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Let's Avoid Being Sucked Back into the Movementist Mire

At the centres of world capitalism there has been, for a long time, a knee-jerk reaction to the kind of politics associated with revolutionary parties.  Indeed, one of the problems I've been investigating, interrogating, and generally complaining about on this blog has been this mental block amongst the mainstream left at the imperialist centres when it comes to thinking of political organizing within the framework that was once considered normative for revolutionaries throughout the world––and still is considered normative by the most revolutionary movements at the global peripheries.  And yet here, in North America and Canada, the entire notion of a revolutionary party united in theory and practice is still treated by large sectors of the mainstream left as a throwback to the early days of the twentieth century.

But ten or fifteen years ago it was considered old-fashioned to define as a communist and most of us were "anarchists" by default because we were raised at the end of the cold war where we saw the revisionist end of actually existing socialisms collapse––where we were fed a steady diet of Animal Farm and anti-communist history gleaned from simplistic high school textbooks.  We didn't want to associate with an ideology we believed to be a failed ideology; we had no idea that the international revolutionary communist movement was already reinventing itself and moving forward even though the capitalists had apparently claimed "the end of history."  Thankfully, communism as an ideology has now been reclaimed by the left at the centres of capitalism and, though it is often still limited to the already-converted left, we don't have to feel like dinosaurs when we raise the red flag at a demonstration.

And yet, even though communism as an ideological designation has become far less unpopular in this context, the kind of communist practice established by the world historical revolutions in Russia and China is still something many of us want to avoid.  So what if this vanguard party business is still the qualifier of a revolutionary movement at the global peripheries!  We've moved past that here, it's in bad taste, and it's better to be the kind of communist who just tails social movements and tries to dream up new methods (which aren't really new) of organization.  In a word: movementism.  And it is this word, and the politics it represents, that I've been interrogating, debating, and generally turning into a pejorative for a long time on this blog.

The thing is, parties of the vanguard type or seen at the centres of global capitalism as some sort of scary and old-fashioned way of doing things.  "I don't have to pay attention to the peoples war in Nepal," someone once told me about five years ago before the CPN(Maoist) lost itself in revisionism, "Because I know what that type of politics produces."  And they didn't mean what the UCPN(Maoist) is now endorsing, but what is described by anti-communist literature: the failed and autocratic socialisms that vanguardism must inevitably produce––autocracy, dictatorship, totalitarianism.  But what type of politics does movementism produce?  Nothing: simply a bunch of people getting together, tailing the masses, hoping that the next upsurge will be the next revolution, and losing themselves in a closed process that will repeat itself infinitely within a closed loop of directionless demonstrations.


Inversely, what type of politics has this vanguardism produced?  Failures, yes, but before that grand successes that the movementist approach has never and will never produce: so we do know what this vanguardism produces––world historical revolutions, even lesser and repeated revolutions.  We can make this organizational contrast between revolutionary parties and movementism with a certain level of certainty because, as I've also tried to argue here, revolutionary communism is a science.  And like any science the history of the global revolutionary movement has established a theoretical sequence which tells us that movementism doesn't work, just like other sciences tell us that other dead-end ways of doing things don't work.  And we should know, within this historical process, that this movementism was already a dead-end: as I pointed out elsewhere, the arch-revisionist Bernstein once claimed that "the final aim is nothing, the movement is everything" … the idea that the end point will work itself out, that it doesn't need to be theoretically and practically organized in a militantly coherent structure, is now considered a virtue even though, in the time of Lenin and Luxemburg, it was considered by revolutionaries to be opportunism.

Which is why I generally see movementism as an ideological articulation of the default opportunism that hampers the left at the centres of capitalism.  Or maybe it's also the wages paid for the sin of revisionist vanguardism… Whatever the case, it has been the way to do things amongst the mainstream left at the centres of capitalism for a while even though it hasn't really done anything significant.  It's just a "let's make things up as we go" credo; more accurately, it's a "let's make things up over and over again every time other people who we have nothing to do with rebel" way of seeing the world.  But really, I have become convinced that movementism is truly a product of default opportunism: it allows us to both keep and eat our revolutionary cake––to declare ourselves communists but not really try to bring communism into existence because we hope it will happen by itself––and it allows us to linger in that no-persons land between theory and practice.

After all, like so many others, I was stuck for years in this movementist mire.  Even when I finally gave up anarchism I lingered in an autonomist fog for years, worrying over the whole problem of organized parties and hoping that this-next-demo™ would build on the previous demo and that there would be some awesome critical mass at some unforeseeable point where all the disparate trajectories would converge and "presto chango revolution!"  And even when I found myself moving towards Marxism-Leninism-Maoism it wasn't until I went through the wringer of a semi-failed trade union strike that I was able to begin to conceive of the need to involve myself with a movement that was trying to be a revolutionary party.  And for those readers who ask when and where it was that I even began to conceive of supporting the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada (PCR-RCP), it was at this point: where a strike made me think of organization and structure, where the limits of "trade-union consciousness" made me realize that something truly revolutionary was necessary.

Indeed, following this strike a small group of similar minded disillusioned unionists met for a few months to discuss the PCR-RCP programme and debate the limitations of our current politics.  At that point some of us had heard about what the PCR-RCP was building in Franco-Canada and were extremely intrigued: here was a growing mass movement, embedded as best as it could be but still extremely limited in the masses, speaking of revolutionary vanguards and the need to build a party in Canada.  Hell, it was even talking about terribly frightening things like Protracted Peoples War!  That reading group fell apart after its initial momentum, and some of the people initially excited by the prospect walked away, but it was still an important moment for a few of us.  A moment where our movementism was questioned, where we started to think that there might be something more, and were excited by the prospect of this more regardless of the fact that it was apparently "old-fashioned" to not be anything but a movementist in this opportunistic context/climate.

Now that I'm a supporter of the PCR-RCP I often feel a disconnect with my previous movementist self who would have been confused by the very notion of supporting groups who organized as potential vanguard parties.  But that's not really a very big issue; we're never the same person even from day to day (yeah, my philosophy academic training is showing––read your Hume everybody, don't you know the ship analogy?!!!) so this isn't that big of a deal.  What is a big deal for me, though, is the problem of past comrades who are still caught within the gap between theory and practice, still choosing movementism as their way of functioning because they can't think of anything better, and still have this bizarre notion that any group that tries to invent itself as a party is going to be like some weirdo Spartacist dogmato-revisionist cult.

Thankfully I am now living in a time and context where it seems that what was originally treated as antiquated at the centres of world capitalism (because, let's be honest, if you live in a place where the labour aristocracy predominates revolution, due to default opportunism, will always be seen as "antiquated" and so other non-revolutionary ways of doing things will be favoured) is now becoming more palatable.  Is this because of the economic crisis?  Perhaps… The point, though, is that a  revolutionary group like the PCR-RCP is growing across Canada––slowly and surely and even articulated in its mass organizations and fronts––demonstrating that we don't have to settle for the movementist state of affairs.  Perhaps these are exciting times, perhaps we'll have another period of communist ferment that was similar to the late 70s and 80s where anti-revisionist M-L groups like the Workers Communist Party and En Lutte [which, it needs to be mentioned, in significant ways streamed into the PCR-RCP] determined the course of revolutionary history in Canada.

So, fellow Canadians who bother to read this blog, let's get out of this movementist mire.  I know some of you are in it because you think there's really no alternative––maybe some of you would want to be in a party but you're smart enough to realize that the Communist Party Canada has been a joke since it endorsed Khruschev and became a parliamentary circus––but there are alternatives.  And these alternatives are growing and spreading outside of regional contexts.  They are militant and organized.  They might end up recreating the vital context of the late 1970s and early 1980s in Canada––there might even be real line struggles in the future––but whatever they are, they're worth more than this bargain basement movementism that so many of us are accustomed to by now: a political fad that does nothing, goes nowhere, and is incapable of creating a counter-hegemony.