Thursday, April 7, 2011

Letter to a Marxist Update visitor

[I received a reader's letter complimenting the blog.
He is a working journalist and reviewed some of his
own ideas about the economy, and his frustration with
the two party system in the U.S. The letter below is an edited
version of my reply to his questions, eliminating only some items of a
personal nature not pertaining to politics.]

. . . .

How did I become a Marxist?
I was one of those young people who
had a very contrary attitude about
everything I was told.
This for some reason was
particularly true about the
official Cold War line
in school. I was inspired by
defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, though
I was very young when that
happened. But by the time I entered
high school in 1980 the campaign against
Iran [not socialist, of course, but a
massive popular revolution], Nicaragua, El Salvador,
Grenada had begun; since I was a
news junkie, and felt contrary about what I
was told, my consciousness began
to develop. The ERA, the Draft Registration
resistance, revolutionary breakthroughs
in Portugal's African possessions, all
stoked my interest with facts... and
with inspirational leaders who spoke for
the immense majority of humanity.
I was a Marxist or communist or
what-you-will, by the time I was a
junior in high school. I subscribed to many
socialist and Marxist newspapers -
of which there were dozens back then. Each
was from a different party or organization.
I became a loyal reader of The
Militant, and later went on to join the
Young Socialist Alliance and the U.S.
Socialist Workers Party. I was a member
for several years in several U.S.
cities, starting here in Cleveland.

It was only when I became a SWP party
member in my early twenties and combined
reading and study with communist political
work in the unionized garment shops
[where I had a succession of jobs over
the years] that I really became a
Marxist. Just reading what J. Edgar Hoover
wrote and doing the opposite - my
high school method - was a far cry from
the real animal. Study + work + active
collaboration with older and more experienced
comrades who had been in the U.S.
communist movement sometimes for
decades was my university.

Family and child-rearing responsibilities
pushed me back from activism until a
few years ago. I began the blog as a hobby
but now have more time for actual
political work ....

Here in Cleveland we also have a study/reading group
with a fluid and changing number of
attendees each week, sometimes 2, sometimes
a dozen, fluctuating. Next week we
are reviewing the Libyan events in the
light of a book we just finished.

On the question of "communism failed."
I don't hear that as much as one might
think, but the idea has a powerful unconscious
effect on the perspectives of
anyone today who wants to fight back
against government austerity, lay-offs,
joblessness, union-busting, imperialist wars,
education cuts, et cetera. The
idea that "there is no alternative" has an
even MORE powerful conscious and
unconscious authority. When you speak
about the ignorance of people, much of it
has to do with the internalization of political
defeat, retreat, and
atomization. Alienation, or whatever we might
call it. Until the fightback we see
in Cairo and Tunis and Madison, Wisconsin
becomes more generalized, there will
be no advances in consciousness, no reclamation
of solidarity as the cornerstone
of working class moral practice, and no alternative.

Not to be snarky, but a younger comrade of
mine, when facing the "communism
failed" arguments of people he sells Workers World newspaper
to, replies thusly:
"Yes, communism did fail. Once. But capitalism
fails every day." i.e. fails to
meet the needs and necessities of billions
every day in every way. Another
favorite saying of his, "If you wouldn't trust
the invisible hand of the market
to babysit your kid or fix your car, why would
you trust an invisible hand to
feed and house people?"

But people need something to say YES to before
things change. That will only be
a movement, and while there is fightback now,
it must become more generalized
and unified. It has happened before, it will
happen again, and we can see the
germination of what it might look like in the
last year or two. In particular,
the recent Arab and Middle Eastern uprisings,
the Wisconsin events, and the
general strikes throughout Europe in the last 12 months.

I agree with you about the two-party system.
We can see even more clearly with
the election and rule of Obama the whipsaw
effect of electoralism and how it
demoralizes and disorients people. Hate the
Republican warmongers? Then vote
for Obama and get.... what? A bigger war
president [at home and abroad] than
Bush! Marxists propose instead independent
working class political action;
easier said than done, of course. It is an
abstraction without concrete
practice and consistency to make it real.

This statement explains my own perspective more succinctly than I ever could:


I respect your comments on the need for a
"growing over" from capitalism to
something better. The word Marxists use for
this "growing-over" is revolution.
The growing-over of slavery to feudalism was
punctuated by revolutionary events,
as was the transition or growing-over from
feudalism to capitalism. These
processes took hundreds of years. Our everyday
and transitional work each day
must be aimed at both minimizing the appalling
impact of capitalism on the
working class and its oppressed allies
internationally, and maintaining a "big
picture" focus on ultimate goals: turning
everyday successes into building
blocks to make bigger struggles succeed.
Again, easier said than done. But
capitalism has created a level of technique
worldwide that can provide a
socialist order of plenty for humanity; the
only brake on it is the continued
rule of capitalists, their ownership of the
resources and the tools to transform
the world, and their exploitation of labor
via the wages system for their own

Please do not think this is cut and paste
boilerplate, or that I am talking down
to you. The Marxist or communist movement
internationally is going through a
process of convergence and renewal, whether
every communist consciously realizes
it or not. How could it be otherwise? If you
visit my blog every few weeks and
scan through the posts, you will get a snapshot
of this process, and I hope you
are able to. There have been many journalists
who remained journalists but also
became revolutionaries, from John Reed and
Anna Louise Strong to Joseph North,
William Worthy and I.F. Stone. Again, how
could it be otherwise? Journalists
look at the jigsaw of reality and labor to see
how it fits together to make an
intelligible whole. The science of making
social reality intelligible is

I hope you will take a few minutes over the next few days to review the
materials attached. And I wish you all the best.
Jay Rothermel

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