Thank-you for a very thoughtful and, more pertinently, gracious (!) reply.
With a millisecond's hindsight, I found my e-mail needlessly harsh, snippish,
and obnoxious in criticizing so zealously views composed with principle and
passion, and which are not all that far from my own. And yes, I noted the
irony: I decried what I detected was the "return of the repressed" --
60s-esque denunciations of Capitalism with a Capital C and a kind of
"radder-than-thou-ness," while myself engaging in the kind of ad hominem
put-downs so characteristic of the sectarian tussles of the end of the 60s.
Deeper irony: at a NYC rally at the Italian Consulte shortly after Guliani's
murder, I brought a sign saying, among other things, "Capitalism Kills." It
seemed, in my own moment of urgent anger, a permissible reduction that got at
the essence of things in that moment. And that was the slogan of yours that
I inveighed against. So once more, my very sincere apologies.
I suppose my rhetorical excesses in my response were born of a kind of anger,
or fear, all its own -- that we, the left, the vestigal or reborn
anti-imperilists, might hold onto - and righteously so - a set of theoretical
and strategic assumptions that, later or sooner, may retard our new movement.
My fear is so great because the stakes are so high -- humanity may have one
small window, that of a few decades or more (or less!) to avert ecological
self-annihilation and the exponential increase of preventable human misery
that makes a mockery of millenia of human dreams of justice and assertions of
our worth and gifts as a species. So yes, I am intent on ascertaining the
deep causes of our past and current peril!
I don't dispute the ravages of colonialism and the horrible consequences of
its successor-systems or residues. I just wonder, again, what we mean today
when we say we are "anti-capitalist," especially when what it might mean
today to be "socialist" seems so elusive. Technical definitions (with all
respect to Mr. Mandel) stressing one's relationship to the means of
production, and not income or aggregate wealth, are triumphs of form, not
necessarily understanding. Mapping moral judgments onto such parsings of
social class are just plain difficult.
(At an extreme: baseball players are "workers" in a technical sense but earn
obscene amounts of money; the guy at the deli down the street, whom I've seen
work, with heart and grit, to make a nice business for himself (with good
sandwhiches!) is a capitalist, with workers at his command, capital, plans
for expansion, "growing his business", all the rest. (ok, we could place him
in the petit-bourgeoisie if you like). Whose life is wrong here, or right
here, and who am I to judge?)
More seriously, to be for people over profits is great (among our best
slogans) and to decry a system that puts profits over people makes is
necessary as well, but the contemporary reality is that the great majority of
the world, including the world's poor, participate in markets (huge, big,
medium, small, micro) operating, in part, on the basis of personal incentives
and the maximization of certain forms of highly local (even individual)
interest. Economies that strived to be rid of all market activity have
suffered greatly (if excelling in certain areas), and the world, it seems, is
utterly leery of "going back" to anything like "actually existing
What to do, first with the past? To say that Stalinism was just "state
capitalism" seems to me bizarre, if Stalinism then becomes an indictment of
capitalism. Likewise, to blame the problems of the most abusive "socialist"
regimes on capitalism, because socialism was a response to capitalism, seems
sophistry (a few years ago a German historian got skewered, rightly so, for
blaming Nazism on communism, because Hitler was feuled by anti-Bolshevism).
More important, what to do with the future? As a marxist of sorts, I
nonetheless fear that something like a mixed economy, organized on humane,
pro-people lines, is a more viable and robust utopian goal that working
towards whatever we think is the absolute opposite of capitalism, conceived
itself as some kind of absolute, which it's not.
So yes, I do get squeamish at denunciations of "the capitalist" or
"capitalists," when I'm not quite sure who they are, what it means to smash
them, and what exactly they, as individuals, have done. Here I prefer
criticism of the -ism; Marx, at his best, denounced capitalism as a
structure; "capitalist," as an identity, is only a "character mask" (not an
existential category), often incurred thru the accident of one's birth place
within a social division of labor (many many more unhappy accidents in a
The larger point: Sometimes, surveying radical history and just particpating
in left wing movements, I sense that people feel they, in the last instance,
can be radical OR have a deeply complex view of the world; more challenging
is to be radical AND have a complex view of the world. (I think another of
the Weatherpeople said, quite eloquently, in the Helen Garvey movie,
something like "We looked for simple solutions to complex problems.") By the
same token, the recognition of complexity is no excuse for inaction or
paralyzing equivocations. We have a world to save, right?
Please, keep the advice on how coming.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Aug 17 2001 - 02:28:24 EDT