reply to the internationalist communist tendency

At their most recent congress, the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP), changed its name to Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT). The ICT is an international grouping which places itself in the tradition of elements in the post WW2 Italian communist left.  In the last issue of their periodical prior to adopting their new name, the group published a brief article on The Commune, and invited us to reply.  Joe Thorne responds, discussing our politics in several areas.

Comrades,

Thank you for taking the time to review the politics of The Commune in issue 50 of Revolutionary Perspectives, and thank you in particular for your positive comments.  You ask a good question: are we a radical new grouping, or the old left in a new form?

Perhaps the best method will be to consider some of the criticisms raised in your article, under six main headings.

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Party

There is no reference to the need to create an international proletarian party which we see as playing an essential role in developing class consciousness and organising the class.

One reason not to refer obliquely to the need for ‘a party’ is that the meaning of this term is very unclear, and subject to different interpretations.  For instance, giving a typical Trotskyist interpretation, the AWL hold that “a combat party … is an army on the march. … The central leadership, democratically elected and controlled, must be in charge. As the highest active consciousness, its directives are binding.”[1] This “central leadership” is, of course, the executive committee, and many Trotskyist organisations give this committee the right to proscribe at will the form that external and internal organising, debate and discussion may take.  This idea of the party is most widely understood in the terms given to us by contemporary Trotskyists – in fact, an ahistorical representation of, the real Bolshevik experience.[2] We do not know if this is what the ICT means when it refers to the “centralised party”[3]: if it is, we disagree.  We understand that the left communist milieu often uses the term “centralised” to mean something like “unified” or “coordinated”.  But we ourselves do not believe that the revolution will have an executive committee (nor, if it did, would it be allowed to survive), and so it does not necessarily make sense for us to declare straightforwardly and without qualification for “the party”.

Of course, the term need not be used in this way.  We know that Marx talked of the party at times “in the historical sense”, and in this sense we endorse the idea, in this sense we are for the party[4].  What is more, we endorse the idea of an international revolutionary movement, perhaps working through a number of formal, and perhaps some informal, organisations, in as unified and organised a manner as possible toward the social revolution.  In this sense, we are for the party, although this fact is not expressed in such terms in our platform.  (We know that the class struggle itself is the important thing, and that it arises organically from below, creating its own organisations as it does so.   It is not something ordered by any formal party, but at best, promoted, assisted, sharpened and generalised by it.)  But as G.P. Maximov put it, “The issue is not in the name, but in its content, in the organisational structure of the Party, in the principles on which it is founded.”[5] These are the grounds for real debate.

Organisation

Their conception of organisation is somewhat nebulous, seeking to establish a ‘pluralist communist network’.

. . .  This organisational model borrows from libertarianism and anarchism.

This latter judgement may be correct: but it is not of itself a criticism.  There is, in fact, no orthodox theory of what a small political group in an advanced capitalist society should be like.  (Although we are not, as such, concerned with what is orthodox and what is not).  We do not formally describe ourselves, as an organisation, as libertarian, though several of our members may adopt this label.

What is pluralism?  Just the idea that members, or groups of members, may disagree with each other, whether in public or private, provided they are nonetheless within the bounds of our platform.  We seek to produce tendencies towards theoretical unity as an organic product of our own ongoing education, discussion and debate.  But there are always countervailing tendencies: new facts, new ideas, new arguments.  This tension is a real one; we hope to exist in it without drifting either to dogma, or a state of affairs in which differences are left unexamined.

At present, our platform is brief and not always clearly specified.  We are a little more than a year old: for now, it does what it needs to.  Perhaps in the future it will become more detailed.  But the level of detail in a platform – a basis of unity – has no ideal level of specificity, it must relate to the mutual development of ideas amongst the people involved.  Currently, it does.

Nationalism

One misunderstanding, at least, is entirely understandable, and we should welcome the opportunity to correct it.

They quite reasonably denounce national oppression but there appears to be no clear understanding of the fundamentally anti-proletarian nature of national movements. This was demonstrated at a recent Commune discussion meeting in London at which supporters of the Tamil LTTE were given a platform.

This was an inadvertent mistake on our part.  Given the massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka ongoing at the time, we sought a speaker with some knowledge of the situation.  One was recommended to us at short notice, and we were not able to verify their politics in advance.  We were not aware that we would be hosting a fully fledged LTTE apologist.  However, despite the chauvinism of this speaker, the discussion was generally good, albeit slightly odd, and the relevant political criticisms were drawn out by our comrades, and others.  To be clear, we give no form of support to groups such as the LTTE, and insofar as they attack the working class, as is generally the case, we oppose them.

However, we do not therefore say that national movements necessarily have a “fundamentally anti-proletarian nature”.  If it is reasonable to denounce national oppression, it follows that it is legitimate for movements to take place in opposition to such oppression.  For sure, within those movements, organisations like the LTTE take anti working class actions and stances, but it does not follow that we should be opposed to the idea of a movement against national oppression as such; we should not be so opposed.

The unions

The most problematic area is their perspective on how the class struggle needs to develop. They correctly identify the anti-working class nature of the trade union leadership and bureaucracy but, their solution is good old fashioned leftist rank and filism. In other words the rank and file should wrest control of the unions from the bureaucracy and in so doing transform the unions back into genuine working class organisations.

Nowhere do we express the “the belief that the trade unions can be transformed into revolutionary organisations”.  We have not promoted such a view: though comrades are welcome to supply any quotations from our articles which take this position.  We do not, on the other hand, abstain from ever supporting one candidate over another in union elections as a matter of principle: it is a matter of tactics.  What good will it do?  That depends: ordinarily not much, certainly not without a related increase in militancy at the base.    But it is not necessarily entirely irrelevant, either.

We are not slavish apostles of the official methods, any more than we make their rejection an absolute.  For example, a recent article on the suspension of the Royal Mail strikes on our website, reads,

CWU members should push inside the union for the action to be resumed, insisting on the most democratic forms of rank and file control.  But they cannot rely on this strategy being successful. Therefore, they should also be prepared, should it be necessary, to take, support and spread unofficial action, from office to office, from one end of the country to the other.  The tradition of not handling work from striking offices needs to be resurrected.[6]

We think that most unions are working class organisations.  They cannot fully express the universal, historic needs of the class as a whole.  And, not infrequently, they act against the interests of the class.  But they are overwhelmingly composed of working class people, and are often expressions of those people’s attempts to further their class interests, albeit in incomplete and mediated form.

The left

The Commune do not appear to have a clear understanding of class lines which are forged from real historical experiences, thus debates with the bourgeois left are seen as a valid political activity.

We do see debates with what you call the “bourgeois” left as valid political activity.  Do members of the ICT refuse to speak to Trotskyist workmates or neighbours about politics?  If not, then you also debate with the bourgeois left.  Do we seek ‘unity’ with members of the larger Trotskyist organisations?  If it is possible to work together in some way which means we do not sacrifice our independence and political clarity, yes.

True, “it was the German Social Democrats who murdered revolutionaries such as Liebknecht and Luxemburg and destroyed the revolutionary potential of the German workers from within.”  But the SWP, even if they were precise analogues for the SPD (they are not), are not a mortal threat to anyone.  It is idealistic in the extreme to take the formal positions, or present day behaviour, let alone vague historical equivalents, of such groups, and project them into an imagined revolutionary scenario at an undetermined point in the future.  This is not a serious method.  The nature of organisations like those that make up the Trotskyist left is not necessarily fixed in stone.  Given the fact that they incorporate a number of serious working class militants, we should value the possibility of shifting their positions in a communist direction.  To say that we are in favour of left unity, under the condition of our own real independence, is only to say that we are in favour of an opportunity to make that possibility a reality.

Workers’ self management

Of course in a post revolutionary situation workers’ self management would prevail as a fundamental characteristic of socialist production. However The Commune appear to share an anarchist view that workers’ self management can develop within capitalism and contribute to its demise.

Our objective is not self-managed capitalism, an archipelago of cooperatives in the sea of the capitalist market.  Our objective is communism, and we raise self management as an integral component of that precisely because that “fundamental characteristic” has been so maligned and abused by various statist socialists over the years.  We consider it necessary to issue a corrective.

Can “workers’ self management develop within capitalism and contribute to its demise”?  It depends what you mean.  What do we say, for example, about the occupied factories in Argentina?  Do these express, in a sense, workers’ self management?  Clearly they do.  Was – is – the battle to establish and defend them a class battle, expressing communist content and aspirations, just as militant strikes and action on the job do?  Yes.  So in that sense do instances of workers’ self management appear as part of the movement towards communism?  They do.  Is the appearance of such phenomena infrequent and highly contingent?  Yes.  So should we rely solely or even mainly on expropriation à la Zanon as a revolutionary vehicle?  No, but we can accept it as one tactic among others.

And furthermore, in the crisis of capitalism of which the social revolution is a part, we assume that it will be necessary for some workers to engage in some sorts of production: for even a revolutionary class needs to eat.  While not every workplace – perhaps not even most – will be appropriate to self management, being made redundant by the passing of the order to whose needs their product corresponds, some will.  How will this production be managed?  We suggest, by communist self management.  In this second limited sense, then, self management can contribute to capitalism’s demise.

Conclusion

In one sense, we are the old left in a new form: several of our members are drawn from the large layer of militants experienced in, and disillusioned with, the Trotskyist movement.  And we clearly adopt a more open form.  But the old left is part of our roots.  Do we discard everything from that experience?  No.

Yet, are we a radical new grouping?  Yes.  We do not have the same ideas as the Internationalist Communist Tendency.  The Commune represents a break with statism, nationalism, organisational authoritarianism, and crude accounts of various elements of class struggle, including the idea of the party.  Our appraisal of the unions is critical, alongside our conviction that they represent, albeit often in bureaucratised form, attempts by workers to organise around their class interests: attempts that are worth relating to.

We would welcome further discussion.  Members of the ICT continue to be welcome at our events.

For communism,

Joe Thorne


[1] http://www.workersliberty.org/node/5750

 

[2] C.f. Another look at the organisation question, Communist Bulletin Group, http://cbg.110mb.com/organisation_2.pdf

[3] http://www.ibrp.org/en/articles/2009-10-26/the-international-bureau-for-the-revolutionary-party-becomes-the-internationalis

[4] Letter to Freiligrath, 29th February 1860, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1860/letters/60_02_29.htm.  Freiligrath’s letter, and more of Marx’s commentary, can be read here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1860/letters/60_01_11.htm

[5] http://libcom.org/library/constructive-anarchism-debate-platform-g-p-maksimov

[6] https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/post-strikes-suspended-this-deal-is-no-deal/

Final paragraph in section on nationalism added after original posting

24 thoughts on “reply to the internationalist communist tendency

  1. A fantastic exchange – I really agree with and appreciate The Commune’s positions and think they are definitely on the right path.

    The only criticism I would raise is the wholesale dismissal of the LTTE as a “chauvinist” organization that is “reactionary” in nature. While we may argue that there are “better methods” of struggle, it is most definitely the most “valid” representative of the oppressed Tamil people and their nation.

    In the developed Capitalist world, our “priorities” are different than societies currently engaged in other social struggles. The LTTE’s goal is clearly not Communist in orientation, but national liberation. At this juncture of historical development in Sri Lanka, the liberation of the Tamil people from Sinhalese oppression is the order of the day.

    The subsequent regime established by the LTTE will invariably be more progressive for the Tamil people than the present Sinhalese-dominant regime there, and it may take many forms. It will not be Communism, of course, but one step closer to it, historically.

    The only alternatives are either the wholesale eradication of the Tamils a la the Native Americans OR their outright oppression and forced integration in to the dominant race’s society a la today’s African-Americans. While all 3 possibilites can *eventually* lead to Communism, only the liberation of the oppressed nation is desirable for said people – and as internationalists, we can “put ourselves in their shoes” to understand their position.

    I’m not suggesting support for the LTTE specifically, but I am definitely saying its “not our place” to condemn them. Our “judgment” as Communists is on the reactionary government which enables the LTTE’s existence. Once that’s dealt with, its “not our business.”

    This philosophy flows quite logically from there – oppose South Vietnam and the US Imperialists in the Vietnam War without endorsing the NVA and Ho Chi Minh. That’s “their thing” after Imperialism is toppled. In the Iraq War, a lot of those insurgents are *not leftist.* Many are religious fundamentalists. A good number even miss Saddam Hussein! Does that make them worthy of our opposition? Or is our concern Imperialism, which retards the independent development of the Iraqi Bourgeoisie, thus impeding the eventuality of Communism?

    Of course, I’m open-minded to better arguments against this position, but so far, I’ve never encountered one that made sense.

    Cheers from America, comrades!

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  2. Hi Martin, thanks for your comments. I’ll do my best to respond.

    Sinhala chauvinism is a terrible thing, and Tamil oppression is consequently very real. However, let us be clear about some of the things the LTTE get up to in the course of their struggle, so we’re not talking in the abstract.

    “The Tigers have tightened up their regime of forced recruitment over the last two years, have started recruiting 17 year olds again, and have imposed forced frontline labour on the relatives of those who have failed to return to ‘Eelam’, the LTTE condition for granting passes to leave. ”
    http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2009/01/28/outlines-serendipity

    “At Dollar Farm, 33 Sinhalese were killed and several others were injured in the shooting carried out by the cadres of LTTE. On the same day at Kent Farm, another 29 Sinhalese civilians were killed, thus increasing the total death toll to 62. Among the civilian casualties were men, women and children. The LTTE operatives used submachine guns, automatic rifles and hand grenades to kill civilians.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_and_Dollar_Farm_massacres

    “At least 18 people, mostly women, were killed and 51 injured today when a powerful explosion triggered by suspected LTTE rebels ripped through a bus packed with Buddhist pilgrims in a central Sri Lankan town”
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-174176764.html

    These are the product of ten minutes googling, not an attempt to find the worst examples of LTTE brutality. According to your position, as I understand it, it is “not our business” to condemn forced labour and multiple murder of civilians, if they are carried out by an organisation which is fighting for national liberation. I say that this in conflict with internationalism, that is, the principle of solidarity with all working class people, irrespective of their nationality. We are saying that we condemn the slaughter of civilians consistently, and the use of force labour consistently.

    By the by, I don’t know a huge amount about the domestic politics of Sri Lanka, but I’d imagine that sharp condemnation of Tamil atrocities was a precondition for being able to do effective internationalist work against the war in Sinhala areas.

    The LTTE are “most definitely the most “valid” representative of the oppressed Tamil people and their nation.”

    SInce we aren’t bourgeois democrats, it isn’t our business to search for organisations who are “valid representatives” of any group of people, and relate to those people through that organisation. In your terms, the Democrat Party is the most “valid” representative of you, and the Labour Party of me. What does it mean for us programmatically? Nothing! (And what does “forced recruitment” tell you about the “representative” quality of such an organisation, anyway?)

    I also think people need to be consistent about this. Would you put a speaker from a Ba’athist militia in Iraq on a platform? A Hamas speaker? A representative of the Taliban? All of these are the dominant organised representatives of paramilitary national liberation/”anti-imperialism” among their respective nations. (I don’t mean to say that the person who spoke as actually from the LTTE – I understand they were not, but rather were willing to defend the LTTE in an undifferentiated manner – but putting it like this sharpens the question.) In such a case, how do you avoid effectively disregarding the perspectives of the proletarian homosexuals murdered in Iraq, the prostitutes hung by the neck from the lamp-posts in Gaza during the first intifada, the Tamils who the LTTE kept against their will, to use as human shields during the closing days of the assault? How do we give them a voice? How does our internationalism avoid becoming an internationalism which only applies to straight men with guns?

    I’m not suggesting support for the LTTE specifically, but I am definitely saying its “not our place” to condemn them. Our “judgment” as Communists is on the reactionary government which enables the LTTE’s existence. Once that’s dealt with, its “not our business.”

    Everything is the business of internationalists. Why? Because we have class solidarity with proletarian Sinhala civilians, with proletarian Tamils murdered and oppressed by the LTTE. Let’s say that those subject to forced labour went on strike, or tried to escape. Whose side are you on? What do your class instincts tell you?

    Or is our concern Imperialism, which retards the independent development of the Iraqi Bourgeoisie, thus impeding the eventuality of Communism?

    It is not the case that either our “concern” is either imperialism “or” the reactionary militias. It can be both. That doesn’t mean we have an undifferentiated “condemnation” of “both sides”, with abstract calls for peace. We can combine clear emphasis on opposition to imperialism, with an absolutely realistic assessment of third world militias, and a refusal to ignore or excuse their anti-proletarian activities. And we can combine both with a positive acknowledgement of the legitimate defence of national self determination (which doesn’t mean “non violent” only, we aren’t liberals; but it does exclude atrocities and other anti-working class actions).

    What the section on nationalism in the letter above is about is this. Given that we were going to host a single speaker on the Tamil situation (rather than a debate), we risked suggesting that it was this perspective – a sort of soft, LTTE apologist perspective – that was worth endorsing. As opposed to an internationalist perspective. My position is that, had we known, we should have invited a Tamil speaker with an internationalist perspective.

    The point, by the way, isn’t to condemn, as persons, individual Palestinians or Tamils who join Hamas or LTTE. They are under more pressure than we could ever understand, their choices are very rarely comparable to those of the soldiers of the IDF or SLA. We don’t always have clear programmatic solutions that we can offer to people who’re members of oppressed nationalities, though we can point out that blowing up busses full of pilgrims or school children has no record of success, anywhere in the world, ever. It is possible that many members of these organisations only do legitimate things – e.g. working as medics, to take a very clear example. The point is to just to be consistent in opposing all groups who take violent anti-working class action.

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  3. I appreciate the prompt response!

    It is, of course, undeniable that the LTTE has done some terrible things in its persuit of Tamil liberation. Many innocent people, including Tamils themselves, have been harmed in the process. I realize it may sound “callous” or even “inhuman” to suggest that we shouldn’t “judge” them for these actions – that is precisely what I am saying.

    Allow me to offer parallels: do we fault Palestinians who fire homemade rockets indiscriminately in to Israeli villages? Of course, these are barely effective – but that isn’t the point. Further back in history, do you blame Native Americans who scalped European settlers (and their children!) in the process of resisting colonialism? Do you blame Nat Turner for killing slave owners’, their wives, and strangling their babies in their cribs? These are all terrible things, but is it the fault of the oppressed for acting out in the only way they can evidently conceive?

    People who are oppressed lose sight of some of their “moral” and “ethical” lenses when they percieve the injustice leveled against them as an “unparalleled evil” against which no terrible act committed can truly “outweigh” said injustice. Judging by the overwhelming support (both active and passive) that the Tamil people give the Tigers, even Tamils are under that perception in *spite* of the Tigers’ alleged and real crimes.

    We may have criticisms, we may have constructive suggestions – but ultimately, unless we are from and operating in similar material conditions, we should reserve any meaningful judgement and allow those people to make that call.

    You state, “since we aren’t bourgeois democrats, it isn’t our business to search for organisations who are “valid representatives” of any group of people, and relate to those people through that organisation.”

    I agree, but only in the conditions of developed Capitalism. *We* are beyond leaders, but they are still in a moment of history where leaders are simply “how they work.” Organizations representing them, then, are the “order of the day.” Not because “all of the people” are genuinely represented, but because any national liberation struggle is inherently unproletarian. What’s going on is a Bourgeois national liberation struggle by the Tamil Bourgeoisie – the militant form it takes is the LTTE. It is but the “Continental Congress” of Sri Lanka fighting its fight to be free of its oppressor country.

    As a historical materialist, “chauvinism among the oppressed” is a nonissue in underdeveloped Capitalism. It is such that we would have supported (at least by opposing their enemy) all of the colonial revolutions in Africa and elseware during the 20th century, regardless of the “ideas” they employed. Your position, taken to its logical ends, results in suppressing colonial uprisings where anti-white sentiments were expressed (which was almost all of them.)

    Once the development of Capitalism is attained, all “nations” within the borders of that national entity (U.K., U.S.) become subject to the same rules of history as everyone else. Racism will still persist, but the interests of all communities becomes united in abolition of capital (and all its tentacle forms, such as nationalism/racism/chauvinism) – not in an abstract “national liberation” struggle which would, if successful, merely create “Capitalism for the oppressed.” Marginally better, perhaps, but not nearly as awesome as a “free and equal association of producers.”

    I apologize if I misread or misunderstood your arguments, or poorly represented my own.

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  4. I realize it may sound “callous” or even “inhuman” to suggest that we shouldn’t “judge” them for these actions

    It is.

    do we fault Palestinians who fire homemade rockets indiscriminately in to Israeli villages?

    Yes. This is internationalism. Of course, we can understand the pressures people are under. But we still fault them.

    Further back in history, do you blame Native Americans who scalped European settlers (and their children!) in the process of resisting colonialism? Do you blame Nat Turner for killing slave owners’, their wives, and strangling their babies in their cribs?

    In the case of the children and babies at least, I unequivocally fault them.

    People who are oppressed lose sight of some of their “moral” and “ethical” lenses when they percieve the injustice leveled against them as an “unparalleled evil” against which no terrible act committed can truly “outweigh” said injustice.

    This is true. But given that we have not lost our lenses, we would do well to say what we see. And, although they are under less presure, you can say much the same for soldiers in colonial armies. Many IDF soldiers have lost their lenses as well, due to the operation of racist ideology in Israeli society – I guess the same goes for US and UK soldiers in Iraq. The mere fact that historical processes tend to people losing their moral compass is no reason for us to toss ours away. One case of the other may be subjectively easier to empathise with, it may even be objectively worse, but in respect of the position that internationalists take, we oppose nationalist atrocities as such.

    You state, “since we aren’t bourgeois democrats, it isn’t our business to search for organisations who are “valid representatives” of any group of people, and relate to those people through that organisation.”

    I agree, but only in the conditions of developed Capitalism. *We* are beyond leaders, but they are still in a moment of history where leaders are simply “how they work.” Organizations representing them, then, are the “order of the day.”

    It is patronising and extremely problematic to say that “we are beyond leaders but they are in a moment of history where leaders are simply “how they work”. If anything like that came out of a bourgeois politician’s mouth, I’d call them racist. I am sure you don’t mean to imply that, but nonetheless, it’s pretty bad. For a start, obviously our society is not beyond leaders, even in the sense of political elites. Look at how our society works. Furthermore, the capacity of workers to fight class battles is not some product of advanced industry. It goes back to the Peasant Wars in Germany, as described by Engels. It exists now, on plantations in Sri Lanka: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/sep2009/sril-s22.shtml – this article also points the way to the sort of internationalist, working class action, for which bombing busses is a substitute.

    And how about the questions I asked above?

    I also think people need to be consistent about this. Would you put a speaker from a Ba’athist militia in Iraq on a platform? A Hamas speaker? A representative of the Taliban?

    And, in case of a strike or attempted escape by forced labourers against the LTTE, what do you say? Whose side are you on?

    Once the development of Capitalism is attained, all “nations” within the borders of that national entity (U.K., U.S.) become subject to the same rules of history as everyone else.

    Sri Lank is capitalist. It is not a little bit capitalist. As far as I am aware, it has no feudal productive relations. It is not “the Asiatic mode of production”. Capitalism with as more plantations than factories is still capitalism. Capitalism is based on the wage labour relation, not a particular level of industrialisation.

    Anyway, I don’t know where you’ve got this particular stagist theory from. I don’t know if it has been elaborated at length somewhere, but it seems fairly off the cuff to me. What is your theoretical definition of “developed capitalism” and “underdeveloped capitalism”, and how are these definitions related to the alleged lack of importance of working class political independence in the latter?

    As a historical materialist, “chauvinism among the oppressed” is a nonissue in underdeveloped Capitalism.

    Tell that to a gay Iraqi proletarian, or Tamil doing forced labour in Eelam. Your position is that their experience is a “nonissue”. Therefore, you are not an internationalist.

    It is such that we would have supported (at least by opposing their enemy) all of the colonial revolutions in Africa and elseware during the 20th century, regardless of the “ideas” they employed.

    No, this is a misreading on your part. You will not find any reference to “ideas” in my above formulations. I have not been talking about “ideas”. I have been talking about atrocities. The issue is not whether the LTTE are communist or not, it is whether they engage in murderous anti working class operations etc.

    Your position, taken to its logical ends, results in suppressing colonial uprisings where anti-white sentiments were expressed (which was almost all of them.)

    No it doesn’t. Please explain why you say this. Why does saying “x does some terrible things [let alone “says” some terrible things], and I condemn those things, and I do not support x” logically lead to “x should be suppressed by colonial/imperial states”? It doesn’t. There is no logical connection, unless you also hold a premise “anything that does terrible things and which we do not support should be suppressed by colonial/imperial states”. And obviously I do not hold that premise – and neither, for that matter, do any communists I know.

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  5. There’s no need to get rude about this question – I’m merely elaborating a different point of view, one which “makes more sense” to me.

    You suggest that it is tantamount to “racism” to suggest that different conditions create different consciousness, and that their different consciousness from ours might “obscure” the lens by which we can analyze their struggle from an “ethical” point of view.

    I don’t believe in a “universal revolutionary code of ethics” by which we can judge anyone we wish. I believe in the “science of history” – and history seems to indicate a particularly “moral relativity” in different developmental epochs.

    How else would you explain the seemingly “normal” nature of homophobia and sexism amongst less developed Capitalist nations, while such notions are increasingly repulsive and intolerable to people in the more developed Capitalist nations? Is it coincidence? Or are there material conditions at work?

    A consistent theory of history will sometimes appear “cold,” in the same way that the laws of nature may seem “cruel” to permit (like a cat eating an innocent mouse) – but that “emotional” attachment shouldn’t obscure our ability to see what’s *actually* going on.

    I don’t purport that history moves in “finite” stages – things are often blurry, and the closer we get to trying to “scientifically analyze” particular phenomena, the more exponential the variables become.

    I do believe, however, that one can recognize some distinct “distance markers” – and one of them is the underwhelming state of industrial development and urbanization.

    Both of our countries are massive food exporters, and yet very little of our population lives outside of urban areas – technology breaks down the “contradiction between town and countryside”, and the mass spreading of technological advancement is the first hallmark of a developed Capitalism.

    Nonetheless, I don’t pretend to have “absolute” answers.

    The biggest “factor” I ascribe to Sri Lanka’s economic position is the very existence of a popular, organized, Bourgeois, revolutionary national independence movement. Such movements have significantly “lost ground” in places like America and Britain specifically because – I would posit – of the increasing and forced integration of distinctly seperated groups of people in to one oppressed lump. This amalgamation is a consequence of developed Capitalism, and one that is an overall positive step in this frame of history.

    Had I lived in the 1930s, I would have supported the call of black folks to liberate the “Black Belt” – and during the 70s, in your shoes, I would have supported the Scottish independence movement. That amalgamation I spoke of has created a sense of oneness, and laid the foundation for a “unitary” struggle of all people in our countries against capital and for a “free and equal association of producers.” Such conditions have not been laid in Sri Lanka. I see no distinct difference between then and now, except that we are presently looking at a similar struggle to ones that both of our “nations” experienced several decades ago.

    Back to the specifics of the question at hand: I’m not calling for us to support any particular organizations in struggle, whether that’s the PLO or Hamas in Palestine, or whether its the PIRA or the RIRA in Northern Ireland, or whether its the LTTE or some other group in Sri Lanka. They are all engaging in resistance, and for that they should not be faulted – even if we (from our vantage point) would not concur with some of the particulars.

    It’s not “our job” to concur or not – and frankly, it won’t “change” anything if we like them or not. That’s the Tamil people’s decision in a very *literal* way.

    Your position would be, if we boiled it down, that “both sides” of the struggle are “wrong” and thus “neither side” should be supported. And so, in the name of internationalism, we withdraw in to our own nation to sit quietly and wait for “the right guys” to come along.

    Well, that sounds nice – but its not particularly useful.

    I agree that neither the U.S. occupation nor the Taliban are “good” – in the sense that they neither are “fully” progressive. But even if we opposed both to the maximum we could, the only one that will “go away” will be the former, meaning we have objectively “helped” the latter. The regime they would institute would pretty much suck for everybody who disagreed with their vision, but it would put Afghanistan on “its own track” to development without any “interference” from a power that will objectively *retard* its development in the interest of profit.

    Where the people rose up against the Taliban, we would support that, too! But that’s not happening right now – and it won’t until material conditions sufficiently “create” a sensibility that empower the people to do so. Right now, everybody wants Imperialism out – and the Taliban is the most popular organization capable of achieving that.

    Its a lot like how, in Iran, the Ayatollah was a “progressive step” away from Imperialism’s Shah, but that *now* there is a progressive Bourgeois revolutionary movement against the Ayatollah. It still isn’t “fully progressive” as we might love, but that’s just *how history works.* Its kind of a bummer, I suppose – but we have to get used to it if we’re serious about a comprehensive “theory of history.”

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  6. Hey all, good discussion.

    I’d have to jump in on Martin’s side here – whilst I respect C0mmunard’s perspectives, it does lead towards utilitarianism in struggle. Was the IRA’s progressive struggle undermined by the occasional atrocity, or were the much larger numbers of killings conducted by the Viet Cong? Many on the left in the UK used these kinds of objections to avoid supporting the struggle for Irish independence in the 70s and 80s (whilst very happy to support far off struggles like the Sandinistas).

    Ultimately, this discussion does have real impacts for us here and now – should we have essentially no-platformed this guy who was connected with the LTTE? It would be great if our ideologically correct armed divisions were combatants in these fights, but unfortunatley they’re not; the LTTE were fighting against a viciously racist regieme, and did have popular support, whatever their faults.

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  7. I agree with Rob and Martin here. Ultimately what differentiates, say, Las FARC from the LTTE is not the scale of their human rights violations, but whether they are still seen as an authentic mass movement with a progressive goal. In the case of the FARC it is highly questionable that they have any base of support any more, or even what their goals are; on the other hand, the LTTE whilst in a certain sense being real bastards are still a militant group pursuing an aim popularly supported and aimed at liberation.

    I don’t think getting on a moral high horse about certain human rights violations is really such a useful way to approach these issues. If we were to be too puritanical about these things, we would end up in the position of giving no solidarity or support to any militant groups around the world.

    Realpolitik can be a bloody business.

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  8. The words ‘progressive’ and ‘liberation’ are very loose in meaning and content. Of course you can define anyone as progressive merely by seeing that they are your enemy’s enemy, but that does not mean they are allies for us. If we accept the interpenetration of means and ends, we should characterise the FARC, Filipino Maoists etc now in the same way as we would if they ever raised themselves to the level of a bureaucratic state capitalist ruling class, i.e. fulfilling their current objectives.

    It is not a matter of being puritanical, but asking whether their success or otherwise advances the development of a working-class movement to get rid of capitalism. If not, then there is no basis on which to support them. It is not only that one national liberation movement or another is ‘not perfect’ but it may in fact be viciously anti-working class. That in itself is not necessarily a reason to refuse to debate them, but we should argue against their politics (as took place at the LTTE meeting) not simply endorse them.

    Of course, we should always and everywhere say that imperialism has no answers and retards, rather than accelerates, any struggle for democratic rights and the development of the movements we want to see. We should not base on our positions on which side makes the most ‘liberal’/’democratic’ noises, as if these could be abstracted from the way the world is structured by imperialist domination. But fighting in e.g. the US or UK for troops out does not necessarily mean we have to give support (even if we materially could) to any specific organisation abroad who also happens to be fighting them.

    “Realpolitik” can indeed be a bloody business, but that is one of the reasons why we should not get stuck into it. Internationalism means believing that every people has the same rights, and no-one should be forced to settle for dictatorship/Third Worldist regimes. We should absolutely support people in those communities/nations who stand up against chauvinism and for class struggle politics, not simply “radical” anti-imperialist nationalism.

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  9. Hi Martin,

    I think you’ve implicitly answered my first question. You would uncritically put a member of Hamas, the Taliban, or a Ba’athist militia in Iraq on a platform. However, you still haven’t answered the one about Tamil workers striking against the LTTE. I assume that your answer is that you are on the side of the Tigers, against the workers.

    You suggest that it is tantamount to “racism” to suggest that different conditions create different consciousness, and that their different consciousness from ours might “obscure” the lens by which we can analyze their struggle from an “ethical” point of view.

    This is liberal post modern moral relativism in action. It amounts to saying that there are no real values, only the products of particular people’s imagination in particular times. You only have a class perspective when it comes to certain nations, not others, ergo, you discriminate – in terms of the application of values – against some nationalities. For you, in some areas, the proletariat are the expendable canon fodder of nationalist gangsters. It is only in the developed West where proletarians who assert their independent class interests ought to be defended.

    I believe in the “science of history” – and history seems to indicate a particularly “moral relativity” in different developmental epochs.

    “History” as such indicates nothing in respect of morality. Moral or political perspectives are involved in the study of history, they do not merely arise from it. Of course it’s true that the “ruling ideas” in every time and place are dependent on historical and material circumstance. But the point of communist ideas is to relentlessly cut against and criticise those ruling ideas, insofar as they are contrary to the historical interests of the working class as a whole. If you accept the ideas that arise from our society, you reject communist ideas. What the LTTE apologist contingent are saying is that they are capable of rejecting the ruling ideas of our own society, but unable to do the same trick on the ideas of another nation: despite the fact that the ideas with which to replace those ruling ideas are just the same: the independent perspective of the working class.

    Return to Marx’s 1850 address to the Communist League, where the idea of Permanent Revolution is first advanced. Marx is not a “stagist”. He is not in favour of the working class waiting until after the bourgeois revolution to militantly assert its own interests – http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1850-ad1.htm.

    How else would you explain the seemingly “normal” nature of homophobia and sexism amongst less developed Capitalist nations, while such notions are increasingly repulsive and intolerable to people in the more developed Capitalist nations? Is it coincidence? Or are there material conditions at work?

    There is no necessary one to one correspondence between level of development and views toward homosexuals. For example, Iran has a 25% higher GDPpc than China, but much worse attitudes toward homosexuality – it is possible and legal to be gay, and have sex, in China. Where there is a correlation, it happens because people fought for it, both middle class and working class people, and because they rejected reactionary views in favour of more humane ones. Historical processes involve people, consciously acting and deciding, in the context of structural changes: structural changes don’t just make different ideas pop into people’s heads magically. So we are still compelled to adopt a definite position; not to just throw up our hands up and leave things to the development of the productive forces.

    A consistent theory of history will sometimes appear “cold,” in the same way that the laws of nature may seem “cruel” to permit (like a cat eating an innocent mouse) – but that “emotional” attachment shouldn’t obscure our ability to see what’s *actually* going on.

    You’re just getting confused between “is” and “ought”. I don’t expect Islamic Jihad to stop launching rockets into Sderot, but that means nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing for the question of whether I criticise it or not. The unstated premise in your argument is, “don’t criticise what’s going to happen anyway (if, er, it’s in a ‘less developed’) country”. Why do you adopt this unstated premise?

    Anyway, I’m the one who can see what’s going on, and whose prepared to point it out. It’s others who’re involved in implying that we shouldn’t speak about such things, because they’re inconvenient.

    It’s not “our job” to concur or not – and frankly, it won’t “change” anything if we like them or not. That’s the Tamil people’s decision in a very *literal* way.

    Except the women (in a patriarchal society), children, people doing forced labour, and the ones being kept as human shields at gun point, right? It is not their decision at all, but they don’t count for you? Just the men with guns.

    You keep asserting it’s not our job, but you don’t give any argument or evidence for this. You just assume a priori that it’s the case, which only shows that moral relativism is deeply seated in your politics. And, if it won’t change anything (which is probably true), why not join me in at least speaking the truth? If it doesn’t change anything, doesn’t your “pragmatism” evaporate?

    and the closer we get to trying to “scientifically analyze” particular phenomena, the more exponential the variables become.

    This makes no sense. What does it mean for a variable to become “more exponential” in historical explanation? An exponential is a function where the independent variable is a term with a power (e.g. squared or cubed).

    Your position would be, if we boiled it down, that “both sides” of the struggle are “wrong” and thus “neither side” should be supported. And so, in the name of internationalism, we withdraw in to our own nation to sit quietly and wait for “the right guys” to come along.

    Well, that sounds nice – but its not particularly useful.

    Oh yeah, and what “useful” things are you going to do? Head on over with a rifle? Or just blow up some Sinhala Buddhists in the US and save yourself the air fare?

    I did actually give an example of something useful: those Sri Lankan workers on strike, and raising the banner of internationalism as they did so. You, on the other hand, are indifferent about those very same workers getting blown up in order for someone to make a point. Those workers, whose murder you are indifferent to, are “the right guys” – i.e. the militant, internationalist, working class. (And Rob, as I’ve already said, it’s not about being “ideologically correct”, that’s a straw man: it’s about not killing random innocent people.)

    And anyway, you’re not being consistent, since earlier you said “I’m not calling for us to support any particular organizations in struggle”. So you’re apparently not giving them support either! You’re simply suggesting that “we withdraw in to our own nation to sit quietly and” . . . abstractly defend the right of one gang to immunity from criticism. And call it “useful”.

    Its a lot like how, in Iran, the Ayatollah was a “progressive step” away from Imperialism’s Shah, but that *now* there is a progressive Bourgeois revolutionary movement against the Ayatollah. It still isn’t “fully progressive” as we might love, but that’s just *how history works.*

    The Ayatollah was not a “progressive step”. His continuation of the Iran/Iraq war cost over a million lives. One million proletarians, gone to their graves for nothing! And anyway, the coming to power of the Ayatollah was a consequence of the failure of the working class, including the Tudeh, to assert its political independence, and take power itself, in a situation where most of the economy was being run by soviets. All support for the Ayatollah in ’79, as against the class that made the revolution, was essentially reactionary.

    Anyway, what does “progressive” mean? Do you call for a vote for the Democrats over the Republicans simply because they’re marginally less terrible? We haven’t called for a vote for Labour over the Tories, as David argue in the article now most recently posted on this site. We don’t support things just because there’s an option worst than a million pointless deaths! This line is equivalent to “never mind the war on Iraq, vote Labour, there’s an awful lot being spent on hospitals!”

    And finally, you haven’t come back with any theorised account of what constitutes underdeveloped or developed capitalism, to what level of development of the productive forces these terms correspond, and why in one case, but not in the other, feminism and working class politics are sacrificed on the altar of bloodthirsty nationalist machismo.

    Rob –

    Was the IRA’s progressive struggle undermined by the occasional atrocity, or were the much larger numbers of killings conducted by the Viet Cong?

    Yes.

    You’d probably feel the same if anyone you knew was part of one of these “occasional” atrocities. No one I know was, luckily. The “we aren’t the ones involved” argument cuts both ways, you see.

    should we have essentially no-platformed this guy who was connected with the LTTE?

    It’s not about no platform. A debate between an internationalist and the guy we hosted would have been fine. What I’m saying we shouldn’t have done was put the guy on a platform as the only one speaking about the issue, and thereby implied that this was the point of view to be put forward and heard, and simultaneously implicitly given some sort of endorsement to those views. (And I’m NOT saying they were “connected” with the LTTE, just that they defended them.)

    Nathan, “Realpolitik can be a bloody business”, yes, but there is nothing of Realpolitik in what you, Rob and Martin are talking about. It is voyeuristic and irresponsible, being pseudo brave and faux serious with other people’s lives. There is nothing “practical”, “hard headed” or “realistic” about these positions, still less does it have anything to do with a “comprehensive theory of history”. Let’s bring it down to ground zero. This is just about whether you hold people accountable for their actions, and whether you condemn atrocities as such. It is about whether you call things what they are, irrespective of the national identity of the people involved. It is about whether you’re internationalist or not, whether you support international working class solidarity or not.

    The LTTE apologists on this thread presumably think that feminism and the struggle for women’s rights should wait until after the nationalist revolution as well. May be you should write to the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan and tell them to suck it up!

    Today no democracy-minded, serious anti-fundamentalist group can operate openly in Afghanistan. RAWA still runs its programs and activities semi-underground and our members are facing daily threats and risks both from the warlords and the intelligence agency of the puppet regime. https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/afghan-women-bear-brunt-of-hypocritical-war-on-terror/

    When reading that article, did comrades think, “well that’s all very nice, but unfortunately, RAWA, you need to shut the fuck up and wait for the productive forces and the Taliban to get ‘society’ to the point where you can demand those things, ok?”

    And so what if “we would end up in the position of giving no solidarity or support to any militant groups around the world”? We’re communists, we’re for the class struggle! It’s not a disaster if we can’t romantically associate ourselves with any gun toting gang that raises a flag of national liberation!

    By the by, one of the main reasons to have clear politics on these groups is that the uncritical aura surrounding them allows their adherents in our countries political hegemony. Hence, during Cast Lead in January, we got anti-semitic graffiti sprayed around an area near where me and Rob live, and a few windows smashed. But if it’s alright (according to y’all – who refuse to condemn it) to murder Jews in Israel, why isn’t it alright to use racial intimidation here? You might not be able to see the connection, but the kids who smashed the windows of the Stepney Tesco and graffed “Kill Jews” on the walls certainly could.

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t agree with everything in this pamphlet – http://libcom.org/library/against-nationalism – which I think is overly dismissive of the reality of the national oppression though it is worth a read, but this is worth a quote:

    After the LTTE became the de-facto government in a number of Tamil areas, it turned on the new minorities – Sri Lankan Muslims, who were ethnically cleansed from the region through evictions, intimidations and eventually massacres, including the machine-gunning of men, women and children who had been locked inside a mosque. Significant numbers of Sinhalese workers who remained in LTTE-controlled areas suffered similar fates.

    . . . but I forgot, this stuff is fine with y’all.

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  10. I would like to add something to c0mmunard’s comments on supporting various nationalist movements from afar, and the question of whether we should cut ourselves off from the chance to support foreign ‘militants’.

    The left spends an awful lot of time talking about international politics and anti-imperialist struggles. It may seem that this is all an abstract waste of time, but it does relate to our own activism because the groups supported fit into distinct categories, including (i) responses to the aggression of UK/US imperialism and its allies, which have evidently chauvinist politics but who are portrayed as complementary to the anti-war movement here e.g. the Iraqi resistance and (ii) exotic ‘models of socialism in action’ supposedly proving we could do the same in Britain, which used to be the Eastern Bloc but now is largely Cuba and Venezuela.

    Adulation for these regimes and militias is not a necessary precondition for opposing our ‘own’ imperialism (the top priority), and furthermore their struggles receive minimal direct material aid from western leftists either. Instead, they are giving them political cover in front of the western labour movement/left and dampening any understanding of revolutionary/communist working-class politics. But I do not think nationalist militias are the agent of revolutionary change: I back a protest by RAWA in Afghanistan or a strike by Cuban workers 100%

    As c0mmunard says, surely saying that some small workers’ organisation in Venezuela, Nepal or wherever ought not simply tail the majority statist ‘left’ is commensurate with us taking the same position here? Not to say that the situation is identical or directly analogous (if anything they have more to fear from repression), but where does the difference come? Surely we should not back the least-worst ‘feasible’ fighting force in any other country (and on that basis, exaggerate its progressive characteristics and play down criticism) when we would not do so here?

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  11. This is a very interesting debate and I know this is an emotive issue but can I make a plea that we conduct it with a respect for each other’s views?

    I understand where Martin, Rob and Nathan are coming from because it is a position I use to share because and have done so until recently. However, I changed my mind because this position does appear to be indifferent to the suffering of innocent people in the name of a philosophy of history. A philosophy, for all its good provenance in Hegel and Marx has a weakness and that is that is amoral because it countenances the sacrifice of others, who have no say in the matter of current generations, for the sake of future generations. This is a position which Marxism must rid itself of. Here is what Eric Hobsbawm said when asked about the crimes of Stalin:

    In a BBC interview in 1994, a question was put to him: ‘What (your view) comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?’ He replied: ‘Yes.’” Kamm, Oliver (2004). “It takes an intellectual to find excuses for Stalinism”, The Times, July 23rd, 2004. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/thunderer/article460555.ece

    Armed struggle is a legitimate means of self-defence or national liberation. That does not mean however, that any movement can endorse atrocities just because they have a legitimate right to resistance. It’s one thing for members of an organisation to commit an atrocity against its perceived enemy (including civilians) as an exception to the rule, its quite another for the committing of atrocities to be adopted as a means of struggle. The Communist Party of Kampuchea saw itself as conducting a national liberation struggle against imperialism. It was a legitimate struggle to overthrow the monarchy and French and US Imperialism but as we know it used the most brutal of methods which culminated in probably over a million deaths, through execution, starvation and forced labour. Admittedly, much of this was carried out when the organisation came to power but its atrocities carried out as part of its struggle was a harbinger of things to come.

    I give this example to illustrate that I think we ought to take a reasoned stance to whether we give a particular organisation support in its struggle despite its struggle being legitimate. There were reports of human rights abuses by the Sandinistas including executions of Miskito indigenous people although many of these accusations turned out to be baseless. However, I could quite believe that atrocities did occur – after all, war is dehumanising for all sides. But I don’t think they adopted a policy of abusing the population as part of their method of struggle. I think if they had done we ought to have condemned them. The question is whether the atrocities and abuse of people is a systematic policy of the LTTE or isolated cases. If the former, then we ought to condemn them. We should not be adopting a moral relativism or adopting an amoral philosophy of history – I’m sure the relatives of those in Kampuchea or Rwanda or indeed Sri Lanka of those who suffered abuses would be baffled and angry with any suggestion that they lived in a different moral universe or that their suffering was justified in the name of national liberation or other political cause/grievance.

    We need to take what is valuable from a Marxist philosophy of history but dispose of that element which are indifferent to human suffering in the name of progress or liberation.

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  12. I think everything is getting muddled here with bringing in some mechanical stages of history justification for ‘permitting’ the atrocities of groups like the LTTE. This does seem to be Martin’s position, but it is not my own.

    I just think we have to be realistic. The LTTE is a mass supported Tamil liberation movement, albeit one with no (or even anti) working class principles.

    This is not analogous to being realistic here; in the UK there is no ‘realistic’ movement (anti-imperialist, nationalist, or communist) in which to throw your lot in with in the first place. That said, a (hypothetical) Scottish nationalist movement, or the (deceased in any meaningful sense) IRA deserve support in my opinion. Just because these groups may have c committed past atrocities (as many groups do in militant struggles) doesn’t mean that, in the case that they are the only hope for their cause, we should put a distance to them and act like beautiful souls – courting some marginal micro-outfit who look better on paper.

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  13. In the interests of clarification, I don’t believe that any atrocities should be “permitted” insomuch as I understand that we have *no influence* over whether or not they occur.

    While we may not “like” the idea that societies have to evolve in “stages” it doesn’t stop it from being *true.*

    There are material reasons, guided by scientific laws, why the Haitian slave rebellion of 1791 against their French masters resulted in a slave society run by new Haitian masters.

    There are very scientific reasons why the abolition of slavery in the American South resulted in a natural progression of sharecropping; Feudalism – not Capitalism (despite the fact that the conquering class was a Capitalist one).

    I don’t mean to paint David and others here as “idealists,” but its certainly a *borderline* to suggest that how we “see the world” is, or should be, how they see it.

    *That’s not how history works.*

    There is no “universal moral compass” for revolutionaries throughout time.

    What is “okay” and “not okay” by our standards have completely different “starting points” and “end points” for Bourgeois revolutionaries.

    I don’t suggest “supporting” any non-proletarian movements – simply recognizing that the “laws of history” are “amoral.” And we’re always happy when they “move along” in a progressive direction.

    We are not “priests” telling people what is “moral” under “god’s law.” Marx is not a “prophet.” Marx was a scientist.

    —–

    As *proletarian* revolutionaries, the suggestion of “killing 10 million people” to achieve our society is not even “on our radar” as a viable one. It’s antithetical to our end goal of a free and equal society.

    On the other hand, “killing 10 million people” is totally possible for your average Stalin, Washington, Lenin, Castro, Jong Il, Churchill, Hitler, or Bush – class society (even stare-controlled Capitalism) has no human interest, only material (profit) interest.

    Communism is a movement of humanization, and as such, it precludes an “ends justify the means” philosophy. Dialectics knows no such distinction between ends and means – they are one motion.

    That said, I agree with David that the Left “wastes a lot of time” on some of these deliberations – if someone asked us “do you support the Taliban?” all of us would answer a flat “no.”

    If someone asked us to elaborate the historical materialist analysis of the struggle going on in Afghanistan… then we’d have an issue.

    BUT… since 99% of everyone would never ask that, perhaps it is, frankly, *not all that important.*

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  14. As one clarification that I also think important to make: I don’t *oppose* organizations like RAWA. I just don’t *support* anything but the *objective movement of people* – which is opposed to Imperialism and includes many groups of varying political progressiveness.

    I think it would kick major ass if RAWA won power in Afghanistan – because they are the most progressive element at work there!

    Unfortunately, the material conditions of that country have not “supplied” them with the means to “appeal” to the very backward beliefs currently dominating their society.

    Afghanistan is *not advanced enough* for them to matter, much to our probable collective chagrin.

    I would make a huge note, however, that RAWA and I *have the same line* – Imperialism, GTFO!

    After that, they’ll sort shit out *within Afghanistan.*

    I hope they’ll win, but quite frankly, comrades, it doesn’t matter what we “hope.”

    And it never will.

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  15. Hi Mark – fair point on the ol’ comradely discussion… but I do think this is a class lines question. It’s do you, or do you not, condemn random killing

    The question is whether the atrocities and abuse of people is a systematic policy of the LTTE or isolated cases.

    I think it’s got to be stronger than that. For example, alot of atrocities happen because there’s a culture of tacit endorsement, turning a blind eye – they’re rarely ordered from above. These things need to be actively challenged, opposed, prevented and eliminated. (Most of the time, they aren’t…)

    N –

    I just think we have to be realistic. The LTTE is a mass supported Tamil liberation movement, albeit one with no (or even anti) working class principles.

    This is (well, arguably was) a fact. But being “realistic” or otherwise, nothing follows from that, unless you adopt the premise “all mass supported liberation movements should be supported [and their abuses should not be denounced]”. The debate is over whether such a premise holds true. I say it does not.

    Martin says it is true, and part of his reasoning is his particular brand of moral relativism, dressed up in quasi Marxist language. But if you don’t adopt that, what is your reasoning in support of that premise? You do need to back it up somehow.

    in the UK there is no ‘realistic’ movement (anti-imperialist, nationalist, or communist) in which to throw your lot in with in the first place.

    Well, there’s the Labour party, which has real support and which promises to bring slightly more shiny new schools than their rivals in exchange for forgetting about wars/general ruling class war. Same principles apply: it’s about whether you’re an opportunist or a revolutionary.

    That said, a (hypothetical) Scottish nationalist movement, or the (deceased in any meaningful sense) IRA deserve support in my opinion. Just because these groups may have c committed past atrocities (as many groups do in militant struggles) doesn’t mean that, in the case that they are the only hope for their cause, we should put a distance to them and act like beautiful souls.

    This isn’t about vague formulations like “put a distance to”. The question, again, is whether you will acknowledge and condemn atrocities as atrocities.

    Martin –

    I think you’re getting confused between two important ideas:

    1) Material circumstances effect what ideas people have, and what real historical possibilities there are.

    This is true. But:

    2) We cannot make value judgements about movements in societies in which different material circumstances persist.

    is false.

    (2) does not follow from (1). All of your last two posts have been about the uncontroversially true (1), and were therefore irrelevant to a defence of (2). But your first couple of posts were along the lines of (2), and that is what I have been objecting to. Reasserting (1) gives you no defence of (2), which is the problem.

    I don’t suggest “supporting” any non-proletarian movements – simply recognizing that the “laws of history” are “amoral.” And we’re always happy when they “move along” in a progressive direction.

    What, like the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iran/Iraq war?

    We are not “priests” telling people what is “moral” under “god’s law.” Marx is not a “prophet.” Marx was a scientist.

    Marx was also a revolutionary activist. As the link I gave above shows, he did not abjure the perspective of class struggle, just because the bourgeois revolution had yet to be completed.

    if someone asked us “do you support the Taliban?” all of us would answer a flat “no.”

    N supports the IRA and LTTE. It’s not clear what he thinks of Hamas or the Taliban.

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  16. You know, when discussing outlawed ‘terrorist’ groups I would appreciate it if people take the hint that aliases should be used in discussion!

    And no, I don’t support Hamas or the Taliban, which are reactionary Islamist movements in their aims, and only coincidentally anti-imperialist by default — and in the Taliban’s case were actually former imperialist stooges.

    Whereas, the aims of the IRA and LTTE (national liberation) are causes I consider progressive in themselves. I don’t “support” either group, however, in the calculation that in the absence of a better alternative I consider them valid movements, who should not be ‘no-platformed’ at Commune events.

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  17. I *do* have a heart, and as a worker (and human being) I think atrocities and “random killings” are *terrible things.* If I could abolish them with the stroke of a pen, I would undoubtedly do so – I often wish I could.

    But I also think it terrible when a raccoon kills one of my kittens and eats it – sometimes I want to *kill the raccoons* against my better judgement. But I know, as a scientist, that he is merely following his instincts. What he is doing “makes sense” in his limited frame of consciousness, and someday, evolution will enable him to see the “error of his ways.”

    Maybe he’ll even adopt veganism. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it because only material conditions, acting upon the raccoon, will fix the problem naturally.

    I am not comparing people in Sudan or Ireland to animals – but yeah, we *are* all animals. We are just “special” animals, which are capable of reasoning and changing consciousness – but our subjective consciousness is as much based on the reality before us as any creature.

    You and I face a different set of conditions than someone in Sri Lanka or Iran – it’s true!

    Communism isn’t a “religion” with a “moral code” or any other such dogma. We have no “bible” nor any means of “conversion.” We need to stop viewing social evolution as something that requires “our ethics” to guide it “properly.”

    Consciousness is created by conditions, and we can’t “show” someone how to see the world “our way” when the world they witness is different from ours. Our proposals won’t “make sense” to them until they “see” what we are talking about.

    I hate anecdotes – I find them terribly subjective, but please allow me to illustrate my point with one: I was once talking to a Haitian fellow about workers’ self-management. He seemed very confused and asked, “but what if we don’t have any workplaces to self-manage?”

    And with no state, he suggested, warlords that rule various areas of Haiti would simply create their own – or several smaller feuding ones. One is reminded of present-day Somalia.

    Were you living under such conditions, would it not be wholly reasonable for someone to suggest creating a “strong state” that would deal with the feuding gangsters, while instituting a system of bosses and workers so that you may get a job and feed your family?

    Wouldn’t such a suggestion be a serious “progression” for you from your present position?

    Is the idea of a “free and equal association” even relatively *possible*?

    He certainly believed it wasn’t, and most people I meet from similar circumstances feel the same way.

    Given their life experiences, I don’t blame them. And why should we?

    The achievement of the abolition of capital is something that actually requires capital in the first place. Capital brings with it all new social dynamics, and whole new conceptions of everything. It’s literally a “new world” of ideas that is unleashed and reproduced by the way of life it puts in motion.

    Workers in the developed Capitalist countries (which, I should add, include at least Japan and South Korea at this time – not only most of America and Europe) have new attitudes that has developed alongside capital: that bosses are unnecessary, that we should be free, that we are all equals… etc.

    The psychological imperative for Communism is entirely rooted in material conditions, and can’t be “rushed” anywhere. The seed is “sown” by people like us who are “early for the show” and it “grows” as material conditions and time act on it – like how soil quality, sunlight, water, and time act upon a pumpkin seed.

    Any other view is definitely *idealist* in the sense that it sees “consciousness” dictating “conditions.”

    Nonetheless…

    I don’t fault you for wanting to see a world in which people we’d consider bastards in our own country are representing “progress” for another.

    I don’t fault you for wanting revolution to be a “warm, fuzzy” thing without complicated questions or moral quandries.

    I wish those things every day, and every night.

    But it just doesn’t work that way.

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  18. M – duly edited. I’ve said my piece about that “progressive” business.

    Martin – none of that post is relevant. As I said in my last post, you’re just talking about (1), and tacitly supposing that it backs up your claim, (2). But it doesn’t, so you’re still out on a limb there.

    Workers in the developed Capitalist countries . . . have new attitudes that has developed alongside capital: that bosses are unnecessary, that we should be free, that we are all equals… etc.

    The psychological imperative for Communism is entirely rooted in material conditions, and can’t be “rushed” anywhere.

    Consider this:

    From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

    Things will never go well in England – no shall they ever – until all things be held in common, and the lords are no greater masters than ourselves.
    – John Ball, Blackheath (now part of London), 1381

    Also, read the Peasant War in Germany by Engels.

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  19. I have read the Peasant War in Germany… But that shouldn’t be the point.

    Marxism is a scientific paradigm, not a series of holy dictums to be accepted or rejected wholesale. Marx and Engels made serious mistakes, and frequently.

    I assume you’ve read The Communist Manifesto? Read the 10 Planks in Section II and see how much you agree with it. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm

    It wasn’t until *reality* presented itself anew, in the form of the Paris Commune, that Marx suggested that “this programme has in some details been antiquated” in his introduction to the German edition of 1872 (the very first such alteration he made since 1848): http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/preface.htm#preface-1872

    Marx’s view was fluid and dynamic. Above all else, it was scientific. This is what Marxism must mean if it is to be relevent at all.

    If we want a dogmatic, religious Marxism, Leninism has got that fairly well *covered* on all fronts!

    I want to avoid making a mockery of your position, comrade, but your quote says it all – you quote a religious man’s view of morality (as a timeless universal) to justify your own.

    I’m not saying he was an “idiot” or that you are one for believing him – I’m only suggesting that its an incredibly “narrow” analysis for us to see Communism as some sort of utopian panacea where freedom and equality are absolutely achieved… etc. etc.

    Communism will not be “heaven on earth.” In fact, it will probably be rather full of minor annoyances and systematic breakdowns, maybe even occasional shortages and thereby temporary restorations of market exchange to determine who gets that particular commodity – but we’ll deal with it because we’ll be a different kind of human being than we are now. Not perfect, again, but better. In the end, that’s what we’re really after: something much, much better.

    Class society was not invented by “naughty men” with “bad intentions,” and it won’t be ended by “great men” with “good intentions.” It was created by *people* acting in accordance with natural, social *laws* – and it will be ended the same way.

    The “great man theory of history” does a lot to obscure how we see the world. We’ve been raised by Bourgeois society to imagine romantic “liberators” and mighty “conquerers” – but that isn’t how the world works.

    We have to be able to “zoom out” of our little place in history. The world is much bigger – and much older – than we are. We have to be able to “contextualize” our “reality” and everything we percieve.

    I don’t posit, like a post-modernist, that we’re all “irrelevent” because of how “subjective” our existence is; that would be *stupid* and totally *useless* for a serious analysis. Rather, I posit that we aren’t “all there is.”

    Society didn’t “just happen,” it came from “somewhere” for specific reasons.

    Marxism is the exercise of comprehending those reasons, and making a coherent analysis of existing reality.

    The point being, in the final analysis, to help change it.

    If we “withdraw” from a scientific vantage point because its “too heartless” and retreat to our emotional subjectivities, are we doing ourselves a service or a hindrance?

    Are we making it easier to understand the world?

    Or are we making it much more complicated?

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  20. From a report of a casualised workers strke in Paris:

    Taking a similar destructive toll was the discovery, in mid-summer, that 7 of the strikers were members of the nationalist Tamil Tigers. One of the two Frog Pub managers had managed to contact the Tigers, who constitute a sort of shadow government for the 15,000 Tamils living in the Paris region, much as the North African Islamic fundamentalist groups attempt to impose themselves on the North African population in France. Through whatever deal or payoff, the Tamil Tigers not only pulled their own members out of the strike but threatened the life of one of the strikers who refused to give up.
    http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/marxmakhno.html

    Would N have been happy to give the LTTE a platform against the background of such events?

    It isn’t, however, an issue of “no platform”, at least not how it’s conventionally used in anti-fascist terminology – like I’ve said, you could perhaps debate with someone from the LTTE (just like we have debated people from the mainstream of the Labour Party), if you were challenging them sharply on the class/humanitarian angle, while accepting the need to challenge their real national oppression. If a LTTE member got up to speak at a meeting, they shouldn’t be immediately removed, in the way a BNP member should be. I probably (I’m guessing) wouldn’t actively block a LTTE speaker coming to my student union (if I were a student), in the same way I’d be prepared to block a BNP speaker. The question is whether you actively give such views a platform, to the exclusion of other views, in a forum set up by a communist group.

    EDIT: once again Martin, none of that’s relevant. The point of the quote I gave was to show that your schema which says that the “psychological imperative for communism” arises in rigid proportion to the level of development is false. There was a higher proportion of communist sentiment in Southern England in 1381 than there is in the USA today. Anyway, that isn’t so relevant to this discussion, so we can leave that debate.

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  21. You may dismiss the entire question, comrade, but that doesn’t demolish the “relevance” it has for our worldview.

    What we are really debating here, whether you “like it” or not, is if there actually is a “theory of history” that can explain social movement based on material realities.

    Let’s do a thought experiment for Iraq: all of the urban proletarians rise up, seize their workplaces, and create communes in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, etc. – what happens to the peasantry/semi-peasantry living outside of the cities (approximately 33% of Iraq’s total population)? What happens to the millions *in and out* of the city who rely on food imports from abroad?

    It is *possible* they will be able to solve these problems, but it is more likely that they will not.

    Similarly, I back the workers who died in the Kronstadt Rebellion – but as a Marxist, I know Communism was not possible except in pockets. The society later created by the Bolsheviks is the proof of these limitations. The Paris Commune is another great example of the same thing…

    This doesn’t make their fight futile – it gives us powerful examples to learn from.

    But they’re not around anymore… I propose there is a *material* reason.

    I am on the side of the Iraqi proletarians unequivocally – just as I am always on the side of serfs/peasants and slaves/servants. This is my class position.

    I am also endowed, as the Marxist kind of conscious proletarian, with a lens that goes “beyond” the subjectivity of my class to understand *why* it is my class position, and how my class and society got here.

    History reveals, without much wiggle room, that it moves in pretty rigid, inescapable stages. Whenever someone *tries* to advance ideas outside the scope of their material limitations, it often takes many years before anyone comes to “appreciate” what the hell they were talking about.

    Marx is a pretty obvious example… Democritus is another good one (we even use the word he chose, “atom”, to describe something his contemporaries *laughed at.*) Think about Leonardo da Vinci. He investigated the possibilities of human flight 500 years ago. I’m sure he would certainly have attempted to build a flying machine if he could have done so… but he lacked the tools to make the tools to make the tools to build a working aircraft.

    Afghanistan lacks the tools to make the tools to make the tools to build a “working communism.” Same goes Sri Lanka. Same for most of the world… Iraq “might” have the tools, Venezuela “might.” Britain, South Africa, and Japan “do.”

    If I had advice for my proletarian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Jews in Israel, women in Afghanistan, or Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, it would be: “GOOD LUCK!”

    They have my support regardless of my knowledge of the next necessary (or perhaps more realistically, “probable”) stage of social development.

    As Marx put it regarding the Indians killing random British settler-colonists in 1857, “And if the English could do these [atrocities] in cold blood, is it surprising that the insurgent Hindoos should be guilty, in the fury of revolt and conflict, of the crimes and cruelties alleged against them?”

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/09/17.htm

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