- Category: Theory
- Created on Wednesday, 27 August 2008 10:00
- Written by John Steele
by John Steele
We are starting to discuss our organizational, theoretical and practical plans for moving forward. Here is a tentative document for discussion of the theoretical project. I have jotted down my sense of what our theoretical project entails, so that we can flesh it out and modify it.
Theoretically the Nine Letters were written as a polemic against the failures and assumptions of the RCP. Now we need to move beyond that.
In the last of the Nine Letters, the analogy for our theoretical moment is found in the beginnings of the Red Army’s long march, when Mao’s forces had to abandon their heavy baggage. So do we:
“We need to discard ruthlessly, but cunningly, in order to fight under difficult conditions. We will be traveling light, without baggage and clutter from earlier modes of existence. We need to preserve precisely those implements that serve the advance, against fierce opposition, toward our end goal. We need to integrate them into a vibrant new communist coherency — as we thrive on the run.”
We need to reconceive as we regroup:
“We need a process, a going, where we sort things through, think afresh, and start to act, together.”
The theoretical project involves the sorting things through and thinking afresh. It involves a reconception.
As part of this project of reconception, we need a decisive break with the RCP's ossified and ultimately elitist divide of "thinkers and doers."
We want to break with the generational arrogance that believes this new generation had nothing new to add (as if the world hadn't changed, and as if they aren't engaged in a unique way in that!). We want to get away from "here is the line, your job is to grasp it, reorient your thinking and implement it."
Instead, we will discuss projects and questions collectively before they start, and circulate outlines, drafts and problems as they emerge. As we did with the 9 letters, we will find ways that all kinds of people can make all kinds of input contributions (even if they themselves are not ready to do a full synthesis or a counter-synthesis at this moment, or on this topic). And we need a project and a movement where debate happens (on major problems of theory and strategy) before the decisions and final formulation, not just afterwards. In fact where debate is ongoing.
This has to be a movement that crackles with comradely debate, new ideas, provocative proposals, heretical suggestions, new data... and where everyone is involved in that....
With this in mind, what do we need? We need, at least:
I. A revolutionary strategy.
Our theoretical project must be part of understanding the world in order to change it This is our foremost theoretical task. We need a strategy for going forward in a revolutionary way. And we do not have a model or template.
- How can we make revolution in the U.S. -- in alliance with the people of surrounding countries, and the people of the world?
- What does revolution look like in this era of interconnected highly urban society?
- What are the social forces at the core of revolutionary change?
- What is the society and mode of production that will (can) replace modern capitalism?
- What does it look like to sever or transform the linkages of imperialism, transforming capitalist globalization to socialist globalization?
- What is internationalism in our era -- before and after the revolution?
- What does it mean to critically examine assumptions of models (including the cherished and instructive model of "October Road.")
An example of how this question poses itself, raised sharply by the 9 Letters – the inability of communist thinking, historically, to gain a real foothold among any section of the masses in this country (see Letter 2). On the one hand, as Mike points out in this critique, this fact, in relation to the efforts which communists have made, cries out for analysis and summation. But more importantly (and this would be the purpose of such an analysis in the first place), how does this relate to future political/ revolutionary work?
In other words, how to do revolutionary work, in such a way that it may gain purchase among sections of the people, and gain partisans for revolution, or for a communist, or a genuinely emancipatory, politics?
What is a possible scenario of revolution in this country? What might the actual process of revolution look like?
II. A deep comprehension of the world today:
The world has changed dramatically over the past 40 years (over the past 30 years, the past 20, or 10 years). We need to understand, on a deeper, more integrated and theoretical level:
As we say in Letter 9:
“…the new connectedness of production and communications, the global shifts of industry, the mass migrations of people, the changes in class structures, the dynamics of modern warfare, the capitalist transformation of remaining feudal relations, the new interpenetrations and conflicts of imperialist powers, the basis and limitations shaping the unprecedented attempt to establish a global U.S. hegemony, the development of political Islam, and the stark historically-new ways the emancipation of women is posed”
Letter 9 continues:
“There are related analyses of the U.S. itself that are needed, including deepening understanding of the impact of ‘de-industrialization’ of the working class, and changes in the structures of national oppression (i.e., racist oppression of minority people in the U.S.).”
As this letter also emphasizes,
“These changes (and more) are driving a world process quite different from the one explored in earlier communist analysis.”
Comprehending the world today means looking and thinking afresh. We don’t “already know.”
General areas which we need to comprehend include:
- the structure and dynamics of capitalism and imperialism on a world scale today
- the structure of classes today, in the U.S. and worldwide
- the dynamics of imperialist political and military strategy/tactics
- demographics, migrations, and interrelations of peoples globally
- movements of resistance and opposition among the people
- new structures and methods of warfare
- structures and dynamics of popular communication and modes of feeling
- the United States: both the ways in which global dynamics play out here, and the particularities of this country
We need to look afresh and understand the great revolutions and movements of liberation of the 20th century. We need to understand the history of socialism and what that history shows us about the dynamics of the socialist transition and the causes of capitalist restoration.
There has been, in fact, much investigation and scholarship, and new material has come to light over the past decades. Regardless of new material, the passage of time alone, the ways in which changes in the world effect changed perspectives on the past, raises the need for reassessment. But even more, the changes that have taken place in the past 30 years include great shifts in popular perceptions of socialist societies. As we say in the 9 Letters,
“When encountering communists, people all over the world demand to know what we have learned from this exhilarating and painful process, and what we would now do differently.”
And we need historical analysis, not only of this process, but of the whole sweep of movements and struggles for liberation which so much marked the 20th century – and particularly of the movements and struggles in the United States. Especially with regard to those in this country, this is our past, we go forward at least in part on that basis, and we need to understand it. Here too we need to reexamine spontaneous and already-held verdicts and summations.
IV. The question of ideology, or overall revolutionary theory.
What structure of theory and practice do we need in order to do creative and effective revolutionary thinking, and political work, now?
Recalling again the Long March analogy, we too must ask, and decide, what to discard, what to build on, and what to build out? What to critically borrow from others, what to assimilate, and what to leave for later?