Posts Tagged ‘Socialism Conference

11
Feb
12

A Communist’s Criticisms of Communism (Part II): Academia

Vladimir Lenin, in his What Is To Be Done? states that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”.

I’m not going to argue with that. Despite the piteous cry many self-proclaimed “anarchists” might make, the simple fact of the matter is that the world will not suddenly transform if enough “there’s no government like no government!” slogans get spray-painted on walls. If you’re going to change the hearts and minds of the people, and fight for the freedoms and rights of the poor and oppressed, there ought to be some basic strategy involved. I’d liken it to driving to another city. You can’t just hop in the car and hit the gas- you’re going to need to get some directions on how to get from here to there.

But this is not about “anarchists”. No, this is a post directed at the many Communists who, in trying to figure out how best to get from Point A to Point B, seem to have forgotten that we need to actually start moving.

This is one of the greatest problems with Communism today- this line of thought that holds theorizing about Communism on par with actually trying to advance Communism. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- there’s nothing wrong with theorizing; but there’s such a thing as taking it to far.


And things have been taken way too far.

See, ask a Communist what he believes with regards to the revolution, class warfare, economic development, or the like, and he’ll talk for hours. Ask a Communist what he does, and chances are he’ll blank on an answer. I’m not trying to say that I’m better- I’m not. And I’m not saying that action is as easy as flicking a switch, activism is tough even when the cause is generally accepted, and there are plenty of Communists out there who face personal danger as a result of taking action. Nevertheless, there is a clear problem with “intellectualizing” Communism, and it is a problem that we need to address.

Intellectual Elitism:

I’d like to start off with a quick few points about the Communist “Intellectuals”, who, even if they’re not responsible for this trend, certainly do perpetuate it.

There seems to be an assumption among these Communists that because of their great knowledge of Communist theory and history, when the revolution comes they’ll be leading it, or somehow catapulted into power when Capitalism is defeated. After all, they’ve been Communists longer, understand dialectics, and have read extensively on labor theory in 1840s Prussia- why shouldn’t they be in charge? The masses will obviously recognize their superior and extensive understand of socio-politico-economic theory and patiently await the command of these intellectuals.

Yeah, right.

Now I don’t know where this attitude originated from- I don’t even think that most people who have it are aware of it. Nevertheless, there’s a palpable sense of elitism among Communists who, for whatever reason, don’t see the poor and the oppressed as equals but as (at best) brute force to be harnessed or (at worst) ignorant masses to be ruled.

Perhaps it stems from a reaction against the “Kill them gawdless commis!” response that you can sometimes find among the very people who would benefit most from Communism.

“They took our jobs!”

Or maybe it arises out of some misplaced sense of revenge. I got kicked around by life, so now it’s my- I mean, our– turn on the throne.

Sound familiar?

Again, I don’t know what the cause of this anti-Communist perspective is- and make no mistake, this attitude is the very antithesis of fundamentals of Communism. How do we combat it? In all honesty, I’m not sure. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves of the words of Che Guevara- “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”

And while we’re bringing up, could someone explain to me exactly how having an intimate understanding of petty Communist feuds and some old Russian’s idea of how literature should be interpreted makes one an ideal candidate for leadership? Since when did knowledge of the theory of surplus value become criteria for fighting on behalf of the enslaved and exploited?

So he’s a good orator, but does he agree with Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”?

Communists need to wake up to the fact that, while there’s nothing wrong with knowing the ins and outs of our own theories, knowledge alone does not make you an effective leader, and it certainly does not somehow entitle you.

The One True Way:

Too many Marxists seem to be of the opinion that their theory is the only correct one. Now I’m not going to say that there aren’t some tendencies which are better than others, or that every style of Communism advocated is equally effective. What I am going to say, however, is that chances are your tendency isn’t absolutely and without a doubt the best technique that ever has or ever will exist.

Yeah, I’m talking to you!

You see it in the academic world, and you see it in Communism- people are convinced that theirs is the one, true way and that all other theories are hopelessly flawed. And maybe they are. Maybe. But am I the only one here who thinks that the struggle to perfect revolutionary theory has gone too far? Am I the only one who thinks that the details of how the masses liberate themselves and attain a free, equal, and just society isn’t exactly as important as, oh I don’t know, actually liberating themselves and attaining a free, equal, and just society?

“Look, if we can’t have the popular front, we’re just not going to rise up…”

It just doesn’t make sense. If you want to advocate your own perspective on how the revolution should be undertaken, good. If you want to put a lot of effort into figuring out what’s needed in the undertaking of the revolution, great. But at the end of the day, work still needs to be done to get things moving. The kid slaving away for ten cents an hour probably isn’t too picky about how efficiently the revolution is done. Take Che Guevara, for example. Guevara was a Maoist, and yet most every Communist from every tendency hails Che as a hero. Is this because they agree with Che’s theories? No, it’s because Che accomplished things.

Misplaced Priorities:

One last time I’ll say it; there’s nothing wrong with studying Marxism. However, we have to understand that as of this moment, our priorities are terribly misplaced. Now I’ve mentioned in a previous post a podcast I listen to- the various lectures of the annual Socialism Conference, held in Chicago and in Oakland. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy these lectures, but as much as I appreciate them, I’m always left wishing that just for once, they’d cover something actually relevant to me.

A step-by-step discussion of Rosa Luxemburg’s childhood isn’t the most helpful information out there…

Too often the most “relevant” information offered to young Communists such as myself is either discussion of past events (which we can only do so much with) or the rehashing of the basic “Capitalism is evil! The state is oppressive!” slogans we’ve been fed ad nasuem. Am I the only one here who wants to hear how to effectively protest from a veteran protestor? Am I the only one who wants to know about community organization from an old Black Panther? Does anyone else want to know when a cop is just trying to take advantage of your ignorance, and when they actually have a real threat? Farming? Direct action? Use of local politics and reforms? Can we at least be talking about these things? I am not, I repeat, am not ok with letting Communism turn into nothing more than a mental exercise, and a pointless one at that.

Yes, Lenin said “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”, but I want to add this caveat.

Revolutionary theory is only as good as the revolution is produces.

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02
Jan
12

Podcasts for Leftists

Once again I’m putting off writing on a more difficult subject, so I’ve written up three brief reviews of podcasts you benefit from. All are free from iTunes, though I believe you can also download audio files directly from the various host websites.

 

Socialism Conference:

Every year, the ISO helps in the hosting of two major conferences for revolutionary socialists in the cities of Chicago and Oakland (both historically significant cities for the left, but more on that later). Covering a wide range of topics, the conference speakers offer insightful and informative lectures on such issues as the victories and defeats of Marxism in the US, the ever growing problem of mass incarcerations, the Palestinian freedom struggle, feminism, culture, and international politics. I would personally recommend the 2010 Oakland conference lecture “Legal Lynching in America”, in which family members of Oscar Grant, a young man murdered at the hands of the police, call for justice. “Breaking the Siege of Gaza” is also well worth listening to, as the speakers were actually participants in the tragically ill-fated first Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

If there’s criticism to be had of the Socialism Conference lectures, it’s that they, like much contemporary Communist dialogue, tend to be based in analysis of the past, rather than focusing on application. That said, the analysis is great.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Radio Essays:

Incarcerated Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has, with the help of Prison Radio (a site well worth visiting), been putting out three minute essays on his views on current events, politics, economics, culture (with a soft spot for music), and history, generally focusing on the struggle of African Americans. His involvement in the radical leftist movement, as well as his thirty years experience inside the prison system, serve to bolster his challenging, simply-stated perspectives. Many times I find myself wondering how it is that Mumia, in solitary confinement, is able to speak with greater authority and accuracy on the state of the world than most pundits and politicians.

If there’s a downside to these podcasts, it’s that they leave you wanting more.

 

I hesitate to add “Occupy the Airwaves”, only because I myself have yet to make up my mind about it. A collection of interviews with various OWS members (primarily in California), “Occupy the Airwaves” was created to give people who have yet to make up their minds about the movement a chance to hear some of the backgrounds, perspectives, and demands of the protestors, hopefully raising greater support for the movement as a whole.

 

Now while these podcasts (at least, the five I’ve listened to so far) are informative and interesting, I do often myself frustrated with the host who consciously avoids interviewing what he calls “the regular suspects”, that is, “veteran” protestors (not to be confused with protestors who are veterans, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). His reasoning for this is that his target audience is one that will be moved to action through seeing “normal” people for whom the OWS movement is their first protest, allowing the listens to relate. Of course, the problem I have with this is that (1) it’s making that assumption that the protestors who demonstrated at the WTO or G12 meetings are not normal or sympathetic, and (2) that a hefty portion of those who have both planned and attended the OWS movement are not being able to voice their own (more radical) views. In the host’s defense, he has interviewed one anarchist, and while I was initially hoping to hear more from the far-left, I’ll take what I can get.

 

Is it a revolutionary podcast? Not at all- the host has a strange obsession with political philosophy John Rawls that, frankly, isn’t an answer to the root problem of inequality and injustice. That said, Occupy the Airwaves is professionally done, and while I certainly don’t agree with the perspectives of the host, it still merits looking into.

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.