This is the second entry of a three-part set of posts of why I support the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada [PCR-RCP]. The first part was a general introduction where I explained the reasons for this series as well as indicating, based on the discussions I've had in the past, the five categories into which I planned to break this serial post. The first category was about the PCR-RCP's proper understanding, in the concrete context of Canada, settler-colonialism and the national question. Here follows the next two categories.
2: advanced guard versus tailism
I've lost count of the number of times a member of a self-proclaimed communist organization has argued that you cannot talk about politics x because this might alienate everyday people. Sometimes this has taken the form of not talking about communism––maybe going so far as to hide one's own communism––because "the working class", especially in Canada, might find communism frightening.
This attitude is often the result of Draper's theory of "socialism from below" that is currently more popular in Toronto than anywhere else. The claim is that the masses will figure out the correct politics on their own, spontaneously perhaps, and we just need to get behind them when they do––there's no point in talking to them ahead of time because that would just get in the way of their historical destiny. And even though this position sounds good it is actually quite condescending because it results in a refusal to actually talk to people, many of whom lack the privilege to engage with political texts in, for example, a university setting, and share this privilege. It is a with-holding, a miserly hoarding of knowledge, and is often rather political: "we'll talk to other intellectuals about communism, or people at demonstrations who look like our type, but not to people outside of university and activist circles––can't have them misunderstand this sort of thing until they're ready!" As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argued in an old Cell 16 article:
"We must avoid one major error of middle-class organizers. In an effort to 'win' people over to the movement (win a vote?), organizers often imitate the style of life of those they are organizing. This is patronizing and unliberating and cruel. People who are oppressed want alternatives, and want to learn. They do not want to be further entrenched in their oppressive style of life. We must be generous with our knowledge, and not underestimate the desire for freedom on the part of the oppressed, and not mistake ignorance for desire." (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution)
For even when some groups will out themselves as communist, there are times when they still refuse to push the radical politics that communism should entail: they will avoid the questions raced by feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial and queer movements––perhaps worried that these radical concerns will drive people away. Even worse, they will say communism out of one side of their mouths, and parliamentarianism out of the other: that is, they will speak of the need for revolution and then spend most of their time agitating for social democratic reformism.
This is tailing the masses rather than providing them with a revolutionary alternative. Clearly the point is not that a revolutionary party should be completely divorced from the masses, but it still needs to be providing a revolutionary direction: the theory of the mass-line says that an advanced communist organization needs to engage in a from the masses to the masses circuit: organizing the spontaneous concerns and visceral desire for rebellion into a coherent politics. This mass-line politics can never simply be from the masses; going to the masses cannot mean disguising one's politics.
One of the things I have admired about the PCR-RCP is that it practices this mass-line understanding of revolutionary politics, refusing to lapse into tailism. After all, people who tail the masses are sometimes people who are not really involved in the struggles of the masses: whereas some groups are cabalistic revolutionary purists who are dogmatically so far beyond the masses to make them divorced from peoples' everyday concerns, so many other groups lag behind when it comes to their political practice––waiting for some spontaneous movement that they hope will be the revolution. The PCR-RCP, however, has engaged with political struggles of the everyday and, within these struggles, has always argued that it is important to agitate for communism. Not a dogmatic: we-know-better-than-you approach symptomatic of certain marxist missionary groups (and thus papers that babble incessantly about arcane debates from 1917) but an attempt to actually connect in an organizational manner.
I learned this concretely when I joined the open organization that was formed at the 2nd Canadian Revolutionary Congress and found myself involved in projects that were an attempt to honestly agitate for communism and use this agitation as a method of organizing. First there was the Elections Boycott Campaign, where the PCR-RCP argued that an already existing boycott (where a significant portion of the Canadian masses refused, and still refuse, to participate in parliamentarianism) signified a spontaneous rejection of the system and so the role of communists was to engage with this sentiment according to the mass-line: the rejection of the system in the form of a refusal to vote came from the masses; the job of communists was to therefore go to the masses, engage with this refusal, and attempt to organize it into something politically coherent. And we learned, from speaking to people on the street, that this the refusal was indeed an angry rejection of the system––and this anger provided an opportunity to speak about the need for organizing a revolutionary alternative.
Secondly, we are also involved in an ongoing attempt to actually spread communism in the form of an accessible and non-sectarian newspaper. Rather than simply leaving these newspapers at drop points where we would have no idea if they're being taken or read, we have handed them out on the street and used them as an occasion to speak with people. Not to say "hey, join our group right now because we are the priests of a new order," but to actually speak about communist politics and encounter others who might be drawn to revolutionary praxis.
The point being, any communist organization that refuses to openly agitate for radical politics (choosing instead to either become dogmatically insular or engage in tailism) is far from the avant garde of a revolutionary movement. This very simple act of agitating publicly for communism––and doing so without engaging in dogmatism, leftist turf wars, or liquidating the idea of revolution within bourgeois democracy––is the bare minimum requirement of any communist organization that wants to call itself a party.
3: concrete analysis of a concrete situation
Any organization that claims to be revolutionary party needs to possessed a unified political theory that is a concrete analysis of its concrete situation. So just as the Bolsheviks required a unified theory that could explain revolution in their social and historical context, and the Chinese Communists under Mao needed the same for their situation, a party needs to develop what I have called elsewhere a living marxism (specifically in this part of an inter-blog dialogue that is somewhat onerous) that not only takes into account the revolutionary lessons of the past, but is able to synthesize these questions within its own social and historical context.
Thus, another one of the initial reasons I was drawn to the PCR-RCP was that its programme (along with its related theoretical essays in the french Arsenal and the english Peoples War Digest) was the first coherently successful attempt, in my opinion, of developing a proper revolutionary and historical materialist analysis of this social context at this historical juncture. If we communists believe that, along with Lenin, there can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory, then we should accept that it extremely important to have a coherent and concrete theoretical foundation. And not an overly academicized foundation, but one that is aimed at actual revolutionary praxis––a theory that demands practice rather than alienating the former from the latter.
In the first main point of my previous entry, I discussed how the PCR-RCP's analysis of settler-colonialism was what first, years ago, caused me to take interest. This consideration is intimately connected to my point about a concrete analysis of a concrete situation: I strongly believe that since the nation called "Canada" emerged from the violent contradictions of colonial conquest, any valid historical materialist analysis of the Canadian situation needs to deal with this, and deal with it properly, if it wants to be taken seriously. It is not enough to simply pay lip-service to indigenous rights for they have to be seen as revolutionary needs, rather than simple liberal rights, and as part of the material reality that produces Canadian class struggle. As Mao's theory of contradiction tells us, if we ignore contradictions of oppression that are part of the way our society was born and continues to function, and even if we ignore these contradictions because they do not appear to fit an orthodox and dogmatic understanding of the "capitalist versus labour" contradiction, then we are actually supporting the ruling classes and are against revolutionary class struggle.
(In any case, the PCR-RCP is the only communist party organization in Canada that has properly and concretely approached the contradiction of colonialism, has refused to treat it as an interesting side-issue, and treats it as a significant part of the structure of Canadian capitalism. I'm re-emphasizing this here because this really does need to be seen as extremely significant: there has not been a single would-be communist party in Canada that has treated settler-colonialism and the national question of Canada's colonized nations with the same seriousness. This is not to say that individual communists, and maybe even small groups of communists, haven't produced proper analyses; what I am saying that no self-proclaimed Canadian communist party, communist pre-party, or communist project has treated this issue with either the same seriousness, the same historical materialist insight, and the same anti-colonial principles. I believe I can make this claim because my doctoral work was on anti-colonialism and marxism and, after spending years researching the Canadian would-be communist parties and their theoretical understanding of Canadian settler-colonialism, I tended to dismissive all of these parties as being ideologically blind to this fact. Again, it was one of the reasons that this was the first thing I wanted to know about the PCR-RCP when I initially heard of its existence.)
Moreover, the PCR-RCP's theoretical analysis does another four things that other Canadian communist organizations are not doing: i) it summarizes the Canadian historical context of struggle and coherently assesses the current historical juncture; ii) it rejects simplistic and dogmatic guidelines in an attempt to make sense of the location and nature of the Canadian revolutionary class; iii) it places Canada squarely within the imperialist camp, as its own and independent imperialist power, rather than treating it as a proxy imperialist power that is somehow also neo-colonized by the United States; iv) it uses all of this in its programme (which is a to-the-point explanation of the larger body of theoretical work it has been producing because it is a programme) to focus on the need for revolution and thus even discusses the how and why of achieving revolution in Canada.
I am not going to spend too much time explaining in-depth the PCR-RCP's programme––it would be better if people assessed it for themselves using the link provided above––because the aim of these entries is to summarize the reasons why I decided this organization was worth supporting. Suffice to say, those four points are extremely important, both separately and together, and I'm sure that some of my Canadian readers can understand the controversy of some of the points. Point (iii), for example, is a contentious issue amongst those Canadian communist organizations that claim to be parties: the PCR-RCP is the first self-proclaimed party that rejects the ahistorical and problematic notion that Canada is not an imperialist power in its own right––and though there are a few contemporary leftist academics who have just recently begun writing on this issue. Jerome Klassen, for example, first pioneered this position in Canadian academia several years back; Todd Gordon has recently written a book on this very issue. Even still, the PCR-RCP was pushing this position before it emerged in academia, and is the first Canadian communist party to have taken this position.
And the other points––an accurate summation of the Canadian struggle and its current juncture, a concrete engagement with the Canadian class struggle and what constitutes/composes the proletariat, and an attempt to actually think through the steps required for a revolution––are what make the PCR-RCP programme pretty much the only programme in this social-historical context that is not: a) so theoretically dense and obtuse that only a few specialists can read it; b) so crude and anti-intellectual that theory is disdained for spontaneity; c) incoherent and thus not worthy of being called a programme in the first place.
All of this is very significant in a period where attempted party programmes and theoretical approaches in the Canadian left are considerably dismal. Especially judged against the currently popular theory that claims middle-class students/intellectuals (and often those students who are white, male, and from economically privileged backgrounds) are the preeminent revolutionary class (because, for some reason, Black Bloc initiated riots are seen as the height of Canadian revolutionary struggle) is becoming popular in some sectors (mainly because these sectors, coming from the privileged classes praised by the theory, want to see themselves at the forefront of revolution). When I observe these types of theories, and am shocked that they are being accepted by some leftist organizations despite their lack of theoretical rigor and refusal to actually engage with the concrete circumstances of Canadian society, I cannot help but be impressed by what the PCR-RCP has put forward.
None of this is to say that this programme is flawless, or that it might contain blind-spots, but even the PCR-RCP sees it as a living document that can possibly change and grow. No one creates a perfectly closed theory; those who claim they have the final and formal truth are not communists but dogmatists, which is why so many programmes and sectarian theories have remained the same for decades. Even still, potential blind-spots or not, I found the PCR-RCP programme leaps and bounds ahead of other attempts; this, in my mind, spoke to a quality of revolutionary practice and investigation lacking in other groups.
[to be continued and concluded...]