Letters – March 22, 2017

Concerns regarding militia; going through the motions; on communication

Concerns regarding militia

Comrades EB and DP have expressed concerns regarding the ‘Draft Program for the Democratic Republic’ and the section regarding the abolition of the standing army and replacement by a people’s militia. There may be a small issue of talking past each other on this issue. We are ​not​ advocating the abolition of well-organized and disciplined military organization and replacing that with small, scattered, disorganized units. What we’re talking about is the mass expansion and generalization of the military skills and organization necessary to defend ourselves. It’s important not to get too hung up on words, and rather understand what we mean by the words we use.

However, before we go into the concerns of a national militia, we need to understand the context of us taking power. Taking power in America would be doomed if it were not coordinated with other communist parties taking power in their own nation-states. We are not building a national militia intending on invading capitalist states, nor are we intending on building a national militia that could ‘hold out’ against the capitalist states in a sort of ‘second Cold War’, both of those routes would be strategically suicidal. We need to understand that taking political power is not a solely military act. ​Political power does not flow from the barrel of a gun.

Comrade Jack Conrad, from the Communist Party of Great Britain, ​expands on the probable development such a militia would​ take:

“[The communists are] against the standing army and for the armed people. This principle will never be realised voluntarily by the capitalist state. It has to be won, in the first place by the working class developing its own militia.

Such a body grows out of the class struggle itself: defending picket lines, mass demonstrations, workplace occupations, fending off fascists, etc.

As the class struggle intensifies, conditions are created for the workers to arm themselves and win over sections of the military forces of the capitalist state. Every opportunity must be used to take even tentative steps towards this goal. As circumstances allow, the working class must equip itself with all weaponry necessary to bring about revolution.”

In the context of the United States, this currently takes the form of isolated and incoherent actions by anti-fascists and organizations like the IWW’s General Defense Committees. In order to generalize and politicize these actions, coordination by a communist party is necessary. However, while these are not the militia in and of themselves – they contain the potential seeds of what the militia could look like and the duties it could perform. Through the course of the class struggle, more robust defensive apparatuses will be needed by the working class, growing these local forms into regional and nationally coordinated popular armies. They would necessarily take the form of a hierarchal – though still democratic – structure. This is not to say

that we will wait to begin training the working class in military strategy and organization, communists need to be helping communities defend themselves now.

If communists can take state power, we will need to have existing working class organizations capable of coordinating day-to-day administration without falling back on the existing state apparatus; however, we will need to utilize certain elements and structures from the existing state and re-tool them. For example, we would not close down existing domestic military bases, but we will re-purpose them to fully benefit the needs of the people. The militia developed in the lead-up to this moment will be generalized throughout the working class. This can be done through the regular rotation of duty for sections of the militia, the introduction of basic training following or in conjunction with secondary education, and even the dissemination of arms to the general populace. The Swiss system of conscription and education can serve as something of a model for bridging the gap between a standing army suitable for offensives and a people ready to defend themselves; communists can utilize elements of such a model to prepare workers to defend the gains they have made while waiting for international revolution to progress.

Concerns have also been made regarding the policy “Combined arms training and operations to be advised or managed henceforth by military specialists on temporary and rotational assignment.” This shouldn’t be too controversial, it’s simply a repetition of the basic republican principles that permeate every aspect of this draft program. Skills should not be left to certain individuals, they ought to be disseminated as widely as possible. If you cannot effectively replace a specialist you are, in reality, subordinate to them, regardless of whether or not you can ​technically​ replace them (i.e. you have the right to recall on paper, but no one else has those skills, so realistically you cannot replace them; in effect it gives the specialist the potential to blackmail). In practice, this can be seen by the Bolsheviks falling back on the Tsarist bureaucrats and specialists due to the inability of the working class to perform necessary administrative roles. The problem of uncontrolled specialists is a profound historical lesson that, by and large, communists have completely failed to acknowledge. This catastrophe should be avoided if possible, and the education of multiple people for the same role allows that.

The extension of this policy to military matters by means of generalizing and socializing military defensive knowledge and access is necessary for any fledgling democratic republic.

  • Susie M
  • Henry M


Going through the motions

The following are some tentative comments on convention developments over the past week or so. They are all somewhat general in nature, and are not intended to be fully comprehensive. My hope here is to stimulate the often tentative, informal exchanges that have taken place around published motions.

“For a Merger Committee” (P10), moved by comrades Desbordes and Katsopolis, has a healthy impulse behind it – certainly the purpose of the Red Party is principled unity of Marxists in a single party, and at this stage we can make (modest) steps toward that by combination with others. I don’t object to the purpose, but to the form. It would be poor form to create a separate committee to duplicate work already done by the CC and by other party units, mainly branches. “For an Outreach Committee” (P16) has the same problem. Instead of carving off functions of other committees, we would be better served to reassert our strategic outlook in a perspectives document.

“For a Labor Commission” (P11), moved by comrades Desbordes and Simone, is another proposal to form a new committee. This one, however, aims to focus and develop the RP’s work in a specific ‘stream’ – in this case the labor movement. I think there is little reason to be against this proposal. It does contain an implied support of the ‘labor party policy’ that has historically troubled our movement, hence the publication of what could be considered a supplemental motion (“For a Labor Party Policy”, P14) authored by myself with comrades Desbordes and Simone. Needless to say, I support the labor party tactic in the form described in P14.

“Establishing Educational Guidelines” (P12) and “For Republican Norms” (P13) are both moved by comrade Maier and are intended to be considered together, but I feel a distinction should be made between them. P13 is perfect, and a step forward from our less coordinated political education work (which is not a slight against the branches and their political development work, only an endorsement of the need for something more generalized.) P14, though, puts forward an administrative fix for what is a political problem.

Finally, there is “Draft Program for the Democratic Republic” (P15) moved by comrades Mirtis and Maier, a replacement for a previous program proposal submitted (and separate from “Revised Draft Program” (P08) moved by myself, Josh H. and Mari P-A.) Whereas the previous competing program took a distinctly counterposed course to our current program, P15 is closer to our current Draft Program and to P08. I will avoid saying too much before looking at it more closely, but on a first read the restructuring of the minimum program looks appealing… and, of course, the preservation of the first and second sections!

  • Gabriel Pierre

On communication

A special convention shouldn’t have been called — that’s why it needed to be. The past several weeks have seen debate about the April 28-30 convention arise in The Red Vine between the newly formed “Foundation” faction and the rank & file of our party. As one of the eleven signatories of a letter critiquing the Foundation faction and demanding an expansion of democratic norms within the party, I’d like to respond to developments in this debate.
Despite both the declaration of a faction containing members of our Central Committee (CC) and a letter signed by a sizable contingent of Red Party raising serious concerns with our democratic process, has there been a stir? It is hard to tell. Things have seemed quiet due in part to the scattering of our day to day communications across Facebook/Slack/Neither. This scattering has revealed itself to be an exclusionary force. There has, however, been a response to criticism by a writer of the Foundation manifesto, Josh Hollandsworth. This response clarifies a debate with Susie Mirtis and reiterates discomfort with the calling of the convention, but I’d like to focus more on Comrade Hollandsworth’s characterization of the demand for centralization of communication as “a ridiculous proposal.” Fixing Red Party’s internal communications is not just distinctly sensible — it is also a key issue for the entire convention debate.

To better understand the ways our internal structure undermines democratic communication, we must ask ourselves why a special convention needed to be called.
If Red Party’s most recent convention had produced discernible and effective avenues for national level action between conventions we may be in a different circumstance. I had mixed feelings previously, because a socialist organization should be able to endure growth without going to special convention at each influx of new perspectives. But our responsibility is to look further for the root of an ineffective practice.

I agree with the stance that an organization dedicated to building a revolutionary party needs patience, and should not be called to convention prematurely. But it is clear we do not have a rational internal structure where members have access to officials. It is worth noting that in our present constitution, all national initiatives appear at the discretion of the CC, with no clear path to proposing these things to the CC as a body available — should those socially proximate to the CC members be advantaged, or should there be a mechanism for proposing institutions/initiatives? Bear in mind several of our members have reported difficulty reaching officials by e-mail, for example over technical aspects of dues payment. This is not a matter of the personal fault of officials, as this sort of thing can happen in digital communication with anyone, but it is vital to address and provide avenues of alternative contact.

None of this is to say we have a tyrannical Central Committee, or that all communication off of a single platform should be censored. We can, however, here note that the power to build Red Party’s national component is vested in the Central Committee despite no universally adopted and preferred platform for debate and communication with officials.

The establishment of more party initiatives and institutions will require more and larger populated local branches, but for at large members to to form these and for Red Party to benefit from their existence we need not just transparency but accessibility at the national level. There ought to be a clear, formal route for members to get involved in the committees and initiatives that will arise as the organization grows.

As we develop more locals, questions such as how to relate to the Democratic Socialists of America, how to relate to other ‘Marxist Center’ groups such as the Communist Labor Party or Philly Socialists, and how to build our base will have to be taken on by the national organization (while still leaving what’s best left to branches to branches). Key debates in many strategic realms should eventually play out in The Red Vine. But debate also requires dynamism, and there a universally adopted accessible platform for the majority of Red Party business can also assist us.

Upon adoption of a democratically determined preferred platform for the daily communication needs of the organization — one which any member with computer access should be on to provide everyone fair access to internal discussion — a new-member introductory document (a short & simple guide/handbook) would be helpful to clarify the internal structure of Red Party, ways of getting involved, advice for local organizing, reading suggestions, and ways to contact officials. With successful reform at the April convention, Red Party can be a vehicle for its membership to contribute to the emergence of a democratically organized revolutionary mass movement. It is vital that our organization democratize communication, clarify our constitution, and streamline rank & file involvement.

  • Grant G