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March 20, 2006

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Christopher Day

Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?

They come from social practice, from the experience of the masses who actually live the complexities of this world. We access them through a variety of more and less direct means. First, we access them through the body of accumulated revolutionary theory which is the distilled and synthesized experience of previous generations of the masses in struggle. Second, we access them by investigating and analyzing what is going on everywhere in the world. And, third, we access them directly by rooting ourselves in the actual lives of real people, participating in struggle with them and drawing out their understandings of their experiences, attempting to distill out what is correct and synthesizing it with the other knowledges we haver access to also ultimately rooted in the experiences of the masses.

Caricaturing a concern with the failure to adequately develop the third aspect of this process as a failure to appreciate the importance of the first two is an evasion of a serious criticism.

The process by which we acquire knowledge of the world we are struggling to radically transform must be all-sided. When one or two of these three aspects are under-developed it produces characteristic errors.

As an example, the practice of SLAM when I was involved in it was very lop-sided towards the third aspect, largely because of the absence of a party or party-like formation able to provide ideological leadership. There was a continual struggle on the part of the more advanced within SLAM to address this problem through political education and organizer training, but still it was lop-sided. One of the effects of this lop-sidedness was that it undercut even our ability to properly draw out the correct implications of our own direct experience.

In my experience the RCP's engagements with mass struggles, in particular the CUNY movement, expressed a different kind of lop-sidedness. When they weren't agitating (and not with much success) for participation in projects they were leading, they were showing up for mass meetings where their method of intervention, if not the line they were arguing for, was quite similar to that of the half-dozen Trotskyist groups that taken together made these meetings much less productive and pushed away people from the struggle in droves. This method basically consisted of making speeches about their analysis of "the big picture" irrespective of the practical work the meeting was attempting to accomplish and selling newspapers. There were differences in levels of obnoxiousness, in engagement with the practical work, and in quality of line, (and in general the RCP was better but not always) but there was an underlying commonality of method.

After these meetings, it was common for the advanced to get together and analyze what had happened. In analyzing the role of the RCP and the Trots it was always difficult/impossible to disentangle frustration with the method from discussion of the truth content of what people were saying. Often enough I found myself defending the line of the RCP or important aspects of it, but also on certain questions, some of the things the Trots were saying as well.

But the lines that were being advanced weren't just the words coming out of peoples mouths or in the pages of their newspapers. They were also the objective content of how they were relating to the masses and their efforts to struggle to change the conditions of their lives. And the message there was profoundly disrespectful of peoples experiences, motivations and knowledge of their own circumstances. I know nobody who came out of that experience with the view that the RCP had led the masses in struggle or was capable of doing so. Even as people in the course of the struggle came to see the need for a party or some sort of organization of the advanced, and a whole layer of folks did, nobody in leadership thought that the RCP was that party. Central to that assessment was not the particularities of the verbal line of the party, but rather its practical method.

The failure to take seriously the need for sinking deep roots among the masses doesn't just compromise the ability of the RCP to convey its line in a manner that people will listen to, it also undermines the quality of the aspects that are emphasized, namely the synthesis of accumulated theory and investigation of world conditions because it shuts down all sorts of critical channels through which it might otherwise access theoretical insights and empirical knowledge. By not sinking roots the party becomes a sort of self-encapsulated and blood-starved brain severed from a living body. It relies heavily on the knowledge-base of its own small leadership -- impressive given the size of the group but none the less grossly inadequate to the tasks of a revolutionary vanguard operating in the heart of imperialism.

I don't believe that "the movement is everything," nor that revolutionaries should tail after whatever the masses think, nor that there isn't a critical role for leadership in the synthesis of the experiences of particular sections of the masses with the theoretical conquests of the ICM and a comprehensive analysis of the world situation. Nor do I think that any contradictions between this and rooting ourselves in the masses and their struggles should be resolved one-sidely. I respect the importance of the division of labor and the need for people engaged in exclusively red work. Pretending that I uphold these views is, as far as I can tell, a means of evading specific concrete criticisms of methods that by any reasonable measure have so far produced pretty meager results. I take seriously the responses from RCP supporters to what I say here. I try to acknowledge where I've been in error, and more importantly I attempt to correct my views. But I don't appreciate having my ideas caricatured in order to stuff my criticisms into a properly labelled cubby hole where they never have to be seriously engaged.

repeater

I'm not exactly sure where this comment is coming from in the context of the above discussion. It's completely off topic and could only relate to this one solitary comment by John:

"If you fixate on merely or mainly "making it real" (i.e. getting a base) you get into the onesidedness that makes Chris think that a lot of communist work is 'bat-shit crazy.'"

I find the extensive comment on your issue of aesthetics interesting, but given the flow of the conversation in general I find it to be overly subjective. You have injected yourself and your specific experiences with trots and the RCP into a discussion which is not about you, trots, the RCP or aesthetics.

There is a method here.

Now as for the content of your criticism; I think you're correct in criticizing a lack of respect for the masses in doing mass work. I believe there have been many instances of this in the practice of the RCP, just as any communist organization. The young especially are likely to take discussions of "objective truth" and "correct line" and act in a disrespectful and dogmatic way with it in practice.

On the other hand, I have to say the RCP is the only communist organization I've seen act in the opposite way described above, without being opportunist.

Regardless, if you could be more specific about what is incorrect in the practice and how correct practice looks it would be helpful, perhaps even making it less likely that people would misunderstand you.

But if correct practice is not upholding a party, and not intervening to raise sights and bring in the larger picture, or if correct practice is quietly developing personal relationships and discussing these issues in oblique ways, then correct practice is incorrect.

If the question is aesthetic, then what is the proper way to intervene? Should it be a passive or an active intervention? etc.

And perhaps this discussion is better to have in another thread.

Christopher Day

My comments were apropos the whole discussion of "organic" and not just the comment about my one-sidedness. I didn't use the term "organic" because its meaning seems so ambiguous. Instead I discussed concretely how the question of developing a base is connected to the question of knowledge and the devlopment of correct line. Sometimes discussions move like that.

repeater

I guess I was confused

leftclick

Christopher Day: you've brought up RCP's "failure to take seriously the need for sinking deep roots among the masses" in more than one instance. I'm not actually sure what you mean. You use SLAM as an example of an organization regularly involved in people's daily struggles. However, SLAM did not build institutions in various neighborhoods so RCP can't be faulted for that either. On the other hand, Party supporters have been consistently involved in struggles over reproductive rights and police brutality.

Are you criticizing them for showing up at activities with no intention of long-term, constructive participation? This is a valid criticism but given the contradiction between limited resources [I don't know anything about memebership numbers, but I doubt they have millions] and immense tasks, it's not clear how else they should handle things.

There are 'faultline' struggles that Party supporters are deeply involved in but where they are not able to be present in large numbers for a long period of time, should they simply not be there? Or if they do show up, should they be passive observers?

lu

i think that there is always room to break out of conventions and stereotyped communist work and it takes different expression with different people in thier different interrelation with the party. i think that there is also validity to the claims hat active party supporters are working with limited resources. however, i think that there is some narrowness expressed in the fact that students and student movements are a huge thing, and just because there is not much work in various "communities" is not a reason to write off slam and party supporters' errors or correct things in relation to them. i also wanted to engage on the fact that it's not just these three kinds of experience - it is the interreltionship of them and it is the raising of th basis on which you do all three. i don't know if that last point made sense. we have to engage large numbers and individuals. we have to shake up whole campusses and bring revolutionaries forward. this isnt as simple as it's made out to be.

leftclick

I didn't write off SLAM.

Whenever someone says that an organization must be deeply involved in the daily lives and struggles of the masses, they usually mean that the organization must have an institution in a neighborhood.

I just wanted to point out that since SLAM was Day's example of popular involvement, he should not insist that RCP live up to a standard that even SLAM did not meet. Day did not do this in his post but I was trying to head off any double standard that might arise.

I also wanted to remind him and others that RCP supporters have been consistently involved in mass struggles. In some cases, such as Cabrini Green, actually establishing a prsesence in the community.

SLAM did [and probably still does] great work and should be commended for it. I don't write off anyone who does work that contributes to liberating society, even if I don't completely agree with their orientation.

Christopher Day

My point was not to uphold SLAM as a model at all. Rather it was to point out how ITS lopsidedness undercut its supposed strength (its rootedness among CUNY students), just as the RCP's weaknesses undercut its theoretical strengths.

leftclick

Could somebody actually read my posts before commenting on them? Day, I did not say that you upheld SLAM as an all-around model - but you did give them an example of rootedness in the daily life and struggle of the masses, right? Why would you draw the conclusion that RCP did not engage in such work?

I was pointing out that RCP supporters did, and do, have consistent presence long-term mass struggles [examples in previous posts] even if not in SLAM. I can't comment on the quality of that work since I'm not as deeply involved and they might well exhibit some of that behavior you criticize them for. Fair enough, but to say that they are not involved is simply not true.

real john

On correct Ideas

To get to the meat of any of this we have to get into the essence of what different lines mean -- where they lead.

For example: I think we would all agree (in words) that a revolutoinary movement needs to be "deeply rooted" among the people. And we will even agree that it is easier said than done.

Ah, but what do we mean by "deeply rooted"?

For example Chris writes: "directly by rooting ourselves in the actual lives of real people."

That is rather different than deeply rooting a revolutionary communist party based on building a partisan base for revolutionary communist politics.

Actually it is not that hard to "deeply root" yourself in everyday life. People do it all the time. Will that lead to revolution?

This is a complex issue in the struggle over revisionism. (And here I DON"T mean "the struggle with revisionists" -- i.e. there has been far too much assumption here that "revisionism" means OTHER trends, when there is an intense struggle over revisionism inherent to the revolutionary project itself, and arising out of the objective choices and pulls it faces.)

Let me break down chris' recent post (and ignore the posts since then, which I think just missed the point.)

Chris writes that correct ideas "come from social practice, from the experience of the masses who actually live the complexities of this world."

First I want to acknowledge that Chris' formulations are different from Eric Odell's crude pragmatic misuse of Mao in the SDS thread (where he implies that understanding bascially comes to everyone through their own practice -- in the most narrow, personal and direct sense -- essentially "whatever works" dressed up in quasi-Maoist wording.) I couldn't find the SDS thread anymore or I would have quoted Odell myself.

Back to Chris:

Then, however, Chris says: "We access them [i.e. correct ideas] through a variety of more and less direct means."

This is very wrong. Notice it leaves out the SYNTHESIS of correct understanding using varied practice as a "raw material."

In this view, we "access" the correct ideas -- which are just "out there" in various forms.

This is exactly an overestimation of spontaneity (in the realm of epistemology) and a basis for a denial of science and the struggle for true understandings of reality.

And i suspect this is not merely an unfortunate slip of language, because (need I say?) this view of how we get correct ideas (this epistemology) is an approach COMPLETELY in accord with radical forms of bourgeois democracy -- where the masses are assumed to already HAVE the correct ideas (in more or less primitive forms based on their own practice) and we merely need to "access" it, or gather them, and give it form (through "agency").

Ok, how does Chris think we "access" these correct ideas?

He writes: "First, we access them through the body of accumulated revolutionary theory which is the distilled and synthesized experience of previous generations of the masses in struggle. Second, we access them by investigating and analyzing what is going on everywhere in the world. And, third, we access them directly by rooting ourselves in the actual lives of real people, participating in struggle with them and drawing out their understandings of their experiences, attempting to distill out what is correct and synthesizing it with the other knowledges we haver access to also ultimately rooted in the experiences of the masses."

Notice: here again synthesis is completely underrated and ghettoized. The second method of access involves some "analysis of the world" -- but synthesis as a general and necessary step in the process (from perceptual knowledge to conceptual knowledge) is missing.

What is also missing is the understanding of a necessary spiral process from practice to theory and back to practice. In revolutionary politics, this living process requires a party.

But Chris's theory of "accessing correct ideas" does not require a party, or a chain-of-knowledge/chain-of-command, or disciplined unified practice, or DC summation of experience. We can all root ourselves and "access" ideas.

Two more points:

1) Our study of Marxism is also not merely a way of "accessing" correct ideas. Here too we need a process of critical thinking and synthesis.

2) Chris's concept of "social practice" is extremely limited and constrained.

In other words, correct ideas are ULTIMATELY rooted in practice -- in the direct experiences of someone. But this is not just "the experience of the masses" -- practice is far more complex and multifaceted.

Chris adopts mao's terminology of social practice -- but then does not include Mao's discussion of what that means.

One place mao discussed this was here:

"They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment."

http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/wim/oncorrect.html

One final point:

The whole thrust of Chris's point is that once revolutionaries learn to listen to the opinions and views of the masses, they will be able to root themselves deeply and change the world.

Mao's thrust (in that same essay) is exactly the other way around:

"Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world."

Think about the meaning of THAT difference.

(more to come)

real john

on eclecticism

Chris points out (and here I am trying to concentrate what I understand part of his argument to be) that he upholds many different kinds of political work, but wants to stress that the key link is finding the ways to get rooted deeply among the people.

Fair enough. Let's dig into that.

He writes: "Caricaturing a concern with the failure to adequately develop the third aspect of this process as a failure to appreciate the importance of the first two is an evasion of a serious criticism."

Well no one wants to "evade" a serious criticism, even more so if it is a CORRECT criticism in some aspect. (I am far more interested in correct criticism, than merely "serious" ones -- if you see the epistemological difference implied here between subjective idealism and materialist dialectics.)

More important: If we can agree on various aspects of revolutionary work (at least in words) -- there is still a world of difference in how the varous aspects are seen and stressed.

Let me give just one clear example:

Chris writes: "Nor do I think that any contradictions between this and rooting ourselves in the masses and their struggles should be resolved one-sidely. I respect the importance of the division of labor and the need for people engaged in exclusively red work."

That sounds all-sided.

But let me ask, if SOME people are engaged in "red work" -- what are you advocating for the rest?

Clearly this idea of "division of labor" is a plan for most "activists" to do "organizing" of people in their "everyday life" -- while in some side show, some people do (even "exclusively") "red work."

No. No. No.

communists need to do communist work. A communist participates in a reform struggle to build revolutionary organization and consiousness. Our central task is "create public opinoin, seize power. Prepare minds and organize forces for revolution." It is not "build the reform struggle, sprinkle radical ideas around in a detached manner."

There is an old old rut that is "make communists the best fighters in the day-to-day struggle, and conduct some 'communist' agitation on the side."

There is a name for that approach: revisionism. (This is, to be clear, not to label anyone as "a revisionist" -- as has been alleged on this site. But to identify LINES, and struggle on that basis.)

The reason why this is revisionism is a larger discussion -- and we can have it.

But my point here is that you can acknowledge "different aspects" of political work -- but in practice raise secondary aspects in an eclectic way to defeat the principal aspects, a method that negates the whole project.

(And we can't allow the terms of this discussion become: revisionism is only when you more or less openly and completely deny the need for ANY discussion of communism and revolution, a la FRSO.)

As for the rest of the thread (SLAM and RCP)... I won't deal with it line by line but make some overall points, and I won't pretend to sum up specific situations:

1) Unlike others I will not compare SLAM (a mass organization) with the RCP (a party). No, SLAM's lack of focus on "the big picture" (as Chris calls it) is not mirrored in the RCP's practice. One was a righteous mass struggle led by a very reformist line, the other is a revolutionary party carrying out revolutionary work.

2) The method of anecdotes is wrong. "I met a guy from that group who told me xxx, and he was really cool (or a real asshole)."

Such perceptual and anecdotal methods are understandable in high school students who are awakening to political life. But ass a method, as an approach PROMOTED AND CULTIVATED -- it represents a wrong line that is incapable of identify correct ideas.

All i can say is grow up. Get serious. And when this method is used we should shout like folks seeing a rat scurry across the floor: "There it goes. Get it! Get it!"

Let me say what is at the heart of this: The whole climate of identity politics says "process is key." In other words, what people "say" is just "their rhetoric" -- but what they do (to me, in my presense) is how the rubber meets the road. The process is "real," the political and ideological line is just "words." And what decides whether a group's "real" practice is good? How they "respect" people, their immediate struggle, their spontaneous ideas, their careerist aspirations (!).

It doesn't take a genius to see that this is (a) rooted in identity politics, (b) deeply rooted in turfism (and the SLAM example has been big on that).

3) It is rather disingenous to TRAIN people in narrowness, in the "littlest possible picture," in "turfism," in viewing revolutionaries as "outsiders and newspaper hawkers trying to pimp off our movement," and then act like you are doing objective investigation of those people.

Chris writes: "the lines that were being advanced weren't just the words coming out of peoples mouths or in the pages of their newspapers. They were also the objective content of how they were relating to the masses and their efforts to struggle to change the conditions of their lives. And the message there was profoundly disrespectful of peoples experiences, motivations and knowledge of their own circumstances."

I can't imagine a more clear and stark expression of the wrong assessment. Process over line, evaluation of line by proccess. And the essential criterion put forward for evaluating that process is what? How "respectful" (i.e. tailing) the communists are.

So what does Chris say? "After these meetings [with the RCP], it was common for the advanced to get together and analyze what had happened. In analyzing the role of the RCP and the Trots it was always difficult/impossible to disentangle frustration with the method from discussion of the truth content of what people were saying."

People couldn't discern lines? Gee no shit. And why is that?

They can't tell the difference between a trotskyite and a revolutionary communist? Why?

Because this method of identity politics can't get over the threshhold of the most primitive and perceptual things.

("Uh, they both came from the outside, they both had papers, they both thought they had something to say.... so obviously they are pretty much the same thing.")

People couldn't get over the "process" issues that communists think they have SOMETHING TO SAY. Gee and what line led to that?

Chis acts like this is just how people are -- this is just what we communists have to deal with.

Wrong. This was the response of people in Chris' experience because THEY HAD BEEN TRAINED IN THAT LINE -- and Chris is still promoting it (while pretending it is a correct idea he has "accessed" from his contact with the masses.)

These people disn't need "organizer training" -- no, they had PLENTY OF TRAINING -- in the wrong line. And the kernal of that line, its approach, its assumptions, its plan for us all -- are what we are struggling over here.

Let's be straight:

There is a KILLING assumption that if you tell someone they are wrong, you are arrogant. The very idea of struggle over reality is considered arrogant and disrespectful (in the relativist world!) And "how can you come on my campus and tell ME what is real?"

And let's be straight: There is a TREMENDOUS AMOUNT of ideological struggle and transformation needed to get where we are going.

Many people awakening to political life know some things. But many many of the most important things THEY NEED TO KNOW are a closed book to them. And this method we are discussing is a lock on that closed book. It needs to go.

Chris writes: "I know nobody who came out of that experience with the view that the RCP had led the masses in struggle or was capable of doing so."

Well if they (and you) think so, then you (and they) are fundamentally wrong about one of the most important facts of political life. (Call me arrogant and disrespectful if your episemology demands it.) This is not a correct idea i "accessed" from the people in my neighborhood. But i do want to say that in situation after situation people walk away from meetings with revolutionary communists (and from the DVD for example) saying: "Well, this leadership makes the very idea of revolution seem possible to me."

One final thought:

With the line Chris is putting forward, there will never be a vanguard.

You may form a network of some loose kind but not something that can make revolution.

And you will find yourself offering "advice" for those who have a party.

Now the RCP says it is open to all kinds of criticism, and it is quite capable of sifting through (and "dividing one into two") seeking what is valuable.

But it is also worth saying (and this is purely my opinion) that IF the RCP was to adopt your suggestions (a) they would cease to be a revolutoinary party almost immediately, and (b) they would relatively quickly cease to exist as an organized party.

Your argument is (regardless of sincerity and genuine subjective intent) a program for getting lost in "everyday life", getting lost tailing the spontaneous in both ideas and actions, for dumping science and the very idea of a communist vanguard.

And I hope in some small way these remarks help reveal why that is so.

Christopher Day

Real life prevents me from making the full point by point rebuttal that I composed in my head. A few points are worth making.

First, sometimes anecdotes capture the essence of a question. Historically CUNY has concentrated several hundred thousand largely young, largely proletarian, largely oppressed nationality people in the heart of global capitalism. When those people move, as they did in 1995, it is a test of what the line of a revolutionary party means in practice. My anecdote was not about the errors of younger individual members of the RCP, but rather about the abject failure of the party to step up to the real responsibilities of revolutionary leadership and what it says about its line, in particular its line on what the mass line is about.

Real John makes a great deal out of my supposed underemphasis on the importance of synthesis and my epistemological sloppiness in using the term "access." The epistemological points Real John makes here are correct. But the real question here is what does synthesis entail. I am arguing that in order to produce a correct and all-sided understanding of a particular struggle that the process of synthesis itself must deeply involve the masses themselves, in particular the advanced that are pushed forward in the struggle. Synthesis is not something that simply takes places inside the party (though obviously it is critical that it occur there as well).

The 1995 CUNY struggle, like others before it, threw up literally dozens of new revolutionary minded student leaders. It was my privilege to work side by side with them and to struggle with them to understand how the struggle at CUNY fit into the larger world and the prospects for revolution -- the big picture.

You can interpret the difficulties people had in distinguishing between the RCP and Trotskyists to their supposed training by me or by others in revisionsism if you wish. Its undoubtedly a more comforting analysis. I'll resist the opportunity here to compare this line of reasoning to vermin.

The truth is that the difficulties arose in spite of the insistence of myself and others that the line differences between the different groups needed to be understood. It arose because the practice of the groups was so similar. Not just in the obvious superficial ways of selling newspapers, but in the much more critical area of engagement in the work of the struggle. The RCP, like most (not all) of the Trots seemed to think that the speeches in meetings and the conversations sparked by selling papers WAS the work. When flyering needed to be done, banners painted, security organized, bail paid, they were largely AWOL. This isn't just an anecdote. This is a concentrated expression of the line that Real John is arguing for. The CUNY struggle was a critical opportunity to seriously develop new revolutionary forces, but this would require breaking out of the habits of just trolling for prospective new members. I don't doubt that RCP members got some positive responses in their discussions with students as they sold teheir papers. I know that several solid people flirted with the party and learned some important things from it in the course of their political development. But there is a problem that occurs when your practice is one of basically parachuting into a struggle and that is that it distorts your sense of who the advanced are. There is a powerful tendency in these circumstances to think that because somebody buys your paper or talks to you in the hallway outside a meeting that this is an indication that they are among the advanced.

The truth is that its a very poor indicator. Identifying the real advanced requires a greater investment, that is to say rooting oneself amongst the masses. What this entails precisely varies in different situations. One of the things about student work is that it is actually a lot easier to do it than in a neighborhood or a workplace.

What puts someone among the advanced in a struggle not simply whether they respond positively to a particular revolutionary speech or newspaper, but also their clarity around the practical questions thrown up in the struggle itself, their level of personal commitment, and their own capcities for leadership (including the capacities to listen and synthesize what the rest of the masses are saying and

The RCP hardly had a monopoly on the instrumental approach to the CUNY struggle that I've criticized here. I've already mentioned the Trots. But it was just as bad among many of the anarchists in my own organization at the time, Love and Rage. Indeed, it was precisely in the course of our internal struggle against this method of work that I and others came to think of ourselves as revolutionary socialists or communists.

Finally on the question of the role of a party. We need a party. I understand quite clearly that it is ultimately impossible to carry out the mass line in the absence of one. If there is a single lesson I can take away from my experiences in teh CUNY struggle, it is that. But just because the RCP calls itself a party, doesn't mean it is one.

I could recite a long litany of errors that I personally committed in the CUNY struggle. Some of them were of precisely the sort that Real John calls out as revisionist. Others echoed the errors embodied in the RCPs practice. A real revolutionary party would have given us the means to navigate both dangers. But such a party does not exist and no greater evidence of this fact can be offered than the tragic failure of any of us to cohere the cohort of revolutionary minded young leaders that the CUNY movement pushed forward as a fresh detachment of the revolutionary movement.

john

Chris writes: "Synthesis is not something that simply takes places inside the party (though obviously it is critical that it occur there as well)."

I agree. First, synthesis happens throughout society -- and new insights, truths and developments are carried out by all kinds of people (including people who aren't communists or even progressive). That is an important part of the point of "embraces but does not replace" that I am struggle to grasp more deeply.

Further, i think we are struggling to understand ways that the masses are key to new syntheses. There are major questions that we can't solve (even in theory) without involving broad masses of people wrangling over them.

But the idea that we should struggle with the masses -- over key, cardinal and difficult questions of the revolution -- in order to further develop our scientific synthesis and line..... this idea is very different from a view of mass line that sees us as just trying to synthesis "the experience of the masses" by becoming every more intimately rooted among the everyday life of the masses "and their struggles" (which in this context can only mean those struggles that spontaneously erupt among the people.)

See the difference?

I am not ignoring your criticisms about the RCP's involvement in the CUNY struggle. But I am just not in a position to participate in summing that up.

And i certainly have respect and support for the difficult struggle of people against the affects of crisis and cutbacks. And I think there is much to learn.

But not anecdotally.

Chris writes: "sometimes anecdotes capture the essence of a question."

This is true. And I am not arguing against the "use of anecdotes" to illustrate line questions.

I am trying to show that there is a method that judges political trends on superficial PROCESS -- and that this METHOD naturally dovetails with a method that promotes "critique by anecdote" not "critique by compare and contrast on line."

It is a precisely a method of "sum up the whole by looking in a narrow way at a part."

And an an important experience (which IS worth summing up) gets gets turned into a prism so narrow that when you peep through it, the larger questions of line don't even really come up.

Correctness and incorrectness of general line really gets reduced to "did we get what we needed from the party in this struggle?"

This is most acute when you say,
"The RCP, like most (not all) of the Trots seemed to think that the speeches in meetings and the conversations sparked by selling papers WAS the work. When flyering needed to be done, banners painted, security organized, bail paid, they were largely AWOL."

I have to say i found that sentence stunning. This concentrates a lot ideologically and politically.

Political relations appear here as something extended from one grouping to another -- a kind of quid pro quo. Line is measuired by "what have you done for me lately" (not just "what have you taught me to help me with MY struggle" but even "what forces have you thrown into OUR struggle to help US win OUR demands.")

Now, obviously, this was an important struggle that deserved support on many levels. (And nothing I am saying should be taken or portrayed as not understanding that.)

But this approach, this method of evaluating other forces, is not far removed (ideologically) from "You scratch my back, i scratch yours."

It is a view of politics that does not transend commodity relations, and sees solidarity as a form of exchange (where the self, or the extended self of the group, or of your particular struggle are in negotiations with "outside forces" for "resources," "support" and whatever.)

And i don't think it is a communist view (i.e. of seeing all struggles from where they fit into the larger historic sweeping movement for communism, and within that into the preparations for CPOSP).

What you need from a vanguard party is not (fundamentally) practical advice, or resources, or solidarity demos, or organizing tips based on larger experience (though any or all of them may be appropriate).

What a vanguard party does is help the advanced connect with the larger (including global and historical!) process of liberating the masses -- to make their work and their outlook part of that larger process going on.

There is a lot more to say about what that is and what it means... but I will leave it at that.

With the wrong method and stand on this, you can't possibly evaluate whether peole are making mistakes. How can you judge if revolutionaries are doing WHAT THEY SHOULD BE DOING if you have a radically different (and non-revolutionary) sense of what that should be?

This approach of from "extended self" is similar to the view that sees "internationalism" as something "extended from one people to another" -- i.e. a nationalist view that essentially does not break with bourgeois ideology or the "narrow horizon of bourgeois right" (as marx called it and as has been mentioned on this site before).

I feel the same way about your expression about "parachuting into a struggle" -- as if the smallest unit of the popular struggle is the defining thing, and others (including the vanguard communist forces!!!) are somehow outsiders.

And as if there are some mysterious dynamics and truths to each micro-struggle that are so specific that NO ONE FROM THE OUTSIDE can possible grasp the real deal or have much to say.

This is exactly the outlook that informs and defines identity politics -- which asserts that if you haven't lived as a black person or a gay person or whatever, you can't possibly "know" anything profound or true (especially compared to those who HAVE lived that way).

Throughout your analysis and method there is an approach of proceeding from self and self interest (even if it is, in this case, proceeding from the "self" of the oppressed, and the "self interest" of their immediate struggles and concerns).

How different is that -- ideologically, though not politically -- from southerners who complained about outsiders "from the north" parachuting into Mississippi without knowing anything about the specific conditions of each little southern town. Not that different.

(THough i want to be clear that I am not saying your politics and intentions arereactionary, racist etc. like they are obviously not. I am talking about IDEOLOGICALLY. In the way that anarchism shares ideological links with libertarianism, see?)

And it was even VERY PLAINLY TRUE that the civil rights workers DIDN'T know shit about the town and everyday lives of people -- and learned A LOT about that in the course of the struggle.

But they did know one or two things -- like that a larger struggle against Jim Crow needed to be waged, and that IT IS TIME NOW!

And people, mired in the details and fears and logic of local life and even local struggles, NEEDED to hear that.

And in many ways it could only come from the outside.

And it is often (generally?) true that the "larger picture" comes, not by patient education within a struggle, but by rupturing out of the confines of that struggle, and looking at the part from the whole.

The whole disparaging way you talk about speeches, newspapers, articles etc. shows the gap between how we understand these things.

And I hope that digging into this will help make it clear why.

To get where we need to go, both the leading forces and increasing sections of the masses have to break with that outlook (which fundamentally doesn't get out of the framework of capitalism, fighting for a section of the pie, evaluating forces in terms of self, and the confines of commodity relations.)

Repeater

This discussion of communist practice reminds me of a couple things Mao said:

One was famously summed up as "no investigation no right to speak", and the other dealt with a practice among some cadre of issuing commands to the masses the minute they alighted from their horse.

These, I think, are the methods that are being criticized on the one hand by Christopher. I think they're real problems and have to do exactly with the mass line and the level of respect for the masses. In other words this method is connected to your stand and worldview. Chris sums it up as "parachuting" into a struggle. It is exactly the kind of thing that Trots do over and over again, and we really shouldn't be comparable to this crap.

On the other hand I think Chris's criticism of this kind of method is wrapped up in some reformism which is aptly treated by the johns. Thorough investigation of a struggle does not necessarily entail making banners and raising bail. If people get stuck in the day to day tasks it can become very difficult for them to see the larger picture and have an objective summation from where to begin communist agitation and organizing.

a comment

no, repeater. I think the first part of your remarks are mistaken.

For example, did the RCP "issue commands" on the struggle in CUNY? That is not the case and not the issue.

The issue is whether you need to be "deeply rooted" in the particularities of a particular struggle or neighborhood before you can do ANY political work.

Chris thinks you can't identify the advanced or talk to them without being "rooted" in this way. He thinks that if you come in and build for the Mumia campaign or organize discussion of the new Draft Party Programme(as was done here at the city colleges), or a DVD showing of the Chair (as is being done now), that all this is INHERENTLY alienating, if you are not "rooted" in the everyday life and ongoing struggles of what he calls "real people."

It is a view of stages -- where communist work comes later. And where knowledge of local particulars is a form of knowledge far more important than knowledge of the bigger picture.

With his argument the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights days would never have gotten on the bus, and with your argument they would have been criticized for "commandism" when they got off those busses and demanded an end to jim crow.

Repeater

The last paragraph of your comment is ridiculous. If you can't tell the difference between the particular and the general and how to link the two in practice there's a problem. To suggest that the situation of the Freedom Riders is analogous is indicative of this problem.

If you don't recognize the need for investigation into particularities and the epistemolgical ramifications of this for the ability to get to the abstract or general, there is a huge problem.

When cadre come into a setting where people are already engaged in struggle and begin to interject the "big picture" without regard to the particularities of the struggle it is exactly the same as issuing commands from outside. I don't believe these groups would view communists as outsiders if communists didn't view themselves as outsiders and took the time to INVESTIGATE the situation.

As for the Freedom Riders, they were not revolutionary communists so I don't see why we should be putting up their practice as the model. I don't think anyone would suggest that having done investigation of the South would have been a bad thing for the Freedom Riders to do. And frankly I don't see why there is an assumption that they hadn't investigated. Furthermore there was an organized resistance already in the South which the Freedom Riders were connected to. Regardless, we should expect more from communists than we should from radical liberals.

You argue for a primary orientation around the general, which is fine, but to argue this as opposed to a view of the particular, which takes in how these are linked, is dogmatic. It is a habit of some RCP supporters that I've seen on the internet to push a contradiction to ridiculous extremes thus creating an antagonistic dualism, i.e. it's one or the other and never between shall the two meet. This is not dialectics. And I don't believe it is the method that Bob Avakian is talking about when he discusses learning from everyone, because there is no class truths.

As for your larger point regarding Chris's criticisms, I don't reject your criticism of what Chris is saying, but what I am saying is that there is an important and valid criticism within Chris's postings and that you need to be dividing this in two.

Look for things you don't know about so that you can learn, rather than immediately, and with a single-minded fixation, jumping on the first bad line you see. Take in the whole argument before parachuting in and telling everybody what's up.

leftspotter

John's reply to Christopher Day encapsulates for me exactly what is wrong with RCP and what is right about the mass line. It shows so clearly why a significant number of people who have some attraction to Mao ultimately sum up that the RCP has devolved into a pseudo-Trotskyist practice of revolution by propaganda, revolution by putting out line. This is so completely opposite of the spirit of the mass line and of the practice that has led to all successful revolutions, that it's frankly baffling to me that serious people erect such elaborate justifications for *not* throwing themselves deeply into the struggles of the people.

It reminds me of Malcolm's criticisms of the Nation of Islam when he finally broke with them – the NOI talked a good, militant game, but in practice they kept their cadre -- some of the brightest, most militant and most eager young folks -- *out* of the most important struggles of the 1950s and 60s.

This is what the RCP is doing, and they're not only doing it but they are boldly, unequivocally proclaiming that it is *better* practice to do things like sell Avakian DVDs than to join in mass popular struggles and get your hands dirty by helping the masses deal with the real and difficult contradictions that come up in the day-to-day struggles. (and I’m not against selling Avakian DVD’s, I got one myself)

Why the RCP is so insistent on making it an either-or -- either you do all red work or all mass work -- is beyond me.

Christopher is dead on – as long as they insist on this approach, people will always see them as outsiders, equivalent to the Trot groups that show up to call for general strikes when the conditions don’t exist and try to sell newspapers. How else can people see a group that has a line against engaging with them shoulder-to-shoulder in a fight against the enemy? Calling folks "outsiders" is not a value judgment, it is a statement of fact.

And the primary question is not if people are "insiders" or "outsiders" in a struggle. In my experience in many mass organizations and movements, including in SLAM, if people from the outside (i.e. non-CUNY students, in this example) are willing to come and help out and build the movement, they are welcomed. If people are outsiders and just show up to proclaim they have all the answers, but aren't willing to engage the particular questions and contradictions facing the movement, they are generally not taken seriously.

John brings up the young Northerners who went South to help the movement to end Jim Crow. Let’s talk about that. Because that example doesn't bolster the RCP's approach. The Northerners who went South actually dove into the movement, doing the things Christopher says, the practical day-to-day tasks of the movement like raising bail, making copies, going door-to-door, etc. That is why they were accepted as brothers and sisters in the fight -- they were willing to risk their lives and do the nitty-gritty work to help win the fight. That is solidarity and that is the type of leadership that is needed from revolutionaries. Leadership from within the people’s struggles – helping guide those struggles and deal with the contradictions that arise by applying Marxism in practice and then summing up the results.

It is as if the RCP envisions a revolutionary party that does not have party cells in every neighborhood, every factory, every workplace, every university, etc. From what folks are advocating here, they in fact seem to be against developing such things. Unless the only task in their conception of a workplace unit would be to talk to people about Bob Avakian, rather than deal with the actual struggle of the workers in that workplace.

I'd like to point to a document that I found very enlightening that criticizes the RCP's approach on these questions (among other things). It was written by the Organization for Revolutionary Unity (ORU) in the early 1980s. The ORU is one of the groups that merged into Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The pamphlet is called "The Decline of the RCP: A Polemic by the ORU" and it's available in pdf form here:
http://leftspot.com/blog/files/docs/ORUvsRCPpamphlet.pdf

Another person brought up the RCP’s ongoing work around things like police brutality, in defense of Mumia, and in defense of abortion rights. I agree that those are among the more promising aspects of the RCP’s practice. I am supportive of the efforts they have made in those struggles and have personally participated in some of those RCP-initiated campaigns (around Mumia and police brutality).

But still, it must be said, that in the main the work they do around these issues is still mainly propaganda work. They have never taken an approach of building mass groups based in any neighborhoods, campuses, workplaces, etc, around these issues. Instead they have put out broad calls, rushed in to crises that blow up in a particular locality (which is a good thing), and generally have built citywide events and actions without ever actually building ongoing organizational roots anywhere. For example they’ve never built a Hunter College chapter or a CCNY chapter of an anti-police brutality group, a Mumia defense group, or even of Refuse & Resist, even though they could have chosen to have done so and probably would have attracted a significant amount of support and gathered some advanced folks around them to help build it. The RCP pits putting out broad general calls (which is their strength) against providing particular guidance in any specific locale on an ongoing basis. At least that’s my sense of it; please correct me if I’m wrong. They’re all general, no particular. Unfortunately for them, the general resides in the particular and most people learn and become radicalized through ongoing practice of fighting to bring about change around particular issues (especially if there are revolutionaries involved to help them sum up their experiences).

There’s more to say about other aspects of this discussion, but that's all I have time for now…

lu

i really don't understand the basis of assumptions such as that the party doesn't mobilize people at all different levels to actually do the nitty-gritty in every realm. When the party put shuge efforts into major faultline struggles, and also get into other struggles - when the party raises the sights of these struggles and puts them in perspective for people - this is making a basis for people to actually fight in a way that serves the proletariat - not in a bullshit instrumentalist way but in the way that's talked about in what is to be done, or in the "two kinds of motion" stuff concentrated in "science of revolution." And when party-affiliated forces actually are out on the front lines, mainly with the yb - party supporters both unleash people who support and those who don't support the party to the greatest extent possible on the one hand , and on the other hand party supporters do the fucking work that needs to get done. where would any of the struggles the party has been a part of be, if it wasn't for both of those things. and when party supporters do throw ourselves into struggles - yes we do it with our heads up! practicing unity-struggle-unity. i don't know where you've been, but what can a party do at any point, and this applies to every kind of organization - when those who see the need for it, when those who support it, don't actually throw their lives into it. for one example people know about: the rcyb. people know this is not the biggest organization on the face of the planet, or on "the left" even. somehow, this organization makes a huge impact on most struggles centered around youth that actually are or could be revolutionary. and we're nowhere near where we need to be. open your motherfucking eyes for once. break with old ideas, even those in the communist movement (of which there are many). take on reality in its fullest, deepest, broadest - ALL OF IT.

A. Kostoyed

lu:
Your post is missing particulars and examples. The yb is an organ of the party, and subject to a lot of criticism for being a cult-like extension that is too disconnected from mass work. Can you give some concrete cases of more recent work that you believe proves your point?

There seems to be a contradiction between your so far substance-less claims and your lament that: "i don't know where you've been, but what can a party do at any point, and this applies to every kind of organization - when those who see the need for it, when those who support it, don't actually throw their lives into it." If the supporters of the "organization" are not "actually" throwing their commitments into their work, then there's something dramatically wrong, right?

a comment

you wrote: "Your post is missing particulars and examples. The yb is an organ of the party, and subject to a lot of criticism for being a cult-like extension that is too disconnected from mass work. Can you give some concrete cases of more recent work that you believe proves your point? "

And i thought this link would provide a good example:

http://rwor.org/a/041/with-volunteers-in-new-orleans.htm

To repeater: no one is arguing against "investigation" in the abstract. But your post messed the heart of the issue: "what kind of investigation, into what, is essential for a right to speak?"

chris is arguing that a particular investigation into very local conditions is a prerequisite for any work. While I would say that a significant part of the communist right to speak comes from investigation into the larger world -- i.e. investigation into imperialism, into setting the record straight on socialism, into the dysnamics of war and revolution, into the history and nature of national oppression, into the strategies and approaches and experiences of the revolutionary movement.

See the difference?

If you need to be "rooted" in any place before you get a "right to speak" think of the strategic implications.

How would a revolutionary student movement be built? How exactly will the revolutionary communist forces go from their current size to the kind of critical mass influence and ties needed for a challenge to power?

Do you really think that each communist and revolutionary should find themselves a few square feet of neighborhood and "get rooted" in hopes of getting a "right to speak" out of investigation into those local particularities, into the people there and "their struggles"?

Yes, no investigation, no right to speak. But investigation into what, right to speak about what?

the burningman

Sorry to be AWOL for a minute, but what Mickey Z. called the "murdering our my years" through dayjobs is in full effect.

------

Regarding the RCP's work at CUNY:

It's multi-faceted and ongoing -- but it has not focused on either setting up "generated" mass organizations OR "entries" into existing groups.

The RCP provided far and away the best coverage of the CUNY movement in the mid-90s, with a few dedicated issues of their paper, and they supported what was best in the movement POLITICALLY.

With the Mumia movement, they mos definitely supported INDEPENDENT initiatives, including SLAM's work that was among the best in the country.

One person writing above counter-poses local organizing around felt demands with larger poltical objectives. That's wrong up and down.

SLAM consistently worked on both "CUNY issues" -- that had everything to do with capitalism, white supremacy, women's liberation, immigration, public services, neo-liberalism, etc. -- and "cutting" issues like getting Mumia off death row, support for revolutionary political prisoners, police brutality/repression, basic democratic rights, political exposure of the Democratic Party, and so on.

We had a two-tier approach that I think is something of a model for how to approach mass work.

And of note, for those who think only "bread and butter" move the people, the biggest turnout SLAM ever had for events was for the Jericho march for political prisoners and the Millions for Mumia march. In both case we rolled in contingents hundreds deep -- with a greater turn-out than we EVER had (under our own banner) for CUNY-specific work.

Students tend to respond most to the "big issues," as do people in general -- see the recent Mexican marches.

But the issue is NOT just numbers. It was the "cutting" issues that made people revolutionaries instead of just rebels... and what birthed a new left in New York in the years leading up to 911.

At that crisis, it's hard not to see the limitations of mass organizations without a firm political orientation --- and the great need for revolutionary cadre organizations to maintain political and practical clarity.

--------

On a side note, I'm readng Fanshen right now for the first time in over a decade. There is much discussion of responding to the felt needs of the people, targeting recrutiment among poor peasants and the rural proletariat (to the exclusion of other social classes) and, in general, all kinds of REAL political organizing that make REAL revolutions happen.

This stuff isn't just "economism" or "identity poltiics," which are both actual problems. Instead it is figuring out how to make breakthroughs where it counts.

Repeater

"To repeater: no one is arguing against "investigation" in the abstract."

The problem is that you're arguing FOR investigation in the abstract instead of investigation of the concrete. Global knowledge comes from a synthesis of particularities. It's the materialism in the Dialectical Materialism.

You're confusing the investigation of concrete particularities with the universal address of communist political intervention. It is not the job or the role of communists to be the person out the longest on the picket line, or the person who raises the most money, or makes the most phone calls, or makes the most signs. The role of communists and what makes them necessary is to fulfill the need for political leadership. It is exactly here that the universal is part of our job. We're in these struggles to synthesize and lead them, not to lick the most stamps. But this does not mean that we "investigate the larger world", in the sense that you put it, instead of the particularities.

If you don't understand what the concrete struggle and demands of the masses are in the particular of any struggle how can you begin to approach a synthesis which universalizes this and leads it higher? If you investigate only the abstractions and the universals, what ties it back down to the concrete and particular? It won't happen and in that sense it is idealism.

Now I want to be very clear that I do not agree at all with leftspotter. Leftspotter rejects politics plain when they reject the universal address. They do this by offering a methodology of being the hardest workers in the struggle of the masses. If communists are only supposed to do the heavy lifting at what point will they be able to synthesize? And will they really have an all sided view of the entire struggle or movement when they're locked into very specific work? No, they won't they will most likely have a narrow understanding and at best a subjective analysis of developments, based purely on their own experience.

This enchantment with the particular does betray an idolization of the individual, the subjective, and identity politics, as well as an extreme empiricism.

It is grossly incorrect.

But I have to say taking the exact opposite line that it's all universal and not understanding how the universal and particular interact is just as gross a mistake.

leftclick

I think there is way too much point scoring going on here and people are talking past each other.

So far I have not seen anyone argue that general analysis should replace particular analysis, although that is how their arguments are being characterized. What they ARE saying is that prior extensive participation and analysis should not be the main criteria by which to analyze RCP's role in mass struggle.

That being said, I agree with Repeater and others that one's political line cannot be judged by who does the most or hardest work. This is how a 'cult of personality' develops - by encouraging people to ignore line, and to focus on personal characteristics.

I would like to request that burningman open up a thread on the mass line and the vanguard party so we can move this discussion to a more appropriate forum.

leftclick

I think there is way too much point scoring going on here and people are talking past each other.

So far I have not seen anyone argue that general analysis should replace particular analysis, although that is how their arguments are being characterized. What they ARE saying is that prior extensive participation and analysis should not be the main criteria by which to analyze RCP's role in mass struggle.

That being said, I agree with Repeater and others that one's political line cannot be judged by who does the most or hardest work. This is how a 'cult of personality' develops - by encouraging people to ignore line, and to focus on personal characteristics.

I would like to request that burningman open up a thread on the mass line and the vanguard party so we can move this discussion to a more appropriate forum.

submarino

I've been following the discussions on this page for a few months now, without chiming in. I tend to disagree with a lot of the tactical/strategic thought that is expressed here, but I am usually impressed with the level of discussion.

This particular discussion, however, is frustrating because so many people seem unwilling to engage with the fundamental criticism that Christopher Day (and leftspotter and a few others) are making, and have made in other ways in other threads. Regardless of what is meant by certain controversial terms like "instrumentalism" or "reformism," let's make it simple. There aren't enough anti-capitalist activists out there, the movement organizations that exist are too few, too small, and too weak. Nevermind whether communists should or should not be seen as "outsiders" or what level of "engagement" necessary to earn the "respect" of the "masses" (although Chris's points on these practicalities are quite valid, in my opinion). The main point is this: anyone who fancies him or herself a communist should be serious about building the power that will enable the working class to bring about revolution. If one is serious about this, there is no choice but to engage with the day-to-day work of recruiting activists and building new, bigger, stronger, and more militant organizations in workplaces, neighborhoods, campuses, etc. There's nothing wrong with selling DVD's or newspapers per se, but I don't understand why people don't get such a basic point: propaganda alone won't do it, we have to build POWER.

Lest this discussion remain in the abstract, let me offer some anectodatal evidence in support of Chris's (and my) criticism of the RCP. I am part of a sizeable clandestine organizition working in coordination with a large, progressive, mainstream labor organization to unionize thousands of low-wage non-union workers. In short, we are "salts" (or "submarinos" in Spanish, hence my screen name). Most of us "submarinos" are radicals of one stripe or another, and we view our work as an essential element of the class struggle. How can we overcome capitalism if the vast majority of workers are unorganized and cowed before the power of their bosses?

Our organization is far from uniform ideologically; we often argue over revolutionary theory even as we work well together in our day-to-day efforts. Like any movement organization, we have suffered from attrition, mainly because it's hard work and a lot of people just can't cut it. However, in the several years I have been involved with this organization, only two have left for explicitly ideological reasons. One was a liberal who decided she could be more effective by going to law school. The other quit more recently at the urging of his comrades (if they deserve such a term) in the RCP. They convinced him not only that he should spend time selling DVDs at anti-war marches (a questionable tactic in my opinion, but nothing that was inconsistent with our organizing work), but that in order to be a good communist he actually needed to quit our organization and leave his job in the middle of our organizing drive. Meanwhile, his fellow salts and hundreds of other coworkers are fighting to build an organization in the face of bribery, intimidation, and threats of dismissal and/or deportation.

How on earth does taking people OUT of the trenches in the heat of battle help lead us to revolution?

Let me close with a piece of wisdom from a revolutionary thinker whom many RCP supporters seem to have forgotten:

"The international movement of the proletariat toward its complete emancipation is a process peculiar in the following respect. For the first time in the history of civilization, the people are expressing their will consciously and in opposition to all ruling classes. But this will can only be satisfied beyond the limits of the existing system.

"Now the mass can only acquire and strengthen this will in the course of day-to-day struggle against the existing social order -- that is, within the limits of capitalist society.

"On the one hand, we have the mass; on the other, its historic goal, located outside of existing society. On one had, we have the day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectic contradiction through which the socialist movement makes its way.

"It follows that this movement can best advance by tacking betwixt and between the two dangers by which it is constantly being threatened. One is the loss of its mass character; the other, the abandonment of its goal. One is the danger of sinking back to the condition of a sect; the other, the danger of becoming a movement of bourgeois social reform." -- Rosa Luxemburg

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