot of the thinking that you display is rooted in outdated views and assumptions about progress -- that arose in a particular European context.

    When a sun undergoes a supernova process -- is that simple to complex? In other words, are those really the choices? Don't things change form, often in ways that don't lend themselves to some naive "simple to complex" assumption? When lava flows change sedimentary rock to metamorphic rock... is that simple to complex? Or is it just change?

    <b>The problem of naive orthodoxy</b>

    <strong>Again: </strong>I'm not asserting a view here that I'm proposing as a "settled question."

    I'm merely (again) pointing out that your assumption that such things are settled (and any exploration is revisionist or "contrarian") goes against a critical and scientific thinking about the world and about Marxism. We need a critical approach to our own critical theory. A Marxist approach to Marxism.
    This is the wrong time in history to take a fundamentalist approach to our own inherited ideas -- that says

    <blockquote>"some classic text says it, I believe it, and you are a shit if you don't."</blockquote>

    In our situation, this rather naive and thoughtless embrace of old orthodoxies is also tied to a kind of political rightism -- in ways it would be useful to unravel. (And in this case i mean "rightism" on that spectrum of leftwing and communist politics, not on the larger mainstream spectrum.)

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Is your only line of defense in these matters just various forms of "You too!" types of arguments? To settle very simply the issue of things moving from simple to complex, I've utilized many examples that are empirically observable in the course of discussion. Yes, I've also made these claims based upon my understanding about Marxist theoretical texts which make the very basic claim (particularly in this instance I used Mao) which I think are correct.

    The movement of matter from the simple to the complex is descriptively true, an observation demonstrable through an actual empirical observation of the development of the universe. How is this true? Well because of the very movement of matter itself in its basic laws. If you'd like to go through all of them from the condensation of primitive hydrogen stars, their formation of heavier elements, the development of more complex stars, the emergence of life as merely self-replicating molecular sequences to the development of organisms capable of using tools and language, I am sorry to say I am neither in no position to do so or am merely capable by myself to do this. In so much science demands the analysis of the particular, i.e. demands concrete analysis, I do agree with you it has to be done because that is the work of science.

    But that is precisely why I have accused you of mere contrarianism, you free-wield through arguments with no consistency that attack dogmatism but allow yourself the freedom of movement to make enormous claims. This is indeed a dishonest method.

    So let me say and repeat again without hesitation that matter generally moves from the simple to the complex, as Mao did indeed write. Matter has certainly potential to move from the complex to the simple, but this is not its overall tendency and such movement I've described as ultimately having an interesting character of following a movement of simple to complex to a point of instability in the object. There are also occasions where such objects can be negated by force outside of itself. The consumption of other organic material is key. Even in these general movements there are various tendencies that can return to the complex depending on the object, this would require specific analysis of it.

    This all said maybe it is simple to just return to the object of class societies for isn't this our real interest?

    Mike Ely makes the claim that the the dissolution/and degeneration of the "actually existing socialism" states to State-capitalism and outright capitalism represents his principle of understanding of the complex moving to the simple. But this is actually entirely inconsistent with the thought of MLM and accepts the particular line of logic of the Brezhnevite-revisionists. First and foremost I have to state that the conquest of state power in the Soviet Union, China elsewhere was a part of the a world proletarian revolution. What was always wrong conceptually in the Brezhenevite revisionist about the degeneration of humans to apes, etc. was that fundamentally it looked statically at the world revolutionary process as simply instances and moments where socialism will emerge and here and there as a definite mode of production. But this was never the case. The struggle for socialism throughout the 20th century must be seen from the lense of world revolutionary process, where socialism emerged in a moment of an initial revolutionary conjuncture after World War I. The proletariat consolidated power after shattering the weakest link of imperialism and prepared the basis for assault against the whole of the imperialist world system, etc. As I've stated before what is crucial to remember is that socialism is not a definite mode of production (which is many instances what you're falling into here), it is an abstract negation of the capitalist mode of production. The very transitional aspect of it is because its delicate and in many regards, as has even been pointed to by Lenin and Mao, is only delineated from capitalist by political rule.

    So again because I am not equivocating things here in a philistine sort of manner, the matter of whether or not socialism can move back to capitalism is not contested. However let us be materialist here, can the modern capitalist world economy revert to hunter-gatherer society? Or for that matter, at this stage, can it move to feudalism? Considering the consolidation of the system of commodity exchange and production over hundreds of years I would say no, unless of course such things were forced into being by catastrophic events (the whole dystopian accounts etc). However there was at one point where the bourgeois state was very weak in relation to very retrograde, reactionary class forces. There were in fact many different moments of bourgeois revolution and subsequent counter-revolutions. What makes the revolution of the proletariat much different?

    This perhaps can good seg-way to return to what was at issue to begin, before all these detours, which is the matter of laws and their relationship to a transitional period to communism. For the very reason that laws have only functional utility in relationship to state power and the balance of forces that constitutes state power, it is necessary to rid ourselves and make plainly clear in our agitation and education of the masses of people that laws, of all sorts, are merely a part of the function of the state in organizing and enforcing conditions for production manifested in social-relations. What is fundamentally at issue is state power, wielding state power, etc. Those people who had thought that socialism degenerating into capitalism was as silly as humans degenerating into apes were precisely under this delusion because that the abstract negation provided by the socialist ownership of the means of production had eradicated the possibility and condition for the return of the bourgeoisie, they were under the allusion that LEGAL ownership was primary and not secondary.

    This is why the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position emphasizes instead the very basic questions of Lenin's whom? who? and stresses the continuity of class struggle in socialism, and prosecuting the dictatorship of the proletariat throughout it even against the very legal mechanicisms of the socialist state when necessary in fighting the bourgeoisie in the Party.

  • I won't respond to most of the above. But this passage deserves some clarity:

    <blockquote>"Mike Ely makes the claim that the the dissolution/and degeneration of the “actually existing socialism” states to State-capitalism and outright capitalism represents his principle of understanding of the complex moving to the simple."</blockquote>

    Of course i said nothing of the kind.

    I said that mechanical views of change were characteristic of the most conservative forces in the communist movement.

    These mechanical views take many forms. But in particular it is the idea of linearity in human social development. The orthodox argued that development doesn't move backward. "You can't stuff a baby back into the womb." i.e. that socialism can't reverse into capitalism.

    This controversy is not mainly about simple to complex... it is about people thinking things only go one way. And that such one way development is some law of nature.

    Laws and politics are built on the basis of class relations in specific modes of production. But that doesn't mean that law is always and everywhere "entirely secondary" to social relations -- sometimes laws are way out in advance of social relations, and become a weapon of oppressed people for overthrowing oppressive social relations.

    Yes, productive forces have (over time) gone from very primitive (400,000 years ago) to profoundly elaborate (especially in the last 500 years). But that does mean there is some inevitable trend that made this happen. Or that things couldn't move in a different direction. Or that they couldn't have.

    Yes, things in nature and society often move from simple to complex. But they also sometimes move the other way. And it seems to be strange to insist that one (simple to complex) is a general law, while the reverse (complex to simple) is not.

    I'm arguing we should not embarass ourselves by mechanical thinking. We should not uncritically assimilate every phrase we find in old classics. We should stand for serious, critical thinking, not half-baked bandying of poorly understood concepts.

  • Guest (Nat W)

    Still learning much from this exchange. I certainly would argue that Mike Ely's argument corresponds to "real" material proccesses (after thinking about it for 20 seconds).

    I have a question for Neftali. You maintain that law is alway secondary to the state and is a reflection of the exercise of political struggle, but in particular the force of the state.

    You seem to be basing this on the idea that law and right must be abolished as we transition to communism.

    But isn't the state something that must also wither away?

    And if socialism means a radically different state from any that proceeded it, why wouldn't revolutionary law be radically different from law meant to maintain a current order (or for that matter to throw things in reverse)?

    You're argument seems to fall short.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    @Nat W,

    Throughout my position I have put forward is the general line that the state must wither away. Yes it would be a radically different state in that regard from other class dictatorships. However it is my opinion that there was a basic issue of revisionism which was fomented around against this basic proposition. There emerged an opinion which saw that socialism must be strengthened through the state apparatus, and of course that communism could be realized by a transformation of the state in relation to the masses as productive forces developed. This was a view that essentially liquidated the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat in socialism for a mass state. It saw in fact the liquidation of opinion against the original proposition of the withering away of the state (Pashukanis for example).

    In regards to law, their transformation in kind will of course occur in content for their functionality would change. However I've never stated there would NO LAWS under socialism, only that communism must be de-facto conceived as lawless.

    For me the qualitative transformation must first begin with - for who, whom?

  • Guest (Neftali)

    ^ Meaning you're making too much conceptually in the "radical difference" - it can be grasped by our minds, we can understand their functionality, their relationships in ways that are concretely radically different and also contain what is the same from the past society.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Mike Ely writes:


    <blockquote>
    "Yes, productive forces have (over time) gone from very primitive (400,000 years ago) to profoundly elaborate (especially in the last 500 years). But that does mean there is some inevitable trend that made this happen. Or that things couldn’t move in a different direction. Or that they couldn’t have."</blockquote>



    Sorry this is actually in its essence the very opposite of the historical materialist thesis. Marx writes:


    <blockquote>
    "History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations, and thus, on the one hand, continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and, on the other, modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity."</blockquote>

    I.e. History as the social organization of human activity and life is dependent upon production, a process of production which through succession of generations who've struggled for production, INEVITABLY, begin bettering their means of production and developing surpluses in production.

    What course of human activity on this planet could have occured where production was not the base, and development of productive forces not inevitable? Perhaps one where there are no humans - either homo sapien, neatherdal, homo erectus -at all

  • Guest (PatrickSMcNally)

    The issue of capitalist restoration was best addressed by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky saw that revolutions in feudal areas such as Russia or China were initial bourgeois revolutions which were forced to attempt to reach beyond the bourgeois stage by the way they had become incorporated into the global economy. The bourgeois revolutions in Russia and China are indeed irreversible, but the attempt to make a proletarian revolution which could potentially create socialism, was always handicapped by the fact that these states had not developed capitalism in a proper sense. Hence it was not shocking that the attempt to make a socialist revolution failed in these states.

    A socialist revolution in the United States of America, when such does eventually occur, will be of a completely different order of significance. To talk about a proletarian revolution occurring in the USA is tantamount to describing the blowing apart of the very heartland of global capitalism. The impact which this will make on the whole world will be vastly greater than any revolution by Russia or China in the last century. It will be permanently irreversible in its impact.

  • Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>"I.e. History as the social organization of human activity and life is dependent upon production, a process of production which through succession of generations who’ve struggled for production, INEVITABLY, begin bettering their means of production and developing surpluses in production."</blockquote>

    First, historical materialism requires paying attention to the <em>actual</em> history of human beings. You can write the word INVEVITABLY (in big letters over and over) -- but that doesn't make it true.

    What would it look like if humans <em>inevitably</em> raised their productive forces?

    If (for 200,000 or more years... the vast majority of our existence) we humans did not appreciably change our mode of production from small group hunter-gathering... can it be somehow nonetheless true and inherent (all along!) that we <em>inevitably</em> would develop industry, metallurgy and space travel?

    Was this inevitability just sitting there waiting, nestled among hundreds of thousands of years of stone axes and campfires, just <em>waiting</em> for a burst of manifestation?

    Or was the relatively sudden invention-then-spread of villages, domesticated grain, and domesticated animals (10,000 years ago in Asia Minor) something unusual? Something reproduced independently in the Americas and East Asia... but perhaps still not inevitable at all? Perhaps some minor difference (objective climate, subjective migration decision...?)would have shifted outcomes in Africa and we would have simply gone extinct? Or some other branch of hominid would have become common (but incapable of a similar impact on the world)?

    The human race has lived for vast eons of time as huntergatherers with little change in productive forces. Then they lived for the next ten thousand years in sleepy villages, digging at the earth in simple ways.

    And then, only in the last few hundred years, barely a blink of time, has there been a massive, unprecedented <em>exponential</em> explosion in productive forces.

    And yet you imply that this (very recent compressed) mushrooming of productivity was (somehow) inherent and inevitable all along?

    Do you see how non-materialist and quasi-religious that is? Or, to be specific, it looks at OUR position as something human society has been straining for all along. It is teleology, a false inevitability that sees "what is" as something matter was straining to reach.

    If we had a abbreviated view of history that merely starts at ancient Egypt, and goes through Imperial Rome to feudal Christian Europe, and then German and British capitalism -- and if we had a funnel vision that overlooked the vast majority of peoples and civilizations on earth -- then, perhaps, we could be forgiven in believing that history and society was a simple universal inevitable ladder.

    But our view of history has expanded radically over the last two hundreds years-- and we are not confined to the fragmentary understanding inherited from Europe's self-conception.

    If, when Roman society gives rise to feudalism in its decay, is that part of some inevitable advance of human development?

    But what about when Kampuchea's Anchor Wat flourishes, but slips back into the jungle? Is that an <em>exception</em> to your inevitably? Or is it a sign that outcomes are not so inevitable, since accidents happen in history, because there are more than one or two trends in play, because nothing is linear and because things don't simply flow one way?

    In other words, if society leaps toward <em>more</em> productivity, is that part of your inevitability? But when it slides toward <em>less</em> productive, is that merely an exception to some otherwise universal law?

    I pointed out above that Marx (in fact) was <em>not</em> mechanically teleological.

    One of many examples is his famous description of human history (at the start of the Communist Manifesto). It is not linear or mechanical (like yours) but acknowledges that things often slip in different directions:

    <blockquote>"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”</blockquote>

    In other writings, he acknowledged yet a third possibility, which is long term stagnation and stasis -- in his ill-fated theory of "Asiatic despotism," which most communists now correctly question. Later in his life, his thinking was further expanded (quite naturally) by new studies into the Russian Mir -- and on speculations that things may not move in pre-determined ruts.

    So, first, Marx has a lot to teach us (for this discussion), and while I believe that his work was considerably less mechanical than the post-Marx Marxists you emulate (the more mechanical materialists like Kautsky and Stalin).

    But I also think we should make the methodogical point that we are not <em>bound</em> by old quotes -- the fact that some previous Marxists (however important and pathbreaking) said something shouldn't make it a "settled question" for us today. There is something deeply unscientific about the dogmatic method of "argument by quotes."

    Marx (in a vast and creative work) put forward a rich new historical materialism. But that doesn't mean that we limit <em>our</em> understanding of historical materialism to "whatever Marx said." We should be alert, creative, critically-thinking communists, not dogmatic <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/pamphlets/9-letters/letter-7/" rel="nofollow">whateverists</a>.

    We know (in ways that Marx could not possibly have known) how complex the back and forth of human history is, and how long human history has been, and how long humans lived without changing their productive modes appreciably, and about the complex back-and-forth flows of the early 20th century stages of the world communist revolution.

    Surely we are not bound by Marx's deductions from that sliver of history available to him. And surely <em>our</em> historical materialism is not mechanically subordinate to this or that quote from Marx? That is the meaning and challenge of making a new synthesis for communism (after a long time of bad orthodox habits and the stagnation they bring).

  • Guest (Neftali)

    There is so much to unpack here that is erroneous, but I am sorry this is just an error in your method which is now entirely empiricist.

    First let us state there has been one history. What you're attempting to do is play with metaphysics in attempting to articulate a proposition that history could have developed differently. NO IT COULD NOT. Whatever contingency in history at various levels there is the basic necessity for it to be propelled by the succession of life, the succession that is propelled by a struggle for production.

    I am sorry but I am forced but to simply put this out for any comrades interested http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876/part-played-labour/index.htm

    Organisms generally struggle for life in the world, they struggle against the objective conditions and against each other. Reproduction of species is the essential drive for the animal kingdom. We advanced beyond the simple predatory economy of animals because of our ability to transform nature, to utilize tools, a process which over hundreds of thousands of years (a spec in the history of the natural world) produced this organization of humanity from simple hunter-gatherers. Throughout the primitive development even in hunter-gatherer society, our ancestors developed the productive forces in revolutionary ways, development of spear technology, clubs, stone flints, all had quantitative and qualitative developments (it is actually wrong and very inconsistent with the scientific learning on the matter that Mike Ely puts out there was no fundamental developments in the productive forces).

    In regards to Roman Civilization and the Dark Ages - again this a basic wrong understanding that Mike Ely puts out about the history. Roman Civilization didn't slip simply into "the dark ages," actually what transformed and made the end of the Roman Empire an inevitability is that the world economic system no longer privileged Western Europe in commerce, it shifted East and Romans adjusted themselves even properly to this, moreover the "barbarian tribes" coming into the Empire unlike previous migratory people caught up to the Romans technologically in the military arms (i.e. they caught up in the productive forces, mastered metal work, built stable communities, and perfected tactics), Roman Empire was actually retrograde economically and socially in comparison to the medieval feudal economies; however there is a superficial and philistine idea that is acceptable that the "Barbarians" were simple backwards bumpkins who destroyed the cosmopolitan empire simply because for the longest periods of time what survived historical record of them was the actual propaganda of Rome itself. Europe emerged the way it did fundamentally because Rome was destroyed, the feudal system gave it advantages in a backwater region of the world economy to develop productive forces alongside the "Asiatic" modes of production.

    The Mayan history is actually still being studied; however the Mayans didn't disappear and the abandonment of cities occured regionally in a specific area after a golden age of sorts. But it would be improper to speculate on my part because I've not studied thoroughly the history.

    Moreover what you consistently do in your method is confuse the particular with the universal, or take the particular and equivocate it with the universal - this very evident. The history of the world various cultures, tribes, etc. have come in and out of existence. Within the very recent history of this continent whole people's with unique language, culture, and kinship were eliminated. As it has been put before "history is made on the slaughterboard." That does not however in any sense contradict the general trend that history moved with the development of productive forces, in all actuality the very fact that whole people's have been wiped out in competition for the means of primitive accumulation by another set of people just demonstrates it.

    I am left without words about your claims of what Marx did or didn't know about precapitalist history considering his and Engels scholarship and writings on the subject matter...

  • Guest (Neftali)

    "Later in his life, his thinking was further expanded (quite naturally) by new studies into the Russian Mir — and on speculations that things may not move in pre-determined ruts."

    Thinking that in Lenin's life he demonstrated as incorrect....SMH

  • Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>"First let us state there has been one history.

    "What you’re attempting to do is play with metaphysics in attempting to articulate a proposition that history could have developed differently. NO IT COULD NOT.

    "Whatever contingency in history at various levels there is the basic necessity for it to be propelled by the succession of life, the succession that is propelled by a struggle for production."</blockquote>

    Well, that is a tidy summation of a very different world view. And one amazingly cramped by a fantasy: that human history is fixed by some iron-grip of inflexible necessity.

    I think the future is unwritten, even though we are stuck working with the raw material we inherit.

    As Marx wrote:

    <blockquote>"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."</blockquote>

    If only one outcome is possible in history... if things <em>had</em> to turn out the way they did... in what possible way do humans "make their own history"?

    It is rather challenging to try to imagine the worldview of someone who doesn't think history could have come up differently. And it is difficult to construct how mechanical your resulting view of politics and the future is (if you think society is so rigidly determined).

    In fact, many different outcomes of history were possible. The world could have taken very different turns -- and was contingent on many different things coming together (in ways that could easily have come together differently).

    And the future is similarly unsettled (i.e. unwritten). And many different futures are possible -- which is why it is so necessary to leave the present with our heads up and our minds active with critical thought. We aren't marching like tin soldiers on a path carved by inevitability.... the framework we move through will be fixed by many objective parameters, but then what we carve out of present will be chosen by people in many ways.

    In fact, many different socialisms are possible. And (in fact) I assume that many different forms and manifestations of socialism will emerge. (capitalism has had extremely diverse social and political forms, why would socialist transition be different?)

    We could (for example) choose a socialism that is not ecologically sustainable, or one that is. And thinking such choices through is quite a big deal.

    <blockquote>"I am left without words about your claims of what Marx did or didn’t know about precapitalist history considering his and Engels scholarship and writings on the subject matter…"</blockquote>

    Well it isn't complicated. Marx died in 1883 -- when human evolution, pre-class society, non-European history, and the diversity of human society were only starting to be studied and summed up.

    Marx and Engels did scholarship <em>on what was then known about</em> precapitalist history (i.e. Engels can read Lewis Morgan or a few other pioneers).

    But the fact is these were very early and fragmentary works, and vast amounts of new knowledge now exists. No one in 1883 had <em>any</em> idea how old the human species was, or how very long hunter gather society had characterized human existence. They did not actually have an overview of how the development of productive forces <em>looked</em> in historic context. The idea that modern humans have existed for 200,000 years, and that only the last 10,000 have involved agriculture (and only the last 200 involved industry) has a huge impact on what we imagine is "inevitable" or what we know about what each each generation adds.


    People who treat works like "Origin of the family" or "The role of Labor in the transition from ape to man" as some kind of final words -- just don't have any clue about how far our knowledge has moved in a century and more.

    Their work was pathbreaking, and extremely valuable today -- but also marked by their times. That may leave you "without words" but it should not be surprising. Or to put it another way, if it is dismaying to you, perhaps you should develop your own methods of scholarship, and be more aware of what is known today.

    We are all products of our times, and of what we know. And dogmatism has been deadly in cutting off communists from even curiosity about the knowledge we should be building on.

  • Guest (intersted observer)

    "What you’re attempting to do is play with metaphysics in attempting to articulate a proposition that history could have developed differently. NO IT COULD NOT."

    You do know that ideas of linearity and telos are metaphysical don't you

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Yes there are two different world views. We obviously have an epistemological difference, you stand against historical materialism, and I don't. There is no actual materialist understanding of history if you do not grasp the necessity of the development of the means of production as the base for whatever mode of production to appear. You simply reject this and therefore your analysis can only result in a the thinking of bourgeois sociology.

    When I say there is only one history, there is only one history, and all your sorts of "thought-experiments" are to fill the essential void that your actual contra-positive examples don't actually contradict the universal arch of history, but are in many respects reintegrated within them.

    You write:
    "If only one outcome is possible in history… if things had to turn out the way they did… in what possible way do humans 'make their own history'?"

    There is no contradiction in the concept that there is one human history (that is the case, name another) and that humans make their own history. For the better part of hundreds of thousands of years the development of productive forces and the formation of class societies has occurred with a humanity dispersed all over the world. Even where they was little or no connection among such class societies, there are equivalent tools among them, similar scientific inquiry for the technical organization of production and creation of new implements of production, there are similar class structures, state bodies, etc. How is this deniable? Isn't the very fact for instance that horticultural societies find themselves developing in remotely distinct places throughout the world in areas geographically suitable for such developments with very base implements demonstrably show the universal trend towards the development of productive forces and class societies?

    Humans make their own history but not as they please, this is what you keep missing.

    And I have never stated there is an inevitable outcome, I've stated there is a real movement towards the socialization of the means of production because 1)the productive forces have developed to the point that such is the case. 2) the proletarianization of the labor force already represents a a real movement of this socialization (of labor) and a political force interested in this movement. However this can also end in common ruin (a point I've made much earlier that you continue to, in your dishonest fashion, attempt to hang over my head as an argument against what I am saying...I clearly pointed out socialism or barbarism).

    Ely Writes: "It is rather challenging to try to imagine the worldview of someone who doesn’t think history could have come up differently. And it is difficult to construct how mechanical your resulting view of politics and the future is (if you think society is so rigidly determined)."

    Alright this is where the BULLSHIT stops. NAME ANOTHER WAY HISTORY COULD DEVELOP INDEPENDENTLY FROM THE STRUGGLE OF PRODUCTION. Give me this alternative universe. Name the means by which humanity need not develop productive forces and class societies (though they did this independently dispersed all over the earth).

    Ely writes: "In fact, many different socialisms are possible. And (in fact) I assume that many different forms and manifestations of socialism will emerge. (capitalism has had extremely diverse social and political forms, why would socialist transition be different?)"

    This is part revisionism, part blindly obvious. First "socialisms" will not be some dispersed little fragments of peasant communes or autarkic kingdoms with no relation with each other. Socialism will and must be a system that integrates as far as possible as much of production under centrally planned auspices to begin meeting the needs of the masses of people. Socialism will also be a site of a war-camp against the existing and remaining imperialist world system. Where our forces need to account for the particularity of the people, need to account for custom, culture, language, and even production proper, there will be those contradictions that are are hopefully non-antagonistic. BUT THAT WAS ALSO THE HISTORY OF SOCIALISM IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Your profound point is quite superficial.

    In fact ideally there will be ONE COMMUNIST WORLD SYSTEM as there is already one capitalist world system, with all the existing particularities that represent the uneveness of development produced by the imperialist stage of capitalism.

    All on the last point about Marx and my astounishment about your argument of what Marx didn't know...if you were to demonstrate to me the profundity of material you work with in bringing forward this new Marxist analysis you have going beyond Marx, I would of course be more obliged to think you being honest. But you do not do this. You just utilize the most base revisionist arguments that emerge time after time about how this or that is outdated, it doesn't apply, Marx couldn't forsee, etc. Marx and Engles were already well aware that there were hundreds of thousands of years of human development that remained in a classless stage, that was a point you made as if Marx and Engels did not know if it. It is more striking to actually read Marx and Engels on the material of scholarship back then precisely because how fundamentally correct they're and how today their scholarship and line of analysis have a good deal of clarity of line.

    You write "The idea that modern humans have existed for 200,000 years, and that only the last 10,000 have involved agriculture (and only the last 200 involved industry) has a huge impact on what we imagine is “inevitable” or what we know about what each each generation adds."

    But that is all none true in regards to Marx and Engels since they were curious in the theories of modern evolution and even articulated their position in regards to the development of man from his stage as even a proto-man. I.e. they were interested in developing their politics in line and thought with a coherent picture and understanding produced by science, of the real development of humanity. Moreover it is you that are ignoring basic facts. You act as if nothing happened in 200,000 years of humanity, as if not evolution was occuring throughout this period that gave the ability for humanity to develop class societies, as if they were stuck with the same clubs and implements before metal working.

    Let us ask a plain question - could humanity today still be a hunter-gatherer people? Could the development of human activity merely stagnated there? Is that one of your possible histories?

  • Neftali, are you really arguing that hominid society and production developed in a way comparable to what began to emerge 10,000 years ago in Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. Or that those 9.800 or so years are comparable to the explosion of development in the past 200 or so years?

    Does this really not impact our understanding of historical materialism?

    You seem to want to work your ideas out of a playbook, only the game changes, new evidence emerges, our theories must adjust to that evidence.

    If you go back and read what you are posing, it is all presuppositonal. You are crudely trying to fit human history into you're own narrow version of what historical materialism. There is a real failure to work with the actual complexity of how human socities have actually developed. Hence you resort to genralizations, which are not in fact accurate to create an argument based on a limit of actual knowledge.

    In many ways in your argument for one history you seem to make the universal absolute at the expense of the particular. This is bad dialectics. And your assertions of the essential similarities in which human societies have developed is just wrong.

    A scientific historical materialism deals with the development of societies in relation to questions of the production and reproduction of their existence and the sometimes qualitative transformations of its existence. In the end this leaves the possibility for great diversity and back and forth movement in how this development and transformation takes place.

    This obviously includes variety in the nature of socialist revolution in specific local contexts even as we seek to connect these revolutions in order to bring into being a communist planet.

    None of this is so linear and pre-determined.

  • Guest (carldavidson)

    To say there is 'one history' is true but trivial, even tautological, The fact is that our 'one history' is constantly being re-written as we learn more and more about it, and finding that we sometimes have to change our verdicts as we learn more. History is also often written from certain perspectives, mainly that of the victors. Sometimes it takes a while for a more all-side historical materialism to have it's say. In that regard, i wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Marx's 'Asiatic Despotism'. I think Wittfogel's development of it has something to it, showing Europe not so much as the norm, but the exception on a world scale, an exception that allowed capitalism to emerge through its cracks. But Mike's points on contingency are well taken. It's why Marx offered the two options, advance or 'the common ruin.' We may have one past, which we are constantly reshaping, but we have a future that's open.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Interested Observer writes "You do know that ideas of linearity and telos are metaphysical don’t you."

    First the idea of linearity is not metaphysical, its actual. It has effective utility in mathematics, computing, logic, etc. Its descriptive of real things in movement. So please don't be one of these people to spout something that sounds Po-Mo chic. Every four years there is a presidential election, this is a linear process of politics in country.

    Teleology is conceptually metaphysical. But where does there exist in my account of anything a teleology? To assert that things transform over-time in definite ways is not teleology and to understand teleology in this way is ultimately to dehabilitate yourself of the ability to conduct a dialectical materialist analysis and at best have a rather contingent view of things. That is you can only look at things in an only a a posteriori fashion and then to only have it separated from other physical processes. Teleology exists in a proposition which asserts that a thing must have a final resolution in movement and such resolution to have been forseeable from the origin of the thing (such resolutions do actually occur - if we were for instance to reveal the decode the genetic information of organisms we can grasp their actual development in detail before it unfolds in actuality), in whatever twists and turns, from the advent of the thing. In biology there is teleology everywhere; the very conception of natural selection or survival of the fittest are ideologically teleological for instance - hence the famous intervention of Gould in his punctuated equilibrium thesis. However they're also descriptively true in a general sense to a much more intricate process, where the "survival of the fittest" takes place.

    If you're a materialist, you must accept the proposition that events occur rationally in accordance to antecedent actuality. If you're dialectical about your materialism, you must accept the proposition that such matter is infused with definite drives, determinations, and motions.

    And as I've state there is one history in which its movement has obeyed one way. We do not have other histories to observe Science is in the end about understanding why such movement must occur in an all-sided sense, that is we must look at the movement of a thing from where it has came to where it can go. We can pose various "what-ifs" but that is all rather speculative, certainly interesting though. This may seem trivial to the likes of Carl Davidson, who when making the claim that we are constantly revising our own history, that is also of course itself trivial. Revision to our views of our historical past has been a part of the enterprise of human thought since time memorial; however what is decisively distinct is that the scientific break made by Marx in regards to the study of history, in bringing it into the continent of science, made a claim that gave us a materialist conception of the development of history. This thesis hung on the proposition that history develops in accordance with the means of production, a part of the organic necessity to struggle for production, and that development of production created the condition for modes of production. So when I say unequivocally that there is one history against Mike Ely's idealist proposition that history not only could be different in quite superficial ways but even denies that history had to develop productive forces at all, its to insist against what is altogether a radically idealist framework that he has slipped in under the banner of fighting teleology, mechanical materialism, dogmatism, etc. (alongside every anti-Marxist bourgeois scholar from Karl Popper, Francois Lyotard, and the post-Marxist revisionist lot like Andre Gorz and others) its because the actuality of things in their development and their scientific understanding is important to our political project (I enter this debate as a partisan).

    What if the Ottomans did not destroy their observatories, what if the Chinese Empire didn't destroy its ocean going fleet, what if Japan was not ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. Certainly the modern world would look differently today. Would world capitalist system still exist, would there still be commodity production and exchange? Undoubtedly since it was precisely in those historical moments that a retrograde class allowed for an outmoded system to persist.

    If you went back in time with Albert Einstein and killed Hitler, would Red Alert Command and Conquer Games be a reality? Who gives a fuck.

  • Guest (Neftali)

    Nat W. writes

    <blockquote>"Neftali, are you really arguing that hominid society and production developed in a way comparable to what began to emerge 10,000 years ago in Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. Or that those 9.800 or so years are comparable to the explosion of development in the past 200 or so years?"</blockquote>


    Where was that written, please argue with what I've said. I never made any such claim. Perhaps you're confusing this with what I said in regards to the development of horticultural societies happening in distinct locations and developing in similar ways. There are of course things "comparable" in a general sense between any social formations in any time. In so much they're comparable what is revealed is again the necessity to the struggle for production, development of productive forces, and emerging social formations which correspond to this. Why is that hard to grasp?

    In fact there are moments in prehistory where technology arises and is lost only to arise again, perhaps somewhere completely remote and different. This is because the struggle for production brings humanity into definite forms of social practices, and experimentation with the same matter.


    <blockquote>
    "There is a real failure to work with the actual complexity of how human socities have actually developed. Hence you resort to genralizations, which are not in fact accurate to create an argument based on a limit of actual knowledge."</blockquote>


    I am generalizing in so much we're actually talking about the principles of historical materialism and therefore this requires a general conversation.

    And what is revealed in this general conversation is that Mike Ely denies the necessity of the development of history and class societies itself, he poses there could have simply been a stagnant human existence at the level of hunter-gatherers or other pre-capitalist modes of production.

    That is from the perspective of again the one history we have quite "critical" but actually philistine. It hangs its hat on the idea of contingency in history (a contingency which is itself not even rooted by himself yet in the class struggle over control of the means of production).

    I would of course agree that particular analysis is need of specific moments, social formations, etc. That is the detailed work of science. However let us not act as if its synthesis at the level of the general doesn't inform such work. Ultimately what is left of the historical materialism you're putting forward is bourgeois sociology.


    <blockquote>
    "A scientific historical materialism deals with the development of societies in relation to questions of the production and reproduction of their existence and the sometimes qualitative transformations of its existence. In the end this leaves the possibility for great diversity and back and forth movement in how this development and transformation takes place."</blockquote>

    How? What is this "great diversity" you speak of? In what sense can capitalist mode of production swing back to the mode of production in antiquity? Or in what sense can feudalism move to communism? You have to explain yourself concretely, how do such modes of production oscillate between each other with no trajectory. However if you mean by your "back and forth" that the organization of the means of production can oscillate in short variables given revolutionary conjuncture between two given sets, I would agree with such a limited back and forth.

    None of this is linear you say - but yet it has the movement of "back and forth" in your own words.

    None of this predetermined, yet the empirical record shows such determinism in the development of social formations consistently.

    Question - did not a whole other set of hunter-gatherers on a different continent eventually develop class social formations with no contact with the other?

    Did they eventually move from hunter-gatherers to horticulture, tributary systems, etc? Here is the one place where history could have been "radically different" and it almost is all too much the same.

  • Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>Yes there are two different world views. We obviously have an epistemological difference, you stand against historical materialism, and I don’t. There is no actual materialist understanding of history if you do not grasp the necessity of the development of the means of production as the base for whatever mode of production to appear. You simply reject this and therefore your analysis can only result in a the thinking of bourgeois sociology.</blockquote>

    this is a chance to clarify issues for those following the discussion, but new to the controversies.

    No one in this discussion has denied that politics and ideas are profoundly shaped by production (both the means of production and the mode of production).

    For those unfamiliar with the Marxist terms used in this discussion:

    <strong>Relations of production</strong> are the social relationships between humans as they produce things (generally in history the necessities of life). Maoists have held that the relations of production have three elements: 1) Ownership of the means of production, 2) relations <em>in</em> production itself (how the work is done), and 3) relations of distribution (how the social wealth is parsed out). In modern times, the relations of production are class relations -- especially once some people work and others own (and expropriate).

    <strong>The means of production </strong>are the instruments humans use to produce (plows, machinery, tools, hunting weapons, factories, harvesters etc.) Over human existence, the means of production have undergone innovative change in leaps -- from early tool making to today's recent explosive growth of industrial production.

    <strong>The forces of production</strong> are the means of production <em>plus</em> the productive ability of humans themselves. There are controversies over this -- but Maoists (at least) have always held that humans (their skills, literacy, creativity) are the most dynamic part of the productive forces.

    <strong>The mode of production</strong> is the class relations of a given society plus the general level of productive forces (i.e. so that peasant farming is one mode of production, hunting gathering is another, industrial capitlism is another. Plantation slavery became a mode of production prominent in the U.S. -- at the beginning, and then on a new scale after the war of 1812 and the conquest of lower Mississippi lands from Native peoples).

    In some Marxist analysis, a great deal of prominence is given to a formulation that society has a base and a superstructure. The base in this case is the relation of production, and the superstructure is the whole apartus of ideas, culture and political power that (in Marxist views) have a close relationship with the base.

    One place where Marx dealt with this (in an admittedly capsule form) is his <a href="/http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/preface.htm" rel="nofollow">Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy</a> (1859):



    <blockquote>"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure. In studying such transformations, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production."</blockquote>



    There are many controversies over the concept of "base and superstructure" -- not mainly over the rough existence of that distinction, but over how direct (i.e. mechanical and linear) the relationship is.

    As you can see, Marx introduces the idea precisely in a discussion of social revolution -- i.e. both discussing how "the base" gives rise to profound contradiciton in class society, and how that leads to rupture in the superstructure -- and how then how it gets "fought out" as people become conscious.

    As Mao pointed out, this conflict gives rise to new social relations. Mao's point was that modern capitalism came <em>after</em> not before the great bourgeois revolution in France.

    Our discussion here was triggered when Neftali argued that law (a component of the superstructure) is "entirely secondary" to social relations (of which the production relations forms together form the "base").

    A core (and defining) insight of Maoism has been that this relationship is not so linear, not so "one way only" -- and at times the superstructure (politics, power, revolution, and, in this case revolutionary laws) <em>act back</em> on the base <em>transforming</em> the social relations through the actions of human beings.

  • Let me deal with some of the controversy by addressing some of Neftali's points:

    He writes:

    <blockquote>"When I say there is only one history, there is only one history..."</blockquote>

    This confuses the issue.

    The question is whether only one history <em>was possible</em>. Events turned out a particular way (a path that is made up of complex contradictions), but we are disputing whether it <em>necessarily</em> turned out this way -- and whether other outcomes were possible.

    There is (within communism) a historical current that is very "determinist" -- that assumes that what happens <em>had to happen."</em> For example some (like Peru's Gonzalo) even made the extreme argument that matter (from the Big Bang!) was developing (of necessity) toward its own self-consciousness (i.e. to the development of conscious humans), and all of human history was an inevitable process of moving toward communism.

    I am arguing that there is both accident and contingency in human history (as well as necessity) -- so that the outcomes are (in part) determined by necessity (and framed by objective things), but there are many things that could have turned out radically different -- if some things had rolled a different way.

    Accident refers to things not controlled by necessity. (Examples are many: from the collision that killed the dinosaurs and made it possible for mammals to expand, or the decisions made by humans themselves including the role of individuals within history.)

    Contingency are the existence of factors that influenced an outcome, but which could have developed in other ways. (For example the distribution of domesticatable animals is very uneven on earth. The early Middle Eastern societies were able to domesticate goats, sheep, dogs, oxen, horses, barley and so on -- while in the Americas, only the llama was capable of domestication, and it was limited to the mountainous highlands of the Andes. (Native people apparently brought dogs with them to the Americas, so this was not necessarily a separate invention).

    This contingency (in the distribution of domesticatable species) affected how the agrarian societies and empires could develop -- since the available forces of production were different in Eurasia than they were to indigenous peoples the Americas (or in New Zealand). If some of those factors had developed differently (out of the complex evolutionary and ecological processes of different landmasses) the history of humanity would have been different.

    One of the insights of communist theory (concentrated in the concept of dialectics -- i.e. the unity and struggle of opposites in contradictions) is that the relationships that produce outcomes emerge from complex interactions of factors -- not in some linear path toward specific pre-determined outcomes.

    There are trend-lines and tendencies <em>within</em> the real world contradictions of society -- there are pulls and pressures in the very structure of things -- but their <em>outcome</em> (what actually happens) is not predetermined in some fixed way.

    this has been concentrated in two rather prominent controversies among communists -- that underly our discussion here:

    First, does human society <em>necessarily</em> go through particular stages. Some forms of Marxism have created a ladder of human development: that starts with "primitive communism" as huntergatherers, and goes through "savagery" to "barbarism," to slave society, to feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism, and onto classless communism.

    These assumed stages (loosely) corresponded with modes of production familiar to early theorists based in europe. And given the inclinations of their times, sometimes the European or near-European forms of this were assumed to be "classical" forms (i.e. European feudalism was viewed as "classic," Greek slave society, and the French revolution was held to be a "classic" bourgeois revolution, and the Soviet revolution was viewed as a new classical form for socialism.)

    There was a lot of controversy over this -- in one famous example, the more reformist socialists of the Russian empire insisted that their revolution "had to" go through a protracted capitalist stage, before they could contemplate creating a socialist society.

    The other related controversy was over how "inevitable" the final arrival of communism is/was. At one extreme, Stalin even once argued that social change was so inevitable that it was like a ship at sea -- you could steer it to its goal, but even if it drifted rudderless it would (sooner or later, i.e. inevitably) enter the right harbor. Stalin (like Kautsky, drawing on some of the work by Engels) was rarely <em>that<em> extreme, but he was associated with one of the formulations of "the ladder" (and with the mechanical assumptions that it embodied.)

    In short: there is debate over how "necessary" (determined and inevitable) the changes in human society are, and what the role is of accident, contingency and human decision-making in outcomes.

    I agree with those who think necessity has often been exaggerated in a "determinist" way -- and who believe that the outcomes (of our society, and our struggle) are not nearly as inevitable as sometimes assumed.

    Neftali (by contrast) has all the markings of the more mechanical form of materialism (in a rather extreme form, from what I can tell) including his assertion of "the universal arch of history." (He means "arc" I assume, but I won't pick at his fuzzy use of language at each point.)

    And part of the controversy (here and elsewhere) is whether there is an inherent built-in, <em>necessary</em>, and inevitable process in human history that develops the productive forces.

    Obviously, there has been a generalized (and accelerating) rise in the productive forces -- especially in the last centuries. But could things have gone some other way?

    And more, how much is our future determined? And how much <em>might</em> turn out in different ways (depending on what we do)?

    Just one example: If humans don't reverse their current destruction of natural systems, might we not undermine our existence and (instead of reaching a communist society of mutual abundance), might we instead decline (or even, in some extreme scenarios) go extinct? What would have happened if (say) in 1985 there had been a massive nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviet war blocks? What happens to some inherent "progress" if humans devastate their major cities in such a way? (i.e. an example of a non-necessary event based on human decisions, not on necessity).

    We have obviously created an unprecedented globalized and interconnected civilization of unprecentented human productive capacity -- but is it inevitable that we turn all this to the purposes of human progress? Isn't it also possible that we (collectively) take turns that lead to our own destruction and decline -- in either sudden or slowly toxic ways?

    There is a <em>tendency</em> toward the development of a basis for classless communist society -- but the achievement of it is dependent on more factors than that tendency, there are factors of accident, contingency and human agency.

    <strong>An example of alternative histories: </strong>the greatest navies of exploration in the 1400s were not the European one -- they came from China. But a decision was made (in China) to destroy those navies and not pursue those investigations. And so Chinese society did not develop by some great arc, but left the oceans for Europeans to colonise -- producing our specific history (not the unknown-but-possible one).

    Neftali sees a "universal trend towards the development of productive forces and class societies" -- however, quite large numbers of human societies were quite stable in their nature over long periods of time. I gave the example that humanity (as a whole) was hunter-gatherer for literally 200,000 years.

    there were independent invention of agriculture and domestication at a number of points in human history. Class society arose <em>independently</em> in Mezo-America and the Middle East and the Chinese river valleys (among others). So this was not a unique leap. And (as Neftali points out) this arose from the repeated practice and experience of peoples who saw advantage in domestication and planting -- and independently invented those things.


    The differences pop up in some marked ways:

    Neftali for example writes:

    <blockquote>"First the idea of linearity is not metaphysical, its actual. It has effective utility in mathematics, computing, logic, etc. Its descriptive of real things in movement. So please don’t be one of these people to spout something that sounds Po-Mo chic. Every four years there is a presidential election, this is a linear process of politics in country."</blockquote>

    By contrast, I think that all of these processes are contradictory. And the way they work themselves out is in real-time, concretely.

    One example of linear thinking is Trotsky's famous "paralelogram of forces" -- where he perceives interactions of class and political force as if they act according to Newtonian physics (a method of analysis that is rather impoverished in its appreciation of contradiction <em>within</em> not just between colliding forces).

    I want to note that even Neftali no longer wants to argue <em>explicitly</em> for classic communist "inevitablism" -- which is, i suppose, <em>some</em> progress in the terrain among communists:

    He writes:

    <blockquote>"I have never stated there is an inevitable outcome, I’ve stated there is a real movement towards the socialization of the means of production because 1)the productive forces have developed to the point that such is the case. 2) the proletarianization of the labor force already represents a a real movement of this socialization (of labor) and a political force interested in this movement. However this can also end in common ruin (a point I’ve made much earlier that you continue to, in your dishonest fashion, attempt to hang over my head as an argument against what I am saying…I clearly pointed out socialism or barbarism)."</blockquote>

    But this positive statement exists in pretty sharp contradiction with his other claims (including the talk of "universal arch" etc.)

    In mock anger he writes:

    "NAME ANOTHER WAY HISTORY COULD DEVELOP INDEPENDENTLY FROM THE STRUGGLE OF PRODUCTION."

    Well, the answer is that history never develops independent of "the struggle of production," but other factors can at times be decisive. My example was nuclear war. Or ecodestruction. (And, there are mini-examples like the human self-extinction on Easter Island -- where real life didn't follow some universal arc, but ended abruptly through the destruction of trees, which ended the production of fishing boats. this could happen on a world scale, making Neftali's "universal" arc less than universal.

    I wrote:
    <blockquote>“In fact, many different socialisms are possible. And (in fact) I assume that many different forms and manifestations of socialism will emerge. (capitalism has had extremely diverse social and political forms, why would socialist transition be different?)...”</blockquote>

    And in another place add:

    <blockquote>“A scientific historical materialism deals with the development of societies in relation to questions of the production and reproduction of their existence and the sometimes qualitative transformations of its existence. In the end this leaves the possibility for great diversity and back and forth movement in how this development and transformation takes place.”</blockquote>

    Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>"How? What is this “great diversity” you speak of? In what sense can capitalist mode of production swing back to the mode of production in antiquity? Or in what sense can feudalism move to communism? You have to explain yourself concretely, how do such modes of production oscillate between each other with no trajectory. However if you mean by your “back and forth” that the organization of the means of production can oscillate in short variables given revolutionary conjuncture between two given sets, I would agree with such a limited back and forth."</blockquote>

    Well that great back and forth is in many places. Most of the class societies developed in history faded back into scattered agriculture and hunter-gatherer society. Early socialist societies (in china and russia) returned to capitalism (and were assimilated into the great maw of the modern capitalist market).

    Neftali then says:

    <blockquote>"Question – did not a whole other set of hunter-gatherers on a different continent eventually develop class social formations with no contact with the other?

    "Did they eventually move from hunter-gatherers to horticulture, tributary systems, etc? Here is the one place where history could have been “radically different” and it almost is all too much the same."</blockquote>

    Part of the controversy here is whether modern capitalism was "inevitable" or contingent. Capitalism did not develop many times, or in many places. there were early attempts at merchant capital state power <em>within</em> European feudalism -- and a back and forth over centuries within medieval Europe (hanseatic leagues, reformation peasant uprisings, the French revolution followed quickly be restoration etc.)

    But the emergence of modern capitalism in Europe was both unprecendented and unduplicated. anyone who wants to insist it was an <em>inevitable</em> stage of human history needs to make an argument, not merely an assertion.

    The "ladder" of necessary stages was invented after capitalism had emerged -- and it was part of claiming that the events in Europe were necessary and inevitable, so <em>therefore</em> we could project that socialism and communism would be similarly necessary and inevitable.

    There is a powerful and highly influential contradiction within capitalism (between private appropriation and social production) that has given rise to the political movement for socialism. But the victory of that movement for socialism (and communism) depends on what humans do, <em>and</em> whether other influential tendencies don't prevent it.


    Neftali is angry (again) that I point out that there were limits to what Marx and Engels could have known. And he lists the things they <em>did</em> know, as if it is a counterargument.

    Yes, Marx and Engels emerged at that point in European and world history where the Enlightenment was starting to produce a mushrooming of human knowledge and its congealing in scientific ways. They were able to see quite far and deeply -- thanks to both their position and their work.

    He writes:

    <blockquote>"You just utilize the most base revisionist arguments that emerge time after time about how this or that is outdated, it doesn’t apply, Marx couldn’t forsee, etc."</blockquote>

    Well, it is true that many things about our world (our evolutionary development as a species, our global history, the coming of imperialism etc.) were not knowable in 1880. This is not an insult to Marx and Engles -- it is merely the statement of the obvious: that we are all, at best, products of our time, and of available information.

    And it is a challenge that we communists need to stop lagging behind the knowledge <em>of our time</em> -- and actually integrate it creatively into what we now say and believe.


    Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>"It is more striking to actually read Marx and Engels on the material of scholarship back then precisely because how fundamentally correct they’re and how today their scholarship and line of analysis have a good deal of clarity of line."</blockquote>

    Again -- yes and no.

    Certainly they had profound insights -- so that many communists today still call themselves Marxists. It is a recognition of those insights and their ongoing applicability.

    But what does Neftali's "<em>fundamental</em> correctness" mean (outside dogmatic assertion)?

    There were some things they <em>could not</em> be "fundamentally correct" on -- simply because there were things yet unknown (and also because, being human, they made occasional wrong assessments).

    And that is why communist understandings need to develop (through practice, investigation and struggle). and it is why a rigid "fundamentalism" (even in regard to the founders of modern communism) is not helpful to us today. (And why a "back to Marx" movement has to be tempered by looking forward aggressively.)

    Darwin simply didn't <em>know</em> that acquired traits were not inheritable -- and so there had to be a "new synthesis" in the twentieth century to integrate genetics <em>into</em> the correct parts of Darwinism.

    Marx did not know the outcome of colonial empires, and their impact on capitalist development -- so (in the twentieth century) communists needed to do new creative work on a theory of imperialism (and we need, today, to undertake a new version of that, given the great changes in world capitalism and its class structures.)

    Neftali argues that:

    <blockquote>"Marx and Engels .... were curious in the theories of modern evolution and even articulated their position in regards to the development of man from his stage as even a proto-man."</blockquote>

    Sure, but their eager assimilation (and aggressive curiosity) toward Darwin's work doesn't mean that they <em>could</em> know what was discovered <em>since then</em>. And there is a lot, shaping our understanding of humanity, its nature and its history.

    <blockquote>"You act as if nothing happened in 200,000 years of humanity, as if not evolution was occuring throughout this period that gave the ability for humanity to develop class societies, as if they were stuck with the same clubs and implements before metal working."</blockquote>

    This is not quite true. There were (and I mentioned) that there were leaps in technology taking place in those period... but again, the development of human productive forces were not simply linear or one-directional. And the linear view privileges accumulation of knowledge over the accident of human invention. (Was the invention of language inevitable? We simply don't know why symbolic thinking starts to be manifested considerably <em>after</em> humans emerged biologically.)


    <blockquote>"Let us ask a plain question – could humanity today still be a hunter-gatherer people? Could the development of human activity merely stagnated there? Is that one of your possible histories?"</blockquote>

    Not only might that have happened... but we may yet push ourselves back to such a mode of production. I think it is unlikely (of course) -- and I am not an advocate of the slogan "socialism or barbarism" (which is mechanistic in its own ways). But of course that is possible.

    Again, it is worth ending on this key assertion (that despite concessions and nuance betrays what is being argued):

    Neftali writes:

    <blockquote>"...the idea of linearity is not metaphysical, its actual. It has effective utility in mathematics, computing, logic, etc. Its descriptive of real things in movement. So please don’t be one of these people to spout something that sounds Po-Mo chic."</blockquote>

    Linear thinking is opposed to a contradictory reality. It is an argument for assertion over scientific investigation, and fundamentalist dogma over creative synthesis.

  • BTw: for those interested in studying these controversies, I would like to suggest a valuable book:

    Eric Wolf <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Europe-People-Without-History-Preface/dp/0520048989" rel="nofollow">Europe and the People without a history</a> -- it is a remarkable summation of world history -- rooted in a non-dogmatic application of historical materialism -- and pulling together an understanding of how the modern world emerged incorporating the experience of non-european peoples.

    One of the interesting theoretical proposals of this book is a new look at the category of "feudalism" -- which has always been a kind of loose blanket thrown over very diverse modes of production, and a questioning of the way in with which feudalism and slavery were assigned to different categories.

    Wolf discusses three modes of production:
    * Kin-ordered
    * Tributary
    * Capitalist.

  • Guest (intersted observer)

    Anything can be effective or true enough if truths correspond enough to certain reifications, all your assumptions of final resolution only make sense if you take Aristotelian epistemology and mid east mono theism at face value, these were not always the standard of human modeling. In order for your assumptions to work you have to make a notional set of separations between one phenomena and another, modern physics basically destroyed that hypotheses, there is no separation, and there is no observer doing the separating.

  • Guest (Avery Ray Colter)

    It seems to me, perhaps in my naive ignorance, that the principles here are arguing whether an irrigation pipe is its own inlet or its own outlet. How this conversation, and the question of "What is a law", has me reacting, is that a revolutionary political law is an expression both of existing relations and of the transformation of those which the dictating power desires. Not for nought that law is often described colloquially as path, road, way.

  • Guest (Morning Window)

    Thank you, Neftali and Mike, for patiently arguing this out. Perhaps each of you already has a sense of the other's line and what the other will say, but it is instructive for me and others. Also, thank you, Mike, for taking the time to define basic terms like "means of production," etc.

  • Guest (carldavidson)

    A worthy read that goes deep into the matter is 'Legal Naturalism: A Marxist Theory of Law' by Olufemi Taiwo.

  • Carldavidson: My understanding of Taiwo's <i>Legal Naturalism</i> is that Marxism provides an ideal vision of what law should be, and has a Platonic dualist idealism implicit in its understanding (a nonexisting ideal "natural law" that somehow transforms along with the mode of production regardless of actual changes going on in the real world, and which actual law is striving to replicate). Starting from page 110:

    <blockquote>
    If legal naturalism is correct, or at least plausible, if the lawmakers in a particular society know the requirements of the natural law of their social formation, and they are not subversives, they will strive to realize these requirements in their positive law. The lawmakers' commitment to their way of life is inseperable from a disposition to seek to realize the inner laws of their social formation in its purest expression.
    </blockquote>

    While Taiwo makes some good points, I think this central thesis of the book is totally wrong.

    As far as the debate as to "what is a law" -- including whether laws are even part of the superstructure or also intertwined with the base itself -- I recommend this article which counterposes the positions of the French Maoists and Charles Bettelheim (the answer to that question is also related to your answer to "what is socialism?")

    http://pashukanis.blogspot.com/2005/09/base-superstructure-and-property.html

  • Guest (carldavidson)

    If you don't think that humans have the capacity, and practice, of right and obligation as a natural part of their species being, just as they have a capacity for language as social beings, and this evolves over time, then yes, I can see why you think natural law is Platonic nonsense and this book is largely wrong.

    I hold the alternate view. I think we have natural human rights simply because of who we are, as a species. Governments may recognize them, thwart them, or ignore them, but we have them nonetheless, and government of any kind is not the source of them. Governments make positive laws which may or may not be in accord with natural law, as in the Dred Scott decision, but that is another matter. Dred Scott had rights whether or not the Supreme Court declared he had none whites were bound to respect.

    Do you think he did or not? I stand with Scott in his assertion that he did have rights, and that we had both the natural obligation and the revolutionary duty to respect them.

  • Guest (kalitramplesshiva)

    Where is the scientific evidence for natural law?

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    Where is the scientific evidence that humans speak, practice ritual and practice altruism as a sense of right and obligation? It's self evident, ie, everywhere you look. We've yet to find humans in social groups anywhere without these aspects to their nature.

  • Guest (Jan Makandal)

    A lot could be said about this discussion, but I will simply cover a few points.

    Any matter/objective reality/phenomena, in formation, is constantly complex. I think it is our interpretation and our attempt to fuse our interpretation with that reality that goes through a process of maturation from the simple (perceptual) stage to a complex (rational) stage. That is a general application in any field of science.

    To proclaim that matter moves to simple to complex is a mechanical approach. The formation of matter/objective reality is a complex process which is very hard to appropriate from the onset. The development of any objective reality is bound by the laws of contradiction. For a social formation, the objective reality is not only bound by the laws of contradiction but is also defined and determined by class struggle, in itself a contradictory process.

    Mao’s contribution to the definition of some elements of Proletarian Theory is valuable, yet limited and still unfinished. Now it is our responsibly to continue that process. I think Mao sometimes confused the theory of the principal aspect of contradiction with what determines the internal dynamic inside of an objective reality. Mao confused as well the principal contradiction with the fundamental contradiction, and did not quite appropriate the theory of pertinent contradiction.

    Within any process, which is in constant formation, one element will be dominant. This is the case even if that dominance is interchangeable. Now, a clarification is needed: even though one element determines any process, this is not a determinist conception, in which one will get an inevitable result. It simply means that in the final analysis, within the contradictory process, the phenomenon as a whole will take the direction of what determines it. This element will dictate how the whole process will develop or will not develop.

    The simple fact is that we identify a society as capitalist, feudalistic or socialist because of production. It is because production is the determining factor enabling us to identify that social formation. Production and the struggle for its reproduction (class struggle), and the determinacy of class struggle within the process objectively confirms the dialectical relation of the base with the superstructures, and the determinacy of class struggle as it affects the superstructures.

    Therefore, the theory of the relative autonomy of the superstructures is correct, in the sense that class political line or class ideology, in the real, doesn’t exist or manifest in its purest form. It is itself affected by class struggle. Any class ideology goes through a process of intertwining with the ideology of other classes. For example, in England and Japan (two imperialist social formations), we still see remnants of feudalism at the level of superstructures, and sub-ideological elements of feudalism are integrated into capitalistic ideology or the concept of liberty from a slave/ masses is as well intertwined with concept of liberty from a free slave /petit bourgeoisie and sometime even of the bourgeoisie. But even if the superstructures manifest a relative autonomy in relation to the base, this doesn’t call into question, in the final analysis, the determinacy of the base.

    I do agree, and have political unity at the level of theory, that there is only one history with many different interpretations under two main schools of thought: metaphysical/sociological or materialist. From the school of materialism, we don’t create and to deepen materialist approach we need to constantly engage in the struggle against metaphysicism for the triumph of materialism.

    Our task is to appropriate an objective reality from the objective interest of the proletariat. I could claim that if I was 7 feet tall I could have been a basketball player, but no theory can be constructed from this, since wishful thinking is not materialist. What happened did not have to happen, but it did. And this is all we have.

    We should not argue for a linear path for the simple reason of the determinacy of class struggle, but at the same time it is important to recognize that based on the historical constitution of the working class, class struggle will inevitably lead to scientific socialism as the transition to communism. Stalin is one of the forefathers of revisionism and the pioneer of a sub ideological element of revisionism: peaceful coexistence. His mechanical concept of development of history objectively a denial of class struggle and the contradictory nature of class struggle in the construction of scientific socialism.

    Revisionists and petit bourgeois revolutionists have tried their best to strip the working class of its historical role and of class struggle, but so far the only thing produced in their attempt is capitalism. From Euro-communism, to different versions of Pan/Africanism/ Americanism, these attempts have resulted in a total betrayal of communism and communist organization. They have resulted in their own recuperation by capitalism (even by building capitalism, in the case of the Panism trend).

    Class struggle determines all the stages that any social formation goes through, and defines as well the development (or not) of production. This is why, in any social formation, history did not go any other way but the way it did. There is no human history outside of, or independent of, class struggle. Humans outside class struggle, who are unable to put forward any class alternative, can’t resolve anything and the result is re-organization of capitalism for its reproductions. This why all proletarian revolutionaries will say: THE ORDER OF THE DAY IS PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION

  • Guest (Red Fly)

    Very interesting discussion.


    Mao Zedong wrote:

    <blockquote>When it is impossible for the productive forces to develop without a change in the relations of production, then the change in the relations of production plays the principal and decisive role. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” [15] When a task, no maker which, has to be performed, but there is as yet no guiding line, method, plan or policy, the principal and decisive thing is to decide on a guiding line, method, plan or policy. When the superstructure (politics, culture, etc.) obstructs the development of the economic base, political and cultural changes become principal and decisive. Are we going against materialism when we say this? No. The reason is that while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also–and indeed must–recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base. This does not go against materialism; on the contrary, it avoids mechanical materialism and firmly upholds dialectical materialism.” </blockquote>

    Doesn't our current impasse show that this distinction between principle and secondary is itself too mechanical? Or is it the case that we've simply been unable to discern the principle contradiction for these last 4 decades?

    Impossible for the productive forces to develop further under capitalism? Certainly the productive forces have developed under neoliberalism, but it appears increasingly to me that, although desperately needed for the continuation of their class rule, the bourgeoisie hasn't yet been able to found a new accumulation regime to surpass neoliberalism and thus they've relying on the idea that with enough time and application of its failed methods, eventually, "in the long run," a new equilibrium will be reached . And I wonder if the reason for this is purely ideological, in the sense of not wanting to recognize the reality of their historic failure and what that failure portends both in the near and medium future , or if this is rather an idealized reflection of a deeper underlying reality that capitalism itself has run out of outs? In other words, what I think is worth investigating here is whether or not anything like a triangulating strategy from the ruling class such as Keynesianism is even possible at this point, because if it's not, then this really is the beginning (either of socialist revolution or common ruin).

    Is it possible to model any of this theoretically based on what we know about profit rates during the crisis of the 70s? Would a new set of Keynesian reforms sink the average rate of profit to a point where capitalism would longer be viable?

    But let us imagine for a moment that based on investigation of the evidence we conclude that capitalism is no longer capable of developing the productive forces. Even if this is the case, how does the retardation of the productive forces become the principle contradiction to which other contradictions must be relegated if it is also the case that it is impossible to unfetter the productive forces without also resolving the "secondary contradictions" of developing a sufficient revolutionary theory, of developing a sufficient guiding line, and of developing sufficient cultural and political forms? I mean, to me this notion of principle contradiction suggests that we should focus most of our efforts on this one contradiction, but it's not clear that you can get very far in unraveling this contradiction without equal care towards unraveling the supposedly secondary ones.

    Or might it be the case that sometimes there is a clearly discernible principle contradiction and other times just a gaggle of equally contending contradictions? What does the answer to that question imply for revolutionary strategy?

    I appreciate Mao's attempt here to avoid mechanical thinking, but I wonder if it goes far enough.

  • Guest (intersted observer)

    <blockquote>"Where is the scientific evidence that humans speak, practice ritual and practice altruism as a sense of right and obligation? It’s self evident, ie, everywhere you look. We’ve yet to find humans in social groups anywhere without these aspects to their nature."</blockquote>

    No it isn't self evident, you're in the old is-ought trap that Hume talked about, altruism is a habit that seems to be descriptively prevalent more or less, but there are also psychopaths and people would would prefer the blowing up of the world to the scratching of their finger, language and ritual are conjugated into existence by living structures of information, not a notional human being with an 'innate capacity'.

  • Guest (Carl Davidson)

    @Interested observer

    We are not talking about a few sociopathic individuals, the outliers. We are talking about human societies made up of social beings. And if these attributes aren't self-evident to you, try to find a society were people have no language, practice no rituals and have no sense of right and obligation, and get back to us.

  • Guest (intersted observer)

    There are gradients from the pathological ones to the cohesive ones that never separate, language may well have been a psycho-activated phenomena coming from things like pcylocybin and other outside events, ritual came about in the past 12 000 years and was not always engrained and right and obligations are spooks that come from later derivatives of the former two, most cohesive social species evolve some kind of protection practices but these are not rights(a religious idea) and they do not necessarily translate into oughts no matter what their descriptive persistence.

  • Guest (Jan Makandal)

    One of the mistakes of Anarchism (though this trend has made some valuable, but limited, criticisms of Marxism, which is the core of Proletarian theory), is to create theory outside an objective reality, and to vehemently attempt to fit this theory to objective reality. This approach is metaphysical, because the source of theory is objective reality. It results in a total disconnect between theory and practice, a non-dialectical relation between their theories and the practice they are engaging in.

    In reality, even in microscopic form, no organizational structure functions without rules and regulations (laws, disciplinary measures, principles, point of unity), even if they are unacknowledged. It goes without saying that this is the case with an organization enclosing the whole social formation.

    The position of “no law can you give freedom” is part of the so-called anti-authoritarian position of anarchists, which they assert in order to protect their petit bourgeois individualism. The purpose of law is to guarantee the reproduction of democracy/dictatorship for the class that dominates society, while at the same time to keep other classes under control. So this position is adopted in order to deny the relative absolute truth of any class divided society, which is the theory of class struggle. At the same time, as anyone who has participated in any anarchist organization knows, the members are buried by rules and regulations that protect individualism. This is the antithesis of one of the principal aspects of communism: collectivism.

    The theory of historical materialism is not a formula that when cited, proves we are implementing it. We use dialectical materialism in order to discover, comprehend and construct a theoretical model of societal development. Historical materialism [HM], as a theory, allows us to analyze a social formation, to comprehend the diverse existing internal relations plus the relations between different social formations. HM allows us to achieve a relative understanding of HISTORY. This understanding is relative because it is not permanent, but in constant mode of rectification and consolidation. The basic objective of HM is to allow the proletariat to construct a political line to defeat capital. No revolutionary theory, no revolutionary movement.

    Historical materialism identifies three broad levels of structures and practices in societies that are divided into classes. Each one of these levels represents a system of structure and corresponding practices, a system in which the whole dialectically determines and is dependent on its constituent parts.

    These three levels are:

    1- Economic system (structure and practices): the relations of production and distribution of material goods and services
    2- Ideological system (structure and practices): the system of ideas, representations, theories (…), and the system of behaviors, attitudes, customs, ambitions, habits, (…).
    3- Political system (structure and practices): the system of laws, codes, constitutions, customs (…) through which relationships of domination are defined and enshrined, plus the system of coercion/repression through which these relationships of domination are enforced, maintained, reproduced and developed.

    There are a few global principles that are key to Historical Materialism:

    1- In the relation between structures and practices, on the whole, the structures fundamentally determine the practices. The practices take place inside the structures, even if under certain circumstances they can lead to the destruction of these structures and the emergence of new structures.

    2- In the relation between the economic structure and the superstructures (the ideological and political structures), the economic structure, on the whole, fundamentally determines the other structures, even if other structures can be dominant (for a particular stage or globally, for that particular mode of production) or even if the practices that are taking place in the superstructures can lead to the transformation (destruction-construction) of the economic structure itself.

    3- We must distinguish between formal-abstract social models (that enable us to extrapolate and determine the inherent tendencies and relations between the different elements of these structures in a formal abstract manner), and the societies that exist in reality at different particular historical stages of their development, in all their complex specificity. We can use theoretical models of capitalism or feudalism to help us analyze and comprehend these complex social realities, much as we can use the laws of geometry to help us assess the area of a farm, although we know that in reality there is no such thing as a square, a rectangle or a circle, or even more so, no pure capitalist or feudal social formation. In all cases, we must base our analysis on the concrete reality as revealed through our class struggles to determine the line of action that best serves the interests of the proletariat.

    It is the responsibility of proletarian revolutionary militants to use concepts of historical materialism and dialectical materialism at the three broad levels to analyze the social formation they aim to transform, and to develop a political line based on this analysis. Laws are practices at the political level which serve to legitimate class dictatorship/democracy for the reproduction of class dominance.

    Laws have a dual purpose:
    1- Some laws regulate the social relations between the different classes and fractions within the power bloc. These types of laws are expressions of class struggle among the dominant classes.
    2- Some laws regulate and legitimize the social relations between antagonistic classes, for the preservation of class dominance.

    In some cases, laws are the result of popular democratic struggle and concessions made by the dominant classes to sectors of the masses or the masses as a whole. But in the final analysis, laws exist to legitimize class dominance for the reproduction of that dominance.

    Socialist laws are to legitimize proletarian dictatorship/democracy. Their purpose is to enforce the breakdown of classes and to guarantee the transitional path to the abolition of classes: communism. Socialist laws will not spontaneously sprout from nothing, but will be constructed in a process determined by class struggle and detectable by contradictions.

    This highlights the importance of mass organizations and their relations with revolutionary organizations. I have argued here that mass organizations are instruments of struggle, and also instruments of power. The social practices of mass organizations both pre- and post- people’s power, under the leadership of the proletariat, lay the groundwork to construct the theory of transition. The role of proletarian organization is to construct theories of transition based on mass line, democratic centralism and political rapprochement to succeed to communism.

    We are in a deep period of crisis of capitalism, a period marked by the potential and objective proletarianization of the petit bourgeoisie. In reaction to this, the petit bourgeoisie is disseminating its own theory of communism as an “idea,” a paradise, an egalitarian utopia. In doing so, the petit bourgeoisie is objectively disseminating its own brand of anti-communism.

    Capitalism is the business of the capitalist class. Communism is the business of the proletariat (during the period of transition: scientific socialism toward the abolition of classes). Communism is not an ideal, but a form of organized society.

  • Guest (intersted observer)

    "is to create theory outside an objective reality, and to vehemently attempt to fit this theory to objective reality."

    You mean like how marxists separate base and surface level tension and call it reality lol. Engles in his late letters actually said that the base surface separation was metaphorical to begin with, without that literal assumption you have no marxism.