Book review: Biography of Michael Harrington exposes his ‘Failure of Vision’ – Workers’ Voice/La Voz

A cogent critique of Harrington but is the mainstream Marxist left any better here, beyond chanting the mantra of a revolutionary working class and then adjourning for lunch? Harrington reflects the impotence of the conventional sloganeering but the larger left steeped in Marx is unable to apply a relevant analysis of economics, history, or revolution and is stuck forever in the treadmill of Marx chapter and verse citation and homily. And it won’t work anymore. The focus in mature capitalist society on the working class fails to really find any such class save as blended with the middle class. The recent resurgence of a union movement visible with Amazon, Starbucks, et al. hopefully can contradict that statement. The great tide of labor into unionization in parallel to Marx’s initiative has seen a great success, followed by its cooptation, and destruction at the hands of capitalist attacks, what to say of Mafia penetration, class struggle indeed, but very little toward the transformation beyond capitalism.
The issue of the working class is mostly a handful of cliches capped with the vain hope that the working class will take over the government and rule with justice at last. How is that to happen? The only real exemplar here is the Bolshevik case which failed on day one and produced not the dictatorship of the proletariat but the dictatorship of a Marxist bourgeosie, and a working-class deprived of their labor organizations. Marxism is unique in the way, unlike most ideologies where its proponents carry out a program, it tries to get another class to carry out the program as they stand by and kibbitz with Marx quotations. That creates a tricky complication on the order of doing a yoyo standing on your head. Harrington’s plight is therefore not surprising.

In fact, the terms are poorly defined: what is the working class? if that refers to all those who work at wage labor and/or are passive with respect to capitalist economies then that class is not the same as the industrial labor ‘class’. To be sure, to focus on that subset of the ‘working-class’ was and might remain a brilliant strategy, it was so once, but it seems less effective now, save in a general global context where the old terms apply all too well; sweat shops in Bangladesh… If Delacroix’s classic painting Liberty Leading the People is to be believed, the original idea of Marx et al. of a revolutionary proletariat storming from barricades into the streets in fight with, not the bourgeoisie, which was also in revolt (examine the painting), but the capitalists, itself another bourgeosie. That is not our moment. Rebels are mostly middle class now. The whole terminology is inconsistent and fuzzy/incoherent, like a piano out of tune. And it subtly abandons the ideal of equality. Marxists wish the working class to smash the bourgeois state, take over government and then expect all other classes to go home and/or submit to class genocide as no long citizens of the resulting…republic? Why try to do the impossible? The whole formula requires solving the riddle greater that that of the Sphinx using terminology that is riddled with speculative historicism. Find a practical realization of socialism and a resolution of the working class issue as an passage of all into a Universal Class.
In the Last Revolution, there is an attempt to deal with all this by getting past the simplistic reference to ‘socialism’ and considering a more complex system of multiple terms that have to be resolved together. You can’t just construct socialism in a void. In broad terms you must resolve the issue of democracy and its dialectic with power, construct a sane economy that is something better than state capitalism by a class of former radicals, decipher the riddle of markets, decipher the prospects of planning, consider the how of expropriation, and create a Commons that cannot be the new capital of a revolutionary class in power, and decidedly ex-revolutionaries.The current left hasn’t even started the first step in any of those tasks, citing Marx’s refusal to get specific.

We need to start over, and asap because ‘le texte du jour’ is a flawed mishmash of histomat/diamat tria-dia-lectical gibberish, and the socialist construct has to have left behind the whole madcap ideological spiel in post-heglianse of Marx the domineering cult leader who to this day seems to browbeat middle class revolters/revoltees into submissive party conformity. Time to make faces at Marx as a bully and start over, his picture in the main office with a magic marker mustache. Taken that way Marx is a man I admire. Delacroix’s painting shows strong female leadership: get the picture, and get with the program. A socialist platform can certainly deal with complexity (to find simplicity), but in the end it must propose socialist constructivist programs on the level of recipes, like baking a cake. Revolutions need observers, marshalls, failsafe, steps to be carried out during revolutions, and ways to change gears to create democracies…And of course the issue now is climate change, ecology and a ne kind of international. This can be reformist or revolutionary, but, frankly, it is hard to see real change coming from anything less than revolution, Harrington’s Democratic party phantom rightly challenged here. But those who criticize Harrington must show how any group is actually going to stage a revolution against the American juggernaut, taken as the global mega-bully to be challenged first. The invitability of socialism transition may not be sound theory, but it is sound practice at this point, as logical inevitability. But the obstacles now of covert agencies so skilled in staging counterrevolution is formidable.

(También en español) Review of Greene, Douglas, “A Failure of Vision: Michael Harrington and the Limits of Democratic Socialism” (Zero Books, Alresford, England, 2021).

Source: Book review: Biography of Michael Harrington exposes his ‘Failure of Vision’ – Workers’ Voice/La Voz

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