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Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 2, 2009

The transitional program of the Marxoid groupuscles

The World Socialist Website doesn’t like my contribution to The Nation’s forum on socialism. (Odd, they don’t provide links to the texts that they criticize—a challenge to readers who want to make up their own minds.) Still, you can’t please everyone.

In the interests of opening a constructive dialogue—what can I say? I’m getting mellow in my late middle age—I’d be very curious to hear what the WSWS’s vision of a future society looks like, and how they propose to get there. Will the working class storm The White House and/or the Goldman Sachs trading floor? This working class, or some imaginary one of the future? And if they did, what then? How would they keep the electricity running?

If the WSWS were asked to file their own contribution to The Nation’s forum, what would it say? And could they do it in the budgeted 600 words?

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Responses

  1. So, they want the capitalist state to bailout of the private airlines and automakers? Apparently, the threat of mass suffering can justify some bourgeois power.

    Mike Davis’ appeared on Bill Moyers and made a lucid paean to radical traditions in America, pitched to a broad audience. What do they have against Mike Davis?

    They mistake the “discrediting of free market ideology” as a given, not a goal. That’s a cop-out. Most of the work remains to be done. The collapse of Lehman Brothers threatened finance, but has yet to take down Reagan’s and Friedman’s legacy. _Atlas Shrugged_ is currently at #16 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Number one goes to the upteenth rehash of the “free market” as liberty incarnate. Public rage against the financial lords can easily become a defense of the rugged entrepreneurs against the coddled oligarchs. What words can they lift from Trotsky to counter the defining mythos of our time?

    I don’t even know what socialism means to them. They never pause to define it in their cascading rebuke.

    As for what is to be done, Tom Geoghegan (not a socialist) argues in the April Harper’s for a cap on the rate of interest charged by banks. Simple to understand and an usurpation of finance. Bernie Sanders has already acted on this cause. Add in Medicare for all and the Employee Free Choice Act, and you have a radical challenge to post-Reagan America that can exhaust you for years to come.

  2. Wow: “truly swinish and politically dubious,” “the pseudo-Trotskyist United Secretariat,” “the stench of cynicism, cowardice and unseriousness.” If only there was a way of harnessing this kind of invective to better ends.

  3. The conservative Australian Financial Review yesterday published a piece on John M Keynes advocacy for a world bank dealing in a global currency at a fixed rate of exchange for national banks.

    I also like the idea China has put, for a withdrawal of the US as reserve currency in favour of an international reserve made up of baskets of regional currencies from Europe, the Middle East, China etc.

    I generally think IMF reform is at least 40 years overdue, they ought to slash interest rates to third world countries to enable them to invest in greenhouse friendly light industries to meet essential social needs. At the moment the situation is that these interest rates have been skyrocketing.

    The whole idea of decentralised currency is a big one with me. Scrap the old society for the new.

    But the obvious response of capitalism is to try to dole out corporate welfare as “stimulus”, avoid upsetting the captains of industry with structural financial reforms, (witness the negative coverage of Sarkozy’s modest liberal criticism), and let the US protect itself to the hilt.

    Times have changed. And the old ultraleft sympathies of the World Socialist Website, whose quality varies enormously between the incisive and the dogmatic, will have to change with the latest developments in social science.

    Obviously they are still in denial. A sad reflection on the type of politics that used to excite working class people. The masses voted with their feet, as Lenin would say, and left the ultraleft to their “movement building” a long time ago.

  4. It seems the crew at WSWS takes the vocation of praxis a little too literally. Or maybe its standard bearers were denied entry to Eton. Or maybe both. In any event, there’s no avoiding caricature nowadays, from Ali to Davis to Henwood to this poster. Andy Giddens may have been full of shit about a lot of things but he was right about “death by self-reflexivity.”

  5. I was wasted and cynical when I wrote that. Now I’m sober and cynical. Yes, social democratic meliorism is an all-too-familar stance. So too is ultra-leftist infantilism. They’re all worn-out cliches, yet cliches are all that we’re left with. Let’s look at the facts, from a hardcore historical materialist perspective. Proletarian revolution is not on the boil. What is on the boil is inchoate anger mixed with levels of social fragmentation perhaps unrivaled in human history. When the people who are supposed to take things seriously take things less seriously than those who are supposed to mouth platitudes while making off with the family silver, we’ll be lucky, really lucky, to get social democratic meliorism.

  6. And none of this is to deny that the WSWS is frequently an excellent go-to news source. Their editorial team could use a little shake-up, however. As for the Nation, well, that’s better left undiscussed…

  7. Good post Shane, although I thought Davis was disappointingly flighty in his Moyers appearance. Who am I to second-guess him though, the guy’s been a brilliant battler for eons…

  8. You are being too modest, Doug. A close reading of the WSW article shows that it is mostly a plaigirism of your own – just cranked up a bit to sound a bit more left. They repeat your materialist rejection of Ms Solnit’s answer, and, most remarkably for the WSW they studiously avoid the argument that crisis makes the case for revolution.

  9. Oh gosh, another humorless, stridently Marxist site convinced of its inerrancy doing battle against the unbelievers and those fallen from the faith.

    The empire trembles in response.

  10. “International Committee of the Fourth International”. That’s some fancy marketing, sure to rally the masses. Actually, I glance at their site every morning, it is very consistent – everything is in perpetual “crisis”. Their film reviews are a hoot – they are never satisfied unless the lead character is walking around reading aloud from Trotsky.

    Parecon!

  11. The Nation speaks to and for a definite social and political milieu: ex-leftists, ex-Stalinists, ex-reformers,
    So which one are you,Doug?

  12. Forgot to mention my favorite Trotsky quote
    In the 1930’s Trotsky gave a speech in New York opening with
    “Workers and peasants of the Bronx….”
    Glad to see thr Fourth International following that proud tradition……….

  13. “The collapse of Lehman Brothers threatened finance, but has yet to take down Reagan’s and Friedman’s legacy.”

    Maybe not taken down but I think unregulated free market ideology has suffered a tremendous blow. And the President just fired the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation which is socialism in the eyes of the rabid right wing.

    WSWS’s vision of a future society? Probably like one of those Mao-era Communist paintings where there’s a large parade of smiling happy people. Stand-up comedians would be jailed for reactionary tendencies and demoralizing the masses.

  14. Excuse me, but who the fuck is David Walsh?

    And does Tariq Ali know he’s swinish?

    Love the bit about a “higher” society that appreciates Henry Hudson! You can hear Chairman Walsh muttering “let them eat stages” when he’s First Leader of the WSUSA. Peak oil? Marx and Trotsky never mentioned that.

  15. I thought they took you out of context.

  16. Doug,

    You and Zizek are about the only ones who makes sense in this day and age. So keep it coming.

  17. i think a transitional program is quite conceivable, and it includes everything from food not bombs to parecon/pat devine to limited equity housing cooperatives to the cotrell/cockshott’s (sic) computer modeled variant.

    to say none is conceivable would be like saying because bertrand russel, alfred north whitehead, peano, von neumann, godel, turing, post etc. only studied what were in some ways fairly simplistic and exceedingly detailed axiomatic foundations of arithmatic, logic, and computing, not to mention quantum theory and condensed matter physics, no conceivable transitional program to computers, blogs, wikipedia, and the internet was conceivable. (and most of them likely were really not that interested in technology or progress, they were just having fun.)

    no way, jose.

    (and then you have people like carrol cox and vouyou (or how bout chucko) arguing it’s boring and a useless excercize to even attempt to map out such a transitional program. derrida and negri are not boring, by consensus, in the anarcho-fascist present permanent future.

    not only that, but because a ‘socialist’ future (whatever that is—-its kind of worn out as a concept, due to the shifting signifiers) is not conceivable using present day concepts, language, technology or even the biomass of present day non-socialists with all their heredity, habits, politically incorrect language, etc. we shouldn’t even try, because whatever is created now is bound to tarnish and render impossible the future utopia. (actually cotrell/cockshott disucuss this in their model—via Godel—who argued if you really try to ‘plan’ math, so you are sure to get all the proofs and theorems, then you are sure to f-k it up. a bit like the heisenberg principle.

    (cox says s/he wants to get out in the streets; for the G20, maybe cool—big ups to all my haters. and Chris Knight, but that program from the 60’s may be just a bad habit. (maybe people should get in the habit of trying to ‘read a book’ (hiphop anthem, even main street), but not just to get a tenured radical position. )

    likely only 1% of people really need to read books, and the rest need to simply get on the same page.

  18. Excuse me, but who the fuck is David Walsh?

    He is actually a very good movie reviewer, if a bit on the didactic side. He has also written a very good critique of the Nation Magazine. Unfortunately, this is a very delusional sect that somehow thinks that attacking the rest of the left will lead to socialist revolution. It is like taking all the articles by Lenin castigating the Mensheviks and making a religion out of that. What few of these “Leninists” understand is that Lenin was very skilled at uniting the left. In fact, the goal he set for the left in 1903 is the same as it is today: to unite revolutionaries around a simple class struggle program.

  19. Lefter-than-thou posturing can be great fun but silly sectarian folderol turned comic about 50 years ago.

    I have a Wobblies banner in my kitchen but I’m not holding my breath waiting for One Big Union.

    Better I should go to single-payer rallies.

  20. Feh — some people demand some old-school Leninism with their Marxism and wonder why the “masses” don’t make with the end of history like yesterday as precisely mapped out by themselves and no one else. I’d be perfectly happy to start with workers controlling the means of production, and I sure don’t mean, e.g., having Alcoa in your 401(k)…

    Along these lines, and not to sound too supply-side in such a forum as this but, mindful of Andy Stern/SEIU’s sizing up of Unite Here and “America’s labor bank,” Amalgamated, I wonder what you might think about trying to reform the financial systems to permit the formation(s) of something more like “credit markets for the people”. E.g., making it easier to create credit unions and/or other kinds of self-determined pooling (“collectivizing”?) of micro-macro credit resources. It does play into pre-existing capitalist relations of production, but it seems like a more likely solution than some dictatorship of the proletariat or other 20th c. formulations.

    (& I always wondered what you thought of Parecon — now I know, though I do think you’re a bit dismissive of Mr. Albert et al.’s work getting it up there on the shelf in the first place…)

  21. WSWS is run by a bunch of super sectarian morons. Who knows how many people were turned off by Socialism and Leftwing by such cults. Such sectarians are as effective as Stalin or anti communist propaganda in turning people away from socialism. In fact, they are like a tag team. Both anti communists and sectarian nutcases like this WSWS march separately but strike together, to paraphrase lenin.

  22. Ajit, your comment is absurd given the fact that it was The Nation magazine, not the Trotskyist movement, that actually supported the Stalinist show trials. And it was these same left liberals that switched over and supported anti-communism when the interests of American imperialism changed after WWII. In fact, it is left liberalism and Stalinism that walk hand-in-hand, a fact that can be observed even today–the Communist Party is after all in the leadership of United for Peace and Justice, the main liberal antiwar group oriented to the Democratic Party.

  23. “How would they keep the electricity running?”

    You mean that literally?

    They may not have much a program for the future, but this I am sure they can do. The line reminds me of Mises’ book on socialism, where he explained how after the revolution we’ll loose our ability to pee and tie our shoes.

  24. Maxim Linchits: Well yes, I do mean it literally, or close to it. How does a group that imagines a revolution of the sort that the WSWS gang does – assuming they have some detailed idea of how it might work, which I doubt, but still… – plan to cope with the desertion of the engineers and skilled workers? Even Venezuela, which hasn’t undergone a wholesale revolution, as had this problem with PDVSA. It’s not a small challenge.


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