Strategy and Tactics Leftist Organizing

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    STRATEGY AND TACTICSHow the left can organiseto transform society

    John Rees

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    What makes change happen? What makes some people ghtto change the world while others remain passive? For thosewho want change, what sort of political organization couldmake it happen faster?

    Drawing on the experience of recent mass movementsand past revolutions, this booklet suggests ways in which theleft can maximize the effectiveness of all those who want totransform society.

    It looks at what has worked in the past and what has gonewrong. It concludes with a call to all those who want to changethe world to come together in a form of organization that canshape the outcome of the battles that lie ahead.

    About the author

    John Rees is a co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition andthe author ofThe Algebra of Revolution and Imperialism andResistance. He is on the Editorial Board of Counterre, and hewrites and presents the Timeline political history series. He is

    currently researching the Levellers and the English Revolution.

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    www. .org

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    Contents

    Introduction: What is to be done? 5

    1. What are we aiming or? 7

    2. Whose strategy, whose tactics? 11

    3. Revolutionary organisation 15

    4. Sectarianism and liquidationism 19

    5. Political organisation and class struggle 23

    6. iming in revolutionary politics 27

    7. Seizing the key link 31

    8. What are cadre? 35

    9. Propaganda and agitation 39

    10. Te united ront 43

    11. Ultra-leism 49

    12. Marxism and the trade unions 53

    13. Te Marxist method 59

    Further reading 65

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    Introduction:

    What is to be done?

    What is to be done? is the essential question at the hearto Marxism. Strategic and tactical decisions are about just

    this question. How do we organise to act? What methods,what arguments, will best enable us to change the societyaround us in the ways we wish?

    Many people will say that there is so much more toMarxism than strategy and tactics. Marxism is a theoryo history, a philosophy, an economic theory, a politicaltheory, and so on. And o course this is true. But in

    Marxism the whole point o this vast panoply o analysisis to bring us to the point where we have the knowledge toact eectively. As Marxs amous 11th thesis on Feuerbachhas it, Te philosophers have onlyinterpretedthe world,in various ways, the point is to change it.

    So Marxism is distinguished rom all other sociologicaltheories and le-wing doctrines by its insistence on

    answering the What is to be done? question. Otherdoctrines, academic and political, may analyse andobserve the social reality around them, but it is Marxismscommitment to acting upon such analyses that marks itout.

    Tis commitment to the unity o theory and practicepoints toward some other undamental aspects oMarxism. It raises the question, or instance, o who isgoing to do whatever it is that needs to be done. Tat is, itasks this question: which class and what political actors inthat class are capable o making change happen?

    In asking this question, the question o agency, it mustthereore ask a urther question: rom what point o view

    should we analyse and observe historical development?

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    6 Strategy and tactics

    Tis question runs right to the heart o the debate betweenacademic sociology and Marxism, because it requires us

    to consider whether the truth about the society we live inwill be better revealed rom the standpoint o its centralexploited class, the working class, or rom a detached,neutral point o view.

    Strategic and tactical decisions are, then, at the hearto Marxism, and they rest on a much broader and deeperanalysis o the class structure o capitalist society and on

    ways o viewing the world that arise rom that society.Te early sections o this pamphlet take a brie look

    at these issues in order to provide a ramework or thediscussion o strategy and tactics. But the later sectionsalways reer back to this ramework, and it is always thepresupposition on which later discussion rests. Tere isalways the closest connection between general theory andstrategy and tactics in Marxism, even i the connectionsare not necessarily obvious.

    When, in 1902, Lenin took the title What is to be done?or what became one o his most amous pamphlets, hedid so at a time when the orces o the revolutionariesin Russia were scattered and weak. But his persistence

    in answering this question, at that time and aerwards,brought them to the point where they could play a decisiverole in the Russian Revolution. I revolutionaries are toplay a constructive role in the battles that working peopleace today, they must still have the strategic and tacticalcapacity to answer that same question.

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    1. What are we aiming for?

    Te phrase strategy and tactics is military in origin.Armies have strategic war aims and they adapt their tacticsto overcome the problems they ace in battle in ways thatmove them towards their strategic goal.

    Te great Russian revolutionary Leon rotsky wrote:By tactics in politics, we understand, using the analogy omilitary science, the art o conducting isolated operations.By strategy, we understand the art o conquest, i.e. theseizure o power.

    Indeed, rotskys very distinction between tactics andstrategy, which Lenin shared, was borrowed rom theGerman military theorist von Clausewitz. One o thereasons this denition became important to Lenin androtsky was that it allowed them to insist that tactics aresubordinate to strategic goals.

    Beore the crisis in the Second International causedby the First World War, in which most o the socialist

    movements leaders abandoned internationalism andsided with their own ruling classes in supporting thecarnage in the trenches, this way o looking at strategy andtactics was not common.

    Beore the war we did not, as a rule, make this distinction,writes rotsky. In the epoch o the Second Internationalwe conned ourselves solely to the conception o social

    democratic tactics. Nor was this accidental.It was not accidental, in rotskys view, because the

    Second International had in reality abandoned the goalo socialist revolution. All that was le or it was a serieso tactical activities unrelated to the goal o revolution aiming, in act, at simply reorming the existing system.

    Tus, the social-democratic parties had trade union

    tactics, parliamentary tactics, municipal tactics, and

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    8 Strategy and tactics

    so on, but the question o combining all orces andresources all sorts o troops to obtain victory over the

    enemy was never really raised in the epoch o the SecondInternational, insoar as the task o the struggle or powerwas not raised.

    Tis question was re-imposed on the movement rstby the 1905 Revolution in Russia, and then again by theoutbreak o war in 1914 and the Russian Revolution o1917. Aer that, the worldwide revolutionary turmoil o

    the post-war years persistently raised the issue o politicalpower or the working class everywhere rom Germany in1918 to China in 1926 through to Spain in 1936.

    Tat is why this era is so ruitul or a study o strategyand tactics but similar questions are raised in everyserious class struggle and every revolution.

    In these circumstances, military analogies like strategyand tactics will always be valuable, because politicalanalysis and warare have something crucial in common.Tey are both great simpliers: they demand a ocus on theessential and a ruthless relegation o the inessential.

    One o the most dicult tasks in deciding strategyand tactics is to draw out o the mass o inormation and

    events that swirl around us what our key goals should beand what basic methods we should adopt to achieve them.Tis, inevitably, means treating as secondary many acetso the situation that to others may seem vital.

    Tis same business o prioritisation is o course centralin warare. One cannot, either strategically or tactically,aord to waste resources on those ronts that are not

    essential. One has to abstract rom the chaos o war thoseronts that are essential and concentrate orces at them.

    But this process o abstraction the selection o criticalareas o activity then has to be tested in practice. Is it truethat i we concentrate orces at this point we can make abreakthrough? Aer making an assessment, there is onlyone way to nd out try it and see!

    Lenin liked to quote Napoleons advice: Lets engage in

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    Strategy and tactics 9

    battle and then well see. At a certain point, all theoretical,strategic, and tactical disputes can be resolved only in

    practice.Or as rotsky put it when condemning the barren

    scholasticism o endless debate:

    It would be analogous to wrangling over theadvantages o various systems o swimming whilewe stubbornly reused to turn our eyes to the river

    where swimmers were putting these systems intopractice. No better test o the viewpoints concerningrevolution exist that the verication o how theyworked out during the revolution itsel, just as asystem o swimming is best tested when a swimmerjumps into the water.

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