Social Revolution Party

"Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: The point, however, is to change it."

Archive for January, 2010

Editorial of the Second Edition

Posted by sorev on 14/01/2010

Social Revolution:

Our name, Social Revolution, draws attention to the fact that classes aren’t (geological) strata but rather classify people according to their relation to production.  Society is a complex of social relationships, oppressive and exploitive to varying degrees, and also fair and on the level, also to varying degrees. Most of our relationships do not qualify as social but are rather personal.  However, throughout the ages, societies have been analysed with regard to the kinds of social relationships people find themselves in especially those dealing with production.  Were there slaves?  How was land held?  How was production distributed?

We find nothing strange about this as we study other societies.  When it comes to our own society, our prevailing liberalism (strongly) suggests that we switch out of this form of analysis. In fact we push it from our minds entirely whilst pretending that we know nothing about it, and analyse our own society from the point of view of consumption, classifying people as lower (poor), middle or upper (rich).  Social relations in our own society, unlike all other societies, are defined by consumption.  The underhanded liberal then notes the obvious – in all societies there have been poor people, middlingly well off, and rich folks: thus all societies have been liberal societies, q.e.d.

Being Reds, our goal is not merely to understand social reality but to eliminate alienation, exploitation and oppression.  Liberal methodology can only address oppression. Even using the most powerful tool in their kit, identity politics, Liberal methodology is hard put to eliminate oppression because it is the handmaiden of exploitation and without overcoming exploitation, something a liberal can’t do because exploitation is build into his concept of the good society, oppression will constantly recreate itself (this being one of the reasons I lose patience with liberals – I can’t believe they are as dumb as they pretend to be).

We, then, are lead to the necessity of Social Revolution, that is people’s relations with the production and distribution of goods and services must be altered in order for oppression, alienation and exploitation to be ended.  A single individual stands in a certain relationship to the forces of production.  For example, I might own the means of production and have other folks work them for me.  These folks are paid from the proceeds of sales of the stuff produced.  I cover my costs, lay away for tomorrow and pocket the difference.  Since I am paying the people who are doing the work they do what a ask them to do or I will replace them with people who will.  The goods (or services) produced are my property.  This being a market economy I may sell my stuff if I so choose.  The people doing the work are thus exploited – money is made off of their work and they are alienated from their work – they control neither their work itself nor the fruit of their labour.  Working people (for that’s what they are) are often oppressed as well.

Because people who work for a living share various things in common they are classified as a class – the working class.  In antiquity many working people were themselves owned by another person and thus were “slaves”. In the feudal period many working people were “tied” to the land and were referred to as “serfs”.  Today working people are “free”.  The solution to today’s system must be different than the solution to a different system.

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Meeting the Masses Where They’re At (Without Resorting to Liberalism)

Posted by sorev on 14/01/2010

Meeting the Masses Where They’re At

(Without Resorting to Liberalism)

By Peter Clarke

As communists seeking to build a movement and party capable of overthrowing capitalism, our immediate task is to start building a base amoung working people. In our current context, this can be slow work, but it has to be done one person at a time. The question, though, is how this is to be done. How do you turn someone into a communist?

We know the old strategy of standing on a corner hocking newspapers is bankrupt. There are enough groups doing that already, and if that were the way forward, the revolution would already have happened. The reality is that it isn’t 1917 anymore, and our base has to be built on the personal relationships we build in a sea of atomization. To boot, false consciousness is a lot more well-developed and pervasive, so a one-off interaction with revolutionary proletarian ideas isn’t going to make much of a dent, even in one person. So, again to the original question: how do you turn someone into a communist?

In general, it seems like the path toward becoming a communist follows a few steps: discontent, recognition of communism’s desirability, and recognition of its possibility. The first step is an easier sell these days. A simple conversation that begins around any given failure of capitalism (unemployment, tuition, war, falling wages, massive state and personal debt, shitty working conditions, etc.) and connects those issues to their root cause (including a short but thoughtful dismissal of social democracy) should take care of this. During this first stage, it is important to exchange personal stories about the issues at hand. Remember: these are not details that muddy up the theory, they’re the reason why a person will decide to fight. They humanise both of you, validate your experiences, and give a person the confidence to believe that what they think is worth acting upon.

The next step, getting somebody to recognize the desirability of a society without classes or the state, is relatively easy these days too. Point out the superabundance that exists (in food, electronics, etc.) and how much more free and comfortable we’d all be without a parasitic ruling class sucking us dry. Often here you’ll run into an objection based on a lie or exaggeration about the USSR or China (namely, how poor and starving everyone supposedly was in those places) and it’s useful to point out the differences in development between ‘there’ and ‘here’, but more importantly, that nobody called those societies ‘communist’ aside from the US State Department. That, while the goal of those societies may have been similar, our proposed approach is structurally different and would not allow for “seizure of power by a single person”. The bulk of this phase, though, should be shedding light on the good of our proposals rather than responding to the failures of others. Tap into peoples’ desire to be productive but not to be alienated, to develop use value but not exchange value, to see leadership rather than rulership. In short, take nothing for granted in explaining why the world we want to see would be a far better one than the one we live in now.

The last stage, having people realize not just how desirable, but how possible a communist society is, tends to be a little trickier. People are generally uninterested in what happened in 1871 or 1917 or 1936 or 1968. It feels detached and irrelevant to the world they exist in. It may be necessary to bring up the fact that all these events happened, but your approach shouldn’t rely on them. Instead, tie the conversation in to things you and your comrade-to-be encounter on a regular basis. School, work, neighbourhoods, sports teams, whatever. Illuminate the social, rather than the market basis of these institutions, and pin everything wrong with them on the bosses, the state, and capitalism. And remember: communism will not be a utopia or panacea. It will be a human society populated with human beings. There will be problems and complications, all surmountable, but present. Being unrealistic in this regard will only make you come off as a lunatic or, at best, naive.

Now that the (very) basic steps in a person’s transformation into a communist has been outlined, here are a few things to keep in mind:

* The working class is not an abstraction, nor something external, nor a homogeneous mass. It is you and me and your neighbour and your classmate and your co-worker.
* Understand the history and causes of the current financial crisis, and why those who say it’s over are blowing smoke.
* Think about your personal story and how convoluted your own path to class consciousness was. Think about what pushed you forward and, if relevant, bring that up.
* Avoid preaching. A conversation is a two-way activity.
* Talk about more than just politics. Nobody wants to become a one-dimensional weirdo and social ties (friendships) are what get us all through the winter.
* There is a gap between a person’s level of consciousness on their own and the level it’s at while discussing with a communist. Try to raise the former in your conversation, keeping in mind that it took you more than two hours to gain solid class consciousness.

Happy organizing!

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Our Tasks

Posted by sorev on 14/01/2010

Our Tasks:

Since we are only a handful our actions are determined largely by our weakness.  This does not stop us from considering what we should be doing had we the power.  The big, overwhelming, long term plan is to establish the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.  This should be kept in mind for it is possible to get off track even at this early stage.  In fact we are way off track.  Of course, we aren’t large enough to be properly democratic.  Also we are seized with romantic visions of what it is to be left wing and what left wing politics are and what left wingers do.  It’s all crap.  And perfectly normal because it’s the only thing we know, it is compatible with liberalism and it’s encouraged by the powers that be ‘cus it’s all so dead end.

Before going any further, it’s worth giving my usual caveats.  Numbers are approximate and are there to give a sense of magnitude.  Thus 100 is ten times more than 12 or worded differently, 100 is more than 80 and less than 130.  Likewise 12 is more than 9 and less than 15.  More or less.  Also, laying down the path of the way to go does not mean a unity of theory and practice.  God forbid.  I have lived through that madness.  It is obvious that the student movement is not where it is at.  We should quit school, get jobs and actualise the Party in bowling leagues and pubs.  Of course the preceding sentence is correct.  However to force members to unify their practice around that theory, although it is a correct theory, is madness.  When the Party in question has a couple hundred members, the appreciation of the line – drink beer and go bowling with the people – will result in a dozen or so members quitting school and digging into a working class life style.

Currently there are eight people on the Party mailing list, two from South Western Ontario and six from the Ottawa area.  There are four more people close to the Party, thus we can expect around 8 at the Assembly in January.  One mobilisation a year should be possible.  Each successive mobilisation will draw fewer people and indeed might even cause this one mobilisation to draw fewer people, thus mobilisations should be rationed out with care.  We should be able to grow by one-third in a year, thus there should be three of us in SWO and eight in the Ottawa area by January 2011.  However, seeing as there are four people already nearby, there might be as many as nine Party members in the Ottawa area.  Nine members in one place is the jumping off place to actual existence.

Actual Existence:

As noted at the outset, our main task is to establish the D. of P.  (‘though cowards flinch and traitors sneer).  The D. of P. is of ultimate importance. (More will be said about the D. of P. in another place.)  The fact that we are headed that way, the road Towards Communism, behoves us to make today’s tasks and life-styles conform with that goal for the road and the destination are one.  We are not aiming for the Dictatorship of one guy.  Nor of some sub-committee, committee, bureau or Party.  No!!! We are aiming at the dictatorship by the working class.  This is not a metaphysical formulation.  This is a material description.  Therefore we should have a way for everyone in the class to exercise his/her control in the process.  It is best to get these political habits into our process as early as possible.  Building non-democratic structures is opportunism: that is there appears to be an opportunity for personal advancement or to get something done.  Therefore democracy is surrendered to populism or crony-ism.  When did the Soviet Union go Revisionist?  1895?  When did the D of P become an empty slogan?  Thus our most important internal task is to establish and maintain democracy.  Although a non-democratic, populist road flows more naturally and seems to be easier to follow, good people are going to feel left out and will be alienated from the Party.  Further by the third generation after the revolution the worst people in society will be in charge.  Communism will be unreachable.  Establishing and maintaining a democratic and lively inner Party life is crucial.

The burden of producing the journal falls too heavily upon one person.  He is a hero.  Any criticism must be accompanied by much praise.  With only eight members it makes sense that there are only two activists, both of whom are in Ottawa.  This is good.  One must concentrate one’s forces so that a critical mass is reached which can morph qualitatively into a force large enough to affect reality thus giving Party members everywhere a concrete application of line and force (power) that can be referenced for propaganda purposes.

It could be that we should think in terms of a quarterly journal for 2010.  It should be accompanied by a certain amount of cheering and other enthusiastic noise internally inside the Party in an effort to widen the creative participation rate.  The journal is first and foremost an organising tool.  Of course most of the papers given away will be wasted.  Such is life.  No more than four times as many copies as we have members should be printed.  Most of those will be wasted.  Each copy going to a member is not wasted.  Two or three members will know someone who REALLY should have a copy.  It might even to safe to say that 12 copies of the journal have homes to go to.  Because we are at such a small and intimate stage we actually know the three or four people for whom the journal is being printed.  Some effort should go into pleasing those people – after all Party building is the name of the game.  There are mountains of undirected information out there that we have access to but currently Social Revolution! is our only publication and therefore serves all of our publishing needs.  However, Party building is our most important task at present.  No one except ourselves is going to put energy into building SR.

Now, of course, a word has to be said about displaying one’s colours and in that way being able to make contact with someone who was just waiting for us to come along.  This will happen and this is good.  This fact, and it is a fact, should not distract us from planned and systematic growth based upon solid base building.

Our short-term goal, that is over the next ten years, in party building is to get a proto-soviet type organisation up and running.  By proto-soviet is meant a mass based democratic organisation that can be the new state.

The Retreats are Over:
The Movement has been in retreat since the early 1970’s.  Thus the Movement has grown accustomed to protesting government or corporate action.  Yes protests are required.  Don’t worry we won’t have a unity of action around our line.  However we should at least have some inkling of a strategy based upon fighting to win rather than merely losing slower – e.g. not “Drop Fees” but “Build the Red University”.  We need to create our own media, our own education system, our own industrial infrastructure, our own food and clothing delivery systems, etc.  From the ground up.  And of course our own state.  This will happen one small item after one small item.  Nine will get you twenty.  That means a mobilisation of four activists should be possible in a mass organisation within three years and perhaps even one militant.  Do not expect the four activists to be able to concentrate their energies or focus.  Hopefully two activists might be able to co-ordinate forces.  Thus in three years we should be powerful enough to have one person, from time to time, in his/her spare time, put some energy into building the New Jerusalem.  By 2020 Social Revolution should be large enough to be a functioning party with over a hundred members in Ottawa alone and to be buried inside a popular movement of over three hundred members.  At this rate of growth we will be large enough to seize the Power in forty years or so and the Power vacuum should be there for a group organised and resourceful enough to make use of said power vacuum.

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The Manual: A Brief What, Why, And How of the Popular Action Movement: Part 2

Posted by sorev on 14/01/2010

A Democratic Starting Point:

We have to start somewhere. Over time, with trial, error and reformulation, we will (hopefully) come to a Democratic framework for our new community. Or maybe we won’t. If we fail there is a good chance that others will be able to build on our attempt. You can look on this as progress.

Democracy is both impossible and unnecessary when dealing with few people. Democracy really comes into itself when the number of people involved in a project is larger than the number of people one can interact with on a personal level. At that point it is inevitable that some people are going to be more equal than others unless Democracy is enforced through each person’s internal discipline augmented with a structure which encourages Democracy. If you see that as being idealistic, consider the fact that people can talk with one another. If Democratic processes are considered to be the operational norm, then if people with special responsibilities repeatedly disregard the wishes of the masses, the masses themselves have to disregard the actions and policies of those people acting in a non-Democratic manner. Which is to say people must follow an intentionality of Democratic behaviour.

Let us then start by considering the organisational structure of an organisation with around a hundred members. I pick 100 because that is obviously more people than one can relate to on an interpersonal basis !!!1!!! . If one wishes to be able to maintain media, energy, food and educational facilities it is easy to see that more than a dozen individuals are going to have to co-operate without taking advantage of one another. There are 4,000 buses in the Montreal Transit Authority. If it is to be run Democratically some sort of structure will be required.

There are break over points. For example most people can maintain relationships that are close and egalitarian with generally between 8 and 13 people; some of us through circumstance, personality etc. can stretch upwards towards 13 people. Most of us however, fall somewhat shy of that number. How then can 100 people co-operate without hierarchies developing? Furthermore if there are between 21 and 33 people in a room it is just barely possible to run a meeting Democratically without some folks losing out. Some people speak better in public. Some people are shy or feel that what they have to say is not as important as what some other people have to say. How then can we possibly have a meeting attended by 100 people without the loud mouths taking over?

These are real problems which to date almost no movement or group has been able to solve.

So let’s break the situation down to the smallest number of people who if they really really tried could possibly get along without an inner and outer circle forming; that is to say, without two classes forming. We are back to the limit of an organisation of between 8 and 13 folks. We can’t provide for ourselves with that small an organisation. We couldn’t even operate the London Transit Commission. We would still be buying necessities from trans-national corporations, private capital or the state. Any of these “solutions” would lead once more to alienation and to wealth being transferred out of our community. Alienation, exploitation and oppression would follow !!!2!!! . Indeed, how many times in the 20th C. did we see that scenario play itself out? So a political programme that can not build Democratic consensus among more than a dozen people is useless. A social-economic-political programme that, whether by default or on purpose allows the continued existence of the current socio-economic-political model is useless.

So here is the problem in a nutshell: The upper limit for a functional egalitarian group seems to be around 8 to 13 people. On the other hand a political unit that small can’t functionally accomplish anything. The Popular Action Movement is posited as being a new state. Thus our hypothetical size is roughly the same as the population of Canada. There are, in fact, very few actual capitalists who matter. Most successful changes of state isolated about 7% of the population. That is the norm established by the French and Russian Revolutions. I don’t know this for sure but the English Revolution most likely isolated less than 1 % of the population and merely removed political influence from the governing strata. The NDP has 100,000 members but is unable to affect our quality of life. It can help a little bit, say in quantity: higher pensions, lower university fees, somewhat better health care. But it’s a game of inches. Our basic alienation and exploitation remain. The problems outlined at the beginning of the paper remain; I’m referring back to the ongoing fall in our standard of living and the very real possibility, perhaps even inevitability of a general collapse of society. On top of that there is the alienation and exploitation inherent in the system. In other words eight people acting alone can’t save themselves, let alone the world. This unit of eight or so people has to find a way of federating with other similar units so that the Democratic federation gains the strength of unity without giving up the immediacy of Direct Democracy.

We have to develop both a form and an intentionality in order to achieve and maintain Democratic norms of behaviour. The group of let’s say 12 people has to delegate two servants or messengers who will carry the messages of that dozen people to a convenor. That convenor will consult with messengers from three or four of these dozens and of course the agendas which emerge from these consultations will be returned to the dozens. To-ing and fro-ing might have to go on before everyone is satisfied but the numbers are small enough so that no one would be left out so long as the dozens themselves are vigilant, that is, in the final analysis each and every member should make sure that the representation is functioning.

Necessary conditions for the functioning of this fundamental grass roots Democracy include, but might not be limited to the two messengers being loyal to the people who send them. Further, they can’t operate for outside forces but must maintain internal loyalty and solidarity. They must be chosen by and be responsible to their little core group. These messenger/servants have to speak personally to each person they represent on a regular basis. E-Mail doesn’t cut it. Phone calls are out. There has to be person to person in person communication so that there can be no mistake about the message or the messenger. Two people between them can service and represent 12, including themselves. At this stage of the game this is a difficult task and therefore the number of people that each messenger is responsible for will be somewhat less. This is caused by the fact that we aren’t, at this stage, consolidated. The messengers don’t come into contact with the folks they are responsible for in the ordinary course of events. Thus the task weighs more heavily upon them than it will when most of the people one meets in the course of a day are in PAM and these tasks will be carried out without any extra effort by the messengers.

Three or four (at the most) of these groups can co-operate and pool resources for projects. A Unit with a maximum of around 36 people can be built. The leading figures in this group would be the six (or eight) messengers carrying the thoughts, wishes and desires of the membership at large, a convenor who directs and co-ordinates the group meetings making sure that every person has equal access to be heard and that the agenda is not captured by a clique. The convenor is also a servant of the membership but obviously not a messenger and therefore does not put items on the agenda any more than any other member. There should also be a secretary-treasurer. Everything the secretary-treasurer does must be monitored by the messengers.

However, even 30 to 40 people can’t run a power generation system, a public transit system, a food chain or an educational system. Industry would be impossible. A telephone system would be out of the question. Pharmaceuticals and health care would not exist. Every one with heart or kidney problems would die. Even setting a broken leg would be a dicey job.  Eye care and dentistry would not exist. We would have to take at least a 50% death rate. Setting up decentralised small collectives might improve the lives of the people in them but they do nothing for society at large. They do not, in any way, question the system. In many ways, like reformist politics, they actually reinforce our subservience to the Trans-national Corps and the Banksters. They are nice but they aren’t a political response that counts or matters.

In order for the forces of Democracy to actually run the system there will have to be active co-operation amongst and between these units of 30 or 40 people. Core Democracy can be maintained so long as the messengers remain loyal to their groups of 12.

Inter Unit Co-operation:

We can await the Fall of Rome due sometime between 2020 and 2050. If everyone does nothing to prepare for such an event perhaps some 20,000,000 Canadians will die. !!!3!!!

On the other hand we can figure out a way for these proposed Units of 30 to 40 people to co-operate in some sort of federation without exploitation or oppression. This way we will be able to keep the lights on and our houses heated. We will be able to maintain a functioning food chain; maintain and develop the Arts and Sciences; keep the buses running; maintain garbage and recycling programmes; etc.

Let us return to the model that we were developing: 100 people working together in harmony without interpersonal systematic oppression. Let us posit that the organisation be divided into three Units so that each Unit would have two messengers for each dozen or so members plus a convenor and secretary-treasurer. Each Unit would also have two delegates to a committee that would maintain lines of communications amongst and between the Units. It is this “committee of delegates” that allows the organisation with 100 members to function in a co-ordinated manner.

Larger Groups of People and the Transformation of Money into Capital:

Most socio-political groups seem to spend a large proportion of their money on self-promotion. (The exceptions to this are to be found among the ethnically based groups). We, however, are building a new society and are capitalising ourselves. Indeed we really require the propaganda of the deed !!!4!!! . In our case that would be working models of worker and consumer co-ops. Very little can be done with money an organisation (say, for example the Popular Action Movement [PAM]) collects whilst it has fewer than a hundred members. Any income in those circumstances would be used as the delegates to the Centre agreed. They would have to clear their spending policies with the Units which delegated them of course.

Let us now take a leap into fantasy. The fantasy we are about to explore (or one similar to it) will have to come into existence or else we will be in dire straits after the current regime falls apart. This fantasy deals with the concept that a self-defence organisation capable of focusing considerable energy and “capital” might actually develop. This organisation would be able to supply life-support services for a very significant sector of the population, that is for its own members.  People would be taking care of themselves/each other. In other words as the present system bankrupts itself we will be able to restructure without millions of people having to die.

Let’s assume that 100,000 people, in other words an organisation about the size of the NDP, were to group themselves into Democratic self-protection Units. In this hypothesis all numbers are approximate. When I say 100,000, I mean a number in that region. Apply this concept of “approximate number” to all subsequent numbers. I am trying to demonstrate relative sizes in an approximate manner.

In our outline above we put forward the organisational norm of 12 (or so) people in Democratically structured “dozens”. We then went on to develop how 30 to 35 people (or so) could form Units made up of the “dozens”. Each Unit of 30 (or so) people would choose two delegates to a co-ordinating committee. If we were to divide 100,000 by 30 we would come up with approximately 3,400 Units. Since we have called for two delegates from each Unit and since one can’t have a Democratic meeting of more than 35 people no matter how hard you try, the number we come up with is too large to be manageable. Thus we would have to form approximately 225 co-ordinating committees. Each of these would be structured exactly like the original Unit. With each of these sending two delegates each to Regional Committees we would end up with approximately fifteen Regional Committees and thus one Inner Committee of 30 people. Or to rewrite:

Dozen
Unit
Co-ordinating Committee
Regional Committee
Inner Committee

Look upon these as being circles within each other.

Who Spends the Money?

The Dozen and the Unit, may if they want, hold fundraisers for their own events and activities. Dues and general revenue of the organisation will, however, be split between the Co-ordinating Committees and the Regional Committees. The Inner Committee may hold bake sales etc. if they want. The key is that entry level organisations should not have disposable income. Income should be pooled so that larger projects can be undertaken. It is very easy for a special interest faction to use a Unit’s income for their own purpose and to bleed the organisation so that the main purpose of the dues is thwarted. Likewise the Inner Committee should not have access to the organisation’s funds. Money at the Centre is a corrupting influence and undermines the ability of the organisation to actually, in real terms not just rhetorically, act as a federation of self-governing sections.

The Organisation will divide its money into Three Purses:

1] Group Capital:

One third of the Group’s Income, after membership is more than around 100 people will go on Group Capital. This means buying capital goods to be owned by and used by the group (i.e. to be owned by the organisation as such and used by members of the organisation): buildings, large colour printer, equipment for trades-folk, etc. Or they could be things owned by the group and rented to members: ladders, canoes, sound and light equipment, etc. The point is this stuff should make a return on the investment for the organisation and further job or recreational activities of the members or provide goods or services for members of the organisation. These moneys might (see below) be investments in other capital holdings, that is buying into existing capital formations or going in on something with members or group of members. Group Capital in alliance with Private Capital is dodgy. Much care would have to be exercised. For example, the capital involved should be material and not a financial instrument. It should be local and easily controlled and monitored by the organisation and members thereof. Examples of this might be a building, bar/club, studio/exhibition space, video production facilities, camp grounds, etc. See below for a discussion of the organisation’s attitude towards interpersonal exploitation.

Group capital essentially builds the socialised sector of the economy. It should be noted that one might think of this as the “nationalised sector”. However the nationalised or crown corporation is not socialised unless the state is run by the working class. This has been pointed out for a hundred and fifty years. When the Tories nationalised Hydro they did not become socialists. No, they were just providing an infrastructure to benefit capital. Group capital builds the resources of the Group (the new state). However the group is founded in Democracy and has an anti-exploitation, that is pro-working class, orientation.

2] Member Capital:

One third of the organisation’s money, with the same provisos as above, would be Member Capital. As with the Group Capital above this does not include operating capital. Operating capital is best filed under “expenses”. Groups of members grouped into co-ops would get preference and workers’ co-ops would get preference over consumer co-ops. See a discussion of this below. Worker Co-ops/Group partnerships would rank the highest. These capital grants to members would be in the form of forgivable loans. In other words the organisation would fund member owned businesses with preference given to co-operatively owned businesses. See below for a discussion of the corporate model.

3] Expenses:

One third, and only one third of the revenue collected and generated by the organisation after it achieves a membership of around one hundred people will go to expenses. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Most political movements and parties, social and support organisations, protest groups etc. spend almost all of their money on expenses. Most of it seems to be for publicity. PAM strives for the propaganda of the deed. Actually fund workers’ co-ops.  Actually build an alternate infrastructure. Also we must make sure that most of our expenses are not self-promotion. It is very important that the organisation actually provides services: health, education, pensions, affordable housing etc. come to mind.  We have to become the State.

A Quick Look at Three Words: Exploitation, Oppression and Alienation:

Exploitation:

One exploits to gain an advantage from. For example, one would exploit the natural resources, or a loop-hole in a tax law but one would not oppress them. Like wise one speaks of capital exploiting working people. In other words, money is made through the labour of others.

Oppression:

Oppression is a consequence of unequal social relations between people. If one set of people have a superior social position backed up by force or social convention (etc) they can oppress the other set of people, e.g. treat them poorly in some way. There are of course varying degrees.

Alienation:

Books have been written about this. The concept in this idea is that something is turned away from its proper functioning in a relationship. For example, one can be alienated from one’s work (or labour, or creativity) if the manner of doing the work and the product of the work are beyond the control of the worker/labourer. One can feel/be alienated from a situation, such as aspects of a social situation or society.

END NOTES:

1. Also because an organisation is impotent until it reaches a membership of around a hundred.

2. Partial definitions of these words will follow in due course.

3. I have written in other places, and will do again and again until you are sick of it, about business cycles and the problem of family, city, state, corporate and federal debt in the U. S. of A. This is not the place for a digression based upon the crises of overproduction given the current social arrangements in the U.S. The U.S. is currently entering a severe downturn in the economy from which they will never truly recover. Two more will follow each one worse than the preceding. The timing of these events can not possibly be known ahead of the events. This time around hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs, standard of living, pensions, etc. The government will be on the ropes financially and many services will be dramatically cut back. The U.S. is, don’t forget, “post-industrial”.

4. It is unfortunate (but necessary) that, at present, our meetings are so dominated by structural and programmatic details. This is meant to be a Popular Action Movement.  We are quite wanting in action at the moment.

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A Communist Position on Bourgeois-Democracy and the Parliamentary System

Posted by sorev on 03/01/2010

I. Introduction

In light of the recent debates within the International Communist Movement1 as to the value of working within the bourgeois parliamentary system, and because of questions posed to the Social Revolution Party as to its position on bourgeois elections, it seemed prudent to write an article on the bourgeois parliamentary system and the attitude that communists should be taking towards parliament. For whatever reasons, it seems that English speaking communists often romanticize the parliamentary experience; indeed, almost all of the “official” Communist Parties within the Anglosphere have been reduced to, in the words of Marx, “parliamentary cretinism”2.

In the interests of a detailed and thorough exposition of the problem at hand, this article will begin by looking at the original debates surrounding communist involvement in bourgeois parliaments dating back to the inception of the Third International. Careful attention will then be paid to Lenin’s critique of both British and German communist involvement in their respective parliaments, with an eye as to whether or not Lenin was being consistent in his critique. We will then step forward 80 years and examine the modern Canadian context and whether or not advocating parliamentary involvement in Canada in 2009 is a Leninist position. Lenin’s position itself will then be the focus of extreme critiques, examining the effects of parliamentary involvement on communist organisations. Finally, after careful investigation, a position for the Social Revolution Party will be put forward. Onwards!

II. What is Parliament?

Due to the deceptive and anti-analytical nature of politics within the Anglosphere, it is worthwhile to take a brief step back and define what we mean by parliament. By parliament, within the context of this article, we mean the legislative branch of the state. It is nominally the role of parliament to establish state policy and to hold the other branches of the state accountable. In Canada parliament formally includes the Sovereign, the Senate, and the House of Commons3.

It needs to be stated, before we continue, that even when parliament is functioning according to ideal circumstances, it still has a very limited role in the actual functioning of the state. The legislative branch can only set policy; underneath the legislative branch is the massive bureaucracy that carries out the day-to-day tasks of the state. This is a fact oft-overlooked by communists when assessing the role that parliament plays in the life of the state. Winning parliamentary power does not give one power over the state, but rather over the accounting and administration of the state. The state carries on a life of its own, independent of the 308 people that sit at its head.

III. Lenin on Parliamentary Involvement

Lenin’s main critiques of communist anti-parliamentarism are found in his oft-misquoted piece “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder. While categorising and critiquing a series of left-communist heresies, Lenin touches significantly on the question of whether or not communists should participate in bourgeois parliaments4. Lenin’s answer is that unequivocally, communists should engage in the bourgeois parliamentary system; he derides those on the left that abstain from parliamentary activity as having proved that “they are not a party of the class, but a circle, not a party of the masses, but a group of intellectuals and of a few workers who imitate the worst features of intellectuals.”5 There is no ambiguity in Lenin’s work as to whether or not communists should engage in bourgeois parliamentary activity.

It would be completely intellectually dishonest however to look simply at Lenin’s final position on the question of bourgeois parliaments, without examining the reasoning behind Lenin’s position. In responding to assertions that parliament has become historically obsolete, Lenin replies:

Parliamentarism has become “historically obsolete”. That is true as regards propaganda. But everyone knows that this is still a long way from overcoming it practically. Capitalism could have been declared, and with full justice, to be “historically obsolete” many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the soil of capitalism. Parliamentarism is “historically obsolete” from the standpoint of world history, that is to say, the era of bourgeois parliamentarism has come to an end and the era of proletarian dictatorship has begun. This is incontestable. But world history reckons in decades. Ten or twenty years sooner or later makes no difference when measured by the scale of world history; from the standpoint of world history it is a trifle that cannot be calculated even approximately. But precisely for that reason it is a howling theoretical blunder to apply the scale of world history to practical politics.6

Lenin outlines the nature of his position extremely well in the afore-quoted passage; despite the fact that parliamentary democracy is clearly historically obsolete, it may still be necessary in a practical political framework to struggle “on the soil” of parliament.

Lenin continues:

How can one say that “parliamentarism is politically obsolete,” when “millions” and “legions” of proletarians are not only still in favour of parliamentarism in general, but are downright “counter-revolutionary”!? Clearly, parliamentarism… is not yet politically obsolete. Clearly, the “Lefts”… have mistaken their desire, their political-ideologlical attitude, for objective reality.7

And:

Parliamentarism, of course, is “politically obsolete” for the Communists… but – and that is the whole point – we must not regard what is obsolete for us as being obsolete for the class, as being obsolete for the masses. Here again we find that the “Lefts” do not know how to reason, do not know how to act as the party of the class, as the party of the masses. You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You must call their bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices – prejudices. But at the same time you must soberly follow the actual state of class consciousness and preparedness of the whole class (not only of its Communist vanguard), of all the toiling masses (not only of their advanced elements).8

Despite the fact that parliament is historically obsolete, and despite the fact that a Marxist analysis allows communists to realise that parliament is historically obsolete, parliament is not yet practically obsolete for the vast majority of the working class because they still continue to participate in it. For Lenin, the entirety of his position on parliamentary involvement rests on the fact that the masses have not yet moved beyond a bourgeois-democratic frame of mind, and therefore communists, in order to stay in touch with the masses, have to struggle within that same framework. Communists must struggle where the masses are, and therefore communists must struggle within a parliamentary framework.

It is worth noting that within Lenin’s critique one finds no mention of the usefulness of parliament for accomplishing social change; quite the opposite in fact. Lenin’s position in favour of parliamentary involvement is purely based on staying in touch with the masses.

IV. The Parliamentary Question in Britain and Germany circa 1920: Is Lenin Consistent?

The main focus of Lenin’s critique lies within the realm of practical politics, and it is no surprise that Lenin deals not only with the “ultra-left” in the abstract but also how the political positions of the “ultra-left” play out in reality. In doing so, Lenin focuses very specifically on the emerging Communist movement in Britain and the already established communist movement in Germany. It is worth investigating the content of Lenin’s critiques of both the German and the British ultra-left, in particular looking at whether or not Lenin is being consistent within his own critical framework, and if there is anything that we today can practically pull from Lenin’s insights.

The main thrust of Lenin’s position on Germany has already been explored; the quotes contained in section III of this essay were directed against the German “lefts”, but were highlighted there as they hold a more universal significance. Concretely, the German “lefts” believed that parliamentary struggle had become historically obsolete, and therefore struggling within the framework of bourgeois parliaments could be at best a waste of time. Against the arguments of historical obsolescence forwarded by the German “lefts”, Lenin retorts:

This is said with absurd pretentiousness, and is obviously incorrect. “Reversion” to parliamentarism! Perhaps there is already a Soviet republic in Germany? It seems not! How then, can one speak of “reversion”?9

Lenin attacks the German “lefts” for what he conceives as prematurely not engaging in parliamentary activity.

In dealing with the British “lefts”, Lenin advises similar tactics. In the context of the newly forming communist movement in Britain, a communist movement that was already rife with ultra-left tendencies, Lenin advises a parliamentary coalition with the British Labour Party. Speaking to the specific conditions in Britain at the time, Lenin remarks:

In my opinion, the British Communists should unite their four (all very weak, and some very, very weak) parties and groups into a single Communist Party on the basis of the principles of the Third International and of obligatory participation in parliament. The Communist Party should propose a “compromise” to the Hendersons and Snowdens10, an election agreement: let us together fight the alliance of Lloyd George and the Conservatives, let us divide the parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of votes cast by the workers for the Labour Party and for the Communist Party (not at the elections, but in a special vote), and let us retain complete liberty of agitation, propaganda, and political activity.11

Lenin then goes on to suggest that if the Labour Party accepts a deal it will provide a platform for the Communist Party from which they can agitate amoungst the masses. And if the Labour Party doesn’t accept a deal, then it will expose the Labour Party as allies of the bourgeoisie who are against the unity of the working class. In Lenin’s opinion, the British communist movement will make gains regardless of the actions of the Labour Party if it takes the parliamentary road.

Lenin further reiterates his position on British communist involvement in parliament when he writes:

If I come out as a Communist and call upon the workers to vote for Henderson against Lloyd George, they will certainly give me a hearing. And I will be able to explain in a popular manner not only why Soviets are better than parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (disguised by the signboard of bourgeois “democracy”), but also that I want with my vote to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man – that the impending establishment of a government of Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens just as was the case with their kindred spirits in Russia and Germany.12

On a superficial level it appears that Lenin is being consistent in the application of his analysis to both Britain and Germany. On one hand, Lenin suggests that the German “lefts” support parliamentary involvement. In the same vein, Lenin suggests that British communists do the same. However, internal to Lenin’s argument is the idea that parliament is parliament is parliament the world-over, without taking into account the specific nature of the individual political climates of the respective parliaments themselves. Lenin applies his critique equally to all situations, but fails to understand that a critique of parliamentarism in Germany and Russia does not necessarily apply to parliamentarism in Britain.

To take a step back for a moment, an unspoken assumption in Lenin’s argument is that the space for an anti-capitalist critique exists within the context of bourgeois parliamentary action. Lenin assumes, incorrectly as will be pointed out, that this is the case in all parliaments in 1920. Nowhere does Lenin explore, even for a second, that this isn’t the case; indeed, the entire nature of his critique, especially towards the British communists, is that they should be entering into parliament specifically to fill that space. Lenin, while grasping the specific historical events leading to the establishment of ultra-left varieties of communism in both Germany and Britain, seemingly fails to apply an actual historical analysis to parliamentary involvement.

To approach such an analysis, it becomes important to look at the context that the emerging communist movements found themselves in. In Germany, the “lefts” that Lenin rails against were members of an organisation known as the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). The KAPD had split off from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in April of 1920, specifically in opposition to electoral tactics. The KPD itself was a newly formed organisation as of 1918, which essentially amounted to the left-wing of the then reformist Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) finally declaring independence/regrouping after expulsion in post-war Germany. The SPD itself, despite being reformist and reactionary by the time 1914 came about, had a long history of being an actual anti-capitalist party. Even after the SPD had been thoroughly exposed as reactionary, the debates within the SPD, specifically those trying to justify the SPD’s support for Imperial Germany in World War I, took place within a nominally Marxist framework.

It can be said then, that the German “lefts” of the KAPD emerged onto the political scene in a context in which there had been a long history of anti-capitalist action and debate. The German working class would not have been unfamiliar with such ideas; the fact that nominally Marxist debates were taking place within the German governing party at the time Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder was written shows how deeply entrenched some semblance of Marxist thought was within the German working class. Therefore the space existed for an anti-capitalist, anti-state movement to exist and actually benefit from a parliamentary presence; Lenin is exactly right within his own framework when he criticizes the KAPD for being out-of-touch with the masses, for being “not a party of the class, but a circle”13. Or, to put it slightly differently, due to the inundation of Marxist and anti-capitalist ideas within the German working class, the space existed for the German left to both agitate against capitalism and the state while engaging in parliamentary activity for the sake of propaganda without getting the two messages confused. It was the space created by nearly 50 years of SPD agitation that afforded this to the German left.

The same however can not be said for the British communist movement. There, the “lefts” that Lenin referred to belonged to four organisations, namely the British Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the South Wales Socialist Society, and the Workers’ Socialist Federation14. None of these parties had any institutional history with any groupings before them; while individual members assuredly were involved in movements before the inception of their respective parties, the parties themselves were new formations.

On the parliamentary front, there existed only the Labour Party which had been founded in 1900. Prior to its inception, many of its constituent groups had in fact been associated with the Liberal Party15. Even in its best days the Labour Party was purely a reformist organisation; there was never a revolutionary or Marxist current that existed within the Labour Party. Because of this, the space for an anti-capitalist critique in British parliamentary action never existed the way in which it had in Germany. Lenin therefore, not taking into account his unspoken assumption as to the existence of an anti-capitalist space within parliament, urges the British communists to engage not only in parliamentary activity but to seek out an alliance with the Labour Party. Lenin, within his own framework, is incorrect and inconsistent; the situation in Britain was not analogous to the situation in Germany. Or, to put forward the argument again in a slightly different manner, due to the fact that there was no history of anti-capitalist agitation in Britain, the space did not exist within the British Parliament for an anti-capitalist critique. The two messages, that of being anti-capitalist and anti-state, as well as struggling within the context of bourgeois parliaments would not have been as clearly received by the masses as they would have been in Germany.

In summary, Lenin’s position on parliamentary involvement rests on three pillars: The first is that the masses are engaged in parliamentary activity. The second is that the masses have not yet moved beyond a bourgeois-democratic framework. And the third, unspoken pillar is that within parliament there exists a space for an anti-capitalist, anti-state critique. When these conditions are satisfied, as was the case in Germany in 1920, Lenin is quite correct in criticising the KAPD for being anti-parliament. However, when these conditions are not fulfilled, particularly the third condition, as was the case in Britain in 1920, Lenin is being inconsistent within the framework of his own critique. Parliamentary struggles should not always be engaged in, and communists need to take careful stock of their own conditions to decide the correct course of action.

V. A Brief Interjection from Lenin

For those familiar with the text of Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, one can already see a rebuttal to the above arguments from the text of the aforementioned piece itself. Responding to the argument that the masses can’t understand the nuances of both an anti-state position combined with parliamentary activity, Lenin retorts:

And if the objection is raised that these tactics are too “subtle,” or too complicated, that the masses will not understand them, that these tactics will split and scatter our forces, will prevent us concentrating them on the Soviet revolution, etc., I will reply to the “Lefts” who raise this objection: don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses! The masses in Russia are probably no better educated than the masses in England; if anything, they are less so. Yet the masses understood the Bolsheviks; and the fact that on the eve of the Soviet revolution, in September 1917, the Bolsheviks put up their candidates for a bourgeois parliament (the Constituent Assembly) and on the morrow of the Soviet revolution, in November 1917, took part in the elections to this Constituent Assembly, which they dispersed on January 5, 1918 – this did not hamper the Bolsheviks, but on the contrary, helped them.16

Here Lenin makes three mistakes. The first is that he fails to grasp the analytical effects of liberalism on a given population. The second, stemming from the first, is that he again conflates two unequal groups in order to prove his point: in this case, the British and the Russian masses. The third mistake, and whether this is an intentional mistake or not is not known, is that Lenin equates bourgeois parliamentary involvement with involvement in a constituent assembly.

Speaking to the first mistake, if one can not conceive of a society after capitalism and without a state, then one can not actively work towards such a society. For Britain this was the case; the working class by and large would have had no conception of a society beyond capitalism17. Lest we forget that capitalism had existed in Britain far longer than elsewhere on the continent. This fact was coupled with the lack of a history of revolutionary agitation in an extra-parliamentary context (revolutionary trade unions, workers’ associations, etc.). The specificities of the British situation (that of being unlike Germany in that the working class lacked a revolutionary identity, and that of being unlike Russia in that capitalism had had more time to permeate the consciousness of the working class) would have in fact led to a confusion of the British masses (and the Party itself!) as to what exactly the Communist Party’s goal was. And in fact this is what happened elsewhere in the Anglosphere as will be demonstrated later.

As for Lenin’s second mistake, we can clearly see even in 1920 that the English masses and the Russian masses were incredibly different in terms of their ability to understand how parliamentary action and anti-capitalist and anti-state critiques could compliment one another. The most glaring indication of difference is that the Russian masses had managed to have a revolution, whereas the English masses had yet to even establish a Communist Party. Add to this the experience of 1905 and the presence of Soviets, themselves anti-state or dual-power institutions, and a comparison between the English masses and the Russian masses seems strange at best. By conflating the two Lenin misses the point; there clearly are situations where the tactics being espoused by Lenin are too subtle and too complicated for the masses to understand, and parliamentary activity is not always the way forward.

Lenin’s third mistake is perhaps the most glaring. Even if we were to accept the comparisons between the English and Russian masses, Lenin’s argument still falls apart based on the fact that a Constituent Assembly is not a bourgeois parliament. A Constituent Assembly is a temporary body whose only role is to draft a constitution; after that, the Constituent Assembly is folded and the constitutionally decided organs are put in place. In the context of Russia in 1917, the class nature of the Constituent Assembly was uncertain. Russia was a society poised on the brink of revolution; had the Bolsheviks won a majority within the Constituent Assembly, the drafted constitution could very well have been Soviet and working class in nature. For Lenin to suggest that British communists engage in bourgeois parliament because their Russian comrades engaged in the Constituent Assembly mis-represents the nature of the two societies as well as the role played by each body.

VI. A Parliamentary Path for Canada?

Having shed light on Lenin’s position circa 1920 in regards specifically to Britain and Germany, it is now time for our gaze to be shifted to something more concrete: Canada in 2009. In order to discern whether or not, within the context of Lenin’s position, a parliamentary way forward is possible within Canada we must look at the conditions that Lenin put forward in analysing the political situations in Germany and Britain. Three aspects need to be examined: first, whether or not the masses are engaged in the parliamentary process; second, whether or not the masses have moved beyond a bourgeois-democratic frame of reference; and third, whether or not the space exists within the Canadian parliamentary experience for an anti-state and anti-capitalist message to reach the masses.

On the first condition, that of whether or not the masses are engaged in the bourgeois parliamentary process in Canada, it can safely be said that they are not. The most recent federal elections in 2008 saw a record low for the last 100 years in terms of voter turnout: only 58.8% of those eligible to vote did so18. This was down from an equally pathetic 64.7% in 2006. In fact, within the last 30 years the highest voter turnout occurred in 1979, where 75.7% of Canada’s electorate voted. Indeed, in the entire history of Canada’s federal elections, 1958 holds the record for the highest voter-turnout with 79.4%19. Even in the historical best case scenario, over 20% of the electorate was not engaged in parliamentary activity. In more normal situations, such as the past 10 years, anywhere from 35%-40% of the people of Canada have not voted.

Distaste for the bourgeois political system is pervasive; not only is voter-turnout down, but membership in political parties is also dwindling20. What this means is that under normal conditions, 35%-40% of the electorate in Canada finds the parliamentary process so disengaging that they can’t even be bothered to cast a ballot. This clearly shows that in Canada, the masses as a whole are not eagerly engaged in the parliamentary process. Only a fringe element is intimately engaged, and only a small majority have any engagement at all. The first condition established by Lenin for communist involvement in the bourgeois parliamentary process is not met in a modern Canadian context.

The second condition, that the masses in Canada have not moved beyond a bourgeois democratic frame of reference, is still the case. Indeed, there is no mainstream political party or movement in Canada that even questions the basic assumptions behind a bourgeois democratic framework. While the masses are not engaged in the current bourgeois parliamentary framework, due to the non-existence of palatable alternatives (namely Soviet democracy), the masses still find themselves within a bourgeois democratic framework.

The third and final condition established by Lenin, that the space for an anti-state and anti-capitalist critique exists within the context of parliament, can unquestionably be said to be false. The Canadian state has a long history of anti-communist action; when the Communist Party was at its peak popularity, and on the eve of the election of the first Communist MP, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) was banned under the War Measures Act. The banning still went forward even after the CPC and its constituent labour organisations not only supported the war effort, but agreed not to strike for the duration of the war! The CPC was forced to re-organise under the name of the Labour-Progressive Party (LPP).

In terms of actual representation in the House of Commons, one of only two Communist MPs to ever be elected, Fred Rose who was elected in 1943 on the LPP ticket, was accused of being a Soviet spy and was imprisoned mid-way through his term in 194521. Following his release from prison he was tailed from job to job by the RCMP; as punishment for having the audacity to win an election as a Communist, his life was destroyed. He eventually returned to Poland. Doris Nielson, the other Communist who was elected in 1943, ran initially for the Progressive Unity Party22 but once in office shifted her allegiance to the LPP. She was not re-elected.

As can be seen, the Canadian state goes out of its way to ensure that there is no anti-state, anti-capitalist space within the Canadian parliamentary framework. This is something that even the CPC, a party heavily involved in parliamentary cretinism, admits in its program:

State-monopoly capitalism undermines the basis of traditional bourgeois democracy. The subordination of the state to the interests of finance capital erodes the already limited role of elected government bodies, federal, provincial and local. Big business openly intervenes in the electoral process on its own behalf, and also indirectly through a network of pro-corporate institutes and think tanks. It uses its control of mass media to influence the ideas and attitudes of the people, and to blatantly influence election results. It corrupts the democratic process through the buying of politicians and officials. It tramples on the political right of the Canadian people to exercise any meaningful choice, thereby promoting widespread public alienation and cynicism about the electoral process.23

Even if interference in the electoral process by the Canadian state was not an issue, one still faces the problem of the lack of saturation of the Canadian working class with anti-state and anti-capitalist influences. Much like Britain in 1920, it is quite reasonable to predict that an anti-state message would become confused if pushed through the medium of parliament. The Canadian working class does not have any conception of life beyond capitalism; all of the reasons to not engage in parliamentary activity in Britain in 1920 apply more-so to Canada in 2009. The active involvement of the Canadian state in anti-communist activity, as well as the lack of class consciousness amoungst the Canadian working class amount to the fact that within the Canadian parliamentary system there is no space for an anti-state and anti-capitalist critique. Lenin’s third condition is not satisfied.

To recap: in modern Canada the masses are not engaged in parliamentary activity. While they may not have moved beyond a bourgeois-democratic framework, they certainly have not embraced the currently existing bourgeois-democratic framework. The Canadian state has historically also engaged in anti-Communist activity whenever a Communist has had a chance of being elected to the House of Commons. This, when coupled with the fact that there is no long history of anti-capitalist agitation in Canada, shows that the space for an anti-capitalist and anti-state critique does not exist within the current Canadian parliamentary system. Within Lenin’s framework then, a parliamentary path is not the way forward. It is not a Leninist position to suggest parliamentary involvement in Canada in this particular historical context.

VII. Is Lenin’s Position Correct?

Thus far, we have only looked at the issue of parliamentary participation in the context of the framework that Lenin advanced nearly 90 years ago. It has been the assumption that communists should work within the bourgeois parliamentary system should the possibility present itself. But is this the case? Or should communists refrain from parliamentary involvement even in the best circumstances? This is the question that will now be explored, as we move towards an actual tactical position for our modern context.

Pushing aside the assumption that parliamentary involvement is always good given the chance, there are three main dangers that struggling within the bourgeois parliamentary system brings: the first is that parliamentary struggle brings the wrong kind of attention towards the Party; the second is that parliamentary struggle can take the place of struggling for alternative organs of power; and the third is that the Party risks internalising their own rhetoric around parliamentary struggle, and in so doing, loses sight of the goal of establishing a state based around organs of workers power. Each risk will be explored in further detail.

Struggling within a parliamentary context inevitably brings a certain type of focus towards the Party. Within Lenin’s framework, it is suggested that one engages in parliamentary activity as a way of spreading revolutionary ideas throughout the masses. However, those that will receive the message being put out by the Party in a parliamentary context will be those that are engaged in the parliamentary process to begin with. And while some of them may be won over to the revolutionary ideas, the vast majority of people seeing the message will not be disillusioned in the bourgeois-parliamentary system. One runs the risk then of the message being lost on the masses due to the medium it is being transported through. One also runs the risk of wasting time all-together; assuredly it is easier to convince those that have no interest in bourgeois-democracy about the failings of parliamentary systems than those that do.

On the second danger, in a context of limited time and resources certain types of struggle need to take precedence over others. If our goal is the establishment (and subsequent withering away) of soviet democracy, then one would hope that our limited resources would be going towards that end. Unfortunately, electoral politics take up massive amounts of time and resources. In so far as time and resources are being spent on electoral politics, they are not going towards the establishment of workers’ councils or a mass movement capable of smashing the state. And indeed we see this; the parliamentary presence of the CPC and other parties on the left is felt, but there is no mass movement being invested in.

The third risk is the most dangerous and therefore deserves the most amount of attention and analysis. The danger lies in the notion that in the process of engaging in parliamentary struggle, the Party will become so wrapped up and enamoured with this form of action that it will come to espouse parliamentary struggle above all else. This is especially dangerous in a context where liberalism is as pervasive as it is, as well as in a context where limited resources force the Party to prioritize certain actions over others. While this may seem like the most far-fetched danger associated with struggling within the bourgeois-parliamentary system, it is also the most common. To prove this, it is worthwhile to look at the program of the CPC.

The Communist Party of Canada has an undoubtedly revolutionary and progressive history; amoungst its many achievements we can include support for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, mobilisation to crush fascism in Europe during WWII, and the creation of the Workers Unity League. It is likely the most important revolutionary organisation in Canada’s history; with all criticism it is important to give credit where credit is due. However, found within its most recent program, the CPC takes a position that elevates parliamentary struggle beyond merely usefulness as a propaganda tactic. The CPC puts forward:

A democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist alliance will have as its objective the democratic restructuring of Canadian society so that the interests of the majority of Canadians come first, and the stranglehold of finance capital on every aspect of life is broken. It will seek to advance the working people’s interests through all available avenues of struggle, based on massive and united extra-parliamentary action.

The alliance will strive to score electoral advances, and the winning of power by a people’s government dedicated to carrying out sweeping measures to democratize society and transform economic relations in the interests of the working class and the Canadian people as a whole.

Such a breakthrough will be difficult to accomplish given the sophisticated means at the disposal of the ruling class to manipulate public opinion, discourage political activism and otherwise influence the outcome of bourgeois elections. A crucial task for the alliance will be to defend and expand democracy and to fight against corporate and governmental attacks on the electoral process.

A democratic, anti-monopoly government, based on a parliamentary majority, and acting in concert with the united and militant extra-parliamentary movements of the people, would signal a qualitative shift in the balance of class forces in Canadian society, and open the door to the revolutionary transformation to socialism. It would involve the people in a truly meaningful way.

The people’s government would be committed to a program of action geared to serve people before profit. That program would arise in the course of the social, economic and political struggles of the working class and its democratic allies, and be subject to the widest discussion and approval among all of the forces of the alliance.24

The CPC suggests, as the way forward, the creation of a massive anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly, and democratic parliamentary bloc. Upon this bloc winning a majority in parliament, that is to say upon the bloc gaining control over the legislative branch of the state, it would institute a series of reforms designed to promote the creation of a socialist Canada. Indeed, according to the CPC, this parliamentary bloc would “open the door” to a socialist Canada. The CPC even goes so far as to refer to the supposed parliamentary bloc as the “people’s government”; a far cry indeed from Marx’s warning in The Civil War in France “that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”25.

The CPC’s program, in its current parliamentary-oriented context, does not differ in any meaningful way from the program of a social democratic party. Despite mentioning extra-parliamentary activity in passing, the CPC has elevated bourgeois-parliamentary struggle to the place of prime importance. The CPC has substituted any notion of change from below with the concept of change from above; the parliamentary bloc “opening the door” for a socialist Canada. And in doing so, the CPC has abandoned any revolutionary theory of the state as an organ for one class suppressing another and has replaced Leninism with class-collaborationalism. Instead of building alternative organs of power, such as the Workers Unity League of over 50 years ago, the CPC suggests taking control of the bourgeois state and using the bourgeois state to somehow further proletarian ends. The CPC’s position is thoroughly revisionist and inexcusable.

To further highlight the ridiculousness of the CPC’s parliamentary fixation, and the dangers of going down the parliamentary road, it is worthwhile to briefly look at the WFDY’s26 statement regarding the acension of Madhav Kumar-Nepal to the position of Prime Minister of Nepal27. The WFDY remarks:

Nepal has achieved in recent years a tremendous magnitude of political changes by the strength of Great People’s Movement 2006 in a greater consensus and understanding among political parties. We do believe that those achievements can only be consolidated after a more upgraded understating among all political parties to put the peace process in a logical end and by carrying out the agendas to a progressive restructure of the state.28

Completely ignoring the brutally collaborationalist content of the statement, including calls for cooperation with reactionary parties (and therefore classes) and an end to the revolutionary process, what strikes one most strongly is the similarity of the statement with that of the recommendations of the US State Department in regards to increased “friendship” (i.e. renewed imperialist exploitation) between the US and Nepal:

And I think one of them is that the Maoists renounce violence and terrorism. The second would be that they stop the violent activities of the Young Communist League. And the third would be that they actively participate, and work together with the other parties, to support the peace process. There are other things, but those are the main factors that likely will go into our consideration.29

Focusing on the parliamentary process has clearly put the WFDY, and by extension the YCL and the CPC into the reactionary camp in regards to Nepal. It becomes clear that the fetishization of the parliamentary process can only lead an organisation down a path of revisionism and eventually reaction. We can however learn from our mistakes: the Social Revolution Party does not need to repeat the follies of the past.

VIII. The Social Revolution Party on Bourgeois-Parliamentary Involvement

The Social Revolution Party is against struggling within a parliamentary context both in terms of focusing on parliamentary activity as a means of progress and running for office in bourgeois-democratic institutions. Struggles within the parliamentary medium can only lead to revisionism and reaction; either the Party risks attracting the wrong kind of attention, risks spending limited resources on reformist ends, or risks internalising the message of parliamentarism. Furthermore, the Social Revolution Party does not believe in legitimising institutions that serve only to uphold the rule of capital and the ability of the ruling class to oppress, exploit, and alienate the people of Canada.

To this end, the Social Revolution Party puts forward an alternative: instead of worrying about bourgeois organs of power, we should be busy constructing our own proletarian organs of power. The Social Revolution Party believes that investing power in workers’ councils is the only way forward; “All power to the soviets!” is more than just a catchy phrase. Therefore, the efforts of members are best spent building the Popular Action Movement. A new world is possible, but it is up to us to build it; nobody will build it for us. Onwards!

Footnotes:

1Particularly the Two-Line Struggle within the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist, as well as the recent debate on Kasama titled Can Our Revolution Use Elections to Organize? (September 7, 2009). Clearly the two aren’t of the same magnitude on the international level, but within the Anglospheric Communist Movement, debates on Kasama punch above their weight, so to speak.

2“They were therefore reduced to moving within strictly parliamentary limits. And it took that peculiar malady which since 1848 has raged all over the Continent, parliamentary cretinism, which holds those infected by it fast in an imaginary world and robs them of all sense, all memory, all understanding of the rude external world — it took this parliamentary cretinism for those who had destroyed all the conditions of parliamentary power with their own hands, and were bound to destroy them in their struggle with the other classes, still to regard their parliamentary victories as victories and to believe they hit the President by striking at his ministers.”

Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.”

3The Sovereign being the Queen of Canada who is represented by the Governor General; this position is, in most cases, purely ceremonial. The Senate is appointed by the Sovereign on recommendation of the Prime Minister, and is in modern times essentially a rubber-stamp for the House of Commons; except on issues dealing with Senate reform it would seem. The House of Commons is directly elected by the people of Canada and is usually what is meant when the Communist Party of Canada talks about winning a parliamentary majority.

4Indeed, chapter 7 bears the name “Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments”. Lenin’s work is extremely illuminating; it is worthwhile for comrades to read not only this chapter, but the entire piece.

5Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder. 51

6Ibid, 50

7Ibid, 51

8Ibid, 52.

9Ibid, 49. It is worth mentioning that Lenin’s quote here is extremely intellectually dishonest; he has purposely mis-represented what the German “Lefts” meant by “reversion”. The German “Lefts” were actually referring to an inner-movement reversion to focusing on parliamentary activity as opposed to mass-based activities, as opposed to a reversion to parliament from Soviet democracy as Lenin implies.

10Both Phillip Snowden and Arthur Henderson were prominent members of the Labour Party at the time Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder was written.

11Ibid, 87.

12Ibid, 91

13Ibid, 51.

14Ibid, 77.

15In particular, the Lib-Labs (Liberal Party members with the backing of trade unions), and the Labour Representation League provided, amoungst many other groups, the ideological basis for the formation of the Labour Party.

16Ibid, 91.

17We should remember that as early as 1858, Engels in a letter wrote: “and the fact that the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat.”.

Frederick Engels, letter to Marx, October 7, 1858, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1858/letters/58_10_07.htm

18Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums

Elections Canada, Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums, 1867-2008

19At the time, “eligible voters” did not include the first nations people, who were only given the right to vote in 1960.

Canadian Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal Rights

20While there are no concrete numbers available, one of the biggest issues amoungst the intellectuals of the Canadian parliamentary elite is lack of engagement in the political system, including political parties. One can be sure, however, that the number of people registered as members of political parties is only a small fraction of those who vote.

21This was referred to as the Gouzenko affair; indeed, the state-run media in Canada was still slandering the name of Fred Rose well into the 1980s.

22The Progressive Unity Party was an attempt at a united front between the CPC and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). CCF riding associations that attempted to participate in the united front were shut down.

23Communist Party of Canada, “Canada’s Future is Socialism!: Program of the Communist Party of Canada”

24Communist Party of Canada, “Canada’s Future is Socialism!: Program of the Communist Party of Canada”

25Marx, The Civil War In France, 64

26World Federation of Democratic Youth; an international organisation that the youth-wings of many “official” Communist Parties are involved in world-wide. The Young Communist League is a member.

27Madhav Kumar-Nepal is a member of the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist and Leninist, a reactionary and revisionist organisation that actively struggled against the Nepalese Revolution. He was elected to the position of Prime Minister after Prachanda and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) stepped out of the bourgeois parliamentary system.

28World Federation of Democratic Youth, “Congratulatory Message to the New Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal”

29US Department of State, Friendship Between the U.S. and Nepal

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