Concept of programme - additional comment

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Fri Aug 29 17:06:33 MDT 2003

Mark wrote:

I'd suggest that the distinction between program and implementation
takes us back to the social democratic minimal-maximal dichotomy.  I'd
suggest that, to a great extent, implementation is part of the program.

Why don't you read what I write ? I talked about programme in terms of goals
plus general principles about means conducive to achieving the goals, ruling
out others. But, I said, you could also interpret it in other ways and I
specified two. I then added a bit about the further specification of
operationalising that, in terms of strategy and tactics, lest I be
misunderstood that programme is all there is to it.

My main point, made side-ways, is rather simple: the vast majority of
American people today (and a lot of people in the EU  too) don't even know
what socialism is, they wouldn't know it if they fell over it. At most you
have prejudice, caricature and sexual jibes. That's what you have to deal
with, not pretend it is not there. All that some immigrants have, is the
experience of socialist experiments elsewhere in the world, that were in
some ways progressive, and other ways not satisfactory at all, so that
they'd rather live in the USA anyhow and do their own thing etc. That is no
problem for the sectarians and the Marxist-fascists of course, who just want
to read holy books or ram them into somebody else's head, "programme or

I'm now just thinking through a few foundational concepts again, abstracly,
that is all. If you get people saying that they cannot even agree on the
meaning of a programme, I think that is a valid exercise. If you don't think
my ideas are useful, so be it, but then you don't have a method for
abstraction and specification which breaks out of bourgeois ideology and
allows you to place somebody correctly in an appropiate place within an
organisation. All you have is your "programme bashing" and computer games,
and a way for telling others that what they are doing is not valid. The
minimal-maximal dichtomy consists of wrong goal specification and the
confusion of programme, strategy and tactics.

Anybody can say they are implementing anything, doing anything. I have
observed and worked with numerous socialist or Marxist organisations and
groups, founded four myself between 1983 and 1990, and most of them were not
really satisfactory. That's food for thought. Often people made comments
like you, quite a few organisations I observed ruined people's lives, no
wonder the socialist movement is so small. People in those organisations and
groups all had their personal justifications for doing what they were doing,
but they could not evaluate their actions correctly, learn collectively from
experience and place them exactly in regard to a common programme, a common
strategy and a common tactic, rather they mixed up these things, and ended
up jibing at each other, and make subtle distinctions without serious
analysis just like you do, along the lines of "I am more revolutionary than
thou". The political culture was bad.  There was no meaningful political
language, no meaningful political method, just Marxist holy books, a fantasy
about a political tradition, and people who thought they had the true
theory, that is all. It was largely a waste of time, just a bunch of people
masturbating with their ego's. That is why I stayed out of that whole scene,
mostly, avoided it as I could.

On Marxmail there is regular US SWP rhetoric about "the programme" and it is
mostly sectarian nonsense. The US SWP did not know how to build a party,
simple as that, they just wanted to "win people to a programme" which meant
converting people to the faith, running around selling a newspaper,
prosytelising in demonstrations, and turning the handle on the sausage
machine in some dingy factory. That was "implementation". They had the
truth, the power and the glory already, it was just a matter of convincing
people of that. It was just doctrinaire sectarianism, mostly. If some SWP
members or ex-members made important contributions to socialist thought or
political campaigns or industrial campaigns, it was usually in spite of the
party dogma's and leadership, not because of it. I am thinking of people
like George Novack, Farrell Dobbs, John Wright, Fred Halstead and people
like that, who did useful and effective things in their own area of work,
working often under terrible conditions.

Very little really insightful analysis of American society was formally
produced by the US SWP in its history though, just bits here and there,
insofar creativity and independent thought was tolerated by the party regime
at all. Because of their rigid political style, they did not attract
creative talent either. The meaning of their own national and local culture
was denied. The useful books that were written, and effective campaigns,
were mainly by ex-SWP people freed from the political straightjacket and
dour insularity of the party. The lucky break for the US SWP came with the
anti-Vietnam war movement, but it is false to say they built it, because
they did not, they just played an important role in it, in a number of
cities. The CPUSA was also involved. Other parties were also involved. They
all picked up people out of that, but what happened to those people ? Within
ten years they'd lost most of them again.

People just rejected the political method and culture of the US SWP. Many of
them tore out their lives. It was a general problem. But an even bigger
problem is, that people still cannot evaluate and agree what the problems
were, because their own political method prevented them from learning from
experience. And it is this problem that concerned me as a Phd student back
in the 1980s, having read a ton of literature on it from original and
secondary sources and met many veteran activists personally, in Australasia
and Europe. As Marx said, the educators have to be educated themselves.

Jim Cannon did not want to develop socialism or Marxism out of the American
conditions, which existed right under his nose, no, he wanted to impose the
bolshevik model on those conditions, personally imported from Russia, as the
"true" way to operate, inspired by the fake policy of the Comintern
apparatus, which really knew f***all about how real internationalism works
or should work, and made enormous political blunders in numerous countries
through sheer dogmatic errors and unfamiliarity with local conditions. What
did this have to do with New Yorkers, or people from Detroit, Chicago, LA,
SF or anywhere else ? Louis Proyect is quite correct about that part.

Lenin split the international socialist movement, but already in the
mid-1920s, the Comintern was trying to get communists to re-enter the social
democratic parties - by that time the damage was done. Attitudes hardened,
dogmatisation set in, the parties became monolithic and then all they could
do was form "front organisations" hiding their real identity and programme
that did not work anyway. The idea, that one person or a group in one
country has adequate knowledge for how to split the whole international
socialist movement is just very odd. There were very few countries where
that strategy paid off, and was implemented effectively. Think of Mao Tse
Tung, Ho Chi Minh or Castro or Tito or anybody like that - they all either
broke with the Comintern tradition or they kept their distance from all
that. That is why they succeeded in breaking with imperialist domination;
they made a specific analysis of their own country, they knew their own
politics and culture, they acted on that.

The more intelligent people these days ask themselves, what socialism would
mean, and how it would work, and whether in fact the traditional language is
okay or should be dropped. They want to know what ways there are to raise
political awareness as an organised team effort, while avoiding the racist,
sectarian Marxist Hitlers and other deformed people with their stupid
misplaced polemics, infantile innuendo and personal insults (Cf. Melvin P.).
They wanted to shape up a political method that works, never mind the dreary
dogma. They want new answers based on thinking through the problems in a new
way, unhindered by rhetoric or academic pedants who want to dot the 'i's on
revolutionary theory. Those intelligent socialists are the people, that I am
interested in, and if they haven't heard of Marx's unpublished scribbles on
cooperation in the labour process, that is of no great concern to me. Let
the sectarians, the dogmatists and the Marxist-fascists chatter on, let's
avoid them, and the rest of us will get on with the real problems of
thinking through how to get a viable socialism going, however long that
takes, and how to do the things that needs to be done, in a language that
people can understand, with a sense of humour, good ethics and mutual
respect, while living our lives and doing what we can do.


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