Saturday, March 12, 2011

Confessio Fraternitas: Intellectual political peregrinations, 2001-2002

Confessio Fraternitas being "Confessions of the Fraternity", given to a Rosicrucian tract from the 17th century. Here I use it to mean "Confessions of Fraternalism", which is no doubt a different Latin conjugation, but serves as a good approximation of Confessions of Socialism. This post is a statement about how some of the positions on this blog came to be. I'm putting up because many of the early writings here were stridently Leninist and Trostskyist, which is in itself a little bit misleading. I'm writing to show how the blog and my own opinions went from Marxism-Leninism to something more Libertarian.

After being actively involved in Left and Progressive culture for two, years, and passively involved for four years, in the summer of 2001 I started an ideological journey that took me into new territory, that ultimately lead me to where I am now. This journey pretty much just took place in my head, although I did go to some small protests and was a supporter of my local political community. I didn't directly act on my specific beliefs through either organizing, starting a group or doing anything else in the real world. Although I was a member of an organization, one that I won't name out of consideration for them, and it fit a lot of my ideological requirements at the beginning, I was basically a paper member, although I greatly benefited from the literature they sent. I didn't follow their general suggestions about what to do in the real world and I never actually met another member in person.

So...Summer of 2001, became interested in Marxist Humanism. It looked to me, and still looks, like a doctrine that I could live with that expressed a lot about what I thought about the world, emphasizing the potential for human self realization and how society distorts it, all presented from within a solidly socialist context. From there I made a transition to Eurocommunism, also called Reform Communism, via the Marxist Humanists of Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. It should be noted that the latter two movements that were crushed by the Communist state. Still even though the uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were crushed, and Yugoslavia deteriorated after Tito, the very existence of the three suggested a possibility for a reform or liberal Communist current in the world consisting of real creative experiments and institutions, and doctrinal flexibility, far and far away from the staid ultra-authoritarian Brezhnev model, to say nothing of the models of Mao or of Stalin. Eurocommunism, the liberal and less Moscow based tendency in certain European (and Chilean) political parties, seemed to take the best of these currents and attempt translate them out into practical politics. Most of the parties that later came to be called Eurocommunist had enthusiastically applauded Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin and had taken it as their cue to liberalize their own doctrine and practices.

Eventually, I got more interested in the mainstream Communist model itself, not as a shift away from the liberality of Eurocommunism but in order to more firmly ground myself in the foundations of both the regimes in question and the parties themselves. I read through the books and publications that the more mainstream parties put out, but also remained skeptical, taking much of the seriousness of the literature with a grain of salt generated from having a basic knowledge of how the countries in question operated both at their worst and at their best.

In any case, 9/11 happened, and cut short my mainstream Communist idyll. What I saw taking place around me, the cheering of authoritarianism, the pushing of nationalism, the desire for everyone to fall into line, caused me to rethink my agreement with doctrines that depended, either directly or indirectly, on the ideas and experience of Stalin's Russia. So, I started looking for ideas about how to organize society and move toward that society with action that while still drawing on the Soviet experience, which I still considered to be positive, were pre-Stalin . I gravitated towards ones that were specifically still Leninist.

I had a very positive opinion of the Lenin and Leninism in general, but I also picked and choosed which aspects of the guy's ideas I wanted to accept. The party line? Well, if all of the people in the party have agreed to it I guess it's okay for there to be a basic plan for how activism should take place .... Banning factions in parties? Didn't quite appeal to me as much. My thinking at the time didn't take into account the possibility that Lenin's writings may have seriously misrepresented what was actually going on in the Soviet Union at that time, or what was going either internally in the Bolshevik Party or between the Bolsheviks and other groups.

Not surprisingly, I gravitated towards Trotsky and Trotskyism, thinking that they were a much better embodiment of what the Bolsheviks originally stood for than were the Stalinist based parties. I thought that they had a better, more liberal, interpretation of Lenin. All the while still in my head, still, I drifted to new writings, and different groups, some of which were better than others. I liked the magazine "Left Turn" quite a bit because it seemed to combine a good Marxist and Trotskyist outlook with sanity, non-sectarianism, and relevance. However, the general infighting between Trotskyist groupsicles didn't interest me at all. I wasn't concerned about finding the one true party line, and only moderately supported of the idea itself. Neither did the confusion of a class vanguard with a Party itself appeal to me.

The way Lenin and the Bolsheviks had presented their ideas of party and vanguard in their printed works and speeches, the party was just supposed to be a part of the greater workers' movement. A very organized part, but a part nonetheless. The movement as a whole was supposed to be more important than the Party. What was even less valid in my eyes than the party centricity that I saw on the part of these Trotskyist groups, was the reality that most of them were composed of random people from different classes who didn't have any real connection to the working class, on the whole. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. The idea of the Party wasn't for it to be a debating society of stray individuals interested in "Revolutionary Politics", such as they were.

After a while I found the writings of C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya, who put forward a different type of Trotskyism altogether. These were two people who explicitly blended Leninism with Humanism, and looked at the liberal and non-Party focused aspects of Lenin's writings, especially his later ones, and who eventually questioned the need for a vanguard party altogether. Instead, they emphasized that organizing had to happen in a way that encouraged workers' self determination and self-control

They were still Marxists, of course, still Bolshevik, but their writings were much more open to dissident currents of thought than the mainstream Trotskyists. And they also engaged the New Left during the '60s, instead of either choosing to run away from it, ignore it, or make an attempt to dominate it.

C.L.R. James and Dunayevskaya are still impressive figures , still inspiring to me and valid in many of their points, and in their personal lives they backed up their words with actually going out and organizing in factories in the Detroit area.

Somewhat relatedly, Cornelius Castoriadis was also in the mix. Castoriadis was another Trotskyist who moved further and further away from orthodoxy towards a more libertarian and worker self-organization centered position.

From there, my further move to the Libertarian left wasn't so based so much on finding problems with James and Dunayevskaya, although a few of James' perspectives on topics like Sartre pissed me off, so much as it was based on moving out into a few of the other pastures that they'd opened up for me. In particular, Autonomist Marxism and the partially associated Autonomist orientation that existed in Germany and elsewhere entered the fray. The latter was less focused on workers self-organization than the Italian centered former. Harry Cleaver's "Reading Capital Politically" also helped me make this transition, as did the Zapatistas, who though not usually linked to autonomous movements are nonetheless with them in spirit. Of course, books put out by Autonomedia were a great help as well. However, even though in recent years Autonomedia has put out a book about Workers' Autonomy in Italy, they are in general much more concerned with the German Autonomist movement, publishing some material that is exciting, and others that are more like philosophical circle jerks. And that comes from someone who studies philosophy. I suppose that a lot of Autonomists in Germany would say that the philosophers that Autonomedia publishes are really just folks trying to coopt their movement. Strangely enough, throughout all this Tony Negri's writings didn't play much of a part, although since then I've since come to appreciate parts of "Marx Beyond Marx", his book examining the "Grundrisse".

At that point, I could see that Autonomous movements had lots and lots of ideological overlap with concepts from the world of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism. Support of workers' councils and self managed communities are common to both traditions. It wasn't like I hadn't been around anarchist thought before, or that I hadn't read some of their books and publications, but around this time I had also began to meet real anarchists, people who actually believed in these idea. Before, I'd only known generic socialists, some of whom thought Lenin was OK, some of whom wanted to get as far away from him as possible, as well as lots and lots of progressives. In 1999 I had gone to Earlham College, while there was a member of the Earlham Socialist Alliance, which has since become the Earlham Progressive Union. The ESA was a non-sectarian, and mostly non-Leninist group open to anyone. It had a very general sponsorship by a faculty member who was a member of Solidarity, a good Trotskyist originated group that distinguishes itself by being open to more liberal and non-traditional interpretations of Marxist-Leninist thought than other related organizations. Solidarity, it should be pointed out, wasn't the nameless organization that I was a paper member of, though.

Anyways, I started hanging out in places where the anarchists were, talking to them in person, and also talking to anarchists online, and eventually I decided that there was enough overlap between Autonomist ideas and Anarchist ones that I should just switch to them. Whatever residual Trotskyist or Leninist beliefs that were still there departed, although most of them had already left me with my move from non-traditional Trotskyism to Autonomy. Eventually, in my approach to things there was even less and less of a fixation on the strict 'theoretical' part of Marxist theory, and my thought became an interest blend, absorbing much of Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarcho-Communism. Green Anarchism and Anti-Civilizational Anarchism also added to the mix, and a little known fact is that they're actually more derived from worker oriented strands of Autonomism than from tactual anarchist tradition, no matter what they're labels are. Of the two, Anti-Civilizational thought made more of an impact.

From there my position started to mutate in a free form way. I still had, and still have, a general Marxist framework dealing with how society works as the basis of my belief system, but after the move towards Anarchism I started to take what I wanted from whatever I could ,anything that seemed to make sense and that reflected the way the world actually is.

By that point my website had been going for several months, although the writing had ebbed and then strongly flowed, and it had seen a transformation from being a place where there were articles that praised the "creative genius of Lenin" (an exact quote), to one that was willing to reprint Bob Flanagan's poem explaining his love of Sado-Masochism entitled "Why?"

So, that's how it all began. I'm posting this now because it's several days short of this blog's nine year anniversary, and because I intend to continue writing for it, and staying with my politics, until the cows come home.

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