Notes for what I hope will later become a more finished libcom blog post.
I’m having trouble starting this blog post, I always have trouble starting the ones that involve more of a risk. The more I know what to say, the easier it is to say it. The less I know what to say, the harder it is.
I have several things on my mind as I start this blog post.
1) Something an older comrade said to me back when I was excited about a small marxist group called the Johnson-Forest Tendency: “I think the reason a lot of us found them exciting is that they were a kind of ongoing seminar in marxist thought, one that didn’t happen in a university setting. That intellectual dynamism is attractive.” I think that’s definitely part of it.
2) A remark Joseph Kay made at some point in the libcom forums, namely that maybe the internet is facilitating conversation in a way that means some of the activities that are often associated with political organizations – correspondence among radicals, collective discussion, and providing access to political writing – can happen outside of those organizations now to a higher degree.
3) A remark in an article by Adam Weaver and Scott Nappalos about movement institutions that generate writing (I generally disagree with the article in that it claims formal political organizations are necessary, but I like that bit about setting up different sorts of initiatives.
4) A metaphor that I got from some old Maoist. There’s organization building and there’s movement building. Or to put it another way, there’s work aimed at a specific organism and there’s work aimed at the social ecosystem.
5) Another metaphor: marketplace of ideas. The metaphor is about advocating for ideas in order to win people over. That’s an imperfect metaphor to be sure but it’s a start. I’m interested in how people move to become a certain kind of consumer – how do people come to want to read and to actually read some of the sorts of writing that are around on the left – and how people move from consumer to producer – how do people come to be more active participants.
6) The recent issue of Viewpoint on workers’ inquiry. I’m skeptical about some of that workers inquiry and militant research stuff at this point, but the element of collective intellectual work by movement people is appealing.
7) Some remarks by Engels about trying to do historical inquiry, and particularly inquiry into recent/current events, and how that’s difficult! (I quote these here: https://crashcourse666.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/did-engels-introduce/) And this quote from Lenin, “that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism [is] a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jun/12.htm (Lenin’s quotable, despite his bad politics.) Particularly in light of Perry Anderson’s book Considerations on Western Marxism, which I read sometime last year and really enjoyed (notes here: https://crashcourse666.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/does-anderson-consider/). It could be described in part as a sort of how many marxists lost that ‘living soul’. (And how much of marxism became a kind of giant baby – great big head, speech very hard to understand, arms and legs uncoordinated, and both captivated by observing the relatively obvious and furious at its inability to move effectively. On the soul thing… what’s the name for a thing that moves without a soul? Zombie? Capitalist?) Of course that ‘living soul’ has to relate to a lot of other elements, including more abstract and narrowly theoretical concerns. I’m thinking here of a quote from E.P. Thompson, something to the effect of history doesn’t apply theory, it reconstructs it. Anyway, that ‘living soul’ should be there and I think is under-represented today – and it’s really hard to actually do!
8) An ongoing conversation with some small handfuls of friends and the occasional online discussion at libcom and on Facebook, about what we’ve called ‘militant reformism’ and more broadly some concerns about how to understand the present political moment and what are some plausible short term futures. In a nutshell, some friends and I think that reformist organizations are capable of acting in surprisingly democratic and militant ways, and that it’s possible that capitalism could be renewed economically and politically, and both will pose challenges to anticapitalists. If things play out in the way we think is possible (and the point isn’t to predict the future so much as to say that some comrades have ruled out some possibilities too quickly), it will proceed like this: a phase where austerity and repression are the dominant ideas and practices (during this phase calls for reform will not get much traction outside the far left and some nondominant parts of the capitalist class and their ideologues and politicians, that nondominant status in turn will encourage greater legitimacy for these ideas in the far left; these ideas may also get some traction in fighting organizations/movements); a phase of experimentation at the local/municipal/county/state-or-province level (during this phase reformist ideas will get more traction in official institution), tied to greater legitimacy for experiments on different perspectives tided to various constituencies (industries, political affiliations/ideologies, etc); a phase of greater openness to these perspectives at the federal level and the level of the capitalist class as a whole. We haven’t talked about it this way much but I’m beginning to think this is a process of how the capitalist class becomes once again a conscious political subject moving a programmatic agenda and how the state gets more organized programmatically. Or alternatively, this is a matter of how specific class fractions and their affiliated individual ideologues and politicians, fractions which are currently not dominant, come to contest the current dominant perspective and leadership. All of this relates to narrowly economic matters but isn’t reducible to them.
9) Aufheben’s recent article Reclaim the State Debate. In the article Aufheben calls for radical thinking that tries to feedback into practice rather than theory for it’s own sake, and suggests that this is unlikely to happen via academic writing. The Aufheben article is also about something on my mind a lot lately, namely how to understand the capitalist state.
10) What this adds up to: I’m hesitant to tell anyone what to do but I’d like to see more sustained conversation in some kind of collective way on these themes and how they might inform practice, if we can see practical takeaways currently (other than propagandizing). This is because I care about the substance but also because I care about the format – how can a diffuse cloud of us get better at deciding to take on issues and thinking through them collectively? I can imagine this could proceed in a few ways. One is sort of top down or abstract to concrete or from reading outward: basically read some stuff, theoretical, historical, and relevant contemporary material, on the state and the state-capital relationship, and discuss it – and try to write stuff that gets the ideas out in circulation among people who won’t or haven’t yet read the material. Another is to begin from the bottom up or from the concrete and experiential into writing: asking questions like how do we encounter the state and capital in our lives and experiences, in doing political activity and otherwise, and writing on that. Connected to both is looking at current developments to try and track the current life of the institutions and society we live under.