Our essential reading for the weekend is a new article by The Commune’s Dave Spencer which aims to draw some lessons from his decades of experience with far-left groups. It’s a little heavy on obscure and now obsolete sects, but at its core is a searing analysis of the problems of vanguardist parties and the Left’s methods of organising in general:
A key feature of the failed politics of the Left is its aping of the hierarchical and adversarial politics of the bourgeoisie. Without exception the parties and groups on the Left were and are bureaucratic. They conduct policy-making in a Machiavellian manner, doing deals behind the backs of the members. Internally their regimes are undemocratic and characterised by bullying and the use of personal abuse. Our politics has to be the opposite — open and democratic and comradely. This will not be easy because we are not used to it. We have to make a conscious effort.
Another major problem is that far left parties usually have split purposes. You can’t effectively build a genuine mass organization when your real objective is to recruit for the party. A emphasis on recruiting means the moderates will be pushed out and the focus will be on appealing to the far left fringe only. And you can’t build a mass organization that way. In fact, by such tactics, you’ve insured that you can never do that. Which is what their leaders actually want, as a mass organization means they would lose power.
It’s time for the left to stop blaming everyone but itself for its obvious and huge failures. Look, economies are reeling. It’s achingly apparent that most are getting shafted while a few get wealthy. The system clearly is not working.
Yet the response from the Left has mostly been incoherence and inept silence. It doesn’t know what to do with this almost perfect organizing opportunity. When it’s not stumbling around trying to make Marxist ideas fit the current situation (Dammit, they have to fit. “Marx said, I believe it, that settles it”), it’s wasting precious time with the usual idiotic factional fights. Capitalism will surely tremble when it learns that The Workers for Socialism and Liberation have split from the Socialist Revolutionary Faction over the Cuba Question. Right.
Again, I return to Saul Alinsky. When he organized Back of the Yards in Chicago (inventing community organizing in the process) he would start an organization, provide advice when needed, but in a crucial difference from the far left, he let those in the community run it. He wasn’t trying to build a personal power base or force across a particular political ideology. He let the people in the communities be in charge. Maybe that’s why he was successful. And why the far left right now isn’t.