Organization of the Communist Minority (Parts 1 - 5)

A series of articles on the organization of communist minorities by M. Lida of the Occupy the CPUSA blog.

Organization of the Communist Minority Part I

A series of discussions in the context of internet forums have brought up several relevant questions. How we orient ourselves, among ourselves, is an anchor that keeps us grounded in theory and practice and allows the communist minority to play the role it has defined for itself. In the current political and economic climate, in this particular era of modern capitalism, a number of organizations with pretensions of ostensible revolutionary credentials follow diverse paths concerning what a communist is, what they do, how they interact with eachother, and the organizational tissue which binds any grouping of communists together. Not all models will be evaluated, only those which are pertinent to a distinctly left communist and related heritage.

Democracy as both fetish and principle is dangerous to the communist minority. Conflating the organization of pro-revolutionaries with an ideal of a post-capitalist society on its way to communism is commonplace, and a drastic error. Bordiga was correct to recognize how dangerous this democratic mystification and fetishism is in the organization of communists; yet the organic centralism he left behind (to replace the Leninist democratic centralism) has not evolved in a dynamic way.

If we are either on a path to discover the limit of individual communist participation with other communists, or already base our participation on the heritage of historical Marxism, it starts at the level of 1 person; 1 person who is a convinced communist, fluent enough in Marxist concepts and history to be an active part of some manner of organization. This is an historical legacy of a specifically Bolshevik lineage- a communist as, “one who accepts the Party’s programme and supports the Party both financially and by personal participation in one of the Party organisations,” rather than, “one who accepts the Party’s programme, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations.” The distinctly Red original sin; yet a distinction which is common to not just Bolshevism and its descendents, but also the Italian left, the German/Dutch left, post-war left communist organizations and Parties, the Situationist International and beyond. It is a common recognition that, when speaking of what a communist is and does, the common root is a person of action, not a consumer of political commodity. Even when that action involves a determined study of Marxism and related fields (psychoanalysis, structuralism, etc.) rather than direct action or physical participation in mass action, it’s a creative dynamic that sustains the life of an organization of communists and acts as a deterrent to the conception and development of bureaucracy. This necessitates the ‘Party of a new type’, a heavily minoritarian organization with no pretension or aspirations to grow into a mass organization (let alone a mass movement), as only a small minority of communists will have the political fortitude and personal capacities for this kind of dynamic participation. This is one of the only organizational lessons that are still applicable from the Third International.

“There is no other way to be faithful to, or even simply to understand, the actions of our comrades of the past than to profoundly reconceive the problem of revolution, which has been increasingly deprived of thought as it has become posed more intensely in concrete reality. . .

It is thus necessary to leave the terrain of specialized revolutionary activity- the terrain of the self-mystification of ‘serious politics’- because it has long been seen that such specialization encourages even the best people to demonstrate stupidity regarding all other questions, with the result that they end up failing even in their merely political struggles. . .

Specialization and pseudo-seriousness are among the primary defensive outposts that the organization of the old world occupies everyone’s mind. A revolutionary association of a new type will also break with the old world by permitting and demanding of its members an authentic and creative participation, instead of expecting a participation of militants measurable in attendance time, which amounts to recreating the sole control possible in the dominant society: the quantitative criterion of hours of labor. A genuine enthusiastic participation on the part of everyone is necessitated by the fact that the classical political militant, who ‘devotes himself’ to his radical duties, is everywhere disappearing along with classical politics itself; and even more by the fact that devotion and sacrifice always engender authority (even if only purely moral authority). Boredom is counterrevolutionary. In every way.” – Internationale Situationniste #7, 1962

The Situationists put forward a positive definition of the vanguard of the proletariat; the advanced, communist minority, acting not as consumers of politics and parrots of the Party Line, but creative participants as militants in the pro-revolutionary project. They’ve also outlined the framework through which bureaucracy enters a revolutionary organization and becomes ossified, strangling the proletarian content from such a pro-revolutionary project. The democratic principle, when applied to an organization which is meant to harness the creative energies, theoretical advances and coordinated activity of militants, all manner of deformations are formed (slates, vote counting, a pyramid hierarchy of authority decided by democratic voting which issues decisions from the top-down, factionalism and expulsion of factions, an immutable leadership).

“We cannot state that the decisions of the party majority are per se as correct as those of the infallible supernatural judges who are supposed to have given human societies their leaders, like the gods believed in by all those who think that the Holy Spirit participates in papal conclaves. Even in an organization like the party where the broad composition is a result of selection through spontaneous voluntary membership and control of recruitment, the decision of the majority is not intrinsically the best. If k contributes to a better working of the party’s executive bodies, this is only because of the coincidence of individual efforts in a unitary and well-oriented work. We will not propose at this time replacing this mechanism by another and we will not examine in detail what such a new system might be. But we can envisage a mode of organization which will be increasingly liberated from the conventions of the democratic principle, and it will not be necessary to reject it out of unjustified fears if one day it can be shown that other methods of decision, of choice, of resolution of problems are more consistent with the real demands of the party’s development and its activity in the framework of history.

The democratic criterion has been for us so far a material and incidental factor in the construction of our internal organization and the formulation of our party statutes; it is not an indispensable platform for them. Therefore we will not raise the organizational formula known as “democratic centralism” to the level of a principle. Democracy cannot be a principle for us. Centralism is indisputably one, since the essential characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and action. The term centralism is sufficient to express the continuity of party structure in space; in order to introduce the essential idea of continuity in time, the historical continuity of the struggle which, surmounting successive obstacles, always advances towards the same goal, and in order to combine these two essential ideas of unity in the same formula, we would propose that the communist party base its organization on “organic centralism”. While preserving as much of the incidental democratic mechanism that can be used, we will eliminate the use of the term “democracy”, which is dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism in their diverse guises and sometimes extremist poses.” – Amadeo Bordiga, The Democratic Principle, 1922

When talking of the organization of communists, we should move forward in that discussion without democratic idealism; the lack of dynamic participation in the democratic centralist based organizations (and the unhealthy organizational practices, such as personal feuding, development of cliques around geographic organization or particular projects of the organization, expulsions based on weak political criteria, etc.) is a horrifying reminder that we must not view the participation of a communist in a communist organization on time served, attendance, amount of labor contributed, whether or how they vote or if they subject themselves to organizational discipline against their principles or in the interest of being a good cadre member above all else. It is Zizekian to exalt the “pure militant”, with all of the characteristics of a trained doberman- obedient, trusting, loyal, ferocious- but unthinking or non-creative.

How we define ‘what is a militant?’ offers us a perspective into what an organization of them (along with Lenin’s “twelve wise men of socialism”) will look like. In the Stalinist parties in their prime, we see exactly the caricature presented by the Situationists: a militant as clock-punching consumer of political identity and ideology, who is simply present, simply going through the motions assigned by democratically elected (and full-time salaried) Central Committee’s and other assorted higher authorities. If we start with Lenin’s example of what it meant to be a Social Democrat in Tsarist Russia, the creation story of the ‘party of a new type’, we know now that if we are to have dynamic participation from every individual member, the word ‘participation’ must be amended to read ‘creative participation’- not just physically present, but an active agent of and within the organization and its activities and development.

The Bordigist contribution to this debate was the concept of organic centralism as opposed to democratic centralism. Part of the Italian Left had tried to remove democratic fetishism, democratic idealism, from within the Communist Party, and replace it with the dynamic grouping and common project of individual communist militants without the mechanism’s of the RCP(b) and a Bolshevized Communist International. This legacy has lived on; both after the war and after Bordiga’s death.

“Today, in our party, a party based on a unity of theory, principles, final aims and tactics, in which we exclude the practice of mergers with, or infiltrations of, other political organisations, and where we only allow people to join as individuals, there is not only no longer a role for the democratic principle – i.e. the struggle of currents and fractions with a view to establishing the orientation of the party by selecting from a list of illustrious comrades – but no role either for the banal and rudimentary democratic mechanism.”

-Meeting Report of the PCI, January 2010

“Just as the Communist party, from its very beginnings, has always tended to have its own kind of natural and voluntary unicity of movement, confirmed in the seperation of the First international from federalism and from anarchist individualism, so the party reborn during the Second World War learnt the lesson of the degeneration of Third International through Stalinism, which destroyed the world communist party by tearing the organisation apart through its systematic use of fractionism from above, hidden behind the conventions of internal democracy.

This is demonstrated in the way we go about our work, a style which wasn’t invented or revealed by some great leader but which just arose spontanously, embodying the natural attitude of generations of militants without the need for any rules or internal regulations to prescribe it or to punish their infraction. Further proof is the quality of our studies, which even though very complex, are all inter-connected within a coherent whole; and all of it carried out unostentatiously, and without engaging in all the unhealthy infighting and petty intrigues that characterise petty bourgeois and opportunist circles.”

-Meeting Report of the PCI (Il Partito), June 2009

Organic Centralism as a concept, in an interpretation that is more favorable to the organization of the Situationist International, is close to that defined by the SI as a model for the organization of communists; based solely on the development of the individuals who have joined together as well as the development of the organization they have created as something alive, dynamic, creative, and thus able to effectively carry out communist activity and create communist theory as contemporary events change, and the working-class advances or retreats.

“The communist party, as defined by this historical foresight and by this program, accomplishes the following tasks as long as the bourgeoisie maintains power:

a) it elaborates and propagates the theory of social development, of the economic laws which characterise the present social system of production relations, of class conflicts which arise from it, of the state and of the revolution;

b) it assures the unity and historical persistence of the proletarian organisation. Unity does not mean the material grouping of the working class and seeming working class strata which, due to the very fact of the dominance of the exploiting class, are tinder for the influence of discordant political leaderships and methods of action. It means instead the close international linking-up of the vanguard elements who are fully orientated on the integral revolutionary line. Persistence means the continuous claim of the unbroken dialectical line which binds together the positions of critique and struggle successively adopted by the movement during the course of changing conditions;

c) it prepares well in advance for the class mobilisation and offensive by appropriately employing every possible means of propaganda, agitation and action, in all particular struggles triggered off by immediate interests. This action culminates in the organisation of the illegal and insurrectional apparatus for the conquest of power.

When general conditions and the degree of organisational, political and tactical solidity of the class party reach a point where the general struggle for power is unleashed, the party which has led the revolutionary class to victory through the social war, leads it likewise in the fundamental task of breaking and demolishing all the military and administrative organs which compose the capitalist state. This demolition also strikes at the network of organs, whatever they may be, which pretend to represent the various opinions or interests through the intermediary of bodies of delegates. The bourgeois class state must be destroyed whether it presents itself as the mendacious interclassist expression of the majority of citizens or as the more or less open dictatorship wielded by a government apparatus which pretends to fulfil a national, racial or social-popular mission; if this does not take place, the revolution will be crushed.” – Amadeo Bordiga, Proletarian Dictatorship and Class Party, 1951

In Part II, Damen’s criticism of organic centralism, the organizational theory and practice of the Situationist International, Nihilist Communism’s criticism of communist organization, and examination of the German communist left’s organizational legacy will be reviewed and attempts will be made to write a framework for a possible organizational method for contemporary communists.

Organization of the Communist Minority Part II

“Thus, as we have already argued, the party actually has a duty to instigate revolutionary action, because it is the bearer of an important part of the masses’ capacity for action; but it cannot do so as and when it pleases, for it has not assimilated the entire will of the entire proletariat, and cannot therefore order it about like a troop of soldiers. It must wait for the right moment: not until the masses will wait no longer and are rising up of their own accord, but until the conditions arouse such feeling in the masses that large-scale action by the masses has a chance of success. This is the way in which the Marxist doctrine is realised that although men are determined and impelled by economic development, they make their own history. The revolutionary potential of the indignation aroused in the masses by the intolerable nature of capitalism must not go untapped and hence be lost; nor must it be frittered away in unorganised outbursts, but made fit for organised use in action instigated by the party with the objective of weakening the hegemony of capital. It is in these revolutionary tactics that Marxist theory will become reality.” – Anton Pannekoek, Marxist Theory and Revolutionary Tactics, 1912

It is generally believed by the revolutionary milieu that organizing the working-class directly is not desirable or possible; that the Party is of a small minority of the proletariat and will remain as such. Pannekoek’s description of what the Party does when the conditions are aligned toward a possibility for revolutionary activity (rather than pro-revolutionary activity) in the context of his ‘Mass Action’ concept is an important link between the strict minoritarianism of the Situationists and the Organic Centralism of Bordiga and the PCI’s, to the polemic of Damen against Bordiga. Damen takes issue with the concept and practice of organic centralism, specifically in an article in the days approaching the split in the Internationalist Communist Party:

“But to suppose, as the “Programmists” do, an organisation in a state of chemical purity, an international of “pure Communist parties” as opposed to that of Lenin made of “impure parties,” is playing with a metaphysical paradox. Instead of formulating the problems of a whole series of historical events through the lenses of dialectical materialism, they adopt a formal mechanistic calculation, which tends to get lost in the fog of the most obsolete idealism.

We can tell these comrades in all certainty that there will be no international of pure communist parties, but only an international that will reflect within it the good and the evil, the contradictions and absurdity, of a society divided into classes, themselves torn by various layers of interest, social conditions, culture, etc. The assumption of communist parties in a pure state with an equally pure world organisation, even as a simple aspiration, is not the result of any serious investigation based on Marxism. It strangely resembles a certain mysticism which had its heyday in the twenty years of fascism.” – Onorato Damen, Centralised Party, Yes – Centralism Over the Party, No!, 1951

The experience of the Third International, and specifically the splits from the Second International (earlier and later) which were integrated into sections of the Communist Party, were seen as a weakness, a backdoor through which all manner of deviationism, opportunism and undesirable tendencies enter the class party. To combat this, the International Communist Party (after it split from the Internationalist Communist Party) created a high political criterion for membership, and only posed membership on an individual basis- not accepting smaller or larger groups who claim to have been won over to revolutionary communist positions, baby & bathwater, into the Party. Damen is of course correct that the weight of bourgeois class society will always weigh on even the very small, advanced communist minority. However, on the level of political maturity and in the interests of maintaining the dynamic of the organization, Bordiga’s membership policy and the rationale behind it are sound. For similar reasons the Situationists, on a much stricter basis, restricted membership and refused membership to small groups who, based on the dynamism of the Situationist International, claimed to be won to ‘situationism’- recognizing clearly the danger this posed to the creative potential of the organization and the development and dynamic of its membership.

Damen’s criticism can be applied to most Communist organizations and parties; the most dynamic party would be one true to his description, “But we need to clarify once and for all the relationship that must exist between the centre and the base so that the party is structured and operates according to Leninist principles. An ongoing dialectical relationship exists between the members and the party centre. It is obviously on the basis of that relationship, in the context of theoretical and political platform already agreed that the party leadership develops its tactical action.”

‘Organic’ and ‘Dialectical’- two words that approach the same meaning when applied to the centralism of a communist Party. Damen too criticizes Democratic Centralism; but offers nothing else in its place accept a vague notion of ‘Dialectical Centralism’, which is quite close to the definition of organic centralism sought as an alternative to Decism by Bordiga and the PCI. All of the militants carry a level of political maturity and development that allows them to bring dynamism to the creative activity and discussions that create the theory and practice of the organization; all of this work is for developing the organization, which is nothing but the sum of all of the creative dynamism of the militants that individually comprise it.

“Lenin, at his most personal and most decisive, by which we mean the Lenin of the “April Theses” had a desperate determination to “go to the sailors,” beyond the formal organisation of the Bolshevik Party’s Central Committee whose positions which were based on misunderstanding and compromise. Lenin was not operating on organic or even democratic centralism here, but acting as the chief pillar of the coming revolution, the only one who had understood and endorsed the demands of the working class and this is because his feet were firmly on a class terrain, because he thought and worked in class terms, and for the class, and had a very lively sense of history which teaches us that revolution loves action and hates cowards who turn up a day late.” – Damen, Centralized Party, Yes – Centralism Over the Party, No!, 1951

This example of a dialectical centralism is completely in line with organic centralism, and also the organizational model described and partially put into practice by the Situationist International; it is also an example of how the contemporary PCI (or rather, 1 of the contemporary PCI’s) seeks to define its relationship between center and members:

“This is demonstrated in the way we go about our work, a style which wasn’t invented or revealed by some great leader but which just arose spontanously, embodying the natural attitude of generations of militants without the need for any rules or internal regulations to prescribe it or to punish their infraction. Further proof is the quality of our studies, which even though very complex, are all inter-connected within a coherent whole; and all of it carried out unostentatiously, and without engaging in all the unhealthy infighting and petty intrigues that characterise petty bourgeois and opportunist circles.” -Meeting Report of the PCI (Il Partito), June 2009

The relationship between the organization, the Party, described by Bordiga along biological lines as a living organism, a tissue, made up of the collective activity and ideas of the members- and thus reaching a higher level of development than any individual militant could achieve by themselves. It is what we aspire to by combining from disparate individuals into a centralized, international organization, and specifically- the centralized, international Party.

The example of Lenin going to the sailor’s, acting on the creative dynamic of his individual level of development and commitment and intellect, is analogous to any time a communist militant engages in activities as an individual, under their own inertia, rather than as directed by the organization center. This can be seen in very dissimilar examples (of varying levels of historic importance): from the example of Lenin delivering the April Theses to the sailors, to the Kronstadt sailor that sent the Constituent Assembly home, to the IWW dual-carder who initiated 2 General Strike motions to the South Central Labor Federation (central labor council in Wisconsin) during the open workers struggles throughout Wisconsin in 2011, to the handful of Situationists involved in setting up the Committee for the Maintenance of the Occupations in May 1968 (as well as various other action committee’s). There are numerous examples of a pro-revolutionary being at an historic moment by the nature of their individual level of development, personal creativity, the influence of a pro-revolutionary organization on them. If what we strive for is to, as Pannekoek writes, act as a force to move the class struggle in a capitalist crisis to a struggle to abolish capitalist power in a revolutionary crisis, it encompasses the ability of individual communists to make a difference and impact far above their normal capacities as an individual, and for the organization of communists to develop its membership and the organization itself into a force capable of producing active agents of revolution- also far outpacing the size of the actual organization (phenomenon observable in the histories of the Bolshevik Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Situationist International, etc.).

A balance sheet must be drawn of the experience of the pro-revolutionary organizations and individuals of the uprisings of 2011-2012, the response of the working-class (delayed as it was) to the latest manifestations of the capitalist crisis in the events of 2007-08, encompassing the Indignant, the squares assemblies of Greece, the large general strikes and labor marches of Western Europe, Wisconsin protests, the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring. These are the events which mark a significant difference in the class struggle versus the period of the 1980′s and 1990′s; forms of struggle, speed at which struggle and forms spread internationally, as well as the most advanced aspects of these movements (whether the revolutionary council currently struggling in Mahalla against the old and now new state; the labor committee’s of the Occupy Movement which sought to link up with worker’s struggles resulting in the multiple port shutdowns). These may have been the testing grounds of the next revolutionary wave, a spark before the fire. How communists oriented themselves to these movements, the speed at which information and analysis could be found and disseminated, and the theory and practice resulting from these experiences can give us an idea of what we mean when communists talk to each other about creating theory and developing practice, in the testing grounds of the class struggle as it stands today.

If we can get an idea of what a communist is, what they do, and how an organization of communists should seek to act, it is from the experience of numerous generations of pro-revolutionaries. The Italian Communist Left and the Situationist International provide insight into exactly how specific theories of organization operate in practice. We could do worse than to play a role similar to that of the SI in 1968; we could do worse than producing a few individuals who arrive at an historic moment and may play a substantial role. Being unable to carry out the task defined for ourselves and by generations of militants before us is a fate worse than a minor impact or a failed revolution.

Part III will outline a framework for organization drawing on contemporary and historic organizations, looking at the groups of small groups of either communists or workers which carried out functions far outpacing their membership numbers, the use of ‘new media’ in organization, Nihilist Communism and the danger of historical reenactment

Organization of the Communist Minority, Part III

Despite Hal Draper’s insistence that Pannekoek’s Mass Action concept, popular with the revolutionary left of the Socialist Party of America and the early Communist Labor Party and Communist Party of America, is too general and vague to carry any specific meaning, it is the perfect expression of the contemporary form of the class struggle. To confront the current cycle of struggles, which have taken shape since 2003 and become most apparent since the crisis of 2007-2008, communists and strata which seek a Marxist or communist explanation for the phenomenon unfolding before them must define in the current period what we are and define how we engage each other and the class in struggle. The generation of common activity, oriented around common principles and methodology, should be the goal of any international organization of communists. The goals of organic centralism found its highest expression in the modernizer’s one of the contemporary International Communist Party’s (Le Proletaire) claim present the biggest barrier or threat to workers seeking communist alternatives: the Situationist International. The battle of ideas, first made apparent in the move from avante-garde art to explicitly communist politics, then in the orientation toward the events of May 1968, were accomplished without a Central Committee- a form of organization that did make its way into the ‘pure’ International Communist Party after it split from the Internationalist Communist Party in 1952. Without democratic mechanisms, the Central Committee becomes petrified and immutable- physically embodying the Party ‘center’ in the form of a self-selected at worst or truly gifted at best comrades: in either case, it creates a barrier to the common activity of militants. For the SI, the international conferences and the reference to its national sections abroad, the skeleton of organization, acted as the ‘center’. Even if the ‘twelve wise men of socialism’ that Lenin speaks of being at the head of any worker’s party (in elected positions or not) in What Is To Be Done? form a permanent weight on the Party, the rest of the membership are bound by calls for Party Discipline from acting creatively and dynamically- instead they simply follow orders. What we may want, then, is a combination of these theories and concepts in a contemporary communist organization and the future International. To prevent any kind of barrier between the organization and individual communists, agree to not form a Central Committee, no democratic means of making decisions and designating higher authorities within the organization. Without a democratic mechanism enshrined in the framework and principles of the organization, decision making is left to the personalities which make up the organization; on both the regional and international levels. International conferences as working bodies, rather than rubber-stamping sessions or talking shops- the level of international decision making, representative of all the regions the organization has sections. Compare the expulsion of Trotsky and the Trotskyists from the RCP(b), the expulsion of the Italian communist left from the PCd’I, to the ejection of Nash and the Nashists from the Situationist International. In the former examples, factionalism which grew in the petri dish of the democratic centralist elected organs of Communist Party sections erupted into the highest levels of the Party enacting decisions above the party militants- all due to the nature of democratically elected office and the bureaucratic hierarchy it creates. In the case of the Situationists, Nash and his co-thinkers wished to move the SI backward, back to its earlier years as a collection of politically minded avante-garde artists rather than revolutionary communists. Through consensus decision making and the moral authority of its most advanced sections, what was deemed a detrimental clique in the organization was expelled in keeping with its principles with the participation of its members. With consensus or other forms of decision making absent a codified mechanism for counting votes or assigning hierarchy, the ‘battle of ideas’ as well as personalities play into whether or not decisions are carried out regarding the international organization or its national sections continue to spur development (such as that of the French/Belgian section of the SI moving them further away from specification and specialization as artists and into communist politics) or create walls around the ideas and members of the organization to ‘protect’ them (post-war Bordigist parties) from modernism and innovators- ‘Protect the Gains of October!’. The class line concept is important to recognize when innovation, debate, discussion and advances in theory cross into “modernism” and abandon Marxism and proletarian politics- if all of us simply agree with each other, we become a sect, recruiting true believers one at a time. Closing off Marxism from the animation of discussion and debate, advances in theory and practice, turns it into a self-referential system of millinarianism rather than a living science. It also takes us to a self-imposed ghetto where theory is not grounded in practice and we engage in trainspotting instead of being in the class struggle and at the head of events. However, crossing class lines is not the same as questioning dogmatic positions, principles and practices. Democratic centralism and the Central Committee organization hold us back.

Basing ourselves on a strict recruitment policy, on an individual rather than group level ‘integration’, ensures that the numerous instances of the best and most dynamic ideas of an era attracting enthusiastic verbal support, but once the converting group enters the dynamic organization, they proceed to engage in their prior ways of thinking and activity (left-PSI joining the Communist Party of Italy) and bogging down creative activity and thought, are limited. When and if harmful factions develop within the organization, if they are so recognized by a clear majority based on consensus and strength of convictions, they can be censured or expelled. The enthusiasm to recruit as widely as possible is a dangerous indulgence- whatever progression is made to attract new found adherents will be slowed or reversed- a Lenin Levy serves one purpose: liquidation, strangling the life out of a proletarian organization.

In the era we live in, the traditional activities of communist groups has room for expansion into digital media. The level of seriousness given to online presence by communist organizations varies from very high to lukewarm. However, examples like the Maoist blog Kasama show us a way that internet organizing and communication among politically like-minded individuals can blossom. The fluid nature and informal basis of ‘membership’ allows 2 branches to form: supporters and those looking for communist alternatives, and a hardcore of politically mature, active militants who maintain the site and contribute to the dynamic of its content. From the discussions and generated article content come the possibility for regional organizing based on the website. While Maoism is far afield from revolutionary Marxism, it is still a political tendency, which offers us a glimpse of a model that can be universally applied regardless of the content of the politics that bring individuals together. The universality of slogans, leaflets, graffiti and texts of the Situationists during May 1968 acted as a forerunner to this kind of model: a very small group of militants, with a large pool of influence disproportionate to their size. The internet allows a greater and deeper level of involvement and two-way communication between ‘center’ (the organization and its membership) and rank and file (varying from those close to posing questions of membership to sympathizers to passive readers or contributor’s): there is a dialectical relationship between those with very low levels of commitment and political maturity, with those who make up the primary creative force of the communist organization, furthering the development of individual militants and advancing the theory and practice of the organization. Through this relationship, readers of the internet press and contributor’s to internet discussions may become involved in regional practical activity engaged in by the organization.Thus a Lenin Levy is avoided, new media is used in an efficient manner, a wide audience is reached, all the while individuals are increasing their experience in promoting the organization, discussing all aspects of the program and theory, becoming involved in practical activity (thus giving communists a greater influence and impact when intervening in the class struggle). Unlike Kasama, at the heart is the communist organization proper, organized along the lines of international conferences as working bodies with a greater orientation toward practical activity and engagement with the working-class in struggle at the regional level. An internationally centralized organization with a practical internet presence that can absorb questions, discussions, critique, debates and polemic of all manner of sympathizers or potential new members, with enough distance from the organization ‘center’ to block integration of all of the political immaturity or wavering on specific issues into the internal life of the organization. In this way, people who are moving toward communist positions, or are sympathetic to communist principles, may engage the organization, contribute to its development and assist in practical activity without negatively effecting internal dynamics and creativity.

“The party, Maitland maintains, “is a historic creation, which cannot be thrown aside.” Unfortunately that was true in the past history has also shown, however, that parties were not what they were supposed to be. They are the historic creation of liberal capitalism and within this particular setting they served – for a time – the needs of the workers, but only incidentally. They were chiefly involved in building up the group interest and social influence of the party. They became capitalistic institutions, participating in the exploitation of labour and fighting with other capitalistic groups for the control of power positions. Because of general crisis conditions, the concentration of capital, and the centralisation of political power, the state apparatus became the most important social power centre. A party that got control over the state – either legally or illegally – could transform itself into a new ruling class. This is what parties did or tried to do. Wherever the party succeeded, it did not serve the workers. Just the opposite occurred: the workers served the party. Capitalism, too, is a “historic creation.” If the “party cannot be thrown aside because it is a historic creation,” how is Maitland going to abolish capitalism now that it is identical with the one-party state? In reality both must be “thrown aside”; to end capitalism today implies the ending of the party.” – Paul Mattick, Pannekoek’s The Party and the Working-Class, Council Correspondence, 1941

The reaction of many intransigent communists to the degeneration of the Third International and the mountains of corpses left in the wake of failed revolutions is understandable. Like Mattick writes, numerous opponents to what happened to the Third International insisted on creating new Parties, on different grounds or with different organization, but which re-created the same balance of power (Party over the worker’s, Party as capitalist institution interested only in its perpetuation and growth, etc.). When we write of the Party, the International, it is simply the working-class organized as a class, the political organ of its most advanced sections. Defending the communist program in organs of the class, initiating forms of struggle when the environment is favorable (like the SI setting up the Sorbonne Occupation Committee and the Committee for the Maintenance of the Occupations- or the IWW dualcarder that initiated General Strike motions in the South Central Labor Federation during the Wisconsin uprising), developing theory and practice around Marxist analysis and communist principles as the material conditions change or as the class advances (and retreats). Fighting against those who would take power from the insurgent proletariat, combating counter-revolutionary ideology and winning over those who are searching for communist alternatives to the current world from such ideologies. These are some of the basic activities of the organization, the Party; an organization is not inherently counter-revolutionary as the early councilists would have us believe. Contemporary organizations of communists have not acted against the working-class, and there is no reason to believe that a Party made up of communists with such theory and practice would reverse itself, alter the ways of organizing themselves against substitutionism and become substitutionist. A Party organizing only a small minority of the proletariat, only those with a high level of class consciousness, political maturity and have the commitment and constitution to be active, creative militants. Without hierarchical mechanism’s operating within the Party (something different from all previous Party’s, including the International Communist Party), mechanism’s of hierarchy and control could only be external to the Party.

The initial statement of purpose from Insurgent Notes contains a perspective in line with the thinking of this series of articles on organization:

“In the lead article of the first issue, “Presenting Insurgent Notes,” Insurgent Notes indicates that while, for now, it exists only as an electronic publication; this is not its ultimate goal. Through the establishment of study groups and the development of networks, it seeks to become a political organization which will develop theory and intervene practically, participating in mass struggles and even regrouping with other pro-revolutionary groups and individuals.” – Insurgent Notes: A New Pro-Revolutionary Publication

How to orient the mass of sympathizers to communist principles and activity is a challenge; some organizations accept small groups who appear to come to communist positions, others require individual membership; however, membership in the communist organization or Party is not a prerequisite for a pro-revolutionary worker to engage in common activity, and participate in the discussions and development of the organization or Party: a tactical use of internet media, such as the Kasama model, is a good starting point for creating the tools to allow fluid and natural influx of interested individuals without leaving the organization open to a Lenin Levy style dilution of its creativity and dynamism.

Part IV will attempt to orient this kind of organization to the current cycle of struggles, and how we may engage and successfully intervene in the class struggle in a deeper manner.

Organization of the Communist Minority Part IV

Aside from the Hungarian council revolution in 1956, the contemporary left communist press most often will not utilize the term Soviet or worker’s council to describe similar forms of organization when they appear. The “shora’s” of the Iranian proletariat in the late 1970′s, the geographical and joint-enterprise committee’s of the Polish worker’s in the late 1970′s and especially 1980-1981, the inter-firm solidarity committee’s and occupation committee’s of the generalized mass strikes against Hyundai and surrounding businesses in South Korea in the 1980′s, and more recently the neighborhood council’s (and in Mahalla the ‘revolutionary council of Mahalla’ comprising the public and private sector textile workers and those living in the city- called the ‘Mahalla Soviet’ by the Scission blog) of Egypt in 2011-2012 and the massive worker-delegate committee’s established in the Southern coastal province of China in 2010 (leaving out the French May, Hot Autumn, etc). It can almost be read as a subtle hint that even proponents of the council form as the only form of a proletarian revolution recognize the attempted council-based revolutions of 1905-1936 as a product of a specific historical epoch of the class struggle: just as the Paris Commune (and immediately before it the ‘Lyon Commune’) were the specific form of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat for the cycle of struggles preceding the first soviet. Just as Lenin realized that the soviet-form was a development of their contemporary period and reconceived the class dictatorship as soviets, we should all be prepared to admit to ourselves that the soviet was a product of a particular cycle of the class struggle- and that the conditions for its dominance and necessity have changed with the restructuring of capital and the recomposition of the working-class.

” On Jan. 12, 1908, mass-meetings and street demonstrations in the interest of suffrage reform took place in all the larger cities. The working-class swarmed out in great numbers. In spite of the fact that the Police Commissioner of Berlin had forbidden street demonstrations, it was with the greatest difficulty that he kept the demonstrants from the immediate neighborhood of the royal palace. “The Conquest of the Streets” was the headline which appeared the following day in Vorwaerts. In truth the police had found themselves entirely unable to cow into submission the army of working-men and women. From that moment a new sense of power inspired the masses; they had found a new right, a new weapon. And when, some months later, this new spirit of the masses forced a small group of Social-Democrats into the Landtag, the Prussian government announced that it would modernize its electoral system.” – Pannekoek, Prussia in Revolt, 1910

Pannekoek’s concept of Mass Action is simple: the proletariat engaging in extra-parliamentary, mass activity to advance its class interests (and exercise its political power). It is the compliment to Luxemburg’s earlier theorization of the mass strike as a phenomenon unfolding around them: though it is a broad enough descriptor that it may include general strikes and mass strikes. The idea was very popular with the revolutionary left-wing of the Socialist Party of America and Wobblies turned Communist Party members in the years between 1908-1917; until the revolutionary worker’s council movement displaced Mass Action as the theoretical centerpiece. However, the American left-wing socialists and pre-Bolshevized Communists conceived Mass Action as the primary lens to understand and promote proletarian revolution: against parliament and electoralism, against labor unions, but for the seizure of power in the streets. Unlike existing revolutionary syndicalism (embodied perfectly in the IWW), the revolutionary socialists and communist-wobblies sought to abandon unitary organizations based on craft, trade or industry, defined by a kind of union (even a radical One Big Union), as well as the mass electoral parties seeking parliamentary routes to socialism: just as parts of the communisation milieu seek to conceive revolutionary theory and practice beyond councilism: what we are seeking is a return to a revolutionary theory and practice based on the creative potential of the working-class in struggle, outside of mass parties, outside of parliamentary politics (and its sister, the extra-parliamentary left-wing of capital), outside of labor unions (even radical unions) and transcending the formalism of the councilists. Pannekoek seems to have originally conceived of Mass Action as the compliment to traditional partyism, a means to coerce the state to grant reforms to the working-class: much like Luxemburg’s Mass Strike- in both cases, exercising extra-parliamentary power (within and outside of the workplace) was for the purpose of furthering reformist ends. The early American Communists had moved beyond this point, at a time when the Third International was just beginning to internationally organize revolutionary communists into the new class party, by cleaving off the reformist goals (such as attaining universal suffrage) and proclaiming the extra-parliamentary struggle, non-specific to the workplace, was the revolutionary movement.

After the triumph of the counter-revolution, in the middle 1930′s, Pannekoek moved further toward councilism:

“The old labor movement is organized in parties. The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working class; therefore we avoid forming a new party—not because we are too few, but because a party is an organization that aims to lead and control the working class. In opposition to this, we maintain that the working class can rise to victory only when it independently attacks its problems and decides its own fate. The workers should not blindly accept the slogans of others, nor of our own groups but must think, act, and decide for themselves. This conception is on sharp contradiction to the tradition of the party as the most important means of educating the proletariat.” – Pannekoek, Party & Class, 1936

However, Pannekoek, like many communists, councilists and communizer’s, only recognizes political power as state power; parties as mass parties with the sole purpose of taking power. The recent example of the Arab Spring, and specifically the events in Egypt, show us that this is not absolute. The textile worker’s of Mahalla formed the ‘cradle of the revolution’, based on their process of subterranean maturation of consciousness starting in 2006 and near constant revolt against the unions, electoral politicians, and the state. A movement based on ‘mass action’, while tinted with interclassism, a combination of workplace struggles and struggles in the streets, toppled the state regime and delegitimized the government to the extent that soldiers refused to follow orders to quell the rebellion- much like Pannekoek’s example of Prussia in 1908. The question of legitimacy is a question of power, a balance of power between the classes. Undermining the basis of continued capital accumulation and reproduction involves the proletariat utilizing its power at the point of production- however, this does not mean we must contrast a workplace centered revolution (the syndicalist cooperative commonwealth or councilist and Leninist World Soviet) with a political revolution which takes place as either an open insurrection against the state (of certain strands of Anarchism), winning electoral control for the purpose of dismantling the state (Impossibilists, SPGB) either. It is difficult to reconcile some of the communisation milieu’s conception of political power as merely a question of state power, while making lucid arguments for a conception of power as total rather than specific (to elections, to the workplace, to armed insurrection, etc.):

“In the progress of its revindicative struggles it will attack specifically the means of production as such, that is their role as means of production (as for example workers in Bangladesh are doing as they demand their wages; we can think the generalisation of such a condition). This attack, if revolution continues as a chain reaction, as a revolution within revolution, will lead to their abolition as value, it will de-capitalise them. The attack on banks in which proletarians have their money is what will necessarily open up the issue of how life without money can continue, and it will not be a decision to abolish money. The attack on police stations will open up the question of arming the revolution to face the consequences of its actions. The attack on shops and the looting of commodities will pose the issue of non-exchange and non-distribution at a nascent level, for a short but critical period. The continuation of the struggle in public space, the inability to go home, will open up the issue of gender. The occupation of the means of production and the destruction of some of them will raise the issue of how to reproduce life as a whole. If communising insurgents sway with them a large section of society, through a conflictual process of course, into the implementation of communising measures, only then will the revolution be able to move on. What is most important: only if all of these things happen together and not separately, only if they occur in parallel on several fronts and not centrally, will the revolution as communisation take place.” – Presentation of Sic Journal in Athens

This is a very apt description of what the communist transformation will look like, in these times. It is a description of the working-class exercising its political power through all manner of avenues (at work, in the streets, riots, anti-work, armed struggle, etc.), the dictatorship of the proletariat imaginable in a future revolutionary crisis. This kind of atmosphere in the current cycle of the class struggle is in stark contrast to that of the turn of the 20th century:

“Our doctrine tells us that socialism can’t be built on the ruins of the existing society by a revolt of starving beggars in rags. It can only result from the powerful forward march of an army of organized proletarians, fighting to conquer every position, every progress.” – Pannekoek, Hope In The Future, 1912

A position Pannekoek would later repute after the November Revolution and counter-revolution, however it is one indicative of the era of the classical worker’s movement. Today, it appears that it is indeed the ‘starving beggars in rags’, often with high school diploma’s and college degree’s, that will be the organization of proletarians during the next revolutionary crisis. Aspects of this have already been made apparent in the wave of struggles 2011-2012 and the assemblies and occupations.

If the struggles of the working-class today largely resemble that of the time before the mediation of struggle, of the labor-capital relationship, by trade unions and worker’s parties, of the era of the Paris Commune, so too will its struggles and the organization of its pro-revolutionary minority. During the Great Upheaval, the predecessor to the Socialist Labor Party, the Workingmen’s Party, acted in many ways as an ideal ‘vanguard party’: pro-revolutionaries united with common principles and geographic organization were able to intervene and facilitate a generalized struggle of the working-class which contained elements of armed insurrection, mass strikes and mass action. The Party did not act to take power over the workers, but served a distinct purpose in the events of 1877, the American Paris Commune, both engaging in the struggle directly and aiding the development (and depth) of struggle.

“Three days previously the men had had no thought of striking. Now they formed eager audiences for such extremists as Albert Parsons.” – Louis Adamic, Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, p.26

This is the underlying assumption of Monsieur Dupont’s Nihilist Communism: that the role of pro-revolutionaries is to discuss and organize amongst themselves in non-revolutionary times, and in the event of generalized extension of struggle of increasing scope and depth, to engage and facilitate the movement of communism (such as by struggling against illusions in autonomy, self-management, the attempts to take state power by Stalinist and Maoist type organizations).

The epoch of the Paris Commune is instructive in that it shows us a time when typical explosions of class struggle took place both in and outside of specific workplaces- such as Pannekoek and Luxemburg’s observations on mass action and the mass strikes, as well as the numerous succession of marches, demonstrations, rallies and insurrections of the American proletariat of that period described by Adamic; where worker’s engaged in struggle with 1 employer often took the struggle to the public spaces and streets.

Unlike the preceding epochs, the composition of the working-class has continued to change according to the needs of capital- and today bears the scars of being born out of restructuring on an international level. The formerly peasant majority in the underdeveloped regions and nations now resembles the central nation’s proletariat of the 1920′s and 1930′s: an expanding value-producing proletariat, a movement from the countryside to the urban centers of manufacturing and heavy industry. The central capitalist nations are now a zone of consumption, where an excess population is absorbed into un-productive industries, the public sector and civil service, and industries based on science and technology and the FIRE sector (not to mention the rising level of unemployment- a ‘new normal’ unemployment rate of around 7%). This recomposition of the class on an international level, according to the restructured zones of modern capitalism, has a definite impact on the possibility of the soviet form.

The soviet form, where it appeared strongest in Petrograd, Budapest and Berlin, was centered in heavy manufacturing, metal works, on docks/shipyards, in the ‘Worker Fortresses’: factory councils which radiated their influence and power outward, prompting workers of other sectors to organize their own councils and become involved in the central council movement- despite the soviet form spreading in Russia and Hungary, the councils of the largest urban centers, based in heavy industry and manufacturing and docks/shipyards, was echoed in Seattle in 1919, Berlin in 1918, etc. This was repeated in the attempted council revolution in 1956 in Hungary; and those ‘council-type formations’ or ‘embryonic councils’ or ‘proto-councils’ described in the left communist press since the 1970′s (Poland 1980-1981, Iran in the late ’70s) have also been located in these specific kinds of industries and workplace conditions. With a changing composition of the central proletariat, does this not add a question mark to the statement, “The worker’s council is the finally found form of the proletarian revolution [?]” ?

Understanding the changes undergone since the last cycle of struggle and accumulation regime, in both capital and the proletariat, informs how we will organize and theorize the role of the communist minority.

‘[T]he formulae ‘workers’ control’ and ‘workers’ management’ are lacking in any content. … The ‘content’ [of socialism] won’t be proletarian autonomy, control, and management of production, but the disappearance of the proletarian class; of the wage system; of exchange — even in its last surviving form as the exchange of money for labour-power; and, finally, the individual enterprise will disappear as well. There will be nothing to control and manage, and nobody to demand autonomy from.’ Amadeo Bordiga, The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism (1957)

How we move from this understanding to a revolution without the ordered blueprint of the Third International (higher and higher delegated centralization of councils into a World Soviet, watched closely or presided over by the Party) is our task, and it requires us to organize ourselves as communists- for contemporary times.

Posted By

klas batalo
Apr 10 2013 07:05


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