[OPE-L] response to John Holloway

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Sun May 15 2005 - 09:24:56 EDT

Dear John,
             My apologies for the delay in responding--- a very 
recalcitrant chapter is the principal reason (although intermittent 
problems with my internet connection have contributed, and I don’t know how 
quickly this will post).
             Thank you for the response and the attachment. You sound like 
a nice person, and I look forward to a direct discussion--- although, if 
your visit is in November (as I recall someone mentioning), we may miss 
each other because I’ll be in Europe in the early part of the month.
             I think we agree on the ultimate goal. The question, of 
course, is how to get there. And, here, we disagree profoundly (as you know 
from my Historical Materialism critique)--- not only on the specific means 
(such as the need for a political instrument  and the role of the state) 
but also on what I describe as your ‘No to Marx,’ your reversion to 
Hegelian Idealism, and your premise of the fragility of capitalism.
             But, there is another criticism that runs through my 
discussion: despite all the statements in your book about how no one, no 
thinkers, no leaders, etc have any privileged understanding of history, of 
struggles, etc, I find your book incredibly dogmatic. As I said at one 
point in my comment, ‘Holloway, who screams his rejection of the “Knower” 
as vanguardist, does not hesitate to instruct real people on the correct 
struggles and to explain why some struggles contribute to dividing the 
working class.’
             Accordingly, I find the statement in your response that ‘it 
makes no sense at all to assert dogmas as though we possessed the correct 
line’ as rather disingenuous (to say the least). What are the following 
statements that I quoted from your book if they are not dogmatic statements 
of the correct line?

>‘the very notion that society can be changed through the winning of state 
>power’ is the source of all our sense of betrayal, and we need to 
>understand that ‘to struggle through the state is to become involved in 
>the active process of defeating yourself’ (12-3, 214)
>  To retain the idea that you can change the world through the state 
> (whether by winning elections or by revolution) is a grave error--- one 
> which has failed to learn from history and theory that the state 
> paradigm, rather than being ‘the vehicle of hope’, is the ‘assassin of 
> hope’ (12). For one, the state does not have the power to challenge 
> capital: ‘what the state does and can do is limited by the need to 
> maintain the system of capitalist organisation of which it is a part.’ It 
> is ‘just one node in a web of social relations’ (13).

             There are many more such assertions (such as a rejection of 
armed struggle and national liberation movements), of course, which are all 
part of your argument against seeking power to destroy (fragile) 
capitalism--- an argument that I find not only dogmatic but wrong.
             Obviously, we can’t (and shouldn’t) debate here all the 
specific points I raised in my critique (and to which I hope you have 
responded in Historical Materialism with specifics rather than vague 
restatements of your position). I cited the statements above, though, after 
what I considered (in the light of your book) your quite undogmatic but 
vague response to Paul Zarembka’s question about your view of the 
Bolivarian Revolution. Here, I think, is an excellent opportunity to move 
away from vague generalizations about the state to a concrete application.
             After all, it is no secret that the state has played a central 
role in the struggle against the old order in Venezuela. Not precisely the 
same state, though. Because the constitutional assembly began by changing 
ground rules--- writing a new constitution which decentralises power to 
communities, local planning committees, and commits the state to foster 
self-management and co-management and cooperatives in state bodies and 
society as a whole. Not the same state--- because the clientalistic and 
corrupt state of the Fourth Republic thwarted the efforts to transform the 
society, and so the government found it necessary to create Mission after 
Mission, a parallel state, to move forward. As the current foreign minister 
said last year around this time, we have a revolutionary government but we 
don’t have a revolutionary state. It is what they are trying to do now­to 
change the state, to coordinate these missions within new ministries, to 
foster popular participation in planning at municipal and parish level, to 
introduce worker-management in state firms and to expand it into the 
private sector, to create a state of the Paris Commune-type (the kind that 
Marx advocated).
             But, you would say, I infer--- that’s the mistake, talking 
about a revolutionary state! How can there be a revolutionary state? The 
state is ‘the assassin of hope’: ‘to struggle through the state is to 
become involved in the active process of defeating yourself’. Since the 
state, after all, is a form of capital, you can not use it against capital.
             So, would you have opposed the very idea of a new constitution 
in Venezuela because it reinforces illusions about 'the state paradigm'? 
Would you have opposed the decentralising aspects of that constitution 
because the state is the state is the state--- i.e., the state by any other 
name is still capital? Would you reject the idea of attempting to make 
inroads (especially the ‘despotic inroads’ referred to in the Communist 
Manifesto) because ‘the state (any state) must do everything it can to 
provide conditions that favour the profitability of capital’ [your 
attachment]? Finally, would you reject the idea of using the power of the 
Bolivarian state against capital because what is needed is not power but 
             I suggest to you that you cannot be consistent with your book 
and not be an opponent of the Bolivarian Revolution. I hope, of course, 
that you are not an opponent--- despite the fact that it has departed so 
significantly from your perspective. That is why I asked, do you stand 
behind the arguments in your book?
             Finally, let me say that I agree with you that your book is 
not responsible for the trend in Latin America and elsewhere to ‘turn away 
from the idea of taking state power’. As I suggested in my critique, this 
is ‘the stuff… of a period of defeat.’ What your book has done, however, is 
to provide theoretical support for this trend and thereby to help spread 
its influence. Since I regard this trend as destructive of any chance of 
destroying capitalist power and building a new society, you will understand 
that I consider it necessary to struggle vigorously against your arguments 
in the battle of ideas.
             Of course, there are many problems in Venezuela. Some because 
of the very magnitude of what must be done. Others, I would say, because a 
state of a new type and a party of a new type have yet to come together. 
Since there is so much to see here and learn from, I am glad that you will 
be coming here to see the hope that this revolution has produced in so many 
people. (I certainly have learned much.) I only wish you were coming not 
for the purpose of discussing your book in a week-long seminar but to 
listen and learn for a longer period. The Bolivarian revolution could use a 
champion with your obvious skills.

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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