First we should begin with some qualifications regarding our wariness in engaging with Curtis Cole’s Idealizing PPW: A Response to the PCR-RCP. Although at first glance Cole’s critique appears to be written in good faith, it is littered with a number of throwaway and ungrounded comments, some of which we feel are unprincipled. Cole appears to have rejected PPW outright before conducting a thorough investigation before even engaging with the documents we have released in this regard, and this is evident in Cole’s poor representation of our position. In hack internet speak we could accuse Cole of “straw-personing” our position, and we will go into this in more detail in later sections, but since it is not enough to just dismiss a critic of making this mistake (after all, it is equally unprincipled to accuse someone of this without going into detail—as Cole does at one point), we’re left with the unfortunate job of trying to correct an erroneous depiction while, at the same time, responding to those critiques that are half-correct.
Simply put, Cole’s article is a mess. Our wariness comes from having to respond to this mess, forced into the position of rectifying a misapprehension, while at the same time responding to those criticisms that are based on an understanding that is halfway correct, as well as responding to someone who demonstrates disdain for our work. That is, Cole’s critique is not comradely, no matter what he maintains at the outset, because if it was it would: a) be based on a more accurate understanding of our position; b) refuse to devolve into sectarian name-calling (even the title is antagonistic); c) actually engage with our practice and analysis of the concrete conditions of Canada rather than degenerate into snide dismissals that are treated as accurate assessments.
We have no problem responding to principled criticisms in a principled manner—we even want to be challenged because it will sharpen our political line, and we think comradely debate is necessary—but we find it hard to respect someone who claims to be a comrade in the same Maoist camp but who initiates a critique in such a dishonest and unprincipled manner. With this in mind, we have no problem responding with the same attitude… but without, as Cole does, misrepresenting the object of our critique. Still, we need to keep in mind the following qualifications.
First, Cole writes as if we have failed to make a concrete assessment of our concrete situation and, unlike us, is in a position to better describe the current conjuncture of North America and, in our particular case, Canada. It is not clear that Cole even understands Canada and we assume that, like other American comrades who are still caught within an American exceptionalist mindset, he thinks he can assess our circumstances based on the fact that he’s a Yankee. (And if he’s not a US-based communist, then why is he publishing his critique on Kasama and why does this critique read as if it is written by someone who does not live and struggle within the context of the Canadian social formation?) There is no point in his screed that communicates directly to our social investigation of the Canadian state or even an awareness of this larger analysis. And yet, despite all this, he has the gall to call us “idealist” and “dogmatic.” Of course, since we also argue that PPW is universal then Cole can perhaps be forgiven for his refusal to examine our analysis of our particular context. But since we believe that the universality of PPW needs to be adapted to the specificity of a particular context, and our theorization of PPW has to do with the Canadian social formation, then it might be the case that he is mistaking our particular adaptation of PPW with its universal conceptualization. We say might be because, as we shall see, he even gets our particularization wrong.
Secondly, Cole complains that we have not adequately engaged with some vague Kasama Project position regarding revolutionary strategy, as if it is our duty to respond to a position that many of us have never heard of, released on what many of us believed to be a primarily online organization because we have seen nothing to make us think otherwise. Since when is it our duty to respond to a strategic position we are unaware of because it has not been communicated to us through any channel other than the assumption that we should be scrolling through a website and looking for a critique we didn’t know existed in the first place? To tell the truth, we were under the impression that the Kasama Project, its important and insightful articles notwithstanding, was a post-MLM regroupment that didn’t believe in the kind of Maoism that we espouse. Fair enough, we’re not trying to “convert” Kasama, but we’re also not going to spend time looking for its assessment of strategy when it is an organization that appears, at least to us, to fundamentally disagree with our conceptualization of MLM. Any critique we would make of Kasama would concern the general difference we have in overall theory, long before investigating the differences in our strategic lines. This is not to say that we don’t believe that we can learn from Kasama, only that it is odd that Cole thinks that we would be waiting around to establish a theoretical engagement with a group that did not appear to be interested in a similar theoretical engagement. Unless the fact that Kasama is hosting this insulting critique is evidence that it is trying to engage us, but this is not at all clear.
Thirdly, Cole seems to be under the impression that there are two Maoist theories of strategy: that of PPW and that of what he calls “the communist pole.” This is news to us; until this article we never heard of a strategy called “the communist pole” that was used by Maoists or anyone else, aside from some of the vague elaborations put forward by Kasama’s precursor, the RCP-USA. Clearly, this “communist pole” strategy has to do with Kasama’s position, that we never read to begin with, but we don’t see why some vague theory named by Kasama suddenly counts as a significant Maoist theory of strategy, just because Cole thinks Kasama said so, particularly since Kasama is not an MLM organization. We base our understanding of Maoism on the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) and the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) that declared PPW to be the strategy of making revolution. Outside of this there are only variants of the theory of insurrection and it seems, at least in the way that it has been described by Cole, that this “communist pole” nonsense is just a repackaging of the same insurrectionist line through the lens of a regroupment approach. But we will get to this later. The main point is that Cole’s claim that there are two Maoist theories of strategy is correct only insofar as there is a still a debate between PPW and insurrection in the Maoist camp. Otherwise this “communist pole” nonsense appears to be something that is truly idealist—a word that Cole throws around a lot—because it has never been tested except in the minds of its creators, Cole and whoever he cribbed it from.
Fourthly, Cole bases much of his critique on a semantic splitting of hairs between people’s war and protracted people’s war. To be fair, we are familiar with this semantic hair splitting, and it is not as if Cole is the only person to have made this asinine distinction. We think it is a dodge, a way to homogenize our particular conceptualization of PPW with its universal aspect and cling to the latter, assuming that we are claiming that the way in which we think PW should be carried out in Canada is some universal theory called PPW when, in fact, we are claiming that our particular conceptualization has to do with the universal conceptualization of what we call PPW: accumulation of forces, strategic defensive, strategic equilibrium, strategic offensive. This false binary between PPW and PW is a way of people and organizations who care somewhat about the RIM experience to have their proverbial cake and eat it too: they can cling to a theory of insurrection and call it PW, because the RIM claimed that PW was universal, but actually reject PW by arguing that they are only rejecting something else called PPW. We do not think this strategy can be split in such a way; we have always questioned this odd, and to be honest American, bifurcation. And really, let’s be honest, does anyone actually believe that a revolutionary strategy against the modern, militarized state cannot be protracted in any way, shape or form? To assume that a people’s war can be anything other than a protracted affair, a long and arduous process, seems to be quite adventurist.
The only reason we are responding to this train-wreck of a critique is because it is now being sent to people living in Canada who might have otherwise been interested in the PCR-RCP and providing them with justification for revolutionary refusal. While these people are not, as a whole, what we call “the hard core of the proletariat” (this “hard core” being those who have nothing to lose but their chains, who probably don’t give a shit about some American blog), they are still potential allies. Thus, since Cole’s critique calls both us and our approach all manner of names, and since any potentially revolutionary Canadian with the ability to use Google might find it before they encounter us, we feel it is necessary to provide some form of response.
With these qualifications in mind we will now examine Cole’s critique, as best as we can due to how messy it is, by discussing: a) the concrete circumstances of Canada; b) our particular understanding of PPW in these circumstances; c) our claim regarding its universality.
1: The Canadian Context and the “Revolutionary Situation”
At the conclusion of Cole’s critique is the assertion that the PCR-RCP “incorrectly assumes North American society is approaching a revolutionary situation. This assumption automatically deconstructs their whole argument and ultimately condemns any efforts on their part to initiate this struggle.” Since Cole seems to be under the impression that our strategic line on PPW is undermined by an incorrect assessment of the revolutionary situation, it is best to begin our response by focusing on this point. After all, if he is correct in assuming that a supposed non-revolutionary situation undermines any attempt to put forward a strategic line that is not the one he suggests (this “communist pole” nonsense that, as the article eventually reveals, is just a fancy word for a regroupment strategy—or rather lack thereof—but more on this later), and we have made an incorrect assessment, then there is no reason to proceed further.
Perhaps the most glaring inaccuracy with Cole’s claim about the revolutionary situation is the use of “North American society” instead of “Canadian society,” the latter of which has always been our focus because our theory and practice is connected to a concrete analysis of the concrete situation of Canadian society. While we do indeed believe in the universality of PPW (which we will get to in the final section of this document), our understanding of it has always been mediated by the experience of communists and other radical forces struggling in Canada, and the way in which Canada’s class contradictions have developed, and are not under the impression that we will be launching PPW across the entirety of North America. Perhaps this slip is due to the American exceptionalism we noted earlier and that seems to be implicit in Cole’s critique, which takes a particular (though not necessarily correct) analysis of the US and applies it everywhere.
Canada is not the same as the US, though they share similarities as imperialist nations with a shared border, just as England is not the same as France. While it is true that communists should seek to eliminate borders and avoid anything that smacks of cultural nationalism, it is also true that different nations possess different articulations of social class based on their different histories. In this context it is even more telling that Cole homogenizes Mexico with the revolutionary situation we are apparently declaring for all of North America; since Mexico is a peripheral nation that experiences the brunt of imperialist exploitation it is probably the case that its revolutionary situation was reached a long time ago.
The fact that Cole asserts that “[a] revolution in Canada cannot survive without a revolution in the United States of America” as if this is a fact of nature (there is no real argument, it is simply justified with rhetoric about the power of the US media, the reactionaries who would not allow us to make revolution, etc.)—which is perhaps the basis of his conflation of Canada with North America as a whole—is proof of this exceptionalism. It could also be a holdover from the imperialist chauvinism that has hampered the international communist movement for over a century, that deep-seeded assumption amongst first world communists that the revolution must be accomplished in the imperialist centres first or any revolution at the peripheries will be doomed. This was Trotsky’s position, articulated in his theory of permanent revolution. Hell, this was the RCP-USA’s position in its “Conquer the World” document—which, it needs to be said, is still a favourite of Kasama. This position is less chauvinist when it is applied to Canada, an imperialist power in its own right, but it represents the same logic: not only will third world revolutions be doomed to failure when intervenes (the upshot of this assumption being that they shouldn’t make revolution), but there can be no revolution in any country, even other imperialist ones, without the US comrades making a go at it first and so we should always be prepared to take their advice.
But let us forget this for a moment and substitute “Canada” for “North America” so as to ask whether we are “incorrect” in assuming the emergence of a revolutionary situation. It is hard to really respond to Cole in this area because he actually makes no real arguments against our assessment of Canada’s revolutionary situation outside of talking about what he thinks a revolutionary situation in general means. That is, he neither addresses the analysis we have made of the Canadian social formation in multiple documents (our Programme, How We Intend to Fight, etc.), limiting himself to our essays on PPW, nor does he provide any argument as to why Canada is not approaching a revolutionary situation aside from simply, based on the box he draws around his theorization of what counts as such a situation, stating that it is not.
The only real criticisms of our position on Canada’s revolutionary situation (which Cole never presents or articulates so as to dispute) are: i) the complaints that we are falsely comparing our situation to that of Peru, China, and other third world contexts—a practice of criticism that is unprincipled because it wrenches these comparisons out of context and neglects to focus on the comparisons we have made between first world examples of revolutionary warfare that we see as more relevant to our particular situation; ii) an assessment of our line on PPW made by the Revolutionary Initiative (that was, we feel the need to note, a principled critique), which is not an assessment of our understanding of the revolutionary situation; iii) a complaint that we misunderstand the difference between a revolutionary “situation” and “period”—more semantic hair-splitting nonsense. None of this has anything to do directly with our understanding of Canada—our analysis of our concrete situation—and why we have specifically argued why it is approaching a revolutionary situation. This is an egregious omission, particularly since it allows Cole to end up claiming we have vastly overestimated the revolutionary situation in Canada (or, rather, North America since no revolution can happen without the US comrades leading us all) without proving that this is the case. Moreover, this allows Cole to provide his own assessment of Canada and the strategic line he thinks we should take.
Perhaps if Cole had bothered to read what we have written about Canada and the revolutionary situation he would be able to make stronger arguments against our strategic line. It seems as if he misunderstands what our entire conceptualization of a revolutionary situation is to begin with based on his unwillingness to look at anything other than those documents that dealt specifically with PPW, wrenching them out of theoretical context as a whole just as he will do later with particular passages in these documents. Take, for example, this passage on the revolutionary situation that comes from How We Intend to Fight:
Instead of looking deeply into the facts and discovering what it would take to incite the revolutionary action of the proletariat in order to conquer political power today, many routine-minded communists have become trapped by a particular concept of the revolutionary situation that, by itself, is imprecise and vague. Particularly since it emerges from an equally vague analysis of Canada that cannot explain its concrete nature and vectors of class struggle where we are exhorted to wait until “the time is right,” a time that may never come since it is always pushed into the future. […] Lenin used the notion of the revolutionary situation many times, but did not do so in the way in which it is often employed. Indeed, in “The Collapse of the Second International” Lenin wrote: “It is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.” […] In Canada today, if we want to fight for socialism in conditions which are ours, we cannot wait until a vague revolutionary situation emerges. Rather, Lenin’s understanding of the revolutionary situation should force us to ask how do we make sure that, once a revolutionary situation is upon us, we will have the capacity to lead mass actions which will bring the government down? The key word, here, is capacity—we might even say all capacities. Both scientific and ideological capacities, and the capacities of propaganda. The capacity to mobilize millions of people. The capacity for protecting, defending and organizing the proletarian masses throughout a long period of maturation and growth of class struggle. The capacity to wage underground and illegal actions that can weaken the bourgeois apparatuses. The capacity of facing the bourgeoisie on the military front, using the appropriate means. It is fundamental to possess all of these capacities (and so much more) during revolutionary situations; they will not just create themselves when such a situation appears.
To this we can add the relevant passages from the Programme and How We Intend To Fight, specifically the discussion of what we called “the burning fires” in the latter document, all of which describe the revolutionary situation we feel is approaching. Our position, as should be obvious from the above passage, has always been to question a dogmatic approach to “the revolutionary situation” that begins by looking for clear evidence of this situation under the assumption that the objective circumstances will somehow produce the subjective circumstances. We believe that, in the case of Canada, the problem is that we are approaching the objective circumstances of a revolutionary situation (crisis, reproletarianization, etc.) but that we sorely lack the subjective elements necessary to take advantage of such a situation or to even understand its existence—hence the need to build what we call a “comprehensive fighting party.”
So when Cole claims that we “do not go into details” about the revolutionary situation, and even “fail in elaborating the specifics of transposing and evolving revolutionary theory in accordance with today’s conditions,” it is unclear whether he has even bothered to read anything aside from the documents that are specifically dedicated to the strategy of PPW. The fact that he can embark on a semantic game of distinguishing between a “revolutionary situation” and a “revolutionary period” so as to claim that we mistake the latter for the former demonstrates an unwillingness to examine what we have written in this regard. Our point is that we are in a revolutionary period that can produce a revolutionary situation but that the latter cannot even be conceived without developing our capacities as a comprehensive party. And, in any case, this distinction is simply a rhetorical ploy so as to force the reader into thinking we are committed to an erroneous understanding of reality based on categories Cole designs so as to make us appear as if we are saying something that we are not.
“Fundamental to the ability to launch any campaign is the knowledge of the right time to dispense energy,” Cole writes: “the perfect moment to strike, how to most efficiently expend gathered forces, and the proper conditions before any effort can be smartly utilized. These are the ‘questions of the day’, not crisis theory in the abstract, not generalized musings on today’s supposed ripeness for revolution. But on the concrete application of revolutionary policy to today’s conditions.” We are in agreement with this statement and, if Cole had bothered to read our analysis of our social formation, he would realize that we do not possess a “crisis theory in the abstract” and that, based on our concrete understanding, we are trying to develop a strategy that applies this understanding to “today’s conditions.” Does this mean we know “the perfect moment to strike, how to most efficiently expend gathered forces,” etc.? Well obviously not at this current stage of the game where we are at low capacity, but: a) we have not launched a military campaign, and would be absolutely foolhardy to try such a thing at the current level of our capacities; b) Cole himself does not know the perfect moment to strike, and the vague theory he offers does not allow for this either (it seems to assume that these tactical considerations will be developed spontaneously and quickly, in the thick of it as it is), but he doesn’t disqualify himself as an expert.
2: PPW in Canada
Cole summarizes our understanding of applying PPW to the context of Canada in the following manner:
1) Before the launching of an armed struggle the revolutionary vanguard party must be built. Building this Party will require years of planning and construction. During the course of building methods both legal and illegal will be utilized. 2) Prior to the launching of the armed struggle armed propaganda brigades will be formed. These brigades purpose are to bring revolutionary messages to the people through coordinated actions. These brigades are not guerrilla units in and of themselves. They are meant to blend into society after their mission. 3) Upon reaching a significant size the Party will raise guerrilla units as well as orchestrate a series of insurrections within the cities (which will constitute a base area, whether permanent or temporary once seized). This moment is when the strategic stalemate is reached. Later on, together with the seizure of some of the surrounding countryside this moment evolves into the beginning of the Strategic Defensive [here Cole logically means “Offensive”] stage of the PPW. 4) Following the launching of the Peoples’ War the task of the guerrillas will be to fight hit and run battles outside of the base area while recruiting for the Red Army.
Although this might not be the way that we would summarize our position, we don’t think it is entirely incorrect—it is a fair assessment that could be reached by reading the two essays and Programme chapter that Cole draws upon (the only PCR-RCP documents he references) and so is far from a misrepresentation. The problem, however, is the way he elaborates upon his summary: in picking at tangental details, quibbles over definitions, complaints that we haven’t presented a military manual that sums up every tiny tactical detail, and outright distortions. The result is a complex misrepresentation that shambles throughout his critique as a Frankenstein version of our strategic line.
Let us begin with the first point, what we call the preparatory period. I doubt that Cole would disagree that preparing a disciplined and revolutionary party is necessary for any movement that seeks to overthrow capitalism. In fact, his entire concept of “the communist pole” seems to be a strategy focused on doing this, and only this, at the expense of thinking through the problems of actually making revolution. But he appears to think that we are wrong for treating this stage as a necessary (and protracted!) process for initiating a PW. When we state that part of the preparatory period will involve studying other examples of PW (particularly those experiences in the first world that resemble PW), and point out that the hard work of investigating and figuring out revolutionary strategy is lacking at the centres of capitalism, we are accused of an “intellectual tirade” where we “gloss over [our] deficiencies by saying [we] are in the process of studying.” We’re not sure how the passage he quoted in this context is a “tirade,” though we think that Cole’s critique certainly fits the qualifications for the definition of that term with its tendency to sink into petty accusations, name-calling, etc.
What is even stranger is his accusation that we have “linked” the concept of PPW to a preparatory stage so as to justify its possibility in the first world. While it is true that the context of imperialist countries does allow for “duel [sic] legal and illegal struggle,” we have no idea why Cole thinks that the stage of “accumulation of forces” is somehow absent from the theory of PPW when applied anywhere—both to the centres and peripheries of world capitalism. Every party needs to prepare and build itself as a party before launching a military offensive; PPW has never been, in any context, a spontaneous event that magically builds the party. In order to embark on such a strategy, a revolutionary organization needs to have a certain level of discipline and capacity, and needs to be thoroughly embedded in the masses; this has always been the case. We did not “link” this stage cosmetically, nor do we think it is correct to assume that the accumulation of forces that precedes the military aspect of PPW will not take a different form at the centres of imperialism, as it has taken different forms even between various peripheral formations. But apparently we are guilty of committing “many fallacies” for discussing preparation and the accumulation of forces, though he fails to say what these fallacies are, particularly since this assessment comes from our “non-scientific” Programme and is thus designed only to lend this programme “some credibility.” It seems to be a common practice of Internet Marxists to accuse others of “many fallacies” without having to prove that this is the case, which to our mind seems rather fallacious in and of itself. For a document that relies on rhetoric and the straw-personing of its object of critique (not to mention its use of tangental and circumstantial matters as arguments) to talk about “fallacies” is downright laughable.
Moreover, Cole claims that “building this power accumulation foundation regarding PPW has not been a priority for the PCR-RCP of late.” On the one hand he mocks us for talking about a preparatory stage, on the other hand he attacks us for not adequately pursuing this preparatory stage! Leaving aside this contradictory dilemma, we need to ask how and why he thinks that “of late” we do not think that it is a priority to build ourselves as an organization that is embedded in the masses? We have been building ourselves in Canada, growing slowly but sometimes in leaps and bounds. We are still small, but we are much larger than we were when we started; we have experienced setbacks, but so does every revolutionary formation. All we need to do is point out the various mass organizations in cities and regions across Québec and Ontario, as well as in British Columbia and Manitoba, to demonstrate that we have taken the accumulation of forces to heart. It is actually insulting, and demonstrates complete ignorance of our activities, for Cole to claim that we are not trying to build an organization, that we have given up on such an activity.
Nor do we believe that the accumulation of forces proceeds solely according to illegal methods, our implied position according to Cole based on the way he depicts our arguments about “boycotting the state” and “breaking from bourgeois legality.” Apparently we are “sectarian” for demarcating ourselves from the past left practice of participating in elections to bolster the “best of the worst”—according to Cole, any principled critique is sectarian, a truly asinine argument considering that his critique (though it is far from principled) would have to be dismissed out-of-hand based on his own argument. His assessment of our understanding of the necessity of breaking from bourgeois legality is such that he depicts us as “ultra-leftist” gun worshippers who sneer at any and every action within the sphere of bourgeois legality. We have never maintained that position, and a cursory look at the articles published in the Partisan (not an official party line, but party supported and edited) as well as the campaigns in which our mass organizations have involved themselves should reveal that this is not the case.
We have never believed, as Cole assumes, “that if a period of legal structure doesn’t have parallel forms of illegal structure it will fail;” this is just an extrapolation on his part, an attempt to paint us as “ultra-leftists,” which itself is a rightist slur. Really, he gets all of this from our statements about boycotting the state, and thus our elections boycott, and breaking from bourgeois legality. What we do believe is that it is necessary for a revolutionary party to develop the capacities so as to allow for illegal activities because confrontation with the state is necessary for anyone attempting to overthrow capitalism. We believe that we cannot be content to imagine that the limits of bourgeois legality will lead to the overthrow of capitalism. We believe that we need to break with the assumption that pursuing a reformist agenda (and no, we do not define people as reformist simply because they work in reformist spaces) can reform capitalism into socialism, which the practice of the left in Canada to date has been for a long time. Apparently we do not have the right to critique this past practice without being sectarian, but again, if that’s the case, Cole has no right to critique us for the same reason.
Thus, when Cole claims that he cannot understand what we mean when we talk about “boycotting the state” we respond that he should really read some of the literature produced by our mass organizations that participated in the elections boycott. If he wants to locate our entire theoretical approach in a slogan, then he’s welcome to do so—it’s a pretty juvenile approach, however, which is probably why he thinks we are arguing for a “wild concept.” Wrenching yet another quote out of context (and one that has to do with building the structures that will allow us to produce a full “boycott,” something we know is impossible now), Cole is under the assumption that we want to drop out of society and exist in some alternate communist reality that, obviously, is impossible at this conjuncture. The truth is that we are talking about starting the process of boycotting the state, first by rejecting the electoral spectacle that we know cannot go very far at this date. We are not, as he erroneously assumes, talking about rejecting welfare, healthcare, and all of the reforms that only exist because of proletarian struggle. We have never argued that we should, based on the words he puts in our mouth, “[b]oycott welfare, unemployment benefits, low-income programs,” though we have argued for boycotting elections—and it is telling that he thinks that elections are part of the same category as the other so-called “bourgeois rights.” We have always talked about “using bourgeois rights in a non-bourgeois manner” and, as discussed above, we have also promoted articles and assessments in the Partisan, written by members of our mass organizations, that talk about the importance of defending these rights that so-called “austerity” measures are targeting. The wildness is in Cole’s mind, developed from an out-of-context passage, and he would be better served by investigating what we have defended, as well as the campaigns in which we have participated, then just foaming at the mouth.
Of course, Cole can easily fall back on our discussion of “armed propaganda brigades” as part of the preparatory stage as evidence of our ultra-leftism and our conflation of the legal and illegal aspects of accumulating forces. But here’s a question worth considering: does Cole truly believe that militancy as a whole is ultra-leftist and that a party should only exist as a legal entity, a respectable institution? While we believe that the legal and illegal aspects of preparation should not be conflated, we have been clear that it is necessary to develop our capacity as a fighting party so that, in light of the “revolutionary situation” discussed in the previous section, we are not overwhelmed by a state that has no problem crushing organizations that focus only on legal activities.
Far from being a separate stage in our adaptation of PPW to our context, this business of “armed propaganda brigades” is indeed part of a larger accumulation of forces. It is not some separate phase of preparation, as Cole seems to assume in the way he divided it with an arbitrary number in his assessment, but something that goes hand in hand with our work as a whole. Nor is it the case that our pursuit of this practice means we have abandoned the accumulation of forces (that Cole thinks is not our priority despite evidence to the contrary) because we see it as part of what will allow us to accumulate the most dedicated and militant forces.
What Cole does not seem to understand about our analysis, or just never bothered to read, is that we believe that armed propaganda, largely conceived, already exists with or without the party we are attempting to build. Factions of the masses are already resisting, already engaging in spontaneous or poorly planned acts of armed propaganda in their workplaces, street demonstrations, etc. Disaffected youth running wild at the FTAA Summit in 2001 or the G20 Summit in 2010 smashing property without any real plan or goals is evidence of this fact. To this we can add innumerable acts of job sabotage and unfocused militancy in every working class context. We believe that since disorganized and spontaneous armed propaganda brigades already exist amongst those sections of the masses that are putting their anger at capitalism into action, it is our job to develop an organization that can capture this militancy and provide it with a clear theoretical direction.
We do not believe that these already existing armed propaganda brigades, or those that we will develop, are engaged in guerrilla activities. We have been careful to argue that any participation in such militancy, from the lowest to highest level, does not represent a new phase of struggle. Once we do that we will be forced to go underground, having declared guerrilla war too early and thus dooming ourselves to a practice based on armed propaganda: focoism. Building an organization that can embed itself in these already existing practices is important for the following reasons: a) it allows us to accumulate militants, many of whom come from what we call the hard core of the proletariat; b) it allows us to develop the capacities to direct these actions and curtail their spontaneous excesses; and, most importantly c) it allows us to learn militancy from the masses themselves, who transform our organization by their involvement. This understanding of militancy is also, to be very clear, what has permitted us to participate in coalitions with anarchists without being perceived as the very “sectarians” that Cole seems to think we are, and has garnered us some respect. This approach is not without its dangers and potential errors, but to reject militancy altogether and order the masses to abide by bourgeois respectability—as some communist groups do—is something that we have decided, based on our past practice and experience with economism, produces even more errors.
In any case, since Cole thinks that we are talking about a “stage” when we speak of “armed propaganda brigades,” and then complains that we are contradicting ourselves, it is clear that he is just cherry-picking quotes. He spends so much time on the first two “phases” so as to set up a rejection of the other “phases” that, by this time, he is left with such a thoroughly deformed version of our position that he’s roaming out into an imaginary territory of theory that he ascribes to us.
We can thus take less time in discussing his criticisms of our conceptualization of strategic defensive and strategic offensive. On the one hand, guided by the misconceptions discussed above, Cole has ended up talking about a conceptualization of these stages that is not really ours. On the other hand, because it is difficult to talk about these stages (which belong properly to a military phase that we aren’t even close to being in), Cole cannot really address them. Clearly he thinks our vagueness about these stages is a problem, but since he is also vague about whatever military strategy his own strategic line will produce he has no real basis to make this accusation. There is also the fact that he again pulls quotations out of context, focusing on what are suddenly treated as “weak links,” and so the rest of his critique of our strategic line in the context of Canada is a complete mess.
First of all, there is Cole’s complaint about our claim that PPW cannot be reduced to its purely military aspect. Now he’s just being dishonest: he should know what we mean because we designated the stage of strategic defensive as the military phase; moreover, as anyone who has even read Mao’s writing on PPW will know, this strategy is also about embedding ourselves in the masses and serving the people—it was not some sly military tactic (though cold warrior historians might beg to differ) when Mao argued that the People’s Army should serve the people. The point was to mobilize the masses in a way that was larger than a purely military strategy. This is what our qualification means, and it serves a dual purpose: a distinction between the general stage of accumulation of forces with what begins in strategic defensive; an understanding that the accumulation of forces continues through the military stages in ways that are not always purely militaristic. A revolution should also be building counter-institutions and counter-hegemony, not just waging war.
Secondly, there is Cole’s bizarre quibble that we fail “to elaborate” the composition of a people’s army that would emerge between the periods of strategic defensive and strategic offensive: “Is it comprised of guerrilla units, professional soldiers, armored divisions, aircraft, propaganda brigades? […] Is it organized like a militia with decentralized detachments underneath Party control or is it highly centralized with units marching from one location to another?” Really? Are we supposed to produce a military manual that explains in infinitesimal detail the composition of a Red Army in the stage of strategic offensive? We would never accuse Cole’s strategic position of deficiencies for failing to provide us with a military manual of a tactical future; he obviously can’t produce this, nor can Kasama, and there is a good reason for this: we are not yet at the stage of strategic offensive or revolutionary civil war, so we can only speak in general axioms. More importantly, even if we could, we should not be publishing this kind of thing publicly.
Thirdly, Cole generally focuses only on the parallels we draw from revolutionary PPWs in the third world, that produced the theory of PPW to begin with, and generally neglects our discussion of experiences that resemble PPW in the first world. This allows him to dismiss our strategic line outright as a dogmatic importation from the global peripheries. The only time he actually addresses revolutionary experience in the first world it is to dismiss the experience, acting as if there is nothing we can learn, and then assume that we would also not be critical of the examples he provides—despite the fact, and this is important, that we can still learn something from these examples. But to be clear, the examples he provides—the Weather Underground, the Symbionese National Army, Gabriel Dumont—are not even the ones we treat as most significant, with the exception of Dumont, which he seems to know nothing about based on his conflation of Dumont with the others. While it is true that Cole also briefly discusses our comments about guerrillas in Eastern Europe, he makes the mistake of assuming that we are arguing that these guerrillas were actually and consciously carrying out PPW. We made no such argument. Rather, we used them as an example as to how the military aspect of PPW could be carried out without being crushed by the state, as is the case with simple insurrections, and think it is important to learn from this experience and transpose it to an understanding of PPW.
Fourthly, Cole dismisses our understanding of base areas by arguing about the proximity of the capitalist war machine. There is a reason why we think base areas are possible at the centres of capitalism despite the obvious proximity of the capitalist war machine, and this comes from our understanding of past anti-state struggles at the centres of capitalism. The state war machine was in close proximity in the Belfast Troubles but there were still no-go zones that possessed their own separate powers and laws, where the police and soldiers did not go at the time. The problem was that these zones were not controlled according to a revolutionary ethos; the failure of the broader struggle led to their collapse. The point, however, is that they can exist and this is something that Cole, despite historical evidence to the contrary, simply dismisses as impossible as if we have not considered the organized might of the capitalist state. In fact, the organized might of the capitalist state is why we argue for PPW in the first place: is there any other strategy that will be able to defeat the might of this state, where the military is trained to put down any open rebellion, other than one that proceeds in a jig-saw manner, a protracted revolutionary war of attrition? But Cole does not provide a counter-strategy, aside from vague claims and rejections of our position. If the state does crush insurrections during a PPW that succeed in taking over a city, as he gleefully points out, then what will they do to a strategy of regroupment that attempts to build a revolution quickly without a long process of struggle and training? The answer is complete annihilation.
Fifthly, Cole devolves into more circumstantial complaints about how the forces of a PPW will arm themselves. This is sheer historical ignorance since, if he was in anyways cognizant of the application of PPW anywhere, he would also be aware that part of the reason for this strategy has to do with the problem of being armed. In an insurrection, after all, where do people get their weapons when they face the state? From the local Walmart? From a random supply of hunting rifles? (We realize that Cole claims he is not an insurrectionist, but at this point he hasn’t provided anything that approaches a viable military strategy so it makes sense to assume that he is really talking about insurrection dressed up with some communist pole people’s war costume.) The application of PPW has always included the tactical aspect of building up armaments by stealing from the state. Cole should know this; it is dishonest for him to assume that the slow build up of weaponry through a protracted process is impossible when it has happened in the past, nor that its impossibility is guaranteed by the might of the imperialist state when we have multiple examples of revolutionaries, even at the centres of capitalism, stealing weapons from cops and soldiers.
Finally, Cole gets the assessment of the concrete circumstances of Canada wrong again when he blithely states that he “has come to the conclusion” that “Canada has no legacy of conflict; it has always been an imperialist power. Unlike in many other places where Protracted Peoples’ War has been successful, in Canada there is no foreign invader oppressing the citizenry, no comprador bourgeoisie selling out the workers of the nation to those of a superior power.” First of all, we feel the need to point out that we are one of the communist organization in Canada that has defined the Canadian social formation as imperialist and drawn the logical conclusion from this assessment; he has no reason to school us on Canadian imperialism since this has been one of the hallmarks of our analysis and, in point of fact, is connected to our theory of PPW. (Hypothetical question: two decades ago, before our analysis, would someone like Cole think that that Canada is not an imperialist power in its own right? Most likely. And probably the only reason he thinks so now, despite the conclusion he claims to have come to by himself, is because either he bothered to read our “non-scientific” Programme in the first place or simply read someone who has the same analysis because we were among the first communist organizations in Canada to break from the unscientific assumption that the Canadian social formation was a semi-periphery of US imperialism. We doubt he came to any conclusion without our intervention in this area; it is clear that he knows very little about our social context.) Secondly, aside from the fact that Cole is confused about the particular application of PPW in peripheral nations to the particular application of PPW in contexts such as Canada—this whole business about semi-feudal/semi-colonial (as it used to be called) contexts that were once considered the only contexts in which PPW could be carried out is what we are calling into question—Cole is just dead wrong about the Canadian context. Maybe if he had paid attention to our analysis, or done even a marginal amount of social investigation beyond recognizing our analysis of its imperialist aspect, he would come to another conclusion.
We not only argue that Canada is an imperialist state (that Cole cribbed and pretended was his own “conclusion”) but that Canada is also a settler-colonial nation that maintains a significant amount of internal colonies, all of which have a legacy of struggle—sometimes extremely bitter—with the Canadian state. These nations do possess a compradori, and this is part of our particular understanding of PPW where we spend a lot of time talking about Indigenous struggles. (We are forced to wonder whether Cole cares very much about the struggles of Indigenous nations and New Afrikans in the US; maybe he believes that colonialism is not still alive and well in his own country and that the working-class is not affected by these contradictions.) And he has the audacity to call us “non-scientific” when he can just “come to conclusions” about the Canadian social context without actually engaging with the conclusions we have drawn, beside one or two that he refuses to attribute to us and pretends are his own revelations.
With all of this in mind, it is worth turning to our thoughts on the universal aspect of PPW, that Cole also misrepresents, so as to conclude this document. It should be obvious to the careful reader that we have already dealt with some of Cole’s complaints about the universality of PPW in this section, but this is because Cole tends to conflate the particular with the universal and we have been stuck with the unfortunate task of pulling the two apart so as to clear up the misunderstandings his critique might promote.
3: The Universality of PPW
At this point we would like to pause and point out that we are rather bemused by Cole’s critique, reminding the reader of the qualifications that began this response. We find it strange that Cole would package his article as a “thorough evaluation” of our position in the interest of producing dialogue with our strategic line and that of Kasama’s when he spends the entirety of his critique attacking us and barely talking about the supposedly superior Kasama line. We also find it odd that Cole would claim that our efforts “have the potential to reinvigorate the revolutionary struggle in the first-world” and yet couches his critique in a confused assemblage of name-calling and misrepresentation. If he had produced a criticism that was fair and less insulting we would have tried to respond without the same ire, but at this point it is hard to take him seriously as either a good-intentioned comrade or thinker.
Furthermore, as we are about to discuss our reasons for arguing that PPW is a universal strategy, we would like to highlight Cole’s claims about the PPW in Peru and our supposed devotion to “Gonzalo Thought.” Although he claims, at one point in his essay, that the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) was the leading light of revolution, he also argues that any reference to Gonzalo and the PCP is a problem because he was “a revolutionary whose contribution of ‘Gonzalo Thought’ is now widely accepted to be the Peruvian equivalent to the revisionist ‘Prachanda Path’” and that we use such references to “fool the reader.” This is a very strange claim because it is based on the following assumptions: 1) that Gonzalo, despite the problems of “Gonzalo Thought,” had nothing useful to contribute despite being the principal theorist behind a PW and an organization that first theorized MLM, leading to the RIM; 2) that we don’t believe there is a problem with “Gonzalo Thought”; 3) that Gonzalo, like Prachanda, is widely believed to be a revisionist. We find this to be particularly problematical because we do have problems with the elevation of “Gonzalo Thought” without, for all that, dispensing with the importance of Abimael Guzman’s contributions to theory. More importantly, though, our argument that PPW is universal has often been dismissed out of hand by the slur that we are “Gonzaloites,” and we feel that Cole is trying to imply the same thing with this throwaway remark at the beginning of his discussion on this claim about universality.
Since Cole fails to explain why we think PPW is universal, and instead spends all of his time talking about our particular application of PPW before shifting to some general claim that amounts to “and-they-think-all-of-this-is-universal,” it is worth quoting at length from one of our summary documents so as to provide a general explanation for this position that connects its universal aspect to its particular application in Canada—particularly since Cole is confused as to why we think it is universal:
We can best understand the viability of PPW by examining the deficiencies of the theory of insurrection, accepted as a doctrine of faith (if any strategy is accepted all) by those who imagine that PPW is some form of hair-brained adventurism. Insurrectionism holds, basing its pattern on the October Revolution in Russia, that revolutionaries must engage in legal agitation, spreading themselves into the most organized proletarian structures (i.e. the unions) so as, when the time is right, to launch a general strike that will cause society to ground to a halt. If these revolutionaries have done their job, then an insurrection will result where the masses will arm themselves for a direct confrontation with the state. Faced with this uprising, now commanded by the most organized revolutionary elements (i.e. the Leninist vanguard party), the police and military ranks will be split, with many going over to the proletarian side, and a civil war led by the party that helped initiate the uprising can be carried through to the creation of socialism. […] A number of problems are immediately encountered by this strategic theory: 1) the assumption that the police and the military will be split, something that only happened in the October Revolution but has never been repeated; 2) the assumption that an insurrection composed of untrained revolutionaries will not be slaughtered by state forces trained in putting down rebellions, as we have seen every time an insurrection has happened since 1917; 3) the assumption that the proletariat can be organized so easily in a frontal assault on the state; 4) the fact that this strategy is doing the proverbial “putting all of its eggs in one basket.” […] Canada’s class composition, however, tells us that PPW is more viable than insurrection because the proletariat is not primarily located in those structures that can easily be directed, through a protracted period of legal agitation, to create an insurrection. Scattered throughout society as a whole, the revolutionary forces of the Canadian state—i.e. the hard core of the proletariat and Indigenous militants (who are also sometimes part of the hard core)—are not so easily found amongst those structures that could easily be pushed towards the confrontation of insurrection. The already-organized workers in unions and other legal labour organizations are, as aforementioned, determined by a consciousness that is more reformist than revolutionary; the labour aristocracy will not be convinced of the necessity of an insurrection without some larger understanding of strategy that may, perhaps, even take moments of insurrection as part of a larger chain of revolutionary warfare. […] To unite the proletarian hard core, and to unite this hard core with anti-colonial struggles, a protracted and fragmented process is required, a strategy that spreads its tendrils throughout every part of society and uses everything in order to combat the might of the Canadian state. If there is only a one in one hundred chance that, after a general strike, the state will wait until the proletariat arms itself and begins a civil war, then we should not neglect the other ninety-nine ways in which to make revolution. […] What are the general aspects of PPW that can be applied everywhere, even to Canada? First, the accumulation of revolutionary forces: going further and deeper into the masses so as to unite, through mass work and the mass-line, the proletarian hard core into a comprehensive party; developing a revolutionary counter-hegemony, nascent institutions that will be useful later. Second, strategic defensive: when a guerrilla battle can be launched, when the counter-hegemony established by the first stage has reached a point that will provide base areas and the ability to continue to glean more revolutionary forces by linking the military aspect of the theory with the demands of the masses as a whole, a slow construction of counter-institutions (some that may be destroyed, others that may last) that prefigure a new revolutionary order. Third, strategic equilibrium: the moment of dual power where the revolutionary forces are equal to the counter-revolutionary forces and where some insurrections might even be useful—the protracted process of the previous two stages, the revolutionary hegemony that is being established through multiple counter-institutions, will have succeeded in re-proletarianizing many unions. Fourth, strategic offensive: the moment where the revolutionary forces have established enough hegemony, and have grown to such a size, that the state is pushed on the defensive.
Obviously this is a summary of larger analyses (such as our analysis of Canada’s class composition), and since we do not feel the need to replicate all of our documents here, we would urge the interested reader to refer to the documents we have referenced. The point of the above quotation, though, is simply to demonstrate that we have explained PPW’s universal aspects, some of the reasons as to why we think it is universal, as well as how this universality is applied to the specific context of Canada.
Although we think that PPW is the only alternative to insurrection, and that the latter strategic line is what most people who oppose PPW are committed to in some shape or form, Cole claims that this is not the case. He maintains that he is committed to some theory of the “communist pole” which has to do with “regroupment” but fails to go into any real detail about what this means. He argues that he is not an insurrectionist and yet complains that our critique of insurrectionism is based on a straw-person understanding of the October Road. As is the case with so many people who complain about “straw-man” fallacies he fails to present a convincing argument as to how we committed this fallacy—just because you don’t like a criticism doesn’t mean it’s a straw-person criticism, and at the very least Cole could have done what we have done and demonstrated how our position is a fallacious understanding of insurrection—just as he fails to explain how he is not committed to insurrectionism.
Our contention, then, is that Cole’s strategic line is in fact determined by an uncritical devotion to insurrection. This is patently clear when he provides the only real articulation of a theory of strategy that might be his (the vagueness that marks the entire text often makes it difficult to pin down Cole’s precise ideas about revolutionary strategy despite his claims about making a useful intervention) and that crops up in the middle of a complaint about the protracted aspect of people’s war:
Instead what the revolutionary party is working with is the decaying stages of capitalism. This period, while offering its own unique kind of challenges does not do so in the same manner of swiftness which the aforementioned countries [China and Peru] do. Missing here is that societal lynchpin which hammers home the anti-capitalist message; that device that enables long term survivability. […] What does this mean? It means that the accumulation of forces will be an especially arduous period but more so it means that once the forces have been assembled the conflict must be decided in a lightening [sic] manner. Otherwise the inertia created by a revolutionary period and situation will quickly be remedied by capitalism’s internal mechanisms correcting the situation which has allowed this formidable opposition to grow. It means that any revolutionary faction will have only a small window of opportunity before the revolutionary situation dissipates and Canada’s internal contradictions are numbed to where the working class can be pacified once more.
There are, of course, a number of problems with this analysis. The first problem is that awkward sentence composed of mixed metaphors (a “lynchpin” that is a “hammer” that is a “device”?) regarding an “anti-capitalist message” that “enables long term survivability.” This is a nebulous proclamation that cannot be a critique of our position because of its vagueness that is never explained at any other point in the text: we suspect it has something to do with regroupment, but it comes across as an empty platitude. Secondly, since Cole appears to be unaware of Canada’s “internal contradictions” (he doesn’t seem to be aware of settler-colonialism), we find it dubious that he can make an assessment about their “numbing” let alone be aware of how and why the Canadian working class is pacified—we have examined the mechanisms behind this pacification elsewhere, he would do well to study our assessment. Thirdly, it is laughable that Cole would accuse us of idealism when the only passage that really speaks to a counter-strategy demonstrates the most ungrounded understanding of strategy: he complains about the lack of detail when we speak of strategic defensive and offensive and yet he responds with vague claims about “lightning swift revolutionary moments” following “a protracted build up of revolutionary forces!”
The overall point, however, is that this is simply the theory of insurrection repackaged with some “people’s war” veneer, dubbed a theory of the “communist pole” or “regroupment.” (Unless this is, as it very might well be, an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum of our position, in which case it is just laughable.) A long preparatory period in which a communist pole is built, the revolutionary left regrouped (i.e. something like the accumulation of forces that he thinks we aren’t interested in, but without any explanation as to how this regroupment that draws people to the communist pole can be done or how it is different from our method of counter-hegemony), which resembles the protracted legal struggle that precedes an insurrection. And we know Cole intends for it to be a protracted legal struggle because he has already condemned extra-legal activities as “ultra-leftist.” Following this, “the conflict must be decided in a lightning manner.” What is this lightning manner? We can only assume it is an uprising and civil war because Cole has argued against the possibility of a longer, guerrilla conflict, and a lightning quick rebellion is, by definition, an insurrection.
Aside from this definition, Cole cannot explain his concept of the communist pole outside of vague references that function as criticisms of our position. This is not surprising since, as one of our precursor organizations argued in 2000: “In the advanced capitalist countries the question of the proletarian revolution, i.e. the strategic line of the revolution, has become the most underdeveloped area of Marxism-Leninism.” We have attempted to develop this area, and we admit that much work still needs to be done, but we feel that we are far ahead of Cole’s understanding in this area which, despite his attempt to veil his vague position as “materialist” and “scientific,” is greatly underdeveloped.
At one point, for example, he claims he is unconvinced that our method “would gather the necessary forces as effectively as building a ‘communist pole’ that, consisting of the consciously advanced, would function as partners in accomplish to [sic] the revolutionary traditions working in tandem.” What the hell does this even mean, and how is this a counter-argument to our theory of organization and strategy? All Cole does is claim that his communist pole consists of the consciously advanced, and somehow can accumulate these forces better than our theory of organization and strategy, just because it is the communist pole! We have no idea what he means about “the revolutionary traditions working in tandem” though we suspect it has something to do with refoundationalism, a moribund project that has nothing to do with gathering in the most consciously advanced forces, or even going deeper into the masses, as the recent People’s Social Forum in Ottawa proved. Does he really believe that some big tent socialism, consisting of people who hate each other and who will only agree on the lowest level principles, is the “consciously advanced?” We hope this is not what is meant by this confused statement.
Whatever the case, it is clear that Cole has not proved an adequate counter-strategy to PPW aside from the one we already critiqued (insurrectionism, no matter what name he wishes to call it or his protests that he is not devoted to that understanding of strategy). And since our entire argument about PPW’s universality proceeds from the false universality of the theory of insurrection, and it seems as if he is beholden to this false universality, the fact that he has never addressed our understanding of PPW’s universality, aside from assuming that our particularization of this strategy is its universal aspect, is quite telling. He might complain that we straw-personed insurrection, he might complain that he is not an insurrectionist, but he has provided no contrary proof, which at this point is not surprising: Cole has provided very little in the way of arguments, relying merely on rhetoric and misrepresentation.
But let us return to Cole’s complaint that we “refuse to explain” what makes PPW universal, even though our understanding of its universality should be clear to anyone who has bothered to read this far or has read most of our documents in this regard. We believe it is universal because it is the only general strategy capable of confronting contemporary capitalist militarization that can crush any insurrection, lightning swift or not. We hold that the proletariat requires a military theory so as to confront this reality, a theory that incorporates its training as a people’s army, its ability to gather armaments, its survivability, its mass incorporation into a revolutionary movement that saturates the whole of society. We believe that this will necessarily be a protracted process, with as many setbacks as successes in whatever stage (and perhaps a ping-ponging back and forth between stages), because of the might of the modern capitalist state, and we believe that no regroupment of untrained communists will be capable of defeating the bald fact of contemporary capitalist militarism. To assume otherwise is far more ultra-leftist than what we have been accused of, a utopian adventurism that clings to the assumption that regroupment will produce capitalist collapse in a quick manner once it has been assembled. Such a strategic approach pushes revolution far into the future and focuses only on regroupment, secretly convinced that it doesn’t have to worry about making revolution.
We also hold that since PPW is the only strategic line that combines the military aspect with the mass-line, it is universal because it also provides what the theory of insurrection, or any other theory, at this date cannot: it satisfies the demand that a revolutionary movement should be embedded in society as a whole and build counter-institutions at whatever phase it has reached. Indeed, the entire concept of base areas, that Cole complains we do not understand, is more than a purely militaristic concept: base areas are spaces where a communist order is prefigured, where the masses are won over and not merely to win against the state but to develop the seeds of a post-capitalist society.
Thus we are not, as Cole paints us, enamoured with violence. We are disgusted by the everyday violence of the bourgeois state and have no interest in fetishizing the gun. Some of our members and supporters have experienced this everyday violence due to the sites of oppression they occupy (as women, as racialized, as non-heteronormative, as disabled, etc.), which produces an experience proletarianization and exploitation in a manner altogether different from other members and supporters. We have no interest in promoting macho fantasies, that prevalent and idealized understanding of revolution that so-called “manarchists” and “brocialists” are guilty of promulgating. Our perspective is that the civil war already exists and that large factions of the Canadian proletariat—what we call “the hard core” and have described in our literature—are not enamoured with violence but are enduring and experiencing violence on a daily basis. If this violence could be undone through peaceful evolution or a logical argument, we would be more than happy to adopt such a praxis: why would we want to persist in the violence that so many of us experience, why would we not be relieved to end it suddenly by peaceful means? We assume, however, that Cole does not believe in the theory of peaceful co-existence, that revolution can be accomplished through non-violent reform, and what has historically been classified as opportunism—a rejection of the theory of class struggle and betrayal of the proletariat.
The tragic fact, as Cole should know, is that the ruling class and its repressive apparatus will not give up without a struggle, and will unleash hell upon those who dare to challenge its rule. This is why we know that any struggle to rid ourselves of their dominance will have to be protracted. Their power is backed up by the fact of their military might and proximity—the very factors Cole thinks we are ignoring and yet mocks us for talking about violence—and we cannot assume that such things can be overcome quickly without a long period of planning and then struggle. Nor do we believe socialism can be built in a quick manner, which is why we also claim that PPW is not purely military since we feel it is a strategy that, during the period of strategic defensive and strategic offensive, tells us something about building revolutionary counter-hegemony.
The most appropriate way to conclude this document is to engage with the summary conclusions Cole provides at the end of his document and briefly demonstrate, in reference to what has been established above, how all of his conclusions are groundless.
1. “The [PCR-]RCP incorrectly assumes North American society is approaching a revolutionary situation. This assumption automatically deconstructs their whole argument and ultimately condemns any efforts on their part to initiate this struggle.”
We responded to this erroneous assumption in the first section, demonstrating that Cole has no understanding of our conceptualization of a “revolutionary situation” and our analysis of Canadian society, let alone North American society. Also, he has demonstrated a thorough ignorance of the Canadian context, particularly in his inability to recognize the settler-colonial contradiction and thus his claim that Canada lacks an oppressed nation and a comprador class is offensive. We recommend that he read up on this, or at least demonstrate an awareness of our documents that provide an analysis of the Canadian social formation, before deciding that we are incorrect in our assessment. In any case, since Cole does not provide any arguments against our actual thoughts about the “revolutionary situation,” his claim that our “assumption automatically deconstructs [our] whole argument” doesn’t apply.
2. “The [PCR]-RCP’s position in Accumulating Forces is idealist, contradictory, and sectarian.”
The sectarian charge is especially humorous since Cole’s entire document reads like a sectarian screed with its name-calling and unprincipled slurs. As for our position on the accumulation of forces being “idealist” and “contradictory” Cole has also failed to demonstrate that this is the case because, yet again, he cannot explain our position in this area in an honest manner. He went so far as to accuse us of abandoning the accumulation of forces and devolving into an illegal outfit interested only in adventurist escapades when, if he even bothered to look at what we have actually written and supported in our day-to-day practices, this would not be the case. We think that Cole actually is under a misapprehension of how to accumulate forces; we think he imagines that revolutionary forces are accumulated in university classrooms or internet forums—or even in coalitions aimed at defeating the Republicans or the Conservatives at the ballot box! After all, he doesn’t say very much about his own position. This may not be the case, but it seems to be the implication based on his reaction to some of the things we have said; we can think of no other reason why he would go out of the way to hammer our position on bourgeois legality into an ultra-leftist mould, doing great damage to what we have actually maintained.
3. “The [PCR-]RCP’s ‘military line’ is militant activism glittered with speckles of violence. They have no coherent plan on the armament of their recruits, what constitutes an ‘encircling campaign’, and lack proper vision carrying out this convoluted theoretical conception.”
True, we have not outlined a blow-by-blow military manual for the stages of strategic defensive and strategic offensive, but Cole has not produced a similar manual for his strategic position so he should be dismissed for the same reason. Nor should such a manual, if it even existed, be made public for obvious reasons. As discussed, this is not grounds to dismiss a general strategic line when this has to do with general tactics that, yes, we all need to work on. As for lacking a plan for arming recruits during the military phase of PPW, we pointed out that all Cole has to do is look at every example of PPW or the entire urban guerrilla experience to realize that the tactics of PPW during strategic defensive are all about how to arm cadre: by stealing weapons from the state and amassing arms caches. This is not idealist; counter- or non-revolutionary criminals steal and amass weapons on a day-to-day basis.
The “militant activism glittered with speckles of violence” phrase is simply rhetorical, as is the majority of Cole’s critique, so we can ignore that. As for our theoretical conception being “convoluted” we can only reply that Cole has done a good deal of work in making it as convoluted as possible—hence the length and tone of our reply.
4. “The [PCR-]RCP rejects evaluation in favor of abstract dogmatism; PPW is universal yet they refuse to explain what makes it so.”
Actually we do argue why we think it is universal, as discussed in the previous section, so it is strange why Cole would think we are guilty of such a refusal. And this conclusion is yet another example of the vague rhetoric Cole has employed. We are “abstract” and we are “dogmatic”… This reads like the kind of unimaginative writing that was an unfortunate aspect of the New Communist Movement where self-righteous critics accused their opponents of all manner of deviations without providing any proof. Where is the proof that we are dogmatists when we are attempting to counter what actually is a dogma amongst the left about strategy, something we have not just claimed for sectarian reasons but have gone into detail demonstrating why it is dogmatic? How are we abstract when we have given an assessment of history, as well as a concrete analysis of our own social context, that Cole has worked very hard to obscure?
5. “The [PCR-]RCP’s theory of Urban Base Areas is thoroughly flawed. They forego serious analysis so as to bask in incandescent glory of successful communist revolution (fictionalized entirely by them).”
While it is true that we need to provide more analysis on our theory of urban base areas, what we have established to date is not, as Cole claims, “thoroughly flawed.” We have demonstrated, on the contrary, that his understanding of both our line and reality is what is actually flawed. Other than this, Cole’s fifth conclusion is more unprincipled name-calling and empty rhetoric: we avoid serious analysis so we can “bask” in the successes of past revolutions that we have “fictionalized entirely.” Fancy insults and conceptual terms are useful to throw at your theoretical opponent so as to distract them from the flawed reasoning and lack of substantial arguments you actually possess.
6. “The [PCR-]RCP greatly overestimates their own potential strength in relation to that of the imperialist bourgeoisie, especially that of the United States ferocity during the inevitable intervention; they will believe they will be able to fight not only their own nation’s armed forces but that of the USA’s as well. A position greatly lacking in serious contemplation.”
Actually, we have contemplated this and we know that such a battle will be extremely difficult and there is a serious chance that the military phase, if called too soon, could be crushed overnight. The problem, however, is that we think all other strategic lines will either: a) fail to ever make revolution, deferring to some spontaneous event in a future that never arrives; b) have a larger chance of being crushed in an open confrontation with the modern, militarized state that is trained to put down insurrections. Our entire strategic line is in fact premised on how terrible the contemporary military is and how difficult it is to make revolution; we believe the only thing that stands a chance, and feel there is historical evidence for this, is PPW.
We know that we need to accumulate the forces necessary to implement our entire strategic line, and there is still much work to be done. We are not working under the assumption that we are an organization that currently possesses the capacity to be the revolutionary vanguard; we have not overestimated our strength, we know that despite our recent and laudable growth we are still small. This does not mean we are waiting for a future moment where, when our forces are large enough, we can enter into a military confrontation with the state quickly, inventing tactics spontaneously, as Cole does with his theory, but only that we are aware of the need to possess a certain level of strength before imagining that we are capable of leading such a fight. We are certain that Cole will simply complain that we are being lazy, pretending we have a strategic line of PPW when in fact all we are doing is accumulating forces (or not accumulating forces, as he erroneously and offensively asserts), but there is really nothing we can do to counter this charge without revealing internal party information—and if this is what he trying to get us to do, then Cole’s critique is indeed unprincipled.
7. “The PCR-RCP promotes a theory of Peoples War, NOT Protracted Peoples’ War. Doing so they are not only being intellectually dishonest but arrogant for ascribing traits of one theory to another all while conflating both. This is a sour practice on their part but one which pervades their whole programme with an essence of malcontent.”
More name-calling, some of which is quite ironic: we are accused of being “intellectually dishonest” when Cole’s entire critique is, as demonstrated, an exercise in intellectual dishonesty! As for this distinction between PW and PPW, as mentioned at the outset of this document, this is a semantic “argument” that has no basis in reality, nor do we agree with the supposed conflation he thinks we are committing. We think that any PW with the state will indeed be protracted and not, as he puts forward, some lightning swift event that resembles an insurrection; we have maintained this fact over and over. In any case, Cole’s basis for making this distinction is so vague that it is patently hilarious he would think he is making some deep scientific point: just because you use the word “science” and throw out vague pronouncements about “material conditions” and a “time based web” does not mean, Cole, that you are a materialist and we are idealists. All it means is that you’re trying to find yet another way to reject our position that relies on a rhetorical ploy. In this context, it is galling that we are accused of “a sour practice” and promoting “an essence of malcontent.”
By now it should be obvious that Cole’s critique is useful only in distorting our theory of strategy and analysis of the concrete context of Canada rather than providing any real criticisms. The fact that it is delivered from a position that is barely articulated, the supposed other Maoist strategy of “the communist pole,” is infuriating because, by refusing to articulate this position in any significant manner Cole can act as if he is standing on firm theoretical ground (a science that does not have to be defended as “scientific” because it just is), like a Jesuit who can dispense theological judgments based on the unquestioned foundation of Catholic doctrine. Since our suspicion is that Cole’s position is simply insurrection in people’s war drag, we doubt it can be worked out to even the detail he complains about in our documents on PPW without letting the figurative cat out of the bag.
- Let us be clear, whatever Cole may think of our theory of PPW has nothing to do with the “scientific” status of our Programme as a whole, the other aspects of which he has failed to address and yet dismisses them as a whole. What is “non-scientific” about our assessment of the Canadian social formation? When it was released it was the only programme that provided anything that resembled a concrete analysis of Canadian society; even the Revolutionary Initiative’s analysis of Canada, that Cole cites when it accords with his critique, borrowed heavily from ours because the RI comrades knew that it possessed many correct and “scientific” aspects.
- Actually, this is historical idealism that again demonstrates a complete ignorance of the Canadian context. Dumont was the military strategist for Louis Riel’s Metis uprising and, if not for Riel’s mystified ideas about being a prophet, would have probably carried through the rebellion to a higher stage. Moreover, the period and context in which Dumont functioned was entirely different from the activities of the Weather Underground and the Symbionese National Army. It is better to compare him to New Afrikan armed uprisings, since he represented an oppressed nation, which Cole completely ignores.
- As an aside, this misconception also determines Cole’s understanding of our critique of P. Becker, which he spends far too many paragraphs attempting to reject without, for all that, providing a significant counter-defense. Again, he claims we are “wrong” just because he says so, failing to grasp that our critique of Becker is based on an entire body of literature about revolutionary strategy, particularly the work of T. Derbent, that he should have probably read before launching his critique.
- What is Canada? – a concrete revolutionary communist analysis of Canadian society
- The Communist Party Must Lead the Revolutionary War in the Imperialist Countries!