Tag Archives: theory

Revolutionary Organization Study Group Reader

“The building of a fighting organization and the conduct of political agitation are essential under any “drab peaceful” circumstances, in any period, no matter how marked by a “declining revolutionary spirit”; moreover, it is precisely in such periods and under such circumsstances that work of this kind is precisely in such periods and under such circumstances that work of this kind is particularly necessary, since it is too late to form the organization in times of explosion and outbursts; the party must be in a state of readiness to launch activity in moment’s notice.”

-Lenin (Where to begin, 1901)

Lenin’s quote is particularly meaningful in this historic moment. In 2007, global capitalism entered a structural crisis, while in 2009, students developed insurgent movements within the US. In 2011, the Occupy movement formed in hundreds of cities across the US. In 2013, the political landscape is changing what resistance means and how it is done. The hyper-individualistic and social-democratic political positions that dominated the US left in the 1990-2006 era are gone. A new era of revolt, and radicalization is beginning. The historical experiences of 2007 to the present, coupled with the structural crisis of capital that formed in 2007, has established the most favorable conditions for the building of a new revolutionary organization within the US since the 1960s.

The revolutionary left of the US, is deeply divided, ideologically hyper, detached from both the American working class, and militants in other countries (especially non-European ones). This disallows a clear proposal to emerge of how to build a revolutionary project in the US. The generation of revolutionary cadre of the 1960s have devolved in isolation, and adapting to retirement. This older generation is far more detached to the new generation of militants, compared to the multi-generational lineage of militants in other countries that are politically and organizationally linked.

At the same time, in the US, every city is developing small, loose, informal radical circles. Many are composed of politicized working class youth, alienated from American capitalism, and cynical about a prosperous future. Such radical working class youth are taught and treated to feel like the bottom, “scum”-like material of society. Such people are anything but the “scum” of society, but more the promising movement for a new society, one beyond capitalism.

Capitalism is in a phase of devalorization: where the necessary price of wage-labor is lowered, partly from the attacks by capitalist austerity, partly by an increase of technological efficiency, and partly by state sponsored oppression and incarceration. This process has steadily unfolded since 1973. The political program of unions has been a buffer of this process, representing a left-wing force of the devalorization process. Going to an important college, or getting a prestigious job, is becoming a reality for a much smaller and smaller group of people. In 1970, 20% of the workforce was involved in strikes and labor conflicts of some sort, now that number is reduced to 0.5%. No revolutionary group has been able to define the path to rupture this problem of capitalist control. But the historical moment is forcing the revolutionary left to debate the reality of their situation, due to a demand for a new unfolding revolutionary force to emerge. Capitalisms is decaying. Revolutionaries must ascend.

Instead of finding ways to adapt to this system, functioning through a perspective of opportunism, or divorcing yourself from society, being counter-cultural and isolated, the alternative is forming the beginnings of a revolutionary organization. This begins by one, or a few dedicated revolutionaries, who make the building of revolutionary organizations their top priority in life. Part-timers will not suffice in the genesis of the project, sorry. With that commitment, come skills. The practical and political skills one needs to develop to form a revolutionary organization are many. There are practical skills you need, like be able to write out agitational flyers and distribute them in working class places, in order to advance unfolding social movements or class struggles. There are political skills one must have, such as knowledge of Marxism, a theoretical system to analyze the contradictions of capitalism, the character of the state, and the possibilities of the historical moment. One must have social and organizational skills, such as collecting 20 people’s contacts from a meeting and do follow up emails and phone calls about the objective political tasks from that meeting. One must be able to speak publicly during key junctures, when the possibilities of the left and the advanced sections of the working class can merge into more radical unified acts against capital.

One must strive to organically combine all these skills in order to build a small revolutionary group from scratch. Such a revolutionary cell formed from scratch would be composed of militants, or political organizers dedicated to such a revolutionary project, trained in doing such political work, that can act as a unit. The study of key militants of the past, like Farrol Dobbs, Domitila, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, Malcolm X, give a concrete understanding of the qualities such people were composed of. The possibility of small groups of militants who can act as unit, represent an ingredient needed for the formation of a much larger, more serious, national revolutionary organization. The American revolutionary left is far from building a national revolutionary organization, but it now confronts a landscape that has offered us some of the most favorable conditions to do so in 40 years. This shift in political conditions requires an intervention by revolutionaries to lay the groundwork for what could become in the next ten years.

Considering such conditions, Advance the Struggle proposes that small groupings around the country read this reader on revolutionary organization. Our comrades in Unity and Struggle put the first edition of this reader together, and members of Advance the Struggle edited it down. This reader is the basic theoretical and political interventions made by the most important Marxist of the twentieth century. Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Trotsky, and Bordiga stand as giants regarding the development of revolutionary Marxism. What we have today is a splintered revolutionary left that has latched on to crystallized traditions such as Trotskyism, Luxemburgism, Gramscianism, causing harmful splits within this dynamic, unable to unify this larger revolutionary body of thought. Such a body is tied together like ecology spread out through history. Each Marxist figure has challenged the existing totality of Marxism in that period, advancing the understanding of central marxist concepts: the revolutionary organization, the permanent character of accumulation, permanent revolution, revolutionary military strategy, historical materialism, and class struggle within the “advanced capitalist” countries.

The new generations of revolutionaries have a giant task ahead. Considering the famous position in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, that “each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it,” we can point to a revolutionary beginning. This beginning is tasked with mastering the original categories of Marx’s Marxism, coupled with re-assembling the latter Marxist after Marx, into a unified logic boiled down to a defined method for working class application.  Being able to reassemble such a body of Marxist thought for our historical moment, will give us the framework to apply the Marxist method to advance struggle into revolutionary motion. This political activity and perspective is what is needed to rebuild massive revolutionary organizations that we once witnessed from 1864 to the 1930s. In that spirit, we offer a basic reader on some of the most important work that tried to accomplish such a goal. We would also appreciate any thoughts people have on the reader and what affects it had on them and their promising group.

Click on the image below to read!

ASRevOrgReaderCover

Advertisements

Introducing “The Magical Blue Pamphlet”

Capital and Today’s Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya

Magical Blue Pamphlet

Click Here to touch 5MB of the magic! (Blueness not shown.)

Millions of workers have been laid off since the 2007 crisis, creating a new political world where turbulence is to be expected in the coming period.  A new generation of activists has been reading Karl Marx’s Capital to understand our changing contemporary political reality.  This new political reality demands a political theory to explain and help transform it.  Who is building a revolutionary framework for this process?  The contemporary revolutionary left is largely an extension of 1960s Trotskyist and Maoist groups, fighting for correct leadership over movements, or anarchist and insurrectionist currents, trying to set a spark to the dry wood of the people.  Are these our only revolutionary political options? Raya Dunayevskaya, great but generally-ignored Marxist theorist, was at one point Trotsky’s secretary but later broke from and critiqued Trotskyism through the Marxist method.  Well-known Trinidadian co-thinker CLR James (author of The Black Jacobins on the Haitian slave revolution) has overshadowed her, and she is often dismissed as a cult leader.  One day, a member of Advance the Struggle found a Dunayevskaya pamphlet that AS militants informally labeled “The Magical Blue Pamphlet” (MBP).

It is often assumed that Marx’s Capital is a work that explains Capitalist economics.  And it does, but to reduce it to that ignores the revolutionary fire built into the text.  Raya recontextualizes Capital by demonstrating how it embodies the experience of revolutionary movements; this provides a direct challenge to theorists like famous Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, whose “vulgarization of Marx’s analysis of the dialectical relationship between production and its reflection in the market” Raya smashes on in “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital.”  One of Dunayevskaya’s central points is that capital is not a thing that oppresses us but a relationship we are subjected to.  She explores how the American slave revolts and the Paris Commune formed and deepened Marx’s understanding of capital, summarizes the three volumes of Capital as a singular political unit of revolutionary logic, then finishes the pamphlet by exploring the Russian revolution.

Continue reading

Between a Trot and a Hard Place: The Debate Within Our Movement

As we get further from March 4th and various groups put out their analysis, we see emerging differences in political line. Some of the primary differences we’ve seen emerge [discussed in our Post-March 4th analysis] stem from our criticisms of the Trotskyist tradition. Recently, Unity & Struggle (U&S), a group we consider to be aligned with our general political orientation wrote a response to two of the Trotskyist responses to our piece put out by Labor’s Militant Voice – LMV and Socialist Organizer – SO. We think U&S’s response piece very clearly illustrates some of the emerging differences that distinguish us from the existing Trotskyist groups. These differences center on the following questions:

How should marxist militants understand the political character of unions? How should militants relate to unions, their leadership and their rank and file? Many Marxists agree that union bureaucrats have been bought off, but there are often disagreements as to why.

How should disciplined revolutionaries relate to, and work within coalitional spaces? How important are general assemblies as organizational forms for the working-class’ political self-activity?

Is there a need for revolutionaries to have independent spaces and organizations outside of both coalitions/united fronts and general assemblies? Or are general assemblies and united fronts the only true legitimate spaces for working-class self activity? If not, what should independent political organizations look like?

How should a marxist ‘cadre’ type organization relate to such a space or organization? Should we help build them to the exclusion of participating in united fronts? Are these forms of organization mutually exclusive?

Furthermore, can the problem facing the working class today be summed up by Leon Trotsky’s assertion in the opening line of his famous work, ‘The Transitional Program’, which states that:  “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of leadership of the proletariat”? And, if so, does this mean that the problem facing revolutionaries today is primarily the task of substituting ‘bad leadership’ [read: union bureaucrats] for ‘good leadership’ [read: correct-line trotskyist revolutionaries], or do revolutionaries need to orient in radically different ways that consciously avoid reproducing the same hierarchical structures of authority present in capitalism?

These are all questions that we were thinking about when we wrote our Crisis and Consciousness piece, which analyzed March 4th and the movement that lead up to it.

Unfortunately all of us in AtS are not merely armchair intellectuals [we got jobs and other political work ya’ll!] and thus it has taken us a lil’ while to engage with all the responses that have been put out.

We are also taking time to respond to the Trotskyist responses in a way that moves beyond March 4th, and which moves us in the direction of a more fleshed out articulation of our position on many of the above issues, as political questions in general.

In the meantime, we think people should seriously engage with the piece written by our Seattle comrade from the group  Unity and Struggle.

We were psyched to read U&S’s response to the responses to our piece, because we have been heavily influenced and inspired by the work they do. U&S is a great example of the class-struggle left we describe in Crisis and Consciousness, and we had them in mind when we wrote it. We believe their response to the two Trotskyist responses to our piece (one by Labor’s Militant Voice – LMV and the other by Socialist Organizer – SO), is a very straightforward and accurate, cursory overview of the debate thus far. As we’ve mentioned,  U&S shares many of our critical disagreements with the Trotskyist tradition and its current incarnations.

We look forward to continuing these debates, as they help us develop our own understanding of ourselves and the existing left. We are a new formation and we are trying to develop a fresh analysis of the current conditions, while trying to avoid many of the political mistakes made by revolutionary militants in the past.

We plan to put out more in-depth and detailed analysis on the questions raised above, for which we are studying, reading and discussing with our political milieus. We welcome you to become part of this debate as it unfolds.

———————————————————————————————-

The Debate on Strategy in the Anti-Budget Cuts Movement

As an anti-budget cuts organizer in Seattle, I am excited by the important debates Advance the Struggle (AS) has raised with their piece Crisis and Contradictions: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th. I basically agree with the perspective that AS is putting forward;  it confirms and advances a lot of the perspectives that my comrades in Unity and Struggle have been developing, especially with our anti-budget cuts work with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle, with ella pelea! in Austin, and our comrade’s work at Berkley.  For those who don’t know, Unity and Struggle is a revolutionary organization animated by a belief in the self-emancipation of oppressed people; for more info, check out the “About US” section of the Gathering Forces blog.

I would consider Unity and Struggle and a lot of the milleiu around Gathering Forces to be part of  the “class struggle Left” tendency that AS outlines and calls for; like AS we are attempting to chart a third path that is independent from both the centrists (the “we need to meet people where they are at” folks) and the adventurists (the “Occupy Everything Demand Nothing” folks).  We appreciate the chance to dialogue with AS and other  like-minded activists around the country and we also appreciate the chance to have principled debate with comrades from the other two tendencies.

The response pieces written by Socialist Organizer (SO) and Labors Militant Voice (LMV), raise some important challenges to this third tendency and highlight some key differences between us and the centrist tendency.  It is important to note that LMV’s piece raises important critiques of SO’s piece and I engage with those here  – I have no intention of lumping them together.   I offer my notes on these responses  in the hope of furthering the debate.

Continue reading

How Does Race relate to Class? A debate

Professor Adolph Reed Jr debates three other professors, Steven Gregory, Maurice Zeitlin and Ellen Meiksins Wood, about how race and class relate to each other. This debate represents a historical problem in the American Marxist movement. Many different progressive and revolutionary movements in American history were never able to overcome racial differences to create class unity in key historic class struggles. Arguably the two most important strike waves in working class American history, 1877 and 1919, ended in defeats. Intra-racial fighting was a central problem that helped lay the ground work for the defeats of the strike. Eugene Debs, one of American labors great socialist leaders once openly stated, “We see it as a class issue rather than a race issue.” Debs colorblind socialism differed with racial theorist WEB Dubois who remarked in that same time period; “That the white heel is still on the black neck is simply proof that the world is not yet civilized. The history of the Negro in the United States is a history of crime without a parallel.” With that said, read this outstanding debate that will challenge simplistic notions of both race and class.

A PDF of this debate How_does_Race_relate_to_Class includes the following contents:

1.    UNRAVELING THE RELATION OF RACE AND CLASS IN AMERICAN POLITICS Adolph Reed, Jr.

2.    CLASS, RACE, AND CAPITALISM Ellen Meiksins Wood

3.    ON THE ‘CONFLUENCE OF RACE AND CLASS’ IN AMERICA Maurice Zeitlin

4.    THE ‘PARADOXES’ OF MISPLACED CONCRETENESS: I THINKING THROUGH THE STATE Steven Gregory

5.    REJOINDER Adolph Reed, Jr.