‘not another communist group!’

Oisín Mac Giollamóir replies to recent discussion on the way ahead for communists.

I suppose the first issue with the idea of a communist refoundation is the question: is it needed? Surely, there are enough organisations as it is. Surely, the real problem for the working class is not the lack of communist organisations, but rather the lack of working class militancy, organisation and confidence.

the spanish revolution was defeated: “strong principles and fine slogans do not act as a substitute for strategic thinking”

And true enough, there are enough communist organisations in Britain. There are even more than enough libertarian communist organisations[1]. So why another? There have been enough left unity initiatives, all of which have failed. So please god, not another! And why even bother with setting up another communist group when the real problem is the lack of working class militancy, organisation and confidence. What can another group do for us?

We don’t need just another group

Personally, I have no interest in yet another communist organisation competing with other groups, pushing its oh-so-unique political product. But that said, there is, I think, a need for libertarian communists to organise together. There is a need for communists to get together, analyse together, reach conclusions together and act together. Although of course communist organisation has its hazards.

There is a tendency for communist groups, especially in times of low class struggle, to act like sects. Instead of trying to aid the development of the working class as a revolutionary subject, these groups assume the voice of the missing working class subject and speak for it. And with that the group substitutes itself for the class either in theory, practice or both.

The group appreciates the revolutionary role that can only be played by the working class, but conflates its politics for the politics of the class. Thus it takes nothing more seriously than the defence and propagation of its own particular ideas. The endless denunciation of other left groups as reformist, leftist, nationalist, bourgeois, Stalinist, social-democratic, ultra-left etc. is viewed not as petty sectarianism but instead, as protecting the true politics of the working class (i.e. the politics of the group) from pollution. This tendency leads nowhere but the obscurity of the magazine shelves at the back of Housmans socialist bookshop.

I have no interest in ‘defending’ some politics or tradition, and have no interest in setting up yet another group to pursue this aim. This form of politics does not benefit the working class and is separated from it. The working class is not an ideal form; it does not have an ideal politics to defend. The working class is the class of wage labour. And the struggle of the working class is the struggle against wage labour.

Today, that struggle is fragmented, dispersed and, in truth, largely absent. But the abolition of wage labour and the achievement of communism will only come about through the efforts of the class of wage labour to destroy wage labour. Working-class politics comes from class struggle and class struggle only. There is no working-class politics outside the class struggle and as such all political activity of communists should always be subservient to the class struggle. The politics of the working class come from that struggle and not from the inky pronouncements of the left.

The need for strategy

So if that is so, why is The Commune here? Why do we produce this paper? Why are we calling for a communist recomposition? Because we are of this class of wage labour, because we are committed to our collective struggle against wage labour and because we think that this struggle cannot develop without us becoming conscious of our struggle, what challenges it faces, what opportunities it has. We are here because we have a question that needs answering: How do we proceed?

It is not that we know the answer. We don’t. But we know that it is a question that needs to be asked and that needs to be answered. We cannot depend on pre-political spontaneity[2]. Nor can we depend on received wisdom. Nor can we depend on the insights of our principles and slogans. None of these are enough.

Too often at crucial points in history libertarian communists have been caught on the hoof. In the Russian revolution, the lack of organisation and preparedness let the soviets degenerate into the Stalinist one-party state. In the German revolution, ‘council communism’ had to be invented during a revolution. In Spain, the anticipatable problems of coordinating with anti-revolutionary progressive forces lead the revolution to a slow and murderous gradual defeat. The lesson is there to be learnt. Strong principles and fine slogans do not act as a substitute for strategic thinking.

As the Friends of Durruti group argued after the defeat of May 1937 a successful revolution “hinges upon two essential points which cannot be avoided. A program, and rifles” and the downward spiral of the Spanish revolution “must be attributed exclusively to the absence of a specific program and short-term achievements”. The struggle of the working class will not end in libertarian communism unless libertarian communist workers think about the path that must be taken, develop a strategy and follow it.

Of course no group on the left today has the ‘correct programme’ and no group ever will. The revolutionary programme arises from struggle. It is always provisional. It is never correct but it is based on the attempt of us as members of our class, the class of wage labour struggle, to answer the question: How do we proceed?

Our task is then this. We should aim for a communist recomposition not to get people into an organisation, but to open up the space for asking this question: How do we proceed?

This call to ask questions is not some communist philosophical puzzle. Rather it is a call to a specific task. It is a call for a communist recomposition. We need to first create the space for the asking and answering of questions. Secondly, we need to ask the question: how do we proceed? And third we need to answer it.

First, we need a new culture…

In order to create a space for the asking and answering of questions, we need to not only declare a break from the sectarianism of the left we need to make that break. And that means changing how we act. We can’t look to only those around us. We need to reach out to other libertarian communists and ask for debate and discussion. So far The Commune has been reasonably successful in this. We have hosted joint meetings with a variety of groups such as the Republican Communist Network, the Anarchist Federation and a forthcoming meeting with the Marxist-Humanist Initiative. We also have members who come from a number of differing political traditions. But we need to be even more vigorous and persistently outward looking. We need to try to invite contributions to our paper from other groups and non-members and widen the debate about communist recomposition.

We need to restrain from the old debating style of dismissing, undermining and ridiculing arguments. Instead we need to learn to bite our tongue, wait and listen to each other, try to understand each other’s arguments before we decide to agree with them or not.

…second, we need to ask how we proceed…

In our debates and discussions we should learn from history, theory and experience. We should face our differences honestly and openly aiming not at proving each other wrong but at working out how to advance the interests of our class. We should ask, looking at our struggles, our experiences, the state of current class relations domestically and internationally, how should we proceed?

This article has not touched on the actual practice involved in class struggle. Nor has it addressed in any depth or concreteness what a communist organisation should do to aid the class struggle. But this is an important debate and it is where we should be focused.

…finally, we need to answer.

This process of asking questions should not be an aimless process, but rather it should lead somewhere. We should not be debating for the sake of it, or just so that we all learn each other’s respective beliefs. Rather we should be having a debate in order to reach agreement. Perhaps not perfect agreement, but enough to go forward. Exactly what that next step in communist recomposition is not, as yet, clear; it should be decided through our common debate.

How this agreement is reached is obviously still up for debate. In these pages Chris Ford has suggested that we quickly proceed to setting up a ‘Communist League’ in which different organisations could, at least initially, maintain their independence. I think it is too quick, we need further discussion and we need to reach out to groups that are close to us politically but have not as of yet been in anyway involved in the discussion of communist recomposition.

My suggestion would be that those of us in The Commune make an overt and conscious effort to reach out to every group in Britain that we believe has politics that are covered by our platform and try to include them in the debate. This might happen through holding joint meetings or forums, by inviting them to speak at our meetings, speaking at their meetings or inviting contribution to the paper. This process should lead up to a congress of the various groups and unaligned individuals in perhaps in December or January to discuss how to proceed.

As agreement is reached, and as organisation develops, there will surely be disagreement and some may part ways with the process. If and when this happens we should not treat them with the hatred rightfully reserved only for the splitters of the Popular Front of Judea. As I said above, we should avoid at all costs sect like activity. We should always aim for comradeship with working class communist militants regardless of our political differences. The basis of any new organisation must be a commitment to a new and different political culture. We need a culture of comradeship, a spirit of questioning and an understanding that our political activity is to aid our class’s political development and as such any organisation must always be subservient to the wider interests of the class.

[1] I am using the term ‘libertarian communist’ to refer to those who, like The Commune, “reject statist and authoritarian visions of socialism and look instead to the tradition of ‘socialism from below’, which believes that emancipation can only be achieved through the activity, self-organisation and mobilisation of the working class” and who aim for a “communist society, which will abolish the system of wage-labour: a classless society with no state, managers or organisations superior to those of workers’ self-management.” While the term ‘libertarian communist’ might be contested and might not be accepted by all members of The Commune, it is the term used to amalgamate anti-statist pro-self management forms of communism and as such I will use it throughout this article to refer to The Commune’s politics.

[2] I use ‘pre-political’ here to qualify what kind of spontaneity I am referring to, not to describe all forms of spontaneity.

16 thoughts on “‘not another communist group!’

  1. Nice one, Oisín! :-)
    I agree with most of what you are saying. I wonder what other members of the Commune think about it…
    leo

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  2. I agree with the article, and look forward to seeing what comes out the Commune’s progress. I hope anarchists like myself can get involved more.

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  3. As you probably know already, we’re working on what could be seen as a parallel to what you’ve outlined above – reviving syndicalism. We want to draw together radical and militant trade unionists of all stripes (socialist, anarchist, communist, even Labourites!) under the umbrella of a revived Industrial Syndicalist Education League to create a network of support and solidarity.

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  4. Wishful thinking about unity and its bomuses is just that.
    The organizations of activists ara oriented towards the wide spectrum of actual class struggle.
    You cannot mix various shades of individualists – including the consensus worshipers with these who are for developing unity of strategy and tactics.

    You cannot mix the dreamers of fragmented decentralized society with people who hold that only multi tier direct democracy of world commune of grass root communities.

    You cannot mix theses who regard the revolution that replace capitalism by libertarian communism in a one stage to the two stage funs.

    You cannot mix those who are for the communist principle of from each according to ability – to each according to needs, with those who are for differential remunerations according to contribution.

    And it is hard to mix even people with similar opinions but differ between those quoting old idols and those who worship nun…

    My take is the specifist mode of organization and struggle till the revolution win and for the multi tier direct democracy built on local communities and workplace councils which will take the power from the capitalist state during the revolution.

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  5. absolutely agree with the original article. Neil – several anarchists, including Oisin, are already members of the commune, so certainly.

    … however, oisin, I think saying “if any (non-left-communist) libcommers want to make a comment” on libcom is probably somewhat against the implicit spirit?! I know what you mean, but left communism is a broad church too…

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  6. I like what you are saying here Oisin. We obviously need more discussion on The Communist league idea which I envisaged as a part with the “reaching out” you describe. I too have been describing The commune as Libertarian Communist under the terms you have set out here.

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  7. Very interesting article that says a lot I agree with. Of course the real task of Communist in the coming period is to be part of a fight back against the attack mounted against the working class, and to aid and help advance that self organised fight and not to create a more vibrant and diverse sect with a few hundred more members. This means work in the unions, community groups and all other organisations of the class. Notwithstanding, I liked this article a lot and see it as an important contribution to the way forward.

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  8. With first read I was nodding along, and like the rejection of vanguardism and sectarianism, etc. But concretely, I’d like to know what tangible differences you envision to exist between The Commune and other groups.

    Also, I’m interested to see what organisations you would want to work with/have under your umbrella. In terms of libertarian communists who is there? SolFed, AF, don’t know about this Marxist-Humanist Iniative, (but looked at their website and they seem to reject vanguardism at least) etc. How much theoretical unity do you aim for in in this grouping? I think that’s the most important point. If there is not much unity, I don’t see how it could be much more than people of differing political persuasions arguing it out to no end – it also renders the possibility of working together in terms of actual struggle impossible. If there is lots of theoretical unity, then it becomes a political organisation like any other.

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  9. I would add you need to understand why we are here. You need above all to understand the role and nature of Stalinism and its impact on the workers movement and the left over about 70 years. this includes Russia, Spain, post 1945 Europe down to the key role it played in making post apartheid South Africa safe for capital and a nightmare for the working class and dispossessed.
    Secondary to that you have to work on the question – why is the left in Britain in the rotten and sectarian state we have now. Why are there numerous groups and grouplets, but they are all not only useless, but actually an obstacle to moving forward?

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  10. Excellent article Ois. I disagree with very little if any of it.

    I would disagree with some of the comments on this thread, it is not important to understand Stalinism or really to spend too much time defining what is and what isn’t communist or libertarian, or leftist or whatever…

    What we do need to identify is what can encourage and build up working class self identification, self confidence, and self organisation leading to practical action.

    The various little revolutionary groups do have a role to play, at least potentially in drawing out positve examples for the rest of us to analyze and if succesful follow – if they stop wasting their time arguing about history and start thinking about what works, argue over and present rival strategies not rival adherences to ancient truths.

    Groups like the Commune, and Liberty and Solidarity, and the IWCA are all pointing the way to a glimpse of light – we don’t have to follow them, we just have to map out our own paths in the same direction.

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  11. Problem being if you want to make a difference then you have to understand the world around us specifically the state of capitalism conditions of the working class and something about history, which shapes us all. As Marx said history lives on as a nightmare. If we fail to understand the mechanisms of capitalism and its decline then we are merely running and stumbling about in the dark like has been done unsuccessfully in the past. Mere activity is not enough – it has to be guided by insight and understanding and that understanding itself developed through activity.
    We have been fighting against capital for about two hundred years – we desperately need to learn why we’re still being forced to do it – those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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  12. No where did I say it is not important to understand what we’re fighting, what we’re fighting for – or why – of course it is. But that understanding will come from our experiences in struggle.

    Struggle is where we learn about ourselves, see glimpses of new forms of social organisation, and develop strategies to tackle the enemy.

    Essentially you are saying it is impossible to fight effectively to build a new world, unless we read dusty textbooks or listen to tedious lectures conducted by scruffy dried out wannabe teachers with bad breath and poor social skills – or that we as a class must find leaders who will do that boring but necerssary donkey work for us; a vanguard if you will.

    Well no, of course we need to think critically and analyze what works and what doesn’t, and discuss ideas – but we don’t need to sit in some hot and sweaty classroom listening about Stalin or what Lenin had for breakfast.

    Everyone should have a hobby, but don’t use the class war to justify yours.

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  13. If running about with no great understanding was enough to do the necessary – overthrow capitalism – then it would have been done long since. If you insist on attempting relearn history over and over by blows on the head then you won’t last very long.

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  14. Yes, Matthew, that is clearly what I am saying.
    Why don’t you learn how to read properly?

    But first of all, please elaborate on how forcing people to sit through lectures on Stalin, or defer to people who have the stamina to sit through the aforesaid lectures will actually help drive forward working class action here and now.

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  15. Enjoyed reading your article, including the prayer to (a communist?) god with a ‘small g’ :-)

    My question is, how can we practically make sure that the communists in UK work together? Agree that there are major disagreements, but surely a Common Minimum Agenda could be reached? If the Com-Dems can make an unholy alliance for power, can we not do the same with our fellow comrades, whatever shade of red flag they are carrying? I thik we can; more than that, we should.

    Yours fraternally,
    SN
    http://wp.me/p1FXBz-1g

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