- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Monday, 23 July 2012 18:43
- Written by Mike Ely
"We can’t train communists in an invented greenhouse. You can declare (in a small bubble) that certain ideas are wrong, and don’t deserve discussion. But the moment communists leave that bubble they need to be prepared to confront and answer those ideas (which are quite influential broadly in society).
"How do you prepare radicals to argue for our ideas? By declaring them obviously true? By refusing to debate opposing ideas? No.
"We also can't build alliances from behind high self-righteous walls.
"The only way to train and prepare people to (themselves) present our arguments, and understand the views of others, is to go through these things in depth — and to draw many people into such debates."
by Mike Ely
In some ways, this is an odd discussion, but a necessary one.
Mark (who disagrees with me on many points) wrote:
"Mike’s contribution on the need for debate and discussion in the communist movement is one of the best things to come out of this thread. It's actually this problem which has been holding back the development of a mass movement, the development of thinking cadre who are able to operate outside of the 'communist bubble' so to speak, and can actually engage with these debates amongst the masses, where these ideas are held by millions of people.
"The idea that we can build a mass communist movement without debate all these issues is not a perspective which is actually engaged with reality. A movement of millions will be a hive of debate and activity, or it will not be a real movement. We need to develop forms of organisation which can contain debate and differences without the sectarian fracturing which has left our movement small and divided, and develop ways of debate whereby people seek to use debate to come to the truth of the matter, not simply as a way to impose their view, and cadre capable of carrying out these debates amongst themselves and in the wider movement. If we can’t do that then there will be no progress.
Encouraged by this comment, let me share the reason Kasama posts essays we don't agree with, and that we then together debate those views.
What is worth our time?
Emcee8 writes (somewhat uncharitably):
“I don’t know why you would waste your time with hacks like Pham Binh.”
TellNoLies responds (and his whole response is worth reading): is worth spending time with. We have found his arguments and views worth spending time with.
The issue is finding forms and occasions to dig into issues that are important for clarification and revolutionary regroupment. The point is to learn from many different people by studying their views.
Don't we have much to learn by understand from the religious left and from thoughtful anarchists? Didn't we just celebrate the life of the distinctly non-revolutionary journalist Alex Cockburn -- with many of us explaining how we learned from his work and were inspired by him. Won't engaging other (and opposing) views help communists enrich their own understandings?
Pham has gathered (in one place) a set of arguments for supporting U.S. military attacks in the Middle East. These are some dominant narratives of US. politics, recrafted for a left audience. And there is value in taking them on — in depth and with substance -- especially because the war machinery is bubble around us (talking about Syria, but targeting Iran).
This is about politics, ideas, analysis and different responses to major choices in the world. Where do we stand? How do we respond? What do we value? What do we reject?
I think all beliefs should be contested and vetted in an ongoing way. Including all our own most cherished communist views. Not because they are all flawed or disposable — but because that is the method by which those understandings will be developed (and because some of our sacred cows will prove exhausted over time).
We will debate our core beliefs over and over. We will debate them among the people, and we will debate them among the ranks of revolutionaries. And this is objective -- we don't have a choice. We might as well get good at it.
The verdicts on all these things are not in among the broad ranks of progressive people– many of whom are as deeply confused as Pham Binh about whether the killers of the Pentagon can play a positive role in world events. And I suspect that a great many communists could benefit from studying a detailed debate on these things — in order to craft their own arguments in the discussions they are constantly involved in.
Our debates carve space within a society under hegemony of the bourgeoisie
We operate in a world where the ruling classes promote a sophisticated flood of argumentation. This has an impact both on the people broadly and also on the left. And it has this impact independent of our desire. We can’t just rule this out of order, we have to deal with it and deal with it over and over.
When I started as a revolutionary journalist in the early 1980s my first serious essay was over exactly the same issue Pham Binh raises. In the world at that time, there were very complex events roiling around us. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, while the CIA covertly armed a resistance movement among that country’s people. There were uprisings of Polish workers in the Solidarity movement. Guerrilla movements that we all had respected (and politically supported) in the 1970s were (in some cases) becoming proxy forces of one imperialist block or another. And so on. And so (inevitably) there were important discussions (and polemics) to be had, over how to view these things (and over how to press for revolutionary politics in these contexts).
Pham is right about one thing: If our position is correct, it can’t just make sense at some level of “general principle” — but that principle must correspond with real living contradictions in the real world. (Mao said, correctly, that “the general resides in the particular.” Or as it was said elsewhere: (with science, history, and facts) to confront all kinds of widely held views (including some with influence among communists!)
What is the alternative: We could sit alone in a small subcultural sandboxes, declaring (to ourselves) how right we are.
And who cares about that?