Wrong angle of entry
August 8, 2017
Below are two excerpts from the always interesting summer issue of Monthly Review (personal note: its founding editors introduced me to a non-dogmatic marxism).
The first is from John Bellamy Foster’s article, “Revolution and Counterrevolution:”
“All of this reaffirms the historical truth that there can be no socialist revolution—however it should arise—that is not also forced to confront the reality of counterrevolution. Indeed, in judging revolution and counterrevolution over the last century, particular stress must be put on the strength and virulence of the counterrevolution. The struggles and errors of the revolutionists are only to be seen in the context of this wider historical dialectic.”
And the other is from the Editors:
“Indeed, if there is a single underlying theme to the articles included here, it is that they all indicate that in interpreting revolution and counterrevolution over the last century emphasis must be placed on the strength and virulence of the counterrevolution, and that the errors of the revolutionists can only be assessed in that context.”
My initial reaction anyway is that both suggest a wrong emphasis, i.e. on the forces of counterrevolution, writ large, if we hope to arrive at an understanding what happened in the 20th century and the requirements for a turn to socialism and democracy in this century.
Here is what I wrote on my blog (Angle of Entry, SamWebb.org) more than a year ago, which places “stress” elsewhere:
“Much of I write is exploratory. It is a work in progress; an ongoing conversation with myself as well as with readers.
And there’s an explanation for this: I came to radicalism and the Communist Party in the early 1970s, but I grew up politically in the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of this one. During that relatively short stretch of time, two signal events took place that disrupted my safe political space. One was the rise of right wing extremism, neoliberalism, and capitalist globalization at the beginning of the 1980s; the other was the implosion of Soviet socialism a decade later.
The resulting sea change in the direction of world politics caught me – and many others – off guard. After all, I was radicalized at at time when the world seemed nearly infinitely malleable. “Socialism in our time” didn’t seem like wishful thinking. So when the forward march of labor and its allies was abruptly halted and Soviet socialism went belly up with barely a whimper, I felt compelled to reexamine many of the assumptions and core ideas that had framed my thinking and activity.
It was too much of a stretch to think that my old understandings of marxism, marxist methodology, and the world could explain this unexpected and sudden recasting of the world.
Or to put it differently, in the face of a profound and historic defeats, I concluded that the losing side – of which I was a small part – would make a big mistake if it attributes those defeats exclusively to the strength of its opposition or to “class traitors” from within its ranks.
Instead it seemed obvious to me that it was imperative to interrogate my own assumptions, understandings, and practices. To do otherwise seemed profoundly unrealistic, undialectical, and non-marxist. And that continues to be my strongly held opinion.
I learned from playing basketball that if your opponent beats the hell out of you (and that happened to me more than once – the only championship team I ever played on was in 8th grade), then you better make some big adjustments before your next game. To do nothing is to invite another rout.
So I re-read – this time from a different vantage point – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci, Dimitrov, Luxemburg, Togliatti, and others of their generations. I also read the work of many contemporary authors who write mainly, but not exclusively, in the Marxist tradition.
In the course of this rethink (and especially over the 14 years that I was the National Chair of the CPUSA before stepping down in 2014 and resigning in 2016), I like to believe that I gained new insights on matters of theory, politics, culture, and marxism as well as jettisoned old notions that had left me so flatfooted in a changing world.
On this blog I will continue, albeit with my obvious limitations, that endeavor. And in doing so I hope that it assists in some small way in the building of a people’s movement and a left that has the vision, reach, unity, power, and common sense to save our fragile planet and make life livable, free, and joyous for all.”
This emphasis, I believe, would serve us better.