Re: [sixties-l] Reply (and apology) to Ron Jacobs

Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 13:54:44 EDT

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    I agree very strongly with this last post from Jeremy Varon. It marks a
    beginning (not "the" beginning, for others have written somewhat
    similarly) toward the think-through we all need to figure out the steps
    to be taken to make anti-globalization and the positive consequences we
    believe that would bring a reality. They will differ from country to
    country, as well as in categories of countries (imperialist, formerly
    colonial, formerly socialist, industrial, agrarian). They will also have
    to be such as to eliminate or, more accurately, mitigate conflicts of
    interest among them.
                            Bill Mandel wrote:
    > Dear Ron,
    > 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
    > socialism."
    > 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
    > capitalist society).
    > 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.
    > peace,
    > Jeremy

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