Chris Cutrone Responds To My Criticism Of His “Theory and practice reconsidered: the role of ‘critical theory’ “

[I was unable to post my comment at the website linked below, so its editor has been relaying (I don’t say refereeing) the exchange. He sent me Chris’ response, which I reproduce unaltered. I will comment upon it when I have time.]

“David Fryett writes in response to my article on Lukacs that,

If the social revolution is the assumption of power by the productive classes (and it is nothing if not that), which is effected, as most socialists (even Marxists) would agree, by the seizure of control over the product of their collective labor, then isn’t propaganda the art of persuading these classes of the need to take power? And does it not follow that theory, if it be of any use at all, should be subordinated to that end?”
 
Fryett complains about “What a curse Marxism has been for the long-suffering laboring masses,” but ignores the role of bourgeois ideology in the self-consciousness of the emancipation of labor.

The cry of the “long-suffering laboring masses” has been heard clearly in all political events of the past several centuries, from the Protestant Reformation of Christianity and the Dutch Revolt to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and on to the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) parties and the protests at Tahrir Square and the spokespeople for the purported “99%” in Occupy Wall Street.

For capitalist entrepreneurs are also members of the “productive classes” — certainly Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have been highly productive workers and not coupon-clippers or corporate welfarists! How will we measure and “control,” politically, the actual social value of the “product of collective labor,” what Marx called “capital?”

The question is, why have the “long-suffering laboring masses” been in more or less continuous revolt for hundreds of years and the result has been capitalism not socialism?

Marxism seeks to reflect upon that problem. — It’s not thinking for the timid, mind you!

More than a hundred years ago, the great Marxist Rosa Luxemburg wrote in Reform or Revolution? (1900) that, “No coarser insult, no baser defamation, can be thrown against the workers than the remark, ‘Theoretical controversies are for the intellectuals’. – Chris Cutrone.”

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3 Responses to Chris Cutrone Responds To My Criticism Of His “Theory and practice reconsidered: the role of ‘critical theory’ “

  1. metrobusman says:

    Ignoring the role of bourgeois ideology in the self-consciousness of the emancipation of labor? I guess ideology does matter after all! Marx will have to rehang that image of Hegel, this time right-side up.

    Entrepreneurial workers? My, my, that sets Marxism on its head, doesn’t it? There is a critique of Marxism to the effect that it is counterrevolutionary in that it denies to workers the right to act freely, that is in a way proscribed by its Marx and his disciples. Inevitably, so this theory goes, Marxists will undermine revolutionary movements by acting as a brake on popular directions and methods of which they disapprove. In the space between organic mass insurgency as it evolves through struggle and the desire of Marxists for such resistance to conform to their theory and practice lies the germ of counterrevolution. In other words Marxism contains within its internal contradictions enough fissile material to detonate any revoltionary process.

    I do not subscibe to this theory, despite the ample evidence the 20th century offers in its defense, because I do not believe that all forms of Marxism are laden with dialectical contradictions. Change it from Marxism to Leninism and then clearly the charge is true. Nevertheless, Marxism is unique among revolutionary socialist factions in that it can produce theorists willing to describe Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as “productive workers.” No syndicalist, anarchist, Autonomist etc would utter anything quite so absurd. This, like reformism, is a uniquely Marxist disease.

    When I used the phrase “productive workers” I was refering to industrial and agricultural laborers, people who literally produce things. I suppose one might argue that the bourge’ as a class have been productive, but they are certainly not workers. Gates and Jobs are apex capitalist predators who abuse their workers as much as any of their class do. Gates is actively engaged in the class war, and is the enemy of all real workers. Jobs was particularly venal [http://roarmag.org/2011/10/steve-jobs-obituary-for-a-capitalist-revolutionary/].

    As to How will we measure and “control,” politically, the actual social value of the “product of collective labor,” what Marx called “capital?”: We workers will decide that, it will not be decided for us. And if it is not ours to decide then the social revolution has not occurred.

    While there may be some academic interest in the matter, there is no need to “measure” production beyond consumption. This is not a complicated matter, as the Spanish anarchists demonstrated conclusively. We simply produce as much as we need, and that is the only “social” value worthy of consideration.

    Did Marx call the product of collective labor “capital”?

    ‘The question is, why have the “long-suffering laboring masses” been in more or less continuous revolt for hundreds of years and the result has been capitalism not socialism?’

    The answer is because the class making them suffer has employed every means at their disposal to stay on top. You are not, I trust, suggesting that it is because of improper theory????????????????????????????????????

    Regarding the Lux’ quote: I believe it speaks to my point, not yours. It has been a long time since I read RoR, but as I recall that broadside was offered up in opposition to precisely the kind of thing you are doing. Certainly the great run of workers are not ever going to read Korsch. Your dispute with MacNair, more specifically your position, is an entirely academic one: intellectuals arguing about what course the workers should take. This is inherently prescriptive. Theory and praxis as developed by the workers themselves will not concern itself with dialectics, base and superstructure, or commodity fetishization etc. and shouldn’t. Nor will workers care whether their program cleaves to some grand historical theory favored by the clerisy. The risen proletariat won’t give a fuck what Marx thought, and will be the better for it. MacNair is arguing, as I understand him, that the kind of theoretical hair-splitting upon which you insist is divisive and hence inimical to the kind of solidarity needed to effect the overthrow of capitalism. The quote you cite (and the body of her work as a whole) lead me to believe that she would agree with him on this point.

    The importance of bourge’ ideology; entrepreneurial workers; a new definition of the word “capital”; this is heterodox Marxism to be sure. Dave Fryett

  2. cutronechris says:

    Thanks, Dave, but I think you mistake my point:

    Marx’s Capital was not theoretical hair-splitting but an investigation into the self-contradiction of the commodity form of labor after the Industrial Revolution.

    This is not about exploiters and exploited but about capital and wage labor. Capitalists and workers are both bourgeois classes, both classes of the modern city, as opposed to the peasants, warrior and priest castes of traditional civilization. The transformation of peasant subsistence agriculture to production for exchange meant the transformation of the Third Estate into modern bourgeois society.

    Marx thought that the workers’ consciousness in their struggle for socialism participated in the historically (not sociologically) bourgeois ideology of the exchange of labor as a commodity. In this sense, the workers’ consciousness participated in bourgeois political economy.

    Marx’s “critique” of this was not a mere criticism but rather in the Kantian sense of of “critique:” exploring conditions of possibility for change. Producing for consumption (for use) is fine as an idea, but the question is how will social exchange be mediated? How will the social surplus be handled? How will capital-intensive investment in science etc. take place?

    My sense is that today so-called anarchists along with ostensible “Marxists” have fallen well below the threshold of 19th century socialist thinking and political practice.

    I take seriously those like Murray Bookchin who tried to go beyond Marx rather than dismissing Marxism. Otherwise, I think that socialism/communism (including anarchism) today means rather a desire to go back to a peasant way of life.

    Whereas the point would be to advance beyond bourgeois society’s principle of labor as the fundamental social principle (which replaces traditional civilization’s religious principle), now that it has been rendered obsolete technically but not yet overcome politically. Marxism at its best historically tried to address that problem, through the immanent dialectical critique of the workers’ struggle for socialism. Today this has become an obscure issue.

    In Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and the historically impoverished region of Eastern Europe, “Marxism” became perverted into the glorification of labor in industrializing society under technocratic and repressive political dictatorships. This had nothing to do with Marx’s vision of advanced capitalism going into crisis, the capitalists losing political legitimacy, and the workers struggling to overcome the wage-labor form of social exchange and production. — That could still happen!

    • metrobusman says:

      Chris, I do not believe that I have mistaken yr point, as you have just reiterated it.

      re Marx’s “…but the question is how will social exchange be mediated? How will the social surplus be handled? How will capital-intensive investment in science etc. take place?”

      These are matters to be resolved after the revolution. I expect that they will be determined, as they were in the anarchist revolution in Spain, by those same institutions which were brought forth by the workers’ struggle. As those cannot be foreseen, the answer to the questions you pose are not available. Many IWAers presented plans (Rocker, Besnard, Santillan, Puente, that I can recall) which addressed those issues you raise. Besnard’s was eventually accepted by the Association but when they went to present it to the workers they were told that the means of exchange had already been decided by them.

      That, Chris, may not be Marxism, and may be anathema to Leninists, but it is socialism.

      Loren Goldner wrote a good piece about the SCW from a Leninist point of view. I made a fairly lengthy critique from an anarchist perspective in the comment section. Much of what I was going to say here I wrote there. you might find the article and/or my response interesting: http://insurgentnotes.com/2013/10/the-spanish-revolution-past-and-future/

      re “My sense is that today so-called anarchists along with ostensible “Marxists” have fallen well below the threshold of 19th century socialist thinking and political practice.

      “I take seriously those like Murray Bookchin who tried to go beyond Marx rather than dismissing Marxism. Otherwise, I think that socialism/communism (including anarchism) today means rather a desire to go back to a peasant way of life.”

      Chris, I am hapy to call you comrade. I suspect that if I knew you personally, I would be happy to call you friend. I derive no pleasure in vitriolic exchanges, I do not enjoy criticizing people. So what follows is offered in the spirit of soldarity: As an anarchist I can tell you that you are precisely 180 degrees from the truth. Your “sense” of this couldn’t be more wrong, and is based on Marxist disinformation which traces back to the First Internationale. This is, in fact, the same old facile horseshit we’ve been getting since Marx wrote the “confidential communication” on Bakunin. We’ve been fending off these lies ever since.

      I live in the Pacific Northwest, anarchists abound here and none that I know fit your description. Outside of Anarcho-Primitivism, whose advocates comprise a tiny percentage of the anarchist community, no strain of anarchist thought wishes to turn back the clock. In fact the Prims are often the butt of anarchist jokes.

      As for Marx, this is a more complicated matter. Marxists and anarchists agree on more than they disagree, much more. Indeed, Marx is a major influence in anarchism (Bakunin for a time referred to his views as “scientific anarchism” and acknowledged that its “scientific” base came from Marx). Most anarchists whom I know do not “dismiss” Marx. We have very specific objections to Marxism, and most of us see the movement which bears his name as being a formula for counterrevolution. The SCW is a fine example. Marxism collapsed into counterrevolution in precisely the way Bakunin said it would. Its heirs in Moscow, Beginning with Lenin, set about eliminating, often by lethal means, all opposition, socialist included, to itself. Thus we find it aiding reaction around the world: Lenin sounds the retreat with Brest-Litovsk and “Left-Wing Communism” just when the German working class is making an heroic attempt at revolution; his successors would actively suppress the revolution in Spain in the 30s, and then in several other revolutionary hotspots (like France, Mexico, Poland etc) in the decades to follow. Thus far Marxism has been the scourge of proletarian revolution, as was presciently predicted, one might say eerily so, by Bakunin.

      re “In Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and the historically impoverished region of Eastern Europe, “Marxism” became perverted into the glorification of labor in industrializing society under technocratic and repressive political dictatorships. This had nothing to do with Marx’s vision of advanced capitalism going into crisis, the capitalists losing political legitimacy, and the workers struggling to overcome the wage-labor form of social exchange and production. — That could still happen!”

      Marxism became perverted because it is an incubator of perversion. We are confronted here by the Marx/Bakunin debate once again. It got perverted because of its dialectical contradictions. Marx ardently supported a “workers’ state.” He coined the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” despite his own insistence that it was the working class which had a special historical destiny to create socialism because it is the class that by its very nature can only share power, can only exercise its power democratically. Here we find ourselves at the heart of Marxism’s astonishing myopia, and at the core of the Marxist/anarchist conflict. The term “workers’ state” is an oxymoron. Lenin began shutting down contrary soviets within days of the Bolshevik Putsch. He shut down the factor committees, the Workers’ Plenipotentiaries; he subsumed the trade unions into the state; he shut down all opposition newspapers, including socialist ones. Lenin, when he wasn’t too busy penning articles about the need for worker obedience, created the Sovnarkom and the Vesenka and the Cheka and set the latter upon the Left including even his fellow Marxists. What the fuck did he think this would lead to? Socialism? He did all this in the name of Marxism, and justified it hermeneutically.

      “Yes this could still happen,” and will. And when it does the Marxists will claim vindication. To date, however, Marxism has been a retardant for socialism. Perhaps if anarchism had had as many chances as Marxism, we would be talking about its shortcomings, but as of this writing the closest thing to socialism the world has yet seen has been produced by anarchists, and the Marxist states have been as predatory as the ones they replaced.

      This is the essence of the dispute between anarchism and Marxism. It is not one between Luddism and industrialism, between atavism and progress. your opinion is grossly inaccurate.

      Have you ever read Voline’s “The Unknown Revolution”? If not, you should.–Dave Fryett

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