Re: [DC-DSA] Who is a Marxist? Do you agree with me?

From: Andy F.
Sent on: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 3:41 PM
I don't agree with most of this at all.
I agree that Marx came to advocate "proletarian dictatorship," and I think it retrospect that this was obviously a mistake.  But I also think it's a mistake to think that being a "Marxist" means automatic agreement with everything that Marx ever wrote or said.  Marx and Engels were atheists and philosophical materialists, and as followers of "dialectics" they believed that reality is constantly changing and evolving. 
From this materialistic and dialectical perspective, as Engels pointed out in one of his popular essays, it's absurd to believe that anyone can ever create a totally unified and final system of "truth," complete and unassailable for all time.  It's also absurd to think that Marx, however brilliant he may or may not have been, could foresee in the late 1800s all of the political and economic and social developments of the 1900s and early 21st century.
In other words, I conclude from Marx's own writings that it is stupid and anti-materialistic, anti-dialectical to treat Karl Marx as some kind of human god, and to treat all of his writings as holy scriptures. 
There is a human tendency to do this -- as Marx wrote in the "Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon," .it is usually the case that in times of great change, "the dead hand of the past weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living," and people out of a sense of insecurity are inspired to seize on the political slogans and political strategies of the past as though they provided an infallible clue to the problems of the present.  The truth, however, is that people need to formulate slogans and strategies that are appropriate to the present, not to the past, no matter how glorious or inglorious the past may have been.
QED:  It is stupid and contradictory for Marxists to treat Marx as if he had no faults and made no errors, and it is politically foolish for socialists in any age to base most of their ideas and their strategies on what may have worked for socialists in some previous age.  Today, obviously, American socialists would be idiots to follow Marx in advocating a "proletarian dictatorship," partly because the United States of America has a political culture that has always been hostile to dictatorship. 
It doesn't follow from the fact that Marx was wrong about "proletarian dictatorship" that he was necessarily wrong about everything, however.  In fact, anyone who rereads "The Communist Manifesto" can find much in the document that reads like yesterday's financial and economic headlines, and much of Marxist economics  -- especially when it concerns capitalist economic development -- is still valid.  The challenge is to keep the valid parts and discard what's no longer useful -- e.g. the notion of "proletarian dictatorship," which is never going to win popular support in the USA, regardless of how it might play in Europe.
I therefore call myself a Marxist as well as a democratic socialist and a patriotic American, and I refuse to bow to anyone who tries to tell me that my Marxism requires that I accept the idea of dictatorship -- or anyone who tells me that my allegiance to democracy requires that I repudiate Marx and Marxism. 
I also think it's highly questionable that anything remotely resembling "proletarian dictatorship" ever prevailed in the old Soviet Union, or the conquered nations of "socialist" Eastern Europe after World War II. 
As Isaac Deutscher writes in his superb political biography of Trotsky, Trotsky as an young man predicted that Lenin's highly centralized notion of the vanguard party would ultimately lead to "dictatorship over the proletariat," and in fact this is what happened in the 1920s in Russia.  Socialist writers belonging to the International Socialist Organization (ISO) have argued that what really was established in the old USSR and Eastern Europe was "state capitalism," not communism.  However, the ex-communist writer Milovan Djilas, a former colleague of Tito in Yugoslavia, concluded that what the Communist Party became in the old Soviet Bloc was a "new class" of exploiters.  American Marxist Paul Sweezy called the resulting class-divided society "post-capitalist society," while Trotsky before his death labeled it a "bureaucratically deformed workers' state."
No matter the exact label we pin on Soviet Communism, however, it is pretty clear that is was NOT "proletarian dictatorship" in any real sense, because the "proletariat" = the industrial working class did not actually rule.  Instead, an elite caste or class of intellectuals, Communist Party officials and government bureaucrats -- the so-called "Nomenklatura" -- essentially dominated Soviet-style Communist societies and maintained  a virtual monopoly over decision-making, while enjoing great economic and political privileges that the mass of the "proletariat" never had.
Although I think it's obvious that "dictatorship" of any kind is never going to appeal to most Americans, making the idea of "proletarian dictatorship" a suicidally foolish slogan for American socialists to support, I do think that intellectual honesty requires that Marxists recognize the difference between "proletarian" power and the elite power of the Nomenklatura and/or "new class" in Eastern Europe between 1945 - 1989.
Obviously, DSA should avoid trying to establish anything resembling a "new class" or a Nomenklatura here in the United States, partly because it would be political suicide to call for such a thing.  Obviously, too, we should abandon all dreams of "proletarian dictatorship" because "dictatorship" is never going to win popular support here, and also because "dictatorship" is a bad system of government. 
Obviously, too, we should try to learn from the grievous mistakes and grievous crimes of Stalin's Russia.  Here George Santayana's dictum is worth remembering:  "Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it."  We should study and understand the tragedy of Stalinism in the old USSR precisely because we want never to repeat it.
But it would be foolish to throw out the idea of Marxism along with the idea of proletarian dictatorship.  This would be like throwing out the very idea of nuclear physics simply because nuclear physics can be used to manufacture atomic weapons, or like turning against all religious belief because of the undoubted crimes of the Spanish Inquisition or because of the horribly racist ethnic cleansing that Joshua the son of Nun, in the Old Testament, is supposed to have perpetrated in occupied Canaan after the events of Exodus.
When you maintain that DSA should obviously oppose all notions of dictatorship, however, I agree 100%.
--- On Wed, 11/17/10, Ludwik Kowalski <[address removed]> wrote:

From: Ludwik Kowalski <[address removed]>
Subject: [DC-DSA] Who is a Marxist? Do you agree with me?
To: [address removed]
Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 7:47 AM

1) The term Marxist means different thing to different people. My 
tentative definition is shown below, Do you agree with it?

How to distinguish a Marxist from a non-Marxist? Everyone who believes 
that proletarian dictatorship is needed, after the overthrow of 
capitalism, to improve social conditions, is a Marxist. The idea of 
proletarian dictatorship unites all kinds of communists: Stalinists, 
Trotskyites, Leninists, etc. Anarchists are not Marxists because they 
are against any form of state (capitalist or proletarian). But all 
communists are Marxists and all Marxists are communists. These social 
engineers, like Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, form parties that are 
said to be "the vanguards of proletariat."

The failure of Bolsheviks, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is 
a very powerful argument against Marx's idea of proletarian 
dictatorship. But some disagree, saying that the theory is good but 
was not applied properly. They blame an individual--Stalin. This 
implies that communist ideology is not falsifiable. Facts consistent 
with the theory are used to validate it while facts that are not 
consistent are attributed to something else. A theory that is not 
consistent with reality must be either revised or rejected. Marx, if 
he were alive, would not miss an opportunity to compare his theory of   
proletarian dictatorship with the results of its implementations.

2) The term Socialism also means different things to different people. 
When I was young I was taught that Socialism belongs to proletarian 
dictatorship. It was introduced to us (in Poland) as the transitional 
system between capitalism and communism. But that is not how the term 
is used in America today. My impression is that American Socialists 
reject Marx?s idea of proletarian dictatorship; they believe that 
social conditions can be improved via progressive reforms (not by 
revolution). In other words, they are not Marxists. Is this impression 

Ludwik Kowalski (see wikipedia)

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