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The levels of unity

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A question was asked by an LO sympathiser in how I regarded the unity of the party-movement to concretely happen. So, I posted it out.

Quote Originally Posted by Q View Post
In the rest of your post it is clear that you indeed don't understand what I'm talking about. So, let me explain. I see a a genuine proletarian party-movement as focusing politics on several levels. Putting them in an order, from important to less important, it could be represented as this list:
- The programmatic level: The most important level. I was talking about programmatic unity in my last post and it would be at this level. To further clarify what I mean with "program": In many groups this is some esoteric concept where "the program" is a whole system of ideas. I once asked a comrade as to what he understood to be the program of his group, in concrete terms. He mentioned a small library of books, ranging from the Communist Manifesto via the first four congresses of the Communist International to the Transitional Programme and many more in between. This is not what I mean with a "program" as this is much more of a methodology which requires training/"integrating" and commitment to get to know. Any deviation from this large theoretical body of work is a valid reason to split, to cause a "line of demarcation" as you put it.

What I mean with "program" is a short actual document that explains how we go from where our class and the left movement is today, to working class political power and communism after that. Engels already made the point (in his critique on a draft of the Erfurt program) that a program should be very concise and to the point, any extra explanations only weaken it. The "extras" - the explanations, the context, etc - are supposed to be carried out in the media of the party: Back in the day of the pre-1914 SPD or the RSDLP this was primarily done by paper and journal. In our 2012 context we can add youtube to that, webradio and many other forms of digital content. The primary point is that "truth", in the communist and proletarian political sense of the word, can only be arrived at through debate. I describe this process here, so I won't have to repeat myself. This is incidentally why democracy is so important for our movement.

- The theoretical level: This is not really a separate level, but I will mention it anyway so as to explicitly separate it from the program. Whether you think the Soviet Union was state capitalist or a degenerated workers state (or neither), whether you believe the theory of Permanent Revolution is the way forward of that of the Mass Line, etc... They are not reasons for a split. Instead what should happen if theoretical disagreement is to occur (which will probably always happen to some extent), is that such groups that want to win the majority of the party for these ideas, should form a tendency within the party. Then, by patiently explaining their position, can they deepen the overal knowledge of the whole party.

An absolute requirement for this is open debates as opposed to "internal discussion". The reason for this is that bureaucratic clampdowns are much less possible under an open climate and, more importantly, that the working class at large can get themselves accustomed to such ideas, follow the debates and start to think for themselves as to where they stand. In the course of such open debate, positions tend to deepen and clarify and even get expanded as daily live throws new challenges in our faces. This process of development is continuous and only if people who disagree can express themselves without fearing to get kicked out, can unity be a practical thing and can discpline be built in times when the majority makes a decision on a certain subject of actuality (like a strike, a campaign, etc.).

- The strategical level: This is somewhat overlapping again with the previous two levels for obvious reasons, but it can well be that a strategy in one country does not work in another. A strategy - being a long term thing - must again be democratically debated as to involve the widest possible ranks of our class and to ensure unity and discipline to continue and strengthen.

- The tactical level: This is the short term, playing into concrete happenings in society such as an election, a strike, a military occupation, etc. This is also the level where perhaps the minorities have to concede a large deal, but also (given the previous levels) where discipline pays off and gets a mass following. This is the level where the party-movement, as a collective, learns and makes its impacts in society.

I agree with you that our fight must be against opportunism, but in my view this can only happen in a democratic manner if we are to build a mass movement organising our class as a class that wants to take power and thus is following a political program towards this end. For this to achieve we need a paradigm shift within the existing far left because while they are part of the problem now, they also hold the solution: The many committed militants that fight for a human society that we call communism. Thus I oppose splits within the left and instead urge comrades to stick and fight for what they believe in, which first of all means that they'll have to fight for the right to openly disagree, that is, democracy. This is because if a subgroup just splits from its mother-group, they very often tend to not overcome the basic problems of why they splitted and often cloning their former group. This in turn then causes another split after a few years, and so on ad infinitum. There are many examples to cite on the left about this.

Note: I'm not against splits in all circumstances. A split is for example valid when it is a defensive measure against bureaucratic attacks, such as in the right wing of the workers movement is common coin. In those circumstances we should still engage with them, fight for democracy, but organise independently in the mean time.

So, to sum up: Unity cannot exist without the right to disagree and within the context of an "internal" regime. It has to be open and on that basis can discipline grow and can a mass movement be built around the revolutionary program of the conquest of political power of our class.
I'll immediately add a similar, but less extended, post from another thread for reference:

Quote Originally Posted by Q View Post
All groups claim to have "the best politics", including this new RCIT. On that basis it is also excluded that they will join the Lambertists at any point as that would mean that they'll have to submit their "unique selling points" in politics - that formed the basis of their split from the L5I and founding their own new "international" - to the overruling politics of the FI-ICR.

There will never be unity (besides the lonely small group or two) on the sectarian basis of having "the best politics", as is the disintegrating L5I (having had three splits in the last few years) now showing. Unity can only occur on programmatic unity (as opposed to theoretical unity), that is: A short (as opposed to tens or hundreds of pages, as seems to be the rule with "programs" within sects) document that explains how we should get from where we are now, to working class power and communism after that. As long as there is that commitment to the program, I don't see why I couldn't be in one party with a Maoist, an anarchist and the various strands of Trotskyists.

But for that we need a radically different type of unity, a unity based on democracy, or "unity in disagreement". A unity where every member is trained into thinking for him/herself. A unity indeed where the working class can gather around as all debates are carried in the open (as opposed to "internal discussion").


  1. Grenzer's Avatar
    Excellent post, i recall seeing this in one of the threads.

    The sectarian problem we have right now is ridiculous. Of course we should not be for unity for it's own sake, but many of the splits are not over programmatic differences.

    I think the big question is, how will this party of a new type catch on? So far it seems like the CPGB-PCC is the only one of its kind.
  2. Q's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Grenzer
    I think the big question is, how will this party of a new type catch on? So far it seems like the CPGB-PCC is the only one of its kind.
    This is a good question and one I've only touched briefly in my posts so far.

    I believe the core mechanism of such a paradigm shift will lie in the existing far left. Not in its leaderships, but in the memberbase. It is they who should start a rebellion against the status quo and argue for change as a long term project. This involves patient and perhaps even a type of underground work, but not to hide from the state, but more the escape bureaucratic clampdowns from their own group leaderships.

    This has to be a longterm job as it involves education and debates. Such a project would start out with lone individuals, but they can connect up (marvel at the wonders of the internet!) and, first of all, start to debate and educate among themselves. Such groups can also start blogs where they post their own findings and welcome/publish other views.

    The CPGB is doing an important job within this context as they act effectively as a center of thought and method among the far left to which such "rebels" can look up to, especially if they're still small and unorganised.

    The idea then, in my view, is that in the longer term such elements within the various left groups will gain in influence as such groups in themselves will have an effect within their group, within branches, etc. Even if they do not strictly organise all these individuals, but form more ad hoc and informal networks, within and between the various left groups that form around other such "centers of thought".

    So, what I'm saying is a sort of cascade effect is desired as a "rebellion from within and from the grassroots" of the far left is having the best chances of such a paradigm shift.

    There is another level at play here, which is the factor of self-emancipation. This is not only important for the working class at large, but also for the memberships of the various left groups that more often than not are now living within a climate that trains them to follow and obey. If they are to learn to think, to act as a workers-leader and to be genuine communists in that regard, then they have to "rebel" without splitting away.

    So, this is not something the CPGB or any other external group can do for us but we have to do for ourselves.
  3. Anderson's Avatar
    What about the current dominance of bourgeois elements in the left organizations ? How fruitful will it be to combine multiple left groups with varying degrees of bourgeois control?

    More important than uniting the the multiple splinter groups is uniting the revolutionary cadre elements of each group somehow and discarding of the bourgeois leadership elements. It is a very tough task. Anyway revolutionary work inherently is not simple.
  4. Q's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Anderson
    What about the current dominance of bourgeois elements in the left organizations ? How fruitful will it be to combine multiple left groups with varying degrees of bourgeois control?

    More important than uniting the the multiple splinter groups is uniting the revolutionary cadre elements of each group somehow and discarding of the bourgeois leadership elements. It is a very tough task. Anyway revolutionary work inherently is not simple.
    I don't see the multiple left groups as homogeneous wholes. As I described in my previous answer, it is exactly the memberbase that we must convince of a communist outlook and rebel against the status quo. If you want to describe that status quo as "the current dominance of bourgeois elements in the left organizations", then that is fair enough of course.

    Likewise I don't see the unification of the left happening as group x, y and z combining themselves into a bigger whole. This is not how unification processes have ever went in history. What we have seen happening is most often a process of ruptures and rebellion within the old group and rapprochement to form new forces, with a new identity of its own.

    Perhaps we stand on similar grounds as you say that it is "[m]ore important [to unite] the revolutionary cadre elements of each group". But I see this as a process (dialectical if you will) whereby the old is destroyed and makes way for something drastically new. I hope that makes sense.

    Also my project is not so much the unification of the left as a goal in itself, but much more as a vehicle towards forming a proletarian mass party-movement.
  5. Q's Avatar
    I just posted another reply in the "Left Unity" thread and it adds more to the points made here, so I'll just post it again:

    Quote Originally Posted by Q View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by ACAB View Post
    Why unite with people who have polar fucking opposite politics to you.

    It is like an inside Meme on the left to blame the fact we have no connection to the working class on disunity, why the fuck is a Leninist going to unite with an Anarchist?
    A recurrent question, so let me answer it again: The point is not to unite the left as a goal in itself, but rather to organize our class on the political program of working class political hegemony. This is the so called "merger formula" where the working class movement and socialist ideas are combined to form one. The result of this is a party-movement, or the self-conscious political organisation of the working class.

    What we should aim for is not the unification of the various currents as such, but much more to convince the many committed comrades, that are currently trapped in the sect quagmire, of this project. This is what leftist unity would mean in reality: A transformation of the various groups from a sectarian outlook of "purity" for this or that tendency, to a class project of which the communists and anarchists are the most committed and farsighted elements.

    So, instead of toytown Bolshevism or wannabe anarchist "federations", we would be much more productive if we engaged with movements such as Occupy, Indignados or whatever new form they'll have in the future and convinced the movement of a communist program.
  6. Die Neue Zeit's Avatar
    Actually, comrade, I would rank strategic unity above "theoretical unity" (but below programmatic unity). Principled refusal of non-PNNC coalitions, for example, should cut across country divides.
  7. Q's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Die Neue Zeit
    Actually, comrade, I would rank strategic unity above "theoretical unity" (but below programmatic unity). Principled refusal of non-PNNC coalitions, for example, should cut across country divides.
    I'm personally a bit agnostic on the order of strategic and theory. As I stated in the blogpost, I don't really see the theoretical level as a separate level, but more something that exists as part of a process.

    So I can agree with your reasoning for putting strategy above theory. The most important point of this blogpost was to emphasize that programmatic unity prevails over all.
  8. Grenzer's Avatar
    I would agree with DNZ that theoretical unity is probably one of the least important kinds(not that theory isn't important) of unity to be achieved. Programmatic unity is key. It's amazing how many far left groups have nearly identical programs, but refuse to work together.

    This is indeed the kind of thing Mike Macnair was speaking of when he said "unity in diversity".. it's the only way I can ever see the revolutionary worker's movement becoming relevant again.
  9. Die Neue Zeit's Avatar
    Hey, if there are educated workers who subscribe to Inclusive Democracy, Power Theories of Value, etc. but who are class-oriented in terms of supporting a left unity political program with Marxist strategy, I wouldn't mind the "theoretical" diversity, this going beyond the strawman of "theoretical" differences re. PR, historical "state capitalism" discussions, etc.

    [But TWCS is quite contemporary and quite strategic ]
  10. Grenzer's Avatar
    Why do you put theory in quotes?
  11. Die Neue Zeit's Avatar
    It's just a habit of mine to distinguish that which doesn't belong to a political program.
  12. Grenzer's Avatar
    Then most theory would cease to be theory, and begin to be mere ideological smokescreen. I like it.
  13. Die Neue Zeit's Avatar
    Pecking off

    What a series of exchanges the past couple of weeks! From economistic overtones on the part of Chris Strafford to responses by Pham Binh, I’ll try to respond to each as concisely as I can.

    First, Chris Strafford’s move to the Anti-Capitalist Initiative seems to be a move with economistic and especially trade unionist overtones, yet I don’t know what to make of his concerning statement of “collapsing into the Labour Representation Committee” in light of polemics for working inside and outside the Labour Party. I have made my case in past letters that three kinds of parties need to exist on the British left to supplant Labourism: communist worker parties, proletocratic or proletarian-not-necessarily-communist parties, and continental ‘bourgeois worker’ parties. Strafford’s concerns about CPGB relations with some left Labourites are at least somewhat valid, because of the Weekly Worker’s straw man of equating all left-reformist projects in the UK with ‘Labour mark two’. Continental ‘bourgeois worker’ parties didn’t start out as somewhat political projects by a country’s trade unions, but were formed independently of trade union activity.

    Second, in all the exchanges between Lars Lih, Paul Le Blanc, Pham Binh and Mike Macnair on ‘liquidationism’, for some reason nobody mentioned the German precedent historically or currently (the four participants I just mentioned). Even if the liquidationists succeeded, their amateurism would have been less damaging than, say, the SAPD of Germany liquidating its illegal underground during the anti-socialist laws - the illegal underground apparatus of the Gotha programme party was simply much larger. Contemporarily speaking, if a mass party organisation had a wing for legal activity and a wing for mass civil disobedience campaigns and other ‘extra-legal’ but not bomb-throwing-style illegal activity, trying to wrap up the latter through party mechanisms would be tantamount to liquidationism.

    Third, Pham Binh’s concluding remarks are mixed, in my opinion. There’s too much attachment to unions; the main problem isn’t that they’re reformist (which most of them certainly are), but that they’re rarely political in the first place. The comrade mentions the Eisenacher-Lassallean unity of 1875, but the Lassalleans pointed to problems with union activism more accurately than any left communist ever did (which almost circles back to my statement above on Strafford).

    Also, conflated as one are programme, strategy and ‘theory’. Programmatic unity is paramount, for without a revolutionary programme there can be no revolutionary movement. Next in line is strategic unity, around the revolutionary strategy that adapts orthodox Marxism to modern circumstances (alternative culture and an independent but nonetheless institutional approach, refusal of non-proletocratic coalitions, of strike and council fetishes, of popular and other fronts that aren’t both communitarian and populist, etc). Way, way down the pecking order is ‘theory’ (whether historical la state capitalism vs bureaucratic collectivism vs degenerated/deformed workers’ state, or contemporary la inclusive democracy, power theory of value, etc).


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