Monday, August 25, 2008

Worst and Best of Marxism #4

By Joe Sims


1. White privilege. Theorized by elements of the independent Marxist left, the concept is informed at least in part by a formulation by W.E. B. Du Bois that spoke of a “psychological wage,” workers accrue from racism. Used as an attempt to understanding motivation of sections of white workers who voted Republican. While having several trends, the concept tends to be classless and falsely posits that white workers benefit from racism, that racism is in their self-interest. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

2. Labor Aristocracy. Postulated by Marx and Engels, a labor aristocracy arose in several developed capitalist countries bought off by their respective ruling classes to support the interests of capital. Used to explain right-wing trends in the labor movement. A phenomenon present in early capitalism, the stratum disappeared in the mid-20th century. The concept however persisted in both Soviet Marxist texts – one which postulated that the US working class as a whole constituted a labor aristocracy in relation to the rest of the world – and among independent Marxists and middle-class left groups, some of who argue that white male workers constitute a “labor aristocracy” in relation to the rest of the US working class. Wrong, divisive, and wrong again!

3. “Socialism in one country.” Stalin’s slogan aimed at securing national and international support for the attempt to construct socialism in the USSR, after the “revolutionary wave” at the end of World War one was in part suppressed or failed to materialize. As it turned out, "socialism in one country" was neither “socialist” nor in one country (the USSR was composed of many countries with differing levels of economic and social development).

4. Ultra-Imperialism. Formulated by Karl Kautsky to argue that capitalism was moving to one world trust that would mitigate national class contradictions. Now didn’t that turn out to be a bunch of baloney (notwithstanding certain trends among the theorists of empire and globalization.)

5. Theory of collapse. Postulated in the late 19th and early 20th century, advocated in the early writings of Lenin (see Marxism and Revisionism) and others, contending that capitalism would collapse. Ok guys. Yes there was the Great Depression, and yes there have been lesser catastrophes in the US and the around the world and yes we are on the verge of something big now, but, don’t you think it was a bit of an overstatement that may have led to a few misadventures?

6. “Theory of offensive.” and “permanent revolution.” Articulated by Bela Kuhn and Leon Trotsky respectively, both were leftist voluntarist ideas that sought to push the envelope in adventurist directions. Arguably they could be separate points, but in light of point two above I better include it. My reputation is tattered enough. Joe Sims what were you thinking?

7. Centrality of the African American people. Theorized in the 1970s and 1980s by Communist theoreticians of the national question, African American centrality had different interpretations, but tended to place the national question over and above the class question. At its best it stressed the central role of fighting racism as part of the struggle for class and national unity, the importance of which can be seen in the Obama candidacy. At its worst it placed undue emphasis on working in the African American community (by whites) and to give up fighting racism among whites. Oh, it seems really difficult to get the “special questions” in Marxism right.

8. Two-third, one-third thesis. Advocated in the 1970s and 1980s by sections of the academic Marxist left stressing that late stage capitalism had created a “two-third” “one-third” society where capital had mitigated tensions with or incorporated sections of the “middle-class” leaving out “one-third” who were women and minorities.

9. Lumpen-proletariat vanguard theory. Another species of middle-class radical thought that crops up now and again, it is the idea that only those who do not work will rise up in rebellion.

10. “Forward ever backward, never.” Slogan advocated by the heroic New Jewel Movement of Grenada before the tragic events there. Comrades! You cannot keep marching forward forever! For one your feet will get tired! And Dr. Soles won’t help. Inspiring but ultimately wrong, wrong, wrong! Even slogans, must have a scientific foundation.


1. “The traditions of the dead generation’s weights like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” Marx. This is true, true, true. And also you can include some of the living generations. And don’t think that this doesn’t include some of the traditions of the communist left, because it Does!

2. Bill of rights socialism. Formulated by Gus Hall and the Communist Party leadership in the 1980s. Perfect. Speaks for itself. Will remain a scientific foundation US socialism for at least 100 years!

3. Concept of working-class intellectuals. Posited by Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s, originally expressed as “organic” intellectuals, attacked in first top 10. A sound, sterling concept, one of the gems of the Marxist intellectual tradition, the concept of working-class intellectual, speaks to historic events. First the victory of public education in the developed capitalist countries and second, creation of communist parties. Both point to ending the separation between workers and the intelligentsia, with workers now developing and create our own theory. With the labor movement engendering its own theoreticians, the end of capitalism draws near.

4. Anti-racist majority. Formulated by Henry Winston and Gus Hall in the early 1980s, it represented the first attempt to interpret the ideological victory represented by the civil rights and freedom movement of the 1960 and early 1970s.

5. “The young generation comes to socialism in its own way, not in the way of their fathers and mothers.” Another gem of Marxism, this paraphrase of Lenin is one of the foundations of Marxist organizational principles regarding the youth. It recognizes the ongoing “newness” of the youth movement, its independent character and the needs for measures to attend to it.

6. “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken wing bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes. I don’t know if Hughes was a still a Marxist when he wrote this (not that it matters). But just in case, here’s another song from Langston: “Lenin walks around the world, the sun sets like a scar, between the darkness and the dawn there rises a red star.”

7. “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Goethe. I don’t know if Marx liked this one, but I do! Ps. I hear that this is really not Goethe, but rather William Hutchinson Murray.

Here is Goethe in context: "The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decisions, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." Isn’t that beautiful!! See point ten below!

8. Special questions in Marxism. One of the outstanding contributions of the communist tradition in socialist theory, as distinct from other left traditions, is its postulation of what are called “special questions.” Special questions recognize that non-class as well as class issues have a huge impact in monopoly capitalist society. Importantly, it recognizes the “all-class character” of several important movement and issues, including, the national question, women, youth and seniors. At the same time it stressed that Marxists are most concerned with the working class elements of these groups. Special questions drive right winger and dogmatists crazy. I love them.

9. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity." This quote is often attributed to Engels who uses it in Anti-Duhring. Actually, I think it belongs to Spinoza. Is there nothing new in this world?

10. "Nothing human is alien to me." This quote is often attributed to Marx. Actually it comes from Terrence. I used to hate it. (I thought it was really weird thing to say). But now I love it! You see people can change. But still is there nothing ever new in this world?

Ps. Gus Hall used to say that in reality there is no such thing as plagiarism. The playwright Charles Mee says something similar, not about plagiarism, but about there being nothing new. It’s all been done before. Kinda like Lauryn Hill singing Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly. They both did such a great job!