Friday, January 2, 2009

I feel sorry for Adam Haig

I feel sorry for Adam Haig and all those in the SEP who fail to see through the distortions and false arguments of the SEP leadership. Adam's article published on the WSWS is an act of self delusion, I'm pretty sure that one day Adam will regret being its author.

There is first of all a confusion over the term utopia as used by Steiner and Brenner. Adam cites Trotsky's Results and Prospects to bolster his argument against Steiner and Brenner, however, in Results and Prospects, Trotsky is criticizing the concept that there must be a socialist psychology within the working class before there can be socialism. He criticizes the "socialist ideologues" who "speak of preparing the proletariat for socialism in the sense of its being morally regenerated. The proletariat, and even ‘humanity’ in general, must first of all cast out its old egoistical nature, and altruism must become predominant in social life, etc."[1] Trotsky's critique is the same as Marx's critique of the French socialist theories, who based themselves on "the materialist doctrine men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing."[2]

Trotsky writes that "One must not confuse here the conscious striving towards socialism with socialist psychology." Trotsky writes that the "joint struggle against exploitation engenders splendid shoots of idealism, comradely solidarity and self-sacrifice." The Steiner and Brenner concept of utopia is in full agreement with the "conscious striving towards socialism." Steiner and Brenner want to revive socialism as great ideal, that is what they mean by reviving socialist consciousness within the working class. They do not hold the position that "The proletariat, and even ‘humanity’ in general, must first of all cast out its old egoistical nature, and altruism must become predominant in social life." That position actually corresponds much closer to position of Walsh, talking about the function of art[3].

Is Adam, and more generally the membership of the SEP, aware of the difference between these two conceptions? I think the SEP leadership has rather dishonestly utilized the confusion surrounding the Steiner and Brenner polemical material to avert its political responsibility. What does the SEP have to say about the Steiner and Brenner's critique of the political line of the SEP? So far they have said nothing. Adam's piece is one more attempt to change the subject. Instead of talking about the political line of the party, they want to talk about the failings of Marcuse and Fromm and condemn Steiner and Brenner using guilt by association. Even if Steiner and Brenner were in complete agreement with members of Frankfurt school, and they are absolutely not, that would in no way invalidate their political criticisms. The SEP employs the guilt by association tactic because they cannot honestly address political criticisms of Steiner and Brenner.

Another point of confusion is the term objectivism. Steiner and Brenner are not critiquing the SEP for their study of objective conditions, they are critiquing the SEP for their almost exclusive focus on objective conditions to point where a revolutionary becomes not an active social force, but a passive commentator on events (i.e. a non-revolutionary). They have given a detailed analysis of the political line of the SEP and have demonstrated the failure of the SEP to provide a consistent leadership. Having read numerous works by Trotsky, this is a recurrent theme. Revolutions are not produced simply by objective forces, a successful revolution is produced by the right combination of objective factors and revolutionary leadership.

A revolutionary party, if it is going to taken seriously, needs to present socialism as a real viable alternative. That is the significance of Trotsky's transitional demands as a bridge to socialist consciousness, and that is also the significance of Steiner and Brenner's call for utopia to revive socialism as a great ideal. This is not to say that a revolutionary party must have detailed schemes in the advance of a revolution, but that the "conscious striving towards socialism" should be encouraged and welcomed within a revolutionary party.

I'm not sure if I ever met Adam, but it does seem that his article was written in earnest. I think it is unfortunate that he does not understand what issues are being brought forward in the Steiner and Brenner polemic. That is not entirely his fault, those issues were not presented honestly by North and the leadership of the SEP. One of the primary ways that humans learn is by imitation, and unfortunately Adam has picked up the same false modes of argument that are the bread and butter of North.

[1] Results and Prospects, VII. The Pre-Requisites of Socialism
[2] Theses On Feuerbach
[3] Shallow moralizing instead of Marxism