[lbo-talk] $39,000 handbag

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Aug 30 10:52:43 PDT 2011

shag is right, I believe, with one qualification. She has not, so far as I know, experienced a movement being torn apart by the likes of Weatherman. A woman that I had first recruited to SDS, and then (using the Alinsky principle that the ear rather than the tongue is the chief organ of agitation, sat and listened to her talk herself into socialism. Then I financed her to go to an SDS conference in Texas, and she rode down with a number of people from Chicago -- and came back wedded to Weatherman. A year later she was arguing that socialism in the U.S. would require a lengthy occupation by PLA forces! ***U.S. workers were simply lost in racism, etc. Now I think the movements of the '60s were grinding to a halt at that point anyhow, and if so she was, as shag suggests, harmless. But it is worth noting that heavy-handed moralists, contemptuous of people, don't always stay on the sidelines.


On 8/30/2011 10:45 AM, shag carpet bomb wrote:
> Julio - yeah, used to be enamored of this position but I'm not any
> longer. As I said earlier, to Joanna, I think the whole project of
> basing a politics on a perspectivist epistemology is less than
> useless: "it's looking for a subject of history at all that's the
> problem."
> Unlike Carrol, though, I think that folks who buy into this approach
> are pretty harmless. They're wrong, on my view, but they aren't going
> to do any serious damage and will end up sittingin a corner, with
> other believers, staring at their navels trying to decide who has a
> more legit right to speak, who is the true subject of history, who is
> more or less alienated, etc. based on their social location. As such,
> y'all are a pretty harmless bunch - in practice - cause y'all will
> never get shit done.
> So, if you want to take that path, go for it! I'll bring y'all coffee,
> tea, and juice boxes once the lints been extracted and it's on display
> for all to see. I'll stand around and admire the feat, pouring drinks.
> my treat.
> shag
>> This is a very long thread. It would take some time to go over each
>> argument, but I'll be reckless and object strongly to some of the
>> things shag wrote (and Carrol endorsed):
>>> It creates a hiearchy of who is more oppressed
>>> because, underlying most western marxist and
>>> western marxish politics, there's the endless
>>> search for the subject of history - the "most
>>> oppressed" class which is supposed to truly
>>> understand how to struggle against capitalism
>>> and with whom we must align ourselves.
>> The "hierarchy" of oppression -- i.e. the distribution of alienation
>> among each individual, group, or class -- is absolutely *essential* to
>> any critique of society and to any real attempt to overthrow it and
>> build a different one. And that is the way it should be.
>> This is, in fact, the inverted hierarchy of power and wealth
>> ("physical," "human," and "social") in society -- the up-side-down
>> hierarchy of ownership. If we don't expose inequality, the disparity
>> in the degrees of ownership (and, therefore, of alienation) between
>> people, then on which basis exactly are we questioning the existing
>> social order? If that is not our beef with the existing society, then
>> which one is it?
>> It is true that, under existing social conditions, all individuals --
>> no matter how wealthy and powerful -- are not full owners of their
>> social outcomes. However, the extent of alienation varies from
>> individual to individual, group to group, and class to class. If so,
>> then shouldn't we expect that the compulsion to see through and change
>> society vary similarly? Doesn't it make sense to assume then that, on
>> average, a banker on Wall Street will be more vested in the status
>> quo, less willing to question its fundamentals and rock the boat, than
>> an oil worker in Nigeria? Isn't that differential in alienation what
>> makes the class struggle a requisite and changing society such a
>> formidable thing?
>> And does that not suggest that, by the same token, workers in
>> different settings will also experience different degrees of
>> alienation? IMO, the issue of the "workers' aristocracy" is a bit
>> more complex than it is usually thought. I wouldn't take Engels' and
>> Lenin's remarks as directly applicable to every situation, or even as
>> conceptually or analytically clear as we'd want them to be. But, as
>> rough as they may be, for the reasons above, I wouldn't go as far as
>> to deny them a certain degree of plausibility.
>> This doesn't mean that it is impossible for wealthy and powerful
>> people to see where the roots of society's ills may lie. In fact,
>> their wealth and power give them access to the highest cultural
>> achievements of humanity. In that sense, they are best equipped to
>> grasp the inner structures that hold our societies together. It is
>> just that they are not as compelled to abolish social alienation as
>> those who are most alienated, or who strive to adopt the perspective
>> of the most alienated.
>> The converse is also true. Alienated people, lacking the tools of
>> formal education, may have a harder time making sense of things, let
>> alone resolving in practice their myriad collective-action
>> difficulties. However, by their location and role in the social
>> structure, they are less compelled to defend the status quo.
>> Other non-sequiturs:
>> - The obvious fact that, say, workers in Nigeria are more alienated
>> than bankers on Wall Street (or college professors in Brooklyn)
>> doesn't imply that fighting against the threat to local public
>> education in Brooklyn is a waste of one's time and that we all should
>> move to Africa and do organizing there. Aside from the obvious
>> practical reasons why such a call, even if heeded, would not be highly
>> productive, and assuming generously that underlying it is a true
>> intent of solidarity (rather than the patronizing belief that those
>> poor workers abroad are incapable of liberating themselves without our
>> assistance), who exactly is asking anybody to do that?
>> This is not discourage young people from trying to develop a political
>> experience in solidarity struggles abroad, which I believe can be
>> highly educational; especially for them, although the educational
>> effect on the communities involved is not to be discounted either. I
>> find it inspiring that a young smart and educated person like Joe, at
>> some personal risk and sacrifice, decided to engage in solidarity work
>> with the Palestinians. I can only applaud efforts of the kind. I
>> feel as bothered as anybody here by anything (or anybody, let alone
>> Joe, whom I've met personally) reminding me that I enjoy a measure of
>> privilege, which -- like all privilege -- rests on a foundation of
>> social inequality. But if that is the price of encouraging younger
>> and older people to try things that can only redound in one's own
>> good, it seems like a very modest price to pay.)
>> The fact that there are different degrees of alienation *does imply*
>> that, should there be a clash of interests between groups of working
>> people (e.g. tariffs on imports from poorer countries that may
>> preserve jobs, benefit small local farmers, etc.), solidarity with the
>> struggles of working people in poor does take precedence and impose
>> concrete obligations on us to support them. On similar grounds, we
>> are obligated to oppose imperialist interventions abroad (yes, even if
>> they are to overthrow Omar Ghaddafi), etc. Yoshie has that right.
>> - The repudiation of "moralism" and "moralizing" (in the religious or
>> quasi-religious sense of the term) is not extensive to the necessary
>> *moral* rejection of the social order. This *moral* rejection is --
>> to paraphrase Engels -- the beginning of the end of the status quo. A
>> symptom that the social order has to go. And socialism, as a movement
>> and at its core, has a *moral* dimension. Yes, it is about right and
>> wrong, and guilt and shame do matter, because we are social animals
>> (otherwise Carrol would have not objected to Joe's post). I think
>> that Marx was correct when he referred to the impetus to uproot all
>> forms of alienation as a (moral, Kantian) "categorical imperative"
>> (see Marx's Critique of Hegel's philosophy of right). This *moral*
>> imperative is the *practical* anchor of Marxist socialism. (Practice
>> = *subjective* activity. Revolutionary practice< *conscious*, i.e.
>> necessarily *moral*, subjective activity.) The defining essence of
>> Marxism is not fidelity to a method, doctrine, theory, organization,
>> leader, or whatever, but this fundamental categorical imperative to
>> oppose social inequality (i.e. alienation, the opposite of ownership)
>> wherever and whenever we face it.
>> Of course, if we fail to do it, we won't go to Dante's hell. We'll
>> just be helping to raise the temperature in the existing hell that we
>> have here on earth. True, in some of our settings, that will feel
>> like a nice sauna. But we shouldn't assume that is the case
>> everywhere.
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