Midlands Discussion Forum and Free Communist Meeting, Sheffield, 7th September

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Theft
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Jul 29 2013 10:19
Midlands Discussion Forum and Free Communist Meeting, Sheffield, 7th September

Midlands Discussion Forum and the Free Communist presents an afternoon of discussion on, does the working class need a political organisation?
September 7th, 2pm at the Rutland Arms 86 Brown St Sheffield S1 2BS which is 5 minutes walk away from both the train and bus station.
https://maps.google.com/maps/myplaces?hl=en-GB&ll=53.376993,-1.467447&sp...

Spikymike
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Jul 29 2013 14:28

I will hopefully be able to attend this.

Since most participants are likely to be members or sympathisers of small anarchist or left communist groups or possibly other small leftist groups and will presumably consider that workers DO need a political organisation perhaps this short determinist text might be included as an antidote before inevitably moving on to 'what kind of political group' :

http://libcom.org/library/impotence-of-revolutionary-group-international...

Perhaps others might add any recomended short texts here.

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Aug 1 2013 15:04

Thanks for that Spikymike.

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arminius
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Aug 3 2013 19:07

Depending on what you mean by 'short', this 90 page, large type and quick read is a bit of a classic on this, and a mere 20 some years before Sam Moss's, fwiw:

http://www.slp.org/pdf/de_leon/ddlother/as_to_politics.pdf

Spikymike
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Aug 4 2013 13:16

arminius,

As you know I'm already pretty familiar with the slp case as against it's early competitor in the wsp/spgb and the more traditional anarchists. No left-over slp people likely to attend this meeting but spgb'ers have sometimes turned up. Funnily enough I noticed that in an article in the current Socialist Standard pointing out the anti-working class politics of the UK Labour party and argueing quite sensibly against workers paying the trade union political levy that they still managed to slip in the rather fantastical vision of some future genuine mass socialist party getting formal support from the trade unions. These discussions in both the spgb and the slp however seem to have got stuck in a very formal and capitalist understanding of 'politics' as something revolving primarily around elections to state institutions not an approach held by many in the pro-revolutionary milieu these days.

Spikymike
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Aug 24 2013 17:24

Bump.

Any other suggested short texts for this?

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Aug 27 2013 11:34

Not sure which groups will be attending, but Afed and CWO/ICT will be there.

All have there own take on political organisation including the ICC as well. Only the Afed one is online from what I can tell.

The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation.

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Aug 27 2013 14:57

From the ICC platform, section on the organisation of revolutionaries:

a. Class consciousness and organisation

Any class fighting against the social order of the day can only do this effectively if it gives its struggle an organised and conscious form. Whatever the imperfection and alienation in their forms of organisation and their consciousness, this was already the case for classes like the slaves or the peasants who did not carry within them a new social order. But this necessity applies all the more to historic classes who bear the new relations made necessary by the evolution of society. The proletariat is, among these classes, the only class which possesses no economic power within the old society. Because of this its organisation and consciousness are even more decisive factors in its struggle.

The form of organisation which the class creates for its revolutionary struggle and for the wielding of political power is that of the workers’ councils. But while the whole class is the subject of the revolution and is regrouped in these organisations at that moment, this does not mean that the process by which the class becomes conscious is in any way simultaneous or homogeneous. Class consciousness develops along a tortuous path through the struggle of the class, its successes and defeats. It has to confront the sectional and national divisions which constitute the ‘natural’ framework of capitalist society and which capital has every interest in perpetuating within the class.

b. The role of revolutionaries
Revolutionaries are those elements within the class who through this heterogeneous process are the first to obtain a clear understanding of "the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement" (Communist Manifesto), and because in capitalist society "the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class", revolutionaries necessarily constitute a minority of the working class.

As an emanation of the class, a manifestation of the process by which it becomes conscious, revolutionaries can only exist as such by becoming an active factor in this process. To accomplish this task in an indissoluble way, the revolutionary organisation:
•participates in all the struggles of the class in which its members distinguish themselves by being the most determined and combative fighters;
•intervenes in these struggles always stressing the general interests of the class and the final goals of the movement;and the final goals of the movement;
•as an integral part of this intervention, constantly dedicates itself to the work of theoretical clarification and reflection which alone will allow its general activity to be based on the whole past experience of the class and on the future perspectives crystallised through such theoretical work.

c. The relationship between the class and the organisation of revolutionaries
If the general organisation of the class and the organisation of revolutionaries are part of the same movement, they are nonetheless two distinct things.

The first, the councils, regroup the whole class. The only criterion for belonging to them is to be a worker. The second, on the other hand, regroups only the revolutionary elements of the class. The criterion for membership is no longer sociological, but political: agreement on the programme and commitment to defend it. Because of this the vanguard of the class can include individuals who are not sociologically part of the working class but who, by breaking with the class they came out of, identify themselves with the historic class interests of the proletariat.

However, though the class and the organisation of its vanguard are two distinct things, they are not separate, external or opposed to one another as is claimed by the ‘Leninist’ tendencies on the one hand and by the workerist-councilist tendencies on the other. What both these conceptions deny is the fact that, far from clashing with each other, these two elements – the class and revolutionaries – actually complement each other as a whole and a part of the whole. Between the two of them there can never exist relations of force because communists "have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole" (Communist Manifesto).

As a part of the class, revolutionaries can at no time substitute themselves for the class, either in its struggles within capitalism or, still less, in the overthrow of capitalism and the wielding of political power. Unlike other historical classes, the consciousness of a minority, no matter how enlightened, is not sufficient to accomplish the tasks of the proletariat. These are tasks which demand the constant participation and creative activity of the entire class at all times.

Generalised consciousness is the only guarantee of the victory of the proletarian revolution and, since it is essentially the fruit of practical experience, the activity of the whole class is irreplaceable. In particular, the necessary use of violence by the class cannot be separated from the general movement of the class. For this reason terrorism by individuals or isolated groups is absolutely foreign to the methods of the class and at best represents a manifestation of petty-bourgeois despair when it is not simply a cynical method of struggle between bourgeois factions. When it appears within the proletarian struggle, it is a sign of influences external to the struggle, and can only weaken the very basis for the development of consciousness.

The self-organisation of workers’ struggles and the exercise of power by the class itself is not just one of the roads to communism which can be weighed against others: it is the only road.

The organisation of revolutionaries (whose most advanced form is the party) is the necessary organ with which the class equips itself to become conscious of its historic future and to politically orient the struggle for this future. For this reason the existence and activity of the party are an indispensable condition for the final victory of the proletariat.

d. The autonomy of the working class
However, the concept of ‘class autonomy’ used by workerist and anarchist tendencies, and which they put forward in opposition to substitutionist conceptions, has a totally reactionary and petty-bourgeois meaning. Apart from the fact that this ‘autonomy’ often boils down to no more than their own ‘autonomy’ as tiny sects who claim to represent the working class in the same way as the substitutionist tendencies they denounce so strongly, their conception has two main aspects:
•the rejection of any political parties and organisations whatever they may be by the workers;
•the autonomy of each fraction of the working class (factories, neighbourhoods, regions, nations etc.) in relation to others: federalism.
Today such ideas are at best an elementary reaction against Stalinist bureaucracy and the development of state totalitarianism, and at worst the political expression of the isolation and division typical of the petty-bourgeoisie. But both express a total incomprehension of the three fundamental aspects of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat:
•the importance and priority of the political tasks of the class (destruction of the capitalist state, world dictatorship of the proletariat);
•the importance and indispensable character of the organisation of revolutionaries within the class;
•the unitary, centralised and world-wide character of the revolutionary struggle of the class.
For us, as marxists, the autonomy of the class means its independence form all other classes in society. This autonomy constitutes an INDESPENSABLE PRECONDITION for the revolutionary activity of the class because the proletariat today is the only revolutionary class. This autonomy manifests itself both on the organisational level (the organisation of the councils), and on the political level and therefore, contrary to the assertions of the workerist tendencies, in close connection with the communist vanguard of the proletariat.

e. The organisation of revolutionaries in the different moments of the class struggle
While the general organisation of the class and the organisation of revolutionaries are two different things as far as their function is concerned, as far as their function is concerned, the circumstances in which they arise are also different. The councils appear only in periods of revolutionary confrontation when all the struggles of the class tend towards the seizure of power. However the effort of the class to develop its consciousness has existed at all times since its origins and will exist until its dissolution into communist society. This is why communist minorities have existed in every period as an expression of this constant effort. But the scope, the influence, the type of activity, and the mode of organisation of these minorities are closely linked to the conditions of the class struggle.

In the periods of intense class activity, these minorities have a direct influence on the practical course of events. One can then speak of the party to describe the organisation of the communist vanguard. On the other hand, in periods of defeat or of downturn in the class struggle, revolutionaries no longer have a direct influence on the immediate course of history.

All that can exist at such times are organisations of a much smaller size whose function is no longer to influence the immediate movement, but to resist it, which means struggling against the current while the class is being disarmed and mobilised by the bourgeoisie (through class collaboration, ‘Sacred Union’, ‘the Resistance’, ‘anti-fascism’, etc). Their essential task then is to draw the lessons of previous experience and so prepare the theoretical and programmatic framework for the future proletarian party which must necessarily emerge in the next upsurge of the class. These groups and fractions who, when the class struggle is on the ebb, have detached themselves from the degenerating party or have survived its demise, have the task of constituting a political and organisational bridge until the re-emergence of the party.

f. The structure of the organisation of revolutionaries
The necessarily world-wide and centralised character of the proletarian revolution confers the same world-wide and centralised character on the party of the working class, and the fractions and groups who lay the basis of the party necessarily tend towards a world-wide centralisation. This is concretised in the existence of central organs invested with political responsibilities between each of the organisation’s congresses, to which they are accountable.

The structure of the organisation of revolutionaries must take two fundamental needs into account:
•it must permit the fullest development in revolutionary consciousness within itself and thus allow the widest and most searching discussion of all the questions and disagreements which arise in a non-monolithic organisation;
•it must at the same time ensure the organisation’s cohesion and unity of action; in particular this means that all parts of the organisation must carry out the decisions of the majority.
Likewise the relations between the different parts of the organisation and the ties between militants necessarily bear the scars of capitalist society and therefore cannot constitute an island of communist relations within capitalism. Nevertheless, they cannot be in flagrant contradiction with the goal pursued by revolutionaries, and they must of necessity be based on that solidarity and mutual confidence which are the hallmarks of belonging to an organisation of the class which is the bearer of communism

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Aug 27 2013 19:03

Will this be recorded?

slothjabber
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Aug 27 2013 19:05

Don't think we're planning on it. I'm not sure about the practicalities. There may be a write-up at some point.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 30 2013 08:05

" rather fantastical vision of some future genuine mass socialist party getting formal support from the trade unions." What fantasy? laugh out loud

But perhaps to return our case that it is political power that is primary and it was not the marching of feet on the street (there was none) that stopped the attack on Syria but a vote in Parliament - as was in 2003 with a vote to go to war despite the massive protests.

Spikymike
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Aug 30 2013 14:04

ajj,

Not useful to try and link this to the other thread on Syria. Votes in parliament may reflect a real debate around different capitalist interests and may even reflect 'public opinion' when there is nothing particularly critical at stake from a capitalist perspective, but I presume this discussion meeting is more about class struggle, class power and the role of communist political minorities not leftist campaign politics, whether parliamentary or street based.

Spikymike
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Sep 1 2013 10:41

So while I'm still thinking about the theme of this discussion meeting and a couple of the references in the ICC contribution on organisational structure and on 'autonomy' ....

For all my criticism of Castoriadis I think in the concluding section titled 'The Structure of Organisation' in this text;

http://libcom.org/library/working-class-organisation-socialisme-ou-barba...

he makes some useful observations relevant to our discussion.

Also I tried looking for something relevant to the criticism of how the concept of 'autonomy' is applied by different parts of our milieu and had a look through this:

http://libcom.org/library/party-autonomy-steve-wright

Unfortunately it is a bit of a slog through references to lots of different tendencies and groups in Italian Autonomia which most of us are probably not that familiar with but it does eventually get around to some critical insights and I liked this concluding quote/question: ''Are other paths possible, ones that neither deny that the generation of ceti politici is a necessary consequence of class relations in a capitalist society, nor hold that the most important prelude to revolution entails rallying such layers of activists around a unified leadership?'' , though I might substitute 'organisation' here for 'leadership'.

Spikymike
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Sep 1 2013 14:39

And it was perhaps remiss of me earlier not to have mentioned as an addition to the Moss article on the Impotence of Revolutionary Groups something written by Camatte 40 plus years later which goes beyond criticising the assumptions made by small pro-revolutionary groups as to their significance on to an all out attack on such groups, so this short text might suffice:

http://libcom.org/library/on-organisation-jacques-camatte

I should stress that whilst I think both Moss and Camatte raise serious issues for todays pro-revolutionaries to consider I am not agreeing with all their conclusions.

morven
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Sep 5 2013 17:22

We (the ICC/WR) would certainly appreciate a write-up (or even better a recording) because, unfortunately, none of us are able to attend on Saturday. The comrade who was going to travel to Sheffield is laid up in bed with a nasty bout of the flu.

We hope the meeting goes well and for those unsure about what we would have said - in brief: 'yes, we do think that the working class needs a political organisation'. grin

For communism, Morven

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Sep 5 2013 18:28

We're waiting by the phone tonight for the call from GMB.

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Sep 7 2013 21:40

The meeting went well and the recording I took seems to have worked, so hopefully I'll upload it to the Free Communist website sometime next week. The meeting was made up of CWO, the Commune, SPGB and a number of independent left communists, sadly nobody from any of the anarchist groups attended.

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Sep 8 2013 14:18

Audio is available here.

http://www.freecommunism.org/audio-from-midlands-discussion-forum-and-th...

Spikymike
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Sep 8 2013 15:49

Must take a look at that and see how embarrassed I might be on reflection given the largely unprepared/off-the-cuff nature of our various contributions.

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Sep 8 2013 21:12

Good work, I have shared here
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/events-and-announcements/midlands-discussion-forum-free-communist-saturday-7th-september-2013

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Sep 10 2013 18:00

That link doesn't appear to work, jon, but this one might...

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/events-and-announcements/midlan...

What a difference a hyphen makes smile

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Nov 8 2013 23:39

Just to say I have updated the audio (better and higher sound quality) of the meeting and now can be found either on my website or The Free Communist YouTube channel. Links below.

http://www.freecommunism.org/audio-from-midlands-discussion-forum-and-th...

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheFreeCommunist

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Nov 8 2013 14:25

Thanks for that. Interesting discussion.

Spikymike
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Nov 8 2013 17:30

So thanks for the improved audio - I wasn't embarrassed this time, thought I was surprisingly coherent!

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Nov 8 2013 22:13

I thought so too. Your first intervention deserves further development.

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Nov 9 2013 01:19

I thought it was really good to hear the audio. Interventions by Mike and Jock were particularly good. Maybe I am an old git now, but hearing this stuff is much better than Facebook or Twitter etc.