To:cyrilsmith- at
From:labsoc- at (davie maclean)
Dear Cyril,

I'm sorry I haven't been in touch. I'm in the middle of a university course and its hard to keep up with political work at the same time. I've been ploughing through Heidegger and am now at the point where I have to decide what I think about him - I'm sure you'll have some sympathy for me on that one. We've also had a major dispute on the waterfront here which you've probably heard about.

There are a whole number of points I'd like to take up with you as soon as I can get down to it. I've had a look at the ISF journal and shown it to our other comrades. So far we're all agreed that its just the kind of thing that's needed and we'd like to take part. I myself would like to make a few points on the discussion about the Soviet Union. The two articles in the journal make a useful start but there is much more that needs to be said. One of the areas I am interested in is the question to what extent the relations of production are determined by technology - so for example in Fordist type mass production it would be impossible to dispense with alienating forms of work since these lie in the very nature of the production process as it is set up, no matter how much workers democracy and participation are present. Likewise in the case of heavy industry, one of the reasons why the bureaucracy favoured this over other economic activities lay in the fact that the operation of heavy plant depended on the military style co-ordination of a large number of workers with strictly defined and controlled tasks. Other types of industry that required the use of initiative, creativity etc could never be handled in the same way by bureaucratic methods. Trotsky was of course aware of these points and mentions the question of quality in production slipping through the bureaucracy's fingers but I don't think they were developed enough in his analysis. Writers like Meszaros (although I didn't really like his book 'Beyond Capital' that much) seem to be making a similar point when they talk about the essence of capital being a relation of production that needs to be overcome, one that never was in the Soviet Union. The point I would make is that there was a clear conflict between developing the forces of production on the one hand, and overcoming capitalist and alienated relations of production on the other, and that this conflict was largely unavoidable given the technical conditions of production at the time. Alexandra Kollontai gives some first hand experience of this conflict in her memoirs of the early days after the revolution. Whether the Bolsheviks were correct in going for production would seem to be the main point to be debated out.

This is important for us today, especially in the more developed economies, where surely the question is less one of developing the forces of production further but rather one of transforming the social relations involved. And to turn to one of my favourite topics, this applies all the more when we look at those growing sectors of the economy, such as services, knowledge-based and cultural spheres of production, where there is no longer the same interaction with nature as in the case of manufacturing but rather simply between humans. Antonio Negri has written on this theme and I've reviewed one of his articles for our journal. This leads me into another area I'd like to see explored - the question of ethics. One of the things I like about the direction your line of argument is headed is that what we are looking for is a means of constructing genuinely human social relations. I think that it is here, in a kind of ethical communism if I can put it that way, that maybe the basis for rebuilding a communist movement may be found, rather than the traditional approaches that have focused on the economic shortcomings of capitalism, real as they are. Among other things, I think the debate on democratic centralism needs to be placed in this context, for no-one can really say that the way we've all treated each other inside democratic centralist organisations has been an example of genuinely human social relations ! And yet, despite all protests to the contrary, there is clearly a connection between the strength of the case for socialism and the way people treat each other inside the movement. This is something that (of all people) Bernstein understood, which is why, for all my sympathy for Rosa Luxembourg, I do think he was on to something when he talked about the 'movement being everything' although I wouldn't go with him on 'the goal being nothing'.

Ethics is also important because one of the main critiques of capitalism has to be the way it reduces all relations to the commodity form, its 'nihilism' to use a Nietzschean and Heidegerrean term. It is precisely because of this that Islam, and Christian fundamentalism remain so entrenched and are growing as the poverty of naked capitalism reveals itself. If communism is to meet this challenge it has to understand what religions such as Islam have to offer, and match this in a non-reactionary and non-alienated manner. It will never do this simply on the basis of an ability to overcome the contradictions within capitalist production and unleash the productive forces, which is how we always used to put it. I'd like to see these kinds of issues taken up in the journal. As soon as I have time I'll try to flesh out my own views in a more coherent manner as a contribution to the discussion.

I do think the first two issues are a good start. If you are going to broaden it out beyond London I think it is essential you set up a web site. You can see what Andy is able to do in terms of the discussions on his site. Putting yourself on the net would give you access to all kinds of people scattered all over who would be interested in this kind of project and who could make valuable contributions to it.

I would like to read the other stuff you've written, maybe starting with the one on historical materialism. If you are saying what I think you are then I will probably agree with you on this one. I always thought that the bit (on base/superstructure) taken out of the Preface to a Critique of Political Economy which is always cited as the definition of historical materialism was exaggerated in its importance, for what is really a throwaway remark in a brief introduction to a work about something else, and the attention devoted to it was never justified once Marx's work as a whole was taken into account.

Look forward to hearing from you,