“We concluded that the current period is one of “resistance,” not one of “revolution.” We thought that the main work of revolutionaries at such times should be to build resistance fights. These fights would build power and consciousness in oppressed communities. But revolutionaries must design and craft this ‘resistance work’ so as to help lay the foundation for the long-term development of a revolutionary movement. As ‘conscious forces,’ we thought that revolutionaries should work intentionally to help the resistance movement mature into a revolutionary one.”
Reclaiming Revolution, by S.T.O.R.M.
S.T.O.R.M.’s analysis in this case is fundamentally sound, but it offers little insight on what this “resistance work” is. What makes this “resistance work” different from the work of revolutionary movement? Or, as A. Weaver pointed out, since the spark for the Spanish Revolution was defense against the Fascists, does that mean that the Spanish revolution was “resistance work” or, as I call it, a defense movement?
First, we must understand what makes a moment revolutionary or not. It is a fundamental question on analyzing the material conditions of a period in history. The predilection of some crude Marxists to make history the agent of revolution is as problematic as the view that equate the revolutionary process to an explosive voluntarism, with will alone becoming this overwhelming passion that would bring down the State apparatus. Revolution is the convergence of certain material conditions in society and the will of those historical agents who act in that situation.
It would be preposterous to claim an exact formula with which we can determine if the moment we live in is a revolutionary one or not. Much of that analysis is made in hindsight, and tends to be heavily influence by a perceived victory or defeat, for example, the late-sixties were not a revolutionary period because they did bore a revolution. However, a particular factor that we must always take into account is the power of the alternative institutions of the class in a confrontation with the status quo. Without powerful and vibrant institutions that channel the collective power of the class, and rival in power and influence the power of the State, true revolution is impossible. That situation, referred to as dual power, is far away from our reality – which means no matter the material conditions we are not faced with a revolutionary situation but with a reactionary one.
Moreover, the power and the institutions of the class directly influence the material conditions of their time period. If we accept that as part of our analysis, then the question becomes how do we move from this reactionary situation into a revolutionary one; and if we understand the need of building the collective power and the alternative institutions of the class, then our route is clear. We must work to build the consciousness and the institutions of the class. That’s the work of the revolutionary today.
Gramsci’s theory of war of position and war of maneuver refer to how we understand revolution: as a process of change or an explosive moment. As a process of change, as a protracted struggle, the revolutionary process is not a direct, straight line to communism. It is a pained, back-and-forth struggle between the State apparatus and the institutions of the people.
Fair enough. The concept of war of maneuver helps us comprehend the basic dynamics of the process of change; it brings to the fore the question of the role of the ideological field of class-struggle and how, in a very vague way, we move from the ideological state we are in to the ideological state we want to be in.
But for me, many questions, crucial questions, remain unanswered. More importantly for this discussion, what is the practical actions that need to be taken by the active group of revolutionaries to move the historical process forward? It is not a question around the role of social movements or the class, but what is the role of the conscious revolutionaries aiming at a revolutionary reconstruction of society?
Gramsci tried to address that in “The Modern Prince”, but his analysis is a vague reassertion of the Leninist argument for the party of professional revolutionaries. He differs from Lenin on that Gramsci view a bigger role for the organic intellectual of the class in the party than Lenin, who views the socialist consciousness as having to be brought in from outside of the class. Its a very limited and elitist view that has brought us already enough bitter fruits in the past.
Anarchists historically held the view that the role of the conscious revolutionaries, whether they originate inside the class or outside of it, is that of agitators or catalysts. They do not wish to have the people “be forced to be free” as Rousseau would have it, but have “people to free themselves” like Malatesta would say. Not to downplay other differences, bu this may be the seminal difference between the anarchist revolutionary organization and the Leninist party.
Since we do not believe that people need to be led to the revolution by the party, we have been accused of “spontaneism” by Marxists. Yet, anarchists that do not believe in spontaneism and aim at a structured approach to the anarchist involvement in the social movement tend to be derided as Marxists or bolsheviks. One group of anarchist that suffered the most of these kind of accusation were the members of the Dielo Trouda group, and more specifically, Nestor Makhno and Piotr Arshinov.
Criticism of their personal acts notwithstanding, the group’s “Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)” talks about the role of the anarchist revolutionary organization – the wrestle for the “leadership of ideas” inside the popular movements. The idea of leadership of ideas is left vague and has been a place of criticism against the Platform. It is however, a crucial component of an anarchist revolutionary strategy. It is not about imposition of anarchist views on social movements, but about arguing for anarchistic values inside them.
Social movements, to remain healthy and vibrant, must be politically open. They must be a reflection of “the-class-for-itself”, a collective with understanding of their needs and aspirations and ready to fight for it. Movements cannot be monoliths attached to one political ideology or another – even when they subscribe to one political ideology, tend to have different interpretations of said ideology. That is the nature of social movements because they enhance the best in their participants – critical thinking, challenging authority and sense of individual and collective power. Solidarity and discipline are not enemies of democracy, but many times leftists tend to see dissent as a quality to be squashed. I mean, it’s all and good to challenge the boss, but never challenge the party line.
Conformity is the death of any social movement. When it gets stuck between the five “brilliant ideas” of their “glorious leaders”, movements not only reproduce the structure of the State but they also miss out on a plethora of solutions to the problems they face that could come from the active participation of their members.
The question then is what is the relationship between a organization of revolutionaries and these social movements? Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party ascribed to the organization of revolutionaries the role of a tough-love teacher – to bring socialism from without to the social movements and stir them to the path by grace or by might. It assumed an asymmetric relationship of knowledge and aspirations between the working classes and the upper classes and saw it as immutable. Therefore, the ideology of socialism as developed by the enlightened intelligentsia must be followed by the working classes:
Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy. The sentence employed by the authors of the Economist letter published in Iskra, No. 12, that the efforts of the most inspired ideologists fail to divert the working-class movement from the path that is determined by the interaction of the material elements and the material environment is therefore tantamount to renouncing socialism.
V.I. Lenin – What Is To Be Done
The Platform’s concept of the leadership of ideas has been likened to a Leninist vanguard, but if not from malice, the argument seems to come from a place of half-knowledge. Any ideological group seeks a leadership of ideas in its field – be they religious, scientific or political. Those who are passionate about their ideas want to share them. That anarchists should try to have a leadership of ideas – make their ideas prominent, even dominant inside movements. It is however, paramount that anarchists fight for the democratic process and spirit of movements at all times. We, who wish that “the people liberate themselves”, must advocate for and defend the elements of social movements that foster the realization of people as full human beings – critical thinkers, anti-authoritarian, self-confident human beings. This cannot happen without real space for dissent and debate inside the movements, for people to organize themselves in ways that may not be the desired ones by anarchist organizers.
One thing we must be aware is that challenging “what people want” is a fundamental part of organizing, however. The role of the anarchist organizer is to challenge the preconceptions of what is possible, of the one single way of doing things, and shatter the paradigms set on by capitalist society. That is the line that needs to be wlked on all the time – fostering critical thinking and respecting dissent in one hand, and offering critique and challenging attitudes that come from the bourgeois ideology. To expect that people “already know everything” is naive and self-deceptive. People can see only inside the paradigm that have been reared in. But for that to become a excuse to destroy dissent will never bring the liberation of the working-classes.
In that context, we must understand leadership of idea as a struggle for hegemony between authoritarianism and self-actualization – between the values of obedience and critical thought. The left tends to charge at people with what to think, but it is often scared of thought. The leadership of anarchist ideas is the leadership of the ideas of socialism, solidarity and freedom in the broad sense, and the ideas of direct democracy and critical involvement by working people.
We believe that direct democracy and critical thinking are indigenous to every popular movement and that it is obedience and hierarchy that are brought from without. But those seeds are planted in people’s mind way before any particular organization tries to strangle the movement. That being the case, the anarchist organization must seek to raise the questions and to challenge those authoritarian and hierarchical tendencies.
I know I barely said much in this post, but it is enormous as it is, and I’ve been working on it for a long time. I’ll just post this here now and get back to it.
Something is going to happen, it’s going to be large, beautiful and inspiring, but it is not going to be a General Strike; and that’s perfectly fine. A. Weaver from Machete408 in his post “On the Occupy Oakland November 2 General Strike” makes the argument that:
For radicals who have been around the proverbial organizing block I would urge caution to avoid falling into the role of being the left naysayers of the movement. Just as under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”, in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so. People who are unpoliticized or only have nascent consciousness become radicalized and people who are already politicized begin to identify with revolutionary politics. The lack of organic connections to more politically defined political militants leaves these newly radicalized layers to flail in the wind and take many political missteps, grow cynical, or be swept into the first organization that seems to offer a ready baked formula for radical change.
There is a tremendous amount of energy in Oakland right now. Walking downtown, you can feel it in the air: The police walks on a different kind of edge, the suits walk scared, the politicos hide their faces from the camera and sneak from the back of City Hall. There is a flurry of activity, from leftists to unionists to community activists are spreading the word about the strike action and engaging people in conversations about our current situation and capitalism. The energy is building up and the word is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Unions are, in different levels, trying to get their people out there or at least symbolically supporting the strike.
Something will happen, it will just not be a General Strike.
It will not be a General Strike because, for many people, the occupy movement still something they experience through the television. There is sense of them over there (people camping out and going to rallies every night) , and us here (people going to work every day and being spectators). The argument that “in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so” fails to take into account that these times of crisis and upheaval are generally escalations. Although build up has been happening, it has still not broken the barrier of alienation – people are still isolated and terrified of their bosses, people are still disconnected.
The call for a General Strike might have be a hasty one (specially since it only gave one week for preparation and build-up), but it has forced the issue of participation in capitalism and the power of working people to change things to the forefront. It has forces radicals inside the unions the examine the work that they are doing and take a stance – either this is revolutionary work, and my job as a revolutionary is to push my union to participate on this, regardless of bureaucracy, or being in the union is just my day job and that’s the end of that. It has forced the union to take a stance in supporting the action or be deemed irrelevant. It has shattered the confidence of many people in the electoral route for change, and it has instilled in people the confidence that they can do things for themselves.
It must however, be more expansive. The General Strike is an action of sharp contrasts: you either strike or you scab. That sharp contrast is good and crucial – but at the level that Oakland is right now, it is paramount that other venues open for people to participate. We must broaden the base of people who participate in the Occupy movement, and use this event as a spark to generate even more organizing and agitation outside Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. Hearing from a comrade that she was one-upped by a neighbor in door knocking in her street is one of those signs that the sentiment and energy is seeping through the cracks and building up. This is what we need. This is what we should be doing, and what many are doing.
It is really not productive to get caught fantasizing about a anarcho-syndicalist general strike and be tied to the exclusive project of stopping production. It is a lot more relevant and revolutionary to try and break people from the patterns of alienation, even if just a bit more, and have them engage in mass action, be strike mass action or not.
All that being said, I can only ask one thing of my beloved adopted town – prove me wrong, and shut down the town!
Some find that second birth in Christ or some other ethereal figure, some otherworldly experience of fire or water. But some of us need something concrete, something tangible that we can sink our teeth in.
For Thiago Neves, it was the Flamengo jersey.
Sure, he was a star player for Fluminense a few years back, and was even thought as a possible National Squad player. But he was despised by a Nation, a Red and Black Nation, and a player like that will have an unfortunately incomplete life if he has never worn the magnificent colors of Flamengo. So after going to the Middle East to make boatloads of money, he came back and joined the light side of the Force. And in his second game, did a goal so magical, so beautiful that much of the old rancor and distrust was shed away from the minds of millions of flamenguistas in an instant.
The game was again our ex-rival Vasco, a team battered by three losses in a row against teams significantly inferior in resources both financial and of skill. The coach had just been fired and two players were suspended (for sucking so bad). A shadow of the team that was fun to beat – now it’s almost sad.
Flamengo played a decent first half, which looked a lot better because Vasco was practically not in the pitch. The Scarlet&Black squad danced around what passed for a defense for the other team, but without incisiveness, without bringing heat. But the superiority of Flamengo was so that even without really trying the opportunity came knocking with a pass by Thiago to Leo Moura. Our winger and Captain kicked the ball violently, as if just aiming at the general direction of the goal, but Deivid, finally in the right place at the right time, pushed the ball into Vasco net.
Then with a touch of geniality, Renato sees Thiago ready to jet and taps the ball gently over Vasco’s discombobulated defense. Thiago bolts, the ball firmly in his possession as the baffled defenders just look at him. Vasco’s goalie Fernando Prass ran desperately at Thiago, only to be humiliated by Thiago tapping the ball over his head and push it nto the net with his thigh. Flamengo 2-nil, and Vasco destroyed – end of the first half. The TV camera showed the Vasco fans, many of them leaving the game right then, heartbroken.
But we got complacent, believing that the third goal was right around the corner. We would try always one extra dribble, got negligent with the passing and by sheer desperation, Vasco grew on the game. At 30min. of the second half (75min. for the americans), they scored, and some of the their belief returned, and for fifteen, nay, twenty, for the ref gave another five frikkin minutes, the game got tense and open, with Vasco charging and Flamengo counter-attacking. When it was over, Flamengo coach allegedly berated his players in the locker room.
He was right. This game should have easier.
I have been working too much and Flamengo has been playing like shit, so I have not have time or inspiration to come back to this blog. Hopefully that will change soon.
However, for now, here is the audio of two events I spoke at in Southern California, one in San Diego and the other one is Riverside. Many thanks to SoCal Workers Solidarity Alliance for helping put these events together, and for the comradeship and company. Hope to see y’all soon again.
Click on the links
We had another event in Los Angeles, but the recording is trapped by my lack of computer skills.
I recently started reading “Marxism and Native Americans”, a series of essays edited by Ward Churchill and featuring Russell Means, Winona Laduke, Frank Black Elk and Vine Deloria Jr., among others. Really interesting mix of Marxist and non (anti?) Marxist Native American activists and thinkers, and the RCP is also in there being the shitheads they normally are.
The first essay “The Same Old Song”, is actually a speech delivered by Russell Means at the 1980 Black Hills International Survival Gathering. Means pulls no punches in denouncing Marxism, anarchism and other “isms” as not part of ‘revolution’, but of ‘continuation’ of the European tradition, the real responsible for the situation which makes Native Peoples the “national sacrifice.” Means continues:
“Distilled to its basic terms, European faith – including the new faith in science – equals a belief that man is god. Europe has always sought a messiah, whether be the man Jesus Christ, the man Karl Marx or the man Albert Einstein. American Indians know this to be totally absurd. Humans are the weakest creatures, so weak that other creatures are willing to give up their flesh so we may live. Humans are only able to survive through the exercise of rationality since they lack the abilities of other creatures to gain food through the use of fang and claw. But rationality is a curse since it can cause humans to forget the natural order of things in ways other creatures do not. A wolf can never forget his/her place in the natural order. American Indians can. Europeans almost always do. We pray our thanks to the deer, our relations, for allowing us their flesh to eat. Europeans simply take the flesh for granted and consider the deer inferior. After all, Europeans consider themselves godlike in their rationalism and science; god is the supreme being, all else must be inferior. Thus, the ability of Europe to create disharmony knows no limits.
Means’ words are hard to be refuted if we just look at history. Means attribute the European attitude to a ideology of de-spiritualization, of materializing the cosmos. From his perspective, it is that ideology that permeates the European tradition and that makes it easy to dehumanize people. I can’t but agree that this alienation from the natural world is one of the most defining features of European culture. It is dangerous fetishization of the natural world into “commodities” and “resources” that paves the way to fetishization of humans as “human resources”, “labor power” or “collateral damage.” While Means attribute this to a materialistic vision, it is actually a concept of complete abstraction, of dematerializing humanity and creating this idea of “man equals god” that is pervasive in European culture, from capitalism to Communism and, to a certain extent, even anarchism. This is exemplified in the most crass way by the response to Means’ speech written by the Revolutionary Communist Party – USA called “Searching for a Second Harvest.” The RCP response is a classical arrogant rant about the correct line and about “man’s struggle against nature.” It, unwittingly I presume, reaffirms Means’ fear that Communist production systems tend to be more destructive to the planet than capitalists, because they are not hindered by the profit methodology, but will be driven to “develop” the natural world as fast as possible, to increase “efficiency”. Abstraction is one of the primary processes of rationality. it confers us the ability to separate one thing from the other, to categorize the feelings we have as love, hate, friendship and loyalty; to assign animals and plants names and categories, like fish, bears and birds, and, most importantly, to be able to discern their behavior and counsciously adapt to them. Abstraction makes us able to separate dreams from awakening, independently of how you relate to dream-state, if you believe them to be illusion or real. Rationality has allowed humans to survive where they would have perished. While it is not an exclusive feature of humans (chimps and dolphins show a amazing level of rationality and passing on cultural traits to their descendents) the abstraction and conceptualizing of the natural world seems at this moment to be a exclusively human trait. And of all concepts, morality and moral judgments are the most human of them. When Means says that a wolf cannot forget his/her place in the natural world, it is also understood that the wolf makes no moral judgments about its position in the natural world. It does not feel guilty for killing another animal, it does not have to justify to itself or its peers the need to kill to eat. It is this abstraction, in its basic form, that makes us respect and revere the animals we kill, the plants that we eat and empathize with the suffering of other animals. It makes us love our pets, it creates healthy taboos as the widespread prohibitions against killing younglings and pregnant females. It makes us understand life and respect it and revere it. The European tradition, however, seems to abstract life to the point of making it unreal. This is not a feature that it is exclusive to European culture. Hinduism, for example, works with the concept of Maya, that this world is only an illusion, and only the spiritual world is real. Christianity, much similarly, preaches that this world is a place of punishment, a place we must free ourselves from in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Christianity fears life, it worships Thanatos, the death drive, the renunciation of our real, material life for the future netherworldly life of the absolute spiritual. It sees this world as the enemy, as the prison of the “pure” spirit, the soul. Nietzche was able to read that into Christianity, although unable to rid himself of fable of biological determinism and “social Darwinism:”
Mankind has ventured to call pity a virtue (–in every superior moral system it appears as a weakness–); going still further, it has been called the virtue, the source and foundation of all other virtues–but let us always bear in mind that this was from the standpoint of a philosophy that was nihilistic, and upon whose shield the denial of life was inscribed. Schopenhauer was right in this: that by means of pity life is denied, and made worthy of denial–pity is the technic of nihilism. Let me repeat: this depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life: in the role of protector of the miserable, it is a prime agent in the promotion of decadence–pity persuades to extinction….Of course, one doesn’t say “extinction”: one says “the other world,” or “God,” or “the true life,” or Nirvana, salvation, blessedness…. This innocent rhetoric, from the realm of religious-ethical balderdash, appears a good deal less innocent when one reflects upon the tendency that it conceals beneath sublime words: the tendency to destroy life. Schopenhauer was hostile to life: that is why pity appeared to him as a virtue. . . . Aristotle, as every one knows, saw in pity a sickly and dangerous state of mind, the remedy for which was an occasional purgative: he regarded tragedy as that purgative. The instinct of life should prompt us to seek some means of puncturing any such pathological and dangerous accumulation of pity as that appearing in Schopenhauer’s case (and also, alack, in that of our whole literary decadence, from St. Petersburg to Paris, from Tolstoi to Wagner), that it may burst and be discharged. . . Nothing is more unhealthy, amid all our unhealthy modernism, than Christian pity.
This Christian pity is not concerned with the bodies and lives of the “miserable” but with their souls. Christianity teaches the poor and the sick that their condition is a virtue, that they are better off being sick and poor in this world because that will assure them the Forever Glory in the presence of God. Nietzche however, is sick himself, and cannot understand how this alienation is more than just an individual phenomenon, more than just a need to assert individually the instinct for life. Because of his individualizing of the problem, Nietzche’s solution is an individualistic rebellion, the will to power. Marx, on the other hand, understood that the problem was social, but looked at the problem from a economic perspective. Therefore, all the alienation Marx could see was the alienation of labor, of the fruit of one’s work and the consequences of that. Marx continued to alienate himself from life through moralism and from the natural world through a perspective of mastery of the natural world. It is not until Wilhelm Reich that we see a truly revolutionary perspective about alienation in the European tradition. Reich draws from a diverse array of fields to talk about the alienation of “man” (the European archetype for itself) from life. As he puts it:
Since the emergency of patriarchy, the natural pleasure of work and activity has been replaced by compulsive duty. The average structure of masses of people has been transformed into a distorted structure marked by impotence and fear of life. This distorted structure not only forms the psychological basis of authoritarian dictatorship, it enables these dictatorships to justify themselves by pointing to human attitudes such as irresponsibility and childishness. The international catastrophe [the rise of fascism and WWII – my note] through which we are living is the ultimate consequence of this alienation of life.
What Reich points to is the enmity of life to which Nietzche alludes, but he reveals it for what it is, for what it does and for where it comes from. He also comes close to the point made by Means, by linking the instincts behind fascism and war-mongering, genocide and ethnic violence, authoritarian Communism and so-called democracies that rob humans of their sense of place and responsibility, that reduced humans to sheep blindly following autocratic leaders who can justify massacres in name of “a greater good”, or as “collateral damage.” The original alienation is the alienation of human from the natural world. The wolf cannot see itself as not part of the natural world, neither it sees humans as separate from the natural world. The current ideology inside the “ecological” movement shares that perspective, it talks about the natural world as “the other”, as a commodity or a resource, even if it is “the most precious one.” I remember watching the BBC series “Life” and loving it, but at the same time disparaging at its crass positioning of the natural world as human free. We are not part of this world, apparently we are some alien species that drizzled down from the heavens and have no organic connection to it. The world doesn’t affect us, it is ours to destroy or save as we wish. Man is God. It is the ultimate alienation, the primordial alienation, one that permeates all the current history of Western thought. What is impressive though, is how much those theories that claim to challenge it seem to ape the same analisis, and recreate the thought-pattern of alienation. Well, this is it for now. I’ll come back with part II soon enough, in which I aim to show that while “progress” by European tradition standards is no progress at all, neither are entropic theories like Primitivism and deep ecology, and that taking our place in the natural world is not a matter of “regressing” but a real feat of progress.
This past weekend of European soccer was a strange one, in which the hands of fate conspired to turn two sets of fans into enemies of their own team. In the English Premier League, Liverpool fans cheered as their team went down to Chelsea 2-0, because this result would keep their hated rivals, Manchester United, in second place. They actually jeered their own team when it looked like they were trying to mount an attack or get some shots on goal. The same dynamic occurred in Italy as well, with Lazio fans, in their own home ground, joining with Inter fans to cheer the defeat of the team they support, as this would help prevent the hated Roma from gaining ground in the title race.
The television commentators for the Lazio-Inter game expressed a subdued sense of disgust at the way the match unfolded, feeling that the Lazio players were basically going through the motions, and not really attempting to win. The same accusations were leveled at Liverpool players as well. I think it is fair to say that there is definitely some truth to these comments for anyone who watched the performances on the field. Likely these players knew what the fans expected of them, and were not about to cross some of the most powerful supporters’ groups on the continent.
So what are football/soccer fans motivated more by: love or hate? Based on Saturday’s evidence, it seems that hate of the enemy is the dominant impulse, if one is willing to wish and cheer for the defeat of one’s own team. If one, in fact, expects players to not put in their full effort in order to spite one’s rivals. I asked myself when watching the Lazio game if I would do the same. If the Quakes getting defeated would prevent the Scumaxy (or L.A. Galaxy as they’re known by some) from winning the championship, would I cheer the opposing team, if the result meant little for my own team? I think the reality is that I probably would.
This all makes sense in the context of the sport we love, but what about in the political sphere? Don’t leftists and those committed to change often cheer our own defeat, with the feeling that we are at least preventing the victory of our rivals? I found myself during these last presidential elections hoping for an Obama victory, even though I knew it would do nothing substantial for everyday people, just because it would sit uneasily in the stomachs of the many consciously and subconsciously bigoted people in the country. Isn’t it true that, at times, we invest emotion and energy in organizations, unions, non-profits, and politicians that not only represent values that don’t sit well with our own beliefs, but that actually represent our own defeat? Far right wing forces are certainly our most hated and dangerous enemy. Not just the Tea Party extremists, but the politicians and people with power who pursue the neoliberal agenda with the most gusto (like Bush and company). They are certainly the Man United to our Liverpool (or vice versa).
But what about the others who also represent our defeat? The Chelsea to our Liverpool in this analogy. At the end of the day we have to figure out what we are doing here. Are we simply playing a game of biding our time, and wishing simply that the worst of our enemies doesn’t win out, or are we aiming to win the whole thing? Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things, we are actually somewhere around Scunthorpe United (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what division they are playing in or who they are, apologies to Scunthorpe fans). If we are ever going to realize our dreams, we need to be committed to building ourselves up, piece by piece, in a long and patient process that means building a spirit that resists all defeat, from all comers. The love, pride and hope for our own “club” must come first now, as the hate has us stuck permanently at mid-table.
Today a new author has been added to TheLeftWinger roster. He is a rabid San Jose Earthquakes fan, a quite as rabid Barcelona fan, a thoughtful and discerning anarchist writer, and an all around cool cat. He’s been a comrade of mine throughout the years, in student activism, labor and community organizing, with Furious Five and now with Amanecer.
Those that care about MLS or Europe, he’s your guy. And if you are interested in anarchist theory and practice, he is most definitively your guy. Just don’t ask him about LA Galaxy, or you’ll get only one answer – SCUM!
Ian’s previous writing can be found here.
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.
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.theleftwinger
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”