Monday, December 31, 2007

An interesting essay, of the title above, has recently been circulating about the Internet. While it has appeared in various places, Molly chooses to refer the reader to its presentation at the LibCom site for the full text. What is this beast called "left-communism" ? It is indeed possible to spend years in the anarchist movement without even getting a glimmer of its existence. This is particularly true today because, as Oisin remarks, "anarchism is emerging out of its long held position as the 'conscience of the workers' movement', as the eternal critic of Leninism and state centred politics". It was somewhat different when Molly first became an anarchist, at a time when Leninist cults such as Maoism and Trotskyism were far more popular than any libertarian alternative. At that time "left-communism", at least in its more modern versions such as that presented by Cardan/Castoriadis, Maurice Brinton and others in France and Britain, was often the introduction to anarchism for many of us. The subtle difference between such presentations and anarchism per se usually escaped us. Even today such "difference" is slight, often to the point of non-existence, and all that can be said is that anarchism, with its broader history and tradition, offers a lot more to the curious.
When, however, modern anarchists new to the movement tire of eternal appeals to militancy versus/over mind, solipsistic nonsense from American cult leaders about the "end of civilization", laundry-lists of "anti-isms", juvenile posturing about subcultural superiority, etc. and when them come to confront the question of whether anarchism has a future as a real political movement, then the exploration of "what is to be done" will almost inevitably lead them sooner or later to the history and writings of the "left-communists". The author of the essay referenced above explores what might be termed the pre-history of left communism, and its origin the the German, Dutch and Italian workers' movements post WW1. This exploration is valuable, particularly as he contrasts the more purist position of the Germans and Dutch to the semi-Leninist position of the Italians around Bordiga. This contrast endures to this day, even if the author doesn't expand the horizons of his essay to cover more recent events.
The author contrasts the so-called "purism" of the Germans and Dutch , with its inevitable corollary of organizational sterility to the efforts of the Italians. He also, however, contrasts the open-ended "ideology" of the Germans and Dutch as opposed to the "programmatic fundamentalism" (Molly's term, not his) of the Italians, and his sympathies are clearly with the northern left-communists, to the extent that he sees little difference between their approach and that of the platformism that he favours.
All told a valuable contribution to the historical knowledge that must inform any discussion of anarchist organization and tactics today. What it lacks is an "update", not just in terms of the left-communism of the 60s and 70s, but of what this term might mean today. It also lacks a discussion of groups such as the POUM, the British ILP and others in what was called the 2nd and 1/2 International that were anti-Stalinist, non-Trotskyist but still "revolutionary socialist". Today left communist sects still exist, and it is a wide and varied sector of politic opinion, ranging from orthodox DeLeonists, through council communists, to Leninists who imagine that Lenin took a wrong turn and to God knows how many other permutations. Most of these groups give something of the appearance of animals preserved in formaldehyde, defending the one and only true doctrine against all comers. Some of them, the ICC is an example, may be the last real Marxists on Earth- using Marx's fantastical dialectical constructions to predict over and over the demise of capitalism due to its internal contradictions. Using some sort of "logic" that they think is superior to ordinary induction.
"Left-Communism" today, however, may have a much broader meaning. Let's call it "left-social democracy", a very prevalent idea that some sort of socialism can be built via the "grants" of a government in power with the "right ideas". Ordinary anarchists are often quite susceptible to this idea, witness the anarchist support for Chavez in Venezuela (not that such support is often more derived from "third-worldism", an emotional reaction of there ever was one, than from ideological conviction). To their credit "left-communists" are usually quite immune to this sort of illusion.
So read the essay cited; it's well worth the time. But do consider how it might be expanded.

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