Bob Gould, 2003

Rebuilding Western Marxism: some questions

Source: Marxmail, October 26-28, 2003
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Jose Perez’s post Abandoning Western Marxism seems like an attempt at a summary of the broad ideological outlook of some Marxmail posters, incluing Jose and Louis Proyect, and to some extent, Nestor Gorojovsky and Lou Paulsen.

Before I comment, it might be useful if Jose expands a few of the points he makes a little further. They are just a bit too cryptic for my taste, and I don’t quite understand what some of them mean. For instance, what does “Dissing EcoFemPax movements is easy enough to do” mean? This is a genuine question.

“Fidel said you cannot build socialism with a dollar sign in the hearts of the people, but that also means of necessity you cannot have workers democracy with a dollar sign in the hearts of the people either. The forms of workers democracy are inseparable from its class political content.”

Could you expand a bit what you mean in the above paragraph?

“Those seeking to build Marxist currents in the global (political) North will have to struggle to find and orient to the global South, not just internationally but within their own countries in the North.”

I get the general idea you are driving at here, but the actual and concrete tactical conclusions are not obvious and the concept of the “global South” seems extremely vague. What exactly is the “global South”? Is it a geographical concept? Is it a class concept? Is it a political concept?

I would like, at least, a bit of a description of what social forces, movements, political leaderships, etc, you are referring to in the “global South” before it is really possible to make any intelligent appraisal of what you mean.

Also, what do you mean exactly when you assert the importance of “orienting to the global South, within our own countries in the North”. Who or what are the authentic representatives of the “global South” in the North? This raises the associated question of what precisely you mean by the rhetoric about “which army you are in”, and the need for “humility” rather than “audacity”. This seems to me to raise the question as to who are these political movements, social forces or entities from the “global South” that socialists are morally obliged to accept the leadership of.

Importantly also, who are the authentic representatives of these “global South” forces in the “global North”. Is it just possible, Jose, that you are shyly presenting your credentials as one of these authentic representatives of the “global South” in the “global North”, towards whom we should be humble?

Supplementary questions to Jose

Marxmail, October 28, 2003

In the Australian parliament, which my old mentor, the veteran Australian Trotskyist Nick Origlass, used to describe succintly as the gashouse, the long-standing procedure in the only section of the proceedings that’s regularly televised is question time.

At this time the questioner is allowed an original question and a supplementary question if they feel the minister who delivers the answer has not fully answered the original question.

Without sticking too much to bourgeois parliamentary procedure, I address this series of supplementary questions to Jose Perez.

Firstly, a bit of clarification about the notion of the global South. I notice that you include Argentina in this category. I’m not entirely sure that Argentina qualifies as part of the global South in any meaningful way. It was, until relatively recently, a country with an economy not unlike that of Australia, which is emphatically part of the global North.

This also raises another question in concerning this general conception of how to divide up the world. Are Singapore, South Korea, and even Malaysia, currently part of the global South, given their very substantial, independent capitalist development? (This isn’t a trick question. I can see some merit in the notion of the global South, even if it’s rather imprecise, but there are also problems inherent in this concept.)

That raises the next supplementary question. In your response, you did not give a clear reply to this part of my question: “I would like at least a bit of a description of what social forces, movements, political leaderships, etc, you are referring to in the global South before it is possible to make an intelligent appraisal of what you mean.”

You responded to this with a general statement of the importance of solidarity with the Third World in struggle. But that doesn’t really answer my question. At the end of your first piece, you talked about the need for us to have humility towards, and look to leadership from, forces in the Third World. A problem with your general response is that you don’t specify which political leaderships and forces we should be humble towards, and look to leadership from.

The global South is divided into classes with political movements. A demand for humility and following the lead of the Third World really requires a more specific indication of what forces and political movements, classes and interests in the Third World we should take our cue from. No one could disagree with your motherhood statement about supporting the Third World at Cancun in standing up to imperialist economic interests, but it gets considerably more complicated if you look at the situation in Zimbabwe, where a coalition involving an oppressed national group in the south, the whole of the substantial organised urban working class and a section of the white farmers is energetically trying to overthrow the bourgeois comprador dictatorship of Mugabe.

In this political framework, while I’m relieved that you disclaim any aspirations to be a member of any college of cardinals, our existing preconceptions inevitably creep into our views as to what forces in the Third World we should take our cue from.

You should be much more specific about which political groups and social forces we should follow in the Third World if we wish to reconstruct the socialist movement in the First World while looking to leadership from the global South.

In your reply to my first questions, you take a swipe at the US SWP, and by implication all revolutionary socialists who looked to political revolution against Stalinist bureaucracies, and you assert that without a revolutionary internationalist class line, proletarian rebellions against Stalinism come to a bad end because the working class has little unity.

Louis Proyect, also, in a post a couple of week back, made a similar throwaway remark about a “class line”, and I’m familiar with that line of argument over many years from Stalinists opposed to working-class revolts in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, etc.

Lou Paulsen and the Workers World Party have a well-developed theoretical construction about these questions, which Lou spelled out a few weeks back: “the global class struggle” as originally enunciated by Sam Marcy and Vince Copeland in the early 1960s. (Somewhere in my archive I have the first 10 or so issues of Workers World, in which this conception was elaborated concerning the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It’s a serious political construction, but in my view it’s just plain wrong.)

Following through on the Louis-Jose “class line” concept and taking cognisance of the WWP “global class struggle”, what does does your throwaway dismissal of the US SWP on the question of political revolution in the Stalinist states imply?

This is pretty visceral for me, as reaction to the events in Hungary provided my political graduation to understanding the real world of Stalinism in the 1950s. Should we have supported the elemental proletarian rebellions against Stalinism in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechosolvakia in 1968 and throughout Eastern Europe in 1989-90?

We now know that, due to the destruction of mass political consciousness and the atomisation of the masses under Stalinism, that the outcome of these upheavals wasn’t the socialist political revolution against Stalinism that anti-Stalinist socialists desired. Nevertheless, in the stark choice between the elemental revolutionary upheavals of the masses against the existing bureaucratic Stalinist set-ups, what forces should we have supported?

To put it at its cruelest and most brutal, who should we have supported in Tienanmen Square: the rebelling masses or the tanks of the Stalinist regime?

These questions are by no means academic historical matters, because, for instance, as light must follow day, there will inevitably be the most elemental explosion in China between the aspirations of the masses and the degenerate bureaucracy running that country. When that happens, who should we support, even if the masses, as they may well do, have some illusions in bourgeois democracy?

That brings me to the next question: that of democratic demands. Should we support the masses in the global South fighting for democracy against various dictatorships? Should we support the masses in Myanmar, led by Aung Sun Su Chi in their struggle to overthrow the generals? Should we support the masses in Hong Kong against the periodic attempts at repression from China? Should we side with the masses in Zimbabwe against the Mugabe dictatorship? Should we side with the masses in Iran against the theocratic dictatorship of the mullahs?

Then there’s the national question in the Third World and other places. Should we approach this question in the spirit of Lenin’s attitude to the national question, in particular should we support independence for Aceh and West Papua, should we support independence for Chechnya, should we support the right of Albanians in Albania proper and in contiguous overwhelmingly Albanian areas of Kosovo and part of Macedonia to a unitary, independent state, and again should we support the right of the Kurds in Iraqi, Turkish, Syrian and Iranian Kurdistan to a unitary Kurdish state?

These national questions are pressing right now in many parts of the global South. How do they fit into your schema about humbly following the revolutionary lead of the Third World and observing a “class line”?