beyond the party-state, beyond the big bang

13 02 2010

A paper by Nathan Coombs for Sunday’s Communist Theory Forum

Wherever we look in the history of communist politics we see states which in one form or another have become dictatorships; the economic and political structures reduced to stifling bureaucracies. Can this be explained merely by recourse to contingent factors: the fact that revolution did not break out in Europe in the 1920s, imperialism against the socialist states during the Cold War, and so on?

The tempting answer for communists is to focus on these facts, lump the blame at the feet of Stalinism, or the leaderships of the Communist parties. This way guilt is apportioned and we can rest secure that the fundamental idea is fine; it is just the flawed implementation at the source of the problems, or the external pressures at work. Such an approach can be surmised by the optimistic refrain: ‘never mind, things will work out fine next time!’

Of course, the fact communists have to come to grips with is that there will not be a next time as long as such a sentiment prevails – the wisdom of crowds has already adjudicated on communism as a failed social model: ‘nice idea, but doesn’t work in practice’ being the gratingly predictable notion one encounters. The easy riposte to such sentiment would be a combination of judgment on the ignorance of people nowadays, their shallow materialism and ideological indoctrination into capitalism. The people thereby become the enemy, unable to realise the truth communists speak and forever held in suspicion and contempt. This latter option swiftly rejected, there seem to be two things to take into account here: (1) whether the degradation of all communist states into dictatorships is really just an assemblage of contingent causes; and (2) whether most peoples’ belief that there is logic to this failure is just a result of propaganda and under-education? And we could also add a third (3) factor: even if both (1) and (2) were ruled contingent, whether it strategically makes any sense to contradict the mass of opinion in this regard?

It is my opinion here that there is an immanent necessity as to why most people consider the communist model as flawed; and this cannot be reduced simply to the dispersed cultural indoctrination into the thought of such anti-communists as Frederic Hayek (The Road to Serfdom) and Leszek Kolakowski (Main Currents of Marxism). There are I believe flaws in the ‘idea of communism’ which not only led to the collapse of really existing socialism around the world, but also to its very undesirability as an alternative social model. These are numerous and multifaceted, but what I want to focus on here is the procedural dimension of how power is taken and used.

But before I start my critique of existing stratagems I first want to immediately make clear my even greater dissatisfaction with the prevailing neo-anarchist thought that has become fashionable since the end of the Cold War. That is, if we take John Holloway’s How to Change the World Without Taking Power as emblematic, there is a caution at work here that Slavoj Zizek rightly mocks as a fear of ‘going too far.’ For the insurgent ideological movement state power (or even power per se) must be kept at a distance, and as such radical politics is forced into a kind of tacit relationship with the status quo, where protesters demand things from those in power, but do not seek to attain and wield power themselves. There is much the same logic at work in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire, where the Frankenstein’s monster of the multitude (the many against the few) challenges the Empire, but not to seek to bring it down; because, in a profound sense, the Empire already is utopia realised. What all this points to is I believe the fact that ‘radical’ philosophies, which actively spurn power, all hide a dirty secret, which is the ultimate satisfaction which the status quo – that is, with the liberal, capitalist state.

In this regard I think we should be proud to be ‘dogmatic’ traditionalists. I really don’t see any evidence that the analysis presented by Rosa Luxembourg in Reform or Revolution is less true today than it was in her day. Yes – the mechanics of class struggle are infinitely weakened in their polarized, dialectical form than they were in the early 20th century; and yes – the historical consciousness of the defeat of the global revolutionary movement of the 20th century and the economic and political failures of really existing socialism, alter the strategic calculation. But the state-form as the expression of the interests of the ruling class and capital no less requires toppling now than it ever did – at least, in any form of communist politics worthy of that name. There is an immanent necessity which follows from a politics which aims to abolish wage labour that the state has to be smashed, or profoundly refigured for this to be accomplished.

That said, we are still left with what appears to be the cripplingly predictable outcome of Marxist revolutions which managed to take state power. They certainly represented an advance over events such as the short-lived Paris Commune, in that they not only managed to take power, but to also defend the revolutionary gains. This is an incredible achievement, not to be underestimated. But at the same time, these gains were achieved at the price of bolstering the state, rather than presiding over its withering away. A process of radical reductionism in all cases seemed to collapse the economic and political functions within the post-revolutionary state solely to the party-state. The gains of revolutions – once the initial shine of victory receded into the past – began to be measured solely by material indictors: education, health, housing, job security etc. And whilst one should not be too hasty to deride these achievements, it is obvious that they fall far short of the kind of social and political emancipation that Marx had in mind for communism. It could also be somewhat maliciously observed that these accomplishments ultimately only mirrored, in a radicalised form, the functions of the welfare state in social democracy.

The question, then, is what process could lead to a revolution in which this process of reduction to the party-state is not an inevitable outcome? Anarchist lullabies to one side – that all we need to do is take up a voluntaristic, negative position vis-à-vis the state – what needs to grappled with is the question of immanence: isolating those tendencies within the existing system that create the possibility for capitalism’s transcendence. This was Marx’s major breakthrough compared to all of his contemporaries.

The overall ‘line’ of The Commune – the ends of revolution need to follow from the means – I think correctly diagnoses the problems of communist strategy in immanent terms. How can we talk of mass political emancipation when the model of communist power involves some small, centralised vanguard who ‘know what’s right’ taking on the levers of the formerly bourgeois state and attempting to institute communism from above? For communism to be immanent, and thus have the required complexity, openness and organicity for emancipation, it needs to be based on real, immanent tendencies within the existing system.

And it is here that I think even The Commune’s thinking has not so far gone far enough. For in the notion of revolution we still cling to a big-bang type event, in which the immanent possibilities are suddenly released to become real. Now, whilst not wishing to deny the emancipatory possibilities of these great, historical events, the question it seems is more one of scale. And furthermore, it could also be one of strategy. No revolution in the model of the big-bang event has ever happened in a Western liberal-democracy. Whether we think of Russia, 1917, or even Iran, 1979, the big-bang event is restricted to those situations in which a dictatorship is being toppled, which for the historicist could lead to the depressing conclusion that one needs dictators to make revolutions, or more perversely that one needs to assist the forces away from liberal-democracy to authoritarianism to speed up the revolution – ‘things need to get worse before they get better’! It seems that both theoretically and strategically too much has been invested in the big-bang event of the revolution. That is not to repudiate the necessity of the revolution, but rather I would argue requires a change in thinking of it less as a big-bang and more as a ‘tipping point’ in which the pressures and immanent trends within the system can no longer be contained within the existing state structure. Just as rolling a heavy barrel up a hill takes an enormous amount of energy, we should think of the revolution more as the moment when it passes over the brow and rolls of its own accord and with rapid velocity down the other side.

What this implies is more than the means need to match the ends, moreover it means for me that the seeds of communist relations need to planted within the system before the revolution. The difficulties of this are numerous and well documented: individual worker co-operatives become prey to the same logic of the market as their capitalist counterparts; the political structures subsume, or make impossible, attempts at real democratic autonomy from the bourgeois state.

Nevertheless, some form of instituting these relations in the present needs to be introduced into communist thinking, which is perhaps something that can be taken from anarchist thought, but radicalised with the rigorous realism of communist thinking about the capitalist system. But at the same time I would also caution against the retro-utopianism of certain green thinkers that believe, for instance, that collective food self-sufficiency on a local level can institute these relations. Firstly, because, continuing with our loyalty to pursuing immanent possibilities, this kind of hair-shirted collectivism has nothing to do with the modern, technological aspirations of the majority of the population in the developed states, who are very happy with their iPhones and ready-made meals for £1 (roughly 20% minimum wage hourly salary – a clear benefit of automation). And second, the aspiration of the majority seems to be for more individualist autonomy, no matter how illusory under capitalism, rather than localised collectivity. On the latter point, it is not enough merely to point to the illusions of these ideals and the propagation under capitalism. No – they should be fully recognised as the authentic, immanent imaginary; and communist thought should press in the direction of making this imaginary properly real. So what is needed is quite difficult. Taking the collective, non-waged labour of such projects as Wikipedia from the internet and transplanting them somehow into the real world – where people need to pay rent, buy their groceries, and take summer holidays somewhere warm – is not easy to imagine, but I think it must play a vital part in stimulating immanent trends in the existing system in the direction of communism. Workplace organising and trade unionism play an important role in this, but I do not think they alone are enough.

Where this approach really cashes out, however, is in the question of state power. The problem with the approach of the means needing to match the ends is that it imposes almost impossibly high standards for the democratic nature of the revolution and the way state power is utilised in the early years of the revolution. There is the danger of being committed to a stubborn ideal, which in the chaotic, contingencies of the real world can never be lived up to. Perhaps a small vanguard really is necessary at some point to take political power from the bourgeoisie? Who knows. The important point is that if the immanent trends in the system have led to a revolution as a tipping point, rather than as a big bang, then no matter how that power is taken and wielded it still has to contend with the real immanent transformations in the system that have made it possible.

What I am proposing is that we need to have a theory of how to take power from both below and above; and it is in the coordination (or disarticulation) of these activities that a communist revolution could be achieved with an immanent possibility not to lead to inexorable reductionism to the party-state. Obviously much more work needs to be done to turn this initial sketch into a fully-fledged theory.

About these ads

Actions

Information

15 responses

13 02 2010
c0mmunard

I’ll be interested to see where this discussion goes, in seeking to fill out the category of non-utopian, concretely emancipatory projects which can be developed within (i.e. immanent to) capitalism. There is a body of theory which seeks to say that all mass, permanent organisations are inevitably destroyed or reconciled to capitalism; in consequence it is the soviets/workers’ councils/shoras which are seen as the new society in the shell of the old; mass, impermanent organisations whose radical democracy and mobilising power is essentially antagonistic to capital, but necessary for communism. The councils are seen as the product of immanent tendencies in capitalism, insofar as workers need to come together in such a manner to effectively organise their economic and political defensive struggles. But if alternative approaches could be found, it would be a significant step.

However, I would like to comment on the article’s off hand, unsupported dismissal of anarchism. Ironically, the main plank of the article is essentially an assertion of an old anarchist argument; and which is, in fact, one of anarchism’s most distinctive contributions to communist theory.

Nathan writes, “The question, then, is what process could lead to a revolution in which this process of reduction to the party-state is not an inevitable outcome? Anarchist lullabies to one side – that all we need to do is take up a voluntaristic, negative position vis-à-vis the state . . . ”

Anarchists propose “a voluntaristic, negative position vis-à-vis the state”? What does this mean? The author does not quote to illustrate the implications of these adjectives, so it is necessary to extrapolate. To say that a position is merely negative is to imply that it fails to pose a concrete alternative. But this is no more true of anarchism than of Marxism. It is not possible, given limited space here, to quote extensively from anarchist visions of a future society. But Peter Kropotkin explicitly criticised a purely negative revolutionary philosopy. “To make a revolution it is not . . . enough that there should be . . . [popular] risings . . . It is necessary that after the risings there should be something new in the institutions [that make up society], which would permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established.”

What does it mean to say that a position is voluntaristic? Presumably that it fails to take account of the historical circumstances which tend to make fulfilment of an act – e.g. abolishing the state – a real possibility. A voluntaristic view would be that we could have a revolution tomorrow: we just need to work harder, raise different slogans, or similar. But anarchists do not characteristically say this; and the greatest proponents of revolutionary voluntarism have been pseudo Marxist cults such as the WRP, for whom exhortations to harder work on the part of the cadre were the stock in trade. Far from disconnecting historical and economic changes from the revolutionary process, Kropotkin, for example, believed “that the coming Revolution . . . will burst upon us in the middle of a great industrial crisis”.

Nathan continues: “what needs to grappled with is the question of immanence: isolating those tendencies within the existing system that create the possibility for capitalism’s transcendence. This was Marx’s major breakthrough compared to all of his contemporaries. The overall ‘line’ of The Commune – the ends of revolution need to follow from the means – I think correctly diagnoses the problems of communist strategy in immanent terms.”

The remaining half of the article is devoted to pursuing this idea, which in modern anarchist discourse is called “prefigurative politics”. (It has never, by the way, been an explici, prominent component of Marxist discourse.) As Mikhail Bakunin put it,

“The future society must be nothing else than the universalisation of the organisation that the International has formed for itself. We must therefore take care to make this organisation as close as possible to our ideal. How could one want an equalitarian and free society to issue from an authoritarian organisation? It is impossible. The International, the embryo of the future human society is held to be henceforward, the faithful image of our principles of liberty and of federation, and is considered to reject any principle tending to authority and dictatorship.”
(http://www.infoshop.org/faq/secH1.html#sech16 )

Is it possible to find an earlier or clearer expression of the idea that means determine ends in communist politics?

More than one member of The Commune describes themselves as an anarchist. I’m not one of them. But I recognise class struggle anarchism as a current in the communist movement with a theoretical and practical tradition worth engaging with. It is beneath the standard of argumentation we should aim for (and which we need to build a movement organised around credible theory) to indulge in off-hand, unreferenced characterisations of comrades’ views. It would be better to ignore anarchism completely than misrepresent it.

Perhaps, given the author’s fondness for politics with roots in anarchism, he would enjoy reading some anarchist material ;-)

13 02 2010
Nathan Coombs

cOmmunard:

“Anarchists propose “a voluntaristic, negative position vis-à-vis the state”? What does this mean? The author does not quote to illustrate the implications of these adjectives, so it is necessary to extrapolate. To say that a position is merely negative is to imply that it fails to pose a concrete alternative.”

No, I meant that anarchism as a theory does not recognize the immanent necessity of the state and so in anarchist writings they speak as if all one needs to do is convince people to live without it and that is all that is necessary for its disappearance. It is not about proposing an alternative model or not. In contrast, the focus on immanent necessities in Marxism distinguishes its more realistic take on the state and how the conditions could be established to eliminate it.

Later in the article, I note one thing that I think can be taken from anarchism. But no, in general I don’t have much time for anarchist thought, whether that offends some people or not I don’t think is a concern for free debate on these issues.

13 02 2010
c0mmunard

I meant that anarchism as a theory does not recognize the immanent necessity of the state…

But this is nonsense as well – at least if it means what I think it means, i.e. the “immanent necessity of the state” refers to the fact that capitalism requires the state to enforce the class structure on which it is based, hence that the state cannot be abolished without also abolishing class. But anarchists understand this:

“the Anarchists desire the destruction of the classes by means of a social revolution which eliminates, with the classes, the State”.
– Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review

Or as Kropotkin put it, “[T]he State . . . and Capitalism are facts and conceptions which we cannot separate from each other. In the course of history these institutions have developed, supporting and reinforcing each other. They are connected with each other — not as mere accidental co-incidences. They are linked together by the links of cause and effect.” Positively dialectical.

… and so in anarchist writings they speak as if all one needs to do is convince people to live without it and that is all that is necessary for its disappearance.

And this is doubly nonsense! So anarchists don’t see the need for a social revolution to forcibly destroy the state and expropriate the bourgeoisie? Come off it. As Emma Goldman said, “an armed counter-revolutionary and fascist attack can be met in no way except by an armed defence.”

Nathan will also, no doubt, be pleased to learn that his idea that we should not see revolutions as “big bang” events had an admirer who died around 50 years before he was born, in Errico Malatesta: “By revolution we do not mean just the insurrectionary act.” Earlier Bakunin, claimed that revolution would involve a “more or less prolonged transitional period”. And Kropotkin did not “believe that in any country the Revolution will be accomplished at a stroke, in the twinkling of a eye, as some socialists dream.”

Malatesta also described how the organisations of the workers’ movement, developing immanently but antagonistically to capitalism, were the basis of the revolutionary movement:

“the most powerful force for social transformation is the working class movement . . . Through the organisations established for the defence of their interests, workers acquire an awareness of the oppression under which they live and of the antagonisms which divide them from their employers, and so begin to aspire to a better life, get used to collective struggle and to solidarity.”

in general I don’t have much time for anarchist thought, whether that offends some people or not I don’t think is a concern for free debate on these issues.

The issue isn’t whether people are offended or not, nor is the question whether the debate is “free”. The question is whether the debate is of a high standard, and whether you accept any obligation to back up your claims. On a similar point last year, on this site, I asked you if you’ve read any anarchist books. You said no, making your opinion on the matter appear substantially less significant; so has this changed? I can’t believe that you adopt such a cavalier attitude toward other schools of thought. Is it normal to refuse to support opinions with evidence (i.e quotation), or even to read original material on a question before having an opinion on it? Would you accept such an approach toward your own work? At the very least, even if you don’t have time to read any proper books, have a glance over some of the relevant sections of the Anarchist FAQ, which is online, and from which the quotes I’ve given are lifted.

Having little time for anarchist thought is one thing, having so little time that you don’t read any, but still want to use it as a foil to make your own ideas seem more respectable… is another.

13 02 2010
Nathan

You have managed to pluck some encouraging quotes there, but taken as a whole anarchism has not shown the ability to go beyond a critique to a praxis – i also think there is an immament necessity as to why historically anarchism has no achievements to speak of. The anarchist led greek december uprising added up to nothing. The french tarnac 9 simply took to jamming train lines. Anarchist events i have been to have frequently struck me as having a slightly infantile sticking it to the man lifestyle culture underwriting them; totally removed from real world politics. And whilst i may not have conducted exhaustive studies of classical anarchist thought i am well acquainted with its neo forms, and find it a generally idealistic political philosophy.

13 02 2010
c0mmunard

taken as a whole anarchism has not shown the ability to go beyond a critique to a praxis

What does this mean? Obviously anarchism has a practice, and obviously it is theorised – revolutionary syndicalism and the general strike are two examples. You might disagree with some of those ideas, but to say there is no praxis is nonsense. Here is a recent document on praxis from some British anarchist syndicalists: http://libcom.org/library/strategy-struggle-anarcho-syndicalism-21st-century

i also think there is an immament necessity as to why historically anarchism has no achievements to speak of.

This is just wrong. Anarchists have played roles in several massive revolutionary movements. What achievements do you credit Marxism with?

The anarchist led greek december uprising added up to nothing.

It wasn’t anarchist-led.

Anarchist events i have been to have frequently struck me as having a slightly infantile sticking it to the man lifestyle culture underwriting them; totally removed from real world politics.

So would you be satisfied with a critique of Marxism based upon attendance at a few meetings organised by the CPGB-ML, SWP and ICC, all self-proclaimed Marxists? This is not a serious method.

And whilst i may not have conducted exhaustive studies of classical anarchist thought…

That is putting rather lightly. You aren’t any more aquainted with the modern forms, which if anything would be more explicit on the points raised. Do you want me to go through literature from AF and SolFed and find equivalent points? I guarantee it could be done.

Anyone can, of course, claim to “find” any set of ideas to fit any description they can dream up, if to “find” something to be in such and such a way is merely to have an emotion towards it. The question is just whether the description can be supported. The “encouraging” quotes I found were dug up in a matter of minutes. Surely if there were any truth in the sentences I originally quoted it would be a trivial matter for you to follow a similar process and find something from the mainstream of class struggle anarchism, whether classical or modern, to support what you say? Shouldn’t take long at all. If, that is, it were possible.

14 02 2010
Nathan Coombs

Communard:

“That is putting rather lightly. You aren’t any more aquainted with the modern forms, which if anything would be more explicit on the points raised.”

In the next issue of the JCGS I engage in an extensive debate with leading academic anarchist political theorist Saul Newman, and even he wasn’t so rude to as to imply that my rejection of anarchism is based on not having read any of it!

14 02 2010
Nathan Coombs

“So would you be satisfied with a critique of Marxism based upon attendance at a few meetings organised by the CPGB-ML, SWP and ICC, all self-proclaimed Marxists? This is not a serious method.”

I would say that subtracting a thought from all its real world manifestations and ‘movement’ is not a serious method.

14 02 2010
Nathan Coombs

OK, I’ve read the whole document that you pointed me to and I see more where you are coming from. But firstly, the examples provided do not – in the long term perspective – count as praxis. Minor upsurges, minority tendencies in revolutions that almost happened (or were quickly defeated), or micro-militant battles every so often can’t really count as serious demonstrations of a political theory in practice. In this sense the USSR, and places like Cuba, were a testbed for Marxism-in-practice we can at least tell what happens to them in power and some of the immanent-necessities of the social forms that arise from a certain set of ideas. And in my opinion, although we could, for instance, debate how Marxist Castro or Mao for that matter were, their achievement was at least to gain power, hold onto it, and implement some improvements in standard of living for the majority — Cuba for instance still has a world renowned health care system. The same sort of argument could hold for Chavez; he at least managed to attain power, hold it and do something, which in my opinion it better than some impotent micro-sect carping from the sidelines with no mass backing or hope in hell of achieving anything. On the other hand, anarchism has no track record of taking power or holding onto it. Now, you could say this is because the whole point of anarchism is that it is opposed to the notion of ‘taking power’ a priori, but that, in my opinion, is a cop out which is why the tradition tends to revel in its own defeats and close misses, whilst at the same time actually changing nothing in the world, not even in stimulating immanent reformist tendencies within the system itself. This is why i think, it stimulates its own phenomenon of lifestyle anarchism, which clings to it, even if as you claim it is not properly representative of the theory.

There are certainly some worthy ideas and principles in anarchism, but I think it is better to take them out of the tradition and supplant them within a theory that does not shy away from power and a realist sense of wanting to achieve something in the world.

cheers

14 02 2010
Mark

Nathan, I thought your article was excellent. The article went right to the nub of the problem which any attempt at revitalising the communist movement now faces. As you rightly point out, most people consider it a failed model, or one that will never work. It’s interesting though that in most cases people will cite the Soviet Union as an example of something worse than just failure, but if one can convince them that this was not communism then people invariably fall back on the perception that human nature will always stymie communism.I don’t think I’ve ever come across an exception. No amount of discussion about the concept of ‘human nature’ or how what is currently seen as human nature has varied historically, nor that there is no agreement across academic disciplines, both in the humanities or the sciences, will deflect them from this view.

I think that the reluctance to embrace a communist vision has nothing to do with the strength or weakness of the arguments and everything to do with aspirational mismatch. The fact is that communism as currently perceived does not fit with the aspirations of most people, which appears to be a blend of individual autonomy expressed through the consumer choice, peak experiences through spectacular entertainment, the reassurance of self-worth through egotistic sexual love and consumer status, and the expression of emotional bonds through family ties etc. Of course, people have different emphases and the list is not exhaustice but I think this is a fair summary. Because communism for the most part has been critical of consumerism, the spectacle, egotism, the traditional patriarchal family etc., it’s no wonder that is seen as antagonistic to most people’s aspirations. Communism is seen as a negative political philosophy – it is against all these plus more, e.g. the capitalist (the individual made good through hard work).

So, in my view we are not fighting the right battle. It’s no good turning up on a picket line in solidarity with the battle against the boss without a serious understanding of the motivations for the strike. It’s not just about keeping a job, or fighting for a pay rise, or better conditions. It’s also about individual autonomy, self-worth, to earn enough to escape from drudgery through holidays or the latest and greatest flat screen television or a night out with friends, to provide for a safe emotional environment at home, to impress potential sexual partners etc. In other words, to aspire to what is considered to be of value in our capitalist society.By undermining capitalism we undermine people’s aspirations without showing a possible alternative. Why would anyone want to join a party whose avowed aim was to overthrow everyone’s hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children? Because they care about the world? Well, you can always give to charity and hell a lot of people generously do just that. Because they hate their boss and/or workplace – well yes, that helps but it’s not enough – you can always just not work very much or if times are good find another job.

So this brings me to your view that we need to plant the seeds of communism within capitalism before the revolution.This is absolutely key, but as you say a difficult task. Individual autonomy can only come through empowerment and at the moment that is usually expressed through ability to buy or by rising up the work hierarchy or becoming self-employed etc. Collectively challenging managerial or state authority, by campaigns to reduce work time without loss of income and for the provision of locally controlled communal spaces can go a long way to undermining capitalism without undermining aspirations. Rather than passive reception of a spectacle, communists should foster the creative act of artistic production through workers’ cultural clubs – we’ve been here before in the first half of the 20th century, which for all its defeats was a revolutionary period, one of hope as well as despair! Secondly, self-worth is not easy to nourish when you are at the bottom of the heap, but this can be done through a culture of communal self-aid and a coherent world view antagonistic to the dominant ideology. Again this is a reinvention – nothing new. Fundamentally though, it all comes down to empowerment. This is what communism should be aiming to foster in the current situation – in both the workplace and community. Fostering a sense of empowerment backed up by an adherence to an alternative world view is the process of rolling the barrel uphill. Once you have that, its not such a big step to worker and community councils.

With regard to the quesion of anarchism. While this is only a minor part of your article, I agree with Communard you would find a lot of synergy between your ideas and anarchist thought. You do acknowledge that this may be a possibility in your main article and in your latest comment but more in the form of an appropriation of some aspects of anarchism rather than a rapprochement.Which is fair enough, but I think you underestimate the potential for some radically new thinking which can come out of a synthesis of Marxism and anarchism coupled with an analysis of the novel conditions of 21st century capitalism and the working class. I think it is an exciting possibility, but it will remain only that, if we don’t attempt it. I definitely think you are on the right track and if the Communist Theory group can continue along this route I think it has a lot of potential to make a lasting contribution to communist thought and practice. I would be interested in reading the debate between yourself and Saul Newman – what does JCGS stand for?

By the way, you are absolutely right to identify Holloway, Hardt and Negri as compromising with the previaling power hidden under a cloak of radical rhetoric.

15 02 2010
albert

As just a reader rather than a student of the left you make the capitalist’s point for them, all the left does is argue about policy. It’s like counting the angels etc etc.

Is there any merit at all in arguing about different facets of anarchy? I thought the whole point is that there is no fixed definition of what it actually is, therefore attempting to relate it to marxism etc is just falling into the trap that the ruling elite set for you – playing the game according to their rules.

19 02 2010
peterstorm

Interesting thoughts; I will leave the debate on anarchism and its relevance aside, for now. I wantd to comment on this: “What I am proposing is that we need to have a theory of how to take power from both below and above;” Taking power from above? That seems to me want generally went wrong, again and again. The Bolsheviks were not wrong in overthrowing the power of the Provisional Goverment; if they had just done that, and in that way opened up the way for real soviet power – fine. But that is not how it went. They did “take power from above”- for a new government ABOVE those soviets (thought at first basing their legtimacy on them).Governmental powerwas re-established – soon clashing with workers’power from below. You cannot take power from below AND from above at the same time. These things clash.

19 02 2010
Chris

The old Russian Bolsheviks did not take power from above, nor did they take power in the Russian Empire alone. They were in an bloc with other parties, primarily the peasant based Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (Left). They both had a majority in the urban and rural workers, soldiers and peasants soviets by October 1917. Many soviets had already taken power in key centres backed by Red Guards and Workers Militia’s. It was right these bodies draw together to form a workers and peasants government. Everything was to play for and things obviously could have gone very different, in Russia instead there was clear retrogression in the face of counter-revolution by late 1918 and choices were made that accelerated this process. A government established above which curtails the autonomy and self-management of the masses is inevitably going to contradict the movement from below. However it does not mean we need to integrate the organistations of self-management in into a national government, which in that sense would be above.

19 02 2010
David

I presumed Peter’s point was, rather, that although at first the soviets held power (of which the Bolsheviks were part) then the Bolsheviks took power from these, i.e. from above. Sovnarkom for example was not elected by soviets but set up by the coalition parties themselves (the coalition soon broke) and then was in tension with the power from below.

The point is not what happened in Russia or what went wrong there/the conditions of the time as such, but the overall political/strategic point. Co-ordination should not have to mean co-option from above and the replication of the capitalist state’s division of labour. The conditions of the time may offer mitigation for their and others’ actions, but do not make replicating the structures of 1918-21 desirable objectives for today.

As in any movement organisation today, any power which is centralised should also itself be under the strict and decisive control of ‘lower down’ and more local bodies: a generalised and thoroughgoing social self-management, from bottom to top.

19 02 2010
Nathan Coombs

Thanks to Mark for his kind comments on my piece.

As for the question of above/below, I don’t think the analysis grafted onto the conditions of Russia 1917 has much to do with my analysis. By above and below, I mean to say that I think any successful movement will have to target both the ideological, juridical and governmental spheres (superstructure, if you like); and the productive base in which workers produce and organise autonomously.

It goes along with my thinking that the state is not going away, so it is more a question of what could ensure maximum autonomy (and how elements within the ‘above’ state apparatus) can help secure this. Which is to say, I see communism even after a so-called big bang revolution as a tendency that needs a lot of nurturing; and concomitantly we should not rely on romantic notions of the perpetually Promethean militant subject securing it all alone, again and again. If nothing else, the 20th century teaches us the difficulty of such a conception.

20 02 2010
peterstorm

@David: that was indeed what I meant.Thanks 4 clarifying and expanding on it.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,925 other followers

%d bloggers like this: