Affirming the concept of progressive militant

By Jan Makandal
(April 6, 2012)

In a period of political turmoil, turbulence and chaos, our task will emerge for the continuation of the struggle. For us to comprehend and perform that task, theoretical clarity is imperative. Our aim is not for control, but to understand the necessity of our situation through developing a clear systematic theoretical guide, to define the methodology of how to deal with that necessity, and finally to participate in an organized struggle to address the problematic and contradiction of this conjuncture of capitalism at its higher stage. Our aim here is to offer a platform capable of regrouping progressive militants, and from that regrouping, to organize those among them who are capable of constructing a powerful combative mass movement to face capitalism and the process of capital accumulation.

For that regrouping not to remain a simple utopian fantasy, it is important, even imperative, to organize discussions and debates that are able to convince us of the necessity for progressives to organize, and to enable us to start developing the path on which this organization of progressives is to be constructed, as well as the orientation this organization is to take.

Constructing theoretical unity as a starting point is important, as is the perennial and constant development of that theoretical unity. Many progressives only see the importance of engaging in practice; they view the task of progressives and even revolutionaries as simply to engage in practice, in direct action. This is a very erroneous tendency in the movement in general, in particular, and in our case it is an obstacle to our objective of constructing progressive organizations.

It is important that progressives construct theoretical unity, but not to limit our objectives to just this, or do it for its own sake. Theoretical unity is to emerge in a common practice of organization, out of which we constantly test the correctness of our theory, validate it, and put it through a constant process of rectification and consolidation.

Theoretical unity is to cement organizational cohesion among progressives and allow them to address collectively the problematic and contradictions of constructing a combative mass movement. No formulas or recipes are applicable to constantly changing complex realities, especially when the theories these formulas emanated from are generated from experiences that are external to those objective realties that we are dealing with. In fact, it is good to learn form previous experiences, not in order to export them and try to duplicate them into our own complex realities, but to extract general guidelines, from the never-ending translation of specific to general and general to specific.

To have theoretical unity is to have a far more advanced internal democratic practice inside the organized regrouping of progressive militants.

To achieve theoretical unity:

— is to engage in a struggle of ideas, and to be patient during the process of validating them through the constant wave-like motion of their maturation.

— is to be objective enough to recognize the correctness or erroneousness of ideas, by being willing to let go and not to be fanatical or partisan.

— is to demand and encourage the development of individual capacity for the consolidation of the collective.

— is to demand the highest forms of democratic practice to achieve unity and cohesiveness within the collective.

—  is to engage in practice to contribute to the transformation of the complex reality in which we are living.

Reclaiming the Concept of Progressive:

Before we go further into the definition of a progressive militant, we need to reclaim this concept as ours. In the US social formation, due to different factors, the concept of progressive has been totally deprived of its anti-imperialist combative content, and transitioned into a concept that is in competition with conservatism. “Progressive” is actually a political concept reflecting a level of political consciousness against a dominating societal form of organization, in a class-divided society. But nowadays, a progressive is seen as equal to a liberal who is against conservatism.

In any class-divided society we encounter two types of contradictions: the contradictions among the classes dominating that society for their reproduction and domination, and the contradictions among the dominated classes to resist, to alleviate, to revolt and to transform the social relations of dominant and dominated. Each social class, from the dominant classes (capitalist and feudal class), and from the popular camp (workers, peasants, working peoples, petit bourgeoisie), is addressing from its own class interests both internal class struggles and cross-class struggles. Each deals with the problematic of domination as well as the problematic of resisting domination, within the context of the entirety of contradictory complex reality .

In the case of the bourgeoisie, many realities of class conflict and class antagonism are not fully resolved by bourgeois democracy/dictatorship. Even if those complex realities are not threatening their dominance, they are reproducing in the form of social conflicts and sometimes creating vast popular discontent, locally, nationally, and even internationally, taking the shape and form of respective social formations in which they are reproducing. Now, because these social conflicts are not resolved and/or are only partially resolved, they are reproducing in a specific format in the objective reality as class conflicts, but in the specific manner of addressing the problematic of the bourgeoisie in its constant mode of reproducing its dominance.

The capitalist class, in confronting the problematic of its dictatorship/democracy, has to deal with many elements. Some are fundamental, some are principal, and some are secondary, but all exist in dialectical relationships that are historically determined. The principal and secondary nature of some of the elements are interchangeable and in constant struggle — again historically determined and defined by the law of contradictions, especially when these problematics are being addressed and resolved from a reactionary class perspective and objective, in the interest of the bourgeoisie. This has resulted in several problems:

a] Inter-capitalist class struggles impede on the social dynamics of the complex realities being addressed.

b] Inter-capitalist contradictions allow these elements, in their opposition, to facilitate a particular form of domination, to create pseudo forms of democratic practice while allowing the capitalist class to exploit and super-exploit, such as we see with the immigrant issue.

c] The low level of popular class struggle, and the objective dominance of the petit bourgeois orientation in those issues, facilitates the reproduction of bourgeois ideology and the quick recuperation of those struggles.

The core issue in de-valorizing the political concept of progressive militant happened in a particular conjuncture of the period of capitalism soon after the Vietnam War and the passage of the civil rights laws. Capitalism integrated the civil rights demands into the structure of bourgeois democracy as bourgeois democratic laws, which addressed the problematic of its dictatorship/democracy. The petit bourgeoisie assisted in their own pacification by the bourgeoisie, who attempted to disrobe the petit bourgeoisie of its radicalism and partially achieved that objective.

Now, the concept of radical/progressive is no longer a political alternative but has been reduced to a competitive mode in opposition to conservatism. This has effectively brought the progressive/radical struggles (of course in a contradictory manner) solely to the field, allowing the bourgeoisie to consolidate its dictatorship/democracy by addressing all the illusions of petit bourgeois democracy: freedom, equal justice, true democracy, and real democracy in the context of class-divided society.

This occurred because most of these struggles by progressives/radicals are being waged from the perspective and objective of allowing the bourgeoisie to address the problematic of its democracy/dictatorship. The content of these struggles is not only limited, but is also very specific, issue-oriented and sectarian. These struggles are not oriented against the capitalist class, and are not being waged as a result of an exploitative system, but instead are being waged within a competitive framework of radical/progressives against conservatism. Thus anyone on the positive side of these issues, even if they are openly from the capitalist class or are elected agents of the capitalist class, are considered liberals/radicals/progressives.

The class content of progressive militancy has been totally diluted — class interest is non-existent, and class struggle and class interests are no longer the underpinning elements of class alternatives. It’s all about making capitalism a better system to live under. The clearest examples of this reproduction are NGOs and other organizations not identifying a clear class enemy.

The existing problems between liberalism and conservatism simply emanated from secondary contradictions within the capitalist class. Liberalism and conservatism are two sides of the same rotten repugnant capitalist system. At the period of the highest stage of capitalism, capitalism has reached the limits of its entire earlier progressive content. Progressives who act in the interests of the masses will be produced by capitalism. To think that bourgeois democracy/dictatorship at this stage has anything positive to offer the popular masses is a petit bourgeois illusion stemming from the desire to create zones of comfort or a small paradise within this hellhole of capitalism.

Even though capitalism has nothing more progressive to offer, we still need to use its internal contradictions in our best interests — not in the sense of supporting the liberal tendency or the lesser evil, not to consolidate one tendency — but to weaken them all at the same time. We must construct a popular alternative through the dialectical relation of organizations with the popular masses, to put capitalism once and for all into the non-recyclable garbage can of history.

What is a progressive militant?

It is clear that capital and capitalism have entered a chronic conjuncture of deterioration. The possibility of any long term recovery is slim to none. This crisis is global. Two definite camps are shaping up systematically: one that is not in the interest of the popular masses (even if they are using populist phraseology to mask their true objectives), and one that genuinely sees the popular masses’ interests.

A progressive militant is a socially productive agent that is offering a political alternative to capitalism/imperialism in the interest of the popular masses. A progressive militant contributes to the limit of her/his capacity and political potential, for history to advance in the interests of the popular masses.

The progressive militant is faced with two choices, two alternatives:

a] A revolutionary alternative not only allows history to advance in the interest of the popular masses, but in addition, side by side with the fundamental masses, radically transforms society to abolish and dissolve all forms of extraction of surplus value. Surplus value is the result of all historical forms of exploitation, the result of class struggle that is manifested in the process of material production and the constant reproduction of conditions of production, on all fields: political, ideological and economic. The revolutionary alternative is the highest form of political practice. The revolutionary militant is more than a progressive. The revolutionary militant is someone who puts politics in command of his/her life.

b] A progressive alternative affects historical developments in the interest of the popular masses, especially working peoples, in any social formation. Whether we are conscious of it or not, independent of our thought process, totally outside of our will, history will advance either in the interest of the dominant and exploitative classes, or in the interest of the masses. History will either advance in the direction that allows the dominant classes to address all problems arising from their social problematic to maintain and reproduce their democracy/dictatorship, or it could advance in a way that weakens or destroys the capacity of the dominant classes to reproduce their democracy/dictatorship. The role of the progressive militant is to actively participate in the struggle to weaken the reproduction of capital and the capitalist class. If in that process, progressives develop their capacity to become revolutionary militants, they should enter the process of transition by disrobing themselves, in an uninterrupted process, of all bourgeois ideology, and at the same time actively participate in the construction of a popular ideology, the backbone of the new society.

The precise form of a progressive alternative will come from the collective work of the progressive militants. It is from that precision that a clear systematic political line, in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation, will emerge and be implemented.

For that alternative to become concrete, two dialectically linked aspects must be addressed:

1] Organization: Progressive militants must be organized in a progressive organization with its own structure, its own discipline, and most importantly, its own collective political line, defined and elaborated internally in a collective democratic structure/practice. Organized progressive militants must develop a line to organize other isolated progressives. For progressives to offer their alternative in a constructive manner, the question of collectivity in the organization is indispensable. It is through organized work, the collective struggle for the correct ideas, as theories emerge, that progressives militants will develop their individual capacity for the development and systematization of the collective and organized work.  Personal endeavors to develop political capacity at the theoretical, political and ideological levels should remain limited.  If the task of developing capacity remains isolated, individual progressives militants will be discouraged easily, their contributions to the struggle will be limited, and their praxis will also be limited, and their contributions will not be effective. Only through collective organized work, based on a dialectical relation between theory and praxis, can the individual progressive militant really and effectively contribute to the struggle.

As soon as organized collective practice starts, all militants inside the organization need to contribute to develop democratic practices that guarantee the truly democratic participation of all members of the organization. It is true, due to the past practices inside many organizations (even those identifying themselves as revolutionary), that many of these past structures have resulted in very bureaucratic, top-down organizations. The consequences of this have been extremely negative, and these organizations were unable to create a constant form of reproduction in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation. Instead, they became permanent, ossified forms of reproduction, and militants mostly acted as foot soldiers of bureaucratic leaderships without participating in defining the political line. Most often, these organizations have functioned in an autocratic mode, with no dialectical relation between the so-called leadership and the rank and file. In fact, their form of functioning is similar, even identical to bourgeois organizations, the same organizations they are fighting against; ergo their impotence and incapacity to offer a new societal alternative.

Objectively, a new type, a new conception of a combative organization is needed. Organizations from the masses’ camp must be structured in a way that allows them to address two dialectically linked objectives: the need to resist/combat all forms of domination, and the need to contribute in producing new forms of social relations.

While correctly resisting the organized bureaucratic structures (which rendered the masses incapable of addressing the problematic of their movements, since these bureaucratic structures are carbon copies of their enemies, only allowing the reproduction of the old), many have attempted to come up with new forms of organized structures. But these new organized structures were only new superficially, in name — not actual rectifications combined with political and ideological rectifications. It is important to produce new innovations, but these can’t be new labels for the same old praxis. In addition, these innovations should not be merely in competition with the old style praxis, but a total rupture with it —  in other words, they must be a radical rupture with bourgeois forms of organized structures. These new forms of organized structures shouldn’t be based on a superficial approach, or by dreaming up a new concept that exists only in our imagination (even though the source of these demarches is the objective reality in which we are evolving, such demarches would be totally disconnected and divorced from that reality).

New concepts of organized structures will emerge from the systematic critiques of — and ideological and political rupture with — bourgeois concepts of organization, and, most importantly, the ideological and political rupture with pragmatism and dogmatism.

2] Practice: The second dialectically linked aspect, in addition to the need to form organizations, is the need to engage in concrete practice. These practices must be to demarcate, to denounce capitalist domination and all forms of concentration of capital, while engaging in mass struggle, side by side with the masses. All the political practices of progressive militants must be in the interest of the popular masses. It is in this context that progressives will contribute to the historical advance of the popular masses.

The political practice of progressives among the masses could and will take different forms, and will have various aspects to them. It must include massive propaganda and agitation with the aim of organizing unorganized progressives, so they too can integrate into the organized practice to weaken capitalism.

Propaganda and agitation should cover many political aspects of the problems that the popular masses are confronting at any given moment. These issues have to be raised in a manner that leads to capitalism being weakened. The more we are organized, the more we are able to engage on many fronts along the political spectrum to thwart reactionary political alternatives.

Again, this work will not be possible if organized militants don’t struggle against the dominant bourgeois ideology and politics. Many progressives, including revolutionaries, are thoroughly taken in by metaphysical forms of thinking: pragmatism in particular (reacting to the surface manifestations of domination rather than targeting its underlying structures), plus pragmatism mixed with a high level of dogmatism. The consequences are eclectic political practices with no line and no objectives. The basic political principles are totally disregarded, such as developing concrete political analysis of a concrete political situation.

The result is activism, a utopian concept where the results of the political struggle are assessed based on standards of accumulation and the quantitative increase of political activity, instead of the qualitative objectives of these political activities. Pragmatism also leads to sensationalist, tabloid-like propaganda and agitation. This mainly has the effect of deflating instead of building organizations.

Some important elements in the political practices of progressive militants.

Although the political practice of progressive militants plays an important role in transforming society, it is also limited. It is not revolutionary political practice, but rather a contribution to revolutionary practices. In a time characterized by low levels of mass struggle and mass organization, the role of progressive militants is to actively participate in constructing mass organizations capable of engaging in anti capitalist/anti imperialist combative mass struggle.

Progressive militants are not participating in revolutionary struggle. In some historically determined periods the work of revolutionaries and progressives may overlap, but even in these moments it is important to differentiate them. Progressive militants must be conscious of that difference, and recognize both the importance of their work and its limitations. If progressives and revolutionaries are not able to make that distinction, then the political practices of both will be deformed.

Historically, a political standard has been set to define and distinguish a revolutionary from a progressive. Even if we are in a period of low level of class struggle, we should not lower this standard. Progressives who are willing to go further need to do so. If the struggle has not produced a genuinely revolutionary level of organization, then progressives who are capable of contributing to this should construct it. The standard for a revolutionary militant has been set in our historical period by the valiant struggles of the people of China and Vietnam. Independently of our criticisms of the limitations of these struggles, the standards are set. We need to reinforce revolutionary level organizations that uphold and adhere to these standards.

As long as there is oppression and exploitation, there will be resistance.

This resistance will lead to the reinforcement of the repressive apparatus. The capitalist class and their State Apparatus understand clearly they are sitting on a powder keg ready to explode. The masses are angry — all classes and fractions in the people’s camp understand that their future is mortgaged and uncertain. Capitalism seems to be running out of options and its alternatives nowadays are of short duration.

Although the masses are discontent, this stage of consciousness has not reached a level that allows the formation of a powerful organized mass movement. The resistance is currently still at the level of spontaneous mobilization, and the bourgeois State Apparatus is already responding by showing its paper tiger teeth. Progressive militants need to avoid any illusions that quick solutions are possible, or that revolution is imminent. A lot of work must be done — we need to understand that we are fighting an enemy that is powerful and experienced, and that our camp has yet to develop its capacity to be suited for power.

The dominant ideology in this society is that of the bourgeois class, and we are not immune from that dominant ideology. Our resistance will facilitate our capacity to combat that dominant ideology, but only in our struggle against capitalism we will be able not only to rupture with it, but to participate in the construction of popular ideology. As progressives, we need to understand our limitations that objectively effect our capacity to contribute.

In other words, in general, our struggles as progressives are limited in that they carry in them the germ of recuperation. The danger is not only that our class enemy will be able to recuperate the progressive movement (as it has already done in the past), but we must also understand that our political line and political orientation are sources of recuperation as well. Our pragmatism and activism are the ideological grounds for our struggles to be recuperated.

In the final analysis, the class base of the progressive movement, the petit bourgeoisie, is also fertile ground for recuperation. The political work of progressive militants is important, but this political work is detectable as well by the law of contradictions. We have to deal with its limitations head on, confront them not only in theory but in practice as well.

Some fundamental elements to deal with the limitations:

The struggle of the progressive militant is not an isolated struggle. It is a level of the struggle against capitalism. The Progressive Alternative is dialectically linked to the Revolutionary Alternative and cannot be waged outside and independently of the Revolutionary Alternative.

In this dialectically linked relationship:

a] The revolutionary level is determinant, since its alternative is for the long term objectives.
b] Both levels need to function and militate in relative autonomy, independent from each other as well as intricately connected to each other.
c] The revolutionary militant needs to be present inside the progressive organizations in order to construct unity on the dialectical tasks of these respective levels, as well as to participate in the general orientation of the progressive level, to influence it to remain integrated within the general orientation of our final objective.
d] The two levels are not in competition, but rather two distinct and mutually reinforcing levels of organization of the masses as well as classes in the popular camp.
e] The two levels need to engage in deep discussions to learn from the past, especially errors committed. The purpose of this engagement should not be to defend or denounce past experience, but rather to serve the rectification and consolidation of our movements.

The progressive alternative is a viable alternative for the popular movements.

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