- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Wednesday, 08 September 2010 15:18
- Written by Mike Ely
by Mike Ely
In a recent essay,"What a Communist Beginning Might Look Like" I tried to crudely sketch how a new communist movement might start to emerge -- imagining three tiers: an Iskra project, a Pravda project and a series of Faultline projects. (I won't repeat those details here.)
Selucha asked me:
“Was this concept something you’ve been working on, or just something you thought up on the fly? What does everybody else think about this proposal?”
This approach has been my framework of operation for quite a while.
Here are some of the problems I’m trying to bang on:
- If our organizational plan is not to build one more mini-sect what is it?
- If we want to avoid a “left unity” that is dominated by liberal politics, how do we do that?
- How do we develop organic ties to actual resistance resistance, real popular motion toward revolution and a newly conceived communist core?
- What process(es) can accumulate (attract, train, organize) real material force for revolution in a country like this?
- What is the process that will gather raw material for a future communist core that has organic ties to the people themselves?
- How do we practically prepare for future conjunctural moments whose outlines and features are not yet clear?
- What is communist political work — how do we organize it without building self-encapsulated organizations?
- How do we have a communist movement without a legitimizing orthodoxy?
- How do we both popularize and constantly refine communist conclusions and methods?
A counter-concept to swamp and sect
Communist and revolutionary work does not look like other kinds of activism — it imposes all kinds of specific tasks and requirements on us, that are often not easy or obvious. One of my frustrations is that we are in a period without a communist core — yet many communist activists are not particularly engaged with the responsibilities in such a period. We still need to confront the theoretical and organizational challenges — and make them the possession of more among us. It won’t do to carry out generic activism, while leaving our communist politics in the realm of a secret identity or a vague desire.
I am working on one counter-concept for building a new communist movement. Perhaps these crude sketches can encourage responses from others.
We have spoken quite a bit about the problem of the old 1970s mini-party approach — but we also need to avoid being bogged down in a swamp — where creative tensions have given way to stagnant coexistence, or (worse!) where the radical movement is dominated by its most liberal and social democratic parts.
We need a process of reconception just to imagine how we can create a communist core and leadership that isn’t defined or legitimized by previous orthodoxy. And that process need not assume we will all (one day) merge. We should develop creative synergies together. We should all be transformed. But let’s not be surprised if our process also produces distinctions and trends.
An Iskra Project needs to define a creative and successful communist outreach — which I believe must look different from what we created in the past. Perhaps we will produce several approaches — that collide and build within a larger revolutionary eco-system.
What most people don’t (yet) care about
“Hitting the nail on the head, most working class people do care about jobs, health care, etc…they don’t want to hear about Trotsky and Lenin. A lot of today’s youth probably don’t know who they are anyway.”
This remark brushes up against a real contradiction — people often need things they don’t care about or know about.
Take medicine as an example. What would you think about a doctor who said to you “I promise I won’t propose any cures that you don’t already know about.” Would you switch doctors?
Yes, in American politics, people “care” about some things and not others. The “issues” have been framed for them both by the media and by the very structure of capitalist society. They “care” about cheaper gas, but often don’t “know about” socialist sustainability. They “care about” health care (because the bourgeoisie had an acute crisis and disagreement over how to restructure it), but don’t necessarily think outside the box of bourgeois proposals (including “single payer”).
That contradiction that JFSP discusses is why we need a mass line approach for our communist work. It is also why we need multiple tiers of communist work (and not just plans for outreach).
Politics is not a mirror where you identify what people spontaneously “care about” and then feed that back to them — since spontaneity is shaped and limited by the political operations and ideologies of capitalist society. There is a great deal that we need to bring in from outside that world defined by people’s spontaneous political concerns.
We need a whole Iskra process of communist reconception and regroupment — with theoretical and political debate serving as an attraction and as a scaffolding for emerging revolutionary organization. Many topics at the very core of that Iskra project will be things that most people don’t (yet) know or care about. Our engagement around communist philosophy, strategy, historical summation, socialist imaginings, final goals, organizational principles is about reconceiving what we have inherited.
Popularization is a separate matter. But (ironically) that whole reconception project may (if it is successful) have a huge impact on what many other people ultimately come to know and care about.
Embedded in JFSP’s comment is a sense of orienting our work toward the intermediate among the people. I don’t think it is wrong to think about future majorities (i.e. we should already now imagine who the future supporters of a socialist revolution and society will be…. and be aware of what they are now thinking.) But we also need to orient our public outreach (i.e. our organizing and agitation) toward the more advanced (i.e. politically radicalizing and awakening) forces in society. there are times (like large strikes on campuses or industries) where the communist core must take responsibility for reaching out to the intermediate — but our main work (during the periods of preparation) are to help forge the objectively advanced into the beginnings of a revolutionary people.
Where’s the juice gonna come from?
Among his interesting comments on these issues, Reid wrote on his blog “The Luxemburgist”:
“I think Ely is hasty when he says that ‘most of the “raw material’ for a new revolutionary movement is outside the existing left silos.”
My assessment may be (as you say) hasty. There are pockets of creativity within the organized left. But I also believe that much of the organized left is exhausted and relatively clueless. Many left projects are running on routine and vapor. I don’t think that the new revolutionary movement will mainly emerge out of the reorganization of those organized left silos.
If that’s wrong, correct me.
A Project in Common
“Why does everything on this site seem to talk about “beginnings,” and other messianic language, as if the rest of the left is dead, unimaginative and/or useless. … I come by here occasionally and always get the impression that Kasama editors believe they are the only ones on the left who think seriously about political strategy and the historical experiences of the left.”
As one of the people working with the Kasama Project I’m willing to take some responsibility if there is a confusion.
Let me try to be more clear: We are all at a new beginning. This doesn’t mean that Kasama has declared it is the new beginning. there has been a full century of socialist revolution (from the Paris Commune to the restoration of capitalism). And we are ALL at a new beginning — for the communist revolution. All of us. Not just all communists, but all people on earth.
The work of reconception and regroupment is something that has been taking place globally, and in many corners. No one owns it.
We communists need to decide HOW we plan to emerge within that new beginning: how do we present ourselves? How to we describe our goals? How do we organize ourselves? How do we discuss our own communist past? How do we describe what we have learned? How do we unite ourselves (and where do we divide ourselves)? How do we view the connection between the organized communists and the people? How do we envision and embody leadership? And much more.
It is a great tragedy (in many ways) that we have lost previous socialist countries. And there are other tragedies embedded in the previous history of socialism and communism.
But (without minimizing the problems of our situation) there is also a great, rare and liberating freedom in being allowed (by circumstances) to reinvent ourselves. A writing group within Kasama touched on Sam’s points in the closing words of our essay “Shaping the Kasama Project“:
“We should not form a little group that play-acts as the seed of a future party. The process we foresee will be far more contradictory than that. Most initiating projects sprout several trends (or none at all). We will not arrive on the scene like some magical galvanizing thunderburst to tell everyone else what to think and do. Let’s have some scientific non-messianic modesty and not perpetuate [previous] grandiosity. We will strain to make real contributions. There may be contributions that only we can make. And that matters. But we expect much from many other people.”