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Sugar cane juice and pastel. Best Combo ever!

This is the string of comments on my posts around an anarchist program. I’m posting this as a refresher for people about some of the themes going on around that post, since I’m revisiting the subject shortly, and would love to have more discussions like this with people.

  1. Very quick first comment before I forget this:
    On Gramsci and war of maneuver and war of position, I don’t think these are posed as open warfare vs. ideological struggle. Rather I think of the later as protracted struggle over time with many small battles and periods of lulls. The best analogy, taken from the military context that the terms come from (as I understand them), is the difference between how warfare was conducted in the US War of Independence and Civil War (armies meet on an open field, form lines, and begin to shoot at each other and its over a day or so) vs. trench warfare that developed in the early 20th century, especially in WWI.



    • Uhm…
      I guess posing it as ideological vs. open is not the best way to describe what I was thinking.
      I think the distinction is also not as clear cut as you put it. The idea of war of maneuver rests on the ability of attacking (so, when you cite the Civil War, both armies conducted offensive campaigns, with very little to defense. Gramsci’s description of war of maneuver resembles part of WWI and WWII, but it is specific to key events. For example, the invasion of Normandy was war of position for the Nazis but not for the allies, not only because of the lack of defensive positions, but because they had the initiative of the attack and they overwhelmed the Nazi defenses with superior force. The invasion of Berlin, on the other hand, resembles more two different forces fighting a war of position.
      The warfare of the Civil war is antiquate because even an attacking force (engaging in war of maneuver) must protect itself and think of preservation, just as in trench warfare, one must also think of offense and gaining enemy territory. The different is in immediate aims and therefore in methodology, I think. The neo-liberal period of world capitalism was a clear example of ideological war of maneuver, in order to gain back territory (ideological and geographic) lost during the sixties and seventies (anti-imperialist movements, people of color liberation struggles, women’s struggle, etc…)
      At any rate, if Gramsci meant what you said, the idea of war of position became even more vague and therefore even more useless. A protracted struggle cannot have a single, overarching strategy, because that needs the complete passivity or at least inflexibility of the other side. And capitalism has proven itself to be extremely flexible.

  2. Maybe we need a study group on Gramsci to resolve this question ;)

    I can’t really follow your discussion on warfare tactics, as that’s not really my forte… but as I understand it, Gramsci was trying to counter pose the idea of revolution as simply an insurrection that siezes the state vs. the idea of a protracted struggle with ebbs and flows. And a protracted struggle often requires more strategy and planning than a short battle, just as game of chess requires a more intensive and adjusting strategy than does a 3 minute wrestling match.

    I think this quote from Manuel Gonzalez Prada of Peru (writings as much as a decade before Gramsci wrote his words) describes the sentiment best:
    “If bourgeois society can’t be uprooted in a single day and in a single assault, it can be undermined little by little , through many successive attacks, not in a decisive battlefield victory but in a prolonged siege with victories and defeats, advances and retreats. What is needed is a series of partial revolutions.”

  3. OK, now after re-reading the who piece, here are some general comments…

    “After detecting the weaknesses of the defenses of the State, we must proceed into using our analysis of our own power and that of allies willing to join, and create an assault plan with the possible allocation of that power to the weak point of the State machinery.”

    I’m curious about this sentance. Is this the strategic imperative that you think is most important? I’m not exactly sure by the way the piece is written.

    I’m usually opposed to ideas that we need to find the “weakest” or “most strategic” link in the chain of capitalism and the state. While I think questions like this will become more important when there is a more realistic potential of having a revolution, at this point that’s not the case. I don’t think this is what you are doing, but I think that type of approach can lead folks into what Jefferson calls ‘revolutionary crystal ball gazing’ (think BTR and national strategy) and it usually doesn’t produce much results.

    I think what’s most important is building our forces, a base if you will, and this means finding places where there is the greatest will and subjective potential to building movements, motivate people to organize or take existing organic organization and move this forward in more powerful and combative directions.

    … Maybe I’m totally confusing what you’re saying though, so let me know your thoughts/response.

  4. theleftwinger

    Ok, On the first point. I think we are agreeing. I think I messed up by putting it as a open warfare vs ideological struggle. The way you put is what I mean.

    Second point. When I wrote this, I tried to be comprehensive and not tell people what I thought was the best solution but give the tools to ask the question and them come up with their solution. I personally think that there can be no real offensive strategy today (a war of maneuver), only a defensive one (a war of position).

    It seems clear though that this text needs some deep revising for clarity and needs its analysis expanded.

  5. The other thing is that defensive struggles can also wind up becoming offensive. For instance the 2006 immigrant rights protests were defensive in attempting to stop HR 4437, but at the same time this advanced the effort to pass some type of comprehensive immigration reform. After 2006 congress was at least debating the issue and bills were on the table (even if nothing has actually passed), though before the possibility was out of the question…. a movement of millions in the streets and closing down work places accomplished in a matter of months what a number of non-profit lobbyists could not do with decades of lobbying.

    Other examples are advances in labor, with many important victories or moments of struggle arising out of defensive strikes and actions against repression, wages cuts, etc, that wind up uniting people to carry forward wider demands. One movement that has the potential to do this now is in the struggle in higher education against the cuts.

  6. theleftwinger

    Hum… I guess I really need to rewrite this.

    A defensive strategy overall also implies offense – that’s what a war of position is. It is called counterattack and you use it to wrestle by degrees ideological ground from the opponent. It is still an overall defensive strategy because it is not an attack that aims to completely destroying the ruling class oppressive apparatchik, even when it demands for more than just bread and butter issues. So, we can say that May First 2006 was a counterattack built on a defensive strategy (defending the right to stay became the launch point to asserting that immigrants have rights)

    One thing that it comes out out to me in this interaction is that I need to go a lot deeper on Clausewitz theories around offensive strategy and defensive strategy, which became self-explanatory after you read the man, but not so much before you do.

  7. Hmmmm, I’m having troubling with the later category of the offensive. If consider May 1st 2006 as a defensive counter attack and any movement that still demands more than bread and butter (but still not the end of the system), then what is an example of a offensive?

    If we remember the beginning of the Russian Revolution, it started with the women’s march on the Winter Palace- demanding food and I think the release of political prisoners. The Spanish Revolution as well wasn’t offensive either then because it was a reaction to stop the outbreak of the the July 19th right-wing/military coup. China was in large part a movement against foreign domination and occupation (first Europeans and then the Japanese) and Mexico 1910 was a movement against a dictator etc etc.

    … I think every movement begins with a more limited scope. Take the recent Oaxaca rebellion, it began as an annual (almost ritualistic) teachers strike that faced repression, which in turn united a wide movement which supported them with an occupation of the zocalo and this spread to become an occupation of much of the town center that became to self-consciously see itself as a a new power that contested the power of the government (dual power). Though within every example are both revolutionaries who’ve been hard at work for many years advocating revolutionary ideas and many times leading/playing key roles within the mass movements and a radicalized base that is pushed to become more radical by the actions of those in power.

    • Quick comment on the use of military concepts for strategy formation from some of my own thoughts on cursory readings of military & corporate strategy.

      – Much existing writing on strategy begins with the premise of a defined body, to be applied to certain defined ends.
      – Strategy then concerns the direction of a known body to known ends, utilising calculable forces.
      – This isn’t possible for us, as the primary purpose of the org in the current stage of struggle is to develop the internal organisation of the class, i.e. to create bodies capable of exerting forces.

      Basically I think the current primary purpose of revs is to develop the organisation of the class, so that it becomes capable of acting to advance its own interests. At this stage the class is too dispersed to talk about a general offensive against State or capital; we can do this only in relation to specific struggles.

      The two aspects of socialist strategic thought, acquisition of power and application of power are necessarily linked (i.e. the class develops its powers through struggle), but our general weakness means that the former is our main concern for now.

  8. I would agree with daramcq. At this stage the goal cannot be to develop the best strategy to challange the state/capital. It is simply impossible as the popular movements as well as the revolutionary forces are too weak. Rather, the main task as I see it is to build the potential of mass movements through popular organizing as well as building revolutionary political consciousness more generally. This also means that the vast majority of consideration in developing a strategy needs to be given to subjective factors (who is willing to struggle? … what groups have the consciousness, experience, mutual support, history of struggle to draw from and above all will to endure the long road of struggle?) rather than objective factors of political forces (such as when people say transportation workers are strategic because they move the goods or issue xzy is strategic because it attacks the key weak point of capitalism, etc). In fact I think too much of what passes for left strategy, such as the later examples I just gave which entail waiting for some key even that is always just on the horizon, amounts to what a friend calls ‘revolutionary crystal ball gazing’ …. and usually the revolutionaries are always wrong!

    Or to put this in fancy terms…. only a class-for-itself is capable of making a revolution, so the task/question is how we can move from a class-in-itself towards a class-for-itself. There is only hard word ahead and no magic bullets or crystal balls.

  9. theleftwinger

    I’m confused if you guys are disagreeing with me, or just adding to what I’m saying…

    Ok. I think the critique that daramcq makes in the beginning of his comment is spot on. The revolutionary organization is not an army or a corporation and should not be treated as such, even more an anarchist organization, that is concerned with a social transformation of society as opposed to a merely political one.

    That being said, I do not disagree with what you guys said as far as what a general strategy of the revolutionary organization should be. I do think that a revolutionary organization should be a “known body with known ends.” The popular movement is not, now, anywhere near that.

    Both of you guys talk about developing or building the class-consciousness but what that looks like in actuality? More importantly, what it means for the organization you are part of? It is a question of what means to employ, and what goals must the revolutionary organization, not the popular organization, set for itself.

    My main concern with this is the organization of anarchists as such, not with the organizing of the class; I’m concerned about cleaning the house before starting the party.

  10. I actually didn’t mention class consciousness! (though t’is important)* I’d say our first issue is developing bases of organised power in the class. That means revs focusing especially on permanent organs and building up structures of self-organisation within them.

    What the @ organisation can do to help this process is to develop a good understanding of where such bases lie, or can lie, and equipping militants to engage within them. Site-specific strategies should emerge from the process of engagement.

    I would actually counter-pose that the structural power of workers is important, as it will be an important factor in the possibility of success and the tactics that can get there. Also, the existing organisational structures will be an important factor in influencing strategy (clientelism in community sector, craft unionist tendencies, etc.).

    In summary, the rev organisation should enable directed engagement of militants with the class, and bring its resources to bear on creating (or developing) bases of self-organisation. Its resources are primarily people-based – skills, analysis, etc.

    Hope this is more clear.

    *(aside, I think class consciousness will develop from the practice of class-based organisation, and rev consciousness from combative class-based self-organisation)