A discussion article by Chris Kane ahead of The Commune aggregate meeting this Saturday
One of the terms which has been closely identified with The Commune has been ‘communist pluralism’. There is a twofold aspect to this concept I believe: on the one hand is the fragmentation of the international communist movement over many years since the defeat of the First World Revolution 1916-1921 and transformation of the Russian Revolution into its opposite. The second has been the immensely retrogressive culture which has arisen on the left over this long period, concepts of ‘democratic centralism’ becoming little more than cover for Jesuit Marxism with hierarchical structures and rigidity.
A communist organisation comprises a voluntary association, adhering to the principles of communism. This implies full and free discussion for every member, democracy implies selection of officials/holders of responsibilities by the membership and complete accountability and recallability. It is also a ‘party of action’ where such discussion leads to the greatest clarity both in theory and practice – how else can communists ‘represent the future in the present’ as the Communist Manifesto defines? Pluralism should be the negation of Jesuit Marxism but it also should aim to be within an organisational framework that can offset the damaging affects of incessant factionalism and divisiveness.
Contrary to anarchist mythology this not a hallmark of ‘Leninist vanguardism’ but also of ‘ultra-leftism’ which tends towards abstentionist attitudes and sectarian self-isolation. In that sense pluralism is not about a free space for the radical intelligentsia and middle-class.
Trotsky observed from the inside in 1909 how for example the early Russian Marxism saw the socialist intelligentsia introduce into the workers party:
“all their social traits: a sectarian spirit, intellectual individualism, and ideological fetishism; to suit these peculiarities they adapted and distorted Marxism. Thus for the Russian intelligentsia Marxism became the means to carry every bias to an extreme.”
Symptomatic were innumerable splits, factions and warring groups behind the workers’ backs and bearing little relation to their struggles. Of course it was not always like that. As the parties developed, particularly in periods of upsurge a framework existed which maintained a unity in diversity. It was very common in both wings of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party for local committees to have their own newspapers: this saw an immensely diverse body of opinion within the organisation.
At present with a handful of people we are of course a very, very long way from such experiences. But we can of course draw lessons from history. Pluralism should create an organisational framework which actually builds into it from the start freedom of opinion and discussion in a manner which negates the constant splitting of communists: but a freedom increasingly geared towards goals and unity of action in common principles.
One aspect of what might be called the re-unification of communists is the need for The Commune to recognise that this principle of pluralism can be turned into its very opposite. This can arise from the problem of being pigeon holed by others who seek to categorise our network. Of course pigeon holing has certain inevitability in a left bereft of any experience of communist pluralism, which has not existed in any meaningful way for nearly a century: i.e. Weekly Worker recently reported us as a “left communist” organisation. If communist pluralism is to succeed it also demands an effort to offset the danger of inadvertently acquiescing in us being pigeonholed. In that I am referring to the tendency of The Commune to be regarded as a ‘left-communist’ or ‘libertarian communist’ organisation. There are comrades coming to events and interested in The Commune who believe that to be the case.
I consider this can be off-putting to possible new comrades who are not of this tradition, whatever its merits. If we consider a problem of the left is erecting false-historical traditions rooted in fragmentation which emerged from defeat we need to recognise this applies not only to Trotskyism but the libertarian left also.
Importantly there are those of us who do not consider ourselves libertarian socialists etc. I consider if all comrades are committed to pluralism then we have a responsibility to find a way of making it clearer if we are to avoid an inevitable re-fragmentation and turning The Commune into just another anarchistic group.
One means of maintaining the momentum of pluralism can be more open platforms or fractions. Obviously like minded existing communist currents joining our network would assist in this development. Our present numbers and level of organisation do restrict how far we can have platforms etc. There is a need to discuss how to avoid the more destructive aspects of factions and platforms, there has been a degree of this in the experience of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. Whilst on the other hand the current Russian Marxist Labour Party has maintained within its party various trends, a Leninist and a left-communist one. There is a need perhaps to begin a discussion around the very concept of factions and tendencies, perhaps seeking to reconceptualise the need for them to be more based around schools or thought than constantly vying for leadership.
Another means is that I think we need to publish a more balanced level of pamphlets that do not simply reflect for example German left communism. I would like to publish a selection of writings of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany), PCI (Italian CP) such a Gramsci’s Lyons Theses, and some Russian Communist Party writings, perhaps the Workers’ Opposition and others.
I consider this question of pluralism very important to iron out at the beginning as if we do not built it into the cornerstone of the group we will inevitably take a different trajectory which is the opposite of a new beginning.