- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Friday, 19 November 2010 04:16
- Written by Mike Ely
This started yesterday with Sites of Beginning Part 1: Are Communist Openings Structural or Evental?
by Mike Ely
Let me start here: I listened to someone explain the formation of the Zapatistas. The process involved understanding that there were nodules or pockets of the very advanced in very particular conjunctural places among the oppressed people.
And those nodules -- concentrated in particular regions, and in this case, within the Catholic lay structure -- involved the emergence of literate, energetic and very radical circles within the people themselves, who were able to "hook up" with organized revolutionary intellectual forces (from outside) in ways that are mutually transformative.
I think that the previous communist movements have not been able to find or connect with such advanced forces (in the U.S., in several decades.) I think our previous communist movement was perhaps able to "see" them sometimes, but not know what to do with them.
Particularly: I don't think our movement was able to transform itself in order to fuse with the advanced (in those specific moments over decades where they emerged and the movement ran across them). Certainly our movement was not able (through and with them) to develop a partisan connection to the broader people (which would need to happen in the course of powerful moments of struggle).
Seams or Veins?
Let me sketch a mining metaphor: Coal is a sedimentary layer of fossilized wood -- so it is concentrated in a seam that spreads over a large area. You can dig straight down in southern West Virginia -- and any hole has to pass through the major horizontal coal seams sooner or later.
But rock mineral mining is very different: diamonds, gold and silver exist in nuggets that are embedded along the fissure lines in the hard rock in the crust -- in occasional and irregular cracks where lava once forced its way upward. You can go to Nevada and randomly dig a hole straight down and are very unlikely to hit a pocket of gold or silver. You have to find those old fissure lines, and follow the veins of quartz along those fissures, and explore them until you find the nuggets and nodules.
I'm saying that the most advanced forces in society are not simply a "layer."
Of course, in any situation, anywhere, you can find relatively advanced and relatively backward -- but that is a different matter. Those people advanced enough t0 (1) connect with a revolutionary movement, and also (2) help connect that movement to sections of the people are rare in the U.S. -- and are dispersed in cohorts along social fissure lines where they have experiences special pressures and heat.
And if you just go "dig a hole" where life has placed you -- looking to connect the revolutionary movement to people there randomly -- you are unlikely to trigger a process of fusing socialism with the people, because the necessary ingredients for initiating that fusing are not evenly distributed everywhere.
The location of such cohorts of people is not necessarily geographic. In 1994 the anti-immigrant Proposition 189 gave rise to a radicalized section of Latino high school and college students scattered across the state, part of a larger radicalization that has gone on among second generation immigrant youth. In the 1960s, something was happening among Black students and workers that made it possible for the Black Panther Party to suddenly "go national" and gather thousands of members (seemingly overnight) -- Black students had been forming "black power" organizations everywhere and developing training as militants and organizers. Returning Vietnam vets were such a force in the 1970s -- as many returned embittered and conscious, and in networks of co-thinkers.
Connecting well with such networks before they disperse takes very active work, creative fusion, communist training... and a bit of luck.
To be clear: I talk about cohorts -- using the old Roman word for bonded co-fighters, a brother/sisterhood that emerges (including generationally).
In political work, we often run across very advanced and communist people as individuals -- whose special life experiences have brought them a particular consciousness. And that is a good thing. But often the few recruited by previous communist organizations have been the relatively rootless -- who are able to adapt themselves into a rigid pre-existing structure, and who were generally not able bring that structure into deep connection with broader sections of people or help transform that structure in needed ways. The RCP summed up that when it trained occasional communists from "among the masses" they often went back "home" to have great difficulty hooking back up or communicating what they now understood. The RCP's hope of developing them as levers shows that this process will hardly be easy. The point remains, however, the advanced who emerge in important cohorts, and who in their interactions -- with each other and the communist movement that some of them may join -- can (potentially) help creatively press forward the process of fusion.
We have to seriously talk about how that can happen. Since we don't yet know how to make that work -- and since the actual details of that need to be worked out in practice, in the concrete, in the act.)
Linking Partisan Communist Work with Strategy
Chicanofuturet is righteously passionate about representing communism among the people. He argues hard with those among us who think that can’t be done. And many of us have a deep unity with him on this point — a unity that goes beyond words into practice. Promoting communism, talking creatively and coming from within are extremely important parts of our communist work.
But let's also situate those necessary discussions Chicanofuturet has among the people (discussions of communism’s accomplished past, of our common inherited ideas, of our visions of radical change) within a new strategic plan for an actual movement (a communist movement with a partisan base among the people).
How do we communists arrive (among the people) as the beginnings of a movement (in the present, within this situation) — not merely as a disembodied idea about either the distant past or the distant future)? How do we organize a communist base (and a larger revolutionary current) among the people?
Where the Gaps have Narrowed
One issue (I believe) is that there is a large gap between thinking of the relatively advanced in most places and the ideas that defined a communist movement.
And further there is a relatively large objective gap between the activity of the relatively advanced in most places, and the forms of engagement that the previous communist movement allowed.
People from among the oppressed have had great difficulty bridging those two gaps — becoming communists (in the way that we chose to model it).
And I think we need to find the places and ways to close that gap:
- by finding those distinct sites (in space and time) where the advanced are actually open to our vision of a revolutionary movement, and
- by creating a movement that can creatively connect with such forces.
This will need a mutually transformative process, and a resulting fusion will mark the beginning of a new kind of "subject" -- and give shape to the kind of communist movement we create. It will (in some ways) mark its real appearance.
And I think that contact-and-fusion needed to be initiated by now-scattered communists doing new deep investigation into the highly complex geology among the people.
The Problem with Forays
Let me put it this way: Talking to the people is not enough. I have been in countless “forays” to talk to the people about communist politics. I was part of an organized trend that did exactly what Chicanofuturet describes — nationally and daily for many years in many cities.
Door-to-door in housing projects, dorms and coal camps. In demonstrations. In campus talks. Weekly newspaper with communist agitation. etc. And over and over, lots of people express interest (and respect). Probably hundreds of thousands of people. That is important to note — communist politics has been controversial, but not automatically been self-isolating. It has always found interested people in significant numbers.
But then…. there has remained those gaps -- and an inability of more people to make the leap from a kind of interested “listening” to an organized and partisan participation. The interest has not ever congealed as a partisan base or network.
And for me the question is: How do we bridge that gap (from the interested to the networks of organized partisan participants)? What are the stages of that process? What are the adjustments in form and speech that would help? What are the forms of organization that would move from “energetic propaganda sect” to an organized network of revolutionized working people themselves?
Connection Without Mutual Transformation
A historical example: In our ten year project in the U.S. coalfields (during the 1970s) — we only recruited one person who was a native coalminer (even though we worked closely with dozens, perhaps hundreds of men and women over those years).
This brother was unusual in many ways -- including in that he had left the coalfields and worked with the farmworkers union in California etc. — and in other ways had become opened to a large world of ideas and organizing outside the immediate world of the coalfields.
Years later I went back to West Virginia, and met with him on a writing trip — and he said to me,
“I wanted socialism and I wanted to wage the class struggle — but really 80% of what the party was talking to just went by me. I had no idea what all that was about, or why it mattered.”
That speaks to weaknesses in our work more than it speaks to his weaknesses. And I’m saying that some of this is objective — that the political life among working people in the U.S. and the general level of political discourse in the U.S. leaves even the most radical and discontent people rather distant from discussing the complexities of radical transition.
And some of it is subjective — i.e. it speaks to the rather particular conception of “being a communist” that dominated the communist trend I was in (including its always-marked “fetish of the word”).
Part of the problem here was that we connected with the people, but there was not enough mutual transformation. As individuals we communists transformed by adopting some of the local workingclass culture (dress, speech, lifestyles, etc.) -- but as a movement we did not remake ourselves to be able to fuse with the advanced -- and through them connect politically with the people more broadly.
For one thing, we need a movement radiating its ideas — but that isn’t over-intellectualized. And we need a movement capable of listening and seeing -- and then continually transforming itself (without losing its goal, and the road to radical change). That is a very hard mix.
A Method of Starting
Obviously there is an element of uniting a critical mass of revolutionary forces to even initiate an organizing project. Some people have impatience frustration that our discussions (here on Kasama) are mainly among those already socialist. But in fact we need to have some regroupment of revolutionaries -- along common lines and ideas -- to start anything. And in many ways, we have barely started that process (and the necessary theoretical reconception).
As a key part of initiating practice: I think we need to look closely at the most advanced among the people — because they are the link to everything else.
Some think of the advanced as a layer dispersed uniformly among the people (along the interface between the oppressed and oppressor). Some think our main audience is the intermediate (or typical) worker who is not (yet) socialist or political.
But, by contrast, we need to see radicalization as conjuncture followed by contagion. Those advanced capable of fusing with a communist movement (and being its links to larger communities of people) emerge in circles and scenes -- in a conjunctural way along often unappreciated fissures. They are formed in moments, and come in waves. They try to change the world and often sink back into the grayness out of frustration.
We need a serious discussion of “where are the advanced, who are the advanced, what do they believe” — that is based on organized investigation among different sections of the people.
What we learn and decide will determine what we do, where we go, and what we say -- and how our movement appears when it is born.