What is to Be Done?

PC’s Critique of ‘Socialism’

Saral Sarkar

Paresh Chattopadhyay (PC) is right in almost all points [Frontier, August 3-9, 2014]. The question that must now be asked is: Does it make any sense at all to still try to create socialist society that Marx and Engels had envisioned? I do not know whether PC has somewhere written on this question. If not, then it is essential that he does. For it is too simple to criticize every socialist of the 20th century—from Lenin to Mao and Che Guevara—without saying what they should and could have done to build a socialist society that would have gotten Marx's approval, whom they all regarded as their Guru—something other or more than what they did in order to create a socialist society. Also, PC's awe-inspiring scholarship is of little use unless he presents his conclusion as to the question "what is to be done today".

I think Marx's vision of revolution and socialism was flawed from the very beginning. But it was and it still is too difficult for Lenin and all socialists up until today to say that openly. The monumental analytical and theoretical work of Marx and Engels had achieved such a overwhelming intellectual hegemony among the radical and anti-capitalist educated people that hardly anybody dared to do so. And those few who did dare to criticize Marxist theory, even mildly, was denounced as traitor, deviationist, reformist, revisionist etc. etc. And they never had a chance to get a fair hearing. That is the normal effect of hegemony.

But today it is easier to realize and say without being persecuted or denounced that Marx and Engels had erred on several questions:
(1)    The most important of them is the agency question. The great majority of workers did not and still do not have the ability to understand, let alone analyze, the complex ways in which the world functions and the direction in which it is moving (there are of course some exceptions). The majority of them has been and still are totally worn down in the process of earning money to feed themselves and their family. That has been and is the reality. It has therefore always been nonsensical, untruthful and only fashionable to assert that the revolution will happen under the leadership of the proletariat. The leadership necessarily had to come from the educated revolutionary middle class, from people like Lenin, Mao, and Guevara, and they had to be the vanguard.
In the 19th century, maybe, the proletariat formed the majority of the population in England, Germany, and France. But not in Russia (not to speak of China or India). But, in Russia, there were people like Lenin; and in the early 20th century, in China there were people like Mao. Should they have sat back and waited until the industrial proletariat became the majority? If Marx and Engels had lived longer, would they have advised Lenin and Mao to sit back and wait?
(2)   Marx and Engels could not have known in their days what we know since after their death, particularly what we know today. That is why they also erred in thinking that the proletariat will be farther revolutionized through their growing impoverishment. The opposite happened in history.
(3)   They had little knowledge of human nature. They erred in thinking that the proletariat had no fatherland. The First World War proved them thoroughly wrong. The colonialists and imperialists of Europe and America enabled their own proletariats to enjoy a share in the plunder of the colonies, which they gladly did.
(4)   In the 19th century, Marx and Engels, and in the greater part of the 20th century Lenin, Mao, Guevara and all rank and file socialists were justified in believing in eternal development of science and technology, and hence in eternal development of productive forces. We know today that there are limits to growth, limits to the development of science, technology and productive forces. We cannot blame the masters and their followers for not knowing what we know today. But we must severely criticize the die-hard Marxists of our times for still stubbornly refusing to see these limits.

To sum up, the analysis of reality and the vision of socialism we have received from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Guevara etc. have largely become obsolete. But since capitalism will definitely ruin the whole world unless overcome, some newly conceived socialism must become the goal of all radical people's movements of today. This new socialism—which should be called the scientific socialism of the 21st century (the Marxian socialism being the Utopian)—must be based on the knowledge and understanding of the world that we have acquired since the publication of the book Limits to Growth (1972). This knowledge and understanding is a call for a paradigm shift in our thinking and activity.

As for revolution, I would like to quote Walter Benjamin. He wrote:
"Marx says revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps it is entirely different. Revolutions are perhaps the attempt of humanity travelling in a train to pull the emergency brake."

If it was not true when Benjamin wrote this, it is true roday. In the same sense, another German author, Carl Amery, wrote in the general sense: Political activists have till now tried to change the world in various ways. The point however is to preserve it.

What is to be done? Our task is to preserve the biosphere and change the world.

Vol. 47, No.7, Aug 24 - 30, 2014