Thoughts of an Ageing Communist

I was struck by an article in Counterpunch late last year: Scott Tucker wrote a piece centred around war and peace and to further enlighten his readers he provided links to two other articles: “I am including links to two articles readers may find useful. The first article was just published at World Socialist Website (WSWS). They are Trotskyists and I am not, but in this case I pretty much agree with their views.”

Oh dear! A man failing to dismiss a political group on the basis of their description or political leaning! Where will it all end?

I am a communist in the traditional sense that I aligned myself to the Communist Party of Ireland for many, many years only to discover that either most of them – or me – are not the type of ‘communists’ that should keep each other company. Eventually, I was expelled for – to keep a long story very short – disobedience!

Now, how many of you readers are still with me? How many of you have now instantly made one decision or another based on what you have read so far or are you prepared to read on?

First, I will contend that in the ‘west’, liberals, progressives, left, socialists, communists, etc are so far away from achieving any political power that many of the differences between them, the historical animosities, the petty squabbles, the inflated egos, the personal disputes, are completely and utterly ridiculous. And, that many people see us that way and is why so many people will not touch us.

By all means indulge ourselves in establishing or maintaining historical or current differences. But, as is frequently the case, our fractious nonsense is only a thin veil that covers our organisational and political failures within our ever-decreasing circle. It does nothing to create any possibility for progress whatsoever. Mostly, it provides a cheap, ignorant platform to help us escape having to answer so many awkward or pertinent questions. And it certainly contributes nothing to resolving deeper fundamental issues that will inevitably arise at a later level of organisational development.

Frankly, an objective look at many organisations, including communist parties, must conclude we that have long since descended into pathetic cultish outfits. There are plenty of individuals and organisations in most ‘western’ countries that could form the basis of a united Left challenge to the prevailing and very successful ruling bodies. Many, especially in the Americas, have been successful or have made considerable progress despite overwhelming odds.

Now, look at the comfortable ‘western’ record. Take Europe. There is barely a handful of relatively successful organisations and even fewer successful communist parties. The left, the progressive forces have been chewed up and spat out for the most part, though many ‘survive’ in insular and constant states of delusion.

Discussion of revolution and communism in the English-speaking world is just fantasy role playing unless it begins and ends with the cold hard reality that the left has been completely neutralized and marginalized here and the numbers are nowhere close to what they need to be. Moving revolutionary leftism out of the farthest margins and closer to the mainstream should be your first and foremost objective before you talk about anything else, because otherwise you’re just LARPing. You’re arguing about a political movement that has no actual movement.

You can do this by outreach and activism. You can also do this by finding ways to make socialism and communism look so fucking cool that people start knocking each other over to be a part of it. Finding clever ways to make it shiny and attractive in a very indoctrinated society.
Caitlin Johnstone, Australian journalist

Where to start? At least, acknowledge that the capitalistic and imperialistic forces, organisations and political parties have excelled themselves compared to the Left despite their differences. Acknowledge that they have utilised every means available to them — especially the media — in spectacular fashion particularly in relation to their struggle with the Left. The enormous imbalance in our access to the broad media does not absolve us of the requirement to at least try to counter or circumvent that imbalance.

Nothing does more to fracture the Left than the Left itself. The establishment, along with the media (and frequently with the media and their armies) plant the seeds of division and the Left grows those seeds to maturity with unrelenting eagerness and astonishing success.

I am sorry that this little peep into the Left is largely concentrated on Europe. Despite decades of engagement in solidarity with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela (chiefly), my practical political experience is in Europe.

I have watched (and marched with) people being led to the top of the hill so many times in my lifetime on so many issues only to find that everyone had to find their own way home with nothing more than either the satisfaction that they had done ‘something’ about something or the feeling that they had been led astray – completely astray by leaders who had no sense of direction.

For now, in the ‘west’, we have lost the battle with the capitalists and our prospects of changing that trajectory are slim. However, to improve those odds, to prepare for the coming confrontations we have to be better organised than in the past. That is self-evident:

Stop living in the past

Stop accepting mediocre leadership

Stop listening to ‘leaders’ whose only response to any issue is to ‘organise’ a picket or a march

Stop relying on so-called liberals whose only purpose in life is to let you down when you need them the most

Stop believing that governments who do not respond to any democratic demands will be intimidated into accepting the demands of some pathetic picket outside (always outside) some government department or other

Stop everything and reassess and learn from our past failures

Stop responding to each and every provocation thrown at us by our governments, or blocs or employers – they are laughing out loud at us. It is so hilarious for them that they feed us on a constant drip diet of provocation and watch as hundreds of separate organisations respond in hundreds of separate ways – none of which threatens them in the slightest

Stop and try to work out how and why we have lost the argument when our message could be and should be so attractive – how can this be?

Stop believing that when a government retreats on some particular issue that that has been a victory for the opposition. At best, it may be a tactical retreat. If only the Left would engage in a tactical retreat from failed tactics, we might make some progress on some front

Stop accepting any financing from your government or local authority to ‘assist’ in running some social organisation or other, some quasi-educational project, some ‘human-rights’ outfit, there are literally hundreds of examples. The state funding organisations that often engage in campaigns against the government! Do you think that the governments are stupid?

Stop accepting leadership from rogues and charlatans – if you take the time to look, they will expose themselves, and usually the only cover they have is a compliant membership

Stop evading our responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of our organisation

Stop embracing all sorts of side-issues – race, religion, gender, etc and stick to the only thing that can resolve these issues – class unity and class victory

Stop strangling discussion: at the same time stop analysing issues to death at the expense of any form of organised response

Stop showing how small we are, how little support we have. The governments, the capitalists and unfortunately the people already know this, mostly because in case they missed it, we insist on reminding them at every opportunity!

Stop thinking that every defeat is somehow a victory – skip the self-delusion and start to learn the real difference between the two concepts

Stop and accept that especially in the English-speaking world and in Europe generally we lost and are continuing to lose more every day and try to figure out why that is the case and try to figure out what to do about it

Stop and consider why there are so many separate groups with separate approaches on issues that most other organisations would hold some degree of sympathy with. There is no question that many of the leaders of these, let’s call them specialised or sectional groups, have been driven out of other groups or had failed to make any progress or even see any prospect for progress on some issue within some larger group. There is a lot of talent out there, a great number of people with specialist knowledge yet all, including the larger groups, are running round like headless chickens and failing to recognise the basic principle that unity, or even co-operation, is strength

Stop and consider the issue of unity being strength (for the most part): If unity is strength, then disunity is weakness. Weakness inevitably leads to failure. Who is responsible for the disunity of forces on the Left?

Stop and consider how we are rated, not necessarily in terms of success or failure, as these concepts are subject to wild variations according to our environment, but in terms of how we are perceived: how does our government rate us in terms of being a threat, how do other organisations rate us (for all manner of reasons), how do the people we appeal to rate us?

“Street activism reinforces the negative public perception”

“Street activism is more about cops, “symbolic” arrests, and social media

“Street activism gives us the illusion of being a threat
Mickey Z

Stop behaving as if we just represent ourselves. By our own declarations we take on to represent the working class. Yet, carrying that responsibility we expose ourselves variously as disorganised, violent (sometimes), incompetent, tiny, fractious, vulgar, arrogant or cult-like outfits presenting ourselves as glorious defeated heroes and/or marked with an obvious outcast mentality. If you don’t recognise yourself then ask anyone in the street and they will set you straight. Even if you are not one of the above, even if you are one of the few stalwarts, you will be lumped in with the above either because people are not able to distinguish one from the other, or you will be deliberately so labelled by the media, etc

Stop and look to see if there is one thing we do well: any one thing that we do well that makes us indispensable in the wider or narrower scheme of the political reality you inhabit

Just Stop. Consider for one moment what would be the consequence if your particular organisation ceased to exist. Would such a disappearance even be noted within the great scheme of things? Be honest with ourselves. The fact is that most left political organisations would not be missed. That does not mean that they should go away. Indeed, they are needed more than ever. However, it does mean that most of them do have to completely reassess their situation. Instead of wasting time doing the same futile things time after time, take a look at ourselves and develop some self-respect for our image.

Considering that the capitalists have outgunned the Left — in every sense of the word — how can it be possible that we continue to use every method that we know does not work. What is the matter with us?

The Left has no credibility, for the most part and in most instances. It is not only the governments and the capitalists that ignore us but also the very people we try to appeal to. They deserted us in droves and continue to do so.

“But that’s the magic of ‘activism,’ isn’t it? We rebels loyally follow the time-worn script and then pat ourselves on the back for being so badass that the ‘pigs’ have no choice but to come after us.”

“Imagine if those who are passionate about living in a more sane, equitable, and compassionate society, took steps that actually contributed to that noble goal.”

“It’s never too late to try something new…”

Mickey Z

What is to be done? There is no alternative to good organisation — it is the key to everything. Solid political and organisational structures will transform any group no matter what it is. Rejecting all the previous methods that did not work — and will not work — is the first step to being forced to consider alternative approaches. That can only happen when the organisation itself is nourished with clear plans and strategies. When we skip that step, we are doomed and so is anything we touch. Building the organisation and promoting policies are distinct activities which, although related, require separate attentions and expertise.

Look at the real world, the world of capitalist successes and outright victories in pursuing and achieving their goals for themselves. Capitalism itself is a disaster but the people who oversee that disaster are first-class organisers and strategists. They have not secured and cemented their grip on most of the world on a wing and a prayer.

We cannot lead others until you know where we are going ourselves. We have to recognise that too many people have been led up blind alleys and are no longer willing to be fooled again. We have to take responsibility for having been the cause of that disastrous outcome and take steps to make sure there is no continuation or re-occurrence of that disaster. Think quality, not quantity. Just like the 1% does. Think organisation. Just like the 1% does. Think strategy. Just like the 1% does. Or, do we consider ourselves (from a broad organisation and strategic perspective) to be better at the job than they are?

“Using no way as way. Having no limitation as your only limitation.”

Bruce Lee

Leaving the futility behind will be no loss but seriously reassessing our internal situation just might sow a seed of our choice that we could learn to nourish and develop. Is that proposition so hard to understand? After we have achieved some organisational and leadership capacities, we might just be able to look at the next step: how to cooperate with others and then achieve unity. We have nothing to lose but our own self-imposed chains!

It is likely that I may be wrong on some of the points I have raised. It is just as likely that I have missed many other important points. In any event, can you correct me or enlighten me without attacking me? At least, try.

Declan McKenna is a solidarity activist living in Donegal, Ireland. He can be reached at Read other articles by Declan.