Mike Davis on California’s Crisis and the Need for Cadre Groups

This is a transcription of Mike Davis’ speech and closing remarks at the ISO’sMike DavisSocialism” conference which took place in San Francisco this summer.  We’re posting it here cos we know some local activists that couldn’t get into the talk . . .

About the speech: Mike rightfully calls out the Democratic Party for enabling the gutting of social services despite their majority in Sacramento.  So many folks in progressive orgs, unions, etc are caught up in a paradigm that accepts the Democrats as the party of the people, and Mike smashes on this illusion.

Also, he brings up the fact that social movements alone cannot rise to the challenge of combatting the crisis.  The missing ingredient is fresh cadre organizations.  Here’s a snippet and then the whole speech:

“Even if you say that the whole legacy of Leninism was a historical disaster, you’re still faced with exactly the same questions posed in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done. That is, the need to create some organization of organizers that provides a framework for young people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices and dedicate their lives solely to the fight of the poor and the working class. The need organize a cadre of people able to exchange and generalize and coordinate experiences across the struggle so that some kind of genuinely left agenda–which means a pro-working class agenda–becomes possible.

The Bolshevik Party may not be the only route to this. The anarchists in Barcelona did a pretty good job in a different way of bringing together and coordinating a relentless struggle for their principles and the principles of the working class.

But the question is inescapable. You have to talk about this question. You have to talk about the creation of organizations. I’m not arguing to revive the little red book or the thoughts of Leon Trotsky, but we need organizations that can allow such dedication to exist.”

Why we need rebels

Mike Davis, San Francisco

I TOOK my 15-year-old son last night to the movies in Berkeley to see the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. I kept thinking: is this set in Sacramento?

Here you have the governor and his gang of Republicans, and they’re holding the people captive and threatening to shoot them one by one unless their demands for budget cuts and a new stage in the Republican fiscal revolution occurs. And then on the other hand, you have the leadership of the Democratic Party in Sacramento, Karen Bass and Darrell Steinberg, and they’re saying “Oh, no, no, no, don’t shoot all the passengers, just shoot half the passengers.”

If you compare–as the California Budget Project has–the governor’s proposals for destroying what remains of the social safety net in this state with the Democratic-dominated Budget Conference Committee in the legislature, you come up with the following proposals: the governor wants to eliminate CalWORKS [the state’s version of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families], home support services, healthy families, maternal and child health, domestic violence, rural migrant clinics and poison control.

If these programs are just shut down completely, it would affect a million poor kids, half a million poor families, and doom as many as 400,000 people to the possibility of early death from disease for the lack of access to medical services or home care.

The Democratic response to this has been to say, “Oh no, don’t do that–cut these programs by margins of 20 percent to 60 percent.”

The Democratic Party has agreed with the governor to huge cuts in state mental health screening, children’s dental disease services, regional health clinics and, of course, the reduction of the school year. Further, the Democrats have agreed to cut $1 billion out of community college budgets and $1 billion out of California State University budgets.

And on its own initiative, without prompting from Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party, the Democrats have proposed to eliminate extended day care and transfer most, if not all, of the affordable housing money–dedicated in redevelopment projects across the state–to make up a little bit of the huge cuts in education.

The Democrats also managed to sneak into the budget bill last fall and into negotiations in February tax cuts that will confer about $9 billion to the largest corporations in California in the next seven years. This wasn’t authored by the Republicans, this came from the Democratic assemblyman from Burbank, mainly to benefit the Disney Corporation. The Democrats, of course, have also supported the 1 percent increase in sales tax, which is a regressive tax.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

WHAT WE’RE confronted with, in this so-called budget crisis, is something that’s really quite extraordinary. In the middle of a new depression, when the federal government and the Obama administration are supposedly trying to stimulate the economy, California, which has a 21st century high-tech economy, has regressed to a Mississippi-level of social programs and safety net. It proposes to slam on the brakes and drastically reduce social spending and public employment in-state.

And it has given to a minority Republican Party the advantage of not simply dictating the agenda, but actually consolidating yet another stage in the disruption of what was once the finest public education system in the United States, and what remains a simple elemental unit of humanity in our public sector.

And it does all this while Washington watches and grins at a distance. California now has one of the most powerful state congressional delegations in American history–at least in the last century of American history. Democrats hold power in the Senate and the House. Yet while the Obama administration has conducted every heroic measure necessary to save the banking system, the White House is fiddling until California burns–and, of course, these cuts will far exceed any of the stimulus provided to California.

The response of the Democrats–including Karen Bass, the speaker of the assembly, someone I knew and admired in LA in the late 1980s and 1990s–is “Well, we have no choice.” Even the Service Employees International Union, on its new television ads, is talking about balanced cuts with tax increases–half and half.

But half and half aren’t equal in a situation where you’re removing the lifeline, and even existence itself, from people with AIDS and HIV, when you’re kicking a million children off access to health care, when you’re wrecking the whole home care system for elders in this country, when you’re closing down rural medical clinics.

So one of the things I’d like to talk about tonight, and hear your opinions of, is in what possible sense can those of us who consider ourselves progressives any longer watch the back of Barack Obama or the California Democratic Party, which believes that killing half the passengers is the moderate, reasonable solution in a state that has been hijacked by an onerous and inhumane program.

Democrats for the last few years have been hallucinating that Arnie is going be their own personal celebrity–imagining him to be a liberal Democrat now, when in fact he’s proposing maybe the single most destructive package of legislation in California history.

I’ll bore you some more later with the question: To what extent is this an unavoidable structural dilemma? Isn’t the state in the midst of depression? Aren’t we too poor to afford such social programs? And I’ll attempt to make the case not simply against cuts, but the case for dramatically increasing social spending.

I’m really delighted tonight to be speaking with somebody who in my mind is kind of the Walker Evans and John Reed combined of the contemporary border and the contemporary Southwest–really one of the finest comrades and finest documentarists around, David Bacon.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

From Davis’ concluding statement: At the end of the day there’s no way that some of the largest science-based corporations in the world are going allow a bunch of hick-town, conservative Republican, anti-abortionists to dictate the future of California.

So some kind of constitutional reform is going to happen. I just don’t believe that it’s likely to happen on the terms of the left wing–if there is such a thing–of the Democratic Party or the California labor movement.

I think what you’re going to see is probably an unprecedented mobilization of Silicon Valley and California’s advanced industries to try to deal with the central contradictions that such industries cannot coexist with a society reduced to Third World, or Mississippi levels, of social welfare and education.

But I think the deal that will be eventually be cut will offer very little in the way of ameliorating inequality or injustice in California. In my mind, there’s very little reason to believe that either the Democrats or labor leaders have the ability to broker this account at all.

If you can’t resist these cuts and you can’t resist Schwarzenegger, when he should be actually an impotent and easy target, there’s no way you’re going to engineer a process like the progressive movement did in 1910 and carry on a constitutional revolution in California.

It’s not going to happen unless you change the chemistry of the state and change the balance of social forces. That involves uniting and coordinating resistance across the state in high schools, in forgotten suburban communities, in plants full of workers about to be downsized. Until that happens, we can’t conceive of any kind of leadership from the Democrats for a larger reorganization or re-modernization of California’s political economy or state system.

The same thing, of course, applies on a national scale. I set out the position in an article that I wrote a few months ago that the Obama administration more than anything else is a project for the re-modernization of the role of the state and the corporate economy on the basis of the needs of the most advanced corporations.

I don’t know if it’s possible or not. I don’t know if it can happen at the same time that every resource has been put into saving Wall Street. But it’s certainly not a process driven by the needs for immigration reform, for labor reform or for other interests, even though they may be personally embraced by President Obama and his wife. That’s irrelevant when there’s no pressure from the base–when there’s no pressure from the left.

Here I disagree–I’m sure David won’t mind–with him and many people in the audience. I think that we have been misled by a belief that movements as movements can self-organize themselves.

Even if you say that the whole legacy of Leninism was a historical disaster, you’re still faced with exactly the same questions posed in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done. That is, the need to create some organization of organizers that provides a framework for young people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices and dedicate their lives solely to the fight of the poor and the working class. The need organize a cadre of people able to exchange and generalize and coordinate experiences across the struggle so that some kind of genuinely left agenda–which means a pro-working class agenda–becomes possible.

The Bolshevik Party may not be the only route to this. The anarchists in Barcelona did a pretty good job in a different way of bringing together and coordinating a relentless struggle for their principles and the principles of the working class.

But the question is inescapable. You have to talk about this question. You have to talk about the creation of organizations. I’m not arguing to revive the little red book or the thoughts of Leon Trotsky, but we need organizations that can allow such dedication to exist.

Such organizations always existed in some critical tension with the inherent possibilities of sectarianism, dogmatism, the lack of democracy. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Bay Area attracted an enormous number of people–at least by my reference point of San Diego–who dedicated themselves to the left. There was an enormous amount of hard work, and they had very bruising, and sometimes shattering, experiences.

I’m not saying that they should abandon common sense or try to reinvent models that were demonstrably wrong. But you still cannot escape the sociological necessity of the need for what we used to call a cadre organization–I’ll prefer the euphemism tonight of an organization of organizers–trying to operate democratically internally in relationship to other forces, but able to allow people to live these lives of struggle.

I will say that for your generation, the task is easier now because my generation has completely screwed up your future and left you with so little options. Why the hell not join such an organization?

The final point is that it’s not only necessary to build organizations based on principle and program. The left needs to sociologically more resemble that portion of the American working class which demonstrates the greatest militancy and possibility for changing history.

I sit on my porch in San Diego, and it’s just extraordinary to me to see the drama that’s happening right now on the border. Both the kind of nightmarish aspects of the tens of thousands of people losing their jobs, as the economy has plunged into chaos, but also just the recognition of the possibilities.

This generation will fight. It will change history. We need to speed history up. Much of the left–particularly old farts like me–is used to moving at a glacial pace, talking for 25 years about regrouping the far left. The younger people in the room need to push us out of the way, and begin to act with the urgency that’s truly required in this situation.

Transcription by Matt Korn and Matthew Beamesderfer.

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15 responses to “Mike Davis on California’s Crisis and the Need for Cadre Groups

  1. hammer and sickness

    uhhhh, this piece isnt that cool. mike davis is quite the liberal here. city of quartz is a good book. he should stick to that kind of thing. maybe he was just trying to please the iso crowd with a watered down politics, but the questions posed in What is to Be Done go far beyond being an organization of organizers for poor people. the book is a double pronged attack against economism (trade unionism) and anarchism. davis eludes to both favorably. lenin is calling for a organization of professional marxist revolutionaries, which davis doesnt even mention.

    “it’s certainly not a process driven by the needs for immigration reform, for labor reform or for other interests, even though they may be personally embraced by President Obama and his wife.” [they arent, by the way.] “That’s irrelevant when there’s no pressure from the base–when there’s no pressure from the left.”

    “the left” should be defined as those progressive forces outside the purview of the democratic party altogether; those of us who never dream in our worst nightmare of being part of the base of the disgusting murderous imperialist monster that is the democratic party. being down with the democratic party automatically excludes a person or org from the left in my book.

    “If you can’t resist these cuts and you can’t resist Schwarzenegger, when he should be actually an impotent and easy target, there’s no way you’re going to engineer a process like the progressive movement did in 1910 and carry on a constitutional revolution in California.”

    constitutional revolution in California in 2009? teehee-heehee-hee . . . thats cute. with this as our “radical” framework, it makes perfect sense why we cant even resist schwarzenegger.

    “…the need to create some organization of organizers that provides a framework for young people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices and dedicate their lives solely to the fight of the poor and the working class. … some kind of genuinely left agenda–which means a pro-working class agenda–becomes possible.”

    minor detail missing from davis’ description of lenin’s prescription: professional REVOLUTIONARIES. and what is a genuinely left agenda, if not a communist agenda? in times of crisis there is no half way. fascism is halfway. we need communist revolution . . . its socialism or barbarism. . . gotta go all out . . . unlike the ISO.

  2. I always thought the members of the Cheka acted really professionally when they murdered Ukrainian anarchists. Those anarchists were being such amateurs when they spoke up against the increasingly self-serving party bureaucracy. And those sailors at Kronstadt with all their bullshit about “freedom of speech.” Good thing professionals like Lenin and Trotsky were around to save the revolution from…itself.

    But this old debate aside, comrades, let us be clear about what we really want, and not make a habit of decrying a lack of leadership, self-consciously seeking the “vanguard,” or overemphasizing the role of any single personality, whatever their organizational or theoretical skills. Since when was making a revolution a “profession” anyway? Why do we need such a term, one that glosses over the real qualities–intellectual, social, emotional–that are necessary to spread revolutionary ideas until a critical mass is reached?

    I don’t think it is necessarily arrogant to use the term, because I recognize the role of teachers in the world. But I do think the term is alienating, too far removed from the ground to be useful. We all know this shit has to start where people are at, and that there are vital practical questions about how to communicate our ideas (is this what Davis means about “sociological resemblance”?) beyond the “cadre.” So if we are going to “profess” anything we would do well to start there.

  3. Gerrard, speaking for myself I think that the “lack of leadership” I see out amongst the left is the lack of cadres who are training themselves to be self-reflexive, dialogical organizers.

    Your posing of the term “professional” as being alienating is interesting. I’ve thought about this a lot. In the few years I’ve been involved in organizing, I’ve always disliked the term “acitivist” because I felt it implied that those who are activists do the acting, while those who are not are free to go about their day – resting assured that the activists are doing their job of acting on behalf of everyone.

    Maybe your discomfort with the term professional is similar? Revolutionaries are seen as those who are “professional” at it, and not those who are in the process of developing an understanding of the world and acting on that understanding in a militant way? If so I definitely share your discomfort, but I also think that there’s a lot to what Lenin has written and contributed (though not without its faults, definitely worth criticizing.)

    Maybe it would be helpful to ask you to define your view on what a revolutionary is. How would you define it?

  4. hammered and sick twist

    lets start with revisiting some of the comments i made on the davis piece:

    1) economism and anarchism both suck. we need communist revolutionary praxis.
    2) democratic party is a complete waste. davis sucks for saying we should orient toward it.
    3) davis posits an inaccurate description of lenins proposition in what is to be done. whatever one thinks of it, they should be accurate: organization of professional revolutionaries for communist revolution.

    now to gerrard’s anti-vanguardism. anybody have a problem with “professional” connoted as “with great skill and as the primary concern in ones life”??? thats what lenin meant. and to actually do some organizational work as a part of an organizing committee in the russian social democratic party. lenin didnt professional as in “most of the armchair revolutionaries i know are white collar professionals.” lenin didnt mean getting paid to be a revolutionary (thats non-profitism. professional poverty pimp-ism). anyway, i got no shame that i “profess” helluv shit that needs to be professed. for example all the stuff i said above which you didnt even respond to, Gerrard. im your professor.

    i dont elude to lenin because he’s my idol (he is tho), i elude to him because he’s correct, at least regarding the need to build an organization of people dedicated heart and soul to communist revolution. without such a thing, we are stuck with an armchair army.

    so you dont like top-down leadership, which supposedly defines ‘leninism.’ fine. how exactly do you – YOU, not paneocock or kropotkin – go about creating “… the real qualities–intellectual, social, emotional–that are necessary to spread revolutionary ideas until a critical mass is reached.” i have a sneaking suspicion you have NEVER produced ONE single person capable of spreading revolutionary ideas, let alone actually put those ideas into action in some way shape or form. and thats no coincidence or mere character flaw of yours. your theory justifies this failure to humankind, this failure to build a core of dedicated fighters, as a VIRTUE. this is the virtue of the idle. to build the revolution by building your own through leadership through training others to be leaders would require a great investment of time and energy, a process of trial and error, a sharpening of technique, a dedication to a group (learning is social and involves actions, not just books and theory), and a slew of other things that somebody committed to non-commitment and non-professionalism cannot offer.

    step up G! admit that you profess (at least in the blog-o-sphere)! be a leader! train other leaders! be a pro! join the party!

  5. The response to this piece strikes me, as almost completely off the point – we need communist revolution? Yes. Is that the answer to the people in California in the current period? Well then they’re fucked. I’m sorry peeps, but that ain’t an inspired or even half-way attempt to try to deal with the crisis a bit seriously. Davis, is providing an attempt to try to suss out a road in the current struggle, strategically think about how to mobilize people against these cuts. I want to know what you guys think strategically about that and not his error in description of What is to be Done?

    • hammered and sick twist

      im not advocating going to the streets and shouting at people that we need a communist revolution. you making that assumption is yet another example of your consistent and intentional misreading of people’s posts.

      what strategy do i advocate? its in my post already:

      “…to build the revolution by building your own leadership through training others to be leaders would require a great investment of time and energy, a process of trial and error, a sharpening of technique, a dedication to a group (learning is social and involves actions, not just books and theory), and a slew of other things…”

      “…the need to build an organization of people dedicated heart and soul to communist revolution.”

      but still, these are abstract, since i was replying to gerard’s objection to leninism. it was an attempt at negating gerards point. for something more positive, i’d point to the Students as Positve Proletarian Actors piece written by esteban which is on this blog. regardless of what you might think of students (are they workers or not?) the underlying principle is the same. in that piece it mentions a group called Student Unity and Power. i think there should be groups like that built in all institutions, especially the public sector ones.

      specifically that would mean groups made up of nurses doctors janitors and patients at hospitals. welfare moms and social workers at the social security office. teachers students and parents at k-12 schools. etc etc. extra-union cross layer working class groups to resist budget cuts. **[unions and other existing institutions factor in here somewhere but i cant deal with that right now. here i am talking about unique things the communist left can build, rather than how to relate to existing things. i will say that while unions are basically crustified and owned by democrats which is owned by capital, it is worthwhile for leftists to participate in unions and perhaps develop rank and file insurgency or pressure the union leadership to do the right thing. our focus, though, should be on building autonomous formations.]**

      while i advocate that hundreds of these groups be formed and that they be linked through statewide network for the sake of coordinated action (statewide shutdown hopefully), here’s where the above fundamentally differs from what davis says:
      THE GOAL IS NOT TO PRESSURE DEMOCRATS to change policy. instead the goal is interrupt the property relations, placing “demands” more on our proletarian peers than on the state. thats because our goals actually go far beyond these particular demands. the people’s dont yet, but they will only get to the point of struggling for more if we structure the movement (and im operating in the world of abstractions here, for analytical sake. of course “we” dont really have the power to “structure” things completely, but we cant underestimate our agency either.) along a new axis. the new axis being that we orient toward ourselves, not the government. get ourselves ready to fight, not try to get the government to fight for us.

      we need to build the means by which to throw down and let the ruling class figure out how its going to react. if it changes its policy fine, we can chalk it up to a minor victory and proceed. if it does nothing but continue to cut, fine, we can occupy shit and recruit people to a righteous protest (“save our schools!”). if the ruling class starts to act repressive, the broader political question of the state becomes manifest and polarizes people toward radical views even more. AND, and absolutely YES throughout the whole process, anti-capitalism, socialism, and communist revolution are put into the discourse.

      not only that, the “vanguardists” get people to start to read literature, study history a little bit, familiarize themselves with past revolutionary attempts, etc. this gives the participants tools to construct strategy for themselves based not on solely immediate perceptions of reality, but making full use of the broad historical lens. in other words, as esteban wrote in SaPPA, the intellectual vanguard spreads “vanguardism” by a) creating vehicles for struggle and b) spreading leadership qualities amongst the subjects of struggle. form AND content have to be taken into consideration. davis only points out FORMS of struggle. this he shares with many leftists today. proletarians can be and must be intellectuals. this cant happen in a vacuum, it happens through struggle. advance the struggle.

      see how thats different from chanting “revolution!” on the one hand and pressuring democrats on the other? see how it recognizes our ability to build new institutions rather than piggy back off existing ones? see how we can move consciously toward revolution without bowing to economism (as davis does)?

      my explication of communist revolutionary praxis excedes any offered heretofore by shine the path or gerard or davis, vague and underdeveloped as it may be.

    • Economism as anti-economism?

      daaaaamn, hammer/sickness that response is pretty good. honestly, reading STP’s post i was a lil thrown off. but now i can see how sentences about “strategically think about how to mobilize people against these cuts” are code word for a type of narrow-minded economism, where “mobilizing against these cuts” is divorced from real-life revolutionary communist organizing

      and how “I want to know what you guys think strategically about that and not his error in description of What is to be Done?” is an example of divorcing the concepts and theoretical questions from WITBD? from practical application in the current budget crisis. Of course the homey hammer/sickness could have better explicated his perspective (which he did) but what’s perhaps more interesting is STP’s hidden economism…….very interesting.

      STP, how does your version of communist revolutionary organizing differ? what type of organizing would you prescribe against cali’s budget cuts?

      • My Hidden Economism? What the fuck you going on about, seriously? People tend to be presumptuous and get attitude mad quick when they don’t bother to actually look at my point which was simply I thought the re-posts so far haven’t dealt with the things which Mike Davis was raising – so please strive a little harder for some modesty and as the good Chairman says “no investigation, no right to speak” I.e. you don’t know my line, don’t make mine up.

        Now lets touch here for a moment very quickly what Hammer and Sickness is putting forward – I know of SUP (yeah and I may disagree with the line on students as workers’ and the whole bit), and I understand AtS is a young revolutionary organization – I do student and youth organizing myself and whatever I am organizing I always put revolutionary communist politics in the discourse and make it a part of my organizing.

        But what seems to me insufficient with the comments on Mike Davis’ piece is that it seems to skim over the direct question – well how ya gonna stop the cuts? AtS is a small collective of revolutionaries in the Bay Area, and SUP is a mass organization that you guys work with that is bigger but it ain’t going to change the tide of whats going to happen in California on its own. Analysis has to be more full-sided than that – who are the individual elements that you can unite with, the organizational elements you can enter strategic work with (Unions or Community Orgs), what are the divisions amongst the party apparatuses in California you can exploit.

        Those questions aren’t fakes and looking at them to begin an effort to reverse the tide in California doesn’t mean liquidation of your politics and raising of consciousness in your organizing.

        Does this have to part of a larger scope of your own organizing – no doubt, it has to be strategic to the scope of developing a revolutionary people. But we’re NEVER (I hope) trying to lose to win, i.e. things get worse before they get better. An immediate near aim has to be on some level to challenge the State and make it concede to the power of people organized…describe that as you like.

      • hammered and sick twist

        shine’s economism:

        “…we need communist revolution? Yes. Is that the answer to the people in California in the current period? Well then they’re fucked.”

        AS sees communist revolution as a process, not an event. the vanguard politics emerges through struggle, not from empty ideals or preconcieved party programs. i agree with davis that we need coordinated resistance, but disagree that it should be oriented toward pressuring democrats to act more aggressively on behalf of the hi tech capitalists to “re-modernize” California’s political economy. mobilizing the working class on behalf of a deeper synthesis of big capital and the state is called . . . FASCISM.

        beef with davis’ treatment of what is to be done is “almost completely off the point.” thats interesting coming from mr. anti-economism himself.

        the title of lenin’s sacred text is: what is to be DONE and we are exploring the question of what to DO about this very deep crisis of capitalism. davis gets HALF-WAY there: coordinated class struggle across diverse milieus, or “… uniting and coordinating resistance across the state in high schools, in forgotten suburban communities, in plants full of workers about to be downsized.” i agree with this fully. but this is just the correct FORM.

        when it comes to political CONTENT, davis’ wisdom runs dry, and he repeats the very economist error that lenin himself was polemicizing against in what is to be done. thats why the interpretation of witbd matters in this instance. it is the crux of the question actually. he fetishizes the form, ignores the content of this basic leninist text! ahh, no big deal, totally off point, according to stp.

        here is davis the economist: “Until [coordinated resistance] happens , we can’t conceive of any kind of leadership from the Democrats for a larger reorganization or re-modernization of California’s political economy or state system.” bernstein or kautsky could have said that shit! THATS what the fuck IM going on and on about! your neglect of the leninist principle that the economic is fused with the political (never to be divorced) reveals your hidden economism. i only say “hidden” (its quite open actually) because in previous posts, you have made a big stank trying to prove your leninist political stripes and denouncing economism in other posters here. now the shoe is on the other foot, to the extreme of tucking leninism away for now, and doing the pragmatic thing which is somehow more “strategic.” (sorry if this is harsh, but you bring it on yourself stp with your always arrogant tone and attempts to step pompously against every single assertion AS puts forth. you need to get your feelings hurt sometimes…)

        yes, davis’ plan is strategic. the strategy is to pressure the democrats and subordinate the working class interest to that of the advanced sector of the bourgeoisie in california, the hi-tech industries concentrated in silicon valley. thats the WRONG strategy, and you know why? because it leads in the opposite direction of communist revolution! cant help but see the parallels of this strategy to the nationalist notions you promote, claiming that a “national” bourgeoisie in oppressed nations plays a revolutionary role that the proletariat should ally with and subordinate itself to if need be.

        regardless of the disagreement we have as to the in/validity of this stalinist/maoist notion of a “progressive bourgeoisie,” i would hope we could agree that it should NOT be applied to the most advanced region (silicon valley: center of hi tech industry / sf bay area: center of west coast finance capital) of the most advanced state (CA: 7th biggest economy in the world) of the most advanced imperialist power in the world (USA: world hegemon)!!

        the proletariat needs the forms of resistance davis so briefly mentions. but it needs these to be filled with the correct political content. the resistance must become the motive force driving the construction of a new political party with communist politics. to achieve that end, we must start on the right (or shall i say, LEFT) foot.

        shine the path and mike davis both need to “re-modernize” their dialectics.

      • A motherfucker just wants to heat a thing up rather than clarify their own position, that’s what blows about the whole pretension behind this. All I was trying to do was to get people to go down to deeper about what they think about in particular how to deal with the crisis in California, what was AtS’s plan-of-action and that very curiosity gets labeled as economist.

        I’m done on the California interest and trying to know the plan-of-action for AtS (my interest washed away with). Lets just hit it off how we need to hit it off with big mouths who think they’re being clever, show them the incorrectness of their line – or how here the revolutionary politics is nothing but rhetoric masked in psuedo-“dialectical” (it’s funny maybe my facebook update foresaw this).

        It strikes me funny that while whipping out WITBD and acting the big Leninist, our brother here actually makes very serious errors in his description of the work. In many respects, if Davis is guilty of fetishizing the form (something I don’t necessarily disagree with because I don’t think Davis is a Leninist) then here he only read its letters and it didn’t get the politics.

        Let’s be clear what we mean here and getting back into this question of what is a Vanguard, how does revolution develop.

        We should do that by beginning this into maybe two ways in which “Leninists” read WITBD.

        There is a certain way of reading it that produces an understanding of WITBD as merely reproduction of an argument for a party that is the “leading edge” of the “working-class.” This is basically reaffirming the position of Revolutionary Social-Democracy that was coming out of Germany. This is usually the argument of various Trotksyists that want to read Lenin as Luxembourg or who see themselves more as Tribunes of the People advancing the interest of the working class.

        My reading of WITBD is not this. WITBD is for me the seminal text of the thinking WHO is the revolutionary subject. The point of question is, in the context of Lenin, why is the form of the revolutionary party important – what is the substance? The subject is the collective conscious element which able to come outside of the processual development of struggles and understand itself in relation to the “class struggle;” to come from without because it’s not of “the workers.” The immanent thinking is that the proletariat (and for that matter so is the Bourgeoisie), as I’ve pointed out before, is a subject that is abstracted as a figure of the class struggle. The “professional revolutionary” is the proletariat, in so much as the proletariat is the (dis)identity of the bringer of communism.

        This is also why Lenin goes at lengths against the economists to point out that speaking sociologically, it is the bourgeois science and intellectuals, not the workers, that are the source for the development of this vantage point (Marxism) from which we understand the development of capital, social relations, which is the basis for the creation of political projects. While the economists – just as Cmrd Hammer does – assert, only rhetorically, that these politics “organically” “emerge from struggle,” etc. (note the language of the economists and Hammer are akin). Communist politics don’t emerge from struggle; they emerge from the synthesis and process of summation, analysis, and creation of plans-of-actions by revolutionaries.

        The form of THE Party is insubstantial and is maybe something we need to ditch – especially in the US context, all different sects of multiple types (AtS being among them) vying for the title shot of the “Vanguard” is the biggest on-going joke. This road is the road of politics as a racket; get your turf of struggle, expand, and keep bullshitting yourself that as long as you keep at it you’ll get the franchise of the workers.

        That’s also “revolution as a process, not an event” (How Bernstein of you). I’m not going to say it’s dialectical, I’m going to say no, Revolution is the Event and the “class struggle” or really (whether there is struggle or not) the development of capital, with its twists and turns. In other words, there is process of some kind regardless – Revolution is the moment, when as Lenin puts it, “people won’t live in the old way, the ruling class can’t rule in the old way” and there is a revolutionary subject. The importance of revolutionaries is one sense their need to be upon the faultlines of developing political struggles, to understand the rapids in history. Whatever comes after the revolution is a process which holds fidelity to the event; the process is in the name of the event and is marked by it. The process is either determined by the fidelity to the event or it’s betrayed or sublated as a political stage.

        Confusing revolution for process is the mistake of self-cultivation, it’s the constant error of revisionism and economism – it depends on the notion of dropping one or more grains at a time.

        I think Revolution will depend on developing “historic blocs,” constituting the “People,” or to use an old phrase “creating the united front under the dictatorship of the Proletariat” (When Maoists say “People,” all the mediation in the latter concept is already meant). It will mean in this country or for that matter globally, bringing forward the in unity and taking forward the aspirations of political forces desiring national self-determination, i.e. historical communities desiring their actualization and autonomy as a people in the political sphere. It will mean putting women ahead as leaders, that the dictatorship of the proletariat will mean the rule of women (or isn’t that at all).

        Once again, let’s approach the limits of AtS’ infusion of intersectionality. If making revolution doesn’t mean that for you, then your understanding of intersectionality is still limited by class reductionism and there is really no difference between it and other organizations that you claim to repute – in fact, it’s the same racket.

        So let’s talk about the racket for a moment – is SUP a socialist organization fighting for Revolution? Or is a student organization in which you work with as a front to bring forward your politics, but the work of that front is in the immediate interests of students of those campuses? If it’s the latter – then here is the news flash, your work is objectively that of pressuring parts of the State to make concessions towards immediate demands and restructure itself or its apparatuses – whether or not you rhetorically have situated this within a “process” or not, that’s what you’re doing, you’re not breaking out of that dimension in your organizing.

        Your argument simply holds upon the moralizing of that rhetoric – but it is what you’re doing and it’s going to end up with you negotiating with that power for those demands, unless you never take a step back to take two steps forward, win a string of successive victories from here to the revolution, or just don’t give a fuck about consolidating gains, burning people out, etc.

      • hammer and sickness

        shine the path once again getting flustered and using abrasive language. whoever moderates this place should consider censoring him when he flares with stuff like “What the fuck you going on about” and “A motherfucker just wants to heat a thing up rather than clarify.” because i can come back and call him the piece of shit little punk that he is but then we’re just talking shit which i dont like to do without being able to back that talk up in person..

        quick point: for those who dont know, the term “economism” in the context its being used in this discussion comes from back in the early 1900s when the Social Democratic Party of Germany was led by some fools who said that the path to socialism didnt lie in revolutionary overthrow of the state but through trade unions fighting for higher and higher wages, forming cooperative business, and winning elections in parliament.

        shine: “Communist politics don’t emerge from struggle; they emerge from the synthesis and process of summation, analysis, and creation of plans-of-actions by revolutionaries.”

        here is what i think, a fair summation of shine’s viewpoint: his subject is not a class of human beings with a common and definable relationship to the productive forces of society (aka, the proletariat: my, marx’s, AS’s and lenin’s subject), its the idea, marxism. according to shine, communism doesnt come from struggle from below, it comes from ideas generated by great bourgeois minds from above. he claims economism, comrade hammer, and AS believe the opposite, that shear militancy magically generates all the necessary ingredients for the working class to take power.

        stp’s political perspective of how communist revolution will come about in this epoch is WRONG, as his is identification of comrade hammer and AS as economist and/or workerist.

        AS doesnt fetishize struggle, they just know that struggle is the application of ideas through the clash of class interests in homes, communities, workplaces, schools, and in the streets, not blogs or armchairs. i have found the comments of Big L, esteban, and other commentors on this blog that i assume are representatives of AS to be very convincing and in line with my own views, and thus i feel relatively comfortable defending AS (i hope they check me if im misrepresenting). based on their comments, it seems that STP misrepresents their view which was once summed up with the kind of weird term, “Freirean-Leninism.” i understand this to mean the infusion of scientific marxist communist intellectual tools into the working class so that the workers can a) come to see themselves as a class standing in irreconcilable antagonism with the capitalist class and b) do what stp claims only bourgeois intellectuals are capable of doing: produce a “…synthesis and process of summation, analysis, and creation of plans-of-actions by revolutionaries.”

        stp is an arrogant elitist representing the worst aspects of so-called “leninism” especially the top-down aspect of it. lenin himself in What is to be Done does say that the organization of professional revolutionaries has to start with the intelligentsia (in his context of russia 1906 or whatever), BUT that this organization has to draw into it the advanced of the proletariat. the question is HOW? AS’s “freierean-leninism” concept answers this question: in the context of actual struggle, the communists introduce political questions that are rooted in the immediate struggle but go far beyond it. this drawing of sophisticated concepts out of immediate (economic/reform) struggles trains stp’s lowly proletariat in esteban’s intellectual arts. the proletariat becoms class conscious communists through struggle infused with intellectual development. how you like them apples shine?

        i didnt read esteban’s piece on “students as positive proletarian actors” at all as saying that communism comes straight out of struggle (absent ideas), since he clearly states that students should pass the fruits of their intellectual training on to the section of the proletariat that lacks institutional access to it, and to do it NOT just for the charity of it, but to advance the struggle toward communism.

        i read esteban/AS’s (?) proposed project as being the creation of a organization of professional intellectual-militants drawn from as much of a working class base as possible. this is in line with lenin’s conception of the composition of the party which is the vehicle of revolutionary consciousness. the party was supposed to start mainly with intelligentsia but move toward proletarianizing. proletarianizing isnt any more “workerist” than marx’s own dictum that only the the proletariat can emancipate itself. news flash shine – in the frivolous sense that you hurl the term around, communism is in my opinion indeed workerist! or it should be anyway…

        shine the path dogmatically holds that in 2009, as in 1909, only the likes of heirs to bourgeois fortunes in elite universities can produce theory and thus be communist revolutionaries. little is more disgusting than this type of chauvinism charading as revolutionary. privileged layers of the working class and even middle class “class-traitors” are i would argue necessary elements in the revolution but not as the monopolizers of all revolutionary knowledge and certainly not the crucial subjects of revolutionary struggle. shine the path, if you dont think the proletariat can emancipate itself, stop claiming to be a communist – you arent.

        back to mike davis being an economist, i’ll reference a previous post of mine:

        “here is davis the economist: ‘Until [coordinated resistance] happens , we can’t conceive of any kind of leadership from the Democrats for a larger reorganization or re-modernization of California’s political economy or state system.’ bernstein or kautsky could have said that shit!”

        i dont know what stp’s united front for USA 2009 would look like (and as shine himself admits, he doesnt either), but i hope it would NOT include the republicratic business party.

        so what is AS’s strategy for fighting back? i would guess its building micro struggles and developing working class intellectual-militants who can build networks from withing the working class to build a sustainable movement to fight budget cuts, but ALSO advance the struggle toward communist revolution on a solid proletarian basis so that the working class doesnt feel the need to seek allies in antagonistic classes to win. shine the path’s idea about blocs / united fronts is not that controversial, since those are almost hisotorical laws, but insofar as proletarian revolution is concerned, so is the requisite decisive moment when the proletariat breaks from that bloc/front and puts its own interests above all else. how can we expect this to happen if the proletariat doesnt have a strong infrastructure of autonomous militant cells in place and a life-blood of proletarian class consciousness permeating the whole class? it cant, and the bulk of national liberation struggles provide just one source of a dearth of evidence proving such. even the bolshevik revolution came too much from above in the sense that not enough of the proletariat was intellectual in its own right. bureaucratic leninism itself was killed off when all the cadres were killed in the civil war and through stalinist purges. today we can embark on a different path that will protect the revolution through all its twists and turns, but not if stp has his stalinist (socialism from above, distrust of proletariat, alliance with capitalists, etc) way.

        we dont have to rely on the democrats, bourgeois political allies, or rich intellectuals to do our job for us. contrary to stp’s ideas, the proletariat can emancipate itself – we just need the tools to do it. students/intellectuals have many of those tools and its their revolutionary responsibility to organize in such a way as to impart those tools on the working class and to actually struggle with us in every meaning of the words “struggle” and “with”.

        stp is dead wrong, communism comes ONLY through struggle.

  6. I agree with ShineThePath that my response was not exactly on point. But debating “professional revolutionaries” is connected to the Davis piece in this way: What should be our approach in building and expanding a radical movement? Or as h&S put it, what is “communist revolutionary praxis?”

    Davis talks about “uniting and coordinating resistance across the state in high schools, in forgotten suburban communities, in plants full of workers about to be downsized.” Until that happens, he says, we can’t hope to put enough pressure on the Democrats to “re-organize” or “re-modernize” CA. political economy. So, Davis is talking about how to make the CA economy (and the national one) “work”. And he seems to think that the CA. high tech industry can’t afford to let things deteriorate TOO much, but definitely too much for us. Justifiably, h&s says “fuck economism and fuck the democrats.” (Even though I don’t really think Davis holds out much hope for the Dems either.) But then, fear and concern about “the economy,” as superficial as it may be, is one thing that a majority of the working class has in common. And, similarly, most people in CA voted for either the Demopublicans or the Republicrats, and so obviously hold out some hope that their action will matter. h&s can say “being down with the democratic party automatically excludes a person or org from the left in my book,” but then where does that leave our ability to communicate with the majority of people in CA.?

    This is what I have seen most “vanguards” ignore. I do not judge h&s or anyone else reading this, but one of the reasons “professional revolutionaries” bothers me is because of this tendency to hold up radicalism as a principle, to talk about revolution without being sure to demonstrate any historical roadmaps to everyday people, or to even address their concerns seriously. This often goes along with some romantic shit about “the people,” as if they were automatically down for whatever, how “the oppressed will rise up” given the right trigger, etc. I don’t deny that vanguards historically have stirred up a lot of revolutionary activity, but I also know that the failure of these vanguards to continue to educate, persuade and sympathize with people is inseparable from the failure of the revolutions themselves. Why the Politburo and not the soviets? Why the Reign of Terror and Napoleon and not the Sans-Culottes? Why the McCarthyist CIO and not the internationalist IWW? How did the general strikes end? We can’t blame everything on counter-revolutions…

    So, this leads to the practical questions of how and what to communicate. Do you tell a downsized fellow worker that the politicians she voted for are the enemy, that she is a victim of capitalist oppressors and that communism can solve her problems? Do you try to organize a workplace occupation (assuming you work there too and are still inside), even if the workplace is shutting down because there is no market for the product, or for the workers’ skills? Do you try to build a party, with a program of saving that particular industry and its jobs? Can you provide some political context to the restructuring of her industry? Do you ask her about how she will survive without work, about navigating the state unemployment/welfare bureaucracy? What real hope or help can you offer this person?

    Similarly with students. Do you try to convince fellow students to occupy a building as a protest against “not getting their money’s worth” of education, or against this or that bureaucrat’s bloated salary? Do you attack the administration, the state, the corporate recruiters at the business school? Do you emphasize the student’s role in re-creating capitalism, the potential of students to help bring it down? How do you deal with careerism on a college campus, when that is what most people are there for?

    And, if we share Davis’s interest in the structure of a capitalist economy—not to reform and save it but to build an alternative even as we wreck it—then what can we propose to people about this? How do we change people’s views about e.g. the sanctity of private property and the necessity of the state unless we also talk about building something else that will enable people to live fully and not just barely survive? (Remember mutual aid?) I’m not saying that people aren’t having these kinds of discussions, even while they also talk about “leadership” more abstractly. But I think the best way to build “cadre” is by sharing these basic questions with people, not by trying to convince them that we have the right program.

    h&s, I forgive you and your “sneaking suspicions“ about whether I have “produced” revolutionaries because I know what its like to demand immediate results and think that anything else is bunk.
    I do not doubt that you and others here have given these practical question some thought, but I responded because I have seen too many groups devolve into smug self-satisfaction, too impressed with their own radical enlightenment to remember how to talk to people, and when I hear the phrase “professional revolutionary” that is what comes to my mind. I agree with PatientPersuasion’s idea of leadership, one that involves a broad intelligence and does not indulge in a disempowered and passive taste for an ultimately self-defeating hierarchy.

    • Gerrard, just quick point – I wasn’t making reference to your post but more to Hammer and Sickness, I was assuming your comments were responding to him and his response to the Davis talk.

      I’ll try to wrap my head around what you’re putting here hopefully later, but I just wanted to make that quick clarification 🙂

  7. I gotta say, these fireworks have some important lessons in them. HaS has said it, but I think the idea that the party/revolutionaries are the subject is the basic theoretical foundation for Stalinism. And who is in the US to unite with besides the “working class”…the lumpenproletariat? Sure. Otherwise, who is really in the “united front”? History is the history of class struggle: that means that when it comes down to social upheaval and control of surplus value, people act in the interests of their class unless there’s false consciousness (pretty much never a problem for the bourgeoisie). Oprah might even be down to campaign with the sparts to free mumia, but when you come to take her mansion the security guards will shoot you like anyone else.

    On the AS perspective: I’m feeling the strategy above! I’ll repost for emphasis:

    “so what is AS’s strategy for fighting back? i would guess its building micro struggles and developing working class intellectual-militants who can build networks from withing the working class to build a sustainable movement to fight budget cuts, but ALSO advance the struggle toward communist revolution on a solid proletarian basis so that the working class doesnt feel the need to seek allies in antagonistic classes to win. ”

    What does this mean in terms of specific strategy? I think that it means organizing resistance at mostly working-class colleges (city colleges and state schools) where there are substantial amounts of intellectual proletarians. It means being not getting washed away in a broad alliance with conservative union leadership, ptas, college administrators, democrats etc. etc. just because you want to show that you’re not a bunch of sectarian Stalinists. All of the above except ptas (mostly) are composed of people whose interests are directly opposed to class struggle. In fact, it probably means remaining separate from the above until you’ve got some real weight under your belt i.e. radicalized student bodies at universities with student proto-cadre.

    Importantly it means stop doing what Davis is doing: trying to convince liberals that the best way to get reforms is to be a revolutionary!

  8. Part 1)

    Talk about hypocrisy – Using the word “fuck” is abrasive, but its only because I use it to make explicit is in your comment posturing and sectarianism. So if you want to go polemix to the max, I’m fine – but don’t act like you’re being dignified about it – no sir, you were the first “punk” to get lippy and rather than try to make the best of the conversation, and to clarify for me how AtS sees the budget crisis. Instead you took up another debate to be had in such a way that is starkly apparent the beginnings of constant cut throatedness. So I call the bullshit I see.

    I will apologize, not to you, but to others reading that I allowed myself to go into the flare and not keep a calm head.

    Part 2)

    Hammer unfortunately you’re not well informed about your political tendencies. “Economism” was a Russian political tendency, not a German one. The German Social-Democratic Party went up against Bernstein’s “revisionism,” which advocated peaceful evolution of the German absolutist state into a socialist democratic one through parliamentary struggle. Russian economism, while sharing some aspects with revisionism (as usually all sorts of distortions of revolutionary politics does), advocated a position that was largely anti-Party as active and saw political struggle as secondary to worker’s struggle. They saw any political organization as supplementary to the “orgranic” struggle of the workers’, and that the development of consciousness of workers’ to happen primarily through their own struggle. This was largely embodied in the trend that put out Rabocheye Dyelo and Rabochaya Mysl.

    Also the revisionist trend in the German Social Democratic Party was NOT leading that Party in the 1900s’, Kautsky and others were explicitly against Bernstein and his follows – Bernstein and his followers received strict reprimand from the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party, and were only not expelled as long as they adhered to the political line of the Party. The leading political line of the Party was for the longest a “Revolutionary” Social-Democratic politics – the Party of course did end up moving hard right, and communists beginning to take their own organizational forms after the start of World War II. Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Leibknecht’s politics were the continuation of the revolutionary line in the German Social-Democratic Party.

    Lenin’s politics were different from Luxembourg and Leibknect’s. Lenin’s WITBD is a line of demarcation between the economist trend he was wrestling with in Russia of course – but it is also end up setting a line of demarcation between Bolshevik politics and Social-Democratic ones altogether. Lenin’s polemic had opened up the hidden subtext of why revolutionary organization and party is necessary – it wasn’t a matter of form, but a matter of substance. The professional revolutionary, the Party, as the conscious element is the subject of the revolution.

    This is why Luxembourg accused Lenin of being a Blanquist (after putschist and what Marx saw as the father of the Paris Commune, Louis Auguste Blanqui). The accusal was similar to Trotsky’s criticism of Lenin’s party as substitionalist for the working class. For both Luxembourg and Trotsky, in many respects they were similiar to the economists in one regard – they saw revolutionary organization as supplemental to the struggle of workers’ themselves, and at most providing course. Lenin saw the party AS the organization of the revolutionary proletariat.

    Part 3) Communist politics don’t emerge from struggle – making this claim is just simply rhetorical and ignores the dialectical relationship and Marxist understanding of the development of knowledge. Once again, if you were a reader of WITBD, you can see how this thinking is flawed and how the economists maximized this rhetoric towards the ends of eliminating the role of political consciousness altogether, acting as if they were nothing but facilitators of class struggle.

    Communist politics are for 1) a partisan subjective position, i.e. its a projected vision and idea. 2) This subjective position stems from the whole history of development of egalitarian political thinking and projects, from the Jacobins, Early French Socialism, Owenite villages, to the Bolsheviks, Chinese Communists, EZLN, etc. 3) It theoretically builds itself upon correct analysis and insights upon reality, not solely limited to political struggle (ehemm Capital isn’t a product of political struggle, its a product of deep systematic and symptomatic analysis of social relations in commodity production and how capital manifests itself – who here is going to argue Ricardo’s Theory of Labor Value was formulated because of class struggle?

    Here we can say something about methodology – I believe we need a methodology of leadership and development of theory which is based upon understanding the sentiment and takes in the ideas of the masses of people, what we call “Mass Line” as opposed to “Frierian-Leninism.” While the conceptual structure of Friere’s pedagogy can be instructive and useful in supplementing a communist political orientation, unfortunately how “Frierian” your Leninism is may make the difference between revisionist self-cultivation and STORM type orientation, and a revolutionary one. So let me be skeptical here – what is the development and difference of this concept of “Frierian-Leninism” and Leninism itself? Whats the difference between it and Mass Line?

    To re-articulate the position of mass line as a method of communist leadership, it bases itself upon a dialectical understanding of the development of knowledge and the process for revolutionary summation.

    I think Scott H’s site is valuable on this account of theory –

    http://massline.info/sum1p.htm

    “The mass line is the primary method of revolutionary leadership of the masses, which is employed by the most conscious and best organized section of the masses, the proletarian party. It is a reiterative method, applied over and over again, which step by step advances the interests of the masses, and in particular their central interest within bourgeois society, namely, advancing towards proletarian revolution. Each iteration may be viewed as a three step process: 1) gathering the diverse ideas of the masses; 2) processing or concentrating these ideas from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, in light of the long-term, ultimate interests of the masses (which the masses themselves may sometimes only dimly perceive), and in light of a scientific analysis of the objective situation; and 3) returning these concentrated ideas to the masses in the form of a political line which will actually advance the mass struggle toward revolution. Because the mass line starts with the diverse ideas of the masses, and returns the concentrated ideas to the masses, it is also known as the method of “from the masses, to the masses”. Though implicit in Marxism from the beginning, the mass line was raised to the level of conscious theory primarily by Mao Zedong.”

    Part 3) On the question of the proletariat, vanguard, etc. My position is not fairly summed up as merely that identify proletarian consciousness as pivotal over the proletariat, though you’re leading to a more correct understanding. Its a dialectic, looking at merely consciousness or individuals on its own are just abstractions – the proletariat is quite correctly the unity of communist politics with a collective subject. We should more or less reject a sociological formulation of Marxism, which as Gramsci understood in his critique of the Marxism of Buhkharin, Trotsky, and Stalin, merely sets a determinist character of consciousness to their social relations. As Gramsci understood already, Lenin’s revolution was a revolution AGAINST Capital, not merely against the system but the Marxist letter of following determined “historical” laws. In the third world revolutions, the “industrial proletariat” was either small, nonexistent, or attached to politically to imperialism – and yet these revolutions defied the eurocentric/orientalist point of analysis of Marxists who promoted a sort of social-imperialism and can only explained their gap in knowledge of historical development in (and Marx himself is guilty of this) by way of alluding to a “Asiatic Mode of Production” and “Asiatic Despotism.”

    So here has been the gap in Marxist praxis – where is your clear cut workers’ revolt? A part from the points of half-improvised rebellions, revolutions include a broad section of society that include a cross-section of those divided by a division of labor.

    Let me be more controversial, for sake of demarcation – there is no bourgeoisie, there is no proletariat, as sociological entities. The bourgeoisie and proletariat are abstracted representative characters of the immanent political crisis in capital. As Marx was already familiar to point out, individual bourgeois are helpless to try to stop the forces it has unleashed upon the world, capital’s logic reigns supreme through the bourgeoisie and establishes itself as the regime of rule, through social relations, structural apparatuses, and discourse.

    So what about the Proletariat? When Louis Blanqui during his interrogations was asked his occupation his politically correct response, and his legally wrong answer, was that he was a Proletarian. And wasn’t Marx, Luxembourg, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao even though none of them were workers? The Proletariat is a political subject which lack a pure identity because its very historical project, conceptually, is its own demise, its own sublation. There is a (dis)identity in its very existence – it stands as a particular universal for all of humanity, not for a particular subset. Its universality is in the very fact it has nothing but its labor, and nothing to lose but its chains.

    So why were these “petty bourgeois” intellectuals like Luxembourg, Lenin, Trotsky, etc. principle figures in a “workers’ struggle” and creation of revolutionary organizations? Their class origin is nearly inconsequential, its a question of their politics and their unity with a proletarian-communist politics.

    Or lets put it another way – the argument from “self-interest” nearly completely can just solidify the “false consciousness” (I don’t believe in such a notion) of even working people. In a system in which men have a dictatorship of authority from the state to the bedroom, from the garment factory to the kitchen, what argument is there to be made from “self-interest” that they should give up their little fiefdom? In a country where there 1 car for every 2 people (something completely unsustainable on a global scale), where the country remains the consumer base for global capitalism, what argument of “self-interest” is there to be a revolutionary defeatist and internationalist?

    Part 6) Hammer and Sicknesses’ accusal that I can only conceive of the Vanguard as it was configured in 1905 is absurd – once again, here you’re all form and no substance. The 1905 “petty bourgeois” intelligensia is today’s liberal arts major at a public university. Once again, what is important here? Its not their original class origin, but intellectual orientation in development of revolutionaries – their role as a conscious element. The argument for students becoming the vanguard of the working class is the same argument that Lenin utilized in defense of the intelligensia in his era being prominently the leading core of a revolutionary vanguard party.

    Of course what is wrong in the argument made by Esteban that students are the vanguard is precisely because he equates them as “workers,” as part of the means of production. It is rather easy to show how this generalization is not correct, empirically – but it also misses the most important point of why students (no matter how “organically” tied they are back to the working class) are able to be an avantgarde force in political struggle and become leading revolutionaries – its precisely because the university allows them a certain distance from the means of production, relative freedom from it. Once again the formulation of Lenin’s “from without” is still fundamentally correct.

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