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Socialism from Behind

When Hal Draper's theory of socialism from below was first becoming popular amongst post-Trotskyist circles in Toronto––circles that, at one time, defined what was fashionable amongst the marxist left––there were some queer socialists connected to these circles who joked that they were more interested in socialism from behind.  While this joke might, at first glance, appear to be an unserious rejection of a theoretical province, it contained a kernel of critique: there was little reason to be interested in a theory, regardless of its rhetorical force, that was utterly unremarkable when it came to the concerns raised by the non-marxist anti-oppression discourses.  After decades of feminist, anti-racist, and queer theory, therefore, how did Draper's insights really matter?  Simply put: they did not.

And yet the rhetorical force of the slogan socialism from below is compelling.  After all, many of us indeed want a bottom-up socialism that, while retaining key aspects of Leninism,…

Argh! Lifestyle Consumerist Politics!

My first experience with actual activism, just when I was deciding I was an anarchist and trying to figure out what that meant, was in an organization that equated political radicalism with anti-consumerism.  This was precisely what Murray Bookchin, who I would later come to love in the twilight years of my anarchism, would have deemed lifestyle anarchism but at the time I was just a kid who wanted to make a difference and this kind of politics appeared compelling.  Specifically, I was part of "Students Against Sweat Shops" (or SASS because it was so sassy!) that, without any analysis of imperialism, treated the problem of the export of capital as something that could be defeated by fair trade policies and a refusal to buy sweat shop made commodities.  Although I eventually grew up and quit being even a mature anarchist, apparently so many others remain trapped at this stage of infantile anti-consumerism.  This kind of politics is possibly endearing when it is practiced by a…

Once Again: on trade unionism and economism

In numerous past posts I've discussed the limitations of the trade union movement in Canada and the need for communists to avoid a political strategy that is primarily based on trade unionism.  Based on discussions with friends and comrades, however, I feel that it is important to clarify the meaning of this position because it is often misunderstood, intentionally or unintentionally, as a form of anti-union ultra-leftism rather than an important strategic clarification.  The problem with trade unionism articulated by myself and the Maoist groups I support should not be conceived as a bland anti-unionism––or even some vague and anarchist rejection of "union bureaucracy"––but a critique of economism and, in this critique, an extension of Lenin's distinction between trade union and revolutionary consciousness.



Having come from the trade union movement, and having spent years working as an anti-capitalist within a union, there is a part of me that cannot help but remain…

Obituary: Nelson Mandela

It is somewhat ironic to read all of the liberal media obituaries that are praising Nelson Mandela when, at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, many of these same media sites were castigating the ANC for its violence and supporting apartheid.  There are, of course, those honestly reactionary news sites that are still attacking Mandela as a "communist" who redistributed the land and property of hard-working white Afrikaaners (a strange claim considering that only 7% of land was redistributed and the vast majority of Afrikaaners kept their colonial property post-apartheid), but this kind of openly racist defense of apartheid, common in the 1980s, is now considered bad form.

Mandela's death should leave us with conflicted feelings.  On the one hand, there is the undeniable fact that he was the leader and figurehead of a revolutionary anti-colonial movement aimed at smashing South Africa's apartheid state: this Mandela argued for revolutionary violence, land refor…

From the Anticolonial to the Decolonial

In 1981 A.M. Babu wrote African Socialism or Socialist Africa, an attack on the cultural nationalism promoted by Julius Nyerere.  Leading ideologue of Umma, the revolutionary organization that led the decolonization of Zanzibar, Babu had good reason to write this polemic; Nyerere's ujamaa movement had, by 1964, annexed Zanzibar into Tanzania, liquidated Umma, and smashed the socialist initiatives post-colonial Zanzibar had taken.  Rejecting the ideology of "African Socialism", which argued that African culture was essentially socialist and so the key to a successful post-colonial state would be a return to an authentic past, Babu sided with Fanon and other anti-colonial theorists who argued that cultural nationalism was a "pit-fall" that could never produce socialism.

We know now, thanks to Amrit Wilson's recent book, that Nyerere's annexation of Zanzibar, and subsequent crushing of Umma, was directed by the CIA.  The consummate "African Socialist&…

On "Stalinism" [part 3]

Due to some of the confusion my previous two posts on "Stalinism" caused for some, I think it is worthwhile to begin this concluding post by providing some conceptual clarity.  Moreover, I want to note that this small series is not intended to be a thorough examination of the phenomenon but, rather, was initially meant to be a general summary of how I believe Maoists in particular should think about approaching that thing which people call "Stalinism", as well as the question of Stalin, and how our approach will not necessarily be the same as other marxist (or anarchist, for that matter) tendencies.

That being said, what needs to be made clear is that this phenomenon that we can short-hand as "Stalinism" is indeed a phenomenon that is discussed and defined by other traditions; it is this existing definition, this spectre of party monolithism, authoritarianism, over-bureaucratization, or what-have-you, that motivated this small series.  Thus, I began by ch…

Promotion: Proletarian Feminist Preliminary Conference

I'm taking a break from my "stalinism" series (which is becoming longer than I intended) in order to promote the First Conference for a Proletarian Feminist Movement, planned and organized by the PCR-RCP initiated Proletarian Feminist Front in Montreal.  This preliminary and semi-open conference will take place on November 30th to December 1st in Montreal.  Although it is intentionally beginning small (which is why the call-out, linked below, was not released until now), the idea is to build a national feminist front carefully, following the manner in which the Revolutionary Student Movement has been building itself with similar conferences.

As many of my readers will be aware, the Maoist movement has been promoting "proletarian feminism" for some time, most significantly in the works of Anuradha Gandhy and Hisila Yami. The PCR-RCP has long been involved in investigating this kind of feminism and how it is precisely demarcated from bourgeois feminism.  For some…

On "Stalinism" [part 2]

In the past, whenever the possible problems of Stalin/Stalinism came up, I simply deferred to the analysis made by the Communist Party of China during the "Great Debate" where, in the face of the Soviet Union's revisionism, they defended Stalin from rightist critiques while, at the same time, providing their own critiques.  And though I still believe this is a good starting point, I have also come to believe that more is required.  The problem with making sense of "Stalinism" as a phenomenological reality, and the possible errors this phenomenon (that we are conveniently calling "Stalinism") produces, is more than simply recognizing a general summary of Stalin's errors.  This is not to say that the above document is not useful; it provides us with some understanding of the phenomenon: it highlights the way in which the party under Stalin improperly understood line struggle and how to deal with counter-revolution; it notes that democratic centralis…

On "Stalinism" [Part 1]

Yesterday at work, when I passed a poster advertising the schedule of one of the many marxist reading groups on campus, I was reminded about my intention to post something on Stalin/Stalinism that would be more substantial than my Trotsky-Stalin Mimesis piece from 2011, and more serious than my Young Stalin joke post that over-inflated my blog stats for a few months.  The reason I was reminded about my intention to post on Stalin/Stalinism was because, according to the poster on campus, the first scheduled reading of this generic marxist group was entitled something like "Stalin's Betrayal of the Russian Revolution" with a cartoon depiction of Prophet Trotsky giving Evil Uncle Joe some sort of verbal smack-down.  Beyond the obvious fact that a reading group focused on a sectarian interpretation of history––and whose theory is dependent on this sectarianism (i.e. no Trotskyism would survive if you remove its mimetic double, "Stalinism", that it itself has golemi…

Productive Forces Normativity

A solution to the problem of capitalism that lies in a "productive forces" approach remains quite normative.  What I mean, here, is the theory that capitalism will be transcended due to its inability to account for the development of its economy, specifically its "forces of production" (i.e. machines, technologies, etc.) and especially those productive forces that, by themselves, appear to be antithetical to capitalist logic.  This kind of economic/technological determination has been part of anti-capitalist ideology for a very long time; it has even manifested, quite famously, in numerous marxist tendencies.  And even within the dominant marxist tendencies that were primarily concerned with revolutionary agency (i.e. variants of Marxism-Leninism), a productive forces way of seeing reality still reared its determinist head––as should be obvious from the countless speeches of great revolutionaries who, though most probably aiming for polemical force rather than theo…