Madness to the method

One of the things that used to puzzle me slightly about the SWP, at least in latter years, was the great enthusiasm of most of the leadership for the early Lukács. Our friend the Sheriff of Nottingham was particularly enthusiastic about History and Class Consciousness, and used to wax prolix on the subject whenever given the chance. This wasn’t of course a universally held position – John Molyneux eloquently dissented from the Lukácsian consensus, as did Professor Callinicos, although I am not sure that Alexander’s championing of Louis Althusser was much of an improvement.

Why was this puzzling? Well, if you’ll recall, H&CC was denounced by the Comintern on the (correct) grounds that it was philosophically idealist. Not necessarily an obvious fit for a party that loudly proclaimed its unbending materialism. (I have the same problem with Historical Materialism, an excellent journal in many ways but not containing a fierce lot that’s historical or materialist. Some of the articles are at such a level of abstraction as to give the reader a nosebleed.) I have come to believe, though, that the attraction was on the level of Methodological Marxism.

Allow me to explain. If you’ve read H&CC, one of the most memorable bits is Lukács’s little essay asking “What is Orthodox Marxism?” His conclusion – and I can still remember this being hilariously deconstructed by Duncan Hallas – was that, even if all the propositions of Marxism could be refuted empirically, Marxism would still remain valid because Marxist orthodoxy resides in method. Now, it is important to bear in mind at this point that, despite some suggestive passages in his earlier philosophical writings, Marx never at any point wrote a discourse on method. What has come to be known as the Marxist method is something that was very largely deduced from his writings by the theorists of the Second International and carried on (in prose that seems badly translated from German or Russian, even when the writer is a native Sacsbhéarla speaker) by today’s further left.

Given my historicist leanings, you’d expect me to be a little flippant about such matters, and indeed I am. The late Kurt Vonnegut used to say that, as a young man, he’d been given two useful pieces of advice when his school principal told him to go out and kill Hitler, and his father told him to never stick anything in his ears. Likewise, I have acquired a few simple rules of thumb that usually stand me in good stead. When leftists talk about a turn to the class, it’s time to be suspicious of what’s coming next. When they talk about a turn to Lenin, it might make more sense to ease yourself quietly out the the door. And when they talk about the Marxist method, you can be reasonably confident that they’re making it up as they go along. As one Marxist methodologist of my acquaintance once exclaimed, “Facts? What can you learn from facts?”

To keep this intellectual for the moment, Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt has a great description of this mindset in his immortal treatise On Bullshit:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Which brings me neatly back to the Sheriff.

I find reading SWP Pre-Conference Bulletins something of an enervating experience, requiring you to work yourself up into that willing suspension of disbelief that dramatists aim for. There used to be an awful lot of ringing declarations of the party’s infallibility; statements so sweeping you would hope (usually in vain) that the more bumptious element wouldn’t take them literally; and libertyvalanced versions of events that you were sure didn’t happen like that. The factional situation this time round at least means there are two sides doing the libertyvalancing, and the claims of infallibility has been replaced by an acknowledgement that yes, some minor mistakes were made, but it was all the other lot’s fault. If you remember the polemics between Taaffeites and Grantites when Militant split, it’s a bit like that. There are also some good (and one or two quite strange) contributions from further down the hierarchy, which unfortunately will probably get lost in the mix.

I should state at the outset that I don’t have a dog in this fight, and will try to take a fairly detached view. I should also state that I’ve been listening rather too much to Southern Culture On The Skids, which may contribute to a slightly skewed outlook on the world. One mentions this as a reason, not an excuse.

The big draw in IB2 is of course the long awaited platform of the Rees-German “Left Platform”. It’s followed by a reply from the CC, which bears all the stylistic hallmarks of Alex Mango, and a pleasingly short and pithy one from a comrade Nick, which is not surprising if that’s the same Nick I’m thinking of. But here are some observations of my own.

This debate needs to take place in a fraternal and tolerant atmosphere free from personal attacks. No one should feel nervous about putting forward their views for fear of being denounced as factional or, worse still, of facing disciplinary action.

The real tradition of Leninism in such periods is of free and open debate in which all positions are ensured maximum exposure and careful consideration in order that the most effective policies can be adopted in a democratic manner. We should therefore avoid misrepresentation of comrades’ political positions.

The correct response at this point is to say, hark who’s talking. The main author of this document was notorious for thinking that there were absolutely no deficiencies in party democracy until he was removed from the Central Committee. But, having established that we all believe in mom and apple pie, let’s beat on:

Ten years ago at the time of the Seattle demonstration [after having abstained from Stop the City a few months earlier] the SWP made a sharp strategic change. Faced with an anti-capitalist mood [it’s still never been explained what an anti-capitalist mood actually is] becoming a movement, we decided the starting point for revolutionaries was to get involved with the movement and do what we could to give it direction…

We launched Globalise Resistance as a loose anti-capitalist network involving a number of leading figures on the left and had real success mobilising and expressing the sentiments of thousands of activists in this first phase of radicalisation…

Our pivotal role in Britain’s biggest ever mass movement, Stop the War, took this process to a new level. The SWP provided a good deal of the inspiration, the organising backbone and the political direction for Stop the War. We gained huge credibility in the process and recruited many of the best of a new generation of activists, many of whom have been central to the organisation ever since. We took this process a step further with the wider project of Respect [notice no reference to the Socialist Alliance], which had significant success until its crisis in 2007.

And following this list of triumphs in which faction leaders were centrally involved (and skipping lightly over, for instance, the obsolescence of GR), we have this gem:

No strategy is risk free, and like any other orientation, aspiring to lead mass movements creates many difficulties. However it is crucial we do not allow past setbacks to prevent us from taking future initiatives.

This reads to me rather like Mr Tony Blair’s “let’s draw a line under it and move on” routine. With perhaps an undertone of “don’t blame the people who had the balls to take risks”.

The SWP should commit to spearheading a broad and political united front response to the economic crisis and its effects.

In that case, you’re not talking about a united front, not even of a special type. You’re talking about a generalised political bloc, or even a party if you prefer. This woolly use of language annoys my brain.

We need branches which are interventionist, geared around the many demands of the class struggle and the movements, which can act as centres of resistance for socialists locally, rather than, as too many of them are, small and sometimes abstract discussion centres.

This raises the appalling vista of a return to the infamous “action branches”. And from the people who ended up going further and disbanding branches altogether.

We need a campaign of sustained recruitment… We should be organising more regular recruitment rallies that break out of the pattern of standard public meetings.

Oh no, not that old chestnut. If all else fails, have a recruitment drive. At this point, let’s remember how Cliff improved on that in 1973 by appointing himself membership secretary and regaling the monthly NC meetings with a league table of organisers showing the ace recruiters at the top and the deadbeats at the bottom. Although within three months all that table showed was who was the most shameless liar, usually Roger Rosewell.

The limited but real increase in industrial struggle demands much more than a propaganda response. And it also demands much more than organisations that are ‘party fronts’ that contain few figures beyond the SWP or only contain them as figureheads.

Hmm. We’ll get back to this.

What is required is a broad, united left organisation on a national scale that can deliver solidarity to each dispute as it occurs on a far more effective level than the SWP alone is capable of doing.

Sounds a bit like what the SA, SSP and Respect projects were supposed to be about, and we know what happened to them. And who happened it.

After some musing on Cliff’s metaphor of the small cog moving the big cog, and the necessity of a middle cog (Gear! How many times, it’s gear!) we get some rather obfuscatory arguments about Right To Work agitation. And yet more about this broad united front against the recession, which sounds uncannily like the heretical idea of the broad left party. Except that those like Socialist Resistance who say they want a broad left party actually have a clear idea of what they want, and don’t just rely on half-baked sloganising about all-purpose united fronts.

We then move onto the big swingeing polemic about the transcendent importance of Stop the War.

In the run up to the last Party conference we heard for the first time a critique of the anti-war movement as being too ‘top down’ and ‘too reliant’ on notables… Worse still some CC members have now started to repeat the criticisms of the Stop the War Coalition first heard from the left sects – that ‘Stop the War doesn’t generalise enough’ and that ‘Stop the War failed to stop the war’.

The latter is factually indisputable. As for the rest, just because the Weekly Worker says something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Furthermore, the Left Platform comrades seem to find it inexcusable pessimism to state that Stop the War isn’t as important as it was in 2003. Of course Afghanistan remains an enormously important issue, but the massive gap between anti-war sentiment and anti-war activism is a reality, and it’s a gap that can’t be bridged by getting the SWP Central Committee to read The Power of Positive Thinking. Even Bookmarks getting in a job lot of its sequel, Enthusiasm Makes The Difference, might not be enough.

We then move onto a discussion of the united front tactic that might interest Harry Frankfurt:

For Lenin and Trotsky the strategy of the united front was essential to advancing the interests of the working class… The united front is therefore integral to revolutionary strategy… But what happens when the revolutionary party stops pursuing a united front strategy? The lack of such a strategy can lead to revolutionaries accommodating to political forces to their right.

It’s hard to believe – no, actually it isn’t – that John Rees is the author of a relatively recent pamphlet on strategy and tactics. The united front, as the early Comintern understood it, was a particular tactic that may or may not be applicable in given circumstances. In fact, as Trotsky later expanded on the topic, it is to be understood as a concrete manifestation of transitional politics. Since the SWP doesn’t believe in transitional politics, it is perhaps excusable that John doesn’t get this, but it is not excusable that he falls into the schoolboy sectarian error of elevating a tactic to a strategy, and a permanent strategy forbye.

To put it in Marxist terms, we need a dialectical unity of opposed principles.

This is not a good sign in what’s supposed to be a perspectives document. He’ll be talking about the negation of the negation next.

CC members have argued that ‘we have no partners’ for a united front… The wider left may be weak but, partly because of this, there are a number of trade union leaders, MPs, radical journalists, high profile academics and cultural figures who are ready to work with the revolutionary left. A glance at the impressive line up at Marxism is conclusive proof of this. The truth is we have not even tried to involve these kind of people in, for example, a Right to Work Campaign.

This reads to me like the same old routine of a front with an impressive array of left celebrities on the platform, the SWP providing the apparatus (and therefore largely able to do what it likes with the apparatus) and the base as a stage army. I don’t want to prematurely write off the Son of No2EU coalition, but there’s a strong argument in that case that having three trade union general secretaries speaking in a personal capacity does not equate to having a labour movement mobilisation. It would be all the more of a stretch to imagine that you could build a popular Right to Work Campaign by putting, say, Seumas Milne or Slavoj Žižek on the platform, entertaining as Slavoj might be. (Sadly, I don’t think they have Slavoj in mind. It would be another “let’s get Tony Benn to be our honorary president” job. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not exactly a brave departure from what’s gone before.)

Then we get to the business end of the faction document, which paints for us glowing opportunities in terms of popular sentiment on things like the Afghan war, climate change and political corruption.

We are not simply witnessing a shift to the right in British society; rather we are seeing growing polarisation between a left- and a right-wing pole. The existence of a mass, broadly leftwing, broadly anti-capitalist consciousness is still evident.

I’m not convinced of this, but what our factionalists are concerned with is why the SWP isn’t setting the agenda in this presumed favourable atmosphere.

The other response is to look more closely at the method itself.

Down your shots now!

We will need to be creative in our own activity, offering the Party as an attractive proposition for activists. This involves developing a dynamic programme of party events… [snip long list of dynamic events]

And here’s the kicker:

We need flair, and a bit of imagination. But most of all we need to show that we can lead and deliver for the movements.

We need to move with the times, become leaders within the movement again and ensure the continuity of the revolutionary tradition.

Get that? No more of those conservative dullards on the CC, let’s have people with flair and imagination!

Did I mention Lukács? Yes, and I was thinking of John Molyneux’s criticism of Rees on the grounds that

John also makes it clear that he wants ‘firmer’ more ‘decisive’ leadership of the kind he has always been keen to provide. I have always disagreed with John about this. I always disliked those speeches John gave in which he would explain ‘the real nature of political leadership’ and it would turn out to be what he had done recently. Nor is this just a question of personal arrogance, I also think John holds an elitist theory of leadership derived from Lukacs’ concept of the party as bearer of working class consciousness (but perhaps that is a debate for another time).

In point of fact, that was a debate for 25 years ago. What we have here is a little Lukács, crossed with Cliff’s liking for Samuel Smiles (as in, there is no limit to what we can achieve if we just try a bit harder) and now crossing into Nietzsche. Maybe it’s just me, but John and Lindsey really do seem to see all the big initiative of the last decade (almost regardless of how those initiatives have ended up) as triumphs of their will. But, have they succeeded in going beyond good and evil?


  1. Dave Riley said,

    November 28, 2009 at 2:54 am

    Aside from its mocking humour, your study on the factional dispute within the British SWP, captures to my mind some of the language schematism that the SWP seems to rely on to build, like so many Leggo blocks, it political interventions.

  2. moofaeTAE said,

    November 28, 2009 at 4:50 am

    I’ve come across this myself, Trots pushing Lukács like it was something new and exciting. It was too much jargon for my tastes. I guess it was meant to be a Trot responce to the Soviet/Stalinist view of Marxism as a ‘world integral outlook’. Anyway, his view of Marxism as primarily a methodology seemed like a direct rejection of Marx and Engels. Both of whom insisted that nothing could substitute for a study of facts, and that communism flowed from the fact of class struggle, rather than a methodology/ideology/system of ethics, etc.

  3. anglonoel said,

    November 28, 2009 at 8:19 am

    ‘As one Marxist methodologist of my acquaintance once exclaimed, “Facts? What can you learn from facts?”’ Great quote. Reminds me of a Nulab quote from a few years ago: ‘It might work in practice, but does it work in theory?’

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 28, 2009 at 10:19 am

      IIRC the late John Boland ascribed that to Garret FitzGerald. It was probably apocryphal, but it does have the ring of Garret.

  4. November 28, 2009 at 9:11 am

    I think you’re a bit harsh on JR here. I have always been fond of those speeches he makes in which he describes a dynamic thing he has just done, then says: “And I’ll tell you why we did that [x dynamic thing]. Because if we hadn’t done that, then… [y horrible thing would have happened]. By showing the fortitude, by taking the initiative, we transformed the situation in our favour. That is the task of revolutionaries…” Now, you may mock. You may say that x could be literally anything in that statement from the slightest to the most significant accomplishment, and that credit for it was usually misappropriated. You may add that y would always be unfalsifiably vague, or improbable. But this is because you haven’t understood the importance of leadership. The unevenness of consciousness in the working class is what indicates the need for a vanguard party. The unevenness of consciousness in the party is what indicates the need for an activist leadership. The unevenness of conscious in the leadership is what indicates the need for the dynamic helmsmanship of JR. JR’s consciousness isn’t uneven. It has the perfect symmetry of Vetruvian Man. But if it were uneven, it would be incumbent on the most dynamic elements to come to the fore and give form to the more resistant, conservative subjective elements.

    Now. When we took the initiative of intervening on this thread, people said it was a risk. They said it was a gamble, and that it would probably fall apart at the first hurdle. But I’ll tell you why we did it. Because if we hadn’t intervened in the way that we did, when we did, the undialectical historicism of the Ulsterman would have held the thread back and perhaps even destroyed it. By intervening in the concrete situation, by striking when the iron was hot, we fundamentally altered the atmosphere in which bloggers work. That is the reality. And that is the task of revolutionaries today.

  5. John Palmer said,

    November 28, 2009 at 9:21 am

    It is difficult to fault your critique of the SWP – although you are very unfair to Lukacs who had to correct a grossly over deterministic, crude materialist misreading of Marxism after the rise to power of Stalin. I heard Duncan Hallas speak many times but I never heard him denounce Lukacs in quite that way. But what I really want to ask is this: surely the crisis which afflicts the SWP also afflicts much (all?) of the revolutionary “Trotskyist” left? Why? The ludicrous antics of the mini bureaucracies and leaderships does not primarily arise because of some personal failings. These are men and women trying desperately to come to terms with a world which has been massively transformed since most of them came into politics in the 1960s and 1970s. I share their dilemma. But surely we have to start by accepting that defeat, de-industrialisation and marginalisation of workers organisations (with the partial exception of parts of the public sector) has led to the fragmentation and large scale disappearance of class consciousness (“a class for itself” not just “a class in itself”). Of course “class” still exists but it no longer configures with a wider subculture of self organisation and self improvement (trade unions, coops, clubs, music organisations etc etc) which marked the period from – roughly – 1850s to 1990s. Are we going through a new period of wholesale re-constitution of social forces from below (analogous to that which occurred between the decline of the Jacobinist/Chartist artisanal plebians and the rise of the industrial proletariat?) If there is any truth in this surely the organisational methods of the marxist left (if there is such a thing any more) as well as its politics need to reflect this?

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 28, 2009 at 10:28 am

    They surely do. And I don’t want to dismiss Lukacs at all – I think we can all learn from him – but I was just recalling that early deviation of his where he dismisses the actual propositions of Marxism in favour of the method. I’ve found it’s much beloved of people who believe that only a truly wise and dynamic leadership (themselves) can really grasp the Marxist method. Which is why a rhetorical stress on method sends me running for cover. It’s just a bit too reminiscent of the WRP’s philosophical turn.

  7. ejh said,

    November 28, 2009 at 11:12 am

    But has anybody actually read History and Class Consciousness? The closest – literally – I’ve ever come to it was when somebody sitting next to me on a Tube train was reading a copy. Or at least they had one open. I was reminded of my occasional impulse to send my sister-in-law’s husband a copy of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu with the idea that he could open it whenever – i.e. every day – his notably tardy missus claimed to be ready, and wasn’t.

    On a similar theme, I found it hard to hack my way all the way through this post. You couldn’t rework it as a haiku?

  8. skidmarx said,

    November 28, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Lukacs had a method.
    Rees believed he had one too.
    Nazis in the end.

    I have read H&CC, some years ago, and I can’t remember any of it.

    Sounds a bit like what the SA, SSP and Respect projects were supposed to be about, and we know what happened to them. And who happened it.I think the last bit is still open to dispute {but please God not right now].And if the last bit is open to dispute then the second to last may be questionable.

    Except that those like Socialist Resistance who say they want a broad left party actually have a clear idea of what they want, But have they got what they want?

  9. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Its is a bit odd to treat the left platform’s document as representative of the SWPs thinking (actually more then odd its enraging). But then again I’m NOT encouraging further discussion of the internal documents…er. Yes I can hardly complain can I (it is bloody irritating though, and I increasingly wonder about the viability or even usefulness of not just publishing the bloody things). On Lukacs I think its important to realise that he was very important for the new left in the 1960s and that the tradition of debate and discussion about him began during that period within our tradition. Its also true that this was probably important for us because we never saw ourselves as orthodox trotskyists and were therefore open to those currents. I prefer to read Lukacs in that context.

  10. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Here is Ian Birchall in 1969:

    I’ve also recently been reading Lukac’s defence of history and class consiousness, only recently discovered and published with an intro by John Rees and commentry by Zizek. What struck me the most was the critique of second international marxism which could have been written in the 1960s.

  11. Dave Riley said,

    November 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Perhaps in this discussion the Lukacs reference is a bit of a red herring as it was about what Lukacs didn’t say or do rather than what he did. But the topic touches a chord I’m sure as it gets to the nitty gritty of what infects the far left after decades of Trotskyism in the ascendancy.I’m not so much keen on denigrating Trotksy but of referring to his followers’ obsession with program as though the best of all possible political programs could be constructed and everything thereafter — save a actual revolutionary crisis — would be as right as rain.

    The late Peter Camejo addressed this question in 1995 in a comment he wrote to the Australian DSP — Return to materialism. While I think some of his formulations and judgements in this piece were incorrect,even addled (especially in reference to New Zealand and the Brazilian PT), he nonetheless captures a presumptive thread that I think prevails across the whole far left.

    The DSP is now on the cusp of merging into the Socialist Alliance and, I think, in retrospect, Peter’s message has been followed through in a considered practice not because he said it , but because the day to day political activity gave it substance. As a recent DSP report says:

    “Small socialist organizations operating in relative isolation in the working class movements, or sometimes substantially outside these movements because they are composed almost totally of small groups of “socialist intellectuals” are chronically plagued with what might be called “Marxist” identity politics. That is they are more concerned about “proving” to themselves that they are “real Marxists” than actually applying what Marx, Engels and Lenin taught which is to build real socialist leadership in the working class. In fact, the further away such groups are from that objective, the more loudly they assert their “Marxist” identity. What passes as politics in “the left” as we have it in this country can degenerate to little more than a ridiculous I’m-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition. We’ve all seen this time and again with various little sects. And we’ve also seen this tendency in our own organization (”

    My point is that it’s not enough to complain that “materialism” is in short supply or that method is whatever (or that its’ only the SWP that is erring). What is at stake is a sort of idealistic habituation that has to be addressed urgently primarily because the whole strategy of so much of the far left is formatted by an approach that lives in the heads of the combatants rather than in their activity.

  12. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Except that the SWP is not an orthodox trotskyist organisation and does not have a program. I would say though, that some of the left platform positions do appear to be evidence of socialist identity politics eclipsing much else.

  13. Liam said,

    November 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    #8 No.

  14. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Duncan Hallas’s old critique of a certain conception of ‘leadership’ that grew up amongst orthodox trotskyists can be found in ‘towards a revolutionary socialist party’. That perspective is developed in ‘building the leadership’ (both can be googled). Essentially it was a conception of ‘leadership’ divorced from any organic relationship with the working class and mass movements. It does seem to me that some of the pronouncements of those from left platform greatly resemble the objects of this critique. I don’t really think Lukacs can be blamed for this. Like Lenin, I think he is a dangerous author in the wrong hands (I am paraphrasing Alfred Rosmers famous response to Lenin’s pamphlet on ultraleftism). Whilst I disagree with John Palmer’s general take on the decline of the viability of a politics based on the organised workers, I think he does have a point that much of this is a problem of genuine socialists grappling with unmalliable realities. In this case though I think its the product of having refused to abandon a faulty perspective rather then strategic orientation, when it has become obvious to almost everyone else that it is faulty. This can lead people in rather odd directions. Duncan Hallas conclusion about the roots of post-war sectarianism are here:

    “The root cause of the sort of sectarianism that has plagued the British left is the isolation of socialists from effective and influential participation in mass struggles. The isolation is rapidly diminishing but its negative effects – the exacerbation of secondary differences, the transformation of tactical differences into matters of principle, the semi-religious fanaticism which can give a group considerable survival power in adverse conditions at the cost of stunting its potentiality for real development, the theoretical conservatism and blindness to unwelcome aspects of reality – all these persist. They will be overcome when, and only when, a serious penetration and fusion of layers of workers and students outside sectarian circles has been achieved.”

    Many of us had abandoned some of the rigidities associated with the the SWPs survival in adverse circumstances in the 1980s. It came as something of a shock to discover that some of those at the helm of mass work succumbed to them.

    • Dirty Red Bandana said,

      November 28, 2009 at 8:48 pm

      Hmm, Hallas reads like he is describing both sides in the latest faction fight. Johng, you have a gift for irony, sir!

  15. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I recall with horror hearing the phrase ‘raise the banner and people will come’. I was, quite literally, dumbstruck.

  16. skidmarx said,

    November 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    13. Congratulations on your brevity, honesty,and avoidance of the detested reply system.

    15. Was that before or after Field of Dreams came out?

  17. David Ellis said,

    November 28, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Very funny piece but also an excellent analysis.

    `To put it in Marxist terms, we need a dialectical unity of opposed principles.’

    That sounds like a rationalisation for a lash up rather than a principled united front for specific ends. No doubt the `unity’ bit will consist in adopting or mixing the other’s programme.

    Political differences should be fought politically not through administrative and bureaucratic means as this one and all SWP ones previously have been fought. This is not a case of a petty bourgeois opposition attacking marxism that need to be politically repulsed but two CC factions fighting it out over a declining membership and resource base. Both sides of this split are middle class eclectics not Marxists and certainly not Trotskyists with their all consuming love of Gramsci. However things do happen during the course of these sort of things and it maybe that now that they are under the cosh themselves the Rees lot may learn something and not just `defend’ the party better than their opponents but realise that a clean break from it and its methodology is required. Propaganda sects can no longer endure. The stability they enjoyed during the Cold War was an exception provided by the prevailing objective conditions of the time. New forms are needed now.

  18. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Well Dave, I’m sure the Left Platform will be pleased to have your support. Live long and prosper.

  19. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Well, of course I know the Left Platform document isn’t representative of SWP thinking in the round. It is representative of a certain strain of SWP thinking that was a lot more dominant a few years ago than it is now. That is the “if you build it, they will come” mode of thought, and while the formal programmatic differences between the sides are small to vanishing point… yes, there’s a deeply voluntarist approach here. It’s almost Furedite in places, especially in the call for flair and imagination.

  20. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Furedite, was what has been on my mind for a while. Obviously being in the SWP I have no comprehension of what a programatic difference might be but can only surmise they must be really, really big.

  21. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    But I disagree quite strongly that the strand of thinking represented (as opposed to a few of the individuals) is continuous with the practice of the SWP a few years ago. This is to take at face value the frankly perverse claims that the SWP currently is hostile to United Fronts. It is best not to simply invert claims of the CC’s opponents to find out what they think. But, er, as stated I can’t really complain about that. Raise the banner they will come is a phrase I heard being used by those who became left platform supporters a few months ago. I never ever heard such a thing previously. Could there be such a thing as a combination of orthodox trotskyism and furedic thinking? The best summation I’ve heard of left platforms critique of the SWP’s practice in recent years is ‘its like someone who steals your clothes and then tries to get you arrested for public indecency’.

  22. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Not representative ‘in the round’ !!!!!!?????????????

    jesus wept.

  23. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    One of the things I DID notice was a penchant for long quotations from Trotsky on Facebook. You know the sort of thing you get periodically on Luna17.

  24. Danny said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    #18 Why do you think #17 supports the left platform, when it says

    “This is not a case of a petty bourgeois opposition attacking marxism that need to be politically repulsed but two CC factions fighting it out over a declining membership and resource base.”


  25. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Well, I think David Ellis is hoping for a split and therefore thinks being friendly to those who he thinks might split is an act of tactical genius or something. Not that it matters much really.

    “the Rees lot may learn something and not just `defend’ the party better than their opponents but realise that a clean break from it and its methodology is required”

    The odd thing about David Ellis is that he always argues about clean breaks from the past but sounds like an orthodox trotskyists whose been given too much coffee.

  26. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 28, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Obviously it’s not as if the party never used to have a strong voluntarist streak. Cliff could be a shocking man for the voluntarism. But I have the impression that John and Lindsey have certainly radicalised their voluntarism over the past year – all that stuff about imaginative and dynamic leadership definitely has a ring of the RCP to it.

  27. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Well yeah. What is most striking is that it is not possible to have rational discussion, the tone being remincent of someone demanding to know whether or not you support the IRA in ringing tones at 6AM on a picket line. Amusingly a member of their lot came up to me and rather menacingly tried to warn me off participating in discussions on the internet (anyone who believes that this is about democracy is in for a nasty shock). It really is a bit strange and cult-like.

  28. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Actually. I tell you what it reminds me of. What was that little organisation inside the sticks? You know research wing or something. Like that. Very much like that. Without the systematic intellectual framework obviously. And reading the book the attitude of many of us members to it is rather similar. I mean…who ARE these people?

  29. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    John Rees as the second coming of Eoghan Harris? Well, he has the leather jacket…

    • Mark P said,

      November 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

      I’m not John Rees’ greatest admirer, but that’s unduly harsh.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        November 28, 2009 at 5:56 pm

        Yes, I think it’s a bit unfair on Eoghan.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        November 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm

        Ouch. Fascinating stuff though. I never thought the day would come when the inner workings of the SWP would be compared to the WP, even half (quarter? eighth?) jokingly.

  30. November 28, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Re: Lukács I cannot understand how one could isolate the Marxist method from the key elements of Marxism as a philosophy (dialectical materialism, historical materialism, the class struggle, phenomena viewed as elements in a totality etc). Upon what basis, therefore, could one apply a Marxist method? I agree that method is important and that one needs to approach history primarily from the basis of facts, but that doesn’t discount attempting to, as objectively as possible, engage with those facts in the context of a wider framework.

  31. November 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    […] of the Kremlinology, Splintered Sunrise tackles the debate within the British SWP with an very interesting article here. […]

  32. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Not meant seriously obviously. Then again…On Lukacs I think its important to see that he was inveighing against various second international marxists who were attacking Marxism for departing from what they saw as basic commandments of Marx, understood in an entirely static way. One got the same from the early Gramsci (revolution against capital etc). The legacy of all this meant that those in the new left who were faced with ‘Marxism dying of boredom’ were very interested in these texts (a contrast to views of Marxism which read as cook-books for the building of heavy industry) but unfortunately this strand of Hegelian Marxism could also be a recipe for the building of apocalyptic sects. Like I said though, I’m entirely unsure you can blame Lukacs for that. Hegel was the enlightenment thinker who thought hardest about the problems of placing human beings at the centre of accounts of reason and history so its unsurprising that Marx and Marxists have frequently turned to him when they entered periods of crisis. Its also true though that Hegel (or Lukacs) can’t be used as a substitute for thought. This also is one response to political crisis.

  33. non-partisan said,

    November 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm


    (actually more then odd its enraging) likewise your consistent use of ‘then’ where you should use ‘than’

    boring i know, but truly enraging

  34. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I don’t think anybody has compared the ‘inner workings of the SWP’ to WP. That would be a bit of a grand way to see it.

  35. sonofstan said,

    November 28, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I admire H&CC greatly, not least because it helped me in getting my masters thesis written, confident in the knowledge that the radical recasting of Kant that i was passing off as my own would not be spotted by my examiners who were unlikely to be familiar with such an unfashionable book.

    That’s what it is though, for the most part: an attempt to prove that Kant was a proto- Marxist, or that Marx, despite his Hegelianism, owed it all to Konigsberg. Nor was he entirely wrong.

    And Tailism, the Reflection on H &CC, mentioned above, is well worth a look.

  36. johng said,

    November 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Really? Spell that out a little more. Personally I can’t stand the current fashion for Kant amongst the ‘Event’ crowd. But then I’m even more unfash. I like Aristotle. The fashion for which interestingly, was sparked in the 50s and 60s by those influenced by Lukacs (Goldmann hidden god being very influential on MacIntyre who was also in his early writings inspired by Lukacs). The new collection of MacIntyre’s explicitly Marxist writings in the 60s shows the join.

    • sonofstan said,

      November 29, 2009 at 10:36 am

      What I think I was trying to say back then was that Lukacs took the Kantian structure of categories and forms of intuition as productive of the world, but replaced the Kantian noumenal underwriting of this phenomenal sphere with history: so that, instead of an entirely abstract and ahistorical (and unavailable) ‘ding an sich’ you have a, not a ‘thing’ in itself, but an operator, a process. So far, so Hegelian, but where Lukacs reverts to Kant is that, unlike Hegel, he tends to still see a dualistic split between the world -as representation – and history, or process, as noumenon. And it is to here, i guess, that the hypostasisation of method can be traced.

      Something I thought then, and still think, is this – as i heard Ralf-Peter Horstmann say in Trinity early this year – there are no Hegelians….. every attempt to ‘go beyond’ from Marx onwards, slips back into Kant: form and content, method and concretion separate themselves out ‘naturally’ in our thought: the challenge of hegel is still unmet.

      One of these days I must read early MacIntyre – I have an aversion brought about by having to teach on After Virtue for a few years running. Goldmann, too is an interesting, and too quickly forgotten figure.

      Bt ‘the event crowd’ do you Badiou et al?

  37. Andy Newman said,

    November 28, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Well I have read H&CC, and I think it is very hard going; and certaily open to voluntarist interpreations.

    But in some defence of Lukács’s discussion of method, he was polemicising against the background of some very formulaic variants of Marxism, that included some articles of faith such as the idea that the transition to socialism starting in the advanced capitalist societies.

    While Historical materialism as a method of social analysis may be convincing and consistent with the scientific realist method of evaluating its truth likeness when taken in the round, and particular tent of the politics of marxism may be refutable on the basis of the Historical materialist method when assesing the evidence.

    For example, Cliff always used to say that central to marxism is the idea that the “emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class “. this is certainly reconcilable with Marx’s ideological positions and avoweed politics, but it is less easy to argue that this is actually proveable by the evidence when using the historical materialist method.

    So to cling to it as a self evident and defining tenet of Marxism elevates hitorial Materialism to a supre-historical doctrine of faiith, rather than a materialist method of navigatig real world political contexts in pursuit of socialism.

  38. November 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Do folk still read H&CC? Yes.

    Do they blog about it? Yes.

  39. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Although Andy its possible to argue that your last assertion was precisely the position Lukacs was polemicising against. Up to and including the assertion that such a position was supra-historical or on the other hand voluntarist.

  40. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:08 am

    The text with the dreaded quote is here….

    Apologies to a very public sociologist if you already linked to this on your blog.

  41. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:14 am

    The quote from the above which relates to Andy’s speculation is:
    “Only when a historical situation has arisen in which a class must understand society if it is to assert itself; only when the fact that a class understands itself means that it understands society as a whole and when, in consequence, the class becomes both the subject and the object of knowledge; in short, only when these conditions are all satisfied will the unity of theory and practice, the precondition of the revolutionary function of the theory, become possible.”

    For Lukacs should this not be true then nor is historical materialism.

  42. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:16 am

    oh then and than. Its dialectical.

  43. Andy Newman said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:21 am

    How so, something can be basd upon historical materialsim, and not have the outcome you expet.

    And Lukas lived in a socialist country that did not cme about through “working class self-emancipation”,and therefore realised himself where he had been worng. oder?

  44. Harry Monro said,

    November 29, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Of course Lukas was spouting voluntarist bollocks, those who try to justify by it as being a reaction to 2nd International determinism are being far too kind, the Sparticists were also reacting to it and all they did was get Rosa and Karl killed. The Hungarian Soviet produced only one great Marxist, Bela Lugosi.
    Obviously (to me anyway) Cliff did emphasize some of the key concepts that helped recruit many worker militants to the Party, but he could also be a dreadful voluntarist as well, I’m afraid he helped push some right fucking glipes onto the CC. Cliff’s legacy is contradictory I think, though of course mostly positive, which is why so many of us are distraught at Harman’s death: he wasn’t often wrong but when he was he never did any damage to the Party, as far as I recall.
    As to the Left Platform being Sticks, well its which Sticks I suppose (political coherence not being that important among the members way back when), if we are just being rude and throwing in cheap jokes I’d say more like the irps. Which given the revelation (to me) that some in the SWM wanted to fuse with the irps when they started can open up a few jokes at the Party’s expense.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 29, 2009 at 12:36 am

      Well, at least it was the Irps of Costello and McAliskey – I think Bernie was keen to get some more leftists in to boost her position. We’re not talking here about the Irps in their later Shining Path phase.

      Yes, Harman will be sadly missed. But if we’re talking about the sometimes patchy quality of the CC, let’s look on the positive side and think of the journalists SW used to have. Bright young people like Peter Hitchens, Wendy Henry, Garry Bushell… whatever happened to them?

      I jest of course. Cliff’s positives still far outweigh his negatives for me. But that voluntarist streak goes back a long way.

  45. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Well Andy I posted the article and I posted the quote from the article. Essentially the Lukacs who wrote in the early 1920s believed, along with Gramci, that Marxism was the science of self-emanicipation and that this was only possible on the basis of the position of the proletariat in capitalist society. . If this was falsified so was the possibility of the science. On the question of voluntarism, The later Lukacs repudiated all this and his whole work of the period. Some might say that this was no co-incidence. The older Lukacs collapsed the whole of HCC into the ‘leftism’ which was without question a feature (as it was with Gramsci) of his early encounters with Communism. This was in line with the official verdict of the Comintern. In his later introduction he pretended to have agreed with this verdict at the time. We now know this was not so on the basis of unpublished material in the later 1920s when he was no longer a ‘leftist’ in that early sense. His later shift represented a capitulation to Stalinism rather then, as he was to claim, a repudiation of his early leftism. This was the debate between official Communism and the New Left on the reception of Lukacs in the 1960s.

    On voluntarism I think its neccessary to differentiate between a mistake and something more systematic. On joking parrallels it was form rather then content as described in the book that rang a few bells.

  46. Harry Monro said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:09 am

    I think we all have form.
    Now an X-File moment. We all know how Rees loves his Lukacs, now didn’t Lukacs think Sir Walter Scoit was the bees knees of something called the “bourgeois novel”, now Scott wrote Ivanhoe, and s/s illustrates Rees posts with Sherriff motifs! I have my tin foil hat on and everything is becoming clearer.
    I’ll save my thoughts on the irps, if I may, until you return to the split period in TLR; here I’ll reserve any vitriol for the Left Platform.
    Some of Cliff’s protégés were very nice people, others were borderline sociopaths, but the problem was they had hardly a political thought in their head. 2 weeks after coming off the CC they were often not only out of the Party but out of politics. One of the reforms the Part must embrace is the end of hacks being on the CC just for being loyal activists, the CC needs to be the best thinkers we have even if they argue (like the Bolshviks in fact – but yes even then Lenin lumbered his party with Stalin, everyone makes mistakes).

  47. robert said,

    November 29, 2009 at 11:04 am

    There needs to be an inner party that is non sectarian, cuts across all the alphabet soup and recruits those individuals who have a proven track record of integrity and commitment to the cause but who can also see through the bullshit of tin pot authority figures like the Sherriff.

    I’m thinking of Madam Miaow here, among others. Why are there so few women in the movement? There needs to be a separate organisation for women without the machoc posturing.

    In the FRench Revolution there were two committees. The most famous was the Committee of Public Safety but there was also the General Security committee which had a very significant role to play in the drama.

    Perhaps this time round the script might go as follows

    General Security GBH) Predominantly male. Jacobite Volunteer Force

    Public Safety/Welfare committee (CPS) Predominantly female. HQ constantly on the move, somewhere in the republic of Pemberly

    Liason between the two via CPO (Commonwealth Post Office) Her graces Royal Mail. The internet is not secure; much better to use small pieces of paper for top of the range security messages.

    Mr. scott’s engine room
    the white room
    The Jacobite boys
    who guard the room of requirement
    of the invisible commitee
    of general security

    The engine room
    Hermione’s green room
    the room of requirement
    in the republic of Pemberly
    The Girondist women
    of the Committe of public safety…

  48. John Palmer said,

    November 29, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Reading Harry Monro underlines for me how different objective circumstances help (note help) shape the changing political culture of organisations. At a time of rising class struggle – and a wider pervasive sense not only of class consciousness but – among a not insignificant minority of working people – a sense of latent power, the impact of the political hacks existed but was limited. Over my years in the proto-SWP (the IS) Cliff knew he had to convince his comrades of a particular line of thought not merely have it proclaimed as revealed truth by the epigones (the likes of R Rosewall). It could not have been otherwise dealing with the likes of Mike Kidron, Alastair MacIntyre, Geoff Carlsson, Peter Sedgwick, Jim Higgins, Duncan Hallas, Nigel Harris – to say nothing of the likes of Harry Wicks and others. The bizarre and at times nightmarish ideological lurches which characterise all sects in a period of declining class confidence ultimate reflects a profound disconnect with the world “as it is.” This disconnect is also reflected in the extremes of interpretation of previous marxist thinkers whose own work is not seen in the context of their own times. The question is whether this disconnect is merely episodic or is historically structural? Hence my point about whether we are witnessing a reconstitution of class. Raya Dunayevskaya and her group used to have a journal called “Facing Reality”.Not a bad choice for today.

  49. Madam Miaow said,

    November 29, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    “We will need to be creative in our own activity, offering the Party as an attractive proposition for activists. … We need flair, and a bit of imagination. But most of all we need to show that we can lead and deliver for the movements.”

    Yes, I too believed this when they spent 18 months trying to recruit me. But we know what happens to anyone with “flair” and “imagination”. Rees and his mates take a bloody great axe to them.

    I’m glad this ax(e)is is no longer in the SWP but without an honest appraisal and a look at why many of those remaining in the party allowed, watched or participated when this happened over such a crucial period of New Labour excesses, wars and economic meltdown, there will always be wariness and an expectation that the same thing will happen. The party has proved itself incapable of keeping its own interior malign forces on a leash until it was too late.

    The Right accuse the Left of “the politics of envy”. It’s surely the duty of the Left to ensure that this remains a lie.

  50. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Well the proximate causes are held to be the weakening and dissolution of the branches. Effectively it produced a situation where the cadre of the organisation became atomised and the leadership fragmented, ‘free’ in the worst possible sense. Some of this was gone along with because it did seem that some kind of break with the past was neccessary to relate to the emergence of new movements and crisis. In that context I think the whole line on the political upturn became a kind of voluntaristic slogan and, whilst Cliff always correctly used to mantain that there was no rank and file in the revolutionary party, effectively the kind of relationship which routinely exists between leaders and led in mainstream political party’s became the norm. For all the talk of the deviations of leninism, it just struck me that the culture of rally after rally came more and more to resemble that of a fairly classical electoral organisation. I can remember comrades telling me that objective analyses of the balence of forces was’nt helpful in winning elections. It also meant that the whole idea of a star system, similarly prominant in electoral organisations, became prominant. I am here talking of proximate causes but I do think something callinicos once said is important. Some of this related to the pressures of being a relatively small organisation in a massive movement. The attempt to fill the gap and the temptation of shortcuts etc proved too much over the last period. There are of course other features but I think thats the framework. I can remember being deeply unhappy with the sudden practice of applauding leading SWP members before they speak. We’ve always done that with left reformists. I mean its the kind of thing they thrive on and its only polite. This practice is not something one expects inside a socialist organisation though.

  51. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    The above diagnosis also I think explains that whilst the SWP has made appalling mistakes in the past (who has’nt?) this latest had the feel of something deeply alien and strange to many comrades. It also explains (I think) the very different diagnosis of some who felt that the SWP had not become ENOUGH like a conventional electoral organisation. The use of the term United Front next to the word strategy is here symptomatic I think…

  52. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Actually another memory of Chris Harman I heard just after his funeral. At a recent day school on Lenin, he walked onto the stage and was horrified to hear applause. Waving his hands frantically and frowning he tried to stop it. A comrade at the front had to shout out ‘we were applauding the previous speaker Chris not YOU.’ Apparently Chris was laughing at himself so much he had trouble speaking…

  53. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Harry unfortunately Neil Davidson also loves sir walter scott. Which rather destroys the whole theory (or….hang on!). Raya’s little group was what I was thinking of when I talked of apocalyptic sects actually John P. Incidently as a big MacIntyre fan I do appreciate the glory days of the old IS and the very big brains it attracted. I also though think that at some point it was inevitable to move on from the kind of organisation IS then was. Its why I’ve never really bought the Jim Higgens argument. I tend to locate the roots of present troubles in the 1990s. As someone who was bought to socialist politics in the early 1980s (yes I must have been crackers) I’ve never really seen the whole history of the SWP since that point as a tale of woe and horror.

  54. John Palmer said,

    November 29, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    johng: I really was not trying to claim that the IS was somehow a better political model because it attracted “very big brains.” My very different point was that the (relative) health of the organisation reflected the much deeper roots it had in the large minority of advanced workers which then existed. At its height IS had about 7000 members – a big majority of which were workers (and a majority of those were manual workers many with responsible positions in the shop stewards and wider TU movement.) That did not prevent political mistakes – far from it. But it was only when the IS re-oriented away from the more advanced workers towards allegedly more radical layers of younger workers did the bad habits in the leadership (which always were at risk) become entrenched. Today, however, it is no longer possible for the SWP (or any other revolutionary socialist organisation anywhere as far as I can see) to have that kind of basis and relationship with advanced workers. That is not because the socialist militants would not wish for it. Rather it is because that kind of class phenomenon does not exist today – outside of minorities in the public sector. If this social transformation is temporary, I would dearly like to know why. If not perhaps we had better start to identify the new social forces which economic change are generating at the bottom of our society. Meanwhile the pretence that the memory of a mass proletarian movement is contemporary reality can only further disorient those seeking to lead far left organisations.

  55. graham said,

    November 29, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    god if i read any more of this blog i think my brain is gonna explode. what is the marxist method? is it like a left wing version of delia smith’s method of cooking chips ? or some sort of krazy dance style as employed by bambery on the dancefloor at skegness?
    we never trusted john rees when he was head honcho in edinburgh district, then he moved to london, grew a dodgy beard and started wearing yucky brown trousers, reason enough for explulsion.

  56. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    But John I think your position is too Either/Or. Its clearly true that the combination of re-structuring and political defeat in western europe had a big impact on cultures of resistance inside the working class. a huge amount has been written and debated about this on all sides as we all know. But this is the starting point of a discussion not the end of it. On questions about relating younger layers rather then older layers and related bad habits. Possibly its true. But in the end the older layers were just wrong about the prospects for rank and file organisation were’nt they? I don’t know just asking.

  57. John Palmer said,

    November 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Johng: Fair question. My own view is that a genuinely broad rank and file perspective including not just revolutionary marxists but CP, Labour and other militants (advocacy of which the reason for the wholesale expulsion of the IS Opposition shop stewards in the mid 70s) would not have halted what became the Thatcherite offensive and the related mass restructuring of the economy. But it would have crucially altered the terms (if not the final outcome) of that struggle. But the IS Opposition was also slow in not understanding son enough the need to link industrial struggles with wider social constituencies – such as was at the heart of the “Workers” Plans/Socially Useful” production campaigns of the late 70s. But – to repeat – the broad swathe of defeats were probably inevitable although I think the labour movement would have emerged in better shape than it did. Anyway my whole point is that we are NOT there – we are here. Much harder. But surely time to confront the new challenges.

  58. Anndy Wilson said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    The debate in the SWP about Lukacs was about whether his idea of imputed class consciousness didn’t effectively put the leadership beyond criticism. John essentially defended Lukacs root and branch, while his critics believed that he was defending this idea of ‘imputed class consciousness’ to provide theoretical cover for the idea that party leaders can more easily grasp the ‘totality’ because they are somehow above the sectional interests that are reflected within any real party. Judging from a read of the Left Platform documents I’d say that Rees’s critics were on to something

    Their is an voluntarist idealism in Lukacs’s formulation about the primacy of method (he says somewhere in HCC that if the method clashes witht he facts “so much for the facts”), but that is a different issue and wasn’t the subject of much debate at the time (it was raised, but not considered to be the nub of the issue). On that question I’d go with Johng’s idea that Lukacs was merely overreacting to Second International determinism. Lukacs himself modified that position very quickly. But, as I say, this was not what the debate was really about.

  59. David Camfield said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    John Palmer is right to emphasize how important it is to analyze changes in the working class (and I agree with what he says about the 1970s in Britain). To use a useful concept taken from the Italian “workerists,” three decades of ruling-class offensive and capitalist restructuring has produced considerable decomposition of the working class in most of the advanced capitalist countries. Lukacs is absolutely no help in understanding this; in fact, his theory is an obstacle to thinking about such issues.

    The lack of serious analysis of the contemporary working class by people in the SWP (and others) is most unfortunate. Such an analysis really should inform the perspectives of any socialists who take the self-emancipation of the working class and therefore workers’ self-organization (in the workplace and community spheres) seriously. I think such analysis in the advanced capitalist countries points to the need for socialists to rethink our current tasks and radically rethink the models of socialist organization inherited from the past.

    One socialist organization that has at least tried to develop such an analysis of the working class in its context and act on the basis of this is the US group Solidarity.

  60. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    John the question I have is exactly what such re-thinking means on the global level. In India today there has been a re-surgence of Maoist politics, with sections of the left turning again to armed struggle. In Pakistan we find a very small left concerned to argue that the counterweight to faith in the State to deal with Islamist reaction (a state whose offensive in some of the poorest districts have produced the largest population movements since partition) lies in urban politics, and linking to the organised workers. This latter argument is not treated as particularly persuasive in either case. Both situations are the result of capital intensive re-structuring over the last few decades which have resulted in prosperity for some and the continuing marginalisation and impoverishment of the many. What do Socialists say about such things? Look for new constituencies? People are. And the odd thing is that a lot of the answers don’t look too different to the answers of the late 1960s. Except the situation is a hell of a lot more serious.
    Then lets look at Britain. We have a left scattered about the battle field. Some have small footholds in local municipal politics. Some of these are Respect, some of these are SP. Last time I checked the SWP also has a small foothold in Preston. The former party is strongest in this respect. Fuck all else really, if we’re honest. In the meantime we face what is likely to be a massive offensive against public spending and probably, massive redundencies in both the public and private sectors. We also face a likely resurgence of the fascists electorally (I’ve just been reading about one university where the BNP are making a serious play against an asian being president of the students union). All this taking place in the face of a political crisis of all the establishment party’s in the face of the complete meltdown of everything taken for granted by almost every establishment thought thought in the last two decades. Look for new constituencies? To be honest I have no idea what this means. The notion that a re-run of beyond the fragments type politics is going to help us does’nt seem to me especially persuasive. It does seem to me that despite all the changes you allude to, that the key battles are going to be in workplaces and the street. And that for all the real weaknesses you point to of the organised working class, in Britain at at least, this remains by far the most important constituency for anyone serious about constructing a hegmonic project to hold back the growth of the far right. What else is there?

    • Neil said,

      December 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm

      “In Pakistan we find a very small left concerned to argue that the counterweight to faith in the State to deal with Islamist reaction (a state whose offensive in some of the poorest districts have produced the largest population movements since partition) lies in urban politics, and linking to the organised workers.”

      Sorry, can you clarify what your saying here please?

    • rooieravotr said,

      December 2, 2009 at 9:54 pm

      “for all the real weaknesses you point to of the organised working class, in Britain at at least, this remains by far the most important constituency for anyone serious about constructing a hegmonic project to hold back the growth of the far right. What else is there?”
      I think it is wrong to treat the working class, organised or otherwise,in britain or wnywhere else, as a “constituency” for the left. I think we should put it the other way around. The left should take the working class as its starting point, not as its support base. The class and itsself-emancipation is central, the left is at best a helpful tool for that self-emancipation.

  61. johng said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    oh and despite my obvious interest in the region its worth mentioning Pakistan given that Europe is on board with the US in having contributed to the almost unbelievable human suffering going on as we speak in that part of the world. So I don’t really see Europe as a civilising alternative is all I’m saying.

  62. julesa said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Yes we are looking at the same ‘constituencies’ in terms of revolutionary socialist politics. Obviously there have been massive changes in the compositon of the working class (that David Camfield above alludes to). But pace Camfield, decomposition is also a historical process of recompostion – the working class has NOT disappeared in Britain.

    Of course there have been major changes in the nature of the working class since the 1970s when the IS enjoyed a modest but not unimportant implantation among manual workers. For example during the Thatcher govts domestic deflation of the economy in the early 1980s, the mass shake out of labour which followed saw one in four manufacturing jobs disappear – a contraction in this sector of 22.8% between 1978-85. Two and a half million trade union members were lost in this period too. This had a profound effect on organisation, morale and combativity. Closely connected to this process was the defeats of the organised working class from the late 1970s and its impact on wider socialist politics. Today the working class is more fragmented, is a great deal less unionised (1979 was the highpoint of trade union density in Britain) and large sections more poorly paid but it still exists. In the context of the global crisis of late capitalism, the intensification of the neo-liberal assault on what remains of the post-war settlement in the ‘core’ of the system, who else are socialists supposed to primarily focus on if not the working class? Of course there is some question begging in this argument (and no one should take it on faith) but Johng is surely right to say we cannot return to a ‘beyond the fragments’ scenario or entertain fantasies about the ‘refusal of work’ as some do. We need historical perspective about our past and present.

  63. David Camfield said,

    November 30, 2009 at 1:40 am

    To say that there has been “considerable decomposition of the working class in most of the advanced capitalist countries” doesn’t mean that the class doesn’t exist (the position julesa mistakenly imputes to me). My point is that the level of unity and solidarity among working people has fallen a great deal and workers’ self-organization in workplaces and neighbourhoods has weakened. As what John Palmer in a comment called “a wider subculture of self organisation and self improvement” has declined it should be no surprise for materialists that the oppositional class consciousness and class politics anchored in it have been set back. Although specific British examples don’t leap quickly to mind (I live in Canada, not Britain) I’m sure there have also been some positive developments in recent decades that have had the effect of increasing unity, solidarity and oppositional consciousness among some layers working-class people in limited ways. But I strongly suspect the overall trend continues to be one of decomposition.

    This needs to be analyzed seriously. Sadly, I’ve never seen any sign of such analysis in the publications of the SWP (or any other British Trotskyist group).
    It would be possible in the SWP to try to synthesize the experiences of the many members who are workplace and/or community activists in order to begin to develop a really serious analysis, and then try to think about what that means for socialists, but the SWP leadership isn’t interested. Politics that pivot around “building the party” lead people away from putting the working class at the centre of our thinking, where it should be.

    The question is not that socialists should focus away from the working class, but what it means to focus on the working class today.

    For anyone who’s interested, I’ve attempted to explain why I think the concepts of class composition, decomposition and recomposition are useful (unlike most of the rest of the theory of the “operaisti” current in Italy) in an article, “Re-Orienting Class Analysis: Working Classes as Historical Formations,” published in SCIENCE AND SOCIETY, Vol 68 #4 (2004-05), 421-446.

  64. julesa said,

    November 30, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Specifically on the concepts of class composition, decomposition and recomposition derived from ‘operaisti’ currents in Italy, I entirely agree they are very fruitful as tools of analysis. But as I have argued elsewhere I would integrate these analytic concepts into a more robust Marxist tradition ie. something derived from the Third International. This is primarily because of the political weaknesses of ‘operaisti’ – specifically its critique of so-called ‘objectivist’ Marxism and its counterposition of a metaphysical protean proletarian ‘will to revolt’ that is blind to the ‘objectivity’ of late capitalism, and incidentally, glosses some the real issues you are alluding to.

    On that basis, neither do I disagree with John Palmer’s point about the profound erosion of working class collectivism, its institutions, trains of solidarities and so forth. The reason for this historical process is quite complex I think and whilst I would certainly second criticism of the IS / SWP tradition in fully grappling with it theoretically I don’t think such an accounting is beyond that tradition.

  65. D.S said,

    November 30, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Can the author of the article provide a source for that Molynuex quote at the end of the article?

    Johng roots problems in the party back to the 90’s. Thats pretty uncontroversial. Callinicos said the same thing at Marxism. I assume that democracy is seen as the problematic issue as neither John nor Callinicos have said what the problem from the 90’s actually is?

    In fact democracy isn’t the root problem whatsoever. This is obviously the case if you consider that the party had a democracy comission to solve the problem and the new revelations from the disputes committee show that the party has massive issues in that respect.

    The issue of democracy flows from a lack of strategic direction from the CC about the priorities of the period. The lack of clear political direction has menat the CC has had to collapse into bureacratic means.

    But even that isn’t the root of the issue. A degenerated leadership is the inevitable consequence of nearly 30 years of low-level of class struggle in which the party has been detached from workers at the point of production.

    • Northside Socialist said,

      November 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm

      By using Google search a copy of John Molyneux’s article can be found here (not the original source of course):

      Please note I’ve no personal involvement in SUN site….just providing access to an article already in the public domain…..

  66. dennis said,

    November 30, 2009 at 3:47 am

    I can’t comment too much on the debate about Lukas, as History & Class Conscioussness is one of those books that I have on my bookshelf but everytime I’ve tried to read it, a few pages in and I suddenly start to think there must be something good on the telly.

    However, I was in the SWP when the drive was on to break up the branches in to smaller activist cells, in order to take advantage of the ‘brilliant opportunities’ for growth etc etc. the point is, almost everyone knew it was a load of bollocks. They may not have said it – and certainly not in an SWP meeting where to do so would have brought down on them the wrath of whatever bigwig from the center was there as well as the madly hyper enthusiastic ambitious clone of a local organiser. But nevertheless, they knew it. It was around that time that I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable in an organisation that had been a political home for some time. It did ocassionally draw in people with flair and imagination, but found it difficult to hold on to them because, above all, to fully integrate into it’s structures required conformity and deference to the leadership.

    I don’t think it had always been thus. I do agree that it’s probably linked to the general decline in class combativity, and the existence of a ‘middle layer’ of rank and file leaders that can both channel genuine experience within the working class back into the organisation and that has enough clout and credibility to discipline the ‘leadership’ when required.

    As fo this current ‘debate’ between the Left Platform and the existing CC clique, lord knows what that’s about. I mean, what a choice! However, I still think the socialist movement, for what it is, needs the SWP. The trajectory the organisation appears to be on does not look promising, though.

  67. redbedhead said,

    November 30, 2009 at 4:01 am

    This discussion has a fairly surreal air about it. There have been many articles and discussions about the state of the class struggle, levels of unionization, levels of independent rank & file organization, etc. emanating from the SWP – in all their publications. As well as attempts to play a role in pushing forward forms of organization that tap into as yet unorganized sentiments. OFFU – ultimately a total cock-up because of the, ahem, cheque saga – was a not unreasonable start. There is an attempt with the Fight for the Right To Work conference in January. Just because you don’t agree with that analysis or the attempt to put it into practice doesn’t mean it isn’t there and that it isn’t serious. Saying otherwise is simply fancy-pants name-calling and a way of avoiding engaging in a real debate.
    Now, as to who has the right model for party building based upon an analysis of the present state of working class organization, etc etc, I think everyone ought to have some modesty. Last I checked Solidarity is pretty puny with a magazine that comes out every two months. By all means, build it as you think it ought to be built but don’t piss on the SWP for having a different approach – especially when by most measures – size, influence (StWC anyone? UAF?) it is a far more successful organization. Of course, these things can also flip – the American SWP was once the leading light of world Trotskyism. Not so much anymore… But a little less chest-thumping, smirking and smug superiority wouldn’t go amiss for productive discussions amongst the left. We’re on the same side after all, ya know.
    What all this has to do with Lukacs is beyond me, having read him about ten years ago, probably half-sober.

  68. Phil said,

    November 30, 2009 at 8:36 am

    the political weaknesses of ‘operaisti’ – specifically its critique of so-called ‘objectivist’ Marxism and its counterposition of a metaphysical protean proletarian ‘will to revolt’

    That’s an argument within operaismo – some currents, & indeed those which dominated earlier on, were very objectivist indeed. What you’re describing is a later (and, I’d say, weaker) current, associated with Toni Negri in particular; it’s a shame that that version of operaismo has become so dominant, at least in the English-speaking world.

  69. John Palmer said,

    November 30, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Of course Johng is right to insist that judgements about the re-structuring of class must be based on more than the obvious data from Britain – or even from the “western” industrialised world (including Japan etc). China, India and Brazil are only some of the countries to be experiencing an extraordinary new wave of industrialisation. These and similar countries may reproduce some/many of the political and social characteristics of the 19th/20th century proletarian movements. One has to note that one facet of those movements in Europe was a certain transmission of militant democratic politics into the mass labour movement from the earlier plebian Jacobin/Chartist traditions of the late 18th and early 19th century. This is not self evidently happening elsewhere today. That does not mean that the new urban social movements will not be carriers of different radical and even revolutionary traditions: we shall have to see. Certainly there is a profound ideological vacuum in the new urban movements in Asia (partly the consequence of reaction against the different Maoist and related regimes). But in the older capitalist world surely there are some signs of new social formations emerging. What are they? Difficult to find an acceptable label. But they have a material basis in the new knowledge based small scale enterprises. We see a significant growth in Third Sector and mutualist enterprise globally as well as in Europe. The structure of capital ownership if shifting (reflecting among other things the massive growth in worker pension funds – some Robin Blackburn has picked up on). This slump may well accelerate all of these trends. Meanwhile new imperatives which could trump the unchallenged primacy of capital accumulation seem to be emerging – most obviously climate change and the consequent pressure for “sustainability.” For what it is worth – before his death – Michael Kidron was working on the elements of a new based political economy.

  70. John Palmer said,

    November 30, 2009 at 9:27 am

    The last sentence should have read “… Michael Kidron was working on the elements of a new green based political economy.”

  71. ger francis said,

    November 30, 2009 at 10:53 am

    As usual, John Palmer’s comments are loaded with insight and good sense, and he poses the most pertinent questions. And David Campfield is absolutely correct when he states the issue ‘is not that socialists should focus away from the working class, but what it means to focus on the working class today.’ Alex Callinicos gives a neat summary of some of the problems in his book “The Resources of Critique”, when he writes:

    ‘The revolutionary imagination of the twentieth century took as its social reference point the proletarian collectivity forged from the working class that emerged from the second Industrial Revolution, out of the great industrial plants of Petrograd and Turin Berlin and Glasgow, Detroit and Billaincourt, Gdansk and Sao Paulo. But we live today amid the ruins of this working class collectivity, which was systematically dismantled…in the great neo-liberal offensive and capitalist restructuring of the past generation.

    There remains, nevertheless, good reasons for holding on to the idea of the proletariat as the universal class…But what cannot be disputed is that this working class is an aggregate if different categories of wage-labourer scattered across a globally integrated economic system, and not any kind of collectivity, let alone a revolutionary political subject. On the one hand, the old forms of proletarian collectivity – above all, the trade union movement and social democratic parties in the North – are in crisis, and, on the other, new forms have yet to take place.’

    But, to my knowledge, that’s pretty much as far as he goes. And Callinicos here is really only repeating the same points that Hobsbawn and others made decades ago. What is missing is a more thorough theorising of these structural changes and the political consequences arising for the building of a socialist current in the UK in the 21st century. Jules may well be right when he says that it is not beyond the IS tradition to come to terms with this. Certainly the work of the German comrades from that tradition is fascinating and it would be interesting to know more about the theory behind their practice. (Unfortunately, I don’t read German). But to properly address these questions in the UK will mean having to face up to some hard facts of life. The most obvious one being that despite many decades of political practice the SWP remains extremely peripheral to real political life as experienced by the mass of people. And almost totally without roots in working class communities. Nowhere is this more obvious than their abject failure to have purchase in the area where the masses consciously engage with politics: the electoral arena. Maybe the SWP can reinvent themselves. I hope so, but I don’t think so. If anything, fingers burnt by a failure to emerge out of the post 9/11 radicalisation swimming in much broader waters, they are retreating to some old tried and tested formulas, effective for building a largish propaganda group, but not much beyond that.

  72. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 11:39 am

    John could you say what you mean by this:

    “But in the older capitalist world surely there are some signs of new social formations emerging. What are they? Difficult to find an acceptable label. But they have a material basis in the new knowledge based small scale enterprises. We see a significant growth in Third Sector and mutualist enterprise globally as well as in Europe.”

    I just have no idea what this is about.

    In South Asia there is little indication at all of new urban based mass movements. On the left the most influential western texts are those that speak of accumulation by dispossession and most of the emphasis, as ever, is on peasent movements of one kind or another. The new industries are capital and not labour intensive, and this has massively undercut anyone arguing anything has different. I of course situate myself politically with those arguing for the importance of urban activism. A tiny minority on the left, The Indian State is about to launch military operations under the rubric of the war on terror against the Maoists. In Latin America the situation may be different.

    I understand the reasons for Ger’s judgements but think they are mistaken (in particular the idea that there is a retreat to propagandism going on: this seems to be the argument of the Left Platform). Alex does little more here then point to certain realities, which I think redbedhead has pointed out, have been analysed in some depth by our tradition (although I think he overstates them). For reasons I went into on the Tomb some while back I’m not at all keen on the autonomist tradition and find current pre-occupations with it incomprehensible.

  73. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    And of course I would dissent with Ger’s comparison of Callinicos with Hobsbawn. I thought his piece was utterly ahistorical (certainly given his credentials as an historian) and paved the way for right wing adaptation to Thatcherism. It was a faulty guide for socialists navigating the restructuring of the 1970s. Its an utterly useless argument in the extremely choppy waters we are entering now…One of the ironies of the current period is the way in which new is seen through the lense of the old. Without wanting to be too distracted by blogdom, the current fashion for regurgitating old analyses of the crisis of the late 1970s as if they are new is just peculiar to me. Whether this takes the form of the re-appearence of soft varieties of stalinism, or on the other hand loose talk of a beyond the fragments type.

  74. Madam Miaow said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Dennis #66 ” … required conformity and deference to the leadership.”

    I think that’s the nub of the situation.

    I admire the high-flown political debate on this thread but the problem remains that the theory is always miles ahead of the practice. It’s depressing when you see smart people turning a blind eye to abuses imported straight from the system.

    All the wordage can blind with science and complicate what’s actually very simple: respect for members; no exploitation; no elitism; no promoting cronies; no promoting fuck-partners; no doing over women who aren’t; no thieving money or time from activists; no lying; no capitulating to bullying, empire-building and demands to ditch your principles; no defending CC or senior hacks when they come out with right-wing racist statements; and all the democratic checks and balances that a proper party worthy of leadership should have in place.

    If you see power structures under capitalism replicated within the movement then, unless you challenge it, all one’s book-learning counts for nothing. We’re here to change stuff, not describe it.

    This upset in the SWP has given them a much-needed chance to get back on track. But we’ll have to see if they’re up to it.

  75. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    This very principled piece by Arundhutti Roy is a fairly accurate expression of the talk amongst the best activists in India at the moment. Its very principled but also, from the standpoint of a serious discussion about agency, very problematical:

  76. julesa said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Apologies to johng if I return to old analyses but I have a problem with favourably comparing Hobsbawm to Callinicos. Because if I correctly recall Hobsbawm’s argument in 1978, it was that the forward march of Labour (the capital L is significant ) was halted primarily as a result of the baleful effects of economistic militancy and sectionalism of the organised manual working class on wider class consciousness. I’m not surprised Eric Hobsbawm – as part of the Eurocommunist camp should have taken this view but revolutionaries cannot agree. Hobsbawm did not even begin to consider the effects of Labour in power under Wilson and Callaghan, the ‘social contract’ and all of that on workers themselves, their class confidence and combativity. Naturally Hobsbawm – who was really concerned with the fate of the Labour Party – would never have had any sympathy for say, currents like the IS / SWP who pursued a rank and file strategy among the manual working class in order to combat Labourism and build a mass vanguard on the shopfloor instead of tailing Labour.

  77. John Palmer said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Johng asks me what I mean about the “new social formations” which, I argue, may be emerging within contemporary capitalism. A tough but necessary ask. One of the phenomena I observe is the emergence of people who genuinely opt for shared or part time work (I am not referring to those obliged by crisis into this situation). Some/many of these folk mix work, education, family duties in a complex of activities through lengthy periods. Some/many? work in the vast expansion of small businesses” particularly in the IT and service sectors. A significant minority work in the growing number of part worker-owned enterprises or in the more classical Third Sector (“not-for-profit”) enterprises such as worker coops, mutual etc. A report by the Johns Hopkins University believes this sector is growing exponentially and globally. The most recent study I have read (about 3 years ago) stated that the total global economic output of these 3rd sector enterprises is equal to the fifth largest national GDP internationally (more than Brazil at that point in time). Meanwhile large scale industrial enterprises are everywhere downscaling – as we know to our cost – everywhere. So there is some kind of rebalancing going on within the system. But, in my view, equally important is the shift in the pattern of capital ownership and (less certain I admit) the emergence of “sustainability” as an even greater imperative than capital accumulation. The only time this has happened before has been in circumstances of “a command war economy” which was managed by the capitalists but within which accumulation had to take second place.

  78. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    julsea put better then I could. what is it with all the return to hobsbawn incidently? (seeing as we’re having a relatively open exchange). Its something I find really strange.

  79. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    On sustainability two points. First of all the language of sustainable development is a language which emerged out of the neo-liberal concensus. Secondly, I see no evidence whatsoever that even this is becoming an imperative for capitalist development (given stuff happening in the global south at the moment its actually a bit of an insult: people are being murdered on a vast scale by the state to allow massively enviromentally damaging projects to go ahead: see arundhatti’s article). In terms of NGOs (presumably what this discussion about the third sector is about) well I would charecterise these as the factory inspecters of global capitalism. Given re-structuring of the relationship of state to capital its unsurprising that there has been massive growth in this sector. But again, this is tied by a thousand strings to the project of neo-liberalism. Obviously factory inspectors, as any reader of Marx knows, played a contradictory role. And we have had rebellions of the new factory inspectors. But all in all much of this seems hopelessly vague, particularly given the real challenges we face. I can remember dear old Paul Hirst trumpeting the importance of mutuality twenty years ago. Paul responded with a giggle when I asked him for some concrete examples. John has at least done more then that. But really John, this kind of thing hardly even begins to answer the kinds of questions which even disillusioned NGO activists ask (I meet rather a lot of them: a growing tribe). Our times are considerably tougher then this even in this part of the world.

  80. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    On Madam Miaws point: I think a key phrase is: ‘imported straight from the system’. My own belief is that abuses of this kind dramatically worsened as the kinds of development I outlined in #50.

  81. S.O said,

    November 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    This whole discussion (and in fact the various recent discussions about the SWP across the web) does make me wonder – is it actually possible to have a dynamic, exciting, democratic, and revolutionary socialist organisation, that manages to attract real numbers of experienced activists as well as people new to radical politics? I’m not asking whether it is possible to attract thousands of workers and students or whatever; simply could the existing self described revolutionary socialists organise ourselves into a unitary, organisation of the sort I describe in this post or are we doomed to tiny argumentative sects that are essentially bureaucratic cliques or proto-bureaucrats?

  82. David Ellis said,

    November 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    #18 Johng: The Left Platform does not have my support. As I pointed out this is not a political dispute between a Marxist current and a petty bourgeois current but one between two petty bourgeois currents. I merely expressed the hope that in the course of being battered by the CC the John Rees `platform’ goes beyond the narrow confines of defending the `traditions of the party’ and start to realise that there is nothing there worth defending. I hope that they make a clean break with sectarianism and can be won over to a Marxist position. However, as I pointed out by quoting the following mangled notion of both dialectics and the united front quoted by Splinty I am not holding my breath:

    `To put it in Marxist terms, we need a dialectical unity of opposed principles.’

    Every split and schism the SWP and its predecessor has put its members through and which it has carried out in a bureaucratic or administrative fashion has led it further and further away from Marxism as a learned science so that now nobody in that outfit has the first clue what they are arguing about.

    The united front is not some cosy `unity of opposites’ where we all learn through friendly friction to eventually get along and live happily ever after. The united front is a tactic designed to decisively rip the base support of the reformists away from them by completing specific agreements for specific ends then carrying out those agreements in exemplary fashion and winning their base over to our far more decisive, better-fitted programme superior in everyway to that offered by the reformist invertebrates.

  83. John Palmer said,

    November 30, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I find your argument difficult to follow johng. To take the most important point. I am amazed at your suggestion that the imperative for “sustainable development” is in some way the product of neo-liberalism. It arose precisely out of a reaction to and a growing rejection of neo-liberalism. By the way I would caution against labelling the capitalist system itself as purely “neo-liberal.” Such is the crisis that important anti-neo liberal, even state capitalist, strategies are now rather more in favour.
    Of course the role of Third Sector/NGO activity is contradictory. What else would you expect from new current arising in the belly of the old system? Your denunciation echoes the way the old remnant of Chartism rejected the new industrial trade unionism in the mid 19th century. But I think you also miss the sheer force of post-neo-liberal developments. Capital knows that its survival requires regulation on a scale and with powers that it has always opposed. IT is caught in a contradictory vice. My argument is that the dynamic of mutualism and other forms of not-for-profit development (coops) etc have great potential as part of a socialist transitional politics (note “politics” not mere “programme”). If you me push to it, I would also say much the same about public regulation (of finance capital etc). These trends are doing something very valuable for the left – opening up political space to argue for an alternative society. In the hands of the right (including NULabour) these transitional alternatives will never be developed to the point where they can become a valuable political tool in the hands of a new democratic social movement from below. But that was always going to be the job of the left.

  84. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    The connections between the discouse of neo-liberalism and the discourse of sustainable development is the subject of quite a large literature (although of course neglected in that part of the literature which emerges from within). I will return to this when I get my references sorted out, but in the meantime this was just one sample obtained by google (I’m not responsible for the contents!).

    I have nowhere attempted to claim that neo-liberalism is simply capitalism or that capitalism is simply neo-liberalism (or even implied this). On issues of contradictions in the system being exploited: absolutely. I have no problem with this and would indeed advocate it. However we were talking about agency. I do not believe that NGOs are equivilants of the Industrial unionism of the 19th century, although in recognising contradictions in their agenda (something I was at pains to do) is important for those who are not merely sectarians.

    David Ellis, could you clarify which particular vanguard you are representing here?

  85. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Oh and on NGO’s and disillusion: I would again refer you to the excellent piece by Roy. She herself was involved in some of this stuff. But times are getting much harsher and all sorts of new questions are being asked. She’s an interesting figure actually. Denounced as an irresponsible celeb she has been consistantly to the left of a lot of the left since about 1999. Her first novel was also, for those who cared to read between the lines, very left wing and anticipated her later political trajectory. Unlike many other similar figures she did not hail from the upper middle classes. I’d just suggest if you were relating to this kind of new and angry mileu the kind of bromides (sorry!) your serving up sound stale and old hat rather then fresh and challenging. Not being rude. Just saying.

  86. John Palmer said,

    November 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I fear we are heading into a cul-de-sac johng. We both agree that not-for-profit ventures (NGOs etc) can and do play a contradictory role. Much was (and is) true of trade unions. Indeed – as I said – much was made of those contradictions by old guard Chartists in their polemics with Marx and Engels – seeing them as they did as an “economistic” retreat from revolutionary (read “insurrectionary”) politics. I am familiar with Roy’s work and admire it. My point is that what is happening structurally in the capitalist economy is mirrored in the transformation of the labour force and the virtual disappearance of “class consciousness” (at least in the sense Marxists have spoken about in terms of “a c lass for itself” not merely “a class in itself.”) If I am wrong about all or any of this – please indicate how. I only raised this issue because it seemed to me that much of the discussion about the shortcoming, deformations etc of revolutionary marxist groups (notably the SWP) takes place bizarrely without regard to the utter transformation of the world in which this politics if practised. When it comes to the importance (or otherwise) of the new social forces and the new economic activities with which they are associated – I would be the first to say that the whole gamut of issues needs detailed analysis and scholarship. My questions are just that – questions. I only wish I was sure that the necessary work was going on. One thing (among many others) I learned from Kidron, MacIntyre, Cliff and the others was that any serious socialist politics must constantly be validated by this kind of inquiry. I guess KM and FL would have said the same.

  87. Andy Newman said,

    November 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm


    Just to return to this question of methos, quoted from JohnG:

    Essentially the Lukacs who wrote in the early 1920s believed, along with Gramci, that Marxism was the science of self-emanicipation and that this was only possible on the basis of the position of the proletariat in capitalist society. . If this was falsified so was the possibility of the science.

    This is simply a philosphically indefencible position, or rather only defnecible by redefining “science” to mean “belief” and a negation of the philosophical realist position that well established scientific theories are truth approximate descriptions of reality.

    In so far as self emancipation was and is not an observeble reality, but rather was and is only an unproveable hypothesis predicated upn a materialist analysis of capitralsm in particular, and the development of class societies in general, then such an unproven hypothesis cannot be the definitional foundation of a materialist scientific politics.

    Does historical materialism, by which I mean the study of the historical development of class societies, based upon understanding the inate frictions between base and superstructure and the competing class interests innevitably lead to the conclusion that the working class MUST be able to play the role of transcending itself to represent the whole of society? Clearly not. there have been several forms of production in history where no class has been able to play that role. And it is quite possible to imagine that based upon a historical materialist analysis of how capitalism has actually developed, that the working class no longer holds that potential and indeed may never have done so.

    Even if an idealised working class were able to play that role, then given structural changes to society, including the rise of national consciousnes as the dominanty form of collective community, the decline of class consciousness, the self-marginalisation of the socialist left through its infantile millenarianism, etc,etc, the stratification of society to reduce the degree to which there is a cultural uniformity in the working class, and the growth of a professional and salaried middle class who do not consider themselves working class; then we might imagine that the working class couldn’t become sufficiently self-aware to play the role of self-emancipation and bearing with it thw interests of the whole of society.

    The actual experience, including the Russian revolution from 1917 onwards, was not self-emancipation of the whole working class in any meaningful sense, but rather a stratum of the working class seeking to represent the interests of the whole working class through the formation of a communist party, and the exercise of state power.

    the interesting thing therefore is to look at society as it actually exists, to try to work out what the socialist project means, beacasue there is certainly no unanimity about that, and then to asses which way socialist can intervene politically in the actually existing political and social context we find ourselves in to move into a more favourable political direction.

    • November 30, 2009 at 5:58 pm

      “the interesting thing therefore is to look at society as it actually exists, to try to work out what the socialist project means, beacasue there is certainly no unanimity about that, and then to asses which way socialist can intervene politically in the actually existing political and social context we find ourselves in to move into a more favourable political direction.”

      Exactly. If historical materialism was anything different from what you have outlined in your post then Trotsky would never have been able to articulate his theory of Permanent Revolution, for example. It is all about looking at the realities of the world, uniting them in a coherent manner, and working out strategy on that basis.

  88. Ger Francis said,

    November 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Johng, I was not really thinking about Hobsbawn’s Forward March thesis, and I made no reference to the political conclusions he drew. But he, and many others in the marxist tradition, anticipated Alex’s point about ‘living amid the ruins of this working class collectivity’ many decades ago. Alex apparently dates it to the success of a neo-liberal offensive. Others, say the process was underway a long time before. Either way, it leaves begging what conclusions flow for the strategy and tactics necessary today to construct socialist currents with mass appeal. I believe the SWP simply have no answers to this, will be less equipped for the task after the crucifixation of Rees, and in reality reduce the challenge to ‘building the party’.

  89. David Hillman said,

    November 30, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Some disconnected questions _ I have no answers.
    I wish you would expand on your criticism of all purpose united fronts.Is the idea wrong, or the sectarian and undemocratic way they were run, or their use as a substitute for stategy.
    Is the slogan turn to the class not strange for a socialist party – the swp comrades I know all seem to be working class and i’m not aware that they’ve got lots of peasants and aristocrats stashed away somewhere? Of course some campaigns, for example solidarity campaigns seek very wide support socially and politically, and are all the more principled for doing so,but these also have strong organic links to the trade union movement.
    The workers of this country deserve a better vision than just keep the Tories out. Don’t we need an electoral and political alternative equally opposed to the cameronians and to bloody New Labour? Some kind of tactical united front is needed for this purpose and not to provide a route ahead for any or all left factions.
    The casualisation and loss of militancy of labour (and people thinking that age old ideas about the environment or self help can somehow substitute for these weaknesses) are a result not just of economic changes but also of political defeats. Political defeats that began not with Thatcher but with Callaghan. The defeat of the winter of discontent that helped put Thatcher in was a defensive strike by the poorest workers in our society against the attacks by the Labour party – and we gave them too little support. Hobsbawn can not help us there!

  90. johng said,

    November 30, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Andy it may or may not be a philosophically indefencible position but it was the whole point of Lukac’s discussion of Marxist methodology (and much of the work of Gramsci). I don’t actually have the time for a long discussion of this (actually I just got back from the pub and don’t trust myself!). Ger, I find it very strange this obsession with the ‘crucifixtion’ etc. I have known many leading members of the CC get things wrong and take a break. Why is such a big deal being made of this? Its just bizarre in a socialist organisation and find it a bit odd that you seem to be going along with it. In all honesty, I’m not trying to score points. Dave there is no turn away from united fronts. There is however a recognition a) that you can’t just proclaim stuff without any real backing and b) the kind of united front involved in opposing the war is very different from the kind of united front involved in building opposition at the point of production. But there is absolutely no question of a turn away from united fronts. Its just factional nonsense. John, as I said I’ve just got back from the pub, and probably this is a discussion best had on another day…

  91. Ger Francis said,

    December 1, 2009 at 12:09 am

    John, I don’t quite understand your point. (I find this quite bizarre in fact: ‘I have known many leading members of the CC get things wrong and take a break.’) Mine, is that much of the attacks on Rees are somewhat mired in hypocrisy in view of the culpability in his crimes of those attacking him.

    My more substantative political point, which your ignore, and the one I am much more interested in than SWP internal shenanigans, was about the abysmal failure of the revolutionary left to get much beyond the political margins in this country. I think that raises serious questions about failure of analysis and perspectives, strategy and tactics.

  92. johng said,

    December 1, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Was’nt intended to be bizarre. Well I’m interested in why the left as a whole is at present marginalised. And concerned what to do about it. On questions of responsibility we obviously just differ. Everyone shares some responsibility. But its quite normal for those at the sharp end to take a fall for things that happened on their watch. I just don’t see what the fuss is about. Its the protracted nature of the business more then anything that is causing embarressment.

  93. julesa said,

    December 1, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Ger drew a comparison between Hobsbawm and Callinicos #71 and I (not johng to be fair) specifically invoked the forward march of Labour halted #76.

    Why? Because it was Hobsbawm who famously addressed the decline of the manual working class. His argument had two, closely related parts. Firstly, a broad historical synopsis from 1870 that charted the ascent and then secular decline of the manual working-class. Secondly, Hobsbawm looked at the fate of the Labour party and Labourism which sprang from working class collectivism, finally achieved hegemony of the working class and then went into slow decline in the post-war period, waning with erosion of proletarian collectivism. Of course Hobsbawm was not alone in making this analysis. For example, Stuart Hall, his colleague at Marxism Today, talked of the recomposition of the working-class.

    The point I was making about Hobsbawm was that in 1978 he concluded his argument by making a specific conjunctural political attack on working class ‘economism’ for undermining Callaghan’s ‘Social Contract’. In other words, Hobsbawm was totally blind to the role played by Labourism in undermining the morale and organisation of the working-class. Labour’s successive betrayals not only domesticated working class expectations but materially impacted on the working class and played a part in preparing the ground for Thatcher and neo-liberalism. This argument can be extended to the northern zones of late capitalism to capture the politcal impact of Social Democracy / Stalinism when crisis returned to the heartlands of the system.

    By all means let us grapple with the changing composition of the working class, try and grasp the longue duree of capitalist development and draw up a global cartography of the working-class but do not neglect as David Hillman observes the crucial political aspect of that process that addresses the baleful legacy of Labourism / Social Democracy and Stalinism.

    Notice that I argue the political is an aspect and not the whole of the answer. I think this is simply the preliminary argument. But we need historical perspective and we need to acknowledge some basic realities about late capitalism ie we live in a proletarianised, urbanised global capitalist system whose advent is in fact of very recent origin. The irony is that we have seen previous periods where the working class was barely a class-in-itself. Staying with the historical perspective consider the long period after the defeat of Chartism in Britain in 1850 that left Marx and Engels isolated at the margins. Then socialists made similar arguments about the conservative temper of the working class, its lack of militancy when the great mass of the working class was unorganised. Of course today is not 1860 but a revival of struggle would see the unorganised, low paid sectors of the working class becoming organised. In Britain the unionisation of the white collar working class in the context of post-war proletarianisation and a broader revival of workplace struggle in the late 1960s and 1970s is instructive (see Harman and Callinicos on the changing working-class). I do not say it will be exactly like that again. I only point to it to make the point that sections of the class hitherto seen as unorganisable can be organised.

  94. John Palmer said,

    December 1, 2009 at 10:38 am

    julesa: You assume that the new layers of workers can be organised on much the same basis as the industrial working class as was. But this is to miss the point. Some of the hard line Chartists took a not entirely dissimilar attitude to the organisation of the new phenomenon of the industrial workers in the 1850s – based on their experience of mainly artisanal labour. But the world had changed as Mark and Engels insisted (in spite of having to defend trade unions against charges of being reformist, economistic and anti-insurrectionary).

  95. andy newman said,

    December 1, 2009 at 10:54 am


    You present rather a caracature of Hobsbawm’s position, and I would refer you in particular to his response to his critics published in Marxism Today in 1980.

    It seems a highly bizarre criticism of Hobsbawm that he was blind to the faults of Labourism as a causal factor in the decline in the socialist movement, becuase an exageratedly negative view of labourism was in fact a defining feature of his politics, and the politics of his co-thinkers.

    It is worth you gong back and reading the Forward March article agin, becasue it is rather different to what you are saying. Indeed, there are some very astute observations about the changing culture and nature of workplace organisation.

    Nor was his conclusion particularly defeatist. He argued that the socialist movement needed to recalibrate itself to take into accunt how the working class and society had changed, rather than address a hackneyed stereotype that was no longer valid.

  96. David Ellis said,

    December 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

    #87 `the interesting thing therefore is to look at society as it actually exists.’

    That is not the interesting thing. If you are `looking at society as it actually exists’ without the benefit of a scientific approach, historical materialism, then all you are looking at are your prejudices. Or perhaps you think your positivist take, outlined above, which reduces historical materialism i.e. your personal mangling of it, to a `study’, a hypothesis or a mere heuristic device comes without baggage?

  97. andy newman said,

    December 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    No David

    Marxism, or Historical Materialism if you will, is a practical guide to political action.

    However it is a guide to action based upon a materialist analysis of the competing forces and influences in our actually existing society.

    I am arguing that such a materialist analysis of capitalist society as it has actually become in the twenty first century does not have a pre-ordained outcome; and in so far as you assume that a scientific analysis must have a preordained outcome which is elevated to a supra-historical truth, then you have left behind the world of scientific realism, and entered the world of faith.

    Now, you are perfectly entitled to pursue a faith based politicall project, in which the self-emancipatory potential of the working class to become the universal representatives of the whole of society is considered self-evidently true. But if the materialist analysis doesn’t support that conclusion, then it is not historical materialism, and in my view isn’t Marxism.

    Now, John G argues that it is a defigning characteristic of Marxism that it must result in the conclsuion that the working class does have that innate self-emancipatory potential.

    Were that to be a true definition then marxism would not be a materialist philosophy, as it would be starting from a definitional predicate that is incapable of being refuted. i.e. it would be based upon faith alone.

    I can see that in the immediate aftermath of the Russian revoltions, then Marxist philosophers might beleive that the transformative potential of the working class had actually been realised in Russia, and therefore reach rather overblown theoretical conclusions on flawed evidence.

    With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the Russian revolution was not unproblematic, and that some of the reservations expresed about it by Marxists as diverse as Rosa Luxenburg and Karl kautskey has some weight.

    In particular, we might observe that the actual experience was of a Jacobin vanguard party that comprised only a fraction of the working class seeking to exemplify the interests of the whole working class, rather than the working class in its entirety actually exercising self-conscious political power.

    Now this may well have been unavoidable, but it does raise a question mark against the factual assumptions that Luckas and Gramsci were working on. Cliff used to argue that the party exists because of uneveness in the working class, using the example that it was not the capitalists themselves who cross picket lines, but rather other workers, and in so far as a picket line seeks to organise the strike supporting workers against the scabs, then a socialist party seeks to organise the most class conscious parts of the workign class against not only the caoitalists, but also against non-socialist workers (see the 1969 interview with Cliff published by Black Dwarf)

    Now in a period where a socialist party can aspire to have a relationship with a mass stratum within the working class, comprising hunderds of thousands of organically embedded trade union and social activists who themselves share a hiugh degree of class consciousness and have some sense of the transfornative potential of working class self-activity, then Cliff’s point is a good one: the party seeks to organise (reminsicent of Chris Harman’s terms) the section of the working class most self-aware of the historic significance of their own self-activity.

    But in the absence of such a mass social layer then the socialist party can only become substitutionist, and the working class related to is no longer the actually existing, sweating, farting and flawed mass of people who sell their labour and who have a relationship with the party based upon their own ides and experience; rather the working class becomes a nominal and idealised social force, on whose behalf the party exhibits exemplary leadership.

    this is absolutely clear with John Rees and his fellow thinkers, but I find it very disingenuous that some in the SWP now seek to scapegoat John, when it was the long term practice of the SWP and its relationship with the working class over a number of years that produced the John rees phenomenon.

    Also, in a sense John Rees, Lindesey german and Chris Nineham have a point, that within the limitations of the actualy existing practice of the SW, then they did have more flair and imagination, and were instrumental (among others) in helping to have some real impact in politics outside of the small world of the far left propaganda groups.

    For sure, the activist branches were a big mistake, ,Some one above said no one spoke against them in the party. in fact I spoke against them at conference. the last conference I went to, and the appalling personalised over-reaction that met my speaking against the CC on this question was the trigger to my starting to reassess the SWP. Especially as not a single person was prepared to agree with me.

    But remember the alternative to winding down the branches was the consrvative committee mentality, that saw so many SWP members stay trapped in their propagandist routine even during the Poll tax and first gulf war; and the expereince at that time was that the committee people who held the branch routine together and related to the full timers and the centre effectively blocked the minority of comrades who engaged with the mass movement from bringing that expereince into the SWP.

    ger francis is completly right what he is saying hehre, though i would hesitate to tar him with the same brush as what I am arguing here, as I am sure he has his own maybe wuite different ideas. The far left have been laregly marginalised in british society, and what is needed is a very serious reassessment of how a mass Marxist current could be built in the massively transformed capitalist society that we live in, that in social terms is hugely different from Britian in 1979, let alone Russia in 1917.

  98. johng said,

    December 1, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Actually no Andy I did not argue that is a defining feature of Marxist analyses that it must have the conclusion that the working class has emancipatory potential. I argued that it is a defining feature of the Marxism of Lukacs and Gramsci that if the working class did not have emancipatory potential then Marxism could not be a science and would have to be rejected. A related but very different claim. And incidently the comrades you speak of did play a very positive role in turning the SWP outwards. But the idea that the whole organisation was in opposition to such a turn and that they were the only people who did anything else is a picture that I do not accept.

  99. andy newman said,

    December 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    JOhn G

    ” I argued that it is a defining feature of the Marxism of Lukacs and Gramsci that if the working class did not have emancipatory potential then Marxism could not be a science and would have to be rejected.”

    So are you saying that you disagree with Lukacs and Gramsci over this? Or is that also your view.

    The philospohical objection to this remains ireefutable I think; that if we understand by science the attempt to construct a human knowledge that is truth approximate of an independently existsing reality, then the this-sidedness of our understanding must be verifiable by accordance to the facts, and also by the theoretical virtue of our reasoning, in so far as it carries with it consistency with other well-esablished fact based theories, verifiable predictive power, and perhaps entailed correspondenc iwth other non-related theories.

    Historical materialism can be a siceince then, if the theories are rooted in not only theoretical analysis but also political practice, and the experience of political practice incorporated into a systematic attempt to understand the world based upon a materialist analysis.

    However, the self-emancipatory potential of the working class is only a derived hypotheses from marx, and not an observed not observerable one.

    As the hypothesis is incapable of refutation, then you cannot found a claim that it is a definitional component of Marxism as a scientific view of the world.

    You seem to be involved in a classic regressive problem shift, that in order to defend the idea that the self-emancipation of the working class is central to Marxism being a science, then you have a cjoice of either jettisoning the idea that gramscii and Lukacs were marxists; or jettisoning the defence of the scientific realist position in philospophy that sceintific truth-approximity must be exerimentally verifiable.

    One way lies secatarianism, the other way lies God.

    the only way out of this philosophical trap is to recognise that the hypothesis that socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class is a contingent one, and not definitional of Histroical materialism per se.

    that is, it is compltely possible for there to be an actually existing independent reality whereby the outcome of the working class playing this role to transform capitalism is excluded; and it is therefore possible to have a materialist analysis of such a society and its political parameters that is Historical materialist (Marxist) but could come to a different conclusion.

    I don’t see how you can argue otherwise.

  100. andy newman said,

    December 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    the only other interpretation of your view is perhaps a tautological one.

    that in Marxism inherently means the belief that socialism is the emancipation of the working class, ,then if the emancipation of the working class is not scientifically verifiable, then marxism is not a science.

    But this would still lay the door open to the argument that a variant of marxism which took as a definitional element such a non-refutable predicate would not be based on Historical materialism, and would not be scientific.

    To which we could conclude that while such a “marxism” woulod not be scientific, it would not be consistent with Historical materialism, and as such would not exhaust all possible “Marxisms”

    This is merely a restatement that Gramsci and Lukacs were not marxists, but that does not exclude other forms of marxism existing.

    I can’t see how you can both claim that Gramsci and Lukacs made an unrefutable hypotheses definitional to the scientifial status of historical materialism, and simulataneously claim that thr politicsl practic fo Marxism is scientific.

    If of course you ant to throw your hands up and admit thatt yuor entire oolitical project is faith and belief based, then at least you have a way out of this conundrum. But to do so, then you have to construct your “Leninism” on a catastrophic rejection of all previously existing Marxisms.

    Good luck with that.

  101. andy newman said,

    December 1, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Incidently, I personally do not dispute that Gramsci and Lucasc were marxists, I raise that argument only as it seems the only possible conculsion from John G’s position that they founded their science on a non-refutable predicate.

  102. Andy Wilson said,

    December 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    A scientific concept or proposition does not have to be itself directly testable (emphasis on ‘directly’) – there are many examples of this in the sciences, and they often involve fundamental principles.

    And I would be interested, Andy, to get a list of other agents, etc., that might arrange the emancipation of the working class on their behalf.

  103. Andy Wilson said,

    December 1, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    #102: as backups, you understand

  104. johng said,

    December 1, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I reject the notion that the self emancipation of the working class is a ‘derived hypothesis’ from Marxism: that is not how Marx’s own thought developed. From his early work which spoke of the proletariat as the body and philosophy as the head he moved on to provide an account of the role of the producing classes in history that overcame this dualism. Therefore I think it is perfectly accurate at the descriptive level to see Marxism as the science of working class self emancipation and much of what followed as the derivitive hypothesis. Now its true that the refusal of dualism in relationship to the normative and the positive put Marxism at odds with contemporary theories of what science is. This was the starting point of the philosophy of Lukacs and Gramsci. Whilst I don’t accept every dot and comma of this strand of Marxist philosophy I believe that the starting point was correct: especially the critique of positivist conceptions of what the science of Marxism was: above all the theory and practice of second international marxism and the later diabolical and hysterical materialism of the Stalin period. Its around these questions that the idea of a distinctive ‘method’ of Marxism was argued: and against fashion I would argue that there was much to it. I am now off to purchase a copy of MacIntyre’s Marxism and Christianity. haha.

  105. David Ellis said,

    December 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Well Andy you certainly have produced a sophisticated and sustained attack on the possibility of scientific socialism. I think you must have swallowed Popper’s `The Open Society and its Enemies’ or something. But of course I must agree with you that for the sects Marxism is a fixed and finished dogma, property of a few self-selecting priests who are in on the secret, its tenets are to be handed down to the party or the masses in the form of authoritative lectures or sermons that cannot be questioned.

    I myself will try and take a reasonable position and avoid these two dichotomous and therefore idealist outlooks in favour of Marxism as a living science based as it is on empirically verifiable premises.

    Of course, Marxism does not say that the working class will inevitably self-emancipate. I think the saying goes `it’s socialism or barbarism’. The end of capitalism will come only with a conscious, political decision taken by the working class and its friends. That is why it needs to arm itself with the science of Marxism, so that it can arrive at that moment of consciousness rather than face endless heroic but fruitless struggles which eventually end in crushing defeats that often take decades to recover from.

    Naturally you attack the Bolshevik Revolution as some kind of putsch because to acknowledge it as a genuine socialist revolution would compel you to drop your argument and upgrade Marxism from, in your book, a perennial bit of wishful thinking, a hypothesis and no more, into a fully fledged theory.

    But let us leave that aside for the moment. Darwin’s theory is unfalsifiable. If it is correct there will never be seen a creature that is not a product of evolution. But it was instantly recognised as the solution to the riddle of the origin of species. The non-observable fact was that within each organism as a whole there was taking place the contradictory play of heredity and mutation. Scientists of any note simply got on and searched for the mechanisms that they knew must lie behind these theoretical constructs. For them it explained the empirically verifiable facts.

    For truthful people Marxism is proved every day both in the big things and the little things. Both positively and negatively. It cannot be falsified simply because it reasonably explains the facts, encompasses the social reality and offers a sure guide to action.

  106. johng said,

    December 1, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I should emphasis that suggesting that Marxism is the science of self-emancipation or that in the absence of emancipatory possibilities of the proletariat Marxism is not a science, does not imply at all that such self-emancipation is inevitable.

  107. johng said,

    December 1, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Neil I’m discussing the current situation. Where on the one hand you have a massive expansion of the armies offensive on the North West Frontier which has produced since June the largest population movements since Partition (we have no idea of the fatalities amongst the civilian population and only a small snapshot of the scale of human suffering amongst these the poorest and most oppressed of the population) and on the other hand we see a massive resurgence, partly as a consequence, of Jihadist elements, once with quite close relationships with the Pakistani military itself, but today increasingly autonomous. In the urban centres liberals and the left are divided about how to respond to this. I would align myself with that small section of the left that says that there are no military solutions to this problem and that the only way foward is to build movements for democracy and economic change in urban centres. And that a key part of this is the working class. But my point is that this is a marginalised view now.

  108. Ken MacLeod said,

    December 2, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Contary to David Ellis, Darwin’s theory most certainly is falsifiable. If an organism could be found with adaptations that were solely for the benefit of another species, then it could not have evolved these adaptations by natural selection. Likewise the theory of evolution is falsifiable: ‘Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian,’ as JBS Haldane famously said, would falsify it.

    If capitalism were to be globally replaced by barbarism or by a new form of class society then Marxism qua ‘scientific socialism’ would be falsified, but not ‘Marxism’ qua historical materialism. And historical materialism could be falsified by historical investigation of past societies. If the ancient Greeks had held the same ‘truths to be self-evident’ as the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, for example. But the notion that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator, etc, is as absent from the works of Plato as fossil rabbits are from the pre-Cambrian strata.

  109. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Andy Wilson opines that sceince does not need to be directly testable.

    Quite so.

    But the materialist conception of science defended by the scientific realist school of philosophy, of which marxism is a subset, requires that the body of scientific knowledge explains the observable evidence, and has predictive power in so far that conscious human interaction with the actually existing material world produces the outcomes that we expect.

    Science is based upon the foundation that it is verifiable, and its knowledge accessible through experience of the material world not just language.

    Now JOhn G is in full retreat from defence of materialism and science. As i observed earlier,, this is a classic regressive problem shift.

    because of his need to defend the concept that “the self-emancipation of the working class” is the foundationof marxism as a science, he has to jettison the materialist defence of science itself.

    he obfuscates this by confusing mystification as is his manner at #104 above, by reference to the evolution of Marx’s political beliefs and this meaningless bolocks: “dualism in relationship to the normative and the positive put Marxism at odds with contemporary theories of what science is”.

    we are not interested in historical discussion of what theories of science were in the nneteenth century, nor is it relevent that Marx became a communist before he developed a Historical materialist theory. In terms of comtempory philosohies of science, then marxism is completely compatible with the school of scientific realism, although marxists may place greater stress on the social role of the scientist and her location as a non-ideal observer.

    What is at issue is whether an unrefutable hypothesis can be the foundation of science. Now ken macleod is correct that Marxism as sceintific socialism could be refuted by capitalism evolving into a new form of class society that precuded socialism; but marxism cannot be vindicated as scientific socialism unless the working class does actually self-emancipate itself by transforming from a class in ititself to a class for itself. This means that self-emancipation of the working class is a belief, not a verifiable fact.

    True, the belief that this might happen is derived from a materialist analysis of capitalism in particular and class societies in general, but it cannot be definitional of Historical materialism. It is as I say a hypothesis derived from the evidence, not eveidence which required the development of a theory to explain it.

    Dave Ellis is worng to say that I am aguing in support of kark Poppoer, I am arguing in defecne of Historical materialism, against John G’s innate God-building.

  110. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 11:32 am


    “I should emphasis that suggesting that Marxism is the science of self-emancipation or that in the absence of emancipatory possibilities of the proletariat Marxism is not a science, does not imply at all that such self-emancipation is inevitable.”

    What on earth does this mean???

    here we have the claim that scientific knowledge can be based upon something that may never happen; but if we contemplate that it might not be able to happen, then we have stopped having a scientific approach. !!!!

    All this mixed up with some marxo-babble about “dualism in relationship to the normative and the positive “.

    Things are much simplt John. Science is based upon verifiable expereince, faith is based upon unverifiable belief.

    You are claiming that faith is science, and beleif is knowledge.

  111. Andy Wilson said,

    December 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

    #110: That is not what John is saying.

    He is not saying that self-emancipation may be a chimera, but that it might not, as a matter of fact, happen (in the sense of the working class finally being emancipated.)

    Despite that, the idea of ‘self-emancipation’ might be a testable hypothesis not only in the large (ie. it is proven when the working class is finally emancipated) but in the small (it indicates an approach to the battles today.) The idea that ‘the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class’ should determine ones approach to day to day struggles. It implies that the task is always ultimately to increase working class self-confidence and organisation.

    Precisely what that means from day to day will always be debatable, but it does clearly indicate the criteria by which one might judge particular strategies and tactics right now.

    One might reasonably ask whether, eg., voting for the Green Party increases working class confidence and organisation. Whether it is the right criterion to apply can also be debated with regard to historical struggles (did such an approach work in the past?) Think of it as a teleological principle, if that doesn’t offend your empiricist instincts too deeply 🙂

  112. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm


    the issue in dispute is not whether or not ” idea that ‘the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class’ should determine ones approach to day to day struggles. It implies that the task is always ultimately to increase working class self-confidence and organisation. ”

    the issue in dispute is whether or not Historical materialism as a science can be funded on that political viewpoint.

    Which therefore has an impact on what we regard as science, and our ability to defend materialism and science when it comes under attack.

    It is precisely becaue John G seems to be arguing self-emancipaion is a telelogical principle that he has been forced to abandon the defence of scientific realism.

    the materialist defence of science s NOT empiricism, becasue science has to account not only for the available evidence, but also to be theoretically virtuous, as I have argued on a number of occassions. (Not all theroies that explain the evdiecne are scientific, if I pray and get better, then the theory of divine intercession explains the evidence, but that doesn’t make it science; although it is ast least as scientific as john G’s approach here)

  113. Andy Wilson said,

    December 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    The choice here is not between mysticism and science, but science and empiricism. There is no problem if a fundamental proposition is not directly verifiable (fundamental in the sense of being fundamental to a particular research program). If it were, the labour theory of value would be washed up.

    The labour theory of value is a supposition which is proved only by taking it as your point of departure and elaborating particular analyses on that basis. If the resulting analysis in toto is logically coherent and has predictive power, you are talking about science.

    “the issue in dispute is whether or not Historical materialism as a science can be funded on that political viewpoint”

    About that, you might be right. Historical materialism encompasses more than the analysis of capitalism.

    However, I’d say that the insistence on self-emancipation flows directly from a Historical Materialist analysis of capitalism and is fundamental to Marxist political practice… in the sense that, imo, without that assumption you aren’t a Marxist any more but rather…. a renegade, an epigone, a flea, a chatterbox, a loser, or what you will….. 😉

  114. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    # 108 Ken: Evolutionary theory is not falsifiable on its own terms. You will not find fossilised rabbits however hard you look, the theory tells you that. Any new phenomena in the sphere of biology can be reasonably explained within the overall framework of the theory and its terms. Popper thought that disqualified it as a science and thought the same about Marxism for the same reason. For him, a philosopher of science believe it or not, a proper science didn’t draw any conclusions at all. Actually, he wasn’t a philosopher of science he was a cheap anti-marxist.

    Any scientist working in the field of biology would be insane to believe that he was ever going to find a falsification to the theory of evolution which is why she spends her time looking for proofs. If, however, you thought the theory could be falsified you’d be an utter clown to be a Darwinist and not to spend your entire time looking for those falsifying facts. I think there are some people who do that.

    You say that should capitalism be globally replaced by barbarism then Marxism as a science would be falsified. This is a straw man. Above I quoted the well known Marxist saying `socialism or barbarism’. You are right though, if capitalism was replaced by a new form of class society or modern ideas were found in ancient settings Marxism would fall. But that is not possible and to act as if it were would be the pinnacle of foolishness.

  115. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Andy N

    You claim to be defending Marxism. Please desist. It seems to me you are opposing JohnG’s priestly ramblings so that you can invent your own mangled version of Marxism and Historical Materialism.

    First you relegate Marxism to a subset of the scientific realist school of philosophy which it most certainly is not. That school is agnostic of materialism and contains a thousand and one versions of itself each more crank-like than the other.

    Then you say that Historical Materialism is no more than an hypothesis derived from the evidence. This is a lie. Something did actually require explaining: How come with the advent of enlightenment and democracy to Europe these societies were still tearing themselves apart in civil wars? Marxism solved this riddle and the riddle of history just as Darwinism solved the riddle of the origin of species. It explains the empirically verifiable facts. Read the German Ideology. Do not humans enter into relations as described there? Refute Marx if you can. Of course you cannot. It is the only reasonable explanation possible of an independently existing material reality. It cannot be falsified but you are of course welcome to waste a lifetime trying.

    You’ll be telling us next that god probably doesn’t exist.

  116. johng said,

    December 2, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Well I am not sure which doctrine you are discussing when you talk about “scientific realism”.(in the philosophy of science this doctrine is a minority current, and is certainly not the only theory which would defend science or materialism). I think Marxism is a form of critical realism (this is not to identify Marxism with Roy Bhaskar’s particular brand of the same). I see no reason why identifying Marxism as the science of proletarian self-emancipation is incompatible with realism. Marx himself famously suggested that the theses that the working class solved the riddle of history was what distinguished Marxism from other social theories. This can either be dismissed as an embarressing lapse on his part or on the other hand might suggest that Marxism is not quite the thing you assume it is. I prefer the latter. As to accusations of god building etc, I have no idea why you choose to become abusive rather then engage in rational discussion. The scientificity of science is not a simple matter and cannot be solved by hurling around rival dogmatisms.

  117. johng said,

    December 2, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    “All this mixed up with some marxo-babble about “dualism in relationship to the normative and the positive”

    This was actually a laugh out loud moment for me. Direct your polemics at Marx. Not me.

  118. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    #117 “All this mixed up with some marxo-babble about “dualism in relationship to the normative and the positive”

    This was actually a laugh out loud moment for me. Direct your polemics at Marx. Not me.’

    I doubt it.

    At least AN’s secured a confession from you that you are in fact a critical realist.

  119. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    It is marxo-babble because it is ill-digested verbiage used by you to obscure the issue not elucidate it. Nineteenth century philosophical discussions about the status of science have no bearing on whether on not marxism actually is a science or not.

    To deal briefly with David Ellis, the scientific realistic school of philosphy is that which argues that the material world exists, and that well established scientific theories are truth approximate to that underlying reality; in so far as I mention marxism as a sub-set, then i am referring not to the whole of Marxism but to the Marxist philosophical understanding of science. I am unware of any idealist non-materialist philosophy that is compatible with that position. The question is how can we know what is true and what is not true.

    David Ellis says that i argued ” that Historical Materialism is no more than an hypothesis derived from the evidence. ”

    Not at all, Historical materialism is the study of human society based upon its internal class conflicts, tension between base and superstructure and a concrete analysis of the material and ideological comonents and their interactions. that is not a hypotheses, that is a materialist method of study and political practice

    However, based upon that study and practice we cannot observe as evidence the phenomenon that the working class has the potential to self-emancipate itself and to become a univseal class representing the interests of the whole of society. that is a hypothesis predicated upon the historical analysis.

    Now JOhn G is arguing that such a hypothesis of a latent possibility can be the defining foundation of science. What I object to is such a faith based concept being touted as science by socialists.

    Scientific realism requires that theories are based upon proveable and repeatable interaction with the material world. You could not for example argue that string theory was definiational of physics, such that if string theory was proven wrong then all of physics is no longer a science.

    Now Andy Wilson is of course correct to argue that the definitaional building blocks of marxist economics are also non-susceptible to isolation and validation in their atomic for. Quiet so, so their validity is tested by their explanatory power as components of a system, and their explanatory and predictive power for understanding system behaviour. There is no problem with that.

    To say that something which is non-refutable is the foundation of science means that you have no razor to exclude, for example, the idea that the universe was created by God from science.

    JOhn G is of course the master of the obfuscating non-sequiter, so he argues that “Marx himself famously suggested that the theses that the working class solved the riddle of history was what distinguished Marxism from other social theories.”

    But are all social throries also a form of science?

    And the fact that marx himself was inclined to Hegelian teleological mumbo jumbo doesn’t really have much bearing on whether or not historical materialism requires marx to have been right in predicting the self-emancipatory role of the working class.

    the historical materialist method is based upon the actuall developments of independently existing society. Now John g has said that “suggesting that Marxism is the science of self-emancipation or that in the absence of emancipatory possibilities of the proletariat Marxism is not a science, does not imply at all that such self-emancipation is inevitable”

    But whether or not it is inevitable is ot the question; what is the question is whether a historical materialist anallysis of actually existing capitalism requires there to be a latent possibility that the working class can play that role.

    Ken macloed makes the necessary distinction. marxism qua “scientific socialism”, i.e the political practice of Marxists may require the idea of working class self-emancipation; marxism qua “Historical materialism” does not.

    that is, if the deveopment of capitalism in the independedtly existing real world occurs in such a way as to preclude the working class playing a revolutionary self-emancipatiry role then the method and practice of Historical materialism remains; the political project of marxism as revolutionary socialism would however be a dead duck.

    it cannot be excluded from possibility that actually existing capitalism in the real world could transform the nature of the working class to preclude it becomming a self-emancipatory universal class, because theory cannot dictate to reality. As such you cannot found a science on something which is only a latent possibility, that could in the future cease to be a possibility.

  120. johng said,

    December 2, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Just to clear matters up I am not involved in any kind of retreat from the idea that science is materialist or has explanatory power or any other bad things. I have no understanding at all how you could draw such a conclusion from my belief that Marxism is best understood as the science of proletarian self-emancipation.

  121. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    #120 `I have no understanding at all how you could draw such a conclusion from my belief that Marxism is best understood as the science of proletarian self-emancipation.’

    Because Marxism would not be falsified if the proletariat failed to self-emancipate: it is socialism or barbarism.

  122. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 3:48 pm


    L et us look at a good materialist defnition of science, for example to paraphrase Stathis Psillos.

    it requires that we acknowledge:

    i) metaphysically – that the world exists and has a mind indepenendent natural structure
    ii) Semantically, scientific values should be taken at face value, so that they are truth conditioned descriptions of their intended domains. theories can be true or false, but if true then the theoretical terms have putative factual refernence. if the theory is correct that rabbits exist, then the observeable phenomenon of rabbits actually do populate the real world
    iii) epistemically, we can consider that mature and established scientific theories that are well confimed empirically and theoretically virtous are approxmately true descriptions of the physical world

    In a nut shell, science describes the world approximately as it is, and this can be established by testing our knowldege by conscious human interaction with the actuall existing physical world and sensing that the result of our intervention acheived the theoreticaly expected result; and by reasoning whether our theories that explpain the world are consilient, mutually consistent, and whether or not they have predictive power. this is the practice of science.

    Your definition of science fails in all three domains, metaphysically, sematically and epistemically.

    metaphysically, the “self emancipation of the working class” does not exist, except that you believe that it could exist as a latent possibility; sematically, if your theory is true that the working class could become a self-emancipatory class representing the univesal interests of society, then the truth of that statement does not correspond to the working class actually being factually self-emancipated in the real world; epistemically, your theory is not well confirmed, and is lacking in evidence, other than it is predicted from a mature theory.

    For you to say that the self emancipatio of the working class is the foundation of a “science” means something about all science.

    What you are saying is that something can be a science, even if its is founded on something that does not exist; and whose possible future existance is neither non-refutable nor verifiable, and which we only postulate based upon political practice, and some prediction.

    It is the word “science” i object to, and i have yet to see you argue that it is a science, excpet by some obfuscations about positiviems and dualism based upon outmoded philosophical debates four inches deep in dust.

    Where does that leave materialism? How can we exclude God, and creationism from science on that basis? You have totally opened the door of science to faith.

  123. andy newman said,

    December 2, 2009 at 3:59 pm


    Quite so david

    had the triumph of facsism been so complete as to completely eradicate working class organisation, and socialist ideology, and to plunge the world into barbarism, then the project of scientific socialism would have been refuted.

    Similarly, if a nuclear war, or ecological catastrophe made a transition from capitalism to some form of hunter gatherer or slave based society then scientific socialism would have been refuted.

    Now in both cases, we could still reason about those changes based upon Historical materialism, and as such the potentiall for the working class to self-emancipate is not definitional of Historical materialism.

  124. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm


    I think you misread me. I’ve agreed all along that this self-emancipation stuff is mystical nonsense probably added by some Gramscian trendy in a university somewhere. Yes, only the working class can and will overturn capitalism and take us into a classless future but it cannot do so unless it is armed with the scientific theory and the historical insights of Marxism. I actually said that should the working class fail in this historic task and the world be plunged into barbarism then that would not falsify Marxism but, in a negative way to be sure, prove it all the more.

    In a strange way you have argued with Johng as if he was putting a Marxist position and as a result have concocted a weird kind of anti-marxist marxism.

    By the way, your three premises of a materialist science above are not materialist but realist or agnostic.

  125. David Ellis said,

    December 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Just to add:

    `the triumph of facsism been so complete as to completely eradicate working class organisation, and socialist ideology, and to plunge the world into barbarism’

    From a Marxist perspective that could happen.

    `Similarly, if a nuclear war, or ecological catastrophe made a transition from capitalism to some form of hunter gatherer or slave based society then scientific socialism would have been refuted.’

    That can’t. Not the nuclear war or ecological catastrophe bit but the last bit.

  126. Binh said,

    December 2, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I could never get past the first page of H&CC, but his Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought was quite good, at least to me.

  127. johng said,

    December 3, 2009 at 11:20 am

    In the 19th century new kinds of social movements emerged posing new kinds of questions both about themselves and about society. Marxism emerges from within and in response to this movement. This movement appeared because of the development of capitalism and the development of the working class. Without this Marxism would not have been possible. There is nothing idealist or anti-science about registering this.

  128. andy newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 11:30 am

    “a weird kind of anti-marxist marxism.”

    An epithet for my gravestaone perhaps

  129. David Ellis said,

    December 3, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    LOL 🙂

  130. andy newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    “By the way, your three premises of a materialist science above are not materialist but realist or agnostic.”


    I was trying to show that for science to be materialist then it has to be based upon expereince of the actually exusting world, and our scientific theories reflect expereince of that indepemndely existing world.

    To be more fully Marxist we woudl also have to point out that while material reality has a mind-indepenendent existsence, the mind itself cannot exist independence of the material world

    And that the process of knowing is a social experience, not one isolated in human individuals. Following Maurice Cornforth we might argue that verification is a social activity that has grown through generations interpreating the world and interacting with it socially, and as such scientific knowledge is only seperated from practical tasks by the division of labour.

    Why I like Cornforth is that he refutes the idea that there can be any route to knowledge except through practical social experience.

  131. johng said,

    December 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I was recently struck by how modern this much lambasted text actually is:

  132. Andy Wilson said,

    December 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    #131: lambasted, much maligned, barely read and widely misrepresented…. The last time I was party to a discussion of this text among Marxists it was, bafflingly to me, roundly attacked as thoroughly mechanical and deterministic. The author of the attack was John Rees. Indeed, he argued against the dialectic of nature at the SWP’s Marxism event for years, until one day, a week before Marxism, Chris Harman published a short review of the relevant volume of M&Es Collected Works in Socialist Review. This brief text somehow convinced Rees overnight about the matter where years of study of Engels’ book had failed, an outcome which is either a tribute to Chris’s awesome powers of persuasion or an index of just how instrumentally and opportunistically John Rees treated matters of theory, as you prefer. Those of us who had defended Engels were rewarded by being told that for all those years we had been “right, for the wrong reasons”, a phrase which haunts me to this day.

  133. Andy Newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Mary Sheehan’s major work “Marxism and the Philosophy of Science” does do justice to Engel’s argument, and is an all round thoroughly entertaining read.

    Engels is a particularly importnat figure in that his understanding of the social role of the scientist was a handred years befroe its time.

    (Incdeintly Sheehan’s discussion of the social factors influencing Lysenkoism is particlularly on the money.)

  134. Andy Newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    As an aside on Maurice Cornforth, surely an unusual acharacter qs a professional academic philosphere to join the CPGB on the bsais of being so impressed by lenin’s Materialism and Emperio-criticism; and I believe that Cornforth was killed fighting as an International brigader in Spain.

  135. Jim Lowe said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Andy N. is right about “Marxism and the Philosophy of Science”, by Helena Sheehan, the link to it is here:

  136. Ken MacLeod said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    No, Andy, you’re mixing Maurice Cornforth up with the poet John Cornford.

    Maurice Cornforth died in 1980. His trilogy on dialectical and historical materialism, and his The Open Philosophy and the Open Society (a reply to Popper) impressed me a great deal when I read them a long time ago. Some of his arguments in the trilogy have stuck in my mind -there’s an echo of one of them in my earlier comment on this thread. His last book, Communism and Philosophy, rowed back quite a long way from his previous positions.

    As an introduction to Marxist philosophy his trilogy was pretty good, and head and shoulders above Novack’s deeply confused Logic of Marxism.

  137. Andy Newman said,

    December 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    “No, Andy, you’re mixing Maurice Cornforth up with the poet John Cornford.”

    That does sound like exactly the type pf mistake I am prone to make.

  138. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Andy, was that phrase actually literally used in relationship to this particular argument? Or are you simply summing up the unerlying message?

  139. johng said,

    December 4, 2009 at 12:21 am

    JBS Haldane’s preface is very interesting. I did’nt know until recently how very late the dialectic of nature was published. Nor did I know that it was Bernstein who had a copy of the manuscript who showed it to Einstein (who was not overly impressed but thought it should be published). Obviously Engels was busy desperately trying to edit Marx’s Kapital but it IS interesting that he never published it. My own belief is that because it first saw the light of day so late and was taken up by the Stalinists, this explains the hostility to the text from many who cut their political teeth with the new left. On the other hand Engel’s own proximity to the second international probably meant that the new generation of philosophers attracted to Marxism in the early 1920s probably played a part in the anti-Engels arguments later to be attractive in sections of the New left (although Gramsci famously upbraided Lukacs for not accepting the possibility of a dialectic of nature).

  140. andy newman said,

    December 4, 2009 at 10:25 am

    By the way Ken

    having checked, it was not John Cornford the poet I was mixing up with Maurice Cornforth, although I didn’t doubt you were correct that I ahd made a mistake, I couldn’t see how I would make that particular mistake.

    I was mixing him up with the two other young Lions of the CPGB’s philosophy cadre, David Guest and Christopher Caudwell ( Christorpher St John Sprigg). Guest was killed at Ebro in 1937, Caudwell was killed at Jarama in 1936.

    Caudwell was a particularly great loss, author of the fine summation of the Marxist viewpoint in Science: “I live therefore I think I am”

  141. December 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    […] discussion: one on the Democracy Commission and the  other on the Left Platform, and the philosophy of the early Lukács. The influence of the politics of the early Lukács on the SWP has been interesting, for example […]

  142. December 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Well, you all seem to be fixated on traditional and failed answers to questions about the nature of science and philosophy. No wonder dialectical marxism is such an abject and long-term failure!

    Liam, can I ask you to change the link you have to my site to the following?

    I’d e-mail you but I do not know your address.

  143. December 7, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I clicked the ‘Submit Comment’ before I could say ‘Thanks’!

  144. andy newman said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:09 am

    # 142 and #143

    <param name

  145. andy newman said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

    mmm that didn’t work, try again to out frind Rosa

  146. December 8, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Yes, an inane response just about sums you up, Andy.

  147. johng said,

    December 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I find all this most undialectical.

  148. December 8, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Progress at last, Mr G…

  149. December 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I’m sorry, but I got your name wrong — but can you change the link you have to my site — ‘anti-dialectics’ — to this:


    • splinteredsunrise said,

      December 10, 2009 at 9:42 pm


  150. December 10, 2009 at 9:43 pm


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