Interview with Noah Gataveckas on the Ted Grant and the spectre of Trotsky.
Noah Gataveckas is a member of the IMT.
Derick Varn: You were recently involved in a somewhat heated debate that I took part in on the legacy of Ted Grant. Why do you think Ted Grant is so crucial to modern Trotskyism?
Noah Gataveckas: For the same reason that the debate was so heated. After all, when most people think of “Trotskyism,” they think of the Fourth International. But the Fourth International was a failure which, despite failing, survives to this day as a zombie formation. As I said in the exchange, the various sects that haunt the Left today are akin to ghosts which have arisen due to an improper burial service. Trotsky was never properly buried, so all sorts of distortions and revisions of his figure continues to haunt the scene of the Left to this day. His repressed legacy returns as the return of the repressed, which is what we find as the grotesque symptom of Leftist sectarianism in the contemporary political arena.
Thus “Trotskyism” is the question of the day: how does it work? The way that bad “Trotskyism” perpetuates itself in a kind-of undead way demonstrates perfectly what Althusser called an “ideological survival,” an ideology which perpetuates itself like a meme, in spite of the historical collapse of its material antecedents. But what makes “Trotskyism” different than just any old ideological phenomenon like “Gangnam style” or whatever, is that there is a historical reason for our inability to move past it on the Left. Trotsky and Lenin should be conceived as biconditional inputs to the Russian Revolution, which is the event which we need to rediscover today more than any other. Their practical solidarity attests to their overwhelming theoretical agreement, even if their clashes tend to get overemphasized today in the same way that Lenin’s disagreements with Rosa Luxemburg tend to get portrayed today in a sensationalist fashion. There are a lot of false notions about “Trotskyism” out there and it’s time to set the record straight. This is where Grant comes into play.
Grant’s thought is so crucial for us today because it allows us to bypass this roadblock that is the Fourth International. Grant basically got expelled at the beginning of it. This is because he challenged the proclamations of the leadership by predicting correctly the postwar economic boom, which the leadership of the Fourth International – Pablo, Mandel, Cannon, Healy, etc. – thought was impossible. They were predicting the return of fascism and the beginning of World War III, every year until 1953 or so. Thus Grant is kind of like the Trotsky of “Trotskyism” itself, who, like Trotsky getting elbowed out of the Third International by Stalin and Co., got elbowed out of the Fourth International by the Zinovievite and Stalinist tactics of the leadership of the Fourth International, mainly because he was correct in his analyses.
Another way I tried to explain this is that Grant should be conceived in the following way: if Trotsky is the thesis, and the Fourth International quickly became the practical negation of what Trotsky really stood for, then Grant is the negation of the negation. Here we must recall what the figure of the negation of the negation – otherwise known as synthesis, sublation, in any case aufhebung – represents: simultaneous cancelling and preservation at a higher level. Grant is the one who allows us to get beyond the Fourth International, since he is also the figure that allows the Fourth International to get over itself. For example, I don’t know anyone who goes around and first and foremost labels themselves as “Grant-ites.”
We are Marxists, communists. Let’s get back to basics: Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky. That’s what Grant was about.
C.D.V.: How do you characterize the tension between Ted Grant and Tony Cliff the division that emerged, first in British and then in international Trotskyism?
N.G.: First of all, I’m not sure if many followers of Cliff would describe themselves as “Trotskyist.” His theory of “deflected permanent revolution” was an open rejection of Trotsky’s basic ideas. In a way, Cliff’s tendency is defined by a theoretical regression, which is evident even when compared to the problematic versions of “Trotskyism” that are to be found in the writings of Mandel or Cannon. Cliff is more like a stray who struck out on his own and, without a map to guide him, got lost in the wilderness.
But you’re right that there is a certain tension between the two figures. The main theoretical distinction boils down to the question of the USSR: is it “state capitalism” or a “deformed workers state”? Here we have to remember that both of these terms were used by Lenin and Trotsky to describe the Soviet Union at one point or another. However, “state capitalism” was used to refer to the days of the New Economic Policy, which ended when Stalin initiated collectivization in
1928. Based on this definition, it makes more sense to describe the China of today as “state capitalist” then it does to describe the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Meanwhile the term “deformed workers state” came about through the exchanges of Lenin and Trotsky: while the latter called the Soviet Union a “workers state,” Lenin made sure to note that it had a “bureaucratic twist.” This is what would develop into a menace with the consolidation of Stalinism and the entrenchment of the planned economy, as it is explained in Trotsky’s vital book The Revolution Betrayed. Grant understood the uniqueness of the Soviet economy as it developed into the postwar period, while it seems that Cliff was all too eager to repress the complexities of the situation. The entire problematic status of the Soviet Union is downplayed with Cliff’s approach, which tends to make a kind of category mistake, insofar as it conflates the similarities of profit- and planned-economies into a single kind of category, similar to the way that Horkheimer and Adorno’s “industrial society” is brought to apply to the United States, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union all at the same time. These all-or-nothing terms, though, can’t tell us a thing about the particularized social differences which came to markedly manifest themselves as a result of the material development of the Soviet economy. And yet this is what is at stake here.
Sometimes I’m tempted to think that Cliff was lazy in his classification of the Soviet Union as “state capitalist,” insofar as he thought capitalism was bad and what he saw happening in the Soviet Union was bad, by the time he was born, so he came to classify the Soviet Union as capitalism with a state twist. Though I suppose this makes it all the easier as a theory to accommodate an outlook that is rooted not so much in a philosophy as it is in a pretense for unbridled opportunism.
But don’t take it from me. Grant’s essay from 1949 on the weaknesses of Cliff’s thought is a great text, along with his “Will There Be a Slump?” from 1960 and “Programme of the International” from 1970. If there were three Grant texts that every person should read, especially if they considered themselves “Marxists,” these would be the three that I would recommend.
C.D.V.: How would you characterize the differences between the three major Trotskyist tendencies: the International Marxist Tendency, the International Socialist Tendency, and the International Bolshevik Tendency?
N.G.: I think I’ve said enough about the Cliffites for now. The people from the IBT that I have met so far have seemed like good people. In fact they once or twice came out to a reading group that I go to, that is put on by the Platypus Affiliates. Let me tell you: I’ve been to meetings with other sectarian groups before, and they have quickly degenerated into an embarrassing situation. Perhaps the best compliment I can give to the IBT is that I am not embarrassed to stand in a room with them, which is more than what I can say for most of the so-called “Marxists” that I’ve met here in Toronto, who cannot be Marxists because they are sectarians.
Which puts the IBT in a funny place. They seem to me like honest Marxists, but I’m afraid that they fall into the trap of sectarianism. Their orientation to the traditional organizations of struggle, which have historical significance for the workers and masses, is completely disorienting. Big events in history split parties, sending factions reeling in different directions across the political spectrum. Dynamis defines the site of the political struggle, not stasis; rule can only last for a short while. To assume that one is going to build a mass revolution on a one-by-one basis is to disavow the already existing class struggle. To never work in a dialectic relationship with the dynamics of the class struggle as they operate in the world leaves one incapable to win over and consolidate the actual organized sections of the working class who make up the masses of society. And without them, there is no revolutionary potential.
I think this results to taking an empiricist approach to a question which, as dialectical materialists, must be treated dialectically. At the same time, this question can also be resolved by the strictest appeal to the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky. In the Communist Manifesto Marx even says that the communists do not form a separate party from the working class parties, we do not set up sectarian principles by which to stand apart from the masses. Lenin discusses it in Left-Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, in the chapters of how communism should relate to bourgeois parliaments and, in particular, British politics. And Trotsky is of course the one who provided the theoretical basis for entryism in the first place with his writings on the French Turn. So you can see why I am perplexed by the IBT, considering that these guys can claim to be taking the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky to heart in their desire to build the forces of a revolutionary tendency.
The International Marxist Tendency has always stood apart from the sects of the Left. This is due to our willingness to engage in the class struggle that is going on all around us. We have always understood that there are no shortcuts to Marxist organizing; that the mountain will not
come to us, that we shall have to go to the mountain. And what a steep mountain at that! Still, Marx reminds us that there is no royal road to science, and that only those who are willing to invest the effort will be able to reap the rewards of the luminous summit. That Ted Grant’s approach to mountain climbing has the potential to be a successful strategy in the advanced capitalist countries has been proven by what happened with Militant in the 1980s. After all, what would Lenin and Trotsky have done in these situations, aside from what Grant did and wanted to do? That is, considering that his perspectives and tactics were modelled directly upon the thoughts and deeds of Lenin and Trotsky?
I think it is high time that the Left came to get over its melancholia for itself. Freud described melancholia as the sickness that stems from mourning the loss of something before it has gone away. Instead of lamenting the collapse of the Left, it is time to get serious. I became a supporter of the IMT after having a series of conversations at Occupy Toronto, which I was involved with at the time. I was impressed by the way that they were one of the few formations on the Left that had an optimistic, engaged attitude about their work. At the same time their tactical interpretation of Marxism was essentially correct, based on the Marx and Lenin that I had already read. The people from the IMT taught me that time spent feeling sorry for ourselves due to the sad state of the Left today is time wasted when we could have been organizing. Never forget that the class struggle keeps going, with or without the attention of its so-called “Marxists.” It is our responsibility to keep this broad perspective with regards to the movement in mind, so as to better represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to participate in the process of its development. Anything less is a capitulation to the ideological habits of a morose defeatism which, if you give it enough time and let it spread to enough sections of the Left, will surely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why we can no longer afford to continue to ignore the vital contributions made by Grant, Woods, and the rest of the IMT, insofar as these perspectives and ideas point the way forward to bringing about the socialist transformation of society.
C.D.V.: What responsibility to the think the “new left” or the “New Communist Movement” had on the current shape of the Marxist mileau?
N.G.: From an organizational standpoint, the accomplishments of the New Left and the New Communist Movement can speak for themselves. With the strengthening of Stalinism after World War II and the collapse of the Left Opposition on the international stage, it is no wonder that people were led to rethink their basic premises about what Marxism could be. Yet in so far as the current Marxist milieu in the West has been inherited from the interventions made by these movements in the 1960s and 1970s, up to the present, perhaps this is where we are to locate the bad element which has made the Left such a lightweight as of late, both theoretically and organizationally. I’m tempted to recall a line from Brecht: “It’s just the simple thing / that’s hard, so hard to do.” To just be a communist, without having to invent some ad hoc feature of a personalized identity to explain how Marxism uniquely connects to one’s present moment (e.g. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, “post-Marxism,” neo-Kautskyite forms of academic “Marxism,” etc. etc.), has proven itself increasingly difficult for people on the Left to do as of late. It is as if people feel that words like “Communism” or “Marxism” are too obscene to stand on their own, and thus must be watered down and basically effaced with all sorts of qualifications and prefixes. The temptation to displace the meaning of one’s Marxism onto the qualifier is perhaps the most problematic legacy that the New Left has opened up the door to. That and the fact that most of the anarchist and Maoist organizations of today are no less authoritarian and bureaucratic than the “Trotskyist” sects that still pledge allegiance to the Fourth International of Cannon and Mandel.
That being said, I think the Frankfurt School has made vital contributions to the field of Marxist theory, particularly Adorno. Out of all of them, he was the best one. The work that he and Horkheimer did on the Culture Industry and television is, in my opinion, essential towards a Marxist critique of mass ideology under capitalism. Still, it is interesting to rediscover his views about the uprisings of the late 1960s, which freaked him out because he thought it was the return of fascism. Out of the prominent Frankfurt School academics at the time, it was only Marcuse, a much less essential theorist, who crossed the aisle, so to speak, and with the rest of his students exchanged the classroom for the streets. So the legacy of the Frankfurt School is, at the very least, not without its problems, especially once it is conceived as a group which had the capacity to organize and make interventions into the massive movements which they were surrounded by at the time. One could imagine that if Adorno was actually a secret Leninist, as Chris Cutrone basically suggests in one of his essay, then the uprisings of the late 1960s would have had different results.
C.D.V.: Are there any theorists currently living do you think could help us?
N.G.: I once met Alan Woods. We talked about Hegel’s conception of overproduction as it gets elaborated in the Philosophy of Right. We also talked about James Joyce. Apparently Ted Grant was a Shakespeare supporter, and Woods would argue with him over this point of aesthetics. Woods’ breadth of knowledge in literature, the sciences, and bourgeois philosophy was something amazing to engage with. But considering that he is also the closest to Trotsky’s theories in the present day, as it was said by Trotsky’s grandson Esteban Volkov, it was also thrilling to talk with him also about Venezuela, the mistakes made by the Militant tendency in the 1980s, and other topics. Woods had a down-to-earth persona which was the complete opposite of someone like, say, a Callinicos, in that Woods condensed encyclopedias worth of philosophical and theoretical thought into terms and phrases which workers and youth could understand even if they had never gone to university. Meanwhile Callinicos strikes me as the opposite: a mad generator of jargon and faux-academic prose to cover up a humdrum iintellect with no real revolutionary content to offer. For example, did you know that the SWP supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the last Egyptian election? What was revolutionary or remotely “Marxist” about that?
On the other hand, I also see Slavoj Zizek as a living leading theorist who, like Alan Woods, I think most people would do well to learn from. While Woods’ tendency provides the best world political analysis and critique of political economy at the present moment, Zizek makes the best mass psychological analysis and critique of ideology for the contemporary era in the West. Sometimes I think people just see Zizek for a joker or a generator of non sequiturs, but the point is to see the logic of the joke itself as part of the teaching that he brings to the table. In this regard, I would claim that there is no better explainer of Lacanian psychoanalysis today than Zizek, especially insofar as this teaching constitutes the precondition of being able to understand the structural basis by which one can proceed to carry out a critique of ideology on a scientific basis. Arguably this is something Marx, although a pioneer on this front in his own right, was never fully able to elucidate, although there are hints of a programme in his early writings.
In this way Zizek is like Althusser and Badiou, all of whom have stressed the importance of Lacan and Freud within the greater philosophical approach of dialectical materialism, as it gets taken as the basis of a theory of ontology as well as an applied social science called Marxism. Although also on this basis it is interesting to read Zizek’s critiques of Althusser and Badiou. One might say that Zizek’s value is his partisanship on behalf of a philosophical position that takes Freud and Lacan as true a priori, as opposed to the rest of the phenomena which develops a posteriori as experience, a category which includes all concrete political struggles and all events of world historical development. Zizek is the proof that philosophy still means something and can still be useful and helpful as an explanatory aid for the practitioners of organized Marxism, whose critique is and must be rooted first and foremost in a critique of a political-economic process or state of affairs stemming from a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.
Thus Zizek’s dialectical transcendental trajectory always leads him back to the totalizing critique of everything hitherto existing, a category which includes political economy, history, and the ideology of culture all at the same time. This is dialectical materialism by way of Lacan, only Zizek is a funnier comedian. In the same way that the ultimate aim of the Freudian drive is to circulate forever around its goal, Zizek orbits the core teachings of Hegelian dialectics, Marxist Communism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, using everything else as a pretence to resuscitate these three essential but repressed discourses. Meanwhile Woods, following the Marxist method, starts with a concrete analysis of concrete conditions as they exist for a society whose reproduction of itself is dependent on the economic interaction of the masses, of social bodies. Woods bypasses the logically prior individual to engage with the temporally more immediate particulars of class struggle. Another way to say this is that Zizek’s focus falls on how the universal intersects with the individual, the subject qua individual subjectivity, while Woods is interested primarily in how the particular conditions of the world out there, so to speak, interacts with the structuring principle of capitalist production and accumulation, as this is experienced as the universal logic of the social world today.
The two can hardly be combined into a single point of view, but they can be taken together dialectically as a curriculum of combination which, through allotting each equal time in a reading group, a praxis of theory, can overcome itself as an actual contradiction extant between the teachings of the Lacanian-Zizekian philosophical perspective and the practical political perspective put forward by Woods and the IMT. The former must defer to the material validity of the latter, but the latter cannot do without the former as a measure of its truth and historical relevance or meaning in the interim of a world revolutionary uprising. In my opinion, this is the interstice where Marxism starts today, which structures the difference between dialectical materialism and critique of political economy, a disjunction which, due to the pure difference of atemporality and temporality in discourse, will never be synthesized into a single perspectival position, but must continue to compliment each other, as Zizek would say, as “parallax.”
C.D.V.: Are you bothered by the Maoist affiliation of all the thinkers you mentioned related to Lacan but Zizek?
N.G.: Not personally. Zizek’s political motto seems to be “repeat Lenin,” not “repeat Mao.” This makes sense, because while Mao’s revolution historically succeeded the Russian Revolution, we are actually closer today to the conditions of the Russian Revolution, due to the material development that has taken place around the world and the way that this has produced a global working class. There are exceptions, of course, but a majority of people in the world have moved to urban centers and become wage laborers Whereas Mao’s revolution relied solely on the peasants, Lenin’s was comprised of the workers and peasants fighting side by side. This is what makes Lenin’s gesture more modern, more contemporary, and relevant to our current geopolitical context, despite the fact that it happened at an earlier date. Ideological Maoism is the mistake that results from failing to understand how, due to dialectics, this event could establish itself as more pertinent to the present world situation, but it also follows from ignoring or repressing a basic tenet of Marxist struggle, which is that the workers have a key role to play in the overthrow of capitalism.
When I think of Althusser, I think of him primarily as an ideological Stalinist. I suppose he referenced Mao in “Contradiction and Overdetermination,” but his allegiance to the PCF puts him on one side of the Sino-Soviet split. And there is a difference. Badiou is more of a Maoist, but at the same time I am not sure exactly in what that consists, aside from a first-person avowal. It just seems that many of the self-proclaimed Maoists that I have met in real life would object to the idea of a person like Badiou claiming to be a Maoist, and would not think highly of his writings on ontology. From the standpoint of an ultra-leftist, it is easy to find something “liberal” or “bourgeois” about Badiou’s orientation to the class struggle. But I suppose there are Maoisms and Maoisms. Badiou’s thought seems like an interesting variant, which is perhaps made more worthwhile than it would be otherwise due to his admittance of Lacanian psychoanalysis into its discussion.
In any case, Zizek has insightful criticisms of both of these figures,which significantly distinguishes his account of Lacanian Marxism from theirs. For example, Zizek basically spends an entire chapter of his latest book, Less than Nothing, explaining the differences between Badiou and himself. Then again, people have been botching the connection between psychoanalysis and Marxist politics since the beginning of the twentieth century. First Wilhelm Reich, then Fromm, Adorno, and Marcuse, then Althusser and his students, like Badiou. But it has fallen to Zizek, powered by dialectical materialism, to provide the systematic expression of exactly how these two fields of study come to intersect with one another. Arguably, it is Zizek’s radical Hegelianism that has allowed him to avoid falling into the errors that have been made by others in their attempts to combine Lacan with the Left.
C.D.V.: What do you think could bring a unifying program back to the Marxian Left as a whole?
N.G.: Program begin with education. In a couple of words, Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolshevik Party, and the events and accounts surrounding the Russian Revolution. Learning about these particular people and events and the ideas surrounding them is essential to coordinate ourselves today in the struggle against capitalism. It may seem counterintuitive, because didn’t the Russian Revolution happen all the way back when? But it would be foolish not to try to learn from a history which threatens to repeat itself. This is why I like the Platypus primary Marxist reading group so much, because it simulates the progress of the historical development of Marxism, starting from its origins in bourgeois liberal philosophy.
In terms of perspectives and views, we still have lots in common with Lenin and Trotsky’s circumstances. Things have changed, to be sure, but as Lenin would say, historical obsolescence is not the same thing as political obsolescence. The same parliamentary political structures which governed back then on behalf of capital are in power today. Humans have to rise up and smash the state to no lesser of a degree than Lenin and Co. were able to from 1917 – 1924. The lessons of the Russian Revolution have to be learned, multiple times over, such is the significance of the event, even for our present era which may seem at times like it in no way resembles the circumstances and conditions of the Russian Revolution. But such is the outward-looking appearance of a speculative identity.
The good thing about insisting on orthodoxy, on what could be called a ‘hard’ reading of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky and I would add Grant, is that it condenses what makes Marxism essential from what makes it spurious. There is undoubtedly no shortage of Marxist literature out there which elaborates and explains the nuances of Marxism, but why not go straight to the source? I find often that Lenin is or can be the elephant in the room, especially in academic settings. As soon as you mention “repeating Lenin” or a return to the reading of Lenin’s texts, people can tend to get skittish,, including other so-called “Marxists.” The amount of effort that some people must have to put into their collective repression of Lenin and also Trotsky as ghosts of communism who haunt the historical present is astonishing. Moreover, it is symptomatic of what’s wrong with the Left today: a Lenin a day keeps the scourge of particularist identity politics away. Under the guise of “post-Marxism,” consciousness on the academic and activist Left, I’m afraid, has degenerated into something pre-Marxist.
It is for exactly this reason that we have to return to the repressed, to recover Lenin’s legacy from the obscurity with which it has been tarnished, caught as it is between the American ideological industry and the shameful behavior of the sectarians, whose theories need look no further than their deeds to find their concrete negations. Allusions here could be made to Antigone, whose ethical act involves defying the rule of Creon in order to properly bury her brother Polynices. We are like Antigone in a kind of way, since our duty involves acting on our fidelity to the past against the normalized attitudes instituted by the current regime. This is why now is the time to rediscover Leninism as the approach to politics that, as you may, could bring a unified program to the Left as a whole. I personally don’t claim to have all the answers, but it seems to me that this is the path to pursue if one is serious about revolutionary socialism, as it would do the most to cure the Left of the infantile disorders which currently inhibits it from unifying and engaging meaningfully in the ongoing class struggle, as it articulates itself in both political and economic environs.
C.D.V.: Would you say you think the primary obstacle is pedagogical then?
N.G.: Yes, if pedagogy is understood in a broad sense that includes the way that Marxist education comes primarily as a byproduct of organization. After all, one of the main functions and features of any vanguard is to teach and explain the ideas and methods of revolutionary Marxism. This involves teaching not only what Marx and Lenin said, but how this teaching comes to apply to the current era. Hence the importance of a figure like Ted Grant, who only died in 2006 and was active into the beginnings of the twenty first century. But this is just one of the duties of revolutionary Marxism. Agitation and organization fills out the rest of the equation, since education when taken on its own is too atomized and disjointed to fightback against the machinations of capital. For that it takes the unity of the workers’ movement and the youth, which presupposes organization.
To put it simply, pedagogy taken without organization is like an outboard motor without a propeller. You may be able to get the engine going to the max, but you’ll still be idle in the water. Without a willingness to get organized, I’m afraid the Left will remain stuck in the marsh of movementism, identitarianism, “resistance,” the worship of spontaneity, etc. etc. To be sure, this was all laid out by Lenin in What is to be Done, but our inability to learn from the mistakes of history means that we are bound to repeat the errors of the past for he present. From this perspective, the primary obstacle is the alienation of contemporary consciousness to its history, to the high points of its development as a theory and practice, in relation to which it can only appear as a profound regression.
C.D.V.: What do you think the problematic forces you identify took hold?
N.G.: There are both objective and subjective reasons. From the standpoint of historical materialism, the triumph of Stalin and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union set the stage for a near-universal conception of Marxism, let alone Leninism, which is patently false. While better judgment always tell us to do our research, many people still do not do this and thus get fooled by the appearances of what people have tried to justify in the name of Marxism. This is a trap that many self-avowed Marxists have fallen into as well, some of whom are unconsciously counter-revolutionary in their actions and effects, regardless of what they tell themselves about themselves. The entire scene is shrouded in confusion, mystified if you will. Instead of coming to terms with the history of the Soviet Union, the boogey-man of permanent gulags and show trials gets invoked to abstractly negate the real details, including the real tragedy, of what took place.
Either that, or it is glossed over with an overly romantic or fanatical viewpoint which neglects the serious philosophical and practical deadlocks which defined the Soviet Union as a project from the outset.
This is not so much specific to the USSR, but to a historical perspective in general, which in the current age and with the encouragement of bourgeois ideology has reverted into an ahistorical or, as Debord would say, pseudo-cyclical experience of time. I think the extent of this phenomenon can be measured by looking at the inability of many people to think the gravity of the ecological crisis we are currently facing as a species, which itself is fueled by capitalism. This spectacular way of looking at time is irresponsible, even from a non-communist point of view, since it is ignorant to hate learning about real history that completely pertains to one’s current concrete conditions of living, insofar as ‘history repeats itself,’ as they say. One does not have to be a communist to have heard this saying before, although it is profoundly dialectical, now that I come to think about it. At the same time I don’t take this condition for anything more than the historical result of the objective violence which capitalism has to inflict on the intellectual development of its youth through the funding of a training and conditioning apparatus called the school system. Bourgeois ideology cannot consciously think the crisis of capitalism, so it has to invent and reproduce ways of thinking and seeing that are able to function in a cooperative relationship with the logic of capital accumulation, that themselves tend to thrive by the logic of fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that capitalism is the crisis, but still, I have to teach/learn/answer that it is more complicated than that, that other factors are also to blame…”
The subjective reason has more to do with the amazing power of the Culture Industry, its ability to structure desire on a mass basis, the impact that television culture has had on a form of life, in sum, everything the people have undergone in the last fifty years with the technological revolution in the means of communication. For a time, it may have mattered that Ronald Reagan was an actor and that this helped him to become the president of the United States, such was the material dominance of television over the American mass psyche, but I think that the dominance of television politics is actually on its way out. Internet politics opens up the playing field again, but mostly because it is a return to reading and writing as more democratic forms of communication as opposed to the speaking image as the monopoly on discourse. Although this may go hand in hand with my comments about Debord’s notion of spectacular time, this proliferation of communications networks occurred at the same time that the rhetoric of “postmodernism” came to be adopted in the academic context. If the university Left could find it in themselves to get past this buzzword, to realize that we are still, perhaps more than we would like, modern, then the coordinates of our historical situation and the political tasks at hand would become more immediately apparent. Postmodern relativism is the delusion of liberal capitalism in its senile stage.The real Left can do without it.
Then again, things are changing as we speak. Right now there are riots in Brooklyn. Socialism is one of the most searched terms on web browsers in the U.S. With the collapse of the era of Western prosperity which has basically lasted from the end of World War II to the present, there should be little surprise that people have begun to question their conditions and started to organize. Dialectics teaches us that it is only a matter of time until things change, and what was previously thought to be impossible is suddenly a reality.
C.D.V.: What trends that you have not mentioned think give you some hope for the future of a Marxian left?
N.G.: Trends within the workers’ movement are towards increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo. In Greece, dock workers have taken control of their worksites. Similar measures are beginning to be taken all across Europe. While on the one hand this is merely a reflection of the ravages wreaked by the free-market economy, it is also a sign of life that the Western proletariat hasn’t gone anywhere, it still exists and it is still the case that, if provoked, it will occupy and seize the sites and means of production. This is to say nothing about the recent developments which have taken place in India and Venezuela. And while it is not yet a trend, I have hope that it will become one: that the Chinese proletariat will reawaken and take back their country from the capitalist roaders who have slowly asserted their dominance over the interests of the CCP.
Another sign of hope comes from the youth, who even at a young age can see that the status quo does not make sense. More and more young people are turning to Marxism to understand the world they live in, considering that their schools and churches do not offer any real answers, but only try to obscure the problems that we face as individuals, communities, national populations, even as a species. Events like Occupy Wall Street and the Quebec student strike show that the youth are angry and ready to fight, but what is lacking are the correct ideas of how to win. Not only what is wanted, but what kind of commitment is necessary to get there. Something like the 1905 revolution will be necessary to take place once again, before an event comparable to 1917 can come to fruition for us in the present age. And, while the movements which I’ve mentioned are only the beginnings of the development of mass consciousness towards arriving at revolutionary, anti-capitalist conclusions, it still gives me hope that the Marxist left has a significant role to play in the future of humanity, our future.
C.D.V.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
N.G.: Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clear up some of the questions surrounding the legacy of Ted Grant. Considering that this year is his centenary, it would be a perfect time to rediscover his writings on the variety of topics which he had dealt with since before the end of World War II. Also keep your eyes open for a new biography that will be coming out about him later this year by Alan Woods. You never know, it may be the case that the time for Grant’s views and perspectives is not so much in the past, but the future.