Creative communism is not a break thru the middle

“I don’t think either our problem or our solution is in navigating between opportunism and ultra-leftism.

“We won’t find our creative path by triangulating imagined extremes.”

“The term ultra-left is (in my experience) little more a bat that reformists used to swat at revolutionaries and revolutionary politics. I think don’t think we should pick it up. I don’t think it serves our purposes or presentations. I don’t acknowledge  it.”

by Mike Ely

Ian writes in our discussion of Sunday’s Gay Pride parades in the U.S.:

“I think there are two main pitfalls here: opportunism and ultra-leftism. Opportunism in throwing other oppressed groups under the bus, ultra-leftism in not struggling for the basic democratic reforms (or spurning those who do.) Opportunism is the dominant force but we won’t win people away from it through ultra-leftism.”

First, Ian, I think I unite with your overall point — which is that we need to understand when oppressed people fight for immediate demands — and find ways to creatively unite with that, and influence that, from a position of communists.

And in a sense, we could stop there. It is a valid point. You made it, and we can all agree, I believe. But, in a comradely way, I would like to drill down into your argumentation for a valid point.

* * * * * * * * * *

I want to start with a self-criticism: Sometimes I explore an argument like this, and the original commentator replies (with justification) “You have read into this all kinds of things I neither said nor believe.” Which is fair.

And please let me make clear: I am bouncing off  Ian’s remark here. I am exploring the kinds of strategic things connected with this argumentation (historically and around us now) — but not implying that all this is embedded in Ian’s  particular political suggestion. In that sense, this is not a reply to Ian (at all), but a riff triggered by Ian’s argument (for which I thank him).

Triangulation from extremes: a language of reasonable moderation

I am uncomfortable with the suggestion that our approach to politics can be seen as navigating between the wrong poles of opportunism and ultra-leftism — as if our politics are (somehow) a golden mean between extremes (or opposite stupidities).

It strikes me as a way that invokes (unintentionally i’m sure) a political culture and language of “reasonable moderation” (which is familiar from both British sensibilities and Chinese Confucianism). I don’t think we should import the symbolism of moderation  into communist politics — as if our politics is to constantly “break through the middle” in a sportsman-like way (between those supposed opposites of cooptation and sterility).

And this is not just a matter of  cosmetics: I don’t think the solutions we need are imagined by triangulating between two twin evils of the extreme.

Conceptually, we need (instead) a  revolutionary politics that integrates leaps, ruptures, voids and “one eats up the other.” Ours is a creative process involving both negation and affirmation (not navigating  “opposite poles of disaster”  in some schematic Scylla and Charybdis.)

A false presentation of opposites, a mistaken treatment of opposites

Portraying opportunism and ultra-leftism as (somehow) equal and opposite dangers is (in my opinion) a false conception. That’s not how problems or solutions pose themselves — as a spectrum where you avoid the extremes.

And I don’t think (in our world of opposing strategies) we are confronted by those two poles as warring temptations.

In my admittedly-local experience, this formulation (“break through the middle”) has been the marker of sorts — for a movementist politics, that focuses on generating mass movements around a range of immediate demands, accompanied with a vague and superficial side discussion of “socialism.”

In other words, the pose of “break through the middle” moderation, a seeming “even-handed” combining-and-avoiding, has been (in my experience) a way of advocating a kind of pressure politics that remains (rather completely) in the framework (if not the institutions) of mainstream politics. It has been a way of arguing for subsuming communist tasks to the path of seeking to be the best nominally-socialist fighter in the day-to-day.

Left in form, right in essence

Finally I just don’t like the term “ultra-left” at all. I don’t think we should use it. And I never do.

Obviously, people do make errors or proposals that are “left in form.” Examples include rash adventurism, sectarian isolation, attacking of possible allies, and so on. But when we critique them (and we should) it should be in a way that doesn’t imply (or encourage) moderation or respectability — we should help excavate the  roots of superficially “left” errors  in pessimism, dogmatism, fantasy, etc., which uncovers that they are often not that “left” or “ultra-left” at all. And such critiques should be part of unfolding our communism that will be (if done right) both highly attractive and quite righteously shocking.

I can think of few trends or proposals that we should not criticize mainly from the left.

In other words, I think we should more-or-less take the stand that there is nothing more left than what we are proposing. And that we don’t want the shelter of being moderate or respectable (compared to some conveniently demonized “ultra-left” fringe imagined on our left flank).

“Ultra-left” is (in my experience) little more a bat that reformists used to swat at revolutionaries and revolutionary politics. I think we don’t think we should pick it up. I don’t think it serves our purposes or presentations.

[Side note: When a similar debate took place (in 1971-74, after the chaotic high-water mark of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) the Maoists (centered on the still-living Mao himself) putting forward the phrase "left in form, right in content" as their way of critiquing certain kinds of sterile and self-isolating leftism. They rejected the rightist wind of labeling radical experimentation  "ultra-left." Personally, i think we have reason to continue to make that distinction ourselves.]

I think we should imagine (and remake) ourselves as a creative, uncorrupted hard-left — as those people and currents who connect well, in order to combine actual revolution and an attractive communism with the real, with a startling and growing sense of practicality.

In short: I think we should more or less take the stand that there is nothing more left than what we are proposing. We don’t want the shelter of being seen more moderate or respectable than some “ultra-left” hovering on our flank.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    One can use words however one likes--making use of familiar meanings, or creating new ones from whole cloth.

    I'm not one who uses the terms right and ultraleft as a way to stake out two poles, with the aim of 'breaking through the middle' or 'finding the middle path,' as in Buddhism.

    Rather, I see 'rightism' as an adaptation/capitulation of revolutionary politics to reformism. 'Ultraleftism' is an adaptation/capitulation to anarchism. They overlap in small ways, but are largely distinct.

    You can refuse to use 'ultraleftism' all you want. It doesn't make the phenomenon/problem of adaptation/capitulation to anarchism go away. Whatever you want to call it, you still have to deal with it. Likewise with reformism.

    These terms have some history behind them, for better or worse. Marx spent considerable energy battling anarchism in the First International. And whole Lenin fought largely against the right opportunists of the 2nd International, he also wage important battles with the 'left' otsovists, 'left liquidationists', 'left economists' and the 'leftwing communists', the latter in the 3rd International. His book on the topic has the subtitle 'An Infantile Disorder,' but it might also be translated as 'childhood diseases' or 'growing pains' that one passes through with time and experience.

    One can ignore this history if one chooses. You can just assume because it's over and times have changed--always true!--that we need not waste our time with it.

    I'm one who believes that every revolution breaks the mold of those that went before it, and we always need fresh thinking and analysis. But I'm also one who believes that before you go about breaking any old molds, you might do well to learn the thinking that went into them. We don't suck revolutionary theory out of our thumbs, after all. We gain it in class struggle, scientific experiment, and the struggle for production.

    All these have a history, and it's one reason why we call our science historical materialism. We learn from the past; we don't dismiss it.

  • Guest - maju00

    "... as a creative, uncorrupted hard-left"...

    I suspect it's within "creative" but I'd add "open-minded", not as in compromising but as in not-sectarian, not-dogmatic. I think it is very important and is also why I like reading Kasama (and now and then commenting as well).

    Anyhow, even if you can slash out the Leninist concept of "leftism" as something either negative or genuinely leftist. How would you consider for example Anarchists: they also consider themselves with good reasons, "creative, uncorrupted hard-left", and you can't be to their left, really, not while accepting some forms of political participation that are not pure distilled grassroots communism, no matter how unproductive or futile.

    For example is SYRIZA (or KOE) to the left of the anarchists who were burning a polling station in Exarcheia in the last Greek elections? I do not think you can say that, even if you can perfectly well argue that such action (as others) was powerless and futile and that the Anarchists would have done better voting for SYRIZA, even if only tactically.

    I think it's a good example so you or others can delve more in the matter at hand. I am a bit unconvinced that it's not a case of Scylla and Caribdis, as you put it.

  • Guest - cigar guy

    I think Mike is correct here. There is no 'left of communism'. There are/have been organizations that appear 'more left', but that is the point of 'left in form, right in essence'. There are many examples, and for those of us who have been around since the 60's, we have not only seen this, but have also been guilty (at times) of this. There may be no clearer example than the Weather Underground. Certainly, most of the masses, and many leftists, and the ruling class would identify WU as 'ultra-left'. But leftism was only the form of their tactics (this is debatable also, because extreme rightists have been known to take up arms and bombs). Their essence, or what interests they ultimately served, was rightist Their actions served to divide the left and give the right more 'legitimate' excuses to attack the left. So, a particular tactic, strategy, or line can only be left, or communist, if it serves the interest of the people. That would be 'left in form, left in essence'.

  • Guest - Systemic Disorder

    The root problem with the Weather Underground was that they failed to understand the political situation. They thought, mistakenly, that the U.S. was ripe for revolution and that the masses would follow them. It wasn't, and they didn't. I watched a film about the W.U. maybe a decade ago and one of them recalled lamenting, after going underground, how he went from a leader in a movement with so many involved to a member of a tiny sect in hiding, leading nobody. If you are unable to grasp the politics of the moment that is what can happen — with the tragic results that Cigar Guy points out.

    I agree with Maju when he calls the anarchist torching of a ballot station "powerless and futile" at the same understanding their frustration. Greece, a country, in which 42 percent voted for the two memorandum parties, can't realistically be seen as in a revolutionary situation. It is a country where there is a growing Left movement that points toward rejection of capitalism, but navigating it requires smart tactics, intelligent transitional demands and no wavering from the ultimate goal. No different from anywhere else when the political situation ripens.

    We indeed can't be "respectable" if we are calling for an end to capitalism. We can, from a Left perspective, call out sectarianism and point out it is a brake on building a movement.

  • A few brief injections into the interesting remarks above:

    Maju writes:

    <blockquote>"How would you consider for example Anarchists: they also consider themselves with good reasons, “creative, uncorrupted hard-left”, and you can’t be to their left, really, not while accepting some forms of political participation that are not pure distilled grassroots communism, no matter how unproductive or futile."</blockquote>

    This is the view of "left vs. right" that I'm trying to break with (or argue against). Look: if we view "left vs. right" as merely a <em>tactical</em> question (meaning a question of forms of struggle) -- then (naturally) the most "left" would become those few who abstain from anything real, and who insist on immediate violence regardless of circumstance -- and we would have a bugaboo of "ultra-left" that is obviously ridiculous and from which "we" could take a distance.

    And for those new to politics: we are here discussing the terms "left" and "right" as a spectrum of debate and conflict <em>within</em> the communist movement. (And we do that knowing that left and right are also, in other contexts, a description of the spectrum of bourgeois politics -- i.e. where Sarah Palin is "on the right" and Bernie Sanders is "on the left." But we are here talking about a <em>communist</em> spectrum of left and right which is rather relatively autonomous from the usual bourgeois spectrum (and the usual meaning of those terms).

    In communist discussions, I'm arguing that left and right are not mainly tactical questions (where the "ultra-left" is abstentionist and violent and the "right" is electoral and corrupted.) I'm arguing that we view the "genuine left" as a set of ideas and strategies that leads <em>out</em> of this society, and the "right" (within the communist movement) as those lines that lead back into capitalism (and reinforces capitalism).

    And I think that when we look at a kind of space building anarchism (of the kind that created the militant squats in Berlin where I hung out, or the kind often found in the Athens' Exarcheia district), I think (precisely!) our main criticism should be "from the left" (over their tendency to find, build and defend a niche or subculture <em>within</em> capitalist society, rather than criticizing the squats "from the right" (in a conservative critique that focuses on delegitimizing popular violence and promoting left respectability.)

    If you look at some of the work on Kasama... this is what we have argued.

    I wrote a piece called "<a href="/" rel="nofollow">Violence &amp; Street Fighting: Who Says It Alienates the People?</a>" -- it argues against a critique of Black Blocks that situates itself (narrowly) in tactics and respectability. (There are other critiques to be made of Black Block tactics -- i.e. that they really aren't focused on politics or audiences, but self-expression. But that is not an argument "from the right" at all.)

    And more: The World Has Its End reporting team wrote a series of articles on Exarcheia (on their last trip there), which precisely critiques the anarchist subculture "from the left" -- not "from the right." <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Part 1</a>, <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Part 2</a>, <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Part 3</a>

    Some orthodox communists mainly criticize anarchists a) from the right, and b) with a class reductionist brush of "petty bourgeois." Both of these habits strike me as a strong example of the underlying political and strategic conservatism defining such orthodoxy. (And a lot of standard communist criticisms of anarchism embody a one-sided idealization of the state, a residue of the time when communists were trying to build or defend existing socialist states -- and really on those matters of party and state we have more thinking to do, including effort to recapture early communists more consistent and far-sighted hostility to the state as a historical institution of class society.)

    Maju writes:

    <blockquote>"For example is SYRIZA (or KOE) to the left of the anarchists who were burning a polling station in Exarcheia in the last Greek elections? I do not think you can say that, even if you can perfectly well argue that such action (as others) was powerless and futile and that the Anarchists would have done better voting for SYRIZA, even if only tactically."</blockquote>

    I can't speak to the specific example: I don't have some fixed verdict on SYRIZA, or the wisdom of the previous election course of KOE. So I'm not going to make some argument comparing them with the anarchists.

    But clearly, yes, I am precisely saying that I can say that an inappropriate torching of some official place is something we criticize "from the left" (not using arguments that come mainly "from the right"). Rash, adventurist or self-isolating actions are often "left in form, but right in essence" -- and the core of our argument is (precisely) not to get up on the "left in form" but to unveil the <em>right in essence</em>, when that criticism is appropriate.

    Also not all criticisms fall on some left-to-right spectrum.... I don't assume that torching an election station is somehow "more left" than giving an electoral expression of extremely radical popular sentiments. <strong>Again: </strong>left and right in the revolutionary movement is mainly (to me) a strategic question (a question of line), not some easy or schematic tactical question.

  • Guest - ish

    There's a truism floating around in so-called mainstream political discourse that extreme left and extreme right are the same thing. I think this is a very popularly held idea, and couldn't, obviously, disagree with it more. I heard an NPR program on Greece a week or two back in which supposed economic experts were saying that the threat to Greece was from the "crazies on the left and the right" who somehow were joining up to promote instability. It's a sort of reassuring lie to think that there's some middle of the road path of moderation that leads to happy endings, and not hard to understand why people embrace this idea. It seems crucial to point out that this is actually a cudgel aimed mostly at actual left wing ideology.

    I like Mike's points, and especially a rejection of the term ultraleft, since it reinforces that notion that there is something wrong with being really radical in a way that actually challenges the realities of the existing world system.

  • Guest - Joel

    Building on Mike's comment, for me it's useful to frame it as "what are we for" as opposed "what are we against?". I think that is part of the mindset that develops into “reasonable moderation”. It also seems to me to be a framework which works against making "new mistakes". Because mistakes are not "correct" and are either "oppurtunist" or "ultra-left".
    I dig the abandonment of the concept of the "ultra-left".

  • Guest - Tyler Horvath

    Read Marx and Lenin. They talk about both Opportunists and Ultra Leftists, In great detail and without trying to hide their frustration and contempt. They were out screwing up the movements of their day too. Its not about how you feel its about what you do. You can be as Ultra left as you want to be in your mind, you can act with the noblest of intentions and justifications but if your actions harm the movement and empower the enemy well they are reactionary.

  • Tyler writes:

    <blockquote>"Read Marx and Lenin. They talk about both Opportunists and Ultra Leftists,"</blockquote>

    I mean no personal disrespect when I say "So what?"

    First, I don't think either of them used the term "ultra-left" the way our various conservative/orthodox communists do.

    And in our particular culture (and modern English), the word "opportunist" has a very particular and fixed meaning (i.e. of <em>personal</em> careerist and self-seeking -- not as rightwing political tendencies). Why would we try to impose a <em>nonexistent</em> meaning on a <em>familiar</em> word?

    what possible obligation do we have to use particular terms from the past, if they no long suit us or our circumstances.

    And second, the argument that Marx or Lenin did something doesn't strike me as a particularly strong argument that we are compelled to do something. It quite simply depends on what our analysis tells us.

    As Maoists have historically said: "Study critically, test independently."

  • Guest - maju00

    @Mike: Thanks for your answer. I think I understand much better your point now: you mean "strategical" leftism or genuine revolutionary attitude (as in trying to make the revolution happen eventually and not just posing alleged revolutionary aesthetics) vs. that tacticalism or what you say of merely defending an allegedly rupturist subculture within Capitalism instead of trying seriously to overcome it.

    I generally agree with that.

    @Ish said:

    <blockquote>"There’s a truism floating around in so-called mainstream political discourse that extreme left and extreme right are the same thing".</blockquote>

    (Here you are talking of Right-Left in the general bourgeois political discourse, not within Communism, of course).

    They are definitely not the same in almost anything except one: extremism. And notice that extremism (which is mostly related with dogmatism and irate posturing) has no relation with radicalism (adressing the root, radix, of the matter instead of being shallow and just posturing around on the branches). The Right cannot be radical (except maybe in very specific aspects, not in the general political analysis, much less strategy), while the Left not only can but should always be radical, what is not the same as being extremist.

    The bourgeois discourse confuses intentionally radicalism and extremism, the same it confuses communism and state socialism, etc. It's part of the rather intentional attempt to confuse the discourse and defame Revolution.

    @Tyler said:

    "You can be as Ultra left as you want to be in your mind, you can act with the noblest of intentions and justifications but if your actions harm the movement and empower the enemy well they are reactionary".</blockquote>


  • Tyler writes:

    <blockquote>"You can be as Ultra left as you want to be in your mind, you can act with the noblest of intentions and justifications but if your actions harm the movement and empower the enemy well they are reactionary".</blockquote>


    This assumes two things:

    First, that actions have a simple impact... and it is easy to sum up which actions "harm the movement and empower the enemy."

    Obviously <em>some</em> actions are impossible to uphold -- and to me those in general have to do with targeting oppressed people (targeting of civilians in warfare, engaging in ethnic warfare, etc.) and methods that contradict our goals (i.e. torture, nuclear threat on cities, etc.)

    But leaving aside those extreme cases... can we really so simply divide tactics emerging in the peoples struggle between "those that harm the movement" and those that don't? Isn't this a complex question requiring significant debate and examination.

    Second, is an action we disavow simply and obviously "reactionary" (i.e. equivalent of the actions of our enemy)? Is that how we discuss actions (among the people) that we disagree with?

    Third, is there something so simple as "the movement"? What is that? Which unitary and common "movement" are you referring to? (Seriously. I'm curious what your answer is, Tyler. Which "movement" are you referring to, and assuming we all take as a common reference point?) And what common goals define that movement? Aren't there really movements composed of very different social and political forces -- and aren't <em>some</em> goals served by <em>some</em> tactics, and <em>other</em> goals advanced by those same tactics?

    If you mean by "the movement" whatever <em>current</em> mass struggle and demands seem most prominent... well, is that movement, and its "harm" the basic standard we should adopt? Aren't our concerns more complex?

    And shouldn't those of us who are communists evaluate very complex and diverse actions from a perspective of <em>that</em> movement <em>toward communism</em>? And how many of us have thought (with a long-range and nuanced view) about the complexity of that standard of evaluation?

    * * * * * * * **

    Let me give a simple example:

    I think that having radical people aggressively advocating a vote for Obama hurts our movement for radical social change, and empowers our oppressors.

    But I don't think we should simply or crudely present them (or their actions) as "reactionary." They are wrong (in my opinion). They are naive, in many cases. They have complex impacts (in many places). But overall, for a host of reasons, I think that tactical and strategic decision is wrong. (And on a very basic level, I don't think we should support this empire, its presidency, its institutions, or its current commander in chief. And I think that all pulls toward critical support betrays a confusion about very basic confusion about right and wrong within a class society.)

    On the other hand, many many people who will vote for Obama are deeply disaffected (not just with him, but with the institutions of that society).

    I want us to unite with that disaffection, and bring them into contact with their own alienation from their own actions. In that discomfort, within that crevice (which is painfully obvious to millions of people who <em>will</em> vote), we have the seeds of unity and far better actions.

    How does that knee-jerk brush of "reactionary" help this process, and accelerate the discussions that are so important to radicalization.

    I think that we should be clear in our views (toward elections and the function of conservatism/cooptation that they serve), but moving people or their actions to crudely into the camp of "reactionary" is wrong and inappropriate. Let's reserve the "enemy" label for actions and people who deserve it.

  • Guest - Otto

    I've heard people in Occupy call some anarchist groups "similar to the WU." Their tactics are turning some people off. And who are these people who say "I regret helping Occupy after THEY threw stuff at cops?"
    Well such "left" critics aren't people who are serious about any kind of revolutionary change. They are the liberal leftists or Marxists, who often talk of how to reach people and yet they have sat on their asses for 30 years and getting nothing done other than publishing the so called "truth."
    If they don't like someone's tactics and believe those tactics help the right, they need their own Better tactics.
    Very few activists today are really trying to imitate the WU. If the right can use tactics against us, don't blame those who are doing something. It's better to be an activist with incorrect ideas than an armchair revolutionary who is politically correct in every way. At least an activist can learn from his/her mistakes. The armchair revolutionary learns nothing.

  • Guest - redbean91


    "The armchair revolutionary learns nothing."

    Isolation from popular movements/struggles(Occupy Wall Street, the Oakland Port Strike, etc.) is in my opinion, one of the biggest reasons of failure for countless 'revolutionaries.'

    Actually going out as radicals and fighting for a cause can not only be a powerful experience, but also helps bring radical politics to movements that may or may not be radical. The Russian Social Democrats(or Bolsheviks) often worked alongside simple struggles, such as pay raises at local factories, strikes, etc. etc., as they attempted to radicalize the working-class of Russia.

    Modern-day revolutionaries should seek to go back to the untainted root of Bolshevism, before all of that Stalinist gunk appeared post-civil war, instead of trying to repeat the 'success' of past attempts at (post-WWII/Cold War) socialism, or worse yet reveling in those past attempts.

    Mike E:

    "I think that having radical people aggressively advocating a vote for Obama hurts our movement for radical social change, and empowers our oppressors."

    I agree, to an extent. Supposing for a moment that America won't be 'ripe for socialism' for a long time, a question shall be posed: Should we support the lesser of two evils(Obama and the Democrat Party), or continue to struggle on the barricades to the end, hoping that Americans rise up one day?

    Although I'm not in favor of voting a Republican into power in the White House, isn't the alternative at least slightly better? Besides, as long as a bourgeois leader is in power in America, it's not like voting for Obama will dissipate every last drop of revolutionary energy, while at the same time won't it make people's lives (slightly) better off in the long run?

    Alternatively, we can fight mercilessly against all things reformist, and cut ourselves off from all attempts at supporting the establishment(voting, etc. etc.). is not the fact of the matter that many, if not most Americans DO support the establishment? Why make ourselves seem like pariahs? Why not vote for Obama at a time when radicalism and socialism aren't on the national agenda, at least not in full force?

  • Guest - Maju

    Because Obama is a right wing president that has absolutely nothing to offer? If you'd say "why not to vote for the Green Party candidates?", which gather both elements of being relatively radical and having managed to gather some 20% of the vote in some elections, that could make some sense (it'd be arguable but it'd make some sense) but supporting a demonstrated right wing imperialist hypocrite...

  • Guest - Miles Ahead

    I want to state that I don’t believe in the old adage, that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” But a realization that I have come to is the longer I live, as a participatory political activist, etc., the more complicated I think things are. Often times I find myself asking more questions than coming up with some pat answer. This is not to say that the world and society with all its machinations are unknowable.

    I liked this post by Mike because it clarified some things, more specifically the term “ultra leftist”—and coming at that term from both sides of the spectrum, and a term that has been bandied about for decades, with little substance. If you think about “ultra left” from more of a communist point of view, and communist goals, the term could almost be construed as an oxymoron in a more worn-out context.

    Instead I think the &gt;<i>Introduction&gt;</i> to the post by Nicolette Attente, <b>Learning from Greece: Strategic questions of our own</b>, is very helpful in pushing forward and aiding our collective understanding, both strategically and tactically:

    <blockquote><i>Yesterday we posted a remarkable interview with ten young communists active in the profound crisis shaking official politics and everyday life. The discussion digs into how revolutionaries seek to transform a crisis into a revolution — how they make analysis, how they study and respond to the needs of the people, how they seek to help connect as communists with the radicalization of millions. </i></blockquote>

    And Ms. Attente raises all sorts of pertinent, relevant and <i>difficult</i> questions, and to my mind, it would be nice to see some more substantive discussion around those very questions.

    One thing that she raised was:

    <blockquote>I then think of the categories that people get placed in the advance, the intermediate, and the backward. How does this all factor in? </blockquote>

    Before on Kasama, I have expressed some of my disdain for what I consider some superficial (and often times mechanical) labeling of people as “advanced” or “intermediate”—backward a whole lot easier to understand. And I’m not at all sure that there are big differences between calling someone an ultra-leftist or opportunist, and slotting someone as advanced or intermediate.

    What I find disturbing –besides the more obvious complex human factor—is, where is more analysis of the objective situation in all this? E.g., What are some of the reasons for the “radicalization of millions”? What do the different crises of capitalism and imperialism really represent or bring about?

    Sorry, but much of the time it appears that all starts and stops with the subjective or revolutionary forces. And that is precisely why I thought the introduction and interview with the ten communists from Greece (even though they somewhat scratched the surface) enlightening.

    I was reminded this morning about how important it is to think about things being in motion, and not so statically. Spoke with a friend who had been very involved with Occupy (someone who has suffered under the system her whole life), and she was very distraught. “Where the hell is Occupy?”

    Besides telling her about O.O.’s involvement around fighting some grammar school closures (which fight, sit-ins, etc. have been initiated by parents and people in the community), I said, “We’re going through a transformation. Do you think some of the basic contradictions of this heinous system are just gonna go away, or dissipate?” etc. “No,” she replied, “in fact I think it’s gonna get a whole lot worse, and we might come back even stronger.” So I sent her some of the recent summations thus far, e.g. Boston and “beyond demands” and we’ll get together with some other friends soon to have some more discussion.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    'Ultraleftism' has plenty of substance. It's an effort to adapt or capitulate Marxism toward anarchism, from the First International onward, and it comes in dozens of flavors. One can do away with the word or substitute another, as you like. But the problem doesn't go away.

  • Guest - Otto


    What is the difference between Occupy and any other issue movement? For the first time in 30 years young people are tired of being politically excluded from the political system and they can see through the smoke and mirrors of US "democracy."
    We should sit this out?
    I can only compare this to the student uprising in France in the late 1960s where the official Communist party sided with the government and the uprising failed. We can only wonder what changes would have accoured if the French Communist Party had supported this uprising. Where they afraid? is the thought of a revolutionary responsibility too much for some communists?
    Either way we will never know and France gained nothing from allowing the student uprising to get crushed. It is foolish to just sit by and watch while students begin to grasp the idea of rebellion against a system that has given up any legitimacy it ever had.

  • Guest - Maju

    Regardless of what you say Otto (I think you are right), there is one BIG difference between the 1968 and 2011 (and whatever comes next): 1968 was at the peak of an expansive economic cycle: the revolutionary movement was legitimate but was product of excess rather than the natural trigger of class revolts: crisis. That is another reason why it (partly) failed. (I say "partly" because it should be obvious that "failed" revolutions tend to succeed to some extent in the mid run, being punctual expressions of greater cycles of change, which not only manifest in pure revolutionary form).

    Today instead the "squares movement", as it's called in Greece and which is very interesting because (among other reasons) has transcended state borders with quite incredible ease (Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, USA, etc.) - each with its peculiarities but all for the same deep reasons: quickly growing unemployment, general crisis, exhaustion of the extant political system, lack of up&gt;down hope, urgent need of autonomously generated hope by the masses...

    This movement, unlike the one of 1968 has very deep roots: people is growingly desperate and it is a symptom of awakening of class consciousness. I understand that genuine class political movements should impel them, grow in them and imbue them of class content (with due pedagogy of course).

    In many senses the late Capitalist system is showing dramatic signs of exhaustion, of inability to manage society, something that they had generally managed to do since WWII, and of inability to propose any sort o credible social project that is not a raw vampiric Capitalism that is way too raw to digest for the palates of the advanced working class of the 21st century. A working class that is not anymore just the factory worker but which is, as Negri would put it (based on Marx), the social worker, a wider concept of the productive class, now needing to get direct control of the full productive process, now demanding total democracy: a democracy that includes all aspects of life, beginning by the economy.

    That has changed since 1968. It's been two generations after all... time flies!

  • Guest - Otto


    That's an interesting comparison between 1968 and now. If it is all true then we have even more reasons for supporting Occupy and other similar rebellions in Europe.

  • Guest - Maju

    I see it that way: people, specially after three decades of Neoliberal and anti-communist brainwashing does not have a clear class consciousness, logically. Yet they are not dumb either and we can see in most of the discourses and slogans and actions of OWS and similar movements, at least in Europe, have quite marked class struggle content.

    Another thing is how to articulate that... that's a political challenge. In Madrid they chose to create neighborhoods assemblies, which are somewhat active as far as I know. From this or that in Spain there have been organizations against home repossessions, against public transport fare-hikes, spontaneous actions against police persecution of immigrants, etc. Even the elderly have become mobilized, actioning against banks and such.

    However it's all very scattered and forming a true mass movement able to take power should take a long time if it ever happens. However you can have semi-revolutionary unexpected pushes once the basis are laid, as happened in Greece with Syriza, which is the product of a quasi-revolutionary situation on which such electoral advance was built.

    What will happen? I can't say because I lack the unlikely power of foresight but I do think that (1) this crisis is BIG (very lengthy and very deep and more or less global, with deep structural foundations) and (2) today's Capitalism has no social project that can keep social stability as it did until recently. Hence I expect this situation to degenerate in growing cycles of class struggle and also growing cycles of quite dangerous social and political degeneration. It's getting truly hot and it does not look like anyone has anything but small water buckets which are powerless before the dimensions of the fire.

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

0 Character restriction
Your text should be more than 10 characters
Your comments are subjected to administrator's moderation.