I'm not a marxist?

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Alf
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Oct 4 2006 20:10
I'm not a marxist?

It’s worth looking into the context of Marx’s oft-quoted remark “I’m not a Marxist” , which is often used by people who like their Marx but are not so sure about some of his followers, especially during the period of the rise of the European social democratic parties. Very often the implication is that Marx made his remark as a means of distancing himself from some of the most overtly opportunistic currents in social democracy, people who already in his day were busying themselves with “state socialist” schemes and looking for ways to ally themselves with the likes of Bismarck in order to reform capitalism into socialism.

Of course, Marx spent a good part of his latter years combating these people. But the remark in question was not so much directed against the deviations from the right of the party, but against something which Marx would probably have called a form of “sectarianism”, a refusal to get involved in practical struggles.

The following passage is from the introduction to the Programme of the Parti Ouvrier on www.marxists.org:

This document was drawn up in May 1880, when French workers' leader Jules Guesde came to visit Marx in London. The Preamble was dictated by Marx himself, while the other two parts of minimum political and economic demands were formulated by Marx and Guesde, with assistance from Engels and Paul Lafargue, who with Guesde was to become a leading figure in the Marxist wing of French socialism. The programme was adopted, with certain amendments, by the founding congress of the Parti Ouvrier (PO) at Le Havre in November 1880.
Concerning the programme Marx wrote: “this very brief document in its economic section consists solely of demands that actually have spontaneously arisen out of the labour movement itself. There is in addition an introductory passage where the communist goal is defined in a few lines.” [1] Engels described the first, maximum section, as “a masterpiece of cogent argumentation rarely encountered, clearly and succinctly written for the masses; I myself was astonished by this concise formulation” and he later recommended the economic section to the German social democrats in his critique of the draft of the 1891 Erfurt Programme.

After the programme was agreed, however, a clash arose between Marx and his French supporters arose over the purpose of the minimum section. Whereas Marx saw this as a practical means of agitation around demands that were achievable within the framework of capitalism, Guesde took a very different view: “Discounting the possibility of obtaining these reforms from the bourgeoisie, Guesde regarded them not as a practical programme of struggle, but simply ... as bait with which to lure the workers from Radicalism.” The rejection of these reforms would, Guesde believed, “free the proletariat of its last reformist illusions and convince it of the impossibility of avoiding a workers ’89.” [4] Accusing Guesde and Lafargue of “revolutionary phrase-mongering” and of denying the value of reformist struggles, Marx made his famous remark that, if their politics represented Marxism, “ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste” (“what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist” (a remark cited by Engels in his letter to Bernstein of 2-3 November 1882).

If you look at the programme of the Parti Ouvrier, it includes a number of demands which raise the eyebrows today. Some of the economic demands indeed look like realisable goals within the framework of a capitalist society which was still in its ascendant phase and capable of granting real reforms to the working class: legal minimum wage, legal rest day each week, equal pay for men and women, bosses’ responsibility for compensating industrial accidents, etc. But some of the more political demands are more open to question – such as “abolition of the standing army and the general arming of the people”, or “the Commune to be master of its administration and its police”. These demands – which do indeed seem unrealisable within the framework of capitalism - were intimately linked to the notion, enshrined in the document, that the working class could use universal suffrage and the democratic republic as a means for taking political power.

The programme of the Parti Ouvrier thus states that universal suffrage could be “transformed from the instrument of deception that it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation”. In his critique of German social democracy’s Erfurt programme in 1891, Engels refers to the programme of the French party as a model for the Germans to follow. Here he is even more explicit that the democratic republic could, at least in the countries with a functioning parliamentary system, become an instrument for the political emancipation of the working class:

One can conceive that the old society may develop peacefully into the new one in countries where the representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way: in democratic republics such as France and the U.S.A., in monarchies such as Britain, where the imminent abdication of the dynasty in return for financial compensation is discussed in the press daily and where this dynasty is powerless against the people. But in Germany where the government is almost omnipotent and the Reichstag and all other representative bodies have no real power, to advocate such a thing in Germany, when, moreover, there is no need to do so, means removing the fig-leaf from absolutism and becoming oneself a screen for its nakedness”.

These lines were written, it should be recalled, after the Paris Commune, whose principal lesson, according to Marx and Engels, had been that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the existing state machine but has to smash it and create an entirely new apparatus. Evidently the implications of the lessons they themselves drew from this experience had not been taken to their conclusion. As it happens, it was Lenin, in State and Revolution, a work often dismissed as doing no more than dig up old quotes from Marx and Engels, who concluded that in the epoch of the imperialist, militarist state announced by the first world war, the epoch of proletarian revolution announced by the social upheavals in Russia, the necessity for the violent destruction of the bourgeois state clearly held for all countries in the world.

So Marx, on this point at least, reckoned he was “not a Marxist” not because his teachings had been distorted by openly opportunist currents, but because he did not agree with those who were ready to ditch the “minimum” programme and substituted revolutionary phrases for the patient work of building the class party – a position most obviously crystallised in the anarchist current for whom Marx was rarely seen as something more than the spokesman of an oppressive form of statism and reformism.

There can be no doubt that in carrying out this difficult struggle on two fronts, both Marx and Engels made some substantial errors. Engels in particular was pulled towards the notion of the social democratic party gradually conquering material positions within the old society as a prelude to revolution, a perspective which turned out to be pure illusion, since it was capitalist society which was gradually ‘conquering’ the social democratic parties for its own interests, as the watershed of 1914 finally brought home.

The point remains: however much we can criticise the weaknesses of the social democratic parties and their theorists during the latter part of the 19th century, however much we may point to the huge gulf between Marx’s work and their interpretation of it, it is meaningless to draw a class line between Marx, Engels and the social democratic parties. They were all expressions of the “real movement” of the proletariat; and thus subject to all kinds of mistakes and inevitably limited by the conditions of their times.

nastyned
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Oct 4 2006 21:48

...and neither am I.

john
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Oct 5 2006 08:28

sorry for being lazy, but is it possible to do a couple-of-sentence summary of the point being made here?

BB
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Oct 5 2006 09:08
nastyned wrote:
...and neither am I.

I'm a close relative.

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Felix Frost
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Oct 5 2006 09:29
john wrote:
sorry for being lazy, but is it possible to do a couple-of-sentence summary of the point being made here?

The point is that Marx was a social democrat

john
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Oct 5 2006 09:38

oh, ok, what about his Critique of the Gotha Programme?

BB
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Oct 5 2006 09:58
john wrote:
oh, ok, what about his Critique of the Gotha Programme?

Similar to my own.

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Oct 5 2006 11:00

My main point is that the "I'm not a marxist" quote is often taken out of context, often by people who try to argue that there is a complete break between Marx and the parties of the Second International; that while Marx is acceptable as a proletarian theoretician, social democracy was a bourgeois dead-end. This idea is even applied to Engels in relation to Marx. In reality there was no such break, even if there were many areas in which the social democratic parties did regress from Marx's clarity. The Critique of the Gotha programme (written by Marx and published by Engels some time later to counter what he saw as a growth of opportunism in these parties)is a case in point. Marx never stopped combatting what he considered to be bourgeois influences in the social democratic parties, but he supported their formation because he saw it as a step forward for the proletarian movement.

john
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Oct 5 2006 11:11

Alf - I agree with this, but what are the implications of it? That we should reject Marx if we reject social democracy (I'm sure you don't think this, by the way)?

It seems to me Marx had a pretty good critique of a lot of the processes involved in reproducing capitalism, but not quite such an interesting idea about how to overturn it. He basically seemed to rely on his belief in concentration and centralization to produce a coherent labour movement that would overturn capitalism (this pretty simplistic analysis still seems to be the dominant one even by the time he was writing Capital).

Personally, I'm much happier to take a number of Marx's critiques of capitalism, and rely on historical developments since then (mainly the abject failure of both Leninist/Stalinist communism and social democracy) to point towards alternative forms of movements seeking alternatives to capitalism.

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Oct 5 2006 13:28

I'm aware of the misunderstanding often attached to the phrase and, I agree, much (if not the majority) of Marx's take on actual political activity was awful - sorry to twist things! However, I'd be interested comrade, if you'd expand on this;

Alf wrote:
They were all expressions of the “real movement” of the proletariat; and thus subject to all kinds of mistakes and inevitably limited by the conditions of their times.

So, what of all those who in one form or another rejected social democracy and state representation from the very start? Were they not likewise an expression of the 'real movement'? Weren't they not also influenced by historical conditions? And...were they 'wrong' in comparison to the social democratic current?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Oct 5 2006 19:16

You're not a Marxist, Alf, I want you to hand over your cap, your badge and your gun - and most importantly, you're off the class struggle case, ok?

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Oct 5 2006 22:14

I'm not a marxist?

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Lazy Riser
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Oct 5 2006 23:54

Hi

Felix Frost wrote:
The point is that Marx was a social democrat

Address this Alf. Marx's positions sit to the Right of the current working class.

Love

LR

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Oct 6 2006 07:45

I thought I did a post which took up points raised by john and volin last night, but it seems to have vanished. I will try to reconstruct it and respond to LR later

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Oct 6 2006 11:54

john wrote:

"He basically seemed to rely on his belief in concentration and centralization to produce a coherent labour movement that would overturn capitalism (this pretty simplistic analysis still seems to be the dominant one even by the time he was writing Capital)".

Isn't our main disagreement here about the "coherent labour movement that would overturn capitalism". ? I still think that a "coherent labour movement" (i.e a conscious and unified working class) is needed to overturn capitalism. The big change since Marx's day is that the perspective of gradually building up mass organisations inside the old system has been proved untenable as a means of overthrowing the system

Volin wrote:

"So, what of all those who in one form or another rejected social democracy and state representation from the very start? Were they not likewise an expression of the 'real movement'? Weren't they not also influenced by historical conditions? And...were they 'wrong' in comparison to the social democratic current?"

I think this is a very important line of inquiry and discussion and won't try to do it justice here. I do agree it's necesary to make a serious study of the oppositional trends during the period of the Second International, many of whom were anarchists. We have begun this work with our articles on anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism in the International Review, but there is much more to be done. I have no doubt that the anarcho-syndialists, for example, were part of the real movement - a class response to the growth of opportunism, reformism and statism in the social democratic parties. The question however is whether these currents were able to develop an analysis of the degeneration of social democracy, and of the new period opened up by the mass strikes of 1905, as lucid and coherent as that elaborated by the marxist left inside the social democratic parties - such as Luxemburg, Bukharin, Pannekoek...and Lenin.

LR wrote:

"Address this Alf. Marx's positions sit to the Right of the current working class".

The problem with answering this is that, from your point of view, the same applies to virtually everyone today as well: you've said many times that the working class is to the left of the ultra-ultra left as well, although I don't know what your geometry is based on.

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Joseph Kay
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Oct 6 2006 12:41

i think its probably based on fractals wink

Jacob Richter
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Nov 28 2008 20:51
Alf wrote:
The point remains: however much we can criticise the weaknesses of the social democratic parties and their theorists during the latter part of the 19th century, however much we may point to the huge gulf between Marx’s work and their interpretation of it, it is meaningless to draw a class line between Marx, Engels and the social democratic parties. They were all expressions of the “real movement” of the proletariat; and thus subject to all kinds of mistakes and inevitably limited by the conditions of their times.

The problem with Left Communism is its highly restrictive programmatic take, ironically borrowed from Kautsky himself:

http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/686/programme.htm

Quote:
Mike Macnair suggests that the victory of workers’ power through a democratic republic does not remove the distinction between the two parts of the communist programme [...]

In other words, the minimum programme is the programme of ‘from here to the dictatorship of the proletariat’. The maximum programme is the general aim of communism (I carefully do not say: a plan for reaching full communism and its nature; the reasons will appear below).

[...]

However, in his 1902 The social revolution and the day after the social revolution Kautsky explains the political part of the minimum programme as (to use what later became ‘orthodox’ language) ‘uncompleted tasks of the bourgeois revolution’:

“Let us imagine then that this fine day has already come, in which at one stroke all power is thrown into the lap of the proletariat. How would it begin? ...

“In the first place it is self-evident that it would recover what the bourgeoisie has lost. It would sweep all remnants of feudalism away and realise that democratic programme for which the bourgeoisie once stood. As the lowest of all classes it is also the most democratic of all classes. It would extend universal suffrage to every individual and establish complete freedom of press and assemblage. It would make the state completely independent of the church and abolish all rights of inheritance. It would establish complete autonomy in all individual communities and abolish militarism ...”

Kautsky here has plainly lost sight of the idea that the struggle for the democratic republic is connected to the proletariat’s struggle for political power: it is by some other means that the proletariat wins power.

Following Kautsky, this is also certainly the way Lenin used the idea of the minimum programme: the minimum programme (meaning the ‘political section’ of the programme) is the programme of the logic of the bourgeois democratic revolution; the maximum programme that of the proletarian socialist revolution.

Also:

http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/640/macnair.htm

Quote:
The ‘maximum programme’ is communism: that is, the complete disappearance of private property and social classes and the supersession and withering away of the state, the nation and the family (as an economic and legal institution - we do not claim to predict how in practice people in communist society will organise their sex lives).

The ‘minimum programme’ is the programme of the immediate tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat, or of a workers’ government. Its individual demands are consistent with capitalism in two senses. The first is that the full implementation of the programme could leave the law of value still partially operating: that is, it is a programme for an ‘NEP’ or mixed economy under workers’ political power. The reason for this approach is that we do not live in a world in which social classes have been wholly reduced to capitalist corporations and wage-earners, and it is not Marxist policy to create a Cambodian ‘Year Zero’ or Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’ or to carry out forced collectivisations. Between the overthrow of capitalist political power and the full development of communism there will, therefore, be a substantial period of transition.

The second is that individual demands of the programme could be implemented under capitalist political rule, so that we can sensibly agitate for these demands as reforms; if the implementation of individual demands was achieved, it would not overthrow capitalist political rule, but would merely weaken the capitalists and strengthen the workers.

However, I can understand if non-dogmatic left-communists start to consider their maximum program to be communism itself and their minimum program as being nothing but the numerous political demands for the DOTP (as opposed to the singular "maximum programme of revolution") - like the DeLeonists (some of whom I've had the pleasure of conversing with) - given their common hostility to "economic" demands in the minimum programme.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 28 2008 21:27

have you been reading through all the posts from the beginning or did you find this through searching for something? It is over two years old. oh and I am not a Marxist. Mr. T

Boris Badenov
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Nov 29 2008 02:49

I'm glad someone bumped this thread; I always wondered about the historical context of that quote. I guess I agree with Marx in that light, and I don't think it's fair to just dismiss him as a "social democrat" (see above) because he thought that implementing reforms like legal minimum wage, legal rest day each week etc., within the capitalist framework, seemed like something worthwhile at the time. Of course as Alf mentions, many of the other demands (abolition of the standing army, communal administration etc.) were, and remain, unachievable in capitalism, pointing to the utter failure of social democratic models, something which Marx, had he been alive today, would be quite aware of, imo.

Jacob Richter
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Nov 29 2008 03:01

Careful, though. "Unachievable under bourgeois capitalism" would be more accurate, especially if capitalism is thought of as being the money-commodities-money process. The political section of the Parti Ouvrier's minimum program is naturally compatible with the continued existence of M-C-M, even if socially controlled.

"In the case of socialised production the money-capital is eliminated. Society distributes labour-power and means of production to the different branches of production. The producers may, for all it matters, receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate." (Capital, Volume II)

Boris Badenov
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Nov 29 2008 04:37

sorry, Jacob, but I don't think I'm following you. Are you saying that the PO program supported state capitalism? Even so, I think it's obvious that those eyebrow-raising demands, as Alf puts it, are not achievable under any kind of capitalism, and the fact that the PO thought they were, speaks to the failure of the social-democratic agenda. That is not to say that Guesde was right; he was just being doctrinaire, and Marx was right to criticize him for that.

mikus
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Nov 29 2008 05:30

Strangely enough, I more or less agree with Alf's points, minus the ones about decadence.

I'm not really sure what the whole thing has to do with social democracy, though. I do think that people are a extremely flippant when talking about the second international, and I probably am not in a lot of disagreement with Alf, but I'm not sure how his post relates to this issue.

(As an aside, you could view Marx's comments as a critique of Trotskyist transitional demands, or something like them.)

Re: the issue of the standing army. I don't think it's nearly as utopian as you seem to. The Paris Commune was preceded by precisely that arming of the mass of the population (largely workers) that you declare to be impossible within capitalism.

Certainly today that demand would be basically impossible given the huge development of the military, but that doesn't mean it was an impossible demand at the time.

capricorn
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Nov 29 2008 06:55

Not many people know this quote from the ghost of Karl Marx: "One thing I know is that I am not a Left Bolshevik".

Boris Badenov
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Nov 29 2008 14:20
mikus wrote:

I'm not really sure what the whole thing has to do with social democracy, though.
...

Re: the issue of the standing army. I don't think it's nearly as utopian as you seem to. The Paris Commune was preceded by precisely that arming of the mass of the population (largely workers) that you declare to be impossible within capitalism

You're right, the PC did achieve that under capitalism, for a short while, but I don't think that the PO was trying to emulate the PC's methods, given that the PC had failed; it has to do with social democracy as a method (not necessarily a goal) because of the belief that "that the working class could use universal suffrage and the democratic republic as a means for taking political power." In the end that line of thought proved as inefficient as the PC's insurrectionalism, but Marx had no way of knowing that at the time, and he was right to defend the PO's demands as something which would have improved the lives of workers without necessarily making them oblivious to the disasters of capital.
So yeah, you're right, they didn't seem utopian at the time, but they were in fact, and are so today (as part of the capitalist framework that is); that's what I meant by my previous comment.

mikus
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Nov 29 2008 15:25

No, I'm talking about before the Paris Commune. The mass of the male population was armed (I can't remember if this was by the provisional government or before that, even). If I remember correctly, a lot of the population was armed in 1848 as well. There was actually something of a French tradition (it might have extended beyond France, too, but I'm not sure) of the arming of the population in the 19th century.

So again, I don't think it was a utopian demand.

The bourgeois republic is a different and more complex issue that I don't have time to get involved with.

Dave B
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Nov 29 2008 18:03
mikus wrote:
The bourgeois republic is a different and more complex issue that I don't have time to get involved with.

It certainly is if you are a Leninist

Vladimir Lenin’s, Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, "Left-Wing" Communism in Great Britian

Quote:
Sylvia Pankhurst formulates as follows:

"The Communist Party must not compromise.... The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate, its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution."

On the contrary, the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch09.htm

mikus
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Nov 29 2008 18:09

Did you have an abusive Leninist father as a child or something?

I'm not even close to a Leninist. We've gone through this before.

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Nov 29 2008 21:46

When I recall more precisely what made me start ths thread, I will come back on some of the points that have been made

capricorn
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Nov 30 2008 07:57
Alf wrote:
When I recall more precisely what made me start ths thread, I will come back on some of the points that have been made

I think you were trying to defend trade unionism, entryism into Social Democratic parties, participation in elections and participation in parliament to get reforms as valid tactics . . . until 1914.

syndicalist
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Nov 30 2008 14:42

I'm a groucho-marxist, yes indeed.

That said, I always thought London Solidarity had a good sense of small m marxism.

Jacob Richter
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Dec 7 2008 04:06
capricorn wrote:
Alf wrote:
When I recall more precisely what made me start ths thread, I will come back on some of the points that have been made

I think you were trying to defend trade unionism, entryism into Social Democratic parties, participation in elections and participation in parliament to get reforms as valid tactics . . . until 1914.

"Entryism"? If anything else it was the Marxists who formed most of the Social-Democratic parties. In the German case, the Marxist Eisenachers formed the international proletariat's first vanguard party and struggled with the Lassalleans for "hegemony" in the growing worker movement.

While Marx had very little else besides a lot of scorn for the Gotha program in 1875, keep in mind that Liebknecht, an original Eisenacher, used Lassallean overtones to accommodate a practically defeated Lassallean minority (defeated in the sense that the General Association of German Workers would've accepted unity on any terms).