Letters – April 20, 2017

Response to comrades; anti-party

Response to Comrades

Response to Comrade Moody: It is not our view that an administrative position that serves as the only executive within the party as chief administrator and the history of dominance in these roles means that there needs to be extra layers of accountability. However, it is also our view that second secretary and treasurer are under no such additional accountability as they do not serve in those roles. Our opinions on this matter have to do with the historical development of the secretariat in both bolshevik and Trotskyist parties after 1921.

However, if the constitution of the party and our mission is sufficiently clarified and certain other electoral practices barred—public ballot and slate voting—the CC as a whole could be treated as a unitary executive. That said, roles within the party in general need to be additionally clarified.

It is important to remember that while we realize that technocratic elements of organization are necessary, there is no innate reason why any party member cannot engage in that level of decision making and the CC functions  as administration, ideally, should be made less and less necessary over time as expertise improves within the organization and planning can spread through the various organs of a worker’s party. As has become clear in our discussion of the our party constitutional procedures around the secretariat in response to this proposal.

We also agree with comrades J.R. Murray and D. Knowles that the party should have planks to handle ‘structural racism’ as well as ‘structural misogyny and enforced gender’ to our programme in a explicit and not just implicit mater.  We agree that while the programme does address many of the causes, not addressing this issue directly is an oversight.

 

  • C. Derick Varn
  • Lexi Katsopolis

 

From the “Anti-Party” Faction

“Social-Democracy is not confined to simple service to the working-class movement: it represents ‘the combination of socialism and the working-class movement’ (to use Karl Kautsky’s definition which repeats the basic ideas of the Communist Manifesto)” – Lenin, 1899 [1]

“The task of Social Democracy is to make the class struggle of the proletariat aware of its aim and capable of choosing the best means to attain this aim.” – Kautsky, 1891 [2]

We hold that the “merger formula”, m + s, where m = the workers’ movement and s = socialism, is essentially correct for realizing an internally democratic socialist mass party-movement. The problem is that m has been in continual decline for decades, and has shrunk down to almost nothing. How many Americans in today’s workforce can say they have been on strike even once? This is not disputed by anyone on the left, except perhaps its most optimistic (we would say voluntarist and rapturist) currents.

Yet its implications are seemingly not absorbed. The answer is to simply “try, try again”. In this sense, the “Neo-Kautskyist” current does not leave secthood. The notion that the last several decades’ array of regroupments, tendencies and sects have failed because they “had the wrong ideas” is fundamentally idealist, not Marxist, and it takes serious consideration of m’s decline off the table. The merger formula was a product of a time when m was assumed to be a given. For all of his virtues, especially his immense grasp of history, Macnair elides this. The CPGB’s tailing of Labour is assumed to a hiccup rather than a logical conclusion of this thinking: “you go where the proles are”.

The trouble is, the proles aren’t anywhere. They’re not on board Corbyn’s kamikaze mission and they aren’t engaged with Labour beyond the most superficial ways (like turning out for quinquennial general elections). For all of Weekly Worker’s coverage of Labour factional struggle and all the bleating about Labour’s membership bounce on the left, this has purely been about absorbing the left-of-Labour activist strata in the party, not mobilizing the working class. Labour’s tanking poll numbers are a testament to this.

This is also seen in the US. DSA’s growth has only been among “the usual suspects”: paper membership of noblesse oblige Bernie run-off, the student-professor mold, professional left-activists. The popularity of Bernie Sanders is not about his program (which is not that unusual among Democrats) but his relative disconnection from the rest of the partisan-political class (including being nominally an independent), otherwise it would translate to other progressives. The working class is increasingly antipolitical, not partisan-ideological, even though it tends to have nominally more “progressive” principles than the political class at large. This is what defines the moment. (Macnair’s elision is odd given he has shown some understanding of antipoliticism even back in 2008, noting in Anything But Marxism “the general perception that politicians are all corrupt and liars.”)

What we’re calling to do is not reject the merger formula but to take it seriously, which can only be done by seeing it in context. In a time when m is on a long, seemingly unending wane, this forces us to rethink the basics. We hold that it is simply voluntaristic and a repeat of the mistakes of decades of sectaria to aim for party formation as of now: it is simply putting the s before the m. We are skeptical it can even do things of minimal good like “building better sects” (“better” meaning actually adhering to some form of internal democracy and accountability) given how frankly toxic the left is as a subcultural milieu, too burdened with “recovering” and not-so-recovering bureaucratic centralists, not to mention (not unrelated) rampant careerism. Even good faith criticism isn’t really tolerated. This is another example of why putting s before m cannot work, without a mass movement there is simply no way or incentive to screen out or ignore cranks, opportunists or anti-democratic cultists (especially since the logic is still of cadre accumulation), and have any numbers. This may actually explain the perpetual issues of the Green Party in this sense, or why National Review conservatives were able to cordon off the John Birchers fifty years ago: what had real social depth and what didn’t?

Proles are forced to be pragmatic by their tenuous social position: they will pick horses that look helpful and that look like winners. (But then, the logic of left sectaria won’t be overridden even if it mostly recruited proles, probably necessarily offbeat ones.) “Build that party” revolutionary patience and dual power understands this to an extent but without m, will resemble far-less-successful Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons door-knocking, looking for converts. (So, really, more like marginal cults…and back into sectarianism.) Dual power without m can go the NGO route or the trajectory of Serve-The-People-to-serve-the-President seen in ex-Maoist careerists like Van Jones. For all of its faults, whether being symptomatic of academic overproduction or the Bakuninist, rapturist and “hippie Pol Pot” tendencies of communization, Endnotes did attempt some empirical and theoretical reasoning as to why m has left the building.

So the question is what we *can* do. We demand:

1) The scrapping of the name Red Party. It’s misleading and LARPy, especially as we are calling to de-party. We should also use Marxistant jargon sparingly.

2) The abolition of the Central Committee, for reasons stated in a previous letter.

3) The foresaking of cadre-building. We are not Lenin, we are not even Mormons. That doesn’t mean we don’t argue our points or don’t offer education to people that ask for it. That also doesn’t mean we can’t agree on points of unity, or try to hash out what a real program would look like today (if nothing else, a worthwhile intellectual endeavor and something that can and *should* be looked at and debated by the curious and outsiders). We should rethink what membership means if anything, and make contribution to our projects more flexible.

4) The working on and expansion of Emancipation as a broad-based education, media and theoretical project.

5) That programs and our ideas generally are disseminated, looked at and critiqued by proles that aren’t “already converted”. Not for “mass line” reasons of opportunism but we may learn something about the contemporary class this way.

6) Brainstorming (and ultimately experiment) on antipolitics and things that could help bring class subjectivity and sociality within the class back (for it’s highly atomized even within its hobbyism, whether it’s Bowling Alone or something like the decline of bands for solo acts), but (and this is key) *without* doing as the sects would do: turning these into front groups and soap boxes to “convert” people, that will not work. For instance, how about a forum where regular proles (i.e. not a grab bag of left activists) go every month for 90 minutes, trade beer and food and complain about work et al? How about cheap, antipolitical-tinged carnivals (think GWAR having a gory showdown between Clinton and Trump puppets)? Speaking on the desperate need to “convert” as a left pathology, it ultimately signals what happens when m is absent. Without falling into workerism or rapturism and certainly without dispensing of the need of education, a bit of “faith in proles” is needed: an interest in socialism will crop up if m returns, and, we argue, it will *only* get anywhere if m returns, not by leafleting and tabling at the next “happening” a la Occupy, or going the Jehovah’s Witness route. The social question of class precedes socialism.

7) Considering the joining of DSA as a faction/side project of our group, but with conditions. Those conditions would be: we are open about our intentions, we needle the group relentlessly (and develop our own media apparatus while trying to get time on their numerous spinoffs), and we put a strict time limit of 6-24 months on our membership (after 6 months we reassess if the project is worthwhile) unless: DSA breaks from the Democratic Party in full, stops running or endorsing candidates below the level of state legislatures (and not executives, with the possible exception of Presidential candidate protest runs), has a reasonably Marxist program, expels the Harringtonite leadership and has a membership of a hundred thousand majority proletarian as well as chapters “outside the usual suspects”. These conditions are rather unlikely for DSA or any left-activist formation to meet, which is the point, but this exercise may get these ideas out there.

8) The rethinking of dual power and how social interventions can be done without falling into NGOism.

We need to rethink Marxism and eschew the sterility of sect-form and overbred theoretical-academic projects, and this can only be done by seriously seeking for an answer to the social question. This should be a start.

[1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1899/articles/arg3oit.htm

[2] https://books.google.com/books?id=8AVUvEUsdCgC&pg=PA85&lpg=PA85&dq=The+task+of+Social+Democracy+is+to+make+the+class+struggle+of+the+proletariat+aware+of+its+aim+and+capable+of+choosing+the+best+means+to+attain+this+aim.&source=bl&ots=5k9q9qvMTo&sig=w2dmN3va86ehlM10lOMdYYMJJHM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjtyNmQsa7TAhVHjVQKHbgGD0MQ6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&q=The%20task%20of%20Social%20Democracy%20is%20to%20make%20the%20class%20struggle%20of%20the%20proletariat%20aware%20of%20its%20aim%20and%20capable%20of%20choosing%20the%20best%20means%20to%20attain%20this%20aim.&f=false

  • C.D. Varn
  • Joseph Sciortino
  • Lexi Katsopolis
  • Jennifer Howell-Clark
  • SS
  • Grant Gallagher
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