The Final Goal and the Movements

Against the Current, No. 50, May/June 1994

Justin Schwartz

Ernest Haberkern chides me for forgetting that socialism can only be the culmination of successful working-class struggles against capitalism, and not the product of some middle-class radical intellectuals’ schemes.(1) In fact I agree with him, as far as that goes. But I am frankly puzzled by his insistence that this means that theoretical analysis of proposed socialist institutions is out of bounds and that struggles to realize these must hold themselves apart from movements for civil rights, feminism and the like.

In my view any prospect for class struggles with a socialist program depends, paceMarx, on “writing recipes for the cookshops of the future” (299).(2) And any hope of success demands that those struggles cooperate with, support, and include resistance to any oppression. Haberkern is wrong to counterpose working-class self-activity to utopian analysis of models of socialism or to the aims of other social movements.

As to the first, his view finds a natural expression in Bernstein’s slogan that “what is usually termed the final goal of socialism is nothing to me, the movement is everything.”(3) I don’t say this to tar him with “revisionism” or “reformism.” Anti-utopianism can be as revolutionary as you like. But Luxemburg’s riposte remains apt: “the struggle of the proletariat cannot be carried on without a given final aim.”(4) This is just common sense.

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’” asks Alice.”’That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’” says the Cheshire Cat.(5)

Today it is no longer adequate to say, with Marx and Engels, that socialism is not “an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself… [but] the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” (162). The “real movements” of this century have produced Stalinism and its twin, social-democratic reformism, not the socialism from below which Haberkern and I both advocate.

Despite the manifest failures of capitalism,(6) workers doubt that socialism offers them anything better. In this situation, “we cannot picture…a world that is essentially different from the present one, and at the same time better,” as Fukayama says.(7) Building the “real movement” now requires picturing such a world, articulating ideals to which reality should be adjusted. It requires a socialism both utopian and scientific.

Despite their protestations, Marxists have had such an ideal or final aim. Its guiding principle is, as Haberkern says, the extension of democracy to the whole of society. But such principles require institutional embodiment. Traditionally, this program took the form not just of the proletarian conquest of political power, but also particular economic policies, notably socialization of productive property and replacement of the “anarchy of the market” by a “rational plan.”

However, the twentieth-century experience has raised serious questions about whether these measures can lead to the democratization of society or indeed anything but bureaucratic domination, generalized poverty, and ecological disaster. Well-supported arguments for these pessimistic conclusions exist and demand response.(8) Anyone who supposes they are merely concerns of intellectuals should try talking to workers about socialism.

If traditional socialism can do better than that, this must be shown by specification of alternatives which take into account the historical evidence and do not have these results. Just saying that Stalinism wasn’t democratic won’t do. Perhaps it wasn’t democratic because it tried to plan the whole economy — or, fatally for socialism, because it abolished private property. Perhaps it can be democratic, but only at the cost of catastrophic inefficiency. Some socialists, like myself, think that the failure of Stalinism reveals the bankruptcy of comprehensive planning. But that public ownership can be combined with socialist markets also requires argument based on history, modelling, ideals, in short, recipes for future cookshops.

Such recipes must be provisional and revisable. They can be vindicated, short of successful implementation, only by working-class acceptance. (The class origins of their writers are no more relevant than the class origins of writers of critical analyses of capitalism.(9)) Without them, however, there will be no successful working-class movements that abolish the present state of things, not the “revolutionary transformation of society” but the “common ruin of the contending classes” (474).

No less than scientific utopianism do socialists need participation in all struggles against oppression, not merely, as Haberkern would have it, disengaged “admiration” for them. The “radical political and economic program” of the proletarian struggle, he says, is “alien” to movements for, e.g., women’s emancipation or civil rights, which can at best aim at reforms of capitalism and at worst sink into reaction. The “ideological equipment left over from the `60s,” acquired in New Left activism in these movements, is useless, he thinks; we need that of the `30s and the `40s: class struggle on the shop floor.

Such struggle is necessary, but socialist activism cannot be based on a unitary working-class movement, for this does not exist. It must be based on the real movements in all their diversity.(10)

All resistance in capitalism has reformist and revolutionary dimensions, and indeed reactionary elements. Workers’ movements, as Marxists have noted, have long been dominated by reformist tendencies. The “radical program” (about which Haberkern enjoins silence) has been maintained by minority tendencies in the working class. This is no grounds for writing off the workers or substituting for their agency that of other groups. It is grounds for understanding the class struggle in broader terms than Haberkern’s, for complementing working-class agency with that of all oppressed groups.

When workers’ struggles do have revolutionary aspirations, they do not address workers as opposed to women, African Americans and so forth. Class struggle itself is “gendered” and “colored.” Movements for women’s liberation or civil rights, are also class struggles. Sixty-six percent of married women work, and receive on average 30% less income than men. 14.4% of women as opposed to 11.2% of men are poor.(11) Forty percent of Black workers are poor, as opposed to 29% of whites. Black men make 70% of white men’s income. Black joblessness is more than twice the white rate.(12)

These injustices are linked to systematic sexism and racism. Working class self-emancipation must begin with resistance to the oppression of women and minorities as such, not merely as workers.

If NOW and the NAACP neglect poor women and Black workers in favor of more privileged constituencies by supporting the likes of Dianne Feinstein or Ron Brown, they join with the AFL-CIO, which does the same. If “identity politics” in the social movements is divisive and reactionary, it has a counterpart in working-class sexism, racism, and national chauvinism. But the more radical tendencies in the feminist and Black freedom movements which avoid these pitfalls are probably larger than those in today’s worker’s movements. In any case no revolutionary class struggle can take place without addressing the sexual and racial dimensions of workers’ oppression and their basis in sexism and racism generally.

Workers remain the core of any potential socialist movement. But for such a movement to become actual, socialists must acknowledge the diversity of the working class and the variety of interests of its members, women and men, Black and white. To dismiss the movements that articulate these interests promotes their failure and guarantees ours. Socialists must actively participate in struggles against any oppression, and do so because oppression is unjust, not merely because participation promotes class unity.

Perhaps Haberkern does not disagree. If not, he should acknowledge that the ideological equipment of the `60s has something to contribute to those of the ’30s and `40s for the struggles of the coming millennium.


  1. In his response to my “Socialism as Self-Emancipation,” Against the Current 48 (1994), 46-49, a review of Hal Draper, Socialism from Below, ed. E. Haberkern (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1990). Thanks for helpful discussion of this reply are due to David Finkel.
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  2. Parenthetical references are to Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1978).
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  3. Eduard Bernstein, The Preconditions of Socialism, trans. Henry Tudor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 190.
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  4. Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, ed. Mary-Alice Waters (New York: Pathfinder, 1970), 84
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  5. .

  6. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in The Annotated Alice (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1960), 88.
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  7. Haberkern implies that I suppose that capitalism has solved its economic problems, as people like Daniel Bell once argued. It has not and cannot, but our problem is that any alternative to it has been discredited.
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  8. Francis Fukayama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon, 1992), 46. Unlike Bell, Fukayama does not think that world he argues we are stuck with is particularly good, just that we are stuck with it.
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  9. See, e.g. N. Scott Arnold, Marx’s Radical Critique of Capitalist Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), chaps. 8-10. Arnold’s is the best right-wing critique of socialism around, and it’s very good indeed. Socialists ignore his arguments at their peril.
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  10. Marx was a middle-class intellectual with a Ph.D, the son of a lawyer; Engels was a merchant’s son and, later, a capitalist. Virtually all socialist theorists and leaders have been middle class, as are almost all socialists in the U.S. today.
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  11. Hal Draper, a defender of the `60s student movement, feminism, and civil rights, would agree.
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  12. Lawrence Mischel and David Frankel, The State of Working America 1990-91 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991), 41, 81, 171.
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  13. Ibid, 84; Andrew Hacker, Two Nations (New York: Ballentine Books, 1992), 101, 103.
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ATC 50, May-June 1994