Open Call: With Friends Like These?

party

I’m looking for co-authors on a text rethinking alliance. Please contact me here or over email, if interested.

If there are good memories of The Party, we are far too young to have them. The Party has always appeared to us as a collection of dim-wits jockeying for power within wooden organizations that shout to the wind in dead languages. Those still fascinated by The Party seem to be geriatrics whose struggles we never really understood, red diaper babies still suckling from their parents, history fanatics obsessed with long-dead rituals, and gray-faced control freaks obsessed with rules or efficiency. So now that The Party’s only arrives at its twilight, we cheer on its zombie existence: The Party is dead! Long live The Party!

The end of The Party comes at another time: the Decline of The Left. Perhaps The Left has never been more than a convenient fiction. Now, more than ever, it is time to question that the loose grouping of “The Left” has anything in common. As radicals, we share nothing with the state bureaucrats, corporate fanatics, and technocratic managers. The Left at its very best is stuck in the Whiggist fantasy of incremental improvement at the hands of a constitutional republicanism that prides itself in personal freedom and scientific skepticism. If there is anything still living in The American Left, it is limited to their plans to recycle projects from the early-20th Century Welfare State or the loose collection of social issues that born out of the 1960’s counter-cultural New Left. Perhaps those two sets of issues are worth fighting for, but in doing so, one cannot help but feel that they are sorely inadequate half-measures.

Without The Party, without The Left, and without The State. We are more than happy to cheer on their demise. But what is lost along the way? Alliance.

Lacking a clear “us” and “them,” contemporary radicals have grown accustom to eating their own. “No one gets a free pass,” warn the practitioners of call-out culture. “Everyone must be held in account,” declare those looking to bring a little justice to their lives. No one can argue with their motivations – we are no strangers to demeaning, abusive, and violent behavior, and it needs to stop. Our only observation is this: when everyone is a potential target, alliance is no longer possible.

We hate The Party-form, but it has historically done the theoretical work of alliance-building. Consider how lines of alliance are drawn by The Party. In Leninism, deviations are to be purged from The Party.n1 In Maoism, deviations are treated within The Party through self-critique.n2 In Schmittian inter-State sovereignty, States draw an “amity line” whereby they deal with friends according to a mutually agreed upon set of rules and dispense with enemies with utter disregard to their dignity. The point is not that we should return to frontism, platformism, or prefiguration – none are useful solutions to our malady.

What we need today is a new bivalent form of critique that clearly distinguishes between friendly self-critique and the ruthless criticism of our enemies. The task of fashioning such a tool is up to us.

 

1. Leninism, particular Trotskyites and other Frontists, also practice entryism. They create organizations around populist issues, from which they recruit Party members. Such entryism is why many dismiss Leninist participation in a popular front as merely opportunistic.
2. Maoist self-critique has been practice in a wide variety of ways. It is standard for contemporary Maoists to use the Cultural Revolution practice “struggle sessions,” the public denunciation of class enemies in the effort to force their target to publicly confess, which frustratingly blurs the line between self-criticism and ruthless critique.

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6 thoughts on “Open Call: With Friends Like These?

  1. Unknown friend, I enjoyed your proposal. You write very fluently, but for me also quite confusedly. You talk about ‘the theoretical work of alliance-building’ as if such alliances, rather than the practical work of revolutionary organising, were the basis of the historic party form. It is quite possible that the publications of a single individual or couple, such as Marx & Engels who abandoned the party form AT THE BEGINNING OF THEIR ACTIVITIES for ‘the ruthless critique of all that exists’, can accomplish the theoretical work of which you speak. The work of the party, it seems to me, has always been practically oriented.

    When larger numbers came together for the purposes of elaborating a radical critique of the totality, the most successful among them, such as the situationists, did not spare themselves from the blows of their own criticism. Almost every other group that has tried to draw boundaries in the way you suggest has only devolved into spectacular relations where an elite does takes charge of the real theoretical elaborations to be passively supported by the majority (see UK Solidarity, the Parecon crew, Socialism or Barbarism, Zabalaza anarchist-communist front, et cetera ad nauseum).

    Whether the anonymous groups, such as the Invisible Committee and Crimethinc function differently is impossible to determine, primarily because they aren’t groups as such and thus can hardly serve as the focus for any PRACTICAL alliance-building, as valuable as their contributions towards radical propaganda may be.

    The fact that the situationists insisted on theoretical coherence among themselves has led to certain idiotic critics to make comparisons with Leninism, which is both inaccurate and confused. Inaccurate because even if their aims were the same as Leninist parties, their methods were not, being based on consensus and rigorously egalitarian. Confused because the aims, as averred above, were entirely antagonistic to the seizure (or reform) of state in which the Party finds its historic task.

    * * *

    I would like to suggest you take a look at a few texts relevant to your proposal. Firstly, an extract from my own text on anarchist responses to Nelson Mandealer’s death, included below.

    Secondly, Wayne Spencer’s texts ‘Towards a New Situationist International’ and ‘Why Break The Seals of Mute Despair’ from the March 2010 section of his blog significantfailure.blogspot.com

    Third, the project of comrades from Faridabad, India, called FMS Talmel, described faridabadmajdoorsamachar.blogspot.com/

    The full text from which the following extract is taken has not yet been published. It will eventually appear on my website http://www.loveletters.za.org:

    ‘If criticism is addressed to fellow fighters in ‘the struggle between the masses and the classes’, one would expect them to welcome any critical observations as a service to the further development of their own practice – observations the veracity of which they are free to accept partially or reject violently, seriously consider or completely ignore. Our passion for supersession (‘He who is not busy being born is busy dying’) demands that we continuously test our strength, re-examine the bases of our praxis, discard our weaknesses, correct errors, overcome limitations; the refusal to do so itself constitutes sufficient grounds for serious criticism. ‘It is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. But, howsoever these things are thus in men’s depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it… is the sovereign good of human nature.’ For myself, it is practical truth that excites my desire, in the sense of ‘if he is not skillful in using such a tool, he will not be able to strike true’: a necessary precondition for any effective tactical assault against the old world. ‘Time, that indissoluble matrix’, offers no refunds. Isandlwana is only captured once. The brevity of our lives, if we desire to wield our abilities to the full, drives out the possibility of self-satisfied complacency. Criticism is a gift and a duty. For those not too attached to the petty details of their own miserable existence, its reception can be a rollicking joy. Dialectical living is both necessary and gratifying. Progress demands it; pleasure proceeds from it, as fruit follows from the withered flower. It should also be said that we gain nothing by purging emotion from our criticism, and if our fellows incur our anger (on legitimate grounds – irascibility on insufficient cause plagues our ranks almost as badly as does dissimulation) this cannot be expressed in an inoffensive pseudo-objective tone. As Samotnaf said regarding a different professor: ‘a constantly renewed struggle against the “multiple” totality of one’s alien and contradictory identities is also one against the alienated 2-faceted nature of spectacular society: the exhausting repression of its constraints, and the glittering falsity of its seductions. We are partly complicit in these miseries, partly by unnecessary choice, on top of the fact that we’re unavoidably forced to repress and distort our real desires. Within the given varying margins of freedom any particular social situation allows us, this struggle develops inseparably a “nice” generous warmth and critical openness towards one’s fellow proletarians as well the “nasty” violent raging ”monster” of proletarian violence against our enemies and a usually less physical expression of this rage against the reproduction of our enemies’ attitudes amongst our friends and fellow proletarians. This is a way of defining the proletarian expression of the process of superceding the Jekyll and Hyde contradiction, of a struggle for suppressing our own “multiple identities” in the struggle for unity, for mutual recognition.’

    If, however, the people we’re dealing with are not our fellows, but merely appear to be, why should they not be personally attacked? Have the official partisans of false opposition – the professional representatives of rebellion – not proven themselves over and over again to be deadly enemies of all insurgent rebels?

    There is no royal road to revolution, but neither is there any excuse for deceptive equivocation. Whereas we here affirm two times two is four, and the Hero and His Party always claims two times two is six, the eulogies of professors and journalists assert two times two is five. It will not do. Only if you feed on a continuous outpouring of bullshit can you have your meal and eat it too. And let us not pretend that confusion, bordering on delirium, does not continually threaten to reappear in all our own struggles. ‘The problem continues to be posed — in continually more complicated terms. All conclusions remain to be drawn; everything has to be recalculated. We have to resort to other measures.’

    Written during the 2011 wave of protests against austerity measures in the UK, Wayne Spencer’s admirably lucid Season of Kisses and Sighs summed up what is at stake:

    ‘How often have we said of late (and how often have we heard others say) that what we need in this country is a revolution like those in Tunisia and Egypt? But they are only words. We avow in easy abstraction the need for revolution yet we do precisely nothing about it. We can barely conceive of an autonomous project on such a scale. Our capacity to think and act by and for ourselves, to step beyond this society’s cowering norms, is undernourished to the point of starvation. Well, we shall just have to create what we need. We might begin by bringing to the practical project of revolution at least as much time, effort and passion as we have been wont to lavish on our jobs, families, pastimes and vacations. We might also develop the habit of viewing and treating our enemies as enemies.’

    Besides the brutal honesty demanded of all true human intimacy, one of the basic necessities in the struggle for mutual recognition is the good will necessary for persistence through the inevitable miscommunications. It might well be, for example, that Pithouse [one of those whose response to Mandealer’s death I impolitely attack] did not intend to communicate what I have taken him to task for. If, in any disagreement, there are benefits in granting the strongest possible interpretation to the point of view against which we take exception – rather than imputing straw-man arguments for the easy demonstration of our own eloquence – it is also usually best to assume that people mean what they say. Nevertheless, the limitations of the written word are such that they grant a sense of finality to expressions which are, as with all human products, imperfect and unfinished, in need of emendation, qualification, incision, and so on. Even in everyday speech, it is often surprising how little people are able to understand one another. What we thought we said clearly we are called on to say again in different words. As Gertrude Stein recognised, ‘Repeating then is in every one, in every one their being and their feeling and their way of realizing everything and every one comes out of them in repeating… sometimes it takes many years of listening, seeing, living, feeling, loving the repeating there is in some before one comes to a completed understanding.’ As she notes, ‘repeating is often irritating’, both for the listener and the speaker. But we condemn ourselves to painfully avoidable misunderstandings without it. It is likewise challenging, but necessary, to acknowledge that polemics directed at repugnant expressions or practices do not equate to dismissing an individual irremediably (although, if merited by the situation, such an eventuality is of course possible). The disagreements of close friends, family and lovers are frequently full of passion; only in the inconsequential situations to which most ‘public life’ has been reduced are the inhibitions of ‘polite society’ at all beneficial – inhibitions which developed during an historical epoch, now long gone, where interpersonal relations were bounded within autonomous groups among which violence was always potential: courtly courtesy (remnants of which remain among the phenomena of love, sex and marriage in many South African folk traditions which would strike a feudal-era European as very aristocratic) between strangers of different groups was an essential deterrent to bloodshed. There is an argument to be made for some modern adaptation of old-school courtesy as a corrective to intra-class violence among proletarians who suffer all the demoralisation of a domination which atomises individuals into autonomous communities-of-one where self-interest expresses itself in terms of ‘each man for himself’ far more than ever before. Like all such adaptations, though, it will have to be thoroughly critical about aspects of past practices which are no longer useful in present conditions, just as a related measure, the adaptation of conflict-resolution practices derived from South African folk-traditions would have to emphasise the traditionally democratic dialogue of the assembly form, the place of free discussion among all affected parties, the focus on restorative rather than retributive justice and the interdependent context of social beings recognised in the concept of ubuntu; it would have to radically de-emphasise to the point of extirpation the traditionally hierarchical control of the facilitator, whose role was vested (subject to traditional qualifications, checks and balances eroded by integration into the colonial mode of rule) in ‘tribal authorities’ whose neo-colonial function today remains oppressive to all women and almost all men – that the inventors of the ‘people’s courts’ which arose in South Africa during the struggles of the 1980s were unwilling and/or unable to make such judicious adaptations allowed the counter-productive authoritarian aspects led to triumph while the highly-pertinent restorative aspects fell by the wayside, an unfortunate development which led to the failure of this initiative. In any case, polite propriety is desperately inappropriate when addressing matters of such consequence as the revolutionary transformation of reality, or the oppression suffered by women such under the domination of religious patriarchy, whether it calls itself Islamic – such as my mother and her sisters who came of age within the conservative, working-class area of Salt River in Cape Town during violent social upheavals of the 1970s (classified by the state as ‘Cape Malay’ under the Group Areas Act) or their sisters in Iran who fought together with their men against both Shah Pahlavi’s monarchy and Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocracy during the revolution of 1979* – or Christian – such as Eve Libertine whose 1978 song Reality Asylum expressed the reality of her experience under the domination of Anglican England in a form appropriate to its content:

    ‘I vomit for you, Jesu. Christi-Christus. Puke upon your papal throne. I have suffered for you, where you have never known me. I too must die. Will you be shadowed in the arrogance of my death? The cross is the virgin body of womanhood that you defile. In your guilt, you turn your back, nailed to that body. Lamearse Jesus calls me sister! There are no words for my contempt! Every woman is a cross in his filthy theology! He turns his back on me in his fear. His vain delight is the pain I bear. Alone he hangs, his choice, his choice. He hangs upon his cross in self-righteous judgment, hangs in crucified delight, nailed to the extent of his vision. His cross, his manhood, his violence, guilt, sin. He would nail my body upon his cross, as if I might have waited for him in the garden, as if I might have perfumed his body, washed those bloody feet? This woman that he seeks, suicide visionary, death reveller, rapist, grave-digger, earth-mover, life-fucker. He shares nothing, this Christ; sterile, impotent, fuck-love prophet of death. He is the ultimate pornography.’

    Self-censorship of such expressions to toned-down ersatz can only do violence to the reality. In the narrow realm – known as ‘private life’ – where people are permitted to come together for the purposes of consequential action, the discussion is not limited to the respectful sharing of feelings; disputes are not papered over by politically correct restraint. Because of the fund of good will developed during times of bonding, participants in these interactions are able to overcome this and reach a new understanding. When relating to strangers, as is necessary whenever people come together to participate in the common project of revolutionary change, it is necessary to draw on this same good will, developed during difficult practice, to overcome the challenges to mutual recognition, edification, and so on.’

    *The suppressed proletarian content of this revolution, which began to move towards the development of forms appropriate to itself with the creation of the short-lived shoras (worker’s councils) and had a significant impact at the time on those the adoption by those who had been classified as ‘Coloured’ and ‘Cape Malay’ of a combative attitude towards the apartheid regime. Before the revolution it was common among the women of my family, and the larger community as well it would seem, to adopt a ‘white’ or westernised version of their full name by which they would be colloquially known. My grandmother Amina, for example, had the nickname Minnie. This practise changed during the 70s and 80s, just as during the same period those in the townships, influenced by Black Consciousness, repudiated their ‘christian’ or western name which parents gave to their children for the convenience of white bosses and state officials who could not be bothered to learn how to pronounce traditional african names. It is not insignificant that at this time the ‘coloureds’ of my mother’s generation were also beginning to repudiate this classification which divided them from other ‘Non-whites’ in favour of the black identity of their own creation, which united them theoretically as well as practically with those classified as ‘Bantu’ and ‘Indian’. My aunt reckons that the Iranian Revolution was a big influence on the changed attitude towards the transformation of their self-image among muslims in Cape Town.

    1. A more substantial response soon.

      For now: I don’t think there’s a single definition of “The Party” in Tiqqun, which makes it difficult. I’m generally fine with their shallow definition, which I take to be ‘the sum of all of those people confronting Empire.’ The power of that definition is largely conceptual and not organizational. To build the party in that context is to create/extend the conditions for those who are alienated to express their frustration in a destructive, confrontational way. How to undertake such an act remains fairly vague. More substantial definitions, such as “creating zones of offensive opacity” have a lot more built in (who? how? for what purpose?) that I’m less certain about.

      What are your thoughts?

      1. Some thoughts from not-max:
        It’d be hard to think through Tiqqun’s idea of ‘the party’ without also thinking through their use of the ‘war machine’ and the ‘plane of consistency,’ both concepts borrowed from D&G.

        In response to your above comment, I feel the need to insist on a positivity inherent in the party not because it seems like you’ve missed it (“to create/extend the conditions”) but because I worry it might be lost in the insistence on destruction (“express their *frustration* in a *destructive, confrontational* way”). First, one of the most crucial points to keep in mind is that the primary aspect of the war machine is not in fact war (TiNaP). Second, the practice of building the party is the elaboration of the positivity necessary to actually make a break from Empire. (Call, tinap; “The offensive power of the Party comes from the fact that it is also a power of production, but that within it, the relationships are just incidentally relationships of production.”)

        This all makes sense to me only via an ontological shift from the liberal subject and/or its corollary in the ‘collective’, to Nietzschean will(s) to power. In this context, people who come into conflict with the forces of order (Empire, the state, the West, whatever) are either doing so from the position of a reactive force — e.g. “nihilist” anarchists, “negationists”, who end up being the loyal opposition as their negativity is reified into a positive militant subject — or from the position of an active force. This latter position means that we’re building communism (or whatever you wanna call your positivity), and in so doing, i.e. secondarily, we’re coming into conflict with forces who are attempting to prevent the realization of communism.

        This shift makes me worried about the notion of alliance, because I have trouble thinking ‘alliance’ as anything but a relation between liberal subjects/entities. On the other hand, what could be interesting about ‘alliance’ is an insistence on something below or before an emphasis on form, which is usually the place where notions of the party and other sorts of organization go wrong. Either way, we have to think not only about our ability to correctly articulate what we mean and what we want, but also about how people will receive it — and the notion of alliance is pretty damn entrenched in liberalism and identity politics. The importance of ‘the plane of consistency’ comes in here, as a plane distinct from ‘the plane of organization/development’ populated by forms and subjects (1k Plateaus). (Of course, this is coming from someone who does talk about ‘the party.’)

  2. “The party” seems to involve a provisional acknowledgement of contestation in all of it’s forms. Whatever does not contest the present, is not of the party. Provisionality evaporates when hierarchies form, including when elements of the party intrude as hierarchies. The legacy of “revolutionary organizing,”, and the basis of the “historical party form,” seems to have been the impetus for trying to re-imagine the party. While I am not sure if ‘Zoos’ and destructive confrontation as strategies are strong influences across the two volume collective work in Tiqqun, from my reading at least it does appear as if some of the bathwater can be thrown out, while elements still showing a pulse can be spared. Questions around the valorization of work that pedestals the worker as a revolutionary agent, who first and foremost neglects to take up the struggle against their own desires within the overall machinery of desire, are more interesting ones to contemplate in trying to determine what is practical, how we define the practical, and to what end the practicalities are dedicated toward.

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