Re: [OPE-L] response to John Holloway

From: Alberto Bonnet (abonnet@UNQ.EDU.AR)
Date: Wed May 18 2005 - 13:06:04 EDT


John:

Vengo leyendo esta interesantísima discusión acerca de tu libro -que es
más interesante que otras precisamente porque se asienta en la discusión
de procesos políticos concretos. Me parece que en este momento de tu
discusión con Lebowitz aparece una impasse. Esta impasse se relaciona con
esa noción de un "state of the Paris Comune-type". Si esta noción carece
o no de sentido depende, naturalmente, de qué concepto de estado subyace
a las distintas posiciones. Yo comparto tu concepto de estado como una
forma de las relaciones sociales capitalistas que presupone la separación
entre lo político y lo económico y, en este sentido, no podría decirse
que la Comuna de París haya instaurado estado alguno. Estado no euivale a
cualquier modo de organización social, sino a un modo de organización
particular. No me atrevo a juzgar de qué manera esta discusión se aplique
al caso venezolano, porque no lo conozco lo suficiente. Tengo apenas la
impresión de que el proceso venezolano es un proceso reformista (y que en
este sentido tiene una insoslayable dimensión estatal, en el sentido que
compartimos del concepto de estado capitalista) que, en su dinámica y en
su relación con la lucha de clases, comienza a adquirir dimensiones
revolucionarias (y en este sentido acaso esté iniciando una supresión de
ese estado capitalista, siempre en ese sentido de una supresión de la
separación entre lo político y lo económico). Tengo algunas impresiones
al respecto, pero no pretendo que concedas ninguna credibilidad a estas
afirmaciones. Las hago, simplemente, porque nos acercan al punto que
quería plantearte. Una vez (durante aquella mesa redonda en la UNAM con
Borón y Dussel) te pregunté si, en realidad, tu crítica a la concepción
de la revolución como toma del poder de estado no afectaba exclusivamente
a la tradición reformista. Entonces me dijiste que no, pero sospecho que
en este punto de la discusión estás reconociendo que sí. Me explico: en
verdad, ningún intelectual revolucionario que yo conozca sostuvo nunca
que la revolución suponía tomar el poder de estado, SI ASUMIMOS ESTA
DEFINICION DE ESTADO QUE VENIMOS MANEJANDO, sino que sostuvieron que la
revolución suponía suprimir el estado. En este sentido, si seguían
hablando de un "estado proletario" o cosas por el estilo, era porque
subyacía a su pensamiento una definición más amplia de estado (conviene
recordar que el viejo Engels fue durante mucho tiempo la autoridad en
este asunto, y que su concepto de estado en "El origen de la familia..."
es mucho más amplio analítica e históricamente que el que estamos
manejando). Sólo los intelectuales reformistas sostuvieron eso. Y esto es
cierto incluso para la piedra del escándalo en la que ya estarás
pensando: para Lenin. Lenin nunca afirmó semejante cosa. Nunca sostuvo
que el estado ruso podía usarse como un instrumento neutro, en el sentido
de que esa misma organización podía emplearse indistintamente para la
dominación zarista o para la emancipación proletaria (en sentido
estricto, apenas atribuyó una instrumentalidad semejante a una porción
políticamente subordinada del aparato y la burocracia de estado). E
incluso, en los hechos históricos, los bolcheviques suprimieron el
estado, SIEMPRE ASUMIENDO ESA DEFINICION DE ESTADO. Podemos decir, por
supuesto, que suprimieron el estado para crear un nuevo modo de
organización social tan repugnante como el propio estado, pero no podemos
decir en cambio que se limitaron a tomar el estado preexistente y a
emplearlo.
Me parece que aquí está la impasse desde el punto de vista teórico -más
allá de las discusiones acerca del proceso venezolano, chiapaneco, etc.
Pero esta impasse no es necesariamente un inconveniente (ni este
comentario es propiamente una crítica) porque puede ser el punto de
partida para retomar y profundizar la discusión, evitando que se estanque
en simples malentendidos. Y esto es lo que a todos, en última instancia,
nos importa.
Un abrazo. Alberto.


-----Original Message-----
From: John Holloway <johnholloway@PRODIGY.NET.MX>
To: OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU
Date: Tue, 17 May 2005 16:16:26 -0500
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] response to John Holloway

> > Dear Michael,
> >
> >     Sorry to be slow again.
> >
> >     I’ll take some of your most important points:
> >
> >     On the question of the book being dogmatic: The main aim of the
> book was
> > to get people talking and thinking about revolution – revolution in
> the sense
> > of the abolition of capitalism and the creation of a communist
> society
> > (however one might interpret that). Very explicitly the aim was to
> promote a
> > discussion on the basis of the acceptance of the fact that we do not
> know how
> > to make revolution. Within that framework I put forward the argument
> that
> > capitalism cannot be abolished through the taking of state power, and
> at the
> > end of the book I say “but we still do not know how to make the
> revolution, we
> > have to think, we have to discuss.” In other words, I have my
> views, to which
> > I am strongly committed and which I will put forward forcefully, but
> I want to
> > discuss these views. As I said before, I see the argument as taking
> place
> > within a movement, not as dividing the movement and not as leading
> the
> > movement. Preguntando caminamos (asking we walk) is a central thread
> in the
> > argument and structure of the book. I do not particularly want to
> defend the
> > book for the sake of defending it, but I do not think this approach
> is
> > dogmatic. And, as I mentioned before, the best commentaries have
> understood
> > the book in this sense, saying in effect “Yes, let’s talk about
> revolution. I
> > do not agree with you and this is why I think your argument is wrong
> and
> > dangerous.” This sort of response from people who disagree with me
> I respect
> > enormously. (There have of course been lots of others that proceed
> only be
> > denunciation and disqualification.)
> >
> >     You say that the Venezuelan government is trying “to create a
> state of the
> > Paris Commune-type (the kind that Marx advocated).” You use
> basically the same
> > expression in your review of my book. Jerry pointed out that >Most
> anarchists
> > wouldn't agree that the Paris Commune was a state.< to which you
> replied >If
> > you've read John's book, tell me what you think he means by the state
> and its relation to the Commune; he made efforts to ground his argument
> in
> Marx but I don't recall any mention.<
>             It is fundamental to the argument of the book that the
> expression “a state of the Paris Commune-type” makes no sense at
> all. The
> state is a particular form of social relations grounded in the
> separation of
> the political from the economic and the separation of the public from
> social
> control and the commune is exactly the opposite – a form of social
> relations
> directed against the separation of the political from the economic and
> the
> subjection of society to social control. The commune is a quite
> distinct
> form of social organisation from the state, a form viscerally opposed
> to the
> state. To think of the state as any form of social organisation makes
> the
> whole discussion meaningless. The state is always a process of forming
> social relations (that is social struggles) in a certain way, the
> commune as
> an organisational form forms them or shapes them in a different way.
> When
> you say that “the state has played a central role in the struggle
> against
> the old order in Venezuela”, then I am not sure what this means.
> Clearly the
> struggle did not originate in the state: it originated as a class
> struggle,
> a popular struggle against the manifestations of capitalism. In the
> 1990s it
> clearly became focussed on the state and the winning of state power,
> and the
> process has been organised to a fairly large extent through the state
> in the
> last few years. My question is how this form of organisation affects
> the
> development of the struggle. Has it, for example, had the effect of
> diverting anti-capitalist struggle into the form of anti-imperialism, a
> form
> quite compatible with the continuation of exploitation and private
> ownership? I do not know, I ask. You say, in effect (and translating
> you
> into my terms) that the state has been trying to overcome its
> separation
> from society, to dissolve itself as a state and convert itself into a
> form
> of communal or council organisation. Is that what you’re saying, is
> that
> really what’s happening? And if that is what you’re saying, can it
> really
> work? Is it possible for a state to dissolve itself into a radically
> different form of organisation, or will the established practices both
> of
> state functionaries and of the people themselves, and the integration
> of the
> state into the global multiplicity of states and above all the global
> movement of capital, not make that impossible? I ask. Has the
> Venezuelan
> state managed to liberate itself from the need to secure the
> profitability
> of capital? And if it has not broken from that need, does that mean
> that it
> necessarily promote the exploitation of labour? And if it has broken
> the
> need to secure profitability, this presumably can only be on the basis
> of
> the creation of an anti-capitalist form of social organisation. Is this
> what’s happening? It seems to me that you start thinking from the
> state
> (very understandable in your current situation) whereas we need to
> think
> from society and from social struggle, class struggle.
>
>      I do not doubt your sincerity, your enthusiasm glows. I do not
> particularly doubt the sincerity of Hugo Chávez and of the many, many
> people
> struggling for a radical transformation of society in Venezuela, but I
> do
> have these doubts and questions. Of course I support the struggles in
> Venezuela, my question, as I have said from the beginning, concerns the
> relation between this struggle and the state as an organisational form.
> I
> still feel that to focus struggle on the state is self-defeating: if
> you say
> that the state is dissolving itself, I am delighted but dubious. Beyond
> this
> I am reluctant to make pronouncements about what is happening in
> Venezuela:
> partly I take warning from your own offensive and nonsensical remark
> about
> the zapatistas.
>
>     Another point: you say that the turn away from the state which is
> characteristic of many struggles in Latin America and elsewhere is
> ‘the
> stuff… of a period of defeat.’ Not surprisingly, I disagree
> completely. To
> put it in autonomist terms, the turn from the state is a mark not of
> the
> decomposition of the working class, but of its recomposition, and it is
> very
> important for Marxists to understand this.
>
>     Enough for now. My trip to Venezuela is currently planned for the
> last
> week in October, so I hope we can meet there and carry on discussing.
>
>     John
>
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > 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 ‘anti-power’?
> >             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.
> >         Sincerely,
> >         michael
> >
> > 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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