We republish an English translation of Nuevo Curso’s entry on communist militancy
Gulf Coast Communist Fraction
What Is Communist Militancy?
The emergence of new internationalist groups around the world has renewed the discussion about the nature of class militancy. It is not about establishing the mold, a “new man” or an ideal. It is a question of understanding the responsibilities that result for each one of us from that “school of political thought and, consequently, organization of struggle ” that the party must be, even if, as today, it is a party in formation, in becoming.
- From the first political expressions of the proletariat, the internationalist worker was aware that his militancy meant embracing an extraordinary life: living consciously meant “subordinating his own ends to those of the species.” That is, making his life useful to a process that transcends much the individual as capitalism defines it. But if the individual can exist only as alienation in a society divided into classes, the object of that “real movement that annuls and surpasses the present state of things”, communism, makes the “discovery of man by man himself, at the end possible”, projecting on the forms of today’s militancy, the demand and the promise of a different form of integration into History through collective doing. The militant’s commitment is not a denial of his personality, but an overcoming of individualism and atomization to distill a consciousness that struggles to become human consciousness, of species.
- To begin with, joining the class-conscious movement means embracing a way of contributing and intervening that can only live in collective political discussion and practice. That collective knowledge that is distilled into program, the very core of class consciousness, is what establishes historical and political continuities. It is the program and the method that animates it, the one that allows an exploited class to equip itself with a conscious strategy on the back of the combativity that its situation in society imposes on it. There is no soul other than the body, there is no consciousness without materiality, the program is not a pure idea that has existed for as long as the class receives or adopts mechanically and completely, carried by the pure immediate need or spurred on by the disasters of an exhausted system. The program and method is the result of the experience of the processed class in its most conscious minorities. There is no class program without a class party, and even in phases in which the party is no more than a set of more or less dispersed minorities and in which class struggles are weak, there is no possibility of programmatic development outside the attempt to build the party and without these organized minorities fighting for their own entrenchment in the majority of the class.
- Also from the beginning of the communist movement, the class borders gave form to the organization and not only to the program. The first of these, internationalism, the affirmation of the proletariat as a single world class and thus the denial that it has any “national” interest once the bourgeoisie has succeeded in defeating absolutism and seizing political power, was a conquest of the first steps of the League of Communists. And it had, of course, organizational consequences. Engels recounts how the first revolutionary workers’ organization was formed by becoming international in its own composition and program: “practically, by the diverse nationality of its members, and theoretically, by the consciousness that every revolution, to succeed, had to be a European revolution. In a very significant way, he ends by saying that “the English chartists were left aside as non-revolutionary elements, because of the specifically English character of their movement”. “The enemy is in the country itself.” – Karl Liebknecht. Internationalism, in its result of revolutionary defeatism, will shape the Second International from its origins – when August Bebel and Wilhem Liebknecht denounce the Franco-Prussian war and are brought to trial and prison – until their death, when the Social Democratic parties support recruitment in the war and the left calls for turning imperialist war into civil war… paving the way for the class struggle against war to become revolution. Until then, no one had swum so against the tide or suffered such brutal repression. That spirit, with internationalism and its clear meaning, will be the one that will shape the young communist parties like the Spanish or the Italian whose founding groups will later become the left of the Third International defending in the worst conditions of repression and isolation the revolutionary defeatism in the Second World War. But it is that in an era of imperialist wars, internationalism is the most present class divide and the one that most directly shapes the life of class political organizations, demanding the maximum from militants.
- The other great frontier, centralism, gave life to the correspondence networks of the League of Communists, it was the centre of the battle of the 1st International against anarchism and its secret societies, but also of the left of the 2nd International against the national identities within the party… And without a doubt of the communist lefts that confronted Stalinism, that is to say the counterrevolution, and its deformation of the term to drown the discussion in the communist parties. Because the new model of militancy imposed by counterrevolution was not that of discipline to collective decision, but that of obedience to directives from above and the use of militancy as a mere “transmission belt”. In reality, the Stalinist model of militancy is the negation of centralism. And from that model and from that of social democracy arises the whole range of militances of leftism: submission to bosses, worship of leaders, absence of theoretical debate, division into a thousand groups “by identities” with no other objective than “framing”. In the working class, “centralism” does not mean adherence to a formal principle, the defense of a certain typology of command structures. And of course, it does not mean concentrating power in a single person or group, but on the contrary, extending the deliberative and decision-making scope of any organization to all its members, reflecting the universal character that beats under each expression of class and putting it before any particularism, any feeling or prejudice, imaginary privilege or real oppression. The centralism of the workers is that of an assembly that organizes a strike, not that of a board of directors standing on an organization chart. Therefore, it is a natural tool of the development of class consciousness and in the life of every organization. This, from the point of view of the militant, also means a responsibility, a certain form of discipline: to contribute topics of debate; to articulate in arguments their differences; to contribute to the collective consciousness of what the decisions taken among all mean and of course to be coherent with them and if the disagreements become disagreements of principle, to break them argumentatively. That is to say, the responsibilities of all those who decide to form part of a process of discussion and collective decision.
A WAY OF LIVING CONSCIOUSNESS
In daily practice, militancy is a way of living class consciousness. It therefore implies accepting a collective responsibility, the performance of which transforms our daily lives by making it part of a practical and conscious critique.
- Daily militant practice involves collective learning and studying reality from a global perspective of class struggle. We read every day and pool press sources from around the world. The aim is to make us a framework of analysis that responds to the moment of the tendencies of capitalism. From there, sharing and discussing in common, emerge the reports that, in our case, make up the current sections of the blog: from the state of the imperialist conflict to the difficulties of the national bourgeoisies of Spain, Argentina or wherever we go forming a particular picture of analysis. Since the times of the League of Communists, this type of routines, reading the news and maintaining a framework of updated analysis of the global reality has been a central part of the daily life of the militants, a collective effort in which it was not a minor part to have access to the media. Today the Internet makes it much easier for us. And it also makes much easier what historically was the daily debate, the sharing of the day in the workers club or the village house. It is from this permanent discussion that the themes that allow us to work “formally”, to investigate, to base and to contrast with method emerge.
- What is by no means easier is to collectively re-appropriate the Marxist method of analysis that makes sense of that framework. It is not a question of making a marathon of courses or seminars. There is no degree of “militant” to “earn” nor any certification to obtain. It’s about getting hold of the Marxist method through knowing its historical use of Marx to today, confronting again the old debates to gain a historical view. And it is not an individual work. They are shared and discussed readings, it is learning to see the world in its material historical perspective and to undo the traps of the dominant ideology.
- All of the above is not social entertainment, an intellectual exercise. It has one objective: to be able to incorporate that depth into political intervention with clarity and simplicity in a way that is useful to the class movement. When the Spanish Communist Left insisted that “the consciousness of revolutionaries is the one that first has to situate itself at the height of the possibilities offered spontaneously by history,” it referred to this. All this work has a purpose and it is to that purpose that it is subordinated. It is not about playing at being political commentators or pursuing the pleasure of mere knowledge, it is not about proselytizing or living under the vain evangelical hope of “convincing” masses of workers, it is about being useful in the precise way so that daily reflection, resistance to exploitation and especially open struggles when they occur, serve the development of consciousness in the whole class and can achieve broader objectives.
IN THE ANTIPODES OF LEFTISM
It is this ever-present purpose and not a sterile academicism or idiotic elitism that makes us study and discuss every day, nor, on the basis of these discussions, have others that are more formal and documented. While the organizations of the left are happy with a militancy of little or no formation, of aesthetic adhesion and caudillist subordination, the communist militancy is a demanding militancy. Leftism does not seek to form militants, but to frame workers in the cattle-raising logic demanded to be recognized by state capitalism (“both frames, both vouchers”), the very logic of any aspirant to lead a monopoly for, in or from the state. But class consciousness is something else.
- Nothing could be further from the false erudition of academic Marxism or from the quotation always at the hand of the biblical preacher. The texts produced by Marx’s class party to this day were tools for the development of consciousness and remain the best tools available. Nothing is more foreign to Marxism than the attitude of the guardian of the sacred texts: Marx, Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg were not oracles that picked up the truth from the mouths of the gods. They made mistakes, deferred important questions, corrected most of the times in the debate, other times reality corrected them, some with dramatic consequences. It is, as a whole and in its parts, a precious legacy, but like any historical legacy it implies a responsibility: to preserve its integrity, but also to develop it. We have inherited a revolutionary method of analysis, but it is in our hands to develop it in the present context.
- The development of consciousness needs militants, not dilettantes. Once again the reality of leftism must serve as a model of what is not a class political organization. To integrate is not to go to meetings where the work has already been written and you just have to nod, put up some posters from time to time, go to some conferences and events to show strength. That can serve as a model for the organization of a hobby, it is not a collective doing that serves for the deepening and extension of consciousness.
- “Group patriotism,” songs of “loyalty to organization,” exaltation of leaders… have nothing to do with fidelity to method and program. The organization is the body and the tool of the historical class program, but if it abandons it, it does not need to dissolve to have ceased to exist as a tool of the development of consciousness in the class. The separation between body -organization- and soul -program- is a characteristic idea of the exploiting classes that is in the essence of what alienation means. One of the most common manifestations lately is the figure of the “Marxist professor” who elaborates the program at the Academy -that is, from the state-for the nuclei of workers who can thus specialize in growing, numerically, the organization. It is a true concentrate of ideology already in the approach and therefore a whole demonstration of what is not a class organization: The fantasy of the social automaton to which a soul comes from outside, the exaltation of the division of labor to the extreme, the reduction of the workers to the number, the consecration of a ridiculous “individual authorship” of the program… The theoretical and programmatic advances are and can only be, result of a collective work, “of party”, not a “pret a porter” uniform that can be adopted from among the generous offer made by the universities and other ideological apparatuses of the state. Still less an “author’s creation” that makes us a made-to-measure misunderstood genius. And no, not even in the early stages of the communist movement did such figures exist rather than as a reactionary hindrance to the development of consciousness, like the pathetic Dühring, that petty bourgeois socialism fabricated a thousand times. Marx was all his life a militant, not a prophet, and no matter how hard they try, they will not succeed in reducing their trajectory to that of an intellectual pope that the ruling class likes, let alone inject new “Dühring” with that excuse.
- Forms matter. The debate flooded with threats and violence that ends in the “witch-hunt” is an attitude that reflects the brutal forms of Stalinist counterrevolution. The seemingly opposite, the relativism of “anything goes” – because nothing is taken into account and positions are taken beforehand – is the reflection of cynicism under democratic discourse. Neither is even similar to the frank debate that takes place in the clear and explicit framework of a method and a programme. The discipline of a serious commitment to the development of consciousness includes overcoming the temptation to “look good” as well as inhibiting uncomfortable discussion.
CONSCIOUSNESS IS EXPRESSED AND DEVELOPED AS MORAL
As Engels commented in the Anti-Dühring, proletarian morality “presents the future in the transformation of the present”. That is why it is more important than ever in the decadence of capitalism. With pauperization and precarization installed as permanent tendencies, with the commodification of every last detail of human relations – even the supposedly most “intimate” ones – today’s capitalism propagates the atomization and decomposition of the most basic bonds of solidarity.
The system not only has under permanent attack the communist dimension of our class, trying to derail any awareness, it also confronts, more and more brutally, the expressions of its community dimension: the fraternal, personal, affective, family ties are inflated in the media and public discourse as much as they are degraded and destroyed in practice, when they are not commodified without modesty – “sharing economy”- or they are attacked with all the force of the media and the state trying to incite the divisions that the system itself creates to confront workers with each other.
The communist militant is not alone in his political action. To live consciousness, to live consciously means that in all his activity the tension of the future is present… so that to some extent it becomes present: The capacity to find the history of Humanity and its progress in what surrounds us, to discover the secular struggle of our species to reach abundance in everyday things, opens up to us the capacity to enjoy the most basic things, a different form of pleasure that is contagious and helps our own to resist, making present the possibility and the necessity of communism. It is that struggle for the abundance of the species, which today is concentrated and decided in the universal class, that is the distinctive element of communist morality. Living consciously also means that our relationship with the communal is based on the assertion that abundance is possible today, and that it is only constrained by the ballast of capitalism.
The class consciousness that is knowledge if not yet completely liberated, in liberation, makes us, gives us form and turns us into a contribution inside and outside the organization. If in militant life consciousness is expressed and developed as morality, the militant in community life projects consciousness as a de-mercantilizing morality of human relations in which individuals can project themselves as ends and not as means of the future society.
THE ROOTS OF MILITANCY
The relationship between consciousness, morality and militancy is clear and intimate. It is the individual acceptance of a need of the species which, by making it our own, unites us to the necessary future and already integrates us in its realization by dis-reifying us.
“From Babeuf and Marx to us, revolutionary consciousness is the ray of light created by the clash between exploitation and the exploited, it is human subjectivity in rebellion against an objectivity that perverts and denies that same subjectivity, without which man is not man but a thing. Either our subjectivity accommodates the outside world to its requirements -there can be no others- or it submits itself, in slavery, to the nauseating existing objectivity.” – Grandizo Munis, Revolutionary Consciousness and Class for Itself, 1976
original version: https://nuevocurso.org/que-es-la-militancia-comunista/