The reality we face now and the way that Leninist ideas apply to that reality deserve much more consideration than I have time to offer here. But I want to conclude with a few thoughts that hopefully will be helpful.
First of all, the turn capitalism has taken over the past few decades has knocked the stuffing out of our class, has ridden roughshod over its organisations and communities and has driven down its quality of life. More than this, there has been a proletarianisation process engulfing and embracing many occupations and social layers once considered “middle class”, while at the same time technology and globalisation have eroded the industries that were once at the heart of working-class employment, replacing them with jobs that pay less and are less secure. And all of this has contributed to a slow-moving, contradictory, but intensifying radicalisation process, and out of this process have been emerging new struggles, new forms of struggle and a still-evolving crystallisation of a new, diverse vanguard layer of the working class.
The possibilities now exist for the coming together of the kind of revolutionary party that Lenin spoke of. This means that no such party yet exists, and that no unified nucleus or core group of such a party exists – and none can yet exist until there is the crystallisation of a radical working-class subculture capable of sustaining a class-conscious vanguard layer of a size substantial enough, in turn, to sustain the kind of genuine revolutionary party described by Lenin. My prediction and firm belief is that the core group, the nucleus, of such a party will be composed of activists who are currently in a number of different revolutionary groups, plus activists who are in no revolutionary group at all, plus some people who at this moment are neither revolutionaries nor activists – but who will become so in future struggles.
The responsibility of any revolutionary group worth its salt will be to help create the preconditions necessary for the emergence of such a party. One aspect of this will involve communicating to more and more people a socialist understanding of what is happening in our society and our world, and doing this in words and ways that will make sense to them. This means – also – our developing a clearer comprehension of that reality. Related to this is the need to help define and initiate struggles, or join in already-existing struggles, to win improvements in the here-and-now for more and more sectors of the working class and the oppressed.
This brings me to the final quote, from authors of an imperfect but important book entitled Beyond Capitalism?, which blends experience (for example) from the Occupy movement with Marxist insights. In that book, Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy say this: “The creation of new forms of political organization which draw upon the spirit of the social movements, rekindle grassroots trade union organization, and embolden participation of wider sections of society in social mobilizations is an orientation on which the success of the left ultimately depends.” They elaborate on “the need to regroup the left in new political formations that provide a space for strategic thinking, that allow different strategies to co-exist in a certain tension, while also creating the conditions for unity and action.” They explain that this should not be seen “as an excuse to avoid reflective, strategic discussion but as a starting-point through which we can move towards a greater degree of genuine unity”.
I think it is important for our different groups of the socialist left not to rush into hothouse efforts to forge some premature organisational unity. Instead we should focus on working together in real, practical struggles, with an eye towards possible unity, but with a focus on the actual struggles. Those struggles are the necessary, transformative precondition for possible unity. The only fruitful unity will come on the basis of joint action in such real, practical struggles. If such unity is achieved, the result might be a democratic, durable, well-run organisation of several thousand, with full-time organisers and new technologies being utilised to enable more and more people to become activist cadres working together to build local struggles, as well as advancing left-wing educational and cultural work, throughout the country. Such an organisation could do a lot to lay the groundwork and create the possibility for the kind of revolutionary party we need.
От редакции: Джоди Дин – известный американский политический философ, профессор, активистка движения «Оккупай Уолл-Стрит» и редактор журнала «Theory and Event», автор и редактор книг «Теория блогов: обратная связь и захват желания», «Демократия и другие неолиберальные фантазии», «Политика Жижека», «Секрет публичности», «Коммунистический горизонт». В интервью LIVA.com.ua она рассказывает о необходимости организации антикапиталистического движения, о его перспективах и о своем понимании концепции «общего».
English version here: http://liva.com.ua/dean-interview.html#
An email from my friend, Demet, in Istabul.
There was a great crowd on the street from very diffent groups; socialists, commies are definitely out there on the front yet hard to say that one party or view dominates. It's mainly been a spontaneous, disorganized union mainly against that "AKP is selling everything in the city!" People try to appropriate the common and it is actually the experience of protesting that unites. Especially for the last couple of months, the police have been so violent; pepper and tear gas is like a routine in our daily lives. One noticeable thing of the last months is that the ones who used to scorn protestors for disturbing " peace" and believed them to be a "group of marginals " came to realize this was not the case and that anybody against government policies could easily turn into a "marginal". Now people are almost ashamed to say that they did not get involved in the struggle and that they did not "have the taste of the police gas" !
The whole city has been under the attack of capital, we have no say over it. Although it all started with Gezi Park, it grew out to be a protest in different cities against the authoritarian neoliberal policies and the AKP hegemony that has rendered people invisible and voiceless. (The recent alcohol sale restriction, the Syria policy, the increasingly conservative and religious statements, number of people prisoned as terrorists etc) And the national media is like a joke! On Friday night there was a penguin documentary on CNN Turkey, a beauty contest in another, a food show etc. There was practically a war on the streets in many cities yet on tv no sign of it. No surprise! (A month ago, there was a bombing in the town of Reyhanli - a town near the Syrian border- and according to offiicial reports 50 were killed. And the government banned broadcasting about this for two days) People watch BBC or CNN (ironic!!) to see how this was broadcasted. On Friday afternoon the Supreme Court announced its decision that the execution of the construction in the park was suspended and I just listened to the prime minister's statement over it saying that he cannot understand this decision and finds it somewhat dubious!!! So we'll see how this goes.
keep in touch and in solidarity
(shared with permission)
The idea for the Anti-Eviction Campaign actually came from South Africa. Toussaint Losier had traveled there to study the direct-action tactics of an organization called the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Its members had been putting their bodies in front of homes to block evictions, building their own squatter settlements on unused land. So J. R. and Toussaint (who got to know each other when the chairman of the South African group visited Cabrini-Green) started a Chicago chapter together. J. R. realized they didn’t need to build lean-tos in Chicago’s black community. They had all the empty homes they required. “We want to do what Roosevelt did,” he said of the home takeovers. “If the government won’t provide public housing for the people, the people must provide it for themselves.”
J. R. estimates that the Anti-Eviction Campaign and its affiliated groups will be able to liberate a hundred foreclosed and abandoned homes in Chicago in the next year, maybe far more. He was training several other advocacy groups how to identify and occupy vacant properties. The houses they’d already taken were ideal workshops to teach basic carpentry and repairs. Money was always an obstacle, but they’ve been able to cobble together gifts from like-minded nonprofits. J. R. has also teamed up with a businessman — a man who used to have the contract to board up public-housing units — whose community-development corporation has an agreement to obtain houses donated by Citibank. J. R. said the banks were starting to take notice. The campaign needed only to keep on the attack. The Chicago City Council even seemed poised to pass an ordinance that would require banks foreclosing on properties to pay any renters living there $12,000 in relocation fees or allow them to stay put, with rent-controlled leases, until the buildings were finally sold. Cathy Albisa, the executive director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, has worked with J. R. for years. “He is a man of faith,” she says. “J. R. is a believer. He will do this work irrespective of the conditions.”
For the Anti-Eviction Campaign to grow into a truly effective citywide phenomenon, however, it required that people in the neighborhoods take charge of their own communities. That was no easy task. One house they recently reclaimed was a bulky Dutch colonial that dominates a corner in an isolated residential section of South Chicago called the Bush. The area used to be a feeder for a nearby U.S. Steel mill, now shuttered, and some 1,700 homes there are vacant. One evening last summer, J. R. and a group of local activists calling themselves South Chicago Rising held a barbecue in the Bush. Burgers and corn on the cob cooked on a small grill set up on a bulldozed city block that had gone to field, the grass trimmed and parched to an amber hue. Smoke coiled around the 25 people sitting in a ring of foldout chairs. A group of them, all black and ranging in age from 30 to 60, had walked over from a halfway house. “Be good,” the man monitoring them would utter forbiddingly when one of them seemed to get a little riled up. Mexican women from the block, some who didn’t speak English, also filled out the circle, as did a few white activists who knew J. R. from other ventures. They passed around two-liter bottles of RC Cola and Squirt, listening to the rhythmic school-bell chiming of passing commuter trains and to the radio from a parked Hyundai.
A leader of South Chicago Rising, Crystal Vance Guerra, alternating between English and Spanish, tried to steer their concerns toward the house across the street. “How do we begin to organize to make sure Lakeside doesn’t kick us out?” she asked rhetorically. “By taking back foreclosed homes.” That was J. R.’s cue. “The bank won’t help you, right?” he began, in a rhythmic call and response. “The people are left to do it for themselves, right? We throw our own community cookouts, right?” He pointed across the street. On the chain-link fence surrounding the reclaimed wood-frame house, someone had hung a bedsheet with a hand-painted message: “Everything belongs to everyone.” J. R. explained that they cleaned up the house, taking it away from the drug dealers and the prostitutes. “That’s where you all come in,” he continued. The house now belonged to the community. It could become a neighborhood center. Homeless families could take up residence there. J. R. wanted to know whether those gathered would come out to defend the property when the call went out. Would they help rehab and maintain it? “I see a lot of great leaders out there,” J. R. professed. “The community will have a sense of power. Your children will know that you did it.”
One way to discern an "idea whose time has come" is by the strength of the urge to evict it.
A new rejection of calls for a Party of the left suggests that, finally, a sense of the need for something like a Party is so undeniable that opponents feel like they have to confront it directly. Instead of coughing up old criticisms from late nineteenth century agrarian anarchists or early twentieth century Dutch councilists, those who attempt to divert the energies building toward greater organization are now having to look at our current situation. In related good news, the very weakness of "Party in the USA: the New Newest Left & the Organization of Sadness" signals the diminishing persuasiveness of those who want to prevent the left from coming together.
Tiredly repeating the irony and innuendo of late nineties academic jargon, Party in the USA: The New Newest Left & the Organization of Sadness criticizes recent arguments for a Party, one from Jacobin, the other the #Accelerate Manifesto. The post begins by exploring the 'masturbatory metaphorics' of the essays, relying on word play that insinuates that calls for left unity are little more than masculine narcissistic fantasies. The intent is to make left organization seem silly, even embarassing: "can one think of something more auto-erotic, more narcissistically invested, than some dude offering up yet another contribution to the archive of revolutionary Party invitations?" Well, sure. How about a rejection of the Party that trades on the playfulness of blogosphere psychoanalysis?
This kind of simple reversal, although adequate as a response to the post's wankery, only repeats the gesture animating the piece. What matters more than the author's indulgence is the position from which the author's critique is raised. What is at stake in ostensibly left positions that want to prevent the left from unifying?
Why would someone on the left want the left to be weak, to remain where it is, to refuse to learn from the Occupy experience and take the next step? What accounts for this left particularism and for its insistence that what we have now--fragmented groups that affiliate from time to time while focusing on their own particular issues and agendas--is the best way to end capitalism and build a more egalitarian world? Is it the narcissism of small differences? the fear of change? the assumption that capitalism is here to stay? a failure to grasp our present situation? Is it an individualist conception of freedom? A hopelessness with regard to the capacities of organized political subjects?
As it rejects the Party, the post depicts the 'new, new left' as sad. This is a mistake. What the author calls the "new new left" isn't sad -- it's energized, vital, fully aware of the urgency of the present. That's why meetings like Historical Materialism and Left Forum have been getting bigger every year, why there are more seminars, reading groups, actions, discussions, symposia, journals, and events, why Jacobin is making a mark.
I now take up some of the specific arguments offered against the Party.
1. "Left unification is not an unqualified good." Since these day everything is qualified--qualification being the quintessential gesture of the left--this point doesn't need to be made. So, what's at stake in stating the obvious? Opening the door to race and gender (has anyone else noticed that white male anarchists never talk about race and gender so much as when they are attacking communists, revolutionary socialists, and anyone else arguing for organizing the left?).
What's disingenuous about such appeals to race and gender is their obliteration of the history of the Communist Party in anti-racist struggle, the reality of Third World Communism (particularly in the seventies), and the fact that sexism and racism are not limited to the organized left but appear throughout society, including anarchist and insurrectionist settings. Perhaps the author is covertly urging a logic of separatism, of identity politics (the implication of the author's invocation of racism and sexism in Marxist groups being that criticism implies splitting rather than learning and change)? If so, then how far does it go? All the way to the individual (itself a false stopping point giving the imaginary character of identity). If not, then it is necessary to acknowledge that a left Party today, one with the capacities of the communist Party, wouldn't exist in the past but would incorporate and learn from the last sixty years of struggle and critique.
The author of the post, though, thinks that what we are doing now is the way we should continue to do things -- it's more flexible. It allows for more autonomy. But autonomy for whom and in what contexts? It seems to me that it's the autonomy of the ineffectual, one that continues to enable an economy that traps people in debt and furthers the intensification of inequality. The author, though, emphasizes "flexible forms of putting groups in contact" with no attention to what it might mean to create structures capable of enduring over time and space in the context of ever intensifying political struggle.
2. Left organizing should not "step back to (pre-)Fordist modalities of political organization in a post-Fordist capitalist landscape. Even MBAs know that flexible decentralization—for them in terms of labor processes, not in terms of the channeling of profit, of course—unleashes greater productive potentials than hierarchical forms of centralization, and I like thinking that my comrades have at least achieved the level of savvy of a Wharton undergrad." This lets us know the author's primary commitments -- to a vision of society in neoliberal economic terms. In this vision, the political is completely absorbed in the economic: both seem to benefit from the productive potential that comes from decentralization. Note as well the omission of the fact that there have been multiple models of the Party--not one "pre-Fordist" or Fordist model (a point which has to be occluded if the binary between bad centralization and good decentralization is to hold).
More horrifying, though, is the repetition of a primary myth of the new economy, that of flexibility and decentralization. If that were true, then why has there been consolidation in the finance sector, in communications, and in oil and gas? Doug Henwood demolished this myth in his After the New Economy. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, shows the connections between ideas of flexibility and military research (Rand Corporation, defense contracting, advanced research programs). And hubs are an immanent property of complex networks -- growth and preferential attachment result in powerlaw distributions, fundamental features of the winner-take-all and winner-take-most characteristic of communicative capitalism (Barabasi, Taleb). This doesn't even scratch the surface of the effects of so-called flexibility on workers and communities. Flexible for whom? Certainly not for laid off workers.
The post, though, announces "horizontalism does in fact produces a robust economy of organizations." It's already a bad call to render left political groups as an economy, as if groups were competing with each other rather than engaged in struggle against a common enemy. But can we say that there is robustness here? And in what sense? The fragmentation of the energies and efforts produced during Occupy has cost us a lot of time and good will. Attachment to horizontalism has been one of the problems. Without clarity of membership, infilitration is easy. Without clarity of vision, constant fighting over goals is unavoidable. Without a shared sense of how we are going to work together, what sorts of decision rules will let us determine which projects to pursue and when, we fall into patterns that reinforce prior privileges. It's not for nothing that Jo Freeman's "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" became so prominent during Occupy.
3. We don't need small groups of militants, leaders, an orientation, or a plan. I will ask again: who does this benefit? Who would want to seduce the left into thinking that we can have a politics without plans, a disoriented politics? Who would want to eliminate or undermine left militants and leaders? It makes me wonder about COINTELPRO and disinformation operations.
Planning is only a problem if one thinks that all potentials emerge in ways that leftists support. Since this is obviously false, planning ways to move forward (as well as ways to respond) is crucial. The most significant recent tragedy on the left is our failure to use the financial crisis of 2008 to our benefit. Occupy was a much needed (although a little late) response. The post asserts: "The last cycle of rebellion closed because we couldn’t keep up the intensity, because our feedback loop of positive affect was shattered by the State and by our own failures to stay committed to the democracy that we were making." Maybe we couldn't keep up our intensity because we lacked organizational structures that would distribute tasks such that we knew that someone would take responsibility for them. Too few people felt like they had to do everything (because some would drop the ball, fail to show up, volunteer but then not carry out what they had agreed to do). And maybe planning, having a clear orientation, would enable us not to be "shattered by the State." If we collapse whenever the State intervenes, we have and will have no movement. The one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that the stronger we become the more repression we will encounter.
4. The turn to the Party is therapeutic, done in the "spirit of sadness." This doesn't ring true. In fact, it's so false as to invite diagnosis. Perhaps the sadness is over the failure of horizontalism. This would make sense. Many people are still grieving over the inability of horizontalism to last or scale. I think, though, that it has been an important experiment. We've learned from it. Indeed, as I argue in The Communist Horizon, this experiment should inform our thinking as we figure out the form of the Party that will work for us today.
The remainder of the blog post sets out what the author prefers to the Party. He advocates
a. "the production of new political sensoriums, new sensoriums of the political, so that we can ironize the ontological density of the state and capital and not feel like we’re living defective half-lives if we’re barred from access to either." Given that irony is a primary marketing tool and content of pop culture, it's hard for me to see exactly what it contributes to a new political sensorium. It also seems to me that trying to feel better about being barred from the state and capital is exactly what capitalism wants of those it's immiserating. Unhappy about your 80 thousand dollars of student loan debt? Try yoga, a 12 step program, Zoloft, or ironizing ontological density!
b. All of the social knowledges and powers we used to attribute to those terms are immanent to the social itself. We don’t need to organize, to treat ourselves or the social as a technical object. The terms to which the author is referring are "activists, militants, and Parties." I confess that at this point I wonder if the author is actually a Platypoid doing his best to kill the left. Dismissing the dedication of our activists, the courage of our militants, and the histories and organizational capacities of our parties, he evokes a social free from antagonism, inequality, oppression, and exploitation. How are knowledges and powers distributed? Who can access them and for what purpose?
c. Let’s disorganize. Who benefits from a disorganized left? A prominent paper last year documented the rise in inequality and decline of labor unions. There is no reason to think that the immanent movement of capital will do anything but enrich the few and immiserate the many.