- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Saturday, 25 August 2012 11:33
- Written by Mike Ely
- 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."
* * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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
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:
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.
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:
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?
" 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.
"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.