Theoretical considerations

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My aim in this essay is to create the framework which can be used to create a materialist history of the Left, and to show how this framework would ‘work’ in analyzing a set of periods of Leftist history.  I will do this by focusing on the way different radical organizations have acted and interacted throughout history.  For the sake of clarity, I shall make a number of assumptions.

There are four major propositions I make within this paper:

  1. While the contradictions of capitalism are determinant in the long term, inevitably creating new struggles and new fights, in the time that human beings experience, the history of all hitherto existing class conflict is the history of organizational struggles.1
  2. The material reality of these organizations are in a constant process of creation and reproduction based on what the organization practically does
  3. This leads to organizations creating thought and theory which justify their actions, which leads over time to limiting and cooptive tendencies as these groups solidify and self justify.
  4. While individuals and subgroups can attempt to resist these tendencies, alone they will slowly be overcome.  These tendencies cannot be stopped from within. They can only be prevented on the whole through the existence of an ecology of differing organizations.

These are not iron-clad assumptions; I am not aiming to produce The Materialism which strides over all areas of thought and all struggles.  The goal is not to create a transcendental materialism which only appears as it is communicated2, but to help push towards the beginnings of a theorization of the ‘middle layer’ that exists between different objects of study.  Organizations mediate causes into effects, transform theory into practice, and connect single individuals to broader masses. Without an analysis about how these different focuses of study relate to each other, we will be stuck in a constant battle of abstract viewpoints, between elevating ‘theory’ as opposed to ‘practice’ or ‘lived experience’ as opposed to ‘systemic analysis’.  These things are only opposed to each other in so far as they are conceived as separate objects related only through an opposition. Organizational Materialism aims to disband this opposition while providing a lens of analysis which can be used by both analyst and activist alike to get a better grasp of their immediate organizational surroundings.

Next section: The 2nd International and Classical Leftism →

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  1. While one might want to point to a spontaneous revolution as an ‘out’ to this thesis, a look at the period shortly after times of revolutionary struggle shows that organizations are, sadly, inescapable
  2. That is, an ideology