Leo and Mark of Bristol Commune reply to our recent debate on the way forward for our network.
In the May issue of The Commune it was suggested that our small network take the next step and constitute itself as a ‘league’ by converging with other small groups into a more unified organisation. It is unclear as to why the proposal is being made. Undoubtedly the formation of organisations can contribute significantly to the development of class struggle but they still have to be rooted within the political and economic context.
Any step up in communist organisation can only come from an increase in struggle in which the organisation is firmly embedded. Currently, The Commune is very marginal to the class struggle as a whole, so the form of our organisation needs to reflect that situation. The organic development of an organisation means that it is not only linked to the level of class struggle and political consciousness of the class but that it is also linked to our own lives as communists in struggle. While we share the vision of a pluralist, democratic communist organisation, we question the wisdom of focussing a substantial part of our energy on building such an organisation at this time.
Chris writes that “we urgently need the recomposition of communists into a more unified organisation”. We are unsure as to what underpins this urgency other than some abstract aspiration. Any communist league must be pushed into being by a heightened class struggle when communism begins to have some roots within our class. Any change in organisational form ought to reflect a change in the class context not solely the aspirations of its members. Here, we agree on the primacy of class struggle with Oisin’s contribution in the latest issue of The Commune and, in a general sense, with Nic Beuret’s statement in his reply to the ‘recomposition’ debate, where he presents resistance and conflict as the point of departure.
While, undoubtedly there will be some intense class struggles ahead, the current situation is not comparable with that of the existence of the original communist league in 1840s, when the air was pregnant with international revolution. This may change but we are not yet in that situation. Furthermore, suitable groundwork for taking advantage of an upsurge in struggle will not be building an organisational shell ready to receive an influx of workers, no matter how attractive this is on paper.
Our platform states:
“Our aim is to create a pluralist organisation, a network of committees whose members come together to promote their ideas in an organised manner and to renew them in the practice of the class struggle.”
These committees do not yet exist outside of London, yet the proposal is to establish a League! A federal structure would need strong vibrant local committees. We are nowhere near having this as yet. The proposal would make more sense if there were dozens of Commune supporters within each of the cities, with local committees having shown in practice that it is possible to have a network of communists which is both co-operative and pluralistic. For this proposal to really make sense we would need to see a substantial increase in support amongst workers for communist ideas. We have no purchase amongst the working class; the Communist League would be a paper organisation.
We have been a network for such a short time, with very few people actively engaged with us. The tasks we face are enormous and we have yet to work out what strategies might help, let alone take the first steps along the road. We should allow the network more time to explore the limits of its potential. Instead our efforts seem to be looking for convergence with similar tiny groups which it is hoped will give The Commune more weight. It mirrors the traditional Left’s obsession with organisational issues, an obsession that appears to be based on having a sense of being in control of events and a sense of achievement, while the messy business of relating to other workers is unpredictable and more often than not leads to rather meagre results.
A more ‘unified’ organisation which is expected to make substantial policy decisions is likely to lead to factional struggles over the political direction of The Commune. In itself this is not a bad thing as long as an organisation is of a considerable size and has some real support inside the working class. Without this, political disputes are likely to be settled through people leaving the organisation because the consequences of such splits have little political importance. Rather than a tiny ‘communist league’ being a model of communist pluralism, what we are likely to see is convergence of organisations enthused with the spirit of co-operation followed by frustration that a particular position is not being pursued, followed by splits. The history of the Left is replete with mergers and separation. Why should the proposed Communist League be any different? A commitment to pluralism would be insufficient to hold such an organisation together, because political disputes will not be tempered by having to relate to the class in any meaningful way. They will be about the direction of The Commune; they will be about fighting for a particular perspective to be adopted, not within the class where we have no influence, but within the organisation. In the current context of political isolation, a more unified organisation is likely to become just another group hoping to sell its wares to a sceptical and often indifferent class. As Oisin points out, finding an unoccupied niche in the left spectrum, no matter how attractive, is not the way to develop communist activity but the way to an identity politics, in a competition of political brands that few want to buy.
Those of us who see ourselves as communists would be better served by a loose pluralistic network of people with whom we can work together when possible and separately when necessary. A loose network in which tendencies and political groups can work together without being concerned at the direction of The Commune as a whole is more likely to encourage the pluralism we all subscribe to because it could accommodate different strategies and policies. It would encourage dialogue between the different perspectives while enabling co-operation between tendencies on particular issues, while still allowing groups and individuals to undertake specific actions where there is no agreement within The Commune as a whole. This would allow us to co-operate with a variety of groups with different perspectives in real existing struggles and avoid becoming too focussed on our political identity in relation to other Left groups.
However, as Nic points out, first and foremost, the network should be about us and our struggle and developing our political understanding and when more people want to be part of the network it will be about their struggle and their understanding too. Our hope is that The Commune becomes a larger network of communist workers who can use its resources to build solidarity, activity in struggle and self-education. But this growth will be more dependent on an upsurge in class struggle and resistance, in which people can identify with what we are trying to do, rather than on the existence of an attractive organisational model.
The issue is much broader than the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the ‘recomposition’ project. The issue for The Commune is to open the questions of our strategy and our goals and discuss it deeply and openly between each other. So far we have not even been able to finish the election of the editorial board, secretary, treasurer, etc., motions suggested by Chris. Many of us have not yet met each other! In this situation moving to a larger and more formal structure without first building up a solid experience of comradeship is one of the worst steps we could chose to take. In our next article, we will discuss the thesis of the political disenfranchisement of the working class with the alleged need for a new workers’ representation, as these concerns seem to have been the justification for the whole ‘recomposition’ project. We will finish with a reflection on the possible relationship between our network and the class struggle, where the latter is genuinely in command.