Against Lemingism, Not Lenin(ism)

by Anita Hood on August 16, 2012

I have a lot of sympathy with the sentiments expressed in this article and was particularly interested to note people looking to Kasama-like organizational methods.

The message of the Occupy movement that there is a 99% versus 1% problem has struck a chord across the world. That is a massive achievement not and just a good thing. It’s clearly an attempt to unite the many to defeat the few and a great strategic move.

So while it is always necessary to identify the contradictions within the 99% in order to keep moving forward and dare to win anything, we do so using the method (genuine, not phony) of unity-criticism-unity. We unite and don’t split. Democracy is our greatest weapon.

Sects are dead-ends and invariably reject this weapon and Kasama is just another dead-end sect. It essentially runs a “teen-style” magazine blog that endlessly repeats and diverts and never really develops. It is incapable of running an ongoing debate designed to go somewhere. It is unable to even develop for itself a relevant Marxist “brand” that goes beyond the mushy green that quickly degenerates into anti-working class politics, and the always anti-war, anti-imperialist “politics” of Mike Ely. The attitude of the U.S. Revolutionary Communist Party and Trotskyite movement towards World War Two is the load stone of this failure. Whenever the issues present themselves in contemporary form, the masses draw the same conclusion as that drawn by the masses at the time of World War Two. Rejection is the inevitable response to the politics and organizational structure, (presented as Leninist of course) but actually the isolated and hated sectarianism of ever-so-busy sect-building anti-imperialists are correctly rejected.For example, that the masses would ever tolerate a one-party state in the modern Western world is a delusion that ought not to be blamed on Lenin!

In Australia, the Occupy movement was not at a level as in the U.S., due mainly to economic factors which I’ll not go into. Anyway, in my city there were no groups “occupying” public space, there was talk of organizing a meeting but decided that whatever good might come of it elsewhere it would be bad news here, because it would be way below any sort of critical mass.

In Sydney and Melbourne, there were actions which ended similarly to other cities and other “occupations” I have been involved with, (namely of campus buildings and other public space) with being closed down by the police. In this, I see many similarities outlined above that mirror the undergrad antics we faced in the student movement when my distrust and disdain of Trotskyist and anarchist campus “interventions” began.

Consistently, Australian International Socialist Organization and Green-Left outside caucuses would decide their own tactics that were often to hijack the meetings/marches and protests. This really caused problems for us as campus organisers and over the years I have noted that it is necessary to protect students from their excesses. They become isolated and hated as soon as they start their “interventions” or not long after.

But now people are working out that a Depression-era period of class struggle is before us, and we have no mass-based political reality, so first up all the Ecumenical activity among the already walking dead of the sects.

Never forget they are still the walking dead.

To me, it is perfectly clear that if your emblem (the clown face) is co-opted (especially by murderers) then you better stop using it and quickly, or else there will be this sort of trouble. “I believe it is necessary and possible to avoid the problems of disorganization that lead to a situation where working class people think we are sociopathic clowns trying to attack them. I also believe it is possible to do this without reverting to forms of Leninism that are as outdated as dinosaurs. Many people are trying to figure out a third option.”

This article demonstrates the problem of anarchist methods and thinking while proposing the problem as Leninism, AND in the same breath proposing as useful and necessary, Leninist-based anarchist methods?

This is going to require some filling in of some detail for me to grasp.

I would be aghast if the revolutionary left gave up their principle weapon – dialectics and materialism – and if you reject Lenin, you reject dialectical materialism and so can’t qualify as a Marxist in my view. That might be okay for some, but if you want to participate in left discussions there is a requirement to generate and adopt a materialist position (or at least commit to not misuse the term by using it colloquially or pejoratively).

To reject Leninism as an outdated dinosaur rather than to adopt it is as a sharp weapon to be used to further proletarian interests is utterly wrong. What has to be rejected is Lemingism that presents as Leninism. True, that’s essentially all you will have ever been exposed to, but I can’t help that. You just have to read Lenin and the rest of the classical Marxists without looking for any recent application in the Western world. Anyone who is serious about finding answers to the increasing crises of capitalism better start reading philosophy and economics while they get about their struggles. For instance, “be concerned with the well-being of the masses” is a great line to keep in mind.

My student organization had – a long time prior to my involvement – adopted Maoist organizing structures, and we radicals did very well from this legacy that we (by the time I got involved) did not even really know the history of. When I did discover the history of my student organization it lead to my interest in Marx-to-Mao philosophy.

I recommend the action group method of organizing because it works. More thinking is what is required not mindless confrontation.

As a female with kids, I don’t like it when protests are billed as picnics and non-confrontational when clearly they are a confrontation with the state that will eventually involve cops coming (often at 5 a.m.) to break it up and arrest a few “trouble-makers” to go on with.

This kind of negative cycle ought to be avoided.

On the view expressed towards the third way. I can only say strip away illusions and prepare to struggle. I recall a first-year philosophy/critical thinking essay where I ended with the similar plea – there has got to be a third-way found. My paper was sent back saying there is no third way, which I didn’t believe at the time but have come to see as correct through practice.

My experience shows how necessary an ongoing process of criticism really is. Offering a protest movement a forum for real debate is a great contribution. Kasama could not do even this but maybe Binh and others can.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

David August 17, 2012 at 12:36 am

I would like to see a member of the revolutionary left explain to any twenty-something single-parent Wal-Mart cashier, gasoline station attendant or Denny’s waitress — one who is perhaps sympathetic to the 99-1 percent critique of corporate America but has never been to college — exactly what dialectics is and why it is important (in a way that they understand) and why they are not entitled to take up the revolutionary struggle against corporate power and capitalism unless/until they use it as a “weapon.” Seriously. I am not being hypothetical. Take a camera out, initiate this discussion with working people, and post the video on this web site.


Arthur August 17, 2012 at 12:52 am

Dave, People can do and should take up struggle without any grasp at all of Marxism, Leninism or dialectics.

Only sects demand adherence to a particular philosophical viewpoint. (Specifically Atheist organizations were excluded from the first international on the grounds that the rules required that membership be open to workers regardless of religion).

But failure to grasp dialectics is pretty central to the collapse of left organizations.

Instead of helping people to think through complex situations they teach a mechanical static and simplistic view of the world, which taken to extremes can be seen as essential to the pseudo-left.

One aspect to this that instead of seeing a world teeming with contradictions they insist that the more “left” you are, the more you are supposed to see things as black and white. Eventually that becomes their definition of what it is to be left and they find themselves “militantly” agreeing with the far right who have similar black and white views about things.

PS Anita, in response to your original comment in another thread, Pham Binh asked for an elaboration of what you meant by ““I recommend the action group method of organising because it works.”

He said “Could you elaborate on this more? A cursory Google search turned up nothing of use.”

You haven’t elaborated. Please do.


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 5:07 am

Hi David – I pretty much concur with Arthur’s point: the important thing is to get people to stop thinking mechanically about the world. (That’s what much of the debate over Syria on this site has been concerned with)The relationship between working class experience and “philosophy” is a complex one, sometimes with surprising dimensions. Once upon when I was in a small Trotskyist goup, just setting up shop where I lived, we recruited a middle-aged railway worker, who had little formal education. We didn’t do “philosophy” in our group, but I like to think were reasonably “dialectical” in our approach, One day I was chatting with this guy and he said “You know, I can see that you people have a special way of thinking about things, it really makes things clearer for me.” I know its a cliche, but I think that many working class activists, especially those who have taken on leadership roles, are often “natural” dialecticians. At a later point in time I worked politically in an areas that had been the stomping ground of the British trotskyist sect SLL/WRP (“Healyites”) . Now they did a lot of philosophy, sometimes in the most arid way. Their influence in the labour movement had long disappeared, but whenever we went to a factory to hand out leaflets or to discuss solidarity we would nearly always find someone who had been in the SLL on the shop stewards committee. And often what continued to link them, at least nostalgically, to that organisation was the role it had played in introducing them to marxist theory and philosophy. If you look at the history of any of the radical currents that have had significant influence in the working class – trotskyist or stalinist – you will always find that theoretical education, including “dialectics” , played an important role in the development of a distinctive political culture, and that culture was the bond that linked them to worker militants.


Ben Peterson August 17, 2012 at 12:38 am


With due respect, there is a lot of bs in this article.

Anita starts off saying that she wasnt involved in Occupy in Aus, but then proceed to outline what was wrong with it, how would you know?

n the same way, why the vitriol against Kasama, when if in aus, she’s obviously never come across them in practice and never been able to see them organize in the real world.

Personal vitriol cheapens any other points your trying to make, and should be avoided.


no use for a name August 18, 2012 at 2:57 am

Anita’s Kasama criticism needed to be said. I worked with Kasama and the idea they “organize in the real world” is misleading. They host a blog, tail a movement or two and what? Lure people out of other organizations with abstract slogans about wind and dragons? Thank you for speaking up about Mike Ely’s particularly incoherent politics and the anti-working class nature of this sect.


informally yours August 17, 2012 at 10:31 am

David: Working people will not give up their principle weapon – class struggle – and as they come up against problems they will try those solutions via their democratic decision making processes. (After solutions have been offered by leading elements – leading by the simple reality of offering a resolution to adopt) If the solution fails (And that’s bound to happen often) then they will try the next solution that’s chosen. When the problems become country sized problems, they will not stop choosing and merely have the solutions to their real world problems chosen for them! They will engage in politics and yes they will fail because the problems are complex, but they will still engage again and again. The politics will change, class interest won’t.

If ‘revolutionary’ minded workers reject Lenin, they reject dialectical materialism and so can’t qualify as a Marxist. Those that want to understand capitalism and why it throws up the problems that the workers come up against (So that they have to solve them as is currently occurring in South Africa ) are welcome to try. They will offer their solutions and workers will choose what is on offer. If the solutions work I have no objections.

I still think that if you want to participate in left discussions, there is a requirement to generate and adopt a materialist philosophical position. Marxmail etc., are correct to hold this type of moderation policy at their site because they want an exchange between Marxists. Lastsuperpower was very open and free flowing with people just expected to ignore others that did not interest them but it had a “junk file” and readers could go there to see what had been dumped if disruptive posts were happening. 100 flowers and all. It had to be bad to get to that junk file.

Anyway I don’t object that people propose that workers throw ourselves at the mercy of the owning classes, or that we pray to a god for deliverance from our problems, or that we all have our incomes cut for the good of the environment and so forth, but for me I believe that this is an atheistic age and that workers will be looking for materialist solutions to their material problems. If they pray before their meals now that’s up to them, but if there is no meal then we had better deal with the material realities of just how to get it on the table.

For example, most people that claim to be in some way or another of the left but are hysterically opposed to ‘imperialism’, and particularly the U.S.-British-Australian versions, could not go on board any working ship in the world and win an argument with the crew. They would be laughed at if they weren’t thrown overboard. If they tried their argument on the dock they would get the same result and with the transport workers that were bringing the cargoes to those docks as well.

In fact, all the way back to the productive enterprises that produces the cargo in the first instance. Supporting piracy is a totally hopeless position to be in and one would automatically grow up and change one’s argument, but the pseudo-left don’t change their argument, they just don’t make the argument. They have to pretend to themselves that the argument was really held among the workers and that the ‘pro-imperialist’ argument was not tolerated by them. (Being anti-worker-blah-blah) ‘Pro-imperialists” who speak out in opposition to piracy and in favour of the navy suppressing them, just aren’t permitted to speak in their Neverland world. Neverland is where you don’t grow up. Here is the view of the classic pseudo-leftist

…in a capsule way:

We should not support U.S. military attacks around the world. We should not support U.S. bases, fleets, drones, agents, trainers, commandos or nukes intruding into the lives of people around the world.
We should support the isolation, defeat and dismantling of the U.S. military (not its murderous deployment in the troubled spots of empire). “Yankee Go Home!”
We should politically expose this military, its purposes, its goals, and its nature — not portray it as a possible force for good.
We should not create public opinion for its next possible attacks in the next zone of civil conflicts.
We should create public opinion for the future political dismantling of the U.S. military as an institution (and for its systematic removal around the world, break up of its office corps, the destruction of its nukes, the trial and punishment of its leading war criminals). Where the Pentagon stands, we should hope for a salted field of the kind that surrounded ancient Carthage.”

Just tell the crew on any working ship that you support the pirates and oppose the navies of the world putting a stop to piracy and see how this childish view goes over! Workers are bound to pick up dialectics (For instance they see they have interests as workers, and as consumers) faster than the living dead, that couldn’t even stand up for the Libyan revolution last year, and are now spitting chips about the military action required to assist the revolution in Syria. Workers on ships or anywhere else have nothing in common with this drivel! Let’s stop talk about the “white elephants” in the room, and look more closely at the elephants!

On action groups. Our Students’ Association only had 2 elected officials a General Secretary and an Editor – until we ignorantly messed with it. They were accountable to General Student Meetings. The student body could easily call these GSM’s, and they could form the Action groups that could access a small amount of money (For printing leaflets to advertise the ’cause’). This situation was set in place after the Vietnam War era Registry occupations in the early 1970’s led to an overthrow of the Student Representative Council model with a dominant ‘executive’.

The SRC model presents as if a student ‘representative’ means something more than having a partisan agenda to push. Action groups speak only for themselves and who they can interest in taking part. That requires ongoing efforts. SRC style had more people claiming ‘authority’ when they said I speak for/or on behalf of the student body etc.. The GSM empowered action group allows students to actually follow up and work between electoral cycles to actually practice ‘controlling’ meetings and regularly mobilising people. As well as seek to remove unsuitable officers, no need to ‘disband’ action groups because they couldn’t access funds without the next GSM anyway. The Gen Sec was also responsible for convening the coordinating group monthly meetings with full speaking rights to unelected member participants.
Anita Hood


ish August 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

It’s funny how Anita Hood (Informally Yours?), and Patrick Muldowney sound like the same person.


informally yours August 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Ish, I assure you that we are separate people, as opposed to Mike Ely who was Nando in Kasama discussions. (Mike E said January 3, 2011 at 10:50 am)
Forgive me if I don’t start on the high plane of two-line struggle….It is true, as CJ writes, that I have written essays under a pen name “Nando Sims.” He did far more than that but no diversion into that for now!

Ben, There was no real Occupy action where I live but I followed the issue as it developed in Australia and feel I have investigated more than enough to have the right to speak. I agree that personal insults must be avoided and ask that if I have done so that my error be pointed out concretely, rather than just through abstract assertion. (ie you called ELY blahblah)

It may seem overly critical presenting Maoist ideas here at what I think of as a trot implosion, and when I don’t have direct Occupy experience but it is not so unusual because Mike and Binh cross published articles and began the debate.

I agree that if there is no investigation there is no right to speak. However, I have investigated and do have a right to speak – even words that people don’t want to hear. Ben asks why the vitriol towards Kasama? I don’t think it is particularly vitriolic, (or personal) but I do strongly urge people to adopt an approach of critical support towards these kind of organisations. (i.e. Don’t take Avakianesq delusions for 20 years as Mike and his fellow RCPers did) Binh knows Patrick and I are different peeps and is not playing games with readers. We are partners and don’t hide that. We discuss ideas and frequently have disagreements but are both independent thinkers.

What do I have against Kasama apart from the fact that they adopt a Maoist position that is demonstrably the opposite of what Mao was really on about, and then refuses to debate people like Arthur and Patrick who are long term ML Maoists? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Mike banned me from Kasama because he banned Patrick and we were sharing a computer how sexist is that?? I tried to appeal but was unanswered! I know of others banned as well. I think it behooves us to be at least as intolerant of sectarianism and cultism, and to adopt a position of “critical support” towards our own organisations as of the state organisations we want to influence and change.


Ross August 20, 2012 at 11:34 am

“If ‘revolutionary’ minded workers reject Lenin, they reject dialectical materialism and so can’t qualify as a Marxist.”

This is a blatantly fallacious statement. What you basically said was, “Lenin was right, so if you disagree with him, you’re wrong.” We must first presuppose that Lenin was right, without critical examination (or dialectical reasoning). If that’s the case, then we should not bother to debate, but should simply hole up in our rooms and read everything he had to say, so we know what to think and can be good Marxists. Lenin was a teacher, and we should show him the same “critical support” we would have for our classroom teachers, i.e., we should think for ourselves. Lenin was also a human being who made specific arguments; he was not the human manifestation of dialectical materialism.

It may be true that both Leninist groups and anarchists misrepresent Lenin’s thoughts repeatedly, but “Leninism” is still a misnomer for an ideology shared by a large number of groups worldwide over the past century, and not simply the pure example of the Bolshevik party, nor an inherently correct adaptation of Marxism. It is as much defined by the failures of the groups who apply it to themselves as it is by the collected works of Lenin the man.

We can reject “Leninism” as the failed model of the Left over the past hundred years, even as we go back to Lenin to gain insights into what we should do instead. We can take what is good and what works and leave the rest behind, including the tired and counterproductive term “Leninism.” No matter how much you agree with the man, the term will forever associate you with the failed Left a thousand times more than it will with What is to be done or Iskra or the Bolshevik Revolution, whether you like it or not. You might as well be aware of that reality when you go into the working class declaring yourself a Leninist.

The most important point in these times is that we will learn more from watching and participating in revolutionary practice as it unfolds before us than we ever could from reading and rereading theoretical works from the past. We need the past as a guide and we need our teachers who came before us, but what we do not need is dogmatism, which is all you will get if you don’t keep your eyes open and see how it’s done in the here and now, and take that as your starting point. Everything else must fit with what is actually happening. We reject dialectic materialism when we reject reality and we ignore change. This is why the Left has had it so wrong on Libya.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

I agree. I think it’s a mistake to make Lenin or Marx some kind of “litmus test.” There are tons of people who are arguably acting as Marx and Lenin would, making revolutions, who have never read a word of either or may associate both men with Stalin. What you do counts for a lot more than whose poster you have on the wall in your room be it Marx, Lenin, Mao, Engels, Che, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Bakunin, Malatesta, Debs, Haywood, Holloway, or Hardt/Negri.


Arthur August 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Pretty well every related term is useless as a “litmus test”.

In general usage many of the people shouting “Hands Off Syria” are regarded as “Leninist”, “Marxist”, “Revolutionary”, and “Leftist”.

They are also generally regarded as thoroughly obnoxious and completely irrelevant.

Should we abandon use of the term “Left” and let them have it? I say you cannot be a leftist if you side with oppressors against democratic revolution. So I call them pseudo-left, not left at all.

Should we abandon use of the term “Marxist” and let them have it? A striking characteristic is their complete ignorance of Marxism. Why should we let them have it?

Should we abandon use of the term “Leninist” and let them have it? A much stronger case is made for that by anarchists, left communists and even left social democrats. They can point to both the history of “socialist countries” and the history of organizations claiming to be leninist and reasonably suggest that their complete bankruptcy and degeneration to what we see from the “Hands Off Syria” types is related to fundamental flaws in Leninism.

That’s certainly an understandable position to be taken seriously and debated. But we are no more obliged to accept that the “Hands Off” crowd are Leninists than that they are Marxists, Revolutionary or indeed Left. My view on it is still pretty much along the lines explained in that 1980 article on “Fascism and the Left”:

I certainly agree with Ross that there is a failed model of the left over the past hundred years which should be rejected. But I’d call it “lemmingism” rather than Leninism.

I also certainly agree with Pham that what people do counts far more than what posters they have on their wall (or what theories they claim to be guided by).

But I also agree with Anita that: “If ‘revolutionary’ minded workers reject Lenin, they reject dialectical materialism and so can’t qualify as a Marxist”.

Although I wouldn’t choose that formulation myself I would say that its a corollary of the proposition about posters on the wall, There will be revolutionary workers who aren’t Marxist and who reject dialectical materialism. I think they would be better off if they were Marxist and understood dialectical materialism and that studying Lenin (and Mao Tsetung) would be helpful for that. (And I don’t think studying Trotsky or Che Guevara would be helpful ;-)

Its an old debate and it isn’t going to go away any time soon. But given the current collapse of Leninism including Maoism its worth remembering that anarchism, left communism and social democracy all discredited themselves a lot earlier.

Nobody has figured out either the program or organizational forms for revolution in advanced capitalist countries in the 21st century. We can’t blame Marx or Lenin or Mao for that. It wasn’t their problem. Its up to us. But we shouldn’t just forget and abandon stuff that was figured out through a long process of historical struggle. We need to understand it to improve on it.


Brian S. August 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm

But this is based on the assumption that there is a unique and direct line of decent from Marx (and presumably Engels) to Lenin (and usually to someone else, accordance to particular preferences). But each of these thinkers, while they had many common concerns, also had many different one; and their bodies of thought while rich, are large, complex and sometimes contradictory. So its impossible to create this kind of schematic association between them. Given that Marx and Lenin did not overlap historically makes it even more absurd to try and establish this kind of “organic” connection between them – there is no possible handing on of the baton (unless its via Engels->Kautsky.)
Hence its quite possible for someone to be a “Marxist” while not being a” Leninist” – depending upon which elements in each body of thought you identify as definitive . (For example embracing the labour theory of value while rejecting the Leninist theory of the party). Personally, I have come to the view that labels like “Marxism” and Leninism” are not useful at the level of theory, although they may have value as labels for broad political currents (and obviously keep sectarians happy.)


Arthur August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Well yes, that assumption of an organic link is held by Leninists and of course the opposite view is held by social democrats and academic “marxists”. I agree that the labels aren’t particularly useful at the moment in view of the general collapse of theoretical analysis. But the current abysmal state of theory cannot go on forever and Leninism will be less likely to be confused with lemmingism as people start thinking and organizing again,


Brian S. August 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

OK: so give me your definition of Leninism (short course)?


Arthur August 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Reasonable question, but I’ll pass.

Just isn’t the same as lemmingism.

“I’ll know it when I see it” ;-)


Brian S. August 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Or you’ll see it when you know it?


David August 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

This is an interesting discussion, but if I might try to pull it back to the point I made up at the top of this thread, I think the real question (for those identifying themselves as socialists) is how do we approach the working class (a term broad enough, by my estimation, to include struggling members of the “middle” class) with a socialist program without getting bogged down in a swamp of pedantic bullshit? I think I’ve made this point elsewhere on the site, but if the bourgeoisie and ruling classes were as divided over points of history, philosophy and economics the way Marxists/socialists are, then capitalism would likely have never succeeded. If the Founding Fathers had gone to the mat over political questions in the same manner that so many of those on the socialist left have, the U.S. Constitution would never have been written … we’d either have none, or we’d have 60 ever-so-slightly different versions that 700 various surviving “tendencies” — each with their own web sites, literature, leaders, etc. — would still be arguing about. Not to be crude, but this is a crisis that better be solved quickly, or we will lose everything in the most literal sense of the word. That’s where we are, right now. This is not an argument for a pragmatism that organically leads back to apologia for capitalism, but is anyone here really going to give a flying fuck about the “abysmal state of theory” 15 or 20 years from now when we’re living on a different planet? At that point, pragmatism will win the day, because the question will not be whether there’s a “line” between Marx and Lenin. It’ll be: Where am I going to get a drink of water today?


Brian S. August 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Its a very good question, David, but not a simple one. Its the question the far left has struggled with throughout most of its history: how do you relate to the mass of the population with a revolutionary (or socialist) programme in non-revolutionary periods (or maybe even epochs if we are talking about the present). Social democracy had its minimum and maximum programme. Trotsky developed the notion of “transitional demands” to try and link the previous two into a single whole. The western communist parties developed the idea of a “parliamentary road” (and there were American variants, mostly involving the Democratic party). I think they all merit some consideration. My preferred notion is one coined by the Trotskyist Ernest Mandel of “structural reforms” – ie changes to the existing order which respond to concrete problems and demands but which introduce shifts in the distribution of social power (e.g workers control of production). This is an idea that has connections to the Trotskyist conception of” transitional programme” but has a materialist content rather than what I see as the idealist reference of the latter.


David August 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Doesn’t a “shift in the distribution of social power” also have a materialist content?


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