- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Saturday, 23 June 2012 11:13
- Written by Mike Ely
“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.