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Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Sigh.  This is just the sort of fruitless, heated debate I was trying to avoid.  Larry Hamlin writes:

About one thing I am quite sure. There will be no "revolution," if by that we mean something on the order of Russia or China. Any changes we make will have to be legislated, enacted, signed off on by a president, and all that. Therefore it seems to me we have no choice but to work with people we would normally view as enemies.

I think you are mistaken. And I think this is why people might be throwing Clinton in your face. I've heard this line since literally 1980 when Reagan was elected, and it has been used to excuse the Democratic party's 30 [year] assault on the working class. But you stand to lose nothing by abandoning the working class and focusing on the status, security, and prosperity of your own class, which the Democratic party surely will at least erode less quickly than the Republicans.

I wish you the best of luck, because technocratic neoliberal oppression is better than absolute authoritarian rule, but I want to be an actual socialist, so I can neither join you nor support you.”

First of all, could we please cease with the insults.  I mean, really, I am sure it makes you feel good for a moment to write that, but is it necessary?   Now tell me, how have I abandoned the working class?  Abandoned.  What a powerful, freighted, but meaningless word.  How on earth am I “focusing on the status, security, and prosperity of [my] own class?”  What I have said repeatedly is that because I am secure and well-off, I have an additional responsibility to take action for what you and I both believe.  Do I vote for candidates who propose to raise my taxes in order to help those less well off?  Yes.  Big deal, you will say.  But what exactly would you propose I actually do?  My guess is that if you can come up with something, I am already doing it.

So, you want to be an actual socialist.  Fine, so do I.  Tell me what you propose doing as an actual socialist.  My guess is that it will be something I am enthusiastically in support of.  Why am I in support of it?  Because as I have explained again and again, real social change requires the endless efforts of millions of people – some doing one thing for one reason, others doing another thing for another reason.  We need everybody, because we are not now, and I predict will not be, in one of those historical moments when a small group of people can change a large nation.  If that is not obvious, ask and I will explain why.

Now, of course, it may be that you, Larry Hamlin, have a mobilized, organized, cadre of ten or fifteen million committed activists ready to march at your command, in which case I will happily join you in whatever capacity you think will serve you best.  But if not, then just go and do whatever it is that you have decided to do, but DO IT.  I am not asking you to join me.  I don’t have an organization for you to join.  And I am not asking you to support me.   I am not running for anything.  About the most I am doing is inviting you to read this blog, if it interests you.


s. wallerstein said...

Actually, that's a decent working definition of a committed, authentic leftist: he or she will vote for someone who will raise their taxes for social spending.

All the rest is icing on the cake.

Tom Cathcart said...

I feel most people on this blog are now moving (maybe always have been) toward embracing whatever pragmatic steps there may be to resist Trump. These are not just left vs. right (economic) issues, though many of them are. There are also informed vs. ignorant issues (e.g., the math of keeping only the popular parts of the ACA), risky vs. cautious issues (related to warmongering or the use of nuclear weapons, as well as climate policy), dignified vs. buffoonish issues (which affect our credibility with our allies and those who wish us harm), civil rights and civil liberties issues. On many of these, it seems to me, it is not inconceivable that centrist Democrats and even the more statesmanlike Republicans (yes, maybe even McCain and Graham, not to mention Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake) may be helpful. Four of those five are Senators, and it doesn't take many Republican Senators to swing the vote.

Unless we think that revolution is an actual possibility in this political moment (in which case, let's see the evidence for that), the only hope for change is hard, sometimes compromising, slogging. To be dedicated to the Idea of Revolution isn't Marxist, it's Hegelian. Long before the so-called civil rights "revolution," there were many years when people like Bob stood alone outside places like the Cambridge Woolworth's, holding a sign protesting segregated lunch counters in the South. They could have waited for a civil rights revolution. They'd still be waiting.

levinebar said...

That Marx is wrong is--to me--an interesting statement. Marx attempted a scientific theory of history, susceptible to testing and falsification. His tenet that revolutionary change is the only real change is false. Thus, knowledge advances. That Hegel is wrong is trivial; he never enunciated a self-consistent theory that could be tested/falsified.
Gorod dangles the prospect that we might not have to wait for Congress to initiate impeachment. Trump will be in violation of our Constitution within months (if not within minutes) of swearing in:

in principal, any hotelier in D.C. who doesn't get to gouge his/her guests can demonstrate a harm from Trump, and may therefore be found to have standing to press a case.

Barry Haskell Levine (levinebar)

Chris said...

Levine, that's just not true. Marx:

"If Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation after the example of the Western European countries, and during the last years she has been taking a lot of trouble in this direction - she will not succeed without having first transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once taken to the bosom of the capitalist regime, she will experience its pitiless laws like other profane peoples. That is all. But that is not enough for my critic. He feels himself obliged to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the marche generale imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself, in order that it may ultimately arrive at the form of economy which will ensure, together with the greatest expansion of the productive powers of social labour, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. (He is both honouring and insulting me too much)…If one studies each of these [economic] developments by itself and then compares them with each other, one will easily find the key to each phenomenon, but one could never attain a universal key to a general historical-philosophical theory"

Marx, Karl. Letter to The Editor of the Peterburg literary-political journal. November. 1877. The Letters of Karl Marx. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1979. 3321-322.

Tom Cathcart said...

Clarification: This may be of interest to no one, but someone asked me off-line what I meant by the Idea of Revolution being Hegelian rather than Marxist, so in the unlikely event that anyone else is curious, here's what I meant. The notion of revolution as something that "unfolds" because it's in the zeitgeist is the sort of romantic notion that Marx reacted against. Real revolutions don't "unfold," at least in the beginning. Maybe eventually they're in the zeitgeist. But at the outset, they're characterized by struggle. It seems to me that Bob is asking us to join a struggle by doing the prosaic, frustrating, grunt-work of resistance in the hope that we can one day change the zeitgeist.

There was a joke that made the rounds when I was in college (and Bob was a young Instructor). Krushchev was in power in the Kremlin, and the Russians were very proud of their new subway system in Moscow, where the walls were covered with colorful mosaics. Russian officials are showing off the subway to an American visitor, who says, "It is truly beautiful! I am very impressed. I do have one question, if I may. We've been down here for a half hour and we haven't seen a train." The Russian says, "Yeah?? What about the racial tensions in Little Rock!!"

Sometimes some of our responses to Bob's call to action sound a bit like that to me. "Who are we to criticize foreign interference in our elections? What about our interference it [blank]??" Well, yeah, but let's deal with the one staring us in the face and atone later for our hypocrisy.