[OPE-L] It takes two to tango

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Wed May 18 2005 - 08:20:09 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "M. Junaid Alam" <alam@lefthook.org>
To: <Gerald_A_Levy@msn.com>
Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 12:23 AM
Subject: Re: It takes two to tango

[Quick response to your second e-mail: I *did* send your original
comments on the Marxism List, below my replies to them. I already told
you in advance I was sending this to other lists. Furthermore, why
should I be mistaken to "assume" - as you did of me vis-a-vis OPE-L,
that you would naturally check in on the Marxism List? Indeed, it is a
far more valid assumption, since it has about 20 times more members than
 OPE-L, and  unlike OPE-L, anyone can subscribe there to respond.]

 "As for responding to the argument in your post, that seemed to me to be
 in order since you identified there what your "main beef" with John was."

 The answer to that one is simple -  I was not writing a piece titled,
 "My main beef with Holloway", which would have been random and out of
 nowhere. I wrote in *response* to his piece, which did not broach the
 subject of the USSR or social democracy in any specific way. There was
 no space to simply tack on what I happened to dislike about Holloway in
 my piece, since I'd already dedicated ten pages to responding to what he
 actually said in the Z piece. No one reads lengthy exegeses on the
 internet and to take up the whole history of Stalinism and social
 democracy out of nowhere in a piece responding directly to his article
 would have been voluminous as well as strange.

 Even then, on the list-serv, all I did was briefly ennumerate a few
 points from which you drew long yarns and started lecturing about
 various historical things. Worse than this, however, is the simple fact
 that by grasping onto this one list-serv sentence, you carve out an
 excuse for yourself to ignore my *actual* critique. You have almost
 nothing to say on Venezuela here, and totally nothing to say in defense
 of the theoretical excuses employed to avoid state struggle, and also
 absolutely nothing to say about Holloway's simplistic view of what
 refusal means in a modern capitalist economy - the three main components
 of my critique.

 Not that this means I am afraid to engage on the subject of the "main
 beef." Hardly. In fact, please forward this e-mail to your list as a
 direct response to what you originally wrote in criticism of my
 list-serv points.

 I must be at least half your age, but even I know that no serious left
 historian (mis)characterizes history in the extremely facile Holloway
 does, and which you agree with - that "all history of state-centered
 struggle is the history of betrayal." Betrayal is a melodramatic and
 moralistic term that does nothing to explain material conditions,
 systemic patterns, or the balance sheet of forces in a conflict. In a
 sense, every struggle is betrayed; the point is only how far you are
 able to carry things forward and how well you are able to limit the
 betrayal such that in the end a net advance is achieved.

 Therefore your dismissal of the New Deal, for instance, appears very
 silly, as if one becomes more revolutionary by holding one's nose and
 declaring it "liberal". It certainly represented a concrete advance
 compared to the past. This kind of snobbish attitude, one of being "so
 revolutionary" that really-existing struggle to achieve change appears
 inadequate to the lofy intellectual, is the crux of Holloway's attitude
 and also the most wretched part of his whole outlook.

 In my opinion, the actual classes involved in any conflict have a
 slightly sharper view of the importance of influencing and/or winning
 state power than any erudite academic. If the New Deal was nothing but
 wasteful "betrayal", for instance, it's quite interesting then that most
 of the capitalist class, including all the newspapers, vehemently
 blasted FDR at the time for "betraying capitalism," and that FDR was
 adopting in large part the program of the CPUSA. It's even more
 interesting that the ultra-reactionary Bush clique has now set its
 targeting reticule first and foremost on rolling back New Deal gains.
 According to your and Holloway's logic, none of this  - social security,
 pensions, health care - really matters since it's all just "betrayal"
 one way or the other.

 Frankly I think that one would have to be totally blind to take the
 Holloway position very seriously at this point. As if to slap his thesis
 in the face, recent history delivered us the recent debacle over Lopez
 Obrador in Mexico. Here half-a-million Mexicans showed up on the streets
 to denounce the right-wing political-judicial  (ie. state-directed)
 farce aimed at disqualifying him from the elections. Does Holloway know
 something these 500,000 Mexicans workers do not? Does he know something
 Vincente Fox does not? The question answers itself.

 Above all, let us recall the exact issue for which Obrador was
 supposedly being punished - building a road to a public hospital on
 privately-owned land. No number of Zapatistas or NGOs or "refusals" is
 either going to build hospitals or defeat the state power the ruling
 class wields in order to prevent the building of such hospitals. That is
 an historical fact and a political reality.

 Let us speak honestly. The ritualistic denunciations of heirarchy,
 parties, and power now in vogue never were the products of any precious
 insight. They were merely the logical outcome of adopting a facile
 syllogism that has allowed radicals to feel and seem more "respectable"
 in the public: "Stalin = bad; Stalin = state leader/guy with power;
 therefore, state leadership/taking power = bad."  This formula, while
 politically convenient in distancing oneself from Stalinism, also
 disguises untidy questions about pesky Marxist things like material
 conditions and economic isolation causing conditions in which only a
 Stalin could surface to the top.

 Adoption of this view resulted in the extreme notion that the only way
 forward must therefore be rabidly "anti-everything associated with
 Soviet socialism" - including political parties, programs, and taking
 state power. The resulting ideological blinders means not only that
 people start doing stupid things like throwing rocks at Starbucks
 windows, but moreover,  that when someone like Chavez  wins several
 democratic elections, there is still a paranoid sentiment that somehow
 he is going to introduce gulags or is a "strongman" with "autocratic
 tendencies" because he is a leftist and a leader. Pathetically, in
 adopting the bourgeois explanatons about why socialism failed in the
 past in order to avoid tough questions, some of us have now become our
 own red-baiters, and anti-ourselves.

 We have gotten so used to losing, we have elevated losing, elevated
 impotence, to the level of glory, and lost the very meaning of victory.

 The time for cowering meekly in the shadows of cynicism and defeatism as
 a result of the failure of the Soviet experiment has come to an end. It
 is anti-historical and anti-Marxist. No purpose is served by cop-out
 explanations that place blame on all past failure ritualistically on
 "authoritarianism" or holding state power, when in reality specific
 economic backwardness and political encirclement encouraged
 authoritarianism and crushed the potential for positive uses of power in
 the past. To hold the absolutist Holloway view about taking power is
 like saying a lake is no good for fishing simply because you went there
 in the winter and you couldn't fish. The winter of the Soviet period is
 over, and new historical seasons bring new opportunities. All some of us
 need to do now is un-freeze our brains.


> Gerald_A_Levy@msn.com wrote:
> Junaid:
> I didn't send you a copy of my post because I thought you'd
> read it yourself the next day -- since I assumed you were reading
> the OPE-L archives where the Holloway-Lebowitz  exchange
> has been ongoing.
> As for responding to the argument in your post, that seemed to
> me to be in order since you identified there what your "main
> beef" with John was.  Why reply to what you wrote in the essay
> when in it clear from what you wrote elsewhere that  your "main
> beef" concerned issues that were not addressed in your essay?
> If you are disappointed,  I regret that.  I can only say that I am
> disappointed that you did not tell the readers of your essay what
> your "main beef" was.  That was really not fair to them.
> Jerry
> PS:  in addition to OPE-L, I sent my post to aut-op-sy and
> Globolist, a small yahoo group.  When I get a copy of the
> digest from aut-op-sy then I will send a post which contains your
> 2 replies and my 2 replies to OPE-L and Globolist.
> >>I was most surprised and disappointed to see that you've been conducting
> >>a kind of hide-and-seek "attack" on my politics vis. the Holloway
> >>debate, sending out comments to lists without even (a) having the
> >>courtesy to tell me so that I might respond, and moreover, (b) basing
> >>your comments *not* on the actual article in which my ideas are
> >>presented, but rather on a couple sentences written in passing on a
> >>discussion list which you tore out of context and proportion. That is
> >>really quite bizarre and inexcusable.
> >>Thankfully I was informed of this debacle and have written on these
> >>lists about this basic flaw of your argument, or rather non-argument as
> >>it were, since it is not even based on anything I've formally presented,
> >>and I and will continue to do so elsewhere.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri May 20 2005 - 00:00:01 EDT