[OPE-L:1594] Talking to the workers about wages and socialism

Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 19:53:46 +0100

Hi Jerry

In regard to a previous point about "talking to the workers" and
subjectivity, I did think about it some more. What I have to say has
nothing to do directly with the academic issues we were discussing
concerning Marx, but it helps explain my point of view. I'll make some
simple points which are easy to understand, and avoid any academic language.

Basically I am personally not really in a position to "talk to the workers"
about the determination of wages, because they generally know more about it
than I do. And wages are a complicated issue in Holland. More generally, I
am not in a position to talk about socialism much, because I am in a
relatively weak position at the moment, and I have to look after myself
better (I'm down to 79 kilos with clothes on, and I am 1.94m which is about
6'2"). It's not so bad as workers in a lot of countries I could name, but I
have a responsibility to live as well as I can; a human being has his own
ethnic "base and superstructure".

If I start to talk about socialism to the wrong people, they are in Holland
at least, liable to look at my life, and say "hell we don't want this". And
I wouldn't blame them. If socialism is not based on successful lives, lives
of positive achievement, you might as well forget it. You might say this
and that about Dutch workers, for example that they are relatively
conservative and so on, but basically they have a lot of integrity, and
they aren't so easily fooled by some guy who is talking about an "ism",
whether left or right.

Apart from revolutionary criticism, which as Mike Williams correctly said
has its own justification (intolerable conditions need to be highlighted
and talked about), talking socialism today for me means above all talking
about positive alternatives. And not just talking about it, but showing it,
offering it in practice. (For me there is incidentally no Chinese wall
between action for reforms and revolutionary action, although a
revolutionary has to tackle reforms in a specific way to avoid reformism).
(If you want a literary reference, you could try a critical reading of
Ernest Mandel, "The current situation and the future of socialism" in the
journal Socialism of the Future, edited by Tom Bottomore. Vol 1 No. 1,
1992, pp. 50-62.
Mandel is the author I am working on at the moment off and on, I'm trying
to get a list of his writings together for personal reasons but also in the
interests of good objective judgement).

I could even go so far as to say that in Holland there will never be a
socialist society (or a socialist revolution) unless (1) we have formed a
clear positive idea of what socialist society realistically involves
beforehand, at least in outline, or (2) the socialist movement here is
forced to implement it due to pressure from other countries. I am avoiding
longwinded disputations, I think it's fact.

By contrast, the neo-liberal politicians have it easy. They just want to
smash things, abolish public services, let everybody look after themselves
as long as private property stays intact and profits grow. They don't need
to offer any constructive alternative beyond verbiage, just abstract
"market forces" as a blind dogma and private property as an absolute good.
 I learnt all about it in New Zealand already, where consultants earnt
fortunes assisting the government in its destructive activity (which put a
lot of workers out of jobs and homes). There, the trade unions were
effectively smashed in the "quiet revolution" because they didn't fight
back in time, which I believe they could have. I would hate to have that
happen here. A mass of people in New Zealand are effectively condemned to
servile lives at a low living standard. It's still a lot better there than
in many other countries, but you have to ask given the international spiral
of the crisis of capitalist relations which Mandel explains in his book La
Crise, "how low can we/do we want to go ?".

In my time I have picked quite a few fights I couldn't win. And I learnt
that was stupid. You cannot engage in socialist politics on the basis of
stupidity and ignorance. So I am not recommending that to the working
class here in Holland. I am recommending only that they pick fights that
they can win, bearing in mind the unity of the working class, and not for
the sake of just having a fight (unless for fun). About socialist warfare,
there is tons of literature and experience, but the main lesson to draw is
that there isn't necessarily any particular position you need from which to
fight, or anything you need to do that is not in your own nature to do. You
pick the position where you know you are on strong ground, and where the
opposition cannot get so easily at you.

As for myself, I cannot handle much fighting at the moment, rather I need a
bit of peace and courage for myself, find a woman somewhere and build up a
kind of life that I never had before. Those are my tasks, and I haven't
solved even that issue well, because I'm indecisive about it, and I fret. I
had a few "wars" which I didn't pick myself, they happened, and I lost them
so I have to think again. If I am driven into a corner, I'll fight as best
as I can (unless it's an attractive woman), but I don't have a lot of
fighting power at the moment. That's my assessment. And I think that is
okay, provided I don't start recommending all sorts of things I am really
unable to support myself in some way. Otherwise it's just a bullshit (to
use Chai-on's expression). All I can say at the moment is, "don't hang
around waiting for me if you really want to start a fight."

You might say, well why are you discussing on the list then. Well I wanted
to make contact with socialist and Marxian economists with a view to future
projects, and I thought pertinent theoretical ARE being discussed. These
should continue to be discussed. I naturally have other things I would like
to discuss, but not on this list.

Thank you for reading this and until next time.

In solidarity


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