Signs of rot

Kailash Sreeneevasin posted a great quote from Lars Lih today:

When I look back at this period — when you could say that there was a mass movement, a Marxist mass movement that was genuinely alive — what was it that was alive? It was a sense of a world-historical mission, that the proletariat was “the Chosen People” — this metaphor was made many a time, that this group of people was going to bring the world to a final goal. So that’s what I’m wondering: Is this sense of a world-historic mission alive today, even among the Left? This is what I’m asking you: Is there a genuine sense of this group having a mission and a real sense that it is going to happen? That was the baby that the Left has thrown out, keeping the bathwater, which is very useful — Marx’s analysis of this, class analysis of all this stuff. The bathwater is great! But the baby seems dead or gone. Does this sense of world-historical mission exist and must it exist in order for the Left to be anything like what it was? And is there a way of making it happen if it doesn’t exist? You can’t artificially insist that people believe in a mission like this — or even make yourself do it, if the belief isn’t really there.

Lih is asking the right questions. Just fifty years ago, the quasi-Trot historian Isaac Deutscher was able to confidently assert that

Marxism is not an intellectual, aesthetic, or philosophical fashion, no matter what the fashion-mongers imagine. After having been infatuated with it for a season or two they may come and declare it to be obsolete. Marxism is a way of thinking, a generalization growing out of an immense historical development; and as long as this historic phase in which we live has not been left far behind us, the doctrine may prove to be mistaken on points of detail or secondary points, but in its essence nothing has deprived it, and nothing looks like depriving it, of its relevance, validity, and importance for the future. (“Marxism in Our Time,” 1965)

Who can say the same today? Already in his time, the gears had begun to grind to a halt. The corpse was already showing signs of rot. Yet this all seemed so trivial, so incidental compared with the momentum of history that first set Marxism in motion a century before, that it might still be attributed to the accidence of its appearance.

Today the corpse is decayed beyond recognition. In place of those eyes that once glimpsed the future, there are now empty sockets recessed into black. But this fact has so little sunk in that many still wander about, insisting that he is alive, that wondrous wunderkind — Subject of History. They just saw him, they swear! Any minute now, he’ll leap into action!

Yeah, keep on dreaming.

14 thoughts on “Signs of rot

  1. I think your characterization of “rot” is gross hyperbole at best and a nihilistic fatalism at worst. If Marxism lives at all, it is not in the hearts and minds of intellectuals. Marxism thrives in the struggles of working people everywhere. It is their hopes and dreams for justice, liberation and economic equality that are the revolutionary mantle that intellectuals can come to recognize and embrace because if they do not they will be left behind in the dust bin of history.

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  3. “Marxism thrives in the struggles of working people everywhere.”

    It does? I would say it is abominated everywhere. The hard-won historical lessons preserved in the theoretical legacy of Marxism are everywhere refused and ignored, not taken to heart! The vast majority of workers are not even members of unions, let alone unions that serve as centers for the radicalizing education and organization of workers. And the politics of the remnants of working class orientation are absolute poison, dead-set on the political black hole that is the Democratic Party.

    Marxism does not mean taking comfort in the fact that working people struggle. This is a despicable interpretation! Marxism only rejoices at the prospect that this struggle might be finally overcome, and this requires a concerted, disciplined political effort independent of bourgeois interests and built upon the firm foundation of independent worker organization in the economic sphere.

    Of course working people struggle. That has been the chief characteristic of working-class life since the original emergence of class society. What was unique to Marxism was the notion that the modern form taken by the working class – the proletariat – has within it the capacity to put an end to class division. This capacity is no longer in evidence, and so Marxism, along with the whole bourgeois political trajectory of which it was the cutting edge, is indeed exhausted, dead. Marxism has no concern with “hopes and dreams for justice, liberation and economic equality” abstracted from the concrete political project of the abolition of class division via the abolition of wage labor and bourgeois private property. These hopes and dreams are older than Marxism, and they are not distinctive to the proletariat or its unique mission.

    Honest intellectuals have no pretensions about this. We seek only to mourn this loss adequately, by understanding what was really lost. At least we are honest with ourselves.

    • You also describe a struggle. It is a struggle that bears no relationship to the working class. It is a struggle of ideas and “right thinking.” This struggle only exists among intellectuals. Your lament is that because the working class does not seem to have the “right ideas” it cannot be concerned with its liberation or its revolutionary transformation. While you did not explicitly say this, it would appear that you are one of those who subscribes to the notion of the vanguard. Those who advocate this insist that the working class must be guided to discover their true revolutionary potential by petty bourgeois intellectuals. This elitist self-anointment by intellectuals was never advocated by Marx. In fact, Marx and Engels both condemn it. If advocates of the vanguard had lived during the American Revolution, they would have insisted that intellectuals from the British aristocracy were necessary in order for American colonists to understand their “true” revolutionary potential. The colonists just wouldn’t get the “right ideas” if this did not happen. They would lament as you do, that among the colonists “the capacity is no longer evident.” Indeed oppressed people were primarily engaged in struggle before there was a working class and capitalism. Marx describes these historic stages. That the current struggle of the working class resembles this, is a vindication that the Marxist analysis of history bears strong relationship to the facts. To reject the hopes and dreams for justice, liberation and economic equality of working people because they just don’t get the “right ideas” is to reject the expression of organic, spontaneous class interest. This is where any hope for and socialist transformation exists. If you are looking elsewhere, you are not supporting the working class revolution of empowerment. Indeed you are admitting that you care nothing for the outcome of the struggle.

      • It’s a false dichotomy. There were, in fact, members of what might be termed the “landed gentry” in the British American colonies who sided with the patriots during the War of Independence. Not to mention some of the British expatriates who joined the rebel cause, like Thomas Paine. You will remember that even the arch-conservative Edmund Burke supported American independence. All of these figures, it should be noted, were “men of letters,” the public intellectuals of their day.

        Moreover, your arbitrary division between intellectuals and the working class is insulting. Can members of the working class not themselves be intellectuals? Rosa Luxemburg certainly thought so:

        No coarser insult, no baser defamation, can be thrown against the workers than the remark, “Theoretical controversies are for the intellectuals.”

        Reform or Revolution (1900)

        Lenin, for his part, arrived at much the same conclusion two years later (in his infamous vanguardist text, no less):

        Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology…This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings [Lenin could have added Dietzgen]; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge.“

        What is to be Done? (1903)

        The tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky has never had anything to do with vulgar socioeconomic determinism. One’s worldview does not follow automatically from his class background or (under)privileged upbringing. When you claim that “Marxism thrives in the struggles of working people everywhere,” you seem to forget that all manner of ideologies have historically thrived in the struggles of working people. Sometimes the ideology has been Proudhonist; other times Bonapartist. Huge numbers of workers within Germany helped elect Hitler to office, and Nazism is the vapid petit-bourgeois ideology par excellence. The reason the working class is central to Marxism is not because it is automatically the most radical element within society, but because only it has the capacity to radically transform that society.

      • Dear Reidkane,
        I received additional remarks from you in connection with this article, in my email. However, for some reason I do not see them posted here. I am not sure if these comments will be added to by you or not. In any case, Here is my response. First, I am well aware of the role played by Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke in agitating for and supporting the American Revolution. I did not create a false dichotomy because the way I described the intellectual vanguard is the operating definition of the concept used by Lenin in “What Is To Be Done.” It is the centerpiece of his argument in favor of a vanguard. I have no problem with their role in supporting the revolutionary cause. But this is a far cry from the Leninist concept of the vanguard and I will discuss that subsequent to the following comment. I have not created a false dichotomy between intellectualism originating from the working class and the working class as a whole. This is precisely where I think agitation and activism for working class consciousness and revolution should originate. So to the extent you think that, we can find common ground as leftists. I also think it is ultimately necessary for a broad-based working class political party to be created in order to fully attain the interests of working people. This cannot be found in the existing capitalist controlled two parties, in my view. However the way in which Lenin characterizes the role of the vanguard within such a party is very elitist. In “What Is To Be Done” he says: “…the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.” As British socialist Higgins (2004) notes: “Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries rather than a parliamentary party, drawn mainly from the petty-bourgeoisie, and organized as a vanguard party.”
        While Lenin is revered by Marxists throughout the world, I think this forms the basis of revolutions leading to authoritarian systems calling themselves socialist and/or communist. These systems created in the 20th century are neither socialist or Marxist and they in large measure the reason why Marxism and socialism have been repudiated by natural allies in the working class and of the left.
        A new vision of democratic socialism is needed in the 21st century that is consistent with Marx’s writings about economic democracy.
        Marx cited the Paris Commune as an example of the future working class socialist system he envisioned. In its brief life, the Paris Commune was an experiment in economic democracy. If there is anything intellectuals can offer working people, it is this restored vision of working class liberation, democratization of the economy and the non-prescriptive notion that socialism is an experiment. It follows from this that everyone can learn (especially intellectuals) from practical working class experience about what works and what does not.

  4. Thomas,

    Placing the terms “right thinking” and “right ideas” in quotation marks, as you did, implicitly indicates that said terms were used earlier in this discussion. They were not, however, and I would not have done so. I don’t think the correctness of “ideas” or “thinking” has anything to do with this discussion. Such false quotation is a deceptive discursive practice, imputing to me formulations I deliberately abjured. I strongly suggest you discontinue this practice.

    By your reliance on this false attribution you seem to have blinded yourself as to the content of my comment. I do not describe a “struggle of ideas” (notice how this is a term you actually used in your comment, hence my quotation marks). I do not claim, nor do I believe, that the working class has found itself on the wrong side of this struggle, nor that this is the true struggle of which they are sadly ignorant. Wrong wrong wrong!

    Whether or not I subscribe to what you call “the notion of the vanguard” is immaterial, as I make no claim as to why the conditions of class struggle have degenerated, nor what might be required to reconstitute them. I only describe the vast disparity between the conditions Marx could reliably presuppose and those we face today.

    Nonetheless, based on your comments, I am not confident that you understand how the concept of “the vanguard” functioned historically, what role it played in the prior history of class struggle. The claims you make on this matter have the historical substance of an elementary school lesson on the voyages of Columbus. Your digression on the American Revolution, for instance, is quite incoherent – are you suggesting we can straightforwardly analogize between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions? Surely you know that Marx himself emphasized their asymmetricity; e.g. in the writings on French history.

    Moreover, while I don’t think your articulation of vanguardism picks out anything more than a spectral bogeyman that haunts the imaginations of naive leftists, the notion that Marx and Engels rejected the concept is both anachronistic, as it only attained significant currency with the rise of the German SDP in the final years of Engels’ life (Marx was already dead), and ill-informed, as M+E clearly prefigure it, for instance in this famous passage from the Manifesto: “The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” I suggest you invest some time in doing serious research before rattling off such claims in the future. The works of Lars Lih, mentioned in the OP, are a good place to start.

    I’ll respond to the latter portion of your comment later today, when I have the time.

    • Dear Reidkane,
      My use of quotation marks in reference to the terms “right thinking” and “right ideas” merely delineates the fact that they are not mine and I do not endorse them. This is so the reader does not misread me.This is a well accepted practice and should not be misconstrued by you by asserting I was suggesting you employed these terms. Your profoundly condescending remark concerning my reference to the vanguard that ” The claims you make on this matter have the historical substance of an elementary school lesson on the voyages of Columbus” is quite revealing. It really says more about you than me. It suggests an attitude of contempt and intolerance for anyone disagreeing with you that probably goes a long way toward explaining why you have little or no currency with working people. In response to your declaration about the concept of the vanguard being accepted by Marx and Engel, that is hardly supported by your quote. In fact Marx and Engels contradict your assertion in the following quote taken from a pamphlet they published in 1879:
      “When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.”
      Perhaps then, it is you who is one of the “naïve leftists” and you who needs to be more thorough in your reading of Marx.
      I will suspend the remainder of my reply until I read the rest of your remarks which you indicated would be forthcoming.

  5. “This is a well accepted practice”

    Misquotation is in fact a universally discouraged practice.

    I do have contempt and intolerance, but for people who disagree with me so much as for those who would carelessly bandy-about concepts and references on the basis of debilitating popular glosses and misconstructions. I’m sorry to say it, but you were clearly doing so. I strongly urge you to do a bit more research on the topic of “vanguardism”, especially sources like Lih that veer close to the primary documentation. Relying on popular miconstructions such as this serves only the further occultation of an already barely-lingering historical memory.

    Vanguardism as you describe it here is a concept without object. None of the significant historical cases to which this concept is generally applied are meaningfully characterized by it. There were real, serious problems that plagued and ultimately undermined the socialist movement broadly construed, but to trace these back to vanguardism is at best a deeply flawed analysis, and at worst a willful flaunting of the demands of intellectual rigor. I do not find arguments rooted in this kind of laziness to be worthy of anything other than scorn.

    I am more than willing to respectfully entertain the positions of those with whom I disagree. As a matter of fact, such a will is essential for anyone who strives to thinking dialectically, and I certainly do strive for this. It is presumptuous of you to assume my condescension was earned by the fact that you disagreed with me, rather than the manner in which you expressed it. I would equally direct such discontent toward anyone who agreed with me, but fell prey to the same sort of vice I took you to exhibit. I am happy to disagree, but one cannot disagree with cliches, because they signal the refusal to think, and thus to engage in substantive dialectical intercourse.

    If you find my accusations of laziness and reliance on cliche offensive, then I apologize, but I believe this would oblige you to reveal the authorities to which you defer on these questions (the nature and history of ‘vanguardism’). I strongly encourage you to do so, so that I can consider the merit of these figures in light of the broader terrain of the scholarship, especially those whose work whom I consider authoritative. I’d love to be proven wrong in my initial haughtiness and recant, but I’m afraid I can’t just take your word for it!

    I appreciate you following such a course in your counter-referencing Marx at me. However, I have to clarify that I did not in fact “declare” that M+E accept the concept of the vanguard, and I believe your claim to this effect is a show of bad faith. I was very clear that I consider such an imputation to be anachronistic, and the M+E only point toward this concept, certainly in a text from 1848! Furthermore, far from bare “declaration”, I provided what is to my mind clear evidence that your account of Marx is inconsistent with the facts. You say my assertion is not supported by the quote? M+E describe communists as “the most advanced and resolute section”. Here are two standard dictionary definitions of the term “vanguard”: “the foremost or leading position in a trend or movement”;
    “those occupying a foremost position.” So M+E certainly seem to think of communists as a “vanguard” in this sense. Moreover, this vanguard “pushes forward all other” sections; here they comes off as somewhat akin to “[t]hose who advocate this insist that the working class must be guided to discover their true revolutionary potential”. All the more so in their claim that “theoretically, they have [an advantage] over the great mass of the proletariat”.

    The big hermeneutic obstacle on which you seem to be caught is this little watchword, “petit-bougeois”, specifically of the intellectual variety. Your repeated insistence on the “self-annointment” of this group is telling. Who advocates this? Something like this formulation appears in Kautsky, although interestingly enough, this is not to glorify the declassed intelligentsia so much as account for the obviously advanced and leading role of Marx and Engels! Lenin briefly and reluctantly appropriates this formula in “What is to be Done?”, but it does not play a central role in his politics, nor in Leninist politics more broadly construed. In fact, you should actually try reading some Lenin. There is no fiercer critic of the self-glorification of intellectuals, nor a sterner support of organic working-class leadership! You should also really read Lih on this passage about petit-bourgeois intellectuals. Decontextualized references of this passage in Lenin form the tremendously feeble foundations of the critique of Leninist ‘vanguardism’, despite the fact that it tends to serve as evidence for an interpretation of Lenin that is plainly incompatible with the facts.

    I’m afraid I find your interpretation of the passage you quote to be incorrect. As I said above, this is a clear indication of the orthodoxy of Lenin’s Marxism! But you wouldn’t know that from relying upon a two bit caricature as you do. This is not politically serious, it is lazy and irresponsible. The point is not that petit-bourgeois intellectuals should be in charge, but that workers must (and must be expected to) raise themselves to the same levels of intellectual capability previously only reached by the upper classes, most paradigmatically Marx and Engels themselves. This must not be contorted into anti-intellectualism, quite the contrary!

    Nobody is throwing anybody’s dreams away. Don’t be a drama queen. While I’d be surprised if the ideals you laud are as prevalent in the political imagination of your average worker as you seem to insinuate, this is beside the point. These ideals are still bourgeois conceits. I mean “bourgeois” not as an epithet, but a technical term; these ideals are bourgeois in the sense that they express in a self-conscious manner the fundamental forms of social relation whose rise to predominance marked the early-modern period, and which were decisively consolidated through their progressive political enshrinement in the bourgeois revolutions.

    The ideals in question are nothing but reflections of the bourgeois social form itself, its immanent standards and aspirations. There is nothing wrong with this of course, and I am not condemning such idealism among workers! But the valorization of these ideals only bespeaks the disaffection that necessarily befalls bourgeois subjectivity. There is nothing necessarily revolutionary about it. More to the point, such ideas are not what ultimately move people; they are best a reflection of the forces that truly move.

    If workers are not driven by material necessity toward forms of organization that supersede bourgeois society and its contradictions, then all the idealism in the world won’t do you any good. You’ll simply be stuck with dreams that can find no place among the world that inspired them. Marxism is not, as you suggest, a generic dalliance into moralizing solidarity with “the oppressed”. Marxism is diametrically opposed to such moralizing. It seeks not to condemn the atrocious treatment of the downtrodden, as religion is still as effective as ever in doing so. Rather, it recognizes and aims to promulgate recognition of the specific potentials of the (formerly) contemporary form of this atrocity, namely those that seem to point toward the realization, and not mere idealization, of classless society. All working classes throughout history have had to struggle to survive, but victory in this struggle is painfully ambivalent. In the 19th century, the form this struggle was taking, because it seemed to lead toward the progressive independent economic and political organization of the working class, whose ultimate interests must lay in the rational management of the social totality by the associated producers, had a significance far beyond that of the tender-hearted moralist. Of course I wish everyone well in the miserable slog called life, but outrage at that misery does not a Marxist make.

    • “I do have contempt and intolerance, but for people who disagree with me so much as for those who would carelessly bandy-about concepts and references on the basis of debilitating popular glosses and misconstructions. I’m sorry to say it, but you were clearly doing so.”
      I would submit to you that your judgment in this sort of matter may be severely constricted by the confidence you place in your own importance.
      “I strongly urge you to do a bit more research on the topic of ‘vanguardism’, especially sources like Lih that veer close to the primary documentation.”
      Dictionary.com defines “vanguardism” as: “The beliefs and activities of persons who consider themselves to be leaders in a particular field or school of thought.”
      It seems to me the important operating term here is “consider themselves.” Herein lies the problem with so-called revolutionary proletarian vanguardism. It is the self-anointment of so-called revolutionary experts that translates into a political elite to whom all others must defer. I don’t mind if you want to refer to my thoughts as constructed of lazy clichés. It really doesn’t trouble me much. However, the argument that the rapid descent of Marxist Leninist governments into totalitarianism can be directly attributable to vanguardism, is not an exercise in “laziness” as put forward by Rosa Luxenburg. In a statement that appears to hauntingly predict the future she said the following:
      “Without universal suffrage, unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, the free battle of opinion, the life in those [Lenin and Trotsky] institutions will become a mere show and the bureaucracy will be the only active element. Public life will gradually be put to sleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and limitless idealism will direct and rule, under them a dozen outstanding brains will lead and an elite of labor will be convened from time to time to applaud the speeches of the leaders, to vote prearranged resolutions unanimously, so that there will basically be the dictatorship of a clique. In short, there will be, not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but a dictatorship of a handful of politicals, i.e., dictatorship in the pure bourgeois sense, in the sense of the Jacobin rule…”
      For important discussions on Marxist Leninism and the vanguardism on which it is based, I would refer you to the writings of Lew Higgins of the British Socialist Party, Michael Harrington (American democratic socialist) and David Graeber (Anarchist). But of course you would undoubtedly immediately discount these authors as practitioners of lazy reasoning and purveyors of political “clichés.”
      “If workers are not driven by material necessity toward forms of organization that supersede bourgeois society and its contradictions, then all the idealism in the world won’t do you any good. You’ll simply be stuck with dreams that can find no place among the world that inspired them. Marxism is not, as you suggest, a generic dalliance into moralizing solidarity with “the oppressed”. Marxism is diametrically opposed to such moralizing. It seeks not to condemn the atrocious treatment of the downtrodden…”
      “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” –Karl Marx
      If this statement has nothing to do with the oppressed and the downtrodden, then who exactly is it referring to? If this statement has nothing to do with morality, what does it refer to? If it does not attempt to express hope and idealism about the future liberation that awaits the working class, then what does it mean? By your assessment it has little meaning. It lacks morality, idealism and has nothing to do with the oppressed and the downtrodden. Or perhaps from your point of view, it would have been better if Marx had never written it. Perhaps it is regrettable in your eyes because it expresses a passion that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you think it must have its roots in bourgeois thinking.
      “Nobody is throwing anybody’s dreams away. Don’t be a drama queen. While I’d be surprised if the ideals you laud are as prevalent in the political imagination of your average worker as you seem to insinuate, this is beside the point. These ideals are still bourgeois conceits.”
      The Occupy movement has exploded across this nation. These are average working people engaged in a power struggle with the wealthiest 1% and corporate America. They are an organic and spontaneous expression working class interest. They are fundamentally anti-capitalist and they engage in direct action organizing that is effective in swaying public opinion. They may not always get it “right” in terms of their analysis of class conflict and the dialectic of history but they are engaged in the working class struggle. Perhaps you should go to them and explain as you have smugly done with me, that their hopes and ideals are “bourgeois conceits.” They should after all have different conceits if they are to be truly revolutionary. Perhaps then you should turn to the 48 million Americans who are currently without health insurance and explain to them that their desire for decent healthcare is really a “bourgeois conceit.” Then turn to the low wage workers in the fast food industry who are spontaneously unionizing across the country. Tell them that their desire for a decent living wage and working conditions is only a bourgeois conceit. I’m sure they will be very receptive to that idea.
      My dear friend, what world are you living in?

      • Thomas,

        It is not my importance, but my refusal to entertain half-witted critique that motivates my disdain. You need not continue engaging me if you think I am not entitled to challenge the substance of your claims, but I strongly urge you against such reclusion from reason as it will only serve the further atrophy of your intellect. All participants in discourse have the right to expect as much from one another. I need not be important in the slightest to call bullshit when I see it.

        Your response does not address the substance of my remarks, but only phantoms haunting your own understanding. This makes further discussion difficult on my end.

        For example, your write, “It seems to me the important operating term here is “consider themselves.” Herein lies the problem with so-called revolutionary proletarian vanguardism.”

        But I said very plainly, “Your repeated insistence on the “self-annointment” of this group is telling. Who advocates this? Something like this formulation appears in Kautsky, although interestingly enough, this is not to glorify the declassed intelligentsia so much as account for the obviously advanced and leading role of Marx and Engels! Lenin briefly and reluctantly appropriates this formula in “What is to be Done?”, but it does not play a central role in his politics, nor in Leninist politics more broadly construed.”

        You address none of the substance of these remarks, but simply dig in behind your beloved cliches! Dictionary.com is not a reliable source on this topic, I’m afraid.

        “However, the argument that the rapid descent of Marxist Leninist governments into totalitarianism can be directly attributable to vanguardism, is not an exercise in “laziness” as put forward by Rosa Luxenburg.”

        I too was once hostage to this vulgarized Luxemburgism, until Ross set me straight. (cf. http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/measuring-the-depths/) Turns out when you read Luxemburg’s writings in context, she is actually a hard-headed Bolshevik, and only makes apparently damning criticisms of what you insist on calling “vanguardism” on the basis of false or limited information, in writings (such as the infamous “Russian Revolution” of 1918, which you quote) that she withheld from publication!

        You assume that I would dismiss Higgins, Harrington, and Graeber out of hand. I take offense at the insinuation. While I am not fan of any of these authors, I am more than happy to engage the content of their claims. I’m also happy to do so with you, but I will not if you refuse to reciprocate! And you have, as I will continue to demonstrate, decisively failed to do so. Nonetheless, I do appreciate your recourse to Luxemburg, however misguided, and to your other sources.

        “If this statement has nothing to do with the oppressed and the downtrodden, then who exactly is it referring to?”

        But nowhere do I say it has “nothing to do”! In fact, I say this: “[Marxism] recognizes and aims to promulgate recognition of the specific potentials of the (formerly) contemporary form of this atrocity [‘oppression’], namely those that seem to point toward the realization, and not mere idealization, of classless society.” This clearly has something VERY SIGNIFICANT TO DO with ‘the oppressed’! But it is not generic moralizing outrage, of the type you display. Of course it is a moral atrocity that people are allowed to be treated this way, but such recognition is not a distinctive trait of Marxism. In fact, Marxism’s point of departure is the recognition that such moralizing is a symptom of incapacity that, with the onset of the struggle of the proletariat, becomes a poisonous redundancy.

        “Maybe you think it must have its roots in bourgeois thinking. […] Perhaps you should go to them and explain as you have smugly done with me, that their hopes and ideals are “bourgeois conceits.”

        Again, evidence of your irresponsible reading! I say very plainly that I am using bourgeois not as a pejorative but as a technical term, one with which Marx was more than comfortable. Are you seriously suggesting that the roots of Marxism are NOT in bourgeois thinking? The roots of Marxism lie very clearly in BOURGEOIS political economy, BOURGEOIS revolutionary politics, and BOURGEOIS philosophy! THERE IS NO OTHER SOURCE OF MARXISM QUA THEORY THAN BOURGEOIS THINKING!

        If I were to tell an average worker that the ends of their struggles were bourgeois conceits, they’d probably have no fucking clue what I was talking about. On the off chance they were familiar with the now-antiquated pejorative sense of the term, they’d likely be both offended and confused. If, however, they were generous enough to allow me to explain the technical sense in which I used the term, there is no chance they would take it as offensive, because it simply is not. The ideals of bourgeois society are ultimately insufficient, but they are essential road-marks that must be passed in the struggle for socialism. I mean this is Marxism 101! And frankly, I’d regard any political demands that go significantly beyond such bourgeois conceits to be, given the current state of working class organization, unrealistic at best, delusional at worst.

        You, unfortunately, do not extend the same sort of generosity, and completely ignore my crucial qualification: “These ideals are still bourgeois conceits. I mean “bourgeois” not as an epithet, but a technical term; these ideals are bourgeois in the sense that they express in a self-conscious manner the fundamental forms of social relation whose rise to predominance marked the early-modern period, and which were decisively consolidated through their progressive political enshrinement in the bourgeois revolutions. The ideals in question are nothing but reflections of the bourgeois social form itself, its immanent standards and aspirations. There is nothing wrong with this of course, and I am not condemning such idealism among workers! But the valorization of these ideals only bespeaks the disaffection that necessarily befalls bourgeois subjectivity. There is nothing necessarily revolutionary about it.” [Of course, the phrasing here makes clear that I do not think it cannot be revolutionary; it obviously has been in the past, although what it would mean for it to become so again in the future is a complicated question.]

        If you want to respond, respond to what I actually say.

      • “ If you want to respond, respond to what I actually say.”
        I am not compelled to respond to anything you say. I get to decide what I will or will not respond to. There is much that I have said to which you never supplied a response. I don’t see your response to my statements as an entitlement.
        I will not attempt to respond to all the points you have made in your reply.
        However what you seem to be saying in your long-winded labored way is that the ideals of working people are the product of a bourgeois society. If that is what you mean, then I cannot disagree with you. To repeat the point, the ideals, dreams and aspirations of working people are products
        of capitalism. I couldn’t agree more. However if this your point, it is not a very remarkable one. The very existence of the working class is a product capitalism. Capitalism produces the very conditions of its own demise. It does this by creating internal contradictions (class conflict) as workers increasingly find their own interests run contrary to the capitalists. Seen through this lens then, one could make the case that the working class revolution resulting in the overthrow of capitalism is a product of
        capitalism itself. It is the inevitable outcome of the capitalist economy.
        But there is peril to this line of reasoning when we draw the conclusion that because working class ideals, dreams and aspirations are products of
        captitalism, they are therefore not expressions of working class interests or working class identification. It is the nature of capitalism to create class antagonisms. These are given expression in many different ways both by the capitalists and by the working class and they run in conflict to each
        other. To label organic working class expressions of class antagonism and identification as “bourgeois conceits” because they are products of a bourgeois society results in a failure to recognize their inherent revolutionary potential. This is true even when the vocabulary used by working class people to express these class antagonisms is essentially capitalist. For example, labor unions that bemoan the loss of “middle class” jobs are really expressing a class antagonism that has to do with economic equality. It is an organic driving force that runs counter to the interests of the capitalist to maintain a system based on the lowest wages possible. This is a distinctly working class concern and represents the center piece of the working class antagonism and working class conflict
        with the ruling capitalist class. The ideals expressed by labor unions about a prosperous society with a thriving middle class are distinctly working class in nature because the world they envision of economic “fairness”runs in direct conflict with the interests of the capitalists. To dismiss or ignore this as a “bourgeois conceit” is to deny the seed for the socialist transformation any water or light.

  6. “The very existence of the working class is a product capitalism. ”
    You really need to think before you blurt things out.

    • You apparently think the working class is derived from something other than capitalism. Perhaps (if you choose) you could explain to me where it comes from. Did it emerge out thin air? Did it exist prior to capitalism? If so, what are its origins? To Marx, the proletariat emerged out of capitalism because of the capitalists need for labor in order to produce commodities. No such laboring class existed prior to capitalism. This is Marxism 101. To Marx, labor in a capitalist economy is a commodity. Thus, it is another product that is bought and sold in the capitalist market place.

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