Re: [OPE-L] a comment on John's answers

From: John Holloway (johnholloway@PRODIGY.NET.MX)
Date: Mon May 23 2005 - 11:50:03 EDT

> Dear Michael,
>     Thank you very much for you latest postings (just to check: Iıve received
> three ­ your response to my original questions, your comments on my responses
> 3 and 5. I assume thatıs all there are.)
>     In particular I acknowledge your last sentence: Indeed, I do accept the
> possibility that you can be consistent with your book and yet not be an
> opponent of the revolution--- after all, you are large, you 'contain
> multitudes'. That not only gives us an answer to Paulıs initial question, but
> also gives a different basis for talking.
>     A number of points. Firstly, I do not support López Obrador. I said I
> opposed his exclusion (desafuero), a very different matter ­ if alll
> politicians had been excluded, I would have been delighted, but obviously that
> was not the case.
>     More important, on the Paris Commune: you quote chapter X of your book:
> Indeed, once established, it might face violent attempts by capital to reverse
> the process:
>         the catastrophes it might still have to undergo would be sporadic
> slaveholdersı insurrections, which, while for a moment        interrupting the
> work of peaceful progress, would only accelerate the movement, by putting the
> sword into the hand of the       Social Revolution (Marx, 1871a: 156-7).
>             Thus, the workersı state would be an essential part of the process
> of revolutionary practice, the process whereby workers change themselves in
> the course of struggles and Œbecome fitted to found society anewı. Yet, as
> Marx and Engels learned from the actions of workers in the Paris Commune, this
> process required a special kind of state. ŒThe working class,ı Marx (1871b:
> 68) commented, Œcannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and
> wield it for its own purposes.ı Although Marx and Engels argued in their 1872
> Preface to the Manifesto that its Œgeneral principles were, on the whole, as
> correct today as ever,ı the Commune had Œprovedı something not in the
> programme--- the need for a new kind of state for workers (Marx and Engels,
> 1971: 270). The Commune was Œthe political form at last discovered under which
> to work out the economical emancipation of Labourı (Marx, 1871b: 75). At last
> discovered!
>     Isnıt there a sleight of hand here? When you say a new kind of state for
> workers (two lines from the bottom), this is you, isnıt it, rather than Marx
> and Engels, or am I wrong? For me, you cannot talk of the Commune as a state,
> it is a different form of organisation. Similarly, it is nonsense to talk of a
> Soviet State. Does it matter, or is it just an empty question of words? I
> think it matters a lot, because the term Soviet State obscures a conflict
> between two different forms of organisation, obscures that the State
> suppressed the soviets. What gets lost is the crucial a-symmetry between
> capitalist forms of organisation and anti-capitalist forms. The crucial point
> in any revolutionary process is surely the development of anti-capitalist, and
> therefore anti-state, forms of organisation, forms of organisation that do not
> exclude people but articulate their struggle. You say you want a ³state of the
> commune-type². I say that this glosses over the real issue: do you want a
> commune or a state? The two are incompatible.
>     On to what is, for me, the central point. You say:
> You ask:
 '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 don't know, John.
> First, thank you for I don't know. That surely, has to be the starting point
> for discussion. We donıt know. You make a reasoned bet on one form of
> organisation, I make a reasoned bet on a different form of organisation, but
> we donıt know. If we can accept that, then we can avoid the ³demarcations²
> that Paul Z. expected to see and the silly dogmatic posturing that makes
> discussion impossible.
>  Yet the question is crucial. If the state cannot dissolve itself into a
> different form of organisation, then a state-centred revolution cannot lead us
> to a self-determining society (other perhaps than through a revolution against
> this revolution). I agree completely with Jerryıs post: the precedents are not
> encouraging. 
> You say:
> What determines the speed of this process (ideally) is the development of the
> consciousness of the masses. And, like it or not, key in the development of
> that consciousness is leadership--- leadership which is coming from Chavez and
> which is in struggle with the old society, the old state, the old order.
> Yet, wonıt a consciousness promoted by the leadership always be a
> consciousness that is favourable to that leadership? And why is it that in
> other countries of Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador) there is plenty
> of conscious struggle that is not coming from a leadership? And doesnıt your
> own example of the patrols suggest that the problem is not consciousness but
> the withdrawal of state control?
> Paul asks if there has to be a Kronstadt. I would have thought not, but
> possibly a series of mini-Kronstadts. By that I mean that surely in any
> revolutionary process there will be a clash between those forces that are
> pushing (from outside and quite possibly from inside the state) for a radical
> democratisation (such as that to which Jerry alludes and to which you reply
> ³Sure²) and those who want to contain the process within the state forms of
> organisation. Is this whatıs happening in Venezuela? What form does it take
> (both intra-state conflicts and suppression or marginalisation of extra-state
> movements)? You say something of the conflicts within the state, but what
> about the push coming from outside the state? Elsewhere in Latin America there
> are a lot of people in struggle who are saying ³we donıt want leaders, we
> donıt want representatives, we want to assume responsibility for our own
> lives². If this is also what is happening in Venezuela, what is the response
> of the state? Quite apart from the demand for nationalisation under workersı
> control (which you mention), are factories being taken over by workers on
> their own initiative, and what is then the response of the state? (As I have
> made clear all along, my questions arise out of ignorance). Would you agree
> that the forces coming from outside the state are crucial in this whole
> process
>    This is as far as my thoughts are prepared to go early on a Monday morning.
> Iıd be very interested to hear what you think.
>     Best wishes,
>     John
> Just one quick final point, John.
>         I had said:
> 5) I suggest to you that you cannot be consistent with your book and not be an
> opponent of the Bolivarian Revolution.
>    And, you responded in your last note, 'I have already said several times
> that I support the upsurge of revolutionary struggle in Venezuela.'
>         My first impression when I quickly glanced over your last answer was
> to conclude that in practice, in the concrete, that you weren't consistent
> with your book and that, in practice, we weren't that far apart. Ie., that
> statements in your book like 'to struggle through the state is to become
> involved in the active process of defeating yourself', that the state is the
> 'assassin of hope', etc were not to be taken too seriously in practice. After
> all, there you were, indicating your recent support for Lopez Obrador (rather
> than saying 'out with them all!) and admitting that you might decide to vote
> for him; noting that (rather than worry about, in my words, reinforcing
> 'illusions about the "state paradigm"') you would have supported the
> Bolivarian Constitution at the time insofar it was 'much more democratic than
> the previous one'; and, that you would not oppose the decentralising aspects
> of that constitution (on the grounds, in my words, 'that the state by any
> other name is still capital'). In short, I was surprised, and I thought, 'hey,
> do those people in eg., Argentina who were so active in turning away from the
> idea of taking state power know this?
>         But, before writing this, I looked back over your answer and saw that
> I hadn't read it carefully enough. Eg., on the Bolivarian Constitution, you
> say 'At the same time, a constitution always has the purpose of demarcating
> the state from society, of consolidating the state as an institution, and in
> that sense I would oppose it.'
>         Further, on the question of decentralisation, you went on to say:
> 'Generally state decentralisation is an attempt to strengthen the state as
> state.'
>         I would say it did strengthen the state-- not a state over and above
> people but the Venezuelan state nevertheless, given the dissolution of the
> state as state (ie., its collapse) that seemed to be occurring.
>         So, I come back to my original statement, now concluding that you
> really didn't move very far from the position of your book. However, I do need
> to take into account your profession of support for the Bolivarian revolution.
> Indeed, I do accept the possibility that you can be consistent with your book
> and yet not be an opponent of the revolution--- after all, you are large, you
> 'contain multitudes'.
>         cheers,
>         michael
> ps. the last reference is from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself'.
> 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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