Groupuscule politics: Can the old left become the new left?

Dave Riley has a worthwhile think piece about the self-marginalization of far left groups and the disastrous mistake (in my view) many of them make, that if they have the “correct” Marxist line, then surely the working class will follow.

Many of these groups do enormous amounts of organizing, sometimes with notable results. But by demanding, for example, that anyone who shares the podium with them at an antiwar rally must follow their line completely, they in reality ignore the masses they claim to want to lead.

Besides, it’s so self-limiting, spinning around in itty-bitty Leftie hyperspace about who is the real heir to the revolutionary platform so you can attract three more adherents (to make up for the seven who just broke away and formed a splinter group.)

There’s this chronic schematism that simply by repeating often enough that you are revolutionary and by inserting the correct POV into any exchange then you really and truly must be what you say you are.

That’s the far left’s curse because in one way it’s a sort of substitutionism. Sort of “INSERT PROPAGANDA HERE” approach.

This is in part due to their self-marginalization that means they only appeal to the fringe and also because, as Riley points out, they really aren’t doing much else.

This is why you can have groups in Australia who number less than 20 members and all of these few think they rather than someone else are the true Marxists.

Thus, they hardly ever join with any other group to accomplish common goals.

I admit that I am torn myself between the thrill of political discovery and inquiry, of debating out conflicting points of view in order to arrive at a ‘correct’ position — and the often mundane business of , I guess, networking, rooting for and negotiating alliances with people who in the main don’t give a fig for the theory.

The former seems so safe and cosy in comparison to the free form of the latter. Where’s the friggin rules!? Where’s Marx supposed to sit?

Alan Watts once said about Christianity that perhaps Bible should not be read for a few hundred years so people could then look at it with a new perspective. Maybe the same hold true for the far Left and the writings of Marx and Lenin. Then they could reexamine and reinvent some of the core concepts. What is class? In the US, which is mainly a service economy with malleable classes, class is very different from what Marx saw with the clearly delineated factory workers and factory owners in 1848. Yet US Marxists often insist on believing that class is what Marx said it was. It’s not.

Quoting from Peter Camejo:

The idea that a group of a few hundred people who are not in the leadership of any mass movement, much less integrally involved in leading the working class as a social force, can be referred to as a Leninist party and having a “correct program” would never have crossed Lenin’s mind. In 1918 Lenin would refer to such an idea as clowning.

By the 1940s, however, within the Trotskyist movement a conception had taken root that no matter how small or disconnected from the workers movement a group might be, if it had the “correct” program and a cadre, it was a Leninist Party and would eventually “win”.

This of course is fantasy and delusion, you can’t appeal to the masses by deliberately excluding them, then hope for some magical Deus Ex Machina to emerge, at which time they will then flock to you.

The general trend has been to fight tooth and nail against the tide toward broader, more user friendly party formations for the 21st Century’s version of socialism.

The problem may be that if this stand off is persevered with, given time, the far left could be more marginal than it is now.

What with the current recession and globalization, capitalism has been reinventing itself lately. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of books on how businesses should reinvent themselves and their processes. The far left needs to do the same. Question core concepts. Reinvent the good ones. Figure out who their audience is then deliberately appeal to it. And forget the dusty ideas and arguments about how many Marxists can dance on the head of a pin.