[OPE] Ivan Drury's review of 'The Path' in SV

From: <glevy@pratt.edu>
Date: Tue Apr 14 2009 - 01:00:12 EDT

April 12, 2009

21st Century Socialism on the Move --
Reflections on 'The Path for
Human Development' http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=379

*By Ivan Drury. *Within an otherwise bleak reality of capitalist
Mike Lebowitz has provided us with an eloquent restatement
of the case
for socialism -- /The Path for Human Development:
Capitalism or
Socialism?/ This short text is now circulating widely
in Venezuela, in
Spanish, as a pocket-sized pamphlet, has been
published in /Monthly
Review,/ and is about to be published in
Canada in pamphlet format by
Socialist Project.

This is
not the first text Lebowitz has published on the need to argue,
fight for, and build socialism. The Path was written on the foundation

of Lebowitz's 2004 book/ Build It Now!/ Both works were written with
Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela in mind. This is no accident.

Lebowitz, a professor from Canada, has been living in Venezuela for

years and has been an active participant in the Bolivarian
The imprint of that revolutionary process is strongly
stamped on this
short work.

/The Path/ argues that:

1. Full development of creative human potential is the goal of
for human beings.
2. This full development is impossible
under capitalism.
3. Socialism -- protagonist democracy in the
economy and all aspects
of social life -- is the path to human

*Path breaking: a return to a socialist

In the minds of many workers and anti-capitalist
activists, the positive
attributes of the socialist goal are
obscured by the monsters of 20th
century bureaucratic states. The
general points raised by /The Path/
stand as corrections to this
legacy of Stalinist horrors. Such states
that claimed the mantle of
communism have nothing in common with
Lebowitz's "development
of human potential."

/The Path/ states, "Our goal
cannot be a society in which some people
are able to develop their
capacities and others are not: we are
interdependent, we are all
members of a human family. The full
development of all human
potential is our goal." This recalls the
manuscripts of the
young Marx, where he sketches the blocks capitalism
puts up against
the free development of the creative, "sensuous" life of
people. Lebowitz returns this theme in asking, "What do we all
and answers "To be all that we can be."

>From decades of defense and retreat, in which socialism has
defined by excuse or apology for Stalinist crimes, /The Path/
yes, a path. It is a return to the offensive -- defining the
terrain of 21st Century Socialism.

*Internationalism at the heart of The Path.*

There are no We
workers and Those workers in The Path. "The struggle
capitalists and workers (...) revolves around a struggle over
degree of separation among workers," Lebowitz points out. "The

premise is not at all that we have the individual right to consume

things without limit but, rather, that we recognize the centrality
'the worker's own need for development.' "

at the same time, "As a human being in human society, you also have

the obligation to other members of this human family to make certain

that they also have this opportunity, that they too can develop
potential." /The Path/ does not draw any national borders
around this
human question.

For revolutionaries in
imperialist countries this must sound loudly. At
a time of great
capitalist crisis and especially given the
organizational and
public-political weakness of the left, there is a
great danger that
the angers of many workers be directed at constructed
immigrants, racialized people, and particularly at people
as Islamic. /The Path/ proposes "human society," the "human

family" -- in other words, internationalism -- as the axis of
It demands equal access by all to everything each needs
for their
personal development.

*A direct appeal to
workers in imperialist countries*

/The Path/'s rejection of a
purely economic measure of standards of
living is especially
prescient. In the larger context of universal human
development, he
argues, money is not the point. This does not cancel out
important and constant struggles for improvements in the economic
sphere, but reminds us that these struggles are part of a bigger
>From that point of view, "Whether workers wages are
high or low
is not the issue any more than whether the rations of
slaves are high or

Lebowitz argues that the
working class has in common -- regardless of
wage levels -- a
spiritual poverty based in alienation from the fruits
of their
labour. He sees consumerism -- even and perhaps especially for
workers who make "good money" -- as substitution for meaning,
within an
alienated condition: "We try to fill the vacuum of
our lives with the
things we are driven to consume."

So, on top of its internationalist appeal, /The Path/ challenges the
"well-paid" worker to reexamine what we really want from life
ourselves and those we love. and whether capitalism will allow
desires. For those revolutionary activists (like me) who
vacillate daily
on the question of whether the
imperialist/colonialist country working
class has revolutionary
potential, this challenge is encouragement not
to lose hope amongst
the details.

*The vicious circle of capital*

Lebowitz points out the difficulty of advancing revolutionary ideas --

even within capitalist crisis. But where Jim Stanford, Canadian
Union of
Auto Workers economist, reaches for a neo-Keynesian outlook
out of
hesitations with socialism (see www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=367

<http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=367>^1 ), Lebowitz maintains
that such
difficulty is precisely why revolutionary ideas must be
sown through
practice. "No crisis necessarily leads people to
question the system
itself. People struggle against specific aspects
of capitalism ... but
unless they understand the nature of the
system, they struggle merely
for a nicer capitalism, a capitalism
with a human face."

He outlines what he calls the
"vicious circle of capitalism" where
people without are
compelled to sell their labour power to fulfill their
material needs
of survival. Then, having consumed, they are compelled
anew to
"produce for capital's goals." These "phases are
you cannot change one without changing them

*The virtuous circle of socialism*

Against the "vicious circle" of capitalism, Lebowitz advocates
what he
calls the "virtuous circle" of socialism. Here his
points may be less
familiar to anti-capitalists and workers
skeptical regarding socialism.

Lebowitz's ideas begin with the
concept of human development, are worked
out through understanding
the inhuman laws of capitalism, defined
through working out its
opposite, and developed by returning again to
his premise of human
development. Lebowitz outlines how socialism can
and must
accommodate all levels of human need -- not just the material.
Path sees material security as the precondition for universal
spiritual, cultural, creative development.

/The Path/
outlines the "virtuous circle" of socialism: "We begin with

producers who live within a society characterized by
solidarity" who
"enter into an association in order to
produce for the needs of society
and in this process develop and
expand their capacities as rich human
beings. Thus the product of
their activity is producers who recognize
their unity and their need
for each other."

*Protagonism, the state, and socialist

Lebowitz paints a vivid and living picture of the
formation of a
post-capitalist society in utero, through Venezuela's
cooperatives and other base organizations. He poses these
organizations as the foundations upon which
post-capitalist society will
be constructed.

He argues
for the Venezuelan concept of "protagonism." By creating mass

organizations (in workplaces and in the neighborhoods) people can
control over the direction of their lives and satisfaction of
desires. Protagonism is a path to and, at the same time, the
definition of a revolutionary democracy which can only be
born of practice.

This is an important imaging. It is critical
that we conceptualize and
live the revolutionary process as a great
organism and not as a vanguard
atop a complacent mass. /The Path/
asks and answers the question of why
we should fight for socialism,
but it is important to note some
questions it leaves hanging.

*Capitalist protagonism*

If workers and other
oppressed people are not protagonist today -- in
capitalist society
-- then who is? Workers' protagonism (by "workers" I
all working and oppressed peoples, to include Indigenous people,
poor unemployed people, farmers, unofficial workers, etc.) can only be

built through overturning protagonism as we know it -- capitalist

protagonism. /The Path/ does not fully deal with capitalist
or what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony, but many times
Lebowitz points
in this direction.

protagonism is embodied in the state. Lebowitz points out
"capital creates the state it needs." While Lebowitz talks about

economic regulation and ongoing "primitive accumulation"
or capitalist
expropriation, it is also possible to extract a
broader generalization.
The state includes the government and all
its national and international
institutions. Through these
protagonist bodies, the state is joined arm
in sleeve with capital.

Whether the mass deregulation and privatization of neo-liberal
or mass bailouts of crisis-hobbled banks, auto companies and
firms, the state carries out these demands of capital. And
when Chilean
President Salvador Allende (to pick an example not so
far from
Venezuela), threatened the protagonism of capital within
the government
itself, another branch of the state -- the army
generals -- smashed him
and the Chilean socialist movement with
terrible violence and murder.

The Venezuelan experience proves
that it is possible for class struggle
to be carried out within the
halls of capitalist protagonism. But it
also shows the limits of the
possible within a capitalist state
apparatus. What we see at play in
Venezuela is a constant battle between
opposing protagonisms -- the
capitalist and the workers -- in open
struggle for power. This
struggle must end with workers extending
workers' protaganist
democracy to all aspects of life and all fields of
production by
depriving the capitalist class of the state, what Lebowitz
"capital's ultimate weapon." Lebowitz does not deal with this

directly, but he does point out that capital "never stops
trying to
undermine any gains that workers have made either through
their direct
economic actions or through political activity."

As Marx and Engels outlined it in the /Communist Manifesto/:
"The first
step in the revolution by the working class is to
raise the proletariat
to the position of ruling class, to win the
battle of democracy."
Anything less than abolishment of the
capitalist state leaves the
capitalist class a ready weapon for
counter-revolution, and leaves
working people the prospect of losing
at any moment all gains fought for
and won.

*The Path as
weapon against capitalist barbarism*

In the introduction to
/The Path/, Mike Lebowitz explains that he
intended it as a weapon
"in the struggle against barbarism." But a
weapon is only
effective if used. The Path is written to be studied in
groups, and
it deserves such attention -- both from seasoned veterans of
socialist and anti-capitalist movements and from people who have
never read a Marxist essay or been to a demonstration before. The Path

educates and challenges in its reasoned appeals to revolutionary

The publication of /The Path/ can be important for
the regeneration of
the international socialist movement. Today
workers all over the world
are afraid and wondering what will become
of them and why. /The Path/
not only poses answers to the questions
of why, but imagines how life
could be different, how a better world
is possible and what it might
look like. It could not have been
published at a more critical time.

/The Path for Human
Development/ has been published online by /Monthly
Review/ at http://monthlyreview.org/090223lebowitz.php

<http://monthlyreview.org/090223lebowitz.php>^2 and by
Socialist Project
at http://www.socialistproject.ca/upload/lebowitz.pdf^3

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