Some thoughts on unity and its relationship to criticism

What is unity, and what is its relationship with criticism? If I have unity with someone, I trust them, I rely on them, I have a good connection with them. Among other things, this means that, crucially, I take their criticisms of me in good faith.

Consider Mao’s idea of “cure the sickness to save the patient” and his concept that sometimes patients “hide their sickness for fear of treatment.” Why would a patient fear something that will help them get better as a whole, and in the long term? There is no other explanation but that criticism always and necessarily hurts, locally (that is, non-holistically) and/or in the short-term. That is, we must understand that criticism by definition attempts to open cuts in someone’s mind that they themselves are not able to make to help them remove an error. It always hurts because criticism is always of something we are not quite prepared to let go of. What prevents someone from being able to make these necessary cuts in their own mind? They may not see the error at all; they may see it but not well enough to be able to distinguish it in clear and sharp relief; or they may see it but be too squeamish with themselves about that aspect of their psychology.

Sometimes our errors are very old, very subtle, or very pervasive. They may be complex, spread through many parts of ourselves and be tied in to some aspects of ourselves that we cherish. We can say that when it comes to criticism, increasing the unity between two people is like increasing the sharpness of the surgeon’s blade, the depth that the blade can cut to, the steadiness and accuracy of the surgeon’s hand, the anesthesia applied to reduce any unnecessary pain in the surgery, and even the rate of healing after the cuts are made. So the more unity we have with a comrade, the bolder they can be in their attempts to make these cuts, and the more frequently they can make these cuts, thus making their efforts to help us remove ours errors faster and more effective.

Like I mention elsewhere, unity can be consciously created. We have unity by spending time with people, getting to know them on a deeper personal level, going through tough times together and doing strenuous activities together. Because of the fact that unity promotes the effectiveness of criticism in this way, and because criticism helps us abandon incorrect lines and find correct ones, and abandon harmful patterns of behavior and adopt helpful ones, unity greatly assists us in finding the genuinely revolutionary line and becoming better revolutionaries–so it is vital for communists to consciously cultivate unity with each other wherever principled unity is possible.

It should be said that this post refers to unity in the broadest of senses–the unity between communist comrades, who have not just one goal in common but all goals in common. But this understand is also applicable in the more narrow sense of “unity” (as the first term in “unity-struggle-unity”) as “what exists between people who want to achieve the same goal”–for instance, the unity between anticapitalists and non-anticapitalists in fighting fascism.

Only once we are convinced that someone truly wants the same specific goal as us are we willing to listen to them when they offer us difficult-to-hear advice pertaining to achieving that goal. And that convincedness is a psychological fact that embodies a certain emotional attitude toward that person, at least when we are discussing with them what it will take to achieve that specific goal.