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Ten Theses on Regroupment Politics

The left regroupment strategy is a rightist approach to organization with left costuming.  Although it likes to imagine itself as a "left" alternative to the supposed "rightism" of building the kernel of a revolutionary party that is united in theory in practice, in practice it is a generally conservative theory of organization. The fact that it dares to imagine itself as a strategy of taking state power, when it is simply a theory of developing an organization, demonstrates its conservatism: it cannot think beyond the baby-steps of building a movement and so pretends that these baby-steps amount to revolutionary strategy.

Proponents of left regroupment begin with the proposition of a project wherein a vague communist pole is hypostatized as a magnet, a position in which to draw in all the fragments of a shattered left who will agree with this project.  The point is to initiate a process, the end goal of which might be a party, and to reject those approaches that begin by hypothesizing a party ethos.  These germinal party projects are rejected as "rightist" because of their supposed affiliation with a traditional Leninism; regroupment is a "left" alternative because it bucks Leninist conservatism.  Here it is forgotten that the regroupment project is not as heterodox as it imagines: it has always been one of the traditional alternatives to the "orthodox" party-building approach, from the days of the First International, and is thus not as formally "left" as it assumes.

The rightism of communist regroupment can be located in its failure to understand that any party must also be a process.  Once you assume, as the regroupment theory does, that one is engaged in a process that might eventually discover a completed party, one ends up endorsing the assumption that the party is, in itself, a moment of completion.  The end result: another party that is the "general staff" of the proletariat simply because it took the time to "properly" figure this out through the process of regroupment––a completed formation, discovered through a process, that only pretends that is not conservative because it came about this discovery in a more "left" manner.  What is far less conservative, and thus more properly left, is to begin with the understanding that the party itself is a process, and its own "communist pole", developing and/or declining in either its successes or failures to prove that it is a vanguard force.  A process to become the party, which is the communist regroupment formula, supposes that the party is the completed form because it places the process outside of the party.  A party project that assumes it is also a process is the kind of "new return" that, despite these regroupment claims about its "traditionalism", is opposed to traditionalist ossification from its very inception.

The very fact that the proponents of the regroupment "strategy" imagine they are left, and that proponents of any kind of begin-with-the-unified-party politics are right, speaks to a failure in imagination.  Specifically, it speaks to the ability of movementism to infiltrate the terrain of communists who take Leninism seriously and to incorporate its rejection of Leninism in a manner that smacks of bad faith.  While it is correct to grasp movementism as one of the responses to the sins of Leninist orthodoxy, it is a confirmation of these "sins" to endorse a movementist practice as a way of achieving Leninist orthodoxy: the fully completed party will emerge, like a revelation, once we indulge in a vague process.

Left in essence and right in form: this old charge applies to the regroupment approach.  While some of its proponents like to use the binary of right/left to rhetorically code their "Leninist" opponents as right, the fact that they lack any argument beyond words is telling.  They cannot describe why they are "left" and why other communists who still care about beginning with some form of party building are "right" aside from the way they choose to conceptualize this distinction––it must be the case because they have named it so!  Caught on the formal level, they are incapable of realizing that they themselves have proclaimed loyalty to the most rightist understanding of reality.  Why?  Because they attempt to prolong capitalism with the refusal to build anything that can theorize its end beyond vague pronouncements designed to produce their communist pole.  The process must be vague, and sometimes even blanquist, because the masses must not be alienated by a communism dedicated to a party politics!  Strategy is nothing more than organization: build that communist pole slowly and vaguely, in the most conservative way possible, so as to generate a vague regroupment.  Hence leftism is accomplished in doing nothing––formally left because it refuses to immediately endorse a party interested in overthrowing the state (not unless it has emerged through a process), and this is what defines it as left?  Clearly this is right in form: again, communist regroupment is a rightist theory.

Regroupment is entirely traditional, and thus rightist, by the very definition of the term regroupment: it seeks to pull in the already-converted left, who would search out a regroupment project to begin with, rather than find ways to locate and organize those outside of this pre-established left.  What sort of communist pole can be operationalized for those who really do have nothing left to lose but their chains but aren't part of some mainstream leftwing ethos developed amongst students, the intelligentsia, those invested in some form of semi-radical social work?  Only a pole that is competing with other poles with contrary radical definitions, a limited population.  Since locating this proletarian hard core requires something more than a vague regroupment strategy––due to the fact that such a practice is not at all a regroupment but a development from the ground up––then something that more resembles a party orientated towards these masses, with a coherent programme, is required.  But since this is a terrifying proposition, and since it is always more comfortable to enact one's politics and line struggles within a small population that is already mobilized against capitalism, regroupment theories of organization are a safe, and thus conservative, bet.

Although regroupment is not the same as refoundationalism in that it provides a more coherent politics––an ideological pole that is clearer than some common denominator anti-capitalism that seeks to "rebuild the left"––it is still marred by a general vagueness.  Proper coherence will come later, once the process is complete, and all that matters is putting forward the most general aspects of a communist pole that broadly delineate this pole from social democrats and other marxist/anarchist tendencies.  A programmatic appreciation of reality––that is, a concrete analysis of a concrete situation––will manifest as a revelation, like lightning amidst a storm, once the regroupment is accomplished.  Until then, nothing but the promise of a programme: delay thorough social investigation and the demand for coherent theoretical unity into a future perfect scenario.  Again: the completed form at the end of the process, as if this completed form could ever exist in the first place or persist as completed throughout the vicissitudes of struggle.

The regroupment theory of organization imagines that there is a left that needs to be regrouped rather than another left that needs to be built.  The necessity of rallying the most advanced elements of the masses is misunderstood as a practice of winning over the most amenable elements of the already-existing left.  While it is correct to recognize that these factions of the mainstream left can and should be won over, the theory of regroupment is thoroughly conservative and limited in that it treats this is as the primary, rather than parallel or secondary, task.  In this way, it might as well just admit that it is a theory that results in the most limited practice: a leftwing talk-shop.

While it is correct to recognize that left regroupment is necessary, to elevate this particular necessity into a general strategy demonstrates a poverty in thought.  Why can't the germ of a party politics, with a programme and concrete analysis of a concrete situation, cannot also accomplish this regroupment while also bringing in those who were never grouped in the first place?  Because they are somehow "rightist" by beginning with the programmatic conception of a party!  (The answers are ready made, more rhetorical than critical, demonstrating that regroupment is little more than a convention designed to protect a talk-shop politics.)  But those of us who believe that a party-as-process can also serve as a pole for regroupment, as well as some form of magnet for a communist pole, believe this because such a project is primarily orientated towards those masses who would not gravitate towards a communist pole unless someone made contact with them in the first place.  We regroup while attempting to engage with those who were never grouped in the first place; it is entirely conservative, and thus rightist, to focus only on regroupment

Too bad this "party of a new type" was never achieved in this period: nice slogan, the anti-revisionism of yesteryear.

If the promised party of a new type is ever to be built, it will not be through a regroupment strategy that can only, in its understanding of process/party, result in the static form of the party of the old type: the assumption of a completed "general staff" of the proletariat.  This new type of party––the MLM rather than ML party––will be one that regroups through being a party in the first place, and developing as a process by the very understanding that it cannot be completed.  It will do so by rejecting a regroupment of an already grouped and divided left as its main audience; it will develop a strategy oriented towards those who exist outside of this pre-converted left.  Regroupment is not a theory of organization; it should be understood as the result of a radical party project.


  1. I'm not sure I understand. Are these rephrasings more or less equivalent?

    1. A revolutionary strategy aims at taking or recreating, then using state power to begin the abolition of classes. Left regroupment is an organizational strategy for building a mass party. Identifying the second with the first implicitly diminishes the concept of revolution, imagining the revolutionary party as engaged in ordinary politics. Thus this approach is essentially conservative, conformist.

    2. There has always been a trend in socialist politics that denied a party needs an ethic of discipline and militancy to achieve state power. It has always held instead that somehow either that power will descend as a dove from heaven, or that power itself will be nugatory, and that the acclamations of the masses will be the festivals celebrating on the road to socialism. In a more militant version, the hope is that the masses will emit the necessary journees on cue. This vague tacit notion predates Lenin, if not Marx. Thus it is not a new thing that rises above Leninist traditionalism and nostalgia: It is an old rightist approach.

    3. Knowledge is created by interacting with the world, finding out the way things are by acting to change and being changed by the results. A party can formulate revolutionary strategy only by acting as a vanguard. An organization that begins this project committed to the proposition that real progress toward the revolution is the hallmark of correct strategy is vital despite a possible adherence to Leninist traditions. The regroupment presumption that Leninist traditions in themselves are conservative or ossified are polemic tactics, not a serious political position.

    4. The notion that Leninist norms and practices are in themselves a discipline inflicted on the masses, is a reactionary slander packaged as Leftism. The hidden assumption that somehow the natural revolutionary spontaneity of the masses will generate the proper program at the right time is not only unjustified by historical experience. It is also unclear how a greenhouse type of party in which the flowers of revolution are allowed to bloom could act to carry out any program that did emerge. It is not even clear how such a party could even change to meet the demands of taking power.

    5. The notion that the party of a new type would generate the program that would, bereft of the loser image, attract the masses bespeaks a bourgeois mentality. Socialism must be rebranded to sell in the marketplace of ideas. The program is not an understanding forged in the struggle for power, but a marketing prospectus.

    6. Worse, the regroupment project aims only as a limited market share! Basically it seeks only to unite activists.

    7. Worse yet, the prospectus for the purported customers is left conveniently blank. Investment in the party is like buying stocks for an IT firm that is going to make some breakthroughs! Looked at in its own terms, the regroupment project is remarkably feeble.

    8. There is no mainstream left. It is all fringe. Thus the regroupment project is about constructing a refuge rather than a weapon.

    9. Winning over the bourgeoisie is left. Any project that doesn't aim at ultimate victory is not left.

    10. The rise of a revolutionary party rooted in the advance workers, linked to the struggles of the masses, will compel regroupment around the emerging revolutionary strategy. Reversing this, claiming that regroupment will somehow create a new face and new popularity, is backwards.


    1. I don't know if all of these are necessarily rephrasings, but some of them are or, at least, not all adverse to the spirit of the above piece. Only number 9 is something that strikes me as wrong: winning over the bourgeoisie is not at all left and thesis 9 was about winning over the disparate but hardcore proletarian forces.

    2. Re #9..I originally wrote "Beating the bourgeoisie.." but that seemed too alliterative. Self-editing is a hard game. I played by myself but I still lost.

      If I have gotten the spirit of the piece, then I'll add that for what it's worth, I agree.

      Steven Johnson

    3. "Beating" is much better, though you could have gone with "defeating" which would probably be more accurate and avoid alliteration… but what's wrong with alliteration?

  2. PS Forgot to add, excellent work in provoking thought.

    Steven Johnson

  3. There has been a response to this post here:

    Excited by this debate.


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