For lack of anything better to do, and without any real hope of response, we shall critique the recently released Commune magazine starting from its first volume and continuing onward. Though the critique will, hopefully, appear merciless it is worth keeping in mind that being worthy of critique is something in and of itself. The soft cushion out of the way, lets get down to it.
We don’t quite make it three sentences in to Commune’s introduction before the publication is calling liberalism a friend and ally. Granted that they refer to it as a “fair-weather friend” and a “treacherous ally,” but this all seems to me to be a bit much like ‘critical support.’ Liberalism has never been an ally of the working-class, and the relationship between the working-class movement and liberalism has not been one of ‘heavy lifter’ and ‘credit-taker.’ Liberalism has ever and always sought to contain such movements by putting them within the rigid limitations of union struggles, or anti-war struggles, or women’s movements, or civil rights struggles, and this is only where it could not outright crush these movements. And what is this “it?” This liberalism? It is no more than an ideology, a name given to a certain set of actions that the ruling class embodied in the State has taken. Yes the death of liberalism came as a surprise to those who had become too accustomed to conflating liberalism with capitalism, but the real capitalists are always ready to trade ideologies out just as readily as they may change hats as the fashion changes, so long as their property remains sacred and secured. And that’s the real point here, the change in dominating capitalist ideology does nothing to change the fundamental class relations between worker and capitalist. “There is no ‘new method’ in this struggle.” (Second Congress of the Third International, Ninth Session on the Trade Union Question)
Without doubt, the single most offensive sentence in this introduction is the following. “Without economic development, there are no possibilities for the social progress that we once found routine.” As if “economic development” was not based on the bloody separation of means of production from producers. As if social progress was not the result of often violent clashes against the liberal state, as if the rising tide truly lifted all boats. The condition for social progress is not “economic development,” but working-class organizational strength.
I would like to briefly note that, while we agree in principle that distrust in the electoral process greatly contributes to the lack of voter turn-out, it is equally important to recognize voter suppression against those poorer, younger, less white non-voters as a facet in the more general assault upon minorities and workers more generally.
Stating that “capitalism can’t be made more tolerable under present conditions” is admitting defeat before the struggle begins, or else positing that an immediate step to revolution is possible. The utterance is simply wrong, and dangerously so. Has the Fight for $15 movement not had success in various municipalities? Has the massive wave of teachers’ strikes not resulted in (extremely mild) gains for those teachers? Has the self-defense activity of antifa not resulted in the greatly diminished presence of fascism on the streets? Do these gains not represent an improvement in the tolerability of life under capitalism? We would be the last to say that capitalism is capable of guaranteeing a full and human existence to everyone, but failing to fight the struggles that we are presented with in our day-to-day lives guarantees in advance that we will be unable to fight for a revolution when the time comes. These daily struggles must be made in the explicit recognition that they are not enough, that they are mere preparatory work for the end goal. The capacity to wage a successful revolution is not made overnight, it must be built in the interim. If we have not been constantly in contact with the working-class as they struggle to make their lives more tolerable how can we expect them to join us when we work for the abolition of capitalism? If they do not need us to work for that abolition why are we bothering to work for that goal at all?
We do not care to indulge the tiring and tireless discussion abounding from the distinctions between socialism and communism. We will say only this, a movement which has as its goal the subordination of production to meeting and expanding human need will result in the establishment of a stateless, classless society wherein the producers are united with the means of production, wherein social labor is immediately social.
Here again we must continue to voice our criticism of the basic perspective offered in this introduction. “The hope that reforms might be steps toward emancipation wrecks itself on the shoals of reality.” Reforms are not steps towards emancipation, steps towards emancipation result in reforms. You can not leap all at once, from today to the revolution. “Programs to which capitalists might have once acceded with only moderate resistance are now treated as if they meant to wheel a guillotine onto Wall Street.” Which programs are these we might wonder? Which period in capitalist history did the rational misers not bring their full force to bear against the working-class? By way of historical example we can reference the 1934 Toledo Auto-lite strike which faced the gunfire from 900 National Guardsmen not to mention the several hundred police and 1800 strikebreakers. 25 strikers were killed or wounded by the murderous hail of bullets during the strike. What did the strikers wind up winning? “A 5% wage increase with a 5% minimum above the auto industry code, naming Local 18384 as the exclusive bargaining agent in the struck plants.” (Labor’s Giant Step) We will repeat, there is no new method in the struggle, the fundamental class relations have not changed. Having said this, Commune does hit upon a crucial point, that once State power is more or less being seized by the working-class it is imperative not to fall back to the wage-demand but press forward with the new conditions. Referencing the same Auto-lite strike Louis F. Budenz wrote: “The dynamic intervention of a revolutionary workers organization, The American Workers Party, seemed to have been required before that outcome [a union victory] could be achieved. The officials in the Federal Automobile Workers Union would have lost the strike if left to their own resources.” In other words, the revolutionaries allowed themselves to be subordinated to a union struggle rather than pressing their advantage for the formation of a soviet which was more than possible. It is rather reminiscent of the plight of the Bolsheviks in that sense. The capitalists were unable to industrialize Russia and so industrialization required the Bolsheviks. Breaking through uneven and combined development relies upon revolutionary elements.
We will end by criticizing the anti-audacity of Commune, or worse still their tone deafness. They deny having any answers for the present situation but assert that they will pay attention to the answers that the movement presses forward. We at Anti-Capital have identified a three part program that has been pronounced by the real movement in implicit tones already. The unconditional defense of immigrant labor, the end to violence against black labor including voter suppression, and One Big Wage. This must be a part of the current communist strategy.
With or without a response, I intend on selecting various articles of interest from Commune and writing similar critiques.