Thursday, April 30, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel

I want to commend the editors of Political Affairs.

The Wall Street Journal couldn't have provided a better analysis.

Some people are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel others find no light at the end of the tunnel.

We want to create a scenario where a night light is on all the time.

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

Light at the End of the Unemployment Line? (April 23)
By PA Staff Writers

As steam from President Obama's economic recovery act builds in the states and localities and new investments in infrastructure and job-saving programs start to flow, do the latest data from the Department of Labor suggest that the dismal unemployment situation may be turning a corner?

According to the president's own early estimate given at his April 29th press conference, some 150,000 jobs have so far been saved or created as a result of the economic recovery. Many projects targeted for recovery act funds are yet to be started and much of the funding as been made available but still hasn't arrived at its destination. Simply put, the greatest impact of the recovery act is yet to come. The Department of Transportation estimates that most construction projects will get into full swing by the summer.

In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball, Obama's Senior Advisor David Axelrod described jobs numbers as a "lagging economic indicator," meaning that unemployment numbers are among the last of major economic indicators to show signs of recovery.

With mixed numbers in housing starts and foreclosures, a central problem in the current crisis, and weak business inventories, it isn't clear that many economic indicators are yet showing signs of recovery.

According to statistics released today, April 30, initial jobless claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending April 25 decreased from the previous week by 14,000 to 631,000. This means that 631,000 newly laid-off people filed for unemployment benefits during that week. This week's numbers put the moving four-week average down by about, 10,500, the DOL reported.

This same week in 2008, the fourth month of the current recession, saw a total of 378,000 initial jobless claims.

In the month of March, the unemployment rate jumped to a 25-year high of 8.5 percent after the economy shed more than 663,000 jobs. Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, more than 6 million jobs have been lost. Economists estimate the rate for April will jump to as high as 9 percent.

Pennsylvania, Florida and Illinois saw the largest drops in the number of new jobless claims as those states reported fewer layoffs in the construction, trades and manufacturing sectors, a sign that recovery act-funded projects may be picking up.

California, Florida and New York, followed closely by Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina saw spikes in initial jobless claims with layoffs in manufacturing and service industries.

State and local governments are anxious to launch new infrastructure projects and pay down budget shortfalls with federal economic stimulus. New projects on roads, bridges, railways and airports slated for the next few weeks and months, along with new financing for public schools, community health centers, environmental clean-up projects and federal parks and buildings renovations is expected to create or save thousands of jobs.

The worsening jobs picture prompted the AFL-CIO earlier this month to launch a new Web site designed to help unemployed workers find the resources they need to survive in the recession. The Unemployment Lifeline, as the site is called, provides information on local aid for unemployment compensation benefits, child care, medical care, utility assistance and more. It also links workers to political action on such issues as passing the Employee Free Choice Act, universal health care reform and more.

Economists warn that data from an indicator such as a weekly jobless claim report should be taken with a grain a salt. Such reports are often revised, are only a snapshot of a given moment, and do not yet indicate trends. Further, while the newest numbers over the past month suggest a downward move in initial unemployment claims, the numbers of newly unemployed people remain alarmingly high.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pragmatism not dialectical-historical materialism


I came across this article from the Guardian.

We are on the right path.

We have already replaced dialectical-historical materialism with pragmatism.

I am glad to see the Japanese have dug their heads out of the sand and gone the way of pragmatism.

Pragmatism got our friend Barack Obama elected.

Study up, sit up straight. Enjoy the view from your glass walls. Let me know if you see any dust between the bricks.

Forward with the ideology of pragmatism.

Discard all your Soviet Dictionaries of 20th century socialism. Long live the 21st Century and pragmatism.

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

God bless you.

God bless America.

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

Disgruntled Japanese turn to resurgent communists

Web-savvy Japanese Communist party's message of welfare and jobs lures young voters away from sleazed-mired political mainstream

Justin McCurry in Tokyo,

Monday 27 April 2009 19.02 BST

With an economy in steep decline, rising unemployment and an uncertain future, a growing number of Japanese are shunning the conservative consensus and turning instead to a new brand of cuddly communism.

While the leaders of Japan's two main political parties battle poor opinion poll ratings and accusations of sleaze, the Japanese Communist party (JCP) has seen its fortunes transformed after years of being dismissed as an irrelevant hangover from the cold war.

In the last 16 months membership has soared to more than 410,000 as the revamped party courts younger voters from the working poor. Of the 14,000 ­people to have joined since the end of 2007, about a quarter are aged under 30, the party says. That contrasts with the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP), whose membership has plummeted from 5 million at its peak to about a million today.

By dispensing with ideological rhetoric and focusing on welfare and jobs, the JCP has struck a chord with students, the unemployed and the estimated 10 million Japanese earning less than 2m yen (about £14,000) a year.

Yasuhisa Wakabayashi is typical of the new Japanese communist. The 23-year-old Yokohama factory worker joined the party in January. "Unlike the mainstream parties, the communists aren't interested in seeking donations from major corporations," he said. "They talk about education and welfare and the problems of ordinary people. And they are honest."

The JCP is making its presence felt on the internet. Among its clips is a rousing tirade by the party's affable leader, Kazuo Ishii, against the exploitation of contract workers, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube.

The circulation of its official newspaper Akahata (the Red Flag) has risen for eight straight months to 1.6m, although it is still a long way short of its 1980 peak of 3.5m.

The JCP also owes some of its success to a novel published in 1929. Kanikosen (The Crab Ship), a Marxist-inspired account of rebellion, sold over half a million copies last year after it became required reading on restless university campuses.

Despite its resurgence, few believe the party will play a pivotal role in national politics. It has just nine seats in the 480-seat lower house, and is hampered by an electoral system that penalises minor parties.

JCP officials insist they will play no part in a coalition, not even if it means turfing the LDP out of office for only the second time in 54 years. "We would co-operate on individual policies but we wouldn't be part of a coalition," said Kimitoshi Morihara of the party's international bureau. "There is no difference between the LDP and Minshuto [the main opposition party] on the economy, defence or any of the big issues of the day. But we are different."

The JCP is barely recognisable from the party of 30 years ago. Now, dialectic materialism has been replaced by a commitment to "democratic change within the current framework of capitalism".

"The JCP of today is very different," said Go Ito, a professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo. "The modern party is pragmatic, which is why it has managed to tap into the dissatisfaction being felt right across Japanese society."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

John Case communist leader

John Case has joined Communist leaders like Bruce Bostick, Erwin Marquit and Peter Molenaar. Our National Board is full of such outstanding leaders.

These are leaders who recognize the importance of great union leaders like Leo Gerard, Walter Reuther and Jimmy Hoffa, Jr.

This is an excellent analysis by John Case. God Bless John Case for having the courage to write this defense of Walter Reuther who was our kind of people.

Study this closely. This is the direction our Party is moving.

We have our new glass offices and we will be meeting with our allies and coalition partners... long live the advanced working class ideas of Walter Reuther!

Sam Webb
National Chair; CPUSA

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nissan, Smyrna, Corker, and the erosion of labor bargaining power -- REWRITE

By John Case

The New Yorker runs an extensive profile this week on Nissan, Smyrna TN, Senator Corker, and the auto crisis. Part of the magazine's "New Order" series. Due to New Yorker restrictions, I cannot post the article in full, though I highly recommend it.
Written by Peter Boyer, the article traces the origins of the current debacle to the first oil crisis and the arab oil embargo of 1970 that quadrupled gas prices for US consumers, which inspired Japanese manufacturers to transplant to the US. Personally, I would go farther back, to the character of mass production materialized in Henry Ford's massive plants of the early 20th century and the "Taylor" system of industrial organization that turned workers into creatures with little need of brain and capable of performing repetitive, time-measured, motions day after day tending an ever accelerating assembly line. "Maggots with hands" would be the appreciative term coined by H.L. Mencken -- famous cynic and racist of the era --- who thought such work perfectly suitable for "lower orders of the animal kingdom." Conversely, Lenin and the Communists had a different notion that saw in the emerging propertyless proletariat a force of cooperation and organization that could topple the arrogant and pompous masters of capital perch on top of society worldwide, and proceed to "share the wealth". In the US, communist and socialist organizers and strike leaders like Wyndam Mortimer, Bob Travis, and many more radical, democratic forces built powerful and effective committees for industrial organization of a different kind than those envisioned by Taylor!
The stigma against communism and socialism, however, was already growing strong in the US as the FBI and Immigration authorities, hand in hand with right wing media and politicians, worked day and night to repress them. Somehow a compromise somewhat less ambitions or visionary than Lenin's, or WZ Foster's, or Earl Browder, or Eugene Debs, or even Norman Thomas, but still very militant, found its principle manifestation in the United Automoble Workers Union under the leadership of Walter Reuther. Reuther pursued a class struggle trade union policy that helped compel the consolidation of auto companies into giant corporations by forcing steady increases in pay, benefits and on the job protection to match the increasing scale and productivity of auto production. It did not matter in the post-WWII era if some auto companies, like White Motor, or Studebaker, fell by the wayside. The auto market was virutally limitless after the launching of the Eisenhower National Defense Highway system, and after Los Angeles proved that an entire new era of housing and community development around freeways and autos would revolutionize culture in the US. Anyone laid off in a failed auto company could easily find work in another one that was rapidly expanding production. Few who ever worked in an automobile production plant in the US would fault Reuther's strategy. It helped realize the dream of middle class life for American workers that was hardly less than heaven compared to what fate provided in pre-war,pre-union, depression era factory work and living conditions.
Nonetheless, 1970 did come. With high oil and gas, Japanese automobiles' fuel efficiency found its niche in the US market, and their share of the US auto market steadily gained ground. Yet their progress remained slow, as US consumers did not easily give up their love of big cars and big engines--especially with fast and reliable roads spreading over the entire continent. Foreigners from European nations that always paid an even higher -- often double -- premium for fuel, either through its scarcity or through taxes, still swarmed the US where the ideal vacation was to get in a car and drive thousands of miles at a fraction of the costs at home. So GM, Ford and Chrysler stalled meeting the Japanese (and Volkswagen) threat. After all, re-engineering their plants was a huge expense and small, fuel-efficient cars were not as profitable as buicks and cadillacs, or later, SUVs and Hummers. Plus, the pattern of adversarial bargaining in labor relations was very ingrained, and the UAW had no interest in any management rights schemes that looked like going back to the "maggots with hands" days. 3% productivity raises, plus COLA, first dollar medical coverage, and sanctions against arbitrary layoffs or reassignments became bulwark issues where the Union defended its ground.
In 1970 the top selling Japanese product in the US, manufactured in Japan, was the Datsun, built by Nissan. That division of Nissan was run by Takashi Ishihara, now the President of Nissan. Ishihara had a very low opininon of US manufacturing and workmanship and believed his company's product was not only more fuel efficient, but also better made. He thought the culture of vigorous and antagonistic labor relations characteristic of both US auto management, and the UAW, expecially in regard to inflexibility in work-rules and assignment, a fatal flaw in US Automobile manufacturing. So, he was cautious when the idea of building plants IN the US first arose in corporate discussions. Nonetheless, he went out shopping, and found Smyrna, Tennessee. It met all the qualifications he sought:
it was rural -- there would be no trouble from "urban turmoil".
the workforce had never worked in auto production before, and thus was not "poisoned" with the culture of the Big 3.
It was near a turnpike and rail transport.
local officials were "delighted" to collaborate and cooperate -- the latest example bing Bob Corker (now known as "The Senator From Nissan").
The Smyrna plant became the largest plant in the US and the most productive US auto plant throughout the 1980's.
Soon other Japanese, and German, and US auto companies transformed the terrain from Texas to South Carolina into a new "auto corridor". Since 1975, Michigan has lost 85,000 auto jobs, but the South has gained that and many more. For Southern workers the new work was irresistable. Health benefits, wages, pensions -- while not equal to Detroit, were lightyears ahead of anything remotely available. Nissan allowed every worker, every year, to lease a new car at steep discounts. Plus, the company, whild not immune to business cycles, invested considerable time and money to minimize sources of conflict, and especially layoffs. Nissan had a reputation for "no layoff once you are full time", even if this was somewhat exaggerated, and often cushioned by a reserve army of temporary workers. As a worker interviewed by Boyer says: "I have an opportunity to do stuff for my kids that I never thought I would son is in college studying to be a biochemist -- that would not have been possible before."
Today the reckonning with overcapacity in auto has finally come. The market is not limitless. The Big 3's share of the remaining market has shrunk dramatically. Folks cannot afford to fill up their driveway with more cars. Now the Senator from Nissan (Corker) makes the case that the United States taxpayer should not subsidize a company that pays its laid off workers 90% of their pay when not working, thus teeing up the Obama Auto Restructuring team to compel the Union to take very significant hits in any survival plan for US auto manufacturing. It does not matter that at the time the UAW negotiated this historic provision in its national agreement, it had limited application, it was intended primarily to discourage runaways to foreign countries, etc. Now, with one in five workers underemployed or unemployed and the rest asked to pay for US auto losses, intentions matter little, and the weakness of syndicalism as a reliable guide to working class policy is revealed.
Syndicalism is elevating unionism to the status of political and social philosophy. The elevation fails when union workers, no matter their best intentions, are not organized to speak for ALL workers. Unions arose in every nation as defenses against the assaults against workers' incomes, conditions of work, and basic rights by corporations. They were never organized to attack or overthrow their employers. But by virtue of being defensive it is rare for the union slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all" to extend very far beyond a particular contractual relationship, except perhaps in song, and impossible for it to challenge the economic management of society. Yet that is what the current restructuring challenge demands: a plan to manage and lead the investment of huge public resources in a manner that helps raise the incomes, conditions and rights of ALL working people.
In many ways the repression of socialist and communist voices in the 50's, including their exclusion from the leadership of most of the labor movement, has now come full circle. There is evidence that, under the pressures of repression, syndicalism in the form of simply tailing labor, or in confining 'radical' social critiques to factional struggles within organized labor, played a corrupting, sectarian role in the US Left as well as within labor. It didn't seem like such an error back then: the labor upsurge culminating in the (almost general) strike of 1946 was incredibly powerful; its achievements under the leadership of unions like the UAW awesome. But now, here we are, in the midst of the greatest crisis of world capitalism since the 1930's, and workers are required to reinvent much that many thought had nearly passed into history: we require a determined political struggle that contends with corporate monopoly power for the leadership of all society and all social institutions. Had socialism and social democracy sunk deeper roots in US soil, had national health care, secure retirement, full retraining and/or national service for all unemployed already become a reality --- then neither the Left, the UAW, nor probably, GM, Chrysler and Ford be in the sad shape we all find ourselves today. Its not that there were no signs along the way: the civil rights movement, the opposition to imperial war were powerful indications that there were majorities for significant change. But the weakness of socialist and social democratic parties made it very difficult to address the economic roots of inequality, true social security, and the imperial-cold-war dangers. Labor, and workers in the main, were confined to ever shrinking bargaining tables -- especially those in the real seats of power.
But that's all going to change now!!!!

A Stalinist comment from the 2oth Century past we must not tolerate:

Ben Sears

There is much food for thought in this essay. I learned much from it. The thoughts about the need for organized labor to expand its horizon and raise its sights are powerful. However, I also think that if the left and the labor movement are to fulfill their potential, or even to begin to do so in the current environment, then we must take an even tougher analytical approach to the movement's history. I'm thinking specifically of the role of Reuther and his group in the UAW (and in the CIO) during the early Cold War years. The fact is that he played a big part in narrowing the outlook of the industrial union movement by, for example, pushing employer negotiated healthcare and unemployment benefits, instead of expanding the New Deal vision of national publicly sponsored programs. And to do this, he had to move aggressively against the left (and the "Communistst" specifically, as he put it "cutting out the cancer") in his union and in the CIO. This part of Reuther's record rarely gets any coverage or discussion among labor historians or reporters. (See for instance, Philip Dine, "State of the Unions", an otherwise very helpful book) So, while I do not mean to overemphasize the significance of one individual, I do think it is important for us to look with merciless objectivity (but constructively of course) at labor's past, especially in regard to the auto industry, given its current high profile status in the national discourse.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Compromise, compromise, compromise

In my opinion there is no more important word in the English language than "compromise."

This letter to the editor appeared in our own newspaper the People's Weekly World.

The letter was written by our own Rosalio Muñoz.

I want to point out Rosalio's use of the word "compromise."

We need to get used to using this word "compromise" more to let our adversaries know that we don't mean to get tough and fight over our demands.

To let our adversaries know that we will settle for considerably less than what we say we want can help solve all kinds of problems without a fight.

Immigrant and worker rights

I have disagreed with much of what Ray Marshall did and said as Carter’s secretary of labor, starting from when he was nominated for the post and said moving forward on full employment (the Humphrey-Hawkins bill) had to be put off until the problem of undocumented immigrants was solved. It seems he has improved a bit — like his call for improving temporary worker programs rather than expand them.

I say we should nationalize the economic activities where temporary workers are “needed,” with a unionized 21st century WPA. The “adjusted” undocumented here now could be part of such programs with “middle class” jobs, health care, vacations, etc.

Anyway, let’s study what he has to say for “sausage” ideas for a possible compromise package that can get the needed votes.

A May Day idea: The original May Day was a call for solidarity with U.S. workers facing the corporate robber barons who brought us state monopoly capitalism. Such international solidarity can help pass just immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act and other labor and democratic rights, especially with the progressive possibilities with the Obama administration and improved Congress.

We face the biggest and strongest ruling class in world history. Equality for immigrants and others at home is key to blocking and eventually dismantling U.S. imperialism.

Rosalio Muñoz

Los Angeles CA

We expect that with President Barack Obama imperialism is going to be dismantled without a shot being fired if we stick to "compromise" as our strategy for change.

We and our adversaries can each claim victory if we compromise. This keeps everyone happy; workers and bosses alike.

All we used to hear from those 20th Century Communists was "fight, fight, fight." To them everything was fights and struggles.

Fight imperialism. Struggle against our class enemies.

Now we have found our shining path and our course of action through "compromise."

Everyone back to your desks in your glass offices. Write me a five hundred page essay on "Why Compromise is the new way forward."

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

Friday, April 24, 2009

Castro sticks his nose into U.S. business


This morning in your packets I have enclosed a copy of "Reflections of Fidel."

Someone should restrain Fidel. He sounds just like Gus Hall.

Fidel is demeaning and ridiculing President Obama just because Obama wants to make friends in the Region.

This is an obvious attempt to soil President Obama's image.

Obama is doing great things for our country. The end of all of our problems is now within sight. Stocks are rebounding. We are getting more inquiries about renting out office space. Our glass cubicles are the envy of the Wall Street crowd. We are leading the way to green with our new glass cubicles. Perhaps if they built Fidel a glass cubicle inside of brick walls he could get a 21st Century view of the world. He could write about what is going on within his glass cubicle and not worry about what is going on at Summits beyond his vision.

Yes, Jarvis, what is it?

"Sam, have you seen the movie Che?"

Che was like Stalin. Yucky, yucky.

No, Jarvis, I haven't seen Che. I am interested in 21st Century politics and economics. Socialism is 20th century politics. Socialism has failed. We need to look at new ideas.

Getting back Fidel maligning President Obama. I expect all board members to read this and write a five-hundred word essay on why Fidel disrespected Obama.

Yes, Scottie, what is it now? By the way, who taught you to use a mop? The floor is still sticky here where I dribble my coffee.

Sam, how should we know why Fidel writes the way he does?

Scottie, use your imagination.

Ok, clear out of the auditorium. I am having a Fuller Brush Party in here in half an hour.

God Bless you.

God bless America.

Thank God for glass cubicles.

Sam Webb
National Chairman, CPUSA


Havana. April 23, 2009

Reflections of Fidel

The Summit and the lie

SOME of the things that Daniel [Ortega, President of Nicaragua]told me would be hard to believe if it was not him who told me them and it was not at a Summit of the Americas where they occurred.

The unusual thing is that there was no such consensus on the final document. The ALBA group did not sign it; that was confirmed in the last exchange with Obama in the presence of Manning and the other leaders in the morning of April 19.

At that meeting, [Hugo] Chávez [President of Venezuela], Evo [Morales, President of Bolivia] and Daniel spoke on the issue with total clarity.

It had seemed to me that Daniel had expressed a bitter complaint when, on the day of the Summit’s opening, he said in his speech: "I think that the time I am taking is far less than that I had to spend – three hours – waiting at the airport inside a plane."

I asked him about that and he told me that six high-level leaders had to wait on the runway: Lula of Brazil, Harper of Canada, Bachelet of Chile, Evo of Bolivia, Calderón of Mexico and himself, the sixth. The reason? In an act of adulation, the organizers decided it that way in order to receive the president of the United States. Daniel remained inside the hot LACSA aircraft for three hours under the radiant sun of the Tropics.

He explained to me the conduct of the principal leaders in the Summit, the fundamental and specific problems of each one of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. He did not seem in any way resentful. He was direct, calm and comprehensive. I recalled the times of Reagan’s dirty war, the thousands of weapons launched against Nicaragua in that context, the tens of thousands of dead, the mining of the ports, the utilization of drugs by the U.S. government in order to get around Congress decisions banning funds to finance that cynical war.

We did not overlook the criminal invasion of Panama ordered by Bush Senior, the horrific El Chorrillo massacre, the thousands of dead Panamanians, the invasion of little Grenada with the complicity of other governors in the region, relatively recent events in the tragic history of our hemisphere.

In each one of those crimes was the hand of the OAS, the principal accomplice of the brutal actions of the great military and economic power against our impoverished peoples.

He informed me of the damage that drug trafficking and organized crime is inflicting on the Central American countries, the trafficking of U.S. weapons, the vast market that impels that activity, so harmful for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean.

He told me of the geothermic potential of Central America as a natural resource of great value. He is of the opinion that, in that way, Nicaragua could reach a generation capacity equivalent to two million kilowatt/hours. At present its total electricity generation, including various energy sources, barely amounts to 700,000 kilowatt/hours and power cuts are frequent.

He spoke of Nicaragua’s capacity for producing food, of the price of milk, distributed at one third of what it costs in the United States, although wages in the latter country are dozens of times higher.

Out conversation gravitated around this and other practical issues. At no point did he seem resentful, and far less suggest extremist measures on economic issues. He is well informed and analyzes what can and should be done with great realism.

I explained that many people in our country had not been able to hear his speech given issues of time and the lack of opportune information on the Summit, and for that reason, I was asking him to agree to explain, in a television program, the issues of most interest related to the Summit of the Americas, to a panel made up of three young journalists, which would certainly be of interest to many Latin Americans, Caribbean people, U.S. Americans and Canadians.

Daniel knows of many concrete possibilities for improving the living conditions of the people of Nicaragua, one of the five poorest nations in the hemisphere as a consequence of U.S. interventions and plunder. Obama’s victory pleased him and he observed him closely in the Summit. He did not like his behavior during the meeting. "He was moving everywhere," he told me, "seeking out people who he could influence, putting ideas into their heads with his power and his praises."

Naturally, for an observer at a distance, as was my case, one could observe a concerted strategy to exalt positions closest to U.S. interests and most opposed to policies favoring social change, unity and the sovereignty of our peoples. In my view, the worst thing was to present a declaration supposedly supported by everybody.

The blockade of Cuba was not even mentioned in the Final Declaration and the president of the United States utilized that to justify his actions and cover up his administration’s alleged concessions to Cuba. We could better understand the new president of the United States’ real limitations in terms of introducing changes in his country’s policy toward our homeland, than the use of a lie to justify his actions.

Should we perchance applaud the aggression of our television and radio space, the use of sophisticated technologies to invade that space from great heights and implement the same Bush policy against Cuba? Should we accept the right of the United States to maintain the blockade during a geological period until bringing capitalist democracy to Cuba?

Obama has admitted that the leaders of the Latin America and Caribbean countries are speaking to him all over the place about the services of Cuban doctors but, nevertheless, stated: "…this is a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have -- have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region."

In his subconscious mind, Obama understands that Cuba enjoys prestige on account of its doctors in the region, attaching more importance to it than we do ourselves.

Perhaps he hasn’t even been informed that Cuba has sent its doctors, not only to Latin America and the Caribbean, but to countless African countries, Asian countries; in situations of disaster to little islands of Oceania such as Timor Leste and Kiribati, threatened with being left under water if the climate changes; and even offered to send – in a matter of hours – a complete medical brigade to rescue the Katrina victims when a large part of New Orleans was left defenseless under water and many lives could have been saved. Thousands of young people selected from other countries have been trained as doctors in Cuba, tens of thousands more are currently being trained.

But we have not only cooperated in the field of health, also in those of education, sport, science, culture, energy savings, reforestation, environmental protection and others. A number of UN agencies can testify to that.

Something more: the blood of Cuban patriots was spilled in the struggle against the last bastions of colonialism in Africa and the defeat of apartheid, an ally of the United States.

The most important thing of all, Daniel already said it at the Summit, is the total absence of any conditions in the contribution of Cuba, the little island that the United States is blockading.

We did not do what we did seeking influence and support. They were the principles that sustain our struggle and our resistance. The infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than that of the United States; there has been no illiteracy for a long time; white, black or mixed race children attend school every day, and have equal possibilities of studying, including those who require special education. We have achieved not only justice, but the maximum of justice possible. All the members of the National Assembly are nominated and elected by the people, more than 90% of the population with the right to vote, use their vote.

We have not asked for the capitalist democracy in which you were educated and in which you sincerely and with every right believe.

We do not aspire to export our political system to the United States.

Fidel Castro Ruz
April 22, 2009
12:53 p.m.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back to the Minnesota Problem


Well, I'm back!

Colorado was great. They laid out the carpet for me. Scottie asked that it not be red and they refrain from playing the Internationale. I can report to you that we have made some great inroads to the middle class. Slowly but surely we are working our way out of the working class to where the real games are played.

Enough for the good news.

Now the Minnesota Problem. We might as well be going back to the USSR boys.

We have done everything possible as the leaders of this Party to stem the tide of militant workers insisting on the return to Marxism-Leninism in our Party.

I have done everything possible trying to expunge the remnants of 20th Century socialism from influencing our Party and the international movements.

With the aging Castro brothers not giving an inch on the ideological front just 90 miles from our borders to the south and the Stalin worshipers across the northern border in Canada it is very difficult to accomplish the eradication of Marxist-Leninist thinking.

As the revisionist majority or at least the revisionists who have claimed control of this Party we are intent on eradicating all influences of Marxism-Leninism. For today, tomorrow and for all time.

We probably shouldn't be surprised that the Minnesota Problem has been an extremely hard nut to crack. For years we have tried to convince these ultra-leftists to work inside of the Democratic Party without crying and complaining.

But I am at my wit's end trying to figure a way out of this Minnesota Problem.

I thought we were making some headway and then I check out Rita Polewski's blog this morning.

By the way she named her blog just to mock me. She named her blog "The Minnesota Problem." The nerve of this bitch from Duluth!

Can someone get me a paper towel. I just spilled my coffee. Scottie, when I'm done get the mop and go around the podium here. Scottie, please don't frown like that when I tell you do something. You should know by now when your employer tells you to mop you mop. When you are told to write you write. It's my way or the highway for you. Scottie, no back talk. I told you Gus Hall left me in charge here. When I am finished you just go get the mop and bucket out of the glass closet and mop a little around here. You got some time before you get out another Labor Up Front blog. Scottie. Please. No back talk. I told you before Gus Hall willed me the leadership of the CPUSA. No, Scottie. I will not show you Gus Hall's last will and testament. If I wanted to show it to you I would. I could go to my office right now and take it out of my desk drawer if I wanted to but I don't want to. Do a little work so you earn the title of worker so when you are asked what kind of work you have done before becoming middle class you can tell them you worked for me.

We are trying so hard to convince workers that Barack Obama is their friend and look what this bitch from Duluth has posted to her blog. I come to the office and I am staring at this scandalous defamation of Barack Obama. My day is topsy turvy before I have my first cup of fresh Star Bucks Coffee. Its bad enough I had to listen to some crybaby talking wobbly one big union bullshit just trying to get a cup of java:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fidel Castro: Obama 'misinterpreted' Raul's words
Everyone knew that President Obama lied and intentionally misinterpreted Raul Castro's words.

The question Obama needs to be asked is "why" he lied.

The world deserves an answer from Barack Obama. Not an answer from Obama's public relations people We are entitled to the answer to this question directly from the mouth of Barack Obama. We don't need to have Obama reading from his teleprompter either.

We just got rid of one president who could never tell the truth about anything and now we have another president who can't tell the truth about anything.

Until Obama tells the truth about why he misinterpreted and lied about what Cuban President Raul Castro said no other leader in the world will feel comfortable and confident that they can trust Barack Obama to convey the truth about what they say to the American people.

From Obama's silence while playing on the beaches of Hawaii as thousands of Palestinians were killed and murdered in cold blood by the racist Israeli government to all the lies about the economy to the Obama led U.S. boycott of Durban II we have had nothing but lie after lie after lie from Barack Obama who promised an open and truthful government.

Obama promised change.

Even the lies have not changed.

Where is the change?

We have had one hundred days of lies.

We have had one hundred days of foreclosures and evictions.

We have had another one hundred days without access to health care.

We have had one hundred days of soaring unemployment.

We have had another one hundred days of wars.

During Obama's first one hundred days in office the killing in Gaza has continued.

During these one hundred first days of Barack Obama's presidency the bankers and Wall Street have been bailed out while the people of main street have gotten the shaft.

During these one hundred days global warming has continued without viable solutions even worked on.

I voted for Cynthia McKinney for president because I never believed any of Barack Obama's hype about change.

When will this grassroots constituency that supported Obama demand the change they voted for?

Obama is no friend of working people. Obama works for the wealthy and filthy rich of Wall Street just like George Bush did. Barack Obama lies just like George Bush did too.


Fidel Castro: Obama 'misinterpreted' Raul's words

Apr 22, 7:29 AM (ET)


HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro says President Barack Obama "misinterpreted" his brother Raul's remarks regarding the United States and bristled at the suggestion that Cuba should free political prisoners or cut taxes on remittances from abroad as a goodwill gesture to the U.S.

Raul Castro touched off a whirlwind of speculation last week that the U.S. and Cuba could be headed toward a thaw in nearly a half-century of chilly relations. The speculation began when the Cuban president said leaders would be willing to sit down with their U.S. counterparts and discuss "everything," including human rights, freedom of the press and expression, and political prisoners on the island.

Obama responded at the Summit of the Americas by saying Washington seeks a new beginning with Cuba, but he also said Sunday that Cuba should release some political prisoners and reduce official taxes on remittances sent to the island from the U.S.

That appeared to enrage Fidel Castro, 82, who wrote in an essay posted on a government Web site that Obama "without a doubt misinterpreted Raul's declarations."

The former president appeared to be throwing a dose of cold water on growing expectations for improved bilateral relations - suggesting Obama had no right to dare suggest that Cuba make even small concessions. He also seemed to suggest too much was being made of Raul's comments about discussing "everything" with U.S. authorities.

"Affirming that the president of Cuba is ready to discuss any topic with the president of the United States expresses that he's not afraid to broach any subject," Fidel Castro wrote of his 77-year-old brother, who succeeded him as president 14 months ago.

"It's a sign of bravery and confidence in the principles of the revolution," he said, referring to the rebel uprising that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista and brought the Castros to power on New Year's Day 1959.

"Nobody should assume that he was talking about pardoning those sentenced in March 2003 and sending all of them to the United States, if the country were willing to liberate the five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes," Castro wrote.

He was referring to 75 leading political opposition leaders who were rounded up and imprisoned six years ago. Some 54 of them remain behind bars, though Raul Castro suggested last year that Cuba would be willing to liberate some political prisoners if U.S. authorities would free five Cuban spies.

Castro compared the prisoners arrested in 2003 to exiles who attacked the island's southern coast during the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and said they were "at the service of a foreign power that threatens and blockades our country," referring to charges they conspired with Washington to destabilize the communist system.

The ex-president had previously expressed his admiration for Obama, but this time Castro blasted the new U.S. president for showing signs of "superficiality."

He also defended Cuba's right to levy a 10 percent fee on every U.S. dollar sent to relatives on the island by Cuban-Americans, saying if the money arriving from abroad "is in dollars, all the more reason we should do it because it is the currency of the country that blockades us."

All top Cuban leaders routinely call the 47-year-old trade embargo against this country a blockade.

"Not all Cubans have family members overseas that send remittances," Castro said, adding that Cuba uses the revenue from fees on exchanging dollars to provide free health care, education and subsidized food to all of its population.

We just got done writing marvelous articles for the PWW and PA about how the Castro boys were finally coming to their senses about Barack Obama.

Now I come into the office to this. The Castro's trying to knock Barack Obama down a peg or two and this bitch from Duluth jumping all over Barack.

All the good PR work we got paid to do has come to naught.

What can we do?

The only thing we can do. Start over again helping Barack repair the damage.

Someone get on the horn to Cuba. Someone else get me a ticket to the Twin Cities. I'm going to go talk to Erwin Marquit and Peter Molenaar personally to find out what they have been doing. I'll check out the bars and see if I can't find Mark Froemke too.

What is it Jarvis? You have been sitting there with your hand in the air for a good twenty minutes. My God, do you know how distracting that is to see a hand waving around when I'm trying to talk. What is it now?

No, Jarvis, I am not going into northern Minnesota. Are you nuts or what? There are more Marxists-Leninists in northern Minnesota than there are Republicans. I'm not going to even try talking to those damn red Finns. They call me a "traitor" and "sellout." I can't take that. Just standing in a crowd of them makes my hair stand up.

Just look at me. My hair is standing on end now. I can feel it. Just thinking about northern Minnesota and those damn red Finns.

Ok, the hair on my head is sticking out and my hands are shaking in anger. I can't drink my coffee without my Mickey Mouse bib.

I'm going to my desk now. Everyone else do the same. Scottie, you get the mop.

I'm sorry I couldn't cover the problems in United for Peach and Justice. Perhaps next time during my briefing I will touch on the Peach problems.

What is it Jarvis? Oh, did I say peach instead of peace? Thank you for correcting me. I am glad you pay such close attention to what I say.

Damn. Now I got a headache. My head is just throbbing. All I hear in my head is "back to the USSR, boys."

God bless you.

God bless America.

Remember, this is Earth Day. God bless those working on the garbage barge. May the contents find a nook in some other country so the garbage doesn't have to be dumped at sea.

Sam Webb
National Chairman, Communist Party USA

Friday, April 17, 2009

Shoe-repairman, veteran, bobbin boy, Communist: 93 years with a twinkle in his eye

Shoe-repairman, veteran, bobbin boy, Communist: 93 years with a twinkle in his eye

Author: Susan Webb
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 04/07/09 13:59

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — John Hovan has been reading this newspaper, and its predecessors going back to the Daily Worker, since the early 1930s — in the depths of the Great Depression. It’s been a key to his lifetime of activism for the working class.

Hovan will celebrate his 93rd birthday on May 19. “I have lived through a whole century of historic events,” he noted this week, sitting at the dining table in his senior apartment here. “I was born in the middle of World War I and I grew up in the biggest, deepest economic depression in the history of this country. Ironically, I am ending my life with another deep economic crisis.”

At age 15, he had to drop out of school to find work. He learned the shoe-repair trade. Became an organizer of unemployed workers in his home state of Florida. Volunteered with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, fighting fascism in Spain. Three and a half years in the Navy during World War II, with a stint on Midway Island, where he repaired the sailors’ shoes. Then learned a new trade — “bobbin boy” and weaver — for a decade of work and union activism in Rhode Island textile mills. Lost his job in the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts, with the local paper’s headline blaring: “John Hovan, Communist.” Undaunted, learned yet another trade — installing linoleum — kept working, raised a family, continued activism in his community.

He recalled his start in the rayon mill with a chuckle. As a bobbin boy, he had to get the correct colors of thread to the weavers, “and I’m color-blind — they all looked red to me.” He figured out how to get the weavers to help him, then he watched them at their work and learned that job. “They showed me how to tie the knots, how to start and stop the loom.” He was hired on as a weaver, and later became president of his United Textile Workers (AFL) local. After that plant shut down, he got a job at a Ciba-Geigy chemical plant, where he was a picket captain in the frequent strike battles that the CIO union there had to wage.

Then, when the McCarthy red-scare hysteria hit, “Not only did I lose my job, but my house was fired on, my windows were broken by rocks, there were swastikas painted on it. It wasn’t easy,” he said, but “I knew I had the strength to endure.”

So how did he become a lifelong organizer, a Communist, and not get discouraged or give up?

“I was fortunate,” he said, “because my father, a Czech immigrant, was progressive-minded, a strong union person.” Socialist and communist foreign-language immigrants’ newspapers loomed large in Hovan’s early years.

“All of my years growing up I would hear my father talk to my mother about what he was reading in the left-wing Slovak-American newspaper, Rovnost L'udu (Equality of the People),” Hovan said.

When his father, with too many mouths to feed, told him he’d have to quit school and “make it on my own, that really made me angry,” Hovan said. “I had learned that this is the richest country in the world. I learned about the threat of fascism and another war breaking out in Europe. I read the Daily Worker and saw how people were struggling. It’s the right thing to do, I thought.”

As an apprentice shoe-repairman, he came across left Jewish workers and their newspapers too. He subscribed to the Daily Worker “with one of the first paychecks I got.”

Today, Hovan has to use a magnifier to read the paper, but his blue eyes twinkle with a combination of tenacity, humor and optimism.

Reflecting on his 93rd year, he said, “I’m more convinced than ever that Karl Marx was right.” Marx and his followers “didn’t have all the answers, but they know a lot more than the jerks that tried to run the country into the ground.”

He noted with pleasure that President Obama acknowledged the other day that today’s financial crisis began right here in New York, in Washington.

“The tide is against imperialism, against capitalism. It can’t continue,” Hovan said.

His advice: “Keep reading the People’s Weekly World and supporting it.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

May Day – a great day to support the workers’ newspaper

May Day – a great day to support the workers’ newspaper

Author: PWW Editorial Board

People's Weekly World Newspaper, 04/02/09 15:54

May 1 — May Day — International Workers’ Holiday, and now, increasingly, a day to march for immigrant rights. This important world celebration, which was born right here in Chicago, USA, is being reclaimed by the labor and immigrant rights movements in this country, after years of being buried under Cold War, anti-communist debris.

What better way to celebrate than making a donation to the newspaper that has celebrated May Day since our first issue in 1924 with an editorial mission of “Workers and oppressed of the world, unite!”

And there are a few ways to do it.

The People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo will run three weeks of May Day ads. You can take out an ad — or get your union or neighborhood block club to take out an ad — to celebrate and publicize people’s causes like the Employee Free Choice Act.

Large ads: $300 — maximum size is 6”x 5”

Medium ads: $150 — maximum size is 5”x3.5”

Small ads: $25 — maximum size is 2.5”x1.5”

Deadlines for ads are: April 13, April 20, April 27 for the three issues dated April 25-May 1, May 2-8, May 9-15, respectively.

You can also celebrate Cinco de Mayo (May 5) — an important holiday among many Mexican Americans that honors Mexican culture and heritage — along with the May Day ads.

Plus, the first two weeks of May are PWW pledge weeks: Time to make a pledge for as generous a donation as you can to help keep this voice of the labor and people’s movements going. Expect calls and letters from our staff and volunteers about making a pledge.

Contact Barb Russum (773) 446-9920 x.205 or e-mail pww@pww.orgfor ad space and to learn how you can become involved in the May Day pledges.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An invitation back into our Party


It gives me great pleasure to inform you that we have invited Don Hamerquist back into the ranks of the Communist Party USA after reading a blog posting he made.

Please read his posting carefully.

We need to rehabilitate E.P Thompson and Althusser to their rightful place in the movement.

I tend to think Gramsci was a sneaky Stalinist.

Sam Webb
Chair, CPUSA

Don Hamerquist

One skeptical participant commented on the recent Kasama website discussion of Althusser’s impact on Avakian’s theoretical posture as follows:

“Althusser and Avakian do not matter much.”

To the contrary, I think that both “matter” a good deal, although in different ways. However, in the case of Althusser, my appreciation has some different content than what I’ve seen expressed in these discussions.

I encountered Althusser when the English translation of his essay on Contradiction and Overdetermination was published in the mid 60s. For myself and other young and naïve dissidents in the CPUSA, Althusser seemed to provide some hope for a theoretical basis for a revolutionary reorientation and reunification of the international communist movement, rectifying the Sino/Soviet split and the emerging differences within the Soviet bloc of parties that eventually culminated in the twin stale farts of Brezhnevism and Euro-communism.
The essay broke with the mind numbing stupidities that had dominated Soviet Marxism for the previous few decades and had sufficient intellectual rigor and vigor to defend itself inside and outside of the cramped party framework from which it originated. It challenged simplistic economic reductionism and historical determinism, suggesting a framework for analysis and for the development of strategy that was more than a repetition of clichés and unsupported assumptions. In doing this it brought into question the “inevitable victory of the socialist camp” through peaceful competition, parliamentarianism, and related reformist processes – none of which entailed or involved revolution.

One of the impacts of the Soviet domination of the international movement in the prior decades was the cloistering and sanitizing of important aspects of revolutionary theory and the relevant intellectual history. The Soviet identified communist parties actively discouraged any study of primary writings in the communist tradition – specifically Capital – and opposed any attempts to place major theoretical contributions and debates into their actual historical context. Instead, a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ authors, a few sanctioned pieces from Engels, Marx, and Lenin, and some terrible attempts at summarizations and popularizations from house intellectuals were presented as a finished and closed scientific system with simple lessons to be internalized and obeyed – but with nothing that challenged or was meant to be challenged.

The first, very inadequate English translation of Gramsci’s Modern Prince dated from the fifties, but for all practical purposes he was unknown in this country. When Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks were highly praised in Contradiction and Overdetermination, we took note. The Soviets had prevented the publication and distribution of Marx’s Grundrisse, but the For Marx collection relied heavily on the 1857 Introduction and even more on his critical assessment of the “Early Writings” which also had not been generally available in this country. Important elements of Lenin’s writing - significantly the Philosophical Notebooks - weren’t available to us until the end of the sixties. Althusser testified to their existence before we knew of anything but “Materialism and Empiro-Criticism”.

In 1968, a group of us in the C.P.U.S.A. were disciplined by the National Board and a little later I was put on trial before the National Committee for “factionalism”. A number of issues were involved, one of which related indirectly to Althusser. We were charged with engaging in “horizontal” discussions within the party and opening up those discussions to individuals and groupings outside of the party. (The historical precedents for this form of discipline in the Communist movement stretch back to the 10th Congress of the CPSU, but it was pretty much unknown before that time. d.h.) Our particular “factional” discussions centered around a document that challenged the Party’s program which was then in a draft form. We incorporated a number of positions from Contradiction and Overdetermination - also from Gramsci – in a very tentative and inadequate alternative to the party draft’s economist and reformist, but also thoroughly sectarian and anti-intellectual, “path to socialism”.

Althusser quickly became something of a political disappointment. When revolutionary potentials around the world were becoming apparent and mass insurgencies erupted in his own country; when Soviet actions with respect to Vietnam, Cuba, and Czechoslovakia were patently counter revolutionary, Althusser confined himself to feeble protests within the decrepit, corrupt and conservative structure of official ‘communism’. Even his opposition to the Euro-communist conciliation of liberalism and social democracy was weakened by its encapsulization within a neo-Stalinist position in the French C.P. I’m sure many others have noticed the impact of these circumstances on his theoretical essays. Consider his attempts to reconcile his “theoretical anti-humanism” with the laughable Soviet claim at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU that they had moved from a class dictatorship to “socialist humanism”. (For Marx, p. 222) Consider his attempt, some years later, to find revolutionary relevance in the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party. (I remember this as a stand alone article in New Left Review. d.h.) Althusser’s personal epistemological break (I use the term in the STO sense, not his) was so protracted and so late in the day that it was hard to take seriously, and the discussion of his theoretical contributions suffered accordingly.

All of this was happening for us in the late sixties and early seventies when many circumstances combined to make revolution look more imminent than it proved to be and theoretical inquiry less relevant than it always is. A number of radicals, who were inclined towards a workerist anti-intellectualism in any case, concluded that Althusser’s difficult theoretical arguments could be discounted and avoided because of their political origin and continuing identification with politics that had lost revolutionary relevance. That position was wrong then and it is wrong now. Althusser was a significant thinker with arguments that remain relevant to the conception of capitalism as a social formation and to the development of a revolutionary opposition to it. If the underlying issues he confronted are examined critically, his work still contains important and useful insights and advances. On the other hand, if this work and the conclusions drawn from it are either enshrined or, alternatively, regarded as historic curiosities, the left will certainly suffer for it.

I’m sure that I haven’t seen everything that’s been included in these Kasama discussions, but what I have seen is short on a critical treatment of Althusser’s basic positions and frequently appears to discount the possibility of a Marxist theoretical position that is opposed to Althusser’s, but is neither dumb nor liberal. Maybe I’m wrong about this and I would certainly be willing to be corrected. Despite full knowledge that I don’t have Althusser’s intimidating grasp of the intellectual terrain, and many qualms because his arguments are so dense and complex that I have never been completely sure that I have a good handle on them, I’d like to indicate where I think Althusser made important mistakes, mistakes that are not only important for “Theory”, but also for current issues of revolutionary strategy.

Let me be clear about some limitations from the outset. What I’m writing here is heavily based on old material taken from numerous discussions and educationals in and around STO more a quarter century ago and only slightly updated by corrections and clarifications made possible by the passage of time. I’m going to restrict what I write to Althusser’s collection, “For Marx”. I’ve lost my copies of his two following books, “Reading Capital” and “Lenin and Philosophy”, years ago and, lacking the energy to dig up replacements, I will only make general references to them. I also haven’t read Althusser’s later works, specifically the essay on Machiavelli which Negri (Empire, p. 63) describes in ways that seem to indicate it departs significantly from his focus in For Marx. Finally, I’m sure that there is a substantial body of both academic and left discussion which has not bothered me to date, and I will resist temptation to kick Zizek for his essay on Mao, which, displaying his trademark arrogance and self-important glibness, incorporates big chunks of Althusser without giving credit.

Revolutionary Science

Althusser’s overriding concern is with the establishment and defense of Marxism as a science that is productive of valid knowledge of objective social reality:
“Indeed, in conformity with the tradition constantly reiterated by the classics of Marxism, we may claim that Marx established a new science: the science of the history of “social formations’”. (For Marx, p. 13)
“…we had been made to treat science, a status claimed by every page of Marx, as merely the first-comer among ideologies.” (For Marx, p. 22)

Not only does Althusser repeatedly make such arguments, he makes it clear that advancing this particular conception of Marxism is the focal point of his political and intellectual life.
There is no doubt that the conception of Marxism (or Marxism/Leninism) as a determinate science of history and social formations has dominated the communist movement, even in instances where the ‘Marxism’ that was being advanced and embraced was an immense leap of faith short of scientific. It is also true that a good case can be made that Marx viewed his own work as an expansion of science to the study of capitalist society. However, this is not the only possible approach to theoretical Marxism.

I personally don’t identify revolutionary theory with this conception of science and consequently I appreciate the very elements in Marx that Althusser discards as ‘pre-Marxist’ – ‘Hegelian…Feuerbachian…humanist’. To illustrate where and how this makes an immediate difference, I’m immediately distrustful of any Marxist or any Marxism that dismisses the 1845 Theses on Feuerbach as Althusser does:
“…deceptively transparent theses that are really riddles…” … “…brief sparks…”, when we know that, “…a spark dazzles rather than illuminates”. (For Marx, p. 36)

And Althusser goes further, questioning the, “…famous (11th) Thesis on Feuerbach which, in theoretically ambiguous words, counterposes the transformation of the world to its interpretation. It was, and always will be, only a short step from here to theoretical pragmatism.” (For Marx p. 28)

Following Gramsci’s prison-dictated language designating communist theory as the “philosophy of praxis”, I find a more useful approach to Marx emphasizes the contributions to a critique of capitalist civilization and to development of a revolutionary praxis for a social movement that can “move beyond” (I avoid the aufhebung for the moment. d.h.) the capitalist era of human pre-history. In this conception, the “riddles” of the Theses on Feuerbach, and particularly the injunction to organized action in the 11th, are the primary foundational elements of Marxism. To repeat, this is not the predominant view in the Marxist intellectual tradition and it certainly has not been the position of the international communist movement. However, given the troubles that have beset both, it’s a stance that might find a little more support at present.

Althusser goes beyond the claim that Marx “discovered” and explicated the main principles of a science of history. He asserts that by applying this Marxist science and scientific method (or ‘Theory’ as he terms it) to the entirety of Marx’s intellectual production, he can draw a sharp line between the portion of Marx’s body of work which is genuinely Marxist and that which is something else (less? d.h.). In this way he believes he can delimit a coherent system which excludes a range of pre- or anti- Marxist elements within the output of Marx himself. So Althusser states in one typical formulation:

“…the application of Marxist theory to Marx himself appears to be the absolute precondition of an understanding of Marx and at the same time as the precondition even of the constitution and development of Marxist philosophy, so much is clear.” (FM, p.38)
It’s never been that “clear” to me, and Althusser’s attempts to explain why the underlying logic in this position is not circular have never persuaded me either.

With no intention of putting forth an alternative attempt to make Marxism a coherent system, I’d like to run through some problems involved in central Althusserian propositions and arguments. To some extent this is unfair considering the nearly half century of rapid and major changes to the ‘current conjuncture’ where Althusser self consciously places himself. However, while the changes in circumstances might make some mistakes of the past more obvious, the path ahead is still not that clear and there is a definite potential to repeat old mistakes in slightly altered forms. Some unfairness to a dead communist is not that high a price to avoid such pitfalls.
Beginning this discussion poses a chicken and egg problem which will plague the rest of what I will write. Which of the central Althusserian notions; overdetermination, theoretical practice, epistemological break, the rejection of the Hegelian aufhebung, should be considered first, when they are all interconnected? I’ve decided to begin with “overdetermination”. This will create some problems when unexplained definitions of the other concepts get involved in the argument. I’ll try to note these issues as I move along.


The Althusserian concept of overdetermination was developed as a challenge to economic determinism and centers around his critical analysis of Engel’s well known letter (Engels to Bloch, 9/21/1890) that argues that historical change is ultimately determined through a process in which, “…the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary”… in the famous - ‘last instance’.

Althusser’s central text on this question is the essay, Contradiction and Overdetermination and its Appendix. (For Marx, pp. 89-127). The first step in his response to Engel’s slightly more sophisticated variant of economic determinism is contained in the horribly long sentence advancing the conception of the “overdetermination of the main contradiction”. (For Marx, p. 100-101). His second step concludes that:

“From the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes”. (For Marx, p. 113).

To wrap up the logic of the argument, in the appendix to the essay (For Marx, p. 117-127), Althusser demonstrates that Engel’s description of the relationship between superstructure and infrastructure leaves the impact of the superstructural contradictions inherently indeterminate and thus cannot provide a properly concrete explanation of any historical event.

This is the very best of Althusser in my opinion. When its implications are elaborated, the argument devastates the fatalistic, essentially “imbecilic” (Gramsci’s term d.h.) belief in the historical necessity of working class triumph through a mystical, but none the less inexorable, working out of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production. Althusser directs proper attention to the irreducible complexity of social formations, and the - equally irreducible - effectiveness of the multitude of contradictory elements within capitalist superstructures on the development of the class struggle towards a revolutionary rupture.
However, I think that he ultimately misunderstands the contradictory relationship between forces and relations of social production in the infrastructure of capitalist society, and that he underestimates the a-symmetrical character of the interaction between the infrastructure and the various contradictory elements or moments (a more accurate term d.h.) of the superstructure. And as a consequence, he doesn’t adequately incorporate a different point that Engels makes in the same letter:

“We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive.” (Engels to Bloch, 1890)

I will deal with this point in more detail in a later section and would only note here, that, in my opinion, the major problems with Engel’s second sentence do not diminish the importance of the his first sentence.

Beyond his practical underestimation of what is decisive, Althusser leaves the concrete articulation of an understanding of the social structure in every specific case hostage to a questionable “theoretical practice”, a process of intellectual production that is essentially confined within the political practice of a revolutionary party. This was an organizational form that was a utopian fantasy in Althusser’s day – and it remains one now. The notion of theoretical practice will also be considered later.

The combination of the lack of mooring of Althusser’s perspective in the socio-economic base of capitalist society and its peculiar academic and theoreticist slant biases it towards a party-centric view in which the mass working class struggle is seen mainly as effect and object - as pure potential, not as an emerging collective subject, as a movement that can emancipate itself and all human society.

This all is quite wordy, but still vague, and I will try to bring it down to earth in two ways. First, I’d like to examine Althusser’s application of his concepts to the historical example of the Russian Revolution. The Russian October is THE example presented by Althusser in his essay on Contradiction and Overdetermination. (See For Marx, p. 94-101, see also p. 175-180 in a later essay). Second, I’ll attempt to move to Althusser’s notion of “theoretical practice” to point out how it extends an unsupportable party-centrism to a misunderstanding of the class struggle dynamic in the infrastructure.
A number of points concerning the historical argument jump out immediately. For the most part, Althusser relies on Lenin’s analysis of the concrete circumstance of the Russian revolution, taking much of the substance from comments in Left Wing Communism that were developed well after the fact. This analysis is where Althusser discovers Lenin’s strategic notion that the revolutionary rupture will occur at the weakest link (links) of imperialism – a feature which he appears to regards as common to most, if not all, situations of real revolutionary possibility:

“That is why the theory of the ‘weakest link’ is identical with the theory of the ‘decisive link’.” (For Marx, p. 180).

(The tendency towards circularity in this argument does not appear to bother him and I won’t spend any time on it either.)

Regarding 1917 Russia, Althusser says:

“This exceptional situation was ‘insoluble’ (for the ruling classes) and Lenin was correct to see in it the objective conditions of a Russian revolution and to forge its subjective conditions, the means of a decisive assault on this weak link in the imperialist chain, in a Communist Party that was a chain without weak links.” (For Marx, p. 98)

This is a view of the course of the revolution in 1917 Russia that Althusser proposes as a guiding principle for the analysis of revolutionary possibilities everywhere. However, this picture of revolutionary Russia ignores crucial realities of the Soviet revolution that are matters of recognized historical fact even if, for reasons I will indicate shortly, Lenin glossed over them in Left Wing Communism.

The Bolsheviks were actually dragged towards the seizure of power in 1917 by the intense efforts of Lenin’s faction, which was frequently a small minority, but which prevailed through its understanding of, and close links to, the massive eruption of dual power institutions and revolutionary demands within the working class and the general population – an eruption involving plant takeovers, commandeered transportation facilities, generalized land redistributions from below, and the demobilization from within of much of the military. Much of this mass upsurge had a spontaneous character, as Lenin pointed out at the time.

Lenin, Trotsky, and a handful of other revolutionaries had recognized the dual power potentials of the Soviet form in the 1905 revolution, and fought for an appreciation of its decisive role in the revolutionary process in 1917. This was a fight in which they were opposed to one degree or another by a changing, but always significant, portion of the Bolsheviks. Leading members of Lenin’s party faction frequently argued that the parliamentary process should trump reliance on the dual power characteristics of the Soviets, and that the movement for working class power should recognize that the Russian revolution must necessarily be limited to a liberal bourgeois character. This debate persisted up to and through the October insurrection.

Those unresolved differences among Bolsheviks were a significant aspect of the political conjuncture at the actual moment of revolutionary crisis and decision. One striking example of their importance was the public condemnation of the specific plans for the insurrection by leading Bolsheviks just a few days before it was scheduled. This all makes Althusser’s description of the 1917 Bolsheviks, “…a Communist Party that was a chain without weak links…” (For Marx, p. 98), simply ludicrous. That Lenin understood these issues and continued to grapple with their implications until his death is made clear in his last writings on bureaucracy and in his assessment of major Bolshevik personalities in his Last Testament.

I haven’t read Left Wing Communism in a good while and have no intentions of doing so now. However, my memory of the piece is not that different from Althusser’s excerpts and I will stipulate to the accuracy of his reading. Lenin doesn’t mention the massive and public differences within the Bolsheviks in 1917 over whether the existing ‘concrete conditions’ made an insurrection necessary. Neither does he devote much time to the existing mass forms of struggle that were important elements in making it possible.

In retrospect, Left Wing Communism has its own set of credibility issues that extend beyond and partially explain its omissions of same historical facts that Althusser chooses to ignore. It opens with a scathing attack on the European revolutionary left communists associated with the Gorter Letter. Among other points, this letter had raised the possibility that there could be a contradiction and divergence between the dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of a party. It is their clear warning, similar to one raised slightly earlier by Luxembourg, that stands up in the light of history and not Lenin’s contemptuous dismissal of it in a massive and wrongheaded ‘bending of the stick’.

When the specific historical context for Left Wing Communism is understood, the basis for what Lenin said and did not say in it is quite clear – although it is hardly justified. Lenin is defending Soviet C.P policies a couple of years after the revolution when the grip on power is severely weakened. He is in the process of limiting internal discussion and debate in the Soviet Party and the international communist movement, a course that was presented as ‘temporary’, but which, even if it had been only temporary which it wasn’t, would have been very damaging. At the same time, Lenin was defending the expansion of party control in the society. As an extension of this conservative and defensive approach, Left Wing Communism introduces arguments intended to caution revolutionaries elsewhere in the world against insurrections that Lenin believed were destined to fail, and which might, as a byproduct, create added problems for Soviet Russia. Some of these cautions were probably merited politically, but the form they took casts a continuing pall over the development of an internationalist revolutionary perspective.
What does this mean in relation to Althusser’s argument? Symptomatically he refers to the “… ‘discovery’ of a new form of mass political organization: the soviets…” (For Marx, p. 96). I’m not sure if ‘discovery’ is Althusser’s term or one carelessly used by Lenin, but in this context the use of the term is a bad idea. The reality is that the soviet form was ‘created’ by the popular movement before it was ‘discovered’ by revolutionary theory. The revolutionary potential and role of the soviets are more accurately presented as an elaboration of a specific political praxis rather than a discovery out of a “theoretical practice”. (Here the chicken and egg issue emerges.) Althusser artificially separates the conception of an objective social form, the soviets, from the social process through which the form is and was understood and modified, abstracting from the interaction between the real object and the consciousness of the object, and from the process through which they shape and change each other. That is, he abstracts from that reciprocal movement between the ideal and the real, a notion essential to the Hegelian dialectic, but one that Althusser rejects – although one that Lenin, in his best writing on the subject and in much of his practice, does not. This too is a point to be raised again later.

The Bolshevik grouping in 1917 was not a “chain without weak links”, it was not “faultlessly united in consciousness and organization…” (For Marx, p. 95). Instead it was filled with weak links and was brought reluctantly to the ‘decisive assault’ by the organized intervention of an internal minority with a clear plan and a determined collective will that built on the overwhelming momentum of the mass movement towards power. No scientific analysis of the objective conditions for the Russian revolution would have been sufficiently persuasive to guarantee its successful implementation without this intervention of what Gramsci calls a strong “collective will”. There is no theoretical practice that will produce the knowledge of a capitalist social structure that, in itself, will be sufficient to transform a possibility for a revolution into a necessity for one.

Whether the chosen objective metric is the “weak link”, or the point of highest development, or some conception of the level and degree of the ‘fettering’ of the productive forces by the class relations of production, any objective ‘scientific’ analysis of an existent social formation will always include major elements of dispute and ambiguity. The Soviet experience and, I would argue, every other major anti-capitalist revolutionary transformation has and will require a collective exercise of what Hegel (and Marx) term purposive action to prove out the ripeness of the objective conditions for revolution that it has posited in its strategic estimates. The political practice of a revolutionary subject will have to create important conditions for its own success. When this happens it can add to knowledge, perhaps producing knowledge that merits being called scientific. However, there will always be persistent issues of interpretation and of relevance that will pose new questions which will require that the viability of the approach be demonstrated over again through expanded and extended social practice.

Theoretical Practice

I want to begin this section with an element of the political context in which Althusser functioned. Hopefully, its significance, particularly his reference to the potential “theoreticist ‘readings’” of his work, will become relevant in the course of the discussion. I will refer back to it at a later point.
In his 1967 preface for the English edition of For Marx, written well after all of the essays in the collection, Althusser states:

“No doubt I did speak of the union of theory and practice within ‘theoretical practice’, but I did not enter into the question of the union of theory and practice within political practice. Let us be precise; I did not examine the general form of historical existence of this union: the ‘fusion’ of Marxist theory and the workers’ movement. I did not examine the concrete forms of existence of this ‘fusion’ (organization of the class struggle – trade unions, parties – the means and methods of direction of the class struggle by these organizations, etc.). I did not give precise indications as to the function, place and role of Marxist theory in these concrete forms of existence: where and how Marxist theory intervenes in the development of political practice, where and how political practice intervenes in the development of Marxist theory.’ I have learned from experience that my silence on these questions has not been without its consequences for certain (theoreticist) ‘readings’ of my essays.” (For Marx, p. 15)

Althusser opens his essay: “On the Materialist Dialectic” (For Marx, pp. 161-218, the basic reference work for his conception of “theoretical practice” d.h.) with Marx’s “Eighth Thesis on Feuerbach”.

“All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.”
The general conception of “practice” in the Marxist tradition has followed this 1845 Eighth Thesis, defining it as the process through which the truth and validity of a proposition are discovered and confirmed as knowledge of a real object. Following Engels and Mao, “practice” is commonly separated into three components; economic, political, and ideological practices. Despite the traditional usage, and despite the Eighth Thesis - or maybe because of it since he claims it is a riddle - Althusser adds a fourth category of practice, theoretical practice, and suggests some additional “subsidiary practices…e.g.; technical practice.” (For Marx, Glossary, p. 253.)

Althusser regards theoretical practice as an essential element of the Leninist injunction: ‘Without revolutionary theory, no revolutionary practice.’ (For Marx, p. 166). He defines it, as with all other practices, as a process of production or transformation in which a raw material is changed into new products, new social relationships, or new knowledge. The crucial active and productive element in theoretical practice (“Generalities II" in Althusser’s schema) is:

“…the corpus of concepts whose more or less contradictory unity constitutes the ‘theory’ of the science at the moment under consideration, the ‘theory’ that defines the field in which all the problems of the science must necessarily be posed…”(For Marx, p. 184-185).

The raw material for theoretical practice, (‘Generalities I’. d.h.) is, “…(representations, concepts, facts) which it is given by other practices, whether ‘empirical’, ‘technical’ or ‘ideological’. (For Marx, p. 167). Theoretical practice “…acts on its own object and ends in its own product, (‘Generalities III’. d.h.), a knowledge.” (For Marx, p. 173).
Of course, our concern and Althusser’s as well is not with theoretical practice in general, it is with, “…the domain of Marxist theoretical practice (the domain of history)…” (For Marx, p. 172), and particularly with its application to the ideological formations and social structures that make up concrete capitalist societies.

It is hard to read through these arguments without concluding that Althusser sees Marxist theoretical practice as the province of professionally trained academics who are also revolutionaries. These intellectuals will elaborate the indispensible ‘knowledge’ needed to see and travel the road to revolution, applying Marxist analytic concepts to produce the knowledge that illuminates the roles, functions, and obligations for the other revolutionaries who would develop and implement the appropriate strategy – presumably, in many cases, without fully grasping the knowledge on which it was based.

In the passage from the English Preface which opened this section, Althusser is starting a defense of his conception of theoretical practice from such an interpretation of it – denying that it is an elitist structuralism putting academic intellectuals, “scientists”, in charge of the revolution. At the same time, he is also concerned that his perspective be seen as more than a scientific explanation of the world – rather that it be seen as an essential part of – as providing the raw materials for:

“ - a larger practice, a political practice, “…which quite simply allows us, not to demonstrate or explain the ‘inevitable’ revolutions post festum, but to ‘make’ them in our unique present, or, as Marx profoundly formulated it, to make the dialectic into a revolutionary method, rather than the theory of the fait accompli. (For Marx, p. 180)
Althusser argues further that it is not…

“…as if the theoretical practice of a classical historian who analyses the past could be confused with the practice of a revolutionary leader who reflects on the present in the present, on the necessity to be achieved, the means to produce it, on the strategic application points for these means, in short, on his own action, for he does act on concrete history! And his mistakes and successes do not just feature between the covers of a … ‘history’”. (For Marx, page 179)

However, as Althusser struggles to bring his notion of “theoretical practice” within the framework of this larger practice, the main element of which is the Leninist party, he creates another set of theoretical difficulties that might be described as “What is To Be Done” on steroids.

Althusser argues that; “…political practice…in Marxist parties is no longer spontaneous but organized on the basis of the scientific theory of historical materialism which transforms its raw materials: social relations, into a determinate product (new social relations…)" (For Marx, p. 167). Following through this process he arrives at a revolutionary party that will be able to eliminate the merely ideological positions, i.e. “deviations”, that might constitute the ‘weak links’ in its particular chain and prevent the success of the revolution. At the same time he sends a clear message to those interpreting his essays: don’t take Marxist theoretical practice outside of the party framework.
For Althusser, the theoretical practice that he designates as Marxist is a specific division of labor within a disciplined party structure, the only model of which he provides is his idealized notion of a Marxist Leninist party. This is his line of response to the passage which opened this section; it is his attempt to dilute the potential anti-party implications of the theoreticism in his essays. However, this response only succeeds in displacing the problem of theoreticism from the cadre of intellectual revolutionaries and their “theoretical practice” to the revolutionary political party, its organizational structure and its political practice.

From the party perspective, the division of labor he suggests in the party raises two parallel problems, one internal and one external. The internal problem is the relationship between leadership and cadre. The implied model is of a political leadership, acting on knowledge flowing from its privileged access to the process and product of theoretical practice that provides the leadership to a base of cadre that implements the resulting political line on faith and a quasi-military discipline – acting essentially on the basis of ideology according to Althusser. This militaristic model of a thinking head and a trained and dutiful body also applies to the relationship between the party and the working class. In this case, the Leninist party as a whole thinks and thereby, “provides the means and methods of the direction of the class struggle.” For Marx, p. 15.

Althusser was quite aware of these implications of his position. He spells them out in his conception of the distinction between political perspectives that resulted from a merely “technical practice” and revolutionary perspectives that incorporated a “theoretical practice”. The former deal with ‘ideology’- the latter with ‘knowledge’. This interesting discussion can be found in the section between page 164 and 173 of “For Marx”. However, the core of the issue – which will quickly make the stakes involved quite evident – is indicated in a footnote on page 171:

“In every case, the relation between technique and knowledge is an external, unreflected relation, radically different from the internal reflected relation between a science and its knowledges. It is this exteriority which justifies Lenin’s thesis of the necessity to import Marxist theory into the spontaneous political practice of the working class. Left to itself, a spontaneous (technical) practice produces only the ‘theory’ it needs…" (For Marx, p. 171)

Here we have the worst side of Lenin’s critique of spontaneity, emphasizing the specific elements that he had consciously moved away from by the 1905 Revolution, but which have certainly persisted and even grown in significance in communist practice right to the current moment. These are questions that have been well argued elsewhere and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on them, however, the key issue must be addressed. This concerns the “necessity to import” theory, as Althusser states and emphasizes it.

It is one thing to acknowledge the historical fact that revolutionary working class theory was not initially, for the most part, the product of actual workers, and that the working class movement and anti-capitalist theory did not develop as one unified process. This is not hard to understand since the theory was developed in capitalism’s infancy, when it only dominated in a small segment of the world and when the modern working class was a tiny proportion of the laboring populations. One element of Marx’s genius, well described by Negri, was his ability to see the way the capitalist social system would revolutionize production and existing social relations and rapidly expand to a position of global hegemony.

Parenthetically, the ability to grasp what was new and emerging in the situation that characterized Marx, should provide a cautionary message for Marxists, like Althusser, who are too taken with the importance of the analysis of the “current conjuncture”: consider the following:
“…he (Lenin d.h.)was acting on the concrete of the Russian situation, of the Russian conjuncture, on what he gave the remarkable name, ‘the current situation’, the situation whose currency defined his political practice as such. In the world that a historian of Imperialism is forced to see in section, if he wants to see it as Lenin lived it and understood it – because it was, as the existing world is, the sole concrete world in existence, in the sole concrete possible, the concrete of its currency, in the ‘current situation’ – Lenin analysed what constituted the characteristics of its structure; the essential articulations, the interconnexions, the strategic nodes on which the possibility and the fate of any revolutionary practice depended…” (For Marx, p. 178)

What to say about this… Perhaps the phrase “the current situation” appears to be more remarkable in French or Russian than it does in English. Does Althusser think of Lenin like some now think of Avakian? Now that’s a gratuitous bit of sectarianism that I immediately disavow.

Laying such comments aside, the point I want to make is that no analysis of the current situation, including Lenin’s completely clarifies which alternative possibilities will emerge and which will win out. If the Manifesto had predicated the communist revolution based on the “current situation” in 1848, without also presupposing the emergence of capitalism as the dominant mode of production in the region – which had not yet happened – and as ultimately developing into a world system – which certainly had not yet happened – the ‘revolution’ would have been limited to England, possible France, and a few European principalities.

To return to the issue of the “necessary import” of revolutionary theory into the spontaneous struggle and its relationship to “theoretical practice”, a few years after writing What Is To Be Done, Lenin described the Russian working class in the 1905 revolution as ‘spontaneously revolutionary’, and self-critically refers to the ‘bending of the stick’ in his earlier writing. There is a unifying theme between these two positions of Lenin. His initial critique of the revolutionaries is for “tailing” the spontaneous movement when it is reformist and gradualist. His later critique is for failing to understand the emergence of a new set of circumstances where the same ‘spontaneous’ movement has become revolutionary. Again, a clear understanding of the historical situation can cast much light on the strategic implications of varying positions, although in this case as well, the result will not support Althusser, and even less, most modern-day Leninists.

Over the decades of experience with capitalist social relations, the issue of importing theory from outside has lost meaning and reached the point where it is virtually always manipulative and reactionary. By the end of WWI, Gramsci had already presented a much more accurate and useful conception of mass consciousness premised on the coexistence of two conceptions of the world inside the working class, a dual consciousness that sets both the limits and the possibilities for the intervention of a party formation as well as indicating a potential ‘organic’ relationship between party and class that is quite different from the thinking head/acting body metaphor.
Let me approach this party issue from a different direction. We are increasingly removed from a situation where this type of vanguard pretentions and protestations can or should be taken seriously by any significant constituency. The question that emerges is whether the ideal Althusserian party has or can exist and function, or whether it is a Platonic ideal form with a very tenuous relationship to the real world. I think that we must take another look at the recurring argument that the ‘revolutionary’ party with its ‘advanced’ theory actually tends to be a conservative, and not infrequently a reactionary force. There are many critiques that support this conclusion. The famous ones bracket WWI; Luxembourg in the ‘Mass Strike” and Gramsci in ‘Soviets in Italy’. We Leninists used to respond to these cases by pointing out that it was the ‘rotten’ parties of the Second International that were being attacked, and not a genuinely ‘Leninist party’. But is the difference so great? Look at the nonrevolutionary or counter revolutionary role of the self-defined Leninist variants in so many other situations over the past near century, Spain, post war Italy and France, China at many points, Cuba. I won’t list more, but could. Maybe more telling – look at Lenin’s critique of bureaucracy and his proposals for post revolutionary reform in the “Workers and Peasants Inspectorate” shortly before his death, and, although I know its ambiguities, consider the Cultural Revolution’s slogan of ‘Bombard the Party Headquarters’.

Epistemological Break

First a note on the use of the term: I mentioned earlier that I was not using it as Althusser does. So let me indicate Althusser’s use and the some of the implications of the differences.
“This is an important point; what we are dealing with in the opposition science/ideologies concerns the ‘break’ relationship between a science and the theoretical ideology in which the object it gave the knowledge of was ‘thought’ before the foundation of the science. This ‘break’ leaves intact the objective social domain occupied by ideologies (religion, ethics, legal and political ideologies, etc.). In its domain of non-theoretical ideologies, too, there are ‘ruptures’ and ‘breaks’, but they are political (effects of political practice, of great revolutionary events) and not ‘epistemological’. This opposition between science and ideology and the notion of an ‘epistemological break’…refers to a thesis that…Marx’s discovery is a scientific discovery without historical precedent…” (For Marx, p. 13)

For Althusser, an epistemological break is close to what is normally described as a paradigm shift in a scientific discipline. The For Marx glossary defines it as the “…leap from the pre-scientific world of ideas to the scientific world…(involving d.h.) a new pattern (problematic q.v.). (For Marx p. 249).

In STO we used the term in a more general sense. We had read “Contradiction and Overdetermination”, in which the notion is only implied, but not used. While it does appear in one of the earlier essays in For Marx, and is treated in detail in the Preface and Introduction as well as being a central topic in the last two essays; “On the Materialist Dialectic (op.cit.), and “Marxism and Humanism”. (For Marx, p. 219-247), we didn’t read these materials until after we were quite set in a different usage of the term. Our conception was, and for me still is based in Gramsci’s notion of dual consciousness in the “Study of Philosophy” essay in the Prison Notebooks. It can be traced back further to Hegel’s Master & Slave section in the Phenomenology where the slave realizes her/his essential value vis a vis the master through the act of production, through the act of “shaping the thing”. And of course, it is present under the surface of the treatment of the commodity form in the first section of Capital and throughout the Grundrisse.

For what it’s worth, we simply chose to consider those ‘ruptures’ and ‘breaks’ which Althusser recognizes as “political”, as also being “epistemological breaks” – not to be disagreeable, since we were not really aware of the distinction that Althusser’s draws, but because they were qualitative shifts in the ways that social groups viewed and acted on the world –changes that often completely reversed or capsized existing term of reference and frameworks for interpreting experience – and changes that are much more important for revolutionary strategy, in my opinion, than are Althusser’s ‘scientific discoveries’.

The issue here is not the merits or drawbacks of our conception, but the nature and validity of Althusser’s. Specifically I want to consider his use of it to divide Marx’s body of work into a “pre-Marxist’ ideological period and mature Marxist scientific period, with an interregnum of varying duration depending on the changing state of Althusser’s textual evaluations of the partially Marxist, “transitional works” of the ‘break (see For Marx, p. 34). My first concern will be whether Althusser properly evaluates and classifies the content of Marx’s work. Later, I will consider whether his generalized anti-Hegelianism and anti-humanism rejects valid and important insights – irrespective of whether or not they were held by the ‘mature’ Marx. This will lead to the final section of the discussion and the previously mentioned problems with Althusser’s appreciation of the contradictions within the infrastructure.

“3. This ‘epistemological break’ divides Marx’s thought into two long essential periods: the ‘ideological’ period before and the scientific period after, the break in 1845.” (For Marx, p. 34)

Of course it is true that there were significant changes and developments in Marx’s position and a number of them are located around the 1845 period that Althusser initially raises as a significant dividing line. (There are extensive references in For Marx to this dating, particularly in the Introduction. (For Marx, p. 31-38). Particularly notable among these changes are the advances in the understanding of the capitalist mode of production and the concrete realities of the class struggle that developed from Engel’s historical study of the English working class and Marx’s investigations into social conditions. There were also a range of less significant changes in the content and in the manner of presentation of certain positions.

However, Althusser must immediately face the problem that he sees these changes as a qualitative transformation in Marx’s work that neither Marx, nor other major figures in that tradition, noted as such – at least not publicly. And the fact is, despite a heroic, if dismayingly semantic and legalistic, effort, Althusser is ultimately unable to locate his ‘break’ at any particular point and certainly not in 1845. Instead, in later works he was forced to move the ‘break’ further and further ahead and to proscribe as youthful indiscretions, certain sections of even the most mature of Marx’s output, e.g., portions of Volume 1 of Capital, the only section of Capital that Marx personally finished and prepared for publication.

There is a certain arrogance to Althusser’s attempts to mobilize support for his particular division of Marxism into scientific and pre-scientific segments. He cites writers ranging from Gramsci to Stalin, but, in my opinion, crucial citations come across as attempts to mobilize support for his interpretations of Marx at the cost of distorting the views of the cited authors. I have trouble regarding some of this as legitimate differences of interpretation. For example, I defy anyone to read Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks as a dismissal of Hegel’s influence on Marx – or as testimony for the irrelevance of Hegel’s notion of the dialectic. If anything, the Philosophical Notebooks mark something of an epistemological break for Lenin, an abandonment of the mechanical materialism and positivism of his earlier period. They question the “line of demarcation” between materialism and idealism, the “(total distinction between the idealist dialectic and the materialist dialectic)…” that Althusser maintains is essential (For Marx, p. 12). And in doing such they diverge radically from the stance that Lenin regards as the last word of philosophical analysis in his earlier considerations of philosophical questions.
The arrogance comes through in Althusser’s implication that Lenin was not aware of the meanings and implications of his own words. Thus Althusser reads Lenin’s clear statement that, to understand the First section of Marx’s Capital, one must have read Hegel’s Logic, as actually meaning the very opposite of what it says –to understand Hegel, one must have first read Marx. When this type of argument is put in the context of Althusser’s later position that the first chapter of Capital should be ignored (see Reading Capital), the logical conclusion is that we can not only also ignore Hegel’s influence on these passages from Capital, but any of Lenin’s comments on the subject as well.

The exaggerated praise of Gramsci in Contradiction and Overdetermination, (For Marx, p.105-106, footnote; p.114 text and footnote;), never raises the extent to which Althusser’s notions of theoretical practice are in opposition to basic elements of Gramsci’s arguments in the Prison Notebooks, particularly those presented in the Modern Prince and Study of Philosophy. For example, the Gramscian position, one that was difficult to maintain in the Stalinist milieu, that theoretical development required the unrestricted ability of individual intellectuals (intellectuals in the particular sense used in Gramsci’s Aesopian language) to question and challenge the basic line and estimate of the party, fits neither with Althusser’s conception of Marxism as a determinate science nor with his subordination of theoretical practice to a disciplined party structure, “…faultlessly united in consciousness and organization…” (For Marx, p. 95). I would argue that Gramsci’s opposition to mechanical determinism takes far more from the Hegelian notions of purposive action and ‘the labor of the negative’ than Althusser should ever tolerate.

However, by far the main obstacle facing Althusser’s conception of an epistemological break in Marxism is raised in Marx’s own work, specifically by the Grundrisse, which Marx wrote in the winter of 1857-1858, well into the epoch of the ‘fully Marxist Marx’ in Althusser’s 1845 periodization. It is not clear if the Grundrisse was fully available to Althusser in the early 60s period of the For Marx essays. Martin Nicolaus, the Grundrisse translator, asserts that Althusser did not consider either it or Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks in “Contradiction and Overdetermination”. (Grundrisse, p. 40 footnote.).

Nevertheless, the essay, “On the Materialist Dialectic” (op.cit.), written less than a year later, does refer extensively to the “Philosophical Notebooks, although not that clearly. However, the more striking point is that Althusser presents the 1857 Grundrisse Introduction as the centerpiece of his exposition of Marxist dialectics in this essay. However, he doesn’t refer to the Grundrisse as such, and doesn’t indicate any familiarity with its general content or any awareness that the 1857 Introduction was not a standalone piece.
Althusser describes the 1857 Introduction as “…one remarkable exception…” (For Marx, p. 176 n.) to Marx’s lack of a specific treatment of his conception of the dialectic.

“I said that Marx left us no Dialectics. This is not quite accurate. He did leave us one first-rate methodological text, unfortunately without finishing it…” (For Marx, p. 182). Althusser argues that the Grundrisse Introduction places us, “…in a world foreign to Hegel…” (For Marx, p. 196)

“…the ‘womb’ of the Hegelian dialectic has been proscribed and its organic categories, in so far as they are specific and positively determined, cannot survive it with theoretical status, particularly those categories that ‘cash’ the theme of the original simple unity, that is the ‘fission’ of the single whole, alienation, the abstraction (in the Hegelian sense) that unites the opposites, the negation of the negation, the Aufhebung, etc. Given this, it is not surprising that there is no trace of these organically Hegelian categories either in Marx’s 1857 Introduction or in Mao Tse-Tung’s text of 1937.” (For Marx, p. 199).

Reading the text of Grundrisse makes these points untenable. All I can say is people should look at the material for themselves. Certainly Marx does not employ the Hegelian categories in the same fashion as Hegel, but their presence is obvious throughout the text, notably in the appearance/essence framework for the entire contradictory relationship between the “Chapter on Money” and the “Chapter on Capital”. The Hegelian influence is immediately evident at many other points in the text and is acknowledged in Marx’s correspondence of the period (Marx to Engels, 1/14/1858, and more implicitly in Marx to Engels, 4/2/1858). Althusser can certainly argue that this Hegelian influence is a negative and corrupting element in the Grundrisse, but it is absurd to ignore its presence.
One additional confusing factor is Althusser’s lack of a clear description of the 1857 Introduction in For Marx. At various points, Althusser refers to it incorrectly as the 1859 Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Although I am far from an expert on such issues, my understanding is that this confuses two separate documents. The never-finished 1857 Introduction was intended to open a large work that Marx had tentatively titled the “Critique of Economic Categories”. The seven notebooks making up the Grundrisse chapters on money and capital are the first and only draft of this work. Neither the 1857 Introduction nor the remainder of the Grundrisse were published and distributed until relatively recently. They appeared in English toward the end of the 1960s and I assume that they were available to Althusser in French and German a little earlier.

In 1859, Marx published a different work, titled “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”. This was a version of part of the Grundrisse’s “Chapter on Money rewritten to get through German censorship. Marx considered using the 1857 Introduction for this piece, but decided to replace it with different opening statement which, unlike the 1857 Introduction, is well known and widely distributed. This is the “Preface” to the Critique of Political Economy. The Preface is best known for the famous formulation about the relations of production becoming a “fetter” on the development of the productive forces and has frequently been read in a very determinist way as an argument for historical inevitability. I have made an effort to track all of Althusser’s selections from what he calls the 1859 Introduction, which isn’t so straightforward because of different translations from different languages, but it seems certain that he is referring to the 1857 Introduction in this essay, not to the 1859 Preface.
In any case, by 1969, when Althusser’s essays had been collected and translated and the various forwards and the glossary for the English edition of For Marx were finished, he certainly would have had the opportunity to read the Grundrisse in German and probably in French. It is hard to see how he could overlook the clear relationship of the 1857 Introduction to the rest of the Grundrisse and the fact that the entire Grundrisse is deeply indebted to Hegel. This makes Althusser’s failure to either correct his earlier positions, or provide some explanation for these deviations in the mature Marx difficult to explain or justify.

These points may seem tedious and academic, but they are relevant because of the questions about Althusser’s use of sources that I have already indicated with respect to Lenin and Gramsci. There are similar issues with his use of the 1857 Introduction because he never clarifies its proper historical and textual place or considers the very plausible explanation for its unfinished form that is advanced in Nicolaus’s forward to the English translation of the Grundrisse.

I’ve mentioned a number of times the emphasis that Althusser places on the categorical difference between the materialist (Marxist) and the idealistic (Hegelian) dialectic. One aspect of this distinction concerns the separation between the object and the conception of the object. To illustrate the issue, consider the two following citations from For Marx, one from the essay, “On the Materialist Dialectic” and a similar one from the glossary at the end of the book. Each of them contain a roughly equivalent citation that incorporates the same passage from Marx’s 1857 Introduction – note the internal quotes.

“The process that produces the concrete-knowledge takes place wholly in the theoretical practice: of course, it does concern the concrete-real, but this concrete-real ‘survives in its independence after as before, outside thought’ (Marx), without it ever being possible to confuse it with that other ‘concrete’ which is the knowledge of it.” (For Marx, p. 186).

“For the mature Marx, however, the theoretical abstract and concrete both exist in thought as Generalities I and III. The concrete-in-thought is produced wholly in thought, whereas the real-concrete ‘survives independently outside thought before and after’ (Marx). (For Marx, Glossary, p. 250).

Here is the actual Marx text, as it appears in Nicolaus’s English translation of the Grundrisse.

“The totality as it appears in the head, as a totality of thoughts, is a product of a thinking head, which appropriates the world in the only way it can, a way different from the artistic, religious, practical and mental appropriation of this world. The real subject retains its autonomous existence outside the head just as before; namely as long as the head’s conduct is merely speculative, merely theoretical.” (Grundrisse, Introduction, p. 101- 102.)

The issue is whether the final phrase – “…as long as the head’s conduct is merely speculative, merely theoretical.” – is of so little significance that Althusser and his translator are justified in dropping it and holding that Marx maintains an absolute separation of the “totality of thoughts”, the concept from the “concrete real”. This will depend on the meaning of Marx’s phrase, “merely speculative…merely theoretical.” It appears to me that while Marx is certainly referring to ‘speculative’ idealism, he probably also is referring to the contemplative materialism of Feuerbach who he had repeatedly criticized for not understanding the role of human practice.

I would think that Althusser would pursue the meaning for Marx of the “thinking head”, since it appears that Marx is closing in on the issue of “purposive activity”, praxis, and is advancing a position akin the change the world injunction in the 11th Thesis that Althusser describes as “theoretical pragmatism”, an estimate that he certainly does not intend to be complimentary. I would strongly urge looking at the five or six pages of the 1857 Introduction, beginning with page 100 of the Grundrisse, to get a better handle on these issues.

My argument may be something of a stretch and I don’t intend to pursue it very far. I do think, however, that it is a far greater stretch for Althusser to discover an entire theory of theoretical practice that conveniently supports the one he has already developed, in an unfinished document with an entirely different purpose that he completely ignores although it is a purpose that is very definitely relevant to the interpretation of Marx’s approach to revolutionary politics. Let me elaborate this point as a transition to the concluding section of this argument. I claim no originality here. This is based on Nicolaus’s Forward, (Grundrisse, p. 7-63).

The 1857 Introduction is concerned with how to begin a comprehensive study of the capitalist mode of production, a beginning that starts from capitalism’s distinguishing features and its revolutionizing internal dynamic. Marx recognizes that this beginning will start from an “imagined concrete”, which would then have to be broken down into “ever more simple concepts” until arriving at “at the simplest determinations”. Then the process would be retraced to produce, not a “chaotic conception of the whole, but…a rich totality of many determinations and relations.” This formulation of an analytic method is spelled out on pages 100-101 of the Grundrisse. It is often summarized as ‘rising from the abstract to the concrete’, although the process as Marx describes it is a bit more complicated.

While Marx is making an effort to establish a beginning point for his analysis of capitalism as an historical stage of human development, he is criticizing various contemporary answers to parallel questions – from Hegel’s philosophical start from ‘being’, to various economic philosophies that started from ‘economic man’, to other approaches that began from abstractions of population, of production, etc. After going through a number of possible approaches and eventually rejecting them all, albeit in a very rich and detailed discussion, Marx ends the 1857 Introduction without resolving the issue of how to begin his critical analysis of capitalism.

However, hundreds of pages later, at the very end on the Grundrisse chapter on capital, Marx has a two page fragment titled “Value”. The first line states, “This section to be brought forward.” The second line states, “The first category in which bourgeois wealth presents itself is that of the commodity.” (Grundrisse, p.881) The commodity then becomes the point of beginning for the Marxist analysis of the capitalist mode of production, and there we find it in the Critique of Political Economy and in the first chapter of Volume I of Capital.

Aufhebung and all that

“…a relation in which value and labour enter into connection, in which they connect and divide in relation to one another, and where they do not lie side by side in mutual indifference. Already the fact that it is labour which confronts capital as subject, i.e. the worker only in his character as labour and not he himself, should open the eyes. This alone, disregarding capital, already contains a relation, a relation of the worker to his own activity, which is by no means the ‘natural’ one but which itself already contains a specific economic character.” (Grundrisse, p. 310)

Much earlier in this discussion I indicated that I thought Althusser’ lacked any real conception of the operative contradictions within the productive infrastructure of capitalism. On the one hand he advances the superstructural overdetermination of the main contradiction in which, ‘the economic element is determinant in the lonely hour of the last instance – which never comes’. Althusser has been arguing against Engels and more crude proponents of economic determinism that the superstructure’s impacts, “…are not “dissipated as pure phenomena in the internal unity of a simple contradiction.” (For Marx, p. 100); and has questioned any:

“…faith in the resolving ‘power’ of the abstract contradiction as such: in particular, the ‘beautiful’ contradiction between Capital and Labour.” (For Marx, p. 104).

On the other hand, Althusser has nothing much to say about the ‘beautiful’ contradictory elements in the economic base of capital. Indeed has language suggests that they have no real relevance and that there is no need to investigate the specific effectiveness that these exert on the development of society and their a-symmetrical relationship with the overdetermining impacts from the superstructures. This is where the ‘beginning’ suggested by the Grundrisse and implemented in Capital, should enter the analysis, but doesn’t for Althusser.

It is tremendously significant that Althusser’s later book, Reading Capital, recommends disregarding Marx’s actual decision about where to begin the analysis of capitalism and where he actually does begin it in Capital Volume I. Althusser maintains that the reader shouldn’t bother with the Capital’s first chapter because it is confusing and infected with Hegelian terminology (see For Marx, p. 197 n.). I apologize for the lack of an exact reference to the main point, but I am absolutely sure that one exists in Reading Capital.
The first section of Capital begins from the commodity in order to articulate the elements of contradiction and the internal sources of motion in capitalist society. These are to be found in the division of value into use value and exchange value and their contradictory relationship as implied by the Grundrisse selection above. They are to be found in the related division of labor into concrete labor and labor power (abstract labor) and in the conception that capital is ‘dead’ labor posited against living labor. These analytic concepts clarify the ground for class struggle, indicating the internal contradiction between the struggle for ‘better terms’ in the sale of labor power and the elimination of the wage system. These, in turn, underlie the dual elements in working class consciousness and the important ideological structures in which both poles of the class struggle think out their needs and potentials and fight them out as the subjects of historical change.

Finally, for this piece, although much still remains, I think that the Grundrisse and the first section of Capital constitute the refutation in place of the entire structuralist Marxist edifice; of narrow ‘organizational ‘Leninism’ of the sort that can be found in you know who’s Foundations; and is a welcome counterweight to the neo-Marxist post structuralists and their discussions of ‘swarm intelligence’, ‘network consciousness’, and the “…constitutive process of subjectivity” via “subterranean and uncontainable rhizomes..” (Negri, Empire, p. 397).
With this I end and, hopefully, get back to more pressing things.