Critique and Socialist Comradeship

Critique and Socialist Comradeship [extra to text]

Genuine communists always welcome critique or reviews of their work as a possibility of its development into richer, more profound, theoretical and political domains. As an enrichment of the overall conception. We need to learn to re-assess and, if necessary, modify and qualify our work in the light of a genuine, legitimate revolutionary criticism regardless of the quarters from which it may arise. We need to have the courage to acknowledge that without such critique our conception may ‘ossify’ or could not ‘move on’ and be enriched in its content or even deservedly overthrown completely.

Without the critique of Hegel, Karl Marx would not have become Marx. Without the critique of Lamarck, Charles Darwin would not have become Darwin. Without the critique of one man’s work by another, there can be no scientific development. Accordingly, the absence of critique is, in rerum natura, historically impermissible and impossible. Those who call themselves “Marxists” and yet, politically and psychologically, react to criticism like priests or mullahs reacting to a ‘blasphemy’ are worse than useless as communist revolutionaries. They belong in a seminary or monastery and not in the class movement of the proletariat. This approach is characteristic of the self-important eminences of the sectarian groups and clannish grouplets and even of some leading intellectuals who sometimes deem themselves beyond critique and never ‘stoop’ to address the content of one. This attitude towards one’s own work is an affectation of the strictures of cult existence or of the hide-bound, study-bound, smug academic mentality of the university department.

If we are reluctant to critique the works of others (or we do so with trepidation), this necessarily reveals a certain relation between the ‘critic’ and the ‘critiqued’, the reviewer and the reviewed. We must never ‘guruise’ individuals, regardless of the importance of their contribution. Guruisation is the instant and painful death of revolutionary critique. The point of guruisation is also, simultaneously, the point of religious devotion.

I had first hand experience of this when I was a branch member of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party from 1976 to 1985. I learnt my lessons well. Never again. The various sects, cults and clannish associations are typically averse to critiquing their leading figures, their gurus, because it introduces conflict and instability into such set-ups. To threaten the established dynamic of the cult is a cardinal sin, punishable by ostracisation or expulsion. Excommunication. Members are required to worship at the shrine of the cult guru. Not to subject it to a rigorous revolutionary criticism and even, divinities forbid, iconclasm. When you are a member of a Masonic Lodge, you must abide by its rules.

The focus of any critique is the historic interests of the proletarian class. We are referring to texts for social revolution. A revolutionary critique of such texts is not directed towards the stroking or beating of a writer’s ego. If writers and thinkers cannot psychologically dissociate themselves as human beings from a revolutionary critique of their work by others, then almost inevitably such a critique will bring an injured ego in its wake or a temporary glow of conceit.

Speaking personally, I think we must never allow friendship get in the way of an honest, candid, direct, open yet comradely critique. If the ties of friendship are not strong enough to withstand this, then so be it. If a man or woman cannot endure revolutionary criticism, for whatever reason, he/she must not put pen to paper or encapsulate concept in spoken word.

If we personally, psychologically, identify with what we have written down rather than seeing it as a document to be released into the class movement to critique as necessary, to investigate, for the use of this movement in its struggle to end the epoch of capital, then what sort of a way of proceeding is that? Are we writing in order to feed our own psychological needs or for the class movement regardless of these needs or our injured or petted egos? Being fondly indulged by sundry devotees must have its limits beyond which a terminal nausea must surely and irreversibly set in. Like being subjected to a neverending forced feed of something sweet and sickly.

And those who are their own best critics? : “I am my own best (or worst) critic”. How conceited is that? Forgive me for deploying this term (I think it is perhaps ‘postmodernistic’), but how ‘narcissistic’ is that? We may know what is, or what we think is, ‘wrong’ with our own work (in which case we really must modify and qualify it as soon as is possible) but those who read our work may wish to engage in a critique – or read a critique – to develop it for the inspection and possible interests of the class movement. The prophets and messiahs of the sectarian groups are very often characterised by this inordinate degree of narcissism. They crush critique. Disagreement frequently elicits intimidation. Different forms of violence have been deployed in various groups. Many are masters of various methods of control.

All this, of course, touches on the way in which communists address and relate to each other as ‘comrades’. It is, of course, a political question and not simply a personal one. What does it mean and involve, this ‘comradeship’ between communists? Is it simply a political concord? Or is it all closely associated with how we relate to each other as communist human beings? What is communism without this humanistic form of comradeship where comradeship is not simply an agreement on political perspectives? Theoretically and politically, we may have gone beyond the approach of the sects and cults, but if, in terms of ‘comradeship’, we are still with them, does this not still connect us meaningfully, humanly (or inhumanly), with this sectarianism, its methods and all its sundry baggage?

In my sincere opinion, interpersonal abuse and communist comradeship are incompatible. They are, in my book, not reconcilable. People who call themselves “communists” can mutually trade abuse but that automatically negates their comradeship.

Real comradeship is only found in struggle. Not in the ‘concord’ of the cult or sect.

Shaun May
September 2014

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