Left Wing Communism: A Personality Disorder?

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TeflonMaster
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Aug 10 2011 02:38

to be honest i have reread the OP like three times now and i still don't know what it is arguing. maybe it's because of my infantile disorder. i also have a habit of turning off my brain when i read arm-chair psychoanalysis so that could be an explanation as well.

bastarx
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Aug 10 2011 03:15

If H. was correct in one of his sadly self deleted posts Nate is pissed at one particular left commie. Maybe this unspecified guy's personality disorder derailed a looming general strike in Minneapolis, but how would we know?

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RedEd
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Aug 10 2011 03:41

It's probably far too late to get a worthwhile discussion out of this thread. But maybe I could come up with some legitimate reasons some people are a bit freaked out by the communist left. To do this I am going to have to name names. The ICC (International Communist Current) is going to be the main group I discuss. I have a lot of time personally for the ICC in terms of agreeing with their politics, but they do present a slightly intimidating front at least on the internet (plus I've heard anecdotes, good and bad, but the bad really are quite weird, but anecdotes are anecdotes). So say you're an aspiring left communist and you decide, these ICC people seem to have a lot of good ideas, how do I get involved, you go to their site and find this: http://en.internationalism.org/joinicc When I first read it a few years back I was seriously wondering whether the ICC was basically a cult. I know they're not, and that it was mainly my ignorance of the details of Marxist history and organisational principles that made me think that, but the text really is pretty intimidating, and superficially at least has some of the features that initiations into cults have (again the ICC are in no way a cult, but this document to people with little knowledge of the 'communist scene' may feel a bit wary of it because it appears some what that way). The ICT introduction also seems exclusive in the sense that it seems addressed to politicos rather than just workers who might want to join a communist group. Again, I like the ICT and don't want to criticise their politics, but their online recruitment policy seems flawed at best.

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Aug 10 2011 08:01

RedEd: I am happy to discuss your comments, here or elsewhere. You could certainly start a thread on our own forum, outlining why you think the text on joining the ICC could be seen as intimidating. Is the main problem one of language, or one of the political content of our conception of organisation and communist militancy?

Leo
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Aug 10 2011 10:18
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I think it's basically someone annoyed that they are unable to get the better of left communists in a political argument and so instead going off and reflecting on either their inability to articulate themselves or even god forbid reconsider their politics has decided to sidestep the whole issue with a "yeah, but, yeah youse aren't half moody bastards".

Probably.

There seems to be too basic, and in fact quite banal criticisms made in the original post, and repeated throughout the thread.

One of them is the bit about left communists being socially dysfunctional. In all categories of human being, political or apolitical, you are bound to find an amount that is socially dysfunctional. I have not observed this amount to be particularly high among the left communists. This argument seems to be based on what the opponents of left communism are saying about it than anything else.

The point about the inside language is, I think, a valid criticism despite there being an apparent improvement of the quality of the publications and so on. It is probably not as bad as the original author or some of the commentators portray it, and it is not about being picky with terms like "the general strike". However and inside language does exist. It is more in the lines of, as one comrade had said in the past, the left communist press having the feeling of being straight out of the 30ies or, at least the 70ies. Improvements are necessary here.

On the point made by Peter about some posters reactions to left communism being similar to those of the racists - saying that Peter called those people racist is a complete straw man argument. Some people here seem to have deep prejudices against left communism. Their behavior is similar to that of any group of prejudiced people - this doesn't in any way mean they are racists. Racists also are a prejudiced group and perhaps this may cause some people to think that there might be some similarities in the way they argue about what they are against. Saying this does not in any way mean calling anyone a racist. This seems so obvious that I don't want to keep repeating it.

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Aug 10 2011 14:24

Okay so I'm super hesitant to post again but here goes. Folk here are misunderstanding my views. This is my fault in that piece because my views are not clearly articulated, and in part because I'm still working out what my views are. As I tried to say, I wrote that blog post trying to think through some stuff I've run into repeatedly and that I'm not really clear on, and this is usually what I do with my blog posts, I write on stuff I'm not really clear on in the attempt to get to clearer ideas.

Nonethess, folk here are still misunderstanding my views. I don't think all left communists are mentally deficient. I didn't write this piece about any one individual, despite what Hironimous said. Hironimous also said that my blog post was anonymously written. It's not, my name is on the blog. Hironimous was pissed because he thought the post was about him, he'd written me an email recently referencing the SI. It was a long email and I hadn't really read it when I wrote that blog post (and the blog post before it was about the SI and some of the post situationist stuff, about how I want to go back and read a lot more of that because I think there's some great stuff in what I have read of it). Hironimous and I had like an hour long phone conversation yesterday about this stuff and he says he's over this.

Trying to articulate a bit more what I *do* think: I think some of the time people turn to left communist ideas because those ideas speak to a disposition they already have. This has been my experience in stuff I've been involved in a lot of the time. People are unsure if they want to stay involved, for emotional reasons, and left communist ideas provide them with resources to think through and to justify a decision not to stay involved. If the conditions are exactly right (or wrong) I think left communist stuff encourages people to back out of involvement in emotionally taxing projects that involve working with an ideologically diverse group of people where the likely outcomes of the project are going to be pretty ambiguous.

This is not to say that left communists are wrong. As I tried to say, I often agree with left communist ideas. I think that left communists provide really crucial arguments that everyone should read when it comes to taking jobs or officer roles in unions, among other things. A lot of projects would be better if they had more of a dose of left communist ideas. Nor is this to say that this always happens with left communist ideas or that this is all left communism is. I take Devrim's point that I know few people who are active in left communist groups. In that case, I suppose I'm not really talking about left communism so much as individuals who read left communist writings in isolation from the organized communist left.

Two final thoughts, one, as I've tried to clarify but I suspect folk will still hate, I'm really not trying to say "left communist ideas are always like this all the time in all places," I'm trying to say instead "sometimes something goes wrong" and trying to get a grasp on what that is, because I've run into it repeatedly and it has a similar dynamic and I want to understand it better. I think this is primarily an emotional or pre-idea matter, which means it's not really something people will be argued out of. Sometimes people make arguments but it's not about what they say (or even think) it's about, sometimes it's about something that's not really stated and which isn't going to be resolved by argument. Two, in this post and in others I've been trying to think about this level of the conditions that make argument appeals to people sometimes in an extra-logical or non-logical way. That is, the ways that arguments resonate with people emotionally. I find the Williams "structure of feeling" thing thought provoking for that. Marx says somewhere something to the effect that ideas are a force when they take hold of masses in motion. I think that this 'taking hold' is not just a matter of the right ideas at the right time, or rather, being the right idea at the right time means having a sort of fit with an emotional tenor to groups, it speaks to something people want or need or feel that isn't just "this idea is correct". I think the same is true of individuals, and I think this is true as much for positive things as negative ones.

I also think that people who read a lot of left communist stuff often resort to polemic too quickly and too often. Most people who read a lot of left communist stuff have probably been told this before I said it just now. I think a lot of these dynamics are present in the diffuse milieu of individuals who read left communist stuff in the US. I think that these behaviors are part of why that milieu tends to be small, and insular. I think at least some people in that milieu feel frustrated that they're not taken more seriously more broadly. I think the reasons they're not taken more seriously is mostly due to behavior by people in the milieu and not mostly because of the content of the ideas.

This is the best I can do clarification-wise currently.

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thugarchist
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Aug 10 2011 15:45

I don't post on the old innernetz much anymore but I just wanted to pop in and assure folks that Nate is, in fact, racist against left communists. FACT.

bastarx
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Aug 11 2011 00:43

Nate, that's a lot better and if you or Juan had said that originally there could have been a productive discussion.

Yeah left commie ideas give you lots of reasons to not do political stuff but at the same time most projects of the broad radical milieu are a complete waste of time except maybe in terms of personal satisfaction but that all too often goes along with a heavy dose of self-righteousness.

Part of the reason your blog post pissed me off so much is because you aren't some random clown on the internet but someone who I've known online for over a decade and always thought was a decent guy.

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Aug 11 2011 03:08

I'm with Peter on this one, both in his critique that your blog post should perhaps have stayed just that (reminds me of my embarrassment at people reading my journal without permission) and in respecting you as a comrade. Nate, in that phone conversation I pointed out your imprecise use of "left communism." You're dissing too wide a swath with a single brushstroke. And when you write:

Nate wrote:
I also think that people who read a lot of left communist stuff often resort to polemic too quickly and too often.

It still gives me this vibe like: People who read a lot of Ebony, Jet and other black cultural stuff often resort to complaining about racism too quickly and too often. And what's wrong with polemic? Americans have this lame anti-intellectual quality of avoiding conflict at the level of ideas.

As I said before, Peter hit the nail on the head about your essentializing of whole categories which, from my phone conversation with you, I don't think you understand very well -- especially the distinctions between the S.I., the German/Dutch councilist left (the ultra-gauche) and the traditions of Bordiga, the Italian left, as well as theorists like Camatte and Dauvé (the latter side of the spectrum properly called left communist). Many of which you admitted to never having read. But I guess it's O.K. to look at someone else's reading list and draw inferences about their character flaws from it.

I don't really read left communist stuff these days, so I guess that lets me off the hook. Whew, what a relief! I can throw out those unopened 1.75 liter plastic bottles of vodka with a cheerful smile!

And as much as I like some of the writings of Raymond Williams, I am sickened by his misappropriation by Post Modern and Cultural Studies academics. I hate their clever apologetics for capital. So I'm not as moved by William's "structures of feeling" as you, especially after hearing about it in PoMo drivel like Patricia White's Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability, Theories of Representation and Difference, where in the name of "intertextuality" White doesn't even attribute her use of "structure of feeling" to Williams. That's mighty unwhite of her, but why should we expect any difference from someone on a long march through the institutions?

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Nate
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Aug 11 2011 05:33

[double post]

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Aug 11 2011 05:32

hi Peter,
Fair enough. For whatever it's worth, I didn't intend an audience for that piece, as I tried to say when I write my blog in my head I think there are MAYBE like 10 people who might happen to look at any given post, and most of them are really busy. (There are occasionally some conversations on there that are really fun and educational for me but I think most posts go uncommented on - I'm not complaining, just trying to say it's not intended as a publication. I get how none of this clear to folk.) If I could hit the historical-do-over button on this I would.

hi Heronimous,
when we talked on the phone you made what I thought was an interesting historical point - you suggested that the Bordigist currents were very polemical and harsh (I'm sorry if I get your exact words wrong) as part of passing through their experiences of persecution in WWII and that perhaps this was a holdover of what was previously an effective survival strategy. We also talked about how the SI ended on a very sad note, with Debord and Sanguinetti expelling and driving out nearly everyone else - the SI is rich with material worth taking seriously, but they came to a sad end. That's the kind of thing I'm on about. All that said, I take your point that I actually know the left communist milieu very little and I'm being hella imprecise.

I do still maintain that among the left communist folk I know and the stuff they like to read, the polemic as a form of writing and communicating is more common than in a lot of other currents. If you disagree, okay, I can agree to disagree. I don't think I'm essentializing anyone when I say this, and I don't think it's out of line for me to say that spending a lot of time reading polemics makes some people develop a taste for polemic, depending on the conditions.

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Devrim
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Aug 11 2011 08:46
Hieronymous wrote:
Nate wrote:
I also think that people who read a lot of left communist stuff often resort to polemic too quickly and too often.

It still gives me this vibe like: People who read a lot of Ebony, Jet and other black cultural stuff often resort to complaining about racism too quickly and too often. And what's wrong with polemic? Americans have this lame anti-intellectual quality of avoiding conflict at the level of ideas.

I think that Nate has a point here. Far too ften so-called 'polemic' is little more than an excuse to insult other people/groups. Overall I feel that it has a very negative effect.

Devrim

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Aug 11 2011 18:07
Alf wrote:
RedEd: I am happy to discuss your comments, here or elsewhere. You could certainly start a thread on our own forum, outlining why you think the text on joining the ICC could be seen as intimidating. Is the main problem one of language, or one of the political content of our conception of organisation and communist militancy?

I think the problem is one of style and presentation, which is quite subjective of course, so my comments may not generalise. The ICC's conception of a militant organisation (in theory, don't know enough about practice to comment) seems fine. I think the first thing to say is that information is given in the form of an article on the politics of joining an organisation. That's a good thing to have, and should be linked to or follow any section of the web site on joining, but a briefer more practical explanation of what joining involves might be easier for people to start with.

The text contains quite a lot of assumptions about how much the reader knows. I understand that the ICC is a organisation where members are expected to have a good grasp of the organisation's theoretical positions, but some of the jargon and assumptions are a bit niche given the range of people I expect the ICC would like to be open to. For example, why one might call stalinist parties bourgeois parties is not immediately obvious even to a lot people with a decent knowledge of Marxism. References to historical debates in the Russian social democracy are interesting and worth making, but probably not in the first text interested potential members come across.There is a reference to Bordiga that's a bit redundant in getting the meaning across, and only adds to the text if you know who Bordiga was and why people might want to cite his views on revolutionary organisation. The comparison between ICC recruitment policy and that of the Trotskyists is made in a way that does only works if the reader is familiar with the Trotskyists being talked about. (It's also a little too general, a few trot groups really do expect all members to be active militants who share and can explain the organisation's positions, admitidly very few, but the AWL is one, from my experience of them).

On the seeming 'a bit cultish point', here are a couple of example bits:

"Concretely, comrades who want to join the ICC should start right now preparing to assume their responsibilities, which means:

· making themselves available to hold discussions on the ICC platform with delegations mandated by the organisation. This process of discussion is aimed at deepening their agreement with our platform, something that cannot be a purely superficial approximation. This implies that candidates should not hesitate to express their disagreements, divergences or incomprehensions so that the discussion can lead to a real clarification;

· begin to provide regular material support to the organisation through financial donations and by participating in sales of the press."

"Our policy is not one of premature integrations on an unclear, opportunist basis. We are not interested in comrades joining the ICC and then leaving us after a few months or years because they have realised that militant life is too much of a constraint or because they see in retrospect that they had never really assimilated the ICC's organisational principles."

The same thing could be said in a different way, I think. Words like "assimilation" and "integration" are also used by cults about joining their groups. It's not that the ICC is wrong in what it's actually trying to communicate, but it's using a way of communicating that will trigger unfortunate associations in many people's minds.

I think the article is trying to do quite a lot in quite a short space, and uses a rhetorical style and set of reference points that could be alienating or confusing. What's more, I think that quite a few people who would not be suitable for membership of the ICC, but would be suitable to be active supporters or collaborators could be put off as well (especially since most people think, as the article points out, that if you basically agree with a group and want to do stuff with them you should join, which is not how the ICC works, but how people will often initially assume it does). The latter set of people shouldn't be assumed to have much knowledge at all of the communist left and the details of communist history and ideas. They might just be people who met a militant on a picket line or something.

When talking about language more generally I think there is a tendency amongst revolutionaries of many types, including sometimes the ICC, to adopt the rhetorical style of previous generations rather than use everyday styles. But previous generations of revolutionaries would often have been talking to people used to being preached to by the clergy, for instance, and would have taken advantage of that in ways that we can't today at least in the more secular parts of the world. Often the rhetorical style of a 19th century orator is apparent (not in this article), which seems incongruous with reading an internet text. I know groups inevitably develop their own jargon and styles and so on, but I think communists should try to guard against preferring the modes of expression of our favorite historical texts to the ways people communicate in their day to day life.

I don't know if any of that is helpful. As I say, its quite subjective.

Cleishbotham
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Aug 11 2011 21:17

Red Ed

You wrote:

"The ICT introduction also seems exclusive in the sense that it seems addressed to politicos rather than just workers who might want to join a communist group. Again, I like the ICT and don't want to criticise their politics, but their online recruitment policy seems flawed at best."

Thanks for that. Are you referring to our platform when you say we have only addressed politcos in our introductory statement? In fact you would be spot on since it was aimed at groups rather than individuals. And you have also hit the mark about another failure as we have never had an "online recruitment policy". Any suggestions?

For me (as the only CWO member who occasionally posts here) this whole psychological debate is predicated on the sad fact that on libcom the Communist Left is only the ICC and despite the odd thing of value they have done nothing but discredit the entire tradition with their paranoia and cultism. But I think most libcommers prefer it that way!

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Aug 11 2011 22:36
Cleishbotham wrote:
Red Ed

You wrote:

"The ICT introduction also seems exclusive in the sense that it seems addressed to politicos rather than just workers who might want to join a communist group. Again, I like the ICT and don't want to criticise their politics, but their online recruitment policy seems flawed at best."

Thanks for that. Are you referring to our platform when you say we have only addressed politcos in our introductory statement? In fact you would be spot on since it was aimed at groups rather than individuals. And you have also hit the mark about another failure as we have never had an "online recruitment policy". Any suggestions?

Ok. Well, I guess that's not a problem then. I made an incorrect assumption about the purpose of the document. Also, your actual Q&A bit is good, though it bears the hallmarks of its translation (from Italian?). So yeah, I take it back about the ICT for the most part.

Quote:
For me (as the only CWO member who occasionally posts here) this whole psychological debate is predicated on the sad fact that on libcom the Communist Left is only the ICC and despite the odd thing of value they have done nothing but discredit the entire tradition with their paranoia and cultism. But I think most libcommers prefer it that way!

Fair enough. I don't really know much even about the ICC. I live out in the provinces so the only way I have of finding out about groups is online. I try to steer clear of talking about the character of groups aside from the what they say on their sites or in their publications as a result. But I don't think left communism is seen as discredited on libcom. People like Dauve, Mattick and Pannekoek (to name a few) get talked about more than many anarchist theorists.

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Aug 11 2011 23:01

Thanks Red. I will reflect on your comments, talk to others about them, and come back to you.

.

Cleishbotham
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Aug 12 2011 09:40

RedEd

Thanks for your reply. The vast majority of the CWO also live "in the provinces" but we try to
work where we are. I don't think you have to take anything back! You are very gently and kindly exposing our weaknesses. The Q and A bit on our site is translated from Italian but not by a human being. I think it is awful and incomprehensible and we have started redoing it (but real life gets in the way and it always gets pushed to the back burner - you are the first person to ever comment on it!).

I think Dauve, Mattick and Pannekoek are contributers who would be claimed by both libertarian communists and left communists in some way or another but when I talked of discrediting the Communist Left I was thinking of relations between groups today.

I think the only communist project is a libertarian one (or I have misunderstood Marx) but I am in a group descended from the Communist Left because I think that it offers the best way to get there. I signed up to libcom (2006?) when the discussion was about our tendency (then the IBRP). What I found was that the level of dialogue between anarchists, left communists and libcommers was not what I expected. This was not all the ICC's fault but it was clear they had put people's backs up by their modus operandi. For me this got in the way of discussing real issues and worse all too frequently the particular positions held by the ICC were equated with the whole Communist Left tradition. The ICC are descended from a small offshoot of that tradition the French GCF and have taken on some strange postions which we regard as outside a materialist analysis of capitalism. But that's opening another thread...

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Aug 12 2011 14:45
Nate wrote:
Trying to articulate a bit more what I *do* think: I think some of the time people turn to left communist ideas because those ideas speak to a disposition they already have. This has been my experience in stuff I've been involved in a lot of the time. People are unsure if they want to stay involved, for emotional reasons, and left communist ideas provide them with resources to think through and to justify a decision not to stay involved. If the conditions are exactly right (or wrong) I think left communist stuff encourages people to back out of involvement in emotionally taxing projects that involve working with an ideologically diverse group of people where the likely outcomes of the project are going to be pretty ambiguous.
...
I suppose I'm not really talking about left communism so much as individuals who read left communist writings in isolation from the organized communist left.
.

This seems like a critique of folks who get a bit into ultra-determinism, from folks like DuPont or TC, and thus rationalize their non-involvement...
I don't think the organized communist left does this as much (though the housing discussion group in Seattle, there is a thread on here where 888 and others discus such from awhiles back, and the intervention of an individual IP member could be a counter example/ example of your issue with left com polemic) ...
anyhow I'd agree with others critiquing your original piece (while understanding your caveat that it is a blog post where you think through ideas) that developing these lines of analysis of the milieu could offer something better than the pop-psychological analysis/ disdain seemingly prevalent/ apparent in the o.p.