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Against a Diversity of Strategy

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I am generally concerned with the default opportunism that affects the anti-capitalist movement at the centres of capitalism.  Around a century ago, Lenin argued that this opportunism was a common characteristic in the labour movement of the imperial centres and, since his time and perhaps because of increased imperialism and "end of history" triumphalism, it has, in some sectors, become stronger.  Specifically, amongst a significant portion of the organized left and organized labour it has become terribly predominant; inversely, amongst vast swathes of the proletariat and oppressed masses ignored by this organized left there are massive fissures tearing open this default consciousness.  Unfortunately, the mainstream left, caught as it is within an antiquated model of struggle (that refuses to see itself as obsolete and continuously pursues "new methods" that aren't really new), and confined primarily to the ranks of the left intelligentsia and labour aristocracy, is unable to think in a revolutionary manner.

It has become commonplace to speak of "diversity of tactics" in social movements, and yet we often forget to interrogate a "diversity of strategy" which is actually a problem and not an asset.  On the one hand we have a majority of organized left groups pursuing various activist strategies, on the other hand we have a minority of organized left groups pursuing a revolutionary strategy; both categories have their own diverse tactics subordinated to this more fundamental division of strategy. (I should not here that, although the groups endorsing a revolutionary strategy are a minority as groups, they are not necessarily minoritarian when it comes to group membership––this point is important.)  What those of us who argue that the revolutionary strategy is better than the activist strategy would like to see, however, is a larger unity of revolutionary strategy where very group will abandon activist strategy and attempt to grow, through their own tactical understanding of making revolution, achieving unity and transformation with other groups when someone else's tactical method is proven more workable by the endorsement of the masses.

The sad fact, however, is that while many of those who call themselves "marxist" or "communist" should be aimed primarily at revolutionary agitation––because, really, this is what Marx and the marxist tradition is about––the fact is that they are more inclined towards a strategy of activism.  Indeed, there is rarely any attempt to figure out how to organize a revolution at the centres of capitalism.  Instead we have a vague endorsement of movementism, a focus on "stopping the cuts", a desire to work primarily on creating reformist coalitions united by the lowest conscious denominator, protracted legal struggle, and parliamentary entryism where the ballot box is treated as somehow revolutionary.

Those self-proclaimed "revolutionary groups" whose entire strategy is to focus primarily on the last point above––on parliamentary agitation––constitute the most opportunistic and thus pseudo-revolutionary sector of "marxists".  Here we have a group of people who, unwilling to investigate the class structure of their society, imagine that class struggle can be sublimated in bourgeois elections and, an echo of Bernstein style revisionism, act as if the capitalist class will permit a peaceful electoral transition.  And though some of them will argue that parliamentary agitation is only part of a strategy of insurrection––again, the October Road which has failed every time it was attempted post-1917––the fact that this insurrection is eternally projected into the distant future demonstrates their unwillingness to actually pursue a revolutionary strategy.  They are Eduard Bernstein in the drag of Lenin, pursuing a reformist activist strategy as they pantomime revolution.

Aside from the fact that this parliamentary strategy uncritically assumes that certain "social democratic" parties are still parties of the working class (they aren't), those who pursue it continue to base themselves brainlessly on Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.  Keeping in mind that Lenin was examining a party that was armed, that his suggestion for the British workers was eventually proven wrong by history (Sylvia Pankhurst, in this regard, was correct), and that this text by Lenin is usually the only piece of "Leninism" endorsed by revisionists, it needs to be balanced with everything Lenin has said about the uncritical application of theory to concrete circumstances such as:
"To think that Marx's and Engels' advice to the Anglo-American labour movement may simply and directly be applied to Russian conditions, is to use Marxism not for elucidation of its method, not for the study of concrete historic peculiarities of the labour movement in definite countries." (Lenin, Preface to Marx's letters to Becker, et. al.)
And to this we can add one of Lenin's many statements about opportunism (which he spoke of more often than parliamentary tactics):
"A part of the workers and a part of their leaders allow themselves to be deceived by seeming concessions. The revisionists proclaim as 'obsolete' the doctrine of the class struggle, or begin to carry on a policy which in fact renounces it." (Lenin, Differences in the Labour Movement, emphasis added)
Those groups who advocate submersion in bourgeois parliamentarism and who think that this is somehow a revolutionary strategy are not only refusing to examine the "concrete historic pecularities" of this historical juncture, but are "carry[ing] on a policy which in fact renounces" class struggle.  This is counter-revolutionary in essence because: a) it confuses the masses by arguing that bourgeois parties are partially proletarian; b) it endorses the bourgeois system and actively supports it by attempting to channel activists into electoral campaigning; c) it ultimately pursues reform rather than revolution––it is liberal activism presented as communist revolution.  Even worse, those usually engaged in this method are so dogmatically convinced of the efficacy of participating in the bourgeois sphere ("dogmatic" because they choose to ignore the innumerable historical examples that prove them wrong) that, from time to time, they will actively mobilize against anything that reeks of actual revolution.  For once revolution is dismissed as "ultra-left", opportunism can be treated as "revolutionary".

We must recall what Lenin wrote on the even of the Bolshevik Revolution's strategic offensive:
"this opportunism limits the field of recognition of the class struggle to the sphere of bourgeois relationships.  (Within this sphere, inside this framework, no educated liberal will refuse to recognize the class struggle 'in principle'!) Opportunism does not carry the recognition of class struggle to the point, essential to communism, to the period of transition from capitalism to communism, to the period of overthrowing and completely abolishing the bourgeoisie." (Lenin, State and Revolution)
Any strategy that sublimates the strategy of class struggle in the bourgeois parliamentary arena is only class struggle "in principle"… And if we are to be communists we need to stop pursuing class struggle in principle and figure out how to embrace it in practice.


  1. I think you are correct that most revolutions in the 20th Century (that advanced beyond an initial stage) did not follow the model of October. It's also true that most Trotskyists ignore the wealth of history around this fact. But I think the Chinese state was typical of the national liberation revolutions, in that it built up a dominant party with mass organizations and minor legal parties in a patriotic front that exercised power through a dictatorship. Most countries in this model also claimed to be building socialism and introduced planning measures and widespread state ownership, although obviously China took this much further than most.

    Mao seemed ambivalent about this patriotic front model. Certainly the Cultural Revolution called for it to be opened up and subject to criticism from below. But was it just criticism? The potential of the Shanghai Commune points, of course, to the idea that power should be transferred to the rank-and-file, as against the old bureaucratic state that was destined for revisionism. So is the goal to seize power and then build up replicas of mid-1960s patriotic fronts? Or, if the Cultural Revolution is what makes Maoists "Maoist", is there something about power-from-below that is intrinsic to working with or against the state-form moving forward? I mean Badiou obviously has said this means a complete break with the party-state is required.

    I say this, in part, because I don't think the RCP is well-developed on this point yet. It calls for elected revolutionary councils at all levels of governance, but it suggests a party-state dominating that model. But can the two work together? Can you have a party-state dictatorship on the patriotic front model and real vibrant competitive democracy within revolutionary councils? Isn't the RCP, then, pointing back to the commune-state as a model themselves, against the current of patriotic front dictatorships?

    1. I think we disagree fundamentally. As I've argued at various points on this blog, I agree thoroughly with Lenin's theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And, following this, the notion that class struggle continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat. I do not think this is a "patriotic front" model, as you call it, so I feel your question about "patriotic fronts' is something of a red herring and a misreading of revolutionary history. Otherwise, I think your comment about "power-from-below" and "the state-form moving forward" is interesting, though I think it is again articulated through a very abstracted and non-concrete understanding of world history. And I think Badiou is wrong, here, and I feel his desire for a militant organization that is not a party is something of a holy grail that is little more than petty bourgeois academic fantasy––and I say this with great love, as someone whose work is in philosophy, for Badiou.

      As for your last set of questions, since they are still prefaced on this "patriotic front" understanding, which I feel is not a correct understanding of the development of actually existing revolutions, I don't think they apply to the PCR-RCP. The suggestion is for a dictatorship of a proletariat with revolutionary councils and, yes, I think this can possibly work.

    2. Thanks for your response.

      I guess one point of difference is that I tend to agree with Hal Draper on his point that "dictatorship of the proletariat" simply means "leadership of the working class", it doesn't necessarily mean dictatorship in the sense of not allowing competing political forces. It doesn't refer to a specific form of state, just the character of that state. For example, Marx, Engels and Lenin all thought that the Paris Commune was a dictatorship of the proletariat, but obviously there was no party-state.

    3. Thanks for reading my response and narrowing your terms. Now that is in the day, and I am breaking from work, I can respond more thoroughly. Sorry if my initial comment sounded dismissive: it was one in the morning and I was about to go to sleep; my brain was addled. I'll try to respond, explaining what I mean, in a more extensive manner.

      First of all, I think that you might misunderstand the Maoist understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat that was grasped through the experience and failure of the GPCR. The idea that class struggle needs to continue in this space, and that the party needs to be bombarded by the greater masses, is an insight that, imo, is universal because it emerged through a world historical revolution. To this is connected the mass-line which already opens up Lenin's understanding of the party and the DoP. So in this way, the maoist understanding of revolution is already about allowing competing political forces. Moreover, the way the party is articulated and understood is as a line struggle and not as always a party in process: the PCR-RCP's position, for example, is that a vanguard party only becomes an actual vanguard when it is adopted by the masses and so is proven by growth; those parties that grow and push us further to revolution are worth uniting with, and liquidating one's organization within if they prove to be more revolutionary.

      And yes, I believe that only a single party formation can seize power and establish socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, because this is an historical fact. I've discussed this at multiple points on the blog––generally in the previous post, but specifically here:

      The point is that the problem with actually existing socialisms isn't with Lenin's conception of the party vanguard seizing power: this is already proven by history and is part of revolutionary science, and Draper or anyone else who is fetishizing new approaches that are not really new are, imo, teetering over bad historical thinking in this regard. But the problem is what comes after this seizure because, as the maoist part of the formulation should teach us, capitalism can be restored *through* the party, the bourgeoisie lingers but not as "agents" (this was Stalin's misconception) but because bourgeois and pre-capitalist ideology lingers, and so class struggle needs to continue in the DoP.

      But yes, I would argue it has to be a state for the reasons Lenin made this argument which I think are philosophically indefensible––and that anarchist theories or autonomist theories have either misunderstood or offer solutions that are utopian and fallacious––for reasons that I have made at various points throughout the few years of this blog. What needs to happen in that state to push forward a cultural revolution in the sense meant above is still a puzzle that needs to be solved, but can only be solved by properly understanding *what* worked in the past world historical revolutions, and what actually failed and *why* the failures happened. And they didn't fail because the parties in power weren't pursuing Badiouian ontology, nor did they fail because Draper's theories are superior. They failed because the revolutionary forces were unable to win the line struggle against capitalist roaders, who were not necessarily "counter-revolutionaries" in form, and this was a failure because: a) the theoretical understanding of class struggle continuing under the dictatorship of the proletariat in this way was not understood in the Soviet Union; b) this theoretical understanding came too late in China.

      [cont. (when I promise thorough, I try to deliver, lol)]

    4. [cont from above]

      Secondly, there is the problem of how to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat now. Well it is not something that can be solved simply by just reading books and not being involved in class struggle, or assuming that class struggle happens only in the student movement and the proletariat are just unionized workers. None of this means that we don't need a skeleton of how to approach this, or we can't consider the possibility of a multi-party socialist state determined by a communist constitution in the DoP (and the Nepalese were talking about this but the right is currently winning the line struggle there and so they failed to even reach the stage of the DoP to try this), but that we can't just dismiss revolutionary organizations as not having good answers, as you did above, because they don't fit what marxist theorists we like the best. We dismiss them if their theory isn't proved in practice, we challenge them if we think they're wrong by engaging in parallel class struggle as allies, thus involving ourselves in a principled line struggle with them, with the understanding that if we're wrong then we won't grow and move closer to revolution.

      The theory of PPW, which is the PCR's strategy of HOW to make revolution, something that is ignored by the majority of the left at the centres of capitalism, and a theory that will be fully articulated in a book that is supposed to be released by them sometime in the future, is a theory that is only minimally about military strategy; it is also about the complexity of political struggle, the party as a heterogeneous process where verticalism is combined with horizontalism, etc. So your initial conception of them in your original comment is also a little off-base. I would really challenge you, here, to engage more thoroughly with their line and wonder at how their programme evolved, how they were founded, and their entire behaviour and growth amongst the masses. These are better signs, in my opinion, of their worth than whether or not Badiou and other academic theorists (who I am not dismissing, by the way, because I am an academic and I would also argue that the PCR-RCP does not dismiss theory either, as some "anti-intellectual" marxists groups do), and closing the gap between theory and practice is a necessity for anything to call itself revolutionary.

      As for Marx, Engels and Lenin's understanding of the Paris Commune, I think you're slightly wrong here. Marx and Engels were using that term in their writings on the Paris Commune *also* to articulate why it failed: that is, the proletariat failed to organize as a proper dictatorship and seize the state in a way to place the bourgeoisie under this dictatorship. And this point not only comes out on their writing about the Commune, but also in their letters and their responses to Bakunin. Not that these positions should be treated as "holy" and "sacrosanct" simply because Marx and Engels and Lenin wrote them down somewhere, but I would argue they are proven as universal in the crucible of the class struggle.

    5. I appreciate your response. I'll think about it and try to self-criticize a bit. Two related things sort of pop out at me right away, though.

      First, I get a bit uneasy with this model that says that universals are built out of very specific historical experiences. I agree that successful historical practice should largely determine future political practice. But I need to read more about this process of taking bits of historical knowledge and then extrapolating global imperatives out of them. I tend to see universals more as intrinsically contestable, and therefore subject to democratic debate.

      Second, just to be clear, I recognize that my position is eclectic, as I'm still learning. I get that my default position will be influenced by hegemonic liberal-capitalist attitudes and so on. That said, I still feel pretty visceral attachment to liberalism, if from a socialist perspective, so that's why I worry about dictatorship. So when I think about such things I think about trade-offs, like, democracy is a value, but it's not the only value. Right now I'm interested mostly in poststructuralist / postmarxist takes on things for this reason. But I do enjoy your blog and sympathize a lot with your position, certainly in relation to the default opportunism of Trotskyists and such.

    6. Hi: thanks for the honesty and discussion. All of our default positioning is still influenced by liberal capitalism, so it's not like you're any different than myself or anyone else in this regard––I guess being honest about this (myself included) and trying to figure out how to deal with it is always the best first step. I've gone through the poststructuralist and postmarxist forest myself, so I can sympathize. I would urge you, though, to think about what this approach offers and what it has ever offered to the majority of the world's oppressed. The failures of actually existing socialism need to be properly understood, yes, but the post-structuralist position has offered no solutions––not that it doesn't have anything to teach us, though. I would also ask *why* you are uneasy about the concept of universals being built out of specific historical circumstances. The universal understanding of the human anatomy, for example, is a social historical product that was founded through scientific struggle in given and concrete circumstances. It did not emerge from the heavens but was the result of a social-historical process with real people living in real circumstances. And is it not universally applicable? Individual anatomies differ, yes, but these particularities don't get in the way of the universality of the anatomy schematics used to make sense of bodies for operation. [The example is crude, but I think that sometimes, by making examples crude, it cuts through what is often obscured by a lot of academic bullshit that I myself tend to engage in––there's my moment of self-criticism!]

      So I don't think universals are intrinsically contestable, though, and I feel that if you adopt this position than you automatically adopt a position that condones oppression. For if there are no universals, then why condemn oppression––on what basis do we say that it is right to rebel? Judith Butler, though once rejecting universals, more recently argued, due to her long involvement in queer activism, that one cannot fight against oppression without having some understanding of universals.

      This does not mean that universals aren't historically contingent, nor that they aren't in dialectical tension with particulars. Mao once remarked that dogmatic application of universal understandings of marxism to different social-historical particular circumstances was anti-marxist. The point is to creatively apply the universal to the particular. Or, to put it another way, continuity-rupture are bound together. Some see only continuity (dogmatic marxists who keep going on about following Marx and their chosen prophets line by line); some see only rupture (this is post-structuralism and also Badiou who, though not post-structuralist in that he believes in universals, argues this for revolution), but i think the sophisticated and historical materialist approach is to understand that the two are in a dialectical relationship, are a unity of opposites, and that unlocking this is about applying marxism concretely to concrete circumstances.

    7. "This does not mean that universals aren't historically contingent, nor that they aren't in dialectical tension with particulars."

      Oh, I didn't know that this was a common position for Marxists to take. My experience was more that people believed their position was "objectively" true, as Stalinists tend to say, such that it was a sort of fixed historical truth, not a subject of debate. That sort of claim always seemed problematic to me. If something like contingency could be combined with revolutionary Marxism then I think that I'd have much less problem with it, I think.

      Also, on that note, have you ever written anything about Hoxhaism?

    8. Well I think what makes something objectively true is still mediated by particular circumstances. Returning to the crude anatomy example: the objectively true "grey's anatomy" still has to come up with the particular circumstances of bodies that might deviate in particular organic arrangements from the rough schematism. Doesn't mean the theory of anatomy isn't objectively true, only that the concept of objective truths is more nuanced. And in the critical marxist world, we like to speak of truths as historical. But you're right: there is a tradition in Stalinism (and I would also say Trotskyism) that likes to speak of truths as static rather than dynamic and history as teleological.

      No, I haven't written anything specific about Hoxhaism here. But my opinion, like most in the Maoist tradition, was that while Enver Hoxha was an important revolutionary leader, he was ultimately a "dogmato-revisionist." That is, his complaints about Khrushchev's revisionism were prefaced mainly on the idea that "Stalin = Good" and so his assessment of de-Stalinization was simply about a rejection of Stalin––not really a full grasp on the revisionism behind so-called "de-Stalinization", nor an ability to think critically about the problems of Stalin to begin with. Thus, by clinging to a pure form of historical marxism, and not realizing that a living communism needs to be open to the future (but in this openness still linked critically to the past), one becomes another type of revisionist by transforming a specific communist articulation into a religious dogma (i.e. missionary marxist groups like the Sparts also do this). Plus, Hoxha's analysis of China was a hatchet-job. Nor do I think his pursuit of the cult of personality as a necessity was in any way shape or form revolutionary.

    9. JMP, something I feel that you're missing here is how to do reformist work in a revolutionary way. Your unintended focus primarily on 'agitation' as the method through which revolutionaries organize appears to me as the concept of paper-pushing or the revolution-through-baptism idea of revolution, which the Spartacus League has mastered. We do know that there are very serious needs unmet by the State for the "hard core" of the proletariat and some of these explosive contradictions include access to the Commons, expropriation by disposession and so on and so on. And while it is important to develop a Party with a strategy that can win, does not lapse into 'activism' or electoral cretenism, I think it is also incorrect not to engage in 'reform' struggles that exist at the most explosive fault lines. So, here's something I would ask you, how do you engage in reformist work in a revolutionary way and in that way negate it's 'reformist' aspect? Maoists groups across the world have student fronts, peasant fronts, and so on, that engage in day to day micro-struggles but with a strong universal aspect- how do you think we can pursue this kind of work in the First World? It seems like whenever it is attempted, groups usually lapse into revisionism and tailism.

    10. I think the focus on "agitation" is unintended and probably more just a result of my complaints about those groups that have dropped revolution and are now wholly opportunist; it should not be read as simply endorsing propagandistic agitation because I do agree that is only part of a total or complete party project. I might have complained about reformism but to not engage in reformist politics does not mean just to lapse into Spart-style agitation. There is also militancy and direct action, and building fighting coalitions, etc. Furthermore, in previous entries I have spoken of using bourgeois rights in a non-bourgeois manner: indeed, I put up a piece here about six months back about doing reformist work in a non-reformist way. I think that piece and the discussion (if there was a discussion) was an attempt to answer the questions you've posed.

      I think you can engage in coalitions that do so-called "reformist" work as long as you maintain clear principles, or be in coalitions with reformists and support them as well as challenging them and exposing fault lines. There are moments of rupture, however, that require breaking from a complete reformist mindset. A party that grows amongst the masses is one that does produce front groups and/or mass orgs to work on specific issues –– as well as one that is willing to work in coalitions in a non-sectarian (but not revisionist and empty-headed) way –– but also ties these groups together with a complete revolutionary project. This clearly means more than simply agitation.

  2. Nice.

    I think the only thing you're leaving out is that the division between these "activist" types and the real revolutionaries out there is ITSELF part of the class struggle. Just look at junk like Occupy Wall Street, and it's obvious: the "activists" are middle-class types, of the petite bourgeoisie, and so it's no surprise that their "activism" also expresses OBJECTIVELY bourgeois interests (welfarism, let's-get-along-and-hold-hands stuff, etc.)

    Part of the communists' problem, ever since 1956, really, and certainly since 1968, is that they think they're going to accomplish something by recruiting at universities. That "strategy" just gives you the same old "do-gooder" activists, that is to say, petit-bourgeois liberals (revisionists and opportunists, to put it in old-school terminology). No, the communists need to recruit at Burger King and Wal-Mart.

    1. Thanks, for the comments. In general, I agree with your analysis here; the reason I left out what you indicated is because I've addressed these issues before––which is why I provided the odd link and here and there––and didn't want to be keep reiterating, which I tend to do from time to time.

      I don't think there's necessarily a problem by itself in recruiting at universities. Some of the great revolutionaries were recruited to communism at universities (ahem, Mao), after all, and I know that myself and others were also introduced to communism through university. Nor do I think everyone recruited through the student movement is going to be a petty bourgeois liberal. However, I think it is a serious problem to treat universities as the primary (and sometimes, even worse, the *only*) space of organization because liberalism does tend to predominate, student recruitment should focus more on highschools where students might never get the chance to go to university, etc. And yes, the focus in general needs to be on the world outside of the university; communists need to stop hiding in the universities.


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