RevolutionZ

Ep 265 Marxism Revisited, Beacon or Burden

January 21, 2024 Michael Albert Season 1 Episode 265
RevolutionZ
Ep 265 Marxism Revisited, Beacon or Burden
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Episode 265 of RevolutionZ discusses the wisdom or lack thereof of taking the Marxist Tradition as our guide to contemporary activism. Can we have an accessible conversation about these very controversial matters? 

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Speaker 1:

Hello, my name is Michael Albert and I am the host of the podcast that's titled Revolution Z. This is our 265th consecutive episode and its title is Marxism as Our Guide, with a question mark. First, can I suggest that you visit the Revolution Z archive page. It's linked from znetworkorg, which sponsors Revolution Z. All prior episodes are available there and the great majority are not time bound but pretty much retain their relevance for the duration. Second, despite my having addressed the topic of Marxism arguably too many times in my life, I was nonetheless moved to address it yet again for this episode by a couple of sentences from a recent article in Jacobin about how Karl Marx first got radicalized.

Speaker 1:

Quote. Today, many young people are marching leftward in Marx's footsteps, from a passion for freedom to a critique of capitalism, but, unlike Marx, they have the whole tradition of Marxism to guide them. End quote. I am not sure exactly how their author intended those two sentences, but what came to my mind was that, unlike when Marx became anti-capitalist in 2024, aspiring seekers of a better world have the quote whole tradition of Marxism to build on. They can study existing Marxist thought and practice, volume after volume, and be guided by it. But is this a good agenda. Perhaps, before new potential passengers get on board that train, they should wonder if taking the whole tradition of Marxism as their guide will reveal to them all the critical, essential elements of their circumstances that they will need to navigate. Will immersing themselves in the Marxist tradition lead to effective activism? Will taking the whole tradition of Marxism as a guide help them fight oppression and win a better society?

Speaker 1:

A photo of activists marching in a demonstration in Hong Kong in 2019 accompanied the Jacobin article that had the two sentences that provoked me. Most prominent in that photo was a demonstrator who had in his left hand a picture of Karl Marx that he held in front of himself, head high, so we see Marx's head in place of the marcher's head. I could not help seeing that as a warning there, blocking our head, goes Marx's head, or there that for Marx's head goes our head. Was this just an accidental juxtaposition or did the photographer see something more? From such feelings? A real rose.

Speaker 1:

My topic for this episode of Revolution Z is the whole Marxist tradition a good guide for contemporary activism. Police violence, abortion, denial, accelerating inequality, climate collapse, war, fascism To react effectively, should we immerse ourselves in Marxist texts? If we do, what will happen to our heads? Will they go into plagiarism's blender to emerge transformed to better channel Marx into our times? For that matter, why might we immerse ourselves in Marxist texts? Is it because we appreciate major Marxist successes? Is it the claim that, since we know Marxism, we must be right? Is it to show that we are on the side of the ultimate revolutionary? Or is it because we believe Marxist concepts meet our contemporary needs? Weeks, months, years and decades come and go.

Speaker 1:

Left scholars periodically proclaim Marx said it, marx knew it, marx taught it. To win a better world, we should channel Marxist collective works, we should be guided by Marxism, by the whole Marxist tradition. But is this good advice? Is it true that if we don't seriously study Marx to learn his old answers to our current questions, and if we don't seriously study Lenin and Trotsky, too, to learn their answers as well, then our knowledge, preparation and thinking will not successfully advance our needs and desires? Okay, even as I am about to make a case not to do it, I will now quote the bearded big man, the optimistic oracle, the grandest grand teacher, the most famous flag bearer, or whoever so many leftists think this guy is, this guy who is, after all, dispersed into the sod. And why will I now quote him? Because whoever else he was, marx was undeniably eloquent and awfully smart. So here is one of my favorite Marx quotes, both eloquent and also smartly appropriate to this particular discussion. He wrote, quote the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living end. Quote Non-Marxologists who hear that quote might think Marx must have been referring to the effect of the tradition of dead generations on reactionaries who wish to return to the past.

Speaker 1:

It turns out, however, that reading further, we find that reactionaries weren't Marx's target, since he continued and just as they seemed to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before. Precisely in such epics of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. So it was revolutionaries, not reactionaries, that Marx was eloquently castigating for borrowing quote names, battle slogans and costumes, and quote from the past in order to present the present in quote honored disguise and borrowed language. Until we find that, over and over, today is costumed as if it was yesterday. And this is done, ironically, by those claiming to seek tomorrow. Some will say I exaggerate this problem. Maybe I do, but did Marx exaggerate it too?

Speaker 1:

Suppose you think you operate in the tradition of some great thinker, should you proclaim it? Should you repeatedly footnote it? Should you urge your preferred traditions, old texts on others? What is a committed comrade to do when asked just that question, just that way. My first observation is that there is no need to display your lineage, much less to trumpet it, even if your claimed lineage is brilliant. What matters instead is to make clear what you yourself believe and to show why you believe it using your own words of today.

Speaker 1:

There is rarely any need to quote dead men's words and, most especially, there is never reason to treat dead men's words like scripture, as if quoting such words itself provides an argument or evidence. Instead, to convey our own passion on behalf of our own aims, while we also attend to the expectations, fears and experiences of those we address, why not present relevant experiences and logical connections in our own contemporary words, as evidenced in our own contemporary times? Consider a person, probably a guy, who repeatedly quotes Marx and advises reading Marx or some other long gone icon, to make some point about contemporary relations, much less about contemporary means or aims. Imagine, hearing or watching him. Doesn't he often seem more concerned to get his audience to genuflect, to march, or more concerned to demonstrate his own allegiance to Marx, to contemporary Marxists, than he is concerned to help larger undecided audiences thoughtfully consider for themselves current observations based in actual, current evidence and reasoning? In short, doesn't a quote from the past often mask contemporary communicative poverty? Doesn't it sometimes appeal to some dead author's authority, which in turn risks a slip side towards sectarian conformity? Why not instead, dare I say it, take Marx's own advice? Why not let dead generations rest in peace? Why not avoid nightmarish mimicry? Why not develop a case of one's own? Why not stop borrowing and instead create?

Speaker 1:

Please note, so far I haven't erythred a word of critique of Marxism itself. So far my observations have been about how to communicate substance, not about the merits of the substance to be communicated. But we don't want to ignore the substance behind the communication. Is Marxism substance a substantively brilliant guide for today, or is Marxism not so brilliant for today, or even seriously flawed? To assess Marxism substance, consider that the institutional goal of struggle in every Marxist text that offers a serious economic, much less societal vision is or includes, an economy that elevates about 20% of the population to ruling status above about 80% and that also retains patriarchy, racism and political authoritarianism, not to mention continuing to excessively spew pollution. And consider that when Marxist movements have actually guided revolutions, those revolutions have delivered societies with just those horribly flawed features. Does this aspect of Marxist tradition matter? What, if these aspects exist, consistent with and not despite Marxism's core concepts?

Speaker 1:

Many Marxists reply that that is nonsense. They say every genuine Marxist goal is mass work-in-class participation, democracy and freedom, and I agree that that is what Marx and most Marxists hope to attain. But then I add that, despite those undeniable personal desires, in practice most Marxists don't pursue institutions consistent with mass work-in-class participation, democracy and freedom, or with ending patriarchy, racism and authoritarianism. Is that claim false or is it true To decide? Suppose we could put every Marxist text about economics and or society in a pile. To the very limited extent that anything in that pile provides serious institutional vision, won't it most often be economic and include authoritative decision-making, a corporate division of labor, remuneration for output or bargaining power and markets or central planning, each of which institutions elevate the earlier mentioned ruling 20%? And then look at actual Marxist-inspired revolutions. Don't we see just those institutional aims achieved?

Speaker 1:

Has the cause of Marxism not delivering what most of its advocates want only been bad leaders who impose themselves on the outcomes? Yes, of course Stalin was a bad leader, to put it mildly. But the real and lasting problem was Marxist movement dynamics that elevated a thug-like Stalin. And going one step deeper, the problem was the concepts that elevated or at any rate did not prevent, those Stalin-elevating movement dynamics. The problem wasn't that everybody in Marxist-Leninist parties explicitly wanted to trample workers on the road to ruling them. That is overwhelmingly false. That is nonsense. The problem was that, however well-meaning their members may have been, some of the core concepts of Marxist parties inexorably led them, even when they succeeded to trample workers, become a Marxist revolutionary. Even with the very best motives, the very, very best motives, the odds are that you are not going to make a revolution in our modern world because you won't have sufficiently broad focus and especially, ironically, because you will lack sufficient working-class appeal. But if you do transcend those problems and you do help to make a revolution, the odds are your achievement will economically elevate what I call the Co-ordinator class of 20% to economic rule over the working class of 80% and will also leave patriarchy, racism and authoritarianism modified, but intact or even intensified.

Speaker 1:

Some Marxists find this claim personally insulting. I don't think it should be. It isn't about particular people or motives. It isn't about some people's genetics. It is instead about concepts, methods and institutional allegiances which, even in the hands of wonderful people, foster results that those people never wanted. The target of my comments is nightmareish tradition that weighs down good people, or as my bard, who is still living, sang I mean no harm, nor put fault on anyone who lives in a vault. It's alright, ma, if I can't please him.

Speaker 1:

So let's focus on two substantive issues. Consider first that Marxism's core concepts and associated practices over-emphasize economics and under-emphasize gender, kinship, community culture, polity and ecology. This claim doesn't imply that all or even any Marxists ignore everything other than economics, nor does it imply that all or even any Marxists don't care greatly about other matters. The claim implies instead that when yesterday's Marxists addressed the sex life of teenagers, marriage, the nuclear family, religion, racial identity, cultural commitments, sexual preferences, political organization, police behavior, war and ecology, they tended to highlight dynamics that arose from their understanding of class struggle or that demonstrated implications for class struggle, and to de-emphasize concerns rooted in the specific, non-economic features of race, gender, power and nature. They most often even claimed that this accounting, or lack thereof, was a virtue.

Speaker 1:

This criticism doesn't say yesterday's Marxism has said nothing useful about race, gender, sex and power, or at least about the economics of each. But this criticism does say that yesterday's Marxist concepts did not sufficiently counter tendencies imposed by then-current society or by then-current struggle, or by then-current tactical choices that generated racist, sexist and authoritarian outcomes, even against the best moral and social inclinations of most Marxists. Yesterday's Marxism left out too much that matters greatly to guide us to tomorrow. In other words, these claims about what is called Marxism's Economism where Economism is just a name for Marxism's over-emphasis on economy and its insufficient emphasis on other sides of life, do not predict monomania about economics or even a universal and inviolable pattern of over-attention to economics and under-attention to everything else, but instead they predict a harmful pattern of narrowness in how attention is given to extra economic phenomena. Marxism instructs us to study such phenomena and to correct ills associated with such phenomena, but it tells us to do so with our eyes primarily on what Marxism says are the paramount change, relevant causes and effects, which Marxism says are the economic ones. So Marxism provides valuable and even essential insights about the economic dimensions of other than economic sides of life, but not so much about their less economic dimensions. By analogy, imagine a feminist, anti-racist or anarchist who says we should pay attention to economic phenomena and seek to correct ills associated with them, but we should do so always with our eyes primarily on what feminism, anti-racism or anarchism would call the paramount change, relevant causes and effects, which they would say are the intrinsically gender, racial or political ones. Wouldn't Marxist rightly reply that those other approaches need economic enhancement? But isn't it just as valid for those other approaches to say that the Marxist approach needs gender, racial and political enhancement? And so doesn't it follow that the fix for Marxism's economism would be for Marxist to agree that feminism, anarchism and anti-racism have their own core insights and that, just as advocates of each of those perspectives ought to take very serious account of class-focused understanding, so too people seeking classlessness should take very serious account of those other sources of insight, about those other focused areas of needed change. Won't prioritizing only one-way causation, whether economic or some other, miss things of crucial importance, especially given the racial, gender, authority and class biases and habits that are so prevalent in society and that we therefore need our concepts to counter and certainly not accentuate.

Speaker 1:

The good news is that I think the majority of today's Marxists agree with the need to transcend economism. The bad news is that the majority of today's Marxists haven't yet fully adopted new concepts that equally prioritize those other areas of needed change. Instead, the concepts of dead generations that inhabit Marxism's whole tradition tend to crowd out or sometimes even stamp out such broader insights as soon as momentum for activism builds. So while the majority of today's Marxists see the need to escape economism and largely sincerely seek to do so, often by embracing another perspective, so we get socialist feminism, marxist anti-racism, anarcho-Marxism and green Marxism, and so on. Nonetheless, a lingering obstacle is that, in times of crisis, allegiance to their core intellectual framework, to their whole tradition, often overcomes those good intentions. As urgency rises, that is, desires for enlarged breath of focus tend to get washed away. So that is what we might call Marxism's economism problem.

Speaker 1:

A second area of concern that seems still less noticed and confronted than Marxism's economism is, ironically, that regarding Marxism's primarily focused area of life, the economy, marxism's concepts fall profoundly short. Marxism rightly argues the intense importance of class conflict, and that is excellent. But then Marxism near universally fails to highlight a class that exists between labor and capital. That is yesterday's and also today's Marxism tend to a priori deny the roots of a third class and how the economy defines and apportions work. Yesterday's and also today's Marxism teach instead that classes owe their existence only to ownership relations.

Speaker 1:

Isn't a blindingly evident consequence of this class problem, if it exists, that Marxism fails to see that the economy that Marxists either positively call socialist or critically call state capitalist elevates neither capitalist nor workers to ruling economic status? Yet this system certainly isn't classless. Instead, in this economy, capitalists are gone but workers remain subordinate. Instead, hasn't what the Marxist tradition has sought and won beyond, capitalism In every case elevated to ruling economic status not workers, but instead a coordinator class of planners, managers and other empowered employees? Hasn't it been out with the capitalist boss, in with the coordinator boss, so the workplace is empowered. 20% then rule the workplace.

Speaker 1:

Marxism has most often favored public or state ownership of assets, remuneration for output or power, corporate divisions of labor, top-down decision-making and markets or central planning. And this has all occurred, remarkably, even while Marxists simultaneously urged the need for democracy via workers' control. Why do Marxists win the sought institution but not workers' control? Isn't it because Marxism's conceptual commitments not only permit but propel coordinator rule, while they deny that coordinator class even exists. Perhaps the reason why Marxism isn't all that popular among working-class audiences isn't only, or perhaps even mainly, because those audiences have been misled.

Speaker 1:

But, please note, this doesn't say that most, or arguably even any individual Marxists self-consciously try to advance the interests of managers, lawyers, accountants, engineers and other empowered actors over and above workers. It says instead that certain concepts within Marxism do little to prevent this elevation of the coordinator class and instead even propel it. It says that in Marxist practice coordinator economic dominance tends to emerge even despite and against the sentiments of Marxism's rank and file. This may seem peculiar. After all, how could a movement most of whose members want one thing repeatedly wind up implementing something damningly and even diametrically opposite? But actually that is not uncommon.

Speaker 1:

Social outcomes often diverge from rank and file desires. For example, sincere and eloquent advocates of workers' control who favor privately owned corporations, whether they do so for personal gain or due to a sincere belief that private ownership is essential for a well-meaning economy, do not usher in workers' control. Their institutional choices dominate their worthy ethical desires. All Marxists understand that, because Marxism's concepts highlight the factors intrinsic to private ownership that produces that. Similarly sincere and eloquent advocates of workers' self-management, who favor markets or central planning and who favor the corporate division of labor, whether they do so for personal gain or due to a sincere belief that these choices are essential for a well-functioning economy, will not usher in self-management. Their institutional choices will dominate their worthy ethical desires.

Speaker 1:

Marxists often fail to understand that their concepts hide the factors at work. Is it nasty to point out that Marxists ought to easily understand this possibility, not least because Marx himself smartly advised that when judging some intellectual framework, one should discount what it says about itself workers above all and should instead notice what its concepts highlight and obscure coordinatorism above workers. Is it nasty to urge that an intellectual framework that becomes a tool of an aspiring ruling class will obscure that class's behavior, hide that class's roots and social relations, and even hide that class's existence, all while furthering that class's rise to dominance? When we look at the theory and ideology of mainstream capitalist economics, don't we see exactly that dynamic? But don't we also see something quite similar if we apply the same evaluative method to assessing Marxism's relation to the class between labor and capital? That is when we look to see what the whole Marxist tradition highlights, obscures and seeks?

Speaker 1:

Don't we see that Marxism's focus on only property relations as basis for class conflict obscures the importance of the distribution of empowering tasks among economic actors for class conflict? Don't we see that Marxism misses that coordinators can rise to rural workers? Don't we see that Marxism removes from view the rule exerted by about 20% of the population, the coordinator class that monopolizes empowering work over the remaining 80% of the population, the working class that winds up with disempowering work in so-called socialism or 20th century socialism, which system we really ought to instead call coordinatorism? Don't we see, in other words, that in practice, despite the sincere and off-stated aims of so many of its adherents, marxism's concepts systematically and predictably elevate the coordinator class to rule over workers, even as Marxism's concepts hide the coordinator class's role and even their very existence? Wouldn't Marx call today's Marxism, and especially today's Marxism-Leninism, the ideology of the coordinator class, not of the working class? And whether Marx would do so or not, isn't it clear that to argue that we should do so doesn't imply that we think that somehow all Marxists are enemies of classlessness?

Speaker 1:

Isn't it clear that it instead urges that, even when Marxists overwhelmingly desire classlessness, their conceptual and institutional allegiances typically trample those desires, a question arises how might today's Marxists seek a better Marxism for tomorrow? How might New Marxist augment, alter or otherwise transcend faulty current concepts to avoid the two problems we and so many feminists, anti-racists, anarchists, councilists and some Marxists and others have highlighted? Regarding Economism, isn't the problem that we need to transcend a conceptual framework that starts from economics and then, even while revealing important economic dynamics, primarily examines other realms with the intention of seeing their economic implications but not addressing their intrinsic extra-economic dynamics? And upon acknowledging that problem isn't the solution evident, shouldn't we ground our overall perspective on concepts that highlight economics but also equally highlight polydeaconship, culture and ecology? Shouldn't we prioritize understanding each of these life spheres own intrinsic logic and dynamics and simultaneously prioritize how, in actual societies, each of these life spheres influences and even limits and defines the others, without presupposing that they line up according to some particular hierarchy of importance? For example, as a possible correction to today's Economism, tomorrow's Marxist might say I am Marxist, but I am also feminist, intercommunalist, anarchist and green. I recognize that dynamics arising from spheres of life other than the economy are critically important and can even define economic possibilities, just as the reverse can occur. Of course, I still think class struggle is important, but I realize gender, race, religious, ethnic, sexual and anti-authoritarian struggle are each comparably important.

Speaker 1:

I realize that just as we need to understand non-class struggle in its relation to class struggle, we also have to understand class struggle in its relation to gender, race, political and ecological struggle. So okay, suppose tomorrow's Marxist renounces the idea of an economic base which affects everything else and an extra economic superstructure which is in turn only effective. Suppose tomorrow's Marxist denies that societies rise and transform only due to modes of production and instead sees how modes of kinship, culture and polity are also crucial to how societies rise and transform. Suppose tomorrow's Marxist still argues the importance of class struggle but no longer sees class struggle as the alone dominant conceptual touchstone for identifying strategic issues. In that case, could the label Marxist come to connote to everyone what this new Marxist believes? I'm not sure. Maybe it could, but wouldn't the Marxist tradition resist? Indeed, I think this battle is underway and has been for decades. In contrast to the above possibility, however, the class definition difficulty of yesterday's and also most often, of today's Marxism seems to me still less likely to welcome correction.

Speaker 1:

Capitalists are capitalists. All Marxist's rightly urged by virtue of their private ownership of the means of production, to no longer have capitalists above workers requires all Marxists also rightly urged we therefore eliminate private ownership of means of production. So far, so good. Marxists then say non-capitalists own only their ability to work, which they sell for a wage Also good. But then Marxists say that all these wage-earning employees who have the same ownership relations as one another are for that reason in one class, the working class. They all have the same class interests. This is not good. The point is, marxists almost universally fail to recognize a third class in capitalism that resides between labor and capital. They fail to recognize that wage-earning employees can have crucially different roles due to having different jobs in the corporate division of labor.

Speaker 1:

Suppose we hypothesize that there is a class between labor and capital who we call the coordinator class. Is this hypothetical class real? Is anyone in this hypothetical class? Once we admit that it might exist and we admit that something other than ownership relations could generate class, if we then look between labor and capital, can't we easily see that coordinators are established and elevated by markets and or centrally planned allocation and in particular by corporate divisions of labor which allot to coordinators of virtual monopoly on empowering tasks as well as on the levers and requisites of daily decision making, while the corporate division of labor, in contrast, allots to other employees, that is, to workers, recent empowering tasks that leave them subordinate, so that coordinators decide and workers obey. Doesn't it follow that to no longer have coordinators above workers and therefore to attain classlessness, must replace the offending institutions, markets, central planning and the corporate division of labor? So why do most Marxist and all Marxist-Leninist visions explicitly advocate, or at least not reject, either markets or central planning as well as advocate corporate divisions of labor? Doesn't this explain why Marxists typically do not see that, even when private ownership is eliminated and even if the state remains or even becomes democratic, market-central planning and corporate divisions of labor will nonetheless elevate a new class of structurally empowered coordinators above a class of structurally disempowered workers?

Speaker 1:

Marxists often movingly and sincerely describe the justice, equity and dignity that socialism should usher in. But if we look at texts by Marxists for their proposed vision, don't we find vague rhetoric that lacks institutional substance? Or, when there is some institutional substance, don't we find institutions that deny the justice, equity and dignity that Marxists personally favor? And similarly, when we look at Marxist practice, which is most often Marxist-Leninist practice, don't we find these same coordinatorist structures nearly universally implemented. Could a Marxist today transcend this problem by adopting a three-class view that sees beyond just property as able to cause class rule and yet reasonably continue to see him or herself as a Marxist?

Speaker 1:

If a Marxist did follow that path, which indeed many Marxists have at times tried to do, I think signs that had occurred would be obvious. For example, such new Marxist would disavow what has been self-labeled socialism by advocates in various countries around the world, and they would then not call it capitalism or state capitalism or even deformed socialism, but instead they would call it a third mode of production that enshrines a long, operative but finally dominant coordinator class above workers. Such new markets would then offer a vision that would dispense with markets, central planning and corporate divisions of labor, that would dispense as well with modes of remuneration that reward property, power or output and that would, of course, dispense with private ownership of means of production. Such new Marxists would also seek new defining economic institutions in place of those rejected options. The new institutions that I think might gain support from such new Marxists might be, for example, worker and consumer collectively self-managing councils, remuneration for duration, intensity and onerousness of socially valued labor, plus a new division of labor that has jobs, balanced for empowerment effects and has participatory planning in place of markets and central planning. Then, in accord with their altered new economic vision, presumably such new Marxists would also advocate movement organization methods and programs that embody, propel and actually arrive at their positive aims. They would understand that strategies for social change that employ centrist parties, top-down decision-making and corporate divisions of labor will not avoid, but will instead impose coordinator class rule. They would understand that today's Marxism's flaws lead to coordinator class rule, regardless of the sincere desires of many and even nearly all Marxists to end up someplace much nicer than coordinatorism.

Speaker 1:

What would be the relation of such new Marxists, who seek to correct the era of ignoring coordinatorism, to the whole Marxist tradition that they previously celebrated? Well, I doubt such new Marxists would call themselves Leninist or Trotskijus, but even if they did, they would certainly disavow huge swaths of associated thought and action. Instead of persistently quoting Lenin and Trotsky positively, for example, they would aggressively reject Lenin saying, quote it is absolutely essential that all authority in the factories should be concentrated in the hands of management, and they would reject Lenin saying, quote any direct intervention by the trade unions in the management of enterprises must be regarded as positively harmful and impermissible, and they would reject Lenin saying quote large-scale machine industry, which is the central productive source and foundation of socialism, calls for absolute and strict unity of will. How can strict unity of will be ensured by thousands subordinating their will to the will of one? And they would reject Lenin saying a producer's congress. What precisely does that mean? It is difficult to find words to describe this folly. I keep asking myself can they be joking? Can one really take these people seriously? While production is always necessary, democracy is not.

Speaker 1:

Democracy of production renders a series of radically false ideas, and they would reject Trotsky saying about left communists. They turn democratic principles into a fetish. They put the right of the workers to elect their own representatives above the party, thus challenging the party's right to affirm its own dictatorship, even when this dictatorship comes into conflict with the even-essent mood of the workers' democracy. And they would reject Trotsky saying, quote we must bear in mind the historical mission of our party. The party is forced to maintain its dictatorship without stopping for these vacillations nor even the momentary falterings of the working class. This realization is the mortar which cements our unity. The dictatorship and the proletariat does not always have to conform to formal principles of democracy, and they would reject Trotsky saying it is a general rule that man will try to get out of work. Man is a lazy animal, and they would reject Trotsky saying with pride, quote I consider that if the Civil War had not plundered our economic organs, of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we would undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management much sooner and much less painfully More.

Speaker 1:

Such new Marxists wouldn't waste time blaming Lenin or Trotsky's personal dispositions for the origins of such undeniably horrible utterances. They would instead look for underlying inadequate concepts they could then transcend. But honestly, isn't all of the above in some sense the fare of dead generations More important than arguing about the past? Wouldn't tomorrow's new Marxists note that utilizing hierarchical structure as an economic and or political or social institutions risks ushering in coordinator rule as well as creating an environment uncongenial to widespread worker involvement or kinship, racial, political or ecological advances? If tomorrow's Marxists wanted to argue that in some difficult context such structures may have to be employed, wouldn't they urge us to see the structures as temporarily imposed expedience and, in all other respects, try to pave the way for classless, self-managing social relations, now and in the future? Finally, despite some crucial flaws.

Speaker 1:

Is there also great wisdom in Marx and in many subsequent Marxist writers and activists that tomorrow's Marxists would rightly retain? Of course there is, but wouldn't new Marxists, who rightly reject not only capitalist property relations but also Marxist central planning and a coordinatorist division of labor, as well as patriarchy, racism and authoritarianism, also want to avoid fulfilling Marx's own commentary that the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living? And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epics of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. That seems like a good back to the beginning place for us to sign off this episode. No Well, at the risk of belavoring, I don't think so.

Speaker 1:

To reject things we have been taught, things we have quoted, things we have taken our identities and battle slogans from, things we have believed in and that we have advocated, also, that we can get beyond traditions such as Marxism and Marxism-Leninism, is no simple path to navigate, especially when many highly learned, compelling, committed, courageous and accomplished folks repeatedly tell us that to do so would leave us ignorantly ill-suited to winning change. So I want to give the issues just a little more attention. The point of activists becoming familiar and facile with such long-lived frameworks as Marxism or Marxism-Leninism or any other long-lived framework as they move leftward should of course be to find in such frameworks insights and methods able to usefully aid current and future practice. To decide if to immerse oneself in Marxist or any other long-lived tradition is a wise choice, shouldn't we ask will that tradition propose concepts and practices, not hinder but instead help us to comprehend all the main conditions we will encounter when we combat injustice and try to conceive and attain a desirable new world? If so, let's immerse ourselves in that collection of proposed concepts, albeit, using our own words. But if not, let's develop better concepts and embark on better practice. To that end, here are some additional summary judgments about Marxist tradition to discuss, debate, explore and hopefully get beyond.

Speaker 1:

1. Marxist dialectics is at best an overly obscure methodological reminder that we should think comprehensively and historically. At its worst, it is a substantively empty drain on creativity and range of perception. If you doubt these assertions, okay, ask even a well-read Marxist what dialectics means and specially, ask what dialectics helps activists understand, which without dialectics they can't understand. Ask what makes dialectics other than useless and pointless rhetoric that only elevates its owners above those who fail to successfully borrow the same habits and slogans from dead generations.

Speaker 1:

2. Historical materialism's main claims are denied by history. Its lesser claims are not entirely Rome, but when real, existing people utilize the concepts of historical materialism, they typically tend to arrive at an economistic and mechanical view of society that systematically undervalues and misunderstands social relations of gender, political, cultural and ecological origin and import. 3. Marxist class theory has obscured the importance of a class between labor and capital, has underappreciated its antagonisms with the working class and with capital and capitalist economies, has long obstructed class analysis of Soviet, eastern European and Third World post-capitalist economies and has especially obstructed understanding the failings of tactics and strategies that have so consistently attained other than what most activists have wanted to attain.

Speaker 1:

4. The Marxist labor theory of value misunderstands its own subject, the determination of wages, prices and profits in capitalist economies, and more broadly turns activist thoughts away from a needed social relations bargaining power view of capitalist exchange. It also directs its advocates away from seeing that dynamics of workplaces are largely functions of bargaining power, of the differential empowerment effects of work and of forms of social control, and not solely of ownership relations. It suggests all workers will wind up earning the minimum they need to reproduce. But if so, then what would be the point of seeking higher wages? And why do wages for different wage earners differ so markedly? 5. Marxist crisis theory in all its variants has long, and often still, distorts our understanding of capitalist economies and anti-capitalist prospects by seeing intrinsic cataclysmic collapse as inevitable and even imminent where no such prospect has existed, and has in that way oriented activists away from the importance of their own sustained, vision-guided organizing as a far more promising basis for desirable change.

Speaker 1:

6. Regarding visions of desirable societies, the Marxist tradition has been particularly obstructive. First, there has been Marxism's general taboo against what Marxists have called utopian speculation, which has literally rejected trying to conceive even a broad vision we wish to attain. Second, marxist economism has presumed that if economic relations are made desirable, then other social relations will fall into place, making vision for other than economy redundant. Third, marxism is permanently confused about what constitutes an equitable distribution of income.

Speaker 1:

Quote from each according to ability and to each according to need is not a viable economic guide, since each of us providing society according to our ability would mean we should each work as much as our ability allows, which is typically way more than it makes sense for us to work Likewise, each of us receiving according to need, with either let us all have anything we say we need or, if not, it would require that someone or something else decides our needs for us. In either case, it would fail to respect or reveal information indicating how much people want any particular thing, and not just that they do want that particular thing, which would prevent determining costs and benefits of different possible choices by workplaces. More, the norm that Marxist sometimes proposes instead, from each according to personal choice and to each according to contribution of the social output, is not even a morally worthy maximum, since it rewards productivity, including genetic endowment, and not just effort and sacrifice. And fourth, marxism most often approves hierarchical relations of production for workplace organization and command planning or even markets as a means of allocation. Because, while it recognizes the need to eliminate the causes of capitalist economic rule, it does not even recognize the existence of, much less seek to eliminate, the causes of coordinator economic rule. Seven Marxism's injunctions regarding economic goals, taken cumulatively, amount to advocating what we call a coordinator mode of production that elevates administrators, planners and all of the structurally empowered workers to ruling class status. This Marxist economic goal, then, uses the label socialist to appeal to workers, but it does not structurally implement socialist ideals. Marxist's the political goal of bourgeois movements uses the label democratic to rally support from diverse sectors, but does not structurally implement democratic ideals.

Speaker 1:

8. Finally, leninism and Trotskyism are natural outgrowth of Marxism as it is employed by people and capitalist societies. And Marxism-Leninism, far from being quote theory and strategy for the working class, is instead, by its focus, concepts, values and goals, and despite most of its advocates' desires, quote theory and strategy for the coordinator class. So to get personal about all this and to add a crucial caveat, I believe the above claims, albeit they were only summarized here, which is why I hope the demise of the patriarchal, nationalist, authoritarian, ecologically suicidal Soviet model would end allegiance to Marxism and Marxism-Leninism seen as whole traditions, since those traditions have aimed in their principles, concepts, thought and vision, though not in the deepest aspirations of many of their advocates, at that Soviet model.

Speaker 1:

So what's the problem? Out with the model, out with the concepts and strategies that led to it. That makes sense, doesn't it? Yes. But and here comes the caveat only to a point when theories fail to sufficiently explain reality or to sufficiently guide sought practice, they certainly do need to be refined and corrected, or even jettisoned and replaced. And in the case of Marxism and Marxism-Leninism, the faults briefly discussed here, and often also critiqued by feminists, anti-racists, anarchists, councilists and even some Marxists, are demonstrably intrinsic to certain Marxist core concepts, so that correcting those concepts is not just modestly tinkering with the still intact system. It is Supposing we seriously refine or even dispense with major elements of dialectical materialism, historical materialism, the labor theory of value, marxism's constricted understanding of class, leninist strategy, a coordinator, elevating economic vision, and Marxism's still insufficient attention to and aspirations for kin, gender, sex, race, ethnic, political and ecological vision.

Speaker 1:

Won't, whatever emerges, reject enough from the Marxist tradition to also have to find a new name. Maybe, maybe not, but I would suggest that it is time actually it is well past time to get on with something new. But my caveat is that it is also true that when theories fail to sufficiently explain reality or to guide practice, it does not follow that we must jettison every claim they made, every concept they offered and every analysis they undertook. Quite the contrary, it is more likely that much will still be valid and should be retained, though often perhaps recast, in any new and better intellectual framework. So as crisis looms and momentum for change grows in our current times, learning from past traditions can certainly help us, but we should recognize that immersing ourselves in past traditions can crowd out our need to explore and adopt essential new insights in place of flawed ones we have here to fore borrowed from traditions of the past.

Speaker 1:

And that said, this is Michael Albert hoping to hear from those who agree and from those who disagree with the many controversial sentiments of this episode of Revolution Z, via the Discord channel set up for the purpose. It is linked from znetworkorg top left and you can also use the direct link if you can manage to copy it down as I now recite it for you it is discordgg slash capital J K. Capital Z, ha. Capital F. Capital J for capital H, capital Q Sorry about the obscurity of that. And once more, it is discordgg slash capital J K. Capital Z HA. Capital F J for capital HQ. Or, more simply, you can just go to znetworkorg and use the link to Z's Discord found top left. I hope to see and engage with you on there and to facilitate such a conversation, I am hopeful that a slightly edited transcript of this session will appear very soon on znetworkorg, so critics or extenders, or discussants or questioners can reference actual, specific content. And finally, all that said, once again, this is Michael Albert signing off until next time for Revolution Z.

Reevaluating Marxism as a Guide
Marxism's Economism and Class Blindness
Critiquing Marxist Views and Seeking Alternatives
Critiquing Marxism and Needing New Framework