Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Joseph Hansen: a reader's notes

Joseph Hansen has been one of my touchstones since I first joined the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, of which he was a longtime leader. Below are excerpts from a recent notebook of mine.


....’mass culture’ of bourgeois society with its conceptions of society as a single consumers’ club with common rules of play suffers double fiasco during crises. First, the illusion of the ’universality’ of the procedures of the consumer society is shattered with mounting unemployment, fall in real incomes, and deterioration of the workers’ life. On the other hand, the inadequacy of the ’consumer’ psychology becomes particularly clear, and the need for every member of society to take an active stand in defense of his or her interests and to fight to change the very organizational foundations of social life.

....A ramified, skilfully directed system of ’social opiates’ is converting the individual’s spiritual world into an object of ideological manipulation planned in advance.

....conflict between traditional individualist ideals and the ’external’ frameworks that the bureaucratic system imposes on man.

....decay of spiritual culture, the cult of philistinism, the decline in morals, and the orgy of speculation, corruption, and crime

....intensification of the monopolies’ attempts to impose reactionary regimes on society and the resuscitating of various right extremist, neofascist trends.

*excerpts from
The Crisis of Capitalism and the Condition of the Working People


Joseph Hansen: a reader's notes

A Psychoanalyst Looks for a Sane Society

....drive for conformity, the incapacity for independence in outlook, the substitution of accumulation of things for cultural achievement as life’s goal. The consequence is spiritual emptiness, universal boredom. The inability to achieve the freedom that comes from genuine cultural achievement is converted into fear of freedom in general. Anxiety is no longer the exception; it is the hall mark of modern man. Such psychological conditions take social and political expression in pathological movements of which fascism is an extreme form. Thus in the psychological shaping of the individual, capitalism reveals its trend toward a new barbarism.

....If a society advances the development of the productive forces, it is sane. If it does not, it is insane.

....Capitalism has become such a brake on the productive forces that it is turning them into their opposite – forces threatening to destroy civilization and even mankind itself. Could a society be more insane?

....What kind of society will replace the irrational one we live in?

....a society based on planned economy. Planning in the Soviet Union has demonstrated in life what steep increases in the rate of development off the productive forces is possible under this system. What is noteworthy, however, is that capitalism itself is preparing all the requisites for planned economy. This is the long-range meaning of the giant enterprises we see appearing throughout the capitalist structure.

....actual inherent evolution of capitalism toward a higher order.

....socialization of the means of production was the necessary and sufficient condition for the transformation of capitalist into a socialist co-operative society.

....difficulties in the Soviet Union follow from the fact that world capitalism has not yet been transcended. What is really inadequate is the extent of the socialization of the means of production.

....Definite forms of society have in turn advanced and then retarded the development of the productive forces. The forms consist of classes based on particular modes of organizing economic production and distribution. The classes in turn give specific content to sum abstract concepts as “justice,” “love,” “reason,” and “the unity of man.” The content is progressive or reactionary depending on whether it advances or retards the development of the productive forces.

....issues were finally decided in civil war.

....bourgeois ideologues thought that the success of the new views was due to their consonance with human nature, but they were simply in consonance with the basic task of increasing productivity.

....workers ....although, originating in capitalist society, are developing a new morality in opposition to the outmoded capitalist morality. Love for one’s fellow man, the concept of the unity of man, gain a new content – international working-class solidarity.

....highest moral obligation was to join in the struggle for working-class emancipation.

[Marcuse]....“private disorder reflects more directly than before the disorder of the whole, and the cure of personal disorder depends more directly than before on the cure of the general disorder.”

[Marcuse]....wrong, he thinks, to try to apply psychology in the analysis of social and political events.
“The task is rather the opposite: to develop the political and sociological substance of the psychological notions.”

[Marcuse]....“The concept of mam that emerges from Freudian theory is the most irrefutable indictment of Western civilization – and at the same time the most unshakable defense of this civilization.”
....without the repression and the constraints civilization would be impossible.

[Marcuse]....To the repression of the toiler required by slavery was added “surplus-repression” to maintain the exploitative rule.

....development of technology and the productivity of labor have become such that it is now possible to relegate scarcity to the past. Humanity now has the possibility of developing civilization on the basis of an economy of abundance.

.... Man lives in society; and the forms of society determine the forms in which his instincts become manifest. Since form and content, however, are interconnected, the form must inevitably affect the content in a most profound way. To use an analogy of our own, the form of bound feet will completely alter a person’s capacity to walk; hobbling will prove more “natural” than running.

....The death instinct, for example, manifests the destructive drives of class society. The important thing to note is the profundity with which the social content becomes rooted in the human psyche by shaping the biological instincts. Freud was correct in estimating the depth of the anchoring but erred in not taking into account the strictly historical influence of society in the vicissitudes of the instincts.

....Freedom [a spectacular decline in neuroses and psychoses] won’t come until the new social order appears with whatever will be its form of the family.

....Marcuse believes.... Freud’s basic concepts constitute an “irrefutable indictment” of the existing social order. Uneasiness over this indictment is one of the compelling motives for the revisionist abandonment of Freud’s conclusions.

....optimistic conclusions follow about what will happen to human nature in a rational society of abundance.

....Marx held that work is the normal activity of the human being. Man expresses himself in the labor product, sees and finds himself in it. By changing nature, man has changed his own nature; that is, he became and developed as human.
Class society, however, negates this norm; the producers are alienated from the labor product. The slaveholder, lord or capitalist does the planning and the directing and the product is his. This alienation reaches its culmination in capitalist society where, as proletarian, man is converted into an adjunct of the machine and utterly divorced from the labor product. Moreover, the labor product, an expression of definite economic relations, becomes a strange thing, with seemingly independent powers, ruling man like the fetish of savages or the gods of primitive religions and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. So far as the capitalist labor process is concerned, the proletarian is the negation of a human being. Consequently work becomes tool, animal-like drudgery, and pleasure is put outside the labor process to what is not specifically human – the animal functions.
That is why Marx considered that human history will not truly begin, until this negation has been transcended and the labor process converted into the opposite of what it is under capitalism. Through conscious planning man will master his own social relations and, through this, master the labor product so that it no longer stands against him as an alien power but instead becomes a means through which he may rationally shape himself. According to this, work should become a pleasure, a source of deepest satisfaction, the process through which civilization achieves full flower and man enters his own as a fully developed human.

....free society of abundance will provide far more room for unrepressed sexuality with its pleasures than we can easily visualize.

....[Marcuse]has powerful logical support. He accounts for the universal side of human instincts as grounded in biology and for the particular forms they assume in relation to the development of society.

....a dialectical progression – the first shaping of the human being through work, then the negation in class society, and finally the overcoming of the negation in a social order of abundance. He thus ties the forming of human nature to the basic criterion of Marxism, the development of the productive forces.
....resolves the basic contradiction in Freud’s theory.

....when an economic order becomes irrational, although it destroys many people and warps most, it cannot blot out the capacity to conceive a better organization of society on the basis of what has already developed.

....repression itself impels the mind, in search of pleasure or at least escape from pain, to turn away from the present world. In this primitive manner the mind seeks to negate the inhuman quality of reality. To many this ends in daydreaming, delusion, and perhaps worse. From this stems the construction of utopias and the opium-like dreams of a beatific life in the hereafter.
To some, however, the imagination yields new concepts that point to changing reality for the better. These concepts give direction to the chaotic pressure of rebellion and therefore begin to concentrate the elemental mass force against the weak points in the given organization of society. No matter how the ruling class exerts “surplus-repression,” a time finally comes when the will of the masses can no longer be contained. The slave arises and takes his destiny in his own hands. Anyone seriously interested in the study of revolutions will find this to be a fact in the history of the most diverse kinds of economy.

....proletariat has long passed the stage of mere revolutionary fantasy, the construction of utopias.... Of all the revolutionary classes in history it is the first to have a tested body of scientific knowledge and political experience in advance of its own revolution.

....subjecting capitalism to scientific criticism has already established the bridge to the new order where truly human civilization begins.

....“‘curing’ the patient to become a rebel”


....The political superstructure in capitalist society in one or another form reflects the heterogeneous and diverse, not pluralistic but hierarchical socio-economic structure, based on domination and subordination, because the different classes are by no means equal and do not enjoy equal opportunities to defend their interests. The dominating 91 class, the bourgeoisie, also secures its dominating position in the superstructure, first of all through the organization of the state, and then through its political, cultural, educational, information and propaganda institutions and organizations for which it safeguards a leading position under all circumstances.

The working people and above all the working class, in spite of the overt and covert resistance of the bourgeoisie, also sets up its own political parties, trade unions and other mass organizations to defend its interests. However, there is no capitalist country in which the organizations of the working people enjoy truly equal conditions with the organizations of the dominating class, as pluralism maintains.

excerpt from:
Monism and Pluralism in Ideology and in Politics (Abridged).
AUTHOR: Assen Kojarov


Bernstein's challenge to Marx

....capitalism in the long run means only increasing misery for the working people.

.... valuable and interesting

[Engels]...." the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind-images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidents and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end – this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is scarcely ever contradicted.” (Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, p.54, International Publishers, 1935 edition)


A shame-faced apologist for fascism

....such a political weather-vane as....

....classes can be determined in the final analysis – if we are to follow a scientific method – only by their relation to the economic system....

....law of surplus value, worked out by Marx in tracing down the economic source spring of the capitalist class....

....Marx’s theory of surplus value – the touchstone for determining the structure of society divided into classes....

....Marxism maintains that development of the mode of production is the “cause of social change” only in the final analysis.

....The existence of the class struggle does not prove the existence of an absolute and eternal cycle. The class struggle itself develops, achieves new levels, nurtures the seeds of its own destruction, following the dialectical pattern of all processes in nature, society and the mind rather than the formal pattern of abstract identity....

....we are living in the epoch when society will finally emerge from this long development in the chrysalis of the class struggle, no longer divided internally but united on the basis of new production methods and an unprecedented expansion of the world’s production forces.

....Marxism has proved theoretically (and partially in practice in the Soviet Union) that world economy, freed from die fetters of capitalism, will develop such prodigious productivity as to finally liquidate the age-old scarcity which has given rise to class divisions....

....In Germany in the face of the sharpening struggle between the two major classes, the petty bourgeoisie steadily disintegrated. Small-time government bureaucrats, jobless army officers, doctors, lawyers and dentists unable to meet the rent, snobbish professors smarting under curtailed budgets, all those with relatively fixed incomes who, filled with dreams of “success,” i.e., becoming Big Business men, felt the screws of inflation and unemployment steadily tightening, sought escape in day dreaming about themselves as supermen above the vulgar rabble, in visualizing themselves as a new class that, going against history, would seize power. They found their philosopher in socialist-hating Nietzsche, they found their political theories in the writings of soul-sick pedants of Burnham’s type. A whole literature grew up that reeked of blood and iron and “realism.” A frustrated petty bourgeois demands stern illusions when he takes vengeance even in day dreams upon Big Business for its baseness and upon the working class for its historic destiny denied the petty bourgeoisie.

....Large sections of the petty bourgeoisie were so morally corroded and decayed that it was not difficult to sweep them off their feet through adroit manipulation of the logical pattern to which they had become conditioned. They stampeded into the slaughter house like sheep behind a Judas goat. They provided us with a classic pattern of the petty bourgeoisie driven to frenzy in the period of the death agony of capitalism.

....in the period of bourgeois decay....

....a typical petty-bourgeois view – instead of recognizing that they are being ground between the millstones of the capitalist class and the working class, they project themselves into a never-never world above the classes. At best they are taking a short reprieve before coming to a decision, at worst they are in a stage of transition toward the camp of blackest reaction.

[Engels]...“In our stirring times, as in the 16th century, mere theorizers on public affairs are found only on the side of the reactionaries.”


Hayek pleads for capitalism

....socialism approaches all the problems of society from the viewpoint of the historic interests of the working class. From their opposing side the bourgeois statesmen do the same for the capitalist class.

....The sensitive soul of the petty bourgeois in retreat must undoubtedly shrink at the thought....

....the whole possibility for socialism in our epoch rests on the feasibility of enormously increasing the productivity of world society. Marxism has determined how this can be done through the efficient utilization of present resources, transport and factories, the elimination of unemployment, the cessation of war, the ending of economic chaos through rational planning and the early expansion of the productive system through the intensive application of science.....

....petty bourgeois brooding ....

....moth-eaten assumption that the government is not the executive instrument of the ruling class but an independent force above the classes which can be persuaded to restore “competition” by changing policies without halting “technological changes.”

[Hayek's competitive utopia]....this snug realm. It seems to consist of small merchants, artisans and farmers all competing with fairly equal resources on the market, all competing according to the Rule of Law, i.e., fixed rules of the game set down in advance so that only “luck” and “enterprise” shall determine who will be the most successful.... the freedom to buy, the freedom to sell, the freedom to exploit, the freedom to make a profit, and the freedom to wage an occasional war. It is the kind of freedom Hayek wants instead of the “slavery” of planned economy. He believes correct government policy can achieve it.
Competitive Utopia resembles more than anything the free world the corner grocer day dreams about when the chain store across the street takes away his customers with a special sale. In brief it is a petty bourgeois Utopia. Professor Hayek hopes it will appeal to the petty bourgeois radical who reads the Road to Serfdom and thus furnish him with an ideal to fight for in place of the united world order of socialism.

....Thus the snug little realm of Competitive Utopia has already grown into a very real murderous capitalist society in which 60 families can and do constitute, with Hayek’s permission, a ruling oligarchy. Listen to this panegyric, worthy of the pen of Henry Ford: “Money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by man. It is money which in existing society opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man ...” Still further, “who will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which only the already powerful can acquire wealth?”

....Perfidious purpose is apparent in amalgamating Hitler’s National Socialism with proletarian revolution. It is ideological preparation for the crushing of the.... workers under guise their revolution is in reality simply a new form of Hitler’s movement.

....the servility of the petty bourgeois mind before imperialism as soon as the master raises his whip.

....the dying order of capitalism....

....invariable characteristic of petty bourgeois thought is its oscillation between the poles of socialism and fascism. If it rejects socialism, it seems almost a political law it must advance in the direction of fascism by whatever name it may be called.

....part of the intellectual preparation of the petty bourgeoisie for fascism.


A Wall Street drummer boy

....to accuse his slandered victim of the very crimes he commits himself.

....this self-proclaimed “realist” is convinced that a handful of American militarists and coupon clippers can subjugate and rule indefinitely this entire planet with its two billion inhabitants.

....communism – which arises from the great economic and social needs created by capitalism....

....Force and violence can win time. Again another rationalization comforts [ a rich profit-gouger ]. It is not he who is the brute, it is the masses, whose brutish nature enjoys the feel of a firm hand.

....the dancing needle on the compass of his logic.

....relationship between technology and thought is dialectical. A development of one is sooner or later reflected in the other. Police measures can only delay the process. This inter-relationship is beautifully shown in the development of atomic energy. The accumulation of atomic theory eventually made possible the tapping of sub-atomic power in uranium. This technological achievement in turn provides the basis for another great spurt forward in atomic theory. We can venture the prediction that military secrecy will not succeed in confining the use of this vast new source of energy to bombs nor prevent other nations from working out the know-how of the uranium pile. At best these military measures can only delay the inevitable developments.

In the evolution of economic systems, this law applies with incomparably greater force.

Police measures can at most only delay the advent of socialism. Mankind pays – has always paid – a terrible price for this delay. These overhead costs include: the suffering and misery of depressions, the unbridled sway of political reaction amid the continued decay of capitalism. All this, failing the proletarian revolution, leads to the monstrous bloodlettings and devastations of imperialist war and poses pointblank before mankind the alternative: atomic annihilation or socialist progress.


Evolution of a renegade

....a representative of a political type – a type generated in the decline of the capitalist system, a type common enough in Europe’s political cesspools....

....petty bourgeoisie, incapable of developing as an independent force, faces in the direction of greatest political power. In “normal” times this is the big bourgeoisie. But in crises, when the big bourgeoisie loses its attraction, the petty bourgeoisie turns away.
In the epoch of capitalist decline, the other great social pole is the working class. Its way of solving the economic, social and political crisis is to set out to establish a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government and build a socialist society. Consequently every independent move it makes in this political direction increases its power potential and therefore its attraction for the petty bourgeoisie.

....communist society of the future.... as a scientist sees it, the stage inevitably bound to arise from capitalism the way a giant California sequoia springs from a tiny cone....


....Since 1917, doubts on the character of the workers’ state in the absence of destruction of its economic base have registered on the Geiger counter of political radio-activity as dangerous contamination!


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