- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 23:10
- Written by kasama
Read with us! Announcing the Kasama Book Club
By THE KASAMA PROJECT
The Kasama Project is excited to announce the initiation of the Kasama Book Club. Each month we're selecting a single book to be read and discussed by our entire membership and by anyone else who is interested. We will be reading a broad range of books that address a variety of subjects important to the revolutionary movement we seek to build: books on the oppression and liberation of women; on racism and national oppression in the United States; on the history of popular struggles and of the communist movement both in the U.S. and around the world; on imperialism, revolutionary strategy, organization and more. A short reading guide for each book will include discussion questions and suggestions for further reading.
In a number of cities across the country including Boston, New York, Houston, Seattle, Portland, and Denver, reading circles of Kasama comrades and friends are being organized around the monthly readings. Individual supporters and Kasama Project website readers are encouraged to participate in the Book Club by reading along. The books being selected will cover a broad range of issues and should be an excellent opportunity for people to engage discussions on questions both historic and urgent. Any Kasama readers who would like help setting up their own reading circle including study guides and reading lists, or who would like to attend one of our existing reading circles, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course it should be noted that the selection of a book for study by the Kasama Book Club is not a blanket endorsement of any author's point of view: the books are being selected to provoke critical engagement with key issues.
For February, our first monthly reading is “Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory” by Lise Vogel. We'll be reading the updated version of this work, which was originally published in 1983. Haymarket Books has recently republished this work, describing it as revisiting “classical Marxian texts, tracking analyses of ‘the woman question’ in socialist theory and drawing on central theoretical categories of Marx’s Capital to open up an original theorization of gender and the social production and reproduction of material life.”
Upcoming Kasama Book Club selections will include Waldo E. Martin's history of the Black Panther Party “Black Against Empire,” and Kirkpatrick Sale's definitive history of the 1960s student movement, “SDS: The rise and development of the Students for a Democratic Society.” Topics later in the year will include aspects of communist theory, various chapters of 20th century communist history, and specific challenges faced by revolutionary organizers today.
Stay tuned to this space for ongoing details.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Sunday, 15 December 2013 23:59
- Written by Joe Ramsey
The following is an except of an article that appears in the recently published, November 2013 issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, “Re-Imagining the Place and Time of Communism Today: Between Hardt's “New Love” and Jameson's “Citizen Army”, Socialism and Democracy, 27:3, 54-82.
A Pdf of the full article ,which includes a discussion of recent ideas put forth by Marxist theorist Fredric Jameson, can be found online here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08854300.2013.832955
We are sharing this piece on Kasama because we feel that Michael Hardt’s speech, here criticized by J. Ramsey, concentrates a number of ideas and approaches that are quite pervasive on the left, in various registers, quite apart from whether or not these forces have read or been influenced by Hardt himself (with or without his critical partner, Antonio Negri).
The author welcomes direct replies at email@example.com .
Re-Imagining the Place and Time of Communism Today: Between Hardt’s “New Love” and Jameson’s “Citizen Army”
Joseph G. Ramsey
This year’s summer Institute on Culture and Society, the spirited annual gathering of the Marxist Literary Group (MLG), featured an intensive week of intellectual exchange and political engagement, bringing together radical scholars and critics, students, teachers, and activists, from across the United States, Canada, and beyond. Founded in 1969, the MLG is a member organization of the Modern Language Association (MLA), and is committed to supporting and expanding the reach of Marxist theory within the disciplines of literary and cultural studies, and in the humanities more generally. While not as overtly devoted to activism as the MLA’s Radical Caucus, the MLG maintains a lively and supportive email list, and since 1976 has hosted its summer gathering, sometimes affectionately described as “commie camp.”1 The MLG also produces the journal Mediations.2
Among the many fine features of the MLG’s summer Institute is that there are no concurrent panel sessions. This allows for a continuity of discussion that is rare at academic conferences, and facilitates the development of intellectual as well as personal connections between scholars of different disciplines, fields, and generations. Sociologists and geographers sit next to literary scholars who sit next to philosophers and historians; emeritus professors drink beers and debate openly with graduate students late into the night. Six to eight hours of panel sessions surround midday reading groups which delve into classic Marx texts as well as more contemporary theory and scholar- ship, from Communization Theory3 to Kevin Anderson’s recent book Marx at the Margins.
The wealth of insight and the energy of debate, not to mention the warm bonds of friendship and comradeship that characterized this year’s Institute (held at Ohio State University), extend well beyond what this article can hope to capture. I attempt here to engage just one small snapshot of the event: the last two evening lectures. These spoke, however, to core issues that many Marxists – academics and activists alike – are struggling with. The two hour-long talks came from high-profile American Marxist intellectuals, Michael Hardt (on Thursday night) and Fredric Jameson (on Friday night, to close the conference).4 Both are authors of many books and countless articles, and have exerted a significant influence on radical thought both within the academy and beyond it.5
Capping the week of lively panel presentations and ongoing discussions, each speaker offered something of a “big picture” proposal and provocation regarding a question that was on the minds of many: how to conceive communism, and/or revolutionary subjectivity for our times – how to link our understandings of where things are, with where we want them to go, with the question of who or what can take them there.6 Quite apart from the content of these closing presentations, which we shall turn to shortly, it seems to me a promising sign that issues of communism (and revolutionary subjectivity more broadly) are on the tongues of so many radical intellectuals in the US today, from so many different disciplines and regions – by which I mean not just the likes of Hardt and Jameson, but the eighty or so people who attended this year’s Institute, many of whom I am proud to call comrades.7
“The ABCs of Communism” with Michael Hardt
For those familiar with his work, Michael Hardt’s MLG talk did not appear to offer much that was new. Nonetheless, the clarity of his presentation makes the speech he gave a useful entry point into analyzing some of his main ideas, ideas which have had significant influence both within and beyond radical academic circles.8 Hardt entitled his talk “The ABCs of Communism” (an allusion to Bukharin’s handbook from the 1920s) and prefaced it as an attempt to explain what he means by the term communism. He positioned his paper against the current of increasingly widespread “talk about communism,” which often, he said, leaves the end goal itself only vaguely defined. In contrast, Hardt argued for understanding communism as an “economic, social, and political proposal” and proceeded to outline his particular conception as consisting of the abolition of four major interrelated institutions of modern life: the abolition of property, the abolition of work, the abolition of the state, and the abolition of the family. Apart from the content of his talk, it was for me a promising sign that a radical thinker such as Hardt was making an attempt to frame his core concepts in a more popular, digestible form. Listening to his lecture, I felt that his discourse was one that most people could grasp and engage, without the need for some specialized training. This cannot always – cannot often – be said of radical theory in the United States today.
Hardt framed his approach to these “4 Abolitions” by emphasizing two more general points of orientation. The first was that while it is all well and good to speak of communism and revolution as “beautiful,” such utopian talk can be one-sided. It is important, he insisted, not to ignore the ways communism may well appear quite “monstrous” to us, at least insofar as we have been formed by and through capitalist society. Communism, he insisted, will mean giving up some of what “we” hold most dear, what gives people today their sense of identity.9
Hardt’s second framing point was that, far from being impossible utopian proposals, each of his four calls for abolition is in fact feasible, in that the “basis” for it “is present already” in contemporary capitalist society. Hardt asserted – and has argued elsewhere, for years – that capitalism is immanently building the basis for communism in its very forms and fibers, creating the foundation for a new society, not just despite itself, but out of its own capitalist logic.
At the outset, it is interesting to compare what we might call Hardt’s “4 Abolitions” with what are sometimes called the “4 Alls” of Communism. According to the Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism (maintained by Scott Harrison at http://www.massline. org/Dictionary/):
“FOUR ALLS” is the name given by the Chinese during the Mao era to the fol- lowing four points which concisely and powerfully sum up the essence and meaning of communist revolution:
1) The abolition of class distinctions generally.
2) The abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest.
3) The abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production.
4) The revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.10
It is worth noting the differences, as well as the overlap, between these two conceptions of what communism means and strives for.
For starters, the “4 Alls” makes the primary target of abolition – the one from which all the others follow – the abolition of “all class distinctions.” It’s a heady notion. Here we can intuit the need to abolish and/or radically transform quite a number of social relations (inside and outside of production): the capital–labor relation (including but not limited to the boss–worker relation), the landlord–peasant (or landlord–tenant) relation, as well as the inequities that are inherent in patriarchal relations and in the realm of imperialism, including national or racial oppression. It is at root a maxim of human equality, of broad applicability.
In contrast, Hardt’s primary target of abolition (from which his other targets follow) is defined as “property.” Not just private property, he emphasized, but property in general. The very notion of property, Hardt claimed, even for instance public property, carries the logic of private property within it: it still hinges on granting a monopoly of force that serves to lock people out and away from access to a particular substance or space. Thus, Hardt opposed what he called (following Marx) “crude communism” that would ‘merely’ shift control over property from private individuals to the state or some other collective “owning” body. Does Hardt’s placing the accent on property rather than, say, class matter, and how so? What is lost or gained in this reframing?
Hardt challenged listeners to consider the depths to which property logic has permeated our thinking and even experience of individuality and self-hood. He suggested that “Private property makes us stupid,” making us feel that “a thing isn’t ours unless we own it.” One of our challenges in creating communism, he argued, will be to take up theoretically and practically the question, “How can things be ours without our owning them?” Here Hardt usefully echoed the early Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, emphasizing the need for a total re-education of the senses in order to shed the stupidity and selfishness that private property has bred in human beings.11
Still, juxtaposing Hardt’s “4 Abolitions” with the Maoist “4 Alls” in this way immediately raises a number of questions:
On the one hand, is human equality (the abolition of class) incompatible with the continued existence of property as such?12 Or only incompatible with certain types of property, such as say, capital, or exclusive ownership of fertile land, i.e., property that gives one party power over another, allowing the former to exploit the latter in ways that will accentuate inequalities, empowering some at the expense of others?
On the other hand, is an abolition of property (and “its logic”) as such adequate to the abolition of class inequalities, understood in all their many manifestations?13 Or are social inequalities produced by capitalism-imperialism embedded in other forms that are related but not reducible to property relations? (To get a bit ahead of ourselves, would communizing or collectivizing property and economic decision-making within the existing structures and places where they now stand be adequate to creating communism, understood as the worldwide abolition of class distinctions? Or, over and above immanent communization, is there a need for a deliberate restructuring of global social relations (and reallocation of resources) in such a way as to fundamentally re-work the parts in relationship to the whole? How, for example, should the historic imbalances produced between global North and South be addressed by a truly communist movement?)
Hardt’s resistance to drawing a line between private property and property per se led one MLG questioner to ask about his shirt, and whether or not he would have an exclusive right to it under communism, as Hardt had described it. Would and should communism allow for (and offer defense of) personal property in the form of possessions, clothes, objects, even a home, etc?14 And how would such a right be maintained? Didn’t Marx himself make the point (albeit polemically, in the Manifesto, with Engels) that it was capitalism not communism that threatened to appropriate from the great majority of people what small bits of property they had acquired through their lifelong toil? Hardt appeared rather unclear on this point, perhaps because he is reluctant to admit, or uncertain of how to conceptualize, the body or authority that might enforce such exclusive rights, however “personal.” As we have noted, Hardt calls for the abolition of the state, understood as a coercive entity standing apart from and over society.
As the alternative to both state and market, both public and private property, Hardt proposes the “common,” as a mode of organizing social life that depends, for him, on two criteria: “open and equal access to all” and “democratic collective self-management.” He referred to recent developments in Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as to the Occupy Wall Street movement, as expressions of an actually existing “aspiration to the common” that is resistant to both state and market forms, “anti-neoliberal, and yet not pro-state.” Admitting the weaknesses and frustrations (as well as the beauty) of experiments such as Occupy, Hardt emphasized their value as learning experiences aimed at discovering and developing the methods and forms by which people can exercise democratic self-management. In this view, those struggling to find the best methods of facilitating General Assemblies might be seen as a kind of vanguard of the movement for the commons. Fair enough.
But with Occupy still spinning in my head, the big question for me as Hardt spoke was: Can this notion of the commons be scaled up beyond the local? Don’t we need to attend to the roll-back and break-up of Occupy as well as its spectacular moment of growth?15 As someone who dove into this event, who brought clothes, food, and books down to Occupy Boston, and who sought to work with and through the General Assembly and in working-groups in all sorts of ways, I still must ask: Is it conceptually valid, let alone logistically feasible, to manage entire societies, up to the national and the international level, as commons in this immediate sense? Without the support and supplement of something like large state structures?16 Without delegating at least temporary authority to some sort of elected leadership? Without even a centrally coordinated transition (call it ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat,’ ‘socialism,’ the ‘first stage of communism,’ or something else altogether)?17
Complicating the matter further is the fact that Hardt argues that political “representation” itself is a suspect, “property-based concept,” whereby the political will of one person is transferred to another (as if it were currency). Hardt didn’t quite call for the “abolition” of the idea of political representation, but he seemed to be leaning in that direction. It’s interesting to reflect on such commonplace notions, but it’s also risky to problematize them as such insofar as “representation” is a term that can stand for any number of ways and means of representing people, their decisions, their interests, preferences, desires, and ideas. For example, just looking at current and mainstream political practices, it is not only common for the transfer of group authority to be made temporary (from term limits on elected officials, to one convention only delegations), but it is also possible (and not uncommon) for elected “representatives” to be recalled by their constituents. Similarly, it is possible to subject representatives’ decisions to popular vetoes in the form of referenda, before they are implemented.18
Admittedly, Hardt does here point out a real cultural trend (and danger) of treating political will as an alienable property; such a notion of consent as transferrable currency certainly can be (and has been) exploited by leaders who are on their way to becoming a detached, bureaucratic elite. In our present ‘mainstream’ environment of cynical voter-resignation, in particular, we do need to insist that no amount of having voted for a politician or a party can deprive the people of their right to have a further say in their situation, even and especially when it means challenging those who officially ‘represent’ them; people cannot delegate away their political will. (Similarly, people ought not to feel bound to obey laws that are unjust and oppressive, just because they are formally legitimate.)
But valuable as it may be as a means of disrupting or delegitimizing the existing electoral-capitalist complacency, is this anti-representational principle fit to structure the realm of revolutionary politics? Does it apply to the realm of communism, where presumably the dictatorship of capital (or, as Hardt would put it, property) is overcome? One could raise a similar question regarding some of the autonomist modes of workers organizing against or without managers: Is the logic of resistance co-extensive with the necessities of revolutionary struggle? Or do these two form a more diagonal, at times contradictory mix, requiring serious mediation? (We will return to this below.) More immediately, how useful is such an anti-concept in this moment where radical forces are struggling to coalesce into a more substantial and effective political body? It seems to me that an outright hostility to the very concept of political representation (to even temporary and provisional delegations of collective political will) can become a debilitating bias indeed – unless it is replaced with another concept that does the work of representation in a new and better – more accountable, more organically mass-responsive – way.19
Those who experienced the General Assemblies (GA) of Occupy for an extended period likely got to see first-hand not just the prefigurative beauty of an aspiration for the common, but also what Jodi Dean (among others) has criticized as a reluctance or inability to confront and to work through its own internal political divisions.20 Interestingly, at least in Boston, Occupy’s horizontal processes appeared to function best in moments when there was a clear and present danger against which to unite: especially the imminent threat of police attack. Nonetheless, based on the Occupy experience, I believe that we should be skeptical of the notion that a revolutionary movement, or a new communist society, can do without some forms of representation and/or strategic delegation of authority, to facilitate decision-making in times of sudden and unforeseen crisis, to help the collective keep focus during lull phases, to push the group to work through its own internal contradictions in a non-antagonistic way, to facilitate coordination with other communes or occupations elsewhere, as well as to help work through the contradictions and challenges immanent to the movement and moment. To hypothesize bluntly: If every major Occupation had elected a team of (temporary! recallable!) delegates – say one month in, in October, 2011 – we very well might have been able to raise our movement to a higher level, for instance by organizing a representative national convergence that could have brought focus, visibility, and sustainability to the historic upsurge, coordinating actions across cities and regions, drawing new forces into the national movement, while also providing a clear platform for the open struggle between contending political views and approaches. This might have been a significant step forward for the Occupy movement, creating new opportunities, as well as – of course! – challenges, and yes, new dangers, too.
That this didn’t happen was not primarily because of police repression: anti-representational biases played a role in stymying the coalescence, concentration, and self-clarification and expansion, of the Occupy movement.21
Of course, it goes without saying – but still must be said – that to keep such representatives and leaders responsive, accountable, and connected to the needs and wants of the people needs to be an ongoing priority of any movement for radical change; similarly all such official representations remain subject to amendment and critique. Part of this task involves the cultivation of new leaders – quite apart from whether they hold officially “representative” positions or not – so that the movement does not become vulnerable (whether to distortion or to repression) in its over-reliance and dependence on particular individuals. Indeed, one of the best criteria for judging the effectiveness of revolutionary leadership – or of a mode of movement representation – should be the extent to which a particular representative (or representative mode) is able to cultivate and to raise up the consciousness and confidence of others. In a sense such leadership ought to strive to make itself obsolete, by spreading whatever skills and knowledge and methods it once had privileged access to, and by helping to cultivate the space and support for new and needed voices and views to come forward.
It is obvious that we need to be exploring and testing new forms of leadership and new ways of manifesting and concentrating the best ideas and practices of the people, on an ongoing basis. But does dispensing with “representation” as such (as Hardt suggested we might) help us to make progress on such problems, problems that are themselves, in part, matters of representation? How do we conceive of leadership (or popular will, or sovereignty) here if not in terms of representation? What can and what will be the mode of leadership and organization through which the rule of the common can be generalized beyond the local and the immediate? Perhaps what we need is a more dynamic, dialectical, and supple understanding of what it means to represent others politically in a communist way, rather than a hostility or resistance to the concept of representation as such.
Lacking answers here, it seems to me that Hardt’s anti-representationalism is symptomatic of a broader tendency (on the Left and perhaps elsewhere) to seek out a novel form of political organization or expression, as if said form could be somehow sealed off in advance from the danger of co-optation, corruption, elitist detachment, or bureaucratic abuse. As if the selection of form can get us around the need for an all-sided and ongoing struggle over content.22 As if even the commune too couldn’t make bad decisions, take wrong stances, pursue incorrect paths.
Communism with no place for the State. . .or Strategy
As for how the commoning of economic relations and the abolition of property (private or public) will be accomplished, Hardt tended to avoid the question of strategy. He did emphasize two points relevant to the question of communist transition. But both of these points were not just non- but anti-strategic, gravitating against the need for carving out a definitive revolutionary strategy, or even making the space for one.
First, Hardt argued that the transition to communism is already immanent within contemporary capitalism, which, he argued, is increasingly characterized by common and collective forms of production. “It is more efficient to give workers autonomy,” Hardt argued, and so capitalists’ own drive for profit is leading them to expand autonomy, creating the material basis for the common, and rendering capitalists more external to the actual process of production.
Second, he pointed out that his theory of communist transition is less a matter of “cataclysmic change” than of what he called “an accumulation of anomalies,” a gradual production of “beachheads” within capitalism that will aggregate until “quantitative change turns into qualitative change.” This more or less spontaneous communism by enclave, Hardt quickly added, need not be understood as ruling out the possibility of more “cataclysmic” events; indeed, the growing commons might even help provide support for such breakthroughs. And yet, despite this important qualification, Hardt’s approach tends to downplay and to put off the need for strategic thinking and organization – whether proactive or defensive. His presentation risked sounding like a call to tail the spontaneous emergence of the common as immanent to capital.23
Hardt did not, for instance, encourage us, as strategically oriented communists, to approach the accumulated anomalies and enclaves in light of the opportunity for – or even the political-logical necessity of – revolutionary “cataclysms,” or for that matter, of assault from counter-revolutionaries. He did not insist that we think strategically when creating or selecting which commons to expand or prioritize, depending on where the enemy is weak or strong. Though he never exactly said it (at least not in this talk), one could be forgiven for interpreting Hardt as suggesting that the logic of capitalism, and the flowering of democratic self-management in those common spaces that capital is itself creating, will take care of this transitional process on its own.
But from a strategic standpoint, wouldn’t it make sense to cluster one’s “beachheads” with an eye to where the enemy guns are? And to strategize how to defend and reconfigure the “anomalies” in light of the likelihood of counter-revolutionary attack? Whether or not we accept Hardt’s political economic assumptions, such a strategic approach to the revealed terrain would appear necessary for communists, no?24
It seems possible that Hardt’s focus on property rather than class as the primary target for abolition, may encourage this eliding of strategy. It was as if abolishing property, and going right to the commune form, would do away with the need to struggle with and among the people, consciously exposing and transforming the particular social relations and contradictions that have been built up in the world system by capitalist and imperialist domination, not to mention the need to actively defend communist enclaves from the repressive force of capital and the state. In a way, Hardt thus defers a whole host of tough questions to the democratic decision-making of the emergent and future common, rather than insisting on the need for communists to be preparing now to take on various manifestations of class inequalities, such as educational hierarchies, divisions between mental and manual labor, divisions between country and city within countries, as well parasitism and lopsidedness between countries resulting from centuries of colonialism and imperialism. The danger for Hardt’s property-based proposal is, like the danger of a certain brand of anarchism, that its very sweeping “radicalism” ignores the political particularities of transition and transformation that will be essential to any viable communist revolutionary project. In short, the entire problematic of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” of the need to lay the basis for higher forms of communism and to defeat and suppress the oppressors, does not appear.25
“What are the people doing?”. . .and “what is to be done?”
Neither communists, nor anyone else, of course, can conjure the resistant or revolutionary practice of the people into being through a sheer act of will (coupled with correct analysis + strategic utterances). Thus perhaps the single most useful point and phrase that I took away from Hardt’s “ABCs of Communism” talk was his insistence that rather than simply obsessing over “What is to be done?” communists need to take seriously the question “What are people doing?” As a provocation both for a certain Leninist left that tends to marginalize itself with its insistence on abstract and historically enervated notions of the “correct” way forward, and for an economistic Marxism that in its exploration of tectonic capital shifts tends to lose sight of the actually existing practices of actual people, Hardt’s emphasis on investigating the concrete doings of the people was valuable.
But despite the importance of taking seriously the changes in the work life and the social life of the people, Hardt’s maxim risked being one-sided in the other direction. He risked leaping from a dogmatism of the orthodox abstract to a tailism of the spontaneously emergent.
The challenge, it seems to me, is precisely to derive a strategy of what is to be done, in relationship to what people are doing (as well as to what is coming down the pike courtesy of contemporary capitalism and its various attendant internal and external conflicts). This needs to be understood not as a mechanical operation, where one aspect (“What is to be done” or “What people are doing”) is fully formed “in advance,” and then acts upon the other aspect, but as a process of mutual transformation of both poles of the opposition, of both revolutionaries and (the rest of) the people, whereby what people are doing is changed in relation to growing awareness about what is to be done, and where our sense of what is to be, can be, and must be done is revised and filled out by a deepening and concretized sense not just of what the people are doing, but of what they are willing and able and wanting to do (which may often be different from what they are at present doing). The latter itself needs to be understood as a dynamic, dialectically determined subjective will – for what people are willing and thus able do has a way of changing, sometimes drastically and radically, in relation to what they understand others to be doing, to be thinking, to be wanting and willing. (“From the masses, to the masses,” as the Maoist “mass line” would put it, needs to be understood as a mutually transformative process.) Investigation into the practices, conditions, and attitudes of the people is absolutely fundamental, but this is not a strictly sociological or positivist matter of “knowledge”: such investigation needs to be conducted, and then translated and tested through practice, in light of a broader view of the strategic situation, a view which includes subjective political factors, as well as overall tectonic alignments of capital that are beyond the people’s immediate control. Such a truly radical investigation changes the object as well as the subject.26
Our question thus shifts again: Not just What is to be done? or What is being done? But what can be done? And how can this collective sense of possibility itself be transformed?
Of New Love. . .and communist monstrosities
At the end of his talk on “The ABCs of Communism,” as if to replace the newly abolished Family, Michael Hardt referenced the need for a “New Love” or a “Love of the Common.” He did not provide much in the way of content to fill out this idea (perhaps due to time constraints), but it would seem that this notion must be read dialectically in response to what, in his account, communism threatens to strip from people. The “new love” then would be a kind of communal cultural production that is outside the logic of Property, Work, State, and Family but that can provide the sense of security and belonging that communism, as abolition of these realms, jeopardizes. (I was reminded of Jodi Dean’s notion of communism as “the collective desire for collectivity” or the “collective desire for collective desiring” which seems to be emphasizing a similar sort of need, a kind of libidinal drive to maintain – and expand – the very space of collective being and decision, though Hardt made no mention of Dean’s work in his talk.)
What would be the form, the contents, the methods of producing and reproducing this “new love of the common”? Is this too something that – like Hardt’s “beachheads” of the common – can be understood as immanent to capitalist production, or is it something that can only come into being through an act of collective will, a type of communist cultural revolution?
Certainly this communist need to create a sense of security and belonging is a real one. How will we hold together a society that can no longer depend on greed, fear, nationalism, or narrowly understood “self-interest” as its (toxic) glue? What will serve as the driver of social production and reproduction once the imperative of profit and the disciplinary mechanism of the world market are abolished? Often communists – along with other anti-capitalist radicals – focus primarily on exposing the criminal doings and structural underpinnings of the present system, on what needs to be criticized or even dismantled, rather than what can and will replace it. But how in fact would we, could we, should we operate the system that will come after this one? We can certainly do a lot worse than to call for the cultivation of a kind of communist love – the treatment of others as ends in themselves, a loving practical recognition that “the free development of each provides the condition for the free development of all,” etc.
And yet, listening to Hardt, I could not help but wonder: can “love” do the job without the benefit of some organized force? A force that can, when it is necessary, bring to bear violence or the threat of violence in order to defend or extend communist gains and to deal with the residual and emergent elements of class domination or exploitation, as well as other anti-social forces?35 Isn’t it conceivable that part of what can (or maybe even must) bond a new communist social subject is precisely the necessity of suppressing its former or would-be oppressors and exploiters? Dialectically speaking – and here I think of Sartre’s notion of “the Third,” the Other whose threaten- ing “look” forces two subjects who were formerly independent of (or even antagonistic to) one another to fuse into a Group – is it not in part the need to confront the common enemy that compels working- class people to recognizing themselves as a proletariat in the first place?
Indeed, in this talk about the “monstrosity” of communist revolution, I was struck by the lack of discussion of anything like the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”36 Asked to address this longstanding communist concept during the Q and A, Hardt responded by acknowledging a certain space for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” understood narrowly (as he said Lenin understood it) as the “teaching of new habits” to the people. This is certainly an interesting and useful way to think about – one aspect of – the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yet it seems to remain again somewhat mired in the immediacy of micro-level interpersonal relations.
Again: What of the need for strategy? For restructuring the social totality in line with a rational and egalitarian plan? For dealing with antagonistic contradictions, between the communizing people and those determined to restore capitalist relations, whether they are associated with the displaced ruling class, or with new elements immanent to the post-revolutionary society who seek consciously to develop and consolidate new forms of class distinction, oppression, and/or exploitation? What to do with those who refuse to accept the “teachings” of communization, who insist on resisting by force or arms? Does Hardt’s “new love” include tough love, modeled on the parent who uses her authority to force a child to learn (and to enact) the difference between right and wrong? Though I would of course agree that communists ought to strive to win people to a love of the common through appeal to their best selves, through the experience of cooperation and common struggle, as well as through arguments (and cultural productions) aimed at expanding their sense of “self-interest” to incorporate the needs of others, it seems to me that there is no getting around the need for an organized force that is capable of generating not only love, but also, frankly, fear.
The complete article, which includes an extended discussion of Fredric Jameson’s discussion of the idea of a “Citizen’s Army,” as well as a fuller discussion of Hardt’s call to “abolish the Family,” can be found online at Socialism and Democracy, here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/08854300.2013.832955
A brief history of the MLG can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist_ Literary_Group
2. Mediations: a journal of the Marxist Literary Group is available at www. mediationsjournal.org .
For an introduction to Communization theory and its critics, see Communization and Its Discontents, edited by Benjamin Noys, which is available online.
See www.MLG2013.wordpress.com for the full program. There was also a lecture given by the perhaps lesser known, but increasingly prominent Bruno Bosteels, author of the insightful new book, The Actuality of Communism (London: Verso, 2012), which I highly recommend. I will be dealing with the work of Bosteels at some length in a later essay; however, as his MLG talk was more historical than theoretical (it dealt with the history of the commune form in Mexico), I will limit my present discussion to Hardt and Jameson.
Hardt recently finished (with Antonio Negri) a major trilogy, encompassing Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth. Among Fredric Jameson’s major works are: Marxism and Form, The Political Unconscious, Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, A Singular Modernity, Valences of the Dialectic, and, most recently, Reading Capital.
At this year’s Institute, this perennial Marxist question was weighted by a week of reading, which, in the form of the recently translated German Wertkritik (or “Value Theory”), as well as what has become known as Communization Theory, delved into questions related to the organic composition of capital and the Falling Rate of Profit, as well as what Marx in Capital terms the “absolute general tendency of capitalist accumulation,” that is, capital’s tendency to produce an absolutely “surplus” population, characterized by permanent unemployment. In other words: how to conceive of a revolutionary social subject in an age of terminal crisis, characterized by mass unemployment and precarious underemployment.
This is the appropriate place to thank a number of MLG comrades for helpful comments on this essay and/or on the talks in question: Kanishka Chowdhury, Rich Daniels, Ariane Fischer, Kevin Floyd, George Snedeker, and Robert Tally.
These ideas have been elaborated in many other places, including “The Common in Communism,” Hardt’s contribution to the volume The Idea of Communism (London: Verso, 2010), as well as his above-cited co-authored trilogy, of which the Commonwealth volume is particularly important for our present purposes. I should add that my present discussion does not purport to be a full or adequate critical survey of Hardt’s (and Negri’s) ambitious critical project, though I do hope to raise here some questions about that project which can be engaged further elsewhere.
9. Of course, the “we” and the “us” here were not particularly clear: Was Hardt imagining his audience as a privileged class of tenured and soon-to-be-tenured professors? A class of property-owners whose identities are wrapped up in their possessions? A class of increasingly precarious academic workers struggling to achieve a living wage while drowning in six figures of debt?
10. As Harrison notes, though popularized during the Chinese revolutionary process, “These four points are taken verbatim from a passage in Marx’s pamphlet, The Class Struggles in France (1850), MECW 10:127.
See Hardt, “The Common in Communism” (note 8), as well as Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
Of course it could also be asked whether or not the abolition of class alone is adequate to the achievement of human equality. As indicated above, I here take class to encompass without cancelling other unequal and self-replicating power relations involving for instance gender, race, and national inequalities.
I should add here that, as a comrade recently reminded me, Hardt and Negri do call for the abolition of the class relationship within production in their broader work. For instance, they write, evocatively: “Revolutionary class politics must destroy the structures and institutions of worker subordination and thus abolish the identity of worker itself, setting in motion the production of subjectivity and a process of social and institutional innovation. A revolutionary class politics also does not aim at workers taking power as the new ruling class, and thereby continuing the long history of one social class replacing another in the seat of power. Nor can it aim at creating social equality by universalizing one of the existing class identities, making either everyone bourgeois or everyone proletarian. Each of these non-revo- lutionary projects leaves worker identity intact, whereas a revolutionary process must abolish it” (Hardt & Negri, Commonwealth, 333).
I am thankful to fellow S&D editor Suren Moodliar for pointing out that indeed one can imagine circumstances when one ought not to be entitled to an absolute prop- erty right over one’s own shirt: imagine a situation where one person is bleeding and needs another’s shirt for a tourniquet.
My own extended critical reflections on the strengths, weakness, and prospects of Occupy were laid out in “Revolution Underground: Critical Reflections on the Prospect of Renewing Occupation,” Socialism and Democracy 60 (vol. 26, no. 3, November 2012). See also Jan Rehman, “Occupy Wall Street and the Question of Hegemony: A Gramscian Analysis,” S&D 61 (vol. 27, no. 1, March 2013).
More workable (and dialectical) might be the formulations of David Harvey, who in his recent book, Rebel Cities, argues for a more inter-penetrative relationship between state structures of maintaining public spaces and rights, and grassroots structures committed to “communing.”
As noted above, a discussion of the work of MLG’s other guest speaker, Bruno Bosteels, is beyond the scope of this essay. (It is in production.) That said, I will note here in passing that one of the important features of Bosteels’s recent work, for instance in The Actuality of Communism, is his methodological and political insistence that we study the relationship between communist movement and socialist state with more rigor (and internationalism) than has become customary on the anti- statist/communist left.
We should add that each of these “checks and balances” on representatives’ authority can be and has been used for ill as well as for good; consider for instance various anti-gay or anti-immigrant referenda that have swept regions of the country in recent years. Greater limitation on authority does not always mean greater liberation for the people.
Here we might consider Hardt and Negri’s treatment of the concept of sovereignty, a concept which did not come up in this MLG talk.
See the last chapter of Dean’s book, The Communist Horizon; also, my article on and interview with Dean in Socialism and Democracy 62 (vol. 27, no. 2).
In Boston I saw first-hand how the suspicion of representation held up the process of expanding the movement. In the very first week of the Occupation at Dewey Square, I was involved with several others in crafting a formal “Declaration of Occupation.” Written by a small committee, but based on dozens if not hundreds of conversations with other occupiers, the Declaration was concise but comprehensive, and consisted of a compilation of principles and grievances, as well as a welcoming call for other people in the Greater Boston area to participate in the movement, in whatever ways they could. We were convinced that if we passed such a statement through the GA we would be able to get it picked up in the local papers, The Boston Globe, The Boston Metro, The Boston Herald, etc. We sought to strike while the iron was hot. The Declaration was stopped twice at General Assembly, not because of particular concerns with its contents – almost everyone appeared to agree with it and found it well written, and the small changes proposed could have been easily implemented. Rather it was blocked because some – very few – in the Assembly expressed concerns: (1) that the authors of the statement were not (demographically) representative of the people as a whole; (2) that we should not issue a statement that claimed to be representative (of the 99%) when we, the occupation, were still only a tiny fraction of that 99%. Thus, I would contend, tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of Bostonians who might have been able to get a clear and direct, concise, coherent, and perhaps even moving “official” statement from Occupy Boston did not get one, because a small minority of Occupiers were essentially hostile to the idea of anything akin to formal representation.
[Note added by author: 12/14/13: Over one month later, when faced with the prospect of immanent police eviction, a small group of activists would successfully push through the General Assembly of Occupy Boston a “Statement of Occupation,” one containing many of the features of the early proposed Draft statement. Again, it was the sense of urgency created by a threat of outside attack that compelled us to commit to formal representation, before we were dispersed and destroyed. By this point however, for reasons that deserve fuller treatment than this footnote can provide—and which I attempted to outline in my S&D piece, “Revolution Underground?”—the initiative and momentum of the Occupy movement had largely ebbed; Certainly there was no longer such widespread (or sympathetic) mass and media interest in the new movement as there had been early on. Thus this last ditch Statement, which did include some powerful language—especially the call to place the human needs of all ahead of the profits of a few—would not find much of an audience beyond the General Assembly at Dewey Square, though for many of us it remains a reference point to this day.]
22. See the substantive discussions on political representation and organizational form that have appeared on the Kasama Project website, e.g., Mike Ely’s writings, including “Unsettled Questions of Communist Organization,” http:// kasamaarchive.org/2012/01/25/unsettled-questions-of-communist-organization/
23. We should note also that the status, trajectory, or scope of such proto-autonomist labor commons within capital is far from being uncontroversial. Nor is the significance for political subjectivity of such developments clear. See for instance Jason Read’s discussion of the persistence and intensification of fetishism in relation to cooperation under capital: http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2011/03/ general-intellect-personified-more.html
It should be noted, however, that Hardt’s (and Negri’s) call to take the sudden emergence of such beachheads seriously, is to be much preferred to the approach of those who would dismiss such enclaves out of hand, as somehow out of step with classical or properly Marxist models of politics.
During the Q and A, Hardt did concede that there could be some role for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in his notion of communism, namely as the “instilling of new habits” among the people.
Of course, it is also possible to conceive of love and violence as non-exclusive entities: a kind of “tough love” for and of the common.
It’s worth noting that something like this notion of a dictatorship of the proletariat has been re-emergent in contemporary radical thought, from Zˇizˇek to Dean, to Hallward. . .
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Thursday, 10 October 2013 04:15
- Written by Revolutionary Communist Party, Canada
This is reposted for discussion from the Revolutionary Communist Party, Canada (no relation to the RCP USA). You can find the original posting here.
Marxist Students’ Association Re-launches Campaign to Bring Direct Democracy to the University of Ottawa!
The University of Ottawa Marxist Students’ Association recently re-launched its campaign to bring about General Assemblies as the highest decision making body for their local student union. The reform, which is set to be achieved by referendum, is hoped to be both a historical moment for Ontario universities as well as the beginning of a new culture of democracy and participation for the student body of the University of Ottawa.
The current decision making model employed by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa follows a tradition representational model found in most modern liberal institutions. As a result of this, most of the student body has proven to be alienated from all form of governance. The long-standing political elite in power has been able to keep itself there for years while relying on the absurdly low 10% voter turnout to maintain its legitimacy. These liberal and bureaucratic practices unfortunately plague most student unions in Canada and have slowed the nation wide student movement to a painful crawl.
Following the Quebecois Example!
The Maple Spring of 2012 showed us once again that the student movement of Quebec is a force which can shake the very foundations of the bourgeois state. In comparisons, their Ontario counterparts have been unable to produce a single important change in their decades of struggle. In Quebec, participation in student unions is at an all time high thanks to their democratic model: General Assemblies.
GAs are a massive forum where the entire student body comes together once a semester to decide, democratically, how to run their student union. All students can propose motions, they may all debate and they all get one vote. This democratic practice has developed a strong culture of politicization and participation among the Quebec student population, allowing them to be mobilized massively in times of strike or crisis.
In an attempt to revive the long dormant Ontario student movement, the campaign to bring General Assemblies to the University of Ottawa is hoping to develop such a democratic culture among the Ottawa U’s membership. The organizers are currently collecting 1,500 signatures, the number required to demand a referendum, and plan to present it before the SFUO’s governing body before the end of October.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 06:58
- Written by Mike Ely
How should today's newly emerging communist movement prepare for future revolutionary opportunities? How do communists determine where to dig in? How do they identify those sections of the people to base themselves on? This pamphlet is an attempt to create a framework for answering those questions.
Special thanks to PN and Jed Brandt for their work in designing this pamphlet.
There is a difference between a structural and an evental view of revolutionary opportunity. If our opportunities are structural, then they might emerge wherever the interface exists between the oppressed and the oppressor, the rich and the poor. And so we can each disperse to our local site of that interface.
But if revolutionary opportunities are evental (i.e. conjunctural), then we could disperse ourselves all along that interface and nothing will happen (at least nothing
revolutionary). And we will be trying to make local issues and concerns into something they refuse to become. And we may find ourselves entrenched, pinned down and dispersed there along that interface when some major opening pops up in a concentrated and unexpected way.
I am a believer in the evental (conjunctural) view. The eruption is in sites that are not simply defned by the class structure of society or the structure of national-racial oppression. These sites (which are not merely locations geographically) are often unexpected, and even shocking in the forms the eruption adopts.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 17:06
- Written by Joe Ramsey
Dean discusses with Ramsey the need for a communist party, the lessons of the Occupy movement, and the question of how to conceive of communist subjectivity for our times -- the whole version will soon be published in the July 2013 issue of Socialism and Democracy
Division and Desire:
Jodi Dean discusses The Communist Horizon
with Joseph G. Ramsey
Joseph G. Ramsey: How would you trace your own relationship to communism as a cause and a concept? You attribute the notion of the communist “horizon” to Bruno Bosteels (who takes up the term from the Bolivian Marxist theorist and rebel turned politician Álvaro Gercía Linera). For how long have you viewed communism as your political horizon? How has this horizon shaped your theoretical and practical work? Has communism always defined the end point, the horizon for you?
Jodi Dean: I don’t think of the horizon—or communism—in terms of an end point. The horizon is the division that marks where we are. The division that marks where we are with respect to politics is that between communism and capitalism. This has been true at least since 1917 and arguably since 1848. It’s important to think of communism not as an end but rather as the only condition under which a politics adequate to the needs, demands, and common will of the people is possible. Under any other conditions, interests other than those of the people rule (coerce).
I find myself feeling anxious about the term ‘your political horizon’ because it makes it sound as if the communist horizon (that is, the fundamental opposition between communism and capitalism) was subjective or personal rather than objective. The communist horizon isn’t something specific to anyone. It’s a fact of the world, the event of 1917.
I didn’t think about communism via the metaphor of a horizon until I heard Bruno use García Linera’s term at a conference in Rotterdam in 2010. The conference, called “Waiting for the Political Moment,” was completely interesting in part because it gave me the sense not only that communism was back on the table (which was already clear after the Birkbeck conference) but that the tables had turned, so to speak. The arguments that had been so popular, the ones that had seemed to be winning in academic contexts, the ones associated with Foucault, Deleuze, deconstruction, a particular kind of post-structuralist theory, weren’t so persuasive anymore. The ones that were persuading people, that were the most compelling, were the ones coming from communist orientations.
Ramsey: How would you characterize your relationship to Occupy Wall Street, from a practical and a theoretical perspective? The closing chapters of your new book both unite with aspects of this recent social upsurge and offer sharp criticisms of some of the ideological common sense that was very influential in Occupy. I think here of your take on concepts of horizontalism, direct democracy, autonomy, etc. To put it sharply: What are the problems with these concepts as political organizers for our fledgling radical movement?
Dean: Most succinctly put: the problem with these concepts is that they deny or obscure antagonism. They are insufficiently divisive in several senses. They do not break sufficiently with the dominant ideology that urges people to participate and that celebrates individual freedom. Autonomy in Occupy doesn’t seem to be pointing to autonomy from organized parties (as the term has done historically in Italy, for example). Rather, it blends together with libertarian emphases on the consent of each individual person. Horizontalism (which may well have been a powerful ideal in Argentina, and I take it that at least part of the emphasis on horizontality in Occupy comes from Marina Sitrin’s important work on horizontalidad in that country) resonated in the US primarily because it is part of the current neoliberal environment. For example, corporations (particularly Google; the New York Times runs laudatory pieces on horizontal decision making in ‘hip’ companies about every six months) celebrate their flat structures, their inclusive decision-making, that make them flexible and responsive. Or, think of Thomas “The World Is Flat” Friedman. The uncritical uptake of horizontality in Occupy needs to be read in terms of its setting in a critique of bureaucracy, regulation, and expertise that has been deployed by the libertarian right against the welfare state, against any government control of the economy, and against the academy. It should also be read in terms of communicative capitalism’s emphases on connectivity and communication such that all opinions and ideas are communicatively equivalent.
There is another sense in which the concepts of direct democracy etc are insufficiently divisive—they proceed as if all political ideas are equal. We saw this in some of the anti-party rhetoric last fall. On the one hand, this rhetoric voiced a concern with breaking out of the chokehold of the mainstream political parties—and of course I agree with that. On the other, the refusal to draw lines makes it seem like libertarians, anti-Fed Ron Paulites, and anti-tax people are on the same side as people who want more control over the banking sector and people who are anti-corporate. Communists and socialists can work with the latter, but not with the former whose politics is basically one of expanding opportunities for the market.
Ramsey: Throughout The Communist Horizon you frame an opposition between desire, which you tend to align with communism, and drive which you generally identify as a form of enjoyment that ensnares subjects in the existing networks of communicative capitalism? What does it mean to formulate communism from the standpoint of desire? Is drive always politically bad/suspect? Or can we speak of a drive that would be oriented towards communism?
Dean: Drive isn’t oriented toward something; it’s shaped from loss and just attaches to any old thing, easily moving from one object of intense attachment to another (I’m tempted to say that with respect to politics drive manifests itself as a kind of political Asperger’s syndrome; you know, how everyone is at one moment obsessed with binary oppositions, then fracking, then “isms,” then debt). It’s a repetitive circuit that results from failure, where people get off (get a little nugget of enjoyment) from failing. So drive also structures melancholia, as we see in Freud’s discussion in Mourning and Melancholia where he uses the language of drive that he develops in the The Instincts and Their Vicissitudes. This language is reflexive, inward-turning as well as self-loathing. I argue that communicative capitalism (and consequently contemporary democracy as well as contemporary media networks) exhibit the reflexive structure of drive. Examples: getting stuck in the intertubes, clicking around, looking but not finding, repeating the same gestures, having the same pointless arguments, getting invested in them even when (or especially when) they don’t matter.
Now, it’s possible for drive’s repetitions to have destructive effects as with vicious circles in feedback systems or when bubbles burst in markets. Žižek describes this version of drive as a kind of prior clearing that creates the space for something new. I don’t disagree with this, but I don’t think it provides a politics (or, the politics it suggests is one of waiting for the rupture—which Žižek sometimes suggests when he appeals to Bartleby or when he emphasizes the importance of thinking rather than getting caught up in activity; I prefer to think of not getting caught up in activity in terms of working to break the hold of drive’s repetitions). Desire doesn’t turn inward; it looks outward, toward the horizon. A communism thought in terms of desire, then, is one that recognizes the necessity of breaking out of the trap of reflexivity, of installing a gap.
At this point, I am focused on thinking of communism in terms of a collective desire for collectivity. Because I understand communicative capitalism as structured in terms of drive, I don’t see the benefit in theorizing communism this way—communism is a break with this, a rupture of the circuit that lets us look outwards.
Ramsey: It’s difficult to miss the Lacanian influence here. I’ve seen some within self-identified socialist or communist circles writing about your book in somewhat dismissive ways, focusing on the ‘Lacanese’ you employ as if it is does more to obfuscate than to illuminate. What do you see as the value of Lacan here for radical theory and for the communist movement in particular?
Dean: The unconscious matters—we’ve been talking about desire and drive, both unconscious processes. Language matters. Understanding the subject matters. Psychoanalysis offers a theoretical apparatus that helps us think about these components of our thought and experience. It provides us with ways of addressing our attachments to dysfunction and self-hate, to perceived needs for guarantees and certainty, as well as to our ambivalence toward masters.
But, to use an odd cliché I may have never used before, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ If people don’t find Lacan/lacanese illuminating, it will be obfuscating. It’s that way with any specialized discourse or vocabulary.
Maybe an example will help. In The Communist Horizon I use Lacan to suggest an idea of the party as situated at the overlap of two lacks, such as the people’s lack of knowledge of what they desire as well as the party’s own lack of knowledge, the fact that it can’t guarantee a particular future. Given these lacks, the role of the party is to keep the site at which they overlap open as the gap necessary for the collective desire for collectivity. The question is then whether this formulation helps us think of new or better ways to organize.
Ramsey: Would it be fair to say then, building upon these “two lacks,” that the party you envision must be one that is able both to learn and to teach, and moreover to incite and sustain the collective desire to both learn and teach?
Dean: Yes, particularly the latter insofar as sustaining desire requires cultivating a kind of relation or orientation to what is lacking. I sometimes wonder whether prior visions or versions of the communist party have overplayed its teaching role and then in a backlash against this overplaying ended up fetishizing some kind of authentic workers’ or people’s knowledge that the party has to learn. What if instead we recognize that the party is a collective and that collectives bring together people with different skills, experience, and knowledge? A communist party orients its collective toward the truth of communism. The primary task of the party is the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and establishment of communism. This is more than a pedagogy, to say the least.
Ramsey: In the book you cite Marx’s famous communist motto (a phrase that precedes Marx as well) “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” writing that “this principle contains the urgency of the struggle for its own realization” (15). I often speak of the communist kernel of hope as inherent in the fact that among the needs of human beings is the need to satisfy others’ needs (and perhaps to be or to feel needed by those others as well). How does your reframing of communism from the standpoint of desire relate to the (more traditional?) framing of communism as oriented towards the satisfaction of need, and the development of human abilities? How do need and desire relate within your thinking here?
Dean: Here’s the rub: we all know that people have needs. Even the worst capitalists know this. The political question concerns our relation to these needs. This is a matter of desire and will. Are needs to be addressed singularly or collectively? Desire, then, involves the politicization of needs.
Ramsey: Often it seems to me that communists put forth our goals as a matter of what we will eliminate or abolish (“the 4 Alls” etc. “the gaps” or divisions that are inherent in class society, etc). Not so much in terms of what we want to cultivate or unleash. Often when we speak of what we strive to unleash or cultivate (“global human flourishing” etc.) it is depicted as something that will come after the elimination or overturning of various oppressive institutions, ideologies, state structures, class relations, etc. I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to say we want to eliminate A, B, and C, or that we want to abolish or overthrow X, Y, and Z. But it sometimes seems to me as if desire and the pursuit of what we “really want” is positioned somehow “on the other side” of this abolishing, overturning, eliminating, etc. – now being the time for “self-sacrificing struggle” and the repression of desire for the sake of the greater good, of the collectivity, of the revolution down the road. Desire here may become something we’ll only get back to on the “other side” of some kind of revolutionary break. Nothing against revolutionary breaks, and the openings they provide, of course. But your focus on communism as a matter of desire–”the collective desire for collective desiring”–seems to me notable and refreshing as a way to bring that future flourishing we communists often imagine into the present, but in a way that still propels us forward towards cultivating human liberation. It gives a positive lean to communist subjectivity, even if that subjectivity continues to be defined (as desire) by lack.
Dean: I love the way you are putting this and will now have to use this! It’s nicely succinct and clear.
Ramsey: It seems to me that often on the radical left, we speak of pursuing the “satisfaction of human needs.” Everyone getting enough food to eat, clean, water, shelter, etc. All crucial stuff, obviously. But this emphasis on the emancipated society as a state of satiety and “satisfaction” may give short shrift to the way that – on another level– communism and liberation is not only, or even primarily, about satisfying people’s immediate material needs (though this too), so much as it is about cultivating a hunger, or, as you would put it, a desire. A political desire.
Dean: Sorry to keep interrupting but I like your expression ‘state of satiety and satisfaction’ and your evocation of a hunger — it reminds me of Benjamin’s critique of left melancholic hacks preoccupied with their digestion.
Ramsey: Something I’m just starting to think about is what the difference is between conceiving of communist politics as a matter of satisfying human needs – and cultivating new needs – vs. a matter of desire. What do you see as the stakes of foregrounding communism as a matter of desire?
Dean: The opening up of a gap so as to free us to envision new possibilities. You know how people tend to criticize the left for not having a vision, not having a goal, not having ideas? Well, this only makes sense for a left that has abandoned communism. Once we claim communism, then we insert ourselves into a logic of desire such that we have to think strategically as well as tactically, we have to start thinking in terms of what communism for us will look like and how we can get there.
Ramsey: In reading (and re-reading) The Communist Horizon I was struck by your rather complex, even vexed, relationship to the concept of the proletariat. On the one hand you give a forceful (and quite Leninist) account of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as the organization of the exploited and oppressed to forcibly suppress the oppressor. Similarly you reflect that the current Left reluctance to identify with a Marxist term such as the proletariat may reflect chiefly the negative influence of decades of anti-communist (and anti-Soviet) propaganda. You in fact point out how Marx and Engels, as well as such contemporary Marxist thinkers as Étienne Balibar, contrary to pervasive anti-Marxist stereotypes, all have understood the proletariat precisely not as a straightforward empirical/sociological category limited to, say, factory workers, but rather as an open category encompassing all those who are structurally positioned opposite to and yet constitutive of capital and its ceaseless processes of accumulation.
And yet, after all of this rather firm defense of the concept, you reject the proletariat as a name for the subject of communism, at least in a contemporary US-European context. What struck me was the way, in the exact places where you reject the proletariat as a term (in favor of a notion of “the people as the rest of us” as shaped by and opposed to the process of proletarianization), you refer not just to the proletariat but to “the industrial” proletariat (77) and to “factory labor” (78). My question is: why the insertion of these qualifiers here? Is it possible to deploy a concept of the proletariat that is not centered on the site of the industrial factory? Why reject the proletariat as such, rather than just its narrow misconstrued empirical “industrial” image? Is your decision to reject the proletariat justified by the post/de-industrialization and/or financialization/precariatization of the US economy? Or more so by a pragmatic adaptation to contemporary ideology and popular misunderstanding? Is your sense that the proletariat as a concept—though used by Marx and Marxists in a more dialectical and dynamic sense that is intellectually still valid—is so mis-identified today with a narrow notion of clock-punching factory workers as to be politically unhelpful? Why not continue to fight for a dialectical notion of the proletariat (alongside the notion of proletarianization, which you more clearly uphold)? Why uphold the latter but not the former?
Dean: This is the part of my argument about which I am most ambivalent. As you suggest, financialization does not mean that there is no proletariat, especially when we follow Marx, Engels, and Balibar and recognize that ‘proletariat’ is not an empirical category. I ended up arguing for the idea ‘the people as the rest of us’, first, for pragmatic reasons. A year or so ago I gave a talk at No Space in Williamsburg. At one point, someone in the audience asked “who here is a proletarian?” No one raised a hand (I may be getting the details of this wrong, but this is how I remember it). So, even though a bunch of folks were unemployed and precarious, they didn’t feel right identifying themselves as proletarian. Since I was already fighting for the name communism (controversial to some folks), I decided not to hold on to proletarian. I also felt like there were good commie grounds for this, as Lukács argues in his book on Lenin. There he speaks of Lenin’s radical notion of the people.
Ramsey: And then of course there is your argument for speaking of the “sovereignty” rather than the “dictatorship” of the people (with people here substituted for the proletariat). What’s the significance of this shift in terminology?
Dean: The primary theoretical reason for the shift is that dictatorship is temporary. Arguments for the dictatorship of the proletariat occur in the context of the withering away of the state. I don’t accept such a withering away, particularly once we recognize the distributed and differentiated nature of contemporary states. State operations occur at multiple levels—local, municipal, national, international—and are distributed into a wide array of operations, from inspecting food production, to providing air traffic control, to funding infrastructure projects, to overseeing public health, to collecting and redistributing revenue. I don’t think these things will or should go away and I don’t think they should be handled via markets. They are matters to be determined by the people for their collective good. The state is a tool for the people to handle these things (of course, it isn’t now; now it’s the way capitalists keep themselves in power). I think it’s important to get away from claims regarding the withering away of the state—they seem to point to the end of politics, but politics won’t end as long as there are people.
Ramsey: This is very interesting, and not uncontroversial these days! Of course, perhaps predictably, some have criticized your book for continuing to uphold (some would say “falling back on”) the terms of Party and State. What is your response to those who argue that we must chart a communist road that does without these terms as anchor-points? How would the “State” which you envision for a communist movement be similar to or different from the state apparatus that exists today? Are we talking about taking over existing entities and running them under different leadership and with different methods or priorities? Or the sweeping away of existing institutions and the creation of new ones?
Dean: Here I agree with Žižek: politics without the party and the state is politics without politics. It’s a kind of hysterical provocation, or macho play-acting that eschews responsibility and reduces politics to fashionable sloganeering. Getting more specific can help: we can realize that there are different kinds of states and different kinds of parties. When people reject the party because they are rejecting electoral politics, they have a good point and a lot of history on their side. When people reject the state on the basis of the failure of socialism to develop into communism, they also have a good point. The underpinning of most of these discussions is a set of assumptions regarding the European experience, the Soviet experience, and the Chinese experience. But what if we attend more to Latin America? To Nepal? To the role of revolutionary communists in anti-colonial struggle? To the role of communists in anti-racist struggles in the US in the thirties?
We dismiss too much if we assume that the bad experiences of the French and Italians with their communist parties means that there is no role for an organization like a party in contemporary politics now. On the state: again, we can improve our thinking here by considering different state apparatuses and functions, the way they are distributed, the role of law, etc. I don’t think all existing institutions need to be eliminated—why reinvent the wheel? A jury system is a good idea. Layered institutions (local, municipal, county, state, region, nation, hemisphere) as well as economic sectors and sets of interests that crisscross one another also make sense for complex societies. And so does the rule of law – as long as this rule is exercised for and in the interest of the working class, the people as the rest of us (which is the basic idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat). Maybe the best way to put it would be in terms of the need to reevaluate all existing institutions from the standpoint of the people/working class, and seeing what is worth saving.
Ramsey: I was struck by the fact that there is nowhere in The Communist Horizon an overt argument for “communism” as being a better or more useful name for the emancipatory project than, say, “socialism” is. Why is communism the name of the horizon for you? What is the significance of the name here?
Dean: This is a good question. For the longest time I thought of myself simply as a socialist and didn’t worry about the difference. Then, I guess it was Negri who started to emphasize the accomodationism of European socialism (although on that note one can say the same about, say, the Italian communist party). The difference matters in terms of installing a gap: communism opens us up to something else in a way that socialism doesn’t. And why is that the case? Because we know that socialism doesn’t require the abolition of capitalism. It works for capitalism with a human face. Is this an option? I don’t think so. And, if it could be an option, it would only be in the context of the political space secured by active, militant communists.
Ramsey: And the fact that the über-capitalist dictatorship of China still refers to itself as “communist” and thus taints this name?
Dean: No one thinks China is communist.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Sunday, 09 June 2013 18:14
- Written by kasama
¡Resistamos y luchemos! – Declaración del MKP (Partido Comunista Maoísta Turquía – Kurdistán Norte) 3 Junio 2013
Nota – El siguiente texto y declaración del MKP Turquía-Kurdistán Norte han sido extraídos del blog Maoíst Road (La Vía Maoísta) y tomado del blog Democracy and Class Struggle (Democracia y Lucha de Clases). La traducción al español es responsabilidad de Gran Marcha Hacia el Comunismo. Madrid, junio 2013.
(La serie de sucesos de resistencia y rebelión de masas que está teniendo lugar en Turquía, ha despertado gran curiosidad entre las personas de izquierda de todo el mundo. Pero con excepción de algunas discretas noticias e imágenes, la falta de declaraciones concretas de organizaciones de la izquierda turca nos ha dejado a todos un poco confusos y perplejos. Por lo tanto consideramos nuestra responsabilidad publicar una reciente declaración de una de las organizaciones de Turquía, el Partido Comunista Maoísta (MKP) – Turquía y Kurdistán Norte, que esperamos pueda arrojar alguna luz sobre las recientes revueltas de masas en Turquía.
Presentamos a continuación una versión traducida de la declaración original en turco del MKP que se puede encontrar aquí
Consejo Editorial de TND (Toward a New Dawn) [Hacia un Nuevo Amanecer] (traducida por el camarada Gediz y ha sido corregida ligeramente para mejor comprensión)
Democracia y Lucha de Clases agradece a los camaradas de TND por ponerlo a disposición de todos.
¡RESISTAMOS Y LUCHEMOS! – MKP (PARTIDO COMUNISTA MAOÍSTA – TURQUÍA- KURDISTÁN NORTE)
3 Junio 2013
El Partido Comunista Maoísta Turquía-Kurdistán Norte ha emitido una declaración sobre el incesante movimiento popular de masas.
"¡En tanto que las masa sean torturadas, abatidas a tiros y masacradas, los proletarios revolucionarios no pueden ser espectadores!"
"¡La lucha codo con codo está creciendo con las masas resistentes y alzándose!"
¡A nuestros camaradas que están luchando!
¡Aquellos que deben estar dirigiendo están actuando hoy como seguidores de las masas!
Los comunistas y revolucionarios están hoy atravesando otro examen. Es la hora de la lucha abnegada sin desestimar al movimiento como espontáneo. La definición del movimiento revolucionario o de la ola revolucionaria es que la práctica que las masas manifiestan.
¡Las masas son revolucionarias, su reacción es democrática, la rebelión y alzamiento es legítimo!
Como requiere nuestro papel de dirección, tenemos que estar en primera línea de la lucha con las masas incluso aunque se desarrollara con nuestra ausencia.
¡Resistiremos, lucharemos y pagaremos el precio!
¡En tanto que las masas sean torturadas, abatidas a tiros y masacradas, los proletarios revolucionarios no pueden ser espectadores!
A Nuestras Apreciadas Masas:
Las masas que están llenas de odio debido a la presión y violencia reaccionarias han sacudido a la clase dominante y al Gobierno turco.
Avanza el alzamiento en masa causado por el intento de destrucción del Parque Gezi para beneficio de la burguesía.
Una vez más, las masas que gritan han mostrado a los voraces neoliberales que el pueblo puede tomar su destino en sus propias manos. La fascista opresión salvaje del Gobierno del AKP no ha logrado detener la resistencia.
Las masas continuaron luchando y no cejaron en sus demandas democráticas incluso aunque resultaron heridas, detenidas, golpeadas y torturadas.
Pese al silencio de los escritores burgueses y los vendidos medios de comunicación turcos, la resistencia fue capaz de atraer la atención y apoyo del mundo.
La presencia de ingentes masas se ha convertido en la pesadilla para el AKP y la clase dominante opresora y reaccionaria, que ni siquiera reconoce sus propias leyes. ¡En el tercer día, las masas que comenzaron protestando por la destrucción de la naturaleza se han transformado en revolucionarias y las masas clamaban victoria por haber forzado al AKP a dar marcha atrás!
Los defensores de la reaccionaria y corporativa burguesía feudal y burocrática han seguido su tradición histórica y tratado de rebasar las demandas democráticas de las masas utilizando la violencia y un baño de sangre. Por el contrario, la creciente determinación de las masas ha hecho que el movimiento crezca y continúe pese a pagar un precio por ello.
Miles de personas en decenas de distintas ciudades se han unido como una sola en las calles para juntarse con la Resistencia del Parque Taksim Gezi.
La historia de las clases reaccionarias ha sido siempre la de oprimir y explotar a las masas y su propensión a causar cualquier tipo de dolor en ellas. A fin de mantener su gobierno y dominación, nunca se han abstenido de utilizar la violencia reaccionaria contra el pueblo oprimido y pobre.
Las clases reaccionarias organizadas que están recibiendo los beneficios del capitalismo siempre han mirado con desprecio a las masas y les han causado dolores bárbaros. Han promovido la alienación entre el proletariado y le han forzado a vivir en el hambre y la pobreza.
Pero el pueblo le ha recordado a la clase reaccionaria que son el pueblo los que son los verdaderos héroes y que con su propio destino en sus propias manos a través de las acciones revolucionarias, han causado que el sistema se ponga boca abajo. Las masas revolucionarias han demostrado de un modo inolvidable que la burla de la clase dominante, como "los tres o cinco con las piernas al aire" o "los saqueadores" carecen de base. ¡Este hecho histórico se ha materializado por completo en contra del fascista AKP a través de la resistencia de las masas, de las etnias y grupos marginados en Turquía-Kurdistán Norte!
El líder del AKP y la "República turca", el presidente Erdogan, insultó y humilló descarada y arrogantemente a las masas alzadas afirmando que eran "docenas de saqueadores". Incluso llevándolo a más amenazando: "Como partido puedo congregar a un millón".
Desafortunadamente para él, ¡una vez que estos "saqueadores con las piernas al aire" despierten, ni las amenazas ni los colmillos de vampiro apestando a sangre les detendrán!
El mismo belicista de doble cara Erdogan que criticó la dictadura de Assad por brutalizar a su pueblo, se ha hundido lo bastante como para llamar a sus propias masas "una pareja de saqueadores".
¡Lo que le hace tan andrajoso no es otra cosa que el mido de su propio pueblo alzándose!
El gobierno de doble cara del AKP está utilizando tácticas de "sacerdote-ejecutor" [una referencia a la masacre de los aztecas por los españoles] para reprimir las llamas del alzamiento mientras trata de contentar a sus propias masas.
Mientras Bulent Arinc, el portavoz del Gobierno Cemil Cicek y un par de dirigentes del AKP han tratado de suavizar a las masas diciéndoles que la demanda popular es democrática, Erdogan no está dando ningún paso atrás mostrando sus colmillos.
El proletariado y las masas no son lo suficientemente crédulas para dejarse engañar por estos trucos. Todas sus tácticas se golpearán contra una muralla de bronce y demolerá vuestro poder. La resistencia no ha terminado, continúa. La pesadilla de los reaccionarios que calificaron a las masas como "saqueadores" continúa. Quien es el saqueador y quien es el héroe ya se ha demostrado y continuará poniéndose al descubierto.
Nosotros, proletarios revolucionarios, no estamos absolviendo a los partidos fascistas burgueses tales como el CHP. El MKP ve la rebelión democrática de las masas como una reacción revolucionaria y saluda los alzamientos del pueblo oprimido.
¡Hemos jurado luchar contra la tiranía codo con codo con las masas y es nuestro deber revolucionario!
Con idéntica actitud, condenamos la tortura y violencia fascistas utilizadas contra el pueblo, y a cerrar filas para oponerse a esta opresión fascista. A fin de lograr un movimiento revolucionario más eficaz, adecuado y organizado, bajo la dirección del proletariado, ¡llamamos a todas las fuerzas democráticas y revolucionarias a unirse! Por esta razón, llamamos a todo el proletariado de Turquía-Kurdistán Norte, al pueblo pobre oprimido y a los camaradas a hacer combatir a la clase dominante reaccionaria al igual que al sistema capitalista.
Sabemos que con nuestra Guerra Popular y su fuego abrasador, seremos capaces de destruir este sistema reaccionario. ¡El gobierno del pueblo y construir el socialismo y finalmente el comunismo se logrará a través de la Guerra Popular!
Es nuestro deber y necesidad desarrollar la lucha revolucionaria uniendo las rebeliones de todas las masas democráticas y revolucionarias con la ideología del marxismo-leninismo-maoísmo bajo la bandera del proletariado.
¡Ningún obstáculo se puede alzar ante las masas populares! La fuerza reaccionaria hará que se materialice la fuerza revolucionaria.
La fuerza revolucionaria que se materializa en las manos de las masas es legítima y necesaria.
Porque es el método que se alzará contra las clases reaccionarias y conducirá a la democracia, la libertad y la sociedad comunista.
Las masas que se unen, resisten y luchan no serán derrotadas.
¡Igual que esta, todas las fuerzas reaccionarias y las clases que se apoyan en ellas están condenadas tarde o temprano a perder!
¡Son las masas revolucionarias y sus acciones revolucionarias las que escriben la historia!
¡Viva la legítima resistencia democrática y la lucha del pueblo!
¡Viva la rebelión revolucionaria unida del pueblo!
¡Viva la guerra popular!
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Saturday, 11 May 2013 21:45
- Written by Bromma
The following piece was written as a response to a new piece called "A Commune in Chiapas?" It first appeared on Kersplebedeb. Without endorsing all of its verdicts, I want to point out that is is both a powerful indictment of Euro-chauvinist fantasies about the Zapatista story, and an introduction to the complex process of mutual transformation through which the Mayan people transformed the Zapatistas, and the Zapatistas in turn transformed the people. It is highly relevent to our own discussions of what new communist beginnings might look like.
-Intro by Eric Ribellarsi
Class, Colonialism and the Zapatistas
I started off wanting to like “A Commune In Chiapas?” (This major essay about the Zapatistas, written for the English “liberation communist” journal, Aufheben, is distributed as a pamphlet by Arm the Spirit/Solidarity, Canadian anti-imperialist publishers who represent u.s. political prisoners such as David Gilbert, Albert Nuh Washington and Jalil Muntaquin.) I appreciated its willingness to criticize radicals who “project their hopes onto this ‘exotic’ struggle.” I was ready to agree with its skepticism about the rhetoric of Subcommandante Marcos, about romantic views of indigenous life, about social democracy masquerading as “civil society.” I was glad to see that the pamphlet included some background history about Mexico and a chronology of the Zapatista uprising. Most of all, I looked forward to its attempt to analyze the events in Chiapas from a class perspective.
I shouldn’t have got my hopes up. “Commune” is actually a pretty conservative piece of writing. Conservative in its view of class. Conservative in its distaste for national liberation struggles and radical anti-colonialism. Above all, conservative—even predictable—in its Eurocentric assumptions about Indians. A narrow form of academic Marxism acts like parental web-screening software, preventing the authors from seeing even the basic outlines of the Zapatista struggle.
The January 1, 1994 uprising in Chiapas resulted from a fusion of indigenous peoples’ struggles for survival with a band of revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. This fusion produced an innovative movement which slammed a body blow into global capital. “Commune,” on the other hand, was written by theoreticians who lack respect for indigenous struggle and apparently have little use for real-life revolutionary Marxist guerrillas. Not surprisingly, their main message is that the Zapatistas have limited historical significance.
The pamphlet’s aim is not so much to learn lessons from the Zapatista struggle as to grind ideological axes. The authors claim to represent the voice of moderation, avoiding what they see as twin errors: wishful thinking about Chiapas (which they ascribe to autonomist Marxists, among others) as well as a dismissive attitude among self-styled “ultra-left” groups in Europe. But actually “Commune” is squarely in the dismissers’ camp. Like them, it disdains what it calls “anti-imperialist and Third Worldist ideology.” Like them, it applies a series of formulaic litmus tests to the events in Chiapas, and judges the Zapatista struggle as essentially backward.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Monday, 29 April 2013 18:28
- Written by Chepe Martín
What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
This piece first appeared on the blog of Chepe Martín, The Outside Agitator. The following is a draft. Expect an expanded piece soon.
It had been unduly hard to discern where the emerging and sexier trends in Marxism have placed themselves, veiled as they are in ultra-left aesthetics and memes. Sure, plenty of cues are present, but those might’ve been incidental and only indicative of a desire to suggest a broad selection of socialist thought.
The need to investigate has ended. The Jacobin have staked themselves as pink, when what we need is a nice maroon. Bhaskar Sunkara has written a piece for In These Times that has planted his flag down for a revisionist stand for democratic socialism, a turf that seems to be populated by a lot of these groups and editorial boards, including as well The New Inquiry.
It isn’t that democratic socialism is altogether a sad derivation from Marxism. In fact, the energy these people are bringing to the table is welcome, and I, for one, hope their project of growing the democratic socialist left is successful, particularly if it finds a strong tendency toward feminism, ecology, and decolonizing politics. If anything, I would see their project stronger. The historicity of the contemporary moment in social programs that Sunkara lays out is finely laid out although severely incomplete, including its disregard for gender, questions of self-determination, and the significant impact of anarchism, and even more so autonomism, on today’s active radical left. He is right as well that progressive (re: liberal but social democratic) reform is a welcome alternative to the “things must get worse before they get better” strategic thinking that come out of the ultra-left and insurrectionary corners.
But what I will say is that Sunkara’s vision is not the best that Marxism can offer, and it is not the breath of fresh air I might’ve hoped to see. What we needed most was a Marxism that takes all of the lessons of the 20th Century, including decolonization and feminism and the recognition of the failures of the Soviet model, and what it appears we are getting is a retread of the revisionist politics that Lenin and Luxemburg were fighting against. It is a socialism that in the end didn’t challenge empire, held workers back from fighting for power, and devolved into what was termed economism- that is, the fight of socialists for immediate economic gains in lieu of a synthesis between economic struggle and the struggle for political and social power. It is a socialism that pulled back on the insurrections in 1919 in Europe or in France in 1968, rather than having faith in workers and students and oppressed groups to experiment with the seizure power for themselves. What we needed was a new communism, and what we are getting is a new Keynesianism.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Sunday, 10 March 2013 02:22
- Written by Communist Organization of Greece (KOE)
The Communist Organization of Greece (ΚΟΕ) was founded 10 years ago, in the 1st Congress that took place in January 2003, after a long period of multiform preparation since the ’80s.
During this decade major social and political movements, national and international, but also popular revolts, have taken place all over the world. Huge political, economic and social changes occurred not only in the international matrix but also in our country itself. These changes altered the international balance of power and the political map of our country. The main focus of these changes has been the degree to which the Greek people have become a major factor of political change through a complex process of social struggle and political self-awareness.
All these years KOE’s approach has been to grasp the political undergoing and the underlying causes that shape the people’s movement, and at the same time to articulate a course of political action that unifies the people’s struggle under a common perspective.
- For our organization, this has been a decade of ideological and social fermentation through participating in all new forms of struggle and the major political mobilizations of our people:
- KOE became active in the Greek and European Social Forum, the anti-globalization movement and a multitude of international meetings.
- At the same time, our organization has forged strong relations with major international movements and parties in an effort, on the one hand to make known their original characteristics in our country, and on the other to advance internationalist solidarity.
- KOE has also taken part in many solidarity missions in Palestine and elsewhere. Its members were on the first ship that defied the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2008.
- Since 2008 KOE organizes annually the internationalist Resistance Festival, a meeting place for the ideas and the struggles represented by movements, collectives and militants.
- Recently it has strengthened its ties with various movements of the Arab Spring and has worked to enhance its position within the European Left.
A significant benefit for KOE is that through this process allowed itself to be influenced into reaching political insight and experience.
- Category: Communist Organization
- Created on Thursday, 14 February 2013 20:45
- Written by Doug Enaa
This new book may be of interest to our readers. Posting here is not an endorsement of its analysis.
From the website of Aaron Leonard:
The Heavy Radicals: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980
Book to be published in early 2014
[The RU's] Bill Biggin and the Free Press are even more dangerous than the Panthers
— Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo, 1970.
The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party was the largest Maoist organization to arise in the United States in the tumultuous period of the late 1960s early 1970s. This is acknowledged not only by other Left political trends, but also by the Federal Government, which had it as subject of no less than four Congressional Hearings in its key years. Oddly though it largely stands outside established histories of the period; it is not taught in the academy, appears hardly at all in academic papers, and is passed over in the more popular books of SDS and sixties radicalism.
The reasons for this are manifold. The organization is victim of its own discipline that had little interest in promoting its history beyond whatever campaign or controversy it was involved in at the moment. Further those leaving the organization were circumspect in talking about their time there — either out of standing respect for the group’s discipline, a desire to move on with their lives, or the belief that a return to "the mainstream" necessarily involved disassociating themselves from their sixties revolutionary past, or some combination of each.
There was also a penchant for the established media and other institutions to promote more sensational trends. Groups such as the Weathermen — while more marginal, were ideologically more amenable as emblematic of the ‘madness’ of extremes or despair of fighting for lost causes. It is also the case that the dominant culture in the United States has no interest promoting the concept of domestic revolutionaries embracing Maoism and undertaking the long term work of preparing for insurrection in a highly developed capitalist country.
Yet the fact remains that a significant Maoist formation did come about. In contrast to many who became radicalized quickly and nearly as quickly were in decline by the early 1970s, the RU/ RCP was ascendant in the same period. Indeed it attempted, not entirely unsuccessfully, to penetrate layers of the mainstream of U.S. society, including sections of the working class, and imbue it with a new radicalism. This stands as a counter-narrative to the dominant one of the sixties; that of activists rushing pell-mell back to accommodation with that mainstream as soon as the Vietnam war was over.
The death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the corresponding turn in China from a socialist to a market economy would bring all that to an end. From 1977 on the group would undergo first a major political schism, then a period of prolonged - but never final - disintegration. The reasons being not just the tectonic shifts in the global terrain, but the too often blind adherence to questionable (and worse) principles and methods the communist movement had brought forward historically.
Regardless, for a time this group cohered some of the most radical elements of the day. Indeed, to attempt to understand the upsurge of that period without understanding the role of the RU/RCP is to miss something important. For all its faults the RU / RCP was the most influential component of the New Communist Movement. Further, contained in the RU/RCP's story are hard garnered lessons and crucial experience essential to those who today dare to envision a radically better world. Whether one is curious, sympathetic, or detractor; this book will serve as a primer and surprising window into a heretofore overlooked critical player in a wild and insurrectionary time.