A Discussion of FRSO’s Line Toward the Masses
[This is a brief discussion of FRSO’s line toward the masses which originally began on "Celticfire’s" old blog (at http:\\celticfire.blogspot.com). Celticfire, who is a revolutionary friend of mine, started off the discussion (on March 2, 2006) by quoting my call in an old essay for efforts to create a new and effective revolutionary communist organization. Celticfire also commented there that "From my own experience, we Maoists have a tough time. We either obediently fall in line with the RCP’s cult of personality, or surrender to the FRSO’s non-revolutionary line. Is there an alternative—could there be one? Scott H. thinks there is, and I agree." This reference to the two Freedom Road Socialist Organization groups prompted a response from "Nelson H.", a defender of the line of one of these FRSO groups (the one pushing the "Left Refoundation" idea). Celticfire responded briefly, and then another person, "G. Frohman", made a much longer posting more or less in support of Nelson H.’s remarks, and added a few more criticisms of what he takes to be my position. I’ll be responding to all this below, but first I want to commend Celticfire for stirring up this debate in the first place! FRSO and its supporters have seemed to me in the past to be quite reluctant to discuss and defend their basic revolutionary strategies, especially with regard to their relationships to the masses. It is good if more of this sort of thing is brought out into the open, and some new thinking starts to happen around it. I am making my response here on massline.info rather than on Celticfire’s blog for several reasons: 1) this response is excessively long for a blog posting, 2) this discussion really does connect up well with other material about FRSO and the mass line, and 3) blog postings tend to quite ephemeral. I am open to continuing this discussion of FRSO’s line here if those already involved, or anyone else!, wishes to do so. —Scott H.]
[Nelson H. said:]
"To simply write off Left Refoundation as ‘FRSO’s non-revolutionary line’ is an attempt to sucker-punch the thoroughly revolutionary questions the thesis raises. Questions that, frankly, are central to the one-man general call Scott H. appears to be making."
[Scott H. responds:]
First of all, a hello to Nelson H.! You are obviously a very serious-minded revolutionary guy, and it is always a pleasure to have a conversation with such folks—even if a large part of that conversation might have to be over various disagreements! It is especially good to have a discussion about FRSO’s line toward the masses, because—strangely enough—very few revolutionary organizations, including the two FRSOs, have seen fit to discuss this very important and fundamental issue at any length. Even within such groups I sometimes wonder how much actual thinking and sometimes necessary re-thinking occurs on this critical topic.
I don’t think that when Celticfire referred to "FRSO’s non-revolutionary line" he meant the "Left Refoundation" scheme specifically. As his response makes clear, he was referring to the tendency of the FRSO groups to focus on day-to-day reformist struggles while neglecting any serious efforts to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the people they are working with. At least this is the way it sure looks to those of us from outside of that work.
Personally, I think this "Left Refoundation" idea resulted from the frustrations that have developed within the original (pre-split) FRSO group, and what seemed to be an obvious lack of significant progress towards creating a new revolutionary party from out of the mass struggle that it was engaged in. It is in fact correct to start to question a line that doesn’t seem to be working very well! But the suggested "answer" here to the perceived problem is incorrect. It amounts to looking around for a shortcut to this new revolutionary party by simply trying to lead a number of existing groups to coalesce. But if the activity of these existing groups is not bringing forward significant numbers of new revolutionaries, will merging them together really help very much?! (Yes, I know, "Refoundation" doesn’t just mean merging existing groups together, but that is a big part of the notion.)
The unstated implication behind the "Left Refoundation" scheme is that the problems that FRSO has been having in bringing forward new revolutionaries in their mass work are due simply, or at least mostly, to their small size. This idea, however, is false, and a larger merged group which follows the exact same line (in this regard) that the existing FRSO groups are now following won’t have much more in the way of success. The real problem, in my opinion, is the basic reformist way in which both FRSOs relate to the masses they work with. You can’t generate new revolutionaries if you hardly ever talk about revolution with the people you work with.
The other thing that Nelson raises here is the suggestion that I personally am issuing a "one-man general call" to create a new revolutionary organization. Actually, that call is from an essay I wrote for other friends several years back, hoping to get that group of folks to work toward creating a new revolutionary organization. That particular effort didn’t pan out. It is true that I still try to popularize this same idea, but that doesn’t mean I think that my individual call is going to lead to this result all on its own! Of course it cannot. But even lone individuals are not wrong to call for what is truly needed! These calls, however, are only one small part of actually working toward such a goal.
[Nelson H. continues:]
"My question (meant with respect and comradely love, mind you) to Scott H. and celticfire both is how many working class folks have y’all won over to revolutionary socialism, and revolutionary socialist organization through doing explicitly revolutionary organizing? By this I mean, how many people have you met who did not identify with socialism yet through struggle of a type different from the mass work FRSO/OSCL, FightBack and other[s] engage in, they came to identify with revolutionary socialist politics?"
[Scott H. responds:]
The method that I propose is not at all the same method which the RCP uses (as Nelson seems to suggest here). That is, there are three different methods of working with the masses here, not just two:
- The method of focusing almost entirely on revolutionary propaganda (around a newspaper for example), and ignoring most of the day-to-day needs and struggles of the masses. (This is the RCP method.)
- The method of focusing almost entirely on engaging with the masses in struggles for reforms, and almost completely neglecting any attempt to directly raise the revolutionary consciousness of the people being worked with. (This is the method of both of the FRSOs as far as we can see.)
- The method of participating with the masses in their day-to-day struggles, but in the course of that to also make genuine and serious efforts to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the people we are working with. (This is the method that I, and I think also Celticfire, propose.)
It is interesting that the RCP thinks methods 2 and 3 amount to the same thing, while Nelson (representing the FRSO view here I think) apparently seems to view methods 1 and 3 as amounting to the same thing. So let’s first be very clear here: there really are three different and distinct methods of relating to the masses. Moreover, both the first and second method have pretty much been proven not to work! (For example, in this country, and over a long period, neither the RCP nor the two FRSOs have made any noticeable progress toward building a mass revolutionary movement or expanding their own organizations.) The third method, alas, has scarcely been tried in this country, but where it has been tried (such as in Lenin’s Russia and Mao’s China) it was hugely successful. (Yes, sure, there were other important factors involved in the success of those revolutions too, but using the correct basic method of relating to the masses was still a critically important cause of those successes.)
Now Nelson wants to know just how much success I or Celticfire have had as individuals in following method 1 (the RCP method). First, once again, that is not what we are proposing. Second, isolated individuals cannot often make much headway attempting to implement any of the three methods of relating to the masses that are listed above—not even method 3! I doubt that Nelson would claim much individual progress himself in attempting to implement method 2, either. However the issue is not whether one method might allow individuals to make great progress on their own, but whether one of the methods might allow revolutionary groups (and even rather small revolutionary groups, at that) to make some real progress among the masses.
I have seen even the somewhat half-assed attempts to apply method 3 that the RU/RCP employed for a couple years way back in the mid-1970s show at least some limited good results. Among Muni bus drivers, for example, a number of workers were radicalized and at least two became communists and were recruited into the organization/Party. (Of course the RCP has long since abandoned that method, and hasn’t employed it for decades now.)
Where I (and Celticfire too, I think) have been putting our efforts lately is not in immediately attempting to apply method 3 as individuals, but rather in trying to create a new revolutionary communist organization (even if small at first) that will try to systematically use method 3. As such, it is rather disingenuous to point out that we are not yet making much headway among the masses; that is not even what we are focusing on yet.
[Nelson H. continues:]
"This question seems forced to center stage (in my mind at least) by his utter disdain for the mass work done by comrades in FRSO/OSCL (and FightBack). In my experience, folks do not come to socialism without first engaging in struggles for reform. As many comrades have laid out, our key tasks are always to 1) harm the enemy, 2) win all the [that?] can be won for the people, and 3) win the advanced to socialism. In this period, and in a very universal sense as well, you cannot do this if you are not engaged in struggle—including struggle for reform in the here and now—with actual people."
[Scott H. responds:]
First, I do not have "utter disdain" for the mass work done by FRSO people! Indeed I very much respect their efforts to join up with the actual struggles of the masses, and I have said this over and over. I don’t criticize the FRSO groups for attempting to merge with the masses in the masses’ own struggles, but rather for not also using the opportunity that this then provides to systematically raise the revolutionary consciousness of those who they participate with in those day-to-day struggles.
I would also agree with Nelson that with few exceptions ordinary working class people do not "come to socialism without first engaging in struggles for reform". In fact, if you look at my Mass Line manuscript on massline.info, you will see that I am constantly lambasting the RCP for refusing to participate with the masses in their struggles over reforms. (See especially chapter 19, "The Mass Line, Reformist Struggle, & the Revolutionary Goal".)
However, if you look at the three "key tasks" that FRSO emphasizes, you’ll see that there is no mention of trying to raise, step-by-step, the revolutionary consciousness of the masses whose struggles the FRSO people seek to merge with. It is true that point 3) could be interpreted that way, and I wish that was the primary way that FRSO people did interpret it! But, instead, they seem to me to divorce this point 3) from the other two points. No doubt they do try to raise the consciousness of the few advanced individuals who spontaneously come forward—most of them, probably, from the same strata of "middle-class" students who Nelson accuses me of focusing on. That is well and good! But what we really most desperately need is a method of raising the revolutionary consciousness of ordinary working class people who have not already been exposed to other revolutionaries, revolutionary literature, and the like.
I would love to find out that I am wrong about FRSO, and that they are actually following the method I am championing. But so far the evidence is all in the other direction. (I do know, however, that there is one FRSO member, a long time friend of mine, who does not follow this essentially reformist approach that characterizes the two organizations in general. But he is in an atypical situation there in a number of other respects too.)
[Nelson H. continues:]
"Sure, one can run front groups and recruit students in a revolving door fashion, look at the ISO. But outside of petit bourgeois intellectuals (my background, so this is not intended as a cheap shot) this strategy of explicitly revolutionary organizing fails, even with students, as core-cadrification and ultra-leftist split-prone culture that sees all decisions as central questions to make or break organizations sets in."
[Scott H. responds:]
I’m afraid Nelson doesn’t understand what I (and others) are advocating at all. His critique here is quite valid for the ISO (or the RCP), but this is not at all what I am arguing for as the basic path forward.
However, it is true that at this point there is no revolutionary communist organization in existence (that I know of) which is actually trying to implement method 3 of relating to the masses. Consequently, before that method can be systematically and seriously employed, a new organization must first be built. It might actually be quite small to begin with, but it can’t be just one person or just a few. So the first step toward actually applying method 3 of relating to the masses is to work to create this new organization which is dedicated to doing precisely that. And that means that, for a short while, a little "organization building" is in fact principal. It also means that the original group will probably mostly have to be pulled together from among the radicalized student and ex-student strata of the "middle class". (Strictly speaking most of those who are called "middle class" in the movement today actually come from wage-earning families, though rarely from the "real proletariat", the lower strata of the working class.)
If this new organization permanently keeps to that "propaganda and organization building" focus, however, then we will have just another RCP-like organization (though hopefully without the grotesque personality cult at least). Thus almost from the time the new organization gets established it will have to try to have most of its members immerse themselves in the struggles of the masses. And, as soon as possible, work among the masses should become the central focus of the new revolutionary organization. But, once again!, that work includes not only the determined participation with the masses in their day-to-day struggles, but also making good use of that contact and situation to immediately begin work to raise the political consciousness of those we are in contact with.
This new organization will become a "success", in my opinion, not when it reaches any certain size threshold, but when it actually starts to radicalize a significant number of the working-class masses it works with and begins recruiting them into the organization. After that, there will, I suppose, have to be a long period of growth, further cooperation with other revolutionary groups, and the eventual coming together of the best of these groups to form a new and effective revolutionary communist party. And once we have that, depending on how the world develops, we might actually be in a position to make a revolution in this country some number of decades down the road. (Alas, I’ll likely be long dead, myself.) Well, that’s the best scenario for the future of the revolutionary movement in this country that I can see.
[Nelson H. continues:]
"Finally, I have heard Scott H. make the ‘going to regroup with Trotskists’ [sic] claim so frequently, I’d really like to hear some supporting evidence (perhaps in private over email or some other medium), ’cause with the exception of local level joint work and relationship building regroupment with any ‘Trotskyists’ doesn’t appear (to me anyways) to be on FRSO/OSCL’s short term agenda. Even a cursory glance at recent statements on Left Refoundation ( http://freedomroad.org/content/view/334/50/ for example) should convince him of that."
[Scott H. responds:]
If I am wrong about this charge I will gladly remove the accusations and apologize. But this is what I understood to be the case from a member of your FRSO group several years ago, as well as from people who know other FRSO members. The story I heard then is that FRSO and the Trotskyist group "Solidarity" had entered a period of close cooperation and were seriously exploring the eventual possibility of merging. A year or so later I heard from several sources in and outside of FRSO that there had been a cooling off between the two organizations, and that while they still intended to try to work together on some projects there was no longer any early prospect of merger. As part of this cozy relationship (at least for a while) there were in fact some friendly struggles between individuals in the two groups, which attempted to arrive at a general agreement around a common political line. One such exchange is examined in another item posted on this web site. (See my letter: "Criticizing a Trotskyist Critique of FRSO’s View of the Mass Line".) And I should also add that since neither group has been entirely forthcoming about their one-time flirtation, it is natural that those of us on the outside have to rely on a certain amount of surmise. But as I say, if it can be demonstrated to me that some of my surmising has been in error I will be happy to correct it.
[Nelson H. concludes:]
"All this said I appreciate the brothers’ attempt to distribute the new essays on Scott H.’s site to the larger revolutionary left; I look forward to reading them and sharing my thoughts."
[Scott H. responds:]
And I in turn appreciate Nelson’s comment here! It is always nice to be taken seriously enough to have your writings read by other folks! I do look forward to hearing any remarks that Nelson may have about anything on massline.info.
* * *
[G. Frohman said:]
"I’m coming a little late to this discussion (at least on blogosphere timescales), but oh well.
"I’ve only read through some of Scott H’s stuff, but I think I have a pretty good sense of where he’s coming from. I strongly agree with the great majority of his writing. I think he goes seriously off the rails, though, around the particulars of how you bring revolutionary politics to the masses. I think nelson h. gets pretty much to the heart of it. He says: ‘In my experience, folks do not come to socialism without first engaging in struggles for reform. As many comrades have laid out, our key tasks are always to 1) harm the enemy, 2) win all the [that?] can be won for the people, and 3) win the advanced to socialism.’
"Here’s my own version of our tasks (which I think sharpens it a bit further): 1) hurt the enemy and win what can be won for the people, 2) raise the consciousness of the masses and draw as many as possible into the struggle, and 3) win the advanced to revolution and socialism."
[Scott H. responds:]
Revolutionary greetings to you, "G. Frohman"! (I’ll call you "G.F." for short in the material below.) Thanks for your generally positive remarks about massline.info.
First of all, I want to say that I think your rewriting of FRSO’s three "key tasks" very much improves them and directly supports my criticisms of FRSO’s whole approach to the masses. What you did was combine FRSO’s original first two points into a single first point, and then add a new second point that FRSO neglected to include. And that new second point, to "raise the consciousness of the masses and draw as many as possible into the struggle" is extremely important. It is exactly the failure to make serious attempts to "raise the consciousness" of the masses they work with, that is my main criticism of them.
With your reformulation of FRSO’s "key tasks" you have concisely put your finger on what is probably their central error.
[G. Frohman continues:]
"The basic point in these formulations is that it is the *advanced* who you concentrate on in terms of red politics. Who are the advanced? Those who are willing to step forward in the struggle and play a leading role, those who reflect advanced ideas in their practice. They are the ones who will be most open to both embracing revolutionary ideas and propagating them further in their practice. It is not those, for example, who talk revolution but then sit on their asses. You meet some of those."
[Scott H. responds:]
I can agree with a number of points stated or implied in this paragraph. Certainly a number a good people will come forward from the "middle class" student and youth movements, and some of them will play a very important role in creating and building revolutionary organizations. Even after solid revolutionary organizations (or a party) are built, it will still be important to put considerable efforts into winning over more people from strata such as these. But on the other hand, at least once an organization has been built which will be able to work with the "basic proletariat" in the proper sort of way, then that should be the main focus of our work. But by the "proper sort of way" here, we mean not only merging ourselves into the masses’ own struggles and attempting to help lead them to victory, but also genuinely and seriously making use of this wonderful opportunity to raise the revolutionary consciousness of those masses we are working with. As we do this we should indeed concentrate most of all on the advanced people who come forward in mass struggles, and who begin to provide leadership to those struggles.
An organization that participates in the day-to-day struggles of the masses, and which also seeks to raise the revolutionary consciousness of those it is engaged in joint struggle with, will be able to do two things. First, it will be able to gradually raise the average level of consciousness of all the masses it works with. And second, it will be able to make much more rapid and thorough progress in raising the revolutionary consciousness and knowledge of a smaller number of individuals from among the masses—and especially those who, because of their greater concern and determination become the advanced forces in those mass struggles.
If following this program is what G.F. is suggesting here when he says that we should concentrate on the advanced "in terms of red politics", then I completely agree. But I just want to make sure that he isn’t saying that we should make no efforts to raise the revolutionary consciousness of all the people we work with. Of course we will concentrate our efforts on some people more than others (and specifically the "advanced" as properly understood), but that doesn’t mean we should act like ordinary reformists towards the broader sections of the masses either. In fact, one of the main reasons we have in focusing so much effort on raising the revolutionary consciousness of the advanced from out of the masses, is that it is just these people who will be most effective in helping us educate the broader numbers of people.
[G. Frohman continues:]
"How do we win over the advanced? The mass line means that most importantly we should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses in the struggle, drawing out revolutionary lessons in person with them according to mass-line methodology. Revolutionary propaganda is important, but it is not the most important means. Mainly it is about listening to and talking to the advanced one-on-one, armed with a mass-line approach."
[Scott H. responds:]
Oooh! This paragraph starts to seriously worry me! First of all, it seems to view the mass line not as a method of leadership (the method that Mao called "from the masses, to the masses") but as a method of education of the masses. This is already askew.
I’ve found it fascinating (and depressing!) that both the RCP and the FRSO groups tend to mash education and leadership tasks together and confuse the two. That is, in Lenin’s words, they both, in their different ways, tend to "confound politics with pedagogy", or—in other words—they confuse educational tasks with leadership tasks. Revolutionary organizations need to do two things: help lead the masses, and help educate the masses (and the masses also need to educate the communists about many things). The RCP seems to think that its educational efforts (revolutionary agitation and propaganda) somehow "are" the same thing as leading the masses. The FRSO groups, on the other hand, appear to me to believe that their participation and leadership efforts in mass struggles somehow "are" the same thing as educating them. By confounding the two different tasks and attempting to conflate them, both sides end up doing only one of the two things that need to be done, or at least end up doing the other thing only very poorly.
When G.F. says we should draw "out revolutionary lessons in person" with the masses "according to mass-line methodology", he apparently means that people learn mostly through their own experiences in struggle, and we should be there with them to help them sum up the lessons of those struggles correctly. While there is considerable truth to this, it is a great exaggeration in one respect; namely, people do not learn most of what they need to know through their own personal experiences! We all learn many key, and very important things this way, but as important as this school of hard knocks is, it is only a part of our education.
G.F. does agree here that "revolutionary propaganda is important", but the whole thrust of his paragraph seems to be directed towards downplaying that importance. I think he is confusing several different issues here:
- Do people learn best from their own experiences? Yes, they do.
- Do people learn most of what they need to know from their own experiences? No, they do not, and cannot!
- Can people acquire the bulk of the revolutionary consciousness they need from their own experiences in reformist struggle? No, they definitely cannot!
And that is why revolutionary agitation and propaganda is much more important to the education of the masses than G.F. seems to think it is.
[G. Frohman continues:]
"I think the problem with Scott H.’s attitude toward the two FRSOs is that he doesn’t see this methodology expressed in practice. By mainly observing what appears on the internet, he sees a lack of revolutionary propaganda there and assumes that neither group carries out a significant amount of red-level work on a day-to-day basis. This is a major blind spot on his part."
[Scott H. responds:]
It is not just the paltry revolutionary content of the web sites of the two FRSOs that concern me, G.F.! There is much more evidence than that. For example, the fact that neither FRSO group produces very much revolutionary literature for its members to use in their daily work among the masses. Look at the one FRSO’s "Fight Back!" newspaper, for example. Most of the issues I have looked at contain virtually no real revolutionary content. And yet this is the newspaper that that organization’s members mostly base their daily educational work among the masses on, I presume. (Why else have the newspaper?) The other FRSO doesn’t even have a newspaper, and I understand that their magazine (which only had a few issues anyway) is now suspended. Not only comrades, but even (truly) advanced workers need to have a steady supply of revolutionary materials to use in their daily work among the masses. If those supplies do not even exist I find it very hard to believe that the organization is serious about revolutionary education of the masses.
Moreover, how serious can these organizations be about further educating even their own members? Neither has a theoretical journal for discussing major problems of the revolutionary movement, or for popularizing MLM knowledge from the classics. Neither publishes much, if anything, in the way of books or pamphlets along these lines. Neither even seems very concerned to defend their own line in any systematic sort of way! Indeed, their own basic line often seems to be quite amorphous and unsettled.
The claim that FRSO members are actually bringing up a lot of revolutionary ideas with the masses on a private one-on-one basis rings very hollow to me, partly because of my own past experience in a revolutionary organization which used to imagine the same thing. In reality I found that most members of the RU/RCP in the early days did very little of this sort of thing. Many even made very limited efforts to distribute the organization’s newspapers, or talk to their co-workers about articles in them. (Most had huge piles of newspapers in their basement or attic.) Many were very unreliable about talking to those they worked with about coming to forums or demonstrations. Yes, that was a different organization, and quite some time ago. But all the contemporary revolutionary groups are made of the same sorts of people, and I know their tendencies and faults all too well!
One of the hardest things in the world is for revolutionaries to stop fooling themselves about what they and their organizations are actually doing among the masses, and about how effective they imagine they are in bringing revolutionary ideas to the masses! I don’t want to be too cynical here, but we do have to try to face up to painful facts as best we can.
If the FRSOs were actually doing as much revolutionary consciousness raising as you suggest, then I claim they would be growing in size and making noticeable progress in their work. (Noticeable even to those of us on the outside.) The fact that the FRSOs seem pretty stagnant suggests to me that they aren’t following a correct line toward the masses. To make headway, and to steadily increase their recruitment (especially recruitment from the basic proletariat!), a revolutionary organization must do two things: 1) participate with the masses in their own struggles, and 2) seriously try to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the masses they join with in struggle against the bourgeoisie. If they do only one of these things, they will stagnate; if they do both, they will grow and develop. At least that was true of the RU/RCP during the one brief period (c. 1975-76) when they sort of followed this approach. (See the introductory page rehashing my expulsion from the RCP many years ago for a brief discussion of how this played out among San Francisco Muni bus drivers way back then.)
However, if you still think I am wrong about the FRSO groups, G.F., I would be happy to see what evidence you can produce to demonstrate this to me!
[G. Frohman continues:]
"The thing about a small group pouring the better part of its energy into producing and distributing a revolutionary newspaper or similar organ with mainly red-level content—and highly visible to critics from afar—is that this isn’t the most efficient way for a small group (I’m talking about maybe mid-hundreds on down vs. thousands or more) to do red work. As I noted, red work in a non-revolutionary period should be mainly targeted at the advanced. When armed with a revolutionary newspaper, however, the cadre spend most of their energy waving the paper at the intermediate, the backward, random passers-by, etc., rather than concentrating their valuable energy more effectively on the advanced. (In my view, this is actually a Trot approach to red work.) The broad masses for their part need propaganda mainly focused on raising their consciousness in steps based on where they’re at right now and agitation mainly focused on drawing them into the struggle. That’s a fairly different thing."
[Scott H. responds:]
It is all too easy to laugh at the way that the Trot groups, and the RCP, use their newspapers! I share the same disdain as G.F. does in that regard. But G.F. is missing something very important here, and that is that there is a better way to use revolutionary newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, and books. And that better way is for comrades to use them as tools in their educational efforts with their friends, co-workers, and—most important of all—those with whom they are merged with in some serious struggle against the enemy.
One of the main reasons why revolutionaries need to form and join organizations is so that they will have the support they need in order to be much better able to carry out the political education of the people they are in contact with. If you can give these people leaflets, newspapers and other literature, then you will be in a much better position to discuss the central points of revolutionary politics with them one-on-one. If there is an organization holding forums, organizing study groups, and the like, then you can invite your co-workers and friends to these events. Apparently FRSO cadre don’t do many of these things at all, or if they do try on their own they must be quite crippled by the lack of support from their organization.
The overall picture I get from G.F.’s remarks in this last passage is that FRSO seems to believe that the mass of people they work with and join up with in their day-to-day struggles are only able to learn, and only need to learn whatever limited things they can directly learn from those small-scale struggles for reforms that they are presently engaged in. This is very disrespectful of the capabilities and potential of the masses. I think I am starting to understand why the FRSOs seem to downplay their Maoist roots.
[G. Frohman continues:]
"So judging smallish groups on the basis of whether you can see them churning out forests worth of publicly visible red-level propaganda is completely wrongheaded. Relative prioritization of red and mass work and the particular way they’re expressed will change over time, as the movement builds and the broad consciousness of the masses develops. But at this point that’s a slow, protracted process."
[Scott H. responds:]
It is interesting that G.F. simply assumes that "red-level propaganda" couldn’t possibly be appropriate for the masses in this country today. This is undoubtedly based on a deep misconception of what "red-level propaganda" must "inevitably" be like.
In a nutshell, the real difference in political education for the masses (i.e., both agitation and propaganda) and political education directed at very advanced people and other Marxists, is simply the different assumptions we make about what people already understand! If we know our audience doesn’t understand some point, we should not talk in a way that assumes they do understand it. If a co-worker doesn’t understand that the working class could actually run society, we should not just endlessly repeat our call for socialism to that person, but actually try to get him or her to understand that the workers could rule society. (Perhaps starting by asking the question if they would agree that the workers at this company could do a better job running it than the idiotic and ignorant management now in charge.)
So-called "red-level" education includes some very basic points about society, such as who should run it and how that might come about. If FRSO people are not even talking about these basic things with the masses, then what the hell use are they, anyway?
It is quite true that outfits like the RCP have little conception about how to go about raising revolutionary ideas with the masses, and most of their own rather limited efforts to do so are quite laughable. (They are more apt to be talking about Bob Avakian as a savior of the masses than they are to be talking about whether the working class should be running the country.) FRSO folks look at the foolishness of the RCP, the Sparts, and other leftist cultists and fanatics, and say, "Hey, that’s not the way to accomplish anything useful!" And of course they are right about that. But it never seems to occur to them to consider that there might be a qualitatively different and better way to go about bringing revolutionary ideas to the masses.
It may be shocking to FRSO people and supporters to hear this, but you guys are apparently still thinking about revolutionary propaganda in the same stupid and distorted way that groups like the RCP do! The only difference is they promote it and you reject it. But actually, your whole conception of what "red propaganda" even is is totally screwed up in the first place. If you had a more rational conception of what it could actually be, I don’t think you would be so hostile to using it among the masses even today.
[G. Frohman concludes:]
"I think Scott H. is making an idealist error here in that he places revolutionary ideas themselves at the center of revolutionary strategy, rather than revolutionary organization which, armed with these ideas, engages with the masses in a way which will hopefully turn the ideas into a material force. He labels the FRSOs "reformists," but the real reformists are those in the mass movements who hold revolutionary ideas but aren’t joining or building revolutionary organization to put those ideas into practice. The lack of revolutionary organization is the key shortcoming in the movements, not the lack of people who are willing [to] talk revolution.
"It’s too bad Scott misses the boat so badly in this regard. Like I said, I agree with almost everything else that he writes."
[Scott H. responds:]
Do I place "revolutionary ideas themselves at the center of revolutionary strategy rather than revolutionary organization"? I certainly would never say anything as crude and misleading as that! There are lots of very basic points to a sensible revolutionary strategy in this country (possibly including one or two that none of us have quite figured out yet). Some of the key points our Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement has figured out include:
- The revolutionary movement must be led by a revolutionary party that arises primarily out of the most oppressed sections of the working class. [This is one of at least two points that has to do with "organization"!]
- The basic method to be used by this party (or the pre-party organizations that exist before that party can be created) is to join up with the masses in their own struggles, and in the course of that, to:
- Use the mass line method of leadership to help the masses win whatever reforms that can be won, and to beat back all the new attacks from the enemy that we can. (I.e., to help win reforms and defeat "negative reforms".)
- Build the organization and sense of class consciousness and solidarity among the working class and its allies. (The mass organizational aspect of this means not primarily the strengthening of labor unions, but rather helping to build independent and much more democratic organizations of the workers and the broad masses.)
- Help lead these struggles in a way that promotes a united front of the working class and allies from among "middle class" strata together with the movements for equality and/or liberation by various nationalities and ethnic groups.
- And, to take advantage of our comradeship in struggle with the workers and masses to help educate them about their broader and more long-term interests, and especially about the overriding need for social revolution. [Favoring this is what leads G.F. to claim that I am "making an idealist error"!]
- The basic means of achieving state power for the revolutionary proletariat is through mass insurrection (and probable civil war following it) once the great majority of the masses are ready to attempt this.
I am not putting this forward as a definitive statement of the strategy for revolution in the U.S.! But as anyone can see, my general conception here of some of the main principles of an appropriate revolutionary strategy for this country by no means neglects the importance of building up the levels of organization of the masses, nor does it consist only of stressing the importance of bringing revolutionary ideas to the masses! Yes, that is critically important and essential, but it is certainly not the whole of the revolutionary strategy that I am putting forth.
Furthermore, it is wrong to contrapose joining up with the masses in their struggles or building mass organization and consciousness, to educating the masses about their most basic and long-term interests (revolution)! We need to do all these things! Not only that, but we will not be very successful in doing any one of them unless we also do the others.
It is quite instructive how people in the FRSO orbit try to downplay the importance of bringing revolutionary ideas to the masses. In doing so they really do pretty much abandon revolutionary politics, and become mere reformists in their mass work (even if they still favor revolution in their own minds). But the strangest thing of all is how they have twisted and distorted Mao’s ideas in order to try to show that this abandonment of the revolutionary education of the people is somehow "required" by the mass line. Mao must be turning over in his grave!
March 16, 2006
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