From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Wed Feb 28 18:58:46 2001
Waterman on WFTU, 2001 (a reply to Leo Casey)
By Haines Brown, 28 February 2001
Sorry to jump back in so quickly, but Leo Casey brings up a string of points that do indeed seem tired.
> here as an anti-Communist by those who have invested themselves in
Is communism politically bankrupt?
One can never make generalizations in history beyond saying that nothing stays the same. One can therefore never say a political project (in this case, working-class rule) is bankrupt if one intends a prediction. If it is meant instead as only an analysis of present potentials, that's fine, but the case must be argued.
Yes, in a quantitative sense communist governments today do seem marginal. However, that is not to say they don't exist. Cuba is in some ways a remarkable success, given its circumtances. I don't know that China is exactly communist, but its success at least raises some doubts about the statement. There are communist provincial governments, as in Bangla (West Bengal) that are hardly marginal, and there are numerous communist-led urban governments. That some communist government do exist demonstrates that they can in fact exist and therefore communism must be a real potential in today's world.
When one dismisses an organization, such as a sporting team, with such sweeping condemnation, it usually expresses a hostility that goes beyond the facts. I have no reason to damn the Montreal Blue Jays unless they represent a threat to the team I back. Otherwise I am open to their good and their bad points. So the suspicion is that Leo's team is threatened by communists. May I ask what team that is?
Is communism morally bankrupt?
I wonder just what morality should be identified with communism. Let's say, for example, that communism favors working-class revolution that leads to rule by all (once the regime of private ownership of the means of production is dissolved).
No one today condemns the bourgeois revolutionaries for moral bankruptcy, even though they (at first, and arguably permanently) gave power to the owners of property. Its constituency was far from being universal, while communists argue that they are at least potentially the only universal class. Compared to the bourgeois revolution, then, a working-class seems more appealing, even by bourgeois standards.
Of course, it took a century for monarchists and church aristocrats to begrugingly accept the bourgeois revolution, and I suppose die hards will long condemn the working-class revolution (perhaps gathering in Miami to do so). And I suppose the ruling class will be inclined morally to condemn any working-class revolution yet to be fulfilled. But that's only a natural bias, and I don't think we can take it too seriously.
Does blood ooze from our pores?
To what extent do we inherit the sins of our fathers? Are all Christians today to be abused because of the Crusades a millenium ago? Of course not. There seem three reasons that modern communists might stand accused:
a) their ideological position or, if they willingly submit to organizational discipline, the organization itself, is clearly, presently and locally a cause of evil.
For example, if you were a US citizen who does not oppose US imperialism, you bear some responsibility for US genocide in Iraq. In contrast, I seriously doubt that any communist within earshot has actually caused "blood oozing."
b) they are clearly beneficiaries of a communist regime that arguably perpetuates evil, and yet fail to resist it to the extent practical.
I doubt that in any realistic way CP membership brings with it substantial benefit based on the exploitation of others. Leo seems to argue that communists are at best marginal and underdogs; do we then nevertheless blame them as if they were in power? Blame, after all, is a function of one's power.
c) a person openly defends a person or institution that is patently evil or fails to distinguish between its positive and its negative aspects.
The old anti-communist case in point was Joe Stalin. He may not have been as bad as the capitalists claim, but it might nevertheless be unwise to defend him (such as his work on linguistics; or that his leadership was necessary for Allied victory in WWII), for most people won't be open to any fine distinction between what was good and what was evil in him. I've known virtually no communists who even in their heart admire Joe Stalin unequivocally. So why should communists half a century later in quite different parts of the world and not even institutionally connected be held accountable for his harsher deeds?
Are communists dead and buried?
Of course not. There are many active communist parties throughout the world, including the US. Some of my neighbors are communists; there's a party in my state, a branch in my (modest) city, that has several affiliated clubs. The local Party sponsored a very successful Black History Month event last Sunday.
But perhaps Leo is for some reason thinking only of Communist states. The fact that capitalists have come to dominate most states is not the same as saying that the working-class parties don't exist; that they have no future; or that working-class revolution against the capitalist order (which is what communism is all about) is impossible (I know Leo won't like my implied definitions of communism, but since he presumably is not a communist, who is he to say?)
I understand why the owners of the means of production and the people who enjoy privileges that derive from their affiliation with the ruling class might wish there were no alternative to the existing order and pretend that the globe has finally entered an unending regime of peace and prosperity. But very few believe such nonesense.
Besides, it can be argued that we don't (unless we are involved in petty accumulation ;-) live for the future, but for the present. It is the quality of our life that counts, its integrity; it is our struggle that asserts our dignity. Even if the prospects of the working class were to seem grim, does one for that reason abandon our fellow workers, or become a coward, or give up any hope?
Are communists blind ideologues?
This is the kind of statement that resists empirical test, of course. Perhaps the communists known to Leo are blind to common sense, betrayed by ideological preconceptions, etc. All I can say is that this is certainly not true of the communists known to me. But how could we possibly test if his assertion were correct?
Obviously such a difference is not easily resolved. But I note that the people who try to represent communists as hung up on abstract rigid ideology are the same who argue that communists are unscrupulous power politicians. I suppose these opposites can be reconciled if both are understood as being opposed to pragmatism. But pragmatism seems the ideology of conservatives, not revolutionaries. If you merely adapt, find the easiest road, muddle through, you are certainly not challenging the status quo as a revolutionary. Since much of modern history was shaped by revolutionary aspirations, to shrink back from them seems to be a withdrawal from the fray.
So the statement appears to be simple name calling, which of course is best ignored. Those who are capitalist will insist that we need to adapt, to be hard nosed, and practical; those who are disenchanted with the world's present order will appeal to rights, to higher values, to the possibilities for radical change. Let's be pragmatic: this is just the way people are.