Thursday, February 21, 2013

Beginning to Draw the Lines

To begin to articulate what appears contradictory to me about the quotes I pulled yesterday from the contribution of an SWPer who wishes to remain anonymous:

When one speaks of "revolutionary politics" that are not "trade union politics," the expectation raised in some readers--at very least, in me--is that one will then begin to articulate what that revolutionary politics would be. Instead, the essay in question appears to refrain, returning instead to a discussion of whether general strike slogans are opportune, or what type of attitude to take to left union leaders like Crow and Serwotka.

Perhaps, to give the author the benefit of the doubt, he is writing toward an imagined audience composed primarily of SWPers, whom he imagines to share a common understanding of what would constitute "revolutionary politics". Yet the examples he gives of recent SWP conduct in the British unions would seem to suggest a great degree of confusion on that score among both the party leadership and the ranks. Further, any blog posting is, by nature, a public statement. Even when addressing a primary audience, one must bear in mind the likely secondary audience which may well end up outnumbering the primary audience. Contemporary means of communication are ruthless enemies to any form of "inspeak," revealing its absurdities.

What would constitute revolutionary politics in the Marxist sense would seem to be consciously and publicly addressing those political issues that are broadly in the public mind and are most likely to promote the development of a class-conscious identity among workers in a given country, and with that identity, a desire to overthrow the existing capitalist state. What those issues are will vary from time to time and place to place. I do not follow British politics closely enough to be able to say with appreciable certainty what those would be. It seems safe to say that austerity would be one such issue, but with austerity at present being pushed by a Conservative-LibDem coalition government, any discussion of that is likely to require some kind of clarity on the tactical approach to take toward the Labour Party. It is on that point, for example, that one is likely to discover what their "reformist ideology with its self defeating ordinances" consists of, and clash with it. So while it may well be the case that in particular workplaces, or particular unions, or within particular joint struggles, those adhering to revolutionary politics would align tactically with Crow or Serwotka for a time, it is by no means the a priori given that seems to be expressed in the article, nor would such alignment likely be long-lasting.

So to take that approach and turn attention to U.S. politics, which I know much better, the issues today which are most likely to unmask suspicion of or hostility to the capitalists and their state would be:

  1. Austerity
  2. War
  3. Police Violence, and
  4. Gun Rights

It's indicative of the peculiarities of U.S. history and the ways in which the ruling class of this country has artfully generated and played upon divisions that those most likely to have a healthy distrust of the state on the first three are more likely to be confused on the last, and vice versa. But there are exceptions, and in a situation where no socialist political organization is large or effective enough to have an appreciable and sustained impact on the national stage--go ahead, name me a counterexample--the immediate organizational tasks consist of regrouping those individuals and small groupings exceptional enough to have developed a consistent aversion to the capitalist state around a shared political program based on a concrete analysis of present realities.

If we take it as given that none of those existing individuals and groupings has such a program--and again, go ahead, name me a counterexample--then the task of those who think of themselves as revolutionaries is to have an open and frank discussion, intelligible not only to those who have been steeped in a certain political tradition but to a wide audience that may well include some hitherto undiscovered exceptions, about what that program should be.

There should be parameters on who participates in and drives the discussion, of both substance and style. I'd like to propose two:

1. No Democrats (or Ron Paul supporters)

That is not to say that many who may one day be won to the side of an overthrow of capitalism may not, at present, fit that description. Only that we who presently claim to be committed to such an end need to collectively figure out first what we would be winning them to, and that anyone who has not yet figured out, despite the ample evidence available, that the Democratic Party is one of austerity and imperialism, or that capitalist libertarianism would be a nightmare for the working class, is not yet likely to add much to that discussion. Listen to them, of course, by all means. (It's not like we have much choice--we all have friends, family and co-workers, and the far-left is too small to form a self-contained bubble, though in some metropolitan areas like New York or San Francisco it misguidedly tries to construct one.) But don't let them steer the discussion.

2. No Assholes

It's sad that I have to borrow this from corporate management literature, and indicative of how far the left has allowed itself to be ground down. Note also that I do not mean "no sectarians". The word "sectarian" is the most abused word in the far-left lexicon, and those who use it most frequently as a synonym for "asshole" are those most likely to be assholes themselves.

As an illustration of what I mean, let's look back at the debates in the Socialist International provoked by Rosa Luxemburg and her comrades around the question of Polish independence. Luxemburg was often described as "strident" (a term that gets aimed more often at women than at men), and she was known to say disparaging things about others in her private communications--letters to friends and comrades. But in public debate, she stuck to facts about the growing class struggle in Russia, the industrial development of Poland, the links between the Polish bourgeoisie and the Tsarist Empire, and drew inferences therefrom. Her opponents, on the other hand, made appeals to the residual authority of Marx and Engels (based on their opinions drawn from an earlier set of circumstances), expressed umbrage at the notion of this even becoming a topic of controversy and discussion, sneered that she and her comrades "represented nothing on the ground in Poland," or even disparaged her based on her gender, stature, or Jewish background. Who were the assholes? As it happens, I think Luxemburg was wrong as to several of her inferences, as was shown by the course of the Russian Revolution and the Russo-Polish War of 1920. But an asshole? Not at all.

The basic rhetorical tactics of assholery in politics, as shown by Luxemburg's opponents, were and are, "This is how we've always done it. How dare you make trouble about this now? Who the hell are you, anyway? Don't worry your pretty little head about it."

Returning then, to Britain, the substantive delimitation of discussion would need to be made on the basis of a configuration of political forces very different from that here in the U.S. It is a delimitation that the anonymous author of the article I linked to last night has not yet made, or not yet made explicit. Either Crow and Serwotka are reformist, and therefore any revolutionary alignment with them would be at most temporary and tactical, or a strategic alignment with them is possible, in which case he or she believes they might be part of some necessary new formation. Which is it?

The second delimitation--the No Assholes rule, the need to address political problems not on the basis of appeals to tradition, puffed up illusions of strength or personalized denigration, but of sober assessment of fact and logical analysis--is one that they seem to be attempting, in attacking the present leadership of the SWP, which if it has made nothing else clear in its recent debacle over sexual assault, is one redoubt (among many) of the assholes.

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