“For us, as revolutionaries, meaningful action is whatever increases the confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and self-activity of the masses, and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, cynicism, differentiation through hierarchy, alienation, reliance on others to do things for them, and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others, even those acting on their behalf.” (About Ourselves)
The above quote, written by the late Maurice Brinton is placed at the head of this short piece not because I wish to establish political affiliation or a line of march but merely because it is true, or at least it should be.
It’s now painfully obvious that the turn to orthodoxy after the failure of the 1968-73 upturn – by orthodoxy I mean Leninist-Trotskyism, the fetishism of its dictates: the first four congresses of the third international, a dismissive attitude to the left of orthodox communist currents of the first years of that international and Trotskyist sect-building generally (with all the bad faith that has entailed) – have been an utter failure. The top-down, burn it if we cannot control it, methods of these groups suggest that the roots of Stalinism is much deeper than many of us previously thought. They have repulsed many and with the crisis of capitalism in 2008 these organisations if anything became more marginal. That last fact is really the one which buries them, when Marxists suggest the test of ideas lies in practical application then they must judge themselves by their own criterion. The mini-bureaucratic fiefdoms that groups have become discredited the revolutionary left. Some thousands passed through these organisations and out the other side, sometimes still sympathetic but critical, others angered and cynical. To quote Brinton again, this time writing about Wilhelm Reich describing even the greater catastrophes of much larger organisations:
Reich writes “that in the course of the last ten years adolescents, adults, men and women, people from every walk of life have passed through the revolutionary organizations without becoming attached or committed to the revolutionary cause”. What drove them in, in the first place? “Not uniforms, not material advantage, merely vague socialist conviction, revolutionary feeling”. Why did they not stay in? “Because the organizations failed to develop this revolutionary feeling”. Why did people lapse into indifference, or go over to the Right? “Because there were bourgeois structures in them that were not destroyed”. Why were they not destroyed? “Because nobody knew what to promote and what to destroy”. The desired objective could not be achieved by appeals to discipline not even “by music and marching, for the others the Right could do that a lot better”. Nor could it be done with slogans … “The only thing which the revolutionary organizations could, without competition, have offered the masses and which in reality they did not offer … would have been the knowledge of what the uneducated, oppressed children of capitalism, hankering both after freedom and after authoritarian protection really wanted, without themselves being clearly aware of it”.
“Reich also repeatedly stressed that revolutionary propaganda should be positive. It should not be frightened of discussing the future, as concretely as possible. Fear of revolution was partly the product of ignorance. The broad “apolitical” masses would have a decisive effect upon the fate of the revolution. Revolutionaries should therefore find them where they were. They should “politicize private life, fairs, dance halls, cinemas, markets, bedrooms, hostels and betting shops”. Long before the Situationists (or Solidarity) came on the scene Reich had proclaimed that “revolutionary energy lies in everyday life” (Review: What is Class Consciousness?, 1972).
It seems to me that the ideas of Reich on repression and the deep roots of authoritarianism can be immensely useful to us again now in a society where consumerism and conformism is deeply linked to out of control commodity fetishism. I won’t be the comrade to make any great steps forward on this subject though comrades nationally and internationally hopefully will.
However, I do think the idea of a new type of society needs to be put concretely at the heart of our politics. For too long this has been just a rhetorical add-on, handled with the old line about how we could not create blueprints for the future awoken masses. One slogan, an old ’68 one, ‘Be realistic, demand the impossible’ actually is instructive here – when did we ever talk about what our lives, our localities and our environment might be like after capitalism?
A while ago I read a comrade on social media write that in their own lifetimes William Morris probably inspired more people to be socialists than Karl Marx, this struck me as immensely true and relevant. We need to write more about a post-class society might look like and also raise demands in are local areas for community projects, socially useful well paid work and services that, while they will be disregarded by local politicians and council bureaucrats, actually inspire people in our communities. We need to be more utopian, less inclined to compromise and totally dispense with the petit-Machiavellian nonsense that gives sect leaders their MO’s. We need political organisation that is also communities of solidarity, not exclusive communities for the initiated but open to everybody. Combating oppression clearly needs to be at the heart of everything.
The starting point for this is local groups whose politics are a totally egalitarian and internationalist socialism based on revolutionary humanist principles and hatred for the chains that prevent our free development. In Portsmouth we need campaigning priorities in the working class communities that we live in and also propaganda/events that start to sketch that horizon of freedom.
This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of PSN which is a network which aims to bring together democratic socialists and anti-capitalists across the city and its surrounding areas