History's door

16 posts / 0 new
Last post
Fred
History's door
Printer-friendly version

The ICC take on fascism is that it arose on the grave of a defeated working class: and that as the class is as yet undefeated today, what is generally meant by fascism - that is to say, severely authoritarian leadership and control of society through extremely repressive forces like the army and police - is unlikely, internationally, at the present time. A presumption not accepted by everyone. (However, assuming my definition of it carries any truth, you might be forgiven for thinking it's well on the way, even in the West.) So, considering the question of fascism today, jk said this: "On the issue of the "undefeated" working-class on which this presumption hinges: I have enough difficutly getting people I talk to to accept the working class still exists; when they admit it exists they often can't see it as anything other than a mass of hopeless souls who have become completely unmoored from their own class interests--hardly a bulwark against fascism. Regardless, one of the features of decomposition, I have heard it said, is that it is now possible for the communist alternative to become impossble without a direct defeat of the working-class." This somewhat shocking statement is not one many of us want to hear, but I suppose it has to be said.

On another forum thread, Rosa Luxemburg's economic theories - which some of us had long thought underpinned much of the ICC's beliefs - are challenged and some would say discredited. This invalidating of some of Rosa's work has even led to the idea of "decadence" - as being the decadence of an economic system, rather than the decadence of a class ridden society and the human relationships maintained therein - being called into question too. Happily, no one as yet has challenged Rosa's contribution to the understanding of class consciouness and it's growth. Though if the working class, as a self-conscious class, is on the verge of extinction, this won't be of any consequence either.

During the last four years, time appears to have speeded up. History, far from having ended in 1989, as the bourgeoisie hoped, has returned in a hyper-active manner. What's going to happen next? Barbarism spreads as capitalism falls sicker. Some revolutionary groupings think the system will get better. Others fear the worse, as the violence of an apparently crazed and frustrated bourgeoise spread calamity round the globe. Decomposition is claimed to be at work: the planet is certainly decomposing, no matter what else. Even the ICC, usually so confident in it's interpretation of the world, appears lost and confused at times, as some of it's tenets are challenged, and its hesitations become apparent.

But is all this necessarily bad? History's door has creaked open a bit. But what's on the other side? We dont know. But at least the rusty old worm eaten door is creaking a bit. Perhaps the first real creaks since 1917. A happy note to end on.

A contributor to these discussions

LoneLondoner
Fred wrote:Even the ICC,

Fred wrote:
Even the ICC, usually so confident in it's interpretation of the world, appears lost and confused at times, as some of it's tenets are challenged, and its hesitations become apparent.

Actually, I think that the ICC is much more confident today than in the past, and one of the signs of that confidence is our willingness and ability to question and re-examine our own ideas in the light of events.

Perhaps I could just add this quote from the "Reading notes on marxism and science":

Jens wrote:

The ability to criticise the ideas of others also implies a willingness to subject one’s own ideas to criticism and debate. But as Rovelli points out, it is the sign of an idea’s strength, not weakness, that it can be called into question. When we are confident in our ideas, in our theories, then we cannot be afraid of debating them – if debate reveals weaknesses or gaps in this or that aspect of a theory then the theory itself can only be strengthened. And even if the theory itself turns out to be wrong (for example, Copernicus’ theory that the sun was at the centre of the universe), by posing the right questions it will have allowed debate to go forwards and the sum of knowledge to increase.

jk1921
Evolve?

LoneLondoner wrote:

Fred wrote:
Even the ICC, usually so confident in it's interpretation of the world, appears lost and confused at times, as some of it's tenets are challenged, and its hesitations become apparent.

Actually, I think that the ICC is much more confident today than in the past, and one of the signs of that confidence is our willingness and ability to question and re-examine our own ideas in the light of events.

Perhaps I could just add this quote from the "Reading notes on marxism and science":

Jens wrote:

The ability to criticise the ideas of others also implies a willingness to subject one’s own ideas to criticism and debate. But as Rovelli points out, it is the sign of an idea’s strength, not weakness, that it can be called into question. When we are confident in our ideas, in our theories, then we cannot be afraid of debating them – if debate reveals weaknesses or gaps in this or that aspect of a theory then the theory itself can only be strengthened. And even if the theory itself turns out to be wrong (for example, Copernicus’ theory that the sun was at the centre of the universe), by posing the right questions it will have allowed debate to go forwards and the sum of knowledge to increase.

 

I think this is right. The ICC is indeed changing; evolving perhaps. It is more open to new and different ideas than at anytime since I have known it. Partly, this seems to be the effect of newer generations of militants knocking on its doors (and the doors of other revolutionary organizations); many of whom are not afraid to question the assumptions of the generation of '68. Its not unsurprising that this would lead to some conflict, confusion, friction, headaches and migraines as we sort out what is still valid and what needs to be revised, updated and strengthened.

So in this vein, one complaint if I may: Many times in discussing with ICC militants, it seems they can take a rather adversarial approach to discussion. Its as if one always must have a definite, worked-out "position," one must "defend" in a process of "polarization." Even the idiom of how we dicuss is rife with adversarial language. I think this approach fits poorly with the new generations, many of whom are more interested in exploring ideas in a cooperative discussion rather than lining-up behind a barricade to "defend a position." In other places, I have been critical of the cultural predilections of the younger generations, but here, I think there is some validity we need to consider. Of course, none of us can be perfect on this score and there is a time and a place for "polarization," but perhaps a little more humility could benefit us as well?

Pierre
I think the problem is that

I think the problem is that as an organization, we are really smart, and sometimes overwhelmingly so. We have so many brilliant minds and ideas. Do we leave enough breathing room for interested individuals and groups when we discuss with them?

Another thing is so much of our material is a response, or a reply, written using confrontational language. Which makes sense because we want to confront, debate, and discuss these issues in a fraternal manner. But we often infer (even if unintentionally) that we have the most correct, or the best theories. Whether its true or not, whether passive or not, you can detect this sort of confidence in a militant. And I think many workers distrust this "attitude." And defensively so, considering the fucking bourgeois politicians and all the shit they spew in the form of political promises and rhetoric.

It seems to me some "proletarian class instinct" exists which makes our fellow workers vehemently anti-substitutionist. We saw it with Occupy, the "do it yourself", "against politics" mentality commonly associated with the American "left", and especially lifestyle anarchism.

Considering most of the people involved with these social movements have no understanding (much less a proper critique) of Stalinism, can we really blame it on the failures of the USSR? Do we simply blame it on state capitalism? To me it seems to go deeper than that, almost to some kind of existential, human, "instinctual" level. It's tens of thousands of years slavery, oppression, and exploitation. Then again, maybe its the spread of information technology, the fact everyone feels empowered by this steady stream of information we have access to living in the 21st century. Is it possible that as a class, the workers are "unconciously" aware of the substitutionist or oppurtunist threats to a revolutionary movement?

Those of us around the ICC, those who have worked closely with the ICC, understand we don't have all the answers. We are trying to nurture a "culture of debate." But we are very determined and convincing people.

Jk brings up humility... I see it more as a "substitutionism of the ego" if you follow what I mean here. Since our theories are constantly tested in the battlefield that is the class war, since thats where they are drawn from, we are very confident in them. But shouldn't we do everything in our power to allow people searching for answers that same luxury? The luxury of actualizing the necessity of communism on their own?

I think to the militants surronding the ICC, its a home base, its a source of unity, its a weapon in the fight against the bourgeoisie and capital. But to your average worker, we're just another communist organization. And what the heck is a communist these days anyway? Aren't they those people advocating waiting in line for toilet paper? Aren't they like China? Don't they want to destroy society?

How do we gain back the trust of the working class? How can we more effeciently be staunch advocates of the proletariat while also pushing revolutionary perspectives? Whats the psychology behind these issues?

 

LoneLondoner
Is debate adversarial?

jk1921 wrote:

So in this vein, one complaint if I may: Many times in discussing with ICC militants, it seems they can take a rather adversarial approach to discussion. Its as if one always must have a definite, worked-out "position," one must "defend" in a process of "polarization." Even the idiom of how we dicuss is rife with adversarial language. I think this approach fits poorly with the new generations, many of whom are more interested in exploring ideas in a cooperative discussion rather than lining-up behind a barricade to "defend a position." In other places, I have been critical of the cultural predilections of the younger generations, but here, I think there is some validity we need to consider. Of course, none of us can be perfect on this score and there is a time and a place for "polarization," but perhaps a little more humility could benefit us as well?

I sort of agree and disagree with this at the same time. One of the things we have tried to emphasise in the idea of "culture of debate" is the need to understand what people are saying, because it is impossible to have a fruitful discussion without first establishing what people actually think - which in itself is a process.

I agree with you also that discussion can and often should be a collective search for clarity.

That said, there will be times when discussion can and indeed must be "adversarial" (without being abusive of course), especially if there are really are two different viewpoints (for example, we are in the Occupy movement: should we or should we not seek the support of the unions and/or the Democratic party?).

In relation to what p_p says, I think that there was both a strength and a weakness in the Occupy movement (at least as far as I can judge from a distance). Its strength was its suspicion of the bourgeois political apparatus in general, and a strong desire not to be controlled by the usual manipulative bourgeois politics. Another big strength was a feeling which seemed to crop up from time to time that just "action" is not enough, that we first need to sit down and think about the situation we are in, and understand it (we saw this in the Indignados movement too): that is incredibly positive if it takes hold, the "action for action's sake" attitude is incredibly destructive (as we saw in France during the pension reforms struggle).

Its weakness was thinking that you could get round this problem by "consensus decision-making", and that this would avoid adversarial politics (like Obama/Romney). But in fact, "consensus decision-making" often ended up meaning no decisions were taken.

Its interesting that you say that workers distrust the attitude of "confidence" in militants. Is that from personal experience? My own feeling, thinking back about when I first started as a militant, is that because we were actually very inexperienced we lacked confidence in ourselves, and so came across as arrogant. I don't think we do nowadays (at least I hope not), and in part this is because we feel much more confident in our ideas and so ourselves.

I also think you're right about how people see communism, generally. Though funnily enough when you read science fiction which goes beyond "feudalism with spaceships" the more intelligent writers seem to posit either a future so dark it is unbearable, or something vaguely resembling a communist one.

jk1921
On Star Trek, it is said the

On Star Trek, it is said the Federation gave up money a long time in the past; yet they still seem be engaged in imperialist wars.

Seriously, LL, I don't disagree with anything signifigant in your post.

Pierre
There is a lot to be said

There is a lot to be said here. But first, the point about science fiction. I'm not so sure about "communism", but one constant theme is a complelely globalized world. Aliens never invade us as seperate nation-states...and in Star Trek, Futurama, even in Avatar humans present themselves as one world, one people. In contrast, one of my favorite works of science fiction, Ghost in the Shell, capitalism has been saved by cybernetic advancements and constant total war. Needless to say, the outlook for the working class is still very bleak. Many can't afford prosthetics, and are therefore much more vulernable to health issues and death. But anyways, yeah, it is thought-provoking how these themes appear in the discourse of the examples we've given.

Going back over what Jk said, it really resonates with me. I agree that adversial discussion is necessary when trying to understand two seperate view points. But to me, thats a little seperated from the issues of connecting with the youth. Jk said "many [younger people] are more interested in exploring ideas in a cooperative discussion" rather than defending one clear position. This is spot on, and we should try to discuss it as deeply as possible.

Touching on LL's last post, he also hits the nail on the head. How come if you can answer many questions with confidence it becomes overbearing to some? There is an element of presumptuousness many times in these discussions. And if you're just too sure, people distrust you. I don't know why it happens...but I think it definitely ties in with Jk's earlier points about people being more interested in exploring ideas, instead of defending positions.

The experienced militants I've spent time with are very familliar with these nuances, and know how to respond accordingly. But I'm still green, and I don't. Often times I find myself wishing for a manual or a guide on these subjects. What is the proper way for a militant present her or himself? Which lines shouldn't be crossed?

The final point is really a question. With such a distortion and stigmata behind communism, why is more of our literature not really simple? I think it would be very beneficial to have just as many pieces regarding basic Marxian concepts (what is the working class, what is capital, what is surplus labor value, etc) as we do more complex theoretical pieces. We do great with current events. But it seems unfortunate that basic concepts aren't as accessible through the ICC as they are with some other groups. If you look at some of the big leftist parties, so much of their resources are devoted to explaining the basics of working class revolution.

I remember years and years ago, around the time when I started reading Marx, I was looking for an organization to become active with. I remember coming across the ICC's website and understanding very little. But other groups, many of them leftist or bourgeois, have SO much material on the basics of communism. And they make it as accessible as possible, with simple language, etc. Couldn't we use more of this?

Fred
In raising ideas like

In raising ideas like "proletarian class instinct", and it's suspicion of substitutionism, and its "unconscious awareness" of substitutionist threats to the revolution, isn't comrade p_p also asking questions about how communist consciousness arises and grows; and changes from something sub-conscious, or subliminal at the start, into a fully-fledged awareness of itself and the steps that need to be taken to further the progress of the communist endeavor? Or have I misunderstood?

Marx of course wasn't always a communist, and had to struggle like everyone else who catches this evolutionary infection to discover what it was that was nagging him. He talks about "the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself". Isn't this p_p's "unconscious awareness" or my "subliminal promptings" unsure of themselves, lacking confidence and confirmation from the outside world, and struggling to get free? Nowadays, when people are in this state of mind, when they finally come across the communist left and it's ideas, they experience a sudden liberation, a eureka moment, and matters are brought into focus and clarified.

(Like the moment in "Close encounters of the third kind" when those who have been subliminally contacted by the inter-planetary travelers, finally realize what has been bugging them. NB I wouldn't have made this quite inappropriate and out of context reference had not jk mentioned Star Trek above.)

Marx did not come to a communist consciousness easily, but put up a resistance, not wishing to be mistaken over such an important matter. (My references here are all to the ICC's article "Communism vol. 3 part 1" which discusses the famous letter to Ruge, after Marx has finally cleared his mind as to what communism is and from whence it flows.) He says consciousness is something the world must acquire even if it doesn't want to. Something that faces us very much today, when the objective conditions for communism are over-ripe, but while the subjective understanding lags far behind, or isn't showing itself yet. However, as Rosa Luxembourg has explained, the coming- to- consciousness process doesn't have to be limited to individuals, but can be achieved through the solidarity of working class action en masse: in which consciousness develops organically and spreads itself in fructifying waves.

When workers finally connect their unspoken feelings about society, felt deep down, and the fact that an alternative way of running it exists; and when they finally connect this intuition to "communism", and recognize that for what it is for the first time - and recognize what it is that the revolutionary organization has been saying all along - then are we not on the way at last?

Fred
In about 1977, talking to an

In about 1977, talking to an ICC comrade, after a meeting in Red Lion Square, the subject of "Close encounters of the third kind", then showing in London I think, came up. ( How did that happen?) The comrade said: "If life on other planets has so evolved that they can travel around space, then they must have already have achieved communism, otherwise they would have destroyed themselves through war and not survived long enough to have developed such skill." How about that? But that's not the end. He followed this up with: "Being space travelers of a communist kind, when they see our condition down here they won't want to make contact, as that would only interfere with our evolution." (NB The emancipation of humanity is the task of humanity itself.) The comrade ended: "When we have built communism then we can have visitors from other galaxies, and visitors of superior intelligence."

I hope these visitors don't turn out to be too adversarial, but are prepared to answer questions in open discussions, and to draw out people's implicit assumptions in such a way that education flourishes. A bit like Socrates was supposed to do. And look what happened to him.

Pierre
Close Encounters of the Third

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a great movie. Lets not give the aliens too much credit though. Dreyfuss' character did lose his job, and leave his wife and kids for them haha. And that bit about aliens leaving us alone... is that like "socialism on one planet?" I would think instead they would reach out to native communist militants and act in universal solidarity against the bourgeoisies of all star systems. Workers of the universe have no borders!

Back to more serious matters...I think the "eureka moment" is a great way to describe what happens when someone serious about communism begins to understand historical events from the left communist perspective. It's like the many of the missing pieces to the puzzle of understanding the class struggle being found and brought together. But I'm not sure how well this applies to someone who hasn't immersed themselves in communist (and then left communist) literature.

Even so, comrade Fred is very much on the ball. I am asking questions about how to help fecundate this subterrean maturation of communist consciousness. Fred raises the point that today "objective conditions for communism are over-ripe...while the subjective understanding lags far behind." I know Gramsci is today being distorted into many things, abstracted from the Italian situation of the 20's and 30's, but who else talked about the "cultural hegemony?" From what I remember when I used to read those encrypted texts, Gramsci suggested that compulsury schooling, pop culture or "the spectacle", mass media etc. are reasons why that subjective understanding is lagging far behind. Don't we need to somehow counter-balance these manifestations of the bourgeoisie's dominant ideologies? Today with things like Twitter, Youtube, Skype, Internet Broadcasting it seems more possible than ever.

There's some serious tragic irony in the fact that we recognize the gap between conditions and consciousness, yet spend so much time theorizing about it. We don't put as much effort in trying to counteract the dominant ideology through propaganda, as aggressively as possible. Maybe we see theorizing about the class struggle as a way of heightening consciousness. But I don't think that is automatically the case.  As it says in point 16b of the Platform of the ICC,

"Revolutionaries are those elements within the class who through this heterogeneous process [the class struggle] are the first to obtain a clear understanding of 'the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement' (Communist Manifesto), and because in capitalist society 'the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class', revolutionaries necessarily constitute a minority of the working class.

As an emanation of the class, a manifestation of the process by which it becomes conscious, revolutionaries can only exist as such by becoming an active factor in this process."

So as my comrade JJ once asked, "How [my emphasis] should we intervene in the class struggle?"
To respond, I feel the same as comrade AK when they responded, "I personally have a really hard time understanding how to exactly intervene in a way that, on the one hand, helps/promotes/fosters class consciousness and also steers away from what is indeed a denunciation...that overwhelmingly the workers don’t understand yet." But then is it true as comrade H suggested that "our intervention boils down to the following: workers need to come together to decide for themselves what to do....we can’t really on principle tell the workers what to do...Workers have to figure it out for themselves." There is a distinction here that needs to be made. And that is the difference between telling workers what to do, and helping them to figure it out. If we aren't trying to help workers figure it out, whats the point of a press? A website? An organization in general?

Red Hughs
I think Noam Chomsky, of all

I think Noam Chomsky, of all people, said something like "the US right wing would be fascist if it wasn't so incoherent" (paraphrasing).

It seems like fascism proper was a particular historical tendency that required a world wide defeat of the workers movement among a number of particular "ingredients". And so the point the fascism proper couldn't arise again because none of those ingredients can be had in the same form as then. Certainly, many similar ingredients exist and have existed for some time. That's because fascism was simply an intensification of certain already horrible aspect of capitalist relations. Every state might be broadly called "fascistic" but by this universality, it would also be useless to do so since it would involve merely inflating rhetoric.

 

 

 

Fred
I take your point p_ p about

I take your point p_ p about "socialism on one planet" and hadn't thought of that. But then if visitors who aren't of our race (am I being racist now - god I hope not?) arrive and intervene in our development, then wont we have the situation which pertains in "2001" where the apes only evolve into humans as a result of an outside (divine?) intervention? We can't have consciouness brought in from outside can we?The development of working class consciouness is the task of the class itself, isn't it? Now, earthly militants and revolutionaries are in fact part of humanity and part of the class, so that's no problem, but as you keep asking: how do those who KNOW interact with those who don't to spread the understanding? What's the difference between telling the workers what to do (bad) and helping them to figure it out for themselves (good)? I don't know what the difference is but think there is one! How to create, or bring about the EUREKA MOMENT for the mass of the class.

What happened in 1917 in Russia? The class was in a ferment; solidarity was running high; working class minds were sharply focussed as result of the war, and possibly because of the betrayal that had dragged them into the war in the first place, when they had put their trust in "leaders". They wouldn't do that again now! Seemingly spontaneously, though they had done it before in 1905, they started setting up workers and soldiers councils. Debate and discussion was at fever pitch. The question on everyone's mind must have been: what do we do now, what is our next move, where do we go from here? It is extremely fortunate that at this moment in tbe history of the class, and it's coming to consciouness, there was in existence a small group of working class militants who had been waiting for just this moment to appear for many years. Too many years, they must have felt. These of course are the Bolsheviks. The realization by this organization of advanced thinkers that IT, the revolution, the sudden manifestation of glorious conscious awareness by the working class, of it's own power, of it's sudden thrusting onto history's stage, was happening in front of them; plus the Bolsheviks' sudden grasp, EUREKA, that the soviets, the councils, were the now-discovered form of direct political power of the class, and the expression of the proletariats' long awaited dictatorship, so that they were able to declaim ALL POWER TO THE SOVIETS, was the coming together of two happy and blissful events, and tbe greatest achievement yet for working class consciouness.

So what happened that was so marvelous? The workers and soldiers had come together in rebellion against the bourgeois state. They had figured out what to do and organized themselves. Their class party was up and running and waiting in the wings and was able at last to coalesce with their own insurgent workers like yeast in the dough, and clarify the way forward.

I am trying to respond to the question: how do militants intervene in the class struggle? Maybe there's not a lot militants can do in terms of direct meaningful hands-on involvement until the struggle reaches a certain critical ferment. Until then, theoretical work, which itself is an expression of confidence in the future, and that a future is possible at all, is vital preparation for when events explode. And perhaps the most significant thing of all - in the light of the experiences of Russia 1917, and Germany 1919 - is to make absolutely sure that the international party is well-established and ready. That is the main task now.

Pierre
"Revolutionaries will not

"Revolutionaries will not develop the consciousness of the proletariat by sitting back and twiddling their thumbs..." (http://www.en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/classconc/2_cconc/prolconc)

"Lenin’s principle strength lay in that he understood the movement’s internal logic and regulated his policies accordingly. He did not impose his plan on the masses. He helped the workers to conceive and realise their own plans. When Lenin brought all the problems of the revolution down to a single ‘explain patiently’, this meant: to bring the consciousness of the masses into accord with the situation, to which they had been driven by the historical process.” (Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 2)

 

LoneLondoner
Bang on!

Fred wrote:
Maybe there's not a lot militants can do in terms of direct meaningful hands-on involvement until the struggle reaches a certain critical ferment. Until then, theoretical work, which itself is an expression of confidence in the future, and that a future is possible at all, is vital preparation for when events explode. And perhaps the most significant thing of all - in the light of the experiences of Russia 1917, and Germany 1919 - is to make absolutely sure that the international party is well-established and ready. That is the main task now.

Bang on target! We need to start from the recognition that if revolutionaries today are weak and scattered then that is a reflection of the objective situation of the working class which cannot be overcome by sheer will-power.

But theoretical work is not our only task, we need to work at bringing the revolutionaries together, at building an international fraternity of revolutionaries who can prepare for the future.

Fred
LoneLondoner wrote: But

LoneLondoner wrote:
But theoretical work is not our only task, we need to work at bringing the revolutionaries together, at building an international fraternity of revolutionaries who can prepare for the future.

The international fraternity sounds great. But is it happening or is it only talk? I know there are new sections of the ICC in Peru, Ecuador, Turkey, Philippines and so on, but is that what's meant by building the "international fraternity"? Or does the International Fraternity mean opening up to include groups like Birov, the Iranian group, the group in Canada ( both their names slip my mind at the moment: sorry about that) and doubtless other formations round the world?

Yes, we must prepare for the future.

Pierre
Now we're talking!

Now we're talking!