Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Hal Draper and Socialism from Below.

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Hal Draper (1914 – 1990) remains a seminal influence on Marxists.

Along with Maximilien Rubel (1905 – 1996, probably less known in the English speaking world) he offered a strongly democratic interpretation of Marx and Marxism based on serious historical and textual study.

Draper’s unraveling of the historical and political origins and use of the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’  (The “dictatorship of the proletariat” from Marx to Lenin 1987) is something many turn to whenever the issue of the Russian Revolution comes up.

His  Anatomy of the Micro-Sect (1973) while situated firmly within the context of the marginalised US left and, in this Blog’s view wildly and wrongly indulgent towards Lenin himself, offers insights into the way many small left-wing factions operate across the world.

In this important article Joel Geier offers an overview of Draper’s contribution to the left and not just on those who call themselves ‘revolutionaries’ or indeed agree with his interpretation of Marxism.

Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism

The piece is long but this extract gives some of the flavour.

Fifty-one years ago the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club published Hal Draper’s The Two Souls ofSocialism.1 Of the hundreds of radical pamphlets published in the 1960s, Two Souls has had perhaps the longest-lasting impact. Appearing at a time when various forms of top-down versions of socialism—social democracy, Stalinism, and Maoism—were in vogue, its emphasis on workers’ self-emancipation set it clearly apart. Moreover, Draper did not merely reintroduce genuine Marxism to a new generation; in its originality and clarity, Two Souls—and the subsequent work that elaborated in detail on his arguments—presented a different way of looking at the world, at socialism, and at competing ideologies.

Traditional interpretations maintained that the essential divisions in the socialist movement were between reform and revolution, pacifism versus violence, and democracy versus authoritarianism. Two Souls took a somewhat different angle, namely, that “throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-From-Above and Socialism-From-Below,”2thus introducing the vocabulary, narrative, and ideas of socialism from below as the contemporary representation of revolutionary Marxism.

The unifying feature of the many varieties of socialism from above, Draper argued, is distrust or opposition to the working-class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. Socialism from above, Draper specified, is the idea that socialism “must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite not subject to their control in fact.”3 Distrust of the mass’s ability to rule and denial of democratic control from below are the core tenets of the many variants of socialism from above that have dominated the history of the socialist movement.

The heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”4 These few words summarize what Draper would later work for decades to restore and defend as the heart of revolutionary Marxism in his analysis of the entire body of Marx’s political writings, as presented in numerous articles, as well as in his indispensable, magnificent multivolume series, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).

A major thesis of Two Souls was that social democracy and Stalinism, the two major self-styled socialisms from above, despite their real and obvious differences, both identify socialism with the statification of the economy, and both reject workers’ democratic rule as the foundation of socialism. Long before Stalinism, Eduard Bernstein, the theoretical father of social-democratic reformism, was the first to revise Marxism to eliminate working-class self-emancipation from its essence, substituting “superior educated” parliamentary representatives for the “uninformed masses” as the agency for socialism. Social democracy and Stalinism, whose advocates strongly denied their similarities, were the dominant radical ideologies that divided the socialist movement during Draper’s political life, which was split between those who supported “democratic” Washington or “socialist” Moscow. These constrained political choices debilitated the working-class movement long before the wrecking operations of neoliberal capitalism began.

Read the full article on Socialism From Below in the International Socialist Review.

Those who are very far from enthusiasts for Trotsky or ‘revolutionary’ Marxism but who are democratic Marxists have learnt a lot from one of the best socialist writers of the 20th century.

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Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2018 at 12:41 pm

4 Responses

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  1. What about the initiation of force? Isn’t that one of the ingredients vital to a healthy socialist polity?

    oiltranslator

    October 7, 2018 at 11:42 pm

  2. It is and the most important ingredient. All totalitarian systems, of which the many variants and derivatives of Marxism are, require compulsion. This is true of the mirror image of Marxism, Fascism/National Socialism. In terms of outcomes and methods there is little if anything to distinguish between them. Articles like this one are of historic interest only as in the study of say Strasserism and the Red/Brown alliance or the influence of Marinetti and Futurism on the development of Fascism.

    Speaking of wannabe mass murderers what has happened to Andy Newman of Socialist Unity? He seems to have relinquished control of the blog to The Morning Star.

    Dave Roberts

    October 8, 2018 at 7:02 am

  3. That book is very thoroughly researched. Draper hated the term “Marxology” but he was easily the best “Marxist Marxologist” writing in English.

    He was rather harsh on Trotsky, BTW, even though he’s usually considered a (very) heterodox Trotskyist.

    He’s much nicer to Lenin. In particular, see: https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/index.htm

    On Draper’s Independent Socialist Club — politically, the healthiest U.S. socialist group of the 1960s, see:
    http://newpol.org/content/marx-and-marxism-berkeley-1968

    jschulman

    October 13, 2018 at 7:02 pm

  4. Thanks for that.

    Maximilien Rubel is said to have been the first to use the expression Marxology, founding in 1959 the Études de marxologie.

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximilien_Rubel

    Andrew Coates

    October 14, 2018 at 12:05 pm


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