(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)

Because Occupy Wall Street is obviously heating up, and events like this are becoming more common, where drafts of potential horizons will be discussed along with responses and more responses (there are probably more responses elsewhere) — I wanted to engage with the central argument over the Leninist party, it’s “applicability” today, the need for discipline, the need to historicize this particular party form — In particular it is this blog‘s (Work Resumed on the Tower) mentioning of Hardt and Negri that leads me to point to my notes on Negri’s early essay Crisis of the Planner State. Disregarding the later Hardt & Negri collaboration and speculations for now, a reading of Negri’s early essays shows a mind that is precisely trying to wrestle against an official left politics of the PCI that showed an initial flexibility and certain tolerance towards theoretical experimentation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but by the late 1960s was seen as incapable of adapting to the radically changing workforce. Negri’s problem is how to relate to this new transformation in what he calls the “tendency”, which alludes to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, but also in the tendency of this tendency to shift the composition of the working class in new and unexpected ways. Negri’s breakthrough (in my opinion) is to make the case that every party formation must act as a kind of mobius strip conveyor belt between the mass and the party–This may seem obvious, but as Negri watches capitalism transform before his very eyes, he struggles with how to think forward into a new party that can take advantage of this shift–

The analysis of Jodi Dean looks back at the Lenin party formation and interrogates its qualities of discipline and hierarchy and reactivity while Bhaskar Sunkara over at Jacobin Magazine critiques her lack of historicizing this form — Skipping over these debates, what I want to point to is what is so obvious to Negri back in 1968: The party form must correlate to the contemporary tendency of capitalism in its specific sphere. The present success of Occupy Wall Street perhaps is that the “99% vs. 1%” slogan  accurately and succinctly describes the contemporary state of capitalism in the US, not just in a statistical way, but in an emotional way as well. Finance capital has not in recent memory loomed so powerfully enmeshed into the fabric of the government. In order to think about the party in a deeper way than re-engaging with a Leninist party that eerily echoes the efficiency of the early corporation (See my notes on Negri for more on this, his concept of the “professional worker” which correlates to the Leninist party, etc) — the specific contours of the *current* phase/downturn/crisis of capitalism need to be examined in a detail that will reward the researcher with a glance at the vast complexity of our current predicament– The passing of Steve Jobs yesterday was greeted with eulogies and paeans perhaps that match the fact that all of his manual laborers reside in China and cannot complain in a language that we understand! What does this mean for the party form? How many Spanish speaking “illegal immigrants” reside in the US? What does this mean for the party formation? What does the world-historic prison population in the US that boggles the mind mean for the “party”?

Final note: I think a close reading of Negri’s early essays shows how the mistake of leaving out the question of colonialism and globalization perhaps provides the key to his misreading of the “Tendency” and his recipe for revolutionary success. To what extent his more recent trilogy corrects this fault or just muddies the waters will be explored in a later post.

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1 Response to (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)

  1. Binh says:

    As a former Leninist, I came to reject “Leninism” for the simple reason that 99% of what Leninists say about the Bolsheviks is actually not true. The Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP was a decidedly un-Leninist organization. Lenin would probably cringe, laugh, or cry at all the nonsense that has been done in the name of “Leninism” since the 1920s. I have written a bit about it here: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/a-response-to-paul-leblancs-marxism-and-organization/

    My views on this question are similar to those of Hal Draper and Peter Camejo (Camejo’s essay “Return to Materialism” is a must-read). Leninism is essentially idealist and ahistorical, and most Leninists don’t realize the organizations they are in are neither structured nor do they function in any way like the Bolsheviks did. Hence why the Leninist left has been almost completely irrelevant to the class struggle in every single country without exception for the better part of 80 years.

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