Importance of the Internal Structure of Revolutionary Party - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#13293145
I am reading an article in the current issue of International Socialism on Marxism and Anarchism, and I come across this statement:

"The fact that revolutionary socialist parties are weapons of struggle rather than prefigurative forms entails that their internal structure is of secondary importance to their ability to act effectively."

To be sure, the arguments in the article are far more nuanced than a quotation allows to show. Nevertheless, I am interested to hear socialists/communists/anarchists alike what you think about the importance of internal party structure not only in its current struggle but as a possible prefigurative form that will significantly affect what kind of society the revolutionary party may bring about.
#14982778
I strongly recommend this as a helpful read Virtue and Utopia: Benjamin Franks’ “Anarchism and the Virtues,” in Anarchism and Moral Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, reviewed by Andy Blunden.

I don't think it is dismissive of prefiguration politics although it is critical to the extent it ends up utopian in positing socialism as an ends (which is unforeseeable as a consequence of actions in the now) and that it is an ideological distortion which projects ethics of the now onto socialism in the future when the task is to create the socialist ethic within our present circumstances.
Spoiler: show
Franks says that these practices will “collectively build up to create their antihierarchical version of the flourishing society … albeit in miniature.” Now this is not an ethical argument, it is a social theory, viz., the theory that by creating a better world in miniature, a transformation of the entire world may be achieved by “contamination,” to use the term coined by Maeckelbergh (2009). The general assembly, it seems, can “build up” to a larger and larger meeting until the entire world is drawn into its antihierarchical structure, without the use of delegates or representatives (which anarchists deem to be inherently hierarchical). Franks does not promote the use of the word ‘contamination’ but he does believe that practice of the virtues is ‘generative’, that is, that practice of the virtues promotes the formation of a virtuous character, and it is more than reasonable to suppose that virtuous practices will serve to generate further such practices. But the fact is that we have not seen the evidence of this in growing numbers of anarchists and socialists in the world. If this is to happen by some kind of moral education, then we need a theory about how this is achieved. It is not automatic.

Although embedded in an exposition of MacIntyre’s virtue ethics, the proposal for prefigurative politics is in fact not an ethical argument at all, but an expression of a highly questionable, unproven social theory, that of contamination ‒ simple force of example.

But let us look more closely. Franks argues that prefigurative politics are adopted not for consequential reasons. So for example, if a non-hierarchical structure is adopted for a campaign and as a consequence of this structure, let us say, an important decision is not made in a timely manner, and the campaign fails (the forest is burnt, the refugees remain in detention, the houses are demolished or whatever) then the argument is that still it was right to adopt the non-hierarchical structure, despite it being the cause of the failure of the campaign. Now I have to say that there are most definitely circumstances in which it would be correct to eschew a tactic despite the fact that it may be the only way to produce the desired outcome. But in general, it is fair to say that the process of contamination is unlikely to be effective in spreading non-hierarchical structures if a non-hierarchical structure consistently leads to the failure of a campaign.

Also, to employ a method without seeking to justify it consequentially in order to achieve Socialism by means of ‘contamination’ is a performative contradiction.

The question which confronts the activist is whether the need to achieve the proximate aim(s) of the campaign is genuinely in conflict with the need for a ‘horizontalist’ organization. If, for example, a group of workers are engaged in a campaign for a wage increase and a union official is able to convince the boss to grant the increase by spending the day on the golf course with him and making a secret deal, I would say that such a means is corrupt and not justified by the end because of the negative impact it has on union organization, loss of trust, etc. But Consensus, for example, is not the only way of resolving differences in a campaign and sometimes such debates are not the best way of resolving differences. Knowing the best way to resolve differences in a campaign requires the exercise of phronesis, a capacity that is acquired through long experience in organizing and willingness at all times to learn from experience and eschew dogma, and to know when to adopt one means of overcoming differences and when to adopt another.

The point is that the consequences of (for example) adopting a certain structure are significant in deciding whether to utilize it, but it takes judgment. One ought to know the proximate outcome of a decision one makes – for example, that the adoption of a ‘horizontalist’ structure for a campaign will lead to failure of the campaign, and this has to be taken into account and weighed. But the tradition of which one is a part and the self-concept of the practice, which includes its social theory, provide the concepts, rules and inferences which will also guide you in making a decision ‒ whether or not to let the campaign fail in the interests of (for example) preserving relationships within the campaign and being able to learn from a failure. To adopt virtue ethics is not to turn a blind eye to the proximate consequences of one’s actions and certainly not to ignore the wisdom accumulated by the anti-capitalist movement over the past two hundred years, encoded in the founding principles of the First International and the the socialist and anarchist literature produced by the movement since. It is to know how to apply it.

Making a virtue ethic the basis for an approach to social change activism means paying attention to cultivating the capacity for ethical judgment, phronesis, among the activists and building organizations which are themselves virtuous, and not captive to rigid dogmas and procedural imperatives (deontology).
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This is a very important and concrete task, because as Franks notes, there will never come a time when all conflicts have been resolved. To moderate the differences within the anti-capitalist movement is surely the most attractive way to develop the ethics of socialist society in which an even wider range of aspirations will exist.

In fact, the mere posing of socialist society as an end is misconceived. It is not a question of bringing means and ends into conformity at all, and any attempt to do so can only lead to a barren utopianism by subordinating our means, that is, our organizing practices of today, to an absolutely imaginary utopia ‒ a world in which the socialist ethic has been universalized. In fact, when I do this, what is actually happening is that:

I begin with my spontaneously adopted ethics;
I then project them on to a future society,
and I then deduce the ethics with which I actually began, but now with the illusory justification that it prefigures our shared end, socialist society.

In other words, it is a fraud.

No, the socialist ethic has to be justified in terms of the exigencies of organizing here and now, in the light of the wisdom we have inherited from our shared tradition. ‘Socialist society’ has no determinate content other than the generalization of the socialist ethic. But the socialist ethic is not something for the future: it is now. The means of our activity, including the consciousness of our activists, are in fact elements of the capitalist society of which we are a part and which is the very object which we are trying to change. This is where the identity of means and ends is located, in the subjectivity of the social strata which are thrown into opposition by the development of capitalism itself.

I think emphasizing an ethic that has to exist in the now is important, but generalizing it to the future does seem mistaken and utopian.

Andy Blunden compelling in emphasizing virtue ethics as the necessary basis for socialism which is neither indifferent to duty (deontology) or consequences but doesn't make them absolute. Where the approach is based on the historical practices of our projects (socialism in it's variants such as anarchist and so on), we learn from past practice, principles, which to guide us but should not accept uncritically as dogma today. Should see the reason as to why they developed as principles of practice rather than fetishize the words themselves.
There is wisdom in the princinples of the old which should not be forgotten/lost.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/08/stalinism.htm
Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavourable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian”. Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.


In emphasizing Virtue in this social and historical fashion, there is hope of finding a basis for the problem of institutions being corrupted by procedures and losing their 'spirit'.
Two problems have plagued social change activism over the past millennium: delegation and hierarchy, with the incipient transformation of delegates into officers. The tendency of a delegate structure to solidify into a hierarchy does not issue from egotism on the part of delegates, but on the contrary, more often because of the unwillingness or incapacity of other members of a collective to do the work required of a delegate (an incapacity which may be itself a product of the structure of delegation). Even in organizations where representation and delegation are absent, there is an incipient tendency for informal roles to fossilize into offices, and representatives to be transformed into managers. Voluntary associations have been aware of this tendency and have struggled to overcome it for at least 500 years. But without the use of delegation it is impossible to organize on a scale larger than the number of people who can meet in one room together. Over the centuries organizations have used various measures, such as limited terms of office, mandation of delegates, rotation of positions, etc., to manage this situation. There is however no substitute for the fostering of virtues among all the participants. The internet certainly moderates these pressures but I don’t believe it essentially changes the situation.

MacIntyre’s advice quoted above is relevant here: “without the virtues … practices could not resist the corrupting power of institutions.” The fossilization of delegate structures into hierarchies is a symptom not a cause of the loss of the practical virtues and the degeneration of workers’ democracy.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1914/04/oldwine.htm
As one of the earliest organisers of that body, I desire to emphasise also that as a means of creating in the working class the frame of mind necessary to the upbuilding of this new order within the old, we taught, and I have yet seen no reason to reconsider our attitude upon this matter, that the interests of one were the interests of all, and that no consideration of a contract with a section of the capitalist class absolved any section of us from the duty of taking instant action to protect other sections when said sections were in danger from the capitalist enemy. Our attitude always was that in the swiftness and unexpectedness of our action lay our chief hopes of temporary victory, and since permanent peace was an illusory hope until permanent victory was secured, temporary victories were all that need concern us. We realised that every victory gained by the working class would be followed by some capitalist development that in course of time would tend to nullify it, but that until that development was perfect the fruits of our victory would be ours to enjoy, and the resultant moral effect would be of incalculable value to the character and to the mental attitude of our class towards their rulers. It will thus be seen that in our view – and now that I am about to point the moral I may personally appropriate it and call it my point of view – the spirit, the character, the militant spirit, the fighting character of the organisation, was of the first importance. I believe that the development of the fighting spirit is of more importance than the creation of the theoretically perfect organisation; that, indeed, the most theoretically perfect organisation may, because of its very perfection and vastness, be of the greatest possible danger to the revolutionary movement if it tends, or is used, to repress and curb the fighting spirit of comradeship in the rank and file.


I think this emphasis on virtue does well to try and avoid an instrumentalist approach to politics which is already prevalent and I don't believe cultivates the necessary requirements for a workers movements.
#14986415
HoniSoit wrote:I am reading an article in the current issue of International Socialism on Marxism and Anarchism, and I come across this statement:

"The fact that revolutionary socialist parties are weapons of struggle rather than prefigurative forms entails that their internal structure is of secondary importance to their ability to act effectively."

To be sure, the arguments in the article are far more nuanced than a quotation allows to show. Nevertheless, I am interested to hear socialists/communists/anarchists alike what you think about the importance of internal party structure not only in its current struggle but as a possible prefigurative form that will significantly affect what kind of society the revolutionary party may bring about.


The internal structures of the revolutionary socialist parties are definitely important in terms of their effectiveness for achieving their ends (the establishment of a Socialist society, aiming towards a complete classless / money-less society: 'communism'). However, I think that this structure should not / cannot be used as the exact model of the future society; due to the dynamics of the struggle, and society as a whole.
#14988679
To the topic of the OP:


HoniSoit wrote:
"The fact that revolutionary socialist parties are weapons of struggle rather than prefigurative forms entails that their internal structure is of secondary importance to their ability to act effectively."



This statement reflects correct theory -- in the means-to-ends trajectory the portion that's of most significance is the *results*, or 'ends'.

This position doesn't automatically mean that revolutionary-internal processes will inevitably *tend* to base actions, or paths-of-least-resistance, ('morally' / 'ethically'), because there's a built-in *countervailing* dynamic of 'political reputation', or 'political capital' -- the more Machiavellian / expedient the revolutionary process, the less palatable and genuinely-revolutionary it will appear to the public conscience, and the less mass support it will win, due to its overreliance on elitist-like substitutionism.

The revolutionary camp has the advantage, over the bourgeois establishment, of not having to *maintain* an empire and dominant culture (groupthink-based social cohesion) -- proletarian expediency and a results-orientation can be validly preferred *because* of the status quo reality of exploitation and oppression, which is daily establishment *violence* against all those concerned, making the calculus one of 'What actions are appropriate to *respond* to this bourgeois-hegemony social norm?', which gives *wide* latitude for the space of strategies and tactics *against* such imposed hegemony.

We also have to consider that this is a political *competition* -- I'm not an anarchist because I don't think that a massively-*lateral* configuration of pan-localist class struggle (and purported eventual pan-collective control) would be *sufficient* to overthrow elitist rule, or for a desired post-capitalist political economy. The hierarchies of capitalist-imperialist management have to be *matched* and *surpassed* by the organizations and politics of *proletarian* organization, in providing for people's needs, and in determining all aspects of social production.

In other words we can't forget that there has to be a *transition* from capitalism to communism, and that this *transition* is called 'the workers state' (a workers' *government*), a configuration which *can* utilize organizational hierarchy, for the sake of centralization and presenting a real challenge to the powers-that-be.

I'll reproduce an excerpt from a past thread at the now-frozen RevLeft discussion board, that's relevant here:



Originally Posted by Fellow_Human

For a start, TomLeftist's question was whether "revolution from above" was possible, not whether it was desirable, however it's defined.

You can't have a government by and for the working people when the working people altogether refuse to accept and cooperate with the new government. The result is either counterrevolution or descent into tyranny, as the new government attempts to survive and resorts to widespread, permanent repressions.

(As for the "so say they" quotation, it was neither an argument nor a proposal, but simply the summary of an opposing ideological position. I saw no reason to address it.)




This is a good contextualization -- a corollary of a stepped-up, hurried revolution (that's considerably substitutionist, per the thread topic) is that such a revolution would most-likely have to act like a rival nation-state since it's not entirely grounded in mass participation.

Perhaps 'government' is the right word for this in-between, interim kind of social order, absent the more-preferred mass worldwide upheaval that would *immediately* displace bourgeois rule, leaving minds reeling at the 'overnight' pace of change.

By virtue of this revolutionary organization / party being a 'government' it would be relatively-more-ambiguous as to whether this government was *competing* as a *rival nation-state*, or was going-through-with the proletarian revolution for a full paradigm-shift to socialism, towards communism.

(In other words, the 'material pyramid' applies here, where a more-focused, vanguard-party-type approach makes for a *taller* pyramid, reaching new heights, but is also necessarily *thinner* in shape, indicating less-robustness and relative-top-heaviness. A *broader base* material pyramid would be an option, for more stability, but it would confer much less height from ground to tip.)



https://www.revleft.space/vb/threads/19 ... ost2882563



So, finally, I mean to indicate that ultimately the revolutionary camp needs 'bigger pyramids', equating to a greater *mass scale* of revolutionary political participation, rather than relying on fewer bureaucratic-type specialized administrative 'personnel' (Stalinism), *or* a too-thinly-spread-out configuration that fails to reach commanding heights (anarchism).
#14988759
ckaihatsu wrote:To the topic of the OP:

This statement reflects correct theory -- in the means-to-ends trajectory the portion that's of most significance is the *results*, or 'ends'.

This position doesn't automatically mean that revolutionary-internal processes will inevitably *tend* to base actions, or paths-of-least-resistance, ('morally' / 'ethically'), because there's a built-in *countervailing* dynamic of 'political reputation', or 'political capital' -- the more Machiavellian / expedient the revolutionary process, the less palatable and genuinely-revolutionary it will appear to the public conscience, and the less mass support it will win, due to its overreliance on elitist-like substitutionism.

The revolutionary camp has the advantage, over the bourgeois establishment, of not having to *maintain* an empire and dominant culture (groupthink-based social cohesion) -- proletarian expediency and a results-orientation can be validly preferred *because* of the status quo reality of exploitation and oppression, which is daily establishment *violence* against all those concerned, making the calculus one of 'What actions are appropriate to *respond* to this bourgeois-hegemony social norm?', which gives *wide* latitude for the space of strategies and tactics *against* such imposed hegemony.


Thank you for the informative post. However, I have to express my partial difference of viewpoint with you on the question of the importance of the internal party structure.

As we know a genuine revolutionary party ought to have organic connections with the masses, therefore, it will not only be the case of its reputation being at stake; should its internal structure do not quite meet the acceptable standards. It will be basically, the case of effectiveness and functionality of such party internally, and within the society; hence delaying / acting as a barrier towards achieving its defined aims…

I have noted your points on the countervailing dynamic of 'political reputation', and I think they’re spot on, I have no argument with those; however, I also think that there will be the matters of consistency, organisation and speed needing to be considered carefully, should achieving the ends be of the primary importance.
#14988861
Stardust wrote:
Thank you for the informative post. However, I have to express my partial difference of viewpoint with you on the question of the importance of the internal party structure.

As we know a genuine revolutionary party ought to have organic connections with the masses, therefore, it will not only be the case of its reputation being at stake; should its internal structure do not quite meet the acceptable standards. It will be basically, the case of effectiveness and functionality of such party internally, and within the society; hence delaying / acting as a barrier towards achieving its defined aims…

I have noted your points on the countervailing dynamic of 'political reputation', and I think they’re spot on, I have no argument with those; however, I also think that there will be the matters of consistency, organisation and speed needing to be considered carefully, should achieving the ends be of the primary importance.



Thanks for the response, Stardust, and for pointing out the necessity of organic connections to the masses -- yes, if a party isn't responsive to objective empirical conditions (like now, with varied and ongoing upsurges of labor actions internationally) then it won't be seen generally as having a valid leadership role.

In other words any proletarian revolutionary 'leadership' should just be a *formality*, with the actual politics and real-world decision-making coming from *below*, as collectivized and refined into decisive political positions as possible across any geographical expanses. The *proletarian* revolution has no interest in any circumscribed geographical 'turf', as the (bourgeois) *ownership* position does, so it needs to *generalize* the struggle as much as possible -- that's its strength.

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