Short Appreciation of FRSO/OSCL's 'Which Way is Left?'
A Short Appreciation of ‘Which Way is Left?’ (FRSO/OSCL)- John M, NYC
1. ‘Which Way is Left?’ is a welcome and important contribution to the discussion on the necessity of and challenges to the creation of a mass revolutionary party or parties in the US. Solidarity should everywhere participate in discussion on the pamphlet and participate more broadly – as recommended in a proposal in WWIL – in discussions with the organized and non-organized Left forces on the crisis we’re jointed confronted with and what is needed to build a vehicle to smash capitalism.
2. Much of the frail organized US Left is mired in a bunker-mentality of territorial or organizational-identity defense. Even the best organizations, Solidarity and FRSO/OSCL included, are not fully immunized against the disease of what the pamphlet refers to as a “miniaturized Leninism”. This organization-fetish relates in no slight manner to the weak state – socially and organizationally – of the class struggle more generally in the US (more on that latter): ‘build our own group, develop our own campaigns, because nothing else ‘out there’ exists.’ But WWIL rightfully calls for us to step outside of our organizational boxes, ‘our issues’, and outside of our tangled histories, to confront present and future challenges.
3. Defensive or offensive? Failures and/or defeats of revolutionary and liberation struggles in the 20th Century have disarrayed the Left, while the present alignment of class forces means the working-class and oppressed are paying an increasingly awful price for the maintenance of capitalist rule. FRSO/OSCL is correct in pointing out that the energy of most revolutionaries and radicals is spent on defensive struggles to hold the line against ruling-class attacks; “the absence of organization effectively condemns the oppressed to constant resistant battles” (28). It often saps all our strength to do just this, and even then we’re losing most of the time; from Katrina to shop floor battles, it’s mostly a question these days, not of what we can win, but how we can lose least-badly.
WWIL argues correctly that such struggles are necessary, but not sufficient. Defensive struggles of themselves will never create the terrain for the overthrow of capitalism; isolated struggles – again, absolutely essential – cannot themselves demonstrate the utter bankruptcy of the whole system, or consolidate the array of organized workers and oppressed peoples to make revolution. A massive and unified political force, united around a program of socialist transformation, is needed, and there is no ‘tomorrow’ when it will be correct to begin elaborating such a force.
This is not to say that a party or organization which would deepen and link various social struggles to a forward-looking program can be developed out of thin air, or that it would immediately, always lead to movement victories. There is a dialectical relation of mutual influence between struggles and party organization, not a causal or mechanic “if A, then B” relation.
Too often the best militants immerse themselves completely in partial, defensive struggles; and no wonder, given the weakness of the Left and the viciousness of the ruling-class offensive. But the conditions of capitalism and the partial struggles against its most awful contradictions do not themselves, automatically, build a revolution. So, we must learn to do both at once – the daily of work of building resistance and the conscious, active elaboration of broader party or parties of revolution. Another point that I think is more and more urgent these days in this regard. Revolutionary organization and theory is essential for people to put the defensive or resistance struggles, together with their own roles in these, in perspective. Many of our best potential comrades have, even while very young, ‘retired’ due to a combination of burnout and cynicism. A culturally vibrant, broader and more forward-looking revolutionary theory and organization would help these folks keep better balance and keep them in the struggle.
4. Related to above point on the need for an offensive and future oriented revolutionary politics, I think WWIL is right in stating that “a conscious combination” of organization and education has and will always be necessary to build a struggle capable of making revolution. Revolutionary consciousness does not develop organically or automatically; we have to be constantly and consciously agitating and educating ourselves.
The temptations to ignore this are enormous these days. TINA (‘there is no alternative’) consciousness is widespread, and leads to a political philosophy of patiently chipping away at oppression with an infinite accumulation of reforms. Also, the “pragmatism that has folks walking with their eyes close to the ground” is an understandable response to wanting to responsible engage in meaningful struggles and avoid an often clumsy, weak and sectarian revolutionary Left (27). But activism should never absolve us of our co-equal responsibility to consciously and agitationally educate ourselves and others on urgency of and process for building a broader, more vibrant and explicitly revolutionary vehicle.
5. I think the above elements are the strongest, and most exciting, parts of WWIL. Now for some concerns about other parts.
a. Problems with the survey of the international situation. Both the Colombian FARC and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) are mentioned, in a broader context that also comments on recent developments in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and popular movements in Mexico – the APPO in Oaxaca - and Brazil – the MST. It is problematic not to assess the FARC and CPP and other militarized movements in respect to the violence committed by them on civilians, civil society leaders, and even other elements of the Left in those countries. Not to take these serious problems up is tantamount to an endorsement of these strategies.
As regards the Brazilian PT and South African Communist Party, questions are raised about the complex conjuncture facing these parties. But, from my view, they have long moved from challenging what the pamphlet calls “neoliberal globalization” to being enforcers of the rule of global capital. Their pretensions to reform away the rule of capital is a serious error that puts them, when in power, in the position of actually enforcing what they’ve historically claimed to be against.
When assessing the international situation and making real links of struggle and solidarity with movements and parties around the world, the revolutionary Left should take serious responsibility to look behind the rhetorical self-presentation of liberation movements to the actual class struggle in those countries, what the relations of forces are and what position these organizations actually occupy therein.
This will become even more important with respect to developments in Venezuela. All revolutionaries in the US should oppose any and all meddling in Venezuela by US imperialism; but there are some in Solidarity like myself who are not so sure “that Mr. Chavez is committed to a social revolution”(17), and are looking to the potentials for a workers movement and political vehicles there that seek to push the revolution independent of whatever Chavez, who has undeniable Bonapartist tendencies, might feel comfortable with.
b. Assessment of the "social movement left." The comrades in FRSO/OSCL state that Marta Harnecker’s concept of a party uniting the organized Left and the social movement Lefts “is quite important in our thinking concerning Left Refoundation.” I too think it’s an important concept; the respectable organized Left, especially in out context, recognizes that a revolutionary party or parties worthy of the name will not be built through the numeric increase in the size and influence of any single existing group, or even all of them combined. Rather, a qualitative change must occur, mostly in the larger context of the class struggle, but also in terms of a renewed and militant labor movement, broader and more vigorous social movements, and a Left willing to break out of its isolation. We will all be swept up in such a climate, while hoping to influence its shape and direction.
But social movements in the US today – unlike in the Global South or Europe – are terribly weak themselves. There are essential struggles for racial justice, jobs, housing, health care, etc. – those around the Right to the City network, for example. But nothing on a comparable scale, in terms of members and social/political power, to, say, the MST in Brazil. It is urgent for the organized Left in the US to relate to social movement-type organizations and struggles, like those who participated in the US Social Forum. But let’s not mistake their character and scope, nor hide from ourselves the tragically low level of organized class struggle in the US today.
c. Absence of historical analysis of the US class struggle. Some elements of what WWIL describes as the “neoliberal authoritarian state” are crucial factors in the current ruling class offensive that the Left must grapple with. But WWIL presents almost no serious assessment of the class struggle in the US. If we want to tackle the issues facing those of us who wish to build a broad revolutionary formation, we have to deal with a number of questions: How do we assess the demise of the organized labor movement in the US, including the central roles of the Democratic Party and trade union officials in coordinating this historic collapse? How has the demise of radical and independent Black, Latino, Women’s, etc. movements effected the situation we face today? What of the financialization or internationalization of capitalism in the US? What is the role of new immigrant struggles? What about the collapse of infrastructure in US cities and the increasing signs of ecological disaster? Most importantly, I only remember one or two references to the occupations Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan - What’s the Left’s strategy to deal with a situation of continuous and semi-normalized “war on terror”, that either directly assaults subject populations or keeps the others living in a state a petrified fear and isolation?
In sum, we have much work ahead of us to figure out the actual social and political contours of the class struggle in the US, and what to do thereby. ‘Which Way is Left?’ is an exciting and urgent call for us to take our eyes off the ground and look ahead to what we want – and need desperately – to achieve. I look forward to continued engagement with our comrades in FRSO/OSCL and to – one day soon – all of us working together in the revolution.