Fragments from old blog posts I started and abandoned and a bit of correspondence, putting up here as a note to come back to this.

We can’t always be joyful, and the powerful know how to inflict a great deal of misery which is very real and not something we can simply smile our way through. At the same time, a reminder of the positive components of what we’re doing now, and high on the list of those components is camaraderie, carries a lot of weight. Likewise we
can’t always act toward each other in ways that are enjoyable to give or to receive – we need to be critical and to push each other and note failings and other things that don’t always feel good even when well intentioned and for the best – but at the same time we need to be deliberate and reflective about how we interact. We’re right, but we
have to be right in the right way – corrosively expressed criticism of a comrade is not correct criticism. Hard truths should not be softened, but… you can hand someone a hard, heavy rock, or you can throw it at their head. Likewise with criticisms, including our own self-criticisms of our efforts.

Feeling worn out, and wrapped up in a bit of corrosive self-criticism of the limitations of some of my current projects, I called a good friend and comrade. As expected, when we finished our conversation I felt much more upbeat. I think this is an important function that comrades play for each other. If, as the slogan goes, we carry a new world in our hearts, that world needs the heat of a sun to keep it warm. i used to think that the heat of the anger in my belly was enough but it’s not. Class hatred is powerful but it’s not sufficient. There has to be hope as well, and reminders of progress, and above all, while struggle are not and should not be ends in themselves, there needs to be an element of that.

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I did a bit of thinking again recently about some of Marx’s remarks on communism, mostly in the German Ideology. I’m not keen on that book over all but there are some moments… Marx talks about how “[i]n a real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.” I think this combines well with his (best)
definition of commumism as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” and with his claim that “the word “communist” (…) in the real world means the follower of a definite revolutionary party”,though I’ve got big doubts with the party as an organizational form at least as practiced the majority of the times historically that I know anything about. In any case, the real movement and the revolutionary organization (not to conflate the two) both ought to be a place where people obtain freedom in and through association in/as they/we abolish the present state of things. Our hope is that we build “real community [in which] the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association”, such that we are — in at least one sense of freedom — more free in/through/for our involvement. I like to use music as an analogy for this – there’s a discipline required to learning an instrument and learning to play music (either other people’s songs/covers or writing songs or improvising), and/but this discipline allows one greater freedom… a really good practiced musician is more free than I am, in a specific sense – free to make good music, and I, with my very limited and lazy under practiced musicianship am in that same sense more free than people who don’t have any music training.

(edit: turns out this middle bit I’d already posted here – http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2009/12/03/is-the-relationship-between-discipline-and-freedom/ – I’d forgotten about that. This was on my mind again because of stuff around the communization discussion, and a bit in, I think, John Cunningham’s article, I think from Tiqqun, about communism as producing subjectivities and collectivities, something like that. I think there are important limits to that view but important insights in it too, and I think that perspective is part of or is close to what I was fumbling for in the paragraph above.)

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I don’t want to romanticize, but I think history is full of examples of people who had or developed a sort of
day-to-day/lived reality/practical knowledge that went beyond the intellectual culture that they were part of (or weren’t part of) that existed at their day. What I mean is, people may not have what a lefty would recognize as a rich theoretical understanding or vocabulary of surplus value and of the class in itself and for itself yet they can
act in ways that in a sense embody an understanding of those things, they act as if they had such knowledge. What’s more, I think this acting as if involves real knowledge or knowhow of another type than theoretical (I mean, there are still things happening in people’s heads and in conversations, it’s not automatic) – for instance, how to
have a productive meeting to decide what to do, how to effectively confront the boss, what to do when the boss tries to retaliate and so on. I don’t have a word for this type of knowledge. As an analogy, I think of the more theoretical register (which I do value tremendously, I don’t want to seem otherwise, I think my blog expresses this though
it also expresses my ambivalence about theoretical hypertrophy) as sort of like music criticism or food criticisms, while the practical knowledge is the sort of knowledge involved in actually playing music collectively, improvisationally (and is not just knowledge in a sort of written down way but is also a sort of sensibility, maybe like
muscle memory), or like the knowledge involved in cooking a complicated meal for multiple people by a certain time.

To use that analogy, it seems to me that the left is better at talking about music than playing it, and often talks about it in ways that are of questionable utility for actually playing music. That’s a big part of my view of the tasks of the present. Let me put it another way. Let’s say at some major site of struggle there’s some sort of pool of
leftists. It seems to me that where things are at now, the leftists, at least some of the ones my age and younger, are going to be among the slower people to generate a form of struggle – if some spark occurs, leftist workers around it are less likely to be part of it helping cause a fire than less politicized but more experienced workers (the musicians will know how to play along when they overhear a tune, the music critics won’t), and when the spark does catch fire the leftist workers will have very little to offer at the level of the knowledges involved in actually carrying out that form of working class struggle. This is not anyone’s fault I think, it’s mainly a matter of the epoch that we’ve grown up in.

To try to put it yet another way, a friend of mine talks a lot about how people on the left are bad at setting strategy. I think that’s probably true. He pushes for people to set goals, determine strategy to meet those goals, then decide on tactics to implement the strategy. I’m sure this is all very obvious and basic to a lot of people, but it’s really not in the circles that he and I are in much of the time. I’m of the view that right now we need to push more people to acquire some facility with a variety of relatively localized tactics w/r/t mass organization and struggle – the types of knowledges I’ve tried to compare to playing music – then from there we’ll move on to figuring out and trying to successfully set and implement strategies and bigger goals. An effective left will set goals, determine strategy for those goals, and lay out and implement tactics to carry out the strategy. Achieving an effective left will require that people be able to implement tactics, determine strategy, and set goals. I think we (again, at least people of my age and younger) generally suck at all this. I think that part of the problem is tactical incompetency, such that even if we had a good strategy we’d bungle it and fuck up or at best be only slightly better than irrelevant to the mass struggles of the class that we’re trying to be part of. So, we need to develop tactical competency, then work on our ability to determine strategy and set goals. (And I include myself fully in this “we”, the point is not to be above anyone but to get others involved in a process of raising our collective level. This may sound substitutionist but isn’t intended that way.)

I’ve sometimes expressed the point this way – there are cadre of political organizations and cadre of mass organizations/of mass unrest. Actually existing cadre of actually existing political organizations are in most cases not really worth the name, but that’s neither here nor there. Mass cadre are not sufficiently developed either, unsurprising given the relative lack of decent mass organizations and of popular rebellions, but mass cadre are further along. The main task to my mind for political cadre right now is to do whatever the variety of things are that are involved in becoming mass cadre. From there, then those people who are self-consciously revolutionary and are, for lack of a better word, objectively cadre of the class/of the mass struggles/organizations, then those people will be able to figure out how to build proper political organizations and move forward. For now it seems to me that the main task of actually existing political organizations (proto-political proto-organizations) is to push that process of cadre development, with an aim less toward effecting the rest of the class and more toward making the people involved in the political organizations become one moment of the class for itself.

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