David Schweickart's interesting chapter

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sun Jan 2 07:21:45 PST 2000

At 21:30 01/01/00 -0600, you wrote:
>Haven't posted to one of these lists in a long time, but recognize some old
>die-hard-listers who have been at it from the beginning of the internet.
>Bear with me while I get my feet wet again.
>Greetings all for a new century - I think it will be socialism's century.

Very good to hear from you again. People are never really far away on a network!

>I found David Schweickart's chapter 1 from his new book to be interesting.
>Much to study and to agree with, but.....
>I think the most important problem can be summed up with this small quote:
>"Most workers, certainly those in rich countries, have more to lose now
>than just their chains."

>At the heart of revolutionary Marxism is the idea of the class struggle as
>the engine of history and development in class divided societies. Once you
>back away from this central idea, all kinds of things can and do go awry.

>Backing away allows for evolutionary thinking and lack of action. Including
>in how one fights for reforms. Including in how one fights against racism,
>chauvinism, male supremacy etc.
>Inherent in the notion that workers now have more to lose than their chains
>is the notion that workers now have a stake in the system. They may think
>they do, and of course that retards consciousness - but we're materialists
>and know that the working classes are the exploited subject of the system.
>What bothers me in Schweickart's chapter is a certain laid back quality to
>issues of power and transformation that flow, I believe, very naturally
>from the quote above. The struggle stretches out endlessly before us, and
>we can take our time getting there. There is a wait and see quality that I
>think fails to connect with what's new and developing in the working class
>at home and abroad. Where does Seattle fit into this picture?

Schweickart writes himself:

>The process is not smooth. It is always mediated by class struggle.

But I take the point you are making. It reads as if it is going to be an agenda of rational reforms.

Much will depende on how different constituencies, including sellers of their labour power, can be helped to see the need to fight for change. Nevertheless I do not see the point in denying that a lot of working people think they have a stake in the system, particularly since that system operates globally in a very unequal way.

One of the ways forward in the advanced countries is to lower the height of the incremental steps of change.

Another is to realise that change, however objectively rational, will run into strong irrational resistance.

For example Schweickart calls for more workplace democracy. How could that be made more of a practical and achievable agenda for trade unions?

Schweickart also calls for "socialist protectionism". Some of the forces going to Seattle, were trade unions. Which of them have really progressive programs on world trade that combine the material interests of their own workers with economic solidarity with working people across the world?

Part of the recipe of the success of Seattle was that militancy was validated by really hard thoughtful backroom work about which reforms are reasonable demands, and how to get the message across.

We need to operate on the basis of a network. No one person or group can provide the whole answer. We need to do what we can and be open to cooperation.

The militant but rational purusit of reforms is essential to that struggle.

That may require old progressive organisations thinking in new ways. Trade unionists must not restrict themselves to narrow economism but must find new ways to express material interests in political forms.

What do you think?

Chris Burford


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