Following text has been taken from short lived Croatian communist collective Svjetska revolucija (World Revolution).
It is important to state how the following text represents the view of one member in our collective and is not necessarily the views of the collective as whole. Even though we tend to publish material that represents the collective as whole, the nature of this text is polemical and it’s coloured in the personal remarks of one our members.
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I’ve started writing this text a few times and stopped to ask myself “is there any point in writing this?”, mostly because I am not the type of person that likes to attack political movements or “milieus” that I used to be part of. Still, I believe that sometimes, when a person is at a certain turning point in their political consciousness it is good to write down some thoughts in order to clear things out, not just with themselves, but also with people that they’ve communicated with over the years – and with which they’d like to continue to communicate with.
After few years of trying to organise a group in my country (which is actually working better then I’ve expected) and communicating and visiting other left communists and left communist groups, I’ve grown apart from left communism. In this article I will try to present why that happened to me and what are in my opinion some of the problems with left communism of today. I recognize that for some left communists I might not be the one of “them”, because I was never a part of “the big groups” but a member of small collective. Nevertheless, I’m not particularly interested in such nitpicking as I don’t think that one should be member of one of the “international” groups to be a left communist but one should be engaged in class and political struggle to be so.
This text is a critique of the left communism of today as I’m not interested in politics of 20th century as much as I’m interested about our present. Also, the point of this text isn’t “to bash” left communism and scream some sectarian nonsense, but to raise a certain critique and ask certain questions that many younger left communists, especially those that are not affiliated with any of “the big groups”, are asking these days. The ideas presented in this article are aimed at opening up a discussion around what we can do today instead of talking about how we can defend yesterday.
LEFT COMMUNISM TODAY
I want to start this critique by saying how it is really weird to call yourself a left communist in the 21st century. When I first heard of left communism I asked myself “what does the left stand for?” And even to anyone who knows a little bit about left communist history it is perfectly clear what the name of tendency stands for, but we can still ask the question: what exactly are left communists the left of?
To continue, I believe that left communism as a political tendency and as a tradition, does not belong in 21st century. In my understanding, it is an ideology that belongs to 1920’s splits and opposition within the Communist International. During that time left communists were the real tendency of the real communist movement and their activity, lessons, and history are really important for us if we want to understand the Russian Revolution, struggles within the Bolshevik Party, and the Comintern.
However, today we don’t have the communist working class movement (we can’t even talk about labour or union/syndicalist movement, because unions compete more than they work together), so there is nothing to “be the left of”. In other words, left communist politics demands strong social-democratic movement so that it can offer its alternatives to its militants.
We could say that left communist ideas have a historical significance and how some of their lessons are really important for communists of today. But at the same time, a lot of the political ideas of today’s left communist are inherited from the 20’s and they haven’t evolved much with the times. In that I mean that the conditions of capitalist reproduction have changed, class dynamics has changed, but nobody has adapted to it. Except perhaps in the cases of ideas that were put up by left communist groups formed in the 70’s, but those ideas, for example the idea of decadence, were merely used to canonise the infallibility and stubbornness of a lack of analysis and involvement with the class.
ABSTRACT POLITICS AND SECTARIANISM
One of my main problems with left communism is its focus, and even sometimes obsession, with ideological and abstract politics. That focus makes left communism both appalling and unattractive at the same time, but to different types of communist “militants”. On the one hand, it is really developed and shaped “thought system” that, once you embrace it, makes perfect sense and has an answer to an every question. On the other hand, it is a very closed and dogmatic system based upon “true believer principles” that is increasing its hostility towards the rest of the left and every class action with every minute. It is a system that is based on ideal conceptions of everything; from ideal class action, to ideal intervention, to ideal organisation, to ideal discussion, but it offers very little experience in actual practice.
As I’ve stated, left communism focuses on ideological and abstract politics rather than on class dynamics, struggles, needs, problems, etc.
For example, among certain “Internet left communists” we can see a constant need for quoting he writings of Amadeo Bordiga as an example of such behaviour, mostly because his closed ideological system doesn’t motivate people to leave their rooms, leading people to the belief that they are doing something important and significant. Indeed, it is an ideological krokodil that destroys the flesh of young generations of political militants that have overcome classical leftist voluntarism and activism. Also, these kinds of politics depend on the isolation that most communist “militants” are facing every day.
Left communism focuses on building of an ideal political platforms and is quite hostile to outside world – especially to the left. And by the left I’m not only thinking about other various political currents that were created as an answer to defeat of October Revolution, but I’m thinking about left communism itself.
A lot of us younger communists wanted to join existing organisations rather than creating our own groups and collectives. There are numerous reasons, from the fact that it’s easier to be part of something that already exists and has its own functions and protocols, to the fact that it is incredibly hard to start off as a new group. In most cases, what we have got from those groups were dogmas and sectarianism.
ACTIVISM, CLASS STRUGGLE AND PARTICIPATION
As I’ve stated before in the text, the problem with left communism is that its class dynamics is rooted in the 1920’s instead of our present. It is for this reason that their political judgements are clouded with almost a century old political decisions and discussions that affects their present, especially when discussing class action, activism, and interventions of communists in the struggles.
And while the majority of other left political tendencies tend to be voluntaristic, and tend to do “actions for sake of actions”, left communism subscribes to another extreme. That is, as I’ve said already in text, waiting for ideal class action to make ideal intervention. If there is no such class action to intervene to left communist stay on the side criticising, observing, discussing, but never participating. So, even we understand the need to criticise activist voluntarism, we also understand the need to criticise ideological idealism that results in total inactivity.
Indeed, what we need today is neither activism nor ideology, but communist politics and action based upon concrete foundation and class dynamics. In other words, we need a political action that comes from the class, but we also need political action from communists to which a working class can relate to. Communists must stop thinking about their petty fights on “the leftist scene” and concentrate on answering the question: how is our political activity relevant to the working class? When one answers that question there will be no more need for hiding behind activism and ideology.
Expecting ideal class actions and interventions is also pointless, because today in the 21st century, the peak of class action are spontaneous wildcat strikes or struggles of workers whose companies are facing lock downs (this is written mostly from a Croatian perspective). These struggles have their good and bad sides, in the sense that while they unite workers outside of institutions of capitalist management, they are also doomed on failure because they are isolated from the rest of the class. Nevertheless, this article is not the place where I’d go into detail about these struggles. My main point was to indicate how one should take every struggle into account and try to learn from them, especially if the type of struggle is repetitive in various workplaces. Only by understanding class dynamics can we affect new struggles with our knowledge and experience.
Also, one shouldn’t be afraid of reforms or struggles for reforms. A lot of reformist struggles have “revolutionary” potential, because people are united under a common goal because of problems that affect their lives. There is nothing wrong if they fight and win. There is nothing wrong in gaining something, no matter how big of an “illusion” it might be. If it improves lives of the working class then it is worth it.
IS THERE ANY ALTERNATIVE?
So, is there any alternative to left communism?
As I’ve repeated few times in this text, in my opinion the key is to have communist politics based on clear and concrete foundations and class dynamics. It is necessary to abandon ideological and activist approaches and start to think about the class and how our activity may be relevant to it. This of course, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have positions or discussions about abstract subjects, but it means that our course of action and preoccupation must be the class.
The best way, at least how I see it, to achieve that goal is trough our own workplaces, unions, and everyday life. Of course, there is necessity for local groups of communists, but we should also be aware that we too are workers and that we need to act in our workplaces. In that way one is not just a distant observer of class action, but an active participant. Of course, there is nothing wrong in being and observer but a lot of communists just stay in that role instead of embracing the active role of conscious proletarian.
By analysing class dynamics and other factors that affect it, we are not only deepening our own knowledge about how capitalism functions today, but we are developing an “archive” of struggles, and attempts for the future. Documenting workers struggles and their failures or gains gives us opportunity to learn from the class and to understand the way in which capital defends itself.