Democracy and centralism? Yes, sure, but....

by Mike Ely

How should communists and revolutionaries be organized? Even asking that ruffles some feathers -- since some communist currents have considered this a "settled question."

Well, we should un-settle it -- problematize it -- for the simple reason that the  idea of a single "universalized" model of revolutionary organization has been a bad idea.

Its flaws and illusions have been revealed over the last decades -- including in the grandiosity and self-delusion of various small self-declared "parties" within the U.S.

There are a number of issues involved -- which we are only starting to touch on. But for now, we are exploring the communist organizational concept of "democratic centralism" (DC) -- both what it means and whether it should be embraced as a common approach.

We have discussed how it got "settled" in the discussions of the new-born Third Communist International (between 1921 and 1924) and how the form of democratic centralism was further modified -- especially in the "Bolshevization" campaigns of the late 1920s.

Now, Let's go beyond the historical question of how specific organizational structures and processes got codified ("settled") -- let's explore some of the concepts that pass as "settled," their justifications and lessons.



RW Harvey writes:

Let me back up talk for a moment about what is correct about the "epistemology and security" argument:

Often, when people discuss "democratic centralism" they do so in a simplistic, texual and literal way: "first we have democratic discussion that reaches a decision, then we have a collective responsibility to carry it out."

I find that kind of formulation naive at best, and disengenuous at worst -- since it doesn't really engage any of the real life issues.

WHAT does "democratic discussion and decision-making" look like? What are its various forms and contradictions? Where is the locus of discussion and where is the locus of decision-making (since they need not be the same thing)? Are all decisions handled the same (don't some decisions need broad approval of the rank-and-file, while other decisions require deep secrecy and simple centralism?)

The short story is that there are matters of epistemology, security, discipline and unified action to solve in any serious political movement.

First, you can't have complex political decisions that are only made by some "direct democracy" process at the base. Local mass movements can function that way for a while (wildcat strikes, rent strikes, OWS, antiwar sit-ins and building takeovers, etc.) but not a mature and complex political movement over a large territory.

The classic and obvious examples of this problem involve discussions of military decisions: Military doctrine,  larger strategic war plans and the tactical decisions of battles can't be decided by some quick up-or-down vote by the rank and file soldiers. They should be known and understood by all soldiers (especially in a revolutionary army) -- as well as the political goals of the war. But decision-making in sharp conflict can't rest mainly on immediate, localized mass democracy (especially once there are complex unknown factors and major sacrifices required).

And the soldiers themselves (going into battle) naturally want a) highly skilled, experienced and creative leaders making decisions, b) they want those decisions actually carried out (they don't want people deserting or carrying out some hairbrained individual counter-plan), and c) they want real secrecy (preserving surprise) around military moves so the enemy can't prepare.

There may be room in some armies and militias, for the rank-and-file electing non-commissioned leaders (sergeants) and low level commanders (captains etc.) -- but even then, they want to obey those commanders, not have the unit's every move subject to vote (or "blocking") for obvious reasons. A militia that actually tried operated through direct democracy would always be on the defensive, and have great difficulty with creative offensive (where some forces needed to be sacrificed for victory) -- as was evidenced (in controversial ways) during the Spanish Civil War.)

A communist movement needs security. It needs some level of a "need to know" policy (meaning that some information is only given to those specific people who "need to know" it, and is kept secret from everyone else). And this inherent need for levels of secrecy does affect many aspects of democracy:.

Every detail of the organization (every problem, controversy, person, action, etc.) can't be known by everyone -- since anything known by everyone is inevitably known by the movement's enemies and persecutors.

A movement that doesn't have secrets can't be effective opposition to a vicious system. Some top leaders should be known to the membership. But there are good reason to keep part of any leadership core shrouded in some secrecy (to enable the organization to better survive potential decapitation strikes and roundups).

For example, for a membership to pick all top leaders (in a general presidential style election) would require that membership to be familiar with all current leaders at various levels and all promising people in the rank-and-file), their past, their responsibilities, their shades of views in detail and their differences -- so that the membership can pick an appropriate core of leaders from among that field.

If you have a very small communist group that seems possible for a while -- but soon, it may prove  be impossible (or unwise) to continue such a policy.

This suggests a policy where, for example, a trusted, legitimized leadership is selected by representative bodies of leaders (so that a leading committee can be picked by an organizational convention, or a leading person is selected by the body they lead, or a standing committee is selected by the leading committee they "stand in for" day-to-day).

In communist history, bodies have historically been chosen that way. But the process is often fake. In practice, leadership is often  "by cooptation" -- where the current leadership picks who joins what bodies, and the voting is pro forma (unanimous, unvetted, uncontested etc.)

Second: It is true that the rank-and-file can't pre-discuss every decision -- both because there isn't time for every decision to be studied, explored, debated organizationally. But also because there are questions of competence and investigation. Many decisions require a great deal of knowledge and investigation -- which is possible for a smaller core of leadership, but which a whole organizational membership can't do on every matter. This also argues against the rank-and-file simply and directly making every decision. (It is now possible, given online means, to essentially have votes on everything. If such methods were deployed, the flaws and naivite of 'direct democracy" would become evident -- within days, not months.)

The need for centralism and democracy is not the controversy

So where does that leave us.... well I think that SKS (and others) are right in saying that many forms of social organization have both centralism and democracy (so that there is mass consultation and involvement in decision-making and leadership accountability, but also a degree of initiative taken by leaders as needed by the organization's tasks).

That is not controversial or unusual.

Communists add that additional point: Discipline. There is a responsibility to act in common. And of course, discipline is precisely an issue when people have disagreements, and carry out the majority view. And conscious self-sacrifice is an important feature of discipline (including, obviously, in military affairs).

And a degree of conscious (and even enforced) discipline  also makes sense:  We are not an academic arena that just plays with ideas without nodal points of resolution and ongoing action based on current understandings. Our point is to change the world. And really, it is hard to have an organization where the carrying out of difficult decisions is optional or completely uneven.

Discipline has often been extended -- so that in communist organizations there was an assumed unanimity in speech and micro-actions -- where every word out of everyone's mouth is subject to discipline, oversight, and even zombie-like scripting. That comes across bizarre and alienating in many ways. And it is something quite unnecessary. It is wrong to allow a  political culture that gives lip service to critical thinking but ends up stressing the rote memorization of approved phrases and ideas.

I think we should explicitly examine and discuss the previous communist understandings of discipline. Mao writes for example: leadership accountability -- once we choose to form an actual organization (which may be after a period of much looser exploration in network form).

Not every communist network is a "pre-party" formation. We can perhaps conceive of organizations today as "post-party" formations -- i.e. their task is to wrap up a previous movement (through summation, self-critcism, retraining, new idea creation etc.), while starting on a protracted new organizational course of regroupment. That may prove to have its own  distinctive forms (as Lenin's Bolshevik experience shows for its first ten years).

My own inclination has been to advocate "a communist pole within a broader revolutionary movement" -- which is an Iskraist approach rather different from forming some compact mini-party with premature demarcations and immature programs.

We need a culture where there is room for dissent and debate -- and where the quasi-religious anti-creative dynamics of group think and heretic-hunts has been understood and contained. We need to develop (currently unspecified) ways of having horizontal discussion without destroying necessary security (suggesting the need for discussion forums, both public and private, involving measured degrees of anonymity, specific agreed constraints, and vigilance toward suspicious activity.)

Finally, a lot of these organizational matters are not solved on the level of principle or 'model." Some may be very particular because of very particular conditions (including, for example, ongoing disagrements, or the degree of mutual trust among members, or the level of common language and assumption.)

Much lies ahead of us -- in the realm of summation, debate and emerging practice.

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  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    One billion people are bound to have varying views. And when one out of 12 is a member of the CCP, the party is bound to have varying views as well, whatever the rules or claims to the contrary.

    On Hitler's in power.

    He did 'play by the rules,' such as they were, with a little street violence added, to get it. but once there, it was maintained as 'open terrorist dictatorship' and the old rules brushed aside.

  • Guest - Mike E

    Carl raises the phrase most common in communist discussions of fascism: "‘open terrorist dictatorship’"

    But I suspect that in the modern age, all forms of political rule involve both "open terror" toward some, and non-terroristic appeals toward others.

    I have often asked older Germans about their experience under Hitler. And (obviously) some were targets of "open terror" -- and in the case of both Jews and Communists it only escalated (to the point of systematic attempts of annihilation).

    But that was hardly <em>all</em> the political dynamics consisted of -- there were plebicites and other trappings of quasi-democratic legitimization. There were huge mass rallies that were intended to mobilze and display mass support. (And that mass support was not, obviously, simply the result of terror -- it was often genuine... and the result of patient even creative mass political work and demagogery (and art, and film etc.) by this super reactionary movement.

    So I suspect that all modern political structures are a mix of popular mobilizaiton/legitimization and degrees of "open terror."

    Just another example: the U.S. political system has (through its history) been described as one of the most advanced forms of bourgeois democracy (for its era). But (as we all know) that bourgeois democracy was quite compatible with genocide, slavery and then Jim Crow. In other words, there was always dictatorship for some (including rebellious workers) and "open terror" for whole sections of the people (Native people, Black people etc.) in the form of actual warfare against Indians and lynchlaw as an omipresent threat against Black people.

    When I was a rather notorious communist figure in southern West Virginia, I was often asked "aren't you afraid of getting killed?" the local newspaper called for my assassination at one point. And obviously there were forces (police, klan-types, scabs etc) who might have taken that as license to act. At one point, a strike rally was interrupted by a drunk gang carrying a noose who had come to hang some of us communists (who were leading the meeting).

    After all, this is America. And there have always been (here!) powerful elements of "terrorist dictatorship" aimed at some people (in ways that are <em>precisely</em> "open" -- i.e. openly defended and justified by the authorities, accepted social norms and even the law).

    So, I don't see bourgeois democracy as the absense of "open terrorist dictatorship" or fascism as the establishment of a system defined (exclusively?) by "open terrorist dictatorship." (And I think that definition from 1935, was always a bit of a whitewash of bourgeois democracy.)

    To me, it is much more a matter of a major (and sinister) shift in the established norms of a bourgeois society (either abrupt and coup-like as in Germany, or more "frog in the well" gradualism) -- where what was <em>once</em> tolerated (at least not quickly and harshly suppressed), like political dissent, "decadent" gay clubs, antipatriotism and antimilitarism, working class organizing, cynical theater, criticism of the government, race-mixing, pluralism, communist thinking, etc. can suddenly becomes unacceptable (and open to swift punishment).

    And where an element of that shift is a necessary change in public opinion as well (i.e. fascism is not as the Comintern once seem to assume something that is an isolated and desperate act of just a small "most reactionary" section of the ruling class.) It is both a choice made within the ruling class, and also a conjured-up mass movement that rearranges the political dynamics of the social order (who is empowered, who is allowed to speak, whose world is taken as the social model and norm, etc.)

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I think we agree, at least in the sense that bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism interpenetrate each other. The Nazis, as we know, were masterful at combining terror with spectacle and other populist measures. As your story of West Virginia reveals, there is always a fascist danger even under our polyarchical dollarocracy. And Fred Hampton's death squad are walking around free to this day. Still, I wouldn't want to liquidate the divide between the two forms of rule, either.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    @Mike: I wonder how much that shift you speak of relies on the creation of a sinister/exotic/subhuman Other and initiates a mood of "better them than me"? The power of imagining that I will escape their fate if I go along with supporting/ignoring their fate is very potent in keeping the rulers in place and/or shifting the terms of their rule in times more openly reactionary.

    @ SKS: Your posing of the questions concerning DC, and then calling for their answer, is becoming circular with no alternatives or answers offered. To me this demonstrates the deep difficulty both with the form of DC and its applications that many of us have experienced.

    The point I alluded to above -- the complex and complexity of human behaviors -- still remains vital in assessing what kind of organizational form best serves the struggle (both the struggle to achieve power and the struggle to create different relationships amongst people and between people and the environment).

    If we believe that organization can (or should) mechanically trump human behavior, we are barking up the tree to a form of social engineering: humans are not and never will be enacting monoliths that sum up experience uniformly and carry out actions uniformly as well. Plus, there will always be tendencies to gravitate to leaders, to subsitute their perceptions/agency for our own. Organizational forms that do no take these human, all too human, proclivities into account in order to mitigate them in the service of raising consciousness and imagining a whole new way of being in the world, will inevitably foster and exacerbate these tendencies. At that point, the only road ahead will be one of failed revolution or restoration of the same relationships only under red auspicies.

  • Guest - Mike E

    RWHarvey writes:

    <blockquote>"@Mike: I wonder how much that shift you speak of relies on the creation of a sinister/exotic/subhuman Other and initiates a mood of “better them than me”? The power of imagining that I will escape their fate if I go along with supporting/ignoring their fate is very potent in keeping the rulers in place and/or shifting the terms of their rule in times more openly reactionary."</blockquote>

    I think the shift involved in fascism involves many processes -- not just one or two. Lenin once described the emergence of a "profound political divergence" in Russian society (the raw material of a revolutionary people that was very hard for the existing political system to digest). Fascism has been (and the case of Germany is an example) a move to destory such "profound political divergence." In Germany, the target of Nazism was a whole complex of outcomes to World War 1 (and the collapse of the emperor system) -- including widespread anti-militarism, the growth of organized communists, alienation expressed in art, antipatriotism of various post-war kinds, and the slack paralysis of the Weimar parliamentary system. The nominal target was as we all know, Jews (and here Jews were re-imagined into a fantastical all-powerful, sinister, subversive force that pulled the strings of national betrayal, communism, etc.)

    But i think that such shifts are often particular... so that we can have a general term (both fascism, and the <em>process</em> of fascization) for such leaps, but will discover that the taproots and dynamics vary. The history of American extreme rightwing movements show how much they have morphed here -- and there is value in understanding the difference, commonalities and continuities of (for example) the Religious Right, the anti-tax movement, the shut down the border movement, the rural militia, the tighter neo-nazi and klan undergrounds, and so on. The U.S. is a large and very diverse country. Several deep problems have faced fascist forces:

    First, they often have marked regional natures (and don't "travel well" outside their regions). The Klan and neo-nazis worked hard in the 1980s to bridge such gaps (including by having anti-semitism adopted more aggressively by southern Klan types, and having the neo-nazis mute their non-American (i.e. German-based) symbolisms, and by together dialing up the currently militant Christian tones. But the problem has remained -- rural militia don't play well outside their natural habitat. etc.

    Second, American fascism (unlike its German variety) has always had deep anti-federalist currents -- very hostile to a strong central government. So there are splits between the Ed Meese or Rudi Guiliani types -- whose fascist flavors involve a strong police state operation -- and the redneck grassroots who (more and more) sound like they want to abolish the federal government altogether. Fascism in america is torn -- between wanting big military, big prison, big cops (on one hand), and having a deep post-Confederate hatred of the federal government altogether, sometimes wanting "states rights" and sometimes wanting nothing above the county level ("posse comitatus"). There are dynamics here (inherited from the Confederate secession, and from the morphing of regional slavery into regional Jim Crow) that have made a national fascist program hard to implement.

    When Rick Santorum argues that states should be allowed to ban birth control -- you suddenly get a picture of quite an intrusive police state (imagine what the criminalization of birth control would involve!) Same with those who want to round up immigrants (and impose naitonal ID card systems and checkpoints....) All that that is hard to jibe with the libertarian anti-government instincts that co-inhabit the rightwing. Social conservative fascists, "national security" militarists, repressive prison-police-types, and the "don't tread on me" libertarians.... it is a factuous mix, that has not succeeding in jelling. And the factious primaries on the Republican side reveals some of that (and reveals how various figures try to become unifying figures for distinct currents and themes).

    The attempt to congeal a national fascist current around "Christian fascism" has gained some wind -- but suffered from the same, ongoing problems: Because in a very complex and pluralist society (like the U.S.), the question in many areas is "uh, which Christianity will we enshrine?", while in its core area of the Bible Belt that very question is incomprehensible (and a sign of an intolerable confusion).

    For that reason, the politics is a checkerboard... and it has been hard for the right to win victories on a national level. They got the Patriot Act rammed through post-911, which had been pre-written over previous years as a fascist wishlist. But an unspoken reason for the extreme anger on the right (seen in South Carolina) is the simple fact that they have had several conservative presidents (Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2, etc.) and yet the U.S. still has legal abortion, still has no organized prayer in school, still has legal pornography (and R-rated films on cable tv), still has birthcontrol given to teenagers, still has their religious symbolism slipping to the margin of life.... and they feel betrayed. In their view, these presidents hustled them -- promised to respect their "issues" and then (allegedly) "did nothing."

    And the dynamics underlyng that are this:

    First the U.S. is structurally federal. And it is very hard to "ban abortion." Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would remain available in the country as a whole (for anyone who can fly to New York). There has been progress in making abortion unavailable (for the young, the poor, the rural etc.) but that doesn't satisfy our fascist partisans.

    Second, the rightwing base is about 20 to 25% of the population, and the fascist hard core is a series of networks operating within that. But that 20% is generally hated and mocked by the rest of the population, and is not (itself) very flexible in alliance making. so they can win primaries, they can take over state Republican machineries, they can win elections at local levels, but they cannot get their program implemented nationally. 911 (and the great wind it generated) gave them a taste of national power -- but (again) the Patriot Act was victory for the "national security" fascists, while the social conservatives got more lipservice and symbolic nibbling at the edges.

    It is part of the gridlock of modern bourgeois politics. Which may not last. Watching the Republican primaries, I keep thinking the fascist right is about to "pop a cork" -- and that if Romney gets the nomination and if Obama gets re-elected, a section of them will come structurally un-moored and go toward armed anti-government militia and terrorist activities.

  • Guest - SKS

    RW Harvey,

    We agree on the point you raise as point of reality - humans are not uniform and uniforming them has never been possible. What is more, no mass society (that is societies formed by individuals that do not know each other personally) has ever been monolithic (sub-cultures are as old as humanity).

    However, and this is perhaps why it seems circular to you, we disagree on something fundamental - and correct me if I misunderstood - which is the belief that an organizational form prefigures human behavior, and that human behavior prefigures organizational form. Lets call this the "individualist view on politics". To this, I contrast, the view (which I will explain), that organizational forms are a means to achieve collective transformation of social relations and the individual. Lets call this the "collectivist view on politics".

    From what I gather, you seem to believe the problem of DC is that it attempts to be monolithic, to social-engineer humans into summing up experiences uniformly and carry out actions in an uniform fashion. Which you see as bad. Well, we agree - on the abstract - that this is bad, but this betrays a complete ignorance of the theory and practice of DC. While the *goal* of DC is uniformity of action - in the way an army marches in lockstep - its method is not one of social-engineering, at least not in a profound way. No serious proponent of DC - from the Soviet State on down to the Red guard in China - believe that DC was some magic formula that eliminated difference. In fact, they were all extremely conscious of this human reality. DC is in fact nothing else than a way to attempt to gain the largest possible support to a specific line of march, taking into account these disparities. In theory, at least.

    The problem you seem to have with DC, then, is not DC as possible solution to the problem (how to turn the many into one - "E Pluribus unum"), but the problem itself: you think we have no need to turn the many into one, or perhaps that turning the many into one is an exercise of folly.

    Now, I think that DC as practiced in the past, and as prescribed, has run its course. Whatever the advantages it once provided, they have been outgrown by human society, the population exploded, the spread of ideas quicker, technology in communication developing more in 50 years than in the previous 250,450 of human existence. However, I do believe that hegemonic ideologies exist, and that these are established by hegemonic class rule, and that under capitalism, this class rule is capitalist. The capitalists have all these human failings you speak of, yet they are able to E Pluribus unum to defend, expand, and impose their rule. And do so in many different ways, with a great degree of success. They take a "collectivist view on politics" while imposing an "individualist view on politics".

    If you are a socialist, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, it would seem to me you want to reverse the equation: taking an "individualist view on politics" to impose a "collectivist view on politics". Fair enough. This is a very old debate.

    But for at its failures, DC organizations (regardless of ideology - anarchist DC exists), have been much more successful than individualist politics in effecting reform and revolutionary transformation. Individualist solutions do not work. Only collective action does.

    You mention this "Organizational forms that do no take these human, all too human, proclivities into account in order to mitigate them in the service of raising consciousness and imagining a whole new way of being in the world, will inevitably foster and exacerbate these tendencies."

    Isn't this social-engineering?

    One of the attractive things to many, I believe, of DC in history is precisely that it is not social-engineering. It is actually quite cynical on the capacity of the masses of people of adopting "correct" politics, so it transforms the revolutionary organization from a collective expression of its entire membership (including its contradictions) into a top-down machine of following orders (rather than consciously accepting leadership). Humans are socially predisposed to follow orders, so much so that traffic lights are generally effective even if there is no expression of authority near. It doesn't require social-engineering to have an organization that follows orders. Its quite easy, actually. Just go to your nearest neighborhood market and see one for yourself. What is hard is to create an organization in which even if everyone can't be a leader, everyone has the capacity to act as a leader - and hence DC is attractive because it is easy.

    "At that point, the only road ahead will be one of failed revolution or restoration of the same relationships only under red auspicies."

    I think you give too much credit to organizational form as a cause for collapse or counter-revolution. Sometimes, we do everything right, and we still manage to fail.

    (If this were not true, the Paris Commune wouldn't have died!)

    And this is why I stress so much what questions are we answering before speaking about the answers to the questions. We need more questions and less answers. Because we have too many answers to too little questions. We need to realize that we cannot reduce complex questions to a few simple answers, and that we cannot, in the present period, have answers to all these questions. So shit needs to be tentative. In particular, calling judgement on actually existing socialism's failings being with the organizational form is something I am not prepared - as you seem to be - to do.

    For yes it collapsed and transformed, but not before curing polio, beating fascism, putting the first man and woman in space, giving gun to liberate half the world from colonialism etc. With the same organizational form. So it is complex, and we should accept this complexity for what it is. Yes, they are no model for the future, but lets be careful not to draw the wrong lessons and throw the baby with the bathwater.

    Lastly, I take issue with your assertion that I have not put forward tentative models of organizations. I have. I form part of an organization that has opened up this question for decades now. We have had success and failure, and one of the things we learned is that any answer is tentative, or doomed to fail. It is in the sclerotic, mechanical adoption of any model that errors lies, much less so than in what model is adopted. DC in sects makes no sense, but it is proven the only way to run an army - for example. And DC might work for an army, but it is a failure in society at large. And so on.

    So, again, the problem of organizational form is that we should match it - more or less - to the real level of capacity and given stage of struggle of a given period, not to prescriptive models created entirely in the mind. There is comfort in stability, but we need a permanent revolution in organizational form if we are to move forward with any success. That is what I believe the "collectivist view on politics" suggests in the present period in the USA. That is as close to a prescription as I am comfortable to make.

    And we need social engineering. We cannot turn from the racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy, individualist shells of a human being we ALL are under this system into compassionate and caring collectivists without an individual and collective struggle to transform ourselves and our comrades. That is perhaps the biggest failure of DC: the only requirement is that you follow orders, not that you transform into something new. DC was and is about appearances, about spectral irrationality, not about a conscious daily transformation of the cadre (even when it claims it is). Its is a codification of discipline, not transformation. We need discipline, but we need transformation orders of magnitude more.

    Because if we see one lesson in actually existing socialism that we do have an answer is the question of the individual: the "individualist view on politics" leads to a dark path indeed - either inaction in capitalism, or counter-revolution in socialism.

    We need to be collectivists, and we need organization to do that, and we need leaders and we need to accept their leadership - and we need these leaders to be accountable, competent, and these orders to be attainable, rational, and caring, and we need an iconoclastic view on leadership that doesn't transform them into messiahs and untouchables. DC doesn't give us that, but it doesn't entirely rob us of that either. So lets thread carefully...

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I think we might do better at DC and other organizational matters if we take as our starting point that we humans are, first of all, SOCIAL beings, with a conflicted consciousness, on many levels, the most basic being between the 'I' and the 'Me'. In short, our individuality is a subset of our sociality.

    Secondly, all humans need three things in life to have a shot at thriving--meaning, structure and community. These can appear, of course, in myriad ways on a wide range of functionality and dysfunctionality.'

    Finally, build organizations both to reflect core values and solve problems at hand. Prefiguring utopias usually needs some wiggle room.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    @Mike E.

    Predicting the rise of American fascism is probably down there with predicting when the world is going to end due to peak oil in terms of useful activities.


    The scenario you just laid out- where Romney (it doesn't have to Romney, even) gets the Republican nomination, and then it's a close election, maybe a very close election (split popular electoral vote even?) but Obama is in the end re-elected... and then things go sideways, any number of things, a putsch at worst.... that is a thing that has kept me up at night a couple of times.

    Like I said it's more of a 'someone just stepped on my grave' feeling than anything else, and doesn't bear much discussion. But you touched a nerve there.


    <blockquote>We need to be collectivists, and we need organization to do that, and we need leaders and we need to accept their leadership – and we need these leaders to be accountable, competent, and these orders to be attainable, rational, and caring, and we need an iconoclastic view on leadership that doesn’t transform them into messiahs and untouchables.</blockquote>


    <blockquote>And we need social engineering. We cannot turn from the racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy, individualist shells of a human being we ALL are under this system into compassionate and caring collectivists without an individual and collective struggle to transform ourselves and our comrades. That is perhaps the biggest failure of DC: the only requirement is that you follow orders, not that you transform into something new. DC was and is about appearances, about spectral irrationality, not about a conscious daily transformation of the cadre (even when it claims it is). Its is a codification of discipline, not transformation. We need discipline, but we need transformation orders of magnitude more.</blockquote>


    <blockquote>What is hard is to create an organization in which even if everyone can’t be a leader, everyone has the capacity to act as a leader –</blockquote>


    What's this organization you form a part of? If they can minister anything like they can preach then I want to know more about that. Those are some points of unity I can get behind.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    SKS writes: "That is perhaps the biggest failure of DC: the only requirement is that you follow orders, not that you transform into something new. DC was and is about appearances, about spectral irrationality, not about a conscious daily transformation of the cadre (even when it claims it is). Its is a codification of discipline, not transformation. We need discipline, but we need transformation orders of magnitude more."

    Agreed, in order magnitude.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    @Mike: Your response above, parsing out the dynamic and different aspects of America and the potential streams pushing towards fascism is quite edifying, giving much to chew on. I would consider it important to be its own Kasama essay to stimulate a discussion of how we see the current situation. I, too, sense that "pop a cork" energy percolating, something to be quite mindful of.

  • Guest - SKS

    As I said, its hard. In my own organizational experience, the tension is between the opening up of the flood gates and the need to have some question settled - and perhaps something I overlooked, which are the petty politics and personal differences that will emerge in a small group, and get amplified by the small size.

    We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but we cannot let the good enough count as sufficient. Its hard, but so is ruling a country, and we like to talk a lot about doing just that...

  • Guest - jlowrieJ. Lowrie

    Mike writes, "It is unlikely that many will see things this way: Historically, democracies have been forms adopted for the rule of particular classes.'' The first part of this statement is formally not even an argument, much less a scientific one: not so very long ago not many people believed in evolution, in America many still don't. So? The second part is spot on, but Mike misses the real purport of his own words: democracy means the rule of the poor and to ensure such rule democrats adopted particular political institutions, but these have nothing in common with those outlined by Mike, who seems to think he is making some sort of scientific analysis by prefixing the adjective to democracy. Ask yourself Mike: what is the opposite of democracy? if you continue to insist that it is dictatorship, then you are merely propagating bourgeois ideology, whch is quite happy to identify democracy with the periodical exercise of the right to vote. cf. Cockshott/ Cotterell Towards A New Socialism

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @SKS and @RWH

    <blockquote>“That is perhaps the biggest failure of DC: the only requirement is that you follow orders, not that you transform into something new. DC was and is about appearances, about spectral irrationality, not about a conscious daily transformation of the cadre (even when it claims it is). Its is a codification of discipline, not transformation. We need discipline, but we need transformation orders of magnitude more.”</blockquote>

    I don't agree with this at all, at least for a political organization. Our efforts at 'individual transformation' are better being far more modest and limited--ie, helping cadres and members become better at self-discipline, self-organization, self-learning, finding their own bearings, and group planning.

    We need not collapse the social self and the private self, ie 'the personal is the political.' That is a feudal and a totalitarian idea. The personal and the political overlap, but that are not the same, and should not be treated as such, even as a goal.

    Some people will indeed work on deeper self-transformation--whether through self-examination, Zen meditation, religious practices, psychotherapy, AA groups and so on. But how they do so is largely a private matter.

    But once you get the revolutionary political taking over these things, you're on the slippery slope to Scientology or the Cult of Bob.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "And that mass support was not, obviously, simply the result of terror — it was often genuine… and the result of patient even creative mass political work and demagogery"

    This actually misses the most important part in understanding where the mass-support came from and that was the very real economic recovery which occurred in Germany. As I've noted above, the current studies such as Albrecht Ritschl, Deficit Spending in the Nazi Recovery, 1933-1938: A Critical Assessment, have pointed to the conclusion that this recovery was already in process before Hitler gained the Chancellorship. If Germany in 1933 had been just a broken shell of a post-industrial economy (the way the USA pretty much is today, and the way the Comintern tried to imagine Germany was then) then Adolf Hitler would barely be remembered as just a blip on the historical radar screen. In such a context Hitler's regime would have been no more stable and permanent than that of Admiral Kolchak.

    But such was not the case. Real dynamic economic recovery was present not just in Germany but also Italy and Japan. Being in office as this economic recovery occurred gave Hitler the seal of authority which he needed. It's an interesting question to ask what the outcome might have been if Hitler had become Chancellor in 1930 at a time when the waves of economic chaos which were radiated out from the USA reached central Europe. Maybe then he would have failed.

    Hitler's hostility towards democracy was heavily based on his analysis of the British Empire which had become a World Empire on which The Sun Never Sets. Hitler saw democracy as perhaps an appropriate trapping for the state which had achieved such a status already. But the importation of democratic ideas into Germany when this World Power status had not yet been achieved was viewed by him as a subversive way of undermining the German national spirit. Germany would have to first achieve the colonization of new territories in eastern Europe to expand its living space and only much later would democratic forms be suitable.

    This is very different from someone like Guiliani. Guiliani really does come close to resembling the Comintern caricature of a fascist as a tool of the big cigar-smoking capitalists who fear democracy because the capitalists know that the workers are going to organize. It would be a gross mischaracterization to dress up either Hitler or Mussolini in such terms. But the caricature fits Guiliani very well.

    Libertarianism is also very much reflective of the status of the USA as a decayed capitalist power which sees its days of glory in the past. Libertarianism basically amounts to glorifying the days of the colonial settler expansion while also writing it out of existence. Hitler had a very hard-nosed vision of the need for the Aryan race to obtain vast new territories for racial settlement, a vision which was clearly influenced by the settlements in North America. An analogous movement in the USA today might advocate a new Mexican-American War like in 1846-8, with an intent of expanding white settlements.

    But instead of that, libertarians immerse themselves in constructing a pseudo-history where the USA was not an expansionist state until at the earliest the American Civil War. Before that the USA was just a republican federation which minded its own business and stayed out of globalist interventionism while the gold standard gave a solid foundation to a free enterprise economy. Libertarian delusions of this type can be very frustrating to have to deal with, but it's also fair to say that such people are not going to bring forward a new Hitler (or even a Mussolini or Franco). They are too entranced by imaginary visions of an earlier age of glory to do anything of the sort.

    The distinctions between the US economy of today and those Germany, Italy or Japan in the 1930s are so fundamental that it really does not help to introduce the term "fascist" when talking about the US. One can refer to "authoritarian" tendencies in a general sort of way. But it really obfuscates the character of an exhausted overdeveloped empire such as the USA is to line it up with young aspiring imperial states whose economies still had a great deal of room for development of a 19th-century flavor.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    <blockquote>An analogous movement in the USA today might advocate a new Mexican-American War like in 1846-8, with an intent of expanding white settlements.</blockquote>

    Rather dubious on its own, seeing how this demographic has a 'birth dearth.' In the glory days of US expansion, families were rather large--six to eight children was commonplace,

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "Rather dubious on its own, seeing how this demographic has a ‘birth dearth.’ In the glory days of US expansion, families were rather large–six to eight children was commonplace"

    Of course nothing like that is on the US scene today, and I have no expectations that it ever will be in the future. But Hitler was a fervent advocate of women having large families to increase the Aryan race. So your note about 6-8 children would have been in line that. I really don't see any of that as the direction from which current and future challenges are going to come.

    The central problem in the USA today is that so many people are hypnotized by the recollections of the days when the empire was prosperous that they are absorbed with idealizing the past. That keeps them from ever forming the kind of racial expansionist movement which was at the root of German National Socialism. But it also keeps them from following any better route, at least at the present time. It leaves them obsessed with fantasies about how the gold standard was once the foundation of a free market, even as capitalism continues to degenerate further and the world passes them by.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Carl, I think you are confusing the transformation of consciousness with proscribing behaviors, even though changes in awareness often lead to changes in behavior (e.g., more awareness of the oppression of women can lead to behavioral shifts away from abusive acts). While I would be alarmed with a party listing proscribed behaviors, there is a dialectic between opening one's eyes (and heart) and making substantive alterations in how one acts towards others and the world. If I read you correctly, you are opting for imagining that through the discipline of something like DC (or an organizational form to be determined) that simple self-discipline is enough to get the job done. I am speaking (and I think SKS is also) about wrestling with where communist consciousness comes from and whether or not we have a responsibility to sorting out the ways (organizationally and otherwise) to fanning the flames of this increased consciousness. Otherwise, what is the content of your self-discipline, self-organization, and self-learning?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    My point is 1) that self-discipline is never simple, and 2) discipline in the revolutionary organization is voluntary at its core. Our consciousness is always conflicted in myriad ways, between the "I" and the "Me" at its core. A communist outlook, apart from rebellion against the harsh realities of class society, is best developed by wider revolutionary education about science and society, a protracted process, and enhancing our subjective capacities of sociality and empathy, which, I agree, can come with flashes of insight.

    I recall a case when I was a national SDS organizer, and visiting a large state university with more than 30,000 students. I asked the key organizer how he was doing implementing the anti-racist program we had recently passed. ''Not much,' he said. 'We don't have much racism around here, there's only about 300 Black students.' I didn't say a word, but just stared at him sternly for a few moments. 'Oh,my God!' he said, having had his epiphany and flash of insight. 'Now I get it!....." His outlook on the matter was never quite the same again..

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    A clarification:

    The concept is democratic centralism not democracy and centralism. This is not a semantically clarification but a fundamental clarification. Democracy is the abstract and democratic is all the constituted elements, and in constant formations and in constant reproductions and constant reproductions don’t mean similarities and duplication, aimed at regulate relations of militants for the reproductions of structure/ organizations. These constituted elements are a dialectical relation of:
    [ Line and principles] the lines are determinant and principles are defined by the lines and principles in constant modifications. The line guiding the relations of minority and majority and the submission of the minority to the majority and the possibility that the Majority becomes a minority through struggle.
    theory and practice and the determination of praxis for the validation of theory and how does that effect an organization.
    Militant to militant, a relation of class struggle, shaking the bucket of water for all the dirt to go on top, to defeat bourgeois ideology for the construction and triumph of proletarian ideology.
    Militant with collective and individual contributions for the reinforcement of the collectives.

    Democratic centralism was not created but an interpretation of the internal functioning of groups of individuals for their reproductions as groups of individuals. Even if the interpretation emanated from a deformed structure, either bureaucratic or absolute egalitarian structure, the concept is still materialist concept interpreting an objective reality in dire need to be saved from dogmatic whishes to turn it into a formula.

    The concept is materialist because the interpretation is dialectical and in constant mode of fusion to the knowledge of the functioning of an organization. The concept is the unity of the dialectics of the opposites: democratic/centralism and centralism as a process of systemic synthesis of ideas. To realize that systemic synthesis of ideas all the constituted elements of what is our perception of democratic practices are to be effective and are to be determinant to finally realize the synthesis of ideas and also in constant modes of rectification and consolidations.

    The contribution of Mass line, as a complement of democratic centralism is important and deepens the concept. Base on the contribution, now the concept is DC/ML. DC is for the dialectical internal relation of a revolutionary organization and ML is for the dialectical relation of organization and mass allowing a control of the masses over its organization. ML is the external functioning.

    “My” political current contributed the concept of Political Rapprochement, a line guiding all the mechanisms at the level of political, ideological and theoretical to achieve political unity for the application of centralism. We do believe outside the concept of political rapprochement at all these levels, political, ideological and theoretical, the danger to have a deformed application of DC is more prevalent, but still not immune from degeneration since class struggle is still present and the law of contradictions are as well.

    No orders are to be followed outside of the unity of a line, the process of political rapprochement.
    I think DC needs to be save from dogmatism and pragmatism for the consolidation of DC. He does astonish me, every time we are dealing with contemporary issues we have to go back 100 years, instead of constructing our own. We do need to learn from the past but being stuck in the past is different.

    The bourgeoisie practices their own form of DC, or some elements of DC and in nature a bureaucratic form of DC. They have their focus groups; they have their concept of empowerment, borrowed from Mass Line.
    We do need to set up to the plate so our ideas are really emerging as a real alternatives to capitalism, we will not be able to accomplish this task if we are still stuck on dead revolutionaries. It is good to learn from them, but even better to produce our own for the consolidation of struggle against capitalism.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    This strange verbiage, to be polite, is what happens when you proclaim 'proletarian ideology' rather than science and the scientific method of open inquiry as your source of knowledge. It's saving grace is that no one really knows what is being said here.

    As I've noted here before, ideology, in the Marxist sense, is the ossified ideas of the old order, and it is counterposed with science. 'Bourgeois vs Proletarian Ideologies' were brought in later , mainly by Stalin and Mao, and not very fruitfully, IMHO.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    @ Carl,

    My debate with you exemplifies the importance of our conception of Political Rapprochement to construct political unity as a precondition for the application of DC and ML. For me, I will argue that DC is inapplicable if there is no political unity and Political Rapprochement is the path to achieve it and the level of political rapprochement will determine the level of unity allowing the application of DC.

    Historical materialism identifies three broad levels of structures and practices in societies that are divided in 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.

    If that was Marx interpretion of what is ideologies than Max was totally wrong. If we only takes the example of the struggle of capitalism for the destruction of feudalism. Capitalism needed to produce their emerging ideologies for its dominance. No class and fraction of classes that are in the process of historical formation and constitution can not fully achieve that objective if unable to produce their own ideology, reactionary nationalism in the case of fascism or the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, black is beautiful for the reformist African American movement and Black Power for its reformist radicalism.

    Ideologies are not only the ossified ideas of the old order but as well the destruction of old ossified ideologies for the emergence of the new ones and in the case of the proletariat collectivism, as one example. If we are unable to produce our own, revolution is only a figment of our imagination.

    Attempting to reach Political Rapprochement,

    I have mentioned previously of our inability to be in the same organization because DC is inapplicable for lack of theoretical, political and ideological unity.

    My theoretical definition of ideologies.

    The ideological system (structure and practices):

    The ideological level is a system of ideas, representations, conceptions, theory, philosophies, creeds and faiths (…) articulated with a system of comportments, behaviors, ambitions, aspirations, customs, habits, consciousness, emotions (…), (left brain – right brain). Ideology is how people conceive reality and how they live and relate to this reality. Ideology thus serves as the cement of a society; it determines the behavior of various people in their different roles in a society. There is a dialectical relationship between the two systems that make up the ideological structure.

    There is a dialectical relationship between how people perceive reality and how they live this reality. On the whole, the system of comportments, behaviors, attitudes, aspirations, emotions, (…) plays a determinant role in its relation to the system of ideas, representations, theories, philosophies, (…). It is one’s fundamental attitude towards reality that determines how one perceives that reality and how one formulates ideas and plans to transform that reality, even when one’s ideas and conceptions can in turn lead to transforming one’s attitude and emotive rapport to this reality.

    In our struggle, the aspirations and combativeness of the working class, the fundamental desire of the proletariat to free itself from its oppression, exploitation and domination, is the driving force for the development of a combative class ideology of struggle and liberation.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    You philosophy and 'ideology' may or may not be interesting, but in any case, I see them as beside the point.

    I agree DC and organization is around politics, but why take it to that level? Develop a a set of political, cultural and economic planks for political platform or program, a flexible strategy, tactics and line of march, and leave it at that, as to what you want to unite people to carry out and be largely self-disciplined around.

    People in a revolutionary organization, especially if it comes to scale, will hold a wide variety of contenting philosophies and in some cases, even part of the ideologies of the old order. That's why the organization will have ongoing debates, discussions and methods of education that will be protracted, and some differences will never be solved or resolved, but simply managed.

    If you try to do more than that, you venturing into church-building, not party-building.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    @ Carl Davidson

    You wrote, replying to the idea that deep self-transformation is key to social change

    <blockquote>I don’t agree with this at all, at least for a political organization. Our efforts at ‘individual transformation’ are better being far more modest and limited–ie, helping cadres and members become better at self-discipline, self-organization, self-learning, finding their own bearings, and group planning.</blockquote>

    I believe your experience is much more extensive than mine and so I defer to it.

    But just about all of the people who have been truly important to my political development have had to overcome some serious personal obstacles. Long terms in prison, histories of abuse, alcohol and drug use, turmoil in family and in community. For the most part, the sharpest way that capitalism confronted their lives was not in the form of objective material poverty, although there was that too. The way that capital confronted their lives was in the form of violence from police, family, friends, lovers. The seeming inability for people to act in a neighborly way with one and other. And these men and women struggled with all that for years with the desire to be whole people. To change themselves through changing the world. To be healed through the work of healing.

    I don't want to make it seem like I am romanticizing anyone. Hurt people hurt people, as they say in ACT UP, and we always hurt those closest to ourselves the most. This is true of the small political organization as much as it is true of the family.

    A man told me (using language that came from his history in the church) that the price of redemption is you have to act honorably. And that trust was the basis of unity. I don't know of a better organizational principle than that.

    I'm not saying I know how to systematize this process. Far from it. I just know that we, as we are, are not capable of doing what needs done. And we need to become people who are capable of the tasks that are before us.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    I don't disagree on much of this. I have been through a number of battles with my own demons myself over the years. My political comrades were helpful and encouraging, but only to a degree. The organizations concerned had reasonable limits, and could only do so much. The most critical breakthroughs I found in Zen-study and meditation, and 12-step social therapy, not to mention health clinics. I think those can be resources that a political organization draws upon, but it should not try to substitute itself for them.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal


    In the pursuit of Political rapprochement.

    In the moment of the hegemony of finance capital and in the period in which the tendency for a complete fusion of banking capital to industrial capital exist an intensive ideological struggle among the bourgeois class reflecting the form of production and distributions of goods. This struggle is political as well. The fraction/class capable to unify other classes, including the proletariat, under its ideological and political interest will be best able to offer an alternative.

    For me, in the US social formation, these types of struggle existed and the resolutions, of these forms of productions of goods and circulation of money-capital and goods-capital in the capitalist mode of production, are always antagonistic.
    In the period of the colony, it took a national form [politically and ideologically [patriotism]

    And in the conflict of two forms of productions slavery and exploitation of labor, it took an antagonistic form benefiting the prevalent form of capitalist exploitation, representing the future of capitalism. The prevailing fraction of the capitalist class representing the production of surplus value as the most advance form of valorization of capital did produce their own ideologies to consolidate their political dominance. The ideological concept of freedom and liberty, the conceptualization of the pursuit of happiness were not objectively designed for the working class, although it did influence the workers, but mainly for the capitalist class to cement the unity of the capitalist class for the reproductions of their dictatorships/democracy.

    Now, we are in a new stage of capitalism for the reproductions of capital and this new stage marked the contradiction of the hegemony of finance capital to industrial capital. This is a very contradictory process in which I am convinced no near solutions are in sight for capitalism in general and most likely as history already proved, however strong and stable bourgeois democracy/dictatorships is, the resolve will be antagonistic. In the interest of the capitalist class: Fascism and or “Barbarism” in the interest of the masses Proletarian revolution

    All the antagonistic struggle of capitalism is about surplus value, the production of surplus value. Its different form of productions, most importantly the inter capitalist struggle are for its valorization, and for its reproductions.

    The dominant and hegemonic form of its reproductions is the toxic, unproductive reproductions, a reproduction very cancerous to capitalism and as a consequences destroying all immune system of capitalism, by the way very good for us, but not enough.

    The form of producing surplus value will also effect its super structural form, ideology and political] and will have pertinent effect on the economy as well.
    All the reality shows on TV are for the consolidation of the ideological superstructure forms of the toxic finance capital
    and the nationalist content patriotism, the preservation of the Constitutions is all ideological struggles responding to interest of various form of producing surplus value.

    The toxic form of producing surplus value is also creating a fraction of the capitalist class in process of being historically constituted THE LUMPEM BOURGEOISIE [Lohan, Kardashian, Hilton et all,] producing all the ideological immorality needed to reproduce that toxic form of surplus value.

    It is not to stay it is a smooth process; it is a complicated process because of class struggle, class fusion and inters class relations. Romney, Clinton and others are all involved and inter acting in different forms of producing surplus value making them at this time very contradictory. They are engaged in nationalist propaganda at the same time they are involved in practice totally contradictory to their reactionary nationalism.

    As a side note, this is the difference between capital and capitalism.

    Again, no class can’t survive and reproduces as a class if no ideologies are in their interest to cement them and influenced other classes. Class ideology is underpinning and the cement for the class to reproduce and be dominant. The proletariat, the communist of movements, its internationalist capacity, its capacity to uncover the true face of bourgeois ideology with all the demagoguery of bourgeois ideology is the only class capable not only to fight capitalism at all levels but construct its alternatives at all level.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    As I said, the proletariat does best to counterpose science to ideology. The reason is that it is a revolutionary class, bound with radical chains, which, by breaking them, frees not only itself but all humankind. It has no use for the obscurantism, one-sidedness and fetters of ideologies. It has no narrow, selfish and particular interest to defend. It is free to simply to educate itself, and all others, to the truths of the universe, this world and this humanity, and these truths have an open future. They change as the 'Veil of Maya' is pushed aside and to the rear. Emancipate your mind. Seek truths from ongoing practice and the facts of changing organism-environment interrelationships.

  • Guest - SKS


    I agree that there are matters that in particular can lead to what you call "totalitarian" (a term I find somewhat problematic, as it flattens a wide range of political, historical, and social facts into behaviors, rather than purposes and causes - and this is a terrible thing that leads liberals, for example, to compare the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as equivalent). But lets use the term as I think you are using it.

    I do not think it is totalitarian to seek to transform the individual. I think it is totalitarian to want discipline without transformation. I also think that the claim of "private" matters are "private" is anti-collectivist and a cop out. We are talking about cadre here - cadre needs to be held to a higher stand, and hold him and herself to a higher standard.

    I think in this sense, your claim that personal transformation as goal is feudal and totalitarian, and leads to cultism,

    Interestingly enough, you provide a counter-example of what you expressed: your anecdote about racism and organizing is a prime example. Had you as an organizer no even breached the question - because it was a "private" matter for people to handle on their own - no transformation would have been required.

    Something I do think a lot of us agree on is on the distance between the ideal and the concrete. I will say that your criticism comes into effect precisely in what I called "spectral irrationality" the process in which the "ideal" is used as a thing itself and a tool for social control. That is cultism, a perversion of the ideal. Yet cultism is not inevitable - but when it has emerged it has been precisely when we "privatize" the social experience, rather than make it truly collective. Avakian as a cult leader was born the minute the existence of cadre life was made vertical to him, rather than dialectical. Any transformation was then left to the individual unless it related to the keeping of this vertical relationship.

    I fear that your argument is confused in this respect - and also obscures and justifies a particular brand of American individualism that is anathema to collectivism: this is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We have to work that square peg until its round. If there is any lesson in history, is that people raised in a capitalists world make shitty socialists in the end, unless they radically transform.

    Another fundamental difference emerges here: for you socialism seems to be a matter of State power and technocracy. Look at Venezuela - which has the same view in its leadership - and tell me with a straight face that is socialism in any meaningful way. However, in the base level, there is transformation going on, in the small scale and at the margins of the PSUV technocrats. There lies the hope, not in a privatized living.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    I am a communist. I am not a 'collectivist.' My goal is a society where the free development of each is a necessary condition for the free development of all. Some think it should be the other way around, but i think it's fine the way it is, and that communists would do well to ponder why.

    The division of the human self into both private and public spheres was one major achievement of the Enlightenment over the feudal era. We move on from there, but I want nothing to with reversing that verdict. 'Public interest first, self interest second' is a sound policy for our time--it places self-interest in a proper limitation, but it does not liquidate it. But 'fight self, repudiate revisionism'--a slogan for a time in the GPCR--is wrong on many counts, not just the ones we're discussing here.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    @ Carl
    I see you have your own verbiage. Proletarian theory, specially Marx’s contribution, is the analysis of different form of class struggle and of their connection. Class struggle manifests itself in the objective reality at three levels political, ideological and economical and Capital was somewhat the economic part.

    Proletarian theory did not start with Marx and specially did not stop with Marx. Dogmatism wants to finish it with Marx. IT IS STILL UNIFINNISHED.

    The historical analysis of a class is nothing else the historical analysis of class struggle. Thus, the historical ideology of a class, class consciences, is not created, invented like psychology would have us believe that a class consciously or unconsciously invents its ideas.

    The ideology of a class is constructed in material conditions in front of the adverse ideology and his developing at the same time as a particular form of class struggle and will impose itself in the society. For us, class antagonism, in any class society, is fundamental and eternal not their division in some kind of social regrouping. The revolutionary nature of the working class is not that utopian as you mention in your recent post.

    The revolutionary politics of the proletariat is to reached its objective which is the abolition of wages: the fundamental social relation of capitalism and its ideological component is communism the most advance ideology, that will succeed capitalism as a mode of production and a mode of social organization through proletarian dictatorship, a transitional period to communism.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    An additional note:

    Science is not independent of ideology, The history of all societies/all social formations is simply the history of class struggle thus the history of science in all social formation, the development of scientific practices, in all fields, is determinant by the economic needs and the dialectics relations with the superstructures. The relations of science to ideology is not that mechanical, but dialectical. If the proletariat counterpoises science to ideology, it will be for its demise, especially at questions of the environment, industrial development base on the usage value of goods, not simply an economical questions but ideological, as well.

    In another case of relation of science to ideology was and still is in the period of feudalism a mode of production totally antagonistic to the development of science since wealth is not base on the accumulation of capital.

    Science is in the field of ideology but function in a relative autonomy with ideology but is still determined by ideology, class struggle. For the proletariat to emancipate it must be done in the fields of class struggle, the proletarian “truth” is fundamentally antagonistic to capitalism “truth”. The true nature of capitalism is in it capacity to exploit and convince [ideology] others exploitation is good and the true proletarian nature of workers is to resist exploitation and convince others [ideology] a better alternative to exploitation exist, under its leadership. Think for the lessons in Taoism, but I would rather stick with historical/dialectical materialism the most advance tool for the social productions of theories.

    Again proving the need for political rapprochement at all levels for the application of DC.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    <blockquote>the proletarian “truth” is fundamentally antagonistic to capitalism “truth”.</blockquote>

    This shows we simply have radically different conception of both Marxism and science. Scientists, as people, may be part of one class or another, but their discovered truths are not--planets orbit in ellipses for all classes, and in fact did so long before there were classes or even people. The working class is simply the first class that has no interest in masking or otherwise distorting the truths of science, and the scientific method, containing as it does the notion that its methods of discoveries be repeatable by anyone, thus also has a built in bias toward democracy, even if particular scientists do not. Likewise in music--Beethoven himself often wrote anthems for a rising bourgeoisie, which still inspire us all, but a tune of his like 'Fer Elise' is not stamped with the brand of any class.

    You're welcome to your Marxism, of course. I visited there for a time in my younger days, and I have no wish to return to that place. I'll stick with my Marxism (not mine alone, of course) and hopefully, lend a hand in helping it change and grow.

  • Guest - SKS


    Communism without collectivism?


    Dude, that is so far out it goes around and becomes near by...

    To pit communism vs collectivism is an exercise in redefinition of one term, the other, or both.

    All communists, historically - be them anarchists, left, right, center, whatever- have been collectivists.

    Marx essentially defined communism as primitive communism (collectivist) with the productive forces that capitalism ushered - that is, "post-industrial collectivism", to use a contemporary turn of phrase.

    Marx was a certified collectivist, even a purist in this respect (in spite of being much more contingent in nearly any other question around revolutionary struggle). The root of his break with Bakunin is in Marx's (in my opinion incorrect) view that Bakunin was not enough of collectivist - that his talk about liberty was about the individual at the expense of the collective, and hence incorrect. Yet even if I disagree in retrospect with Marx's view, it was wholly coherent. So was Bakunin's continued commitment to collectivism.

    To gloss over your throwaway remark on the Enlightment: that is a vulgar interpretation. The enlightment, in essence, was about privatizing religious discipline - that is, it was not about dividing the individual into a public and private individual but about dividing the secular and the divine - and the temporal power the public existence of the divine ushered it. That is why the USA has no State church: founded on pure Enlightenment views, it held that religion was a matter of the private life, not the public life. Yet, at the same time, so much in that time was collective that it would be appalling to those who today claim a romantic attachment to the era. Because Marx's collectivism was not abstract, but a result a historical process - the very word communism comes from comune, a uniquely feudal political entity of Middle ages Europe.

    We can talk more about it, but to focus the discussion: it is false to claim that collectivism stands for the elimination of the private/individual sphere: it stands for its redefinition, much in the same way the Enlightenment redefined it in its time. And communists should stand for this.

    Collectivism, as an idea, has been the core of the attack on the part of the global capital since collectivist challenges to privatized society emerged in the 19th century. The definition of collectivism you seem to use echoes that of the capitalists. In other words, it seems more like an accommodation to capital in order to not scare it too much, than a real political outlook. It sadly explains so much in so little...

  • Guest - SKS


    I agree with your response to JM on "truth".

    He is actually echoing a vulgar Marxism - one that has its roots in a misinterpretation of Joseph Dietzgen (who created diamat) and his concept of "proletarian philosophy" - and then was codified by further misinterpretation of Lenin's "Empirocriticism" in Soviet times, in particular in the criticism of Mach's thought and the empirocritics in general. It is ironic, because this is closer to what Lenin critiqued than to actual Marxism, a curious case of intellectual inversion. Generations of self-described Marxists have been trained by vulgar Marxism in this fashion, so it is not JM's fault - it is actually a commonly held view of many Marxists, in particular self-taught by reading Soviet books, or trained by more or less vulgar Marxism.

    It is in philosophical terms, one of my personal pet peeves among Marxists, because one sees it across the board, across traditions, and across time.

    In particular, it is irksome to me as a student of Austrian School Libertarianism, as the concept was named by Ludwig von Mises himself, he called it "Polylogism" and used Dietzgen (and others) to "prove" this concept. Polylogism as a concept is itself obscure even among Austrian School Libertarians and Objectivists, but it was one of the pillars of philosophical insight on which von Mises (and hence Objectivist) built their entire ideology. You don't need to be a rocket surgeon to understand that the philosophical underpinnings of anti-Marxism and Marxism cannot be the same...

    Non-vulgar Marxists do have different schools on "truth" - there are agnostic schools and there are determinists etc. BUT, it is generally agreed in Marxism, that what is "true" is true regardless of class position - and that this is particularly true of the class struggle: it happens even if you think it doesn't. There is no such thing as proletarian truth or capitalist truth. Or logic. Or whatever.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @SKS --and anyone else who wants to jump in.

    'Collectivism' is one of those essentially contested concepts that one has to define before using. I don't use it often myself, preferring public ownership or cooperative ownership in the case of worker-owned coops with one-worker-one share-one vote.

    'Collectivism' contains within it conflicting view of democracy. In France, for example, to be collectively 'French,' the state forbids females from wearing the Hijab to school, a Rousseauian notion of democracy, wherein sovereignty resides in the state, as the representative of the collective or general will, to which the individual is subordinate. Here in this country, where our notions are more in tune with Locke, we find the banning of the Hijab for school students silly or bizarre. In much of our thought, sovereignty resides in the people themselves in all their natural and social arrangements, and the power of the state as collective is theoretically limited. The implication is that our rights are part of our species being, whether the state as 'collective' affirms them or not.

    I am all for the common ownership of the main means of production, and for the cooperative ownership of much of the rest. Not to worry. The only new question in theory arises is, what happens when the main means of production is between your ears? Take Microsoft. where are the means of production? The buildings are just an old campus in Seattle. But every evening, the 'means of production' head for the parking lot and drive off to the suburbs. That's worrisome to Gates, which is one reason they are so well paid. Are our brains and skills 'collectively owned'? I would argue, certainty, for one's social responsibility arising from our sociality and our public debt as to how we came knowledgeable in the first place.

    But 'collectivism' implies more than that, or so it seems to me. That's why in an earlier post, I asked whether the Central Committee was subordinate to the Party Congress, and whether the party and congress was subordinate to the Constitution of the Peoples Republic, and whether that in turn was subordinate to the natural human rights of our species being in any way.

    There are no short answers here. I agree that my quip on the Enlightenment, while the point is sound, is obviously far to reductionist. That's in the nature of short quips.

    But my view is that the matters I mention above, and the far-to-reductionist summation of the two-line struggle on democracy of Locke vs. Rousseau, are really rather both important in the larger scheme of things, as well as at the root of a lot of the quarrels and wrangling over democratic centralism as a method of organization.

    That why I keep arguing for a more modest and limited approach to it. Otherwise you let the quest for the best defeat the much-needed and more current implementation of the good.

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    Carl your definition of collectivism, a concept I don’t use, is determine by class struggle and class interest. France is an imperialist country, base on private ownership, so their definition of collectivism is fundamentally different, even antagonistically opposite to a proletarian concept of collectivism. One definition is for the reproduction of private ownership and the other is for the interest of the collective. Two fundamentally antagonistic definitions of the “truth” that exist in the interpretation of collectivism, one is reactionary because it is an interpretation base on the interest of reactionary class, the other a revolutionary one base on the interest of the masses. Basically, Carl and SKS, you can run from class struggle but you can’t hide from it.

    I would argue, there is the truth, I prefer to use objective reality, there is the knowledge of that truth, what explains it, and our interpretation of that objective reality that is only attempted to fusion with the knowledge of the truth. Attempted, because the objective reality is in constant motion of development and what explains it, is as well, and, simultaneously in constant motion of development, unfortunately, our process of production of theory to explain and eventually fusion with the knowledge is not simultaneously developing at the same rhythm that both the objective reality and its knowledge.

    Now, to what sector of the social formation we must connect science, theory, and philosophy. Since, they are not independent and are not functioning outside of the social formation. Science, theory, philosophy are historical materialism concept and all are intertwined and all required a systematic theoretical definitions. [Return to post 52].

    Our interpretation of the objective reality is a contradictory activity because contradiction is detectable and materialism is in constant struggle with idealism. I am glad you took Beethoven’s music and for that matter any music, any art, any field of art are not immune of class struggle. The tumultuous time affected greatly his compositions, they were much louder and some notes were much sharper, an expression of radicalism, even if he was deaf. How class struggle affected the Chinese’s opera under proletarian leadership and progressive songs during the Vietnam War.

    What is vulgar about my views is the knowledge of the objective reality is not outside of class struggle and class interest and class objective. For that, I am guilty as charge.
    See asked a slave, a conscientious worker if exploitation is good in their respective class conditions and asked a slave master and Ford if exploitation is good and tell me if the objective reality is regardless of class position.

  • Guest - Stephanie McMillan

    Carl &amp; SKS,

    Your reading of Jan's comment is really what is superficial here. It seems to me that you are willfully misunderstanding so you can critique an idea not even asserted.

    "Science is in the field of ideology but function in a relative autonomy with ideology but is still determined by ideology, class struggle. For the proletariat to emancipate it must be done in the fields of class struggle, the proletarian “truth” is fundamentally antagonistic to capitalism “truth”."

    Jan does not state that objective truth does not exist. What I get from the comment, and what I agree with, is that the way science is practiced and truth is conceptualized in class society is deeply embedded in the ideology of the dominant class.

    For example: "We hold these truths to be self-evident."

    To say science = Truth is simplistic (and not even scientific, not even objective). I recommend reading Stanley Aronowitz, "Science as Power."

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I want Jan to show me the class character of Beethoven's 'Fer Elise.' --not of Beethoven, with whom I'm familiar, but this composition. Look it up on you tube and play it. Then show me the indicators as to which class it belongs.

    That's just a tune. Should be easy for him? Then let's do Einstein's two papers on relativity. To which class did they belong? And don't just tell me about the period in which they were discovered, or who Eisen worked for, which is trivial, but show us from the text and math of the papers.

    SKS and I are writing in shorthand for sure. But we're not superficial. E=MC Squared is written and proven the same way no matter what class is in power. That's why making a distinction between science and ideology matters.

    By all means, read Stanley. But remember he's one of those academics who got some egg on his face when a physics prof wrote a spoof article on physics and postmodernism, to make fun of the pomos, and it went right by Stanley and the rest of his board, and they published it.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    Well here's the interesting thing.

    The 'Sokal affair' where NYU physicist Alan Sokal got the editors of Social Text to publish a spoof article about hermeneutics and quantum gravity or something is not as clean as it sounds. The crucial part is that the editors of Social Text told Sokal that they didn't understand his paper, but that they were interested in publishing it if he would vouch for it's legitimacy.

    They did a bad job of being a peer-reviewed journal. They should have had someone check something they were not competent to evaluate. But Sokal lied through his teeth to them about that paper. As a prank goes it was a good prank, and shame on them for letting it get by them, but it proves a lot less than is usually assumed. Unless we need proof that academic journals are insular and clueless and easily deceived, which, come on.

    Peter Galison, a historian of physics, wrote a book called <i>Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: Empire's of Time</i> in which he argues that Einstein's work in the Swiss patent office was <i>directly</i> related to his work on special relativity. I won't get too far into it but it has to do with the techniques used to synchronize the clocks used to tell railway time tables across Switzerland. Einstein read all about different techniques of electrical clock co-ordination while at his job, because they were the topics of lots of the patents he evaluated.

    Galison's argument is not that Einstein's theory had a 'class character' or anything. It's more like Einstein's theory emerged from the practices of production and reproduction of life in early 20th century Europe.

    This is a big, big, topic in the history of physics, and in a larger context lot's of non-marxists have concluded that the production of scientific knowledge is deeply tied to all sorts of things like technology, philosophy, social structure, war, and yes, class position and modes of production. Though they don't use those last two terms.

    There was lots of Ernst Mach in Einstein's view of the physical world and it's perception. One of the reason's Einstein was unpopular in the Soviet Union was the reading of Lenin's <i>Empiriocriticism</i> essay, which argued that Mach was wrong and (worse) dangerous.

    SKS commented above that Lenin's essay was mis-read in the Soviet Union, with bad consequences, but I'm not so sure. I think it's a bad essay that Lenin wrote in a rush in a field he didn't have a lot of experience in. I think he makes lots of wrong claims. But like I've been saying about Lenin: it doesn't matter what his opinions were about science being the objective reflection of the material world. Even if he was right then he is wrong now and we can't win arguments by quoting him at each other.

    Sorry for the long post. I just want to make the point that the question of science and it's relation to the rest of the human experience is a pretty big one, and not one that can be reduced to 1.Science is neutral objective truth and 2. Science is the reflection of class interests or 3.(The weirdest!) Science is objective truth for us and a reflection of class interests for you.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    Hmmm....Science is "the objective reflection of the material world." If we assume the material world is 'objective,' then how is it's 'reflection' (into or onto what?) also 'objective'?

    Is there any other kind of world than the 'material world'? Just 'matter in motion'? There's puzzles and riddles enough for a lifetime there--and don't think there's any of them that are easy.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    Hey don't ask me- the thing about "objective reflection" was Lenin's opinion in <i>Materialism and Empirio-criticism</i> and like I said I think he was wrong. That's my whole point.

    From my point of view the definition of "objective" is "what we can collectively confirm to our satisfaction." Not "what is out there in the world."

    This has some bearing on the relationship between theories of knowledge and politics. From my perspective this is something Mao got really right in <i>Where Do Correct Ideas Come From</i> and <i>On Practice</i> compared to Lenin, and, especially, Stalin, who says stuff like this

    <blockquote>Contrary to idealism, which denies the possibility of knowing the world and its laws, which does not believe in the authenticity of our knowledge, does not recognize objective truth, and holds that the world is full of "things-in-themselves" that can never be known to science, Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth...</blockquote>
    (Dialectical and Historical Materialism, 1938)

    I mean, yikes.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    That's why when it comes to theories of knowledge, I'm with John Dewey and his instrumental theory of truth, which I call the dialectical materialism of the 20th, maybe even the 21st century. In any case, it avoids the knots and tangles Lenin found himself in with Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.

  • Guest - SKS


    "SKS commented above that Lenin’s essay was mis-read in the Soviet Union, with bad consequences, but I’m not so sure. I think it’s a bad essay that Lenin wrote in a rush in a field he didn’t have a lot of experience in. I think he makes lots of wrong claims. But like I’ve been saying about Lenin: it doesn’t matter what his opinions were about science being the objective reflection of the material world. Even if he was right then he is wrong now and we can’t win arguments by quoting him at each other."

    I agree "Empirocritcism" is the poorest of Lenin's books (for example, it embraces Luminoaether at a time when Special Relativity was pretty much what physics was moving towards). However, you miss my point. My point is that a vulgar reading of this awful book (among other things) created the awful anti-Marxist idea of "proletarian logic/truth" which arrived, quite ironically, to conclusions that were opposite than those Lenin did. I make no valuation of these specific ideas of Lenin - I am currently studying them, in particular the debate against Lunacharsky and co - but I can say without a doubt that a dogmatic and mechanical approach to Lenin, led to adopting a point of view that was anti-Leninist in essence, regardless of the correctness of Lenin in the matter.

    An extremely frustrating neo-Lysenkoism is the reading of Marx or Lenin as the last words on science: the anti-Marxist vulgarization of Marxism. Marx would be asking Engels to draw mocking cartoons of most "Marxists" who do that, because it don't take no rocket surgeon to figure out that science even 20 years ago was a different field than today. Pluto is no longer a planet - and it had not even been observed in Lenin's lifetime! Such is the dynamic movement of science, and it is in this sense that Marxism is a science. Yet often those who chest thump screaming "marxism is science" do so from a mystification of what science and marxism are, turning both into stone-written dogma. Fuck that.

  • Guest - SKS


    I think Carl was a bit facetious, but mostly correct on this matter.

    I would add that you derived a very different understanding of what Jan said than I did - and that I find little to disagree with what you said (except Stanley's awful book - if you want northeast left-wing academia on Science, one is better served by Stephen J. Gould).

    Had Jan said "science is ideological" we would all said "no shit, sherlock" and continued on. No, what he said - and has said before - is that this ideology invalidates science as we know it. To use Carl's apt example, he argues that the truth of E=mc^2 is "capitalist truth" that should be changed by "proletarian truth".

    He even argues, ridiculously and entirely out of his prolethruthie ass, that Carl and I deny the class struggle.

    We don't.

    What is vulgar about his understanding of class an how it relates to science is the fact that he has a Manichean outlook (good vs evil/proletarian vs capitalists) and tries - mechanically - to then take this to mean there is a proletarian science that is opposed to capitalist science.

    Aside from this being a very old vulgarization of Marxism - so old that Marx fought against it in his lifetime - this betray a deep lack of knowledge of the scientific method as one of the great discoveries of humanity. What makes science, science, is its ability to predict an experimental result, and then observe it time and time again - and use this insight to develop useful things. The underlying insights into nature of science are entirely devoid of class. It is what we make of scientific insight that becomes a social relation.

    Science will reflect the class biases of the class in hegemonic power, but it is not an expression of this power - it exists both within the class struggle and outside of it - a dialectical relationship rather than the mechanical dichotomy Jan smugly - but incorrectly - presents. Science is not neutral - but neither is the State and we pay taxes and obey traffic lights - and will under socialism have both. There is no proletarian or capitalist traffic light, there are traffic lights. To argue otherwise is to seriously misunderstand the dialectical relationship among class, and to fundamentally misunderstand the class struggle as solely a political struggle among two warring and opposed camps. The very word "proletarian" comes from "progeny" from "child". Proletarians are the children of the bourgeoisie - tasked with the abolition of classes by history, but not existing on our own. What is of the bourgeois is our inheritance. What is a scientific insight of the bourgeois is out scientific insight, too.

    Lenin said "the capitalist will sell you the rope to which to hang him". The rope has no class character: the capitalist and his hangpeople do.

    E=mc^2 has no class character, its use to develop nuclear weapons does.

    Science has no class - scientists do.

    Things have no class character, people and their social relations do.

    Its about people and social relations. Science is not a social relation - although it is by no means immune to social relations.

    To confuse the two leads either to neo-Ludditte anti-scientific worldview, or to a neo-Lysenkoism that seeks to command science from politics. Both are atrocious aberrations, dis-services to humanity.

    After all we are communicating using a medium developed to advance imperialist war - based entirely on the science of information theory and cybernetics. Yet we use it to talk about ways of transforming that. Think about that...


  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    I usually restrain myself to engage in discussions when the premises are to distort in order to critic since the distortion is not my view. I think Stephanie statement on post 68 is a minimum clarification able to put my point outside of the distortions and will allowed me to make further clarifications.

    I have argued, even most recently and in this thread, that the objective reality exist outside of our taught process and our interpretation of that objective reality is independent of that reality but take source from that reality. I have and insisted that interpretation could be metaphysical or materialism and both interpretation take their source from that objective reality.

    In the relation of theory and praxis, I have as well insisted the objective reality exist simultaneously of what explains it and our attempt of interpreting it will never fusion with what explains. In conclusion, our theory is simply an interpretation of that objective reality. I do think Marxism reached a certain level of relative fusion in some aspects.

    I have insisted as well that class struggle preceded the scientific definition of classes and of their struggles I even took example to consolidate that views and in other field of sciences I took the example that DNA existed way before a definition of DNA and by the way still an unfinished project. Now, new evidences are showing some particles are faster than the speed of light. Objective reality exists and our interpretation of it is based on our class interest and class objective. Idealism is not only author of a category of theoretical truth, but as well of confusion between practical truth and theoretical truth, rather than a screening of one by the other. The notion of a natural ideology is totally non –existence, there is an objective relation with the dominant ideology with science and determine by that dominant ideology, even in there relation of relative autonomy.

    The absolute definition by Einstein, that light is the fastest particle is both materialistic and idealistic, in a sense it was relatively correct: the materialistic part, not absolute: the idealistic part, now new particles are tentatively proven they are faster than light. Did these particles exist at the time of Einstein or not? Are we able to detect them due to the development of the productive forces related to the materialistic definition that the advancement of humanity is base on two types of struggle: the struggle for productions and class struggle determine and define by class struggle.

    I used to think in very absolute term that the thesis of theoretical truth is only limited and reserved to scientific activities and not to scientific social theory and philosophy: a definition of that theory. But now after DNA/Genome and other particles faster than light I am mostly leaning on the fact that theoretical truth in the field of any consider science is as well very relative. The knowledge of a science is not only to produce true statement but also to produce, as well, and at the same time, inside the consider science all the conditions of their truth. The truth of that science is only all the internal coherent regulations, a theoretical endeavor indeed. To think scientific activity, its historical role, is only to produce true statement is quite pragmatic.

    I think post 68 by Stephanie is a systematic clarifier of my views, no need to ponder more.

    Just for the fun of it.

    Now, Carl you can enjoy Beethoven all you want is good, but it doesn’t mean the epistemology of Beethoven is not class content and class determined. I do sometimes enjoy his composition, I like the Temptation, as well, I do enjoy some of my folk compositions, it doesn’t mean they are totally independent of class struggle and/or totally outside class interest, class propaganda and do not influenced me, even sublimely. For example, an anti occupation song which I liked that stated “Women who doesn’t know how to saw and iron go back to your mom”. Women are for imperialism. A song deeply entrenched in feudalist propaganda against occupation but at the same diffusing a feudalist conception on women I still like the symphony but antagonistic to the words,still murmur it sometimes, I can't get it of my head.

    “Science has no class – scientists do” Agreed, but since science is an interpretation by scientist both at the level of true statement and of all their internal coherent conditions of their truth [theory] it is determined and defined by class struggle and class interest. I am pretty sure the proletarians [humor] will find better used of atoms and the process of studying the human map could be more speedy, not for the benefit of profit, but for the interest of the collectives and production for our reproductions is more environment friendly, again not for profit.

    I think red lights and no drunk driving are correct decisions, even when they take them bureaucratically, for the extraction of surplus value, [fees].The nature of capital in a capitalist society.

    Your conclusion on the rope is quite pragmatic. I am pretty sure this not how the “hangee” see it. Pragmatic: you only see the act, but not the coherent regulations and Lenin was talking about ideology to show the capacity of a class to dominate you for an ultimate final objective, due its nature as a class anything for profit, even for its demise. The rope ,now, is being sold to capitalist, by capitalism. The rope is the toxic form of productions of Surplus value.

    I did think about that and engaged sometimes ago in Kasama over that concept. I only use bourgeois democracy/dictatorships, all the democratic rights allowed in this social formation for their demise. I do function quite well when these rights are non-existent. I do not have any illusions of the control[ political and ideological] of the capitalist class over this medium.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @Jan (and any others)

    I wouldn't be too quick about jumping on the 'particles faster than light.' At this point, it's a working hypothesis, and not yet even doing very well when challenged.

    But science is more than 'reflection' or 'interpretation'. Those two descriptors are part of two theories of knowledge, the 'correspondence' theory (favored by Lenin and Engels) and the 'coherence' theory (favored by Hegel). Both lead themselves into metaphysical muddles that three American philosophers--Pierce, James and Dewey--spent a lot of energy dealing with. Dewey especially was anti-dogma, whether expressed in idealist or materialist dialectics.

    They solved the problem with a third way more in tune with modern science and how scientists often proceeded.

    This is somewhat oversimplified, but the instrumental theory starts by asserting a problem that has actually arisen in life or science. (It rejects 'absolutes' and doesn't start by asserting 'objective reality' or 'reflections' of it. It starts with a problem, or a set of problems. It then proceeds through inquiry, wide ranging and open, from which it tries to formulate, by various creative means, including imagination, working hypotheses on how the problem might be engaged and solved.

    When workable solutions are found, these become 'truths' and add to our knowledge of experience and nature, of the universe and our place in it. There can be more than one solution to many problems, hence 'truths' are always tentative. Better and more elegant solutions are often found later.

    The core tension in the instrumental view is a transaction between experience and nature, between organisms and their environment, which are both interconnected and conflicted with problems. The pragmatists, in this sense, were both dialectical and monist, and knowledge arises from an organism's practice, the problems arising in its engagement with its world, as well as critical examination and reflection on the lessons of practice.

    The attacking of the problem of explaining the rise of social consciousness in organisms, including self-consciousness and even class and national consciousness in the case of humans, was the life work of the fourth great American pragmatist, George Herbert Mead. A life-long partner of Dewey, he too started as a left-Hegelian, but broke from its fetters, at least in philosophy, and went on to be one of the core founders of social psychology. I would argue that it's hard, if not impossible, to gain some clarity on our 'selves' and our 'consciousness' without studying some of his works.

    As a young teacher and in one of his most creative periods, Dewey traveled to China, and the time of the May 4th movement. He lectured both rebellious students and teachers there on his theories of knowledge, 'seeking truth from practice,' as well as his modern democratic ideas on education. Whether any of the early Chinese communists directly heard these talks, I have no idea, and I doubt if Dewey did either. What matters is that some of his ideas were in tune with the rebellion then underway, even if his own influence was modest or even miniscule.

    On the level of philosophy, however, there is a connection between American pragmatism and Taoism that is studied even now, connected by a dialectical and monist approach to thought that combines freedom and stability. We know that Mao's own dialectics was also influenced by Taoism, and to a certain degree, I would argue that it helped him see the flaws in the 'Deborin' dogmatist school prevalent for a time in the USSR. For anyone interest in exploring pragmatism and Taoism, I recommend Robert Pirsig's 'Lila: An Inquiry into the Metaphysics of Morals.' It's lucidly written, but be prepared to be challenged! It's a far better book than his earlier 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,' which is also a good read.

    We Americans are often quick to take up the study of new trends in philosophy on the continent--Badieu or Zizek and others--while ignoring some of our own. This is understandable, since most American schools are dominated by the British-influenced analytical and linguistic schools, which can put anyone to sleep and have little to do with social change. But there is a alternate dynamic American trend in the thinking of those mentioned above that is well worth anyone's 'wrangling.'

  • Guest - Jan Makandal

    Just to be serious,
    The fundamental error of pragmatism is to fuse theory with practice to reach a level to apparently minimize or totally discard theory in the dialectical relation of theory and praxis and to analyze the external expression[ problems] rather than understanding the internal relation producing the external expression. Carl challenges me to listen to Beethoven and show the class character of one of his particular composition “Fer Elise”. I must admit it is impossible to do it and the symphony was suiting.

    Now, back to materialism and ask myself the basic materialist question How to do it and what should be the approach? I found that listening to the music in real time is to enjoy it and savor all its beauty. Real time is not given me the history of that composition, it doesn’t put the composer in its real time. My real time of enjoying the music is not the real time this music was composed. So my real time is pragmatic, it only permits me to savor the act, not the knowledge of the act. No way would I be able to respond to such request.

    Than to really respond to Carl’s request, I had to go back in time and place me in the real time that this song was composed. “Fer Elise” was produced in a very tumultuous period, a time in which capitalism was in a battle to the death with European feudalism for ideological and political dominance for the instauration of capitalism, and Beethoven in the field of art gave his contribution, I believe he even scratched the title of one of his composition dedicated to Bonaparte when Bonaparte declares himself an emperor , in a time capitalism was revolutionary and in struggle against feudalist dictatorship/democracy and most of Bee financial backer was feudalist in transitions to capitalist and even Bee made quite of money to his support through his art.

    I remember growing up my uncle use to tell us, [if my memory serve me right] I am not a musician, could care less about Beethoven at the time, and did not understand at all my uncle point till I became a revolutionary, of the intensity of Beethoven composition in dialectical correspondence to the time “Bee” was evolving. He used to tell me this sound, I could write an essay of his lessons of class struggle in music, is the sound of the street, it is the struggle in the street in music on a keyboard. As mere information, Paris was designed because of class struggle.

    To really understand Bee and his composition is to appropriate the knowledge of the time he was evolving. BTW, my uncle used to be upset when at funeral the culture I grew up played Bee. His response was always this music is revolutionary, not mint to honor the dead. Music is not apolitical.

    Musical notes, for me, are an expression, an interpretation [a theory trough art] expressing pain, describing nature,love and interpreting struggles and all types of social phenomenon of an objective reality]. Although, I am totally illiterate in reading a musical sheets limiting my understanding but still appreciate it.

    If we take Rap for example as a contemporary musical experience, it started as poetry of protest through music and as soon as capital put it hands on it, for the valorization of capital, Rap dominantly degenerated to something quite ugly. Tugism, deprivation of women is now the main ideological components.

    Many schools of taught, a philosophy of art, exist in different discipline of the art to express their own doctrine in the methodology of expressing an interpretation of their surroundings.

    I just rapidly and briefly read your post 77; some of my points here will address some of your points. If not sufficient after a re-read I will respond.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    Briefly, for Dewey. 'Where' and 'When is Art?' are more important than 'What is Art?'

    This means art is a three-in-one combination of the artist at work, the art work, and one's experience of the art work, ie, art can be seen as something existing in the transaction BETWEEN or AMONG the artist's work and those experiencing it. A Grateful Dead concert is an excellent example, but so are the happenings at a Blues Bar or a Concert Hall on a good night. Dewey's 'Art as Experience' is one of the best 20th Century works on aesthetics, the philosophy of art. And yes, art is often political, but not always. Sometimes it's just beautiful in any time, as 'Fur Elise.'

  • SKS writes:

    <blockquote>"E=mc^2 has no class character, its use to develop nuclear weapons does.

    Science has no class – scientists do.

    Things have no class character, people and their social relations do."</blockquote>

    On one level it is hard to dispute this.

    But I suspect the problem becomes a bit more complex when the scientific matters we are discussing are <em>social</em> science, not matters of <em>natural</em> science.

    Because then there are entrenched structures and powerful pulls toward obscuring reality and truth. And there does emerge a struggle (within the arenas of social investigation and debate) that is tied to class struggle (writ large).

    No one here would be shocked to realize that economics, history, etc. are riddled with debates that are heavily soaked with the prejudices and loyalties of class.... and that these controversies are connected to the conflicts over power in society (and even the conflicts over whether we can <em>imagine</em> changes in power).

    In those realms, don't many verdicts have somethings we could call a "class character"?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    Yes, of course. Social reality and the consciousness of it and behavior within it are on another level of hierarchy, and a relatively recent one in the scope of things, from the inorganic and organic realms that it rests upon and draws on for its sustenance. It has its own laws which operate rather differently, largely due to the added numbers of 'wild cards,' especially the choices made by the social beings within it and their consequences, often unforeseen and unintended. And the variety of ways one may be related to production--the main consideration of class--will be a powerful factor shaping anything connected to production, directly or indirectly.

    In short, that's one key reason I'm a Marxist.

  • Guest - SKS


    I agree. One has to see the great divide between Karl Marx's sociology and Max Weber's to see a clear example of this.

    On the other hand, most of what passes for social science is not very scientific, including a lot of "Marxism".

    While experimenter bias is recognized in science, that is, part of scientific rigor is accounting and correcting for it, in social science it is often experimenter bias itself that is even celebrated.

    This is one of the reasons why many "natural" scientists have little scientific respect for the social sciences, and why many of them feel like they can approach them without the rigor required in their fields (For example, Richard Dawkins often gets away with saying utterly unrigorous stuff he would never get away with in speaking about "natural" sciences).

    There is also the tendency to identify as "science" the results of scientific insight: for example, to confuse engineering with physics. Or Marxism as social science with Marxism as revolutionary politics. As Jan Makandal shows, this vulgarization is very common, even intuitive, because among other things it is a comforting certainty: if I am armed with the faultless truth, I am hence faultless.

    Without getting into how lazy that is in method, lets just say it is unscientific: science is essentially the systemic approach to failure. For every hypotheses that gains traction as theory, hundreds if not thousands failed. In social science there is often a tendency to skip the step of experimental validation and transform hypotheses into theories. And when that happens is when the biases rise in full strength.

    One of the most serious breaches in rigor is the treatment of human social relations as a closed system - for example, the various "exceptionalisms".

    Marx himself was guilty of this in his atrocious adoption of the "Asiatic Mode of Production" etc. Yet this underlines and provides fodder for my contention (which is not mine alone) that science is classless but not scientists: Marx's own biases - ethnic and economic - in no way belittle his universal scientific insights into social relations: surplus and exploitation happen even if Marx is an eurocentrist, sexist pig.

    And that is actually a rather simple way to account for bias: if you need to "massage" a social hypotheses in order for it to be predictive, then there is bias. Hence "Asiatic Mode of Production". But when the hypotheses, time and time again can be used to predict - as Marx's political economy time and time again does - then there is clearly rigor underneath, and the biases are either accounted for, or didn't influence the outcome.

    Contrast this to one of the biggest failures of contemporary economics - as science - its wholesale inability to make accurate predictions at a macro-economic scale, and over long periods of time. A quantitative mathematician might earn his company billions only to fail too see its looming bankruptcy. Such biases are indeed class biases - in particular the denial of class struggle and exploitation as politico-economic factors that have macro-economic impacts.

    So here is the point: biases are accounted for in science. A huge amount of time and energy is spent on dealing with this within science. A science advances (and finds "truth") in spite of these biases. Yet we also need to be careful when dealing with science, in particular when it contradicts what we believe in - for whatever reason - maybe the biased are ourselves?

    And that is the troubled road of "proletarian" anything: by claiming that there is a "proletarian" identity with an objective characteristic, we walk the road of Lysenko. We do not need the scientific seal of approval to know that communism is good thing, but if we did, we should strive to earn it, rather than declare it. Like the self-declared vanguard that is only an atomized sect following a petty Lenin wannabe, the claim of "scientific correctness" often masks the opposite of certainty: a deeply insecure political outlook in which a higher authority must be claimed, lest the politics be impeached. And this insecurity is often born out of vulgarization of revolutionary thought as put forth by Marxism - and is often as scientific as Bigfoot theories.

    The communist hypotheses might yet we proven wrong, but it hasn't, and until that time we will fight for it. The uncertainty of its outcome can be unsettling, but shouldn't - we shouldn't be capitalists just because we take a Pascal's wager on communism. I will not believe in God until its existence is proven, beyond a doubt. To claim scientific truth of Marxism based on a claim than non-Marxism has a capitalist bias might sound good and combative but is neither Marxist nor scientific: whatever insights in Marxism are scientific are scientific because the reproducible and predictive, not because its opposite is capitalist.

    Which brings me to another small point: there are things that science itself tells us it cannot ever find out. These have come to be called, in certain circles, as singularities. These are diffuse too - some can be known partially, but not entirely. While in the social there is much that can be scientifically examined and hypotheses and theories developed, there is also much that cannot. You can never know the first name a human being was given, and why. We can make reasonable assumptions, but we can never, ever, know for sure: science can look back with strong predictive accuracy to the very beginning of time, to the first milliseconds of the universe, yet we could never look fully and scientifically to society. That is the nature of society. Hence, what we are left is with an invalidity of science as useful.

    As communists, we should be careful, and often are not, to parse and separate what can be known through science, and what we simply do out of political struggle - out of correlations of human wills. To not do so demeans both political (self) activity and science, and has demeaned both in the path (Have I mentioned Lysenko? :)

    A bit on this topic and in particular on Max Weber etc, that I wrote a few months ago elsewhere when replying to doubts expressed by a Marxist academic on the validity of Marx vs Webber:

    Marxism without action is like Marxism without theory, a label devoid of any real meaning - one is idle contemplation, the other dynamic thoughtlessness. Weber's critique of Marx is not in good faith - it was designed, as you are finding now in your self-doubt, as a political intervention on the side of capitalism into the academic mind. Ultimately, it creates a false dichotomy between the economic and the political - and in this crackling wedge a sea of capitalist justification flows in. The petty tyranny of the workplace is seen as separate from the representative democratic institutions - the economic dictatorship as separate from the political democracy - rather than the expression of the same dictatorship in which class hegemony forms the polity, and the polity sustains class hegemony. Likewise the petty economic democracy of the free labor market is seen as separate from the coercive nature of taxation, conscription, and other political tyrannies.

    Marx's insight was that Smith was onto something, that Fourier was onto something, that Hegel was onto something - yet they spoke past each other and didn't cohere.The coherence, the condensate, that Marx catalyzed, was that the political and the economic were the same, in the way that matter and energy are the same. It doesn't feel like they are the same, the sameness is obscured and complex to our senses, but: e=mc^2 (matter is energy and viceversa), as sL/nL=E (exploitation is political - the coerced working day - and economic - surplus value created, which itself could only exist in a political organization of labor). Exploitation can be total (slavery) or can be null (utopic), but it would still be a relation of the political and the economic.

    Weber's insight was that a wrench could be thrown into the transformative potential of this mindwork by the simple pseudo-scientific argument that the political and the economic were not the same, by a crude empiricism that could have been understood at one point of history - just as at one point of history we took the earth to be flat, or to be fairer, as we took Newtonian physics and lumino-aether as true - yet crumbles when empiricism is no longer how humanity solely gains knowledge.

    Put crudely, Marx's communist hypotheses put forward a program of transformation that created a singularity for those who ultimately find comfort on their real or imagined empirical privileges - as business people, inheritors of capital, academics and bureaucrats that labored away from the sweaty factories and the dirty fields of the proles and the peasants... and the presumed empirical superiority this carries. This singularity creates, as any singularity will, a cognitive dissonance on the accommodated: what lies on the other side of the event horizon might mean a life in which the empirical superiority, the sense of the superior self, is lost. The abyss that stares back is not evil: it is the regression from a position of secure, empirical privilege - of a chess game in which all rules are known and all pieces visible - into an unknown, and empirically unknowable, position of powerlessness. Weber's actual politics in the context of the 1918-1919 revolutions in Germany - and his full support of the Weimar Republic's emergency powers clauses betrays both a full knowledge of the revolutionary, transformative, potentialities of economic self-interest transformed into political action, and of his full knowledge that this might need a counter-revolutionary self-justification. He was no fascist, but he paved - empirically - the path to Hell.

    Weber, essentially, is a political and economic coward - and cowardice is, in Marxism, the basis of reactionary idealism - not revolutionary, disruptive, and chaotic science.

    There is comfort in empiricism, but it is the comfort of the sailor looking at the vastness of the ocean and not venturing out, for the maps said: "Here be dragons".

  • SKS writes:

    <blockquote>"On the other hand, most of what passes for social science is not very scientific, including a lot of “Marxism”."</blockquote>

    No shit.

    When I hear people say "Marxism is a science" -- I think: I would fucking love to encounter a Marxism that was actually scientific.

  • Guest - jp

    sks - i like your analysis of marx vs weber. if you have mot seen it, this is a good book on the evolution of some of marx's non-appealing and eurocentric thinking:

    there is also an interview with the author on the 'against the grain' website (an excellent resource).

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    BTW. SKS, I think there's something to the 'Asiatic Mode of Production,' at least in the way it's explained by Wittfogel's 'hydraulic societies' inhis classic 'Oriental Despotism.' The distinguishing factor being the management of river valley water and irrigation in times of antiquity by a labor mobilization organized by an absolutist state. In this sense, European feudalism, far from being the norm, was the outlyer, with relatively weak states, allowing space for bourgeosies to rise. Interesting take on the matter.

  • Guest - SKS


    Except the way that Marx put forward the obvious differences was not very scientific, and was awash in the Orientalism of his intellectual world. And in fact, is not really very correct if we look at actual history: the predominant politico-economic organization in Asia during the last 1000 years has not been a centralized State, but something very similar to feudalism. The Mongolian vassalage network extended to Eastern Europe for hundreds of years, the Mekong societies - Vietnam and Thailand - where not centralized states by straight up feudal kingdoms. Central Asia was dominated by the Persians, and their version of vassal feudalism which like the European version was a degeneration of the Roman imperial vassalage. In India the situation was not much different, and in the Himalayas theocratic serfdom arose in Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan.

    So "Asiatic mode of Production" at most applies to a very specific period of time in a very specific region of what we now call China. Turning it into a mode of production that transcends this barrier is eurocentric, but worse, it is like looking at the Inca and speaking of an Andean mode of Production or at the

    At its root -scientifically - it makes Europe arbitrarily the control group. And that is a limitation of social sciences in general as science: it is impossible to eliminate observer bias in this sense, because it is always from the perspective of the victor or the writer.

    There is no doubt that the transformation of social relations from feudal to capitalist is the reason Europe came to dominate the world. The adoption of these relations by the world outside of Europe is also in our contemporary world a reason of Europe's weakening influence. The idea that Asia or Europe are exceptional to each other is utterly unscientific. What in any case are exceptional are isolated tribes of humans in the Amazon, sub-saharan Africa and some parts of South East Asia and Asia-Pacific. Those are real outsiders. Europe and Asia share a super-continent, and it shows even linguistically. There was no asiatic mode of production. There were humans seeking ways to ensure agriculture, the differences being incidental and technological.

    However, why capitalism arose first in one place and not the other is to me, an open question. And I find that the Asiatic mode of production to be insufficient, and even racialist exoticism as an explanation. In fact, the far reaching, largely autonomous Chinese and Japanese trade fleets, which at their peak shamed the Venetian fleets in size, reach, and technology, would suggest that China was more ripe for capitalism than Europe. Why it didn't happen?

    In this sense, I do believe - because of cross comparison with the spectacular collapse of the Mayan empire - that the productive pressures of the Black Plague had much more to do with the emergence of capitalism than the version of feudalism practiced in Europe (which was in itself uneven - the Holy Roman Empire was a different beast than visigothic Spain etc). Necessity is after all the mother of invention.

    Yet this is simply an attractive view, which at times has been taken by equally unscientific perspectives (Like Jared Diamond's neo-exceptionalism in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and other books). However, I do believe than not having a full understanding of this matter is no reason to push aside the entirety of Marx's works, nor does it mean that science is not the way to get a more solid footing. It just mean accepting that we can move forward even if we have not developed a full accounting.


    Yes I am familiar with the book, and my criticism of Marx is not meant to join the chorus of post-facto critics who do worse than he did by applying the standards of today's identitarians to a 19th century man from Europe. They are much worse than Marx in that Marx at times even suspected he might not be right (in particular when speaking of many of these matters he was citing others, and took time to make those caveats - something often overlooked). IN that sense this book is a good antidote and introduction.

    However, the awesomeness that is Marx cannot blind us to his short comings, in particular due to the inevitable tendency to elevate him to scripture. And in spite of writing one scientific book, Marx was no scientist - and that is also important to keep in mind. SO rather than a critique of Marx, I am more keen of critique of the view on Marx that are unidimenisional, be them for or against the motion.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Wittfogel doesn't limit his views to China and its river-based irrigation systems. He also includes Egypt, the Indus, the Mekong and so on. The key factor is an autocratic state to create, develop and manage water systems for grain production on a large scale. Nothing quite like it in Europe. And the strength of the autocratic state smothers the independent development of a bourgeoisie for a much longer period, even though trade and invention are widespread. I'm open to other explanations from those who know more about the history of the areas concerned, but Wittfogel was one of the few Comintern reps who actually knew something about Asia.

  • Guest - Red Fly


    <blockquote>We need to be collectivists, and we need organization to do that, and we need leaders and we need to accept their leadership – and we need these leaders to be accountable, competent, and these orders to be attainable, rational, and caring, and we need an iconoclastic view on leadership that doesn’t transform them into messiahs and untouchables. DC doesn’t give us that, but it doesn’t entirely rob us of that either. So lets thread carefully…</blockquote>

    How do we make leaders in a DC model more accountable than they have been in the past? We can say "this time will be different" all we want but if we're solely relying on the capacities of leaders to check themselves and to remember the sometimes painful lessons of history then I think we're going to see a lot of same issues.

    When all power is narrowly concentrated and all you've got to rely on for accountability is individual benevolence and virtue, I think you're asking for trouble.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    How to make leaders more accountable?

    !, Limit their powers.
    2. have higher standards of professionalism for everyone.
    3. Promote a culture of critical review that starts at the top.
    4, Reject all 'genius' theories ahead of time.
    5, Make central bodies subordinate to regular Conventions or Congresses, allowing nominations of individuals and slates from the floor if they can get a minimum of signatures.
    6. Make everyone stand for election, using secret preferential balloting, at these gatherings, held every two or three years.

    There are probably more, and all bets are off under fascist conditions, but these will do for starters. But in the end, there are no iron-clad guarantees. You may have to simply rise up and rebel.

  • Guest - SKS

    Red Fly,

    I think that is confusing matters: the problem in my view is not DC per se, but what DC failed to achieve.

    Some of the alternatives to DC are equally problematic if not more.

    "When all power is narrowly concentrated and all you’ve got to rely on for accountability is individual benevolence and virtue, I think you’re asking for trouble."

    True, but power doesn't necessarily concentrate in DC, nor are other forms of organization immune from this problem. Feel me?

  • Guest - SKS


    I think a fundamental problem with any organizational model is that organizations should match the sea they navigate as well as a boat does. One doesn't go to speedboat competition in a sailboat - one goes in a speedboat. As such, the organizational forms should be those that the conditions allow.

    I think a key problem of organizational forms is precisely that they often get solidified to a given period, and are often difficult to overcome and move.

    Lenin and his allies, for example, had extreme difficulty transforming the Bolsheviks from a decentralized line organization controlled by regional committees with a center in exile and a largely undisciplined Duma delegation, to a revolutionary party capable of capturing and holding State power. His success was in part that the forms he embraced in different periods largely proved to be good matches for the period. However, he could never transform this party into a State power in a way that kept bureaucratization in check.

    So these are not trivial matters.

    For example, you present a formula:

    1. Limit their powers. - How? (Also known as the "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?/who polices the policemen" problem - one that faces democrats and liberals too... or as the original quote suggests, the Roman patricians)
    2. have higher standards of professionalism for everyone. - I agree, issues of competence are central, but this reminds me of the problems of competence we often see even in bourgeois institutions. Striving for meritocracy often leads to the opposite - to grade inflation, fraud, etc. In this sense, there are no
    3. Promote a culture of critical review that starts at the top - the iconoclastic culture I spoke of. Even the best organizations in terms of this often fail.
    4, Reject all ‘genius’ theories ahead of time - Interesting coming from someone who strategically approached a movement (Obamania) predicated in this same principle of messianic elevation.
    5, Make central bodies subordinate to regular Conventions or Congresses, allowing nominations of individuals and slates from the floor if they can get a minimum of signatures - so representative democracy as the model? Putting aside alternatives to this model for a second, how do we deal with the inherent limitations of this method, including the ones we see in the government, unions, and professional associations in this respect. The problems of representation are many - including entrenchment of the incumbents, permanent campaigning, the emergence of the special interest politics etc.
    6. Make everyone stand for election, using secret preferential balloting, at these gatherings, held every two or three years - see above.

    SO these 6 points might make sense in the surface, but create more problems that they solve in further examination.

    I do not have answers, I have questions. I feel OK with this. Dress me up slowly, we are in a hurry...

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    The 'Obama as Messiah' point is silly. Not that it wasn't around in some Black churches and a few liberals, but you didn't have any of it from my corner of the left. We knew him to well. I worked on his very first election, and got him to speak at that first antiwar rally, remember? We knew all his warts and flaws, and that he was never a man of the left.

    You limit powers by specifying them, and then saying those unspecified remain with the Congress.

    And I agree with your speedboat metaphor. In answer, I'll make Gramsci's point, which was that we do better to set aside much of the Russian approach, which was designed for a weak and brittle state with relatively little in the way of civil society. Instead, in developing the 'Modern Price' and everything that went with it, he turned and looked Westward, seeing a different terrain, with a stronger state far less brittle and a far wider and deeper civil society. Hence his notions of 'war of position', 'war of movement,' cadre as 'organic intellectuals' (drawn from the working class), the battles for hegemony BEFORE the seizure of power and so on. What Rudi Deustcke called 'the long march through the institutions.'

    Direct and horizontal democracy democracy can make sense in one factory, one school or one neighborhood, but beyond that, one needs delegates, ie, representatives, certainly in a country as large and diverse as ours, which is like organizing in all of Europe.

    The rules mention above will do for now. But as conditions change, we can change them. The important thing is that an organization have some simple and well understood rules, and a method to replace or improve them. Otherwise it's a group run be the whims and caprice of a handful.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    I think the points Carl Davidson is raising are good ones, but I'm skeptical of a 'long march through the institutions' in the absence of a movement or organization to keep those who enter positions of power in civil society (local governments, universities especially) honest. We've seen this approach before, and we've seen a lot of opportunism by that route.

    What happens to wars of position that bog down? What's a war of position under conditions of irregular and asymetrical warfare, to torture the metaphor a little?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Gramsci borrowed the concepts 'war of position' and 'war of movement' from WW1, the most advanced warfare of his time--the former being the network of trenches and bunks, along with the supply lines leading from them back to the factories supplying them. The latter was the period when the troops were commanded to go 'over the top' and charge the network of trenches of the other side, backed up with the power of big gun barrages and aircraft bombs, such as they were then.

    In more modern thinking, I would place Gramsci's notions together with Mao's three periods--strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, and strategic count-offensive. These grew out of protracted people's war, but I see no reason to limit them to there, The time periods of each are considerably elastic, and can aply to other times and places.

    We are currently in the strategic defensive, given a realistic assessment of all forces, theirs and ours and those in between. In that case, in seems to me that Gramsci's 'war of position' is primary, although tactically, we can wage a 'war of movement' for short spells. There is a dialectic between the two. The Oakland OWS shutting dowm the ports for a few hours was a good example--a tactical 'war of movement' within a wider 'war of position.' In a different period of struggle, an insurrectionary strategic offensive, one could see the war of movement as primary, and the war of position as secondary.

    In any case, you rarely win much higher up if you hadn't won and consolidated it at the base. How much have you won in this fashion in your apartment building, on your block, in your factory, school or workplace? To think you're going to take power in a city without doing it first, to a considerable degree, in the base communities, is where you get into trouble--and is what 'Red Rudi' was calling attention to in his 'long march through the institutions' metaphor.

    History can quicken the pace of events for us--but the hard slog of building the organizations remains the priority of the day, in my book anyway.

  • Guest - SKS


    I think the strategy of the "the long march through the institutions" has failed utterly to deliver in its promise. And I tell you this as someone who unlike some other critics of this formulation, does see it as an acceptable formulation in the abstract and do not have a knee-jerk reaction to it.

    It has failed in the same way the capitalist road in China has failed: whatever gains have been made materially have been at the cost of the perpetuation and extension of the class system. There has been no withering away of the class system and of the State, but rather the management of this to more or less "elevate" material interests often at the expense of political consciousness and via imperialist exploitation. Not to mention it introduced "careerism in left form" that lead to the dissolution of many organizations with long and proud traditions of struggle, or their transformation into organs of power and not revolutionary transformation. In fact, the roots of British New Labour lie squarely in the concept of "the long march through the institutions" - there is no coincidence that the sons of one of the most important Marxists of the second half of the 20th century are the leaders of New Labour. And this is the New Labour of the Iraq war and austerity - and the loss of hegemony of the left in all key institutions in Britain, from immigration to the housing councils.

    Furthermore, Gramsci's views on the struggle were important, but primitive (in the same way that Marx's views on the State were primitive): they had not experienced the great socialist experiments, the (temporary) victory of Marxist hegemony in most of the world. It also had not seen the adoption of the same ideas in the Right (for example, the Culture Wars in the USA). This limit impugns Gramsci's insight and the contemporary interpretations that approach the matter mechanically. We need to struggle for hegemony, but winning this struggle is not enough. It can all fall like a house of cards if the struggle is not driven by class politics.

    The "long march through the institutions" has gone from a strategic retreat predicated upon the failures of a mass movement to achieve state power, to a strategic co-option of the left on the part of the State: rather than the left transforming the institutions, the institutions have transformed the left. There lies much of the fear of the "radical" element in OWS, and before that in the anti-war movement or the global justice movement: the institutional left goes into a ritualistic loyalty oath to the institutions, disavowing the "radicals" to ensure the continued funding of their beloved NGOs - free clean needles and community gardens become more important than advancing a socialist agenda.

    And worse: the long march had a party behind it, and a clear goal in moving equipment and personnel to safety. The "long march throught the institutions" has signified the opposite: the destruction of independent political action, and what is much worse, the casting of former leftists in the role of oppressors. A clear example is Jean Quan: a communist that now throws one of the most violent and deadly police departments in the USA against the left. Jean Quan is your poster child?

    On how to process democracy, course representation, rather than direct democracy, is needed when managing large polities and bureaucracies. The thing is, what is being represented? Essentially representative democracy as we know it is about one thing, and one thing only: budget administration. Every other institution of government is essentially a fiefdom of the un-elected bureaucracy. How is your proposal different than what is currently done? If it isn't, then why reinvent the wheel? This is what left in form, right in content means: cosmetic rather than real change.

    That said, you failed to answer any of the questions I posed - or even acknowledge them. This leads me to believe that the points you put forward are much less thought out than you express them to be, and hence, probably not real solutions but filler.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    @CD- I think I agree with that part. I'm with building the organization. But is it better to try really hard to get a toe hold in existing structures or to build 'counter-institutions' to existing ones.

    There was a time when the workers movement had a network of night schools, summer camps, songs, holidays, newspapers, popular publishing houses, and co-operative business. All that is dust now, but for me, that is what Gramsci meant by hegemony, not trying to change the minds of the generals, senators, and bosses. Not trying to 'change the conversation' or 'shift things to the left.' Instead building something capable of solving the problems that confront us at the same time that it trains us to govern and to challenge those that govern us.

    I think we agree on a lot of this. And I'm not in any way against developing a presence in local government, schools, unions, prisons, armed forces, even the police. But none of this is actually on the table as an organizational project so maybe I'm just blowing smoke while you are actually practicing what you preach.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    Whoops. While I was blowing smoke SKS took my point for me.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    As for being 'defeated,' we can say the same of all the other strategies out there, too, including yours--until one of them wins. But from what I understand of the Brit 'third way,' it's not at all what I'm interested in at all.

    <blockquote>We need to struggle for hegemony, but winning this struggle is not enough. It can all fall like a house of cards if the struggle is not driven by class politics.</blockquote>

    Agreed. And class politics requires its political instrument, rooted in both revolutionary Marxism and among the most purposive fighters in the class itself, although not exclusively. Other strata can be revolutionary, too.

    Moreover, 'mass movements' never take power of themselves, They do so through the organized strength of their advanced detachments, back up with a disciplined armed power--there are three 'magic weapons' -- party, front and army, and not one of them can be ignored

    <blockquote>rather than the left transforming the institutions, the institutions have transformed the left.</blockquote>

    When 'the left' tries it with reformist formations or as 'lone rangers,' even revolutionary ones, you have a very good point. But that's not what I'm arguing for. As for 'fear' of the radical element in OWS, I have none at all. 'Pity' is is more accurate, in that their playing with insurrection is rather pitiful, even comic were it not for those injured. Then follows frustration at seeing opportunities wasted.

    As for Jean Quan, you know as well as I do that she and the group she was with, flipping from ultra-left to right and then liquidating, set its communism aside a long time ago. Far from being my 'poster child,' last I heard, during her campaign, she was now simply a progressive-to-center Democrat, who would probably find PDA 'too left' for her tastes. Her defeat of the GOP right was worthwhile. But now she's got herself in a mess, largely of her own making, from what I hear.

    Finally, winning an office is hardly winning state power. In fact, it's not even close. What the office becomes is a platform for wider struggle--and any reforms won are simply byproducts that don't count for much without revolutionary base communities to make the most of them for building up strong points in the 'war of position.'

    But in a way, you're right. All this at this point amounts to tossing around interesting ideas. To turn words into deeds, we need organization. Once we make some progress there, then we can have far more fruitful discussions.


    We can see an example of how we have gained a small degree of hegemony when today the 'N' word does not come up in normal conversation with a majority of people--and when it does, it's frowned upon. I can recall a time when I was laughed at among family and friends for NOT using it, because i made a point of saying 'Negro' or 'colored' instead. That is a product of a 'long march,' and in fact that long march is still underway, a considerable distance from the finish line.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    <blockquote>In answer, I’ll make Gramsci’s point, which was that we do better to set aside much of the Russian approach, which was designed for a weak and brittle state with relatively little in the way of civil society. Instead, in developing the ‘Modern Price’ and everything that went with it, he turned and looked Westward, seeing a different terrain, with a stronger state far less brittle and a far wider and deeper civil society.</blockquote>

    Carl, states and institutions aren't static. Things happen (capitalist crises, for example) that can weaken the state and its institutions. The way you rule out Lenin and the Russian model in advance makes me think that you believe that this state and its institutions are less vulnerable than they actually are. Certainly I don't think Lenin offers us a some universal blueprint, but we'd be crazy not to mine his example for possible strategic lessons.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    Both the Tsarist autocracy and the Soviet Union "were forever until they were no more."

    I'm starting to see major cracks in edifice of U.S. imperialism. Certainly there's a long way to go, but to characterize the situation today merely as one of "strategic defensive" misreads the situation (though certainly there are defensive aspects.)

    I don't know if this applies to you or not, but I think a big problem on the left today is a self-crippling pessimism, an inability, through decades of historic retreat, to really believe in the possibility of a new strategic offensive. It's time for older leftists to step back for a second and just look at the big picture, at the truly profound signs of deep and intractable crisis that are all around us.

    <blockquote>The important thing is that an organization have some simple and well understood rules, and a method to replace or improve them. Otherwise it’s a group run be the whims and caprice of a handful.</blockquote>

    Definitely agree with this. And as I made clear earlier, I don't think there are any ways to guarantee avoidance of historical pitfalls. But "rule of law" rather than rule of men does give us a better chance than otherwise.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @Red Fly

    I'm not for setting aside Lenin any more than Gramsci was. I'm a big fan, almost to the point of orthodoxy, with a few exceptions where I'm critical. But I do try to take the core ideas and apply them anew, as well as seeking new ideas.

    But I'm convinced any objective assessment will show, despite current and even more cracks at the top, that we are clearly in the strategic defensive.

    Most politically active workers are still under the hegemony of the Democrats, in not the GOP Tea Party types. The workers have no party of their own. The number of active leftists in organizations that are communist or socialist are under 10,000 in a country of three hundred million. We've elected exactly one socialist to Congress, Bernie Sanders, who some here wouldn't even call a socialist, and we have only 80 votes in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, out of 535--and many here even dismiss those as adversaries rather than allies.

    About 90 percent of workers lack a simple trade union to defend their immediate interests, and save for churches and some street gangs, the Black community is in very poor shape organization-wise. We can't even get Wal-Mart unionized, so how do you expect to be in a strategic offense to take power?

    I'm all for fanning every flame, and taking advantage of every upsurge, including the current one that puts us in a new tactical period. But as revolutionaries, it matters a great deal that we keep some clarity on where things are really at, and what the relation of forces really is. Otherwise, you'll have to learn some old lessons anew, but the hard way.

  • Guest - SKS


    Interesting mix orthodoxy and re-thinking.

    Lets start by a premise I do not share: you cannot claim that the long march through the institutions was reformist or lone ranger: it is essentially were all of the NCM with few exceptions is at. Nearly any CBO has some sort of connection to the NCM - largely organized and unrepentant politically. This is why Jean Quan is so important as an example: her political life began as an strategic perspective no different than what you propose, and see what that got us?

    I think it is incorrect to claim the issue is entirely subjective - although of course the subjective is important - Jean QUan is not some rotten apple who inexorably moved through the right. There was a time she was a communist, and a radical one, and this time was not long ago, and it was well into her adulthood. What changed? The long march through the institutions transformed her.

    That is why as a strategy, it is a failure in the current period - and I suspect in any. Yet lets, for argument sake, say this strategy does work under certain conditions: what are those conditions? The more I think about it, the more I come upon a realization that the organizational infrastructure required to mitigate the Jean Quan Phenomenon from happening is so large, that by the time you have it you actually can vie directly for power in conditions of dual power. So a long march would be a step backwards.

    The fact is that the "the long march through the institutions" is the same thing as the type of entryism advocated by a certain strain of Trotskyism. And this entryism resulted not in the advancement

    Jean Kirkpatrick, Reagan's main foreign policy ideologue and god mother of neo-conservatism is a perfect example. Her doctoral thesis was on the POUM in the Spanish Civil War - in approving tones. This person is directly responsible for central american death squads and for laying the basis of Al Qaeda. And she began as a Trotskyist entryist. Or lets be international, Lionel Jospin the former prime minister of France was a Trotskyists entryist well into his political career, not leaving the International Communist Organization until it became clear he could become Mitterand's heir and that they would become a liability.

    I have no pity for the OWS, I have pity for the left that can only seem to talk and does nothing to organize the forces. OWS participants deserve our deepest gratitude and admiration - regardless of the limits of its unaccountable leadership and their many errors.

    And Carl, it easy for you as white man to clamor for patience. But this week the NYPD killed more black men than in any other week in its history, including one in front of his mother in his own house. Protracted struggle might be an inescapable objective reality, but our subjective will should be of immediacy. This machine kills people, and the longer it exists, the more it kills. Any strategy must be one for the quickest route, and for the consistent agitation for immediate revolutionary transformation. Experience shows, in fact that what you call a protracted struggle actually happened in less than half a generation (the elimination of the word "nigger"), and it happened because the Black Panther Party among others where able to convey to white people - by any means necessary - that cease and desist of its use was a requirement for relative social peace. The fear of revolution is what vigorous reformism is about, that is the real long march.

    In fact, since the disappearance of these big revolutionary organizations, the use of the word nigger among the cracker jack set has increased, and the internet is an example of how reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    So what we have, in the USA, is a lot of "strategy" without an army, because at the core, all of these "strategies" are not about mobilization - because mass mobilization is bad for business.

    Nah we need strategies of real mobilization and real inspiration - we need vigor and strength. The people are willing. We need to trust them a little.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson


    I don't see myself as 'clamoring for patience.' In fact, I'm quite impatient around what I see as our central tasks at the moment, which is building popular organizations, especially the ones that are revolutionary.

    As for Jean Quan, she left her left politics behind some time ago AND her ML organization was long-liquidated as well.

    I'm in agreement with you on this--if you try the long march through the institutions by yourself as a 'lone ranger' or even as part of a reformist grouping, then, yes, the institutions are very likely to co-opt and change YOU, rather than the other way around.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    <blockquote>Most politically active workers are still under the hegemony of the Democrats, in not the GOP Tea Party types. The workers have no party of their own. The number of active leftists in organizations that are communist or socialist are under 10,000 in a country of three hundred million. We’ve elected exactly one socialist to Congress, Bernie Sanders, who some here wouldn’t even call a socialist, and we have only 80 votes in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, out of 535–and many here even dismiss those as adversaries rather than allies.

    About 90 percent of workers lack a simple trade union to defend their immediate interests, and save for churches and some street gangs, the Black community is in very poor shape organization-wise. We can’t even get Wal-Mart unionized, so how do you expect to be in a strategic offense to take power?</blockquote>

    Carl, isn't part of the issue here the fact that groups like yours are urging the workers to vote for the Democrats?

    I think part of any new serious attempt has to involve the organized left finally breaking with the Democratic Party.

    As far as balance of forces goes, yeah, sure, we're far from having the numbers and strength to vie for real power, but if we come together and coordinate our efforts then I think we can organize effective strategic ideological ambushes.

    Simply playing defense will get us (and the people) the same results we've seen for the last 3 decades. If we're not willing to go after the bourgeoisie and their dominant political institutions even when they're in crisis then we're fucked. We're not going to be able to build any kind of revolutionary party worthy of the name without first delegitimizing the Democrats.

    So I ask you again, if not now, then when? When the Democrats pass laws to allow us to organize the workplace? That will NEVER happen. The Democratic Party will NEVER, EVER, EVER repeal Taft-Hartley, they'll NEVER pass card check. The ones who say they support these things are giving you and all of us the fucking Obama okie-doke. We're not going to change things unless we help others realized that the Democrats are nothing but wolves in sheep's clothing.

    My entire fucking life, Carl, I've been waiting for the despicable scumbags that run the Democratic Party to do something substantial for the workers. Instead they've been full partners in the neoliberal assault. My entire fucking life I've been waiting for the criminal Democratic Party to stop these murderous wars on the world's people. Instead they mouth platitudes and send out marines and drones.

    These people are fucking scum, Carl. They had their chance. The people no longer believe their fucking lies. It's time to make this disillusionment permanent.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @Red Fly

    I don't disagree with you on the nature of the Democrats. I too have spent 50 years of my life trying to find ways to take them down and replace them with something better--and even that is only one step. I could use the same colorful language as you--and probably even one-up you if I thought it would matter.

    I've voted Communist, Socialist, Citizens Party, Greens, New Party, for the Rainbow Coalition and even Jerry Brown in his 'Labor Party' Phase, and most recently, worked for PDA while giving a vote to Obama. I know where all the bodies are buried on both sides of this debate, the upside and downside of each tactic.

    The task is how to break up the Democratic party coalition, along its class fault lines, but in a mass way, not onesies-twosies with you and me and a few of our friends having nothing to do with them.

    Today I think PDA's 'party within a Party' approach, combined with the Greens and the SP in some cases (like LaBotz in Ohio), is where we can make the most progress. The tactics are complex because the situation is complicated by the nature of our electoral system and the level of where people are at. Among union workers here, two-third are Dems and one third vote GOP. Less than 3 percent would vote third party--which doesn't mean we shouldn't do it anyway in some cases.

    We have to build a counter-hegemonic force, but we have to do it mainly from within their hegemonic fortress with the materials at hand, while maintaining our alliances with those outside of it.

    If you have a better idea, I'm all ears.

    I have no idea what you mean by 'strategic ideological ambushes,' but it sounds intriguing. I preach socialism and ideologically deconstruct neoliberalism and every other ideological prop of the old order wherever I can find an audience, but my guess is that you're suggesting something more...

  • Guest - Harsh Thakor

    The main problem in many of these discussions is that the ground reality of the actual situations are overlooked be it the era of the Bolshevik party under Lenin or the Communist Party of China in the period of 1929-49,1949-56 or 1966-76..We can never compare the situation in the G.P.C.R period to that of the Sino-Japanese war or Long March time,or the Socialist Revolution period.It was the genius of Comrade Mao in innovating a theory taking Leninism to a higher stage as well as developing a military theory.Democratic Centralism was an essential factor in any of these achievements.Similarly though opposition was crushed to a certain extent under Lenin ,it may have been the very need of the hour to save the Socialist State.There was a tendency of the Bolshevik party imposing itself on the Soviets n the 1920's etc but one must remember the problems of building a Socialist State.Infact it was the need of the hour that even Comrade Stalin was forced to do certain things,whatever may have been the grave errors.

    The most important research has to be done is how the greatest democratization can take place within a proletarian party which gives it the revolutionary cutting edge.However the role of the proletarian party has to be empahsaiesed withouth which nay of the gains of the Russian and Chinese Revolution s would never have taken place.Without the role of the vanguard party the G.P.CR would never have been initiated.

    I greatly appreciate Kasama's efforts and but feel such a debate is ultimately veering from the fundamental polemics,very much like the New Left.Democratic Centralism is the fundamental factor in the re-organisation of a proletarian party which would lead the armed struggle be it in Peru,Phillipines and India.

  • Guest - Arman Armado

    In the most simple of terms, Democratic Centralism is:
    Deciding on a matter democratically, involving the majority of people concerned. Once a decision is reached by the majority, then it is held us the unity of all, or in Filipino term "kaisahan" and must be followed by everyone, even those who did not like it or had reservations to it. That is the centralism part. Those who had reservations, however, are free to express their reservations through proper channels, hence "how to combat liberalism". If the majority re-evaluates the decision base on the minority's debate then it would be the "kaisahan" or unity to be followed by all.
    It is important to note the following: the Majority is always higher than the minority.
    In revolutionary practice it is quite hard, especially when one has to combat liberalism. But it works, that's for sure.
    It has kept the revolution here in the Philippines alive and after liberalism and wrong ideas were rejected in the mid-1990's, it has rejuvenated the revolutionary movement.

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