[Prefatory Note, April, 2007: I suspect that this book was the first (and remains one of the few) critiques of identity politics, although we didn't call it that then. We certainly didn't expect that the politics of our opponents in this split would go on to become the hegemonic politics dominating the left in the United States for the rest of the century. We thought that a new anti-capitalist working class movement was going to spring up. But it didn't. Instead we got forty years of counter-revolution. The US left got a brief respite from identity politics in the late 1990s (I thought it was finally gone), with the strong re-emergence of class struggle anarchism, but then identity politics surged back under the new name of "anti-oppression" work. It has been one of the main forces preventing the emergence of an effective anti-capitalist struggle these past decades. It is a horribly flawed politics. On another matter, community organizing, I think I was right to oppose it then. It was another way of sweeping class struggle and the working class under the rug. Plus it was linked in important ways to the drop out culture that permeated the New Left. But later, when I shifted away from orthodox anarcho-syndicalism and an exclusive focus on the workplace, community control came back into my political orientation, but in a radical way, in the form of neighborhood assemblies whose decision-making powers trump those of any given workplace. On sectarianism, my treatment of it here was inadequate. I finally did come to understand it, I believe, and I wrote this up in Chapter Four of my book, How Do We Get There? Anyway, other than these several qualifications, I'm still rather proud of this book. It's when I became a "third road" radical – that is, neither individualistic nor authoritarian – an outlook that informed my work from then on.]
Coming To Terms With The New Left
The Split at the Liberated Guardian and Its Larger Significance
Dedicated to the mutilated men
of Manhattan's lower east side
Table of Contents
A Note on the Texts
2. Background to the Split
3. What the Fight was All About
4. Some Aspects of the New Left's Anti-Class Bias
a. Is the movement dead?
b. Is the West in crisis, portending a renewal of radical workers struggles?
c. Is imperialism or capitalism the problem?
d. Will the U.S. working class have to take a cut in its standard of living after the revolution?
e. Can you make a revolution without the working class?
f. Where will the revolution take place?
g. Which takes priority, community organizing or struggles at the workplace?
h. Who is in the working class?
i. Is the New Left petty bourgeois?
j. Are race, sex, and class similar forms of oppression?
k. Who is sectarian?
5. How These Political Differences Got Worked Out in the Group Process
6. Why We Lost
7. Where We Go From Here
Postscript: What Kind of Working Class Politics?
A Note on the Texts
The main body of the book (Chapters 1-4) was written between December 12 and 18, 1971, during the week immediately following the split of December 11, with the exception of the section on sectarianism which was added a week or so later. Chapters 5-7 were drafted and composed during the first week after the split but were only written down in final form some weeks later. The `Forewarning' is based on a two page interpretation of the split written and read at a meeting of our side on Saturday evening, December 18. It was revised and expanded slightly and attached to the main essay on January 8, 1972. Also at that time, the essay on `What Kind of Working Class Politics?', written on January 5th and 6th (with several sentences added a week or so later), was added as a Postscript with a note introducing it. Thus the work is presented here as it stood then. I am also including here, however, two postmortems written on December 31, 1971 and February 16, 1972 respectively. The main essay was written in six days, virtually off the top of my head, and I hope it will be judged in that light.
In preparing the manuscripts for final typing I have made the following changes: (1) In several instances I had used the term vanguard partyism in reference to New Left strategy as well as to the Old Left. I changed this to vanguard movementism since New Left strategy never involved a party per se, although it was vanguardist. (2) Similarly, in two or three places I had attributed the tactic of mobilizing a mass base to the New Left. This was incorrect and these phrases were deleted. (3) In a couple of instances I changed the term `white working class' to read simply `working class' since although the working class was perceived by our opponents in the split primarily as white, they didn't actually use this term explicitly. (4) In one case I changed the term labor to labor-power. (5) In listing the categories of the petty bourgeoisie I dropped `top university professors' and added `recipients of royalty payments'. (6) The sloganeering phrases at the end of `Why We Lost' had been repeated at the end of the `Forewarning', and these were deleted since it seemed cruel to burden the reader with them twice. (7) Two additions inked into the manuscript shortly after it was first typed were incorporated: `young-old' was added to the list of divisions in the working class, and a sentence about New Left groups actually going into business for themselves was added to the section on the petty bourgeoisie. (8) I added four sentences on the internal dynamics of the split to the `Forewarning' from another working paper written on the same day, January 8, 1972. (9) I restored two paragraphs to the section on racism from a working paper on racism written three days before the split and from which that section had been originally put together (abridged, revised). (10) I added about five clarifying phrases to the postmortems since these were incoherent and misleading in spots, having been written hastily and never edited.
Beyond these few substantive revisions other changes were limited to those improving readability and style, namely: eliminating the excessive use of quotation marks and italics, breaking up sentences, putting some parenthetical asides in footnotes and vice versa, rearranging word order, spelling out most numerical expressions, and slight shifts in phrasing.
None of these changes adds up to very much. I have listed them only in order to establish the integrity of the text. I have not revised it to conform to my present views, which of course would have rendered it unintelligible, since these views differ in several major ways and numerous minor ones from those expressed in this work. A long preface would be needed to explain my current positions on the many issues debated in the split as well as on the meaning and dynamics of the split itself and my role in it. Perhaps someday the time, energy, and will needed to write such a preface will be available, but they are not on hand now. (April, 1976)
The interpretation of the split at the Liberated Guardian contained in the main body of this essay, beginning with the `Introduction' and ending with `Where Do We Go From Here', does not represent my present view of these events. This is the view I held before I was forced to a totally different interpretation by the internal dynamics within our own group, our side, during the week following the walkout. The ultimate view that I arrived at is expressed in brief in this forewarning and some of the issues raised are discussed at greater length in the `Postscript'.
Nevertheless, at least one part of the old account still possesses considerable merit and validity – the critique of the vanguard movementism and anti-working class politics (these are synonymous) of the New Left, especially as found in the section on `Some Aspects of the New Left's Anti-Class Bias'.
The split at the Liberated Guardian was a fight between a liberal and pluralist New Left, a New Left rooted in a primarily university educated, well-to-do, and petty bourgeois sector of the society, and a new brand of the sectarian Old Left,(1) an Old Left also rooted in the university-educated, well-to-do, and petty bourgeois elements of the society, elements strongly wedded to the roles of leadership and organizing so traditionally assumed by the petty bourgeois elements in our society, whether in organizing the community to meet a natural disaster or in organizing the working class to make a revolution. Thus this split was not a revolutionary one. It was essentially a split between the liberal vanguard movementism of the New Left and the sectarian vanguard partyism of the Old Left. Both sides are equally elitist and equally destructive to the job of making a proletarian revolution. The one reflects a politics of pluralism. The other reflects a politics of condescension.
Both factions in the split also carried with them a style of operating and a style of personal relations that are deeply rooted in their respective petty bourgeois politics. On the one side there are the come-one-come all, free-wheeling, do-your-own-thing, sensitivity group New Left pluralists. On the other side there are the tightly-knit, disciplined, sectarian, up-tight Old Left organizers. But both sides like to keep their politics implicit rather than explicit, denying that there is any relationship between their styles of operating and their politics. Both sides tenaciously resist any attempt to bring their implicit politics into the open. All challenges to the political positions that they hold are fiercely resisted and the people making the challenges are defined as political enemies and dealt with with a variety of tactics ranging from parliamentary maneuvering to ridicule to purge. Both sides, when confronted with challenges to their positions begin to put great stress on harmonious group relations, group unity, and smoothing over conflicts. Both sides are strongly inclined to practice a politics of serving the people.
The pluralist New Left side of the split saw the fight primarily in terms of personality. They were opposed to what they considered the heavy-handed manipulation of several people on the other side. The sectarian Old Left side of the split saw the fight in terms of class. They were opposed to the consistent anti-working class politics clearly apparent in the entire political analysis of the other side.
These poles in the split only define its outer limits – the position of at least one strong person on each side who led or helped lead the political battle. There were all sorts of positions occupied by people in between, people who were not deeply wed to either of the clearly articulated positions of the key figures, people who had only a very confused idea of what was going on, and people who had naive or incorrect assessments of the dynamics of the fight. Nevertheless, with only one or two qualifications, both sides functioned as a sort of team and the split was a clean one in that nine people left and seven people stayed. This was possible because of the inegalitarian structure of relationships within each faction, that is, because of the deeply embedded patterns of dominance and passivity (leaders/followers) on each side. Neither side functioned in a really egalitarian way. Moreover, our side was probably more tightly knit than theirs since most people on our side were friends and allies of long standing. Their side was composed of several different groupings of people and the fight was led essentially by one dominant person with strong backing from one or two others. It is easy to see then how many of the people on their side might have perceived our side as a united block against the rest of the group, seeing the strong leader on their side merely as someone who was resisting this, and in this way might have believed that the central issue was manipulation rather than a struggle between the two conflicting political positions being articulated by the two sides.
I participated in the split on the side of the sectarian Old Left because I was against the liberal, pluralist, and anti-working class politics of the other side. But more importantly, I was on the Old Left side of the split because I did not fully understand what was happening at the time, although there were numerous indications, at least in retrospect. I hadn't realized that one of the key figures on our side was in fact Old Left. During the fight I thought the battle was for an egalitarian strategy against a vanguard strategy. It was only after the split, during the week of meetings of our side that followed, that it became clear to me that my conception of the working class politics that we had fought for was very different than that of some other people in the group, and different than one person's in particular. This person's politics, I became convinced, turned out to be Old Left politics – elitist, anti-intellectual, sectarian; the politics of tutoring, condescension, and organizing; in short, vanguard partyism. This fact seriously compromises some parts of the interpretation of the split presented below since elements of this person's style can no longer be regarded merely as unfortunate personality characteristics which functioned in this fight simply as tactical errors, as I do below in the section `Why We Lost', but must be seen instead as a reflection of a deeply rooted politics. To the extent that this key person was seen as representing the politics of our side the charges of sectarianism and elitism directed against us were therefore valid and not merely a false issue used by the other side to secure the predominance of their own political views.
I later discovered moreover that this person represented our side's politics fairly accurately and not erroneously as I had first thought. It was only my politics that were not reflected accurately. The other four people in the group also disagreed with my stress on an egalitarian strategy. One said that my view of the revolution was preposterous. Another said that the idea of an egalitarian strategy and an egalitarian society was utopian. Still another said that it was a natural part of human life for some people to be leaders. Only one person felt that the question of vanguardism was an important one deserving much further study. This person also expressed serious reservations however that the outcome of such a study would bring agreement on the question. The other side was right therefore to oppose most of the politics they felt coming from our side, although they did it for only half-right reasons. I think their opposition was probably rooted in the anti-authoritarianism buried amidst their anti-working class politics. I agree with the first but disagree with the second. I think an egalitarian politics and a working class politics are synonymous. Their egalitarianism is still a petty bourgeois egalitarianism, and therefore still elitist vis-à-vis the working class.
After the split I realized with considerable dismay that the battle I thought I had fought was not in fact the one I did fight and that the struggle for political unity had to begin all over again. I am opposed to vanguard partyism. I will fight only in a thoroughly egalitarian revolution aimed at a thoroughly egalitarian society. All history proves that the organizers of today are the prison keepers of tomorrow. (January 8, 1972)
I have just lived through one of the more instructive political experiences of my life so far and I want to try to get it down on paper before it fades. I have had other such experiences in the past, experiences like the revolt at Columbia University in 1968, my trip to Cuba in 1969, the second General Assembly of the Committee of Returned Volunteers in June 1970, and the Cambodia/Kent State student strike, but I have usually postponed writing them up. As a result I have a whole backlog of things to write up and to finish analyzing. This means that I have not been getting the full value out of the political struggles that I have been engaged in. I haven't been learning in full the lessons they contain. This is not just a question of the record either but a question of achieving a full consciousness of what is going on. We will never win by accident. We have to know what we're doing.
The struggle at the Liberated Guardian, which has just ended with the defeat of our side and the paper being taken over by the other side, was perhaps unique in my own experience in that the issues at stake were so crystal clear to me almost from the very beginning but certainly so by the time the fight was over. Our own discussions following the split clarified a host of other issues as well. I feel like a huge fog has just lifted or like someone has just cleaned a very dirty windshield so that it is possible to see out clearly for the first time.
The fight at the Liberated Guardian came at the end of a longer period of reassessment and rethinking that I had been engaged in for some time, like a lot of other people I suppose. This probably dates all the way back to April 15, 1970, to the spring anti-war march in New York City, when I first had the very strong impression that the New Left was dead. My feeling at that time was that the movement had clearly come to an impasse and that nobody knew where to go next. We didn't have a strategy. Nothing we had tried had worked and we couldn't seem to generate a new sense of direction or any forward motion at all. People were beginning to drift away from the movement in droves, back into their usual pursuits in the university or elsewhere.
But in more recent terms, the reassessment dates from my moving to Boston at the end of August, 1971. It was that whole experience of getting out of New York and living and working in another city, plus the reading and writing I did there on a critique of the vanguard party strategy, plus my strong reaction to the events at the Telos conference last month, plus the intense political struggle at the paper over the past five weeks (and this experience growing out of more than a year of association with the paper), it was all of these things together that led to a rather pronounced change in my understanding of things. In particular, and most importantly, the whole problem of the vanguard strategy seems to be resolved for the first time and a clear alternative to it is now visible. This is closely related to a critical clarification of the nature of the class structure of the United States and of the social origins of the New Left, which also can be understood now in class terms for the very first time.
These insights have not emerged in a historical vacuum of course, not just from having moved to a different city, read a couple of books, attended a conference, or lived through a split in a newspaper. A lot of other things have been happening as well. Major changes have been taking place in the society at large. It is widely recognized that the postwar prosperity has come to an end and that an economic squeeze is on. Competition between the advanced capitalist countries is getting more intense and the capitalist monetary system is in chronic crisis. The United States has even instituted for the first time an incomes policy in an attempt to force the working class to pay for the crisis and thereby keep profit levels up. And so forth. Moreover, with the emergence of militant workers struggles in France and Italy in 1968 and after, it is clear that revolution is once again on the agenda in the West.
But as far as the Left in this country goes, I have felt for a long time now that the movement died, and I have been searching in vain for an explanation of this. Usually I have tended to locate the failure of the New Left in its inability to project a clear and positive image of the structure of the egalitarian society it wanted to create and to its failure to devise a strategy for getting there. Consequently, for one long period I focused in my theoretical work on the problem of the goal, on the difficult question of the nature of democratic socialism and on what the structure of a socialist society would look like. That period more or less came to an end in November 1970 right before the People's Constitutional Convention in Washington, D.C., when I completed a Draft Constitution for our Post-Revolutionary Society, which more or less solved to my satisfaction the major questions. Although the theoretical foundations for this work haven't been written up yet, all the elements are in hand and only need to be worked up. During the year or so since then I have concentrated on the strategy question, the solution to which has finally jelled out in the events and period I am presently describing in the form of a critique of vanguard partyism (elitism) in the Left and the development of an alternative strategy, or at least the preliminary outlines of one.
I was never really happy with this formulation of the failure of the New Left however. Aside from the obvious repression that was hurting the Left, as everyone readily acknowledged, it never seemed enough to say that the New Left fell apart because it lacked a clear goal and a clear strategy, because that defined the problem purely as an intellectual failure. I think that not having a clear goal or strategy has been a critical failure. But there has to be more to it. This intellectual failure has to be seen in social terms, in class terms, as a product of the position of the New Left in the class structure of the United States. And besides, it is not even really true that the New Left hasn't had a goal or a strategy, as I have learned during the past five weeks. It is more accurate to say that the strategy of the New Left has been so foreign to my own way of thinking that I hadn't even really perceived it or considered it as a serious possibility, hadn't even put it on the agenda as a realistic option or as something that might work. But my exposure to a very brilliant articulation of the political analysis of the ``revolutionary'' wing of the New Left of the sixties during the recent fight at the LG and to an even more brilliantly waged fight to defend that analysis has been a real eye opener for me and has led to a completely new understanding of the New Left as it has been constituted so far. It seems I never really understood the New Left at all or its political analysis until now even though I have considered myself a part of it all along, and have been a part of it if work and participation and commitment are of any count.(2)
I believe that the nature of the split at the Liberated Guardian gives it a significance far beyond the narrow limits of the paper itself. In many ways it reflects very precisely the larger crisis of the Left as a whole. Moreover, the clear and principled way in which the conflict was joined and fought out made it possible to really get at the issues and to uncover the roots of the conflict. The split contains lessons therefore of urgent importance for the entire revolutionary movement. This is why I want to try to describe what happened and what the fight was about and what our side thought about it before it becomes fuzzy with the passage of time, not that I am worried about ever forgetting it, of course. One never forgets lessons like this.
Background to the Split
It is perhaps necessary to give some background to the split even though it will be impossible to recount in any detail the history of the origin of the paper and its development over the full year and a half of its existence. As you may already know the Liberated Guardian was itself a split-off from the old, national Guardian (the independent radical weekly). When that split occurred in April 1970 the group that walked out and established the Liberated Guardian had several main complaints against the old Guardian. They felt it was isolated and remote from the movement. They felt that it hued to a dogmatic and sectarian Marxist-Leninist line. They felt that it therefore assumed an elitist role in the movement, seeking to impose its line on a struggle that it was hardly even participating in. They felt that it consequently acted as a drag on the growth of the revolutionary left and was in fact reformist. Finally, they felt that the internal organization of the paper reflected all these things through a rigid division of labor with the Marxists-Leninists at the top in tight control of editorial policy and the movement dirt workers (predominantly women) at the bottom. So they walked out. They were accused of being anarchists, adventurists, and counter-revolutionary terrorists.
At first glance the present split within the split has many of these same features. Our side was also accused of wanting to adhere to a rigid class analysis and of being sectarian. Moreover, the group that walked out defined the central issues as sexism, the domination of three men and one woman over the rest of the group,(3) and elitism, in that they claimed we wanted to impose our views on them and the rest of the movement (although they also sought to use the paper in an aggressive way as a tool to help make the revolution as they pictured it). I believe, obviously, that their interpretation of the split is not true, but that, on the contrary, it is one further reflection, naturally, of their own political orientation. But I also believe that the charges against the old Guardian in the first split were very valid. The old Guardian was dogmatic, elitist, reformist, manipulative, and oppressive. A full explanation of this apparent contradiction can only be developed as we proceed in our account, particularly in the section below on `Some Aspects of the New Left's Anti-Class Bias', were the various political differences between our two groups are aired.
But to put it briefly, it seems to me that careful examination of these two splits will show that they are in fact typical of the two general types of splits that have taken place throughout the past decade of left-wing history in the continuing effort to bring into being a truly revolutionary left. One split is against a deeply entrenched, reformist, and sectarian Old Left. The other split is against an equally entrenched, liberal, and pluralist New Left, a New Left that has been successfully contained within a very narrow sector of the society (primarily university-educated and relatively well-to-do) and which perhaps even has fairly close links with the ruling class but is certainly deeply rooted in the petty bourgeoisie, especially in terms of its class orientation but also in its actual class position, to a degree never suspected before in quite these terms. I am not prepared at this point to give a class analysis of the reformism of the Old Left, but an examination of the origin and position of the New Left in the class structure of the United States will be one of the underlying themes of the rest of this discussion, especially as this has influenced the organizational tendencies, political philosophy, and personal styles of movement people.
The first thing that became apparent after the split with the old Guardian was that the new group contained just about as many different tendencies as did the larger movement itself. There was very little basis for political unity. This fact had a very strong impact on the way developments at the new paper unfolded. It is impossible to sort out all of these tendencies now, but surely one of the main divisions within the new group was between the `t-group freaks' and the `politicos', the notorious personal/political split. One group of people was first and foremost interested in achieving harmonious personal relations within the collective and only secondarily interested in putting out a newspaper or fighting through political issues. In fact they were willing to sacrifice the latter if progress could not be made toward ``becoming more human.'' (This is how the issue was formulated at that time. Now it is possible to see it in a very different light.)
This whole issue was enormously complicated because one of the strongest people on the politico side was in fact extremely closed to any kind of consideration of personal relations, always tending to see these discussions in political terms as expressions of a power play (as indeed they often were), and was extremely defensive about confronting any personal shortcoming. This defensiveness was combined with a strong tendency to condescend toward other people, and even at times to redefine close friends and allies as political enemies if even a little pressure was brought to bear on some sensitive aspect of this person's personality. At the other extreme, on the other side (the t-group side) there was a person who was probably equally defensive and incapable of looking inward or developing any real self-awareness but whose response was to smooth these conflicts over (rather than to accentuate them) and to deny that they had any political meaning whatsoever. So in this sense issues of personality and style were an element throughout the history of the paper and had a big impact on its political development.
Numerous other things also divided the group. People had different attitudes toward a whole range of issues, everything from youth culture to the underground, to electoral politics, to mass rallies in Washington, to pacifism, to the working class, to seizing state power, to Third World struggles.
As a result of all these tensions, and also because putting out a newspaper turned out to be a lot more work than many people had bargained for and demanded of them a far stronger commitment than they were willing to make, the collective had already dwindled away by the end of the first five months to four people who were strongly loyal to the project and committed to keeping the paper alive. In addition there were two or three other people who were fairly loyal to the paper but who were in practice in again and out again. There was also a fairly large group of support people who helped from time to time to do some of the work but who were not in any sense really a part of the collective, by their own choosing.
These four people, who formed the core of the collective which put out the Liberated Guardian from September 1970 to July 1971 were not politically united any more than the larger group had been. It was never clear why however. It was impossible to pinpoint the conflict or to formulate a coherent statement, especially in political terms, of the differences that divided the four people in the core group. It is only now, after the intense debates and struggles of the last several weeks, that a clear statement of the political split that was there all along can finally be formulated. But during all of last year, and in fact from the very beginning of the paper, these differences remained implicit rather than becoming explicit. That's one reason (but only one) why they could never be dealt with. Part of what I will be trying to do in coming pages is to analyze exactly why the split remained implicit for so long, because this simple fact also has rather important political implications. The obstinate resistance on one side of the split to bringing the conflict into the open, and the defensive passivity on the other side of the split when faced with such resistance, both have deep roots in the social make-up of the New Left. In a way, this resistance, and the passivity in the face of it, defines, in attitudinal terms, the present crisis of the Left. But the real significance of this cannot be grasped until the political dimensions of the conflict are spelled out and thoroughly analyzed, especially the class dimensions of the conflict.
By late spring, 1971, and after many, many efforts to establish the paper on a firmer political foundation, it was clear to almost everyone close to the paper that something had to change. The paper could not continue to function as it had in the past. This need for a new direction was felt by two of the core people especially, but also by others. Consequently, it was decided that the publishing schedule would be cut back during the summer so that people in the collective could travel around the country to try to get a sense of where things stood, and in the light of this, where the paper should be going (or if should even continue to exist). Two of the core group were going to travel during the first part of the summer and the other two during the second part.
This brings us to the immediate background of the crisis that has just unfolded. Two of the core people who traveled during the early summer (which also reflected one side of the split in the core collective as it turned out) returned from their travels fairly disturbed. A third person in the core group (on the other side of the implicit split) decided to leave the paper in July. The fourth person, also on the other side of the split, did travel and returned to New York in the first or second week in September. The first two returned from their trip disturbed because they had developed a feeling that really important shifts were taking place in the country, but that the movement didn't seem to be in very close touch with these shifts. Also, however, the movement seemed in disarray everywhere. In nearly every city small groups still existed which were desperately hanging on to their community newspapers, bookstores, clinics, or whatever project they had set up. But these groups seemed pathetically isolated. As a result of all these new impressions the LG people (the first two) didn't know what to do about the paper, whether or not to hang on to it, and if so, what it should do or be. They were so uncertain about things that they decided not to put out the August issue, but rather to wait for a while and see if things could be straightened out, or see what could be done to make a new start at the paper if that seemed desirable.
It was at this point that I went to Boston and so I have no direct knowledge of what happened from the end of August until the first week in November when I returned to participate in the weekend of discussions they had planned in an attempt to reexamine the political basis of the paper. When I returned in November, ten or fifteen new people were working on the paper in one way or another. It is within this larger, expanded collective that the split finally emerged in a conscious form. Two of the original three were on one side, the third on the other. All the new people except one were on the other side when the crunch came. Only one person of long standing association with the paper (other than the key core person from the old collective who was the backbone of the walkout) joined the walkout.(4)
What the Fight Was All About
Now we come to the crucial part. What was the fight all about? What were the issues? Why the split? It is really hard to give an account of the political dispute involved without seeing how it unfolded in the group process. But to try to intertwine the analysis of the group process with an account of the political disagreement might seriously confuse things because it is only as one disagreement after another emerged in our arguments that we began to see the other side's position as a comprehensive, coherent, and consistent political outlook, a kind of worldview, and to speculate about its meaning in terms of the social origins of the New Left. To give a blow by blow account might make it difficult to see the totality of the two opposing political analyses. Moreover it is only because we did manage to have these political arguments, only because we insisted on discussing and airing these differences (that had for so long remained implicit) on a theoretical level, and succeeded in doing so (in spite of great resistance) that it became possible to see these ostensibly personal conflicts as being rooted in and a defense of opposing political perspectives. I intend to present the political argument first therefore and then explain later how this unfolded in terms of the group dynamics within the collective. This second part will nevertheless reveal several other political dimensions (especially those concerning style and the handling of personal conflicts) of the political outlook of the other side as well as our own.
The other side's view is that the dispute was not primarily about political disagreements at all but rather about personality, meaning of course what they saw as the heavy-handed domination of some people on our side. We disputed this, time and again, not denying that we weren't being perhaps a bit staunch in order to prevent our views from being completely swamped, but insisting that the other side was using such tactics as well, even heavy-handed tactics, and precisely because there were other issues at stake that people felt very strongly about. We offered to discuss the questions of domination and manipulation many, many times as long as the manipulation on all sides was brought under review. This proposal was never accepted. They could not have been unaware therefore that we felt that the issue centered around a serious conflict in political outlooks. It is only because of the thoroughness of the exchange of views and interpretations of what was happening that we can be sure that the split was a principled one (rather than a muddled one) which reflects deep differences in political orientation. Everyone had a chance to hear all the arguments and to decide how they were going to fall out in the crunch, arguments not only about the political positions involved but also about the meaning of the group dynamics going on and about the interrelations between the two.(5)
The heart of the disagreement, I am convinced, was about class. Our analysis was based on a view of society as a class society and of the revolution as a class struggle. Theirs was not. Now they screamed and hit the ceiling whenever we made this charge. They saw themselves as also basing their position on a class analysis. The whole point after all is to overthrow the ruling class. But if you really look at what they are saying, at the concepts with which they interpret the world, at the program and strategy they advise, at what they stress and emphasize, and at their image of the revolutionary process, it becomes abundantly clear, on point after point, that the working class is completely absent from their political analysis. Not only is it absent, as if by oversight, but it is consistently and systematically absent, with astonishing regularity. The concept of working class simply has no meaning for them, and certainly not a positive meaning. They don't even have the foggiest notion of who the working class is. And they say so themselves. The working class is ignored, neglected, swept under the rug, forgotten as irrelevant, opposed as a hostile force, or humored as not yet revolutionary, but it is never seen as the one force without which a revolution against advanced capitalism can never succeed. It is never seen as the heart, the definition almost, of a revolution within capitalism, as the very meaning of such a revolution. An analysis simply cannot be considered a class analysis if there is not even a place in it for the working class. Sometimes, if pressed, in the heat of the argument, they would admit the working class to the revolution as one force among many on an equal footing with women, third world people, gays, GIs, students, guerrillas, and young people. But this only proves our claim that they do not see the revolution as a class war. And it was only when pressed that they admitted the working class to the revolution. It was soon forgotten because it was not an integral part of their worldview.
Furthermore, since the working class has no place in their analysis, and since the working class comprises the vast majority of the population, their strategy is ipso facto an elitist strategy. It is vanguardism, pure and simple. Either the revolution is not even on the agenda for them, being postponed until the so-called Third World Revolutions have won and the U.S. empire collapses, or to the extent that it is on the agenda it is to be made by `the movement'. This is another way of stating the differences between our two positions therefore: it was a fight for an egalitarian strategy against a vanguard strategy.
To the extent that this anti-working class analysis is typical of large sectors of the New Left it means that much of New Left strategy is and has been an implicit Vanguard Strategy. The vanguard partyism of the Old Left, rooted in bureaucratic, tightly disciplined, hierarchical structures designed to lead the revolution, is thus replaced by the Vanguard Movementism of the New Left, rooted in so-called autonomous categories of rebels – women, blacks, gays, GIs, students, and young people – who will lead the revolution or perhaps make it, maybe even in opposition to a racist, privileged, and reactionary working class. The Left thus remains without an egalitarian revolutionary strategy.
What so shocked me about making these discoveries of the meaning of this whole political analysis that has been so prevalent in the New Left is that barely five weeks ago I would have described the people surrounding and tuned in to the Liberated Guardian as close to the center of the revolutionary left. In fact, I did so in a letter to the LG for the weekend conference in November that started this whole thing off. I saw this section of the movement as the most militant, the least compromised, dedicated to armed struggle at least in principle, supportive of the underground, and in general on the growing edge of the revolutionary left. And now I have discovered that many of these very people are profoundly anti-working class in a most disturbing way, not in an explicit way, like ``I am against the working class,'' but in an implicit way where an anti-class bias is an integral part of a world outlook and political analysis. We have been impelled to search for the roots of these attitudes and of this whole political analysis in the class origins of the New Left itself.
Some Aspects of the New Left's Anti-Class Bias
I want to try now to prove the above claim that the other side's position contradicts a conception of the revolution as a class struggle (because it is profoundly anti-working class) by examining each of the various specific political disagreements that we aired during the struggles of the last five weeks.
a. Is the movement dead?
This was one of the first bones of contention (although these issues are not necessarily presented in the order in which they emerged in our discussions). They felt that it was ridiculous to say that the movement died. Movements don't die, they change and grow, there may be organic transformations but they don't die. (Organic is one of their favorite words.) At first we couldn't take this argument seriously. It seemed more than clear to us that the movement (or movements) of the 1960s had collapsed, withered away, declined, fizzled out, disintegrated, died, or what have you. The point was that we are now in a transitional phase, or a new phase if you will, of the history of the left in this country. This seemed to us incontestable. The student revolts of 1968-70 are gone. The enormous power of the women's movement of only a year or so ago has declined. The anti-war movement has dwindled away. And so forth. The movement is everywhere in disarray. We felt that the movements of the sixties had passed their peaks and that it was time for a new initiative on the left. This was one of the reasons behind the attempt to reexamine the politics of the paper, to try to reassess where things stood and to put the paper on a more solid foundation.
As it turned out, this disagreement over the death of the movement was a very central one. On the last day of our confrontation they stated explicitly that the various movements of GIs, women, students, youths, gays, and blacks had not passed their peaks at all but were still expanding and were yet to develop their full revolutionary power. I found this argument incredible. Not only is there not a shred of evidence to support it but it seems strangely anachronistic. It was not merely a disagreement, that is, about a reading of the present historical period. Even if we had sat down to examine the evidence (which we never did because evidently they feel it is sufficient to win your case by simply overwhelming your opponent) about the rising or falling of the movement, I doubt that any opinions would have been changed anyway. Rather, I think something very different was going on. They have a conception of the revolution which does not include, and in fact systematically excludes, a role for the working class. At a time when what is demanded by the situation is precisely to try to bring into being a militant workers movement, they hang on, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to a movement composed of various categories of rebels. Thus their misreading of the state of the left is directly related to their anti-working class politics. They are unable to move in the direction obviously demanded by the times and the only direction that could keep the left alive. And their anti-working class politics in turn is directly related to the social make up of the New Left and its origins in a primarily university-educated, well-to-do, and petty bourgeois sector of the society.
I no longer claim merely that the movement died or collapsed. Part of what happened was not a collapse at all but a really positive thing. People split with the movement to go out and relate to ``real people,'' as it was usually put, or to the vast majority, that is, to try to create a working class movement. For the rest, those who stayed behind, it is more accurate to say that they have been contained within a narrow sector of society which is not primarily working class at all but mainly petty bourgeois. That's where the movement is now, what is left of it, rotting. The other side is part of the rot. It is not just rot of course. That is the tragedy. If it were rotting it would hopefully rot away. But this is not going to happen. Rather, the politics of the New Left will probably continue for a long time and keep getting in the way, as it has in the past, of building a revolutionary class war to overthrow capitalism.
b. Is the West in crisis, portending a renewal of radical workers struggles?
Another aspect of the disagreement, very closely related to the one just discussed, has to do with what is happening in the system at the present time. Our side felt that we are at a critical historical juncture. We argued that the West is in a crisis, at least a mild one. We cited the decline in real wages in this country since 1965, the deterioration of public services, the continuing international monetary crisis, the admission of China to the U.N. which perhaps signals an end to U.S. hegemony. We cited especially the New Economic Policy of the present administration, which acknowledges the increased international competition between the advanced capitalist countries on the one hand, and which initiates a blow against the working class on the other, by instituting a permanent incomes policy or wage-freeze for the first time in this country. For all these reasons we felt that workers might begin to move again in this country for the first time in decades. We did not claim that this was inevitable. We said it looked like a possibility. Everyone is aware of the enormous integrative powers the system has at its disposal. But we felt that it was worth a try, because of the nature of the crisis, to work to help create a militant workers movement and we felt this effort should take priority.
They did not explicitly disagree with these facts about the crisis, and may even have concurred with them once or twice. Nevertheless, this evidence provoked form them a strange `no response'. I was extremely puzzled by this. At first I thought that we merely had different readings of the historical juncture we were in and that a further consideration of the evidence would clear up the matter. But that was not the case. By the end of the struggle it had become clear to me that they didn't attach particular significance to this type of evidence or to this changed situation because of other firmly held positions, especially because of their feelings about the priority of Third World revolutions, the racism of the working class, the privileged position of the U.S. working class in the international proletariat, and the need for a strong movement inside the United States to support these Third World struggles (and if need be to lead the revolution here when the empire collapses).
During our last meeting a further reason for their lack of concern about the crisis emerged.(6) They disagreed with our claim that the revolution in the West had been relatively contained ever since World War I (with important exceptions like the Spanish Civil War), but that now, with the enormous revolutionary upsurges in France in 1968 and the Hot Autumn in Italy in 1969, it was clear that the revolution was once again on the agenda in the West, displacing the predominantly reformist workers movements that had characterized the West since World War I.
This statement created a minor uproar. They countered by claiming that there had been strong revolutionary movements throughout this period, especially in the 1930s (and even in the 1940s and 1950s!), and that it was nonsense to talk about a return of the revolution to the industrialized West. They insisted that it was the Third World revolutions that would, if anything ever does, undermine the ``hold of imperialism on the populations of the mother countries.'' And then they said it. ``It will be a long, long time before the working class in the West becomes revolutionary.'' This is it. That's the crux of it. In the meantime they will continue to work with women, students, and blacks. This exchange was extremely revealing, it seems to me, and certainly one of the most critical exchanges in the entire struggle for the paper. I am convinced that their position boils down to a postponement of the revolution in the West and in the United States in particular. Deep down, they do not want it. They are not prepared for it, even afraid of it, because they feel somehow that it will not be their revolution since they do not see themselves as members of the working class. And to the extent that their backgrounds are petty bourgeois this is indeed true. But I feel that many radicals mistakenly identify themselves as part of a so-called middle class, and hence as not a part of the working class.
The New Left has thus conjured up a whole political analysis to postpone and deny the revolutionary potential of the working class of this country (now 140-170 million strong, as a very rough estimate). The other side said over and over that if a revolution in this country were made by the working class it would be racist and sexist and they would have nothing to do with it. But at the same time they argued that workers struggles have been going on all along. If it is true as they claimed that there have been revolutionary struggles going on all along in this country instead of a pattern of upsurge and containment, then indeed it is pointless to waste time analyzing a crisis in the system or to waste effort trying to build up a workers movement (since apparently one already exists anyway). What we have to do in this case is to continue working with young people, women, blacks, students, gays, and GIs. This is what's important, and they said it more than once.
c. Is imperialism or capitalism the problem?
I never understood until now the significance of the New Left's insistence on saying that imperialism is the problem now, not merely capitalism. I never liked it. I thought it was theoretically incorrect, but somehow I always saw it, admittedly with considerable uneasiness, as a terminological squabble. Now I know that it is far more than a mere argument about terms. The other side insisted that the problem was imperialism not capitalism. They insisted that the stress should be on the Third World revolutions. There is a dialectical relationship of course between revolutions abroad and revolution in this country, they said. But within this dialectical relationship the Third World revolutions constitute the Vanguard of the World Revolution. And the way in which they see this relationship working itself out is very significant. For them the revolutions abroad are going to chip away at the empire until it gets so weak that it will collapse of its own weight, so to speak. It is only at that point that a real revolution will take place in this country.
We countered this argument by pointing out that England had lost practically its entire empire and still remained a viable capitalist country and that we saw no reason why the U.S. ruling class couldn't manage the same. We also argued that we did not see how anyone in the world could really be free as long as the bastion of capitalism in the West remained intact. But somehow we couldn't communicate on this issue. I have always seen the problem as Capitalism. That's what we are dealing with – a historically concrete type of social system known as capitalism. Capitalism has always been an international system, from its very inception. Imperialism is nothing new to it. Lenin, certainly, didn't have things confused. He was talking about a phase or a stress within capitalism – ``Imperialism, the highest stage of Capitalism.''
But in New Left theorizing, as reflected in the position of our adversaries in this fight, the stress on imperialism serves other and rather different functions. First of all, as I have already said, to the extent that Third World revolutions are prior (vanguard) revolutions then this constitutes a de facto postponement of the revolution here. And secondly, and probably more interestingly, the stress on the Third World serves to formulate the fight as a struggle between nations rather than a struggle between classes, especially since the U.S. working class is seen by these radicals as such an integral part of the U.S. Nation because of all the benefits it derives from the exploitation of Bolivian tin miners, among others.
At one point in one of our meetings when we were discussing this point we claimed that not all third world revolutions were radical. This created some stir, partly because the point was poorly formulated, but mostly because the other side seemed to be having difficulty handling, within their theoretical framework, the idea of a national bourgeois revolution because that would have forced them to look at those countries in class terms. (They never call these countries colonies or neo-colonies, but always third world countries.) I may be pushing this point too far. Certainly they are more willing to see other countries in class terms than they are their own. But I think the point is not without significance.
d. Will the U.S. working class have to take a cut in its standard of living after the revolution?
The other side claimed that U.S. workers obviously will have to sacrifice a great deal in a revolution because the wealth of the United States is based on the exploitation of the rest of the world. This point has been an article of New Left doctrine for years. We argued the point briefly in one of our meetings and I aired it at great length once in private with a person on the other side. The idea that the U.S. working class will have to sacrifice for the revolution is a deeply held belief for most movement people, and fits in neatly with, and is an integral and consistent part of, this whole political outlook.
I have always disagreed with this position. My first problem with it is that I have never been able to understand how radicals could expect to interest workers in a revolution if they expected workers to reduce their standard of living. People are not going to risk their necks only in order to give up, even if they win, what they already have. But of course now it is clear that most New Left people do not care about workers anyway, do not see a role for them in the revolution, do not talk to them, and therefore have never been particularly bothered by this belief. It has merely functioned as a further reason for sweeping the working class under the rug.
As far as I am concerned the assertion is blatantly and verifiably false, even if considered only at its face value as a question of monetary or material wealth. The vast savings that would flow from stopping the military expenditures, eliminating waste, and redistributing the wealth of the ruling class, would more than maintain present standards of living.
But of course this is not even the point. The failure of the New Left to stress the enormous benefits to the vast majority that would stem from reorganizing the society along socialist lines is truly astonishing. The nearly immediate and enormous improvements in the quality of life that could be instituted across the board are mind boggling: better health care, an end to the incessant advertising, no gates at the subways, a drastic decrease in the work week, relief from the oppressive and ever-present boss, and end to war, ecological sanity, sexual liberation, opportunity to participate in and create art and culture, and on and on. How come these things haven't been stressed? To put the focus on material wealth is to miss the whole point of a socialist revolution anyway. Hopefully a new type of person is going to emerge in the course of this war or it's not even worth it. Why doesn't the New Left talk about this instead of these so-called sacrifices. Well, it's now perfectly clear why. It's because the New Left is closely tied to the petty bourgeoisie and is hence deeply hostile to the working class.
But there is an even more disturbing element hidden in all this. Think about the phrase `will have to take' for a moment. The working class `will have to take' a cut. What's going on here? Is the working class being forced to take a cut? That's what is implied it seems. So once again, on this point as on every other one, the deep-seated vanguard image implicit in the New Left's analysis shines through. Once again the movement is seen as making the revolution, which will mean among other things that workers will have to take a cut, as imposed by the revolutionary vanguard I suppose. No wonder radicals like this worry so much about the hostility of workers. Obviously workers will oppose a revolution like this. But if the working class (now the vast majority) takes power for itself no one is going to force it to do anything. One would hope that the working class will want to institute equality of power and wealth. After all, equal distribution of power and wealth is what socialism is all about. Moreover, it seems to me that this is the way it will happen anyway, the only way it could happen, because only an egalitarian struggle can win. The vanguard strategy doesn't stand a chance. But the New Left doesn't operate with an image of the revolution seen as a massive, decentralized, egalitarian fight by the working class for control over the means of production and hence over their own lives. The New Left (and the Old Left as well) operates with a very different conception.
I believe that this entire issue is a false one and has only served to reinforce a profound bias against the working class among New Left radicals. It is obvious to me that a socialist revolution would free the enormous productive capacity of people to improve their own lives as well as to improve the lives of people in other countries. Good heavens, right wing fascist dictatorships the world over would collapse within twenty-four hours without the support of the U.S. ruling class, thus making possible an enormous release of productive potential in those countries as well. If people in the movement want to help revolutions abroad we should make our own revolution, and that can only be a revolution by the working class against the bourgeoisie.
e. Can you make a revolution without the working class?
It should be obvious by now that this question gets at our main point of disagreement. We claimed that you might very well succeed at building strong movements of women, students, blacks, and GIs, but still not be able to make a revolution because in order to do that you had to have revolutionary workers. As I have already noted, when pressured, the other side often added the working class to the revolution as one equal force among many. On at least one occasion however (once again during our last meeting), the main spokesperson for the other side explicitly denied that you had to have the working class to make a revolution. That was a remarkable thing to hear coming from a radical. Soon afterwards a different person on their side backed away from this extreme position and in a rather honest and most revealing way said that while it is often claimed that only the working class can make a revolution and that while she had usually accepted this as true, she was not at all sure why it was true.
This exchange confirmed in my mind that the other side had no real understanding of the structure of capitalism. The reality of capitalism did not seem to be central to their way of thinking. That's why I became more and more convinced that they were operating with an essentially liberal or pluralist view of the society. It is not only that they use liberal (bourgeois) stratification terms like lower class, middle class, and upper class, nor even that they state openly that the term working class has no meaning for them, but also that the actual revolutionary process itself is seen in pluralist terms and not in class terms. Pluralism, you may recall, is a liberal theory of society in which society is said to be composed of various interest groups – farmers, unions, corporations, housewives, consumers, old people, blacks, teenagers, churches – none of which has absolute power and which compete with each other for influence in various decisions and in the allocation of resources.
The other side's conception of the revolution is merely a movement version of this pluralist theory as applied to the revolutionary process itself. The revolution is pictured as being made by various groups of rebels (each one autonomous), groups or categories like GIs, women, gays, blacks, young people, and welfare mothers. The only difference between the movement version and the orthodox liberal version is that in the movement version of the theory these various interest groups somehow manage to unite around their common interests and overthrow imperialism. But since these categories of rebels are obviously not classes, the revolution obviously is not viewed as a class struggle or class war between the working class and the bourgeoisie.
f. Where will the revolution take place?
Another way to get at the same question about the role of the working class is to ask, ``Where will the revolution take place?'' This question is not often asked in movement circles. I asked it once in one of our meetings out of exasperation at having failed so many times to get across our objections to their pluralist image of the revolutionary process. They turned the question back to me, asking me to give my image of how and where the revolution would happen. I answered that in my view the revolution would be a massive take over of the means of production in the factories and offices throughout the country. This statement provoked easily the loudest outburst of objections, laughter, and sheer disbelief from the other side of anything we ever said. I was literally overwhelmed with opposition and ridicule. Several people moved immediately to isolate me from the discussion and indeed I was effectively barred from participation in the rest of the meeting. The idea that the revolution would take place in workplaces was evidently utterly foreign to their whole way of thinking. One person shouted at me that such a view excluded young people from the revolution. Another objected that women would also be excluded.
We see here then the same systematic exclusion of the working class that we have seen in all the other questions discussed so far. Evidently our opponents do not believe that it is necessary to capture control of the means of production in order to make a revolution against capitalism. This fits in neatly of course with their ideas about who is going to make the revolution – GIs, blacks, students, and women. This neglect of the workplace also jives nicely with a lot of other movement myths which have been floating around for years, like the idea that no one will have to work after the revolution because everything will be automated, or like the reverse of this that technology will be destroyed after the revolution anyway because everyone is going to move back to the land and live simply again. The hostility to work, the workplace, and the working class extends far and wide in New Left ideology.
Although the question about where the revolution will take place is rarely asked by New Left radicals and hence rarely answered explicitly, it is nevertheless possible to deduce at least two different answers to the question from current movement theory and practice. The first is that the revolution will take place in Washington, D.C. This is the geographical side of the vanguard strategy that sees the movement making the revolution. It is another way of interpreting all the constant talk about seizing state power. For these people, making a socialist revolution means installing a socialist government in Washington. It is no accident that the movement has returned to Washington again and again to stage its major actions. This is because, at least in part, the movement has operated with an implicit vanguard strategy.
The second answer to the question is that the revolution will take place in the streets in local communities. This is the liberal opposite of the first answer, which implied totalitarian centralization. Obviously, the local community is about as distant from the workplace as Washington, D.C. is, and it is just as impossible to make a revolution there. Nevertheless, thousands of radicals in this country put their main hopes on community control and think that the revolution will break up the United States into many tiny autonomous regions.
If is funny how these wrong-headed concepts always come in pairs: either state centralization or local community autonomy, either the vanguard party or the spontaneous uprising of the masses, either the aggressive rounder-up'er or the submissive rounded-up, either the organizer or the organized, the leader or the follower, domination or passivity, subject or object, theory or practice, anti-intellectualism or intellectualism, inside factory or outside the factory. I regard both sides of these dualities as deviations from the proper revolutionary course. I am constantly dismayed that so few people perceive that the task of the revolution is precisely to transcend these deviations, to overcome the state of being either dominant or passive, a leader or a follower, and to learn to relate to other people as equals, and to function in a collective fashion. As long as there are vanguards and masses the revolution has failed. Making the revolution means breaking out of these inegalitarian forms.
g. Which takes priority, community organizing or struggles at the workplace?
This brings us to a topic which was broached during our first weekend of discussions and which I later discussed in some detail with a person on the other side but which was never considered again by the group as a whole. Most people in the group, including several people on our side as well, apparently are strongly inclined to stress community organizing as a focus for radical activity. I waged a lone battle against this. I see community organizing as simply one more aspect (an unexposed one it seems) of the liberal, pluralist, anti-working class political analysis that the New Left has been so wedded to throughout the past decade. In a sense the New Left began with community organizing – the voter registration campaigns in the South in the early sixties. In recent years such projects have proliferated wildly – community food cooperatives, free medical clinics, day care centers, free schools, neighborhood newspapers, people's garages, community bookstores, tenant unions, squatter movements, legal aid societies, breakfast programs, and a host of other serve-the-people(7) projects.
Moreover, these projects do not happen merely by accident. It is not as if these struggles erupt spontaneously in the community and then are joined by radicals seeking to help the cause. This may be the way it happens some of the time, but in a lot more cases these projects are initiated by radicals. Therefore community organizing is a deliberate strategy, whether it is recognized as such or not. Community organizing represents a choice, a selection of a battleground. I am convinced that it is the wrong battleground, certainly at this stage of the revolution, before the appearance of a revolutionary workers movement. Community organizing projects are just one more way, one of the major ways no doubt, that the New Left has avoided a class analysis of the situation. It is a way of pushing the working class and struggles at the workplace into the background. But it fits in beautifully with the rest of the liberal, pluralist ideology that we have found to characterize so much of New Left thinking.
Just consider for a moment some of the things community organizing does: it defines the problem in terms of consumption instead of production and thus does not get to the heart of the problem which is to capture control of the means of production; it blurs class lines because most communities have working class and petty bourgeois elements side by side (and even a ruling class element or two); it tends to derail the Left into electoral politics because that is often seen as the way improvements in community life can be achieved; by focusing on these bourgeois institutions of government – elections, city councils, candidates – it prevents the emergence of an understanding of truly egalitarian and democratic institutions of decision-making, namely workers councils at the place of work.
For all these reasons it seems to me that the strategy of community organizing plays right into the hands of the ruling class. Indeed, the government itself has poured billions of dollars into community organizing. To my knowledge, the ruling class is not noted for funding radical projects. Community organizing is just another piece of liberal baggage that radicals carried with them into the movement.
This whole focus, it seems to me, has to be seen as part of the dominant cultural or ideological bias in this country. Amerika after all is a place where work is swept under the rug. People rarely identify with their jobs. Only a few privileged professionals like to work – this is what is privileged about being a professional (and even this is grossly exaggerated, thus functioning to perpetuate the myth that there is an escape from the drudgery of wage-labor). But most people hate their jobs. A kulture is therefore assiduously grown to help people forget all about work. They are induced to identify with their leisure hours and with their families, with wives or husbands, children, boats, vacations, card games, movie stars, football teams, or Johnny Carson. In short, with anything except the place where they expend most of their life energies. I think that radicals doing community organizing have fallen into the trap of the `work doesn't exist' mythology. Community organizing thus functions to prevent the Left from focusing on the centrality of work in people's lives.
Moreover, to the extent that radicals have come from petty bourgeois families or are even still rooted in the petty bourgeoisie, the stress on community organizing is just an extension of their normal petty bourgeois world outlook. Amerika has always been noted for its community spirit. This is the one thing we are suppose to be really good at – organizing and getting things done. But not all elements in the community play an equal role in this process. Far from it. The wealthier members of the community, the petty bourgeoisie, have always provided the leadership (have always dominated the community). There is probably no clearer indication therefore of the petty bourgeois origins of the New Left than its obsession with community organizing, almost to the total eclipse of struggles at the workplace.
h. Who is in the working class?
As I have already noted, the other side said many times that the term working class didn't mean anything to them. To the extent that they did use it however they tended to identify the working class with factory workers or hard hats, or else they tended to speak as if the working class were white only. They never talked about black workers but instead always said third world peoples. Nor did they seem to focus much on office workers or white collar workers, perhaps because they might have considered these people middle class rather than working class.
We argued that it was really a mistake to think of the working class only as factory workers or hard hats, and that in fact the vast majority of the population now belongs to the working class. A working class person is someone who has to sell his or her labor-power for money, someone who has to earn a living by taking a job for a wage or salary. The vast majority of people in this country now fall into this class. They are wage-laborers. And more are added to this class every year because the long historical process in which the petty bourgeoisie is either gobbled up and absorbed into the big bourgeoisie or else forced into the working class is far from played out. This historical shrinkage of the petty bourgeoisie has been going on for over a century already and has been especially rapid in the twentieth century with the vast decrease in the number of small farmers (who are small-time capitalists or petty bourgeoisie). The farming population is now down to 9.7 million. The petty bourgeoisie is still fairly sizeable but its exact significance is very poorly understood. It consists of six main categories: small farmers, small businessmen, self-employed professionals, small rentiers, small stockholders, and recipients of royalties. As a very, very rough estimate (plus or minus 15 million) there are about 35 million petty bourgeois people in the United States. Everyone else, except the ruling class (1 or 2 million), is in the working class (140-170 million, depending on how large the petty bourgeoisie turns out to be when better statistical estimates are made), although school teachers and government employees have to be kept in a separate category within the working class because their wages come from the government rather than directly from capitalists. In the main therefore the United States is basically a two class society, the ruling class on the one hand and the vast working class on the other. It is true therefore that advanced capitalist society has polarized and will polarize even further into a struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
This is not to say that the working class is not divided. It is terribly divided against itself in a thousand ways, but especially into male-female, rich-poor, black-white, urban-suburban, old-young, and educated-uneducated. But our understanding of exactly how these divisive factors work is very poorly developed, partly because so few radicals believe that most people in the country are even in the working class. The radical movement continues to use, as it did throughout the sixties, the liberal concept of `middle class' to describe the vast majority of people in this country. No wonder then that it is hard for radicals to imagine the working class making a revolution since evidently they think it is a minority group in the society. Since they also do not believe that this so-called middle class is interested in the revolution either, it is easy to understand how they fell into the elitist trap of seeing themselves (the movement) as the prime revolutionary force.
We argued that it makes absolutely no sense to talk about a middle class in this country. In historical terms, the middle classes were those merchants, traders, bankers, and factory owners (in short, businessmen or capitalists or bourgeoisie) who emerged in feudal society in between the other two major classes, peasants on the one hand and the landed aristocracy on the other. That's why they were called the middle class, because they represented a new third class in the middle of the other two.
As it happened, however, in broadest outline, these middle classes grew larger and larger and stronger and stronger and eventually overthrew the landed aristocracy, leaving only themselves (the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie) at the top of the society and workers and peasants at the bottom. Peasants of course were gradually forced off the land and into the factories, thus becoming workers. Thus these societies (Western European countries) came to be composed mainly of capitalists and wage-laborers. That is, these societies were transformed into capitalist or bourgeois societies since the bourgeoisie was the dominant class.
But to speak of a middle class in the United States is very mistaken. The historical origin and subsequent transformation of the class structure of the United States has followed a very different course. The United States never was a feudal society and never had either a landed aristocracy or a peasant class. This country began as a capitalist society, with a large and rich capitalist ruling class at the top (merchants in the North and plantation owners in the South) and slaves and a vast petty bourgeoisie (small farmers and small businessmen) at the bottom. The slaves are gone and the petty bourgeoisie has declined dramatically into a minority position in the society (in numerical terms). What has happened is the long historical emergence of the working class, a process that got under way in full force in the 1840s with the beginning of industrialization in the United States. The working class now contains the vast majority of the population. Today therefore there are these three classes in the country, the ruling class, the petty bourgeoisie, and the working class.
The use of the concept of `middle class' by the New Left throughout the sixties also messed things up in yet another way: in the self-definitions of radicals. To this day most people in the movement refer to themselves as middle class. In many cases this is simply wrong. Many radicals are wage-earners, are members of the working class, and come from wage-earning or working class families. For these people a self-definition of middle class had tended to throw up a false barrier between themselves and the working class. It has caused them to see their participation in the revolution as problematical because it involves crossing class lines (they think). They tend to become immobilized and discouraged. On the other hand, for the others in the movement who do not come from wage-earning families and are not wage-earners themselves, the self-definition of middle class has prevented (along with other forces) these radicals, and the movement in general, from arriving at a clear understanding of their class origins and background. The concept of petty bourgeoisie is very precise. You know exactly who is and who is not petty bourgeois. If we had clearly understood that the New Left was rooted in the petty bourgeoisie it would have been possible to take action to deal with this in a way that we never could while thinking that the New Left was middle class. This is the question that I want to turn to in the next section.
Several people on the other side said that they found this way of looking at the working class quite helpful. Nevertheless, as the fight unfolded, their main response seemed to be to repeat their earlier claim that ``we don't know what you mean by working class,'' and to try even harder to block all discussion of the matter.
i. Is the New Left petty bourgeois?
For our side, three major discoveries emerged out of the attempt to work out our disagreements over the future politics of the paper. The first two of these discoveries have been discussed above: the discovery of the deeply entrenched anti-working class bias in the political analysis of the other side (and hence to a certain extent of the New Left in general), and the discovery of the implicit vanguard strategy hidden under the ostensibly egalitarian rhetoric of this same New Left political analysis. The third discovery, the neglected significance of the petty bourgeoisie, is probably of equal importance, if not greater, in its long run implications.
I have never attached much significance to the petty bourgeoisie in my own thinking. I have argued that the United States is now primarily a two class society. I have mentioned the petty bourgeoisie of course whenever talking about the class structure of the country but somehow it remained for me an empty category. It now appears that this was a very, very gross error. During the arguments of these last five weeks the petty bourgeoisie emerged more and more into the foreground both in our attempts to grapple with the class structure of the United States and in our attempts to understand the class position of the New Left and the implications of all this for understanding the conflict within the paper.
In the past when I have been involved in splits like this I have usually viewed them as the liberals versus the radicals. I was never entirely satisfied with this interpretation because it never seemed to explain things quite right. In this split, throughout the duration of it, I was very reluctant to label the other side `liberal' as I have finally done in this essay. These were people after all who had been in the movement for years and were themselves veterans (on the radical side) of many of these liberal/radical splits – the split with McCarthy and electoral politics in favor of fighting in the streets, the split with pacifism and civil disobedience over armed struggle, the split with the anti-war movement over revolution, the split with Old Left groups over their sectarian lines and their hierarchical organizations, and so forth.
I persisted in thinking throughout this present struggle that there simply had to be more to the disagreement between our two sides than a liberal/radical split. At times this was very difficult to do. Once for instance we were arguing about the sectarian or hard line charge they constantly leveled at us. We asked a rhetorical question of them: Do you think there is such a thing as a hard line liberal? The answer we got was the most beautiful definition of Liberalism I have ever heard. One of them said, ``No, there is fanaticism on the right and hard liners or fanatics on the left, but there is no such thing as a hard line liberal.'' That was a bona fide liberal speaking.
Nevertheless, in a way there was a great deal more to our disagreement than the liberal/radical distinction. We came to see that it is not just a matter of exposing and eliminating this or that particular aspect of our liberal pasts, not just a matter of wiping out the various subtle links to liberal politics that we have carried with us into the movement (links that are far more numerous than we ever suspected), but a matter of seeing how the entire New Left is rooted in, and always has been rooted deep in liberal politics, not because of its university origins, but because of its class position, because of its close ties with the petty bourgeoisie. This is a very new insight, for us at least, and has really profound implications.
In one of our meetings following the walkout we went around the room and each person described their own class background. It turned out that out of six people present three were children of petty bourgeois parents: one person's father was a small farmer, another person's father owned an accounting firm, and the third person's father was a professional clergyman and the editor-manager of a small magazine. Although the parents of the remaining three people were wage-laborers, nevertheless there were in each case petty bourgeois elements present in the family background: in one case the mother had received a sizeable inheritance from stocks; in another case the parents owned three apartments (rents) even though they both worked as wage-laborers; and in the third case the father was a highly trained electrical engineer who worked for the government in Washington and frequently served as a technical consultant to medium level policy makers. (It is a real shame that we didn't go through a similar exercise in the larger group before the split because this would have revealed the source of our difficulties as nothing else could have – not that it would have made any difference of course.)
The fact that we have petty bourgeois parents or petty bourgeois elements in the family history does not mean of course that we ourselves are petty bourgeois. It is hard to tell how serious our present ties to the petty bourgeoisie are. Two of us could become university professors, and might yet. At present, however, all of us are wage-laborers. In a sense then we are downwardly mobile. We have been forced out of the petty bourgeoisie and into the working class. It might very well be that a major factor in the radicalism of the late sixties, besides the obvious impact of the war against Vietnam, was the fact that millions of people from petty bourgeois families were being forced out of that class downward into the working class because of the periodic, historical shrinkages of the petty bourgeois class.
The radicalism of the early decades of this century might have been linked in the same way to the vast decline in the number of small farmers when millions were forced off the land and into the cities as wage-laborers. (This is a very tentative and speculative hypothesis.) The radicalism of the late sixties coincided with the end of the post-war prosperity in the U.S. and came on top of years of incredible concentration of U.S. businesses into the hands of giant conglomerates. Both trends would further compress the size of the petty bourgeoisie. Maybe the university-educated, well-to-do, `middle class' kids revolted because they saw that they could not maintain the petty bourgeois class positions of their parents and faced a bleak future as wage-laborers.
At any rate, the politics of the New Left might better be described as petty bourgeois rather than liberal. In fact, maybe Liberalism itself is petty bourgeois. Liberalism after all seems to be the affliction mainly of university professors and government officials more than it is of the so-called liberal wing of the ruling class. These are the people who keep updating liberal doctrine, the Galbraiths, Reichs, and Kissingers, producing a neo-liberalism every generation or so. I am often struck when reading `liberal' ruling class spokesmen because their views always seem to me more right-wing ruling class than left wing. Maybe I have an inaccurate view of the ruling class. Maybe liberalism is the brain child of the petty bourgeoisie instead of the ruling class.
Anyway, many of the aspects of New Left theory and practice discussed above can easily be seen as petty bourgeois. The incessant trips to Washington, for example, might be seen as petty bourgeois: the petty bourgeoisie, always close to power but never quite in power, clambering to enter the arena of national politics and join the ranks of the mighty. The incredible blindness to the working class found in New Left politics might in fact simply mirror the normal outlook of the petty bourgeoisie, both in its hostility to the class below it (the working class) and in the direction of its gaze upward into the realm of the ruling class. The focus on community organizing is petty bourgeois since the petty bourgeoisie has traditionally assumed the role of organizing the community. In fact, the New Left has actually gone into business on a fairly massive scale – bookstores, newspapers, publishing, food stores, farming, printing, and crafts of all kinds. The entire political outlook that we have analyzed above is thus a political philosophy that one might expect to flow from a class in the position of the petty bourgeoisie: next to power but yet not partaking, rich but not rich enough, secure but still threatened.
But of course not everyone in the New Left is petty bourgeois even in background, let alone in their own lives. There are large numbers of radicals who are straight working class, and still more whose class orientation is toward the working class. This might help explain the turbulent history of the splits within splits within splits that has characterized the New Left in this country. Many of these splits perhaps represented working class elements splitting against a predominantly (at least in its politics as explicitly articulated) petty bourgeois left, of both the New Left and Old Left varieties. The petty bourgeois Old and New Lefts can of course split with each other as well.
One of the urgent tasks facing us now is to explore in much more depth the significance of the petty bourgeois class in the politics of the ruling class as well as in the politics of the left.
j. Are race, sex, and class similar forms of oppression?
In a way, our struggle with the other side began with our objection to their focusing so much on the racism of the working class and using that as an excuse for an anti-working class politics, and it ended with their walking out of the room accusing us of sexism. No other set of issues was so consistently disputed as this one, although racism got a much better airing than sexism did.
The other side conceived of race, sex, and class as similar forms of oppression. We saw racism and sexism as distinctly different from class. We saw class as a structural contradiction within the system of capitalism based on the division of people into capitalists and wage-laborers, whereas racism and sexism were weapons of the ruling class used to divide the working class. We considered class the major contradiction, leading to a class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whereas racism and sexism were obstacles or forms of oppression to be overcome and defeated in order to build class solidarity within the working class. They would not accept this analysis.
We also challenged their concept of the `internal third world colony', which was an integral part of their political analysis and a leading New Left idea. We argued that not only are Blacks, Chicanos, Indians, and Puerto Ricans not colonies in any meaningful sense of the word, but to the extent that such a concept stresses race and deemphasizes, camouflages, or confuses the class aspect of the situation, the concept may indeed function to prevent these groups from understanding their real position in the structure of a capitalist society. `Race' after all is a ruling class concept. `Class' is our concept.
`Third World' is not even a useful term when applied to Asia, Africa, or Latin America. There are not three worlds at all. There are only two worlds: the capitalist world, with its metropoles and neocolonies, and the so-called socialist world. Asia, Africa, and Latin America are in no sense a Third World. They are part and parcel of the Capitalist World. Defining them as third world tends to obscure their real structural position within capitalism. Most people are aware by now of course that the so-called third world countries are in fact colonies or neo-colonies. It is probably less true that most people are also aware that the so-called internal third world colony is actually an integral part of the working class of advanced capitalism. Moreover, seeing blacks as a colony tends to lead naturally to a strategy of separation as the way out of the situation, rather than to the class war to overthrow capitalism.
Racism is inherent to capitalism, being an integral part of the structure of such a society. Its function is to legitimize inequality by making inequality appear to be based on innate biological differences among humans rather than as a product of the organization of society and the unequal distribution of power. It is in every sense then a weapon of the ruling class which is used to perpetuate the system they control. Racism is deliberately cultivated by the ruling class. Under capitalism its prime purpose is to divide the working class, since in the present stage the majority of the population belongs to the working class. By defining certain people as outside the system, the ruling class can use them as scapegoats and load them with dirty work and scorn, thereby enhancing the privileges and status of those inside the system, precisely because the system needs them and must have them as outsiders. If they accept and seek to preserve their own distinctiveness, their own culture, they are only conforming to the definition imposed upon them. On the other hand they will not be allowed to assimilate either, as a rule. The only solution to racism is the destruction of the unequal structure of power and wealth (in our case capitalism) which creates racism in the first place, and the establishment of an egalitarian society.
Racism is thus not a biological thing at all, although it is very often based on physical characteristics like the skin color. But it need not be. The Eta of Japan have long occupied an oppressed position similar to the black and brown people in this country even though they are physically and culturally indistinguishable from other Japanese. Thus if there is no biologically distinct race on hand to use as the outsiders these societies will create such a group. Similarly, although the so-called third world is often identified with black, brown, and yellow peoples, it includes in fact whole nations of white people, like the Irish or Turks, as well as countries that are certainly predominantly white, like Argentina or Uruguay.
This points up clearly that the exploitation suffered by these countries has very little to do with race, just as the discrimination suffered by the Italian community in Kansas City was not based on skin color at all but upon ethnicity. It served the same function however as discrimination against the Irish or Turks, Arabs, Indians, or Africans. It placed them toward the bottom of the hierarchy. Several decades ago these Italians could very easily have been included in the so-called internal third world colony. Thus it seems to us that the concept of `third world' is a ruling class definition of the situation. As long as racism is the primary stress, a class analysis will be hard to bring to the fore.
New Left thinking on racism is just one more example of how the working class has been systematically swept under the rug. But at least it is consistent with their other views. If the working class is unimportant to the revolution anyway or even an enemy of the revolution, then why not constantly attack it for its racism.
A similar line of reasoning could be developed on sexism, although we didn't do it. We argued that the relationship between sexism and class is a very complicated one and poorly understood. We wanted to set up a time to discuss the matter thoroughly. They agreed to this but ended up splitting before we could get to it. At the very minimum it is clear that not all women can be united as women into a revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism. Capitalist women, for example, are going to be against any such program. That's one problem. Another problem is how to understand the relationship to the revolution of some twenty-five million working class women (a very rough guess) who do not sell their labor at a job but who are nevertheless critically important unpaid workers (housewives).
The question always arises however about whether or not discrimination against blacks and women would in fact come to an end with the overthrow of capitalism. This depends a lot on what happens during the overthrow of capitalism, on how it is overthrown, on what happens after the overthrow of capitalism, and on what kind of system replaces it. The aim of course is to establish an egalitarian society where decision-making and wealth are equally distributed. If power and wealth were in fact equally distributed, this by definition would mean that racism and sexism would have been overcome since none of the good things of life would be denied anyone on the basis of some personal attribute (race, sex, age, ethnicity, size or weight, personal appearance, intelligence, or energy-level). It is certainly not a foregone conclusion however that capitalism will in fact be replaced by an egalitarian society. It is therefore necessary that people who are being discriminated against at the present time organize and assert themselves to ensure that a fully equal distribution of power and wealth be instituted rather than some aborted version.
Moreover, even though the structural basis for racism or sexism would be eliminated with a fully equal distribution of power and wealth, it is not inconceivable, since attitudes have a certain relative autonomy of their own, that certain attitudinal slurs or discriminatory nuances could persist long after the revolution. All the more reason therefore for blacks and women to fight to ensure that racism and sexism be thoroughly wiped out. But this is tricky. Whites have to fight racism as well, and men have to fight sexism. Also, the danger is always very great that the fight against racism and sexism will in fact accept and perpetuate, inadvertently perhaps, the racial and sexual divisions introduced into the working class by the ruling class rather than serving to overcome these divisions and to build class solidarity in order to defeat the bourgeoisie and destroy capitalism. We argued that a strategy was needed that would get at both racism and sexism and also at capitalism.
This is just one of the many issues we were prevented from exploring in depth by the unwillingness and inability of people on the other side to examine critically the ideas that have dominated New Left politics for nearly a decade.
k. Who is sectarian?
They kept accusing us of being sectarian and of pushing a rigid class line. Since this was a new experience for us (to be accused of being sectarian), we were hard put to defend ourselves at first. Nevertheless, the charge provoked quite a bit of thought. Our replies and arguments in rebuttal evolved through at least three distinct stages.
At first we felt they were probably perceiving us as sectarian because we were trying to define and hold an explicit political position. We felt their uneasiness with this effort flowed out of their own pluralist position, a position which seems to grant legitimacy to all points of view, at least on the surface. In our attempt to undermine their pluralist stance therefore we argued that there is no such thing as a nonsectarian position. Everyone has a point of view. Pluralism is a politics and a position just like any other philosophy even though its central tenet is that all comers are in the arena on an equal footing, which is an obvious illusion to just about everyone except liberals. To say that all points of view should learn to live together and be represented on the paper (as they did many times) is itself a political position. What this immediately calls to mind is the liberal university which finds room within its protected walls for every conceivable doctrine, all existing in peace side by side. Thus we argued that if they were worried about us trying to define and hold a definite political analysis and that this was sectarian then they were also sectarian because they themselves certainly had a definite political philosophy. You may recall their statement which I quoted earlier that ``there is no such thing as a hard line liberal.'' This statement emerged during our only thorough consideration of the question of sectarianism.
Our argument that there is no such thing as a nonsectarian position was obviously untenable however and we had to back away from it. In our enthusiasm to discredit their liberal, pluralist position we had forgotten about the Old Left. Anyone who has ever been exposed to a group of Old Leftists, say at a conference or through reading an Old Left newspaper for a while, knows full well that there is such a thing as sectarianism. But what is it?
Our second line of defense therefore was to argue that sectarianism is a mode of thought, a certain attitude toward the mental faculties and toward theory, a certain type of use of the intellect. Sectarianism, we said, was a rigid, uncritical type of thinking which tended to turn an analysis which was valid for one particular period into a dogma to be followed religiously forever after, long after it had become obsolete and out of date. Sectarianism therefore is the failure to keep one's analysis up to date, the failure to reexamine continuously the concrete situation being faced. Lenin for example was constantly changing his analysis because he thought for himself and stayed on top of the changing historical situation. Some others however, perhaps less independent persons, often tried to apply Lenin's analyses to situations for which they were not intended. These people, these mechanical Marxists, are sectarian.
Using this argument we were able to turn the sectarian charge back at them. We were the ones after all who were trying to reexamine the politics of the paper: they were the ones resisting that effort. We were the ones who argued that the times had changed, that the politics of the sixties and the movements of the sixties were no longer adequate for the current situation. We felt that the developing crisis in the society would open up the opportunity to help create a militant workers movement. The youth and student rebellions of the sixties were okay for then; they helped soften things up; but now it was necessary to move on. We felt that a working class movement was the only thing that would keep the Left alive. They said no. They wanted to continue with the politics of the sixties. We accused them of being sectarian.
That's about as far as it got before the walkout. After the split however another whole step in the analysis of sectarianism emerged. To say that sectarianism is a mode of thought or a failure to keep one's analysis up to date is to make sectarianism into a purely intellectual disease. Now however we have come to believe that sectarianism is far more than mere uncritical, dogmatic thinking. Rather, it is a mode of thought that is an integral and consistent part of a whole political analysis that has a class base. Sectarianism is a peculiarly petty bourgeois phenomenon and emerges out of the elitist position of that class vis-à-vis the working class, both in the hostile stance of the New Left (which practically refuses to acknowledge that the working class even exists), and in the patronizing stance of the Old Left. Both stances flow naturally from a class position that is outside and above that of the working class.
For the Old Left, a sectarian line is merely part of the equipment needed to indoctrinate, organize, and mobilize the working class, a task that is necessary because they believe that a revolution cannot be made without a mass base. For the New Left, which is hostile to the working class and imagines the revolution being made by a movement composed of various and sundry categories of rebels, sectarianism takes the form of a dogged adherence to a whole set of ideas like `the racism of the working class', `third world', and `youth culture', which enables it to sweep the working class under the rug. Sectarianism in both the Old Left and the New Left versions therefore is a refusal to examine the social reality seriously because to do so would lead fairly quickly to an intelligent (as opposed to a mechanical, simplistic, vulgar, sectarian) Marxian analysis which would expose the class position of petty bourgeois radicalism and thereby undermine and demolish its politics as well.(8)
How These Political Differences
Got Worked Out in the Group
It is important now to try to see how the enormous resistance thrown up by the other side to a class analysis, a resistance we have just examined on the theoretical level, also appeared on the procedural level in the day to day functioning of the group.
The fight over class and class analysis and its place in revolutionary politics emerged in an explicit form already during that first weekend of discussions in November. At that time everyone was fishing around trying to get a handle on the discussion, trying to figure out what to focus on. Our preliminary discussions of class proved to be very stormy. It was abundantly clear that feelings ran quite high on this issue and that there was apparently a lot of disagreement, although no one at that time knew exactly why. I for one never suspected at that time that our subsequent discussions would lay bare the incredibly entrenched and extensive anti-working class position of the other side that I have discussed above. In those early discussions I was beginning to pick up only a few indications of the differences that later proved to be quite profound. The emotion surrounding the issue of class however was in marked contrast to the calmness surrounding other topics, for example the role and value of the underground, about which there was virtual unanimity at that time.
Since our whole purpose (at least the purpose of people on our side) was to reexamine the politics of the paper, we were interested in pursuing these disagreements, especially the disagreement about class, because we suspected that this might uncover a host of other problems. After all, the whole reason for inviting a lot of new people to the paper and trying to get it set up on a different foundation, politically and otherwise, was to try to reassess where things were at and to update the politics of the paper accordingly.(9)
Emotions during that first weekend ran high on one other issue besides class: elitism in the New Left. We therefore decided, since we didn't begin to have enough time right then to explore those issues thoroughly, to set up a series of meetings to work out two longer position papers on each of these topics, class and elitism. We also committed ourselves to try to write a paper on the role of the underground in an overall revolutionary strategy in an advanced capitalist society in order to take that whole issue out of the realm of instinctual gut reaction and put it in the realm of explicit politics. In the meantime we committed ourselves to writing and publishing a short, initial, preliminary statement on where we were headed, in the next issue of the paper. That's how things were left at the end of the conference weekend in November.
It was at this point, if not already at that weekend conference, that the vigorously fought campaign to derail the discussion of class began. This campaign was waged primarily by the key spokesperson and leader of the other side but with strong backing from at least two of the other people. I am not sure whether this was a consciously conceived campaign or not. My inclination is to say that it was not, although after what has happened I hesitate to underestimate the other side. I suspect that it was instinctual rather than conscious, stemming from a keen sense that a whole political analysis – their analysis – was being challenged and from an unwillingness and inability to confront such a challenge openly, for fear perhaps of having to dump the whole thing. We became convinced as time went on that the positions they kept outlining could not withstand serious criticism. So we kept raising questions, on point after point. Well, what about x, or y, or z? Their response was to consistently ignore the objections raised and simply to repeat their original position, often in a louder and shriller voice. So round and round we went.
What happened in just about every meeting is something like the following: an initial move would be made by the other side to derail whatever work (connected with reexamining our politics) that we had all agreed upon for that meeting, for example, by proposing a change in the agenda, a postponement or abridgement of the discussion, or something like that. If these moves were defeated (and sometimes they weren't) the discussion of the preliminary statement (and hence of class) would get underway. Just as things would get rolling and some headway was being made toward unraveling the whole thing about class and toward developing some critical views toward past New Left politics the leader of the other side would throw some blocking action in the way of the discussion.
These blocking actions were often literally bodily blocking actions, things like getting up from the meeting and pacing the floor on the fringe of the group, and threatening to go, or even actually leaving. More often however the block took the form of either some further difficult parliamentary move, or else a ten to fifteen minute diatribe during which the whole political position of their side would be restated, unchanged, word for word, exactly as it had been at the November conference. These devious proposals and harangues usually had the effect of derailing the discussion of class for hours, if not for the rest of the meeting. And the timing of these moves was fantastic. They always came just at the moment when a lot of the people in the room were really getting into a discussion of class and its significance for the revolution. It became unmistakably clear to us that these were diversionary moves intended (whether consciously or not) to prevent the political analysis of our side, the one based on class, from prevailing.
I could give a blow-by-blow, meeting-by-meeting account of how this pattern unfolded over the weeks. At this point however I feel that such an account would only be a tedious exercise. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, nor did anyone on our side doubt, that there was really enormous resistance in the group against discussing the implications of class for New Left politics.
It is surely significant, and perhaps the final proof of our position, that the actual walkout took place on precisely the same hour when we were supposed to have begun the first tentative brainstorming discussion for our first longer position paper (as distinct from the preliminary statement that we had been working on up to then) which was supposed to be about class. We had scheduled this discussion for after supper on Saturday evening, December 11. That's when they left, almost as if to say with their feet that since the time had finally come when they could no longer avoid, postpone, or derail a discussion of class, and would have to sit down to a full scale discussion of the matter, they would leave instead of going through with it. And that's what they did. They couldn't face it. They walked out.
Why We Lost
We spent a whole evening the day after the split trying to figure out why we lost. That was a very interesting discussion and brought our side closer to unity than we have ever been before or since.
If you look at the split as a principled fight between two opposing and irreconcilable political positions (as we did by the time it was over), and if you examine the tactics used by each side in order to win, then it becomes clear why we lost and why they won. We used, like they did, a variety of tactics like agenda proposals and theoretical arguments. Each person on our side also tended to play a certain role – initiator, watchdog, debater, conciliator, and so forth. In the same way, the personalities and special talents of the various people on our side can also be seen as a kind of tactic. If we hadn't been so naive we would have shifted roles or something if we saw that the other side was gaining a lot of ground because this or that person on our side wasn't performing a particular function properly or because people were reacting negatively to one particular personality.
As it happened, one person on our side projected an air of condescension and manipulation. This gave the other side enormous ammunition. Other people on our side also did things that gave them ammunition, but this person's style seemed to be the thing the other side focused on most. They were thus able to attack us at this our weakest point and rally the group against us on this issue and in this way avoid the challenge to their political analysis on theoretical grounds and secure the predominance of their own political views and the control of the paper.
Several other interesting insights came out of our discussion of why we lost. We began to suspect that we were afraid of the implications of our own working class politics that we had developed and that we might have lost because we felt that if we kept the paper we would have to put these politics into practice. (An opposite and more flattering view is that we lost because we wanted to move out and practice the new politics and felt that the paper would drag us down in that effort).
Also, to the extent that the fight was a principled one between two opposing political positions, with each side using a whole range of tactics in order to win, then all the charges flying both ways about manipulation do not make much sense. To win you do whatever you have to do to win. I suppose there might be such a thing as a manipulative tactic, a sneaky, behind-the-back, dishonest tactic as opposed to an open and out-front tactic, but I'm not sure what this really means when it comes to a real fight (like the so-called rules of war). Well I guess there is a lot to be said for refusing to engage in dirty fighting. At any rate manipulation was not what was at issue here, as we so naively fell into the trap of thinking, thus accepting the other side's definition of the situation while they in the meantime were having secret caucuses to plan the walkout and takeover of the paper. Our side didn't even have a caucus. That's how naive we were.
This brings us to another point. Our dedication to collective procedures tended to confuse the issue for us. We would sit there trying not to dominate or weigh down the group process while the other side took the initiative in nearly every meeting and literally swamped us. We were more or less on the defensive the entire time. I'm not sure any more that it makes much sense to speak of collective procedures unless there is a basis of political unity, and in the present situation such a unity even if achieved runs the risk of breaking down every six months because the world is constantly changing and any political analysis has to be continuously updated. It would seem that there needs to be two ways of operating in groups, one set of procedures, collective procedures, for periods of political unity, and another set of procedures, battle procedures (how can our side win?) for periods of political splits.
But I don't like this way of looking at it. The whole question is very poorly thought out. If we had a truly equal distribution of power and wealth in the society then it would make some sense to talk about democracy and majority rule, but not now, when that is precisely what we are trying to achieve, and is why we are struggling against various groups, analyses, tendencies, or strategies. This is the period of the struggle for power by the vast majority. This is the period of splits and of constant struggle for political unity around a strategy. Majority votes cannot work now, even ten against one, not when it's a question of how to defeat the ruling class in order to establish a just, humane, and equal society.
We concluded that we had been practicing a politics of defensive passivity. Perhaps we felt that the other side had more resources to fall back on than we did. Perhaps we were afraid of the implications of our own arguments. Perhaps our low petty bourgeois or working class backgrounds did not equip us to act confidently in the power struggle we found ourselves in. Perhaps we didn't want to win. For whatever reason, we didn't win. We were even pushing them out the door almost, at the end, maybe just because we were so sick of struggling with those people. The lessons of our struggle are nevertheless unmistakably clear: down with defensive passivity and all wrong-headed tendencies that lead to defeat and up with aggressive class war. Down with petty bourgeois, liberal, New Left, pluralist vanguardism and up with working class, radical egalitarianism.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We spent quite a bit of time after the split talking about how (or even whether) to make the jump from the liberal, pluralist, New Left, petty bourgeois politics we had just laid bare in our opposition to the other group to a genuine working class politics. The world looks very different now for all of us than it did only two months ago. One evening we spent just trying to enumerate all our known connections or contacts with working class people. It was not very encouraging. We could go on forever listing our ties with the petty bourgeoisie. Our ties with the working class however were more obscure, almost half-forgotten it seemed. That was a rather remarkable experience. It was a sudden and almost dramatic shift in the direction of our gaze from upward into the elite to downward into the working class. It was painfully obvious to all of us that we weren't accustomed to looking in that direction, let alone contemplating becoming bona fide working class members both in class position and class orientation, both objectively and subjectively. It is clear that it will be a very hard transition for all of us and some of us have doubts at times that we will be able to make the shift. It will probably mean that we will have to relocate ourselves in very different sectors of the society than we have been accustomed to up to this point.
A huge part of the problem is that no one really sees very clearly what to do. Where do we go? What kinds of people do we talk to? What kinds of projects? Should we all get full-time jobs and concentrate our energies on struggles in our own workplaces or should we work on the outside of workplaces. At least three levels of activity are imaginable within this framework: (1) direct participation in workplace struggles from the inside; (2) working with a group of part-time workers who spend free time linking up directly on the local level with struggles in workplaces other than their own; (3) being a part of a media-type group or project (films, papers) which would attempt to publicize the first two types of struggles. More and more we felt as we discussed this that the exciting place to fight would be in your own workplace, but that is probably a romanticization of the thing, which is still possible for us only because of the great distance that separates us from any such fight.
Also, as I have already said, some people in our group believe that a party or some kind of mass organization will be necessary to make the revolution so they are trying to explore what that means. I am against national parties. But the enormous obstacle of how local struggles at the workplace and how (eventually) millions of workers councils could ever get linked up by themselves, from the bottom, without the imposition of a structure on them from above, is surely one of the greatest hurdles we face. I hope it only looks more formidable now than it really is because of the fact that so little thought or work has gone into figuring it out. Groups of local radicals trying to reach out on their own to establish communication and ties without the mediation of media groups would be an exciting development it seems to me. I'm not sure where I want to fit in however. The tendency I think will be to keep as much distance as possible between myself and any real fight.
All in all, things are very much up in the air. We have a new view of the revolution and of the present society but we haven't figured out what to do with it yet.
Postscript: What Kind of Working Class Politics?
(Toward a Critique of Vanguardism)
The objective of the revolution cannot be merely to overthrow capitalism. What is wrong with capitalism is that it is oppressive. It is a system of slavery, one of the worst the world has ever known. But there were other systems of slavery before capitalism, like the outright slavery of the Roman Empire or the serfdom of the Middle Ages. It is now known that a social system of slavery can follow capitalism, to wit, the slavery to a tyrannical state socialist regime like the Soviet Union. Overthrowing capitalism is not an end in itself but only a means, only one aspect (but certainly a very major one) of the goal of our revolution, which is to establish a just and humane society. In my view, a just society is synonymous with an egalitarian society, which is also the same as a democratic society, which is the same as a socialist society. The struggle is against class, not merely against capitalism. This must be the aim of our revolution, surely: to establish a society where power and wealth are equally distributed among the people and where no one is disproportionately rewarded as a result of the organization of society.
This is why the current campaigns against racism and sexism are so important and must be sustained, along with attacks on all the other `isms' like ageism, smartism, looksism, credentialism, or national chauvinism. Capitalism uses and perpetuates these various forms of inequality in order to divide us. The attack on these evils must be an integral part of a class war against capitalism, that is true, because capitalism can't be defeated without a class war. It is clear however that racism and sexism and ageism and smartism, while used by capitalism, are relatively autonomous from capitalism and can continue to exist after capitalism is brought down. The aim of the revolution therefore must not be limited to the negative objective of overthrowing capitalism but must focus on the positive goal of establishing equal distribution of power and wealth so that none of the good things of life are denied a person on the basis of some personal attribute like race, sex, age, intelligence, ethnicity, or looks. We need a strategy that defeats racism and sexism (and all forms of inequality), and that also defeats capitalism.
A vanguard victory irreversibly derails the establishment of equality of power and wealth
A vanguard strategy undermines and, if successful, irreversibly derails the goal of establishing equal distribution of power and wealth. Why? Because it violates by its very nature the centrality of equality of power (that is, decision-making) for the revolution and for the new society. This is the lesson of every so-called socialist revolution so far, all of which have been made by vanguards or vanguard parties. Once the vanguard is in power it is next to impossible for the people ever to come to power themselves, not without another revolution at least. The stated aim of the vanguard is always, of course, Power to the People. That was the rallying cry of the Bolshevik Party: All Power to the Soviets (to the workers councils). But once in power it was impossible for the Bolsheviks to give power over to the workers councils because of the very way in which the revolution had been made. The workers had not had the capacity to take power for themselves when they had the chance. They had literally destroyed the old regime. They had actually held power on several occasions, but only in the streets, only as a mass, not as a functioning and organized self-governing collectivity. So the Bolshevik Party took power and it has stayed in power ever since. Power it seems is not given to anyone. It is either taken or not had at all. People must take power for themselves directly or forever remain in bondage to their leaders. This is the nature of things.
These societies can move a long way toward equality of wealth of course. This is something that the leaders can decree and enforce, that everyone be paid the same, adjusted according to need. Cuba for example has achieved a remarkable equality in material wealth. Power however remains monopolized in the hands of the top party leaders. Cuba is not a worker controlled society, and I have doubts that it ever will be. Moreover, I expect that even the material equality that has been achieved will be slowly eroded away as the revolution ages.
Jumping the process
The revolutions in Russia, Cuba, and China were not proletarian revolutions in the strict sense of the word. The working class in those societies was in the minority (with the possible exception of Cuba which had a large rural proletariat; but the driving force of the revolution even there was the peasant class of the eastern provinces). I think it is true though that these half-revolutions were good, that enormous suffering was eliminated and that they exploited the full revolutionary potential existing in those societies at the time.
In the United States, however, and in other advanced capitalist countries, the working class now constitutes the vast majority of the population. We are not the meager two or three million workers of the Russia of 1917 buried in the middle of a vast peasant class. In the United States we are 140-170 million strong (as a rough estimate). We are literate, fairly well educated, fairly rich, with all kinds of resources at our disposal. I believe that the potential exists in this country for a full- fledged proletarian revolution. Any strategy which attempts to bypass the long historical struggle that our class is engaged in to become fully conscious and fully autonomous is jumping the process. And this is precisely what a vanguard strategy does. It attempts to substitute the consciousness of the self-appointed vanguard for the self-consciousness of the working class and to substitute the organization of the party (or of the movement, or of the left) for the self-organization of the working class. This is why it cannot contribute to a truly proletarian revolution and a truly socialist society. It derails the attempt to establish equal distribution of power and wealth. It jumps the process.
Vanguardism: old and new
It is well known that the Old Left in this country has long been wedded to a vanguard strategy, a strategy rooted in a tightly-knit, disciplined, and hierarchically organized party designed to lead the revolution. Now it has become clear that the New Left has also operated with an implicit vanguard strategy (in spite of its egalitarian rhetoric), a strategy rooted in so-called autonomous categories of rebels – women, blacks, GIs, gays, students, guerrillas, and young people – who somehow form a movement that will make or lead the revolution, perhaps even in opposition to the racist, sexist, and privileged working class. Thus the vanguard partyism of the Old Left has merely been replaced by the vanguard movementism of the New Left. In both cases the Left (radicals, revolutionaries) stands outside and above the working class.
I am coming to believe that this is explained by the petty bourgeois origins of the Left in this country. The petty bourgeoisie also stands outside and above the working class. Both left-wing intellectuals and left-wing organizers have tended to take a condescending stance toward workers. For the petty bourgeois Marxist scholar the working class is an object to be studied and analyzed and written about. For the petty bourgeois revolutionary organizer the working class is an object to be mobilized, organized, and indoctrinated with the party line. For the petty bourgeois New Left radical the working class is also an object, but this time an object to be ignored. Refusing to even recognize the existence of someone is one of the worst forms of condescension. In none of these cases is the relationship between the radical and the worker one of equality, and therein lies the difficulty. A vanguard strategy is a condescending strategy, deriving its strength from sources outside the working class, and therefore violating by its very nature the historical goal of our class which is to achieve self-consciousness and autonomy. It is surely a sign of the immaturity of the revolution in the West that so few radicals even identify themselves as working class people and thus continue to talk about the `workers' and `workers struggles' rather than about `us' and `our struggles'.
The organization of the Left or the self-organization of the working class
It is only because the Left – both old and new – has fallen into the trap of seeing itself as the prime revolutionary force, perhaps with the help of the masses, that it is so perennially concerned about its own organization. Petty bourgeois radicals worry more about the organization of the Left (or more typically, the disorganization of the Left) than they do about moving the country further along the road to revolution. This is why they are constantly putting forth plans to unify the Left, plans for united fronts, and in this country especially, plans for setting up a national organization of movement groups so that the Left can function on the national level.
Well it seems to me there are a whole host of reasons why we shouldn't even want to function on the national level. (1) Our objective is to take over the means of production in our workplaces, to organize ourselves into workers councils, and to figure out a way to link up our various local workers councils into a network spanning the whole country. What we need to be doing now is working to develop the capacity for self-government among our own people on the local level by starting fights with the ruling class, by self-education groups, and by consciousness-raising discussions at our places of work. Any attempt to coordinate these struggles nationally would violate their local character and force them into a straitjacket.
(2) Moreover, national organizations are inevitably undemocratic. At this point they are inevitably hierarchical, being based at the very best on a system of representatives and not on direct democracy. Direct democracy is a possibility for the working class as a whole once we gain control of the means of production and communication, but not before. We want our organizations to function collectively in an egalitarian manner and not on the basis of authority, delegated or otherwise. At least this is my view.
(3) The programs usually set forth by national organizations often differ very little from any other liberal welfare-state program. They seek better housing, better health care, or better education. Thus they shift the focus from capturing the means of production to capturing the means of consumption, and thereby derail the revolution away from the workplace and back into the halls of Congress. These needs can only be met through a reorganization of the society along socialist lines. It does no good to go clambering at the doors of ruling class institutions begging for a bigger handout.
Seize state power or smash state power
(4) Finally, it is only when radicals are operating with a particular image of the revolution, an image involving a seizure of state power, that they get so worried about functioning on the national level. These are petty bourgeois radicals. Why do they even want to have a voice on the national level? Because they are seeking to break into the arena of national politics. This has always been a goal of the petty bourgeoisie, to make it with the big bourgeoisie. They want to get closer to the high and mighty. They are trying to influence state policy, trying to change the decisions the rulers have made, rather than deny the rulers the power to make the decisions in the first place. For radicals like this making a revolution means installing a socialist government in power in Washington. It is no accident that the New Left has returned to Washington, D.C. again and again to stage its major actions.
When the revolution is seen as a process of reconstituting society along egalitarian lines and of smashing state power instead of seizing state power then the whole question of the vanguard fades away into the false dilemma it actually is. What is seen in its stead is the long historical process of the emergence of a proletarian consciousness and a proletarian capacity for self-government.
From outside the working class or from within
But aren't radicals who fight for an egalitarian society automatically constituting themselves as a vanguard? Not necessarily. It depends on whether they are speaking from outside the working class or from inside. It is a question of the class position and class identity of the radical. When radicals are petty bourgeois in class identity and thus stand outside and above the working class, they tend to fall into one or the other of the two classic errors of revolutionary strategy (which are really only two sides of the same error). The first error is spontaneism, which says, ``There is nothing for us to do except wait because the working class will make the revolution when it gets ready to do so and it doesn't need us.'' This is the image of the spontaneous uprising of the workers and is the position often attributed (unjustly so) to Rosa Luxemburg. The second error is vanguardism, which says, ``The working class cannot make the revolution without us, so let's go down and radicalize and organize the workers to make the revolution.'' This is the position often attributed (unjustly so) to V. I. Lenin. The New Left, it seems, has created a new version of the vanguard error, a strategy which says, ``Since the working class is racist, sexist, and privileged let's make the revolution without it, or even in opposition to it if need be.''
It is now possible to understand both these deviations in class terms, as petty bourgeois strategies. Both strategies are formulated from a position outside the working class. In both strategies the working class is seen as an object. In fact, both deviations or tendencies are often exhibited by the same person. Vanguardism is the aggressive mood of the person, where working class people are seen as passive objects to be organized and manipulated. This is a politics of condescension, where the radical assumes a stance above the working class. Spontaneism is the passive or withdrawal phase of the person, where working class people are seen as acting subjects to be admired and followed. This is a politics of emulation, where the radical assumes a stance below the working class. In neither strategy is the relationship between radicals and workers one of equality. Radicals see themselves as either superior to or inferior to the workers. Both are petty bourgeois strategies since either the radicals intend to lead the working class in the revolution or to follow it, but in neither case to participate as a worker in making a proletarian revolution from inside the class as an equal.
Inside or outside the workplace
This problem of being either inside or outside the working class is sometimes confused with the question of being inside or outside the workplace. It is clear however that being inside a factory does not make petty bourgeois radicals any less petty bourgeois, at least not in their class orientation and politics. They still relate to workers in the factory in an unequal way, treating them as objects, usually condescending toward them by trying to organize or indoctrinate them, but also emulating them by trying to `learn from the workers'. We're all familiar with Mao's emulative and condescending dictum: From the People, To the People. That's a petty bourgeois slogan par excellence. This style of relating to people may persist for years after these radicals have become wage-laborers in the structural or objective sense because they are wedded to a petty bourgeois politics. This amounts to saying I suppose that an ostensibly personal trait like condescension derives ultimately from the class nature of the society, from its hierarchical structure. I believe this to be so. The personality characteristic of not being able to relate to other people as equals, but only in terms of domination or emulation, will begin to wither away once equality of power and wealth is won. Domination and passivity are thus more correctly regarded as pathological conditions rather than as innate human dispositions.
The process of eroding and destroying such patterns of relationships however must begin now even within the bowels of capitalism. That's what we mean by an egalitarian strategy. That's what we mean by not jumping the process. That's one reason why the struggle has to be a protracted one. To argue for example that the attacks on elitism within the revolution and the attempts to function in a collective fashion have often only interfered with getting on with the job and have prevented urgent decisions from being made assumes that achieving the goal is more important than how the goal is achieved. It says that it is better for the competent leaders to do the job rather than let it go undone if the collective isn't up to it. Carried to its logical conclusions, this is the outlook that condones the vanguard's overthrowing capitalism by itself, if the opportunity arises, if the working class proves incapable of doing so on its own. I have already taken exception to this view. Defeating capitalism is not the goal but only one task in the fight to establish equal distribution of power and wealth and hence justice. An egalitarian society cannot be established through an elitist revolution. For me therefore the process and the goal are synonymous. The struggle for equality is the revolution.
Petty bourgeois radicals working inside a workplace (or outside for that matter) usually have two major objectives. The first one is to convert workers to a Marxist line. (This line can even include a call for workers councils.) It seems to me however that the proletarian revolution has nothing to do with anyone's preaching a party line. If anything it is just the opposite. It is a question of appropriating the power to think for ourselves, the power and opportunity and need to make up our own minds and make our own decisions. It is a question of restoring to the working class the theorizing function, and of reuniting in the lives of ordinary people the intellectual faculties with the doing faculties (theory and practice), faculties that have been so totally separated and hence perverted in the monstrous division of labor between intellectuals and workers so characteristic of capitalist society. It is true that we have a lot to learn before the working class will be able to run the society, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with indoctrination.
The second typical objective of petty bourgeois radicals (who are even oriented to workers at all) is to get workers to join a particular organization like a party or union in order to make the revolution. It seems to me however that the aim is not for anyone to be organized into anything but to create our own institutions and organize ourselves. Moreover, the usual tendency is to mistake such organizations, a party or a union, for the organization that will be needed to make the revolution and reconstitute society along socialist lines, which is the self-organization by workers into councils at our places of work for the purposes of appropriating the means of production, managing the productive processes, and defending these workplaces against the attacks by the ruling class. If we are induced to join mass organizations it is very likely that our energies will be diverted from this central task. Anyway, the very idea of a mass organization contradicts directly the central aim of the socialist revolution which is precisely to break out of the condition of being a mass and to reconstitute society along egalitarian lines. `The masses' is a bourgeois concept if there ever was one. As long as there are vanguards and masses the revolution still remains to be made.
The emerging proletarian consciousness and autonomy
Once the image is grasped of the revolution as a vast takeover of workplaces and the reorganization of society into a network of workers councils based on direct democracy then the whole problem of the vanguard disappears (as a theoretical problem, that is). To be in revolt and to try to get others to revolt does not necessarily turn a person or group into a vanguard, not if they are inside the working class, just as taking initiative to achieve the revolution does not necessarily mean that a worker is an elitist. That merely means that you have become conscious of your oppression and are trying to end it. Others will ask what you are doing. They may join you, or oppose you, or stand on the sidelines a while longer. What is going on here is the emergence of the self-consciousness of the proletariat and the capacity for self-government. The difference between an elitist and a nonelitist is not that one takes the initiative while the other does not. If that were so then there would be no alternative to elitism except passivity. Not wanting to be a leader and dominate a person would have no option but to be a follower and submit. Obviously there must be a third possibility if the duality is to be transcended. Clearly, the difference between a vanguard strategy and an egalitarian strategy lies in the goal of the revolution that is being fought for, whether merely to defeat capitalism or to establish an egalitarian society, and the way in which it is fought for, whether in a condescending manner form the outside or in an egalitarian manner form the inside, and not with whether or not a battle is waged to make it. (January 5-6, 1972)
1. Reactions to the dynamics of Tuesday Night's Meeting, (11) comments on the situation before us, and a proposal or two
I left last Tuesday night's meeting very upset. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong at the time, but I definitely felt like I had been thoroughly steamrolled and bamboozled. However, it only took a few minutes after I left to realize why. I had fallen into a state of passivity. I had let my guard down. I was in a compromising mood and in fact did offer a compromise. This, on top of the Southern Comfort and the jovial atmosphere, softened me up I guess for the thorough trouncing and railroading that awaited me.
As I recall it, what happened after our discussion of whether or not to call the cops on the OBU theft, is that Aubrey expressed interest in hearing an elaboration of what I had meant when I had said earlier that we were missing an opportunity to get a new politics into the air. So I was asked to give my views. That should have been my first warning. Syd also agreed that ``Jim is next on the agenda.'' That should have been the second alarm. As it turned out this was a prelude not to a consideration of any proposal that I might have advanced, but to the bypassing of it. (I cannot decide whether this was unconscious, or at least spontaneous, because of an on- the-spot disagreement, or was perhaps a conscious move flowing from a previous decision made in a private caucus.)
Then I was asked, ``What format do you have in mind? Of the various things I said I was interested in only the four-page paper received any later consideration. (Did I even mention a four-page paper?) The proposal for a longer more substantive account was discarded out of hand as ``unrealistic,'' not as a result of any discussion of the matter (except for one brief exchange later in the meeting), but somehow mysteriously as if it had been ruled out of order, somehow, as it in fact had been by Aubrey (``that would take months'').
Then first Syd and next Aubrey talked about their ideas for a four-page paper (even though we had never agreed that that was what we were going to do – I was for a longer statement). Malinda, Mary, and Jil did not give outlines for such a paper. After a brief interlude Syd read back Aubrey's list of ideas for the paper as if it had been accepted as an outline for the four-page paper we had never explicitly agreed to publish. He did not say, ``I propose that we accept Aubrey's list as an outline of the contents of the paper.'' Whammo! There it was, a de facto outline. Two things were amiss here. Syd was at fault for his willingness to impose on the rest of us a formulation that he himself obviously liked. The rest of us, including Aubrey, were at fault for not objecting to this procedure instead of passively letting him railroad the thing through like that. Aubrey then reverted to his own list because Syd hadn't got it quite straight and that's what we dealt with for the rest of the night.
It should be noted that my own proposal, which was that the paper be built around the specific issues that we disagreed with them about – things like racism, the idea of third world, youth culture – was fairly easily bypassed since it wasn't down on anybody's list. I objected to several things on Aubrey's list, to the idea of a narrative account of the split, to the idea of a statement of our political position, to the idea of squeezing a critique of the New Left into one page, and so forth, but to no avail. These were the items already on the list. Aubrey then proceeded, as self-appointed and acquiesced in chairman for the meeting, to round up people to write the various sections of the paper. I think he was a little uneasy about some aspects of this process. On a couple of occasions he expressed some dismay or uneasiness about how to work in the anti-elitism theme I had stressed, but evidently this uneasiness was not strong enough to cause him to halt or back up in the process.
I do not consider dynamics like this in a meeting legitimate. The fault was my own (and others) for acquiescing in this like I did (we did). The fault was also Aubrey's (and others) for his (their) willingness to plunge ahead with such obviously inegalitarian procedures. Therefore I consider the questions of `Whether or not the paper?' and if so, `What to say in it?' to be open questions still.
At the Tuesday night meeting I offered a compromise that I thought might get us over at least one of the impasses that has prevented us from publishing an account of the split. I proposed that if people were willing to accept a critique of vanguardism and elitism in the New Left as an integral part of our attack on the other side's politics then I would be willing to agree to publish an interpretation of the split which held that the personality thing was a false issue utilized by the other side to secure predominance for their political views. In light of what happened Tuesday, I now see this proposed compromise as the weak degeneracy that it in fact was. It would be fundamentally dishonest of me to agree to publish what I consider to be a lie about what the fight was all about only in order to attack the bad political tendencies of the other group. If we are unable to confront and examine the wrong-headed political tendencies in our own ranks we have no business publishing an attack on the other side. Evidently either I did not communicate my proposal clearly or else there was scant enthusiasm for the anti-vanguard theme. It seemed to me that the whole thing got swept under the rug again, as it has in just about every meeting of our side so far. At any rate, I no longer feel that the compromise is a viable solution for the reasons already stated. I don't think I could live with a good side versus bad side account.
For me to agree to an attack on the politics of the other side in the absence of a critical self-examination of our own bad politics would be a perfect example of jumping the process. From my point of view there is potentially more to be lost from what I consider to be a dishonest move than there is to be gained. I have to take each situation as it comes. This is the only way. If I were to agree to publish such a paper it might mean that I would go on playing the role of the passive theorist in other people's fights forever. It might mean that Aubrey and Syd, having received continued support in the direction they are headed, would soon be out organizing a vanguard party. Then people with my orientation would really be faced with a problem.
It is a mistake to try to jump the process, to try to bypass the long historical struggle needed to create a truly egalitarian society. It seems to me that the entire Russian Revolution jumped the process in a sense. Lenin and Trotsky jumped the process when they seized state power in light of the obvious failure of the workers to take power for themselves. Perhaps that was less of a jump then than it would be now because a real workers revolution was not even on the agenda then.
But it is certainly on the agenda now. The working class in our country is not the meager two or three million of the Russia of 1917, but 140-170 million. Moreover, they can read and write. They have telephones and automobiles and tape recorders and home movie projectors. There exists the potential in this country for a grass roots egalitarian workers revolution without a vanguard and this potential will increase as the petty bourgeoisie shrinks further and society becomes more polarized into the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. For a self-appointed vanguard to try to force the issue before the revolutionary movement has reached full maturity would be to jump the process.
I think the primary issue for us at the present juncture is our own politics, not the politics of the other side. We should publish an eight-page account of the split which contains a full-page critical self-examination of our own style and politics as well as a full-scale attack on the politics of the other side.
If we were to publish such a critical self-examination we would be in a very strong position (having thus undercut their case about domination, sexism, and personality) to really demolish their political position. More than this. To publish a critical self-examination of our own style and politics would be a politically up front thing to do and would contribute to the revolutionary process. It seems to me that it is much better to confront the personality issue head on rather than to argue that it was a false issue used by the other side to shield their anti-working class politics.
I think we have to go back to our analysis of the dynamics operating on the other side. None of us doubt in the least that Natalie, at least in the meetings themselves, led the fight on their side. Aubrey and others have argued that the real leader however was Tink, even though she hardly uttered a word in the meetings proper. I agree. So when we think of who we would really like to negotiate with we think of Tink and Natalie (and maybe Laura). Moreover, it is Natalie's explicit politics (perhaps Tink's implicit politics) that we see as the politics of their side. And this is in spite of the fact that we recognize that other people among those who walked out exhibited somewhat different political tendencies. Claire for example and Richard are both considered by us as closer to working class politics than either Natalie or Tink are. Nevertheless, Natalie's and Tink's politics are seen as the politics of their side because they led the fight.
Now if we take a similar look at our own side what do we find? Who led the fight on our side? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Aubrey led the fight on our side? This is not a criticism of Aubrey. I consider it a shame that the rest of us allowed so much of the burden of opposing them to fall on Aubrey's shoulders. So the passivity of the rest of us is as much a problem, or more of a problem, than any domination on Aubrey's part.
Nevertheless, he was the main leader of our side and this is not difficult to prove. During the first meeting I attended after returning from Boston it was Aubrey who reversed the decision that was about to be made in favor of Tink going to Cuba rather than Jil. Syd had already made a speech early in the meeting against Tink but it was clear that as people began to speak up that the majority (mostly the new people) preferred Tink and the issue was already virtually decided when Aubrey intervened and stood up to Tink and stared her in the eye and told the group that she didn't have any politics and that it would be a disaster for the paper if Tink was selected. That required real guts and no one else could have done it at that time. During the November weekend it was Aubrey who managed to shift the discussion away from the underground and onto class. It was also Aubrey who was the first to shout Natalie down and force out of her a confession that she was evading the issues. Aubrey played a leading role in every subsequent meeting, on big and little matters. It was Aubrey who reversed the decision to hold Saturday's meeting at Laura's and restored it to Malinda's. I could go on and on. Aubrey was the one who stood up and opposed, five minutes before the walkout, the other side's attempt to impose their own agenda on the meeting (as opposed to the one previously agreed upon). There is absolutely no doubt about who led the fight on our side.
Syd also played a key role, especially because of his position as one of the dominant figures in the old collective, but this role was nevertheless secondary to Aubrey's. Even so, because of the aggravating way that Syd often says and does things, much of the acrimony of the fight focused on Syd rather than Aubrey, who is usually able to present things in a more conciliatory way. This is how Syd's style and politics came to be seen by the other side as reflecting the position of our side – much as Natalie's style and politics was seen by us as representative of the position of the other side – even though there is in fact considerable variation, and even conflict, among the viewpoints on our side.
I think it is very important to understand the internal dynamics within our own group and what these dynamics say about our politics. My own view is that relations within our group are peculiarly lopsided. Support-hungry people tend to flock around supportive people. In our group it seems to me that Aubrey is a strong and self-reliant person who exudes support. He is a support-giving person, not a support-demanding person. The price that Aubrey has to pay for being in a position of such strength however is fairly frightening and involves at the very minimum a strange remoteness from people and a secretiveness or lack of openness about himself, and all this is part of an intensely defensive stance about personal matters. So it is not necessarily advantageous to be on the super-supportive side of the supportive/dependent duality. It would be preferable to be normally self-reliant and normally dependent, whatever this means.
The rest of us, all five of us, fall on the support-hungry, dependent, or passive side of the fence in one way or another, although of course each of us is in some ways independent as well. I am one of the worst offenders in this respect. I have been afraid of Aubrey for years, putting him above me and deferring to him, being unable to treat him as an equal. In a sense I have come to rely on him and be dependent on his judgment and support. Moreover, I have never really established emotional independence in general, or even financial self-reliance, and this has shaped all my relationships, including this one. At some point in one of the recent crises Aubrey said, ``Jim, I'll support you.'' He has on other occasions (and in general) resisted the inequality of the relationship as much as I have and there is even a sense in which he is afraid of me also.
Malinda is probably waging a more courageous fight for autonomy than anyone in the group. Nevertheless, a long history of emotional dependency is not obliterated overnight and her present relationship with a traditionally support-giving person is only one reflection of the problem. I have always felt that Jil had an independent position in our group and in the paper in general. Nevertheless, I was also uneasy about something in her relationship with Syd. I have on occasion overheard them on the telephone from Syd's end and have been bothered by the lecturing that she was evidently willing to put up with. More recently I have become convinced that beneath it all there is also in Jil some strange dependency on Aubrey and Syd. Syd is probably dependent on Aubrey in a worse way than any of the rest of us because he is so completely unconscious of it and in fact denies that the relationship is an unequal one. I have always perceived it as unequal. There has never been any doubt for me that Aubrey is the dominant figure in the relationship. Lots of other people have seen it this way also. And there is abundant evidence to back it up....(12) (December 31, 1971)
2. Final thoughts on the LG Split
This must be brief because there are more pressing questions to work out, especially the whole thing about the significance of the petty bourgeoisie, both in the class structure of the United States and as a factor in Left politics, particularly as these things relate to my own life and future political work.
I don't agree with the statement we are putting out on the split and I really feel sick about signing it. It is essentially Aubrey's interpretation of the split. But I have slowly gotten myself into such a box that there is really no way out for me now except to go ahead with it. I'll try shortly to explain briefly how this happened.
I do not agree with the section on `The Question of Manipulation', which argues that the fight was not about manipulation but about class. I also disagree with the section on `Elitism', which argues that the struggle against elitism has served to obscure other more fundamental issues. These two sections taken together, plus the tone of the statement in general and bits and pieces here and there, add up to an attack on (or at least a backing away from, by saying that it was a mistake) the struggle for equality and against domination and elitism in the movement. Nothing could be further from my own views, desires, or intentions.
I seems to me that manipulation was an issue in the split. If anything, the split happened mainly because we were trying to cram a class analysis down their throats. They did in fact have an anti-class bias, like we argued, but it was mainly their feeling that they were being compelled to accept a class analysis that led to the split. The four of us, Aubrey, Syd, Jim, and Jil, functioned as a pretty tight team, especially the three men, and I think we really pushed them up against the wall, trying to get a reexamination of the paper's politics, and even more, trying to get the paper's politics reoriented along the lines of a class analysis. It is not only, then, that Natalie was defending an opposing political position, she was also defending the group against the elitism and the macho tactics of the three of us. We gave them no choice: either submit or split.
My problem is that I stood solid with Syd and Aubrey throughout the whole thing even though I cringed at many of the things they did. I should have opposed Aubrey's uncompromising attitudes all along, and Syd's sectarianism. It was only after the split that I started my fight with them. That was a gross error. The whole thing might have happened differently if I had fought for my real position during the fight. Instead, I supported Aubrey's sometimes abusive tactics in order to oppose Natalie's anti-class politics. This was very unprincipled. At the time I didn't see it that way however.
It was only after the split (but only thirty minutes after it, when I saw Aubrey treating Jil just like he had been treating Natalie) that I began to think more seriously about style and the role style had played in the split. Then on Wednesday after the split we were treated to Syd's grotesque backstab of Jil, trying to read her out of the group and wanting her to move to Baltimore. By the end of that first week I was convinced that Syd and Aubrey were Old Left, and that their basic tendencies were sectarian and authoritarian. They were organizers, vanguard party builders. I haven't changed my opinion since then. I fought them for almost a month on these issues, but then I realized, while writing the essay `What Kind of Working Class Politics?' that I too was speaking about workers and the working class from the outside and that my fight with Syd and Aubrey therefore was another petty bourgeois squabble and not worth the effort. Whatever my position was, it couldn't be genuine working class because I wasn't even in the working class, at least not in a solid way.
There were many other things that contributed to the trap that I felt I was in. I should have opposed them before the split. Then I should have split with them soon after the split or at least on January 8 (that horrible Saturday evening when we fought so hard and almost split but didn't because Aubrey pressed us to stay together). Then I could have split after the section on manipulation or certainly after the section on elitism. But I didn't and it got harder and harder to do so the more time everyone had invested drafting the statement. I then resigned myself at some point to the lie that I was facing and going to have to sign. That was a mistake also. But I got so tired of those horrible meetings and so tired of the ugly fights with Aubrey.
You can't really win against Aubrey. You can if there are enough of you. The CRV women literally overwhelmed him. Otherwise you either have to leave or submit. I guess I decided to leave but not until after the statement was finished, but to submit until then. I wish I had left, walked out, during the process. Now it will be hard to break off relations. They will act as if nothing ever happened, as if we are all still friends. But I'll manage somehow. As far as I am concerned the alliance is over. Aubrey has trampled everyone into the dust these last few weeks. It has been abhorrent to me. He has hung himself in my eyes. It is crystal clear to me that his conception of collectivity is a coercive one, certainly in practice. I think he hides behind the collectivity thing. Before, there was always a group behind him so it always seemed plausible that he was defending collective procedures. But in fact, since he was the kingpin of those collective procedures and got his way ninety percent of the time, he was only defending his own dominant position. He defended a style of working, a style resembling, in form, democratic processes, but a form which he was able to manipulate to win his own way most of the time and have it appear to be the group's way. Thus his own desires were stamped with the legitimacy of the collective will. Very tricky. But in our smaller group all this became transparent, especially since his usual air of fairness and respect for group processes completely evaporated on the critical issues, where he openly fought to get his own way. Even more revealingly, his group process thing broke down at intervals in a completely irrational way, on the most trivial of issues, where it became obvious to everyone that he was dominating the group and forcing it to adopt his opinions, even on matters of punctuation, and all in the name of collective procedures.
The last time this happened was a week ago Monday when Aubrey spent a whole evening on the phone trying to bamboozle everyone into making a big effort to get mockups of the statement ready by the meeting the next evening or else postpone the meeting. This ended in a heated argument between us on the phone. After a whole evening of having to put up with this I finally balked after he said he would refuse to come if the mockups weren't done. That was the last straw. I retaliated by saying that we were going to meet whether he came or not. He accused me of being an individualist. It takes incredible gall to trample everyone into the dirt for eight solid weeks, and then if anyone resists to accuse them of being unwilling to work in a collective fashion.
I am ashamed to send out that account with my name on it. People who know Aubrey will laugh. They will know it is a lie. The thought of having had a split against Aubrey in which elitism wasn't an issue is an absurdity. This is the price I have to pay I guess for all the mistakes I made along the way and for not having fought harder or for not having split when I had the chance to.
The fight against petty bourgeois radicals like Syd and Aubrey is going to be a hard one and a very long one. They cannot conceive of a revolutionary strategy except within the framework of leaders and followers. They are organizers, inveterate organizers. The terrible thing is that they could not have pressed the fight against the other side without me. They led the fight and in fact waged it, but I was there on call to lend theoretical substance to their effort. I was even fairly aggressive in this, although basically I was merely sitting on the sidelines watching the whole thing. (There is one complicating thing: I'm not sure we would have uncovered the anti-class bias of New Left politics if we hadn't pushed them.)
What I have to do now is explore further the insights I have gained in opposition to Syd and Aubrey: the possible petty bourgeois roots of the Old Left, the class basis of sectarianism, the analysis of the politics of condescension and the politics of emulation, and the implications of all this for an egalitarian strategy.
Also, I have to write up in a coherent form all the lessons learned about domination and elitism over the last several years. Many of these struggles have centered around Syd and Aubrey, in the CRV splits, in the Righi group split, and now in the LG split. I think these are critical. If in the past these efforts were divorced from a genuine class analysis, this does not destroy the legitimacy of opposing authoritarian practices, but only means that this has to be from now on a part of the class struggle. I see the two things as synonymous. But all this is in danger of being swept away now. People all over are calling for a vanguard party. People like Aubrey and Syd have even developed arguments about of the negative effects of anti-elitism, an analysis that provides them with a convenient rationalization, and enables them to avoid confronting the charges raised against them. I was really astonished to learn first of Syd's and then of Aubrey's interpretation of the CRV events of June 1970. Aubrey felt he had been mistreated, that the elitism issue was a false one, and that it had served to obscure a class analysis (in retrospect for this last item). Aubrey never, not once, admitted to being the least bit guilty of heavy-handed tactics. At the weekend retreat in Pennsylvania, when asked by thirty CRV women to make a statement about the charges they leveled against him, Aubrey attacked them. He said he had made every effort to work in a collective way and to get people to participate. He felt the problem was with their own passivity rather than his domination (not in these words, these are my words). I agreed that passivity was a problem. Statements like this always led me to believe that Aubrey was concerned with passivity, with not dominating.
But now I see that this is not true. It was merely a very, very good defense. Aubrey is not trying to transcend these two things. He is not working within the same framework that I am, not living dialectically between domination and passivity, refusing to be either, attempting to transcend both. His tendency is to overwhelm all opposition, to squash people by sitting on them, to trample people who disagree into the mud. He always tries to do this in a group context under the guise of collective processes, but there is little hesitation to use more brutal tactics if the others fail.
It is no accident that Aubrey is not interested in developing a critique of the vanguard party strategy. His whole resistance to my attempt to develop an egalitarian strategy finally emerged into the open in this post-split struggle. But it has always been there, I just never perceived it. He disagreed with me on the caucus structure we eventually got accepted in CRV. He disagreed about my fears of the vanguard tendencies of the Panthers, which had become very clear and pronounced by the time of the warm-up constitutional convention in Philadelphia. He refused to read the constitution I wrote. At the time I thought it was just because he was uptight that I had written it. But now it is possible to conclude that he didn't like its contents and was therefore hostile toward the document.
I am against individualism. I am also against coercive collectivity (at least now, before genuine equality and democracy have been established). What I intend to fight for is the establishment of genuine equality of power, genuine democracy, in which a genuine collectivity could thrive. (February 16, 1972)
(1) Old Left is a strong term to apply to some of my closest friends and allies and in fact is rather unfair since none of them are really Old Left. My use of the term emerged in one of the more emotional crises experienced by our group after the split. I used the term I guess in order to highlight, expose, and discredit some of the political tendencies I saw operating in our own group which I disagreed strongly with. The term was not intended as a personally pejorative one, but I guess it was inevitable that it would be taken that way since all of us take our politics seriously.
(2) It is of course grossly inaccurate to say that I have achieved a new understanding of the situation. Consciousness is not an individual thing. Consciousness is social. It emerges out of interaction with others and with social reality. The new view in fact emerged in a whole group of people, our side, people who are close friends and political allies and veterans of many political struggles. This group set itself in opposition to another carefully spelled out and vigorously defended political analysis. And all of this was in response to a changing social reality at a particular historical juncture. The insights and behavioral responses of everyone on our side contributed in some way or another to the generation of a new consciousness of the situation, and the same is true of the statements and actions of the various individuals on the other side.
(3) They did not see this as contradictory because sexism for them is not limited to men.
(4) One additional note. When I say `they' or the `other side' in this discussion I do not mean to imply that everyone who walked out was unified or would accept as their own the views I am describing here. The political position presented here as the other side's was articulated mainly by two or three people and especially by a central spokesperson and leader of the walkout, at least as it unfolded in the group meetings themselves. Bits and pieces were added by a lot of other people. I believe that only two or possibly three people firmly held to what we saw as the opposing political position. Other people were less sure of things and sometimes switched sides in the discussions on this or that point. Similarly, on our own side, there is not complete agreement either on an interpretation of the split although it is fairly solid. At least one person puts considerably more weight on personality than I do. Others are less inclined to press so hard on the anti-vanguardism theme, and there is still considerable stumbling around by all of us about who is in the working class and about the exact significance of the petty bourgeois element in the movement and in the split itself. By and large I try to say `we' when I feel we agreed and `I' otherwise, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
(5) The other side will also disagree with my interpretation of their political position, but these disputes about `characterizing our position' were also a part of our debates. I feel that I have a fairly clear idea of what they say their position is as well as how they think I misstate their position. And of course I know my own view of their position. My view of what they were about differs significantly from their own. Naturally I do not agree with them that I misunderstand their position, not after having been corrected so many times. I could be wrong of course but I don't think so. This was in fact another point of disagreement between us. They argued that we were obliged to accept other people's self-definitions as the true ones. In particular, we were obliged to accept the self-definition that black and brown people have of themselves as `third world peoples'. We were not allowed to challenge this concept because this is the way black and brown people see themselves. I argued that if that were true then we would also have to accept the self-definition the ruling class has as well, which is of course that they are not a ruling class at all. And so it went, back and forth. I also have an idea of how I feel they distorted our position. In fact these distortions loomed larger and larger in our eyes as the fight unfolded and are not without political significance. The dogged and systematic refusal again and again to hear accurately what a person is saying cannot be accidental or without meaning. Naturally they did not accept our ideas about the significance of these distortions any more than we accepted theirs. Their theory about our characterization of their position is that we were being dogmatic and sectarian. It was a total impasse on all fronts.
(6) This last meeting was an interesting one, by the way, because it was somehow possible suddenly to discuss a whole range of political differences very coolly and intelligently – one of the rare times that this happened. We later discovered why. It was the calm before the storm. They had already decided in secret to take over the paper. The discussion was irrelevant therefore. They had already decided to end the debate and bypass the challenges we were raising to their political analysis by splitting.
(7) Mao's dictum, Serve the People, is an elitist slogan. It embodies the leader/follower, vanguard/mass split, and is condescending in the same way that the commandment ``Love Your Neighbor'' is condescending.
(8) Originally, five other questions were to be treated in this section, but were never written: Is youth culture a revolutionary force? Should the Left attempt to function on the national level? Is the underground the military arm of the revolution? Should the Left bother with electoral politics? What is the role of the Liberated Guardian?
(9) It later turned out that the other side claimed to have had a very different understanding of that first weekend, not seeing it at all as an attempt to develop a new politics.
(10) As I explained briefly in the Forewarning, by the end of the first week after the split it had become clear to me that the kind of working class politics I thought we had fought for was not the one we had in fact fought for. At first I saw this as a disagreement between myself and mainly one and partly a second person in the group. But as our discussions continued I realized that all five of the other people in the group disagreed with my version of working class politics in fundamental ways.
My first attempt to formulate the differences between myself and the other people in the group is contained in the Forewarning. I had come to see the style and politics of the others in our group, and in fact of the whole group as it had functioned, as a coherent and consistent political position or world outlook much as I had come to see the other side's style and politics as an integrated and coherent whole. Before our arguments were over I was convinced that there was an enormous difference in our political outlooks. Naturally I think that I am right and since other people in the group are some of my closest friends and allies of long standing I refuse to believe that they are tightly wedded to the political tendencies that I claim to have detected operating in the group. Only time will tell I guess.
As our discussions continued I developed further the idea only hinted at in the Forewarning that this particular style and politics exhibited by our side had a class base, that it was also a petty bourgeois politics in about the same sense as the politics of the other side had been seen as having a class base. My second formulation of the issues separating myself from other people on our side focuses more on this insight and is found in the present essay. This essay in many ways sums up some of the debates within our side, from my side of the argument of course.
Their position at its softest was that the whole question of the vanguard was a very complex one that deserved a great deal of further study. They tended to believe however that some kind of party or national organization would be needed to make the revolution, that good leadership was okay, that only bad leadership represented a problem, and that my stress on radical egalitarianism was utopian, unrealistic, and even preposterous. At its hardest their position was that there will always be organizers and if there aren't nothing will ever get done, that it is good and necessary to have and indoctrinate a line, and that the revolution requires a party and mass organizations. This debate pushed me another huge step forward in the critique of the vanguard strategy that I have been working on for some time now. In particular, discovering a class basis for the strategy is significant as well as the shift in my own self-identity from being a radical inside the movement to being a worker inside the proletarian revolution. This identity is perhaps a little stretched or even pretentious at the present time but I hope it will become less so in the near future.
(11) A meeting after the split of the six members of our side, one of many, to work out a statement on the split.
(12) I didn't have time to finish this paper, which I had intended to present in written form to the group. I ended up giving it orally instead. I was going to finish discussing Syd's dependency and then Mary's. Then I was going to discuss the theoretical side, that is, the whole series of occasions when the issue of `What kind of working class politics?' had been hedged and swept under the rug. This usually took the form of postponing the discussion. I was then going to describe the connection between their style and their evident opposition on the theoretical level to an egalitarian politics.