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.
And true enough, there are enough communist organisations in Britain. There are even more than enough libertarian communist organisations. 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. 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.
 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.
 I use ‘pre-political’ here to qualify what kind of spontaneity I am referring to, not to describe all forms of spontaneity.