[OPE-L] Marx V. Kliman: Contrasting Prefaces and Aims

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 07:06:27 EDT


you wrote:

"Too much of the history of Marxism has been shaped by Marxists who have
taken certain figures as authoritative."

The problem you have here is that this circumstance is intrinsic to Marxism,
a school of thought or political movement which takes at least Marx as its
authority, which which therefore potentially faces all the problems which
you face when you regard any particular people as "authorities". That is, it
is intrinsic to Marxism that you will have disputes about authority and

The way this problem is solved by thinking people, is that you stop
referring to Marxism (whatever that may be taken to mean) but simply refer
to socialism or communism, and to socialists and communists, or that you
simply drop the labels altogether, insofar as they are liable to be
misunderstood anyway and thus get in the way of the substance of what you
are trying to do.

In the Dutch Socialist Party, for example, you have all kinds of
socialists - christian socialists, socialdemocratic socialists,
archaeo-socialists, communitarians, Marxians, Marxists and Marxist-Leninists
of various stripes, even communists of various stripes, eco-socialists,
scientific socialists, anarcho-socialists, and so on and so forth. What they
all have in common is that they are socialists, and agree about some core
social and human values specified in the party programme. So, socialism is
the unifying factor, not any particular doctrine of it, and the party keeps
growing. This creates room for the creative input of all members without
fears of unorthodoxy, and for the emergence of "living authorities", i.e.
people who become authorities, in their own lives, by what they themselves
accomplish, and who are recognised as such, through their proven competence.
As Hal Draper explained, the political party that Marx favoured was a broad
workers' party which championed the interests of the working class
independently from other social classes, and in that sense the SP is fairly

All this is of course an abomination to the certified Marxist intellectuals
who emphasise the purity of doctrine, and would like a political party which
accepts the purely revolutionary-Marxist principles they have decided on
themselves as being the correct ones. But in fact ideas play a different
role in workingclass life and in practical politics than they have for
intellectuals, and the "purely Marxist party" has never existed on any large
scale anyway, the "Marxist" or "Marxist-Leninist" label was more a formality
that covered an heterogenous and heterodox reality.

I do not agree that "it is the _isolation_ of many Marxians from wider
political struggles and from the working class (as well as non-Marxian
scholars) which helps to breed dogmatism", because the potential for
dogmatism is, I think, intrinsic to any creed based on an authority, which,
being an authority, precisely cannot be questioned, at least not in a
fundamental way - otherwise the authority would not be an authority. But I
do agree that thought developed in a context remote from the practical
situation to which it refers can become warped, including warped by dogma.
That was precisely Marx's original critique of the "ideologists" - they
manufactured ideas from "thought-material" without any awareness of the real
context that gave rise to the ideas.

However, three points about this:

(1) an intellectual, in order to develop correct theoretical
generalisations, often has to withdraw from the immediacies of everyday
occurrences to do so, and it would be wrong to assume that so long as you
are heavily involved in socialist politics that this will by itself produce
better theory. In fact, I found often that being at some distance from the
political spectacle, I was far better able to comprehend what was happening
in its totality, whereas people who were in the midst of it could not see
it. This is not always true, but it often is, and I can prove it by what I
said then and what subsequently happened.

(2) Most probably, beyond reading about it, Marx himself never saw the
inside of an industrial plant, and he developed many of his important ideas
in isolation from any labour movement.

(3) I have been in the workforce myself for many years, but I have
personally met hardly any Marxists who respected my activity or respected me
as a worker, in the way that non-Marxists do.  Marxists talk about the
"working class" in general, but then when they actually meet a real worker,
it's often a different story. That is just to say, Marxist ideas can fuse
with all kinds of personalities under all sorts of conditions, and maybe in
particular cases that does more harm than good.


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