Variety and uniformity along with unity and diversity are often counter-posed as opposites, yet this phenomenon of unity opposed to diversity or diversity opposed to unity is rarely found in real life. Nevertheless, the former is frequently active within the anti-capitalist movement. In this article I will argue not only that there can be diversity within the anti-capitalist struggle, but that there is already diversity – without unity – and in the future there must be diversity – within unity – for it to have any chance of success.
Any revolutionary movement by working people (white-collar and blue) against the capitalist system will inevitably require a degree of unity among a diverse mix of individuals and communities. It is a self-evident reality that working people of one country, let alone the world, differ in beliefs, aspirations, motivations, languages, ages, genders, skin pigment and abilities. Diversity, within an overall anti-capitalist and post-capitalist unity will therefore not be simply an ideal to aspire to, but a necessity to achieve.
But stating this necessity does not entirely exhaust the question of diversity within unity. Unity for this purpose would by no means be an exception. Diversity among human communities and individuals are only two examples of this clearly observable fact. It occurs within the overall unity of an individual organism as well as within their separate species. Examples of diversity within unity – from the whole of the natural world – are countless. In fact, diversity within unity is the default condition for the entire expanse of the material world, from the microscopic to the astronomic.
Yet this – with one century-old exception – is not the case within the past and current anti-capitalist movement. In this particular activist paradigm, sectarian diversity without unity is the default and currently deeply entrenched position – even when anti-capitalists are faced with common dangers. It is a symptom at odds with the whole of nature and most social experience and this sectarian symptom mirrors the elite nature of class-ridden social systems.
Anti-capitalist diversity, without unity.
The fact that within the anti-capitalist movement, there is considerable diversity but not a semblance of unity, I suggest, should be cause for serious concern. Sectarian diversity and a systemic lack of unity among anti-capitalists, is a serious practical problem for those who seek to revolutionise the way the economic and social fabric of humanity is held together. However, it is also a problem which is connected to the theoretical aspects of this ongoing struggle and the way this theoretical perspective is reflected within the realm of politics.
Politics is the social system of governance based upon; leaders and led; controllers and controlled. It requires an elite and a rank and file. To maintain this pyramidal hierarchy the political elites, of whatever persuasion, perpetuate the illusion that they ‘know’ how to lead and have the pre-eminent ideas. Anti-capitalist groups are no different in this regard. Most anti-capitalist groups go beyond this internal arrogance and insist that they have the ‘correct’ ideas and practices to lead the whole of humanity. As a consequence any diversity of ideas within them is extremely narrowly defined and organisationally constrained. This at best leads to factionalism and the suppression, proscription or eventual expulsion, of divergent ideas because the ‘ideal’ such groups are working toward is based upon absolute unity of theory and practice. Lenin for example during the revolution in Russia;
“We must combat the ideological discord and the unsound elements of the opposition who talk themselves into repudiating all ‘militarisation’ of industry’ and not only the appointments methods, which have been the prevailing ones until now, but all appointments..” (Lenin ‘The Party Crisis’ Complete Works. Volume 32 page 50.)
In the Leninist concept of anti-capitalist organisation, ideological differences are correctly seen as an existential problem for the leadership and in this extract, as elsewhere, any divergence is characterised as emanating from ‘unsound elements’. To stress, the nature of the ‘combat’ he envisaged against those who thought differently, Lenin a month later, at the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, declared the following;
“Comrades, this is no time to have an opposition. Either, you are on this side , or on the other, , but then your weapon must be a gun, and not an opposition.” (Lenin. Speech to Tenth Congress. ibid)
Let us overlook Lenin’s crude polemical dualism of either/or – an opinion permitting of no other logical or dialectical alternatives. And let us remember – but pass over – his idea that workers democracy under a post-capitalist system was by implication an ‘unsound’ idea. Instead let us focus on the existential nature of Lenin’s position with regard to party membership and the emergence within it of divergent viewpoints opposed to his own.
We know that much later Stalin, having taken over the leadership reins formerly held by Lenin, was to use not only the gun against opposition, but torture and assassination of the family members of oppositionists – all in pursuit of party unity. However, the real point here is that whether or not Stalin and other ‘leadership’ figures thought independently of Lenin, they all thought the same on this question. The idea of killing opponents within ‘the party’ or ‘movement’ was part of theirs and Lenin’s overall anti-capitalist ideology. A pattern notably replicated within modern religious fundamentalism.
Of course, those 20th and 21st century anti-capitalist groups who still claim to imitate or inherit the Leninist and Bolshevik views on organisation, may not be so extreme as to contemplate killing those who disagree within and without their organisation – at least not yet! However, experience over the last fifty years or so have demonstrated, that tolerance of diverse views and opinions within such sects, is not something they have been able to consistently adjust to.
Intimidations, expulsions, distortions and even physical violence against internal and external dissent have been part of the intellectual and organisational agenda of most left groups since the end of the second world war. This perverted practice cannot be entirely surprising. The idealistic concept and practice of ‘vanguard’ democratic centralism and ‘secure’ leadership positions within it, leads inevitably to uniformity, intolerance and the suppression of diversity in the vain attempt to achieve it.
Diversity in the First International.
In contrast, the perspective of Marx and Engels was completely different. They consistently stressed that the revolutionary work of superseding the capitalist mode of production was the task of the working classes. They well knew the diverse nature of the working classes and that their ‘self-activity’ would involve the necessity to achieve unity and overcome the prejudiced ‘muck of ages’ in the process. It was also the conclusion they drew from a study of the Paris Commune in which they later asserted that provisional and local self-government was “the most powerful lever of the revolution“. It is also clear from the correspondence of Marx that the providing the overall aims of the 1st International were accepted, each section could organise its work in its own way.
A first probing question: If self-activity and creativity are necessary elements of any revolutionary transition, how else could this be developed, practised, sustained and maintained if not by diversity within a previously practiced overall unity?
There is an obvious reason why Marx, Engels and others got it right. In the original 19th century revolutionary-humanist tradition of Marx, and others, economics, politics and social life were examined from a consistent materialist perspective in opposition to an idealist or mystical point of view. It was this consistent perspective which enabled those who used it to avoid the intellectual trap of inconsistency and idealism. Yet far too many modern anti-capitalists have also drifted away from a consistent materialist perspective and toward one consisting of idealistic and dualistic formulations such as those espoused above by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. [See also Marxists against Marx on this blog] Marx again.
“The working class in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.” (Marx ’The Poverty of Philosophy’ Collected Works Vol. 6 page 211-212.)
The two important organisational points in this extract concerning the revolutionary activity of the working class are the following. First; ‘associations’ which exclude classes and second, the absence of ‘political power’. Democratic associations of working people will not all think alike or act alike, even if they may do so for a period of time. Associations of working people already, debate, discuss, agree, disagree, experiment, modify etc. In a future with no political power, there will be no permanent leaders and led, but collective discussions and decisions. Certain individuals may play a facilitative role from time to time, based upon the trust of the association members and the knowledge or skill level required, but no politics and no political power. Instead diversity within unity.
A second probing question: Why would a movement dedicated to achieving such a post-capitalist state of affairs – as précised above by Marx – be any different?
Diversity in the natural and social world.
It would be an impossible challenge to find anything other than diversity within unity in the natural world – even down to the level of bacteria and viruses, which comprise of discrete and different internal components with divers functions. The amalgam of such diverse cellular structures combine and co-operate in a multitude of diverse ways to form the higher building blocks of all forms of animal and vegetable life. Even in the non-living mineral materials diverse elements are combined – and re-combined by natural or human activity – into a unity which is preserved over millions if not billions of years.
The human body is a complex, multi-cellular entity, which is made up of millions of living cells, including bacteria which communicate, co-operate, co-ordinate and mutually support each other. We, and all multi-cellular life-forms, are a living example of the evolutionary advantage of diversity within an overall unity. Over millions of years of human social development , humanity has lived in collective, co-operative and reciprocally beneficial associations known as groups, bands, tribes and confederacies. No two groups being identical, yet constituting a species unity – and not always or continually at war with each other. Trade Unions, although limited in their ambitions, are also made up of diverse members! Why should an anti-capitalist movement be any different?
On the basis of current evidence galaxies of billions of stars and orbiting systems and bodies exist in space with no known examples of two or more which are identical. In other words, galactic diversity within a unity of galaxies and solar systems. And out there, as on earth, also nothing static but evolving as well as revolving. If diversity within unity exists everywhere in the natural and social history our planet and, as far as we know, everywhere outside it, what makes politics and religion any different?
Why do political movements and religious movements, constantly disintegrate into warring sects, which after a period of time splinter even further, while the rest of humanity in general just get on with each other and get on with life? I suggest there is something relatively recent (in the history of humanity) and ‘unnatural’ (ie social) which has made a virtue out of desiring unity without fully or consistently accepting diversity.
The histories of all religions are saturated with internecine and inter-denominational wars of aggression, torture, death and destruction in the ’cause’ of one religious elite or another. The history of politics since the times of the Greek Polis is no less devious and contemptible. The facile and self-serving medieval polemical splitting of hairs between the religious revolutionaries, Luther and Zwingle being replicated in revolutionary politics by the Jacobins and Herbertists in France followed by Lenin and Martov in Russia and their many imitators elsewhere since.
If humanity, is to transcend this 10, 000 year interregnum of oppression, exploitation and now planetary devastation, I suggest a return to the natural-world examples of diversity within unity needs to be part of that transition. Since such a future cannot be achieved under the capitalist mode of production, it would make sense for such a return to ‘diversity within unity’ to take root again within the anti-capitalist movement itself.
The case for creating a meaningful degree of unity.
There is already considerable diversity within the anti-capitalist movement but, as noted above, hardly any semblance of unity. Indeed, in the UK and elsewhere there is the debilitating example of competition and rivalry among sections of those who claim to be opposed to the capitalist mode of production. Not only are rival anti-capitalist group-lets manifold, but rival anti-austerity groups exist independently of each other and compete for membership and influence.
In this type of organisation and activity they resemble the capitalist private sector who compete for membership and supporters among the rest of the population. Internally, they even mirror a bourgeois division of labour with executives, boards of directors and annual meetings, only changing the designations of these bodies to ‘leading comrades’, ‘national committees’, and aggregates or AGM’s.
Likewise, the similarity of male-domination and patriarchal seduction within these sects, cannot be overlooked by the female half of the struggle against the bourgeois mode of production in pursuit of their own human rights.
We need to ask ourselves a further number of serious and searching question. Why could there not be an anti-capitalist movement in the 21st century which accepted as legitimate and valued contributors to the struggle against capital – all those who openly declare this position – but differ on how, when and why to pursue that goal. What stands in the way? Is it inevitable that those currently emanating from serious, but different anti-capitalist traditions cannot be a supportive part of the same struggle for a more humane post-capitalist society?
A third probing question: Can a society of diversity and difference accompanied by respect and even support be assisted by groups and individuals who insist on unanimity in line with their own particular dogmatic views?
More questions: Why shouldn’t a clear anti-capitalist social movement emerge which reflects the diversity of humanity, not only with regard to their physical appearance, but with regard to the diversity of opinion – within a paradigm of anti-capitalism and a humane post-capitalist alternative? What is stopping this?
It is surely not necessary to agree on every crossed (t) and dotted (i) of what comes after capitalism, providing we can agree that that is up to the communities of workers to decide this for themselves – when the opportunity occurs. What prevents us now respecting others views on how to resist, how to develop, how to get there and what mistakes were made in the past – if not egotistical belief in always knowing better than all the others?
And if that is the case, then this is a fundamental flaw in the thought processes of those who think this way. The progress of science and scientific revolutions indicates that knowledge advances, by discussion, difference, contradiction, experience and achieves this advance by leaps in understanding. What was once thought to be ‘correct’ was later proved to be ‘mistaken’. What the majority once thought was ‘right’, proved later to be ‘wrong’.
The same overall pattern of development exists in everyday life and personal relationships. How can an anti-capitalist and revolutionary-humanist movement afford to be any different in this regard? Only sectarian religious views can assert absolute truths and unchangeable dogma and sectarian politics simply mirrors this kind of ‘belief’ in unchanging forms and irrefutable doctrines. Or, as Marx noted in reference to ‘left’ politics, “Every sect is in fact religious.”
Humanity and the planet are faced with two serious existential threats. The first threat stems from the capitalist mode of production itself. This current mode of production is terminally exhausting and despoiling the planets material resources along with creating poverty, ill-health and injustice for the bulk of the human inhabitants. Not to mention extinctions for many other life-forms.
The second threat is from the rise of militant patriarchy, in the guise of religious fundamentalisms particularly within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These modern patriarchs wish to maintain capitalism, but transform the elite at the top of the capitalist mode into religious bigots who not only kill and oppress women but decapitate, crucify or shoot anyone who refuses to conform with their world view.
A final probing question: In the face of these two momentous threats to the future of humanity, is refusing to unite with other diverse anti-capitalists within a broad movement of opposition, anything but stupidly churlish?
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2014)
Are you willing to tolerate Stalinists and Maoists within a theoretical unified anti-capitalist group?
Thanks! An interesting point. First of all I am merely making the case for more unity than presently exists, not spelling out the exact criteria for inclusion. If there was a move toward such increased unity within an anti-capitalist movement it would be a collective decision as to what the criteria for involvement would be.
My own view to put into such a collective discussion, would be to suggest at least the initial criteria that I have previously suggested in the ‘about’ section. ie
1. Opposition to capitalism in all its economic, social and political forms.
2. Opposition to sectarianism and dogmatism.
3. Opposition to polemical distortion in disagreements.
4. Opposition to disrespect, sarcasm and intimidation.
5. For, sharing of information and understanding, including joint tactical discussions.
6. A refusal to allow theoretical differences to impede or prevent joint action.
Those of whichever persuasion who would agree – and adhere – to such criteria would already be a long way from the traditional die-hard Stalinists and Maoists. The latter would probably distance themselves,from these or any others adopted – still believing they were the ‘only’ true leaders of struggling humanity.