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Free to download or read online this short book by John Rees draws on the experience of recent mass movements and past revolutions to suggest ways in which the left can maximize the effectiveness of all those who want to transform society.

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Extracts from Strategy and Tactics

Chapter 6: Timing in revolutionary politics

The activity of a revolutionary organisation forms part of a chain of events taking place over time. The revolutionary minority never controls the whole chain, because it is composed of economic factors, the actions of other political organisations, the consciousness and combativity of the working class, and many other elements that are either wholly or partially independent of the influence of the organised minority.

A network of revolutionaries can have a crucial effect on the course of events, but only if it accurately gauges the way in which these other factors are shaping them, and if it tailors its actions to promote some outcomes and suppress others. Moreover, and crucially, since the weight of these factors and the overall direction of events are constantly changing, what a revolutionary organisation may be able to achieve at one time may not be achievable even a short time later.

In short, the question of timing is crucial. This is never more true than in the timing of revolution itself. Here is one less well-known example from the English Revolution. In 1647, after the First Civil War, King Charles was being feted by the moderates in the House of Commons. If they had been successful, the radicals in the New Model Army, the decisive revolutionary force at this moment, would have been marginalised, and the revolution might never have achieved its full stature.

But decisive action by Cromwell - who vacillated before and after attempting to come to a treaty with the King - and the Army radicals, led to the seizure of Charles by a troop of horses commanded by Cornet Joyce (a very junior officer). Asked by the King for his commission for the arrest, Joyce simply pointed to the troopers behind him. Had the King not been taken prisoner by the Army, he might have been restored to the throne.

A more famous example comes from the Russian Revolution. The period immediately before the October insurrection was one of confusion among the leaders of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin wrote letter after letter urging preparations for a new insurrection. Lenin’s tone is frantic in this correspondence because he believed that delay would be disastrous: ‘Delay is criminal. To wait…would be…a betrayal of the revolution.’ And again: ‘to miss such a moment…would be utter idiocy, or sheer treachery…for it would mean losing weeks at a time when weeks and even days decide everything. It would mean faint-heartedly renouncing power, for on 1-2 November it will have become impossible to take power.’

Finally, after he had threatened resignation from the Central Committee, the Party’s leading body, Lenin’s view prevailed and the insurrection took place on 25 October 1917.

It is not always the case that urgency means a matter of days. In a revolution, as Lenin noted elsewhere, developments that normally take years can be contracted into days, even hours.

But there is, nevertheless, always a window of opportunity outside which certain actions will no longer be possible or will not have the same force. In recent history, for instance, had revolutionaries not decided to launch the Stop the War Coalition within days of the attack on the Twin Towers, it is unlikely that it would have had the same galvanising effect that it did.

Of course, it is also possible to move too quickly. Had the Bolsheviks attempted a revolution in the summer of 1917, when reaction was in the air, it would certainly have rebounded on them, strengthening the counter-revolution, perhaps decisively. At this time, the Bolsheviks worked to restrain those who wanted to push forward and launch an insurrection. But whether one is urging restraint or advance, issuing a clear call at the appropriate time is essential.

Many years ago, the labour historian Ralph Samuel wrote that one of the things he disliked about the Communist Party was that there was always a tone of emergency in the organisation. Something or other always had to be ‘done now’, ‘could not wait’, and so on. This criticism is misplaced. If a revolutionary organisation is to play its role in the chain of events, whatever that role might be at any given time, it must act with dispatch. There is always something to be done, and, if it is to be done to maximum effect, it needs to be done in a timely manner.

But ‘timely’ is a variable quantity. What is necessary to prepare for imminent revolution may have to be accomplished with greater speed than the preparation for a demonstration in normal times that is six months hence. But since all organisations, even revolutionary organisations, produce their own inertia, adhering to past patterns of work even when new challenges arise, there will always be a battle to turn the organisation to a correct orientation in good time.

Other political forces, both enemies and rivals, will not wait. So timing will always be of the essence for revolutionaries. Duncan Hallas, a leading revolutionary socialist and the author of a very useful study of Trotsky, used to quote Shakespeare to make the point:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life,
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Chapter 13: The Marxist method

There is prejudice about intellectual thought in our society, boosted by academia, which assumes that the greatest heights of theoretical achievement are the furthest from practical politics. Whether these are philosophical questions about the nature of human experience and the fundamentals of ethical choice or natural-scientific questions about the origin of the universe and the structure of the atom, they all seem a long way from our everyday issue of what to do next.

But for Marxists, the very opposite is true. The question ‘what is to be done?’ is very closely linked with issues about the Marxist method of analysis - in other words, with questions of Marxist philosophy.

Why is this? Can we not simply get by with the kind of ideas about strategy and tactics that have already been discussed in this pamphlet - the united front, sectarianism, ultra-leftism, and so on? Obviously, these concepts are essential, but how do we know when it is the right time to deploy a particular tactic? The Bolsheviks, as we have seen, almost missed the right time for the revolution in October 1917. But, as we have also seen, the German Communist Party’s call for revolution in March 1921 was a catastrophe.

The bad news is that there is no guarantee. The good news is that there are two kinds of experience that can give an organisation the best chance of making these judgements correctly.

The first kind of experience is the struggle itself. A network that has many members rooted in the battles of the working class will have had to make these kinds of judgements, or less dramatic versions of the same kinds of judgements, over and over again. Its members will have learnt how to evaluate the moods of its own class, the character of the labour movement leaders, the nature of the police and media, and so on.

Roots in the class should inform the party about the most pressing questions for workers and what action is already being taken, and this can form the basis of judgements about how to respond. But this kind of experience is never enough on its own.

No situation is ever an exact repeat of the past; it always contains something new. And no situation ever interprets itself; it always requires an act of intellectual labour to explain it. Despite the old aphorism, the facts never speak for themselves. They always require interpretation. As Marx said, ‘if appearance and reality coincided, there would be no need for science’.

So a second kind of experience is necessary: theoretical experience. This kind of experience gives us a method by which we can interpret the struggle. The starting point of any such analysis is to grasp the contradictory nature of our society. We have seen at the start of the pamphlet how the need for a vanguard organisation arises from the existence of contradictory consciousness among workers. And we have also seen that this contradictory consciousness arises from the interaction of oppression and revolt that is in the nature of wage-labour under capitalism. This in turn rests on the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society - that it requires the collective labour of workers to produce wealth, but that capitalists privately appropriate that wealth when it is produced.

We see here, in simplified sketch form, a series of interlinked contradictions, each resting on the other, which run from the fundamental economic structure of capitalism, through the consciousness of workers, to the forms of organisation most effective in acting on these contradictions. But this series of contradictions only describes the most general, and therefore relatively timeless, aspects of the system.

To analyse a new strategic and tactical situation would need much closer and more careful analysis. But the approach would be the same: first analyse the most general objective economic, social, and political contradictions. Then examine the contradictory forms of consciousness and organisations that arise from these. Then carefully specify what forms of organisation, slogans, demands, and so on might be expected to act on these contradictions in such ways as to advance the struggle. Finally, develop the organisational tools capable of realising these tactics.

Lenin was insistent that only a ‘concrete analysis of a concrete situation’ could be a guide to action. In criticism of an analysis of the possibilities of revolution in China by one of his fellow Bolshevik leaders, Nicholas Bukharin, Lenin wrote:

I know next to nothing about the insurgents and revolutionaries of South China [but]…since there are uprisings, it is not too far-fetched to assume a controversy between Chinese No 1, who says that insurrection is a product of a most acute nation-wide class struggle, and Chinese No 2, who says that insurrection is an art. That is all I need to know to write a thesis à la Bukharin: “On the one hand…on the other hand.” The one has failed to reckon with the art “factor”, and the other with the “acuteness factor”, etc. Because no concrete study has been made of this particular controversy, question, approach, etc., the result is dead, empty eclecticism.

Lenin insisted that ‘the truth is always concrete’. In each case, generalities may or may not apply and will certainly occur and combine in unique ways. This is why a concrete analysis is always necessary.

At the point where revolutionaries took the step of initiating the Stop the War Coalition in 2001, we undertook an analysis something like this. We had already understood the nature of the new imperialism from theoretical work at the end of the Cold War, during the First Gulf War, and during the war in the Balkans. We understood the contradiction between expansive US military power and its relative economic decline. We judged, from preceding experience in the anti-globalisation movement, that there would be a mood to resist and that the left might not be divided in the way it had been in the Cold War.

The judgement, the analysis of the contradictions and the assessment of the consciousness of the class, might have been wrong, but the immediate reports of activists in the workplaces in the days after the attack on the World Trade Centre suggested they were not. The success of the first Stop the War rally in London, only 10 days after 9/11, proved it. Had it not, practice would have dictated a rethink of theory!

Crucial to this method, and what makes it essentially different from the normal method of science, is that it includes within it the subjective element. And this is not simply in the exterior sense that it requires a judgement about workers’ consciousness, but in the additional sense that it must calculate the effect of our actions as organised revolutionaries on the objective situation. It must try to tell us not simply what is, but also what might be if we act on the objective situation in certain ways.

As Lenin argued:

The objectivist speaks of the necessity of a given historical process, the materialist gives an exact picture of a given socio-economic formation and the antagonistic relations to which it gives rise. When demonstrating the necessity of a given series of facts, the objectivist always runs the risk of becoming an apologist for the facts; the materialist discloses the class contradictions and so defines his standpoint…the materialist would not content himself with stating insurmountable “historical tendencies”, but would point to the existence of certain classes which determine the content of a given system and preclude the possibility of any solution except by the action of the producers themselves…materialism includes partisanship, so to speak, and enjoins the direct and open adoption of the standpoint of a definite social group in the assessment of events.

In summarising Lenin’s application of the Marxist method in this field, Georg Lukacs wrote:

He studied in order to learn how to apply the dialectic; to learn how to discover, by concrete analyses of concrete situations, the specific in the general and the general in the specific; to see in the novelty of a situation what connects it with former developments; to observe the perpetually new phenomena constantly produced under the laws of historical development; to detect the part in the whole and the whole in the part; to find in historical necessity the moment of activity and in activity the connection with historical necessity.

And Lukacs concluded:

Leninism represents a hitherto unprecedented degree of concrete, unschematic, unmechanistic, purely praxis-oriented thought. To preserve this is the task of the Leninist.


About the author

John Rees is a co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition and the author of The Algebra of Revolution and Imperialism and Resistance. He is on the Editorial Board of Counterfire, and he writes and presents the Timeline political history series. He is currently researching the Levellers and the English Revolution.

Comments   

 
#1 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyBrendan Montague 2010-07-28 10:23
When do we get the ink and paper version?
 
 
#2 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyPrinkipo Exile 2010-08-12 23:26
This sounds an interesting piece of work; but any organisation that wants to learn from history needs to be able to review it's own history critically, not just around major events but the crisis points that emerge from time to time.

Timing was certainly everything in the author's role within the attempted break up of Respect in 2007, as was the issue of over what tactical issues is it important for revolutionaries to take as a principle. With the passage of time the role of the SWP in this crisis now seems indefensible.

Some kind of reevaluation and raprochment would encourage the idea that Counterfire represents a break from the past = rather than SWP Mark II.
 
 
#3 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societylyapunov 2010-08-13 03:02
yes what the uk left needs right now is a thoroughgoing period of navel-gazing irrelevance
 
 
#4 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyAlex Snowdon 2010-08-13 07:27
I can't help thinking the biggest economic crisis since the 30s is a rather more pressing and important issue than a split which took place in 2007. Timing in relation to the crisis - and how the left responds - has been, and is, tremendously important. Generally speaking, the left failed to seize the moment after the crash of September 2008, and significant sections of it have been drifting rather aimlessly since then.

We're now starting to turn that round, though some of us (John Rees included) consistently argued for a proper coalition-based response to the crisis from the start. It's only recently that we've been in a position to do something about it.

I'd rather get on with helping build a coalition of resistance - informed by an understanding of the past and of the bigger political picture - than indulge in, as another commenter puts it, 'a thoroughgoing period of navel-gazing irrelevance'.
 
 
#5 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyRupert 2010-08-15 14:08
I don't understand your turn to "movementism" as this implies UK/US society has changed, whereby class relations have altered fundamentally. If this is your overall analysis then why Marx? Why class war?

Counterfire is all over the place, not a workplace. This is a problem because your base shadows the media that attacks workers.

If I joined Counterfire what do I get? More facebook-style politics? A call to organise in my workplace? What? Or is all "strategy and tactics" a text? or YouTube?
 
 
#6 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societylyapunov 2010-08-15 22:49
'I don't understand your turn to "movementism"...'

that's because there hasn't been one. read the text above.
 
 
#7 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyAlex Snowdon 2010-08-16 02:05
There's no suggestion in the extract above that 'class relations have altered fundamentally'. Where on earth does that come from? It is utterly without substance.

Any serious socialist has always recognised there are sites of struggle other than workplaces. This has been the case at all times and in all places where there has been socialist organisation. Dogmatically insisting on complete reliance upon workplace organising is a form of syndicalism, utterly alien to the tradition associated with Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and Gramsci.

What does 'your base shadows the media that attacks workers' mean? It seems to suggest you're advocating an abdication of any engagement with forms of media and communications, whether traditional or online, mainstream or independent. Perhaps carrier pigeons are the only appropriately proletarian form of communicating with other workers (who apparently spend 100% of their time in the workplace, and have no interests outside the economic).
 
 
#8 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyPatrick Black 2010-11-08 07:36
I am sick and tired of listening to and seeing a myriad of different and seemingly irreconciliable squabbling and ever weaker,fracturing, split and shrinking factions of The British Left fighting it out for position of top dog.

Yaaaaawn !

Most people arent interested, never will be interested unless you so called socialist revolutionairies actualy get down and listen to what people are saying, help bring to life and enliven our phoney democracy and actually prove yourselves by standing for election at whatever level,local or national, getting elected to positions of power and responsibility and show that you can actually make a difference.

Then you might, 'might' just start to be seen as relevant and gain some credibility as against pretending to go through the process and cynically using elections as opportunities to spout forth on the irrelevance of elections and reformism and then descend into murky squabbles and splits which inspire no one.

Dealing with contradictions.

Like others I would prefer to spend time and energy helping to build a coalition of resistance, an anti cuts mass movement which is clearly and comprehensively opposed to all cuts, whether CONDEM cuts imposed at a national level or tory, Lib dem or labour cuts at a local council level.

There is no place for hypocritical fudge here.

This movement has to be informed by a critical understanding of the past record of New Labour and the previous struggle against Thatcher's cuts in the early 1980's and the need to break anti trade union legislation to bring about meaningful and effective coordinated mass strike action in the face of the ongoing global capitalist crisis and the ever worsenning neo liberal offensive subscribed to be all mainstream parties with ever more repressive anti trade union legislation in the pipeline.

Perhaps nothing less than a mass coordinated indefinite general strike on a European level will do given that a series one day General strikes and mass protest in France, Greece and Spain have so far failed to halt the neo liberal cuts juggernaut. How we get there is of course another question.
 
 
#9 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societylyapunov 2010-11-08 07:58
"How we get there is of course another question."

....which is precisely what people squabble over, and why they squabble.
 
 
#10 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyguyan porter 2010-11-15 06:44
It is worth noting that the Russian Revolution completely failed in establishing social justice, as most revolutions do. If we are to develop as a globally integrated world than we need to stop romanticising about the past and design non hierarchic administrative systems that replace imperial governance.
 
 
#11 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyAdrian Cousins 2010-11-15 07:18
Quoting guyan porter:
It is worth noting that the Russian Revolution completely failed in establishing social justice, as most revolutions do. If we are to develop as a globally integrated world than we need to stop romanticising about the past and design non hierarchic administrative systems that replace imperial governance.


The Russian Revolution:
Legalised abortion, granted divorce on demand, equal rights for women, and attempted to socialise house-work.
It decriminalised homosexuality and recognised same-sex marriage. It Decreed
"The right to private property in the land is annulled forever … The landlord's property in the land is annulled immediately and without any indemnity whatever … "
Not romance but fact. It was the most ambitious experiment in social justice ever (and since). To say it failed without noting these facts is a distortion designed to lend weight to an ideological commitment to a romantic notion of non-heirarchical organisation that does not and never has existed.

The Russian Revolution gave birth to power based on mass democratic participatory institutions that has yet to be reproduced anywhere. The tragedy of Russian Revolution is that it didn't succeed in spreading to other states (although it nearly did). Left isolated from resources and attacked from all sides by capitalist powers determined to destroy its example it was doomed to fail - but the failure was not a result of some inherent flaw in the project, or the use of heirarchical administrative systems but the isolation of the revolution due to the lack of parties organised on similar lines to the Bolsheviks.

"non hierarchic" systems are a fiction - in reality hierachies emerge in any system of decision making - democracy itself is hierarchical - people are elected to make decisions on behalf those that elect them. But democracy also provides means to check the power of those that are elected, to subject them to recall and ensure they are regularly elected.
Denying that hierarchies are an essential part of any democratice government enables small self appointed groups to dominate without democratic restraints. It is less democratic and less participatory. Thats why the Anarchist hero Bakunin spent his entire political career building small, secret conspiratorial groups. "non hierarchy" in fact means "uncontrolled hierarchy"
 
 
#12 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyTheo Simon 2010-11-18 02:54
The timeliness of the formation of Stop The War was great, but actually what did it achieve once it had mobilised all that potential energy? There was no lead on what to do after the big demo - in fact i think it had an ultimately disempowering effect once people realised that "the government didn't listen" and we went to war anyway. It was like you thought that mobilising for ever shrinking demos was enough. Not criticising for any sectarian reasons, but in practise what can we learn from the failure to achieve anything concrete - was it down to objective conditions or did you "take the tide at the flood" and then have no real plan for steering the boat?
 
 
#13 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyJohn Rees 2010-11-18 05:50
I think the achievement of Stop the War Coalition was more than the Feb 15 demonstration. It was precisely the sustained campaign and its results over a decade that should be assessed. These are:
1. We permanantly changed public opinion, and sharpened it politically, over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.We re-introduced the idea of imperialism to a mass audience for the first time since the Vietnam war. We provided the environment in which a majority began to support the Palestinians not the Israeli state.
2. We broke Blair's prime ministership. He wanted to stay in power until 2009-2010, as he said in a speech after the 2005 election. When he refused to call for a ceasefire when Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006 we mobilised 100,000 at a week's notice. The following Monday 6 government aides resigned and wrote to Blair saying he had to promise to be gone within a year. This he was.
3. We helped create the political environment in which Britain quit Iraq before the US. That is why there are no British troops in Iraq now.
4. Bush and Blair, as Bush's memoirs show, wanted to attack Iran but have been inhibited so far by the anti-war movement.
5. The STWC provided the framework for the largest ever political mobilisation of the Muslim community in alliance with the left. This has created a permanent barrier to the Islamophobic discourse generetaed by the establishment to justify the war and taken up by the BNP and EDL.
6. The attacks on civil liberties have been repeatedly contested by the STWC and we have contributed to the political failure of some of these attacks, like the Prevent scheme, the use of control orders and the most severe attempts to lenghten detension without trial.
7.Our record of direct action (on the day war broke out, the biggest nationwide co-ordinated moment of direct action in the last decade, the school student walk-outs, on the Gaza protests) remains an inspiration to the students and school students.
8. We supported the limited but effective industrial action that took place against the war. For it to have been greater than it was would have required action by the Trade Union leadership, which was not forthcoming.
9. The STWC model will not be repeated exactly, of course. But its general principles~a broad united left response
which simultaneouly mobilises beyond the left and is still radical~is precisely what has been missing in the left's response to the economic crisis. This is why so many people who are involved in STWC have launched the Coalition of Resistance. If this proves to be even more radical than STWC, good. But you have to construct a boat before you can steer it anywhere!
 
 
#14 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societytheo 2010-11-18 06:17
Thanks. That was a well thought through reply, and does show that STWC had a much wider effect. The only way to stop a war once it's rolling is either people occupying the streets or workers action, and maybe as you say that was not possible at that time because of mainly the state of the labour movement then.
 
 
#15 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform societyTony Dowling 2010-12-29 12:24
[quote name="Patrick Black"]

- Most people arent interested, never will be interested unless you so called socialist revolutionairies ... actually prove yourselves by standing for election at whatever level,local or national, getting elected to positions of power and responsibility and show that you can actually make a difference...

- Like others I would prefer to spend time and energy helping to build a coalition of resistance, an anti cuts mass movement which is clearly and comprehensively opposed to all cuts, whether CONDEM cuts imposed at a national level or tory, Lib dem or labour cuts at a local council level.


Which is it to be Patrick? Standing in elections or building resistance? As you yourself say, "There is no place for hypocritical fudge here."

If it's, "to bring about meaningful and effective coordinated mass strike action in the face of the ongoing global capitalist crisis and the ever worsenning neo liberal offensive subscribed to be all mainstream parties with ever more repressive anti trade union legislation in the pipeline ... "

and if, "...nothing less than a mass coordinated indefinite general strike on a European level will do given that a series one day General strikes and mass protest in France, Greece and Spain have so far failed to halt the neo liberal cuts juggernaut..."

then you need to answer your own question of 'How we get there'?

Tedious though some of the "seemingly irreconciliable squabbling" appears, it is an inevitable part of the process of answering your question.

But as socialist revolutionaries some of us have reached the conclusion that our democracy IS phoney, so "standing for election" is not going to be the best way to "make a difference."

However, "helping to build a coalition of resistance, an anti cuts mass movement which is clearly and comprehensively opposed to all cuts, whether CONDEM cuts imposed at a national level or tory, Lib dem or labour cuts at a local council level" is something about which I think we can agree. Let's get on with it!
 
 
#16 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform society david 2011-05-25 09:03
'Many years ago, the labour historian Ralph Samuel wrote that one of the things he disliked about the Communist Party was that there was always a tone of emergency in the organisation. Something or other always had to be ‘done now’, ‘could not wait’, and so on. This criticism is misplaced. If a revolutionary organisation is to play its role in the chain of events, whatever that role might be at any given time, it must act with dispatch. There is always something to be done, and, if it is to be done to maximum effect, it needs to be done in a timely manner."

But who decides what is to be done? The problem with a permanent state of emergency is the same internally as it is in society - it suspends reflection and opens the way for mechanical command from above (no time to think comrade - time is running out!). It's a permanent internal shock doctrine.

Even from the perspective of strategy it is insufficient - it crunches the time-horizon of the organisation to the immediate present (this now this now this) which means reflection can only ever be a case of tactical modification. These tactics remain embedded in a long term strategy that remains unreflected, a myth-schemata derived from the old orthodoxy that hasn't been critically considered for the present conjuncture.

Indeed, it militates against a conjunctural appraisal of the historical situation and the production of a transitional macro-strategy to address it. What is needed today is precisely such a conjunctural analysis that frenetic issue hopping 'turns' (always announced in an exhorting, imperative register from above) take away the time, capacity for attention and collective cognition to form.

All of these objections don't even cover the more visceral reaction some people have, which is to notice that the compressed temporal regime is very conducive for an internal regime based on unilateral command from a centre that is unjustifiable in present conditions (even if, as I'm willing to consider, such rigidification may be required in an open politico-millitary conflict, maintaining such discipline now is simply premature).
 
 
#17 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform society Dan Poulton 2011-05-25 11:14
Quoting david:
All of these objections don't even cover the more visceral reaction some people have, which is to notice that the compressed temporal regime is very conducive for an internal regime based on unilateral command from a centre that is unjustifiable in present conditions (even if, as I'm willing to consider, such rigidification may be required in an open politico-millitary conflict, maintaining such discipline now is simply premature).


Well it will certainly require a great deal of reflection to translate some of the phraseology here into clear English.

The best ideas are formed in struggle. Theory and practice feed directly into each other: to isolate theory from practice leads to abstractions (talk of 'time horrizons' etc.) To isolate practice from theory leads to stagnation and theoretical decline. Only by maintaining the unity of the two can clear analysis be reached. That's why it's important to, for example, publish free e-books putting such analysis and theory into a systematic framework.

What's the point of theory if it doesn't draw practical conclusions? What's the point of practical conclusions if they don't relate to the struggle now, and answer the question: what is to be done *now* and what is to be done *next*?

It's only be answering these questions that we can respond to the demands that the working class and other oppressed sections of society place on us.

Resistance is an ongoing process which we as revolutionary activists have to relate to in a direct (and as John says, timely) manner. There's no escaping that.
 
 
#18 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform society david 2011-05-25 14:48
"Well it will certainly require a great deal of reflection to translate some of the phraseology here into clear English. "

Apologies, I was rushed.

"The best ideas are formed in struggle."

The 'best' ideas are those that prove their effective truth in struggle; their origin (say, a strike committee versus an ivory tower') isn't what marks them as good or bad.

Advance in struggle will involve thought, sometimes generated in the heat of the moment and sometimes formulated beforehand or during a period of withdrawal to take time to think about things in a 'big picture' and long term way. Practice isn't the opposite of thought, it is it's application, attempted realisation and means of validation.

'Theory and practice feed directly into each other: to isolate theory from practice leads to abstractions (talk of 'time horrizons' etc.)'

Saying 'they feed directly into each other' doesn't say very much. What would 'isolating' theory from practice be? This seems to suggest a zero-sum trade-off between thinking and doing.

I think the problem Marx has with the philosophers in the These on Feuerbach isn't that they've been thinking instead of doing; it's that they haven't been thinking *about* doing. It's the object and ends of theorising that is the problem, not that theorising is done at all.

As for isolation 'leading to abstractions' - this comment is bizarre. How else does thought proceed? There is nothing wrong with abstractions as such - the problem is when they autonomise, assume a life of their own, because people forget that they have been practically constituted by real people. Without abstract thought we wouldn't be human, perhaps at best like Borges' 'Funes the Memorious' ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funes_the_Memorious ).

'Time horizons' sounds clumsy, but I don't think is obtuse - I am referring to the stretch of time the organisation perceives itself to be situated in from it's standpoint. Does it see into the next decade or only into next week? Does this have consequences? Is it something practically constituted, and if so then 'who, whom?'

'To isolate practice from theory leads to stagnation and theoretical decline.'

Agreed, but one must establish the practical conditions for theorisation - free time, resources, channels of communication, and a properly agreed object for theorisation. If the latter is only the immediate 'now' of the present then theorisation will only be able to grasp so much. If we share the goal of transition to a new form of society, then we need a strategy in which concrete tactical moves are embedded, integrated and used to reinforce each other.

Simply identifying issues as they are immediately thrown up as demands, without going away and thinking them, integrating them into a long-term project (which could result in beneficial reinforcement effects between struggles), isn't enough. Rushing from one thing to the next means no time for this kind of reflection on the situation by the organisation concerned.

It's also liable to intensify as a lot of the identified 'demands' are actually thrown up by an accelerating capitalist media news cycle; the organisation is left tailing this rather than using it's initiative to make the situation on it's terms. The result is a herding behaviour reminiscent of stock markets - jumping from one speculation to the next in hope of a return on the investment of energy.

'Only by maintaining the unity of the two can clear analysis be reached. '

Talking of phraseology…. Seriously though, 'the unity of theory and practice' is real millstone for the left I think. It's a phrase that papers over a real differentiation of activities (thinking and doing) which is usually used to argue for the suspension of one of them - or more specifically, 'pure theory'. The problem here, if the actual issue is about what is thought about rather than how thought is done, is that 'pure theory' is very easily elided to cover 'thinking the big picture'. So that is suspended in favour of thinking the immediate task.

But all immediate tactical tasks are embedded in an over-arching strategy, and if activists aren't contributing to the authorship of that strategy then it isn't being adapted when it needs to be (or, a restricted set of people are doing so - which privileges them and moreover wastes the potential collective intelligence of the body of members of the organisation).

'What's the point of theory if it doesn't draw practical conclusions?'

Indeed, but it's a leap from that to say that they must be *immediately implemented* practical conclusions. Can't theorisation for practical purposes be done in advance, kept in stock? (This seems to be of a piece with your deprecation of abstraction.) A strategy is a potentially complex sequence of operations in time - we need to think ahead as well as the next immediate step.

'It's only be answering these questions that we can respond to the demands that the working class and other oppressed sections of society place on us.'

Respond by all means, but sometimes that response should be going away to think, or saying something, rather than charging headlong into 'resistance'.

'Resistance is an ongoing process which we as revolutionary activists have to relate to in a direct (and as John says, timely) manner. There's no escaping that.'

Talking of abstractions, 'Resistance' is a pretty good candidate. Insofar as it seems to drive people's activity and assume a life of it's own, perhaps even an autonomised one.

If the problem is just identifying the latest outbreak then we're only really asking 'where?' This leaves out 'how?' and 'why?', which require thinking and deliberation with the process of transition to the new society in mind (it's a mechanist mistake to see it as inevitably proceeding automatically, by a logic). In which case we're not dealing in just resistance, but rather an active project.

So, internal emergency strikes me as a real problem, and if truth is efficacy in practice then I think there's some truth in what I'm saying...
 
 
#19 RE: Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform society neprimerimye 2011-06-30 03:13
Writing of the need to build an independent revolutionary organisation John Rees castigates Rosa Luxemburg for not breaking with the SPD before 1914. Now I have to say that, for a self proclaimed Leninist, this view is deeply sectarian and ahistorical.

Let me note that the SPD was a mass party which formally held the leadership of the trade union movement, not to mention the myriad of social organisations and publications, which together had an organisational strength that no workers movement can come near today. Rosa was also well aware that earlier splits from the SPD, Die Jungen for example, had rapidly dwindled into nothingness. To separate the small revolutionary forces from such a mass centrist party before it was put to the test could then only be a sectarian lunacy.

And in point of fact the above is the position that Lenin adopted. For the good reason that like Rosa he was not a sectarian. Where Luxemburg might be argued to have erred was in failing to construct a revolutionary tendency within the SPD before 1914 but that is something very different to the deeply sectarian position adopted by John Rees.
 

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