- Category: Theory
- Created on Monday, 26 October 2009 09:54
- Written by Mike Ely
MPBW objected (with dismissive anger) to remarks on the theory and history of Trotskyism. I'm going to set aside the tone of MPBW's comments, and deal with a few points.
1) I think there is a general problem of "decline" in the forms of radical left activity forged in the previous century. And i think part of what we need to regroup is forces who want to understand and break out of that pattern.
And I believe that is possible because that decline is independent of the acute suffering of the people globally and the very real potential for radical social alternatives. We (the revolutionary left) need to actively press beyond this moment -- and pull something new out of this crisis.
2) I suggested that Trotskyism as a trend is deep into disarray and dispersal. And that is hard to deny. The Fourth International was rather still-born already in Trotsky's life in the 1930s. It found some pockets of intellectual adherents, but shattered as a trend. Its surviving components have maintained themselves largely by taking distance (in some basic ways) from their own initial beliefs. We could plot the trajectories of Ernest Mandel's trend, or de-trotskyization of the Workers World and PSL, or Jack Barnes' withdrawal from Permanent Revolution, or the flurry around post-Trotskyist formations of the Third Camp kind -- but those who are interested in such matters already know about them.
3) Here is the point: I don't think that this kind of crisis is peculiar to Trotskyism. The various left political trends are different in a number of ways, but they do share the common appearance of crisis. And in this I'm including anarchism (which had a spurt of generational growth in the 1980s). And it is even true of the more electoral left forces identified with the Greens or Nader -- for whom the appearance of "spoiler" after the tied 2000 election has proven to be such a trauma.
Nepal's Maoists argue that the restoration of capitalism in China and the USSR can't just be blamed on "revisionists." In other words: The weakness and setbacks of various radical forces are ultimately rooted in a mix of subjective shortcomings and objective conditions. And we need to sort that out.
We wrote the "9 Letters to Our Comrades" as a polemic around the stark failures and degeneration of the RCP -- where after 40 years of effort the trend's influence remained effectively zero. But responses to the 9 Letters have come from many corners -- many trends in the U.S., and many parts of the world -- suggesting that there is something common here. And part of that is a common frustration with the results of mini-party strategies rooted in highly-refined and inherited ideological verdicts.
4) Now there are some folks who think the solution to all problems is retrenched orthodoxy. And from that perspective, the very nature of our Kasama Project is infuriating -- because it is exactly the opposite of retrenching orthodoxy.
In the RCP it is said that the truth and the correct line (for everyone in the world!) "is there for the taking" and people just need to "race to catch up with the Main Man." So (from tht starting point) the very idea of stepping back for critical reconsideration of the RCP's experience and ideas is <em>considered the opposite</em> of what is needed. An old Maoist orthodoxy has been dumped (with very little explanation) but only to militantly assert a new orthodoxy. And (solely based on that logic) the response of the RCP to the work of the Kasama Project has to brand us (quite simply) as "counterrevolutionary."
Fairly or unfairly, i read the tone of MPBW as an example of that kind of fury against "reconception."
In the most friendly way possible, we should say to the orthodox: Fine. You have a different conception from us. Continue with your entrenched "fidelity to the fidelity" -- continue trying to win success by rarified and persistent orthodoxy. ("Keep on keeping on.") Keep tolling the bell (as Mao called it). And, please, send regular reports of your progress, so that we and others can continue to sum up the weakness and strengths of your concepts.
But really, the forces of orthodoxy are weak and fading -- and the real struggle is not over abandoning sects, but over remaining revolutionary under new conditions. The fight for an alternative, communist society needs to be raised in fresh and creative ways.
5) On the question of Maoism: MPBW discovers that I am a Maoist -- which is both obvious and a source of pride. And I repeat that "I am a Maoist" often -- because our common work on the Kasama Project is (in appearance) so distant from what has passed as Maoist orthodoxy.
Even a friendly engagement (for example) with social democrats and liberals over their embrace of Obama, or with Trotskyists over questions of the Soviet Union, or with many other revolutionaries over the failures of our common past -- such discussions strike some people as confusion, agnosticism, eclectism, revisionism, etc. etc.
I often feel like writing somewhat snidely: "Critical thinking, summation of practice, fresh analysis of new contradictions, engagement with those who disagree -- not clear on those shocking-but-elementary concepts?!"
Mao was remarkably persistent in transforming inherited Marxism into strategies and ideas that actually applied to making revolution is a very particular place and time. He had great fidelity to the goals of communism (more than anyone I have ever heard of) -- but he had little patience with inherited verdicts that did not correspond with the reality he faced. He was both an iconoclast and a communist. And I think we should all learn at least that from him and his life's work.
We need a political project and engagement that is defined by two things: It needs to be profoundly non-dogmatic and it needs to be starkly revolutionary.
We need a regroupment of the "hard left" that has creative alternatives to sectarian approaches that have proven sterile. And we need a revolutionary left that emerges in intense, friendly and creative dialogue with radical forces who are not yet revolutionary.
There is a need for engagement of at least three kinds:
a) A new and creative engagement among revolutionaries (that we have called "reconception and regroupment")
b) A style of work and public political practice that involves an ongoing state of "unity and struggle" with the large numbers of genuinely progressive people who do not (yet!) share any revolutionary perspective.
c) And then the fierce engagement of struggle and resistance to the oppression of the people -- actual struggle with the system and its defenders -- along key faultlines, in key political battles. Such battles include those where large numbers of people are rising to engage, but also important campaigns that we need to intiate because no one else does. And such engagement with struggle has to be distinct from the deadening routines of treadmill activism that are themselves a form of impotence and paralysis.
And the perspective of those three levels of engagement is to prepare for those moments when the possibility emerges for large numbers of people (a "revolutionary people") to emerge self-consciously around revolutinary politic. (Mao said "hasten and await" conjunctural changes in objective conditions.)
And this preparation means:
a) A theoretical and political preparation of the revolutionary forces, that over time takes various organizational forms. It includes a summation of the past century (both the real-world experience of socialism and those revolutionary attempts that didn't get that far). It involves the creation of a kind of "nimbleness" -- that will enable us to perceive and adapt to the unique conditions of future conjunctures.
b) A preparation of embryonic alliances (and a style of work that fosters alliances) -- where revolutionaries appear as active participants, partners and challengers on a landscape of real politics.
c) The work of seeking, identifying and uniting with forces among the oppressed who can become the core of a future "revolutionary people." (Investigating among the youth, the immigrant, those discarded and exploited, those driven to second tier status by gender, race, and class.)
I say all this to point out that the verdicts here are not as simple as MPBW believes. And they can't be explored by angry drive-by assertions of personal truth.
They need to be actually excavated in a framework where we can exchange insights and differences -- where we think and rethink. And really, the point is not to fight for vindication (of this particular policy or that one) along very old "lines in the sand" -- but to actually understand better the dynamics and contradictions of the last century, and what that means for revolution in this one.