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March 15, 1975: On Splits Printer Friendly Version

On Splits

James Herod
December 1972, March 1975

  Can the minority split? The very idea that the minority can split from the will of the majority is for the most part an illusion. In the vast majority of cases the minority has no choice but to go along with the majority. There is only so much money and it has to be spent one way or the other. There isn't enough, except in rare and special cases, to spend it two ways at once even in the cases where that is technically possible. So in real life, if the majority were really in power, there would be no question of the minority splitting on most decisions taken, on, say, what to produce and how much. Under certain circumstances the minority could sabotage the decision or perhaps start a civil war to overthrow the majority by force, but there could be no question of it splitting and doing its own thing within the framework of a proletarian democracy where the majority ruled. The illusion that you can split and do your own thing arises only because we live in a capitalist, market society where the big decisions are made by the ruling class, and separate individuals are then free, within that framework, to do their own thing, i.e., they can choose between Coke and Pepsi.

  But there are still enormous complexities involved. See my other notes on this. For example, and this is the question that comes up again and again, what if the majority is reactionary? First of all, we have to distinguish between the majority of a sub-group (e.g., commune, organization, party) within capitalism, and the majority that would exist as an actual wielder of societal power under proletarian democracy. The two cases are very different. There are very good reasons for splitting with a sub-group within capitalism, and it is possible, because the whole society, the `mass' part of it, that is, is organized on an atomized basis, whereas this would not be as possible in a real democracy. But secondly, the question must be raised once again about the meaning of `reactionary.' Reactionary can only mean a course of action or a decision or policy which is based on a principle of do-your-own-thing, i.e., an anti-democratic, individualistic policy (or conversely an authoritarian, coercive, anti-democratic, hierarchical, anti-egalitarian, elitist policy (do-it-my-way) – these are two sides of the same coin – both destroy a group's capacity for functioning as a collective. This is true both of the sub-groups under capitalism and the real majority under socialism. The only valid justification for splitting with the proletarian majority after the revolution would be if it took decisions which would lead back to capitalism, i.e., decisions based on either the principle of individualism (liberalism) or authoritarianism (tyranny), i.e., anti-democratic decisions. Any decision or trend or pattern of decisions and actions functioning to destroy the hegemony of the proletarian majority and its capacity to function collectively and democratically (self-government) are reactionary. (December, 1972)


  Is it true, as I have tended to think in recent years, that the question of splits gets resolved in the dynamic of struggles for councils at the workplace, and in a dialectical view of the relationship between the majority and minority in those struggles (i.e., one which realizes that there is only agreement and disagreement, not truth and error)?

  Splits arise because disagreements emerge and because in several common situations splitting is a way of dealing with the disagreement. Couples can divorce. Friends can go their own ways. Communes can disintegrate and breakup. Individuals and splinter groups can simply withdraw from voluntary organizations if disagreement with the prevailing policy (regardless of whether this policy is set by an elite or by the majority) becomes too severe. In all these situations splitting is a relatively easy thing. The relationships are simply terminated and people stop seeing each other. Social space is sufficiently large in the contemporary nation-state to make this possible. Or, if these persons do continue to see each other, they are not involved together as a decision-making unit. This is the crucial thing. They no longer attempt to forge common policy.

  Splits on the national level, that is, civil war, are very much more difficult and hence quite rare. From one point of view a civil war is an attempt by one faction to withdraw from the decision-making unit, so that policy no longer need be formulated jointly, but rather can be formulated separately, independently, by each faction alone.

  Is the situation at the workplace qualitatively different? Is there anywhere to split to? It is of course true that any individual or even a group of individuals can leave the firm and go elsewhere. And some improvement might be found in this way. You leave a company with low wages and backward personnel policies and go to work for one with good wages and enlightened personnel policies, if you can find one. For executives and high level bureaucrats, resignation can even have a political impact under certain circumstances. For the average worker however resigning does not exist as a meaningful tactic and changing jobs is, in the last analysis, no answer to the problem at all. There is no escape from wage-slavery along that route (unless you become a capitalist, but this is no longer an option for the vast majority).

  In short, when it comes to disagreement over wage-slavery, there is nowhere to split to. There is no way to disentangle oneself from this relationship by simply separating oneself physically from a given number of individuals. There is no social space to withdraw into. Capital/wageslavery spans the entire society. The struggle therefore to dissolve this particular policy unit resembles that of a civil war. Workers seek to withdraw from the unit (by overthrowing and defeating the other faction – the capitalists). The split with capitalists is the revolution itself. It is clear that there is no way to disengage from capitalists without overthrowing them. You can't get a divorce, move to another town, join a different commune, leave the party, or resign. You are stuck in the unit – as the order-taker half of the policy unit – until the relationship itself can be overthrown on a societal level.

  But all this so far concerns the split with capitalists, whereas the problem of splits at the workplace more frequently refers to splits among workers themselves over strategy for dealing with the capitalists. This is what I want to get at. The fact that there is nowhere to split to vis a vis capitalists also has a bearing on splits among the workers. Should radicals, for example, form a separate caucus? If a council is achieved what do radicals do if out voted by a conservative majority – go along with majority rule or bolt? Should a militant minority attempt to occupy a factory for example even though a majority of the workers are against it? (If there is no council, however, and hence no vote, how do we know for sure that the majority is against it?)

  These are the questions that have to be answered. But get it straight. We are dealing with the pre-council situation. Everything would be different if policy were set by the council, rather than management. The post-council situation is very different from the pre-council situation. Nevertheless, the probable dynamic between the majority and minority in the council situation has a bearing on pre-council struggles and strategies. So lets review that situation first.... (Unfinished) (March, 1975)