Towards Communist Refoundation

 Radical Notes 

Sectarianism has, for quite some time now, been the greatest bane of militant revolutionary working-class struggle. That this global phenomenon has become especially pestilential for the Indian communist movement would hardly amount to an overstatement. The fragmentary and effete disarray with which labour has, since the severe repression of the various communist and Left-democratic movements through the sixties and the early seventies, been confronting late capitalism in this part of the world, unambiguously indicates the restorative upswing that capitalism has been on. Neo-liberalism is the embodiment of this restorative political project. Communists, particularly on the subcontinent, must, if they wish to effectively rise up to the rather confounding challenges being posed by late capitalism, revive the Marxist legacy of “refoundation”, the constant reclamation of the “hidden science” of working-class struggle from the ideological vagaries into which it inevitably and continually falls. If sectarianism is the inescapable evil necessity of revolutionary politics, refoundation is the equally indispensable dialectical antidote.

Sects, as far as the working-class movement is concerned, are nothing but ideological-organisational forms of particular experiences of that movement in its respective active struggles against capital at its diverse moments of contradiction. To that extent, these various experiences are crucial not merely because their forms serve to foreground their respective historical specificity in that eternal and fundamental antagonism between capital and labour, but, more importantly, because they also show how that essential and universalising battle of labour against capital to transcend the horizon of the latter to obtain to a new, counter-capitalist horizon of autonomous, unalienated, non-contradictory becoming is implicated in each of those ‘experiential’ forms.

Clearly then, the defence of such sects becomes necessary insofar as such defence is the insulation of the counter-capitalist, revolutionary horizon – which is constituted through the enactment of specific determinate struggles against the variously concomitant reigning subjectivities of capital at its diverse moments – from the invasive forces of capitalist restoration. But the paradox of such a political programme lies in the fact that the defence of the universal and universalising revolutionary logic of becoming is arrested by and congealed in the forms of one of its many particular moments. Such a defensive manoeuvre – “war of position” in Gramsci’s terms – while necessary is, in itself, not sufficient to bring about the unfolding of the revolutionary logic in its total universality. If anything, such hypostatisation of the revolution into a form or identity serves to brush it against its own grain, which ought to be the critical expression of the singular, unalienated process in inverse opposition to a static system of different(ial) and competing forms.

The revolution, in such circumstances, willy-nilly becomes another name for restoration. For, how else does one describe a political process that in the name of perpetuating the revolution ends up imposing the form through which the universal logic of the revolutionary process found itself expressed at one of its particular moments on all the other diverse historical moments of capital-labour contradiction?

The only way then in which communists can prevent this necessity of defending the revolutionary good, as it appears at a particular moment of capital-labour conflict, from turning into its evil counter-revolutionary opposite is by continuously re-enacting or refounding – Gramsci’s “war of movement” – the universalising logic of the revolutionary process at all the other historical moments of capitalist domination. The defence of the revolutionary horizon, as it is at a moment, should then be seen as the condition that makes possible the refounding of the revolutionary logic. Equally, refoundation is an impulse which alone can truly fulfil the act of defending the revolutionary horizon by ensuring that such a defence does not degenerate into a reactionary gesture of saving the momentary appearance of the revolutionary process, thus confining its infinite totality in the prison of that particular appearance.

The failure of the working-class movement, and its various ideological-organisational currents, to grasp this dialectical unity and express it in its multiple practices is responsible for the distortion of a complementary and composite politico-ideological ensemble – the defence of the revolution and the refoundation of the universal revolutionary logic – into a phenomenon of competitive struggle among various sects. Sectarianism is the name of this game. To speak in Jacobin tongues, critique without virtue leads to anarchic destructiveness, but virtue without critique becomes a shibboleth of counter-revolution. The trick of walking the tightrope of revolution successfully is to know where the stress should fall and when.

Given that the world revolutionary movement, particularly its South Asian segment, has been thoroughly hobbled by intense sectarianism, our stress should, without doubt, fall on the side of critique. This critique would be nothing but the first important step towards a refoundationist thrust that seeks to free up the possible debates, which ought to occur among Leftists of different hues, but have not as they lie concealed in and distorted as oh-so many sects. For far too long the advocates and proponents of these diverse Left streams have erred on the side of defending the revolutionary logic as it was expressed in the specificity of their experiences without making any attempt to figure out how that same logic could be – have often in fact been – expressed in other historical experiences framed by the concrete forms of political-economic contradictions. That burden, therefore, now falls on us.

To err on the side of refoundation would mean to take on the unenviable but unavoidable revolutionary task of explicating how the universal essence of the singular revolutionary process became constitutive of localised and momentary appearances of the historical experiences that form the various sects of the working-class movement, and how that universality could be discerned in and extracted from the specificity of forms of its localised experiences in order to yet again transform it into the formative basis of new social subjects of working-class politics in the varying forms of historical concreteness of political-economic contradictions. Refoundation is thus a two-pronged gambit – to see an essential unity among the various existing sects of working-class politics as well as zero in on hitherto uncharted moments of capital-labour contradiction so that they can be transformed into grounds or foundations for the universal revolutionary logic of singular and autonomous processuality to express itself anew.

The refoundation of communist praxis involves a much-needed re-reading of classics, both within and outside the communist-Marxist canon. These textual objects of re-reading could be crucial explicatory works in their entirety, exchanges that comprise important debates, movements, or vital concepts that have leapt out of texts to acquire an ideological life of their own. In this regard, the entire endeavour must be to engage with the texts in a spirit of critical assimilation, wherein experiences specific to certain locations are generalised for other essentially similar locations within capitalist historicality by extracting the universality of the critical-revolutionary essence constitutive of those local experiences, even as the forms of those experiences are as such discarded. In short, refoundation is an act of generalising the logic of revolution even as it struggles against the overgeneralisation of forms of that logic in the same movement. It is a struggle that must necessarily be waged on the terrain of ideas to constantly regain the revolutionary edge of theory, which in its absence vegetates as a sterile and abstract philosophised fetish.

Refoundation, however, has to be much more than the discernment of the singular-universal of the revolutionary subjectivity in its various multiple moments from the vantage point of hitherto unmapped locations or moments of capital-labour conflict. As communists we all know what revolutionary theory is in the abstract and how it can become truly revolutionary by becoming the motor of a revolutionary practice that is determinate to a concrete situation. For that alone, refoundation would be pretty much a pointless enterprise. It must, therefore, simultaneously also be an exercise to learn how exactly particular theoretical formulations, practices, movements or debates, which have emerged out of their respective local experiences of the working-class movement, went about their business of seeking to express the universality of class struggle and revolution in the specificity of their experiences in order to redefine the fetishes of their respective antithetical positions, which had been assigned to them by capital and its reigning  subjectivity, into potent forms of class struggle and revolutionary supersession of capitalism. By the same token, therefore, any half-way rigorous refoundationist exercise must run the historical risk of evaluating how successful its various textual objects have been on that score – that is, how much have those formulations or movements under study been able to steer clear of the contagious fetishism of capital at their respective foundational moments.

We must try, to the best of our abilities, not to flinch from carrying out such refoundationist evaluation, which is bound to carry a combative, even unpleasant, charge. We need not claim to speak from an Archimedian point. Yet, we ought not to be deterred from speaking the truth and turning quietist. The fear that our experience of truth would be falsified at another moment that would not be ours should not hold us back. As scientific socialists we know that the “truth is always partisan” and it is forged in the fire of struggle. That is precisely why refoundation is not merely a rarefied exegetical enterprise, but an endeavour of revolutionary hermeneutics where every word is sought to be returned, in an act of radical decisionism, to the materiality of its flesh. This refoundationist turn would eventually deliver unto the working-class movement the Young Marx’s “party of the concept”. A concept that is not merely an academic idea but something that emanates from the materiality of critique and resistance, wherein every falsification of a prior truth is its culmination and fulfillment. Clearly, refoundation is as refoundation does.

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