We are living through the longest continuous period of economic growth in half a century. But it is beginning to show signs of imminent failure. Though many of these early signs are still measured in abstractions (e.g., “corrections,” “decreased optimism”), the real harbingers of crisis are now beginning to manifest. Accumulation and concentration of capital that has reached such a point where it threatens the functioning of the market itself. Protectionist trade war has begun to take a toll on the world economy, and the continued success of far-right candidates promising to cleanse society of filth indicates potential threats to the stability of prevailing bourgeois-democratic common sense. While in the past bourgeois democracy was suspended whenever it was no longer necessary for the state and capital to project a veneer of freedom and equal rights, differences exist between the crisis looming before us and those of the past. Perhaps the strangest thing about the current era of right-wing populism, however, is the lack of meaningful left-wing opposition at a political level.
Historically, the far Right tends to arise as counterrevolution gains momentum. Communists a century ago were virtually decimated, amidst world-historical defeat. And the decade that followed saw reaction triumphant, with sky-high value-accumulation by a shrinking section of the capitalist class. Global economic collapse ensued. On its heels: the spread of fascism, a second imperialist world war, and the postwar “golden age of capitalism.” These were times of almost continuous devastation for the communist movement. By the end of this period, it had almost disappeared. Next came some reevaluation of ideas prominent among the left, which had come to dominate among both imperialist blocs (US/NATO and USSR/Warsaw Pact) in various forms. The Western Left had come to see the failures of their own social order, as well as those of the USSR, which at the time seemed to represent an alternative to the system of capitalism. It was just then starting to show signs of vulnerability, as it began to crush dissident working class movements to maintain its rule. By the sixties, this reevaluation had a name. The New Left emerged as Stalinism spread into the developing world, rebranded as Maoism, Castroism, Guevarism, and ideologies of national liberation. Student movements, inspired by ideas of the New Left, rose to prominence quickly, but were subjected to an equally swift reaction from the state.
The legacy of the New Left — its lingering influence on politics in the United States — can still be seen even today. Radical ideas attained such widespread popularity that Stalinist and Maoist sects, anarchism and councilism, became permanent fixtures of the bourgeois academic instauration. Many have tasked themselves with picking through the dross in order to synthesize some sort of meaningful theory or praxis. This only reveals the dilute character of the ideological mixture, though. Having no basis in the communist movements that brought down states and catapulted the proletariat into power, these trendy “discourses” enjoy success only insofar as they manage to capture the attention of activists looking for an alternative to capitalism as it existed in the twentieth century. So much for novelty.
If we are to have a better grasp on the communist movement and where it stands today in North America, we need to understand how these movements shaped our regional history. The distortion of Marxism for the sake of building political movements was not unique to the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, our continent did produce several unique political organizations. Some attempted to articulate a “new theory” to show how revolution could make its way to our shores. The last great wave to surge past the threshold of historical relevance was a series of New Left movements, similar to older organizations while differing somewhat in form. However, they unwittingly clung to aspects of Stalinism that permeated North American leftist milieux, much as they did on practically every continent during the mid-twentieth century. Among those groups which directly invoked Marx, none had nearly as much cultural impact as the Black Panther Party (BPP).
Of course, the BPP did not exist in a vacuum: it bore the birthmarks of its epoch. Despite its enduring popularity among leftists into the twenty-first century, there is a great deal of ignorance about the positions actually held by it. Because the Panthers are deemed unsafe to criticize, moreover, many have uncritically adopted their ideas (whether this adoption was conscious or unconscious). The Maoists they emulated sought to apply the military strategy of a routed peasant army, only revised to be more suitable in an urban context. Concepts that have always been ambiguous, like the lumpenproletariat, were reworked and integrated into full-blown theories of revolutionary emancipation. Never discussed are the implications of these concepts, not only in their original context, but as the Panthers understood them. Seldom is much thought given to how the BPP’s theories could serve the proletariat today.
Intransigence will not shy away from discussing controversial topics to spare itself from criticism. Quite the opposite. We encourage and invite such criticism. For if this project is to succeed in its peculiar North American context, it must face obstacles to the communist movement, and must do so head on. While mass incarceration, police executions, and immiseration spark outrage in the working class, the hazy categories that still haunt the struggle against these misfortunes must be thrown into question. Hence our republication of the Workers’ Offensive article, “The BPP and the Glorification of the Lumpenproletariat” for this issue. Although the concept of lumpenproletariat has historically served as a rather convenient diabolus ex machina — a single reified fiction that betrays the proletariat in ever-shifting ways — this article argues against glorifying “lumpens” on their own terms. Future contributions will problematize the very category of lumpenproletariat, along with its manifold moral and political insinuations.
The present issue will also discuss questions of race and nationality in the European context. Careful examination of surges in racism and xenophobia in an age of decreasing profit margins for the capitalist class provides us with the backdrop for a more important discussion: i.e., the Left’s failure in Europe to build an effective bulwark against this rising tide of rightwing extremism. We are expected to look down and raise our fingers at the members of our class forced to flee imperial warzones rather than direct our collective gaze at the beneficiaries of the slaughter. Even the German party of the Left, Die Linke, has largely assimilated the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Right, trading in feel-good centrist Willkommenskultur for Aufstehen’s closed borders.
Meanwhile, academics at North American universities advocate cross-class unity among oppressed “identities.” Activists who attempt to apply these theories to street-level initiatives are caught in a cycle of fruitless protest followed by inexorable burnout, watching helplessly as the Right consolidates its power in the political sphere. Growing opportunist currents — “democratic socialism” in the US — promise to facilitate a gradual turn to the left. These continue their development through cryptic messaging and platitudes which serve only the interests of the bourgeoisie. Latter-day social democrats evidently prefer to see the energy of proletarian struggle diverted into the Democratic Party, where it can be snuffed out quietly every two to four years.
Upon embarking on our third issue, we understand the alternative to this abject repetition of class defeat is communist regroupment. Though the primary focus of this issue is to investigate failed tactics, distorted principles, and the infusion of bourgeois ideology into radical movements, we do not limit ourselves to academicizing and critique without action. Editors of and contributors to the Intransigence project are committed to building a communist organization. We aim to find ourselves firmly on the proletariat’s class terrain.
While communists have found it necessary to focus on what not to do while engaging in organizational work, the necessity to outline how to organize, and what that framework will look like, looms even larger. The question of how communists should view unions, and to what degree communists should work in them, is discussed in a translation of the 1929 article “Conquer Unions, or Destroy Them?” by L’Ouvrier Communiste. Fifty years later, a critical discussion on the nature of the party and the fraction was written as part of a debate within the communist left. Understanding the value of dialogue and debate among communists, we follow this with a back-and-forth among member groups of the regroupment. This is an attempt to humbly note our role within continued clarification as we assess our present conditions, much as the historical communist left found itself doing in the past, searching for answers.
As we approach the centenary of the armistice that brought an end to the First World War, we proceed to find more similarities than differences between our own global situation and that of the one of the darkest chapters in human history. During much of the last one hundred years, nationalism and capitalist growth were promoted as the solution to society’s ills. For whether it is the New Left or its cheap present-day knockoffs that tells us the best we can hope for is a gentler capitalism, or else face the horrors of another war, we name both system and its sycophants to be our enemies, united in their attempt to suppress the proletariat by any and all available means. However, we also acknowledge that the century of imperialist conflict which transpired over the interim — desolate and wrought with agony though it was for the working class — still offered a revolutionary alternative window onto a better world in the wake of its immense destruction. With this steadfast perspective, we can examine what tactics remain viable for us today, asking what presently belies the communist movement and what might set in motion struggles that lead to the formation of a revolutionary party.