(this is part of a much larger post that originally appeared on revleft.)
What is economism?
Economism is a view (among communists) that the best way to build political consciousness is to organize themselves around their own oppression. And it assumes that if you get close to people by serving their own immediate perceived needs, that out of that struggle they will learn about the world, and about politics, and become supporters of revolutionary change.
So communists who are influenced by economism go among the people and focus on those issues that are most immediate FOR THEM, and focus on mobilizing them against their own immediate oppressors (their employer, or feudal landlord, or the local cop, or whatever). And they expect that out of increasingly militant struggle (the police come and beat people on picket lines, or the newspapers attack a just struggle) the workers and oppressed will "see" that there is a larger system, and that it is the obstable to their dreams of a better life.
The problem with economism (as Lenin pointed out in What is to be done?) is that it is based on a false view of how people become conscious. And it ignores the fact that struggles people wage over their own most immediate oppression have a built in tendency to get drawn into BOURGEOIS politics (elections, deal making, fighting for a slice of the pie, reaching agreements with the employer etc.)
Lenin argues, correctly, that revolutionary consciousness of a communist kind can only come to people from OUTSIDE the realm of their own immediate experience. To become class conscious (in a revolutionary way) you need information that only comes from studying history, and economics, and world affairs, and the larger events of society.
And so, Lenin argues, the task of communists is to systematically bring such information and analysis to people. Instead of focusing people's attention ON THEMSELVES (AND HOW THEY ARE FUCKED OVER) a communist work strains to bring into focus ALL the forces in society, what their position is, their politics, their programs.
After all the masses don't just want to push back on their own oppression, they want to be prepared (politically) to make alliances, to set up a government, to invent new laws, to design a new production system.... and you will never get there if you are focused just on your own low wages, or just on the shitty conditions on your block.
So, what does ecnomism have to do with the 9 Letters to Our Comrades?
the 9 letters are not economist -- they are precisely revolutionary in the sense that Lenin advocated. And the paragraph that the RCP singles out is precisely an expression of that.
So how can the RCP claim that the 9 letters is economist?
Because they have changed the definition of this term. They claim to have "enriched" lenin -- they have invented "enriched what is to be donism" -- and anything else, they say, is economism.
What is this "enriched what is to be donism"? It is a negation of Lenin's line. It is preaching to people in a way that stresses theory not actual events. It is the promotion of a particular view of "what communism will be like" -- and instead of focusing on how to make revolution and change in this society, it is a method that is all about starting with communism and "working back to the present."
and so, when the 9 Letters (and Kasama project) talk about orgainizing political struggle (of real poeple) around key dividing lines and faultlines in society -- and connecting that with communist work of exposure and analysis...... all THAT to them becomes wrong and revisionist.
but it is a slight of hand. It is not economist, it is communism brought into our present. The 9 Letters criticizes the RCP for abandoning its mass work among the people, for dissing the people when they don't rally to the RCP's latest scheme. (See Letter 3)
But look at a century and more of revolution? did anyone go to the people and say "we have the leader for you, follow him because he is a unique, rare, irreplacable, beloved and special person who knows the way out?"
No. They went with political programs and projects and organized people.
"Prepare minds and organize people for revolution."
Lenin's party had the "three whales" they used to organize the revolutionary movement: an end to the Tsar and founding a republic, the eight hour day solution to the misery of working class lives, and land for the peasant. And these three demands were only reachable (in Russia at that time) through struggle and revolutionary means.
and while they organized around such key fault lines, and judged allies on that basis, they conducted revolutionary political work (winning the advanced to a far sighted sense of "what it would take", and to the process of creatively inventing the paths to revolution.) Unlike the RCP they never claimed "it is all there for the taking" -- because it wasn't. The paths to seizure of power, the forms of new political power, the method and approaches ALL HAD TO BE CREATIVELY invented, as the moments approach and the real conditions became clear.[I]