Sunday, January 11, 2009

Of sterile flowers, poisonous weeds and a political smokescreen

On Jan. 6, the WSWS carried yet another polemic against us, the second one in a week. This one came with a purple prose title, “Adam Haig responds to Alex Steiner’s burst of outrage”.
Burst of outrage? This same Haig had four days earlier posted a 17-page attack on us in which he baldly declared that we “cannot be regarded as Marxist-Trotskyists”, claimed that we reject the materialist conception of history, are skeptical about the revolutionary role of the working class and much else.

We posted a brief response (a little over a page in length) on our website blog in which we pointed out that most of the essay was devoted to using Herbert Marcuse as a straw man and that much of the rest of it brought in irrelevant material regarding Erich Fromm and Slavoj Žižek.

There was no “burst of outrage” in what we wrote. It is true that we called the title of Haig’s piece pretentious and we characterized his ruminations on Fromm and Žižek as the kind of padding a clever graduate student would engage in, but this is pretty routine stuff in the cut-and-thrust of polemical debate, and given what we were dealing with, it was eminently fair comment. By any objective measure, our criticisms of Haig were a good deal more restrained than his accusations against us.

But that isn’t how Haig saw it. Our brief note enraged him and he vented his anger in a new posting which the WSWS editors were only too happy to run (a point we will come back to). In this latest posting we are accused of writing an “angry response”, of making “several outrageous charges” in our brief note, and that we are supposedly “intent on discrediting the ICFI.” Steiner, “in his hysteria,” apparently “employs a deceitful use of quotation marks”. Later we are told that Steiner “exploded” and later still that Steiner “has no capacity for logical argumentation.” The piece winds up by consigning us to the garbage heap of history (having “embraced Herbert Marcuse, Freudo-Marxism, and Utopia … it is fairly clear where they [i.e. Steiner and Brenner] will end up”).

“Hysteria”, “exploded”, “burst of outrage” – the violence of this language is striking. Clearly, the “hysteria” here is Haig’s, not ours. In psychology this is known as projection; in a more familiar idiom it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black...Click here to read entire essay


Fed up with the SEP said...

I also was struck by the violent imagery of Haig's rebuke, and was surprised that the WSWS published it. I once admired the SEP for filling a desperate need in our political culture -- for raising the level of discussion and treating its critics with some measure of respect. So much for all that, apparently.

In the final analysis, however, it seems to me that what is of paramount importance is not what the SEP has said to Comrades Steiner and Brenner, but what they have not said.

The central argument in the polemical material produced by Steiner and Brenner, in my view, is the charge that the Socialist Equality Party has abandoned dialectics. "Dialectics is a dead letter in the IC," they wrote in "Objectivism or Marxism." "The movement hasn't produced a single article on dialectical philosophy in 20 years ... the abandonment of dialectics has also meant the abandonment of the struggle against pragmatism."

No one -- not David North, nor the Talbots, nor Haig -- no one has addressed this charge, which is serious, legitimate and important. It is entirely within the bounds of Marxist polemics to raise such an issue.

What does the SEP have to say to a worker or student today about dialectics, a difficult philosophical concept that provides the very foundation of classical Marxism? Where are the lectures?

For North to refute this charge he needs only to cite a substantial body of work published on the World Socialist Web Site in the last 10 years on dialectics -- its origins, the dialectical method, its applicability to the present situation.

North cannot do so, and will not, because no such body of work exists. Or, if it does, it has not been published for the benefit of the workers and students who must be exposed to the subject ... no, not just exposed to it, but immersed in it, and master it. The closest anyone in the SEP has come was Nick Beams lobbing the suggestion in 2002 to a reader that he make a study of Engles' "Anti-Duhring."

The SEP’s degeneration is embodied by the fact of the obvious evasions and diversions in response to Comrades Steiner and Brenner, the smear campaign it has launched against them, and -- most of all -- silence on the vital questions.

Proletarian said...

The following is an "open letter" to the World Socialist Website ( ). Portions of this letter were previously submitted to the WSWS via email.

Simply stated, I am appalled by attacks upon the Permanent Revolution website ( ) by staff and others at the World Socialist Website. Given the seriousness of the current economic crisis these attacks are the moral equivalent of Nero's lamenting the destruction of Troy while the city of Rome was being destroyed.

Those who support the World Socialist Website cite the "scientific" nature of Marxism to justify their attacks. The question is, are the conclusions of the WSWS correct?

First we must ask, what is the true nature of Marxism? In 1878 Engels told us that Marxism is:

1. Scientific, because Marxism strives to eliminate the, "...anarchy in social production..."

2. Utopian, because, "...universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat."

Engels then told us that the "universal emancipation" of the working classes will take place because, " anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the state dies out."

What then, is the ultimate Marxist goal? Is it, political power? Is it, socialism? The answer to both of these questions is, no.

Both Marx and Engels clearly state that the ultimate goal of Marxism is, as Marx says, "the withering away" of the state. That is, an end to all "political authority."

What then, is the Marxist mission? Engels clearly states that the Marxist mission is, " impart to the new oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish.."

What is the "momentous act" or mission of the proletariat? As previously stated, that mission is "universal emancipation" which is to say - universal freedom.

Stated another way, the Marxist mission is to summon the working classes to their mission. Those classes are responsible for the worldwide liberation of all humanity.

The ultimate Marxist goal is, therefore, not merely the acquisition of political power. Nor is it socialism. Both are simply the means to an end. The ultimate Marxist goal is - freedom.

The obvious question is, how can the individual members of the working classes be summoned to their mission? The answer is equally obvious - through education.

To deny the need for an informed proletariat is to deny Marxist ideology. To fail to reach out to the proletariat is for Marxists the very definition of failure.

To deny the utopian nature of Marxism is to be a mere socialist, not a Marxist and certainly not a Trotskyite.

Earlier I posed the question, "...are the conclusions of the WSWS correct?" I can only conclude that those conclusions are not correct.

stan said...

Following the polemics' debate from its inception makes me conclude that the ICFI fears Steiner's and Brenner's attack; the space and energy they devote to it, the personnel - three others at the ICFI are conscripted as experts to respond to esoteric by-products of the polemic - involved, the venom produced in changing a polemical controversy into a personal one,attempting to make Steiner and Brenner non-persons, the outrageous printing of a disgusting letter to the ICFI accusing Steiner and Brenner of being Fascists (the letter was quickly deleted)all point to a fear that Steiner and Brenner's arguments have merit, thus the bringing out the heavy artillery - there is nothing like the danger posed by the 'virus' within, it has to be stamped out immediately.
It strikes me that North has encountered a situation where his intellectual firepower is equaled or is surpassed by that of Steiner and Brenner, thus the vituperation. He's frightened.
I look forward to continuing installments of this ongoing argument; I'm fascinated.
The heavyweights are in the ring.
Stan Roseberg

Anonymous said...

El SEP no ha penetrado aún en el real trabajo crítico de Steiner y Brenner

He leído el artículo extenso de Adam Haig, Steiner, Brenner and Neo-Marxism: The Marcusean Component.

Es indudable que la erudición de Haig corre parejas con la de los hermanos Talbot. Solo que no refuta de ninguna manera uno solo de los puntos de Alex Steiner- y Fred Brenner: objetivismo, abstencionismo del SEP,la primacía del periodismo objetivista en el WSWS y ninguna atención a la construcción material del partido, el abstencionismo en México, la falta de trabajo del wsws en la filosofía del marxismo, la defensa nacionalista de Irak, falta de programa de transición y trabajo marxista en los sindicatos, como en el de los transportes en Nueva York, la crítica de Lenin a Plejánov sobre la teoría del onocimiento marxista,etc.

No hay una sola palabra sobre estos problemas. Por el contrario se ve que Haig aparece muy versado en Marcusse, en Voronsky, en Plejánov, etc. todo eso está muy bien. Pero no hay una sola palabra sobre los problemas planteados por Steiner y Brenner.

El SEP no ha penetrado aún en el real trabajo crítico de Steiner y Brenner. Considero que este trabajo es de importancia decisiva para la comprensión del socialismo y de cómo debe entenderse el desarrollo de la conciencia socialista en la clase obrera. Es un trabajo de marxistas-trotskistas que apelan a todos los desarrollos que enriquezcan la todopoderosa cosmovisión del socialismo científico- incluido el socialismo utópico y de todos los pensadores y escuelas que puedan contribuir a ello. Esta labor es materialista- dialéctica, que utiliza la ley del salto dialéctico cualitativo: superar y conservar al mismo tiempo.

El SEP tiene mucho trabajo que hacer asimilando la valiosísima contribución de Steiner y Brenner, quienes no han recurrido ni a la mala fe ni a la difamación ni al maltrato, como en cambio si lo ha hecho la dirección del SEP.
Hay mucha tela que cortar en relación al artículo de Adam Haig, por que creo que el artículo de Steiner y Brenner Of sterile flowers, poisonous weeds and a political smokescreen sintetiza lo esencial.

Sin embargo he realizado estas notas que me parecen de algún interés y que han surgido de la lectura del texto de Haig:

have drifted into the anti-Marxist orbit of the petty-bourgeois Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and that they cannot be regarded as Marxist-Trotskyists. This is not demonization, but a well-grounded assessment of their theoretical and political conceptions. Their polemics—e.g, “Objectivism or Marxism” (2006), Marxism without Its Head or Its Heart (2007), and “On the Vulgar Critique of Vulgar Materialism” (2008)—betray an eclectic radical intellectual tradition that is decisively non-Marxist in political and philosophical orientation.

Esta declaración no está probada- conforme al rigor que exige la dialéctica. Haig debería ingresar al centro de los textos que cita y comprobar que ellos no son marxistas. Pero no lo hace porque con esta sola declaración pasa de largo.

“If socialism aimed at creating a new human nature within the limits of the old society it would be nothing more than a new edition of the moralistic utopias. Socialism does not aim at creating a socialist psychology as a pre-requisite to socialism, but at creating socialist conditions of life as a pre-requisite to socialist psychology. » [3]

Esta cita la hacen ustedes en su último artículo contra Walsh.

As long as Freud’s psychoanalysis is limited to an investigation of the psychology and even the psychopathology of individual people, examining them from the point of view of natural science, then he is, as they say, just the right man for the job. But Freudians, unfortunately, don’t restrict themselves to this investigation; they try to analyze social intentions, feelings, views, ideas and images. From psychology they pass over to sociology, yet they remain on the foundation of studying man who is isolated from society. Acting in this way, the Freudians drag us backwards, in the best of cases, to the so-called abstract scientific point of view, which is salutary in biology, physiology and psychology, but justly condemned in sociology as far back as Marx. This is the usual mistake made by scientists when they pass from the field of science into the field of social science.” [6]

Estoy convencido que se puede estudiar- con el psicoanálisis- los problemas de una persona individualmente considerada, al mismo tiempo que el marxismo nos da el marco teórico general adecuado para entender los problemas de cada individuo. Es lo mismo que cuando aceptamos la teoría evolutiva de Darwin lo hacemos bajo la perspectiva del salto dialéctico revolucionario del mono al hombre y la transición de la cantidad de modificaciones animales hasta su cambio cualitativo.

Psychoanalysis, however, is not an experimental or quantitative field

No estoy de acuerdo con esta afirmación de Haig. El psicoanálisis es un método científico experimental y cuantitativo. Ya los griegos hablaban de la catarsis a través de la palabra.

Reproducían en el teatro todos los complejos del pueblo, con temas que él los conocía para producir la purificación.Cuando Egisto y Clitemnestra asesinan a Agamenón no sólo está presente su condición de esclavistas sino las pasiones y aberraciones de éstos para mantener el poder. Cuando una persona deposita su confianza- mediante el relato de sus problemas y el origen de ellos- a otra persona, se produce la curación. Por eso talvez la confesión religiosa católica tiene tanta fuerza desde la época feudal hasta nuestros días.

The idealists of all species and varieties held that economic relations were functions of human nature; the dialectical materialists hold that these relations are functions of the social productive forces. » [9]

Esta conclusión de Plejánov me parece muy ambigua. Olvida que la principal fuerza productiva es el hombre mismo. La naturaleza humana del hombre es la de ser productivo: las fuerzas productivas no son otra cosa que el cuerpo humano del hombre, en primer lugar, y luego la extensión de ese cuerpo: las herramientas, y la forma social de reunirse para usarlas. Es decir, las relaciones sociales de producción y las fuerzas productivas son productos de la naturaleza humana, cuya función principal es producir y asociarse. Asociarse para producir. El producto mismo es un resultado de la asociación productiva.

In the polemical defense of Utopia titled “To Know a Things Is to Know Its End,”
Brenner sets up a binary opposition of self-emancipating masses vis-à-vis society running socialists. He also conflates the specific and technical Marxist political categories dictatorship of the proletariat (a workers’ state) and socialist society (an
international, non-class, non-state system). Socialism and communism are interchangeable terms that refer to the international classless society based on planned production for the satisfaction of human needs. [3]

Ningún marxista puede afirmar que socialismo y comunismo son términos intercambiables. El socialismo es sólo una etapa transitoria entre la dictadura del proletariado ( socialismo) y la sociedad sin clases (comunismo). La dictadura del proletariado- siendo todavía una máquina estatales y no es socialismo, es y no es comunismo ( en la medida que el socialismo vaya o no hacia la extinción del estado). Por lo tanto la sociedad socialista no es un sistema sin estado y peor aun una sociedad internacional sin clases.

Firstly, it is misleading to state that consciousness is a “guarantee” against bureaucratization. Political consciousness is one of the weapons to combat bureaucracy, the roots of which are material and social, not psychological. Bureaucracy is a socioeconomic-structural question and arises from the isolation of a revolution, as was the case in the Soviet Union. Even an isolated workers’ state in America can degenerate into a bureaucratic system.

Muy a menudo los marxistas- principalmente Trotsky- han afirmado que el elemento subjetivo es decisivo, lo fundamental para construir el partido revolucionario. Y el elemento subjetivo es la conciencia socialista. Por lo tanto, en un proceso revolucionario, lo esencial- de alguna manera incluso con mayor fuerza que el peso socioeconómico- es la conciencia socialista. Talvez por eso Lenin repitió ante la pregunta de qué hacer contra la burocratización: “ 1 estudiar,2 estudiar,3 estudiar” Cito de memoria pero se puede verificar que la anécdota es verdadera. Una mala racha económica la puede soportar un revolucionario consciente, el partido, la clase imbuida de conciencia socialista. No así una persona o la clase o el partido sin conciencia socialista. La fatalidad económica no depende de los individuos, pero la lucha contra ella sí. Si en lugar de Stalin y los estalinistas hubiera estado Trotsky y cuadros trotskystas, el proceso de burocratización hubiese sido combatido con energía y su resultado no hubiese sido la fatalidad del aislamiento a causa del retraso de la revolución internacional porque ésta también dependía del curso de la lucha contra el aislamiento y la ampliación de la revolución socialista a escala internacional.
La declaración de Haig está imbuida de fatalismo economicista y de confundir conciencia socialista con mera psicología. El aislamiento de un estado obrero no es una categoría fija o abstracta, sino concreta. Por tanto no es un fenómeno que se repetirá siempre y con los mismos factores. Además el aislamiento está en un contexto en que lo decisivo son los cuadros revolucionarios: Si en lugar de Kautsky y los socialdemócratas hubiesen estado Lenin y los bolcheviques en Alemania, entonces la revolución se hacía en Alemania y el aislamiento ruso no hubiese existido. Parece entonces, que la conciencia socialista- que no es simple psicología, sino una portentosa cosmovisión revolucionariaes y ha sido siempre un factor de extrema importancia.