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What Tendencies Count as Revolutionary?

In the stagnant ocean that is the mainstream left at the centres of capitalism, multiple currents vie for recognition as the current.  And though we are not living in a period, at least in Canada, where a spectacular exchange of polemics between these currents is exploding with the same ferocity and heightened consciousness as it did twenty or thirty years ago––when the stagnant ocean of day was more tumultuous, its waves somewhat higher––because the ocean has become something of a lake, if not a pond, and the dry land of capitalist ideology is larger than the waters of anti-capitalist ideology, those of us who are part of this mainstream left are very aware of the various political tendencies, many of which claim they are the tendency.

Now I'm all for this contention, because I believe that the dialectical process of unity-struggle is creative and transformative, but I also think that this contention needs some sort of philosophical clarity.  We need to question whether we enter into these line struggles honestly––if we even recognize them as line struggles and understand the concept of line struggle––or whether we are simply clinging to a political faction because it is habitual, because it makes us feel comfortable, and we dislike those people in that other faction simply because they aren't our friends and are saying things we've never researched and don't want to research because it upsets our ideological assumptions.

We need to ask what would happen if one current in this stagnant ocean became so active that it would rise as a wave while our currents remained dormant.  Would we realize the limitations of our own approaches and be forced to recognize that, perhaps, we were wrong; would we tell that wave that the "time isn't right" for it even to think of itself as a wave and so instead it needed to descend and submerge itself in the slough of dormant currents; would we try to argue that our coalitions of equally dormant currents are more significant even if they're never going to rise and threaten the dry lands beyond.  Simply put, dropping this extended metaphor that I've probably stretched too far, would we refuse to recognize a revolutionary tendency because it is not our tendency.

Good Lord!  I have descended into the terrible abyss of extended metaphors.  Someone re-educate me now!

Clearly there are small and dogmatic tendencies that would fight any revolutionary movement because it does not resemble the pure revolutionary movement of their religious visions.  And though history should inform us that, while there may indeed be universal understandings of revolution, there is no "pure revolution" for there is also the fact of particularity (which, in another way, is a universal insight) because no moment in history is identical.  The latter half of the dialectic of universality-particularity, of continuity and rupture, is ignored by such groups; they continue to wait for a Bolshevik Revolution that was only pure before the expulsion of Trotsky.  To wit: if a revolution ever does happen in the countries where these dogmatic groups operate, and because it will not at all be precisely the revolution these groups desire, they will fight against its very existence because it is not their revolution.  They never will bother to ask why their vision of the revolution is antiquated, has never been accepted, and has nothing to do with the reality in which they operate; they will simply assume everyone else is counter-revolutionary and, because of this assumption, end up becoming the counter-revolutionaries at the moment of revolution.

(Is it any wonder, therefore, that communist groups with this sort of ideology have been labeled "counter-revolutionary" by actually existing revolutionary movements throughout history?  Orthodox trotskyists continue to complain about Ho Chi Minh's liquidation of Vietnamese trotskyists, but what would you do if a tiny group of people was fighting against a revolution, were telling peasants they couldn't be proper revolutionaries because they weren't the industrial working class, were saying the same thing as the imperialists but for supposedly different reasons?  And if you think about the dogmatic communist cabals of today, and imagine that it was people like them in these contexts, then you'll probably understand why they were treated as counter-revolutionaries: missionaries don't like being wrong.)

But within this larger context of competing tendencies––a context that, as aforementioned, is rather stagnant when it comes to a thorough exchange of polemics––there is still the problem of an unwillingness to honestly recognize the politics of other groups.  Few organizations, and people within these organizations, even bother to respond to the propaganda of each other with the respect it deserves.  Fewer still have actual political programmes, let alone a working revolutionary plan, so maybe there's generally no point in trying to respond to nebulous propaganda.  And many individuals within these organizations are often, due to the petty-bourgeois state of the mainstream left, academics who think their research––important, yes, but most often divorced from concrete revolutionary politics or social investigation––somehow trumps actual class struggle.  "I'm 'smarter' than that person in that organization, and I don't want to worry about maybe the fact my marxist school of thought is bullshit so a pox on them!"

Rather than be a subjectivist and focus on what might possibly be the individual or psychological complaints of various tendencies, I should probably be more objective and recognize that, to be fair, there is a legitimate fear in recognizing this-or-that tendency as revolutionary.  For how can we recognize another tendency as revolutionary, how can we trust that one group rather than another possesses more revolutionary legitimacy than our group; because, if we cannot recognize these things, then it would be irresponsible to endorse a contending tendency.  So I want to suggest some (very) basic qualifications for a tendency to be recognized as revolutionary.  (This in no way precludes the fact that more than one tendency can be recognized as revolutionary, and I would again refer a new reader to the entry I cited above.)

The first qualification for revolutionary recognition would be that the tendency is growing amongst the revolutionary masses.  Not just growing amongst a very limited population of the intelligentsia, trade unionists, and general petty-bourgeoisie, but amongst the popular masses.  Most specifically, amongst the proletariat––here I mean the "hard-core" of the proletariat, not simply the most privileged members of the working-class who are union bureaucrats.  Those with nothing to lose but their chains, who want capitalism to end, who aren't necessarily student activists who have a time-limit of five years and will end up with careers in a random NGO a decade from now.  But, we must also recognize that fascism too can mobilize the popular masses––so this qualification alone does not demonstrate revolutionary validity.  In the US, the Tea Party is growing amongst a certain sector of the popular masses (although we must ask, in this context, whether the white working class counts as THE proletariat), but this is clearly a fascist movement.  Still, regardless of this problem (which will hopefully be addressed in the next qualifications), it is very important to begin any assessment of this or that self-styled "revolutionary" or "anti-capitalist" or "communist" group with the issue of growth amongst those people it claims to represent.  If you aren't growing amongst the masses, the people whose revolution you claim you're carrying forward, then you shouldn't qualify for revolutionary recognition.

The second qualification is the fact that the state recognizes that you are a threat.  Generally speaking, the state targets every anti-capitalist; this is because the capitalist state doesn't like anything that threatens its hegemony.  Specifically, though, we need to ask what organizations are being singled out by the state as a threat.  This qualification is important because, as Mao said, it is good to be attacked by the enemy––it demonstrates that you're being seen as a threat.  If your organization is not being seen as a threat, or if the state doesn't even know it exists, then it probably isn't doing much in the way of revolution: it is not trying to push itself as a counter-hegemony.  But again, we need to be careful because, by itself, this qualification isn't enough.  Some organizations who might have no roots among the masses (qualification number one) might be occasionally singled out for repression.  Furthermore, some organizations might still be growing on a clandestine level, trying their best to avoid state recognition, so that when they declare themselves as a revolutionary force they will be strong and disciplined.  Even still, this qualification is important because it demonstrates the willingness of a group to declare itself against the dominant order while also qualifying, contra the problem of the first qualification by itself, that fascist movements are not revolutionary––the state has never really reacted to ultra-right movements with the same repression it levels against actual anti-capitalism.

The third and final general qualification, which hopefully ties the three together, is the coherence of a revolutionary political line.  First of all, it must be noted that such a coherence will eventually demonstrate its unity in the first two qualifications: programmatically it will find a way to embed itself in the masses, politically it will emerge as an enemy of the state.  Secondly, I am not interested in discussing the meaning of a "revolutionary political line" here because, in many ways, that has been the obsession of the majority of my blog posts.  My overall point, however, is not to descend into the same dogmatic slough discussed above––where one is arguing that only this specific and pure interpretation of historical communism means revolutionary––but to simply point out the general importance of content.  Does the tendency possess a coherent programme, ideologically and practically, that is on the side of the oppressed and against the oppressors?  Or does the tendency––and this is what what would disqualify it from any revolutionary recognition––have a nebulous reformist attitude that refuses to plan against capitalism, that is united around the lowest common welfare capitalist denominator?  This is a qualification that disqualifies right-wing populism but that, by itself, is still not enough.  For this is a qualification that can only be proved by the first two qualifications.

To sum up, I think we can recognize a revolutionary tendency as revolutionary when it demonstrates these three general qualifications: growth amongst the revolutionary masses, being recognized as a threat by the state, and possessing a coherent and revolutionary political line.  Groups that qualify on none of these levels, no matter what they believe, are a joke––no one cares about them, no one should care about them, and they're little more than a self-obsessed grouplet who thinks they're more important than they actually are.  But again, this must be treated as a process; a group does not achieve all these qualifications overnight.  Every tendency within the left should try to pursue these qualifications, just as every member of these tendencies––if they feel they have the right to think of themselves as revolutionary––should recognize those tendencies that do begin to approach these qualifications.  And if there is more than one tendency that fulfills these qualifications, so much the better: the process of unity-struggle-unity can only benefit any possible revolution.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that some waves are beginning to rise in my social context, most of the other mainstream left groups (minority currents, trapped within the tiny populations of student, intelligentsia, and trade union bureaucrats) remain caught up in their factionalism.  But this is not a problem in my social context; it's a widespread malaise that, in some ways, can be blamed on bourgeois individualism.  Hell, even in countries like India where revolutionary organizations like the CPI(Maoist) have produced a civil war you have multiple marxist organizations––some revisionist parliamentary parties, some tiny cabals who will never grow––who refuse to recognize their legitimacy!  So in all of these contexts, we must wonder what a revolution will mean for these multiple tendencies and their self-obsessed aspirations that blind them to concrete revolutions.


  1. So I guess KKKra$ama probably doesn't count then

    1. I think the vast majority of the left and its groupings in North America at this juncture don't count, so I don't think it is worth dismissing one group over any others in this context. My problem here is with groups that imagine they will (or, more sadly, *are*) commanding the revolution in the US and/or Canada when they clearly are not. Kasama, from what I can gather, claims that it is not a revolutionary organization but a political process that is trying to create a revolutionary tendency––whether or not they will be successful, or the process they have initiated is valuable, is another issue.

      Truthfully, I was thinking of a recent internet debate between supporters of the CPI(Maoist) and a supporter of some miniscule Indian ML group associated with ICOR who was trying to say that the Naxal rebellion was not really revolutionary, that his tiny group was the true vanguard of the proletariat, etc., etc. Really stupid sectarian shit from an insignificant group that thinks it is significant. But then, when I started writing it, I was thinking of the Toronto context as well and, as you know, it kind of became a frankenstein monster.

  2. Interesting...
    I've actually been doing a lot of thinking related to water metaphors today (though in my case related to feminism).

    It's funny that the terminology we use to articulate concepts that are meant to be fluid -- waves as it relates to feminism, currents as it relates to left ideology -- often end up being quite limiting and prescriptive, leading to stagnation. So true that those who cling to these tendencies or currents forget the constant reflection and willingness to adapt that is needed to remain relevant.

    1. Ha ha, oh yes the wave metaphors for feminism––how can we forget? Interesting point about how even fluid metaphors can become stagnant. But the movements behind these metaphors also often become stagnant, so I suppose it makes sense.


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