Sunday, August 01, 2010

Reflections on the RCP's "Legitimate Revolt Is Not a 'Conspiracy'"

Just finished translating this text by the Revolutionary Communist Party - the Quebec-based Maoist organization, not the american avakian outfit - examining post-G20 fallout on the left:

Legitimate Revolt Is Not a “Conspiracy” provides a pro-militancy critique of the "Trotskyist and revisionist" left and their shameful rush to spit on the Black Block and present themselves as "good protesters". It is a welcome voice of solidarity, and as such the RCP stands out from the morass of shameless sycophants on the left, who just couldn't wait to reassure the state that they were "good protesters".

What the RCP has to say is correct, and refreshing. And even amongst those of us who favor militant action, some of their observations bear repeating. For instance:
The protesters’ stated goal was to attack the fence. This action was about attacking a symbol of power, oppression and exploitation. If the police stopped them, then there were other targets – perhaps less significant, but still symbolic – and a segment of the protesters took them by force. The heavy deterrent force employed by the police was not enough to prevent this legitimate expression of those protesters who attacked other targets – mainly police vehicles, media vans, and big chain stores. Small businesses were not attacked, citizens were not hurt, there was no looting. In point of fact, there has been more carnage at certain Stanley Cup riots in Montreal. In 2008, when the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins, there were 11 police cars that went up in flames.

It is easy to claim that an attack against the fence would have been more meaningful and would have enjoyed greater public support. The political meaning would have appeared more direct and obvious to the masses. We can’t know for sure. What we do know for sure is that the police and the public authorities understood these to be attacks against their power. They understood that this was a political action. No Stanley Cup riot was ever followed by 1,100 arrests!
 Or better yet:
Accusing the revolutionary masses of being agent provocateurs is a dishonest ploy to cover up one’s own refusal to play a vanguard role. It amounts to situating oneself as an elite that hopes to replace the current elite. One denies the role of the masses, their political positions. One denies their capacity to transform society. One denies the possibility that they can make mistakes or score successes, just as one refuses to admit that the bourgeoisie and its authorities can also make mistakes. The elite is supposedly all-knowing and all-powerful; the only logical response is to hope to join it, as the masses are supposedly stupid and easily manipulated. This is what the Trotskyists and revisionists are: wannabe bourgeois full of contempt for the masses.

The RCP's contribution is not surprising - this organization has consistently supported militant action and resistance. Despite political differences on a number of points, these are indeed comrades. So far as the anti-G20 events go, they're on the same page as we are.

That said, the RCP's document is thought-provoking for other reasons, too. Despite - or in fact, because - we are on the same page for the main story, it brings out other areas where we may disagree. Worth examining, perhaps, in the spirit of solidarity and respectful exchange.

As already noted, the RCP is almost the only organization from the "party-oriented" left to support militant resistance. This "party-oriented" tradition - which is entirely of Marxist descent, and which has organizational genealogies going back decades and in some cases much further than that - stands in contradistinction to what i call the movement-oriented left, which is of mixed descent, with Marxist influences for sure, but less consciously so. The movement-oriented left often seems to "have no past" organizational history beyond a few years, and of course is much more likely to want to wave the black flag of anarchism. (It of course suffers from some serious weaknesses too, but we can leave those til another day.)

The RCP text itself does not touch upon this distinction, and that gives it an odd feel. For instance, the torched cop cars and broken windows are not described as the work of political activists, but of "the radical wing of the protesters" or even simply "a section of the masses". To name the key political current behind this militancy would be to name anarchism, which the RCP's text does not do.

This leads to weaknesses.

First, this frames what happened in a much more "organic" light than warranted. It is true, of course, that political activists are not "outside of" society or various social classes, but it is equally true that their (or our) political attacks mean something different than spontaneous outbreaks of popular or working-class violence. As the comrades point out in their comparison with the Stanley Cup riots, in many ways politically premeditated activity is far more important and threatening - but by the same token, as a barometer of where things are at with the "Canadian population", our self-consciously organized activity has to be given less weight, not more.

The desire to blur premeditated political activity into "a revolt of a segment of the masses" leads to a distorted appraisal of capitalist hegemony, but just as importantly it makes one's texts and analyses seem disconnected from reality and propagandistic. With no disrespect intended to the comrades, who i know take seriously the injunction to tell no lies, when many people read this stuff with a dispassionate eye, they go away with the feeling that they have read something dishonest, or at least misleading.

While it is certainly true that many "regular people" joined in the fun on the 26th, it is just as true that some of the rank-and-file or "passive base" of the soc dem and socialist groups did, too. But to the degree that this was rebellion and rage - because for some, of course, it was curiosity and fun - the ideology that held hegemony, not only within the Black Block, but throughout the "radical wing of the protesters", was anarchism. i don't mean that most of the militants were anarchists, but that anarchism is the ideology that most informed the structure and strategy behind the BB in particular and militant anti-G20 resistance in general. To the degree that the 26th was a political defeat for the bourgeoisie, it is primarily anarchism which will take the credit and harvest (or fail to harvest) the bounty.

So what's behind this non-mention of anarchism?

i think it may say something about the division between the party-oriented (or vanguard-oriented) tradition, and the movement-oriented tradition. i say this because it does not seem to specific to the RCP - for instance, this desire to blur anarchist-dominated political activity into "a revolt of a segment of the masses" reminds me of the Sparts and other Trots who, when they want to be sympathetic about anarchist militancy, tend to describe it in terms of "angry" or "frustrated" "youth" or "young workers". (i recall the milquetoast american SWP went through a phase of referring patronisingly to "fighting youth".) Within the "party-oriented" left, there is a tendency to see everything outside of the "party-oriented" tradition in passive sociological terms, maybe more than a "class in itself" but somewhat less than a "class for itself", or at least without conscious political plans or strategies. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

This coyness does have consequences not entirely separate from those mentioned above. For instance, when the RCP states that "The proletariat is not really interested in debates on the evils of Stalin, or the quarrels between different Trotskyist sects," they are certainly correct. But if they are thinking specifically of "proletarians interested in revolution", then i think many of these people are in fact interested in what they've heard about Stalin. Not only is the Stalinist legacy one part - not the main part, but a factor - in why since the 1980s in Canada Trotskyism has enjoyed greater success that Maoism within the shrinking milieu of the party-oriented left, it is also a large factor in why anarchism and other non-Marxist ideas hold sway in the much larger and more dynamic movement-oriented left. (Plus, let's face it: that majority of "the proletariat" that does not care about debates between Trot sects, rarely cares about the GPCR or the Makhnovists either.)

Certainly, given the importance of anarchism within the "revolutionary segment of the masses" who were active on the 26th, i think for communists to dismiss the question of Stalin - by which people often really mean, "what went wrong with communism in the 20th century?" - is an error.

Which brings me to the final point - look at how the RCP ends its text:
To convince the masses in English Canada that communism and revolution go together will require a broad campaign of ideological decontamination to wipe out Trotskyist and revisionist ideology. Maoists in English Canada should take on this operation. While it is certainly true that the surrounding ideological scene is infectious, in deepening the ideological struggle it will be possible to free it from its opportunist tendencies.

Calling for "ideological decontamination" and "wiping out" ideologies is partly a matter of writing style, and i certainly know that anarchists and everyone else can be sectarian too. But this kind of metaphor - incorrect ideas being "contaminants" that must be "wiped out" - can lead to a qualitatively different political stance. One should deal with incorrect ideas differently than one deals with infection. The medical model is not conducive to democratic process. For those of us who cannot dismiss debates of the "evils of Stalin" as irrelevant, this kind of metaphor is not very appealing.

In all, though, i gotta repeat, the RCP's statement on the anti-G20 events is a welcome voice of solidarity. My criticisms are not criticisms of the document - which is overwhelmingly good - so much as questions and observations regarding the relationship between different traditions of struggle.

1 comment:

  1. I have read the piece in French and I must state that there's another area where I felt it was dishonest and propagandist. Namely, their attack on reformists and other folks working in the social movements lack nuance and come out as unfair. Without re-reading the piece, I remember vaguely that they where basically saying that folks with jobs and / or reponsabilities in the social movements all denounced the militant action and that this was because of the position they held which breed betrayal. I think reality is much more complex then that. First of, it seem some of the folks that suffered preventive arrest and face conspiracy charges are indeed professional activists working for NGO and labor. Also, some of the principled support against repression, at least in Quebec, came from the social movements. I did saw support communique sent from union and NGO offices. Furthermore, some leading reformists went even farther then that. François Saillant, for example, was filmed defending window smashing as an act of resistance. What are we to think of Amir Khadir very publicly giving cash for Jaggi Singh release and agreeing to act as a surety? I don't think it's just a case of the good revolutionary versus the bad reformist. It's more political then that. This said, the PCR does indeed have some interesting to say (sometime).