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 Post subject: Being political
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:20 pm 
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Hello all, I haven't posted on here in about half a year. Glad to see things are still alive and kicking. Brief bit of background: was active in a reasonably-sized Trotskyist organisation for a year or two until 2011 or '10 maybe. Now, I am quite apolitical and apathetic, probably largely due to my experience within such an organisation, I would imagine.

The purpose of this thread, as in the title, is to discuss how you folks motivate yourselves to engage in leftist politics. I would like to be more engaged with politics, specifically in the politics of the radical left. However, I find scraping together enough motivation and enthusiasm for this exercise very troublesome. I find it far, far easier to think of reasons against political activism (let alone a casual interest) than to think of reasons in favour of reasons for activism. I suppose by "activism" I don't simply mean the kind of organisational voluntarism critiqued by folks at redmarx. This is as in the kind of activism of folks like the CWI or UK-SWP; selling newspapers, recruiting to a party, "intervening" at demonstrations etc. I mean, more broadly, activism as in an active interest in political events and how they relate to communist theory.

I don't even make an effort anymore to keep very clued up on news and current affairs. A big block to me getting stuck into radical politics again is that I feel an immense pressure and weight from the plentitude of reading and research that (to me) seems the necessary basis for calling oneself a "communist" or "Marxist". Does this strike a chord with anyone else? I just feel that, with everything else that I'm doing at the moment (I'm now living/studying in London), it is so hard to galvanise myself into participating in political ideology again. Because if I am to do so properly, this seems to entail reading and knowing so much about the history of workers' struggle, Marx's ideas, every other thinker (influencing and influenced by Marx), different bits of communist thought, Marx's economics, politics and philosophy etc. etc. etc.

I also have another problem that, for me, being a "communist" does not seem to really matter. If global capitalist society was going to radically transform tomorrow, the currently-existing communists or Marxists or whatever would be completely insignificant in this upheaval. As I understand it, the class struggle that is most important is that which arises independently of external influence from organisations or ideologies. There is a relevant quote from Marx in The German Ideology, that "Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence." The important thing is that communism does not exist independently of the outside world; it does not exist only as a well-meaning idea in the minds of men. It results tangibly from "the premises now in existence". So why does it matter at all that I am a communist? Does anyone catch my drift here?

I think the above paragraph also relates to what I said earlier, about making excuses for not being motivated enough re. radical politics. I've tried to construct theoretical excuses so can I dismiss whatever role I might have as an isolated, individual agent; an advocate of revolutionary ideas. In short, I think wholeheartedly that the world is miserable. Yet the fact that simply I think it is miserable is completely inconsequential in the wider picture of me or anyone else hoping to change such misery. As I have said, I think if the world were to change, it would be wholly due to forces autonomous from self-proclaimed communists already out there.

In a word, I would like to be far more engaged in political (and communist) thought and practice but simply am not motivated enough. At the moment, I would feel ridiculous calling myself a "Marxist" or "communist" (maybe even leftist!) because I do not have the knowledge and engagement necessary to reinforce this ideological label. I know this is all quite broad, personal and discursive: I'm pretty much just typing out ideas as they come.

The purpose of this thread, then, is that I would like some support and guidance regarding how I can find some route into being interested in politics again. Some people on here must have periods where they were uncaring and indifferent towards politics, no? If so, some anecdotes and personal reflection may be useful. At any rate, if I am to properly engage again with communist thought and radical politics I think I need some help re. this quietism. And if you've read this far I appreciate you taking the time to take in my rambling thoughts!
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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 4:24 pm 
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reading your post reminded me a lot of how i feel on some things.
i mean i live in a dead small town, there arnt even many politcal groups here at all and the ones that are there are pretty much ****(ml sects and more mainstream social dems). so wanting to be/doing something political but no groups worth putting effort in.
also yeah you're right, in a way it wont matter if your in a politcal group/party whatever, when a revolution comes you(me) probally wont play a part in it or if a really really small part.
and motivation is the same thing, i just cant be bothered to read when im home, when im here i just want to relax and enjoy myself as much as i can, and i cant read when im home i just cant. at the beginning of the year i wanted to read the german idiology(found it for free ha) becaue i had some weeks of and i couldnt do it, just read some pages of the introduction and then stopped. i only read when im at work and have the opportunity to read there, otherwise i just cant. in a way its quite sad, i try to figure out how i could read so much books when i was younger.

so yeah, im not helping but just letting you know you're not alone with those feelings.

also why is it that almost anyone who drops out of a trot group or "leaving" trotskyism tells the same thing, are really so many trot groups alike? i mean i read so ofton of sensless activism, selling papers and the people in question just get burned out and get apathic and all.

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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 4:34 pm 
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1 - you are not seperate from the rest of society. You may feel isolated in an atomised world, but, hey, hegemony of bourgeois ideology and all that. So while communist society will be the creation of the working class, the very fact that you are critiquing that society is part of the working class's drive to both understand, and change, the world.
2 - working and discussing with other people changes your perspective immensely. It's very easy to be disengaged and isolated if you're not discussing things with other people. If you're living in London, go to SPGB meetings and ICC forums, go to the Commune's meetings. Listen and discuss. It will help you clarify your political orientations and ideas.

Who knows? Maybe you will decide it's all bollocks, and Marxism, though intellectually interesting, is useless as a political philosophy. In which case, oh well, you wasted some time. Maybe you won't, and it won't be a waste of time. But the problem to me doesn't sound like you don't want to be involved politically, but rather that you're not sure how to be politically involved. Finding something else to be involved with, that isn't a Trotskyist sausage-factory, might be a start.
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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 4:55 pm 
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What's up with the amount of trots that stop being trots lately?
I mean, Trotskyism is **** but this is a bit excessive.

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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 7:55 pm 
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[quote="per levy"]
also why is it that almost anyone who drops out of a trot group or "leaving" trotskyism tells the same thing, are really so many trot groups alike? i mean i read so ofton of sensless activism, selling papers and the people in question just get burned out and get apathic and all.


That's how all Trot groups are. They all think they're going to be the force for revolution, and that we just need to "build the party" in order to get there. It's all a bunch of ********. This is basically what made me stop subscribing to that "partyist" stuff.

And Blakes' Baby, what exactly would be the use in going to a SPGB meeting? From what I understand, they also fall into the same hyper-activism as the Trotskyists.
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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2012 4:33 am 
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I'm not certain I've ever heard the SPGB accused of 'hyper' anything.

It seems to me that the big problem Lyev has is in connecting the desire to do something, with a lack of perspective about what to do. In this case, especially if Lyev's feeling theoretically ill-equipped, discussion seems a more fruitful route than paper-selling. The SPGB has meetings that are open to the public, you don't have to join (and therefore they won't get you to sell papers) and you can discuss with them. That in itself isn't a bad thing. It may be that specifically, Lyev discussing with the SPGB may turn out to be a pointless waste of time (I have comrades who gave up talking to the SPGB 30 years ago, and others who've been trying to seek them out specifically to debate with them, so it may be horses for courses), but at least having done it, Lyev 1-may feel a little more theoretically-equipped, and 2-will know that it's a waste of time.


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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2012 4:53 am 
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I would lie if I'd say that I'm engaged into this politics for economical reasons, since I'm petty-bourgeoisie, or to be precise I'm a leftover of "socialist intelligentsia" class.

I don't think that any of us can really help you with your inner motivation. It must come from you.

I understand that being political isolated individual is one really big problem that a lot of comrades here are facing with. Because of that I think that one of really important things is to connect with other people to discuss and work together. But also, you must be aware that sometimes its harder to work with group of people then being alone hehehe Sometimes precisely group/organisation and interaction within it can move you away from politics or in other direction.

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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2012 3:38 pm 
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1. Trotskyist groups work like this. They run people through the wringer on activism, paper sales, internal meetings, recruiting and study, all in the name of building the party. It's an exciting thing if you're a college student and have intermittent periods of great amounts of free time; if you're trying to hold down a real job you tend to have rough patches and it can lead to burnout. Trotsky said that the revolution is "a great devourer of persons" - which is what most Trots say to themselves when people leave. For the people who stick it out there is a heavy degree of messianism set up on the party, and the belief - as the editor of the Socialist Action newspaper said to me - this is the "heroic period." All of this ties into the tendency towards burnout. It's a problem that can't really be solved. Outside a period of heavy ferment and recruiting it's very hard for Trot groups to retain cadres.

2. As far as what it means to be a communist, I would re-read the Communist Manifesto. Particularly the first section of chapter II, "Proletarians and Communists," this paragraph sticks out to me:
Quote:
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

Marx's concept of what communists do is significantly different from what Trotskyists are taught. The emphasis is so markedly NOT on party, on forming a revolutionary Leninist combat party or whatever formulation you like, that it's almost jarring to re-read it. And to be honest I find it kind of inspiring.

3. Marx and Engels weren't in organizations all their lives. They were in the Communist League for a few years, and later in the First International, but spent long periods when they weren't part of any group. So it's fine to be out of one for a long time, but I do think that you have to try and be a Marxist critic. After all, Marx said "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." If something exists that works and represents the real interests of the proletariat - then it makes sense to be part of it. If it doesn't - no amount of trying is going to bring it into existence. The period we are in doesn't have the kind of mass organizations that could make the difference.

4. Communists don't have to know everything about Marxism and history and strategy. You need a good grasp of basic Marxism, which after time spent in Trotskyism I think takes a good process of re-reading Marx and sorting out what in your set of ideas was ******** and what wasn't. Being a communist doesn't mean being a master of every intellectual pursuit of Marx and Engels but rather - being the best representative you can of the working class in every struggle that pushes toward workers' power. In a "down" period like the current one that may mean a lot of the work to be done is intellectual, theorizing the period and understanding it. Is it that this isn't your thing?

I don't have a lot of answers; I'm not in a position too far off from yours. But really, at least re-read the Manifesto from outside and critical of Leninism and Trotskyism. It's interesting what Marx actually thought.

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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:29 pm 
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Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Isolation seems like a recurring thematic in this thread. But just posting on this forum and raising this issue with a few other like-minded people gives me a far more positive outlook on the situation.
[quote="Blake's Baby"]1 - you are not seperate from the rest of society. You may feel isolated in an atomised world, but, hey, hegemony of bourgeois ideology and all that.
Could you elaborate on this? Specifically, on the bit re. ideology. Is this something to do with the function of ideology? Meaning that capitalism foregrounds members of society as passive consumers, rather than active producers. Therefore the core social relation of capitalism (wage-labour and capital) is made to seem non-existent and so cannot be changed.
Quote:
2 - working and discussing with other people changes your perspective immensely. It's very easy to be disengaged and isolated if you're not discussing things with other people. If you're living in London, go to SPGB meetings and ICC forums, go to the Commune's meetings. Listen and discuss. It will help you clarify your political orientations and ideas.
I think I'll do this. The Commune's meetings look especially appealing as it's not that far and they are hosted in the Freedom bookshop. I've been to one or two student demos and that kind of thing since I moved here, but participating in these events resurfaced everything I grew to hate being part of a "Trotskyist sausage factory", as you describe it.

[quote="graymouser"]1. Trotskyist groups work like this. They run people through the wringer on activism, paper sales, internal meetings, recruiting and study, all in the name of building the party. It's an exciting thing if you're a college student and have intermittent periods of great amounts of free time; if you're trying to hold down a real job you tend to have rough patches and it can lead to burnout. Trotsky said that the revolution is "a great devourer of persons" - which is what most Trots say to themselves when people leave. For the people who stick it out there is a heavy degree of messianism set up on the party, and the belief - as the editor of the Socialist Action newspaper said to me - this is the "heroic period." All of this ties into the tendency towards burnout. It's a problem that can't really be solved. Outside a period of heavy ferment and recruiting it's very hard for Trot groups to retain cadres.I remember a some of your posts from revleft, most of which were pretty grounded and insightful. As I remember, you were part of one or two Trotskyist organisations in USA, at various times. I get the impression from what you write above that you've dropped out of this kind of activism. You seem to delineate subtly between being a "Trotskyist" and "communist". Could you talk a bit more about your experience as an activist? I mean, if you are still politically active, your rationale and motivation for keeping going and, if you're no longer part of an organisation, why you left and what your current route is now.

[quote="graymouser"]Communists don't have to know everything about Marxism and history and strategy. You need a good grasp of basic Marxism, which after time spent in Trotskyism I think takes a good process of re-reading Marx and sorting out what in your set of ideas was ******** and what wasn't. Being a communist doesn't mean being a master of every intellectual pursuit of Marx and Engels but rather - being the best representative you can of the working class in every struggle that pushes toward workers' power. In a "down" period like the current one that may mean a lot of the work to be done is intellectual, theorizing the period and understanding it. Is it that this isn't your thing?No, I think "intellectual" work (theorising, understanding and so on), are my 'thing'. I sometimes think my thought processes are overly abstract and intellectual; not grounded enough in firm, concrete questions. My unsureness and inaction over being political is probably largely attributable to this tendency of mine to over-think. Nonetheless, I still can't help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of "history and strategy" through which I have to wade. Reading this thread though, your reply in particular, reassures me that any politically-engaged person (regardless of their affiliation) is always in a constant process of learning, adjusting and reassessing.

Also, I do plan to reread the Manifesto, as per your advice. Going back to the theoretical basics is something I think is always very useful. Posting on redmarx is something that can greatly help with this exercise, for sure.

[quote="graymouser"]I don't have a lot of answers; I'm not in a position too far off from yours.Yeah, at the moment I kind of feel like I'm in limbo a little bit. I am thinking of the metaphor of sticking my big toe in the cold water of a lake for the first time, but I'm not sure if I can even find the lake, if you catch my drift!

Again, thanks for the replies folks!

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 Post subject: Re: Being political
PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:28 pm 
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Was it greymouser or Lyev who said: "You seem to delineate subtly between being a "Trotskyist" and "communist". This is a good point. It is a basic issue. Trotskyist organizations are not communist organizations at all, despite their protestations, but are the left-wing of capitalism. They are the Red Bourgeoisie. Any contact with them, if you are seriously searching for true communist perspectives and points of view, and to develop your own perhaps incipient communist ideas, can only be a disaster of epic proportions. For these essentially bourgeois organizations - who may well have "embraced" and include many genuine seekers of communist ideas and information about the history of class struggle - are there precisely to sabotage and confuse the working class and all it's efforts to define itself autonomously. And they're top notch at doing this. So could this be a reason why Lyev got so pissed off with everything and lost interest in politics? The Trots triumphed again and stifled a potential proletarian militant.

But don't give up Lyev. Don't be misled by temporary isolation. In the current state of the class struggle internationally, when we seem to be waiting for the next big wave of struggle, many of us feel lost and isolated. But there are things you can do. You can read. There are some good articles on the ICT and ICC sites; but if you're not ready for that try Trotsky's Autobiography for instance. He is an amazing writer and beautiful to read. His account of his own development as a communist (as opposed to a trotskyite lol), his appreciation of theory as a necessary underpinning of meaningful proletarian activity ( as opposed to the meaningless hyper -activity of Trotskyism today) could well revive your spirits. Anyway, just a suggestion. But don't despair. Your contribution to the coming revolutionary events will be as vital as everyone else's. So prepare yourself!


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