Towards a revolutionary left: a critique and proposal

A critique by the Facing Reality Collective in Philadelphia of the 'revolutionary left' and the 'ultraleft'.

“…each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

—Frantz Fanon

It has been five years since the economic crisis shook global capitalism. Since then, millions of people throughout the world have responded with riots, strikes, and uprisings. Yet capital is still as strong as ever. While the proletariat has thrown a few good punches around the planet, it is capitalism, in fact, which has given the proletariat a pounding. Austerity and immiseration continue to rain down. The threat of ecological catastrophe haunts the planet as a whole. The battles taking place in the present period should certainly be participated in, but they can only be the first steps in a much larger historical conflict that is yet to come.

The working class in the United States has suffered defeats and demoralization since the late 1970s, and is for the most part unwilling to fight. Despite an ongoing economic crisis, class struggle remains at a low level. Some sectors of the unionized working class are still calling for a return to the “golden age” of capitalism. Others are so disillusioned with trade union activity that they abstain from the union struggle all together. While many immigrants today are middle-class—a phenomenon of U.S. class composition since the 1970s—there also exist significant layers of hyper-exploited immigrant workers. The immigrant movement for the most part remains in a “civil rights” phase, demanding legal rights under the U.S. Constitution. Same goes with the LGBTQ movement. Arab and Muslim movements have struggled to connect to broader layers of U.S. society. The black working class has been devastated by the restructuring of capitalism. So has the the white working class, yet white supremacy continues to deeply divide whites from the rest of the proletariat.

A small layer of women in the U.S. have achieved wealth after gaining entry into the workforce in the 1970s, while the vast majority of women grind out a working class existence, and work a “double shift” as caregivers for children, spouses, or the elderly. At the same time, social and ecological crises in the global south have pushed masses of women to the global north. These women now serve as waged reproductive workers, whether in food, health care, social service industries, or as nannies in the homes of predominantly white women who are wealthy enough to subcontract their housework. Violence against women, both within and outside families, is pervasive across the globe.

The low level of class struggle in the U.S. is reflected in the acceptance of a very mediocre level of struggle among the left. Every recent major struggle has ended in defeat, while campaigns against particular policies have produced limited reforms, but no significant upsurges. While there exist small insurgent layers of the working class that are willing to fight, most of the left organizes for reforms within capitalism.

In the face of capital and its police state, the “revolutionary” left is just as useless as the reformist left. Capitalism does not tremble before socialism, communism and anarchism; the latter trembles before capitalism. While the “revolutionary” left might push for the overthrow of capitalism in theory, in practice it is building no organizational base for the development of such a fight, and is instead isolated in left subcultures, on the Internet, and in academia.

A younger generation of working class militants, who are either unemployed or semi-employed, showed us in the Flatbush and Anaheim riots that they are willing to struggle for more than reforms. They are willing to fight for a revolutionary future. Yet the “revolutionary” left either ignores this class of people or has no idea how to engage with them. The young militants who participated in the Anaheim and Flatbush riots not only gained direct experience in the use of insurgent tactics against the state, but also acquired concrete knowledge about the classes and forces involved in the struggle. The potential for rebellions by this underclass exists in many cities all over the US. While the new generation of militants has yet to find any organizations that will fight alongside them, they are learning who will not fight alongside them: the reformist left and the “revolutionary” left. The left as a whole is still unable to respond to the present historical moment.

The authors of this document come from a left-communist, Marxist-feminist, anarchist-communist perspective. We refer to our our broad political tendency as “ultra-left,” for short. We are heartened that the last decade has seen the growth of direct-democratic social movements and various currents of autonomous Marxism. We feel these developments mark the first small steps away from the disastrous history of state socialism and vanguard party politics in the 20th century. But we also believe that the ultra-left is amateurish in terms of self-discipline, politics, and strategy, and as a result, is unable to wage a serious offensive against capital.

The U.S. ultra-left is strongly anti-organizational, for both theoretical and historical reasons. Historically, the ultra-left is determined to avoid Bolshevik and Leninist organizational models. Theoretically, they are influenced by the contemporary European ultra-left, most of it post-workerist or insurrectionary anarchist, both of which favor loose radical milieus and informal or temporary forms of organization. In the U.S, ultra-leftists find themselves in a political terrain dominated by non-profits and unions, and an array of Marxist-Leninist sects left over from the 1970s. Because the most dynamic social movements appear outside of, or struggle to break free from, these forces, organization itself appears to be a block to revolutionary movement. These factors combined lead most U.S. ultra-leftists to oppose organization as a whole. This throws the baby out with the bathwater.

We believe that it is necessary for us to develop organizations which corresponds to the conditions and needs of our time. Organizations are crucial because they can help us learn from our experiences in the daily struggle. Organizations can help identify and defend working class activities that challenge the power of capitalist society and which anticipate a new society. At times, organizations can lead upsurges of mass struggle. However, we do not fetishize organization: groups fulfill their tasks to greater or lesser degrees for limited periods of time, and then become a barrier to further development if they do not dissolve. Furthermore, organizations cannot spark mass struggle out of thin air, and without a wave of movement to engage with, no revolutionary group will be able to deeply refine its method and politics. To organize ourselves we must engage with proletarian militants, participate in mass struggles, and better understand the world around us.

All signs point to a deepening of the economic crisis in the coming years and decades. Contrary to what bourgeois economists claim, the global economic downturn is just beginning. Based on our assessment of the historical moment we find ourselves in, we believe that more outbreaks are coming which could be much larger and more radical than anything we have seen. To contribute to the coming struggles as effectively as possible, we believe militants in Philadelphia should develop one or more revolutionary organizations. The clock is ticking. This will be an uphill battle, requiring perseverance, dedication, intellectual rigor, political understanding, and organizational sophistication. So far our generation has been unable to meet this challenge. Will we rise to this task before it is too late?

Besides the overview provided above, this document will examine the present state of the left in Philadelphia, evaluating its shortcomings, and outlining in broad terms the beginning of a revolutionary project in the city. This analysis was originally developed in the context of NYC, and was modified for Philly. It applies to many other cities through the U.S. We invite other comrades to compare their take with ours, and to consider collaborating with us in the near future.

The Left and Ultra-left

There is no revolutionary left in Philadelphia. We find that the overwhelming majority of self-proclaimed “socialists,” “anarchists,” “communists” and other “anti-capitalists” in the city are consistently fighting solely for reforms, and with no strategy for going beyond them. When they engage in mass organizing, it is usually by coddling and pandering to liberals. Organizationally, this approach translates into working within unions and non-profits, lobbying the state for concessions, and attempting to “lead” coalitions with progressive sectors of the bourgeoisie. The liberal hegemony of the Philly left is also influenced by the politics of black nationalism, a number of progressive black politicians in the city, and a history of extremely brutal repression against black revolutionary forces. All these factors combined produce a category of leftists we call “reformist revolutionaries,” who say that they want revolution, but strive for it by means of reformist strategies that actually hinder and prolong any revolutionary development. It is a very contradictory phenomenon and it is highly pronounced in Philadelphia. This category includes most, if not all, of the groupings in the Philly left.

Where there is a substantial ultra-left scene in NYC (as isolated as it is), in Philadelphia there exists nothing but an ultra-left vacuum. There are fifty or so mostly black and white ultra-leftists scattered throughout the city. It is a very fragmented milieu, brought together in community spaces, event series, publishing projects, housing collectives, and occasional marches or isolated actions. Despite the fact that there are many talented organizers in this scene, their work is largely irrelevant to the daily struggles of proletarian communities. In this regard, the ultra-left is conditioned by the recent history of the U.S. left as a whole, which grew distant from class struggle in the 1970s, influenced by professional activism in non-profits, unions and universities, and the increased segregation of poor communities.

As it is not an autonomous political force in the city, this tiny ultra-left is often absorbed into the larger reformist left. Many individuals with ultra-left politics can be found chasing the coat-tails of reformist organizations. Ultra-leftists will also focus on informal self-help projects, such as community gardens, free stores, food distribution programs, skill shares, or community libraries. But like the reformist groups, these projects have no revolutionary strategy or politics involved in them, making this organizing work little more than unpaid social service work that appears radical. Some of the college educated ultra-leftists might organize small study groups amongst themselves, but with no clear organizational purpose.

Ultra-leftists also organize within narrow subcultures held together by friendship, rather than through organizations based on politics and strategy. Lacking ultra-left organizations and coherent politics and strategies to test in practice, ultra-left individuals rep their revolutionary politics within their small private circles, but tail reformist groups in public. They also attempt to intervene exclusively within their insular subculture. Either way, film screenings, potluck dinners, and benefit parties are the main glue that holds the scene together.

Race Dynamics of the Left and Ultra-left

Any discussion of race has to start with the recognition that racial oppression is integral to the history of capitalism in the U.S. Despite the reforms and shifts of the 60s and 70s, we believe white supremacy is still as pervasive today as ever. Yet it has also changed in ways that are not yet fully understood and need to be further investigated. The left is not immune to the racism of broader society, and must struggle against its own internal racism as it fights the ruling class. However, we believe the way in which leftists and ultra-leftists are currently doing this is ineffective.

The POC (people of color1) left in the U.S. has been profoundly shaped by the developments of the past thirty years, including the growth of mass incarceration, and the separation of middle-class people of color from the poor. While some POC intellectuals study in universities, prisons serve as a center of revolutionary education for others. The defeat of the black liberation movement in the 1970s casts a long shadow on all of today’s POC militants. Historically, successive waves of black movements have been the incubators of organization and ideas for the revolutionary left in the U.S. Today this role has yet to be filled by any sector of the U.S. proletariat. As of yet, none of the recent immigrant layers have made a comparable impact. This has created a situation where militants are left to grapple with race politics based purely on past precedents.

In Philadelphia there are many Asian, African, Caribbean, Central and South American workers, however, the city has much more of a black-white dynamic. Black Americans are the largest racial group in the city, followed next by whites. This is reflected in the racial composition of the Philly left, which is informally segregated along the black and white color line. The black left, which is much more organized and self-disciplined that the white left, usually operates in different social circles and political projects than the white left, although there is considerable overlap at times.

The separation between the black and white left is influenced by the recent history of race politics in the U.S. By the mid 1970s, the white left through the country had separated itself from communities of color, in tandem with the rise of national liberation politics. In response to the rampant paternalism of white activists, for decades black nationalists had been calling for whites to stop organizing in black communities and to instead organize exclusively in white communities, in separate white organizations that would operate in solidarity with black organizations. White leftists (including ultra-leftists) today tow this nationalist line in order to rationalize their isolation from communities of color. This is often done in the name of “not infringing on POC struggles.”

The isolation of the ultra-left prompts white ultra-leftists to abandon their revolutionary politics when confronted by identity politics and black nationalism. This is an especially common occurrence when white ultra-leftists participate in struggles against anti-black racism. We have seen this happen with the flash-mob phenomenon, the struggle against the youth curfew, struggles against the police and prisons, protests against the school closures, and in the protests against the Zimmerman verdict. We also expect this to happen if anti-police riots pop off in Philadelphia. White ultra-left militants write incendiary zines, flyers, graffiti, etc., but when POC liberals and nationalists accuse them of being “outsiders,” the white ultra-leftists shut up and fall in line. What’s worse, the white ultra-leftists rationalize their halfheartedness as “ally” and “solidarity” politics. The ultra-left as a whole fails to develop organic connections with working-class militants (of any color) that can break with liberal hegemony. Instead, the ultra-left stays isolated in its enclaves, falls back on shallow identity politics, and tails behind reformist forces.

While a small layer of black militants in the city are inspired by left-communism, Marxist-feminism, and anarchism, the majority of the black left here is not. Instead, the black left scene is dominated by a mix of liberalism and black nationalism, politics which constantly pull in young black militants. Such politics retain their influence because of the inability of the ultra-left to pose an organizational and strategic alternative. Where the ultra-left can offer only a subculture, nationalists claim to possess a coherent theory of race, nation, and national liberation. In this way, the shortcomings of the ultra-left, and those of the black left, coincide and reinforce each other.

A small milieu of unaffiliated black and POC militants orbit around the reformist organizations and non-profits, flirting with the ultra-left through Zapatismo or a general anti-authoritarian ethos present since the counter-globalization movement. Many of these militants fall back on radical cultural criticism as their form of politics. They throw benefits for political prisoners, rep Assata, invoke the history of the MOVE bombing, and write blog posts that critique racism in movies or patriarchy in hip hop. Much like the ultra-left, they roll in a social scene. But few have organized to fight capitalism as an autonomous force. In many organizing and social settings, POC militants critique the manifestations of racism and patriarchy they find in the left and ultra-left, but do not develop new politics and a strategy of their own.

At leftist events and protests, POC militants sometimes establish status and legitimacy by wailing on the white kids who say ignorant crap, some of it severe, but most of it relatively banal. They posture about how much they hate white people and decry how many are in the room, but fail to develop strategies for organizing in proletarian communities of color, fail to build revolutionary organizations, and fail to develop bonds with working class militants of color in a manner that is any more effective than the white leftists. This becomes clear in “POC only” spaces. Here the white people are gone, but POC militants still regularly fail to create their own lasting politics, strategy and organizing projects. Instead, they often continue tailing the white left with critiques, which is a poor substitute for building revolutionary alternatives to electoral politics and nonprofits. This is a tendency we saw in the People of Color Working Group at Occupy Philly, and for years in the Anarchist People of Color scene.2

The white left and the POC left are locked in an unhealthy relationship. Multiracial organizing projects often foster a reciprocal process of white guilt and POC resentment. This can turn sadomasochistic: white leftists joyfully submit to scoldings from POC militants, in order to feel legitimated when organizing alongside them. At the same time, POC leftists seek individual satisfaction by wailing on white people. The compulsion of POC and white militants to wail and be wailed upon, and thereby somehow purify themselves of internal racism, limits their ability to fundamentally challenge the capitalist system.

Given its historical significance, we feel it is important to make special note of how this unhealthy dynamic distorts the development of black militants. In most cases today, black militants are brought into multiracial groups not because of their politics, but primarily because of their skin color. This causes bizarre situations in which black militants actually do not have the same politics of the groups they are part of, or are not as politically developed as the white militants around them, but are kept around anyway without being debated or pushed to develop their politics. The white militants accept this situation because they want to be legitimated by any black person they can find; black militants accept it because they can attain authenticity status as a substitute for black revolutionary politics, which have been largely destroyed since the 1970s. The broader POC left accepts the situation as well, often using notions of “people of color unity” to get closer to “authentic blackness” than white militants can.

The left is saturated with white supremacy from head to toe. Historically, it has appeared in the form of white-only unions, violence towards POC groups, or the pervasive use of racial slurs. However, these explicit forms of racism are less prevalent today, due to the lasting impact of the struggles of the 1960s. Instead, we see the following signs of white supremacy in the left: (1) failing to build the organizational means to challenge and politically develop POC militants; (2) ignoring POC history and theorists (you can grapple with these without agreeing with everything); (3) having no regular organizational contact with the POC working class; (4) subordinating the struggles of proletariats of color to the interests of bourgeois POC and more conservative layers of the working class; (5) putting POC on a pedestal as leaders when they are actually not good leaders; (6) denying leadership to militants of color when it exists on a merit basis.

We believe a revolutionary organization must struggle relentlessly to overcome the shortcomings of the left as it exists now, and address racial oppression internally in the course of fighting it in society. It must provide a venue through which ultra-left militants can engage in ongoing work with proletarian communities, from which they are for the most part alienated from. Only in this way can the ultra-left break out of its sub-cultural milieu, and the larger POC left avoid reformism and identity politics. A revolutionary organization must commit itself to building the political foundation for the self-development of militants of all colors, and black militants in particular, in order to address the political vacuum caused by the defeat of the black liberation movement, and the increasing impoverishment of working-class communities. All members of a revolutionary organization must develop their reading, speaking, writing and organizing skills, and all members must learn the history and struggles of proletariats of color. Finally, a revolutionary organization must develop new forms of healthy multiracial organization, which avoid identity politics while attacking racist institutions in society and dismantling racism internally.

Gender Dynamics of the Left and Ultra-left

A global resurgence against patriarchy is still in its early stages, fueled by recent currents of radical women in places such as Mexico, Egypt and India. This resurgence has appeared in the U.S. on a smaller scale and was pushed forward during Occupy. Philadelphia has been shaped by this trend as well, though organizing against patriarchy here remains as segregated and politically limited as most of the left. There have been protests to raise awareness about street-harassment, there have been Take Back the Night marches, and solidarity protests for Marissa Alexander, Cece McDonald, and a number of murdered transwomen. However, sustained ultra-left organizing against patriarchy on a mass level has yet to appear in Philly.

Black feminists have engaged in much more community-level organizing than their white counterparts. The politics of the black feminist milieu take a different turn than the white feminist one inasmuch as black feminists focus simultaneously on the violence women are subjected to by men, racist state violence, and women’s labor. Because of this more holistic approach, the black feminist milieu has tremendous potential. Yet some of its politics substitute personal and emotional survival, and uplifting one’s individual self-image, for collective revolutionary struggle. These politics of survival have influenced the development of a number of discussion and writing circles for black women, but these are isolated from the daily struggles of proletariat black women. Like the rest of the left, much of the black feminist milieu lacks a theory of revolutionary organization and strategy. Thus this milieu reps a nominally “anti-capitalist” politics, but tends to fall back on nonprofit work and reformist strategies. Neither the white nor the black feminist milieus have been able to organize with working-class women on a revolutionary basis.

Ultra-left feminists of all colors in Philly have also been limited in their ability to engage with women in working-class communities. The potential for such organizing clearly exists. The study groups and dialogues that have taken place in the ultra-left milieu have produced women thinkers with a level of political sophistication unmatched by the male dominated left. However, this milieu has yet to build upon the layer of thinkers it has developed, and organize militants to lead struggles among proletariat women, who fight the patriarchy of capitalist society daily and stand to benefit from an ultra-left perspective.

Trans and queer politics—which often overlap, but also branch apart—have produced a number of militants with the potential to attack capitalist social relations in a unique and powerful way. However, the queer and trans scene today is dominated by various non-profits, which seem to have forgotten the revolutionary history that created them. Liberal LGBTQ politics in Philadelphia are often centered around the “Gayborhood,” a center city area that queer/trans proletariats once called their home, but which over the past 20 years has been gentrified by a number of LGBTQ non-profits, businesses, restaurants and bars. The Gayborhood has become an elite bourgeois neighborhood for upper class gays and lesbians, and has gained popularity as a result of its official recognition from the city government. Transphobia and gay misogyny are today highly entrenched in the Gayborhood.

In a manner very similar to the black feminist milieu, many trans and queer radicals uphold a politics of survival, where personal and emotional survival is seen as trumping collective revolutionary struggle. These politics are based in the context of occupying an extremely alienated position in capitalist society. With no revolutionary organizations to turn to, transgender proletariats are frequently forced to rely on non-profits for medicine and support. Campaigns for prison and health-care reforms are often posed as a matter of immediate tactical survival. Because of the bankruptcy of modern revolutionary politics, it is easy to dismiss the need for revolution as “privileged,” while framing struggles for reforms as concrete improvements in the here and now that can save lives. Paralyzed by guilt and fear of being labeled as “privileged,” non-trans revolutionaries will abstain from principled critique of these reformist politics. If non-trans militants do engage in critique, they usually ignore the societal context, and as a result, reinforce trans liberalism. This is all a far cry from the revolutionary politics of the Stonewall riots and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

There are quite a few queer and transgender ultra-leftists in Philadelphia and around the country who reject liberalism and reformism, usually in favor of insurrectionism. Although these revolutionaries have been influenced by feminist politics, they have also been very critical of the implicit heteronormativity of such politics. Feminist politics (including ultra-left feminist politics) consistently limit their understanding of patriarchy to the man-woman binary, while trans/queer politics oppose patriarchy from a much broader standpoint. Trans and queer ultra-leftists have very advanced understandings of how homophobia, transphobia, and gay normativity are central components of capitalist patriarchy. Unfortunately, most of these revolutionaries are highly anti-organizational, and stay isolated in sub-cultures alongside the rest of the ultra-left.

Trans and queer militants in Philly have led the way in organizing various responses to transphobia and homophobia, not just in society at large, but in the left. Alongside these struggles, feminist activity in Philly has emerged as an internal critique of the male left. These activities reflect developments on a national scale, where radicals have focused on critiquing patriarchy within the left, and attempting to hold those who display patriarchal behaviors accountable by a variety of means. These efforts have produced mixed results, which have been reflected upon in recent zines from the west coast.

The fact that much organizing against patriarchy focuses on confronting it’s pervasive effects within the left milieu, points to serious problems in the left. We see the following manifestations of patriarchy at work: (1) sexual assault, rape, harassment and abuse; (2) male domination of organizations and informal networks, e.g. women are always the ones to leave the group after a breakup; (3) failing to build the organizational means to challenge and politically develop women and LGBTQ militants; (4) failing to understand patriarchy beyond the man-woman binary; (5) failing to study and learn from the history of women, queer, and trans struggles; (6) having no regular organizational contact with trans and queer proletariats and failing to engage with women, trans, and queer struggles when they break out; (7) women, trans, and queer militants being denied leadership when they have the skills; (8) subordinating the struggles of women, trans, and queer proletariats to the interests of bourgeois society and more conservative layers of the working class.

Historically, the left has been abysmal at counteracting patriarchal tendencies in revolutionary groups. The history of Leninist organizations in particular is riddled with problems of patriarchy. We believe this is a result of the organizational structure and power relationships encouraged by Leninist models. The internal hierarchy found in Leninist parties, the degree of power, control and status wielded by leadership, and the devotion of party members to the preservation of the organization, all militate against accepting and incorporating the critiques of women, queer, and trans membership. The disaster of the Socialist Workers Party in Great Britain, and the Progressive Labor Party in California, both indicate the danger of organizational fetishism trumping the struggle against patriarchy.

We believe it is necessary to build revolutionary organizations that can both counteract the patriarchal tendencies present in broader society as well as in the left, and help develop revolutionary ultra-left struggles against patriarchy on a mass level. Such an organization must build upon the momentum of the recent resurgence against patriarchy, and provide a venue in which women, trans, and queer militants can grow as thinkers, organizers, leaders and mentors. Members must sharpen their grasp of theory, philosophy, and revolutionary history, and develop practical skills such as speaking and writing. Some currents of identity politics cast this approach as inherently masculine or patriarchal, but we strongly disagree.

No revolutionary movement, and no revolutionary organization, can ever be a fully “safe space,” and organizing will inevitably reproduce the patriarchal norms of broader society and the challenges of dealing with them. Revolutionary organizations must develop standards of behavior for members, the means to deal with problems as they arise, the capability to expel abusive members, and the ability to engage in self-critique and restructuring.

College Educated Revolutionaries

Like other cities, Philadelphia has many college-educated revolutionaries of all races, genders and sexualities. Many organize in the university, without going outside it. The university could be a site of working class struggle, since jobs on campus are precarious and students are often workers themselves. However, these campus-based militants rarely extend their activity to other proletarian sectors or organize on a class-wide level, which is a central role of revolutionaries. Instead they hold reading groups with people they meet through school, organize protests on campus, and write things together, for each other.

While college educated revolutionaries might participate in movements for a time, most ultimately hope to become the next Angela Davis or Robin D.G. Kelley. This leads to people participating in movements while publishing scholarly articles about them, and treating research projects as a form of revolutionary organizing. College educated revolutionaries theorize about movements with each other, but talk a different language when organizing with working class people. They justify this move in typically anti-intellectual ways: they say that theory is something white and middle-class intellectuals do, while “real” working class people only need music, art, and raw experience in order to struggle. They say that discussing revolutionary theory with proletariats is an imposition, and inherently oppressive.

Ultimately, all these justifications further the professionalization of revolutionary intellectuals, and keep theory out of the hands of the working class. They turn reflection and theory into something that militants do in elite circles, in unintelligible language, rather than seeing it as a vital part of organizing, practiced alongside proletarian militants in revolutionary organizations. We believe the weapon of theory is vital to oppressed people’s liberation. It is not something to be monopolized by the college educated.

The kind of academic Marxism, feminism, queer studies, etc. found in the left tends to view working people abstractly. Academic theory develops brilliant macro-level analysis of the global economy, labor, identity and hegemony, but with little or no insight regarding strategy. Academic theory is disconnected from fighting organizations, and thus is not written for use in revolutionary organizing. As a result, it often ends up making policy recommendations, or suggesting a program of reformist or social democratic demands. This disconnect from the proletariat and its struggles will only continue to deepen as universities become ever more inaccessible; the cost of college has gone up 500 percent since 1980. Universities will continue to produce scholar activists with little connection to working class struggle, and lots of guilt.

Scholar activism must be abandoned entirely. Instead, we must continually work to make theory relevant to working class militants outside universities, and help them build their capacity to reflect and theorize with a variety of tools. We must retain the richness of theory and demonstrate how theory can be used to grasp everyday experience. We must use theory as way to evaluate political work, and to develop new understandings that shape effective strategy. In this way, a revolutionary organization can be the fighting university of the working class, while the university itself can only be the embalmer of revolutionary theory and politics.

Autonomy Has Become A Ghetto

The notion of “autonomy”—that movements can develop their own forms of self-directed organization, distinct from political parties and other dominant forces—has been twisted into its opposite in the contemporary U.S. In the 1970s, European autonomia emerged as a new generation of revolutionaries broke away from the existing communist parties. At the same time in the U.S, the black, Puerto Rican, Chicano and Asian movements refused to subjugate their interests and demands to those of the Old Left, which claimed to speak for everyone. From its beginnings in this time period, the term “autonomy” is now used in a variety of contexts.

The left communist milieu, for example, pursues a strategy of autonomy to avoid cooptation by unions, the state, and nonprofits. POC groups such as the New Black Panther Party, inspired by the example of the original BPP, establish “survival programs” to maintain black proletarian survival in the face of poverty and state repression. Feminist collectives draw inspiration from the European feminist currents of the late 1970s, advocating autonomy from male-dominated organizations. Finally, a wide range of anarchists pursue the development of autonomous projects in order to build “the new world in the shell of the old,” separate from existing state institutions.

One common thread among all these uses of “autonomy” politics is that small groups of militants substitute themselves for the movement of masses of people, pursuing “autonomous” projects that have little relation to broader proletarian struggles. For example, instead of organizing with health care workers to take over hospitals and run them autonomously, militants today might organize a small health care collective with few resources, and no relation to the masses of workers with medical expertise, while hoping their project will inspire others and spread spontaneously. Such attempts often ignore the autonomous activities of proletarian communities who continue to survive under capitalism. In doing so, they also overlook the shortcomings of working class self-organization, which revolutionaries could help to address, but instead romanticize. The “autonomy” pursued by the ultra-left ultimately becomes the autonomy of revolutionaries from the proletariat, whose autonomous activity and potential they are supposed to learn from, encourage and defend.

In contrast, we are for a strategic and fighting autonomy, modeled upon Italian Operaismo and autonomia, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Underground Railroad. Such currents participate in autonomous movements on a mass scale, develop and execute their own self-directed strategies, and expropriate resources from the state and capital in order to better attack both. We believe autonomous organizing requires engaging with working class communities and the autonomous activities they are already developing, rather than simply substituting leftist activity for mass activity.

State Socialism and the Need for New Organization and Theory

There are various state socialist tendencies in Philadelphia—the most prominent are the Trotkyists and the Stalinist-Maoists. The Trotskyist groups in the city, such as Solidarity, International Socialist Organization, and Socialist Action, are all reformist. So is the main Stalinist-Maoist current, the Workers World Party. None of these groups have a coherent understanding of how class composition has changed over the past decades, and how it is changing now. Furthermore, they remain committed to the notion of a dictatorship of the proletariat led by the party and a “worker’s” state with nationalized property: a recipe for authoritarian state capitalism.

Trotskyist, Stalinist, Maoist (and ultimately Leninist) traditions fetishize organization, and believe revolutionaries are capable of bringing revolutionary consciousness from outside the working class into the working class. Each state socialist tradition tends to interpret ever-changing political contexts and class compositions through the narrow lens of the historical moment in which the tradition was produced, and fails to grapple with class struggle as it currently exists. These traditions employ formulaic or fixed programs to guide their participation in mass struggle. This approach is effectively a-historical—a method to which Marx was explicitly opposed.

Between the obsolescence of the state socialist tendencies, and the irrelevancy of the ultra-left subculture, we believe it is possible to build a healthy form of revolutionary organization and theory. Part of this task requires doing what no group in the U.S. has been able to: critically investigate our own political organizing, and our own theoretical categories, in order to develop a revolutionary communist politics based in the present historical circumstances.

What We Want To Do

We seek to develop an ultra-left communist current, which prepares not only for the overthrow of capitalism and the state by the working class, but also for the overthrow of any developing “communist” or “socialist” state. We see ourselves in the tradition of the Kronstadt rebellion, the Shengwulian, and the Friends of Durruti. We must contribute to the self-emancipation of the proletariat, and demolish any state that seeks to repress the revolutionary urges of this class.

We are for revolutionary organization that serves as a fighting university of the oppressed. We are against anti-intellectualism of all forms, including those that maintain the theoretical underdevelopment of oppressed people with apparently “benevolent” intentions.

We seek to understand how identities shape the emergence of movements, and are transformed in the process. We reject the notion that politics are reducible to identity. Oppressed people are not inherently revolutionary simply by virtue of being oppressed.

We are for the development of a strategic, fighting autonomy on a mass scale. Anything less merely perpetuates the isolation of the left from the rest of the working class, reinforces the racial, gender, and class segregation of our society, and ultimately devolves into marginal social service projects employing radical slogans.

We are for an expansive understanding of class. Our understanding of class acknowledges the centrality of classically productive workplaces, but also the role of waged and unwaged social reproduction, and the effects of the punitive state. We also believe that patriarchy and racism are central components of class rule. We are against narrow workerism and class reductionism.

We seek to break down the oppressive and exploitative divisions within the class. We believe that the struggles against gender and race domination are central parts of the class struggle. We will combat any attempts to subjugate movements of people of color, women, etc. to the interests of more conservative layers of society.

We are for a multi-racial, multi-gender organization. We believe that such an organization is possible, although we are fully aware of the challenges involved in such a project. Any organization that brings together different genders and races will meet internal conflicts and oppressive dynamics, and these will be painful to experience and uncomfortable to address. But we believe they can be addressed successfully. An organization would have to actively work to dismantle divisions internally, in tandem with the mass movement.

We are for communism. We are for the direct control of the means of production by the workers, the abolition of all classes, and the abolition of the law of value. We are against Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, and all tendencies that view state socialism as a transitional strategy to reach a free society. This approach has never led to communism despite a century of failed attempts. Solutions must be sought in other directions.

We believe an ultra-left communist organization is both possible and necessary. We build upon the historical legacy of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, Socialisme ou Barbarie, Potere Operaio, Lotta Continua and others. We are against tendencies that fetishize the role of the revolutionary organization in class struggle. We feel a new theory of revolutionary organization must be developed over the coming years, through a practical process of trial, error and reflection.

Beyond this broad outline of political unity, we feel the task of small groups is to study the historical, political, and organizational problems which we face today, but for which we don’t yet have answers. As groups find solutions to these problems, they develop platforms or programs. We aren’t putting forward a program at this moment, because we recognize this is something that has yet to be developed from study and experience. Instead, we seek to answer this set of questions, which will help us develop strategies adequate to our moment. Depending on circumstances, some of these questions might be more urgent than others:

1. What will the transition to a new society look like, both militarily-strategically (general strike, armed communizing insurrection, etc.) and after the state is smashed in our region, and replaced by forms of popular power and workers’ control?

2. What is the nature of patriarchy and white supremacy? What is a revolutionary strategy to dismantle oppression surrounding gender, race, and sexuality through concrete struggle, rather than reifying these categories as eternal, or prematurely declaring them moot?

3. Why did most of the revolutions of the 20th century fail and give rise to authoritarian state capitalist regimes—for example in Russia, China, etc.? Why did the Spanish revolution fail?

4. What form of revolutionary organization is appropriate for our context, given the class composition of the U.S, and the manner in which proletarian communities are organizing themselves in neighborhoods, workplaces, and prisons? How do we develop a revolutionary organization that centralizes the needs of the range of possible revolutionary subjectivities?

5. What is capitalism, and how is it changing today? What are the most strategic sectors to organize in, given the trends in global class composition and crisis, and the locations where struggle is popping off or likely to pop off?

6. What is the function of social democratic institutions facing capitalist attack, such as unions and welfare agencies, and how do different sectors of workers understand and relate to them?

7. What are the global prospects for revolution today across both the ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ world? How do we understand imperialism today, and the political divisions and financial interconnections between these zones? Is national liberation still on the agenda?

Answering these questions will require both practical engagement in everyday struggles, and study of revolutionary history and theory. In terms of study, we will draw upon a range of works and thinkers from the revolutionary tradition: Marx, Du Bois, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Amadeo Bordiga, C.L.R. James, Paul Mattick, Frantz Fanon, Selma James, Maria Mies, Loren Goldner, Sylvia Federici, and many others.

In terms of practice, we will engage in strategic political work on a citywide level. We will actively participate in struggles, reflect on our experience, conduct inquiries into the conditions and contradictions of working class life, and evaluate the state of struggle in the U.S. We see our tasks to be the following: (1) to help renovate communist theory for the present period; (2) to contribute to the development of revolutionary militants; (3) to build “intermediate level” groupings, composed of militants who may not be ultra-left revolutionaries, but who seek broad radical change beyond single issue reforms; and (4) to participate in mass movements as part of such intermediate groupings.

“Intermediate level” is a term developed by Miami Autonomy and Solidarity in a series of online articles, which we think accurately reflects a level of organization that is necessary in the present period. Groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, or Take Back the Bronx in NYC today, are intermediate level groups. When millions of people are not involved in mass struggle, intermediate level organizations can gather together the most radical organizers, and can make interventions that push beyond the reformist organizations holding sway. They push radical lines within broader struggles and provide a venue in which radical activists can develop into revolutionary militants. As with any type of organization, intermediate-level groups serve this purpose for a period, and over time either grow into mass organizations or shrink and disintegrate.

We will undertake political work in intermediate level groups, based partly on what people are already involved in, partly on an assessment of their strategic value in the present moment, and partly on our capacity, given time and numbers. We see some possible areas of activity: workplace and immigration struggles of undocumented people; workplace struggles of low-wage, precarious, and reproductive workers; student and school worker struggles; struggles against police, prisons, landlords, welfare agencies and street harassment in the hood.

Where we do this work is almost secondary to how we do it. We will develop a culture of principled debate and emotional maturity that is largely absent in the Philadelphia left. We will establish organizational structures through which militants of color, women, trans and queer militants are not tokenized and pampered, but engaged, challenged, and encouraged to speak and lead. To maintain committed intermediary organizations, we will strive for about eight militants for each one.

Eight people per operation is fairly high, but it is a recognition of the taxing reality of working class life. It also reflects our refusal of asceticism. Revolutionaries desire rich lives, with time to have families, enjoy movies, read fiction, and fall in love. We believe taking up fewer areas of work, with greater numbers and more strategic consideration, will allow for clearer thinking and sustainability among militants.

In the next year we hope to bring together a grouping of militants who are committed to developing the following skills:

1. Participating in all meetings, and on time, unless there is: an emergency; a very rare visit by family or friends; an irregular work schedule; a very rare event; shit popping off somewhere.

2.Under average conditions, reading and comprehending at least 60 pages / wk (2-4 hrs, depending on speed).

3. Writing and designing a concise, agitational flyer on a quick turnaround.

4. Conversing with someone in a way that grasps their interests and perspective, and challenges them to see active involvement in revolution as the only way to meet their overall interests.

5. Leading a 5-person study-into-action group that introduces people to revolutionary politics.

6. Writing an article about a news event, political action, book, or political theory (to be published in a newspaper or blog).

7. Principled debate and emotional maturity (we will work on an “introduction to principled debate and political culture” document to help define this).

On the basis outlined in this document, we hope to help bring together the different milieus floating around Philadelphia into a common organization. We do not see this happening overnight: this is just the start of a conversation. We hope this document will lead to a round of discussions, followed by more formal meetings to consider the project. After participating in joint organizing and study for some time, it may be possible to have a conference and establish at least one citywide, ultra-left, membership-based organization by the summer of 2014.

This outcome would be the result of a collaborative process, building from what has been written here, but reshaped by the participation and creativity of others. We are embarking on this path, and we invite those who agree with this document to join us.

Originally posted: October 2013 at Facing Reality Collective

  • 1. We recognize the problems of the People of Color category. Most who use it ignore the specifics of race in the United States and the globe. We stand by our usage of POC in this document largely because it explains a general trend of a reality which does affect non-white people. However, this is not to say that all POC racial groups have the same experience.
  • 2. The “Smack A White Boy” controversy from 2009 is a good example of this dynamic.

Comments

Steven.
Nov 4 2013 12:09

Sounds like an interesting project. Any of the participants post on here? Would be good to hear how this progresses

Spikymike
Nov 4 2013 14:25

The main text is interesting for it's observations on the strengths and more particularly the weaknesses of local left political movements - some of which at least we could recognise in the UK. For study they intend to draw on a range of works and thinkers from the revolutionary tradition who have expressed some distinctly different and opposing analysis (including Lenin but no mention of Pannekoek or Gorter!). Whilst they identify with 'The Friends of Durruti',this is the only anarchist reference since they are with the IWW but not the IWA., though reference to building ''intermediate level groupings'' echoes some anarchist platformist organising models. On the other hand their references to the historical legacy they wish to build on does show some political consistency which links to Juan's other library post on 'Worker's Inquiry's'. They pose a number of important questions they intend to explore even if some, for a proclaimed 'ultra-left' tendency, are rather surprisingly left open (eg Is national liberation still on the agenda?).They may be based in Philadelphia but do they have a strong friend in Minneapolis?

I suppose this project may have some local potential to bring greater political clarity and and a level of co-operation amongst otherwise disparate radical tendencies in Philadelphia though it seems to have set a very ambitious agenda which I suspect only a small minority of those it's presumably addressed to will respond?

R. Spourgitis
Nov 4 2013 18:18

It's from some who split from the Fire Next Time group (of the libertarian marxist/jamesian camp), who were largely NYC based, if I understand right. There's some Philly connection, but most of this text came from an earlier document that circulated but was not public and was NYC focused. Although it's expanded in some parts, and apparently more Philly specific in others.

redsdisease
Nov 4 2013 18:39

The first section of this, where they're critiquing the left in Philadelphia is really interesting and largely rings true. However, the second half, which is essentially an internet call-out for a city-based organization, strikes me as really strange. If the ultra-left in that city is really as small as they claim, wouldn't it make sense to reach out to some of those ultra-leftists on an individual basis first and try to build something collectively instead of creating this extremely specific proposal and hoping people will come to them? It just seems kinda rigid and lazy.

Juan Conatz
Nov 5 2013 04:03

Hey Spikeymike, I'm not sure if these guys are in the IWW or not. I'm assuming by "a strong friend in Minneapolis" you mean me? If that's who you mean, I'm not sure I've met any of the people involved in this collective, although I believe they have been part of political organizations that I do know people in. There is probably a very small degree of seperation,if I don't know them.

As sort of an explanation for people not in the U.S.... since 2009-2010, there have been a number of what I've come to call 'eclectic Marxist groups', whose primary influences are either the Johnson-Forest Tendency or the Sojourner Truth Organization (or a mixture of both). Maybe there are those that disagree, but I see these as the primary ones. Some of them have moved on from those influences or become so eclectic that it's tough to pin something on them. There has been a lot of discussion in the last couple years, on websites/email/in person between these various groupings, which have included members of the long defunct STO, the recently defunct Bring the Ruckus, Advance the Struggle, Unity & Struggle, Black Orchid Collective, Fire Next Time Network, Recomposition, Insurgent Notes, and the various In Our Hearts network anarchist groups. Out of this very broad miliu, is where Facing Reality Collective come out of, which might explain some of their choices of interest,which do not fit neatly into what's expected for people in other, more usual radical traditions.

Hieronymous
Nov 5 2013 07:39

To get a sense of the unhealthy incestuous internal party life of Johnson-Forest, I suggest reading Not Without Love: Memoirs by Constance Webb, C.L.R. James' second wife (which leaves a pretty fucking unflattering depiction of James' treatment of women). There you can see their continuity with the SWP and WP and how James et al. created their own vision of a Leninist cadre-based organization. It also shows J-F's disingenuous lie about how Si Owens (with two party pseudonyms: Matthew Ward and Charles Denby) wrote Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal, as it totally airbrushes any mention of Webb's crucial role in collaboratively writing the book, simply because the fragile egos of J-F leaders couldn't stand to have a low-level cadre do something so impressive. Here one sees the fraud behind every bureaucratic organization when it begins its inevitable decay.

While Michael Staudenmaier judged STO to be an "unorthodox Leninist" cadre-based organization, J-F never really shook their Trotskyist roots and remained an orthodox one. But to be honest, STO never shook their Stalinist roots. Not that the traditions of J-F and STO didn't leave an interesting legacy, but as libertarian communists I think all of here agree with Herman Gorter's Open Letter to Comrade Lenin and its brilliant refutation of Bolshevik recipes for revolution.

It seems doubtful that the network of anarchists, Recomposition and Insurgent Notes, mentioned above by Juan, are trying to reinvent cadre-based organizations (correct me if I'm wrong). But the others are answering the organization question on the side of those who put party-building first on the revolutionary agenda. Even Noel Ignatiev agrees, in a post on the PM Press blog, when he says:

Ignatiev wrote:
UNITE OR PERISH!

I propose that Advance the Struggle, Bring the Ruckus and Unity and Struggle merge their organizations, lock, stock and barrel, as quickly as practicable. I understand that this suggestion flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds that groups have to go through a period of working together to develop trust before considering merger, but I think adopting the course I propose would make it possible to discover and work through problems more effectively than a protracted period of joint local work.

It is obvious to me that the three groups share a commitment to the principle of the autonomy of mass movements while affirming the importance of revolutionaries organizing themselves to perform their distinctive tasks. Moreover, the three groups are engaged in discussions of the same questions internally and with their peripheries. I know there exist different opinions on various questions among the groups, some of which could conceivably lead to splits, but none of the differences among the groups are greater than differences that exist within each, particularly BTR, the group I know best. Merging them would help all the participants clarify their views. In my opinion, what the groups have in common outweighs practical differences which, for all anyone knows, could be due simply to varying local conditions.

The greatest danger in an immediate merger is that differences due to the groups’ different histories could become blown out of proportion and assume a political dimension greater than necessary, but that danger can be addressed by making an effort to be sensitive to what others mean when they use terms in a new and unfamiliar way.

Noel Ignatiev

As an anti-authoritarian, I simply disagree with these formulas for revolution based on a fetish for cadre-based organizations, especially Ignatiev's blueprint for a United Front. This all smacks of the tired dogmas of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th internationals, where a party led by the revolutionary intelligentsia was the sole vehicle to oppose capitalism. Trotsky was the best representative of this ideology:

Trotsky wrote:
The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership (p. 9 in The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International [1938])

Instead, we must admit how fucked we are first. The revolutionary traditions have been lost to the larger working class (with few exceptions). The Left is dead and we need to give it a proper burial and wish it good riddance. We need to begin anew with analysis of the present terrain of struggle (or lack thereof) -- using tools like research into class composition, workers' inquiries and simply questioning -- and if we have any pretense of being revolutionaries, we need to start by elaborating a body of analyses of class struggles where they exist and as they exist today, and that on this basis we can begin to make a contribution to the reconstitution of revolutionary theory.

Study groups trying to find the kernel of truth in What Is To Be Done? are the antithesis of this.

Rosa Luxemburg pointed us in a more fruitful direction:

Rosa wrote:
The level of active struggle is more important than the degree of formal organization.
R. Spourgitis
Nov 7 2013 23:32

Heironymous, it seems to me like you’re linking this text to those Ignatiev and Trotsky quotes in a strange way, constructing a strawman basically. Nowhere to do they call for party building of the order that you’re implying, in fact they specifically reject that (notably here under their definition of “ultra-left”, but elsewhere in numerous sections they take traditional M-L organizational models to task).

Quote:
The U.S. ultra-left is strongly anti-organizational, for both theoretical and historical reasons. Historically, the ultra-left is determined to avoid Bolshevik and Leninist organizational models. Theoretically, they are influenced by the contemporary European ultra-left, most of it post-workerist or insurrectionary anarchist, both of which favor loose radical milieus and informal or temporary forms of organization. In the U.S, ultra-leftists find themselves in a political terrain dominated by non-profits and unions, and an array of Marxist-Leninist sects left over from the 1970s. Because the most dynamic social movements appear outside of, or struggle to break free from, these forces, organization itself appears to be a block to revolutionary movement. These factors combined lead most U.S. ultra-leftists to oppose organization as a whole. This throws the baby out with the bathwater.

I think there’s a lot to this piece in what it actually says that you could comment on instead of bringing out the old ‘leninists gonna leninize’ knee jerk reply, which is either disingenuous or ill-informed.

As far as this:

Quote:
It seems doubtful that the network of anarchists, Recomposition and Insurgent Notes, mentioned above by Juan, are trying to reinvent cadre-based organizations (correct me if I'm wrong). But the others are answering the organization question on the side of those who put party-building first on the revolutionary agenda.

I think it’s funny you mention those three groupings in the way that you do. The first two have considerable overlap in members, but the first being a grouping of organizations (most of which are in the process of merging), the second being a blog group of mainly wobblies. But the third is a publication that regularly features some of the jamesians’ writings, and is largely made up of the old STO camp at its helm. If there’s any group of people tied to what you’re accusing of the latent Stalinism (which is pretty debatable claim, honestly) it’s the Insurgent Notes editorial group, funny enough.

On the issue of the cadre, I think this is a complicated question and one not easily dismissed by referring to any of groupings you’re referring to. Some of the folks associated with the network and Recomp, particularly those from MAS in Miami (also cited in the text), were a part of something of a redefinition of that term away from authoritarian Leninist praxis. Some of the Bring the Ruckus writers I think first initiated this (Joel Olsen’s Build the Cadre, et al).

Overall though, the differences are less than the similarities in many respects between these jamesian groups and some of the others mentioned. Often the work being engaged with on the ground is in fact, identical, and analyses cross among them in an interesting and healthy way.

As far as what the authors talk about in here, there are some really useful insights. I think they are absolutely correct to identify the weaknesses of the ultra-left (as they term it) that they do. Its disconnection from working class militants, instead operating in various insular scenes, the failure of “ally” and “solidarity” politics, accepting uncritically individualized responses to oppression instead of attacking material conditions collectively, and importantly, tailing reformist and liberal forces are all things that go on right now.

Their critique of contemporary uses of “autonomy” are absolutely on point, I’ve never seen this put down by anyone but have noticed it myself:

Quote:
One common thread among all these uses of “autonomy” politics is that small groups of militants substitute themselves for the movement of masses of people, pursuing “autonomous” projects that have little relation to broader proletarian struggles. For example, instead of organizing with health care workers to take over hospitals and run them autonomously, militants today might organize a small health care collective with few resources, and no relation to the masses of workers with medical expertise, while hoping their project will inspire others and spread spontaneously. Such attempts often ignore the autonomous activities of proletarian communities who continue to survive under capitalism. In doing so, they also overlook the shortcomings of working class self-organization, which revolutionaries could help to address, but instead romanticize. The “autonomy” pursued by the ultra-left ultimately becomes the autonomy of revolutionaries from the proletariat, whose autonomous activity and potential they are supposed to learn from, encourage and defend.

In general I think they pose honest, hard questions that need to be asked. I appreciate that this is done without a pretense on the answer, other than some form of militant ultra left organization that has yet to be made. I think the criteria they set out at the end, the questions and the obligations, have merit but are somewhat too mechanical, but I appreciate these are laid out tentatively. The areas for potential work are ones I think many of us would identify with or have some experience or interest in developing.

Hieronymous
Nov 12 2013 02:00

R. Spourgitis, while I appreciate the sincerity of your response, I think the best we can do is agree-to-disagree.

My main point is that the Jamesian tradition is Leninist, a point which you seem to avoid.

Before he died, and before the use of e-mail became common, I used to write letters to Marty Glaberman. Marty is someone who I've always considered a mentor figure, even though our correspondence was limited -- and he, sadly, died just when our communication was getting interesting. I also consider him an ideal militant, since he planted roots in working class Detroit and then lived out his life there, for better or worse.

There are so many admirable aspects to how Marty lived his life that I could fill pages and pages with accolades to the ways that I respect him. But we had one major, irreconcilable, difference and that was his enduring respect for Lenin. Simply stated, the great weakness of Johnson-Forest, despite having broken with Trotskyism, was their almost inexplicable soft spot for Lenin (in their minds, the "good" as opposed to the "bad" Lenin, the former being the the one who "bit the Hegelian apple" in Zurich in 1914, ad nauseam).

Conversely, I could write volumes about how, in the end, the legacy of of Lenin and the Bolsheviks is counter-revolutionary and nearly everything that makes the contemporary left irrelevant today can be traced to Lenin's key works -- specifically What Is To Be Done? and "Left-Wing" Communism, An Infantile Disorder. In the latter, you get the foundation of Facing Reality Collective's definition of the ultra-left. And I hate to allude to a Maoist refrain, but Lenin's enemies are my friends: abstentionists of every stripe, like Bordiga, the German/Dutch council communists, and the IWW -- and the anti-war internationalists (meaning those who truly rejected nationalism), like Rosa Luxemberg, Sylvia Panhurst and those around Workers' Dreadnought, and many others.

So the ultra-left, especially in the North American context, means the traditions that make paramount working class self-activity, that wholly reject electoralism and parliamentary strategies, and that also reject vanguards and elitist notions that middle class intellectuals -- Lenin's professional revolutionaries -- need to bring consciousness to the ignorant workers from the outside. Ultra-lefts also reject Lenin's dogmatic formula that revolutionaries should work in "reactionary" trade unions. It's here that my use of Trotsky's quote on organizational formula is pertinent because some of the groups Juan mentions fixate on union leadership, in some cases they have actually cooperated with unions and tried a substitutionist strategy to push the leadership to the left (a failed strategy, especially since none of the cadre worked in any of the sectors involved) and when that didn't work, denounced them as "betrayers."

R. Spourgitis wrote:
. . . the third is a publication that regularly features some of the jamesians’ writings, and is largely made up of the old STO camp at its helm. If there’s any group of people tied to what you’re accusing of the latent Stalinism (which is pretty debatable claim, honestly) it’s the Insurgent Notes editorial group, funny enough.

I attended the inaugural meeting to launch Insurgent Notes in New York on January 18, 2009. That was before it had a name and those gathered there were a very loose collection of radicals and leftists where I was -- surprisingly -- nearly the youngest person in the room. It was definitely skewed more towards Trotskyists, with 3 former and present cadre -- and even the main theoretician/leader -- from the League for a Revolutionary Party, and 2 Healyite Trots (whatever that means). Goldner and 3 others bonded over the study of Lyn Marcus' Dialectical Economics and an interest in the positive aspects of the NCLC. There was the editor of the now-defunct councilist Collective Action Notes, MacIntosh from International Perspectives, John Garvey and myself. Will Barnes had planned to attend, but quickly pulled out when Goldner overrode our objections and insisted all the Trots be included. As you can imagine, it was instantly a shitshow with the entire afternoon taken up with heated arguments; the Trots spoke as a bloc in universally criticizing the IWW for leaving the AFL and being "racist," as well as singing the the glorious praises of union contracts and the Employee Free Choice Act. Attending that meeting was the worst political mistake I've ever made.

Soon after, Will Barnes and I disassociated ourselves from Insurgent Notes. Apparently the Trots lost interest as well, with Goldner self-selecting himself as leader, assisted by Garvey and S. Artesian. Perhaps Artesian can tell the story, but he soon left too -- leaving just Goldner running the show and Garvey pitching in to help with editing (just check the I.N. masthead and tell us who was in STO, as I don't see anyone who was). When Garvey gave us his biography, he clearly was a co-editor with Igantiev at Race Traitor, but he never said anything about being in STO. From my correspondence with Artesian, he has some kind of a Trotskyist background (please correct me if I'm wrong), but neither Goldner nor Garvey are anywhere near the politics of Stalinism. Actually one of Goldner's best pieces is his "Didn't See the Same Movie" that brilliantly exposes the empty Stalinist dogma in Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air.

I don't understand Facing Reality Collective's use of "autonomy," nor do I understand what you mean Spourgitis. Please explain which groups have used that term, because I do understand the examples, but I just don't get the context.

Lastly, "ultra-left," whether used in Europe, North and South American, Asia, Africa or elsewhere, is a vague, often sectarian leftist smear. But it does refer to the ideas of those in opposition to vanguards run by leaders, often based on a predetermined party line. Which means ultra-left is too limiting a term, because broader, more general definition could be anti-Bolshevik communism, defined by also being anti-Leninist. Which, with the exception of Recomposition and the anarchist network, all the other groups are not. Once, at a party in Oakland in 2009 hosted by Advance the Struggle, I met cadre from Unity & Struggle, Black Orchid Collective, Bring the Ruckus and the founder of Fire Next Time Network. All of them had just come from an all-day conference that included Trots from the Militant tradition (which had the effect of beginning many sectarian leftist feuds and raids on each others' membership). What all those groups shared was a deep admiration for Lenin, which is pretty indisputable because they say as much in person (even tearfully at that party), in their reading lists (with What Is To Be Done? often at the very top), and on their websites.

That's the point of my critique.

R. Spourgitis
Nov 8 2013 14:33
Quote:
leaving just Goldner running the show and Garvey pitching in to help with editing (just check the I.N. masthead and tell us who was in STO, as I don't see anyone who was). When Garvey gave us his biography, he clearly was a co-editor with Igantiev at Race Traitor, but he never said anything about being in STO.

Fair enough, you're right and that's my mistake. I thought those folks are closer politically than you seem to, but then again seems you know the players pretty well. I also thought Goldner and possibly Garvey were both former STO, again my mistake. The Race Traitor connection means that I'd say they're undoubtedly influenced by STO's legacy, I guess that's really neither here nor there.

But in the main I was responding to what sounds like a guilt by association to Leninism, and meaning the text has no value. I don't deny the Jamesian groups are Leninist, but I'd say they represent an important break with Leninist practice. That they are about building fighting, working class organizations and movements, instead of installing themselves as leadership or building their party are distinctively separate from the rest of the M-L groups. (Btw, I have a comrade who was at the same conference as you and neither was terribly impressed with many of those folks, even having a background with more sympathy for Leninism.)

And I would like to see critiques about what the Facing Reality collective actually says in this piece, I don't see how your statements are representative of the text in question. You can dislike the cadre idea and Leninism, and I share many of that, but let's attack it for what it says, not what it doesn't.

Quote:
I don't understand Facing Reality Collective's use of "autonomy," nor do I understand what you mean Spourgitis. Please explain which groups have used that term, because I do understand the examples, but I just don't get the context.

I'm probably more harsh than they are in the piece about this, because I see that there's a tendency to use autonomy describing small, alternativist projects. It probably began with Hakim Bey and "autonomous zones", but we see it from insurrectionaries, and other post-structuralist inspired anarchists (look at all the "autonomous spaces", and so forth). I think it's dropped sort of casually usually, as a way of legitimating one's political action because it sounds better than drop-out subculture, even if that's what it's often describing.

Hieronymous
Nov 8 2013 14:54
R. Spourgitis wrote:
I'm probably more harsh than they are in the piece about this, because I see that there's a tendency to use autonomy describing small, alternativist projects. It probably began with Hakim Bey and "autonomous zones", but we see it from insurrectionaries, and other post-structuralist inspired anarchists (look at all the "autonomous spaces", and so forth). I think it's dropped sort of casually usually, as a way of legitimating one's political action because it sounds better than drop-out subculture, even if that's what it's often describing.

Maybe it's a regional thing, but I'm not following. The only group I've heard of using that is Miami Autonomy & Solidarity? Are you referring to groups like that?

Hakim Bey and his whole money-making racket at Dreamtime Village has discredited him from any radical credibility for decades. Anyone who's met him (as I had the misfortune of doing 20 years ago) considers him a hippy.

But I still don't get why you're fixating -- harshly, you admit -- on what people call themselves, rather than critiquing their practice. Can you give any more examples because I sincerely don't understand. Autonomedia books? And what are "post-structuralist inspired anarchists"? Are you referring to academics?

Entdinglichung
Nov 8 2013 15:13
R. Spourgitis wrote:
Quote:
I don't understand Facing Reality Collective's use of "autonomy," nor do I understand what you mean Spourgitis. Please explain which groups have used that term, because I do understand the examples, but I just don't get the context.

I'm probably more harsh than they are in the piece about this, because I see that there's a tendency to use autonomy describing small, alternativist projects. It probably began with Hakim Bey and "autonomous zones", but we see it from insurrectionaries, and other post-structuralist inspired anarchists (look at all the "autonomous spaces", and so forth). I think it's dropped sort of casually usually, as a way of legitimating one's political action because it sounds better than drop-out subculture, even if that's what it's often describing.

it kicked of in Germany much before Hakim Bey wrote his piece somewhere around 1990 and was already strong especially in the militant squatters movement in the early 1980ies with their musings about Freiräume (free spaces) and even earlier in the spontaneist scene e.g. in the group Revolutionaerer Kampf (sister org of Lotta Continua, with people like Joschka Fischer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Tom Koenigs, Thomas Schmid and others who are today on the right wing of the Greens) which proclaimed a Proletarischer Lebenszusammenhang (Proletarian life-nexus) in Frankfurt's backyards after they realized that they couldn't beat the cops in pitched street battles, as far as I know, there were a couple of articles in the first series of Autonomie by Fischer & Co. in the late 1970ies which theorised this approach which led also to the split of the journal in an alternative and an operaist wing (around Roth, Ebbinghaus, Hartmann, etc.)

R. Spourgitis
Nov 8 2013 15:31

I don't know about fixating... I agreed with a statement made in the article. You asked me to clarify what I meant, and I tried to do that. I don't think it's about group names, it's about how they deploy the word to describe their practice. It's not a huge thing, but it's annoying when it's used as widely divergent from its origins in working class mass movements. And no, MAS isn't what I mean, they're good comrades whom I have a lot of respect for, and aren't about building "autonomous" spaces and projects of that ilk.

Quote:
And what are "post-structuralist inspired anarchists"? Are you referring to academics?

More wanna-bes than full on academics, but whatever..

Here's the 325 no state blog's tag for "Autonomy" by way of example:
http://325.nostate.net/?cat=4

Started this reply before I caught Entdinglichung's. Yeah, fair point. The use of spontaneist/alternativist version of autonomy does go back a ways, I forgot about Autonomen and the Euro variety of that dating back to the 80s (or earlier?). I think some of the newer school US groups using it are consciously doing so in a way of conflating it with autonomous marxism, though, and that's part of the problem of confusion. Before I caught on to this, the post-left/insurrecto way of deploying the word led me to seriously misunderstand its origins in Italian revolutionary left politics -- and its exactly this muddle-headed way of using the word that I think is right to critique.

Entdinglichung
Nov 8 2013 15:30

p.s.: and generally, the cops needed only a few hours to reconquer a "free space", mostly without having to resort to harder methods like displaying guns, throwing tear-gas grenades, etc.

Hieronymous
Nov 8 2013 19:01
R. Spourgitis wrote:
It's not a huge thing, but it's annoying when it's used as widely divergent from its origins in working class mass movements.

In the Italian sense, yes, it was rooted in class struggle. You're obviously not using "autonomy" in the sense of the German autonomen, who were completely devoid of a class struggle perspective, as Entdinglichung points out -- since their main activities were fighting fascists, cops and nukes, squatting and living the lifestyle. Maybe I'm out of the loop, but are groups still attached to this ideology? Where are 325 based? Are they in North America? Don't rioters always jack off to riot porn?

Hieronymous
Nov 11 2013 17:18
R. Spourgitis wrote:
I think there’s a lot to this piece in what it actually says that you could comment on instead of bringing out the old ‘leninists gonna leninize’ knee jerk reply, which is either disingenuous or ill-informed.

The piece is not without its merits, but as you said it's simply a template developed for activists in New York City that's cookie-cuttered onto Philadelphia. I have to be honest and say that I'm largely ignorant about both conditions in Philly and its history; most of what I know about the city is from reading Peter Cole's excellent Wobblies on the Waterfront and various briefer accounts of the 1835 Philadelphia General Strike -- the first in the U.S., but ancient history now, from Foner's history -- and the 1910 Philadelphia General Strike that was sparked by a walkout of trolley workers.

What I do know is that, despite being 88 nautical miles from the Atlantic, the port at the convergence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers was founded in 1682 with Philadelphia and during the colonial period was the second busiest in the entire Atlantic trade, after London. Until 1830, Philly was the leading commercial and manufacturing city in the U.S. -- in Cole's words: "The World's Greatest Workshop." The harbor defined Philly's significance to the world economy and into the mid-20th century was a leading port for the export of coal, steel, oil, as well as a major shipbuilding center.

That maritime and manufacturing world is largely over, with wholesale deindustrialization wiping it from memory. But if you read Cole's account, the legacy of Local 8 dockers of the IWW on the Philly waterfront was an amazing 9-year run (1913-1922) of a closed shop allowing for near-complete control of the work process by a radical interracial union. That legacy is clearly the inspiration for the 27-year run (1934-1961) of similar closed-shop conditions (grandfathered around Taft-Harley) by the ILWU Longshoring Division on the West Coast -- which still retains some near-closed shop conditions, which were frontally attacked in Longview, Washington, which rippled into lockouts in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, with more management attacks in store.

So where's the accounting for this history in the piece? It doesn't have to be a glorification of past class war victories, that I'm so fond of, but where's the accounting for the ravages of deindustrialization and the subjective effects on the Philly working class? Without this, my main criticism is the piece is ahistorical and it just a boring blueprint for a revolutionary study group, based on some -- not all -- rather dated and irrelevant references and texts.

Like this paradox:

Facing Reality Collective wrote:
The disaster of the Socialist Workers Party in Great Britain, and the Progressive Labor Party in California, both indicate the danger of organizational fetishism trumping the struggle against patriarchy.

What the fuck? Who cares? How is the collapse of orthodox Trots and unorthodox Stalinists of any relevance to anything, let alone class struggle?

And this reading list:

Facing Reality Colletive wrote:
Marx, Du Bois, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Amadeo Bordiga, C.L.R. James, Paul Mattick, Frantz Fanon, Selma James, Maria Mies, Loren Goldner, Sylvia Federici, and many others.

Let's be honest, this is just name-dropping. Especially because just a few paragraphs before they'd said this:

Facing Reality Colletive wrote:
We are against Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism,

Why reject the flawed and erroneous dogma of Lenin and Trotsky, then turn around and put it on your reading list? Paulo Freire called contentless canon's like this the "banking model of education." Life's too short and there's not enough time to read what's relevant, so I find it intellectually bankrupt to suggest reading counter-revolutionary ideology.

R. Spourgitis wrote:
As far as what the authors talk about in here, there are some really useful insights. I think they are absolutely correct to identify the weaknesses of the ultra-left (as they term it) that they do. Its disconnection from working class militants, instead operating in various insular scenes, the failure of “ally” and “solidarity” politics, accepting uncritically individualized responses to oppression instead of attacking material conditions collectively, and importantly, tailing reformist and liberal forces are all things that go on right now.

Again, this is disingenuous. They're conflating "ultra-left" with liberal/reformist activism, making a strawman, then claiming the mantle "ultra-left" themselves.

It's disturbing to see the use of "workers" in the third-person, as though the author is not part of the working class. But this would be in the spirit of the Johnsonite (a.k.a. Jamesian) tradition of Leninist/Trotskyist intellectuals. How is this attempted revival of the "revolutionary left" any different from what Platypus is trying to do? Because their roots are also in Trotskyism. Or with some of the references to New Communist Stalinist groups, how is it different from what Chris Crass' Catalyst Project does when it parachutes activists into working class communities to do "anti-racism" work?

What I find most disingenuous is when sectarian leftists feign libertarian communist politics to try to sneak in the Bolshevik cadre-building models-- with Lenin and Trotsky always prominent on their formulaic reading lists. We all know how badly that has failed, so isn't it time to declare the left dead and begin actually listening to other workers, who like ourselves are frustrated at a lack of fightback in the class war, and reinventing a struggle appropriate to the 21st century (and not a largely peasant-based country like Russia in the first decades of the 20th)? I'm of the action-precede-consciousness school of direct action. Better to agitate where you're at, listen to other workers with tools like workers' inquiries, understand the changes in working class composition, analyze not just your local political-economy but trace its flows to the global system of production (all the way to the shopfloor in places like China, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if necessary), circulation and distribution, and understand the history of not just your city but look at the history of struggles in your entire region (because contemporary capital uses more of a "hub" model in commodity chains).

Also, why no mention of the 2010 Port of Philadelphia wildcat of longshore workers that spread the strike as far as the ports of New Jersey and New York? The Facing Reality Collective piece seemed like a you're-wrong-we're-right hit-piece by one faction in a tiny activist scene on the other competing factions. So what? The proof of this cadre's effectiveness is in the pudding.

R. Spourgitis
Nov 11 2013 19:02

Thanks for this reply, Heironymous. I was specifically interested in a critique engaging the text, and I definitely think you raise valid points having done so. I've seen/heard some criticism of the piece along the lines of what you closed with, and that's probably fair to a degree. I can also see that it engages in a sort of intra-ultra-left scene commentary of the very sort it seems to be often critical of. And that Philly-specific stuff you cite is really interesting, and I don't disagree with what you're saying there either.

On their political orientation I see it less suspiciously, and more that their contradictory uses of Lenin/Trotsky references is more of an honest struggling with the tradition that they apparently come out of. I think that's even true of the Johnson Forrest tendency earlier, so picking up those threads and kind of libertarian-izing now further makes sense. I think engaging with these pieces, the authors, and around real work is healthy and can be a way of furthering their development away from authoritarian cadre organizing forms. Or maybe it isn't, but I don't think it's bad to see folks like this having a critical self-analysis (yeah could do with more of that specifically and less name-dropping though, I see your point). And I suspect that the authors might agree with you more than not on this (if, again, coming from a different place/political emphasis):

Quote:
... We all know how badly that has failed, so isn't it time to declare the left dead and begin actually listening to other workers, who like ourselves are frustrated at a lack of fightback in the class war, and reinventing a struggle appropriate to the 21st century (and not a largely peasant-based country like Russia in the first decades of the 20th)? I'm of the action-precede-consciousness school of direct action. Better to agitate where you're at, listen to other workers with tools like workers' inquiries, understand the changes in working class composition, analyze not just your local political-economy but trace its flows to the global system of production (all the way to the shopfloor in places like China, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if necessary), circulation and distribution, and understand the history of not just your city but look at the history of struggles in your entire region (because contemporary capital uses more of a "hub" model in commodity chains).

On this:

Quote:
R. Spourgitis wrote:
Quote:
As far as what the authors talk about in here, there are some really useful insights. I think they are absolutely correct to identify the weaknesses of the ultra-left (as they term it) that they do. Its disconnection from working class militants, instead operating in various insular scenes, the failure of “ally” and “solidarity” politics, accepting uncritically individualized responses to oppression instead of attacking material conditions collectively, and importantly, tailing reformist and liberal forces are all things that go on right now.

Again, this is disingenuous. They're conflating "ultra-left" with liberal/reformist activism, making a strawman, then claiming the mantle "ultra-left" themselves.

It's disturbing to see the use of "workers" in the third-person, as though the author is not part of the working class. But this would be in the spirit of the Johnsonite (a.k.a. Jamesian) tradition of Leninist/Trotskyist intellectuals. How is this attempted revival of the "revolutionary left" any different from what Platypus is trying to do? Because their roots are also in Trotskyism. Or with some of the references to New Communist Stalinist groups, how is it different from what Chris Crass' Catalyst Project does when it parachutes activists into working class communities to do "anti-racism" work?

I'm not so sure that this is a conflation. I think many from a legitimate "ultra left" (or insert preferred nomenclature) perspective end up tailing reformist movements, that doesn't make them liberals, it means our practice is often more at a remove from on-the-ground organizing than liberal NPO stuff in some places. This was apparent during portions of Occupy, where except for the radical hotbeds of a few spots, a lot of radicals were towing a line ("critically" or not..) behind MoveOn and other progressive liberal type shit -- meaningless marches on local branches of Wells Fargo Bank or stuff like that. It's also apparent now in the FF15 campaigns largely domineered by SEIU, and this has been commented on a good deal by a few comrades, but engaging with or doing support work for walk-outs marches of fast food workers that are little more than publicity stunts. Not saying folks shouldn't do this stuff, but whether or not we agree it is happening like this in lots of places.

As far as "we are not separate from the working class"... I tend to find this a funny statement anymore. I think there's truth to an analysis which sees declarations of the "separateness" of revolutionaries from the working class as flawed, this can go too far in the other direction. If we take our own individual subjective identities as "working class" and mean that because we are revolutionaries, or communists or whatever, that so too is or can be the working class writ large, this is a mistake. At the present state of things communist ideas do not have a currency among working class folks, or where they do it's mixed up with all sort of reactionary ones, we shouldn't kid ourselves that our views are representative of any but a very small, small number of the working class. And so it's here where I think the authors accurately describe that.

I've got some more to say to this but will have to get back at it later:

Quote:
Or with some of the references to New Communist Stalinist groups

Quick question though, do you mean here the other "jamesian/libertarian marxist/"eclectic marxist groups" that we are talking about or something else?

Hieronymous
Nov 12 2013 03:19

Thanks as well, Spourgitis. I really want to understand this better, so I appreciate your clarifications.

R. Spourgitis wrote:
On their political orientation I see it less suspiciously, and more that their contradictory uses of Lenin/Trotsky references is more of an honest struggling with the tradition that they apparently come out of . . . I think engaging with these pieces, the authors, and around real work is healthy and can be a way of furthering their development away from authoritarian cadre organizing forms. Or maybe it isn't, but I don't think it's bad to see folks like this having a critical self-analysis (yeah could do with more of that specifically and less name-dropping though, I see your point) . . .

I suspect I know the person who wrote the original text. If I do, I had almost the exact same argument based on my positions in this thread nearly 5 years ago. He was an extremely bright guy, an autodidact and a truly voracious reader, who I found to have even less experience than peers his age. Everything was so abstract that I had a hard time following him. In the end, he got fed up with me calling Lenin a counter-revolutionary; he got all emotional and tried to guilt-trip me by making an emotional defense of Lenin's role as a savior to people of color. Again, if this is the same guy, he later sent me his analysis of the events in Wisconsin, which I found to be way too ideological and almost viciously critical of the IWW -- and much different from the on-the-ground posts by Juan and Oliver here on libcom. Being an intense person myself, I appreciate how passionate he is and hope he gets some more experience under his belt to base his "revolutionary" ideas on.

R. Spourgitis wrote:
I'm not so sure that this is a conflation. I think many from a legitimate "ultra left" (or insert preferred nomenclature) perspective end up tailing reformist movements, that doesn't make them liberals, it means our practice is often more at a remove from on-the-ground organizing than liberal NPO stuff in some places. This was apparent during portions of Occupy, where except for the radical hotbeds of a few spots, a lot of radicals were towing a line ("critically" or not..) behind MoveOn and other progressive liberal type shit -- meaningless marches on local branches of Wells Fargo Bank or stuff like that. It's also apparent now in the FF15 campaigns largely domineered by SEIU, and this has been commented on a good deal by a few comrades, but engaging with or doing support work for walk-outs marches of fast food workers that are little more than publicity stunts. Not saying folks shouldn't do this stuff, but whether or not we agree it is happening like this in lots of places.

Thankfully, Occupy Oakland roundly rejected MoveOn.org types having rallies at our space with local mayors in tow. But I see your point. Even during high points in Oakland, you'd have the insurrectionaries breaking windows and trashing Wells Fargo, with the whole activist crew around the Solnit siblings coming along behind them hanging "Make the bankers pay" banners and sweeping up the glass and using green solvents to remove the graffiti. The pacifist police even sparked a couple fistfights as they tried to tackle rioters. In the Bay Area, I think the various communization factions have the greatest draw for newly radicalized and younger comrades, overlapping in many ways with insurrectionary anarchists. We recently had a communization study group ourselves, that would regularly get between 15 to 18 attendees. I think this is a healthy development, since I basically agree with the class struggle communization perspectives of Gilles Dauvé and Bruno Astarian.

If the Facing Realty Collective is critiquing ultra-lefts tail-ending the the whole Madison Avenue schtick of SEIU (and UFCW with OUR Walmart) in the Fight for $15 campaign, I agree wholeheartedly. They should say so more explicitly. Fast food and retail workers need more wildcats, like the ones at the Walmart in Hialeah Gardens, Florida in 2006 (when 200 workers walked out) and again on October 18 this year (when 80 workers wildcatted). In the latter, they won their demands -- unlike the tightly choreographed press conferences, parading as strikes, that SEIU organizes that never go beyond being "marches on the media" (to borrow Adam Weaver's term).

R. Spourgitis wrote:
As far as "we are not separate from the working class"... I tend to find this a funny statement anymore. I think there's truth to an analysis which sees declarations of the "separateness" of revolutionaries from the working class as flawed, this can go too far in the other direction. If we take our own individual subjective identities as "working class" and mean that because we are revolutionaries, or communists or whatever, that so too is or can be the working class writ large, this is a mistake. At the present state of things communist ideas do not have a currency among working class folks, or where they do it's mixed up with all sort of reactionary ones, we shouldn't kid ourselves that our views are representative of any but a very small, small number of the working class. And so it's here where I think the authors accurately describe that.

Agreed. We have to be honest and admit that not only do communist ideas not take hold among our fellow workers, but even a class perspective is lacking. And I'm with E.P. Thompson on this, when he points out that you don't get "class" until struggle brings workers to an awareness of their common material interests -- which he, I think appropriately, labels "class consciousness." Maybe I'm an optimist and see this on the horizon -- yet an almost imperceptible distance -- but revolutionary ideas are still in an alternative universe to most workers. Not that there weren't glimpses of capital's vulnerabilities when the crisis' effects were first being first felt in 2008. That moment has passed, though.

Hieronymous wrote:
Or with some of the references to New Communist Stalinist groups...
R. Spourgitis wrote:
Quick question though, do you mean here the other "jamesian/libertarian marxist/"eclectic marxist groups" that we are talking about or something else?

I was talking about something else, even though there is a tenuous connection because Marty Glaberman used to guide study groups of Capital with members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. I still have a soft spot for the shopflooor militancy of the League, but recently met a British comrade who went to a commemorative event in Detroit not too long ago. He said all the factions of the League were there, not just the more high-profile self-promoting ones. Many of these comrades stridently disagree with the account of Georgakas and Surkin in Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, claiming that as outsiders how couldn't their version be flawed. The Stalinists in the League of Revolutionaries for a New America that evolved from LRBW are cast as the only heirs to the League, which simply isn't true (they're the nicest people you'll ever meet, with the nuttiest futuristic dystopian fantasies about robotics). But this seems pretty typical of leftist hagiographies. Same with the Black Panthers, who come in for the same uncritical treatment -- except from truly amazing radicals like James Carr whose criticism of the Panthers and the foolish belief of the California Prison Movement in a "vanguard behind bars," in his book Bad, probably cost him his life.

If you ever read the pro-Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Enver Hoaxa, et al., party platforms of New Left Communist groups like Max Elbaum's Line of March (affectionately remembered by cadre as "March in Line"), you get the same uncritical hagiography. With the exception of the lucid writings of honest communist militants like Ngo Van, you often hear denails of how homicidal and anti-working class these regimes were. It's gets lost in their self-hating guilt-soaked anti-Yankee anti-imperialist glorifications.

EDIT: I don't want to give off the opinion that I dislike the ideas of Johson-Forest. Some of the most treasured books on my shelves are J-F classics, like "The American Worker" pamphlet by Paul Romano, James' The Black Jacobins and Notes on Dialectics, Dunayevskaya's Marxism and Freedom, Correspondence's Facing Reality -- where I first read about the workers' councils in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Si Owens/Constance Webb's Indignant Heart, and nearly everything Marty Glaberman wrote, especially Wartime Strikes and all those wonderful Bewick Editions pamphlets.

But I have experienced the residue of their organizational form directly through News & Letters' comrades who predate the split, like the late John Allen. I once heard someone describe News & Letters as the "Salvation Army of Marxism." Despite all the nasty splits, I still appreciate the writings of ex-N&L comrades, like Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson. But Kliman wastes too much of his talent in unnecessary polemical feuds, that have ended up in court at times. At worst, all of them are a cult of Raya. Marty, at worst, upheld the cult of CLR. I've been in Marx and Hegel study groups with the N&Ls folks and I find their tradition of a closed group too much like the hybrid of a cult and a cadre-based micro-party. It's too insular and myopic. I would hope younger comrades wouldn't repeat the same mistakes; perhaps Facing Reality Collective aren't doing this, which begs the question why they gave it a name with so much unhealthy baggage.

Negative Nancy
Nov 26 2013 18:34

Hey everyone, I am part of the Facing Reality crew in Philly. Thanks for the thoughts. I contributed to the document, but mostly in terms of editing. I want to clarify some things so that there is more context to all of this.

The small, new collective in Philly is not an organization yet. We are just a tendency at this point, and we are still in the brainstorming and research stages. We are trying to be very patient and stubborn about preparing the necessary groundwork before we jump into building an organization.

For us, the purpouse of the document was to develop political cohesion, orientation, and demarcation. Many of us are coming out the context of lots of mass level, intermediary organizing in Philly, with very little study, theoretical reflection, debate and discussion of strategy, consideration of larger political questions, etc. taking place.This document is a way for us to step back and critically evaluate ourselves and our organizing milieus, and to think about what we want to do and how.

I get the critique about how the document doesnt give an analysis of the local class composition of Philly, and local history of the IWW longshoremen, etc. Those topics are crucial. However, the purpouse of the document was more for political clarification. Its ironic tho, because we have been recently studying the history of the IWW in Philly, other local history, local political economy, etc.

Again, we are trying to be very careful with all this and not jump ahead of ourselves. The plan the collective agreed on is to keep investigating questions of local political economy, local class composition, local history, etc. and then move on to more concrete questions of intermediate level organization and strategy. After this, we can produce a document that outlines the composition of labor and capital in Philly, etc. and the organizational, strategic implications for intermediate level work here. Maybe along the lines of something like this: http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/06/10/building-a-solidarity-network-in-houston/ This should all take up the rest of the fall and winter. Hopefuly by spring or summer time we will be ready.

Black Badger
Nov 18 2013 17:13

Maoist alert!

Negative Nancy
Nov 26 2013 18:22

Thats really the only response??

Pennoid
Nov 26 2013 19:34

Wait, who is the maoist?

klas batalo
Nov 27 2013 03:25

i think there is some talking past each other and misunderstandings/lack of information on many sides in the preceding conversations...knowing sorta of both H's past with some of these groups (mostly from previous libcom posts) and knowing R is closer to some of this stuff of the younger generation as well...idk anyway...i see both making some valid points...

i actually do see a lot of these groups as supposed "critical Leninists" they sorta come out of Maoism or Trotskyism have flirted with left communism or anarchism...or even more often are ex-anarchists flirting with Leninism of such dissident strains instead of actual continuity.

an interesting aside I saw somewhere that Unity and Struggle recently had a piece that called for a new sort of leftist electoral third party.

Quote:
The parliamentary limits faced by the Tea Party Right will operate with an equal or even greater ruthlessness for the Left. While the possibility of principled obstructionism would remain for the handful of candidates who might be elected under this new third party, the real power base for it would have to rest squarely in the schools, workplaces, and prisons. Here our party would be able to disrupt the smooth functioning of the merciless dominance of finance capital.

The biggest mistake this new formation could make would be to simply advance as program a return to the sadly mythologized Keynesian past. The conditions that made such an arrangement possible are long, long gone today. This third party must develop from its ranks a new vision, a vision of struggle and mobilization.

This government shutdown is only one episode of a much longer series of events yet to play out, each one increasingly more desperate than the last. The older layer of my generation came to age under the second Bush administration. Our future and our world looks increasing wracked by crisis and creeping dystopia every day. How many young people find themselves laying in bed some nights, unable to sleep with thoughts of student debt and declining economic opportunities? Our generation just can’t keep playing by the same playbook, marching in rank and file formation to cast our votes for parties and programs we no longer believe in.

We have to fight. We have to do something to fend of this dark spectre of desperation and collapse.

Our mobilizations must be prepared to inevitably break labor law or civil order laws and disrupt the status quo in the same way Americans of the past put themselves on the line to break and eventually defeat criminal Jim Crow laws. We must build our new party to carry on the legacy of struggle passed down. This crisis is more and more revealing itself to be intractable and uncontrollable. Our time is running short and the opportunity for bold and energetic action is now. The future is ours, whether to win or to lose.

http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/11/16/dirt-road-revolutionary-shutdowns-party-politics/

Black Badger
Nov 27 2013 03:39

http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/11/20/bloom_and_contend/#more-2491
"from an anarchist communist perspective" we get this:

Quote:
In its various iterations, Maoism has made a considerable impact on the U.S. revolutionary left. In the 1960s, a wide range of groups in the black liberation, Chicano, and Puerto Rican movements, and later the New Communist movement, looked to Mao for inspiration and theory. This influence continues today, not only through well-established groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the two Freedom Road Socialist Organizations, but also through smaller and younger groupings such as the Kasama network and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party—Prison Chapter. If any wave of social movement is to appear in the U.S. in the coming years, Maoist politics are likely to be a significant element of its revolutionary wing...
Only when Maoism is subjected to an immanent critique and “digested” in this manner will it be possible to effectively re-embed elements of Maoist politics in a new, coherent political approach adequate to our present situation.

Not quite sure what it is this "anarchist communist" would like to recapture/reclaim from Maoism that would be applicable to any revolution most other anarchists would find attractive.

R. Spourgitis
Nov 27 2013 05:19

Klas, the piece you're quoting is a repost from some blog called "dirt road revolutionary", not a U&S piece originally, so I'm not sure how fair it is to cite that as their position.

While I disagree strongly with that idea of a leftist electoral third party, I actually thought that the analysis of the recent government shutdown and the GOP composition was really good in that article, though.

As far as the misunderstandings/lack of information, I thought we'd moved past that into a sorta interesting discussion on the piece itself, but maybe you want to clarify or correct something else, klas? I mean that sincerely and would be interested in hearing if so.

Negative, thanks for weighing in on here, I can totally understand and respect the desire to want to step back, assess and theorize on your local situation. Like I said above, it's one of the things I liked about this piece. I got a lot out of that U&S piece on the Houston solidarity network you linked, I'll be interested in what you all put out along those lines.

Tyrion
Nov 27 2013 07:36
Black Badger wrote:
http://unityandstruggle.org/2013/11/20/bloom_and_contend/#more-2491
"from an anarchist communist perspective" we get this:
Quote:
In its various iterations, Maoism has made a considerable impact on the U.S. revolutionary left. In the 1960s, a wide range of groups in the black liberation, Chicano, and Puerto Rican movements, and later the New Communist movement, looked to Mao for inspiration and theory. This influence continues today, not only through well-established groups like the Revolutionary Communist Party and the two Freedom Road Socialist Organizations, but also through smaller and younger groupings such as the Kasama network and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party—Prison Chapter. If any wave of social movement is to appear in the U.S. in the coming years, Maoist politics are likely to be a significant element of its revolutionary wing...
Only when Maoism is subjected to an immanent critique and “digested” in this manner will it be possible to effectively re-embed elements of Maoist politics in a new, coherent political approach adequate to our present situation.

Not quite sure what it is this "anarchist communist" would like to recapture/reclaim from Maoism that would be applicable to any revolution most other anarchists would find attractive.

The claims put forth by his supposed anarcho-communist are very dubious, to say the least. The most recent of left-wing social movement in the US was the OWS business. I was personally very involved in Occupy DC, and I saw zero Maoist influence. As far as I can tell, there was virtually no Maoist influence in any of the other major encampments. Frankly, the idea of the RCP being at all in touch with the average vaguely anti-establishment protester (which I think made up the large part of the OWS scene) is laughable. Trots, most notably the ISO, certainly exercise some influence, but I think this Maoist stuff is nonsense.

R. Spourgitis
Nov 27 2013 20:29

You guys do realize that Unity & Struggle is a different group than the one who put out the article this thread is about, right? Veering off into how Maoist they are or whatever, is pretty off topic.

This article actually says:

Quote:
We are against Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, and all tendencies that view state socialism as a transitional strategy to reach a free society. This approach has never led to communism despite a century of failed attempts. Solutions must be sought in other directions.

I don't understand the point trying to be made here, unless if it's just, "these people are like these other people and THOSE people like Maoism." If so, that's silly.

klas batalo
Nov 28 2013 00:49

i think Juan had sorta broadened the subject to the "eclectic Marxists" and so that is what H started getting into that almost most of them but the anti-state/left communists and anarcho-communists/class struggle anarchists are really just Leninists of a critical / dissident strain.

now what i think is unfair is saying the former shouldn't read the later? otherwise how do you really really know you are against them...now i can sympathize with why bother...but doesn't make a big difference to me as long as people are not saying WOW WITBD!!!