[OPE-L:8426] Re: Socialism for Idiots

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue Feb 04 2003 - 09:11:40 EST

Re Chris's [8425]:

> The change was relatively recent. Marx (in the CM?) refers to rural
> idiocy.  There was a discussion once about this (Draper? Carver?)
> when it was argued
> Marx had in mind not stupidity but the separation of those in rural
> isolation from what was going on in the world. I assume the city dwellers
> introduced the prejudicial use.

Thanks for the reply.

Comments in reverse order of importance --

1) Whether Marx (and Engels and contemporary socialists) used
'idiot' in the classical sense rather than the 'modern' pejorative sense
is not clear to me.  A search at www.marxists.org under "idiot" of
the works of M&E is not conclusive but does seem to suggest that
'idiot' was used -- at least in part -- as a pejorative.

2) It is still unclear to me when, where, and under what circumstances this
inversion in meaning of 'idiot' took place.   'Idiot'  has clearly been used
in a negative connotation for a considerable period of time: e.g.

"Why on earth should a man, because he is a Marxist, be a driveling
idiot?"  from Boris Pasternak's _Doctor Zhivago_

3) Returning to the topic of 'socialism':

a) Revolutionaries are typically (and one might add, intrinsically)
critical,  independent,  individuals who think for themselves. In other
words,  they are 'idiots' in the classical sense.

Yet, in a Bonapartist reaction, 'idiots' represent a threat to the new
order.   Hence, repression.   [The purges under Stalin might be seen as a
'cleansing'  of 'idiots' from the Bolshevik party.] This raises a larger
question: how can a Bonapartist reaction be averted?  It seems to me that
the culture of  'idiocy' (exemplified by critical, independent thought) must
be extended  into the entire working class movement as a safeguard
against a conservative post-revolutionary reaction.  Yet, this is no small

b) one might also argue that for a socialist democracy and workers' control
to really work presumes that workers themselves are 'idiots' in the
classical sense.  Yet, bourgeois culture and institutions have stressed
conformism and respect for authoritarian structures, including 'leaders',
as a virtue.  So, how is this historical transition then brought about
whereby workers develop into 'idiots' who are essentially critical and
independent  individuals who have the confidence to make the decisions
themselves about future society and thereby overcome the indoctrination
of bourgeois culture rather than simply follow the leadership of others --
no matter how 'revolutionary' those 'leaders' claim to be?

Solidarity, Jerry

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