[OPE-L] another comment on John's answers

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Tue May 24 2005 - 12:59:58 EDT

Dear John,
         I think we are now recycling points-- ie., diminishing returns. My 
point re 'contain multitudes' comes from Whitman's 'Song of Myself'-- the 
line: 'Do I contradict myself? Very Well, I contradict myself. I contain 
multitudes.' I think you contradict yourself, which is no problem for 
poets, but for theorists and activists a bit more problematic.
         On the Paris Commune, as I noted, I wrote about this in my book. 
The precise words 'new kind of state' are mine but I would defy you to say 
that I've misinterpreted Marx there: the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 
clearly referred to state power, and the Paris Commune revealed to Marx and 
Engels the form that state power must take to serve the proletariat. You 
want to use the state as such and commune as in opposition--- as I noted in 
my critique, your position is a rejection of Marx. Fine. But admit it.
         As I've stressed, the problem between us is not the goal but how 
you get there--- your position in the book is unequivocal: no party, no 
power, no state. Mine is similarly unequivocal; a point from my comments to 
which you have not responded:

>But, there is no alternative (in Venezuela and, I suggest, in general): 
>(a) to seizing the state from capital--- so capital can not use the power 
>of its state to defeat us and (b) to transforming that 'ready-made state 
>machinery' into the 'self-government of the producers' (to use Marx's 
>words) in order to create that space for the development of new people. 
>So, no guarantees--- except the guarantee of struggle. But, for me, as I 
>indicate in my critique for Historical Materialism, the idea of changing 
>the world without taking power is a pipe-dream--- the opiate of the 
>defeated and demoralised.

         I raised the point in my Historical Materialism piece--- what are 
you going to do about capitalist power-- police, army, courts, etc if you 
renounce the idea of taking power (which means taking power away from 
them)? And I proposed that you did it in a Hegelian manner--- by mentally 
dissolving it. What's left to say? If there are matters of theory which 
separate us, let's battle them out in HM where there's the opportunity to 
develop arguments rather than soundbytes.
         With respect to concrete matters, Jerry has noted the apparent 
contradiction between your statement that you might possibly vote for Lopez 
Obrador next year (a statement which I saw as distancing yourself from the 
position of  your book) and your later statement that if all politicians 
had been excluded, you would have been delighted. (Um, leaving what, John?) 
The latter is the position that I reject but I think you will be convinced 
only by concrete developments; so, I hope we can explore some of these 
matters after you study Venezuela more.
         best wishes,
ps. thanks for your nice comments about my babbling about Venezuela.

At 11:50 23/05/2005, you wrote:
>Dear Michael,
>     Thank you very much for you latest postings (just to check: I’ve 
> received three – your response to my original questions, your comments on 
> my responses 3 and 5. I assume that’s 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 Paul’s 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 
> slaveholders’ 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 workers’ state would be an essential part of the 
> process of revolutionary practice, the process whereby workers change 
> themselves in the course of struggles and ‘become fitted to found society 
> anew’. Yet, as Marx and Engels learned from the actions of workers in the 
> Paris Commune, this process required a special kind of state. ‘The 
> working class,’ Marx (1871b: 68) commented, ‘cannot simply lay hold of 
> the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ 
> Although Marx and Engels argued in their 1872 Preface to the Manifesto 
> that its ‘general principles were, on the whole, as correct today as 
> ever,’ the Commune had ‘proved’ something not in the programme--- the 
> need for a new kind of state for workers (Marx and Engels, 1971: 270). 
> The Commune was ‘the political form at last discovered under which to 
> work out the economical emancipation of Labour’ (Marx, 1871b: 75). At 
> last discovered!
>     Isn’t there a sleight of hand here? When you say a new kind of state 
> for workers (two lines from the bottom), this is you, isn’t 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 “state of the 
> commune-type”. 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 don’t know. You make a reasoned bet on one form 
>of organisation, I make a reasoned bet on a different form of 
>organisation, but we don’t know. If we can accept that, then we can avoid 
>the “demarcations” 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 Jerry’s 
> 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, won’t 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 
>doesn’t 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 “Sure”) and those who want to contain the process within the 
>state forms of organisation. Is this what’s 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 “we don’t want leaders, we don’t want 
>representatives, we want to assume responsibility for our own lives”. If 
>this is also what is happening in Venezuela, what is the response of the 
>state? Quite apart from the demand for nationalisation under workers’ 
>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. I’d be very interested to hear what you think.
>     Best wishes,
>     John

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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