vrijdag 18 juli 2008

The Transitional Program on the Mount

There was in the 1930's across 7th Avenue a giant sign, a quote by Earl Browder, 'Communism Is 20th Century Americanism.' And when I heard about that I thought, hmm, I want to put another sign across 7th Avenue, 'Trotskyism Is 20th Century Calvinism.'
James Robertson, Spartacist League/US, 1978

On the issue of morality, the Law, and the impossibility of us meeting God's standards by our own devices, David Heddle has a post up with which I pretty much agree. I'm not a Calvinist (I think) but I can very much sympathize with the doctrine of Total Depravity as explained by "one-point Calvinist" Heddle.

Reflecting on the stuff I wrote in my last post, it struck me that the reasoning was all too familiar to me. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Back in my Trot days, I was acquainted with the logic of transitional demands - of demanding the impossible, essentially, in a similar fashion as Jesus demands the impossible from his followers.

Most main-stream Communist parties have always essentially followed the method of Social Democracy combined with some overt genuflections towards the Soviet Union or other "actually existing socialist" states - without this reflecting on their actual political program very much. Which basically contained demanding a reform of the conditions within Capitalism. For socialism and better toilet-paper in the factory bathroom, so to speak. I do not mean to be so disparaging as I sound, on second thought - main-stream Communists as well as Social Democrats have actually gotten important things done in Western Europe, when given the chance.

A smaller group essentially followed the logic of demanding everything, right here, right now. Full-blown Communism, with fully common ownership of the means of production, etc. the morning after the revolution. Some Maoist and Ex-Maoist groups, such as the Progressive Labor Party in the US, have tendencies towards this kind of maximalism. From a Marxist perspective (not to speak of a pragmatical political one) it's of course nonsensical. We make our own history not in circumstances of our own choosing - and overcoming the constraints of the (reformist) general ideology of the workers' movement cannot be simply done by stamping our foot and saying that we really, really want full-blown Communism. Right now.

The third approach is the one actually pioneered by Leon Trotsky in his 1938 Transitional Program. The approach is, somewhat like the maximalists above, to "demand the impossible" but not in an abstract, general fashion like "Communism now!" but in the shape of concrete demands in response to concrete situations. The political program of the Fourth International would have to propose solutions to the concrete problems of Capitalism which cannot be accomodated by the Capitalist system itself. The "ideal", the "then", must appear in some concrete shape as a programmatical demand, allowing us to basically transcend the logic of reforming the Capitalist system within the boundaries laid by Capitalism itself and apprehend a revolutionary political logic. Basically, the Transitional Program is a political program which constantly reaches beyond Capitalism, with yet its feet firmly planted in the now.

The tragedy of the Trotskyist movement is that it has preserved the dialectical "edge" of Marxism more than any other Marxist or post-Marxist current, contained and contains some of the finest and most acute minds of the radical Left (starting with Trotsky itself) and yet has remained utterly marginal. And constantly ripped apart by the twin temptations of sectarianism and ideological puritanism on the one hand (see the Maoists) and political opportunism, foregoing the transitional program for the logic of campaigning for small, piecemeal changes in the here-and-now, on the other.

In any event, what I saw laid out in the Sermon on the Mount reminded me strongly of the political logic that I had tried to wrap my head around earlier. The demands of Jesus are impossible. We cannot refrain from hating and despising and lusting after one another - this follows simply from our condition, our fallenness, our alienation from God and each other, our Total Depravity if you're a Calvinist. How, then, can we hope to enter the Kingdom of God? We cannot, not by our own devices - but by the undeserved grace of God. Where Trotsky's Transitional Program basically criticizes the current, concrete conditions of Capitalism from the viewpoint of the future and thereby allows us to transcend our ideological constraints, the Sermon criticizes our fallenness from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God, and thereby allows us to apprehend precisely what it takes to enter it - which is the first step towards a reconciliation with God.

I wrote this because I found the similarity amusing. There is no question where my own sympathies lie - I have written before that I believe the precise tragedy of Marxism to lie in its notion of Man as shaped by social and ideological circumstance and therefore mutable and perfectable, rather than, as in Christianity, as simultaneously containing an inalienable, essential dignity as created in the image of God and an ineradicable stain in its fallenness. This lead the Marxists to sacrifice current generations of men in the name of the next on the killing fields in Siberia, China, etc. It does not do to say that Stalinism was corrupted, or that the Stalinists and Maoists were evil. Even if they were, the sting lies precisely in the recognition that their crimes were made possible by the actions of those who were trying to do the good.

3 opmerkingen:

IlĂ­on zei

'Communism,' 'socialism,' whatever one wants to call it, is a Christian heresy ... one might liken it to "Christianity without all that God-stuff" Should one be surprised that the sham has similarities to the genuine?

Merlijn de Smit zei

Actually, I pretty much agree with you there ;-)

Anoniem zei

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