A response by Will of the Fire Next Time Network to Advance the Struggle on the union debate.
Will offers a serious response challenging the political framework of the debate regarding unions. Will’s piece argues that earlier discussions ignore how we are still trapped by the legacy of 1968 and do not explain the relationship that unions have with the state, coupled with ignoring larger philosophical issues concerning communism. These points have validity. Earlier arguments do not deal with such issues. That has to be done. What we have argued is that unions should be defended against capitalist attacks, and a classwide offensive should be pushed for.
Will argues that, ”[the] lesson learned from Marx was that not only was he not transfixed on one moment or time but was able to see the developments of capitalism into the future. Lenin was able to do this as well and was able to strategically act on those developments in a way Marx could not.” Yes, this is true. It represents the revolutionary historical agency of marxism. To develop revolutionary marxism today includes theoretical engagement that challenges the limits of marxist theory, as well as taking political positions in the public sphere as an essential practical principle in order to give working class organizing a political direction against the state and capital.
The union question challenges the merits of both the “on the ground practice,” as well as the theoretical and philosophical system grounding for the marxism that created such a position. Or in the other words the question of unions is controversial as it begins to challenge the larger system of politics used to employ its analysis.
Communist philosophy matures when it engages political events; where class and political conflicts take place. These events make public positions necessary by self-identified revolutionaries. To be a revolutionary, one needs to be able to put forward clear public political positions in order to form revolutionary poles of attraction. Once a set of positions and principles have been established, then an organizational form, shaped around the agreement of its political content can attract and form militants that continue to organize deeper into the working class. Many of the philosophers mentioned, have only engaged in interpretation without defining a mode of struggle against the historically specific mode of control, and or character of its structure.
Our revolutionary marxism will be able to change the world by being clear of what political principles are unconditional to generate real political agreement amongst a broad body of left-wing militants, which will form the material force behind a serious mode of struggle. The process of advancing this project develops marxist theory, through the application of an analysis that can help guide a path of struggle. This hopefully partially answers Will’s final question, “What is the communist basis for these discussions?”
We’d like to hear other’s positions on Will’s serious questions, so please feel free to join in the discussion.
We need a moving theory that projects into the future.
As I have been reflecting on the debates over the trade union question, broader questions/ problems also seem to be connected. Below are some brief notes on what those other questions are.
1. The class faces a profound crisis and so does marxism. That warrants deeper investigations. The mainstream currents of 20th century communism have been a bloodbath (against peasants and workers), filled with playing not the vanguard role in fighting for communism, but actually developing capitalism. We are not immune to either of these problems. These stand as shocking counterpoints to probably all the expectations communists had in the beginning of the 20th century.
2. The Hegelian rupture: Hegel and Marxism were tied together for much of the 19th and 20th century. But 1968 stands as a potentially game changing event where Hegel is challenged on multiple fronts: Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Le Febevre, and potentially many others created a new paradigm which has to be taken into account. I used to take fairly uncritically works by David Harvey, Perry Anderson, Aijaz Ahmed, and Alex Callinicos which attacked the development of post-modernism and post-structuralism. I believe I could have been widely off the mark. Very unclear, but I believe to be crucial.
More importantly a return to philosophy is paramount. No discussion of that sort has occurred on AS. Philosophy is intricately tied to methodology. No discussion of method can occur without philosophy.
3. A new generation of militants ranging from the Johnson-Forest Tendency, to Walter Rodney-Frantz Fanon, to the Situationists tried to tackle the problems of 1968. That was the last highpoint achieved. Their strengths and weakness have to be rooted back into the cycles of struggle and the development of capital.
Forging a synthetic analysis of the 20th century cannot be trapped in Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg or any single moment or thinker. That will be the death of communism. We need a moving theory that projects into the future.
What are the antagonistic and complementary threads which connects Marx to Negri today and everyone in between.
4. The Archimedean Point: every cycle of revolution has created a version of communism. Paradoxically they have contributed and limited the development of communism. The major currents of course are Trotskyism, Maoism, Stalinism, council communism. Many smaller players also exist like Che, Fidel, or Nyerere.
Each current out of the revolutionary movement became transfixed in time and place on that event. It gives them a certain permanence to see the world, but also no longer allows them to see the changes as sharply as they should. For example the world forever is a measurement of the Russian Revolution for Trotskyism. China 1949 and 1968 for Maoism.
The lesson learned from Marx was that not only was he not transfixed on one moment or time but was able to see the developments of capitalism into the future. Lenin was able to do this as well and was able to strategically act on those developments in a way Marx could not.
We do not need a communism for 2013, but for 2020. There is no current which has transcended the limits of 1968 theoretically, let alone organizationally. That is the state of communism today. Capital is planning for 2050 and we are planning for 1917 or 1968. At this moment capital is more revolutionary then any communist current I know of.
For Trotskyism or Maoism history is only cyclical. The task is to repeat their Archimedean moments and have a few policy corrections. For our current of communism, history is still a work in progress. The displacements cannot be fixed through policy, but on fundamentally new terms.
5. The discussions so far have not taken as their beginning the three volumes of Capital. What unions mean for workers today in light of those works.
Nor has the discussions taken much account of the state’s relationship to unions and capital today.
A moving theory of these questions are needed and no such account has taken place. There is no movement of the problem. Instead fixed moments are presented as eternal solutions.
Random quotes in “biblical fashion” are replacing serious investigation. Marx said a,b, or c does not necessarily explain the world today.
6. There have been no theories of the state or unions offered. On what basis is this discussion happening? The danger of these discussions are that descriptions can end up replacing theoretical and historical rigor. Ultimately that will lead to empiricism and at that point revolutionary theory/ movement will cease to exist if it does not already.
7. Lastly individual experiences of workers while crucial, cannot stand alone as the complete verdict of a problem. What is the difference between radical sociology and revolutionary methodology. Our generation cannot tell the difference.
8. Marx emerged out of critiquing the dominant strains of socialism, political economy, philosophy, and struggle of his time. One of our tasks is no different then his on all counts.
9. What are the key struggles of our time? Have sent revolutionaries to such struggles to learn from? Have they written analysis of such events from our organizations/ milieus? Have we developed critiques/ synthesis of the leading thinkers of our time from Paul Krugman to Alain Badiou. Have we critiqued the major strategies of liberation since the Soviet Union fell: Zapatismo, Chavismo, autonomism, Black Blockism etc? These are just some concrete examples, but there are plenty more.
10. What is the communist basis for these discussions?
Originally posted: February 20, 2013 at Advance the Struggle