I read the essay "Impotence of the Revolutionary Group" by Sam Moss several years ago while digging through assorted ultra-left archives [I prefer "ultra" to "left communist" as a catch-all term to describe that loose collection of ideas, if only because it sounds cooler]. I didn't relate very well to the essay at the time -- I was, perhaps, infused with that revolutionary giddiness that comes with youthful activism and couldn't wholly comprehend what the heck Moss was talking about. But it struck a nerve, though I found it difficult to articulate or relate to my experience at the time. The piece wound up being lost but never really forgotten.
But apparently the essay was discovered by others as well -- a duo called Monsieur Dupont had been conversing with various anarchist and ultra-left zines from a position of "nihilist communism" (to use the title of a book of theirs), or communist pessimism, critical not only of revolutionary organizations but the illusion of our agency in moving towards revolution, and Sam Moss was used as a starting point. More recently, a zine in the US has sprung up around the concept, publishing from Kentucky as Letters.
Their position is occasionally criticized as economism -- it may be somewhat determinist (though in their pessimism I certainly don't think they see revolution a foregone conclusion) but it is hardly orthodox marxism. One of their contributions to contemporary discussion is the slow proliferation of the use of the term "pro-revolutionary," as opposed to "revolutionary" or "activist," though the term has been misinterpreted. "Pro-revolutionary" isn't meant to distinguish one type of activist from another, those who prefer the revolution "here and now" as used in "Assuming Hostilities." Rather, pro-revolutionary is a recognition of one's inability to produce the conditions of revolution in spite of the desire to do so.
The resulting difference is striking, as seen when "Assuming Hostilities" asks:
In recent years we have been forced to ask ourselves repeatedly, when the state hits us, why are we so incapable of hitting back in any substantial way? Or when situations arise in our own areas or in our own lives, why are we also so incapable of acting with any decisiveness, with real force?and concludes:
Our strength will ultimately come from the strength of our relations, how willing we are to have one another’s backs.An undefined "we" -- presumably pro-revolutionaries, given the address to the "pro-revolutionary milieu" -- accepts responsibility for the situation in which they find themselves and concludes the way out is a tightening of social bonds among pro-revolutionaries and an escalation of attack, and that this attack could create a revolutionary situation. The Monsieur Dupont crowd might critique this as a moderated form of vanguardism (though there are links between MD and insurrectionalist thought, MD remains critical of the insurrectionalist optimism and fetishization of action) or substitionism.
MD expands the definition of "party" much like in the ultra essay "Call," differentiating political parties from Marx's concept of the historical communist party:
The practice of communism, as we live it, we call “the Party.” When we overcome an obstacle together or when we reach a higher level of sharing, we say that “we are building the Party.” Certainly others, who we do not know yet, are building the Party elsewhere.In doing so, they can critique activist organizational forms as vanguardist while still advocating "the party" as a revolutionary form. The party isn't a political organ per se but the collection of attacks initiated by proles against the capitalist order:
No experience of communism at the present time can survive without getting organised, tying itself to others, putting itself in crisis, waging war. “For the oases that dispense life vanish when we seek shelter in them.”
.... Looking closer at it, the Party could be nothing but this: the formation of sensibility as a force.It is a recognition of autonomous working class power and organizing to meet immediate needs. Communism itself exists when those needs clash with the needs of capital and organized power attempt to assert themselves against capital. This is a contradiction of one's material conditions and not ideology; to re-orient this argument towards "Assuming Hostilities," then, those authors appear to advocate the spread of pro-revolutionary ideology and the desire for immediate revolution in the here and now, whereas the authors of "Call" appear somewhat less hopeful in regards to converting revolutionaries [I may be projecting here or confusing their position with MD; I haven't read either in a while] and look instead towards resolving immediate neeeds against the logic of the law (which is not to say "Assuming Hostilities" dismisses this wholly).
The growth of anarchist crime blotter blogs (like Social Rupture) is related to this encouragement of conflictuality. The concept of "social war" is described by Social Rupture thusly:
There is a pleasant thread of consistent, though severely under-reported, targeted attacks being carried out against those responsible for the submissive, depressing nature of our lives. The following acts seem isolated, but when viewed together, present a coherent story of an ongoing fight-back. It's not criminality that we necessarily support (i.e.-rape, murder and child abuse are mostly despicable), but the strikes against the logic of the law (both the State's and the Economy's) and it's domination of our daily lives. Some acts are more intentional than others, some more imaginative that others, some more collective than others, but all are worthy of publication, defense and proliferation.Notably absent is the usual invocation of revolutionary strategy or exhortation that following this path will lead to successful revolution. Whether this is the product of pessimism and hopelessness or just calm, hopeful humility remains to be seen, although it seems SR desires to see these acts proliferate intentionally, imaginatively and collectively, becoming a social force in a similar way that "Call" imagines the Party.
MD's nihilist communist position rejects the ability of ideological revolutionary groups to change the course of history, echoing Moss:
The small radical groups - "intellectuals" who have "raised themselves to the level of comprehending historical movements as a whole,".... strive continually to turn the struggle for immediate demands into a struggle against the system. But beside the realities of bread and butter which capitalism can still offer a majority of the workers, the radicals can submit only hopes and ideas, and the workers abandon their struggles the moment their demands are met.Moss heaps on relentless pessimism in his description of the class struggle: "The actual class struggle is not waged through revolutionary organizations. It is waged in the factories and through the unions.... We see that the class struggle is today still conservative." For the activist whose energy relies on the prospect of millenarian revolution, Moss' words are sobering, if not enraging. Moss adds a dimension to consideration of class struggle -- that not all class struggle is radical or revolutionary, leading to the conclusion that participation in class struggle in itself is not necessarily a way of immediately opening revolutionary potentials. Instead, revolution is the product of a certain set of material conditions and crises that are largely the product of capitalism's internal contradictions.
Now, Autonomous Marxists like Harry Cleaver argue that the crises come about in response to working class reaction to capital, as a result of capitals attempts to reorganize itself leading to a tightening of its contradictions (a cyclical relationship inevitably spiraling towards revolution). This lead to autonomists to desire engagement with the political process -- I'm thinking of Negri's idea of bleeding government programs ; wages for housework campaign; etc. -- to speed up the disintegration of the social order. Something like an inverted commie form of Reaganism, bleeding the system from the opposite end.
But in their pessimism and rejection of politics, the nihilists stick to their basic argument, that "Our impotence illustrates what should be obvious to all: that history is made by the broad masses alone." Rather than seeking political games and solutions, the nihlists emphasize actions (when they do emphasize action) that enrich proles in the here-and-now. Political organizations and political strategies will at best be destroyed by revolution, and at worst will attempt to lead and divert it.
Moss' explanation of revolutionary groups sums up the nihilist position nicely and offers, along with the insights from the sources above, a spring board from which a critique of activism and the Left may develop:
But this question may be raised, why, then, realizing the futility of the act, do you band together into groups? The answer is simply that the act serves a personal need. It is inevitable that men sharing a common feeling of rebellion against a society that lives by exploitation and war should seek out their own kind in society, and in whatever weapons fall to their command. Unable to rebel against the system with the rest of the population, they will oppose it alone. The fact that they engage in such action however futile it may appear establishes the basis for the prediction that when the large masses, reacting to the compulsives of the objectively revolutionary situation, feel similarly affected, they too will band together out of the same urgency and they too will use whatever weapons fall to their disposal. When they do so, they will not rise from ideological factors, but from necessity, and their ideologies will only reflect the necessities then, as do their current bourgeois ideologies reflect the necessity today.Oh, I know, I know. Lots of flowery language without spelling out a plan for moving ahead. But that should be welcome to those who proclaim that those most impacted by experiences are the ones who should lead the attempt to respond to them -- to the extent that it exists, nihilist hope lies not in a future expropriation but our own ability to determine our needs, find our commonalities with others, and act as we see fit to improve our lives here and now.
"Call" is another text that may be difficult to read online, and print copies are available. "Impotence" is printed in the (also available in print) zine Total Destruction #4, but probably deserves to be made into a pamphlet on its own. Monsieur Dupont's books "Species Being" and "Nihilist Communism" aren't available in Chicago distros yet as far as I know, but maybe they could be. A zine of their collected writings would also be a worthwhile work-time endeavor...