The Dictator observations thread.

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eumaas
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 04 Oct 2017, 12:46pm

Dr. Medulla wrote:
03 Oct 2017, 2:52pm
On my ride this afternoon, I started listening to Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, about the birth of pragmatism in the late 19th c. I'd listened to it once long ago and read it for my US history field six years ago, but starting Brad Snyder's The House of Truth, about the intellectual shift from progressivism to liberalism in the early 20th c, I was reminded of this one and decided to revisit. Anyway, I was struck by this comment by the fervent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison on the slavery question: “the experience of two centuries [has] shown, … gradualism in theory, is perpetuity in practice.” No, Hillary and Barack, don't nod so vigorously like that, you're missing the point.
I was into the mutualist notion of gradualism, building dual power institutions slowly in order to supercede the state/capitalism at a later point, but I have more and more returned to the the Marxist convictions of my youth when it comes to revolution. I now see that gradualism as coming from a place of defeat. Like Curtis talks about, the left in defeat became afraid of power, and all power, even mass power, became conflated with authority.

I guess I am in some ways back to Monthly Review-style soft Maoism, except I still agree with anarchism against the centralizing Leninist tendencies of Marxism--maybe now I think electoralism is a legitimate tactic, and that there would be a state after revolution, but I think the "withering away" needs to be hurried along by mass democratization rather than party dictatorship, as the latter has been shown to lead to counterrevolutionary suppression of the working class and ultimately capitalist restoration. I think I have come around to the idea that a lot of leftist debates are in the pejorative sense academic for the moment and should be set aside in the interest of unity.

I mean I even support popular fronts with liberals to oppose fascism, although a good share of liberals seem more interested in allying with conservatives unfortunately.

I know my remarks are tangential to your point, and on that subject I will say that incrementalism seems to be a myth. Those gains came from recognizing the demands of mass movements and compromising in the interests of the ruling class. But the wonkish notion of incremental gains as technocratic tinkering, those kinds of means-tested programs are so easy to undermine and roll back, while bold universalist programs have staying power, as do gains backed by mass movements in general.

I feel like I am rambling so I will stop. It's hard to write coherently on the phone.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 04 Oct 2017, 1:17pm

eumaas wrote:
04 Oct 2017, 12:46pm
I was into the mutualist notion of gradualism, building dual power institutions slowly in order to supercede the state/capitalism at a later point, but I have more and more returned to the the Marxist convictions of my youth when it comes to revolution. I now see that gradualism as coming from a place of defeat. Like Curtis talks about, the left in defeat became afraid of power, and all power, even mass power, became conflated with authority.
This is something I have a really hard time with. By instinct, I'm repulsed by power because, yes, I regard it as being hand-in-hand with authority. I often wonder whether the Left just needs to re-embrace a romantic view of revolution and change, to somehow backburner the criticism that we all gravitate to and just dive headlong into the possibility of a different world. Which kind of comes from a different angel at your own conclusion about leftist debates.
I know my remarks are tangential to your point, and on that subject I will say that incrementalism seems to be a myth. Those gains came from recognizing the demands of mass movements and compromising in the interests of the ruling class. But the wonkish notion of incremental gains as technocratic tinkering, those kinds of means-tested programs are so easy to undermine and roll back, while bold universalist programs have staying power, as do gains backed by mass movements in general.
The problem with gradualism is that it assumes a will to make structural change during "good" (read: socially stable) times. And that doesn't happen. It takes a crisis to some degree that discredits norms and allows an opportunity for a shake-up. Some crises spring from structural flaws, such as the Great Depression, which allowed for the creation of a modern welfare state, or it can be pushed by activists taking advantage of contradictions, such as the Civil Rights Movement, which benefited from the Cold War and America's positioning itself as representing freedom. But the notion that when things are supposedly hunky dory that notable social and economic justice reforms will be pursued is naively optimistic.

edit: Further to that romantic view of socialism, I think it's in Dwight Macdonald's The Root Is Man, he claims that Marx gutted the left by turning it from a position rooted in morality to one into science (be it economics or history as science). While I'm quite drawn to Marx's analysis of capitalism (tho not his prognosis), I can't help but think that Macdonald is correct here. Leftist politics should be grounded in humanism and morality; we get caught up in these endless critiques and critiques of critiques when we make it the province of scholars.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Silent Majority » 05 Oct 2017, 6:37am

Dr. Medulla wrote:
04 Oct 2017, 1:17pm
edit: Further to that romantic view of socialism, I think it's in Dwight Macdonald's The Root Is Man, he claims that Marx gutted the left by turning it from a position rooted in morality to one into science (be it economics or history as science). While I'm quite drawn to Marx's analysis of capitalism (tho not his prognosis), I can't help but think that Macdonald is correct here. Leftist politics should be grounded in humanism and morality; we get caught up in these endless critiques and critiques of critiques when we make it the province of scholars.
Interesting.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Spiff » 05 Oct 2017, 12:21pm

Silent Majority wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 6:37am
Dr. Medulla wrote:
04 Oct 2017, 1:17pm
edit: Further to that romantic view of socialism, I think it's in Dwight Macdonald's The Root Is Man, he claims that Marx gutted the left by turning it from a position rooted in morality to one into science (be it economics or history as science). While I'm quite drawn to Marx's analysis of capitalism (tho not his prognosis), I can't help but think that Macdonald is correct here. Leftist politics should be grounded in humanism and morality; we get caught up in these endless critiques and critiques of critiques when we make it the province of scholars.
Interesting.
The Lefties I hang out with -- online on Facebook and in real life -- do base their politics on morality.

I mean, isn't the common refrain from the Left -- No justice; no peace! -- essentially a morality-based expression?
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Silent Majority » 05 Oct 2017, 5:34pm

Spiff wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 12:21pm
Silent Majority wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 6:37am
Dr. Medulla wrote:
04 Oct 2017, 1:17pm
edit: Further to that romantic view of socialism, I think it's in Dwight Macdonald's The Root Is Man, he claims that Marx gutted the left by turning it from a position rooted in morality to one into science (be it economics or history as science). While I'm quite drawn to Marx's analysis of capitalism (tho not his prognosis), I can't help but think that Macdonald is correct here. Leftist politics should be grounded in humanism and morality; we get caught up in these endless critiques and critiques of critiques when we make it the province of scholars.
Interesting.
The Lefties I hang out with -- online on Facebook and in real life -- do base their politics on morality.

I mean, isn't the common refrain from the Left -- No justice; no peace! -- essentially a morality-based expression?
There were socialists, communists, and anarchists before Marx. I think he did some truly valuable work but I think organising today may get a zero-sum contribution from Karl. I may just be saying this because I myself have bottled it more than once, but I think a person can be more than valuable from the left without crunching through 1000s of pages that prove capitalism is not the solution.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 05 Oct 2017, 5:59pm

Silent Majority wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 5:34pm
There were socialists, communists, and anarchists before Marx. I think he did some truly valuable work but I think organising today may get a zero-sum contribution from Karl. I may just be saying this because I myself have bottled it more than once, but I think a person can be more than valuable from the left without crunching through 1000s of pages that prove capitalism is not the solution.
Leftist intellectuals/writers are predominantly from a Marxist or at least Marxian tradition. Perhaps that's a significant chasm between left thinkers and organizers. But then I've said for some time that the professional and intellectual classes, if they want to be allies of the working class and other marginalized peoples, need to step back and be supporters, rather than assume they should lead. And that might mean leaving Marx to the side.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 05 Oct 2017, 7:20pm

I think Marxism is actually quite popular again. There was a while where anarchists dominated the activist scene, but there are loads more committed Marxists these days. Their political education varies, however. I have noticed that there is less emphasis on theory than before.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 05 Oct 2017, 7:24pm

that said, understanding the transformation problem is unnecessary to becoming a good radical. I think the basics of class struggle can be explained in under five minutes without using a lot of jargon.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 05 Oct 2017, 7:26pm

eumaas wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 7:20pm
I think Marxism is actually quite popular again. There was a while where anarchists dominated the activist scene, but there are loads more committed Marxists these days. Their political education varies, however. I have noticed that there is less emphasis on theory than before.
Meaning the pre-"mature Marx"?
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Silent Majority » 05 Oct 2017, 7:36pm

"He's always pre-mature." - Jenny Marx.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 05 Oct 2017, 7:41pm

"It's these damned carbuncles! I swear!" - Karl "Never Happened Before" Marx
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 05 Oct 2017, 8:16pm

?? I mean in prior Marxist movements, there is less emphasis on getting the theory down pat. In a Leninist party you'd get a course in theory. In DSA and the like, political education is thought of as an ongoing project without making it a barrier to doing the work.

I tend to think academic Marxism is almost entirely useless, save economics, labor history, stuff with a practical application. I also think Marxist theory is pointless without application.

edit: Moreover, I agree with Mao that you can't actually have good theory without practice! The practice informs the theory.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 05 Oct 2017, 8:22pm

Let me expand on that in a way to seem not anti-intellectual. What I mean is that, in my interpretation of Marxism, the whole of it is geared towards practice. As a consequence, that means Marxism is gonna be lacking in fundamental features that you'd find in fully elaborated worldview philosophies. Marxism doesn't really have anything more than a crude ontology because you don't need any more than that to have a revolution and build a new society. So those primitive aspects of Marxism are necessarily primitive. Dialectical Materialism often fails because it tries to make a grand philosophical worldview project out of something that was never really meant for that purpose.

I think we can maybe get insights into aesthetics, literature, or whatever by using Marxist ideas, but I don't know that Marxism gives us any greater insight than another approach might (phenomenology, feminism, post-structuralism, etc). Where Marxism is poised to offer insight is in the indictment of the governing social relations and in the practice of mass social change.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 05 Oct 2017, 8:59pm

eumaas wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 8:16pm
?? I mean in prior Marxist movements, there is less emphasis on getting the theory down pat. In a Leninist party you'd get a course in theory. In DSA and the like, political education is thought of as an ongoing project without making it a barrier to doing the work.
What I meant was that pre-Capital, there's something more recognizably revolutionary about Marx. Capital is deeply analytical, understanding the nature of the problem. The latter is more appealing to scholars who would prefer to go navel-gazing with theory.
I tend to think academic Marxism is almost entirely useless, save economics, labor history, stuff with a practical application. I also think Marxist theory is pointless without application.
I'm biased, but I think Marxian approaches to understanding popular culture are valuable.
edit: Moreover, I agree with Mao that you can't actually have good theory without practice! The practice informs the theory.
That's also Marx, tho: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."* How many Marxist scholars truly believe that anymore, tho? In their bones, I mean. But because I'm skeptical about Marxist prognosis, I'm not inclined to see it as a vehicle for changing the world. That's another thing where I have an affinity with Macdonald—there's a certain inhumane aspect of Marxism, whereby people are expected to serve the theory, to sacrifice to the theory, rather than be open to a range of possibilities to make the world less cruel.

*Robin Kelley, who has written about, among other things, African-American Communists during the Great Depression, has told the story of interviewing one of those old guys. The guy took out a copy of the The Communist Manifesto and said, "Theory." Then he placed a box of shotgun shells on the desk and said, "Practice."
eumaas wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 8:22pm
I think we can maybe get insights into aesthetics, literature, or whatever by using Marxist ideas, but I don't know that Marxism gives us any greater insight than another approach might (phenomenology, feminism, post-structuralism, etc). Where Marxism is poised to offer insight is in the indictment of the governing social relations and in the practice of mass social change.
In terms of cultural stuff, Marxian-derived theories can be useful critical tools, but by no means are they the be-all. They offer one of many ways to make an argument. But they are just analytical, there's nothing about changing the world in them beyond possible consciousness raising.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 06 Oct 2017, 6:58am

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