Paul Jay speaks to Leo Panitch, Professor of Political Science at York University about the relevance of Karl Marxï¿½s theories today.
PAUL JAY: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We are talking about Leo Panitch’s article in the magazine FP. And the theme is all about: is Karl Marx relevant today? Leo isï¿½hello, Leo.
LEO PANITCH: Hi, Paul.
JAY: Leo isï¿½teaches political economy, political science at York University and is the author of Renewing Socialism. So we left off in the last segment with the idea that, certainly in the American psyche, but not onlyï¿½Canadian, and to some extent, a lesser extent, but also in Europeï¿½the idea of state planning, of socialization, of socialism, is all connected with the idea of denying individual rights. So what do you make of that?
PANITCH: Well, I think Mark is very, very relevant to this. I mean, Marx thinks that our ability to collectively plan how to use how we use the resources of the planet, our labor skills, our technical skills, etcetera, our ability to collectively to that, lays the basis for the expression of our rich individuality. It’s the narrowest of individuality that is expressed through market exchange, through us relating to one another through I produce a commodity and you buy it through exchange value, rather than thinking about how we produce what we needï¿½use value. And he sees this democratization of the state, which is what his movements were all aboutï¿½”winning the battle for democracy” was what he called it in The Communist Manifestoï¿½as allowing us to achieve a rich individuality.
JAY: Okay. Now, when people look look at the 20th century and they look at the models, that’s not what they see.
PANITCH: That’s not what they see, and Marx, I think, would not have been a promoter of those. That’s one of the ironies of having the hammer and sickle as his eyebrows on that front cover.
JAY: Yeah. Here. I’ll show that here. If you can see, we have a potato for a nose. We have bread as the outline of the faceï¿½and I guess one could debate with the bread means. We’ve been talking what does that mean? Stale bread? Or does it mean all you get to eat is bread and potatoes? The eyes are sort of megaphones. And then you get this hammer and sickle here, which a hammer and sickle, at least, had nothing to do with Marx, but clearly it issuesï¿½if you get Marx, you get the Soviet Union, I guess is theï¿½.
PANITCH: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that they did make use of Marx. And it is true that in the 20th century, every revolutionary movement couldn’t avoid giving the influence of Marx’s ideas, in some sense calling itself Marxist. So even Stalin, all of that appalling, anti-democratic planning, which Marx would have abhorred, of course, dressed itself in Marxist clothing. And that’s one of the problems that now exist. I think you’re absolutely right to point to it. Moreover, I think you’re right to point to it in the sense that this is not an easy thing to do. There is a grave danger that if one doesn’t change states from being impositions on society into being expressions of societyï¿½and that means changing bureaucratic institutions which are deeply indebted not only in the old Soviet Union but in the Defense Department, in welfare departments, you know, in any state you would look toï¿½you’re not going to get that type of democratic planning. Planning is not going to be a collective expression of human beings interacting together; it’s going to be a imposition.
JAY: Now, there are some thingsï¿½.
PANITCH: So, you know, we need to be able to be honest about this. I’m convinced that what is on the agenda for the 21st century is the rise of socialist parties that will rid themselves of this Stalinist and, from the capitalist side, bureaucratic state legacy. But that’ll be their agenda. It is impossible to avoid the need for planning in the face of the crises that are around the planet today. And therefore what is on the agenda is the big question of how do we evolve a socialism that changes states in such a way that we don’t get that type of bureaucratic planning.
JAY: Now, you do see some examples, do you not, already in our current society. For example, you have publicly run, like public PBS stations, for example, where you have a certain amount of community control. You have public school systems. You have elected school boards who run their school boards. I mean, is what you’re talking about that? Is that an embryo ofï¿½?
PANITCH: Of course it’s an embryo of it. And, you know, socialism in Marx’s sense was about absorbing the virtues of liberalismï¿½free speech, freedom of association, right, democracy. It was not a matter of doing away with those; it was a matter of absorbing them. Now, if it’s the caseï¿½and I think one also needs to be very sober about thisï¿½that you’re going to have capitalists fighting tooth and nail against a project to evolve a democratic, socialist type of planning system, then the tendency will be toï¿½if you are successful in making change, to deal with that enormous opposition in an authoritarian way. And in that sense one has to say it isn’t only a matter of what socialists do and what mistakes they make; one needs to remember it’s also about the hostility.
JAY: Well, one can see that even with the kind of planning thatï¿½to the extent it’s planning, that Obama’s trying to do, the opposition he’s getting from the hard right within the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
PANITCH: Absolutely. But it’s redounding very much to the favor of those of us who are socialists that he’s being called a socialist. So when Americans today are asked whether they prefer socialism or capitalism, they say socialism. And the reason they say socialismï¿½.
JAY: Younger ones do.
PANITCH: No, no. [inaudible] there was 53 percent that didn’t choose capitalism, didn’t choose the market. And I think that’s largely because, you know, if Obama’s being called a socialist, then I’m not so frightened of the word. And it’s not working, in other words. No, Obama is not a socialist [inaudible].
JAY: Now, what do you say to people both in terms of climate change and the urgency of the crisis? That it is necessary to formulate some policy now that, whether a movement would implement it or not, that needs to be implemented urgently? So there needs to be some rational policy proposed. You can’t, like, wait for the movement and then have some policy.
PANITCH: Yes. I think you can only win people to a long-term project of transformation if you are able to offer them immediate reformsï¿½of a kind, however, that build onto more structural reforms. If you’re winning a reform of a kind that’s designed to close off social change, close off mobilization, as I think many of the social-democratic reforms in the postwar period did, then they are the kinds of reforms one doesn’t want. Now, yes, of course, we ought to be insisting on new regulations that would impose limits on emissions, rather than a cap-and-trade system. Yes, we should do that. One should be arguing for, immediately, it being illegal to simply close down a plant without some sort of a plan worked out with the community, with the local government, with the state government, etcetera, for how to convert the resources and skills in that factory into something that is productive of use values, and to find the means of funding that. Those are short-term demands that are very important, and we need to be making them. I think they do give people the kinds of confidence to go on to see that the bigger things are needed in order for those things to be viable or to be held on to. It’s true the bigger change is something that takes decades to build. This is not something that is on the agenda. The forces aren’t there; the political organizations aren’t there; the cultural support is not there; the role the media would have to play in making this viable is not fair. So, you know, those people who say the climate crisis is such that we’ve only got ten years left, when I hear that, you know, I think they’re engaged in the type of scaremongering which is actually harmful rather than helpful. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be pointing to the seriousness of it, but to say that humanity has ten years leftï¿½. If humanity has ten years leftï¿½.
JAY: No, the argument’s not that humanity has ten years left. And they’re also pulling backï¿½they don’t even think it’s ten years. It’s how big is the window before global warming hits 2 degrees from postindustrial development. And here’s the repercussions you get, especially in the South, when you hit 2 degrees. It’s a window before the worst repercussions.
PANITCH: Before Bangladesh is flooded. Yes.
JAY: Yeah, it’s that.
PANITCH: But a lot of the rhetoric is not cast that way.
PANITCH: And it’s and its much more generally put, I think. And I think it’s a mindset that is not a very helpful one, that is not a very healthy one. It’s not a bad thing to get people to think in a longer-term perspective, even, you know, in the midst of a crisis. When you talk about during the Depression, a lot of people became revolutionaries, communists.
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