Posts Tagged ‘RCPUSA

21
Dec
11

The Life of the Party (Or, Back to Square One)

Ok, so after my brief stint in the SPUSA, I’m leaving empty handed. We all know where this is going, so let’s just get this over with.

I was wrong, you were right- the criticisms concerning the SPUSA turned out to be true, and it was a mistake to have joined this organization. Mea culpa.

Now before we get right into the details of why I won’t be renewing my membership in the SPUSA, let’s just take a quick moment to recall why I joined in the first place.

After general disappointment with other Leftist parties as being either too small to be especially effective, too localized, or too creepy (RCPUSA, I’m looking at you), the SPUSA ranked high on my list, with both a platform I could agree with, internal democracy, and a large, (reportedly) active membership spread out across the country. Granted, the core values seemed more conciliatory than I’d have liked, but I figured that this was a result of the party being “multi-tendency”, that is, representative of a wide array of Leftist tendencies- a major pro in and of itself. After all, what I believe as a Communist now is not what I’d have believed four years ago, so exposing myself to a “thousand schools of thought” contending would be infinitely more productive than joining a party whose platform I totally and completely agreed with (we’re talking about Socialist Action here).

Like I said, I was wrong.

 

While I entered into the SPUSA with the hope that I’d be right in the action, I, in the weeks following the acceptance of my membership application, received no orders (or even suggestions) from the party on what I could be doing to further the cause. I’m not knocking personal initiative here- I fully understand that, as individuals, we ought to be addressing the issues that we’re facing in our day-to-day lives and that are affecting the local area. However, if I didn’t need to join the SPUSA to do that. Again, I’m not saying that I require orders from on high to act. It just seems strange that the SPUSA advocate a society based on utilizing individual talents for a common purpose, but not be in contact with its members on how they can best contribute to the movement. I think one commenter on this blog said it best when he stated “The SP-USA doesn’t have 1,000 members…it has 1,000 donors…”.

 

See, ultimately, my goal in joining a party or organization was to contribute my time, talents, and efforts to a concentrated and directional campaign to advance Marxism, or, at the very least, the principals espoused by the left. I realize again that my location in the backwoods of New York (most of the year) make networking and collaborating difficult, but nevertheless there has got to be something I can do. Have a comrade running for office? Let me help campaign on his or her behalf? Writing a statement on the Arab Spring? Let me get input and info from some of my contacts. Need funds for a project? Let me try to raise funds (ok, technically membership fees do play into that, but you get the idea).

Let's get our hands dirty

The way I figure it, the party should, in and of itself, be an example of Communism at work. A democratic, egalitarian group collectively pooling resources, skills, and effort to make a united effort to combat injustice, oppression, ignorance, and inequality. Getting a magazine is a nice perk, but its not the reason I chose the SPUSA. I chose the SPUSA because I thought that what the organization lacked in core principals, it would make up for in its ability to draw from the various schools of Leftism represented and channel this diversity into a powerful, coherent movement.

 

Again, I might be coming across as overly harsh on the SPUSA- after all, I have friends there, and I don’t believe that the party is without merit or achievement. At the same time, the general criticism that the party lacks “direction” or “discipline” as a result of it not being based in Leninism does have a lot going for it, and while I think the SPUSA is trying to address the issues surrounding us, it simply isn’t being aggressive enough, certainly in part due to its multi-tendency background. As much as I’d like to assert that we are all on the same side, the simple fact of the matter is that if we try to adopt an approach that is acceptable to everyone, from the most gung-ho direct-action Anarchist to the most diplomatic Democratic Socialist, we’re not going to get anywhere. At some point, someone’s got to put their fist down and say “Look, this is what needs to be done, contribute as much as you feel your conscience allows and then step back- this is gonna be messy!”.

Emphatic Marxist Giant is Empahtic

Look, I’m not going to say that my time in the SPUSA was a waste- I do feel that I’ve learned, even if my learning has stemmed out of a generally negative cause. You can’t sacrifice principals for resources- push come to shove, a small, poor group with direction is going to be advancing the cause further than large, well-funded group without one (or at least, with only the most general of goals). There’s something to be said for the Leninist model of the vanguard party- for all the criticism it receives on both sides of the left-wing spectrum, it’s effective.

Movement from the top down is still movement...

At the end of the day, I’d like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I have my own theories, my values, and my general concept of how things ought to be done, but my perspectives and beliefs are, as they should be with all of us, a means, not an end. I’m a Trotskyist (Anarcho-Trotskyist, if you want to get needlessly specific), but I’ll throw my weight behind whatever and whoever is actively and effectively working to advance the cause of freedom, equality, and justice. My support goes not to who I have ideological similarities with, but to those who are actually implementing Marxism, be it the Maoist-inspired Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (the old BPP- not the new one) or the unionization efforts made by various elements of the New Left.

So where am I now? Back to square one.

I haven’t changed my views on joining a party- I do feel that I ought to be networking and collaborating with other revolutionaries, but I am at a bit of a loss as to where to proceed from here. My other top choices for membership (ISO, Socialist Action) still have the same cons attached to them, and recent comments (and I am grateful for the comments) seem to indicate that both organizations have a lot less going for them than I initially thought.

So again my question is- where do I go from here? Any thoughts?

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13
Jul
11

Joining The Party: Kasama Project and the International Socialist Organization (Part VI)

To be perfectly honest, after an hour of research, I’m less sure I know what the Kasama Project is than when I began. The members of the Kasama Project have (if I understand them correctly) attempted to reject conventional labels in order to redefine what it means to be a “Marxist” organization, and while I’m confident there’s some merit to that, describing exactly what the project is all about is something of a nightmare.

From what I can gather, the Kasama Project can be described as an internet-based collective of Maoists (though accepting of most schools of Marxism) who are attempting to completely rethink the goals of Marxism and the structures of revolutionary groups in order to apply them to contemporary times.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but hopefully my pro/con breakdown will help clarify things a bit.

Pros:

  • The Kasama Project seems to be a fairly young and vibrant community, really committed to the study of Marxism, activism, revolutionary tactics, etc. It seems that many Communist organizations have certain tenets which, if questioned, will have you called a reactionary or a subvert or an elitist and so on. Since the Kasama Project seems to be trying to re-imagine every aspect of Communism, it would appear that there’s none of the “do-not-question-this” traditionalism that sometimes pops up in other organizations. In short, these guys seem to have some of the best attitudes towards Marxism I’ve ever seen.
  • The Kasama Project, while largely Maoist and Maoist sympathizing, is open to all schools of Marxism (Trotskyists, Leninists, Anarchists, etc.). The Kasama Project has also been very critical of issues in the RCPUSA (the RCPUSA’s anti-Gay stance has been a recent topic).
  • “Kasama” is a Tagalog for “traveling companions”- and the general atmosphere at their website seems to communicate the idea that all comrades are together in the learning process.

Kasama: Tagalog, (noun). "Traveling companions"

And now for the cons:

  • My principal (indeed, only) problem with the Kasama Project is that it’s not so much a party or an organization as it is a discussion group and network. There’s nothing wrong with is- only I’m looking to join up with an organization that I can really cooperate with and participate in. I certainly intend to look into joining the various Kasama Project discussions, but without any actual structure or goals, I’m afraid that there’s nothing to join- at least, not in the way I’d join a political party.

So all in all, that’s a ‘no’ from me- but I would like to emphasize that my initial reaction towards the Kasama Project is positive.

Now on to the ISO.

Out of all the organizations I’ve discussed so far, I believe I am most familiar with the International Socialist Organization. The ISO has been one of the major sponsors of a number of annual “Socialism Conferences”, and while I have never had the opportunity to attend, I have managed to get my hands on the podcasts of the conference lectures, and I feel that as as result, I have a pretty decent grasp of what the ISO is all about.

I’ll get right into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The ISO, while not the oldest leftist organization around, is fairly old, created in the mid-70s as a result of the amalgamation of Trotskyists and leftist factions. While I’m no fan of tradition, the fact that the ISO has been around for at least two generations (with strong ties to its predecessors) means that (1) the organization is fairly flexible and able to handle changing times and (2) has an established reputation and ties to the struggle.
  • The ISO is, while accepting a wide array of Communist and leftist schools of thought, a predominantly Trotskyist organization. As a Trotskyist myself (at least, I try to be), there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that the ISO rejects Stalinism and pseudo-Marxism, demands the establishment of pure democracy, and accepts the use of violence as a means of self-defense.
  • While the ISO does not appear to be actively attempting to influence the political sphere through elections, it is active in supporting boycotts, unionization, protests, and other means of social change.
  • The ISO is a revolutionary party- that is, it maintains that a revolution is the only means of establishing a Marxist society (as opposed to gradual evolution, as some Social-Democrats have argued).
  • The ISO, unlike some other parties, is fairly widespread, with branches in nearly every major city in the US.

And now for the cons:

  • While I understand the ISO’s (seeming) skepticism of using elections to influence the politics in favor of the working class, I feel that elections can, if nothing else, demonstrate the true nature of Marxism as a viciously pro-democratic movement, rather than an authoritarian one. I believe that even minor changes are worth the effort. Again, I should point out that it seems the ISO isn’t active with regards to political elections. I haven’t found anything on their site or in their lectures that indicates otherwise.

So my final verdict on the ISO?

Yep, that’s a ‘yes’ from me on the ISO, joining the SPUSA at the top of my list.

25
Jun
11

Joining the Party: Revolutionary Communist Party USA (Part III)

To be perfectly honest, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to write about the RCPUSA. The party’s history, its ideological background, its principals, its goals- there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Let me try to start by giving you a quick look at the party’s history. The party was formed in 1975, in the wake of the anti-war, anti-establishment, and counter-cultural movements of the 60s and early 70s. A number of leftist and collectivist groups merged, forming the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. While very much a local movement, the party has managed to survive to this present day (not something one can say about most leftist parties).

Now for ideology, where things get tricky. You see, I’m a Trotskyist. The RCPUSA is Maoist. In general, Maoists hate Trotskyists with a passion. Trotskyists aren’t exactly wild about Maoists either. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do my best to give an accurate picture of what Maoists believe, offering alongside it some notes on what Trotskyists believe- so if nothing else, you’ll at least know where I’m coming from.

  • Maoists call themselves “Third Worldist”, that is, they believe that (as many on the left do) that the people of the third world are key in the fight against Capitalism. At first glance, that might look fairly standard- it’d be well nigh impossible to find a Communist who doesn’t believe the third world is key to the fight against Capitalism. However, some Maoists take things a step further, arguing that the struggle in the third world is the only battleground that Communists should be concerned with- that Communists in “developed” countries are actually Capitalist stooges and exploiters. Of course, considering that the party in question is the Revolutionary Communist Party USA– it’s doubtful that they hold this particular perspective. Still it’s important to know the belief is out there.
  • Stemming in part from the emphasis on Third Worldism, Maoists are nationalists– that is, they believe that Communism can exist fully within the confines of a border, that the state can coexist (nay, must) coexist with Communism, and that the nation must resist foreign imperialism at any cost. Trotskyists, on the other hand, are internationalists– that is, we believe that Communism cannot exist in a vacuum (no coexistence with Capitalism- ever), that the state cannot coexist with Communism, and that while imperialism should be resisted, it should not be resisted at the expense of the freedoms of the people of that nation. For example, during Iran’s “Green Revolution”, Maoists sided with Ahmadinejad, claiming he would protect Iran from Western imperialism and Trotskyists sided with the rebels, claiming that democracy must be maintained.

Now with all those differences, why not write off the RCPUSA right now? Well, as much as I am a Trotskyist, I’d like to imagine that I’m also a pragmatist. While I’m not going to drop my views, I’m not going to let them stand in the way of me working with people who I disagree with in order to, let’s say, fight for a union, or protest the murder of Oscar Grant, or advocate collectivism. So let’s get right down to the pros and cons.

 

Among the pros are:

  1. While not as old as the CPUSA, the RCPUSA certainly has been around long enough to merit some respect. Further, the RCPUSA has connections with such famous leftist groups as the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
  2. Unlike the CPUSA, the RCPUSA endorses revolution as the only means of achieving Communism. This doesn’t mean that the RCPUSA holds that violence is the only answer to every problem, but rather, that militant action is still and option, and that the RCPUSA recognizes that the evils of Capitalism, exploitation, and authoritarianism aren’t simply going to go away.
  3. Again, unlike the CPUSA, the RCPUSA does not believe in compromise in any way shape or form. No voting for Democrats, no making concessions. Yes, this rigidity can be a problem, but it certainly doesn’t seem any worse than the extremely conciliatory track taken by the CPUSA.

And now for the cons:

  1. The RCPUSA requires members to reject any belief in religion or god. Now I’ve got plenty of criticisms about organized religion and various theologies, but there’s no way I can support the RCPUSA’s demand that members reject any and all beliefs that there might exist more than just the material world. First and foremost, I have a number of religious beliefs, and I don’t feel inclined to just throw them away because the party wants members to be “scientific” (that’s the justification they gave to me when I asked them about this). If nothing else, being told that I can’t believe in god because I must be “scientific” is both a deeply disturbing reflection on what the party believes to be scientific. The existence of god isn’t something that can be proven or disprove- being told to reject the existence of god is just as unscientific as being told to accept the existence of god And beyond the seem logical issues, there’s application. How dare the party attempt to dictate the person thoughts and opinions of its members? Where does it end? Doesn’t every person have the right to make conclusions about the state of the universe based on his own experiences and studies? This tiff I have with the RCPUSA is alone enough for me to write it off my list, but there still so much more to cover…
  2. There’s a strong possibility the RCPUSA is a pseudo-Communist organization, that is, while calling themselves Marxists, their actual ideology is contrary to Marxism. For example, while the RCPUSA spends a lot of time criticizing democracy. Now it’s fairly normal for Communists to criticize “democracy” in a Capitalist society, but the RCPUSA spends so much time lambasting it, one begins to wonder whether they’re against democracy entirely. After the fall of Capitalism, Communists believe that there will exists a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, that is, “true democracy” or “pure democracy”, untainted by the class system, will emerge. However, this term “dictatorship of the proletariat” has often been misused by pseudo-Communists to justify totalitarian regimes, such as the USSR and North Korea. While the RCPUSA never explicitly state “we’re against the very concept of democracy” or “we believe in authoritarianism”, there’s enough skirting of the issue to make me nervous. I’ve watched a number of recordings of Bob Avakian, the RCPUSA’s leader, speak, and the general feeling I get is that he’s endorsing an open-minded, benevolent, dictatorship, in which the party control wields total control. If this is true, it would mean that RCPUSA is not only not Communist, but a straight up danger to the ideals of Marxism.
  3. I mentioned Bob Avakian, founder and leader of the RCPUSA. While he’s a good speaker, the guys is, to be perfectly blunt, creepy. Almost everything on the RCPUSA website is written either by him or about him. Just from a pragmatic standpoint, he’s so central to the RCPUSA, I’m not sure the organization will survive without him after he dies. Again, the whole party seems to really be a casual personality cult of this man who just happens to be a Communist (if he really is one).

Avakian

 

So the final verdict?

All in all the RCPUSA is a weird, small organization that might not even be Communist. What little- what very little- it has going for it is absolutely dwarfed by its disturbing policies, obsession with its leader, and its unbelievably backward demands concerning religion. The whole thing seems more like a bizarre recreation of the worst aspects of the USSR, only the USSR was less invasive.

 

So yeah, that’s a no.