Concept of programme - additional comment

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Sat Aug 30 03:48:42 MDT 2003

Mark Lause wrote:

> However, you claim to know more yourself about what Jim Cannon wanted
> and didn't want than I'd care to channel.  I don't think what happened
> to the SWP was just because of bad people with incorrect ideas.
Of course I am not saying that. You can have a lot of very good people in a
badly conceived organisation. Take, for example, the the case of a church.
People feel compelled to go to church, perhaps the church says all sorts of
things they don't agree with, nevertheless, they have lots of good friends
among the churchgoers, and among the church goers, all sorts of good things
take place, which you would miss, if you just concerned yourself with the
formalities of the church, the sermons given, and so forth. The point
however is that if your aim is to have good experiences like that, why don't
you invent an organisational form which has that explicit purpose, to make
that possible ? Why keep thinking that you require a church for this purpose
And of course the church itself may be persecuted. Here in Amsterdam there
is a rich history of foreign refugee settlement because of religious
persecution or racist persecution. I am not saying Jim Cannon was all bad
either, nobody is, we all have our good and bad sides. John Lennon wrote
this track once called "revolution" and he said "but if you go carrying
pictures of chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anybody anyhow
how". That is more what I am referring to, this idea of importing the
revealed truth about how radicalism or communism or socialism should be from
somewhere else, and trying to assert that, rather than developing a
criticism and alternative out of the contradictions of the society in which
you happen to live, which has its own culture and mentality. In Holland, the
founders of the Socialist Party understood this in the 1970s. They dropped
the pictures of chairman Mao, and concentrated on what their actual
constituency in Dutch towns thought, felt, and did, and they tried to
develop a socialism out of that. They started off in a Southern town called
Oss, working in factories and in the community, doing all sorts of
campaigning. After a number of years, they won credibility, people got to
know who they were, and they got elected and so on, it spread from there,
today in Oss the SP is a dominant political force and some of yesterday's
factory workers are now parliamentarians. They realise very well, that in
many respects parliament is just a talking shop, they are prepared to shift
quickly from a parliamentary debate to a debate in a local pub or whatever,
but they can genuinely claim to represent a lot of people, like the SP has
41,000 members or thereabouts, it is the 4th largest party in the country.
The party relates specifically to what is going on with people living in
Holland, they are not trying to get Dutch people to be like Chinese or
Russians or whatever.

> To return to the question of program, though, it is not simply a matter
> of where you want to go but about how you propose to get there.  Nothing
> demonstrated it more clearly than the episodic re-detonation of the
> debate over slogans--that and the utterly silly debate currently going
> on among the Greens.

I don't know what the debate is among the Greens, but I agree that even if
you know where to go, you have to know how to get there. My point is that
the two cannot be discussed separately from each other, the movement-goal
contradiction exists only because you have not thought through the means of
overcoming that contradiction, that is all. If for example I am trying to
understand what the political problems are in San Fransisco, and I say to
people they ought to be reading the debate of Eduard Bernstein versus Karl
Kautsky, or Kautsky versus Lenin, or Luxemburg versus Bernstein, I am not
going to get very far am I. People will think it is a postmodernist joke, a
salacious joke. It's a bit like a soccer player who wants to improve his
game and for that purpose goes and reads reports in old newspapers to see
how they did it 100 years ago. Well, maybe you can learn something from
that, but for the purpose you have in mind, doing something like that is
mostly nuts. It might be different if your game is chess, I don't know,
sombody might have thought of a move which was made long ago that people
have forgotten about.

My experience in sitting through a lot of political meetings on and off from
1978 thru to the 1990s is that these leftists can have these furious
controversies but when you ask them what such-and-such really means, they do
not know it. On Marxmail, there was this furious debate about a slogan
"bring back the troops" but when you probe the critics it turns out that
they are politically clueless and cannot even define what a programme is, or
agree about the meaning of it. This is just totally infantile, that is all.
There are the people who have reasoned their way through, and there are the
people who just have the words. the difference between the two may not show
up for a long while. But in the end, when there is a real problem, a real
crisis, a real conflict, the people who have reasoned their way through and
arrived at their concepts through logic and experience, they know what to do
and what to say, and the people who just have the words and phrases are
nowhere at all.

In the Trotskyist tradition, people imputed a meaning to "programme" and
"theory" which it ought not to have, I am attacking that, I am saying it is
a cause of failure, you misunderstand the role of programme and theory, and
you end up with a method of malabstraction and misspecification, preventing
appropriate learning from experience.


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