For Marx 2.0
This is an open letter for all to read on the necessary need to put forward revolutionary Communist politics at the upcoming SDS National Convention in Detroit. In this letter I am speaking toward a couple of the proposals put forward by Pat Korte and Brian Kelly of SDS. Specifically dealing with Korte's vision proposal, which can be found here. The style of this letter is quite obviously polemical; however this is to serve in asking the questions that need to be asked by ourselves. I am entitling this Open Letter, because of its polemical style, and by doing so opening it at the same time to serve as a document in the on going debates on our differances of politics. In good Maoist fashion, lets let a hundred flowers bloom! Let the two ling struggle go forth.
An Introduction to Our Differences
In unity with those who are fighting for an egalitarian society which is based upon serving the needs of the masses of oppressed and exploited people, I am urged to comment and rebuke the line and tendency I have seen in the proposals put forward by some of my own fellow comrades at the upcoming National Convention. Specifically, my polemic shall deal with the Humanist politics put forward by Pat Korte in his vision proposal. I do this not in a sectarian manner, but in the spirit of unity and struggle as well as the maxims of criticism and self-criticism. I was tempted not to write at all on this matter out of the false idea of "solidarity," but to not speak of the ideological consequences of our vision proposals out of fear that this might create bad tensions is the absolute intellectual dogmatism that is persistent in our circles today. We paradoxically speak of not "emphasizing" one struggle over the other, and to keep a "totalist" politics (As Brian Kelly put it forward in his proposal), but this is quite frankly in sum a totalitarian order closeted from us. Let politics be in command, and let's not fear to have ideological struggle within SDS.
The theoretical exchange is an old exchange, which is why I call this letter For Marx 2.0. It is in the same spirit that French philosopher and Communist, Louis Althusser, put forward against the popular and trendy lines of Humanism in his day, defending the scientific legacy of Karl Marx and emphasizing that Marxist politics isn't a Humanism. How do we define Humanism and Marxism? I shall not try to define such theories in its fullest historical development; such an attempt in an open letter would be inevitability problematic. I will however explain Marxism v. Humanism in its simplest maxims. Brian Kelly, in his proposal begins to assert the framework of Humanism via "Totalist" politics, that is "totalist politics" for Kelly doesn't try to 'elevate' one struggle over the other but rather "commit to understanding and paying serious attention to race, class, gender, sex, sexuality, age, ability, and authority without elevating any but instead recognizing the intrinsic importance of each, and their entwinement, and understanding that we must confront the 'totality' of human oppression." There is at one and the same time a lot to unite with here, as a Marxist; however as has been demonstrated before in theory and practice, such a concept is a theoretical muddle. One merely asks the question, upon where did such social relations come? What are they symptomatic of? Asking these questions reveals quite easily to any man or woman interested in the kernel of truth of revolutionary militant politics that such "entwinement" is only possible because such social relations are reproduced daily through our relations to the means of production. That is, history is the process of the class struggle in its most determined being.
This is not to be taken as the usual dogmatic form that has been persistent, that is, the classic formula of base and superstructure, but in the sense that Gramsci and Althusser spoke of when they confronted the cultural hegemony of Capitalism. Such hegemony reproduces its means for production through society; the logic of capital influences all institutions of social being. From the family, the smallest cell of economic production, to relations between nations. Marxists have no interest in undermining the importance of the various struggles Brian Kelly spoke about before, but merely understanding the truth of such relations and how they exist. We do elevate the importance of the class struggle theoretically because it is the fundamental contradiction in our social being and it has its rootedness in all relations. For example, race politics are symptomatic of the Imperialist domination of worldly relations of production. The masses of immigrants coming to this nation can only be possible because of Western super-exploitation in neo-colonies. Race is form of class in the age of Imperialism. The oppressed nations of the world are the exploited nations of the world in the relations between itself and the West.
Democracy and Politics, Who Does it Serve?
What Korte's vision proposal misses thoroughly is such a class analysis; it is my opinion that Korte substitutes such a class analysis for the shallow rhetorical phrases of the movement today. Today one of the shallowest phrases can often be "Participatory Democracy." Whenever presented with the question of Democracy, we must simply ask for whom? What is the class nature of such a "democracy?" Democracy has historically existed in any movement, and democracy takes many forms, but what is its form in our "participatory" model. We are presented with little else than the amalgamation of many different leftist formations. Such formations have historically existed and continue to exist to the present day. What is important is not the many fold types of formations that should exist (which is just the reproduction of the State in its infantile scale), but its political line and class character.
We today, in this epoch, in this country have one of the finest and most liberal of political states. In Europe, such states are even finer in their liberalism, in their "democracy." Universal suffrage, affirmative action, equal opportunity for women, and labor protection, all of such has been won under the liberal parliamentary state, all under the dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie. It came with struggle, it is protected by such struggles, but it is still won under such a current existing "Democracy." And today, right here in this country, we are convening our National Convention and we are committed to this very society's demise. What we are demanding is not merely more Democracy, we have plenty, what we need is Revolutionary Power in the hands of the masses of people. I will echo the famous demand of all past "authoritarians" and harp upon the need for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. I read through Korte's vision of revolution, and it makes me ask whether or not he knows how to make an omelette. Is it not necessary to break eggs? Not once does Korte mention the need for revolutionary struggle, for the overthrow of the Bourgeois state by the means of revolution. Korte talks about the need for "revolutionary transformation," about using reforms to help the people in their day to day struggles, about building the "movement." But without revolutionary leadership, all such that is being called for here can only lead to spontaneity, identity politics, and at best the fake sense of "solidarity" in our struggles. That solidarity I speak of is the mere pragmatism that exists in our Quid Pro Quo model of activism. "Come to my picket line and I'll show up to your workshop." What we are being asked of is revolution without revolution, a chocolate laxative.
How will we hold the Bourgeoisie, the "coordinator class" [or as Marx called it some century and half before Michael Albert, the Petty Bourgeois], down? How do we lead society in its development? It is remarkable that Korte uses Chile in 1973 as an example to emulate! Does he know why the exploited masses of Chile for decades after 73' suffered under the brutal imperialist puppet regime of Pinochet? It is precisely because Allende failed to hold down those class enemies by the most authoritarian means, because he worked through continued reform instead of revolutionary upheaval under his leadership. Fidel Castro duly noted this very fact, Allende's demise was because of his faith in changing the consciousness of the petty bourgeois, in Chile's democratic institutions, and it wasn't with the people. Asking to emulate Chile comes down to romanticizing what wasn't real. Chile in 1973 was a nation of tremendous upheaval, violence, and social contradictions it was brimming with real class struggle. Of course this is true of Paris in 1871 and again in 1968, it is true of Spain in 1936 and of Argentina in 2001. Why does Korte high light these examples though? It is precisely because they failed, because they couldn't keep down their class enemies, and hold on to power. Why not speak about Bolshevik's state power? Or the Communist Party led revolutions that took place in China, Cuba, or Vietnam? What about the on going communist led revolutions today in the Philippines, India, and Colombia? What about new institutions of revolutionary power in Nepal or Venezuela? There is a reason why Korte doesn't speak of their historical examples, it is because it speaks to the need to hold down class enemies, that our politics are not merely "the art of collectively creating an acceptable pattern of social relations," but the also necessary hammer to smash our enemies with.
On Economics and Power Relations
When we read Korte on speaking on economic justice, he says little to nothing about the conditions of exploitation and how they have come about. How can we create a classless society without recognizing the reason for its creation? In fact the talk of "social ownership" means nothing if such social ownership continues under commodity production and its exchange, that is if we allow the market to continue, exploitation will continue on just not its private ownership form but in its new syndicalist model. This will not only continue exploitation, but reinforce the divisions of labor that will exist in production. Economy must be planned, not merely owned by collectives, but given a centralized character in determining its exchange and its production.
We can't merely rid classes with our ink on our declarations, but it must be a radical change in the very consciousness of the masses of people. This is including those who are called the "coordinator class," but more accurately described as the petty bourgeois by Marxists. The petty bourgeois will reproduce itself in various forms, and take on new power relations long after revolutionary change. This has been shown time and time again after revolutionaries take power. The divisions of compound vs. simple labor, mental vs. manual labor, industrial vs. service labor, will continue to produce the attitude of the petty bourgeois consciousness within society; it is what Marx remarked as Bourgeois Right. It will prevail in a socialist society and something that we will have to struggle against long after the revolution.
This brings us back to the concept of power to begin with, and its relations. It is not enough to say we wish to dissolve power relations. Such a wish is ultimately illusory and based on the false conception of the world, that is the static conception of historicism and humanism, the false utopia. The world and our social relations will develop in new ways beyond what we can even imagine and think of, our horizon is limited to that of beyond capitalism. We can only begin to think of the new relations that will exist outside of this one. We know what we know, and we can't speak on what we don't know. That is, us in the Bourgeois epoch can speak as revolutionaries and project ourselves into our future from the vantage point of this system; however we can only remain naïve to what the revolutionaries of the revolutionary era will struggle against and what new things develop. Our egalitarian society is not the end of history, but another development. The internal contradictions of our new social being will produce new relations, and new possibilities for further revolution. May I dare to say, there are no horizontal relations, merely its illusion. Relations will turn into their opposites and develop differently, but they become new power relations nonetheless, understanding this dialectical process will allow us to get over some of our more immature prejudices on Leadership, Power, and Discipline.
Rather than naively accepting these proposals I shall look toward building the national structure for SDS. The question of the ideological and political line of SDS is far from settled and all such proposals without proper discussion within the context of a national organization is merely reproducing the "totalitarian" order that has been repeatedly attacked by SDS itself. There is no need for a consolidation on our political differences at this moment, what is needed is good honest theoretical struggle which people aren't afraid of having splits over. I ask SDS members to consider the primary task of this national convention as that of building the national structure and framework in which we can carry out such debate, and the actions SDS wishes to commit itself to rather than signing up to these proposals on vision.