Leninism is Finished

by Louis Proyect on January 28, 2013

Originally posted at The Unrepentant Marxist.

callinicos

After a month’s worth of attack on the SWP leadership, including from its own members, Alex Callinicos has taken to the pages of Socialist Review (“Is Leninism Finished?”) to frame the fight in terms of a defense of Leninist orthodoxy. I think this is useful since it helps to crystallize the broader issues facing this fairly important group in Britain and the socialist movement internationally: is the “democratic centralist” model that is the hallmark of aspiring “vanguard” parties appropriate to our tasks today?

Just over 30 years ago the American SWP was going through a profound crisis involving the democratic rights of its membership. The Barnes leadership had decided to dump Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution overboard in a bid to make itself more acceptable to what it saw as an emerging new revolutionary international with Havana functioning as a pole of attraction. When many long-time members, including those who had worked closely with Trotsky, fought to have a debate over this change, Barnes decided to forgo a constitutionally mandated party convention and began expelling members on trumped-up charges.

I had left the SWP by this point but was so disturbed by these developments that I began calling comrades I respected. Les Evans was a member of a group of expelled members who hoped to resurrect the “good, old SWP”, a task tantamount to reassembling Humpty-Dumpty.

My next phone call was to Peter Camejo, who had been expelled mostly because he was an independent thinker popular with the membership–a terrible threat to the SWP’s leader. After he began figuring out that the party he had belonged to for decades was on a suicidal sectarian path, he took a leave of absence to go to Venezuela and read Lenin with fresh eyes. This was one of the first things he told me over the phone: “Louis, we have to drop the democratic centralism stuff”. That is what he got out of reading Lenin. I was convinced that he was right and spent the better part of the thirty years following our phone conversation spreading that message to the left.

In the early 80s it was a tougher sale to make. Back then orthodox Trotskyist parties, and ideologically heterodox parties like the British SWP, did little investigation into the actual history of the Russian social democracy and were content to follow organizational guidelines based on what someone like James P. Cannon filtered down to them through books such as “Struggle for a Proletarian Party” or Tony Cliff’s Lenin biography.

Largely through the efforts of Lars Lih, it has become more and more difficult to ignore the historical record. The publication of his 808 page Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In Context was like Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in 1517, except in this case it was the door of the Marxist-Leninist church. Unlike Peter Camejo or me, Lih was not interested in building a new left. He was mainly interested in correcting the record. As a serious scholar with a deep command of the Russian language, he was quite capable of defending his thesis, namely that Lenin sought nothing more than to create a party based on the German social democracy in Russia. There was never any intention to build a new kind of party, even during the most furious battles with the Mensheviks who after all (as Lih convincingly makes the case) were simply a faction of the same broad party that Lenin belonged to.

The British SWP has been deferential to Lih, whose scholarship was beyond reproach, but at pains to dismiss its implications. The September 2010 issue of Historical Materialism organized a symposium on Lih’s research in which they made the case for “Leninism” as they understood it. While HM is largely inaccessible to the unwashed masses (where was Aaron Swartz when we needed him?), you can read SWP’er Paul Blackledge’s contribution at http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=218. We can assume that he was speaking for Callinicos and the SWP leadership when he wrote:

The novelty of this form of organisation was less than obvious in the early part of the last century, and Lih is right to point out that Lenin was attempting to build something like the German SPD in Russia. Nonetheless, it is also true that Lenin did succeed in building something different, and better, than the SPD. It is in this respect, I think that Lih is wrong to reject Georg Lukács’s interpretation of Lenin, upon which many of the activists have based their analyses.

When I first ran across the British SWP on the Internet back in the early 90s, I never would have dreamed that they would have ended up with such a horrible scandal on their hands. I was impressed with both their theoretical prowess and with their work in the British antiwar movement. My only caveat was that their organizational model would prevent them from breaking through a glass ceiling imposed by their sectarian habits. I put it this way:

I believe that the methodology of the [American] SWP was flawed from the outset. In its less lethal permutations, such as the Tony Cliff or Ted Grant variety or the SWP of the early 1970s, you end up with a “healthy” group but one that is destined to hit a glass ceiling because of its self-imposed “vanguardist” assumptions. In a nutshell, the group sees itself as the nucleus of the future revolutionary party no matter how much lip service is given to fusing with other groups during a prerevolutionary period, etc. In its more lethal versions, you end up with Gerry Healy or Jack Barnes where megalomania rules supreme.

Apparently some SWP members were grappling with the same problem as I discovered from a document written by Neil Davidson for their 2008 convention (it can be read on a blog devoted to a discussion of the SWP crisis. Davidson writes:

The problem is rather that there seems to be a limit beyond which the Party is unable to grow. In 1977, shortly after International Socialism (IS) had transformed itself into the SWP, Hallas wrote in The Socialist Register that “the SWP is ‘something approaching a small party’. But a small party has no merit unless it can become a much bigger party”.

I imagine that if Martin Smith had not been such a sexist pig, the SWP would have meandered along in this fashion for a number of years. Like a match thrown into a room filled with gasoline fumes, the rape incident and the Central Committee’s role in covering it up has provoked a crisis threatening the very existence of the party.

Returning to Callinicos’s article, I was struck by his exasperation over how “internal” party matters have spilled over into the Internet:

One thing the entire business has reminded us of is the dark side of the Internet. Enormously liberating though the net is, it has long been known that it allows salacious gossip to be spread and perpetuated – unless the victim has the money and the lawyers to stop it. Unlike celebrities, small revolutionary organisations don’t have these resources, and their principles stop them from trying to settle political arguments in the bourgeois courts.

In a nutshell, this is the same mindset that is on display at MIT, the elite institution that insisted on prosecuting Aaron Swartz for purloining JSTOR documents. Like the Gutenberg printing press, that was heir to generations of insurrection-minded print publications like Iskra, the Internet is the communications medium for 21st century socialism. If anything has become clear, the “internal” documents of the SWP cannot be bottled up behind a firewall. In the same way that a Madonna video will make its way into Pirate’s Bay, some controversial SWP document will get leaked to the wretched Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity website. I am not even taking a position on whether this is reflecting the “dark side” of the Internet–only that this is the reality we operate under.

But more to the point, there really is no basis for revolutionary socialist organizations to keep their business internal. This was not the case in Lenin’s day, nor should it be the case today whether we are communicating through the printed page or on the Internet. This idea that we discuss our differences behind closed doors every couple of years during preconvention discussion was alien to the way that the Russian social democracy operated. They debated in public. We are obviously more familiar with Lenin’s open polemics with the Mensheviks that some might interpret as permissible given that a cold split had taken place (a false interpretation as Pham Binh and Lars Lih have pointed out.) But even within the Bolsheviks, there was public debate as demonstrated over their differences on whether the bourgeois press should be shut down.

In John Reed’s “10 Days that Shook the World”, there is a reference to divided votes among party members over key questions such as whether to expropriate the bourgeois press. At a November 17th 1917 mass meeting, Lenin called for the confiscation of capitalist newspapers. Reed quotes him: “If the first revolution had the right to suppress the Monarchist papers, then we have the right to suppress the bourgeois press.” He continues: “Then the vote. The resolution of Larin and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries was defeated by 31 to 22; the Lenin motion was carried by 34 to 24. Among the minority were the Bolsheviki Riazanov and Lozovsky, who declared that it was impossible for them to vote against any restriction on the freedom of the press.”

Get it? Lenin and Riazanov debated at a mass meeting and then voted against each other. This was normal Bolshevik functioning. All discipline meant was a deputy voting according to instructions from the party’s central committee, etc. For example, if Alex Callinicos was elected to Parliament and instructed to vote against funding the war in Iraq, and then voted for funding, the party would be entitled to expel him.

Instead, democratic centralism in the Fourth International parties, and in parties following such a model like Callinicos’s International Socialist Tendency, has meant something entirely different. Discipline has meant enforcing  ideological conformity. For example, it would be virtually impossible for SWP members in Britain to take a position on Cuba identical to the American SWP’s and vice versa. As it turns out, this is a moot point since most members become indoctrinated through lectures and classes after joining the groups and tend to toe the line, often responding to peer pressure and the faith that their party leaders must know what is right.

Keeping watch on the ideological purity of the group leads to the formation of a priesthood that is in the best position to interpret the holy writings, whether of Trotsky, Tony Cliff, Ted Grant, or whoever. When they are also full-time functionaries, their power is magnified. For a rank-and-file member of such parties to raise a stink over some questionable strategy or tactic is almost unheard of. It takes something like a rape to get people mobilized apparently.

Virtually none of the latest thinking on the problematic of “democratic centralism” is reflected in Callinicos’s article. Instead he uses the term “Leninism” as a kind of shorthand for revolutionary politics that the SWP is defending against what he views as Owen Jones’s Labourite opportunism. Callinicos describes Jones as a “an increasingly high profile member of the Labour Party.” This is the same party that rests on a trade union leadership that “is a conservative force within the workers’ movement.” To cap it off, Callinicos draws from the same poisoned well that goes back to the Soviet Union of the 1920s:

Despite his radical rhetoric and the excellent stance he takes in the media on specific issues, Jones is defending an essentially conservative position, lining up with Labour and the trade union leaders.

In other words, Callinicos is resorting to the “scratch to gangrene” method of attack that is the hallmark of the Trotskyist movement going back to the late 1930s and to the Zinovievist Comintern of the 1920s, which Trotsky adopted as a model. It is basically a way of stigmatizing your adversary as reflecting “alien class forces”. To protect the integrity of the party, you must ward off the disease-carrying agents of the ruling class.

Jones has it right. This kind of disgusting “Leninist” politics belongs not only to the twentieth century but a socialist politics debased by the USSR’s “dark side”. We need a new way of functioning, one that is free from the sectarian “us versus them”, small proprietor mentality of groups like the SWP as currently constituted.

In Jones’s Independent article—as opposed to the straw man that Callinicos erected–he called for the following:

What is missing in British politics is a broad network that unites progressive opponents of the Coalition. That means those in Labour who want a proper alternative to Tory austerity, Greens, independent lefties, but also those who would not otherwise identify as political, but who are furious and frustrated. In the past two years of traipsing around the country, speaking to students, workers, unemployed and disabled people, I’ve met thousands who want to do something with their anger. Until now, I have struggled with an answer.

This is simply another way of stating that something like a British SYRIZA is necessary. Perhaps anticipating the struggle that has broken out now, Richard Seymour defended the Greek multi-tendency electoral formation in an open challenge to the SWP leadership.

I have no idea how the fight in the SWP will be resolved but I have a strong feeling that if the current gang is removed from the leadership, the party can be a powerful catalyst in moving Britain in the direction that Owen Jones outlined and that the revolutionary left contingent of SYRIZA in Greece is working toward. And if they are defeated, I would only hope that the comrades consider becoming part of a broad initiative that aims to unite the left on a nonsectarian basis.

In a post I wrote on the debate over SYRIZA on the left, I offered this conclusion. I think it is worth repeating:

Finally, I want to suggest that SYRIZA has much more in common with traditional Marxist concepts of a “revolutionary program” than many on the left realize. (I will be elaborating on this at some length in a pending article.) Our tendency is to mistake doctrine with program. For example, not long after I joined the SWP of the United States in 1967, I asked an old-timer up in party headquarters what our program was. (A Maoist friend had challenged me about our bona fides.) He waved his hand in the direction of our bookstore and replied, “It’s all there.” This meant having positions on everything from WWII to Kronstadt. Becoming a “cadre” meant learning the positions embodied in over a hundred pamphlets and books and defending them in public. Of course, this had much more in common with church doctrine than what Karl Marx had in mind when his Communist program sought, for example:

  • Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  • Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

When you stop and think about it, this is sort of the thing you can find in SYRIZA’s program. Maybe it is time for the left to rethink the question of how we demarcate parties? Instead of demanding that new members learn the catechism on controversial questions going back to the 1920s, they instead would be required to defend a class orientation in their respective arenas, like the trade union movement or the student movement, etc. That would make us a lot stronger than we are today. We need millions united in struggle, especially since the death rattle coming out of capitalism’s throat grows louder day-by-day.

  • Shane H

    Well said. I joined the far-left in the 1990s and this was supposed to be a period of great rethinking in the light of the failure of perestroika and the collapse of the USSR. Some changes happened (eg the DSP lauched ‘Green Left’ giving up a purely ‘party-line’ paper and tried to reach out more broadly). Peter Camejo spoke at the first Green Left Conference (the first socialist event I attended) but in the end it seemed like everyone concluded they had been right all along and the catacysmic events of the time really didn’t shift people. Perhaps it was too close to events,

    Now its seems to me that after 20 years its starting to sink in. More people are able to look at the traditions and re-examine what was good/bad in them without too many prior ideological committments. Lars Lihs work and Paul Le Blanc have cracked one of the central pillars of Stalin’s ideology. David Harvey’s lectures have given access to ‘Capital’ and whether we all agree with everything he says its a great resource for re-thinking. In fact the idea that we all need to agree is a central part of the problem. Occupy, of course, has put people on the streets in response to GFC and SYRIZA too (and many others) trying to find ways to respond to the current crises. Marxists have a lot of important things to say we just need more than anything to throw off these vanguardist pretensions and talk to people in ways they can understand.

    The idea of a party of revolutionaries intent on overthrowing capitalism that are simultaneously obedient to a ‘party line’ dictated from above seems so contradictory you wonder how it ever seemed plausible.

  • dave riley

    In the face of what Alex Callinicos has to say. You have to cringe.It’s a political embarrassment.

  • http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com Ross Wolfe

    I’m curious whether Louis intended his article to have a wider purview than just the SWP-Britain, its logic extending especially to the ISO in the US. At this point, one really has to wonder (even though it was seen as a pretty major blow back when it happened in 2001): Is the leadership of the ISO in the US perhaps a little relieved that Callinicos and Kouvelakis expelled them from the IST all those years ago? Just so they don’t have to deal with “guilt by association.” Though truth be told, the ISO and SWP-Britain had been cozying back up to one another for years. The ISO’s just lucky they hadn’t agreed to a merger before all this shit went down.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Of course they are relieved. It allows them to posture as if the ISO’s model of party-building is not the same as the SWP. Keeping quiet is a wise move on their part given that the original leadership of the ISO — Barbara and Cal Winslow — were ousted in a trans-Atlantic faction fight led by Cliff, Harman, Hallas, and co. against the dreaded deviation known as feminism and replaced by leaders who have remained in their positions ever since.

      It’s good that some of those leaders have quietly walked away from the anti-feminism that helped bring them to prominence but it’s no substitute for leveling with the rank and file about the group’s history, warts and all, and saying here’s our old position, here’s what we think our new one should be, let’s debate this out. People might start asking questions and thinking independently as the SWP opposition has, and we wouldn’t want to let that genie out of the bottle now would we? People might actually be brave enough to look in the mirror for once.

      • Sam

        Is the ISO position different today? That’s news to me. They may be a bit less crude about it than the SWP, but as far as I know, they still deny that working-class men can benefit materially from women’s oppression, are known to launch into tirrades against “patriarchy theory”, etc.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          … feminism has been under sustained ideological attack for more than four decades by right-wing forces who wish to erase all the gains made by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Now is the time for the revolutionary left to defend feminism, not to attack it.

          This is the shift. They used to attack it. The old view, Marxism versus feminism, as espoused by Tony Cliff: “Two different movements have sought to achieve women’s liberation over the past hundred or more years, Marxism and feminism. … There can be no compromise between these two views, even though some ‘socialist feminists’ have in recent years tried to bridge the gap between them.”
          http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1984/women/00-intro.htm

          • Brandy Baker

            Cliffites dismiss feminism by conflating it with the mainstream feminist movement, as if the mainstream has ever defined movements. Instead of supporting feminism, they voice support for womens’ liberation.

            The problem is that feminism and womens’ liberation mean the same thing!

            • Brandy Baker

              *adequately defined

      • anitah

        PB; As an activist I cut my teeth in the women’s movement and know for sure that there is no way a coherent and unified agenda can develop there. What potentially unifies female individuals is not their sexuality, gender; nor even their fear or hatred of men…but…wait for it… their class position. In a nutshell, poor women, as I have found out again and again, particularly the unemployed and under-employed have a totally different agenda than bureaucrats and well paid academics.

        Experience has taught me the very great limitations of the feminst agenda and politics and I think it can and should be opposed by people in favour of a class-based approach to the woman’s question. People in my milieu have for decades identified the SWP and similar groups as nothing but bad news lemingists giving Lenin an entirely bad rap. So, we’re not shocked now by their incompetence in running a disputes committee, or some of their supporters revealing themselves as supporters of the Baathists and hostile to the making of actual revolution in the Middle East.

        Leaving them aside Aaron Aarons on this site blatantly revealed his support for Saddam’s acquisition of additional territory to add to his tyranny! He is the sort that is entirely welcome at a ‘left’ site like Kasama but I’m not, and predictably he’s the one who wants people thrown off TNS. Whatever he thinks of himself he is nothing to do with being a revolutionary democrat and one can’t be any sort of communist without first qualifying as a revolutionary democrat. The SWP and all the others with the ‘hands off’ stance that all say they were not supporters of Saddam. OH NO? – They merely campaigned to prevent the world’s governments doing anything about liberating the men and women of not just Iraq but Kuwait! Of course this junk is imploding it has been since 2003 but it has nothing to do with anything that is recognizably left.

        Other pseudo-Leninists and ‘unrepentant Marxists’ saying Leninism is finished because the SWP is heading for the usual trot split when they are being exposed and pulling themselves apart over war and peace issues and Libya, Syria and Mali etc., is inevitable. The current debates are revealing the errors of what they were on about when you were all in agreement and they were at their 2003 high point. From my POV it all seems transparently barking mad when you now support a war to oppose a tyrant within his own tyranny, but don’t now, and didn’t support a war against one that was extending his tyranny into another country?! Christopher Hitchens reversed his error on Kuwait quickly after the event. You lot mostly go quiet as if this is not an obvious problem and instead go into trot gossip mode!

        An imploding leadership in the SWP is not because they are are rapists, rape enablers and sexist pigs – that is well, too yesterday’s tragic, especially amidst calls to dump what I see as proven methods for democratically organising and then to hide behind the police! The failure of Brian or you PB to answer Arthur’s devastatingly direct question is noted.

        In Australia a so-called ALP ‘socialist feminist’ agenda has lead to “equal opportunity” measures, and so-called gender neutral linguistic conventions re speech that tend to merely deconstruct women out of existence and has ultimately divided rather than unified the class. It promotes legalism as opposed to social change – and sets arbitrary targets for so-called ‘high achieving’ women’s participation in the workplace, education etc., from my own experience I have observed that these people are pests that are always in the way of empowering others to fightback.

        In the process of getting in the way of revolutionary democrats and communists they generate a backlash – increasing misogyny rather than defeating it. Thanks to the ALP pseudo-fems men are still men, but women are people, and we hear so-called medical experts talking about pregnant people…and other such absurdities in the name of gender neutral speech. The left needs to adopt stronger provisions for free speech rather than limitations and sanctions for so called offensive speech.
        Political Correctness and separatism is a blight on the landscape when we require a thousand schools of thought to contend in an oppositional but comradely manner.

        There is a woman’s political agenda (cross class issues) because women hold up half the sky, however feminist politics quickly flounders in a swamp of sectional interests and what’s been floating to the top over the last 30 years in Australia (and across the western world as far as I can see) is not a pretty sight. The attack on working people’s standard of living through the advocacy of carbon taxing by the earth mother’s and green flaggers is only matched by the advocacy of the devil take the hindmost isolationism sought by the women’s movement troops out of Afghanistan brigade! That is the reality of what they have been on about.

        The following is the sort of big picture debate I have ‘confrontingly’ distributed at IWD marches over the last few years.
        http://www.lastsuperpower.net/newsitems/iwd/view?searchterm=solidarity%20with%20the%20women%20of%20Iraq

        I am glad that you are fed up with the SWP and broke with them on Libya and Syria but for goodness sakes these stupid possitions are not aberrant. They are the pseudo-left that you have been slowly waking up to. I have a question what is Sawant’s stand on Libya and Syria?

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      The ISO has broken its silence: http://socialistworker.org/2013/01/30/the-crisis-in-the-swp

      For example, the SWP journalist Tom Walker, who resigned from the party, was one among a number of left-wing writers who argued that the party’s internal structures don’t have the capacity to judge cases of rape. While Walker makes many important and valid points, he concludes that the allegations should have been turned over to the police and the courts. We don’t believe this to be the case. We know that women who go to the justice system with complaints about sexual assault are very often disbelieved and humiliated by police and prosecutors. That is why only a minority of such incidents is ever formally reported. Moreover, the police investigating such allegations within a revolutionary organization would care not a bit about justice for the woman making the charges. Instead, they would seize the opportunity to harass and persecute the left. In fact, we understand that the female SWP comrade who made the complaint about the incident in question herself chose not to go to the police.

      So the ISO supports handling criminal matters “internally,” without going to the police or even consulting an attorney. Good lord.

      • Sam

        It’s notable that, so far, only one ISO member (Phil Gasper) has signed on to the Open Letter to the SWP. Only one I recognize, anyway.

      • Jed Brandt

        The idea that revolutionary socialist organizations should use the police and courts is monstrous. But then, if one supports NATO laying waste to whole parts of the world, it’s hardly surprising that they would in turn open up the ranks of revolutionary groups to police investigation.

        The gulf here is why a “broad party of the left” may be more difficult than common sense would dictate. That is to say, there is no common sense.

        “or even consulting an attorney” — um, why not go to a priest while you’re at it?

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          So if George Zimmerman was a Kasama member, you’d be railing against Trayvon Martin’s family right?

        • sks

          [admin: ad hominem removed]

          Our task is certainly to take power or at least create dual power. Until then, there are things who are outside of our purview.

          Of course, the hypocrisy is thick in Jed. He has no problem with his comrades using bourgeois security checkpoints to travel internationally, respecting the passport laws, etc.

          This double standard – respecting the law when convinient, denouncing it when not – is one of the things we have to away with.

          No. We respect bourgeois legality in so far as we cannot effectively challenge it. We cannot challenge it in issues of sexual crimes. Hence, reform and use are the options.

          Everything else is woman-hating hot air.

          • Jed Brandt

            The woman in question in the SWP did not go to the police. She expected justice in her organization. Which, it appears, was not forthcoming due to the venal corruption of that organization’s leadership. She hasn’t gone to the police since then either. So, your shoddy point-scoring demagoguery is just that.

            People have a right to expect justice from the court system, which they generally do not get. Trayvon Martin’s family are not cadre in an ostensibly revolutionary organization. Though when the family came to NYC, I did help rally people to Union Square to join them and worked actively within the Occupy movement to incorporate opposition to white supremacy and state violence. Which is what Trayvon’s family asked of us. And what was attempted at the Million Hoodie March.

            And Pham Binh, you supported NATO and the invasion of Libya, and the imposition of a compliant regime in that country. Those are your politics. So, talk shit as you will.

            As for “SKS” — well, gross. You [admin: ad hominem attack removed] …zero political work of any kind except slandering people on the internet. So, whatever.

            You all are free to say what you please, but where distortion is your method and slander your intent — by your deeds are you known.

            • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

              Invasion of Libya? That’s hilarious.

              “by your deeds are you known.”

              Indeed. How did Occupied Wall Street Journal run out of money under your great helmsmanship?

              • http://www.platypus1917.org Corey A.
                • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                  Thanks for posting photographic evidence that Libya was not invaded. Unfortunately, this is not the right thread for seriously debating Libya.

              • Jed Brandt

                How did it run out of money? By printing six editions, numbering over a million copies, distributed in half a dozen cities. And then by using extra monies to subsidize and publish three additional publications and a series of posters.

                But whatever. The cheap shot, treat people like shit method you guys trade in has pretty much nothing to do with organizing resistance, let alone the kind of political sectarianism you would have us drown in forever.

                But carry on with your traditions and ritual. And thank you to the admin for removing gross personal attacks and spurious allegations, as well as my response to them. ;)

                • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                  You don’t like the taste of your own medicine. What a surprise.

            • admin

              The ad hominem attacks from both Jed Brandt and sks have been removed. Please refrain from these in the future, and note our commenting policy:

        • Brandy Baker

          It’s not the “revolutionary organization” that was allegedly raped, it was a woman who was a member; in this regard, her membership in a “revolutionary” organization is not relevant.

          It is her decision alone whether or not to go to the police, the question of whether or not she was pressured remains unknown. Former member and editor of the SWP paper, Tom Walker, someone on the inside of the organization, seems to think that she was.

          Radicals and revolutionaries can get up on their high horses and preach against “going to the bourgeiose police and courts” but their squalking is merely an academic, masturbatory exercise that has no relevance in the real world. Our goal is not, and could never be to form alternative institutions to the capitalist state, but to eradicate the state itself.

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            Brandt is a living example of what Maoists refer to as “left in form, right in essence.” The irony is that he is in Kasama.

            • Brandy Baker

              Maoists make my head hurt :(

      • Brandy Baker

        I was shocked by the ISO’s position on this as well.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Pretty good rebuttal to the ISO’s “we can handle rape investigations” line:
        http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/can-swp-deal-with-rape-allegations.html

      • Sam

        Attempting a criminal matter of this sort internally is wrong, I agree. But there are certainly criminal matters that a socialist organization should not refer to the police — drug possession, for instance.

        • Brandy Baker

          I think that everyone on here would utter a big collective,”duh”.

  • Louis Proyect

    Of course it applies to the ISO. When you are trying to build a “vanguard” party, things like this happen continuously even if not at the Hindenburg crash-and-burn level of the American SWP and now its British counterpart.

  • Brandy Baker

    Thinking that this is just “an SWP problem” would be a grave mistake. This is a “Leninist” problem.

  • Brandy Baker

    “Though truth be told, the ISO and SWP-Britain had been cozying back up to one another for years.”

    And the membership has never had a say in this.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Theirs not to reason why,
      Theirs but to sell papers and …

      • Brandy Baker

        I know, right? how silly of me ;)

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com Matt

    I like certain key aspects of the CPGB’s Macnair’s article on http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/Macnair-Revolutionary-Strategy.pdf even if it is marred by obligitory rhetorical swipes at “Trotskyism”, an the illogic of his take on the “imperialist labor aristocracy” (Macnair’s proported “refutation” I totally reject).

    I think it is a pseudo-“Leninism” in quotes that is finishing up here, not what Lenin or the Pre-Comintern Bolsheviks have to teach us from their own time.

    This is what I was always referring to concretely with the statement, “The era of the Russian revolution is over”. Meaning all of the political organizational forms born in its wake and in its context – including those of the social-democratic and bourgeois opposition to that revolution and its aftermath.

    By analogy, one can say that “The Era of the French Revolution” ended in 1871 with the Paris Commune.

  • Sean Johnston

    That is a good analogy Matt.

    The shame of it is that many who are interested in Marx and Marxism, or simply radical politics, are drawn into these unfortunate organizations because its an outlet for their efforts and perhaps there is a fostered-sense of community (in a frankly weird way in many situations). Yet, as many here I’m sure know, far too many people get gobbled up and chewed out soon enough once they realize the reality of how these sects operate, come to know better the odd ducks these groups regularly attract, are forced out for dissension or get burnt out on years of efforts in vain.

    Its hard calling for the organization of a non-Leninist organized Marxian left since, and I think Zizek and Badiou are right to point this out (and Platypus makes central to their existence), we don’t know what the Left is right now really, what it should be or what it can become. This is still much work that has to be done. But it sort of leaves us who are not in any of the Leninist camps to sort of float by ourselves for many years (and the alienating, inhibiting and atomizing qualities that fosters0, and it allows many others to be unfortunately led into the aforementioned groups. I do see a very loose consensus on the desire and need for a new Marxian left that isn’t wedded to the tactics, legend and folklore of a hundred-year-old revolution in a semi-feudal country. We require a resolutely modern, internationalist 21st century Left. The question is, when and where is it going to come from and what will its character be?

  • Nathan Rao

    Louis Proyect writes:
    “Instead, democratic centralism in the Fourth International parties, and in parties following such a model like Callinicos’s International Socialist Tendency, has meant something entirely different. Discipline has meant enforcing ideological conformity.”

    Sorry about your bad experiences in the American SWP at the time it was a member of the Fourth International, but I think this is really casting far too wide a net. The internal life of, for example, the former French LCR had nothing to do with this description you have provided. In fact, the LCR and its sister FI organizations in Europe were regularly upbraided by the British SWP for their supposedly chaotic and factional internal life. And now the French NPA faces pretty much the same critique from the SWP crowd. The internal debates and life of the LCR and, now, the NPA were also quite transparent to anyone on the outside.

    Among the many problems of groups like the American and British SWPs has always been that they discredit the idea of revolutionary organization in the eyes of the large numbers of people who come into contact with them in one way or another. I’m not convinced, though, that the solution is to toss out the entire notion of revolutionary organization and the politics that go with it. I can agree with much of what Louis says, but his critique (in this posting at least) is surprisingly apolitical in many respects. I can see the value of the critique up to a point, but for the large numbers of us who don’t have much or anything to do with the British SWP and the American SWP of the 1970s, it basically looks like an attack on a strawman born of his own scarring experiences.

    • Louis Proyect

      Nathan, I agree. I should add that I have made it clear in the past that I didn’t think the “Pabloite” wing of the FI suffered from this kind of sectarianism. It had other problems, of course. The best thing, however, would be to drop the Trotskyist framework altogether as the NPA did. I should add that despite my disappointment over the NPA’s current woes, they made the right decision. Trying to form a broad-based anticapitaist party involves exposing yourself to problems that sect life never has to face.

  • Louis Proyect

    We require a resolutely modern, internationalist 21st century Left. The question is, when and where is it going to come from and what will its character be?

    —-

    I urge comrades to be more upbeat. When I was your age, there was no alternative to the sectarian groups. Of course, there was SDS but it was hijacked by Maoists. The Occupy movement showed that a left could be organized on a different basis. Even if people aren’t occupying parks now, it does not mean that the movement has disappeared. Right now the key thing is to organize networks of people internationally who have figured this stuff out. That is why North Star is so important. Keep in mind what this term means:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pole_star
    While other stars’ apparent positions in the sky change throughout the night, as they appear to rotate around the celestial poles, pole stars’ apparent positions remain virtually fixed. This makes them especially useful in celestial navigation: they are a dependable indicator of the direction toward the respective geographic pole although not exact; they are virtually fixed, and their angle of elevation can also be used to determine latitude.

    • sks

      “We require a resolutely modern, internationalist 21st century Left. The question is, when and where is it going to come from and what will its character be?”

      Certainly it will not include you and your ilk. You are part of the problem, not the solution.

      • Louis Proyect

        Well, coming from someone who labeled me a CIA agent, I guess that this is a compliment.

      • Sean Johnston

        appears you’re already a member of a zombie left that has nothing to show for well over a half-century’s worth of efforts. keep selling party papers outside of bus stations.

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