George Kane, continued discussion of the book by Dave Stratman

George Kane
Continued discussion of the book:
Dave Stratman, We Can Change the World
from the New Unionist, May 1996, page 2

I agree with David Lazarus that we should connect with activists outside the New Union Party who share our desire to overturn capitalism. I think that David Stratman is sincere and convincing in his opposition to capitalism, and that there is a great deal in his book that is praiseworthy. I hope that my review conveyed that evaluation.

I assume that what Lazarus finds negative and divisive in my review is my response to Stratman's assertion that Marxism is intrinsically counterrevolutionary. I believe that Stratman' s contention is a severe theoretical error and that to let it go unanswered is incompatible with the NUP's educational mission. Marxism has been the theoretical basis for anticapitalist revolution for over a century and remains today as vital and indispensable as ever.

Stratman denies that the sufficient cause for revolution can be found in the material conditions imposed upon the workers by the prevailing economic system. The power of Marx's analysis is that it identifies the logical contradictions inherent in capitalism and shows why it must destroy itself. I don't agree that it is at all demeaning to workers to expect them to respond to the continuous degradation of their standard of living under capitalism.

Stratman says that the owning class values competition and inequality and control from above, while the working class values equality and solidarity and control from below. Assuming for a moment that this is universally true, why is it true? Workers and owners are both human, not different biological species. Their different values can only be the result of their different positions in society, positions which are determined by the economic roles they each play in society.

But of course, as experience shows us everyday, people do not automatically value equality and solidarity because they are workers. Again, Marx was right when he said that the ruling ideas of a society are the ideas of its ruling class. Under "normal" conditions workers too will accept that competition, greed, hierarchical control, etc. are the unavoidable results of "human nature," even as they struggle to lead humane lives themselves. (On the other hand, individual owners may be loving husbands, fathers and friends. Are they thereby "engaged in a struggle to create a different world?")

But Marx also said that opposing ideas and values develop as new economic structures and needs develop within the existing form of society. The working-class values of solidarity and cooperation are not inherent in all workers, but develop out of the objective need for workers to unite in order to defend their economic interests, and from the economic fact that capitalism brings workers together to work cooperatively in industry.

The essential point that Marx proves is that capitalism requires the progressive exploitation of workers in order to maintain profits in a competitive marketplace. This is the material basis for expecting that workers will reject the values of capitalism and instead value the solidarity they need to protect and advance their interests.

If it is not true that values proceed from economic interest, Stratman has to explain why the workers at Hormel, Staley, et al. initiated their great and inspiring movements only when their employers slashed their pay, benefits and working conditions, and not before.

I also disagree with Stratman's assertion that Marx's historical materialism "puts the left in the position of hoping for things to get worse and worse for working people so they will finally 'become revolutionary'." Explaining why things must get worse for workers under capitalism is not the same as rooting for their misfortune, which would be a sure way to earn the workers' distrust and contempt.

Similarly, all New Union Party members will dispute Stratman's assertion that "the Marxist paradigm will always require a party elite to rule in place of the working class."

There is certainly nothing in Marx to suggest a party elite must "remold" workers; the whole point of Marxism is that people are changed through changed conditions, not anybody's ideology. The economic and social conditions that are the prerequisites for a socialist society of equality were clearly lacking in Russia and China, and it was their conditions of industrial underdevelopment -- and not to any "paradigm" -- that gave rise to th authoritarian rule of the Communists.

The idea of a political "varguard of the proletariat" that rule during a transitional period from capitalism to socialism is a specifically Leninist attempt to deal with the problem of industrial underdevelopment. It differs decisively from Daniel De Leon's writings on industrial democracy, which formulate the revolutionary program for a fully-developed capitalist society like the United States.

While the political side of revolution requires a party to wrest from the capitalist class its weapons o the state and police, the economic struggle requires a union of all worker in each industry. These unions an necessary to democratically rule the workplace, driving decisions on production goals down to the level of the workers who will execute them. These democratic unions will preside over the dismantling of the state and inoculate the revolution against the rise of any new elite.

David Lazarus is justified in calling me to task for an ad hominen attack. My intention was to criticize Stratman's theory for divorcing revolution from economics by pointing out that the class consciousness his theory presents is not working-class consciousness. Rereading it I understand that it may be interpreted as personal and mean-spirited, for which I apologize.

-- George Kane