Rejoinder from Peter Waterman

by Jul 26, 2009All Articles

Dear Trevor

(I am assuming that you will read or receive this):

I can recognise most of your analysis of the crisis of the South African Left because it corresponds with that of the West European, North American, Russian or Latin American Left.

What I cannot agree with is your strategy alternative, which seems to be: try HARDER to do what the historical Left (Marx, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky…Mao?) tried to do. Nor can I accept for today the historical discourse: Marxism, Working Class, Organisation, Revolution, Working Class Power, Communism.
To urge this upon us AGAIN is to appeal to faith rather than history. Indeed, you do not address history, nor the revolution WITHIN capitalism which has occurred since these Leftists produced their theories, made their analyses, proposed their strategies. Those Leftists lived in the era of National, Industrial, Colonial Capitalism. We live in the era of Globalised, Imperial, Computerised, Information and Services Capital. This does not imply that we have to REJECT the historical Left but it does imply we have to re-invent or surpass it.

Thus (briefly):

Marxism can no longer be thought of as the sole or primary source of emancipatory theory (even if it is MY primary source);

The Working Class (industrial, male, waged) can no longer be thought of as the privileged bearer of social emancipation (even if it is what I primarily address myself to);

The Organisation (party or union) can no longer be considered the privileged forms of collective self-articulation for emancipation (even if we cannot avoid addressing and engaging with them);

Revolution (an apocalyptical social insurrection, whether armed or political) can no longer be considered the privileged form for social emancipation.

Working-Class Power can no longer be accepted as equivalent to or a step toward the abolition of the state or of ‘power from above’ more generally.

Communism has been fatally discredited due its historical association (particularly in that one-third of the world in which it was a state form) with authoritarianism, patriarchalism, industrialism, chauvinism, militarism, pollution, racism.

Instead (briefly):

Marxism has to be placed in dialogue with theory coming out of the women’s, rural, indigenous, human-rights, religious/spiritual (open, tolerant), ecological, urban and other such movements;

The Working Class has to be re-defined to include the growing percentage of unemployed, rural, sub-contracted, petty-commodity labourers. This re-defined class has to be understood to have many significant non-class interests and identities (as citizens, urban residents, petty-producers/traders, consumers, families). And then to be understood as only one contributor to the creation of an emancipatory movement (involving the indigenous peoples, immigrants and emigrants, artists and intellectuals, women’s, ecological and human-rights movements).

The traditional Organisation (party, union, cooperative) has to be understood as only one form of worker or other collective self-articulation, increasingly challenged by the network.

The word Revolution (with its apocalyptical implications and outcomes) needs to be replaced by the concept of social emancipation (meaning any strategy that increases the autonomy, power and self-confidence of the relevant category or society and that is compatible with those of others).

The notion of Working-Class Power (the Dictatorship of the Proletariat) has to be replaced by another (such as Radical Democracy, Participatory Democracy) which suggests the continual increase of ‘power from below’, exercised in multiple spheres (domestic, sexual, local control, worker self-management, ethnic and regional autonomy);

The word Communism needs to be either replaced by some other word for the utopia desired (one proposal is ‘Commonism’) or put into cold storage until it can be cleansed of its historical accretions, fundamentally reconceptualised,  and again become internationally attractive.

Further (briefly):

Your piece does not address Internationalism, which I know you to have been also heavily engaged with. But, on the assumption that you would here also draw from the Historical Left, I would argue also for the inadequacy of this (with its dependence on the word Nationalism and consequent implication of relations between nation-states, nationals and nationalists) in favour of Global Solidarity/ies, understood as implying relations between radically-democratic locales, collectives, interests and identities that are not necessarily defined by nation or state belonging.

Finally (briefly):

I would not have written this response if I did not know both you and the movements with which you have been associated to be engaged in the struggle for a world beyond capitalism and authoritarian (err…Communist?) or liberal (Social Democratic) socialism.

The dialogue must continue.


Peter Waterman

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