Date: Fri Mar 09 2007 - 09:47:25 EST
<http://www.socialistvoice.ca/Review/Lebowitz.htm> > >IN REVIEW > >Michael A. Lebowitz. Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First >Century. Monthly Review Press. New York, 2006. 127 pages > >Reviewed by James Haywood > >This book consists of several talks and essays written by Michael >Lebowitz during 2004 and 2005, years in which he participated >first-hand in the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. Since its release, >his new book has had a significant impact in Venezuela, and was >recently featured by President Hugo Chavez in his regular television >show "Alo Presidente!" > >Lebowitz's book aims to flesh out the concept of 21st Century >socialism made famous by Chavez and the Bolivarians counterposing >it to both Stalinism and social democracy. > >This book should have a place in every socialist's collection. It >relates basic conceptions of Marxism to the Venezuelan process today. >However, a failure to look at the experience of Soviet Russia in >Lenin's time and the Cuban revolution make this book, at times, >somewhat abstract. >Marxism is a political act > >The book starts with an outstanding introduction to basic Marxist >theory. Lebowitz stresses that Marx "wrote Capital as a political act, >as part of his revolutionary project." (page 29) In other words >Marxism does not view the world through a set agenda of formulas. >Marxism is about using and developing theories in response to reality. > >Lebowitz goes on to explore the main ideologies justifying capitalism, >specifically neoclassical economics and theories associated with the >British economist J.M. Keynes. His discussion of Keynesianism is of >greater interest because of its influence in the workers' movement. In >brief, its basic concept is that "workers could gain without capital >losing." (page 35) Both approaches are essentially alike, Lebowitz >says: they propose different mechanisms for the government to "support >capital's requirements" in order to "make capital happy to invest." >(page 37) The labour movement needs a true alternative, Lebowitz says, >based on stimulating "the solidarity that comes from an emphasis upon >the interests of the community rather than self-interest." (page 42) > >Lebowitz convincingly describes how such a policy, carried out by a >government with mass support, could create "non-capitalist sectors" in >the economy (e.g. state-run enterprises) which could defend such a >government against a "capital strike" by the bosses — a clear >reference to the Venezuelan experience. > >In Lebowitz's view, Third World countries like Venezuela can achieve >"endogenous development" — which serves the interests of the >population, not imperialism — "but only if a government is prepared to >break ideologically and politically with capital, only if it is >prepared to make social movements actors in the realization of an >economic theory based upon the concept of human capacities." (page 42) >Alternatives? > >Lebowitz claims that the biggest obstacle to socialism is "TINA" >(There Is No Alternative), i.e. the idea pounded into the mentality of >workers and exploited in Latin America is there is nothing worth >fighting for. But surely Cuba is on their doorstep as a living >example? Unfortunately there is no mention of Cuba at all. > >Lebowitz does well to refute the anti-statist conception that all >governments are necessarily repressive, using Venezuela as an example. > >He also attacks the Stalinist model, represented above all by the >Soviet Union. Interestingly, rather than attack the undemocratic >political system, he criticizes the Soviet Union from a different >angle: > >"The Soviet Union took the form of immense factories, mills and >collective farms.… We must acknowledge that small enterprises may both >permit greater democratic control from below (thus developing the >capacities of the producers) and might better preserve an environment >that can serve the needs of the people." (page 71-72) > >More fundamentally, he warns, "socialism cannot be achieved from above >through the efforts and tutelage of a vanguard that seizes all >initiatives and distrusts the self-development of the masses." (page >72) Surely this bold statement is aimed against not only Stalinism but >elements within Chavez's own movement who consider themselves above >and beyond the masses. >The Yugoslav Experience > >Another section of the book, entitled "Seven Difficult Questions," >poses tasks for the Venezuelan movement for workers' control by >discussing the Yugoslav experience of "self-management." Lebowitz >provides detailed information on an experience not often discussed >within the left, taking up problems such as factory competition, >managerial responsibilities, and the politicization of workers. > >Among his fresh and challenging questions: "What responsibility do >workers in self-managed enterprises have for the unemployed and the >excluded? Who is responsible for creating jobs?" (page 79) > >Still, he appears to evade the central problem: Yugoslavia was ruled >by a privileged bureaucracy, in the Stalinist mode, which >depoliticized its working class. > >Lebowitz does well to point to the fact that self-management in and of >itself is not socialist. The final question, which takes this up, is >called, "How can solidarity between worker-managed enterprises and >society as a whole be incorporated directly into those enterprises?" >(page 83) Small worker-managed factories can and have existed under >capitalism, he points out. What makes the character of this socialist >is how production is intertwined with the needs of society: is the >enterprise running to make a profit or as part of a planned economy to >meet people's needs? > >In Yugoslavia, he says, the "focus was on self-interest rather than >the interests of the working class as a whole." (page 84) >Venezuela Today > >Lebowitz's book comes alive when he takes up the Venezuelan revolution >today. He provides a brief but effective account of how the Bolivarian >movement led by Hugo Chávez evolved from his early days in power as >a champion of a capitalist "third way," through the right-wing >lock-out and coup attempts, where he saw the power of independent >mobilizations by working people. > >The insights are fresh and compelling, reflecting Lebowitz's >experience as a socialist living in Venezuela, deeply imbedded in its >revolutionary process. > >He stresses that "the traditional organized working class [has been] >less of an actor in this revolution" than the poor in the >neighbourhoods. (page 102) But this changed — to some extent — after >the lockout and the formation of a militant union federation (the >UNT). Examples are given of workers taking over abandoned or >capital-starved factories and managing the workplaces themselves. > >Lebowitz warns that "there is nothing inevitable about whether the >Bolivarian Revolution will succeed in building that new society or >whether it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist >characteristics. Only struggle will determine this." (page 116) > >And the greatest barrier in this struggle comes, he says, from "people >wearing the red shirt who are opposed to the revolution." The greatest >threat comes "from within the Bolivarian Revolution itself." (page >115) > >Lebowitz also argues that "the Bolivarian Revolution has also put >Marxism back on the agenda." This is certainly true, but the book >would have been strengthened by considering the relationship of the >Venezuelan movement to Cuba, which boldly put Marxism on the agenda 46 >years ago. This relationship has found expression both on the plane of >ideas and materially, through the tens of thousands of Cuban medical >and other experts serving in Venezuela. > >The book closes by touching on Che Guevara, For Che recognized "that >it is necessary to act vigorously to eliminate the categories of the >old society, particularly the lever of material interest, and to build >the new human being." Lebowitz says that "Che's Marxism is embodied in >the Bolivarian revolution." (pages 117-18) > >Lebowitz's book is far from clear on how this is to be done. >Paraphrasing Marx, he says "the idea of human society is sufficient to >defeat the idea of barbarism." (page 52) and calls for "governments >who "reject the logic of capital." He avoids reflection on previous >revolutionary experiences in Russia, Cuba, and elsewhere. If this >sounds a bit vague, it may reflect the evolution of the Venezuelan >process itself. Recent speeches by Chávez have been more specific on >the need to build a new state apparatus based on the masses (see >Socialist Voice #108) > >But the book has an overriding merit. It explains why we are fighting >capitalism. Do we just want an end to war and better wages? Lebowitz >argues that our goal is nothing less than the full development of >human potential, something capitalism just cannot achieve. Lebowitz's >socialism is one that rejects social democracy and Stalinism; it is a >socialism based on workers' democracy. The task now is to build >parties and movements that can make this idea a reality.
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