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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.