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The Elevation of the Tactical: the limits of the boycott approach in Palestine solidarity work

Nearly a decade after the emergence of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanction (BDS) Palestinian solidarity movement (which, following the anti-apartheid South African model of first world activism, proposes the international boycott of Apartheid Israel) what was once seen as a tactical approach to Israeli apartheid is now being treated––at least in some significant quarters of the left at the centres of global capitalism––as tantamount to revolutionary strategy.  Talk of bourgeois rights, upholding a naive conception of international law, and all the hallmarks of capitalist legality has been shifted from the realm of means to the kingdom of ends.  This elevation of the tactical use of bourgeois rights, along with a general confusion of what it means to be an internationalist, should give us pause.  And we should be especially worried when we find ourselves speaking of a legal tactic and the dubious propositions of the capitalist discourse of "human rights" as the telos of anti-imperialism in the case of Palestine.

Before going any further, I should probably point out that tactically I support the BDS movement.  Indeed, a decade ago I was heavily invested in solidarity organizations that were responsible for developing what would become the apartheid analysis of Israel and the BDS tactic.  I was involved in groups that eventually produced (though with the sadly typical activist falling-outs and ego clashes) the first Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) in Canada; I was on the executive of the union local that brought the first anti-apartheid BDS resolution to its provincial convention and succeeded (due to the speeches delivered there by CAIA activists) in getting passed. [I am speaking here of the monumental and controversial "Resolution 50" of CUPE Ontario.]

Moreover, I recall the rightist back-lash the BDS tactic caused amongst the left… It was a line of demarcation which was denounced by some socialist organizations (such as the SWP/IS) as "ultra-left" since it alienated [racist and zionist] workers––and I always did find it amusing that a tactical appeal to the mechanisms of bourgeois legality could be called "ultra-left".  It was also a line that was rejected by those theoretically impoverished marxists who imagined that the only solution to Israeli Apartheid was a unity between the proletarian colonized with their colonizing counterparts (or even worse, and extremely chauvinist, that a "backwards" Palestinian felaheen needed to be led by an advanced Israeli working-class), the kind of analysis typical of people who are unable to provide a concrete analysis of a concrete situation and treat historical materialism like it is Plato's theory of forms.

In any case, I think it is very important to balance the following critique with the qualification that the BDS movement remains tactically important and that, despite of its liberal limitations, its significance in exposing opportunism, chauvinism, euro-communist foolishness, and straight-out racism should not be forgotten.  The very fact that speaking about boycotting Israel will drive zionist reactionaries into a furious rage is worthy of approval.  Nor do I have much patience for those "critiques" of BDS that pretend to be left but in fact are nothing more than chauvinist excuses to back away from supporting anti-colonial self-determination.  Thus, my critique here should not be mistaken as an argument for the abandonment of BDS as a tactic.

When the possibility of BDS was first proposed in the Palestinian solidarity movement in North America and Europe, it was done so in the context of an emerging apartheid analysis and, by comparing Palestine to South Africa, the tactic of BDS logically followed.  At this period in Palestinian solidarity history a demarcation line was drawn between those who believed in a "two state solution"––which at that time was the most common perspective in this activist context––and those who (like myself and my then comrades) who believed in a "one state solution".  Groups like Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) fell apart because of this line-struggle.  Groups like Al-Awda emerged to represent an anti-colonial version of the one state solution.  Eventually, after teach-ins and "Israeli Apartheid" events, the one state line was victorious, CAIA was founded, and the BDS tactic became hegemonic in the pro-Palestinian left.

Unfortunately, the hegemony of BDS was a moment of two-steps-forward-one-step-back.  For in order to become relevant and possess political force at the centres of global capitalism, it had to capture the imagination of the pre-dominant labour aristocracy and liberal human rights activists.  That is, BDS is precisely a tactic designed to produce a broad-based coalition amongst leftists and left-liberals.  Arguably this is its strength––and it has done a lot to make Palestinian self-determination more palatable for a public that has generally evinced a lot of anti-Palestinian chauvinism––but it also produced a tendency amongst the left to think of Palestinian solidarity only according to these tactical terms.

But we need to take a step back and examine the originary ideology of BDS, the way in which the one state solution was seen by these organizations, though admittedly incoherently, that preceded the development of the BDS tactic.  First of all, organizations such as the defunct Al-Awda generally believed in a one state solution that was socialist.  Secondly, these organizations often adhered to an unapologetic anti-colonial line culled from Fanan and the analysis of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  When the two state solidarity activists were speaking of Hanan Ahsrawi and Yasser Arafat, we were speaking of Leila Khaled and George Habash; when the two state solidarity activists were quoting Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, we were quoting Ilan Pappe and Adel Samara.  Again, there was an incoherence to our understanding of politics here, which was what prevented a revolutionary internationalist understanding of the one state solution from being clearly articulated, but these were the set politics of the original understanding of the one state solution.  (As an aside I consider it rather amusing when some activists who once called us "ultra-left" and "against what the Palestinians really want" are now BDS spokespeople who cannot stop talking about the importance of a one state solution.)

When the one state solution became popular––or when, as my partner has joked, "we [Palestinians] started being honest and openly speaking about what we'd all believed for years"––and Israel was conceived of as an "apartheid state" then, based on this apartheid model and the fact that South African self-determination was popularized through BDS, groups such as CAIA produced a similar approach to Palestinian solidarity… something to produce a real effect in Palestine was the hope, just as it had seemed to produce a real effect in South Africa.  Here is where the first erroneous way of understanding the tactic of BDS emerged: the mistaken belief that boycott activism around South Africa caused apartheid to fall, hence the corollary assumption that BDS could become the strategic means for ending Israeli colonialism.

Aside from being an imperialist logic sublimated in an anti-imperialist politics, the idea that a solidarity movement based on economic sanctions within the mechanism of international law and human rights––a mechanism that emerged through imperialism and is connected to the daily working of imperialism––can liberate people elsewhere is historically dubious.  Afrikaaner Apartheid did not fall because of the world-wide boycott movement but because of the actions of the ANC within South Africa.  Granted, the anti-apartheid movement gave the ANC some breathing room but it was not, in the final instance, the reason for this apartheid's dissolution.  Nations are not liberated by humanitarians in imperialist nations, though arguably the internationalist activities of progressives in these nations are extremely helpful; national liberation stands or falls based on the revolutionary movement within the country under consideration.

Interestingly enough, this same imperialist logic about how boycott activism caused Afrikaaner Apartheid to fall is replicated by some of the supposedly "left" critics of BDS in order to mock Palestinian solidarity activism.  The argument goes something like this: 1) BDS activism surrounding South Africa was responsible for the end of colonial apartheid in South Africa; 2) South Africa post-apartheid is a neo-colonial state with a comprador bourgeois class in command; 3) Therefore, BDS activism is counter-revolutionary since it can only produce neo-colonial regimes.  Indeed, organizations such as the International Bolshevik Tendency, Spartacist League, and International Marxist Tendency have made much ado of this argument, obsessively pointing out point (2) and claiming point (3) due to the erroneous presupposition of point (1).  Such a critique is utterly off-base, and just as ahistorical as the claims made by those who imagine that boycott activism can end oppression elsewhere.

Obviously the state of South Africa following the end of Afrikaaner colonial hegemony ended up being little more than a comprador-capitalist regime where the former leaders of the ANC became a new ruling class and were more than willing to accept the dictates of the IMF and the WTO.  This imperial collaboration, however, has little to do with the boycott movement and everything to do with the composition of the ANC as a revolutionary organization.  The opportunist line won out in this organization, mainly because it was never a socialist organization to begin with.  None of this meant that the ANC was not an anti-colonial movement worthy of support, worthy of being treated as objectively anti-imperialist, when the main contradictions in South Africa were between the colonizer and the colonized.  What it does mean, however, was that the ANC could not transcend a basic level of anti-colonial politics and become truly revolutionary in the communist sense.  But this is not unique to the ANC; it has been the fate of other anti-colonial organizations since the 1950s, a possible fate examined by Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth as a "pit-fall" that every anti-colonial movement will encounter.  Even without a boycott movement the ANC would encounter this "pit-fall", as other organizations had, and hence the political degeneration of its cadre post-apartheid should not be seen as the product of anti-apartheid activism.  It's a bit like saying that, if the US was to pull out of Afghanistan due to the actions of an anti-imperialist front there, and this front eventually decided to plug Afghanistan back into the world market, that anti-occupation demonstrations and activities in the US and other imperialist nations were at fault: it's a ludicrous proposition.  But then again, such a ludicrous proposition follows from the well-meaning belief that our activism here will liberate people elsewhere.

Beyond this problem, however, is the problem of the logic behind conceiving of BDS as a revolutionary strategy rather than a tactic based upon historically contingent circumstances.  It must be pointed out that, unlike the case of South Africa, the revolutionary self-determination movements in Palestine are currently disarticulated due to decades of counter-insurgency and counter-revolution.  In the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the last great period of anti-imperialist internationalism, organizations such as the PFLP succeeded in putting Palestine on the map with a variety of actions, some of which were carried out in connection with armed solidarity organizations in the first world.  For a variety of reasons, which I will not get into here, these movements collapsed––and this despite a level of revolutionary internationalism that was far beyond the internationalism of the BDS movement––and decades of disorganization followed.  Despite this disorganization there were moments of great rebellion (the first and second intifada, for example), but there was still an absence of a revolutionary resistant organization capable of overthrowing Israeli colonialism.

It was within the above context that BDS was demanded by Palestinian intellectuals active in Palestine and in the diaspora; it emerged from a demand made by the oppressed, a way to support their self-determination, for a variety of reasons, some of which were in contradiction (i.e. some groups believed in the liberal discourse of international human rights, other groups thought that this discourse could be used to give them breathing room to rebuild, etc.).  Generally speaking, however, the core of the Palestinian solidarity movement active at the centres of imperialism, in answer to this demand, conceived of BDS as a tactic to bring Palestinian self-determination back into the political lime-light, to rehumanize the Palestinian subject that had been made invisible by zionist ideology, and to force the mainstream left into recognizing Palestinians in the same way that they had recognized the victims of South African Apartheid.

But if we misunderstand this tactical approach as a universal anti-imperialist strategy, then we have to ask, as pseudo-leftists who despise pro-Palestinian solidarity dishonestly ask, why we are not supporting the boycott of other imperialist satellite states, if not a boycott of the US, Canada, and every colonial/imperial nation.  For if we treat the BDS approach as the key to liberating Palestine rather than a tactical practice based on the particular circumstances of the Palestinian self-determination movement, then we have to ask why we are not boycotting ourselves as well.  And maybe we should boycott-divest-sanction ourselves, but then if we do this then how can we have the power to "liberate" nations on the other side of the world through the boycotting powers we believe we possess?

Finally, treating the BDS approach as the height of revolutionary internationalism leads to a confusion of liberal politics––international law, bourgeois "human rights"––with revolutionary politics.  It is very hard for me to take a well-meaning young leftist at an Israeli Apartheid Week event seriously when they deliver a speech about how Palestinian rights are essential human rights codified by international law––this is not an explanation of the BDS line as a tactic within a revolutionary understanding of internationalist strategy; it's the a priori assumption that the bourgeois rights intrinsic to international law are somehow the key to liberation!

The strategic revolutionary approach should be to use bourgeois rights in non-bourgeois manner when it is tactically convenient, but to always understand this is a temporary means and not a revolutionary ends.  We should be aware that bourgeois rights have nothing to do with revolutionary necessity, with the fundamental need to transgress the limits of capitalism.  Here we should recall what the PCP [the so-called "Shining Path"] said about human rights during the height of their peoples' war in Peru:
"We start by not ascribing to either the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Costa Rica, but we have used their legal devices to unmask and denounce the old Peruvian state. […] For us, human rights are contradictory to the rights of the people, because we base rights in the human as a social product, not the human as an abstract entity with innate rights. 'Human rights' do not exist except for the bourgeois human, a position that was at the forefront of feudalism, like liberty, equality, and fraternity were advanced for the bourgeoisie [fighting against this feudalism] of the past.  But today, since the appearance of the proletariat as an organized class… with the experience of triumphant revolutions, with the construction of socialism, new democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, it has been proven that human rights serve the oppressor class and the exploiters who run the imperialist and landowner-bureaucratic states.  Bourgeois states in general… Our position is very clear.  We reject and condemn human rights because they are bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights, and are today a weapon of revisionists and imperialists, principally Yankee imperialists."
So while we need to still endorse struggles such as the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement in support of Palestinian self-determination, we also have to understand that this is simply a tactical way of using "legal devices to unmask and denounce" Israeli Apartheid here at the centres of capitalism.  At the most it will provide breathing room for the next round of Palestinian revolution.  It is not by itself revolutionary; it is not by itself even close to the pro-Palestinian internationalism of yesteryear.  And it won't at all succeed in making revolution at the centres of capitalism––something that, though clearly distant and requiring years and years of struggle, will do far more to support Palestinian self-determination than a boycott movement.


  1. A couple of points. First, the IMT never called BDS counterrevolutionary. They merely call it counter-productive. And second, the international has never argued that BDS tactics and activism were responsible for the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Every IMT article I've read on South Africa makes the same argument you did - that the main factor was the anti-colonial struggle of the South African masses themselves.

    Also, the Shining Path? Really? Personally, I don't see much appeal in a "communist" organization that habitually murders and terrorizes peasants and trade union leaders.

    1. The article you cite implies precisely what I accused it of applying; it does not at all argue what I argue, but by reductio ad absurdum takes as a priori that the boycott movement was wrong because of the current state of South Africa. Hence the position is logically derivable. If it had actually analyzed in a way that is similar to how I analyzed it, it wouldn't have rejected BDS as a tactic. Secondly, it's "working class solution" is tantamount to social chauvinism. Finally, you're splitting hairs with the distinction between "counter-productive" and "counter-revolutionary". What is counter-productive for a revolutionary approach *is* ultimately counter-revolutionary––in essence if not in form.

      As for the Shining Path, maybe you should try understanding the PCP from a left-wing perspective rather than what you've been told by an organization such as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee whose members were never neutral––many of whom were former members of the military that the PCP was challenging. The discourse that the PCP "terrorized" peasants when the majority of the peasant population in Peru was dedicated the PCP at the height of its PW is the kind of reactionary historical revisionism that attained popularity under the work of the "Senderologists", a historical account that has been challenged by a lot of other scholars (I am actually in the midst of jurying an article for an academic historical journal, for example, that argues against the senderologist account). I have written on the PCP here before, and have even linked to a documentary from the late 1990s from a liberal BBC television show that, while not being pro-communist and thus not pro-PCP, argues that they are not ravening murderers and that the majority of the peasant population supports them. Indeed, the PCP, whatever its faults, *was* a massive peasant organization. Claiming that they were otherwise is like claiming that all Palestinians are raving suicide bombers who hate humanity.

    2. I'll look for some of those old PCP articles of yours.

  2. huma rights, yeah. god knows you commies want none of that. god forbid people ever fight legally for their rights. they should all just start killing and slaughtering. oh sorry I meant they should start a people's war.

    disgusting piece of commie shit.

    1. Clearly you don't understand what I mean by "human rights" (this has to do with the historical distinction between RIGHTS and NEEDS, something maybe you should research) and your argument about "killing and slaughtering" is laughable. Capitalism kills and slaughters under the rubric of human rights. Calling me a "disgusting piece of commie shit" is trollish and demonstrates your intentional ignorance. Crawl back into your reactionary hole and celebrate the murder of the majority of the world's population that you endorse... oh sorry, celebrate "human rights".

  3. I am having a discussion on FB with a fellow maoist on the PCP and this article, and I see some themes that are similar so I will modify some of it here.

    1) I unite with the idea that PCP-SL cannot be treated merely as some sort of external group to the left, but as a part of the revolutionary movement in Peru. Those in the left who repeat State propaganda - liberal included - are mistaken. The PCP-SL did indeed engage in much more than a military struggle - and in fact, for most of it existence it didn't engage in armed struggle at all. Thus, such facile criticism is to be oppossed.

    2) However, I take issue with the prima facie distinction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as completely flawed. One divides into two.

    On the one side, its opinions are useless and ideologically pro-State - and often contradict or try to explain away the evidence they themselves present.

    That is true.

    On the other side, it is the single most important source of factual information on the armed conflict in Peru from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. It is extremely rigorous in its inclusion - for example, it does demonstrate that PCP-SL were not "terrorizing the country side". It also shows that most killings of civilians and most rapes and other acts of violence were performed by the State and the Para-State. It also makes the controversial - and criticized from the right - action of not separating the State and Para-State into separate factual categories.

    So while flawed, it is the only source of facts that has an open methodology and a rigorous seeking of qualitative and quantitative data.

    So to declare useless is also an error. It deserves a critical reading - clearly - but it is also scientifically rigorous in its facts. To ignore it is to make an idealistic and metaphysical ideological error.

    3) That said, I think quoting the PCP-SL opinion on anything is problematic.

    This too divides into two:

    a) There has been no summation of Gonzalo Thought - the matter is one of debate even within MLM. I have my own views on it - generally negative - so it is easy for me not to quote them.

    However, even if there is a mostly positive summation, it is an error of the mass line to use them as ideological tools. At best it is an intellectual provocation designed to troll leftists with no understanding other than "Gonzalo bad". At worst, it opens sincere questions that cannot be answered scientifically precisely because there is no summation.

    It is idealism to believe that one can simply "explain away" the Sendero Question by declaring it a myth from enemy propaganda - and that idealism is transparent and seen by anyone. Thus this commandism errs in the mass line.


  4. b) The actual content of the quote is not a good example of how to explain the view on human rights for the masses:

    i) Human rights have a material basis in the ordering social relations - that is, they do not emerge from the abstract - in this sense the PCP is correct. However, they eliminate - entirely - the subjective understanding of human rights among the people, and furthermore, abandon the mass line in practice: you do not reject bourgeois human rights, you reject the bourgeois. They skipped the "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" class and went straight to the Cliff Notes. For example, you don't just criticize religion, you criticize the basis of religion.

    ii) Social relations are material facts, that is, wishing to transform them doesn't mean they are transformed. Concretely, human rights are seen as positive by most of the world's population. Things like not being subjected to mass killings, good treatment of prisoners, etc. Thus, politically, a critique of the basis of them makes sense as part of a protracted process of education - as well as the establishment of a revolution capable of transforming the basis of them. But to declare them non-applicable to a revolution in a small country with a developing and embrionic New Democracy, is to mistake the ideological for the material. In other words, Sendero Luminoso had not destroyed (and existed in a world in which this was not possible) the material basis for bourgeois human rights - but wanted to act as they did.

    iii) There is no definition or call of what proletarian human rights look like or should look like. In other words, there is negation but not synthesis. You can do this sometimes - for example, abolishing religion is not done by creating proletarian religion. But the concept of rights is one that will remain as long as there is class society - it is in fact central to class formation. And historically, rights are not lost, but gained, and when they are lost it is often a bloody conflict. SL's idealistic negation also created a material problem for them, beginning with Lunacanamarca massacre all the way to a juridical concept and practice that sanctioned even rape of reactionary women, for being reactionary.

    In orthodox terms, my critique of PCP-SL is that they were commandists, and hence abandoned the mass line. And this quote is a prime example of that - it requires a graduate level understanding of the epistemology of rights to actually understand. One should not speak down to the masses and tail them, but one shouldn't speak up to the masses and command them from the heights.

    4) Except for the quote, the rest of the article is a sound contribution and follows the mass line. Which is what makes the inclusion of the quote so problematic - it was unnecessary to make the point, and in turn, distracts from the central topic - BDS and Palestinian liberation. And distract into a topic that has not yet been summed up in a serious manner by the revolutionary movement - opening a can of worms, so to speak. Provocation has it uses. I feel this one was not successful.

  5. BTW, I agree with this:

    "Indeed, the PCP, whatever its faults, *was* a massive peasant organization. Claiming that they were otherwise is like claiming that all Palestinians are raving suicide bombers who hate humanity."

    That is not to say, that then I am going to quote Khaled Mashal on human rights. Feel me?

    1. I completely disagree with you on the PCP and their comment about human rights. In fact, I think their comment about human rights is completely in line with the Marxist tradition beginning with Marx's own comments in *Capital* about the discourse of human rights, as well as what he and Engels wrote about the entire liberal discourse in "The Holy Family*.

      What I mean here is how the rights ideology appeared at a specific time in the development of capitalism and was an ideology that was thoroughly classed. The marxist philosophical analysis around this has always been to base oneself on a materialist understanding of human needs in order to grasp the concept of self-determination. One does not have to be a supporter of the PCP to be part of this tradition. Indeed, Jeff Noonan who comes from something of a post-Trotskyist tradition has written extensively on this matter, as have many others. Even China Mieville's book on international law critically examines this problem. I think you should try to understand that tradition before defaulting on the rights discourse.

      Nor do I see my quotation of the PCP as an act of provocation but an act of reclaiming them as an important and significant development of revolutionary science, regardless of the flaws of "Gonzalo Thought" and the errors made during the PW. I think anyone who claims an MLM line has to uphold the PCP to a certain degree and I think your reiteration of reactionary propaganda (including the claim of rape as a political weapon which only very rightist Senderologists have promoted with ZERO field-work) is extremely problematic––especially in the context of a predominantly female leadership and significant female cadre. Joel Andreas' mother wrote a lot about this from being in the field and seeing what was happening. You only need to go back to right before the collapse of the PW, before the mobilization of the TRC, to understand how critical journalists who were not at all sympathetic to the communist project understood what was happening in Peru: the Dispatches documentary, for example, is precisely an example of a balanced understanding of the PCP, based on extensive field investigation. Indeed, as I pointed out to another commentator, I'm in the midst of jurying a very thorough academic article that claims, amongst other things, that the Senderologist and TRC discourse is complete garbage––and this is not by a communist, let alone a Maoist, but by a serious historian who has done field work.

      That being said, I can partially agree with your claim that the PCP had a commandist element that became predominant. This was partially why it collapse and degenerated in certain areas. Other than that, I have very little sympathy for someone who claims an MLM line and then reiterates rightist ideology about the PCP.

    2. 1) I am not a Marxist, but a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, but that said we completely agree on your overview on the historical materialist view on rights. That is not the issue. The issue is how these scientific views are conveyed to the masses, and the concrete consequences this has. You can re-read what I wrote, it should clarify this, but let me repeat:

      "there is negation but not synthesis."

      Or as I put it elsewhere, PCP-SL seems to have skipped the class on "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" and gone for the Cliff Notes (and the opium of the masses part).

      Put in simplified terms, my criticism of the quote divides into two:

      a) It is an error of mass line to use this quote on your part, when there is no rigorous summation of the PCP-SL - this makes us, as you are doing here, resort to declaring any criticism as "Rightist" as epithet, rather than showing it to be rightist by scientific rigor - or as is the actual case, show it to be a dialectical and materialist understanding of history. Besides epithet your evidence relies on "anti-PCP" journalists and other sources agreeing with you.

      This also creates the question: so right wing, bourgeois sources that agree with you are ok, but a comrade who doesn't is a "rightist"? What is up with that?

      b) That the criticism of human rights in itself was commandist. In other words, while expressing a scientifically correct view on human rights, it did so in a manner that was not taking into account the views of the masses themselves nor proposing a proletarian human rights - "negation without synthesis". This error of the mass line if of serious historical consequence. In fact, it is the basis of the most fundamental error - as I explained briefly in my previous comment - by PCP-SL, the view of total war.

      2) The use of rape as a political tool on the part of the PCP-SL is not a fact.

      I admitted that.

      What is a fact is that PCP-SL forces raped in significant numbers - even if these were marginal compared to the orgy of rape the State and the Para-State did.

      However, at the very least, the ideology of one law for the cadre, another law for the rest of people - as opposed to the 3/8 formula of Mao - in effect led to rape in a relatively massive scale, something like 1 rape per PCP-SL combatant (ie there were some serious predators in there who operated for years). I already made my argument - which is not the same as the rightist forces - but you failed to address it except by epithet.

      3) You claim I have reiterated "rightist ideology". I have not - but if I have, you have to say more to this than just make the claim. Otherwise, its unprincipled name calling.

      a) I provided a clear ideological critique of the quote - both your use and the quote itself. Twice now.

    3. b) I provided a critique of the consequences of this for the PCP-SL - the emergence of a total war doctrine as opposed to a people's war doctrine. What Proseguir forces - and the mainline PCP-SL during the war - defended as the "creative application of MLM, principally Maoism, to Peruvian conditions" or in short Gonzalo Thought. I think Gonzalo Thought is principally incorrect, but not totally. This is not rightism - is is a partial summation of the experience. I would say, using Mao's poetics, it is 20% correct and 80% incorrect. I think their first ten years were awesome, as were their preparations for war. I think their initial actions were correct. I think their qualitative jump represented by Lucanamarca was an error that determined their liquidation, and set back all that work among the masses. PCP-SL has become a boogeyman, not among reactionaries, but among the masses they worked so hard and correctly to win over.

      I think you confuse a broken clock being right twice a day, with a MLM critique of our own experience. I do agree with and unite with the scientific perspective that says the PCP-SL is part of our experience, and furthermore, that summing that experience up is a critical process of developing MLM as weapon for the future. What I disagree with is in ignoring the negative aspects of this process, the idea than somehow because it is part of us, it means it is essentially positive. That is idealism, and that is also dogmato-revisionism.

      This process requires rigor, not simple categorizations as "rightist" or "leftist".

      For example, you claim "claim of rape as a political weapon which only very rightist Senderologists have promoted with ZERO field-work". Except this open two questions:

      a) What field work have you done?

      b) There is indeed field work - which you discount apriori and without reasoning as false. That is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

      As I explained, the scientific view on this report is to divide it into two - the opinion/political aspect can be safely ignored. Then there is the qualitative and quantitative data part, which while one should still handle with care, its the most rigorous field work on the topic available. Your error lies in not understanding this dialectical process of analysis, and instead adopting an anti-dialectical, that is, idealist, perspective on it. Not even the Asumir people question this part - and only some of the Proseguir. In other words, you aligning yourself with the ultra-left liquidationists. Who are, curiously, the ones most responsible for rape as a tool of war - as they operated in the Amazonian and Amazonian-bordering areas, where the bulk of rapes and sexual violence on the part of the PCP-SL happened (including ritualistic sexual[ized] murders designed to appeal to superstitions of some of the non-Inka native populations of the area).

      So contrary to your argument, I am even siding with MOVADEF (the main Asumir group) on this. Now, I recognize the line struggle around that. You seem to not?

      Also, and this is important, do you understand written Spanish? This is important because a lot of the line struggle around this question in the Peruvian left is not available in English - and a lot of what is available is part not of disinterested parties, but a particular faction, with a particular class background, that informs them. This is secondary, but it does have some bearing in how this is viewed. PCP-SL might have become a cult with nuns, but it wasn't completely apolitical and it wasn't completely homogeneous (As any real mass movement will be) and in English speaking countries this nuance is often lost.

    4. For simplification, I will rephrase the argument on the rape issue, so you can rip it apart if you see fit, but at least there is no strawman - and I recognize you might agree with some of this, so I am not "lecturing" simply explaining my own views so that the engagement can rise above epithets:

      1) PCP-SL operated and recruited from a patriarchial society. It also had a strong womanist (I do not think it was feminist, but this is a wider, separate, critique of MLM in general, not the PCP-SL in the specific) ideology.

      2)It also as part of its commandist error, developed an doctrine of total war - Lucanamarca being the most famous and initial engagement - Gonzalo said directly it was meant to show them as qualitatively different and more violent.

      3)Boys will be boys - any war emerging from a patriarchal society means that the soldiers will rape - even if ordered not to. You cannot simply have men with weapons and of rapist age in any significant amount and not have rape. This is irrespective of the ideology of the given formation. Rape culture exists and we grow in it, and breaking with it is uneven.

      4) PCP-SL partially recognized this - it explicitly prohibited and punished by death rape by cadre of cadre. It also punished by death rape among the masses in the areas under its control. It never prohibited - in the style of the 3/8 - the rape on the part of cadre of the masses while attacking an area declared in the reactionary camp. It never punished such actions. At best it declared it as excesses inevitable in total war.

      This betrays the negative aspect of the Gonzalo Thought military doctrine in the concrete: by doing away with Mao's 3/8, they opened up that can of worms.

      That is my criticism, simply put.

    5. "predominantly female leadership and significant female cadre"

      The most pro-PCP SL sources claim is about 40% membership of the Party. The army I do not know, but it should have been similar.

      There was one woman in the top leadership for most of the history - Gonzalo's wife. However, in the middle cadre there was gender parity, and women commanders and officers in unprecedented levels. This is true and good.

      I will be the first to say that the internal regime in the PCP-SL was better than general society for women. And they did take their "Women hold up half the sky" seriously.

      (As I said, I have a more general - emerging - critique of the left and gender in the general, and Maoism in the specific. In particular, I think Mao was insufficient in his formulation, but that is different debate.)

      But putting that aside, 40% is much less than proportionality, and similar, for example, to what the IDF has.

      So it does mean being more advanced than reactionaries, but far from egalitarian. Of course, not all of this is PCP-SL's fault, but neither is this simply the result of objective conditions.

      Hence, it proves nothing regarding rape, except a negative: why would such an organization still attract rapists and allow them to operate?

      Also, this brings up the question of one of the last assassinations by PCP-SL, that of Maria Moyano Delgado.

      She was an Afro-Peruvian feminist activist - member of one of the most oppressed strata of the masses of Peru, descendant of slaves, and in a social position worse than African Americans by virtue of the extremely small social size of the community (about 7% of the population broadly construed by descent - including mixed afro-peruvians).

      She was not a revolutionary, and was elected, on a leftwing activist slate, to the deputy mayorship of a Lima slum suburb, Villa El Salvador.

      At the time, the PCP-SL pursued a blind policy of assassinating low level elected officials without regards to their social origin, gender, etc.

      The concerns were, simply, if they had mass support among the constituencies that PCP-SL wanted and if they pursued reformist policies.

      And I do not mean reformism simply - revolutionaries can engage in reformism and the PCP-SL also engaged in it. I mean reformist policies.

      In her case, this was being the main promoter and advocate for "Vaso de leche" - a grassroots food distribution program that had as a main goal distributing at least one cup of milk to every child, and in a more limited fashion full meals. You know, like the Panthers, those reactionaries.

      Yeah, PCP-SL killed her for the counter-revolutionary position of wanting to feed milk to undernourished slum dwelling children.

      Mass line: you doing it very wrong.

    6. Her coffin was carried by a crowd of 300,000 people, at the time this was almost 2% of the Peruvian population, and ten times the total size of the PCP-SL and 100 times the size of the PCP-SL army at the time.

      It was this murder that spelled the end of PCP-SL as a going concern in Lima. It destroyed any possibility of mass work. It was like murdering Chavez would be in Venezuela.

      Much worse, it was a crime against proletarian feminism - PCP-SL had good relations with a number of mass proletarian feminist formations. This work of decades was destroyed overnight.

      Now, this is what I mean by commandism. Maria Moyano shared all the characteristics of someone you could win over to the revolution. She was not a reactionary. She was firmly part of the intermediate layer, and was part of the masses. Her mother was a clothes launderer. She self-described as a socialist. She stood against Fujimori and his clique.

      And she was killed - not denounced, debated with, engaged in line struggle, but killed. By a woman her age and class and racial background. In their cynicism, the leadership of PCP-SL in ordering the hit thought that this equivalency would be seen by the masses as part of a struggle elevated to weapons. Their idealist and metaphysical understanding of the concept of "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" led them to believe these barrels must always run hot.

      And the masses rejected this action, and this buried the revolution. That is what happens when you are a commandist.

      And I will say this outright: Lucanamarca was a much lesser crime than her murder. In Lucanamarca quantity became a quality in itself. But her murder was quality becoming a quantity in itself.

      Ignoring the mass line is not an intellectual exercise, it is a primary determinant in the success or failure of the revolution.

      Now, call this rightism, and I will call myself a rightist. No problem.

      I do not believe in killing proletarian women for ideological mistakes and confusions. I believe in struggling against those mistakes and confusions. Fear makes people quiet. It doesn't transform them.

      When bullets substitute the mass line, count me out. Bullets are for soldiers of the counter-revolution and their commanders. Not the masses.

      In the main, Gonzalo Thought is metaphysics in command of firearms... having Red Nuns aside.

    7. Hello sks,

      Originally I made the mistake of replying quickly and without the reflection your large set of comments deserved––something I try not to do, which is why I have deleted my initial and hasty set of replies. Lack of sleep for the past few weeks has probably made me less patient than usual, and less willing to give commenters the benefit of the doubt. I disagree with the way you have framed things, as well as the rhetorical way in which you frame yourself, and some of the off-base claims you've made regarding the intentionality of this quote and the supposed "lack of mass line" (which I feel is a misunderstanding of the theory of the mass line). In any case, I will reply to your comments in a more respectful manner when I am less exhausted.

      Also, I think it needs to be said that this quote from the PCP doesn't come in some blog vacuum, as you seem to assume. I've discussed the PCP before and pointed out its problems. I have even argued, with other commenters who are much more into the PCP, that the organization degenerated, lost its mass line (it did have one at one point, otherwise it would not have grown so significantly and reached the stage of strategic equilibrium) but did indeed lose it. Especially when it came to the national question, and a failure to correctly apprehend contradictions amongst the people. I also think the Cult of Gonzalo was a serious error and have said so elsewhere on this blog. Even so, I uphold the PW in Peru as an important instance in the emergence of MLM, though feel it does need to be critiqued in order to properly understand its failure. We won't understand this failure, though, by simply accepting the current hegemonic bourgeois narrative.

      Anyways, I'll respond in a more thorough manner when I have the energy.

    8. Also, I just saw your recent response to the comments I deleted... Damn, didn't delete them fast enough. Apologies for the hasty responding (though I think your response was also hasty and ignored what I said?), but like I said I plead mental exhaustion and projection of this exhaustion and lack of patience on everybody at the moment.

    9. I appreciate your response.

      I will clarify, though, I do agree with this:

      "[PCP-SL] degenerated, lost its mass line (it did have one at one point, otherwise it would not have grown so significantly and reached the stage of strategic equilibrium) but did indeed lose it."

      I also lack the energy right now to revise what I wrote that leads to this misunderstanding. But I hope this clears it up and consider it a revision to whatever it is I wrote that let you to believe that I think it never had it.

      Put in simple terms, I think PCP-SL was correct in the mass line when it was Maoist, but when it developed Gonzalo Thought I think problems started.

      Also, I recognize and unite with some of what you have raised in the past around PCP-SL. I hope it is clear that neither I assume you to be uncritical, nor that I denounce the PCP-SL completely and its experience unsalvageable.

      Lastly, I look forward to your comments. I do believe in self-criticism as one of the most powerful tools we have, so I specially recognize - as you explained - that I was not taking into account your previous criticism and commentary, and I should have, as I am a long time reader of this blog.

    10. I think we're closer in understanding than I first assumed, and hopefully when I properly respond, rather than in the scattered way I did before beginning emotionally and then, by the fifth continued post (right when I started deleting, lol) realizing that I had begun in a problematic manner. And in the spirit of self-criticism I again apologize for the hasty manner of my response based only on reading it quickly once. I hoped to have deleted it before you saw them, but I think you saw only half of my terribly messy and wrongly frustrated response before I could complete my delete correction process! Again, I plead the exhaustion that comes with new parenthood in my defense: when I was reading your comments, and when I was responding, my daughter was screaming constantly and I kept having to stop to keep trying to get her to stop crying. Now that she is finally asleep, I lack the energy to do a proper reread.

    11. I am familiar with that exhaustion... take your time.

      And yes, look forward to it. Good luck.

    12. Okay: sorry for the time lapse. When I had the energy to attend to comments, my first reaction was to attend to the more recent comments (both yours and Jordachev's) in the latest post rather than to return to this post immediately.

      I'll start of by making the following qualifications about the PCP, because I don't think we're too wildly apart here, before responding to some of the other points you made. I don't think the PCP should be treated as being a perfect instance of PW, obviously, and the main reason is because they failed. And once we ask the necessary questions about why they failed we are led to recognize a number of problems, some of which you noted and some of which I agreed to: the disintegration of the PW following the arrest of Guzman and the CC, the dogmatic cult of Gonzalo which caused serious issues with the development of ideology and the maintenance of a proper mass-line, and thus the degeneration of the organization into chaos and violence. The problem with trying to make sense of this violence, however, and a problem that the TRC was never able to solve in its assessment, was that there was such a level of incoherence and confusion that sometimes claims appeared to be made for political reasons and the class nature of those involved in the TRC were treated as neutral. Does this mean we can learn nothing from it? Of course not. But does this also mean we have to be wary of those conclusions that have been used by reactionaries and Senderologists? Yes... And I'm sure you agree with this as well.

      In this context, it becomes necessary to understand the failures properly rather than chalk them up to the [typically liberal and/or reactionary] conclusion that the PCP was just a gang of murderous warlords who launched a PW simply to murder and rape and commit war-crimes. I'm certain now that this was not the claim you were making (especially with your node to MOVADEF), but there were points from your first comments where it seemed to read in this way––especially your comments about rape, "boys will be boys", and a few other things. I think we can both agree, though, that the PCP was an important movement in the development of revolutionary communist theory, specifically MLM, and that the PW in Peru at its height, before its degeneration, was worth upholding. To agree to this, though, would also, yes, mean that we need to figure out why and how it failed.

      Similarly, and I think this analogy is important to make, we uphold the experience of China and the Cultural Revolution irregardless of all the reactionary and liberal propaganda about how Mao was a mass-murderer, it was some orgy of murder, rape, and crimes against humanity, and all of the other nonsense that the Jung Changs of the world like to promote in their piss-poor books. Thankfully we now have a wealth of academic work on revolutionary China, some of it even by bourgeois scholars (and I think it is useful to cite bourgeois scholars whose assessments rub up against the grain of the bourgeois discourse because it shows the contradictions in this discourse), with which to defend the GPCR experience, while being cognizant of its failures and limitations, against reactionary attacks.


    13. [cont. from above]

      At this point, since we are relatively close to its failure and the effects of its failure are still felt in the region, the experience of Peru lacks the same kind of counter-discourse that we have in the case of China. As you pointed out, the TRC is currently the only field research post-PW (but not during) and so we lack the ability to make a proper assessment. There are minor movements to counter the TRC discourse, though. MOVADEF, as you've pointed out, is one; I noted an academic paper by someone who did field research that I'm peer reviewing [have to get on that, lol, because I think it might be overdue!] who is also providing a very small counterpoint to this discourse. We need to be wary about just accepting the full ins-and-outs of the TRC (and here again I think you would agree) just as we needed to be wary about accepting the full "GPCR was Mao murdering multi-millions" discourse that became hegemonic very quickly after the Deng coup. It is always worth pointing out that revolutions, upon their failure, will always be depicted as murderous orgies of war crimes by the bourgeoisie and its lackeys and that in this context there are always two ways to see the world. Here I am reminded of the CPI(Maoist)'s response to its own truth and reconciliation committee that wrote a similar assessment of Naxal violence and also claimed impartiality (can't remember what Peoples March it was in at the moment). Thankfully the CPI(Maoist) was [and is] still a coherent political force at the time of this assessment and was able to respond, so we have cohesive picture of its side of the story and its critique of how class positionality produces an epistemic framework in which to depict a moral narrative (some good citations of Anti-Duhring, from what I recall, in this response––I really do need to find it again).

      Now it is in this context that I want to assess your criticism of my use of the PCP quote in this piece. Oddly enough, I hadn't expected it to be too controversial (except amongst uber anti-communists who would just hate that I'm talking about communism or slagging zionism in any case) because I've recently discovered that a lot of people, at least those I've talked to while engaging in agitational work, are actually unaware of the PCP. So to speak of it as a violation of some mass-line is a little out of step about what the masses care about in the first place. And even if people were put off by the PCP would this mean I'm violating the mass-line? I talk about Mao as well and, of this I am certain because of my experience and the state of the anti-communist discourse right now, Mao is currently far more reviled amongst a certain sector of people than the PCP––that Chang and Halliday book, and all the similar books that have been rushed to publication since, really did bring a "Mao is worse than Hitler" discourse back into the public mind. Indeed, you can buy books on how horrible Mao era China was at corner stores, airports, etc. now and they're constantly bestsellers––that same public isn't reading about Peru.

      Does this mean it is a proper MLM mass-line to *not* mention Mao, or even communism for that matter, because the mass-line means hiding our politics, or only revealing them after we've provided a long-winded scientific explanation with caveats to the average person on the street, in order to trick people into our politics? I'm of the mind that this is more a blanquist than mass-line strategy. Going to the masses and from the masses has a variety of meanings, and the most important meaning is that a blog, or a book, or anything of this sort is not an exercise in mass-line politics. Secondly, it means at this stage (at least in my context) finding those amongst the masses with an advanced consciousness and not catering to those who are fully committed to bourgeois ideology. And this politics in praxis is not reducible to the use of a contentious quote at the end of a blog entry.


    14. [cont. from above]

      The truth is that I think that quote by the PCP is very good at illustrating the problem of a "human rights" discourse in revolutionary politics, and I think it is important to uphold the idea that the PCP emerged by rejecting liberal politics and recognizing, right when capitalism was declaring itself the end of history, that there needed to be a break from bourgeois legality and all of its dogmas. While it is true that the PCP may have eventually fallen into another form of dogmatism, this does not mean we should ignore its theoretical contributions to revolutionary science. And really, I do take issue with how you conceptualized their theory, how aspects of it were like "Cliffs Notes", etc. I think there really was, at least at one point, an attempt to creatively develop communism in the context of Peru and a fidelity to Mariategui, though Senderologists who have never read Mariategui will tell you differently, but yes with blind-spots (again, that paper I really need to finish writing the peer-review about, argues this as well). There always theoretical blind-spots in every movement, though, and I am still drawn to the theory that emerges through revolution––even if that revolution fails. Simliarly, regardless of the current state in Nepal, I still uphold the experience of the recent Peoples War there, and the CPN(Maoist) before it degenerated into a revisionist regime––which is why I cite Hisila Yami's work on proletarian feminism from time to time despite the fact that she is now an out-an-out revisionist.

      In any case, I hope this responded to your critiques.


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