On the 2015 Canadian General Elections: Left Approaches toward the NDP

Every Provincial or Federal Election in Canada the Left is posed with the same question: how should we relate to the New Democratic Party (NDP)? And should we vote NDP despite the fact that year after year the NDP has moved more and more to the Centre and abandoned its historical democratic socialist and social democratic heritage and principles? I intend to dedicate this blog post and an 1-2 more to thinking through what should be my own position in respect to the coming elections. I very much welcome discussion and debate about this issue because I am still trying to develop my own position and have no fixed opinion on the matter. In this post I will be outlining the approaches that different sections of the Left are taking in respect to the upcoming Federal Elections.

Before I continue I will put my cards on the table: 1) I have never voted despite having been of voting age for quite a while; 2) during the 2011 Federal Elections I was an active advocate for boycotting the elections; 3) I do not think that there is any democratic road to socialism, but am coming to believe  that elections may be useful in different conjunctures (I waver on the issue); and 4) I do not think that the NDP is a worker’s party or a socialist party. Indeed, I regard the NDP to be a reformist party, albeit a right-wing variation of a reformist party. Stathis Kouvelakis’ argues a useful definition of reformism in his recent debate with Alex Callinicos of the Socialist Workers’ Party in the UK, reformism is “a coherent political project that seeks to improve the conditions for the working class and to obtain material and broader gains for that class within the framework of capitalism. It sees a kind of social compromise with capitalism that is partially, but concretely, favourable to the working class … It cannot go beyond capitalism. In a way it would be foolish to ask them to go beyond capitalism because this is not what their project was about. Their project was to build the welfare state and maintain it.” When contrasted to the situation in the 1970’s in Canada, it becomes apparent that the NDP today is to the right of the Liberal Party then, and much further to the right of the historical NDP. Furthermore, it is also clear that the NDP when it has formed provincial governments has regularly repressed workers’ movements and introduced neo-liberal policies. This has only become worse in since the intentionally Blairite turn inaugurated by Jack Layton, but deepened by Thomas Mulcair (Vice Magazine journalist Tannara Yelland has recently written article to this effect, which is available here). Indeed, rather than a social democratic party, the NDP should be regarded to be a social liberal party.

Simultaneously, however, I do not think we can, or should, simply flatten out the reforms being proposed by the NDP and not properly contrast them against the status quo under Stephen Harper. Admitting that there may be marginal improvements being granted by a reformist party does not mean that boycotting elections is not an useful tactic, but admitting that these reforms are possible and IF (and this is a big if) implemented would make a meaningful difference in workers’ lives. Indeed, a small example, I know a number of people who could not have become permanent residents, and subsequently citizens, under Harper’s revised immigration laws, but could under the previous immigration laws established by the Liberals. This is a tangible difference for tens of thousands of people who constitute the “hardcore of the proletariat.”

In this post, I wanted to give my preliminary analysis of the situation in Toronto, which can perhaps be applied with a number of caveats to the rest of Canada. By Canada I explicitly do not include the First Nations. Indeed, I think that the question of Canadian elections has a very different set of implications and stakes for First Nations peoples and movements, which requires us to distinguish between the different tactics that are appropriate in any given context. The rest of the post outline the different relationships that the Left does/can have to the NDP.

Current Situation: In Toronto to large effect there is social peace and the situation is “non-revolutionary.” These are the historical conditions not of our own choosing and as one can tell, the situation is far from excellent and is rather abysmal. I would like to note from the outset that the social movement Left in Toronto is incredibly hard-working and dedicated, and that the analysis that follows is not intended to take away from that. The social movements remain small and weak, but are able to mobilise about 500-1000 people as a broad milieu. In exceptional cases, like the bombing of Gaza or the 2003 protests against the American invasion of Iraq, the latter of which saw mobilisations of approximately 40,000 people on the streets, larger and more popular sections of the city’s populace have engaged in protest. Furthermore, in the main, there is little in the way of street militancy during demonstrations. OCAP and NOII have on occasion used direction action, and have been able to make meaningful victories. However, they, like the rest of the Left, struggle to appeal more broadly to the city’s populace. The trade union movement remains in decline and strike activity low. And there is little spontaneous action on the part of the masses as a whole, except in the case of police brutality (and more recently, from a conservative standpoint, against the new sex education curriculum).

Ideologically within the mass movements, especially the trade union movement, there is a general adherence to social-democratic ideas, although there exists an approximate 400-500 people committed to various forms of Left politics including anarchism, Trotskyism and movementism. Furthermore, the counter-culture remains largely non-revolutionary in character and is divided among numerous different subcultures. Amongst the general population the ideological formation is either a socially liberal financial conservatism, which votes for any of the three bourgeois parties, or a general disinterest in politics. There is little imagination of something else than various forms of capitalism; indeed, it is vital that we not misunderstand a disinterest in politics as a disdain for capitalism, rather, in most cases it relies on a complete tacit acceptance of capitalism.

The Maoist movement and its influence are next to non-existent in all spheres. Indeed, it can be regarded as being within the first moments of life. Whilst the movement correctly identifies the need to organise the hardcore of the proletariat it does not have the capacity, skills or resources to do so. Nor does it have the capacity to mobilise a movement of its own, whether student, worker or boycott. It remains largely removed and absent from any existed large or small social movement, although notable exceptions include the “Defend the TYP” campaign at UofT and the 2015 CUPE 3902-3903 strike. It however, has been able to replicate the basic elements of the Marxist sect life that is characteristic of the city, which is indeed an accomplishment considering the situation a few short years prior, through a regular discussion and study group format. It’s members remain largely centred in the education sector.

Relationship to the NDP: Typically the Left, as small as it is, either has one of the following six positions in respect to the NDP. For the rest of the post I will outline what are the different positions (I have added some initial commentary to each section):

  1. Entryism: this is the set of tactics broadly derived from Leon Trotsky’s “French Turn,” which argues that the Left should enter into social democratic and democratic socialist organisations (although in some countries like France, Trotskyists have entered into the French Communist Party) – what Fight Back (the Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency) refers to as the historic parties of the working class – to form factions or tendencies and win over the most advanced workers to the socialist cause (their latest analysis of the elections can be found here). Ideally at some future undetermined date this will cause a polarisation inside the social democratic/democratic socialist organisation, which will cause a split in said organisation and result in the Left forces having increased their relative strength. This logic is evident when keeping Stathis’ definition of the reformist party and its historic goal: “Therefore, those who look to defeat the hated Harper Conservatives need to start organizing now for the next stage of the struggle. The first task is to defeat the Tories, the next task is to defeat austerity. Only a mass movement of workers and youth can counteract the opposition of the bosses and ensure that the positive reforms in the NDP platform are implemented. This movement must necessarily reach both inside and outside the NDP, with the unions playing an important role. Only a mass movement can stop the (potential) NDP government from capitulating to corporate interests and attacking the public sector and the wider working class like Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government.” Furthermore, during electoral season, some entryists try to run socialist candidates wherever possible as members of said historic parties and offer critical support to the party as a whole. Thus, Barry Weisleder and Socialist Action have entered into the NDP to form the Socialist Caucus, which actively supports the NDP in its electoral campaigns, whilst criticising it publicly for having abandoned its “socialist” principles. Barry Weisleder has been able to use this position to gain some publicity for himself and the Socialist Caucus (see a recent National Post article that is heavily based on an interview with him here). Fight Back similarly has typically entered into the Ontario New Democratic Youth in order to win over young activists, and have worked for Linda McQuaig’s campaign given her generally progressive politics. Fight Back has been somewhat successful in winning over some youth NDP members to Fightback. The historical analogy that Fightback rely on was the experience of The Militant Tendency in the Labour Party in the UK. I do not think that this set of tactics is particularly effective at this juncture given the weakness of the mass movements as a whole. Indeed, I do think that at a certain point, it may be necessary split the NDP into a Left and Right-wing, however, I do not think that the conditions for that split exist.
  2. External Critical Support: This position, often an unstated one, is most commonly adopted by the Left actively involved in the social movements (I would like to point readers to Alan Sears’ recent article, “The NDP: Historic Breakthrough or More of the Same?” for the New Socialist Webzine in which he articulates what I regard to be as the characteristic arguments of this position). In this case, activists vote for the NDP or the Greens (depending on their personal predilections), but do not join either party or work within their structures. Rather, they maintain political autonomy from all the parties, but work with NDP activists and MPs/MPPs on common issues where agreement can be found. These activists typically have no illusions about the NDP and its platform, but regard it to be the least worst of the available options. Many argue that given the fact that the NDP’s strength comes from the trade unions that the NDP remains ostensibly a working class party (they share this argument with the entryists). It should be noted that this is however not a formal set of tactics in the manner of the entryists inasmuch that I know of no case in which an entire social movement or social movement organisation, like NOII or OCAP, that has deliberately agreed upon such a relationship. Given that this position has not been voted for/against, it is not implemented uniformly across any given social movement (indeed, many cannot bring themselves to vote and thus fall into the third position of abstentionism).
  3. Run against the NDP: This is a strategy typically adopted by the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) or the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC), and is their attempt to follow Lenin’s “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.” Given their small size they do not enter into formal coalition with the NDP. Both use the elections as a way of spreading their political message and building political hegemony (see for example the CPC’s commentary on the elections from their recent Political Report here). The CPC in the 2011 elections ran in 20 ridings and was able to gather 2894 votes (which is down by 800 votes from the 2008 elections), which is roughly 0.03% of the vote. The MLPC on the other hand ran in 70 ridings in the last elections, got 10160 votes (which was 1400 more votes than they got in 2008), which is roughly 0.067% of the vote. I must admit that I am not particularly sure how the MLPC is able to a) get more candidates to run than the CPC; and b) more votes than the CPC. Effectively this suggests that – according to Lenin’s reasons for being involved in elections i.e. to measure the mood of the masses – that the CPC is more out of touch with the Canadian working class than the MLPC. I think that the use of elections may become necessary at a certain stage in the class struggle, but that it seems to be relatively ineffective at this stage in the class struggle (to be clear once again, there is no democratic road to socialism, but elections can be used for propaganda purposes when a party has sufficient support).
  4. Abstentionism: This is the other default position of a sizeable section of the Left. These Leftists, like those who advocate for critical support, are active in social movements and are knowledgable about the flaws of the NDP and the Green party, and regard both parties to be too conservative to vote for. Indeed, they deem voting for the NDP as being too radical a compromise of their own politics and feel like voting for the NDP shuts down discussions about other possibilities for political action. Instead, they argue that rather than focus on the electoral circus that happens every four or so years one should critique all three mainstream parties for being anti-working class parties; when asked state that they have no intention to vote for any of the parties given their records in government and the poverty of their political programmes; and in their actions and critique of the NDP emphasise the need to build a strong working class movement apart from the electoral process. They, like the boycott and spoil-your-ballot advocates, tend to de-emphasise the significance of the reforms being proposed by the NDP. I am quite sympathetic to this position.
  5. Boycott: This is a strategy that has been most heavily promoted by the Revolutionary Communist Party (Canada) and the small groups of workers, feminists and students that they have organised into committees/movements that generally follow their line (their latest issue of The Red Flag available here is dedicated to this issue). This argument is a stronger version of the abstention argument. Pointing to the fact that a large section of the working class is not involved in the electoral process, which the RCP(Canada) regards as a “passive boycott,” they call for an “active boycott” of the elections. They point to the fact that all of the mainstream parties are in fact bourgeois parties and have programmes that offer little to the working class and effectively maintain the status quo. Indeed, unlike Alan Sears, they adopt the other conclusion that he mentions but seems to dismiss: “unless we conclude that it has been so transformed by neoliberalism that it no longer has any meaningful connection to working-class resistance.” Furthermore, the RCP(Canada) and their allies argue that the NDP’s proposed reforms are largely inconsequential for a number of reasons, thus dismissing them altogether. The RCP(Canada) thus prefer to use the elections as a propaganda tool to promote revolutionary politics through the promotion of an “active boycott.” This “active boycott” is supposedly materialised in the building of either the boycott committees in neighbourhoods or the individual organisations that support the RCP(Canada) (like the Revolutionary Students Movement, the Proletarian Feminist Front, and the Proletarian Revolution Action Committees) on the basis of a revolutionary politics. In the case of the boycott committees in neighbourhoods these are supposed to the very nascent beginnings of dual power in the neighbourhoods. In the case of the latter, they are ideally able to attract workers, feminists or students, who have already arrived at a radical politics – the so-called “advanced” – and organise them into said mass organisation. The boycott call is also used by many supporters and sympathisers of the RCP(Canada) to draw a line between themselves and the rest of the Left, and often results in members accusing other members of the Left who do not agree with them about the efficacy of boycotting the elections of being softly pro-imperialist or as “liberals pretending to be radicals.” I think that the boycott tactic can be useful, however, it needs to be organised within a very carefully delineated set of limits (for example, I strongly disagree with the use of the boycott position as a way of demarcating themselves from the rest of the Left, especially using the morally charged language just cited; nor do I think that boycotting elections is a break from bourgeois legality). This is something that I will discuss at greater length in the next blog post.
  6. Spoil your ballot: This is a position that is pushed by the International Bolshevik Tendency (their position paper on the recent UK elections offers in broad strokes their analysis for Canadian elections as well. It is available here.) They argue that the working class should not vote for the NDP because it is a bourgeois party, and the reforms being offered are unsubstantial, like the abstentionists and the boycott advocates. However, unlike the abstentionists and the boycott advocates they argue that workers’ should go and spoil their ballot. They argue that there is little difference between abstention and boycott, and that any results from either is quickly drowned by the sizeable section of people who do not vote for a variety of reasons (including not having time to vote, being too lazy etc). Indeed, going and spoiling one’s ballot becomes a clear protest vote inasmuch that the person has gone to the trouble of going to a voting centre and spoiling their ballot. Furthermore, they pointed out that the spoiled ballot is then counted as such and is a clearer marker of levels of protest with the bourgeois options. If in areas where they organise there is significant growth in spoiled ballots then they can gauge their relative strength in a given area. Indeed, if there are sufficient spoiled ballots it may even suggest that the working class is ready to run a proper communist candidate in a given riding. I think that this strategy also makes a lot of sense.

Having given a very preliminary analysis of the conjuncture in Toronto and outlined the different positions that the Left has with the NDP in the next post I wish to deal with the question whether one should boycott the elections or not. I wish to dwell on this approach because of my own endorsement of this position in the past. Indeed, I really want to think through a) whether or not voting is actually a break from bourgeois legality; b) the reforms being proposed by the NDP are as inconsequential as suggested by the abstentionists, the boycott advocates, and those in favour of spoiling their ballot; c) what are the conditions necessary for an effective boycott campaign; and finally d) whether a boycott campaign should be used as not only an organising tactic for organising unaffiliated radicalised workers, feminists and students, but also as an example of demarcating oneself from the rest of the Left.

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15 thoughts on “On the 2015 Canadian General Elections: Left Approaches toward the NDP

  1. Quite a interesting overview.
    Some thoughts:
    1: Though I definitely appreciate caution towards “left” opportunist fantasy of broad based revolutionary consciousness in North America today based in a (usually willful) misreading of the pervasive apathy and nihilism I also think reducing common attitudes of political disengagement (among both workers and petty bourgeois) to simply a “..complete tacit acceptance of capitalism.” is itself a serious misconception that if taken to its logical conclusion would result in a consolidated right opportunist position.
    Everything in my very limited experience of mass work has led me to the conclusion that even in the most unfavorable conjunctures (like the Southern US today) the working class and the people feel not simply a undifferentiated “..complete tacit acceptance..” but a complex internally contradictory mix of acceptance and resignation with resentment, outrage etc-and that the Maoist dictum “where there is oppression there is resistance.”
    is indeed universally true. What is important to keep in mind is that while in favorable situations the resistance of the masses is active and centralized in unfavorable situations it is passive, dispersed and continually occluded by the reproduction of bourgeois ideology.
    It however remains a historically invariant base for the fusion of the mass movement and communist politics through the application of the mass line.
    2: On elections and lines of demarcation. It is very strange to me at this point that many nascent Maoist forces internationally claim that electoral boycott is a line of demarcation when it seems to have the dimensions of a tactical question. In my opinion there are sharp lines which do have to be drawn against forces promoting the electoral road (concretely in the US initiatives like the Jackson Plan and Sewant’s election-though these events are indicative of a more favorable balance of forces here then before say 2008) but drawing a similar line between say the work of Turkish Maoists in the HDP and Greek Maoists in the KKE (ml)’s electoral coalition on one hand and Brazilian Maoist’s work in active boycott organizing on the other seems utterly unreasonable.
    There is however a real consolidated right opportunism in the North American left with a material base in non-profit and union bureaucracy against which lines need to be drawn as a precondition for any kind of communist mass work. It is for example not all a settled fact that trade unions are “working class mass organizations”-It is my opinion at the current time that the primary aspect of the trade unions today (much like the unions in China before the CR) is that of a bureaucratic apparatus which serves to fragment the workers and suppress their initiative in the strategic interests of the bourgeois. Though leaping from that starting point to the conclusion that work within the unions is never appropriate seems to be a “left” deviation with little base in the history of the ICM (after all Italian Communists worked in the Fascist unions from the 20s on and CPC cadre operated within KMT “mass organizations” throughout the Chinese Civil War).

    1. Hi Karl,
      Thanks for your comment and your critical remarks. I would like to state from the outset that I prefer not to employ the categories you rely on (left opportunist, right opportunist etc) because I often find that they serve more to obscure and obfuscate than to clarify and explain. The history of the ICM demonstrates that they are categories used more often than not as a justification for any policy that one subjectively decides on. Also, I think that given that these categories are often used as epithets, their use serves to close down discussion and analysis, rather than opening it up. Indeed, their use epistemologically rests on the presupposition that the one levelling such charges has risen above the situation in such a manner as to have achieved a kind of objective analysis of it, which in turn allows them to be judge and jury. This more often than not is an unwarranted assumption, so I will not be using these terms in my own responses to your otherwise useful remarks.
      1. On the question of whether worker apathy and nihilism is a “tacit acceptance of capitalism”: First of all, let me state once again that I admit that my account of the current situation in Toronto is impressionistic and is of course open to revision on the basis of further study. Indeed, let us admit that we are both relying on impressionistic sketches on the basis of our respective mass work in different geographic locales. And having admitted that, we both recognise that any comments we make on the matter as such must be made in light of this limitation of both of our accounts. I dispute your argument that it is a “serious misconception” to argue that there is a “complete tacit acceptance of capitalism.” Indeed, while I agree with you that the working class’s relationship to capitalism is “a complex internally contradictory mix of acceptance and resignation with resentment, outrage etc,” I think that this complex internally contradictory mix resolves itself as a “tacit acceptance” i.e. that the working class does not think outside of the framework of capitalism, nor does it see an outside, rather it seeks to achieve a better compromise with capitalism through reforms (or is more often the case, a hostility towards other workers making gains). At least this is the case in Toronto, perhaps in your area of work this is not the case which is amazing. At least in Toronto, the general attitude is, as Frederic Jameson so nicely put it, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” Changing this imaginary is one of the biggest ideological problems that faces any kind of revolutionary politics today, and understating that does not serves us well.
      2. On elections and lines of demarcation: I agree that the RIM-inherited emphasis on the boycotting of elections as an essential feature of revolutionary politics is unwarranted and overstated. However, I do think that it can be useful for nascent Maoist organisations to advocate for the boycott of elections as a method to tactically to gather forces in the context of election season, but think it should be done in a non-sectarian manner (i.e. it recognise that it is but one tactic in the Left to gather forces and not used as a moral cudgel against others who employ different strategies. This is something I will return to briefly). I am not aware of any sustained critique of parties by the RIM or others to use elections as a line of demarcation within the international Maoist movement. Indeed, the CPI(Maoist), which boycotts elections, has always had close relations with the TKP/ML and the CPP, who engage in electoral practices. However, it is possible that you are privy to debates that I am not a part of. Furthermore, as an aside, I think it is important to avoid looking at the international left in the context of a franchise-model: so KKE(ML) has the franchise in Greece, TKP/ML or MKP in Turkey etc. So I think we need to gauge the use of elections in Greece, Turkey, or where ever else on the basis of criterion internal to that situation (for example, should the KKE(ML)-ML-KKE electoral alliance perhaps have worked with ANTARSYA or Popular Unity? How does one evaluate ARAN and ARAS? KOE? What does it mean to get 0.16% of the vote while others got more or less than that?).
      3. On trade unions: I am in part sympathetic to your argument inasmuch that I do think that provincial or national union bodies are the kind of bureaucratic apparatuses you describe, but am simultaneously hesitant to generalise it and extend it down to individual locals. Indeed, I know of numerous solid militants that are involved in their trade union locals and advocate for militant and revolutionary politics. Furthermore, I am not sure that I agree with your assessment of unions in China before the CR, but would need to study them more before speaking to that. But do agree with you that leaping from the analysis you proffer to an absolute boycott of elections is not a sustained move.
      4. On lines of demarcation from the rest of the Left: you seem to want to demarcate yourself from a left to yourself and a right to yourself, both of which you describe as opportunistic, in a very sharp sense. I personally do not think at this point such a demarcation in the strong sense is particularly useful inasmuch that I think it more often than not leads one to a kind of sectarianism and a reluctance to work with others. Indeed, I think that at this point, in Toronto at least, I cant speak for where you are, there needs to be the wholesale recomposition of the Left as a whole. By recomposition I mean the building effective left organisations and increasing the level of class struggle as a whole, and the development of a political thought that is properly interior to its own conjuncture. I think that the Toronto Left, but I would wager the North American Left as a whole is too mired in a set of reference points that are completely external to its current conjuncture, and often do not sufficiently provide an explanatory apparatus that makes said reference points meaningful to activists-theorists in their current conjuncture. This is most often reflected in the kind of language that is used, so for example reading Marxists write as if they were writing for Peking Review, and serves as a barrier to thinking the conjuncture in a concrete manner. I thinking calling oneself a Maoist is similarly unnecessary. However, I do think that a soft line of demarcation is needed. By soft I mean it is important to respect and acknowledge that other members/sections of the Left are formulating different tactics and strategies, which will enrich the Left as a whole, but that one does want to enjoin in for a set of clearly laid out reasons (for example, I do not think that it is particularly helpful to run socialist candidates at this point, whereas others do). Indeed, this soft demarcation is required so that one can articulate one’s own approach and the reasons behind it, whilst recognising that it is but one attempt to effectively intervene into the conjuncture. Furthermore, it is important to remember that whether in Russia or China, communist forces won over layers of leadership and membership from forces to their left and right, indeed it was a vital condition for them growing; and they were able to influence parties to their right to produce left-wings, which helps constitute historical blocs. One cannot do either if one maintains a hard line of demarcation, especially if it takes the turn of name-calling.

      Anyways here are some initial thoughts on your comments. Thanks so much for replying. I am sure that you disagree with what I have said and look forward to a sustained comradely debate.

  2. Thanks for your detailed response.
    I find your negative assessment of the language of right and left opportunism to be baffling. Every political organization and individual militant it seems to me is obligated to act as “judge and jury” in relation to not only the errors of other trends whose practices they observe but much more importantly in relation to their own past and present practice.
    The vocabulary of “left” and right opportunism is simply a means of advancing the process of continual criticism-self criticism and rectification in accordance with a materialist epistemology.
    In order to act it is simply a absolute imperative to issue decisive verdicts for (and every “for” is always by definition also a “against”) certain trajectories of political practice and to wage a ceaseless struggle to determine and impose the correct line.
    Of course the correct line as asserted by any grouping or party is based on a unavoidably partial, limited and subjectively evaluated dataset. That is never an excuse for militants to avoid making the decisive determinations necessary to guide a coherent course of action-its simply an unfortunate reality of life for partisan materialists.
    Hence the appeal of metaphysical ideas about “infallible” and indivisible parties and individuals throughout the ICM (not by any means a phenomena that can be limited to Stalinism).
    1: Maybe there is a misunderstanding between us on this issue. My point was that even in the most unfavorable conjunctures the masses continue to resist class domination even if sometimes in the most individualized and passive ways and that is continuity of resistance is what makes a communist politics possible and gives a real substance and legitimacy to the standpoint of proletarian revolutionary optimism.
    I suspect that not only in North America but throughout the world the proportion of workers who conceive of the dictatorship of the proletariat is microscopic at this time. But that does not mean they have ceased to resist-simply that they live out daily a contradiction between the experience of exploitation and domination they live and the ideology they are told to think.
    My thinking is that capital can disperse and submerge proletarian ideology but the base for its reemergence always remains just under the surface in the experiences and dispersed impressions and ideas of the masses and “acceptance” is always somewhat less then total.
    And that understanding this in non-revolutionary times (when it is easily ignored) is much important then understanding it during upsurges of mass activity when it is obvious. Too many communist groups in periods of capitalist stabilization have retreated either into completely economist and reformist activity or activity of a adventurist or theoreticist character because they confused the difficulty of revolutionary mass work with the impossibility of revolutionary mass work.
    2: My comment on elections was based off recent statements of some groupings in Latin America and Western Europe which tend towards a absolutest denunciation of electoral participation while these same groupings seem to promote statements and activities of Turkish and Greek groups involved in electoral coalitions without comment.
    As for KKE (ml) I brought them up specifically because they are the only Greek left force tied into the Maoist pro-boycott international milieu. I certainly don’t believe in “franchises” (they were a bad idea from the beginning and no one is in any position to grant them now regardless). The question of why KKE (ml) entered into the coalition that they did and more generally of alignments on the Greek left is interesting but not one I am in any position to answer intelligently.
    3: As for unions i don’t disagree and like the electoral question I see it on the plane of tactics so long as the class character of the bureaucracy is clearly understood.
    4: This issue may come close to our basic points of divergence. For me the reconstitution of the proletarian left in any conjuncture always occurs through the struggle against revisionism-that element of the left with a stake in the reproduction of existing class relations. This process is however much more complex then a simple line between different historical traditions (eg Maoism vs Trotskyism vs Stalinism vs anarchism etc) and has very little to with angry internet arguments. Its a question of diametrically opposed trajectories of practice in relation to on the one hand the violence of the masses and on the other the reformist and repressive maneuvers of the bourgeois.
    Such trajectories display a subtlety in NA today which corresponds to the low level of the class struggle. However I think the crises of the future will once again show that the friend-enemy distinction is internal and that that the first premise of left unity is unity against false leftism.

    1. Hi Karl,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. So here are some tentative remarks on your reply, which has a lot packed in it. I say tentative because I am still thinking through these very questions and to be honest each of these points requires its own multi-page consideration.
      1. My negative appraisal of terms like “left opportunism” and “right opportunism,” but also the larger rhetorical framework as well, is because I do not think that are particularly useful in actually doing the things that you want them to do. So for example, the usage of such terms tends to impede self-criticism, rather than actually advance it, in my experience. In fact, the history of the communist movement speaks quite clearly to the poverty and failure of this framework in achieving its ends, and in fact to its manipulation through routinisation and ritualisation. This ritualisation is made even worse by the fact that these terms are completely alien to the political and social culture in which we live, and reflects a specific discursive regime that today has become incredibly marginal/insignificant. This results in the main of repelling people from revolutionary politics and creates a sect (or “trends”) culture, which trades in such rhetorical barbs with one another, whilst the working class carries on with its day. Furthermore, I am uncomfortable with this epistemological framework that seemingly rests on and other associated terms (like “the correct line”). This discomfort is because of my own cautiousness about the idea of “decisive verdicts” because it seems to me that there is not one iota of one’s past practice and current practice that could not be re-evaluated and re-discussed (Lakatos’s work is particularly useful on this point, but I would also point to the enormous body of work that HM has published that speaks to this and the continued need for this). I am not suggesting that we should not study the practical and ideological work of others and arrive at opinions/verdicts about it, but do not think that this framework of analysis allows us to arrive at useful and meaningful verdicts. Given your admission about the subjective nature of these claims, one ought to be more tentative about one’s own verdicts. The approach I am personally would like to adhere to is far more modest in its claims and pivots on a political pluralism. Rather, than unceasingly struggling to “impose line” that then determines anyone against said line is some kind of opportunist (which at numerous turns in history has been the wrong line and been disastrous, for example, the Third Period, in which anyone disagreed was a “social fascist”), I think it would be better to put into practice one’s line but engage in a meaningful dialogue (an open exchange of perspectives, openness to changing one’s mind or amending one’s position) with those who don’t buy it. Now one of course should set limits to the scope of this pluralism, but I think it should be extended to the entire anti-capitalist left. However, calling the people who you want to have a meaningful dialogue with “right” and “left” opportunists closes such discussion down (the failure of the United Front in Germany is a good example of this).
      2. If the disagreement is simply that having used the word, “complete”, I have over-totalised the nature of the tacit acceptance of capitalism by the Toronto working class and that there is always some relative outside, which expands and contracts on the basis of the class struggle, then I take your point and agree that I have over-stated the case and/or have been sloppy with my word choice. Let me offer a revision: a widespread and deeply-rooted tacit acceptance of capitalism.
      3. The questions I asked regarding the KKE(ML) are the kinds of questions that I do not think can be usefully answered using the framework you offer. Thus, I do not think it is particularly useful to say that the KKE(ML)-ML KKE coalition was left or right opportunist, but it is more useful to understand why they did not want to enter into ANTARSYA or PU or whatever, what it hoped to achieve through its practice, and then looking at other factors, evaluate whether a given tactic was a meaningful intervention into the class struggle. If not, then why not? Again a meaningful answer to that “why” is not going to be found in its categorisation as left or right opportunism.
      4. I am not sure if we differ on this point and would like to you to clarify what you mean by revisionism? It seems to me that the crux of the matter is your evaluative framework which is defined as: “question of diametrically opposed trajectories of practice in relation to on the one hand the violence of the masses and on the other the reformist and repressive maneuvers of the bourgeois.” I am not sure what this means.

  3. Quick responses:
    1: The problem I see with your argument here is it seems to me that saying “In fact, the history of the communist movement speaks quite clearly to the poverty and failure of this framework in achieving its ends, and in fact to its manipulation through routinisation and ritualisation.” is itself to make a decisive verdict on past practice (a verdict with which I incidentally largely disagree).
    I am completely unfamiliar with Lakatos but his work looks interesting and I can see how it might be applicable to this discussion. As for HM I think bringing them up highlights the same problem I see in the quote from your comment above. The precondition of the work issued HM is itself a certain set of “decisive judgments” about what is and is not valuable to the reconstitution of communist politics in the history of the ICM.
    Despite the praiseworthy reference value of much of what HM has produced I and many other comrades are in fundamental disagreement with their verdicts and operate from a quite distinct set of points of orientation.
    It is essentially my opinion that saying you seek to avoid making a verdict is always simply a rather more round about way of making one.
    Your references to the Third Period are are also telling in this regard. They operate off the assumption that the “Third Period” was simply a disaster. This is a common Trotskyist (it also may have been Mao’s position) interpretation but not one that I and many others necessarily find compelling.
    Regardless to make such a judgement about the Third Period is precisely to issue a decisive verdict on a question of line (in this case a condemnation of “left” opportunism). I don’t think retiring the classic communist terminology does anything to change the essence of the issue.
    I agree with the importance of remaining open minded and having a broad debate among differing left trends-but i think a rigorous mutual denunciation of perceived revisionism and opportunism is a indispensable part of this-so long as its based in a materially grounded examination of the practice of different groupings and is not simply phrase mongering.In fact its important this sharp mutual criticism also occur internal to groups.
    People who bear grudges against others for calling them “mean” names should likely retire from politics.
    2: Yes I agree on this.
    3: I would be interested in a further elaboration of why the categories of “left” and right opportunism do not in your opinion generate meaningful answers as this is still unclear to me.
    4: I mean that the line of demarcation with revisionism must be drawn on the base of relation to 1: the mass movement and 2: the state project of the bourgeois in a given conjuncture. Examples would include the PCI’s relation to on the one hand the historic compromise on the other the area of autonomy, the relation between the PCF and May’ 68, the relation between the bulk of the PLA officer corps and the rebel left in the CR, between Social Democracy and the First World War etc. More recently the left groups backing the PT in Brazil versus those involved in the mass actions.
    I think it was pretty well summed by the UCFML when they said “tell me what you think of the GPCR and I will tell you if you are a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist.”

    1. Hi Karl,
      Glad to see that we are clarifying the disagreements that we have with one another’s position. Indeed, I think this entire discussion is evidence of why using those terms is not useful. Indeed, I think this discussion would have very quickly degenerated if we had started by declaring one another left/right opportunists etc.
      1. Fair enough, we disagree about the usefulness of these terms in the history of the ICM and the value of the Third Period. I would like to simply hasten to add that such a comment my comments are “tentative verdicts” inasmuch that it is constantly open to revision, and that my comments are in fact reflective of significant recent revisions on my part (spurred on, in part, by Fernando Claudin’s book, which I only read over the summer, for example). I am not trying to avoid making verdicts, but am simply positing that they are not decisive in the strong sense of the word, rather they are precisely intended to be a soft demarcation that allows us to discuss with one another in an open-minded manner, rather than taking recourse to the UCFML’s apparent capacity – despite being a tiny sect – to tell whether one was a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist or whether a given piece of art was sufficiently revolutionary (something that they would themselves abandon by 1980/1981; and by the way this position of their’s also resulted in them being generally regarded as one of the most sectarian groups in the French 70’s and saw a number of rather ridiculous interventions on their part). Indeed, this openness and softness of verdict is how I read the role of the HM book series. Each author has their own verdict which is allowed to be contested in a number of settings, so at the annual conferences, journal articles and reviews, and finally books. HM as a journal editorial board does not regard, for example, R. Craig Nation’s book on the Zimmerwald Left to be the only possible verdict, or John Riddell’s interpretation of the Comintern Congresses to be definitive, but instead think they are worth-publishing because it is a well-argued verdict that can spur further discussion and have implications for the Left as a whole. Individuals on the board may regard a given book to be decisive, but that should not be seen as being reflective of the whole board. This is why such a broad body of authors publish in the journal and the book series.
      2. On why those terms are not useful: I do not think that there are many political problems that are enriched from the use of such language. As I have said before, I do not interpret others disagreements with my own position in those terms and think that these terms operate from a place which actually shuts down the possibility of understanding other’s positions and objections in a meaningful way. Its hard to take someone else seriously if you start with them being left opportunists or right opportunists. This has nothing to do with “meanness,” but in fact trying to create the kind of political environment and culture that can create the conditions for the epistemological and political breaks we need. To use the KKE(ML) electoral example: one can say, the KKE(ML) 1) analysed the situation as (x); 2) wanted to achieve (y); 3) did (z); 4) others actors did (z1, z2, z3) on the basis of analysis (x1, x2, x3) and with goals (y1, 2, 3); and 5) achieved 0-1-2-3 of y goals, whereas others achieved 0-1-2-3 of y1, y2, y3 goals. Then one can evaluate all of that and try to understand it, and develop a tentative verdict of it. Now I guess you could then try to slot the verdict of it under the categories “left” and “right” opportunist, but I think that those categories have little explanatory power. Rather, those categories – if they are to have substance – will necessarily be followed by “because …”. This “…” is the real meat of the verdict, not the formalised category that preceded it, which in fact required the “…” to have an explanatory value at all. I thus prefer to cut out the formalised category – which operates effectively as an empty signifier and an unnecessarily antagonistic epithet – and just move to the substance or the debates about the signified.
      3. Again “revisionism” is a term that I think is not particularly useful here inasmuch again it just simplifies a series of very complicated considerations that have to be undertaken. Perhaps its useful in a kind of unrefined short-hand way for the already initiated, but does not help develop analysis. So lets take for one instance the example of the PCF, May ’68 and the UCFML. The PCF was aloof from the struggle of the students, and then subsequently dampened the struggle of the workers. This would, under your schema makes the PCF revisionist, I assume (I would broadly agree)? If so, then there are two possible recourses: 1) stay inside the party and try to reform it (Althusser, Balibar); or 2) abandon it and try to remake it anew (Linhart, Ranciere; I am not including Badiou because he was never in or around the PCF). Does Althusser’s disagreement with Badiou et al. to stay in the party mean that he was a revisionist and not a marxist-leninist? Indeed, Althusser arrived at a very different appraisal of Maoist efforts than they did of their own practice, and in fact, in my opinion, he was correct. Maoism indeed was a youth fashion for the majority of its adherents and the Maoist groupsicles were never able to build the durable relationship to the working class that the PCF did. Thus, his attempt to push the PCF in a different direction, whilst having failed, may have regardless been the right one, but on the surface may seem like revisionism. And on the GPCR, which I imagine would be a defining issue for you, and was for Badiou, I am sure that we likely would disagree on a number of things that likely would bar me from being a “revolutionary Marxist-Leninist.” I am personally quite sympathetic to the recent book by Yiching Wu in this regard and am quite unsympathetic to conventional Maoist narratives.

  4. As you noted a wide range of extremely complex issues are being brought up in this exchange so my responses are bound to be rough and provisional.
    1: I would tend to posit a equivalence between your categories of “hard” and “soft” demarcation and the classic Maoist distinctions between antagonistic or non-antagonistic contradictions, contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy.
    The basic political question is always the distinction between friend and enemy. In my opinion it is a objective fact “independent of man’s will” (as Peking Review liked to say) that this distinction always bisects the left itself and new revolutionary unities are only constituted through antagonistic ruptures with revisionism.
    It can be seen from the whole history of the ICM that the bourgeois is always “within the party” from the struggles within German Social Democracy to those within the UCPN. Failure to struggle against bourgeois ideology within the left is simply conciliation of revisionism. The capitulationist Song Jiang is just as much the enemy as the Emperor (to use the language of the 70s criticism campaigns whose political value I am sure we sharply disagree on).
    What I think differentiates a living practice of two line struggle from sectarian dogmatism is a truly consistent appreciation of the principle that “impurity is absolute and purity is relative” in relation to every to every organization and militant and all can be evaluated as progressive or reactionary only in relation to their primary aspect within a given situation.
    It is incidentally ironic that the principle of “one divides into two” was only applied to Mao himself in the revisionist period and with the intention of keeping the right and discarding the left.
    As for the UCFML I am not terribly familiar with their practice and am quite aware of their marginal status. I do however think they produced some useful theoretical work.
    2: If I understand you here this seems to be an argument which could be applied against any attempt at broad generalization and in favor of a evaluation of the particular situation. The typology of opportunisms which relates a diversity of tactical lines to given epistemological origins (empiricism and dogmatism) is certainly a conceptual framework which operates at a high level of abstraction. But this is trait it shares with other concepts like “capitalist mode of production” and I would argue the whole critical apparatus of dialectical and historical materialism.
    3: It seems to me that here you are arguing Althusser had the correct line and that the Maoists of GP and UCFML were guilty of a classic “left opportunism”. That is a interesting position and not a argument I would immediately dismiss.
    However its a displacement of the question. Precisely because “impurity is absolute and purity is relative” there is no such thing as a monolithic revisionist organization. What is at issue is the predominance of the revisionist line within the PCF and its leadership which as far as I know was not something Althusser would have disputed. It was in fact the basis of his practice within the PCF.
    I think you can see something similar from the respectful early commentary of the BR on the PCI.
    I don’t think it can be disputed that despite being a part of the “anti-capitalist left” the PCF apparatus served counter-revolution and thus the question of a antagonistic break with revisionism remains. And that is precisely what it is-a question.
    Because saying simply that breaking with revisionism is always necessary does not of course answer the questions of “when” and “how”. Though the Maoist break with the PCF can be argued to be premature and lacking a base for success, it seems indisputable to me that if Althusser’s orientation had born fruit it would have resulted in a sharp and violent rupture between the bourgeois and proletarian lines internal to the PCF.
    Its much like the classic dichotomy of Lenin and the left communists on how to deal with the labor bureaucracy, either make an immediate break through organizational rupture or develop an antagonism internal to the existing organization.
    I would be inclined to go further though and argue that the Gang of Four need to be treated with the same nuance as Althusser and not be simply dismissed for carrying out a struggle against revisionism internal to the CPC with the inevitable compromises this entailed.

    1. Hi Karl,
      Thanks for your remarks. I very much appreciate the time that you take to produce them. I think I have more questions than comments because I would like to get a more concrete understanding of what you are saying.
      1. I can see why you would want to map “hard” and “soft” demarcations onto Mao’s antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions, which then in turn maps onto the Schmittian friend-enemy distinction. Thus, one engages in hard distinctions with enemies because the contradiction is an antagonistic one; and a soft distinction is appropriate for a friend and non-antagonistic contradictions. However, it seemed to me that the initial point of this discussion of “hard” and “soft” demarcations is that you preferred to use terms like “right” and “left” opportunist to describe other Leftists who did not agree with your “correct line”. I argued that using such terms is a hard demarcation inasmuch that it makes it far more difficult to have a meaningful relationship with anyone that you regard an opportunist and “right in essence.” Are you now suggesting that such terms would not be used within the “soft” demarcations, which I extend to the entire anti-capitalist Left, or would these terms still be used in soft demarcations that characterise non-antagonistic relations? If it is the former then I think you and I have moved closer, however, I fear in reality this is not the case. This is because it is clear that your definition of revisionism still pivots on a group’s relative proximity to your “correct line,” which also serves as a measure of their endorsement of bourgeois ideology. Indeed, I think it is very difficult to have a soft pluralistic set of demarcations when you regard others as being revisionists or more prone to bourgeois ideology than yourself.
      2. I would like to suggest that the epistemological framework you want to deploy, so left/right opportunism, dogmatism, empiricism etc, whilst appearing to operate on a high level of abstraction does nothing of the sort. Indeed, the very fact that the terms are constantly being needed to be explained, defined etc, even in our own conversation, suggests that they actually serve little purpose and obfuscate more than clarify.
      3. I will put the question of the PCF-UCFML aside because the real question is revisionism as you said. I am glad to hear that you agree that there is no monolithically revisionist organisation, and that the PCF similarly could have revolutionaries in its membership. Your definition of revisionism is interesting because it seems to be an absolutely fluid one: “the principle that “impurity is absolute and purity is relative” in relation to every to every organization and militant and all can be evaluated as progressive or reactionary only in relation to their primary aspect within a given situation.” Thus, I assume that your definition of revisionism allows one to regard forces, like Trotskyists, or Social Democrats, as being “friends” if in the context of a concrete class struggle – lets say a strike – they side with the working class in said struggle? However, using the example of the PCF, or the International Socialists in the case of the last strike I was involved in, what happens when they have different estimations of possible outcomes and thus prescribe what others may consider a premature end to the struggle? Do they remain friends, albeit friends in the wrong, or do they become enemies? I mean you describe the PCF as serving “counter-revolution,” which is an even more serious charge than opportunism. Is it just that the PCF has gone so far past revisionism that it has tipped into a new label that is counter-revolutionary? Also, would you be opposed to the kinds of alliances that were formed by Popular Unity (PU) in Chile, which included a wide-range of parties, many non-communist, but all supportive of a progressive government that would deliver meaningful gains to the working class? Would the RCP(Chile), which refused to join the PU, be revisionists because in the context of the concrete class struggle they opted to stay out of the alliance? Briefly on Althusser: Althusser did not use the word “revisionist” ever to define the PCF as far as I know, rather he regarded the PCF as having engaged in a bungled rightist deStalinization that resulted in the party abandoning key tenets of revolutionary politics, and advocated in its stead a left deStalinisation. He also would never have described the PCF as being counter-revolutionary. So I am not exactly sure what practice you are pointing to besides his desire to have the PCF adopt a more left line, which I may add was still to the right of what the Maoists wanted. Furthermore, I am not sure whether it would have caused a sharp and violent rupture because Althusser’s orientation was quite different from that of the GP or the UCFML. But perhaps you could elaborate on that point. As for the Gang of Four, my disagreement with them is not their compromises, but is in fact their entire orientation and their role in crushing the nascent revolutionary movement in China in 1968. But then again, I agree with the RCP,USA “and Mao makes 5,” which means that Mao is as much to blame for impeding the revolutionary self-organisation of the masses as the Gang and Lin Biao were. This actually comes back to my emphasis on a political pluralism because only with such a perspective can one arrive at the need for a multi-party socialist state and allow for the formation of parties that are not part of the party-state. Finally, I have not read the BR stuff on the PCI, do you have any links?

  5. Thank you likewise for your interest in this discussion.
    1: One has to draw a line between friend and enemy on the base of a analysis of the conjuncture and act accordingly. Concretely I think a significant proportion of the left in North America are consolidated to a revisionist line on the material base of their work in the non-profit and union bureaucracy and that insofar as the mass movement develops here in this country they will expose themselves just as the leadership of the PCI and PCF did in the 60s and 70s.
    On the other hand anyone seeking to develop autonomous mass struggle in this country outside of the corporatist NGO framework is someone i welcome as a comrade regardless of whether they are Maoist, Trotskyist, left communist, anarchist, left nationalist or whatever.
    Of course these two categories are fluid and only the future can tell who will end up where.
    The absurdity of simply drawing this line on the base of who is and is not part of the “anti-capitalist left” (in rhetorical commitment) is evident from many historical situations. ie were pro-colonial French and Browderite Argentine communists really the “left” in relation to Muslim and Peronist nationalists?
    2: Once again its unclear to me how this differentiates them from other abstractions.
    3: The determination of who is an erring friend and who an enemy is as i said dependent upon a concrete analysis of the conjuncture. For example I am not familiar enough with the situation in Chile to make any judgement upon the specific alignments which were made.
    I appreciate the clarification on Althusser-I have only read his articles here and there and not done any systematic study. But the point remains-anti-revisionist struggle internal to the PCF would have had the same conclusion as anti-revisionist struggle external to it, eventual drawing of “hard” lines and emergence of antagonistic contradictions.Its simply different ways of getting there.
    As for the Four I think the line your espousing is based in a misreading of the history of the CR decade which is far from new or groundbreaking (it was promoted by Progressive Labor among others at the time). Trashing the Four for complicity in military repression is i think quite similar to trashing Lenin for supporting the Brest Treaty-it tends to have little base in a realistic analysis of the balance of forces at the time.
    The BR stuff on the PCI is in the Strike One to Educate One Hundred book which is sadly almost the only English language source of BR documents atm.

    1. Hi Karl,
      1. So you would maintain a hard division and/or antagonistic relationship with the majority of the Left because they have a “consolidated” position in respect to revisionism and cannot be won over? You would continue to call them and their actions “right opportunist” so that they would see the error of their ways, or just wait for them to be “exposed”? I would imagine that this is derived from your positive assessment of the Third Period? I do not think that this has worked, for example in France. The setbacks that the PCF suffered did not lead to the development of a new revolutionary Left, but actually resulted in the consolidation of the new Right, which in many respects remains the situation today in France. Of course, the PCF’s position on Algeria was disgusting, but it too was grounded in Cominform and Soviet policies. I personally think that whether it was India or France calling the PCF and/or CPI as a whole not Left was actually correct, but it was important to remember that it did not mean that many of its members were not Leftists. Let us please remember that Charu Mazumdar and his compatriots had no intention of splitting the CPI(M) when they did, despite its policies, because they felt that the membership and the leadership were different entities. Indeed, they were forced to prematurely split when their secret organising committee was exposed. I think the same was true of the PCF, although in this case the Maoists left very early in the game, thus weakening in turn the internal Left opposition surrounding Althusser. Thus, one can still regard many militants of the PCF as Left, even if the national leadership had adopted national chauvinist positions. So whether one regards the PCF as Left or not during the Algerian war depends on whether your analysis rests on identifying the PCF with its formal leadership or its membership.
      2. I think the difference is between what Ilyenkov called concrete abstractions and idealistic abstractions. I think the use of the formalised categories you want to deploy are the latter inasmuch that they convey nothing concrete without then having to supplement them with an actual concrete analysis. Having said this, if you feel like it helps you think things through then so be it, I prefer not to use them for the reasons I have outlined.
      3. I think we agree in general on a definition of “revisionism,” although would point out that this definition has little to do with how the term is actually understood/used in the ICM currently or historically, and again speaks to the lack of concreteness to the formalised term inasmuch that it conveys nothing but the semantic meaning you fill it with. But again if you feel like its useful, so be it. But yes, I am ware of the PLP’s position and think it in broad strokes is correct, although of course it is marred by a lack of serious historical grounding, which was in turn unavoidable given the times. Indeed, as I said, I am sympathetic to Yiching Wu’s historical analysis, especially as articulated in his book, “The Cultural Revolution at the Margins,” which I strongly recommend you check out inasmuch that it is grounded in actual historical research that includes access to archival documents from the GPCR which are incredibly difficult to gain access to and more recent large Chinese-language archival data sets. There are a few publications from former Red Guards during the 1970’s that I similarly think are more useful markers than the Gang of Four; Wu mentions them in passing. And yes, I have read “Strike One to Educate a Hundred,” although it has been several years. I think you are right that at some point the divisions would have become too much and a split likely would have occurred, as was the case in all parties that followed the Eurocommunist path in contradistinction to the Soviet one, but that calling comrades “right opportunists” during the struggle within the party would have isolated the left forces by unnecessarily pre-empting the sharpening of divisions. Thus, my issue is not scission, which I agree is often required, but rather the course such sharpening takes and under what conditions. Furthermore, I think the case is not as easily applicable to North America where we don’t have something like the PCF and never really have.

  6. -Its my position at this time that a significant proportion of the “left” at this time (in the US) has become materially dependent upon the non-profit/labor bureaucracy and that their continued solvency depends upon their continued propagation of bourgeois ideology in the mass movement.
    I think a rupture with that “left” is a precondition for a new sequence of proletarian politics at this time in the US. If a significant tendency of those involved in such work decide to draw a line against those who sign their paychecks and approve their applications for funding-I would be sincerely overjoyed.
    But its not something I am counting on.
    I think that a detailed critical analysis of the development of the NGO left (often referred to as the “social movements”) from among other things the remnants of the NCM is a important part of coming to understand our present conjuncture.
    Part of my willingness to relatively (though not absolutely by any means) deemphasize struggle internal to this reformist/revisionist left is my assessment that it is in fact quite week with minimal mass base and influence in comparison to say the PCF. The US workers on the whole are more in the position of lacking class organizations entirely and thus the more pressing concern becomes organized the unorganized.
    Your assessment of the failure of the Maoists in France is of course correct. The question remains to what extent was this due to a wrong decision for an early break with the PCF, to what extent was it due it to poor practice in their own mass work and to what extent was due to the absence of an objective base for revolution in France at the time? (amusingly enough the third option may have been the closest to Mao’s position).
    -I have yet to read Yiching’s book (though I definitely plan to). I have however read Chen Erjun’s work on Crossroads Socialism and though I definitely found it a worthwhile read (and saw some real merit in his brief critique of the “Shanghai left”) I don’t think he was able to compellingly resolve any of the issues he raised and falls back on a naive program of constitutional guarantees when such formal guarantees lose their content in any political struggle of a existential character when both sides are driven by the logic of the situation to a maximal intensity of violence.
    After all the post CR constitution did itself guarantee many popular liberties but what that meant in comparison to the real power of the civil-military bureaucracy was dubious at best. Similarly I don’t think political pluralism can resolve any of the problems posed by socialist transition.
    I think a progressively extended broad mass supervision over the state machinery approximating the measures outlined by Marx in the Civil War in France is much closer to the heart of the issue and the presence of one or many parties is incidental.
    -A discussion of the role of the Four could well involve twice as many posts as we have already made considering the amount of material that could be brought up from both sides. What might be more specifically significant is how our differing views of their actions relate to differences in our political outlooks in general.
    Anyway I appreciate the time you have taken to engage in this discussion and look forward to more posts on the Worker’s Dreadnought in the future.

    1. Thanks so much for having engaged with this post as long as you have. I intend to write in the future on these issues and so please do not regard this debate exhausted, but rather on hiatus until the next time it necessarily re-starts. We are not going to convince one another about these key issues in one discussion, instead it is going to take many conversations and a course of time to study, but also to act, and then reflect. I feel like in many senses this is what is at stake of our debate. How long does one continue the discussion? And under what conditions does one leave the discussion? What kind of language does one strike in said discussion? And how does this all work in respect to some of the more basic conceptual and epistemological categories that underly all of this. I am have come to believe that I have too often left the discussion early and have not offered the generosity that was deserved to the other side.

  7. As a newcomer to the Canadian political scene, I appreciate the schematic overview you’ve provided. I do align more closely with boycott tactics, largely because I think they can provide an opportunity to begin a process of politicizing those affected by the hollowing out of liberal democracy and the flight of the social democratic left to the centre in pursuit of electoral power. At the same time, I agree that the answer to the question of strategy in North America is almost completely open at this point, even if we can and must draw lessons from the global communist movement past and present. The lack of a parliamentary road to socialism forces us to rethink the self-organization of the masses here, and I think a hasty rejection of a variety of tactical approaches is unwise, though a clearly articulated line remains important.

    I look forward to further thoughts from you. I can’t be of much help in debate or in hashing out the specifics of the Canadian situation, but I’ll certainly pay attention to future interventions.

    1. Thanks. I completely agree that this is very schematic, but I enjoyed looking around and asking different groups their respective perspectives. I personally think, and will argue in a subsequent post, that if you are involved in a political collective and collectively are willing to think and act in a protracted faction in a neighbourhood/school/x and thus are using the boycott campaign as an introduction and to start the very long process of politicising people in said neighbourhood/school/x then it can be useful. Having said all of this, I am not committed to the boycott campaign tactic for political collectives either and would be open to something like a spoil the ballot vote, and perhaps under very specific conditions critical support for a socialist NDP candidate. I personally do not think that entryism or running candidates at this point makes much sense. However, if you are an individual, like myself, then I do not think that boycotting is an effective tactic because in fact its abstention at that point, which lacks either a political subjectivity (trying to organise people) or even a count (spoiled ballot or voting). I must admit that I am wavering between spoiling my ballot and voting NDP (its a close race between a Left nationalist NDP candidate and the Liberal candidate).

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