A reply to some of the issues raised in this article and a rejoinder to "the real movement" will appear in a future issue of Red & Black Notes. (note from the original)
Reading your article about five years of Red and Black Notes has made us think about the paucity of interesting literature these days in Britain. In the 1990's, when I was doing Proletarian Gob, there were lots of little 'zines' about of varying theoretical quality, but now there is hardly any stuff of any interest. This is partly due to the closure of lots of 'alternative' bookshops across Britain (for financial and exhaustion reasons rather than any plot by the State!) More importantly, economic determinations have been allowed free reign within the milieu without any theoretical reflection on them and very basic industrial forms of production have been absorbed and replicated by the radical milieu at the very moment of their denunciation of such forms. We mean thisat the moment that anarchism decides to try to rally people for the cause of anti-globalization and anti-monopoly its own structure becomes a reflection of the ideologies it says it is fighting! Anarchism is an ideology that now clearly promotes the concept of set roles for producers (of anarchism) and consumers (of anarchism), it has become a rigid monopoly, despite all its hippy vagueness. Writers for anarchism are very few and they write for a readership that makes no response, that does not engage, the prescribed duty of the reader is to subscribe and donate cash. This does not compare favourably with the more chaotic and less closed down scene of about ten years ago where many people would be producing their own magazines and these would only be read by people who were also producing such magazines. The content was often poor but at least the structure was not anti-human. Now we see monopolizing tendencies such as AK Press/Distribution and papers that place publication dates and glossy, but boring, format over content (for example, our letters to Freedom could not be published for reasons of form the very idea of changing the form to accommodate our contributions was unthinkable). We're not attacking these people personally since they are working hard, they are putting the hours in, but they are not reflecting on what they are doing. They are running their wheels in a rut because it is the 'image' and 'structure' of what they call anarchism or communism that they are busy maintaining rather than helping create the space for a free development of pro-revolutionary ideas and theory that is based on their own and others' actual immediate experience. 'The market' in Britain is now sown up by an old guard. The old guard I would say are people like the old timers in the Anarchist Federation, Class War, anarcho-syndicalists, Freedom, Aufheben, Undercurrent, the people who run things like the 'No War But The Class War' grouping, and organize the anarchist May Day fiascoes. The 'scene' is run by people who have now been around a long time, and because these people have a relatively restrictive set of reference points, their psychological make up and political blindspots are mechanically reproduced and amplified over and over again. Because of this we continually run up against the same prejudices and errors. There is, of course, a steady transfusion of 'new blood', but it is just that, a traffic of consumers who are unable to contribute anything because of the restrictive structure of the anarchy factory. We can see this phenomenon most clearly in organizations such as the British Anarchist Federation, but it exists throughout the milieu. On top of this the internet and email have detrimentally influenced the ability to engage with others. There is very little development of ideas in discussion; other than us there are few individuals or groups that actively engage using correspondence and there is much too much religious maintenance of preserved and sacred positions. We do not have our own web-site, we do not have our own magazine, what would be the point? We do not want to be dragged down by proprietorship; for us it is important to appear in other people's web-sites and magazines and we always do so by taking an article from the magazine as our starting point. Obviously there are exceptions to this (tentative) rule/observation about 'the old guard', but the truth of the significant part of the matter seems to be that theory is dead, that it is stuck in the past, and that the anarchist/communist 'scene' is a kind of exclusive racket run by and for the benefit of people who have lost touch with reality a long time ago. The form taken by pro-revolutionary groups actively dissuades any theory that might result in the alteration of the form of the group. Theory is dead because organizing is the imposition of dead forms. Yes, the past shows us that the inevitably short dynamic periods of pro-revolutionary innovation always begin and end in failure, but at least, for a while, they seem to have some connection with reality. The present configuration of anarchist/communist politics is like a dead body, which no one in their right mind will want to go near. So your calls for more 'discussion of ideas' is a welcome one, even if it will probably lead nowhere. It is, to us, self-evident that every genuine contribution to revolutionary forms made by the pro-revolutionary milieu is accompanied by, or wholly embodied in, an attack on existing pro-revolutionary institutions.
Below are a couple of questions I want to raise that were provoked by your article, 'The Legacy of CLR James'. On page 9, in the last paragraph, you say that one of the 'key strengths' of the Johnsonites was their focus on the working class and 'that the working class was key to a revolution'. This is interesting, but you don't explain what they meant by the working class being 'key'. It is right, as you do, to criticize the notion that 'revolutionaries' must bring ideas to the people (which, for example, from our understanding, is the aim of the main participants on the Internationalists' Discussion List, mentioned elsewhere in the magazine). But this use of the 'working class' as a holy touchstone, as 'the key', only serves to put us in a mystical land where we know the working class is important but we never quite know why (for why we at Monsieur Dupont think the working class in particular industries is important look again at our "Reply to 'The Real Movement'").
On the following page you do a good description of Lenin but before that, at the end of the first paragraph, there is more obliqueness. You say, "Marx noted that you make a revolution and that's how you change people. If you wait for it to happen the other way, you'll be waiting a long time". This is the heart of Marx's vagueness on this issue. What you have said ("make a revolution"), and indeed how Lenin could have interpreted what Marx said, is that Lenin was right he did make (well, hi-jacked) a revolution in order to then work on the minds of the people.
The problem, I find, with the rest of the piece is an inability to discard the ideological temptations of leadership and organization. What you perhaps might be reading into the Castoriadis and Brendel quote is that they are talking about 'revolutionary' organizations, that they are talking about a 'revolutionary' movement, but they are not talking about such things even if they thought, at the time, that they were. We all know from history that there has not been one organization that has ever been, or ever could be, actually revolutionary. Castoriadis and Brendel, here, do not make this claim for workers' organizations, but they could have tried harder, and gone on to conclude that in all events of a revolutionary nature the workers will be in opposition to 'their' existing organizations, and/or at their mercy. They are right to tell other pro-revolutionaries to desist from setting up anything that aims to herd workers towards the promised land, but they do not develop, at this point anyway, any elaboration of the tensions that will arise in periods of economic calamity.
You say, "I don't want to suggest that the working class does not need organization. In fact, organization and the ability to stop production are the key strengths of the working class". These are such loaded and impenetrable sentences. For us pro-revolutionaries it should be (but usually isn't) clear that the important, essential, or key, part of the working class is that which can halt production. Without production being halted nothing happens, there can be no revolution, there can be no communism. But what do you mean when you preface this statement with the assertion that 'organization' is also a 'key strength', is 'needed'? You are not (we hope!) simply bowing to Castoriadis' and Brendel's 'authority' (they said it so it must be right). What sort of organization are you talking about? Are you talking about workers organized in unions? Are you talking about political parties? Are you talking about workers organized in 'revolutionary' armies? Are you talking about the temporary organizations that emerge during strikes or insurrectional events? Are you talking about various and fleeting means of self-defence? When you say that you "don't want to suggest that the working class does not need organization" you are not defining what you mean by 'organization', even when you talk about 'organic leaderships'.
But we must go further than this and look at just what we are implying when we talk about the working class having 'strengths' at all. When we start to talk about the (amorphous) working class having general worthy characteristics then we are walking into very dubious terrain. The working class are not good, honest and salt of the earth. People who think the working class has innate cultural, social and political ethical characteristics (and this includes many anarchists and communists) must surely not want them to lose these characteristics by ceasing to be the exploited class. Anyone who says they love the working class is either an idiot, a tyrant or a tyrant in waiting. The working class, if we are to talk about it as a unit, if it has 'strength' only has the strength of a lumbering blind beast, this is what our bosses are aware of and this is why they control us in particular ways (carrots and sticks). They are aware that if they lose control then this beast may sweep them all away in its blind attempts at self-defense (only in the commotion of casting the bosses aside will the beast be able to open its eyes and begin to decide how to live).
It is not a 'strength' of the working class that it is able to halt production, it is merely a fact. If we talk about working class strengths then we may be encouraged to try to appeal to their good side, we may say to the amorphous working class (through our unread leaflets) that they 'hold the strength', or whatever, to stop the capitalist economy so they must wise up and get to it. But, oh misery, they don't listen to us, and we are left with only one course of action, to try to get the numbers of people who subscribe to anarchism or communism to rise, the essential workers won't listen but maybe others will? Maybe, if we try hard, we will be able to kick start a movement that will reach some critical number and then we can have a revolution, for it is often said by tired old pro-revolutionary hacks that it is only a movement, imbued, of course, with worthy characteristics, that can destroy capital. This seems to be the sad and a-historical plan of every group and individual in this political milieu from formal recruiting anarchist organizations to the core of informal networks such as Echanges et Mouvement. Here, incidentally, we are back at the question of putting carts before horses, which we explained in our 'Reply…'.
So let's drop our fixation with 'working class organization', which for many is merely another term for 'movement'. The revolutionary 'organization' (that is, strategies and tactics for their defence) that workers will be involved in will only appear after production has been halted, it cannot happen before. Before this point only other forms of worker (or people) organization can appear or exist, things like unions, clubs, or informal or formal political parties.
There is a theoretical brick wall that the anarchist and communist milieu refuse to confront, this refusal makes them intellectually weak and causes them to be the tools of authority, this brick wall is the fact that EVENTS WILL SHAPE PEOPLE'S CONSCIOUSNESS; EVENTS WILL MAKE PEOPLE ACT; CONSCIOUSNESS IS DETERMINED BY THE MATERIAL STRUCTURE OF OUR LIVES; MASS CHANGES IN CONSCIOUSNESS COME AFTER CHAN GES IN THE MATERIAL BASE OF SOCIETY. If communism ever appears it can only do so after the collapse of capitalism, communism is not a movement, or a question of organization, it is only a vague description of a possible way of life for humankind. Communism comes after revolution, and revolution will not be made by any of us. Our inevitable and necessary failure as pro-revolutionaries is written on this wall, just as is our failure, and our parents' failure, to live fully as human beings. Against the missionary and dishonest optimism of pro-revolutionaries we posit a basic nihilism.
First Published in Red and Black Notes #16/17, Spring 2003, this article has been archived on libcom.org from the Red and Black Notes website.