Notes on the subterranean maturation of consciousness

193 posts / 0 new
Last post
Fred
Notes on the subterranean maturation of consciousness
Printer-friendly versionSend by email

The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Notes on the subterranean maturation of consciousness. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
such darling dodos

Thank you comrade mhou  for this interesting and clearly presented article. I particularly liked the description and analysis of the events in 1968, and was intrigued by this. 

mhou wrote:
The connection between the communist minority and the working class is organic, the former developing from the class consciousness of the latter within the class.

Does this not suggest that one way of measuring the amount of class consciousness in the class is to look at how much overall consciousness its revolutionary minorities manifest?  Indeed, for how long they are able to exist in non-revolutionary times.  Well, the ICC and ICT, to name but two, have certainly stood the test of time, though numbers of comrades are not large. But new ones emerge. As to how much class consciousness these organizations manifest...well surely it's pretty impressive?  Their capacity for in-depth critique of the bourgeoisie is "up to standard" isn't it? (I can already hear distant rumblings from some comrades about how we understand, or measure, "up to standard" but I offer this web site as proof, and the comrades who post on it too, especially the critical critics among us).  In addition, the analysis and presentation by these communist organizations of the gains and losses of the proletariats' historical struggles, and the indications emanating from these for future praxis, hardly seem to be lacking. Do they?  ( Some comrades may doubt. But this is the culture of debate, so please we must discuss..) 

That the ICC is here and that we are on its web site is surely an indication that class consciousness exists, and is alive, and must be present in the class - though not always visible - or is it to be claimed that we are just  darling dodos left over from '68. 

slothjabber
Dodos, quaggas or fossils?

Fred wrote:

... one way of measuring the amount of class consciousness in the class is to look at how much overall consciousness its revolutionary minorities manifest?  Indeed, for how long they are able to exist in non-revolutionary times.  Well, the ICC and ICT, to name but two, have certainly stood the test of time...

Have they?

In North America, both the ICT and ICC are tiny. There, most comrades who identify with Left Communism are not members of an organisation, as far as I can tell. In the UK in the 1970s, the ICC had sections in Edinburgh, Manchester, Northampton, London and Southampton, if I have properly understood comrades who were in the organisation at the time. There have been new sections come along in South America, Turkey and the Phillipines and they are to be welcomed, but in Western Europe groups have been bleeding members for 30 years.

 

Is that really 'standing the test of time'?

Fred wrote:

is it to be claimed that we are just  darling dodos left over from '68. 

That is I think the opinion of some comrades. I can't remember which forum - possibly LibCom, possibly RevLeft, possibly RedMarx, maybe even this forum - it was where Alf posed the question of attitude the 'new generation' to the existing organisations. It seemed to me that Alf essentially was asking whether the 'new generation' would join the existing organisations, or form its own with no referrence to the existing organisations and have to re-invent the wheel.

It seems to me that there's a third option that Alf didn't refer to, which is to take what's positive from the evolution of the groups of the Communist Left over the last 45 years, but leave behind what isn't positive. Some comrades have likened this to the idea of a 'treasure chest' of revolutionary theory that will be rediscovered by the working class. I've referred to the existing organisations as 'revolutionary librarians', though archivists of previous revolution would probably be more accurate. The basic idea would be to try and appropriate the history of class struggles. But whether that has done by joining and working within the existing organisations, or working with but outside the organisations while seeking to establish new forms, or ignoring them altogether, is an important question. I think my approach is fairly clear, but I think I'm possibly in a minority and a number of self-identified Left Communists do not want to engage with, let alone join, the existing organisations.

 

 

 

mhou
Quote:Does this not suggest

Quote:
Does this not suggest that one way of measuring the amount of class consciousness in the class is to look at how much overall consciousness its revolutionary minorities manifest?

Possibly- but I think it is something that different people will give different amounts of importance. When seen in the context of all of the other aspects of SMC theory, it is definitely an indicator that factors in. 1917 and 1968 are both clear examples of this in practice- that during economic and/or political crises, the experiences of the [international] proletariat inform future struggles, which if that level of consciousness is growing in tandem with that experience, there is a good liklihood that new pro-revolutionary militants will form within the class, then seek to organize amongst themselves (to set the groundwork for the formation of the next International if the crisis activity turns into revolutionary activity).

The question of the latest 'generation' of pro-revolutionaries (since the early 2000's, but particularly since 2008), which for better or worse I'm a part of, is what the collective 'we' are going to do (the choices jk describes). Some people do seem very much against joining an existing organization (or forming new ones for that matter) based on forum posts or correspondence. But a lot of the groups that came to define post-war left communism didn't become truly international organizations until the 1970's, years after 1968. So I don't think this problem of assimilating newly-communist or younger communists is a lost opportunity or anything like that- it does bring up a lot of fruitful ideas and discussions.

Quote:
That the ICC is here and that we are on its web site is surely an indication that class consciousness exists, and is alive, and must be present in the class - though not always visible - or is it to be claimed that we are just  darling dodos left over from '68.

The balance sheets the ICC has released on important anniversaries (10 years, 25 years) are very good- they put up a good argument defending the necessity of the revolutionary organization, even in periods of reflux.

jk1921
Numbers

slothjabber wrote:

In North America, both the ICT and ICC are tiny. There, most comrades who identify with Left Communism are not members of an organisation, as far as I can tell. In the UK in the 1970s, the ICC had sections in Edinburgh, Manchester, Northampton, London and Southampton, if I have properly understood comrades who were in the organisation at the time. There have been new sections come along in South America, Turkey and the Phillipines and they are to be welcomed, but in Western Europe groups have been bleeding members for 30 years.

Is that really 'standing the test of time'?

Considering the fact that the ICC and ICT (in various permutations) have existed longer than any other international revolutionary organziation through the massive reflux in consciousness surrounding the so-called "death of communism," perhaps it is. This must be evidence of something? It is true that the number of individual militants in these organizations in some places has dwindled as a result of various factors, but is this fact alone evidence of sclerosis? How do we balance a realistic appreciation of where these organiations are without falling victim to a certain fetishism of numbers?

slothjabber wrote:

Fred wrote:

is it to be claimed that we are just  darling dodos left over from '68. 

That is I think the opinion of some comrades. I can't remember which forum - possibly LibCom, possibly RevLeft, possibly RedMarx, maybe even this forum - it was where Alf posed the question of attitude the 'new generation' to the existing organisations. It seemed to me that Alf essentially was asking whether the 'new generation' would join the existing organisations, or form its own with no referrence to the existing organisations and have to re-invent the wheel.

It seems to me that there's a third option that Alf didn't refer to, which is to take what's positive from the evolution of the groups of the Communist Left over the last 45 years, but leave behind what isn't positive. Some comrades have likened this to the idea of a 'treasure chest' of revolutionary theory that will be rediscovered by the working class. I've referred to the existing organisations as 'revolutionary librarians', though archivists of previous revolution would probably be more accurate. The basic idea would be to try and appropriate the history of class struggles. But whether that has done by joining and working within the existing organisations, or working with but outside the organisations while seeking to establish new forms, or ignoring them altogether, is an important question. I think my approach is fairly clear, but I think I'm possibly in a minority and a number of self-identified Left Communists do not want to engage with, let alone join, the existing organisations.

I think we all agree that the existing left communist organizations were mostly a product of the experience of the generation of '68 and that there is a wide gulf (cultural, sociological) separating them from the newer generations who have begun to take up revolutionary politics in the wake of the crisis of 2008. Moreover, I think most here would accept that if the proletarian revolution is ever to come to fruition this would involve the transcendence of these existing organizations in the formation of some kind of international party. The question, I suppose, is what is to be done in the meantime? What could possibly be gained by ignoring the existing organizations? What are the dangers of working within them? Why is that problematic? What does it mean to work with but outside them? What new forms are we looking for?

MH
the clue is the mole

Yes thank you to mhou for this, it's an excellent way of taking forward some of the forum debates in a more structured way.

I think the discussion in the ICC on 'subterranean maturation' also needs to be framed not simply as a response to the 1980 mass strikes but as part of its attempt to  reappropriate the marxist method in the face of empiricist (and also activist) tendencies within the organisation and the wider milieu. The CWO/ICT's essentially empiricist, 'common sense' method has already been commented on. This point was made in a 2004 article:

"The passage we have quoted contains another problem: the tendency to attack as some kind of ICC shibboleth positions which are not at all our invention but which, at the very least, represent our attempt to develop the authentic traditions of the marxist movement. This is the case with the notion of subterranean maturation, which the CWO use almost as a term of ridicule, but which has a long pedigree going back via Trotsky to Marx – who coined the immortal phrase "well grubbed old mole" in describing the class struggle. (...) if the CWO don’t like our interpretations of such concepts, let them go to the sources in the marxist classics (such as Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution) and argue against them directly." (The need for rigour in debate within the proletarian movement).

In other words, SMC should itself be seen as part of the deepening of class consciousness within the existing, albeit tiny, revolutionary minorities of the class at the time. 

 

jk1921
Tough Sell

MH wrote:

In other words, SMC should itself be seen as part of the deepening of class consciousness within the existing, albeit tiny, revolutionary minorities of the class at the time. 

This is the assertion that, I think, causes a lot of problems for SMC--the idea that the existence of revolutionary minorities--regardless of how infisteminally small--can serve as some kind of "proof" that SMC is taking place. This sets the revolutionaries up as their own judge and allows them to serve as their own proof that their activity corressponds to some broader historical movement within a class that by and large does not recognize itself. This is a tough sell for many.

 

MH
It is a tough sell

jk1921 wrote:

This is the assertion that, I think, causes a lot of problems for SMC--the idea that the existence of revolutionary minorities--regardless of how infisteminally small--can serve as some kind of "proof" that SMC is taking place. This sets the revolutionaries up as their own judge and allows them to serve as their own proof that their activity corressponds to some broader historical movement within a class that by and large does not recognize itself. This is a tough sell for many.

It is a tough sell, especially today, I agree. But then the whole argument that the proletariat is a revolutionary class capable of creating a future communist society is a pretty tough sell at the moment, as far as the vast majority is concerned. I agree, the current numerical weakness of revolutionary organisations is a serious issue, but it is only one aspect of the historically precarious position the proletariat finds itself in today. To coin a phrase, this shouldn't lead us to throw the SMC baby out with the bathwater... Are revolutionaries a part of the class or not? If so, don't we have to see their activity as an expression of the deepening of class consciousness, albeit in historically unprecedented (and in some ways unfavourable) conditions? Do you think the ICC is 'setting itself as its own judge' here, or is this a potential danger?

 

 

 

 

 

 

mhou
Quote:I think the

Quote:
I think the discussion in the ICC on 'subterranean maturation' also needs to be framed not simply as a response to the 1980 mass strikes but as part of its attempt to  reappropriate the marxist method in the face of empiricist (and also activist) tendencies within the organisation and the wider milieu. The CWO/ICT's essentially empiricist, 'common sense' method has already been commented on

Very well put MH, that's a very important point. I do think it was a very lucid and identifiable achievement of the revolutionary organization in the period of a general reflux of the class- other groups within the milieu (even the ones that claim to be 'The Party') put the tasks of the communist minority in times of low class consciousness or a reflux as carrying on the gains of experience and methods of Marxism/worker's movement, developing theory, engaging the class struggle where it is possible and developing new militants. I think the example of a lot of the ICC's original work (SMC is the best example of this) demonstrates that the task is not so much to be 'revolutionary librarians' (which certainly is a portion of the tasks of a revolutionary organization) but to be active, subjective agents in the class- which includes developing theory (keeping Marxism alive) and refining practice in contemporary times.

Quote:
This is the assertion that, I think, causes a lot of problems for SMC--the idea that the existence of revolutionary minorities--regardless of how infisteminally small--can serve as some kind of "proof" that SMC is taking place. This sets the revolutionaries up as their own judge and allows them to serve as their own proof that their activity corressponds to some broader historical movement within a class that by and large does not recognize itself. This is a tough sell for many.

I'm not sure how important this 1 factor is to the SMC theory within the ICC, but the way I've always read it is that the main 'meat' of the theory involves a methdology for understanding the class struggle and the objective economic situation and placing everything into an international and historically minded context- leaving one with the means to identify sharp changes in the trajectory of the balance of class forces/when a new period of the class struggle opens. This allows us to 'gauge' where things are- leading to a non-mechanistic, non-determinist or spontaneist understanding and theorization of class consciousness.

To me the emergence of new communists, while a factor in the overall picture, is secondary to the methodological tools of analysis of the class struggle and with it class consciousness. In the present period, we can look back to how long it took for the formation of the International (2 years after the initial explosion of the revolutionary wave), or more recently in the post-'68 period, it took 6/7 years before the ICC was formed as an international, single organization. The clock hasn't run out to see what new communists (since 2008) will do after emerging. I do think the example of Sic's publication is 1 example of emerging communists since 2008- communists joined in small groups which corresponded with one another and now organized an effort to produce a project of theoretical development in collaboration on an international level.

Demogorgon
Surely the point about SMC is

Surely the point about SMC is that it explains why movements appear "out of nowhere". Since, by definition, it cannot really be empirically observed it cannot serve as any kind of barometer for level of class consciousness in the class at any particular moment.

LBird
Social Theory determines, not Individual Observation

Demogorgon wrote:

Surely the point about SMC is that it explains why movements appear "out of nowhere". Since, by definition, it cannot really be empirically observed ...

In support of your point, Demogorgon, I refer you to our discussion on 'science' and Margaret Archer.

Margaret Archer, Realist Social Theory, p. 23, wrote:
What is being suggested here is that a causal criterion of existence is acceptable, rather than always and only employing the perceptual criterion (observability) as entrenched in empiricist Individualism.
[my bold]

We Communists have to maintain that focussing upon 'empirical observation' is to employ a conservative method.

Demogorgon
Umm, to a certain extent,

Umm, to a certain extent, doesn't empirical observation determine whether a theory is valid or not? To take an example, if one says that "the consciousness of the class is rising" then you have to produce actual evidence for that claim. Appeal to an invisible process is not evidence in itself; however, that invisible process might be able to explain what we actually do see.

As far as SMC is concerned, if I remember rightly, it was developed to explain how consciousness must be able to develop outside of open struggle; in particular, the development of different forms of struggle in the various strikes that finally led to the very radical forms of self-organisation that appeared in Poland 81.

My point is that various processes of maturation can be going on in the class all the time, both at the level of breadth (i.e. the development of mass consciousness) and depth (the development of revolutionary theory). This doesn't mean that they actually are - the process itself is largely invisible (otherwise it wouldn't be subterranean!) so we have no real way of knowing until the results of that process manifest themselves openly in mass struggles, the formation of political organisations or whatever.

 

LBird
Comradely support?

Demogorgon wrote:
Umm, to a certain extent, doesn't empirical observation determine whether a theory is valid or not?

I suppose it depends upon one's ideological leanings, comrade!

Many scientists, perhaps following Einstein, would claim with as much right, that:

"Umm, to a certain extent, doesn't a theory determine whether empirical observation is valid or not?"

I'll leave it at that, because I don't want this thread to cross-over with other 'science' threads.

I just wanted to support the 'general thrust' of your earlier post. But I'm quite prepared to be told that it's 'support' you can do without!

Demogorgon
slothjabber wrote:I think my

slothjabber wrote:
I think my approach is fairly clear, but I think I'm possibly in a minority and a number of self-identified Left Communists do not want to engage with, let alone join, the existing organisations.

I think the question that "non-aligned" left communists should be asking is what will happen if the ICC and/or the ICT disappear? The ICC, of course, has been around longer than many of us have been alive (I was 2 years old when it was founded!) and I think that has resulted in a kind of "oh, it'll always be here" attitude.

But maybe it won't. Revolutionary organisations have to fight for their existence. There have been several occasions when the ICC nearly disintegrated. It survived because comrades struggled for that survival. We won those battles (often at great cost) but there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. The ICC will only survive if comrades inside and especially outside take an active role in preserving that existence.

If people think that the ICC offers something valuable whether that be theory or something else, then they need to engage with us. If they don't, if they vote with their feet so to speak, they may wake up one day and find us gone.

 

MH
are librarians part of the working class?

Demogorgon wrote:

slothjabber wrote:
I think my approach is fairly clear, but I think I'm possibly in a minority and a number of self-identified Left Communists do not want to engage with, let alone join, the existing organisations.

I think the question that "non-aligned" left communists should be asking is what will happen if the ICC and/or the ICT disappear? The ICC, of course, has been around longer than many of us have been alive (I was 2 years old when it was founded!) and I think that has resulted in a kind of "oh, it'll always be here" attitude.

But maybe it won't. Revolutionary organisations have to fight for their existence. There have been several occasions when the ICC nearly disintegrated. It survived because comrades struggled for that survival. We won those battles (often at great cost) but there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. The ICC will only survive if comrades inside and especially outside take an active role in preserving that existence.

If people think that the ICC offers something valuable whether that be theory or something else, then they need to engage with us. If they don't, if they vote with their feet so to speak, they may wake up one day and find us gone.

Yes I agree, It's good that there are comrades out there who identify with 'left communism', it's one of the grounds for hope in the current situation. But the tragedy is that one of the most important contributions of left communism, in particular of the Italian Left, was, as we all know, precisely on the importance of organisation and the need to work within existing proletarian organisations - even if they were degenerating towards the bourgeoisie like the communist parties of the 1920s.

This isn't aimed at anyone in particular; that fact that revolutionary forces are so weak today is clearly a symptom of the immense difficulties faced by the proletariat. But it's one thing to recognise this, it's quite another to float ideas like 'revolutionary librarians', or 'treasure chests'; as if its just a matter today of downloading the folder created by the ICC marked 'previous struggles' and setting up a new group... Apart from anything else, if revolutionary organisations really are a part of the working class, what would it signify if the ICC (or even the ICT) were to disappear? What would it indicate about the balance of class forces?

jk1921
Self-referential

MH wrote:

Apart from anything else, if revolutionary organisations really are a part of the working class, what would it signify if the ICC (or even the ICT) were to disappear? What would it indicate about the balance of class forces?

I think in most cases, yes--librarians are part of the working class. In fact, I know more than one who are also revolutionaries!

But to your point--what does it say about the balance of class forces today that the revolutionary organizations in North America are in an extremely precarious situation? Does this reflect on the subterreanean maturation of consciousness or not? It seems like we can't have it both ways. If the emergence of new revolutionary elements is evidence of a developing consciousness at the subterreanean level--then the difficulties of the existing organizations in North America must be evidence of the opposite, right?

To answer your previous question, yes, there does seem to be a tendency in the ICC to use the emergence of revolutionary elements as a surrogate for a broaders consciousness in the class. The development of consciousness in its aspect of depth is, in a way, substituted for the aspect of breadth. In the end though, I agree with Demo that there has to be some kind of reference point outside of the revolutionary milieu for grounding SMC or we risk ending up in a self-referential dead end.

mhou
  Quote:Surely the point

 

Quote:
Surely the point about SMC is that it explains why movements appear "out of nowhere". Since, by definition, it cannot really be empirically observed it cannot serve as any kind of barometer for level of class consciousness in the class at any particular moment.

As far as SMC is concerned, if I remember rightly, it was developed to explain how consciousness must be able to develop outside of open struggle; in particular, the development of different forms of struggle in the various strikes that finally led to the very radical forms of self-organisation that appeared in Poland 81.

I think that's the crux of it- both in 1980-81 and recently (2011). Aside from a series of 'green shoots' during some strikes (like the MTA strike in 2005), the events of 2011- Arab Spring, Wisconsin, Occupy, Indignados- largely appeared to 'come out of nowhere' and demonstrate the theory.

But does this rule out the ability to place these events in the context of the balance of class forces and state of class consciousness? I'm not sure exactly what empiricist-scepticism desires as the 'empirical proof' to demonstrate the validity of theory (beyond understanding that class consciousness can develop outside of open struggle). In 1980-81, were the large open struggles in Poland (and associated international struggles like those in the steel works, dockworkers and railworkers in the UK, France and Belgium, or the air traffic controllers in the US happening in the same 2 year period; possibly including the 'Winter of Discontent' and later the miner's strike in the UK) indicative of a response to the return of crisis and evidence of a reflux in the class struggle due to the long string of defeats leading to these events throughout the late 1960's-late 1970's; is that context not evidence?

Or more recently, the long period of declining numbers of strikes from the 1990's-early 2000's and only small examples of combativity in the class, before a return to rising numbers (and size) of strikes in the US, inter-generational solidarity at the MTA strike in 2005 (and GM strike a year or 2 later if I remember right?), followed by the response to the 2008 crisis in the international actions of 2011, as evidence of a tipping of the balance of class forces on the side of a working-class returning to struggle with growing militancy?

I may be alone on this, but it's hard to reconcile accepting the SMC in relation to a sudden return to open struggle utilizing advanced forms of struggle, without taking into consideration the international context (advance or retreat) in relation to it. If class consciousness is informed and developed outside of open struggle, surely the task of communist workers is to situate the expressions of that consciousness?

jk1921
Evidence

mhou wrote:

 

But does this rule out the ability to place these events in the context of the balance of class forces and state of class consciousness? I'm not sure exactly what empiricist-scepticism desires as the 'empirical proof' to demonstrate the validity of theory (beyond understanding that class consciousness can develop outside of open struggle). In 1980-81, were the large open struggles in Poland (and associated international struggles like those in the steel works, dockworkers and railworkers in the UK, France and Belgium, or the air traffic controllers in the US happening in the same 2 year period; possibly including the 'Winter of Discontent' and later the miner's strike in the UK) indicative of a response to the return of crisis and evidence of a reflux in the class struggle due to the long string of defeats leading to these events throughout the late 1960's-late 1970's; is that context not evidence?

Or more recently, the long period of declining numbers of strikes from the 1990's-early 2000's and only small examples of combativity in the class, before a return to rising numbers (and size) of strikes in the US, inter-generational solidarity at the MTA strike in 2005 (and GM strike a year or 2 later if I remember right?), followed by the response to the 2008 crisis in the international actions of 2011, as evidence of a tipping of the balance of class forces on the side of a working-class returning to struggle with growing militancy?

Aren't all of the examples you list empirical examples? Is it not the task of communists to attempt to interpret this kind of empirical evidence and situate it within a broader theoretical framework. i.e. to pass judgment on whether or not this evidence demonstrates a growing SMC or is an example of retreat and enrollment behind the state (as the phenomenon of increasing strikes was in the Popular Front era)? In other words, rising numbers of strikes could be evidence of advance or retreat and this requires a theoretical analysis to make sense of, but we still need some kind of evidence that is "out there" in the broader social envrionment, if we are to avoid falling into a kind of mysticism. To quote the X Files--"The truth is out there."

mhou wrote:

I may be alone on this, but it's hard to reconcile accepting the SMC in relation to a sudden return to open struggle utilizing advanced forms of struggle, without taking into consideration the international context (advance or retreat) in relation to it. If class consciousness is informed and developed outside of open struggle, surely the task of communist workers is to situate the expressions of that consciousness?

I don't think you are alone on that at all. But what does it mean to say that class consciousness is informed and developed outside of open struggle? How exactly does this take place? What is the mechanism? Or is it the case that one moment of open struggle tends to beg a rediscovery--a remembranc--of previous struggles? Of course, this would need a mechanism also--perhaps the transmission of the lessons of previous struggles from one generation to the next? Or is there something more functional and structural about the labour process at any one given moment in time that tends to generate particular forms of struggle?

MH
yes it's contradictory

jk1921 wrote:

But to your point--what does it say about the balance of class forces today that the revolutionary organizations in North America are in an extremely precarious situation? Does this reflect on the subterreanean maturation of consciousness or not? It seems like we can't have it both ways. If the emergence of new revolutionary elements is evidence of a developing consciousness at the subterreanean level--then the difficulties of the existing organizations in North America must be evidence of the opposite, right?

I agree we have to be able to explain this. I'm not a member of the ICC so I don't know all the discussions that have taken place, but I would say first of all that as a general principle the deepening of class consciousness clearly does not necessarily imply numerical strengthening; otherwise the Italian Fraction would have grown in the depths of the counter-revolution... More seriously, today we are seeing different, contradictory factors at work. There are definite signs of strengthening, hence new ICC sections in diffferent parts of the world; surely these must be a sign of something significant happening at a subterranean level in the class, as far apart as Peru and the Philippines? 

But the effects of decomposition mean that today the theoretical deepening that is undoubtedly taking place has to be achieved with fewer resources than one would have expected and hoped for prior to the 1990s. To look at it another way, just as we say decomposition means that it is a 'race against time' for the proletariat to make the revolution before capitalism definitively erodes the conditions for a future society, so it's a struggle for its existing revolutionary minorities to hold on until the 'relief' arrives with a new wave of massive struggles and new militants. There's nothing inevitable in this. The relief may not arrive in time, and that will indicate a further erosion of the conditions for revolution...  But, in conclusion, this numerical weakness does not disprove the deepening of class consciousness, or the fact that a subterranean maturation of consciousness is taking place.    

 

jk1921
Must

MH wrote:

There are definite signs of strengthening, hence new ICC sections in diffferent parts of the world; surely these must be a sign of something significant happening at a subterranean level in the class, as far apart as Peru and the Philippines?

 

You make good points in your post MH, but why must the emergence of new ICC sections prove that there is something happening within the broader class? Are there any other possible explanations?

mhou
Quote:You make good points in

Quote:
You make good points in your post MH, but why must the emergence of new ICC sections prove that there is something happening within the broader class? Are there any other possible explanations?

There are- some are not very flattering speculation on the part of those not inclined to a friendly view of the ICC. But it could be that the globalization and centralization of capital combined with the development of the productive forces in the periphery have created an emerging communist minority among the 'young[er]' proletariat in these regions (historically speaking- compared the centuries old proletariat of the central capitalist nations) who then seek out the heritage and legacy of the worker's movement and its lessons-theories developed over years of struggle and experience. I'm inclined to view it that way rather than drive by some kind of new found interest in the periphery on the part of the ICC. But that those sections have developed and engaged with the positions of the communist milieu must be evidence of something (particularly to the point where they are integrated as sections of a centralized international organization).

Quote:
But, in conclusion, this numerical weakness does not disprove the deepening of class consciousness, or the fact that a subterranean maturation of consciousness is taking place.  

I agree completely. Though in earlier discussions on SMC and the Party/communist milieu, I'm more sympathetic to Bordiga's views on the minoritarian nature of communists against emphasis on numeric strength.

Quote:
Aren't all of the examples you list empirical examples? Is it not the task of communists to attempt to interpret this kind of empirical evidence and situate it within a broader theoretical framework. i.e. to pass judgment on whether or not this evidence demonstrates a growing SMC or is an example of retreat and enrollment behind the state (as the phenomenon of increasing strikes was in the Popular Front era)? In other words, rising numbers of strikes could be evidence of advance or retreat and this requires a theoretical analysis to make sense of, but we still need some kind of evidence that is "out there" in the broader social envrionment, if we are to avoid falling into a kind of mysticism. To quote the X Files--"The truth is out there."

I'm inclined to view it that way- that the general context of a sudden appearance of advanced forms/content of struggle can be, through the methodological tools of Marxism, be situated in an international context of either a rising class consciousness, growing combativity, or to see it as struggle in the midst of reflux of consciousness and a change in the balance of class forces away from the proletariat, or recuperation of these open struggles (by left forces, unions, democratic mystification, etc.).

It's hard to tell where the line is between asking for empirical evidence, and being empiricist. I think those things are the kind of evidence we'd need to make theorizations and analysis, but don't want to accuse anyone of being empiricist if that truly isn't what they're doing. The example of the Bolshevik Party center vs Lenin is the best example I can think of- the former relies on the empirical evidence of Russia's economic development to 'prove' that the movement for communism cannot start in Russia due to its class composition and dominant forms of production, while Lenin and those allied with him in the Party recognized the soviet-form and mass strikes as indicative of the transformation of capitalist crisis to revolutionary crisis and the beginning of the revolutionary (international) situation. But I'm not sure how far the demand for empirical evidence goes in these discussions- what exactly does and does not 'count' as evidence, or empirically identifiable, and how much evidence (or how many different varieties of evidence) would be enough to 'prove' a theory or analysis.

Quote:
I don't think you are alone on that at all. But what does it mean to say that class consciousness is informed and developed outside of open struggle? How exactly does this take place? What is the mechanism? Or is it the case that one moment of open struggle tends to beg a rediscovery--a remembranc--of previous struggles? Of course, this would need a mechanism also--perhaps the transmission of the lessons of previous struggles from one generation to the next? Or is there something more functional and structural about the labour process at any one given moment in time that tends to generate particular forms of struggle?

The core of the SMC theory- against the determinist/mechanistic tunnel vision of the spontaneist-councilist vision of class consciousness (how it develops, what it means) and the Lenin-Kautsky schema of 'outside agents injecting' consciousness- that advanced forms and content can seemingly appear from nothing but in reality developed over time in response to prior experiences and struggles and material conditions- suggests that the mechanism of the origin of class consciousness is the daily class struggle and the daily lived experience of the proletarian condition; that open struggle is the best 'teacher' or 'originator' of class consciousness, but that it is always present to some degree and constantly informed by daily struggles (minor things like individual experiences which affect all proletarians- the struggle to survive as a waged laborer) and the proletarian condition (the subconscious effects of alienation and atomization), as well as material conditions (like 1968 and 2008- the return of crisis), all constantly affect the level or depth of class consciousness outside of mass open struggle.

It's like applying Bordiga's biology analogies (of the communist minority as a secretion of the class, an organic part of the proletariat, which itself acts as a tissue- in the form of its organizations and Party) to class consciousness- that it is an organic part of the proletariat, which is, like the communist minority, constantly developing, changing, growing or shrinking, etc.

jk1921
Numbers

mhou wrote:

But that those sections have developed and engaged with the positions of the communist milieu must be evidence of something (particularly to the point where they are integrated as sections of a centralized international organization).

It could be evidence of a number of things I suppose. Perhaps even something as mundane as the fact that more and more people across the globe have access to the history of a new and interesting idea (left communism) through the Internet today, something that simply wasn't possible even 15 years ago. I don't think the emergence of new sections alones tells us much, especially when it is situated in an international context in which many old sections in the captialist core are facing a major crisis. I just don't think we can have it both ways. The emergence of new sections is proof of developing SMC, while the decline of old ones is unimportant. If we are going to reject the fetishism of numbers when it comes to how small revolutionary minorities are today (something I agree with), then we also need to be more circumspect with the idea that growth of certain sections necessarily demonstrates some underlying postive tendency in SMC.

mhou wrote:

But I'm not sure how far the demand for empirical evidence goes in these discussions- what exactly does and does not 'count' as evidence, or empirically identifiable, and how much evidence (or how many different varieties of evidence) would be enough to 'prove' a theory or analysis.

Well, we can always discuss the details and the specifics, but first there has to be an agreement that some kind of "empirial verification" is necessary and desirable and that simply citing rising numbers of communist militants is not sufficient, even if it might be important, in making a case for the development of SMC.

mhou wrote:

The core of the SMC theory- against the determinist/mechanistic tunnel vision of the spontaneist-councilist vision of class consciousness (how it develops, what it means) and the Lenin-Kautsky schema of 'outside agents injecting' consciousness- that advanced forms and content can seemingly appear from nothing but in reality developed over time in response to prior experiences and struggles and material conditions- suggests that the mechanism of the origin of class consciousness is the daily class struggle and the daily lived experience of the proletarian condition; that open struggle is the best 'teacher' or 'originator' of class consciousness, but that it is always present to some degree and constantly informed by daily struggles

And that at any given moment in time the revolutionary organizations, the Marxists, the communists, should be able to make an analysis of the balance of class forces and be able to tell, with a reasonable degree of scientific precision, what is happening at the level of SMC--an analysis that forms the basis for a political intervention into the class struggle.

mhou
Quote:And that at any given

Quote:
And that at any given moment in time the revolutionary organizations, the Marxists, the communists, should be able to make an analysis of the balance of class forces and be able to tell, with a reasonable degree of scientific precision, what is happening at the level of SMC--an analysis that forms the basis for a political intervention into the class struggle.

That's a precise and succinct way to articulate the whole point behind the theory- to aid the collective 'us' in the tasks of the communist minority. The example from the article of the Situationists in May 1968 is a good contrast of the 2 conceptions of class consciousness (and how this relates to the practice of communists in the class struggle)- the tunnel vision of the SI that consciousness is a linear phenomenon- that it only originates in open struggles (and if it fails, recedes linearly back to nothing)- which in practice resulted in their view that May 1968 was a proper revolutionary situation, with as much a chance to succeed as October 1917- so their intervention, while admirable for what it did accomplish, was confused and without peripheral vision of the underlying context of the wildcat general strike/occupation wave.

We can have the benefit of hindsight, but through SMC the task of the hour was promoting the spread of the struggle (which the SI did do- with the Student-Worker Action Committee's and the central Committee for the Maintanence of the Occupations), to propagandize communist principles and the forms of the working-class' organs of power (which the SI did)- but also to develop new militants, to integrate new militants into communist organization and to defend the communist programme and communist principles in the forms of the struggle: the SI competely failed on these last points. While a minoritarian conception of the communist minority is valid, as is having a high threshold for membership (based on political maturity), however, when the open struggle erupted and lots of small groups and developing new militants wanted to find organizational answers to their individual isolation, they were turned away and basically told DIY (Do It Yourself). The lack of historic perspective and context hindered their ability to act as communists have to act in such a situation- and why their councilism was not a virtue (by avoiding the leftist illusions of the Stalinist PCF and the Trots like LO) but a brake.

Quote:
Well, we can always discuss the details and the specifics, but first there has to be an agreement that some kind of "empirial verification" is necessary and desirable and that simply citing rising numbers of communist militants is not sufficient, even if it might be important, in making a case for the development of SMC.

So far we've all discussed, in this thread and in others, documentable phenomenon such as the number of strikes, the size of strikes (involving 1,000 workers or more, etc.), number of work hours lost to strikes, the number of mass demonstrations, the appearance of forms of class self-organization (general assemblies, neighborhood committee's), the number of militants (rising or falling) in communist organizations or related phenomenon (number of website hits compared to prior years, number of members of groups of organizations in 'The Swamp', paper sales, etc.), international recognition of other workers in struggle, etc.

Do comrades here envision a kind of threshold that has to be met regarding empirically identifiable phenomenon? Do all aspects of the SMC theory, as described in the original texts by the ICC in the 1980's, have to be met to recognize a rising level of class consciousness (as in- can advanced forms and content of struggle, growing numbers and sizes of strikes, indicate SMC without the emergence of new revolutionary minorities?)?

Or in the reverse, is a rise in communist militants possible without growing class consciousness?

 

 

jk1921
Lags

mhou wrote:

Do comrades here envision a kind of threshold that has to be met regarding empirically identifiable phenomenon? Do all aspects of the SMC theory, as described in the original texts by the ICC in the 1980's, have to be met to recognize a rising level of class consciousness (as in- can advanced forms and content of struggle, growing numbers and sizes of strikes, indicate SMC without the emergence of new revolutionary minorities?)?

Or in the reverse, is a rise in communist militants possible without growing class consciousness?

Well, at the very least, I think we would have to say that there is not necessarily a "mechanical link" between these things. It does appears that the ICC believes that the emergence of new revolutionary minorities is something like the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the development of class consciousness, but doesn't mean that there aren't lags and disconnects in either direction.

mhou
I'm uncertain whether the

I'm uncertain whether the growth in the far left of capital is indicative of emerging communists, who get caught in Trotskyism or variants of Leninism or variants of anarchism (non-class struggle anarchism) is 'included' in that canary-in-the-mine analogy; a number of communists, today and historically, came to communist positions after breaking with Trotskyism. In the post-war period, this includes Socialisme ou Barbarie, parts of the SI (early 1960's articles from the French/Belgian sections of the SI include Mandelite-Trotskyist phraseology and terms), I think even parts of the ICC's French section broke from Lutte Ouvriere (remember reading that somewhere) in the 70's.

SouB's letter to the ICO (French Trot party) announcing their definitive split-

http://www.libcom.org/library/open-letter-members-pci-%E2%80%9Cfourth-in...

Are changes in the swamp or the far left to be included in that portion of analysis of the SMC?

 

 

Fred
Good point mhou. Quote: Are

Good point mhou.

Quote:
Are changes in the swamp or the far left to be included in that portion of analysis of the SMC?
 

Answer: of course.

 

baboon
The old mole

I generally agree with the postions of Demo and MH above. I don't really understand what Sloth is getting at and don't support his position about the ICC being some sort of "library" - that is an aspect of its existence and work but it's ongoing discussions, their developments and analyses make it much more than that. I'm of the opinion that the existence of revolutionary organisations with platforms and positions is something of a victory for the working class.

I don't think that there's a "scientific", "evidence-based" tick-sheet that can give proof of the development of the subterreanean maturation of consciousness at a particular instance and my view of it is that it's expressed, in general, by revolutionary organisation and outbursts of the class struggle. The main analysis, the most important one, is whether we are in a period of potentially rising struggles or in a period of counter-revolution. Here again nothing is guaranteed and we've seen how in the past revolutionaries have either over or underestimated the development of class struggle and the period in which it takes place.

In this period we do have the expression, however weak, of the social movements across the world in reaction to the first real effects of the crisis as far as the great majority of workers and oppressed are concerned. In China, the capitalist "miracle", there have been, over the past years, thousands of wildcat, self-organised strikes and demonstrations. I would find it difficult to believe that there are not proletarian political elements emerging out of these. Even, especially, in this situtation of a relatively raw proletariat, we still see the Old Mole at work.

I don't understand what this new organisation is that Sloth wants to set up and how would it be any different from present revolutionary elements? Could its motivation be frustration with the present level of class struggle? If it is anything to do with the latter - and we've seen a fair bit of this frustration expressed on here in this regard, then we would do well to remember that this  phase of the economic crisis is very much at its beginnings. It's something of a diversion to say that the working class is not responding as we think it should to the level of attacks because, in the main, there is absolutely nothing we can do about that except consolidate our own positions. But another point to bear in mind is that the level of attacks from the bourgeoisie on the working class are nothing like they need to be from the former's point of view. The attacks that we are seeing today, as gross as they might appear to us, are nothing compared to what's got to come and I think that it's important that we are clear about this.

Demogorgon
I think the key question here

I think the key question here is what the theory of SMC demonstrates or is being used to demonstrate.

  • It shows, against both Kautskyist conception that class consciousness is not the exlusive product of revolutionaries or the party;
  • Against the Councillist conception, it shows that class consciousness can and does develop outside of open struggle;
  • It explains why mass movements can seemingly appear out-of-nowhere, how forms of struggle evovle and that we must look below the surface to really understand what is happening in society.

Nonetheless, I am extremely wary of the idea that it means we can assume that the class is undergoing such a process in the absence of any evidence (e.g. in the form of regroupments of revolutionaries or mass movements). It is not being "empiricist" to require such evidence in order to determine what is actually going on (if it is empiricist, great, I am empiricist and proud of it!). I'm not saying this is necessarily what anyone is doing, but it is the impression that has been given in past debates on this subject.

In terms of other questions on class consciousness, we have to to distinguish between depth and breadth. It is possible for great advances to be made at the theoretical level while the class struggle is in retreat - the Communist Left in the form of Bilan, the various German groups, etc. is proof of this. It is also possible for class struggle to explode massively and theoretical development to lag beyond the needs of the struggle (e.g. the failure of the communist movement to truly abandon social democratic conceptions during the revolutionary wave).

In terms of how to determine where we are today, I think we are faced with a lot of hard questions. What weight does the ICC or even the entire LC milieu currently have in the working class - does it have any influence on struggles whatsoever? The answer to this is a resounding "None!". At best, our current impact is limited to an echo in the very small minority of workers open to revolutionary ideas (by this, I include anarchist, leftists, etc.). Of that minority, an even smaller minority will move towards the milieu.

Consider this: suppose we were able to double or triple our numbers overnight. While such an achievement would be monumental and would revitalise the whole LC movement, we have to be honest about the impact this would have on the wider social situation i.e. not much at all. This is because our numbers are so small than even significant increases cannot truly be said to say much about the maturation of the social situation.

For example, the far-right British National Party in Britain has around 4,000 members, far more I imagine than the total number of self-identified Left Communists in the entire world! If the BNP expanded to 6000 people (i.e. a 50% increase), I don't think I would be justified in drawing from that firm conclusions about wider social or political trends (e.g. fascism is once again on the horizon). Still less so with the fluctuations of the left communist milieu.

 

jk1921
Agree/Questions

Demogorgon wrote:

I think the key question here is what the theory of SMC demonstrates or is being used to demonstrate.

  • Against the Councillist conception, it shows that class consciousness can and does develop outside of open struggle;

Why is this so important? What, specifically, is the danger of the councilist position? Historically, I am not sure it is correct to identify councilism with a rejection of SMC tout court. Is this something specific to the debates of the late 70s/early 80s and tensions within the ICC that eventually led to the EFICC split?

Demogorgon wrote:

Nonetheless, I am extremely wary of the idea that it means we can assume that the class is undergoing such a process in the absence of any evidence (e.g. in the form of regroupments of revolutionaries or mass movements). It is not being "empiricist" to require such evidence in order to determine what is actually going on (if it is empiricist, great, I am empiricist and proud of it!). I'm not saying this is necessarily what anyone is doing, but it is the impression that has been given in past debates on this subject.

I am in agreement with you on this; although, we way differ about what exactly counts as "empirical evidence."

Demogorgon wrote:

In terms of how to determine where we are today, I think we are faced with a lot of hard questions. What weight does the ICC or even the entire LC milieu currently have in the working class - does it have any influence on struggles whatsoever? The answer to this is a resounding "None!". At best, our current impact is limited to an echo in the very small minority of workers open to revolutionary ideas (by this, I include anarchist, leftists, etc.). Of that minority, an even smaller minority will move towards the milieu.

This is true as a description of the situation that prevails today, but isn't this always the left communist condition outside of periods of open struggle or, perhaps even, a pre-revolutionary situation? Is the fact that we have no influence on struggles whatsoever some kind of evidence of a reflux in consciousness or the fact that the broader class seems stuck at the level of reformism? If we answer no, then we have to look for other evidence of SMC, which is where, it seems, the temptation to cite emerging new political elements as evidence of a broader SMC arises.

Demogorgon wrote:

Consider this: suppose we were able to double or triple our numbers overnight. While such an achievement would be monumental and would revitalise the whole LC movement, we have to be honest about the impact this would have on the wider social situation i.e. not much at all. This is because our numbers are so small than even significant increases cannot truly be said to say much about the maturation of the social situation.

For example, the far-right British National Party in Britain has around 4,000 members, far more I imagine than the total number of self-identified Left Communists in the entire world! If the BNP expanded to 6000 people (i.e. a 50% increase), I don't think I would be justified in drawing from that firm conclusions about wider social or political trends (e.g. fascism is once again on the horizon). Still less so with the fluctuations of the left communist milieu.

And yet, we are always tempted to cite the rise of the BNP or the Tea Party in the U.S. as evidence of decomposition. I think there must be a certain numerical level (although I don't know what it is) above which we can no write something off as Internet-era noise and have to accept it is a movement. Does 4,000 members make something a movement, rather than a sect or a cult? I don't know, but it is certainly more than the very sparse numbers that make up the left communist milieu today (I assume). The difference between the two would seem to be that left communists can (convincingly or not) make a claim to be practicising some kind of science; thus mitigating the need to rely on numerical strength as some kind of legitimating principle. Science doesn't really need more scientists, it needs better scientists, i.e. Lenin's famous phrase, "Better fewer, but better."

Of course, at a certain point of social development, when class tensions have emerged from their subterreanean level and are more or less out in the open (in a pre-revolutionary situation) then perhaps this approach no longer holds and the issue of the numerical strength of the communist minorities becomes more central. However, even outside of periods of open struggle, the left communist minorities clearly need, at the very least, a minimum number of militants in order to continue to fufill the basic functions of an organization. I think this is the burning issue today, given the exisitential crisis that has befallen once important sections of the communist left and the difficulty it is having in convincing the younger generations of the importance and desirability of maintaining an organizational base.

Demogorgon
"Why is this so important?

"Why is this so important? What, specifically, is the danger of the councilist position? Historically, I am not sure it is correct to identify councilism with a rejection of SMC tout court. Is this something specific to the debates of the late 70s/early 80s and tensions within the ICC that eventually led to the EFICC split?"

The "danger" is around the idea that the party is either irrelevant or even dangerous, rather than recognising its essential role in developing class consciousness. Rather than councillism specifically, "spontaneoism" is probably what I'm aiming at here.

"I am in agreement with you on this; although, we way differ about what exactly counts as "empirical evidence.""

And also how the evidence should be interpreted, but I think the key point here is to establish that SMC cannot be used as a substitute for evidence as it sometimes is and has certainly been interpreted as being by its detractors.

"This is true as a description of the situation that prevails today, but isn't this always the left communist condition outside of periods of open struggle or, perhaps even, a pre-revolutionary situation?"

It seems impossible to imagine a genuine revolutionary situation without left communism having far more influence than we have today. Certainly not a successful revolution anyway.

"Is the fact that we have no influence on struggles whatsoever some kind of evidence of a reflux in consciousness or the fact that the broader class seems stuck at the level of reformism?"

I'm not sure there's a difference? Isn't the latter a symptom of the former? Or do you mean that the masses never really breached the reformist wall since the end of the revolutionary wave? Regardless, I think it is evidence of the general low level of consciousness and politicisation of struggle which is what the ICC identified as characterising the struggles of the 80s and an essential cause (and product) of decomposition.

"If we answer no, then we have to look for other evidence of SMC, which is where, it seems, the temptation to cite emerging new political elements as evidence of a broader SMC arises.""

I think the definition is too broad. Are we talking about a maturation in terms of breadth or depth? A modest growth of political minorities doesn't automatically (to me) indicate that there's a widespread broadening of consciousness in the wider class. Our numbers are too small to be able to distinguish genuine trends from random fluctuation.

"And yet, we are always tempted to cite the rise of the BNP or the Tea Party in the U.S. as evidence of decomposition."

I don't think you can equate the two. The Tea Party Movement is a coalition of different autonomous groups with no centralised leadership structure. The BNP is a centralised party with a clear, defined platform. For real equivalence, we'd need to add in UKIP and the right wing of the Tory Party. Arguably, this right-wing is just as stark raving mad as the US Tea Party - although ironically, their economics are actually more rational in terms of the long-term needs of the system than those of the left but that's another discussion entirely !

My point was simply about numbers. We should guard against the wild enthusiasm that even a modest increase in numbers sometimes generates. The fact we do get so excited is a symptom of our chronic weakness.

It goes without saying that there is a profound difference between the ideologies of the bourgeoisie (right or left) and the class consciousness represent by the communist left. Size alone doesn't determine whether a movement is a cult or not, but method. But, for theory to become a truly material force, it has to grip the masses and that means the masses have to develop a communist consciousness.

Scientists can be content to work in a corner cut off from the rest of society (at least, until creationist loons cut off funding to biology departments!). Revolutionaries, of course, while we lay claim to a somewhat scientific method (as opposed to idealism, empiricism, religiosity, etc.) our aim is to change the world, not simply understand it. Bilan understood all-too-well what was happening in their epoch (although that clarity diminished towards the end) but were unable to do anything but survive it.

Lastly, I totally agree about the existential crisis that faces the communist left. Given that the revolution seems a long way away, we should be asking serious questions about what the communist left will look like in another generation. If the existence of revolutionary minorities is an indicator of the general shape of the class then unless something changes profoundly, the future could look very bleak indeed.

mhou
Quote:The "danger" is around

Quote:
The "danger" is around the idea that the party is either irrelevant or even dangerous, rather than recognising its essential role in developing class consciousness. Rather than councillism specifically, "spontaneoism" is probably what I'm aiming at here.

Right- and when the concept of the party is jettisoned, the ability to understand the immediate tasks of communists in the heat of events is blurred; the naunces of engagement in the open struggle can be seen throughout the 1917-1927 period- changing tactics, changing slogans, etc. rather than communists going 'all in' at the first sign of a pre-revolutionary situation- the way the Bolsheviks and Spartakists reacted to things like the July Days and introduction of armed insurrection in Berlin speak to this need for collaborative, centralized organization of communists (rather than viewing rising class consciousness as a linear progression which makes intervention a call for armed insurrection immediately).

From an older article by the ICC:

Quote:
the Communist Workers Organization in Britain, after calling for an immediate insurrection in Poland, has made a complete volte-face in its appreciation of the situation (in Workers Voice 4 the CWO ran the headline ‘Revolution Now!' In the next issue the CWO honestly criticized this erroneous analysis, which it now sees as an "adventurist" call. The CWO is one of the rare groups in the revolutionary milieu capable of openly and publicly correcting its mistakes).

http://en.internationalism.org/node/3116

I think that's the value of the SMC in comparison to the other 2 main conceptions of class consciousness in the communist milieu- that theory has a direct impact on practice and organization.

Quote:
Lastly, I totally agree about the existential crisis that faces the communist left. Given that the revolution seems a long way away, we should be asking serious questions about what the communist left will look like in another generation. If the existence of revolutionary minorities is an indicator of the general shape of the class then unless something changes profoundly, the future could look very bleak indeed.

A comprehensive dialogue on practice, in the past, today, and in the future, a balance sheet of communist intervention/engagement in the class struggle, seems necessary. One of the most common questions I've seen asked of members of LC organizations or sympathizers of left communism is 'well what do left communists do?'- I think jk's description of left communism being like a maze one has to navigate can be apt if those kinds of questions are asked by people who are initially exposed to communist ideas. Clarity on 'what we should be doing' (due to the condition of consciousness and the class struggle today) may be a helpful step- the recent article in Internationalism ("Why Is It So Difficult To Struggle?") and the associated discussion on the ICC forum showed how much there is to work out on these topics (of which SMC is just one facet).

Demogorgon
I see little to disagree with

I see little to disagree with in Mhou's last post.

commiegal
After spending a long time as

After spending a long time as a trot but being broadly sympathetic to the ideas of left communism (although i'm not sure about everything) I think that class consciousness is something that will develop "naturally" as people struggle and begin to draw these conclusions. I dont believe in some sort of vanguard that will come and save us all and as we can see from the lessons of the russian revolution there's a danger with any group that it will end up substituting it for the class, however well intentioned. I think that people learn through struggles, through struggles they will learn that the union leaders are full of shit and will eventually sell them out and also that they have to fight to defend themselves and if they are engaged in any serious action the state will come down on them like a ton of bricks. I also think that this stuff has to be extended past the workplace and into the community because capitalism affects every aspect of our lives. In terms of what marxists can do the best thing is to be involved in the community and argue for our ideas and express our opinions among friends and neighbours because we'll probably get a better response than you think if you talk about it in a normal conversation rather than make everything into a chance to sell papers. I am not sure what the ICC's approach about this is so I'm not criticising you but a lot of left wing groups do do this :)

commiegal
I also would like to know

I also would like to know what practical work the ICC do, whether you for example go to picket lines and so on and offer your support? :) I know it's not all about gaining members but this might be one way to do so?

Demogorgon
We do go to pickets, mass

We do go to pickets, mass meetings, etc. when we have the opportunity. We also attend demonstrations, public meetings, etc. and do our best to distribute literature, have discussions, etc. But, for us, it's not about getting members. We do it because our aim is to build up a political presence within the class and stimulate the wider class to political discussion and consciousness. A growing orientation within the class towards left communism should be the result of this process, with the closest wishing to join.

Obviously, that process has not moved with anything like the alacrity we would like. But it cannot be forced by "fishing" for members or watering down our positions. The class has to reach a point where, as with the Bolsheviks in 1917, it can see us as articulating what it feels instinctively. In the meantime, our role is to survive, to maintain and deepen the lessons history has taught working class so they're ready if and when the class is ready to take them up.

Alf
Slothjabber and the party

It seems to me that there's a third option that Alf didn't refer to, which is to take what's positive from the evolution of the groups of the Communist Left over the last 45 years, but leave behind what isn't positive. Some comrades have likened this to the idea of a 'treasure chest' of revolutionary theory that will be rediscovered by the working class. I've referred to the existing organisations as 'revolutionary librarians', though archivists of previous revolution would probably be more accurate. The basic idea would be to try and appropriate the history of class struggles. But whether that has done by joining and working within the existing organisations, or working with but outside the organisations while seeking to establish new forms, or ignoring them altogether, is an important question. I think my approach is fairly clear, but I think I'm possibly in a minority and a number of self-identified Left Communists do not want to engage with, let alone join, the existing organisations.

Comrades have already responded in different ways to Slothjabber's challenging question. I just wanted to add a couple of points.

The 'third option' really smuggles in a fourth. If the third is the one that Sloth is himself following - working with but outside - the fourth is 'ignoring them altogether', which is a very strong tendency within the milieu and needs to be fought vigorously, whether by the organisations themselves, or those like Sloth who are convinced that it is necessary to work with the organisations. 'Ignoring them ' is not a matter of individual taste, it's a political position. It's the current policy, for example, of the libcom collective, who are sliding more and more into syndicalism, and of many on red-marx who also compare the communist left organisations to dusty old archivists; and 'ignoring them' can very easily turn to 'excluding them' altogether,as we have seen on numerous occasions, such as the incidents with No War but the Class War and the AF in the late 90s, and more recently with a semi-modernist discussion circle in London  (even if we have sometimes, through our own sectarian errors, contributed to such exclusions). 

As far as developing new forms, what does Sloth have in mind? Isn't the party a new form, and something we  - those sections of the proletarian political movement who have the most lucid view of the role of the communist organisation -are already trying to construct? There may be steps on the way (all kinds of physical meetings, for a start) but the party remains the goal, and it will be based on taking what's positive from the actual organisations while overcoming their weaknesses (the real meaning of the word 'aufheben')

LoneLondoner
Where is the vanguard?

commiegal wrote:

(...) I think that class consciousness is something that will develop "naturally" as people struggle and begin to draw these conclusions. I dont believe in some sort of vanguard that will come and save us all and as we can see from the lessons of the russian revolution there's a danger with any group that it will end up substituting it for the class, however well intentioned. I think that people learn through struggles (...)

We would agree that no vanguard will "come and save us". However, it would be a mistake to think that there is no such thing as a vanguard - today, the fact is that we (meaning the people discussing on this thread) are the vanguard (don't laugh!). What I mean by that, is that inevitably the working class does not all develop an independent, political consciousness at the same speed (we're all different). There will always be some who come to a broader (communist) awareness of the situation before others. That, in its broadest possible sense, is the vanguard.

The question then is, what should the vanguard do?

Actually someone already said this much better than me:

Karl wrote:

(The communists) have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished (...) by this only: 1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

Fundamentally, this is our major responsibility, especially today. Workers generally don't need "help" to enter into struggle, or even to organise the struggle, but they do need a broader political and historical outlook.

For example, there are very many who think the unions are shit - but who keep on letting the unions organise things because they don't see any alternative. It is through the history of their class and a broader reflection on their situation that goes beyond each workplace (quite agree with you on that) that workers will be able to work out an alternative.

By the way, on the issue of substitutionism, you might be interested on what we wrote on the subject for example here.

Alf
tip of the iceberg

The series we are producing at the moment in World Revolution - about the history of 'workers groups' and the like since the 70s - provides some concrete examples of the phenomenon of 'underground growth' coming to the surface in small minorities.(the most recent article being at http://en.internationalism.org/worldrevolution/201303/6523/workers-groups-experience-uk-1980s-part-ii

This  'tip of the iceberg' phenomenon - to alter the metaphor - doesn't only assume the form of communist organisations; the small groups of 'militant workers' are another very good example of the appearance of a real proletarian vanguard from a deeper process going on in the class. Furthermore, since they are a more immediate product of the struggle, and tend to fluctuate according to its ups and downs, they in some ways illustrate the process more directly. Our series starts in the 70s and comes to a break at the end of the 80s; it will resume in the last decade when the class struggle began to resurface after the long retreat of the 90s. 

mhou
Quote:[i]baboon[/i]-I don't

Quote:
[i]baboon[/i]-I don't understand what this new organisation is that Sloth wants to set up and how would it be any different from present revolutionary elements? Could its motivation be frustration with the present level of class struggle? If it is anything to do with the latter - and we've seen a fair bit of this frustration expressed on here in this regard, then we would do well to remember that this  phase of the economic crisis is very much at its beginnings. It's something of a diversion to say that the working class is not responding as we think it should to the level of attacks because, in the main, there is absolutely nothing we can do about that except consolidate our own positions. But another point to bear in mind is that the level of attacks from the bourgeoisie on the working class are nothing like they need to be from the former's point of view. The attacks that we are seeing today, as gross as they might appear to us, are nothing compared to what's got to come and I think that it's important that we are clear about this.

It's more a question of 'so you agree with left communism- what now?'; which relates to the numerous expressions of frustration with integrating new communists into the milieu (Alf's description of the more common options that are brought up- engage with existing organizations, or ignore them/have nothing to do with them). I completely agree with his categorization of the latter option (no contact) as a political position- and think that deserves further inquiry. The question of why dispersed individual communists would not seek to join an existing organization likely involves tackling those questions demo and sloth brought up concerning the communist milieu. If the latest crisis had not created new communists, I don't know that this conversation would come up.

 

 

jk1921
Depth vs. Breadth

Demogorgon wrote:

"If we answer no, then we have to look for other evidence of SMC, which is where, it seems, the temptation to cite emerging new political elements as evidence of a broader SMC arises.""

I think the definition is too broad. Are we talking about a maturation in terms of breadth or depth? A modest growth of political minorities doesn't automatically (to me) indicate that there's a widespread broadening of consciousness in the wider class. Our numbers are too small to be able to distinguish genuine trends from random fluctuation.

I think that there is indeed a tendency to conflate the aspect of depth with that of breadth or at the very least to assume that because the aspect of depth is maturing through the revolutionary minorities this must reflect an underlying tendency in the class itself. But as you later point out, groups like Bilan were able to develop consciousness in the aspect of depth, when the overall cosnciousness of the class was actually in decline (or at the very least stagnant). So, the assumption that the emergence and growth of revolutionary minorities can act as some kind of general empirical verficiation for a broader SMC seems spurious at best.  Of course, I imagine others would go further and say that the entire idea of revolutionary theory as an aspect of class consciousness in the abscence of a broader development begs substitutionism.

commiegal
I don't like the concept of a

I don't like the concept of a vanguard and I really don't like substitutionism. It's hard to me to accept the idea that there's a vanguard since there are so many things we disagree about and it always reminds me of concepts like "trade union consciousness" and so forth, the working class can't achieve the right level of consciousness unless they're members of a leninist party so they can't think about this stuff by studying themselves rather than learning from experience, and from my experience many self described members of a vanguard have far less of an idea about class struggle that many people you meet in the street. Perhaps it's not what's intended but to me it often sounds quite arrogant.

I get that your concept of the vanguard is a bit different from that of the average leninist though?

LBird
Similar politics?

commiegal wrote:
I don't like the concept of a vanguard and I really don't like substitutionism. It's hard to me to accept the idea that there's a vanguard since there are so many things we disagree about and it always reminds me of concepts like "trade union consciousness" and so forth, the working class can't achieve the right level of consciousness unless they're members of a leninist party so they can't think about this stuff by studying themselves rather than learning from experience, and from my experience many self described members of a vanguard have far less of an idea about class struggle that many people you meet in the street. Perhaps it's not what's intended but to me it often sounds quite arrogant.

I get that your concept of the vanguard is a bit different from that of the average leninist though?

I'd just like to say that commiegal's opinions on these issues seem to be identical to mine. I think that the ICC should take this learned experience by workers very seriously indeed.

I'm still not entirely sure where the ICC stands on these issues, and I'm prepared to learn, but some posters' opinions have already made me rather wary. For example:

jk1921, post 29, wrote:
Science doesn't really need more scientists, it needs better scientists, i.e. Lenin's famous phrase, "Better fewer, but better."

I think that this is dangerous elitist talk, and will 'frighten the horses' if it's not challenged by the ICC officially.

commiegal
i think unless the whole

i think unless the whole class is going to take part in the revolution it could be dangerous with people deciding "what's best" etc. I read the book "the guillotine at work" by Maximov recently and it illustrated the dangers of this kind of politics, the working class having a revolution and then the "revolutionaries" hijacking it!

Demogorgon
Very briefly: our position on

Very briefly: our position on vanguardism is simply that the working class doesn't develop class consciousness in a homogenous fashion. This is obvious - we are communists but most of our friends and colleagues are not. The class conscious minority thus has a duty to organise itself to deepen that class consciousness and spread it as widely as possible. That is how we conceive the vanguard. It is not the role of the vanguard to "take power", nor does the vanguard have a monopoly on class consciousness which is a product of the historic experience of the entire class.

This has nothing to do with the Kautskyist / Leninist idea of trade union consciousness, i.e. that the working class needed to bourgeois or petit-bourgeois intellectuals to provide the conscious element to the struggle. For us, the vanguard / party / revolutionary minority is a product and part of the class in that most of its members are themselves workers, not something that arrives from or stands outside the class.

 

LBird
Very briefly, too

Demogorgon wrote:
Very briefly: our position on vanguardism is simply that the working class doesn't develop class consciousness in a homogenous fashion.

And... apparently, unlike the 'working class', the 'vanguard' does?

If it doesn't, what's the difference? Why a 'vanguard', if it replicates 'development'?

If it does, who decides who constitutes the 'vanguard'?

Perhaps I'm just a simple worker, who will always struggle with these questions of 'consciousness', which are beyond my understanding.

Is it luck, that we workers have a 'vanguard' to explain to us?

mhou
Quote:i think unless the

Quote:
i think unless the whole class is going to take part in the revolution it could be dangerous with people deciding "what's best" etc. I read the book "the guillotine at work" by Maximov recently and it illustrated the dangers of this kind of politics, the working class having a revolution and then the "revolutionaries" hijacking it!

Like Demo said- the vanguard is just those workers who have come to communist positions and principles before the revolutionary crisis; and their (our) task is not to take leadership away from the class, but to be involved as workers in the revolutionary movement of the working-class to abolish capitalism and build communism. Communists form the International (the class party) to organize ourselves on an international level in a centralized fashion to coordinate and understand the advances and retreats of the class engaged in revolutionary movement. The role of the party in the revolutionary crisis is to act as a 'moral leader', an educator and an organization of struggle for communism.

We all think that communism is the only answer to the crisis of capitalism. Our task then is to defend communist positions during the revolutionary crisis in the forms of organization the working-class develops for its class dictatorship (the councils, assemblies, committees, etc.). We're to provide our fellow workers with the answer to the crisis and defend the communist programme in these organs. In times of revolution and intense struggle, workers seek out solutions to the crisis- this has happened at every major revolutionary movement or intense struggle going back to the 19th century.

"Three days prior the men had no thought of striking. Now they formed eager audiences for extremists such as Albert Parsons." - Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, Louis Adamic

That was written about the Great Upheaval of 1877 (the American version of the Paris Commune). The party is a tool of the class engaged in revolution, for its most conscious layer (communist workers) to coordinate activity, the develop the communist programme, and defend that programme against all of the missteps and retreats and obstacles that will inevitably come up in the next revolutionary wave (against conceptions like worker's self-management, local autonomy, and other ideas that will come up in a revolutionary stuation that would only lead the working-class back to capitalism).

The conception of consciousness is part of this role of communists- to understand the how and why of the class struggle. The other conceptions of class consciousness (councilism and Kautsky-Lenin's idea of specialists outside the class 'injecting socialist consciousness') both in practice hamper the ability of communists to carry out the tasks listed above- and lead to misunderstanding the historic situation, the context of struggle, and the path of the revolution. I think the subterranean maturation of consciousness is the most valid conception of class consciousness and does aid the vanguard (communists) understanding of the real movement of the proletariat.

jk1921
Democratism

Demogorgon wrote:

The "danger" is around the idea that the party is either irrelevant or even dangerous, rather than recognising its essential role in developing class consciousness. Rather than councillism specifically, "spontaneoism" is probably what I'm aiming at here.

OK, but can the party ever do anything other than develop the aspect of depth, most of which is completely inacessible to the vast majority of workers until the struggle has already reached a certain level of maturity?

I am having a little bit of trouble seeing how "spontaneism" is so dangerous and why it is so essential to see consciousness developing outside of periods of open struggle. Is it because to deny this would be deny the idea that it is actually the organization that is developing consciousness during these periods? Still, this doesn't seem a very cogent argument against spontaneism. Regardless of whether struggles emerge from a process of SMC or spontaneously-the working class will not really benefit from the work of the organization in deepening class consciousness until the moment of open struggle is reached. This just seems a way of saying that the organization is class consciousness in certain periods. It seems a defensive response to councilism, a way of rooting the organization in the class against all the anarcho-councilist anti-elitist critiques. Perhaps, it is better to say that consciousness in its "aspect of breadth" does not develop outside of periods of open struggle? Or is this wrong too? If it is, then we would have to find another mechanism for explainign how SMC develops over and above pointing to the work of revolutionary minorities.

Of course, it is not clear to me what the mechanism for the development of struggles would be if one rejects SMC? I suppose it would have to be something rooted in the structural and functional features of the labour process itself, i.e. Fordist industry begets mass assemblies and workers' councils?

One final point on this: Is the work of the revolutionary organization really "subterreanean"? It seems like it more or less takes place in the open, through a conscious process of theoretical debate and development. It can be seen, studied, analyzed, etc; just like any other scientific process that is an inherently minoritarian, specialized undertaking.

Demogorgon wrote:

Scientists can be content to work in a corner cut off from the rest of society (at least, until creationist loons cut off funding to biology departments!). Revolutionaries, of course, while we lay claim to a somewhat scientific method (as opposed to idealism, empiricism, religiosity, etc.) our aim is to change the world, not simply understand it. Bilan understood all-too-well what was happening in their epoch (although that clarity diminished towards the end) but were unable to do anything but survive it.

I am not sure the point you are making here? Is it that the revolutionary organization has to expand in order to change society? The revolutionary organizations couldn't be more "cut off from the rest of society" today and I reckon that it will remain that way until a moment of pre-revolutionary crisis is reached. Isn't this the entire lesson of left communism from the revolutionary wave? When the organization develops a "weight" in society the temptation of recuperation and integration into the state becomes overwhelming? There seems to be a continued weight of democratism and the mass party hanging over this debate; i.e., the idea that revolutionary organization cannot be real, cannot be legitimate, cannot be "representative" until it has reached a certain numerical threshold at which point it can claim some kind of "democratic" legitimacy.

Demogorgon
"And... apparently, unlike

"And... apparently, unlike the 'working class', the 'vanguard' does?"

The vanguard are communists that struggle to convince the rest of the working class to become communists too.

"If it does, who decides who constitutes the 'vanguard'?"

There are subjective and objective elements. On the one hand, declaring oneself a communist and making a commitment to struggle for revolution is the subjective element. I believe myself to be communist. On the other hand, there is an objective element - to be a real communist, I have to defend actual communist positions i.e. ones that correspond to the historic interests of the working class. For us, we believe the lessons the communist left has drawn from experiences of the revolutionary wave and its subsequent defeat are the basis for forming such positions.

To put it another way: if you are a communist, then simply by being such you are part of the vanguard. The real question is what should that vanguard do once it becomes aware of its own existence.

jk1921
Consequently

Demogorgon wrote:

"And... apparently, unlike the 'working class', the 'vanguard' does?"

The vanguard are communists that struggle to convince the rest of the working class to become communists too.

"If it does, who decides who constitutes the 'vanguard'?"

There are subjective and objective elements. On the one hand, declaring oneself a communist and making a commitment to struggle for revolution is the subjective element. I believe myself to be communist. On the other hand, there is an objective element - to be a real communist, I have to defend actual communist positions i.e. ones that correspond to the historic interests of the working class. For us, we believe the lessons the communist left has drawn from experiences of the revolutionary wave and its subsequent defeat are the basis for forming such positions.

To put it another way: if you are a communist, then simply by being such you are part of the vanguard. The real question is what should that vanguard do once it becomes aware of its own existence.

Consequently, one could ask, "Who decides who constitutes the 'scientific community'? The answer is: other scientists through a process of peer review. So what is the equivalent for the revolutionary vanguard?

LBird
Multiplying entities?

Demogorgon wrote:
To put it another way: if you are a communist, then simply by being such you are part of the vanguard.

But... neither commiegal nor I are in the ICC. We have no democratic say in the running of the ICC. But we are workers, and apparently in a 'vanguard'.

So, do we assume that there are now three entities: the class, the (unconscious?) vanguard and the current/organisation/party/'The Conscious'?

What are the points of separation between: Joe Bloggs and his mates in the pub; me, commiegal and other questioning posters here; and the ICC?

Is there a fourth entity, the cadre within the ICC? Fifth, central committee? Sixth, 'Uncle Joe'?

 

 

Demogorgon
"OK, but can the party ever

"OK, but can the party ever do anything other than develop the aspect of depth, most of which is completely inacessible to the vast majority of workers until the struggle has already reached a certain level of maturity?"

The party develops depth through its theoretical reflection and broadens consciousness by propagandising to other workers. Naturally, the party can't make much headway in the latter until, as you say, the social situation reaches a certain point.

"I am having a little bit of trouble seeing how "spontaneism" is so dangerous and why it is so essential to see consciousness developing outside of periods of open struggle."

Spontaneism is dangerous because it suggests revolutionaries are unnecesssary to develop consciousness. If this is the case, then logically revolutionaries have no real role at all and we may as well shut up shop and wait for the next uprising.

And yet history shows revolutionaries do have a role. Let's consider Marx. If he hadn't bothered to write the Manifesto, Capital, etc. we would have to learn that stuff over and over again from scratch - and lets not forget it took Marx decades to do it. But by producing those materials, he's given us a leg up - if we think it's hard getting a grip on capitalism even with Capital imagine what it would be without it!

"Regardless of whether struggles emerge from a process of SMC or spontaneously-the working class will not really benefit from the work of the organization in deepening class consciousness until the moment of open struggle is reached."

It's not simply the case that struggles emerge from a process of SMC. Struggles emerge from the being of the proletariat itself, an instinctive defence of its living conditions - although, I suppose there has to be an element of consciousness, a recognition that struggle is necessary of course.

But SMC is also about trying to describe the evolution of struggles. The strikes in the 70s, despite their combativity and massive scale, broadly speaking were wholly in the union framework which led to their defeat. In the 80s, the appearance of implicitly anti-union forms in some struggles, suggested that the workers had learned some of the lessons of their defeats. Again, Poland was the most explicit example of this.

What did this show? Firstly, that some level of reflection had occured within the working class, asking the questions: why were we defeated back then? How can we win this time? It wasn't revolutionaries that specifically engendered this change, we didn't have the influence. So it demonstrated against the "Partyists" that consciousness develops in the whole of the working class, not just the party.

But it also showed that revolutionaries had a vital role to play in drawing out the significance of these developments of the class, which were often invisible to the wider class (the struggles were blacked out in the media, etc.) and sometimes even to the workers in the struggles themselves. This is why the implicit anti-unionism of the Polish mass assemblies was unable to become truly explict and why it eventually degenerated into Solidarnosc which crippled the struggle.

A revolutionary presence could have tipped the balance the other way, just as it did in 1917 when Lenin's fraction in the Bolsheviks forced the masses to face up to the real implications of what they themselves had done in creating the Soviets; that they had created the vehicle for proletarian power and that a life-or-death struggle with bourgeois state was now inevitable.

"I am not sure the point you are making here?"

My point was that it's not enough for communism to remain the province of the few, which you point about better scientists seemed to imply. Communists certain do need to deepen consciousness but we have to have a broader appeal too. This doesn't mean workers simply nodding their heads, saying that makes sense, let's go and make a revolution because these guys said so. That's not class consciousness, it's just following another dogma. What is needed is wider and wider layers of workers adopting communist, marxist methods and developing a truly critical practice and taking control not just of their own struggles but their own theoretical development as well.
 

jk1921
History

Demogorgon wrote:

Spontaneism is dangerous because it suggests revolutionaries are unnecesssary to develop consciousness. If this is the case, then logically revolutionaries have no real role at all and we may as well shut up shop and wait for the next uprising.

Its not at all clear to me that it necessarily follows from spontaenism that revolutionaries have no role. The ICT reject SMC (or at least they did when they were the CWO), but they still place a central emphasis on the role of revolutionaries. Or is this because they bend the stick too far in the other direction towards substiutionism?

Demogorgon wrote:

What did this show? Firstly, that some level of reflection had occured within the working class, asking the questions: why were we defeated back then? How can we win this time? It wasn't revolutionaries that specifically engendered this change, we didn't have the influence. So it demonstrated against the "Partyists" that consciousness develops in the whole of the working class, not just the party.

But it also showed that revolutionaries had a vital role to play in drawing out the significance of these developments of the class, which were often invisible to the wider class (the struggles were blacked out in the media, etc.) and sometimes even to the workers in the struggles themselves. This is why the implicit anti-unionism of the Polish mass assemblies was unable to become truly explict and why it eventually degenerated into Solidarnosc which crippled the struggle.

The idea that workers in one country can reflect on the experience of a wholly different set of workers in another country decades before even when subjected to a media blackout seems another tough sell. Perhaps the implicit anti-unionism of the Polish workers emerged from their concrete, lived experience of the labour process on a daily basis? Is this how the ICT/CWO saw events? What about the fraction that eventually became the EFICC? Of course, there are articles about all of this, but could someone from the ICC who knows this history, give us a synopsis of where the various parties stood and how this related to the issues of SMC, councilism, rejection of the party, etc.? 

Demogorgon wrote:

My point was that it's not enough for communism to remain the province of the few, which you point about better scientists seemed to imply. Communists certain do need to deepen consciousness but we have to have a broader appeal too.

No, that wasn't the point. Its something more like outside of periods of open struggle what hope do we really have to obtain that "broader appeal"? Wouldn't that necessarily entail watering down our positions so we can become politically relevant?

Demogorgon
"But... neither commiegal nor

"But... neither commiegal nor I are in the ICC. We have no democratic say in the running of the ICC. But we are workers, and apparently in a 'vanguard'."

Why do you feel the need to have a say in the running of the ICC? Underlying this seems to be some sort of fear that the ICC is trying to control you or other workers. We are not. We do not see our role as organising the class, or taking power in its name. Our role is to develop communist positions and propagate them. How is that any different to what you are doing on this forum - stating and defending your position? The only difference is that there are more of us and we try to do so in a unified, organised fashion.

"So, do we assume that there are now three entities: the class, the (unconscious?) vanguard and the current/organisation/party/'The Conscious'?"

There are layers of consciousness within the working class, of course. There are workers who broadly accept bourgeois ideology; there are those with doubts about the present society but haven't fully articulated them; there are those who have explicitly rejected bourgeois ideology and adopted communism; and of those there are some who have joined together to promote communism in an organised manner.

What is so difficult to comprehend about this general conception? Do you think every worker has an identical consciousness?

"Is there a fourth entity, the cadre within the ICC? Fifth, central committee? Sixth, 'Uncle Joe'?"

Again, this represents your underlying suspicion that at the heart of the ICC (and presumably any organisation) is a machiavellian dictator pulling the strings, telling us all what to think and we, in turn, tell you. It might make for a good thriller, of course, but that's not the reality. No-one in the ICC is beyond criticism. Nor, apart from an adherance to our platform, are comrades told what to think.

To give one example, I personally disagree completely with the organisation's official stance on the economic question which is derived from Rosa Luxemburg. I have debated that point within the organisation and also publically on this forum. I guess the ICC Mind Control Machine hasn't quite been perfected yet ...

Demogorgon
"Its not at all clear to me

"Its not at all clear to me that it necessarily follows from spontaenism that revolutionaries have no role. The ICT reject SMC (or at least they did when they were the CWO), but they still place a central emphasis on the role of revolutionaries. Or is this because they bend the stick too far in the other direction towards substiutionism?"

I would hesitate to say the ICT are substitutionist. I am not recently familiar enough with their position on the role of the party to say anything about it with any real confidence. I also suspect the previous debates on this question between us and them involved straw-man arguments on both sides, which I have no wish to revive here.

What role do you think revolutionaries have in a spontaneist (how do you spell that??)  conception?

"The idea that workers in one country can reflect on the experience of a wholly different set of workers in another country decades before even when subjected to a media blackout seems another tough sell."

Why? During the Occupy movement, the Occupiers explicly copied what was being done in other cities! The Indignados in Spain and the big mass meetings in Greece also addressed the Occupy movement. It's true that there wasn't the same media blackout in this case and there's also a question about the exact nature of the proletariant content in these movements, but it does show that it's not unreasonable to assume that workers can't learn from each other.

Similarly in Germany, there was a very conscious element in the formation of the workers' councils. They knew it had been done in Russia and, to a certain extent, consciously emulated that example.

When there are media blackouts, isn't it the task of revolutionaries to try and break them?

"Perhaps the implicit anti-unionism of the Polish workers emerged from their concrete, lived experience of the labour process on a daily basis?"

Then why did the struggle take different forms at different historical moments? Broadly speaking, the lived experience didn't change that much between the 70s and 80s but the form of struggle changed dramatically. Similarly, why will the proletariat accept the hammering of its living conditions one moment and resist them the next? There must be a subjective element involved, an element of consciousness and its development.

Underlying this is the lack of understanding about how consciousness develops and SMC is an attempt to analyse this.

"Is this how the ICT/CWO saw events? What about the fraction that eventually became the EFICC? Of course, there are articles about all of this, but could someone from the ICC who knows this history, give us a synopsis of where the various parties stood and how this related to the issues of SMC, councilism, rejection of the party, etc.?"

It'll need someone more familiar with all those nuances than me I'm afraid.

 

commiegal
I don't think that class

I don't think that class consciousness in itself necessarily means you'll have good politics, for example if you look at Stalinism, if you look at the people who supported the old communist party over here compared to the reality of a barbaric "workers' state". I know that I have some reactionary views because it's a product of living in a capitalist society and i've got other views which while not "wrong" don't exactly fit with left communism for example I am not really an atheist.

My time in a trotskyist party, although I met some great people in the party and it's really helped develop my politics, has made me very wary of self described vanguards. Because of the way that they tend to behave, thinking they have the right ideas so it gives them the right to take over campaigns and the right to "lead" the working class when a lot of them could not lead their way out of a paper bag. I don't even think they intend to do it but because they are ideologically committed to a Leninist theory of organisation they just end up doing it. I don't think they think they're doing anything wrong. In addition when you talk to full-timers about what communism or socialism would be like it's just like a slightly better version of capitalism with the "commanding heights of the economy" under "workers' control" (actually state control).

I also think it sounds ridiculous describing me like that like a "vanguard", because I'm from a middle class background and there are a lot of things that I probably still dont "get" (ie the fact that altho im a worker i'm quite a privileged position relatively speaking) despite having worked in manual labourer type jobs etc there are a lot of people out there who could probably teach me a thing or two about class struggle! In addition there is so much that I don't understand about Marxism, it took me ages for example to realise that the trade unions rather than just the leaders were actually agents of capital in some ways, although I don't think I would take as an "extreme" position on it as the ICC. There are loads of things which I have just been plain wrong about even though I'm a marxist, I'm a communist. And there are equally lots of people who might have perfectly good marxist ideas in theory but behave like complete shits in their personal life.

Leninist parties have this idea about "cadreisation" I disagree that the vanguard will always be a minority, but I think that a lot of people will become left communists without even knowing there is such a thing as left communism or without reading books even just through the experience of life. in addition people with stalinist etc views have instigated successful strikes and created victories for the workers, and in so doing they might come to the conclusion that stalinism is wrong - but on the other hand they may not.

There is a lot I agree with the ICC about, I'd say one of the main things I agree about is the idea of decomposition and I thought that your articles about Mexico were one of the most interesting things I had ever read about the state of capitalism today, to my knowledge there has been very little discussion in the "far left" about the integration with organised crime with the state which is something which interests me a lot. I also agree with the fact that you have a forum on here where members and non members can ask questions without the aim being recruitment.

jk1921
Spontaneism

Demogorgon wrote:

What role do you think revolutionaries have in a spontaneist (how do you spell that??)  conception?

The same as in the SMC conception: Develop and deepen the Marxist analysis of captialism, keep the communist perspective alive, attempt to tramsmit the lessons of previous waves of class struggle to the new generation of militants, etc. In short, to be there when the class finally starts to look for answers outside the boundaries of reformism. Whether one thinks the broader class is constantly developing its consciousness under the surface, or whether it emerges in response to concrete realities of the labor process at the moment, doesn't seem particularly important. However, it may have some importance when it comes to answering the question, "What are revolutionaries supposed to do?"

Demogorgon wrote:

(how do you spell that??)

I haven't the foggiest idea.

Demogorgon wrote:

"The idea that workers in one country can reflect on the experience of a wholly different set of workers in another country decades before even when subjected to a media blackout seems another tough sell."

Why? During the Occupy movement, the Occupiers explicly copied what was being done in other cities! The Indignados in Spain and the big mass meetings in Greece also addressed the Occupy movement. It's true that there wasn't the same media blackout in this case and there's also a question about the exact nature of the proletariant content in these movements, but it does show that it's not unreasonable to assume that workers can't learn from each other.

Your point is taken, but these movements seem a far cry from Poland 1980. For one, its the Internet era today and it is much more difficult for the bourgeoise to pull off the kind of media blackout that must have obtained in Stalinist Poland.

Demogorgon wrote:

When there are media blackouts, isn't it the task of revolutionaries to try and break them?

Of course, but were there any revolutionaries in Poland in 1980? I do remember a story about a few ICCers entering Poland who were promptly deported. But certainly, they couldn't have broken the black out by themselves?

Demogorgon wrote:

Then why did the struggle take different forms at different historical moments? Broadly speaking, the lived experience didn't change that much between the 70s and 80s but the form of struggle changed dramatically. Similarly, why will the proletariat accept the hammering of its living conditions one moment and resist them the next? There must be a subjective element involved, an element of consciousness and its development.

I don't think anyone denies that there is a subjective element to the decision to struggle, but does this necessarily imply SMC or can a subjective decision still emerge from the concrete experience of the labour process? Its like a case of convergent evolution. Workers in 1980 Poland discovered the mass strike because they had, relatively speaking, the same working conditions of workers in 1968 France, not because they were pondering the experience of 1968 deep in their (collective?) unconscious. Is this the kind of argument the detractors of SMC made druing the debates of the early 80s?

Demogorgon wrote:

Underlying this is the lack of understanding about how consciousness develops and SMC is an attempt to analyse this.

I agree. I am trying to wrap my head around how those who reject SMC see consciousness developing. What is the mechanism for a "spontaneist" (sic!) theory of class consciousness?

mhou
Quote:I agree. I am trying to

Quote:
I agree. I am trying to wrap my head around how those who reject SMC see consciousness developing. What is the mechanism for a "spontaneist" (sic!) theory of class consciousness?

That consciousness is solely created in open struggle- and if the struggle is defeated, it linearly regresses back to nothing (pre-struggle levels). This is what the Situationists thought- and it reflected in their practice. In the original discussion piece for this thread, the example of the post-May 1968 reflection of the SI was quoted and discussed. It's a bunch of 'what ifs' or 'if only this had happened. . . it could've been a revolution like 1917'.

Such a conception of consciousness is linked to communist practice in the heat of events. I don't think they were engaged enough in the workplace, despite the stranglehold of the unions on the factories- the action committee's/Committee for the Maintenance of the Occupations were all good things, but still divorced from the factory occupations (not directly defending communist positions and principles). Their recruitment policy was, at times, admirable, but during the struggles directly before and during May 1968, when a lot of searching workers and students became interested in their positions, they were rebuffed rather than integrated. The councilist version is 'do it yourself'- we all think the task of revolution is that of the working-class itself, but in their version revolutionaries/communists have no real role to play; both of these things (conception of consciousness and role of communists) show in what they actually did and didn't do in the open struggle. That's the danger of the councilist position in general, and on class consciousness.

jk1921
Reliving Debates

mhou wrote:

That consciousness is solely created in open struggle- and if the struggle is defeated, it linearly regresses back to nothing (pre-struggle levels).

So, consciousness is something that comes after the struggle already breaks out? What then causes the subjective will to struggle in the first place? Is it purely contingent? I think there are some problems here. First of all, what exactly do we mean by consciousness? What does this have to do with "class identity," etc.? If consciousness is something other than class identity, if it isn't something we can tangibly see and measure, how do we know how much consciousness there is in the class right now? How do we know it is not nothing? It seems we are right back into the problem of empirical verification once again.

I have a sneaking suspiscion that we are reliving debates of the early 80s all over again, or perhaps the 30s? Here is a quote from the GIC's Towards a New Workers' Movement:

"The revolutionary workers are quite easily inclined to assume of the whole class that it is like the revolutionary part. In meetings, when they give expression to their own ideas, the matter comes off like: The working class wants this or that, it takes this or that standpoint, it says this or that. But in reality the working class says nothing, it does nothing and it takes no standpoint. it is neither 'for' nor 'against.' As an active class, it does not exist. It exists like any lifeless thing, hence passively. it does not exist has a living, active being until it comes into motion and to the consciousness of itself. "

This seems to suggest that outside of periods of open struggle, there is no class consciousness. Class consciousness cannot be quantified in amounts or percentages. Its either there or it is not. Of course, this leaves open the question of just where the will to engage in open struggle comes from exactly? Its not a conscious act, the result of a subterreanean process of development--it seems more like an instictual reaction to the proletarian condition and to the specific features of the labour process at any given time, perhaps touched off by this or that contingent event?

mhou
Quote:So, consciousness is

Quote:

So, consciousness is something that comes after the struggle already breaks out? What then causes the subjective will to struggle in the first place? Is it purely contingent? I think there are some problems here. First of all, what exactly do we mean by consciousness? What does this have to do with "class identity," etc.? If consciousness is something other than class identity, if it isn't something we can tangibly see and measure, how do we know how much consciousness there is in the class right now? How do we know it is not nothing? It seems we are right back into the problem of empirical verification once again.

I have a sneaking suspiscion that we are reliving debates of the early 80s all over again, or perhaps the 30s? Here is a quote from the GIC's Towards a New Workers' Movement:

"The revolutionary workers are quite easily inclined to assume of the whole class that it is like the revolutionary part. In meetings, when they give expression to their own ideas, the matter comes off like: The working class wants this or that, it takes this or that standpoint, it says this or that. But in reality the working class says nothing, it does nothing and it takes no standpoint. it is neither 'for' nor 'against.' As an active class, it does not exist. It exists like any lifeless thing, hence passively. it does not exist has a living, active being until it comes into motion and to the consciousness of itself. "

This seems to suggest that outside of periods of open struggle, there is no class consciousness. Class consciousness cannot be quantified in amounts or percentages. Its either there or it is not. Of course, this leaves open the question of just where the will to engage in open struggle comes from exactly? Its not a conscious act, the result of a subterreanean process of development--it seems more like an instictual reaction to the proletarian condition and to the specific features of the labour process at any given time, perhaps touched off by this or that contingent event?

Right- the GIC quote you gave is a spot on opposite of that of the Italian left/Bordiga, which views class consciousness/the 'class' as an organism, a living thing that takes on different characteristics given the material conditions/circumstances/experiences.

I agree with your characterization, and the question of 'well if consciousness is born in open struggle, what starts the open struggle?'- the best I can tell of the councilist view is that if the conditions are ripe for revolution (due to decadence or something similar), it doesn't really matter what causes day to day class struggle or tactics (strikes, joint-strike committees, etc.) to turn into open struggle/mass struggle.

As far as whether or not class consciousness is analogous to class identity, some may think so, I don't think they are the same thing. Class consciousness seems to be the general level of combativity and tendencies toward self-organization and solidarity, which reflects in the actions of the working-class either in individual phenomenon, or connected to international waves of struggles. That the working-class has shown throughout the 20th century that it is capable of developing its own organs of decision making (whether soviets in 1905 or inter-firm and geographic committees in 1980 or workplace and geographic General Assemblies in 2011) seems to demonstrate the existence of a collective consciousness which responds to and was born of the proletarian condition and daily class struggle. The councilist position (of consciousness linearly developing from nothing when open struggles break out like Poland 1980 or May 1968) can't account for why advanced forms and sometimes advanced content develop seemingly out of no where- like the Egyptian workers self-organization and militancy in 2011, which echoed in Wisconsin then internationally with the Occupy-Indignados movements taking on similar forms and content. I'm not sure what the explanation would be without a methodology based on class consciousness (a good explanation, rather).

 

Quote:
Of course, this leaves open the question of just where the will to engage in open struggle comes from exactly? Its not a conscious act, the result of a subterreanean process of development--it seems more like an instictual reaction to the proletarian condition and to the specific features of the labour process at any given time, perhaps touched off by this or that contingent event?

But wouldn't that development be subterranean (instinctual or structural conditions due to the lived experience of the proletarian condition and day to day class struggle) until it becomes open struggle?

jk1921
Combativity vs. consciousness

mhou wrote:

I agree with your characterization, and the question of 'well if consciousness is born in open struggle, what starts the open struggle?'- the best I can tell of the councilist view is that if the conditions are ripe for revolution (due to decadence or something similar), it doesn't really matter what causes day to day class struggle or tactics (strikes, joint-strike committees, etc.) to turn into open struggle/mass struggle.

Right, the cause of this or that struggle is irrelevant. It only matters that the dynamic of the struggle pushes towards extension, deepening--and eventually the search for the communist perspective, because these things fit the concrete material needs of the particular struggle.

mhou wrote:

As far as whether or not class consciousness is analogous to class identity, some may think so, I don't think they are the same thing. Class consciousness seems to be the general level of combativity and tendencies toward self-organization and solidarity, which reflects in the actions of the working-class either in individual phenomenon, or connected to international waves of struggles.

I thought the ICC makes a distinction between combativity and consciousness? It seems there can be high combativity with a less developed consciousness, although perhaps not vice versa. For example, in 1919 the working class in Winnipeg displayed great combativity in confronting bourgeois forces of repression (including the state), yet it did not ever really advance past a trade union consciousness. Similary, the German working class was highly combative during the period 1918-1923, willing to come out onto the street and even take up arms, but it seemed to regularly fall for the Social Democratic illusion  The question then is how does combativity develop? Does it lead to greater consciousness? How?

mhou wrote:

But wouldn't that development be subterranean (instinctual or structural conditions due to the lived experience of the proletarian condition and day to day class struggle) until it becomes open struggle?

Well, perhaps in the sense that it is subconscious. But that is far cry from mulling over the lessons, successes and failures of a previous experience of class struggle in another country decades before. Perhaps the real test of SMC is whether or not sucessive waves of struggle display a tendency to advance and learn from the mistakes of previous waves? According to the "spontaenist" view, it would seem the workers would have to repeat the same formula time and again hoping for different contingent events to produce a different outcome.

I think one of the burning questions for today, however, is have we reahed some kind of point in history where the capacity of the older generations to pass on these lessons to the newer generations is rapidly diminishing, whether due to sociological change, the restructuring of the labor process, thirty years of attacks, etc.? This seems as much important for the class itself as for revolutionary minorities.

Fred
Has the capacity of older

Has the capacity of older generations of revolutionaries to pass on what they know - in short, to communicate with the young - reached a diminishing point, asks jk, who says this is a "burning question". 

In responding to slothjabber's concerns about the existence of left communist organizations, and whether anyone wants or needs to join them anymore, and in replying to slothjabber's observation of three different types of response by younger folk to the existence of these organizations, Alf had this to say.

Alf wrote:
 The 'third option' really smuggles in a fourth. If the third is the one that Sloth is himself following - working with but outside - the fourth is 'ignoring them altogether', which is a very strong tendency within the milieu and needs to be fought vigorously, whether by the organisations themselves, or those like Sloth who are convinced that it is necessary to work with the organisations. 'Ignoring them ' is not a matter of individual taste, it's a political position. It's the current policy, for example, of the libcom collective, who are sliding more and more into syndicalism, and of many on red-marx who also compare the communist left organisations to dusty old archivists; and 'ignoring them' can very easily turn to 'excluding them' altogether,as we have seen on numerous occasions, such as the incidents with No War but the Class War and the AF in the late 90s, and more recently with a semi-modernist discussion circle in London  (even if we have sometimes, through our own sectarian errors, contributed to such exclusions.
 

I think it is right to observe this "being ignored" attitude, and to label it as very definitely political. What it suggests however, is not the diminishing influence of left communism  but the opposite. After all, you don't take the trouble to deliberately ignore that which is already losing its influence, do you?  No. You deliberately ignore that which you are only too afraid is going to effect you, and cause you to change your point of view, at a time when you don't really know which way to jump and are waiting for something decisive to help you in your decision. This "waiting for something decisive" to happen,or anticipating   further empirical evidence, is an important moment in the SMC process, and one probably that cannot be avoided. The danger is that it might lead  to total rejection, or "exclusion" of left communist organizations  as Alf points out, with the ensuing need to re-invent the communist wheel. What a lot of us are all waiting for at the moment is some sign from the class, probably arriving suddenly, that it hasn't died, disappeared, suffered sociological change, surrendered to the bourgeoisie, or otherwise been rendered impotent, but is still the same good old working class, as known to Luxembourg and Marx, and is returning to the fight, with its class memories intact and its revolutionaries on hand to help out  when needed. 

 

 

 

 

ernie
Commiegal your reflections on

Commiegal your reflections on your experience of being in a Trotskyist organisation and your growing interest in the Communist Left are very interesting and illuminating.

Your rejection of the vanguardist vision of the party is clearly founded upon your experience of the Trotskyist vision of the vanguard party. However we would say there is  difference between what we mean by the vangaurd and what the Trotskyists mean. For them the role of the party is to lead the class, to bring consciousness to the class and basically for the party to replace the ruling class and to implement state capitalism. For us the role of the party is not to lead the class, to come to power or to bring consciousness to the class, but to defend and putforwards class positions and thus to contribute to the widest possible development of class consciousness.

If we talk about the vanguard role of the party it is in relation to the fact that communist organisations are the clearest expression of class consciousness. The development of class consciousness is a process that take place at several levels;

- historically, through the learning the lessons of the history of the proletariat's struggle to liberate humanity. For example, the Communist Left has spent a lot of time and energy since the 1920s seeking to understand the lessons of the Russian and German revolutions and their defeats

- theoretically, through the deepening of the marxist method, the application of this method to the unfolding of history for example the quesiton of the decadence of captial and more recently its phase of decomposiiton

- the defense and development of class positions. The question of the role and nature of the trade unions being a good illustration of the necessity for revolutionaires to constantly engage in a process of criticism of their own understanding.

- organisationally, the develop of class consciousness is not a linear process but a dialectical one where there are ebbs and flows, victories and very painful defeats. In the course of ten years 1917-1927 the proletariat went from storming the heavens to the most terrible defeats, internationalism flourished and then was crushed under the iron heel of democracy and Stalinism. The organisational expression of this process was initially the emergence of revolutionary organisations regrouping tens or even hundreds of thousands of militants then the death of these organisation and their gradual passage over to the ruling class, which then posed revolutionaries with the historical challenge of understanding how to organise in the circumstances of counter-revolution on an international scale? For us the Italian Communist Left expressed the deepest understanding of this challenge, with the conception of the fraction whose aim was to carry out the necessary theoretical preparation for the future party. The Italian Left understood that the revolutionary wave was being crushed and that this meant that the period of the party was over and that the challenge was now to draw and preserve the lessons of the revolution and its defeat. This understanding was completely opposed to that of Trotsky who still saw the task as renew and saving the mass communist parties etc.

- how can the proletariat develop its struggle to defend itself on the everyday level.

All of these diffiferent aspects take place not only in communist organisations but in the wider class. Clearly the extent of this process depends upon the historical period,  whether the class is in a period of developing its struggle, or one of retreat etc.

The extent of this process is thus variable however even if the proletariat as a class is going through a period of defeat there can still be a process of the deepening of class consciousness as the historical theoretical understanding of the class through the process of the drawing of the lessons of such a defeat in order to better arm the class politically for the future struggles.Thus the work of the Communist Left in the 20s, 30s and 40s, prepared the groundwork for the re-emergence of Communist left organisations internationally after 68.

It is in this context that we talk about the vanguard role of communist organisations

LBird
Crux of the matter?

ernie wrote:
For us the role of the party is ...to defend and put forwards class positions and thus to contribute to the widest possible development of class consciousness.

Surely, the assumption here is that the 'class' cannot 'put forwards' its own 'class positions'. That is, a class organised upon different lines to a 'Leninist' organisation.

ernie wrote:
If we talk about the vanguard role of the party it is in relation to the fact that communist organisations are the clearest expression of class consciousness.
[my bold]

This is precisely what is at issue. Why should a self-selecting 'vanguard', self-defining 'Communist', organisation be a 'clearer expression' than that expressed by workers themselves, in non-Leninist organisations?

I still haven't had an answer to my quote from Pannekoek on the other thread. Why should any organisation of Communists have more than an advisory role to the developing class?

In other words, power lies with the class, not 'Communists'. The proletariat has to develop a Communist consciousness for itself. The role of any organisation is merely to develop the class, not to take on a political role for itself. Power, including the power to disband organisations, must lie with the wider class, not with those minority organisations themselves.

Any other stance displays a fear of democracy, and separates society into two parts.

Of course, if any advisory organisation becomes the mass party (containing the majority of the class), then it necessarily becomes a political organisation.

MH
party and class

LBird wrote:

I still haven't had an answer to my quote from Pannekoek on the other thread. Why should any organisation of Communists have more than an advisory role to the developing class?

In other words, power lies with the class, not 'Communists'. The proletariat has to develop a Communist consciousness for itself. The role of any organisation is merely to develop the class, not to take on a political role for itself. Power, including the power to disband organisations, must lie with the wider class, not with those minority organisations themselves.

In fact I think you'll find you had an extensive answer from Demogorgon. You even thanked him for his response!

LBird wrote:

I'm asking a simple political question: 'Where does power lie?'

If the answer is 'the class', then logically the 'revolutionary organisation' must be under the political direction of the class, and can only play an advisory role to the class.

Demogorgon wrote:

"I'm asking a simple political question: 'Where does power lie?'"

In the mass assemblies of the working class which hold even the councils to account.

"If the answer is 'the class', then logically the 'revolutionary organisation' must be under the political direction of the class, and can only play an advisory role to the class."

What do you mean by political direction? If you mean the assemblies and councils determine the political positions of the party then absolutely not. If you mean that the mass organs decide how to actually run society, then yes.

The party's role in mass organs is the same as it is in a strike - to push class positions, call for the extension of struggles, attack anti-proletarian prejudices, etc.

The ICC has explained its view of the relationship between party and class. The issue is that you defend a councilist position on this, so you disagree!

 

The issue is not you

LBird
the nub

MH wrote:
The ICC has explained its view of the relationship between party and class. The issue is that you defend a councilist position on this, so you disagree!

Yes, I defend a 'councilist position'!

I said this from the start, I've posted quotes from Anton Pannekoek, but, most of all, I based all this on the assumption that the ICC was Councilist, too!

And not Leninist!

I'll put it simply: if you state that the ICC is Leninist and not Councilist, I'll go away, with thanks to the ICC for allowing me to post, discuss and clarify for myself, and on the now clear understanding that we don't share the same politics.

No hard feelings, just a genuine mistake, comrades.

MH
debating party and class

Sorry, double post, pressed the button too soon. Just to say to LBird, there is no reason not to debate the issue simply because we disagree. The ICC is not councilist but it is not Leninist either, and bases itself on the left communist critique of both these deformations of revolutionary marxism, the products of the period of counter-revolution and defeat.

To take the debate further, it might be useful to read the ICC pamphlet online about communist organisation and class consciousness, and in particular the section near the end on the role of revolutionaries.

mhou
Quote:I thought the ICC makes

Quote:
I thought the ICC makes a distinction between combativity and consciousness? It seems there can be high combativity with a less developed consciousness, although perhaps not vice versa. For example, in 1919 the working class in Winnipeg displayed great combativity in confronting bourgeois forces of repression (including the state), yet it did not ever really advance past a trade union consciousness. Similary, the German working class was highly combative during the period 1918-1923, willing to come out onto the street and even take up arms, but it seemed to regularly fall for the Social Democratic illusion  The question then is how does combativity develop? Does it lead to greater consciousness? How?

Brings us back to 'breadth' and 'depth'- it seems easier to view the end result, of either breadth or depth, of class consciousness as the culminating phenomenon of numerous more or less independent facets which interact with and sublimate one another; I think it requires a view of maintaining the complete picture of all of these facets taken together rather than each facet deconstructed on its own- in that case, looking at the component parts of what makes 'class consciousness' or manifestations of it, I'd completely agree with you that things like shopfloor militancy, forms of struggle, emergence of communist minorities, etc. taken alone cannot account for the state of class consciousness. But it would seem that when all combined together they shake-off the conclusions of individual analysis (of forms of struggle, signs of militancy, size or emergence of communist minorities) and require an analysis of all of these individual facets taken as a whole- in which case they can tell us something more than independent analysis of any 1 component of what makes class consciousness.

Though I'd argue that the German revolution didn't involve an illusion; social democracy radicalized itself- and it was the first time that a worker's organization had passed to the class enemy while still waving the red flag- I think the fact that German social democracy (particularly in the form of the USPD) had to radicalize itself and blow the revolutionary trumpet is evidence that the level of class consciousness was very high for a critical mass of the urban proletariat.

Quote:

Well, perhaps in the sense that it is subconscious. But that is far cry from mulling over the lessons, successes and failures of a previous experience of class struggle in another country decades before. Perhaps the real test of SMC is whether or not sucessive waves of struggle display a tendency to advance and learn from the mistakes of previous waves? According to the "spontaenist" view, it would seem the workers would have to repeat the same formula time and again hoping for different contingent events to produce a different outcome.

I think one of the burning questions for today, however, is have we reahed some kind of point in history where the capacity of the older generations to pass on these lessons to the newer generations is rapidly diminishing, whether due to sociological change, the restructuring of the labor process, thirty years of attacks, etc.? This seems as much important for the class itself as for revolutionary minorities.

I don't think the SMC claims that experiences of struggle become a conscious study of the workers involved after the fact; only that the experience informs their perpective (particularly regarding future incidents of class struggle). That doesn't really need a 'mulling over'- it happened, people don't have bad memories. Sometimes eventful incidents of class struggle become part of peoples personal narrative- I'm sure other people here have family members who have talked about their experiences with a union, or a strike etc. Not a focus of their lives, but not an event which passes into oblivion after it's over. Especially since things like strikes or work-to-rules are so far from what is normal in every day activities.

 

jk1921
Mechanisms

mhou wrote:

I don't think the SMC claims that experiences of struggle become a conscious study of the workers involved after the fact; only that the experience informs their perpective (particularly regarding future incidents of class struggle). That doesn't really need a 'mulling over'- it happened, people don't have bad memories. Sometimes eventful incidents of class struggle become part of peoples personal narrative- I'm sure other people here have family members who have talked about their experiences with a union, or a strike etc. Not a focus of their lives, but not an event which passes into oblivion after it's over. Especially since things like strikes or work-to-rules are so far from what is normal in every day activities.

Sure, but if we are going to claim than somehow 1968 or 1917 influences what happens in 1980 then there has to be some mechanism through which the experience of workers far away and from a different time can affect the struggles of workers in the here and now. What is it? It is certainly possible for workers to learn from their own struggles, or from the struggles of workers they know personally, or from older workers who pass down the lessons of previous experience. But once this link has been broken, either in terms of generations or geography, what is the mechanism for this kind of transmission?

Demogorgon
"But once this link has been

"But once this link has been broken, either in terms of generations or geography, what is the mechanism for this kind of transmission?"

Extremely difficult. That's why we in the ICC talk about the "organic break" so much.

P.S. For those unfamiliar with this term, the organic break refers the more-or-less total destruction or recuperation of proletarian organisations by the bourgeoisie during the counter-revolution. The Bolsheviks, the Comintern and then Trotskyism were all pulled into the orbit of the ruling class. The Communist Left was reduced to scattered isolated groups, many of which perished completely. Those few who survived (the GCF, ancestor of the ICC, the PCInt, ancestor of the ICT, some scattered Councillist groups) were profoundly scarred by the experience, succumbing to sectarianism, dogmatism, sclerosis, etc.

When new militants emerged at the end of the 60s, forming new groups, they had hardly anyone to teach them how to be militants and picked up as many of the bad habits acquired by the survivors as the good.

The historic blow dealt to the working class by the destruction of its organisations by the counter-revolution cannot be underestimated.

commiegal
Demogorgon what do you mean

Demogorgon what do you mean by Trotskyism was pulled into the orbit of the ruling class? I am sorry if this sounds stupid but to the majority of the bourgeoisie I think they see trotskyists as just as much of a threat as left-communists and they view them in the same light, for example when Labour expelled Militant for being "too left wing" and portraying left-wing opponents of for example thatcher as being trots and members of the SWP.

I am not saying that they are the same thing at all but I am not sure that even those serving on the central committees of trotskyist parties are part of the bourgeoisie due to their usually pretty small salaries (although a lot of full-time trots are able to survive on those salaries due to having rich partners or money from other sources).

Or are you referring to the union leaders as being part of the bourgeoisie (I'm not sure they are to be honest, although they earn far too much and they are the management of the union and employ people to work for them, so I suppose they are in a way, although they are elected by the members) and the trots as being pulled into their orbit, trying to "reform" them and eventually being reformed by them.

Is that sort of what you meant or have I got it wrong?

jk1921
Image

commiegal wrote:

I am sorry if this sounds stupid but to the majority of the bourgeoisie I think they see trotskyists as just as much of a threat as left-communists and they view them in the same light, for example when Labour expelled Militant for being "too left wing" and portraying left-wing opponents of for example thatcher as being trots and members of the SWP.

Part of the U.S. bourgeoisie thinks Obama is a communist. Its not so much in what regard the Trots, etc. are held by the rest of the bourgeoisie, its the objective function they preform in recuperating workers' struggles behind the state that makes them bourgeois.

Pages