06 January 2010

The enemy is protest politics

I don't care whether, on paper, you're a rabid Trot or an unreformed Stalinist or Fidel Castro's best buddy or any kind of variation on the above. The method of small-group Marxism (aka "toy-town Leninism") is identical:

1) Protest politics: get involved in every campaign you possibly can against something - against climate change, against whichever imperialist war is on at the moment, against one or other evil boss exploiting a certain group of workers. Throw all your efforts into building the movements against a particular injustice of late capitalism, or in an inchoate way against "capitalism" or "the corporates".
2) Abstract propaganda: publish a newspaper or journal and conduct meetings, conferences and seminars explaining your particular "brand" of Marxist-Leninist theory as you understand it.
3) What passes for praxis: Use your popularity and contacts built up doing 1) to get an audience for 2). Recruit to your organisation.
4) An "upsurge in class struggle" will happen, one day.
5) ???

Newsflash, comrades: although your intentions are sincere and noble, the above will not work and indeed has never worked. Here's why:

a) Since Marxism is the unity of theory and practice, and in the above schema the "theory" is not the distillation of the experience of practice, but of a set of pre-set attitudes and dogmas, the above is not Marxism - or, at least, it's not actually "scientific Marxism", but absolutely identical to the way in which any religious organisation attempts to gain converts by doing Good Works. Justified by a narrative that "we are in a downturn, so we can't do revolutionary politics, which only make sense in a massive upsurge", the above schema is nothing but left-wing reformist political practice sellotaped to abstract distillations of the revolutionary theory of previous eras. In this way, the theory is actually cordoned off from the practice, and ceases to be living.
b) A sect, no matter how large, has never developed into a mass party. Not never. The Bolsheviks were a mass party founded by a sect in an unprecedented revolutionary period - not exactly the same thing. Let's put it this way - readers of this blog, imagine the biggest and most successful Marxist mega-sect in your country. Then, imagine a 1917-style total breakdown of your country's social order. Can you imagine the mega-sect becoming the leadership of a mass movement for a new order? I am willing to predict that the prospect either makes you nauseous with horror or with uncontrollable laughter.

Of course, the schema above is perfectly good if your actual goal is to build a sect, because you like being in/leading a small religious group of people who share your version of The Truth. It's a good lifestyle, insofar as lifestyles go, and people in sects do plenty of good work. But their sect will not ever, ever, become the organic leadership of a mass movement that they dream of. At best, they will end up jumping on the mass movement once it's already gotten going and may play a decent role, but we are more ambitious than that.

Of course you can't play revolutionary politics in a non-revolutionary era. But you can engage in transitional politics wherever and whenever you are. Revolutionary theory is only useful in the everyday in the sense that it offers a road to transitional theory united intimately with transitional practice.