Back in the U.S.S.R.

by Corey Ansel on February 5, 2013

I was recently listening to The Beatles’ White Album on my very much broken record player.  Putting the erratic sound of the stereo aside, I was filled with contradictory emotions as I listened to the first track on the record, Back in the U.S.S.R.  To a different generation, the song paints a picture of The Cold War era, which the Beatles could not help touching on in their legendary albums with songs such as Revolution.  To much of the left’s dismay, The Fab Four’s celebration of being “back in the U.S.S.R.” compliments their general repudiation of revolutionary politics.  “All you need is love” became the clarion call of the peace and love generation, taking steam out of the engines of a very active Marxist left.  It is even suggested by some that the mere existence of arguably the greatest band in history assisted in ushering in the counterrevolution that proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the world’s first workers’ state.

In a very different way, the revolutionary left remains “back in the U.S.S.R.”  Our generation may not feel the same relation to the political (or lack thereof, I would argue) messages in the music of The Beatles.  As revolutionaries, we in the present actually stand more distant from our goal of social emancipation than the days of the Russian Revolution.  Nevertheless, the recent crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) paints a pristine picture of the continued degeneration of the Marxist camp.

After much delay, Alex Callinicos, whose defense of the bureaucratic methods of the SWP has become synonymous with the internal crisis, published an article in Socialist Review titled Is Leninism Finished? His essay, which I will discuss in a moment, was immediately met with responses from opposition within and outside of the party.  An opposition blog published an article titled Is Zinovievism Finished? that was signed by Richard Seymour and China Miéville who have come to represent the democratic opposition, followed by Louis Proyect posting his piece Leninism is Finished on his blog The Unrepentant Marxist. As the blogs and articles continue to roll in from even the darkest corners of the left, it is currently unclear what the resolution to this conflict will be.

What is at stake is the very cohesion of Leninist theory.  Marxism is not a family tree.  It is most certainly not the ideology of all of those who claim to hold up its banner.  In fact, it is consistent with Marx’s fight for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, which in this case is the need to criticize the notion that all ostensible “Marxists,” from the International Socialists to the Spartacists, are bearers of Marxist thought. The left, in fact, has struggled to defend the legacy of Lenin because it has failed to properly investigate what that legacy is! The origins of the crisis within the SWP, thus, rest with their faulty understanding of Leninist democratic centralism and its relevance in the present.

In that vein, a wide array of articles and essays have invoked Lenin, the Bolsheviks and 1917 in either an attempt to defend or lambast the SWP for their bureaucratic practices.  After a long history lesson in Callinicos’ article, he comments on democratic centralist practices saying:

Moreover, what our critics dislike most about us – how we organise ourselves – is crucial to our ability, as Jones puts it, to punch above our weight. Our version of democratic centralism comes down to two things. First, decisions must be debated fully, but once they have been taken, by majority vote, they are binding on all members. This is necessary if we are to test our ideas in action.

It appears that we both agree on the need to test our theory in practice.  However, there are many questions that already arise.  What does Callinicos mean by “our version of democratic centralism?”  Is Lenin’s conception of the party then left up to the pages of Socialist Worker to be described or is it instead a relevant conception of organizing proletarian leadership that requires study and understanding?

The fact that the SWP punches above its weight is only relevant to its own sectarian delusions.  As Ben Lewis of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) commented in his essay The Left: Rebellion, Regroupment and the Party We Need in the pages of Weekly Worker:

we [the CPGB] have also pointed out that the underlying reasons for the current crisis can and should be located elsewhere – firstly in the Stalinoid organisational norms and rotten practices that the SWP leadership shamefacedly pursues in the name of ‘Leninism’; and secondly in the organisation’s lack of serious and workable perspectives more generally.

In the framework of this crisis, revolutionaries are not interested in how hard the SWP punches.  Despite the political shortcomings of the CPGB, altering Lenin’s legacy in their own regard, the fact remains that their coverage of the crisis of has been consistently supportive and encouraging to members of the SWP who feel disillusioned with what they have come to learn.  This is the opposite of what the party’s leadership has done, attempting to preserve its methods in the face of widespread opposition.  In fact, the organization’s attempts at saving face have led even the capitalist media to chastise the group for its alleged covering up of the rape of a party member by a leading organizer.

The fact that the SWP has survived as a bureaucratically twisted organization without any real internal opposition is quite telling.  Recent examples of internal disputes within the party have led to tiny splinters that are responsible for the formation of Counterfire and the International Socialist Group.  Much like this ruthless capitalist system can be patched and reformed to salvage its complacency, it would appear that ostensibly revolutionary groupings can also take whatever form needed to preserve the internalized bureaucracy.  It should be argued that even if the entire central committee of the SWP were replaced, it is highly likely that the same bureaucratic means that exist within the party today would be once again harnessed.  The issue here is program.

So it is necessary to ask Callinicos and all of those who find themselves in the sphere of influence of the SWP: what type of crisis warrants the group to just succumb to majority rule and the control of the central committee, if not the rape of a party member?  Not only do the internal bodies of the party seem to be adequate in regards to keeping full-time party leaders like Callinicos at their posts, but also covering up scandals with ease if they should arise!  So when he states “this model is now under attack from within and without,” we should not be dismayed.  The critique of the Leninist concept of the party from within the SWP has only served as a breeding ground for consistent political zig-zags and bureaucratic shows such as the one currently transpiring.  It is not salvageable without a change in course.

The Leninist model of party building is now being scrutinized by varying tendencies of the left.  Pham Binh posted an article titled “Leninism” Meets the 21st Century in which he suggests that ‘Leninism’ is a rigged game to begin with, and the reality is that the majority of the SWP is behind the leadership, the CC holds all the cards, and the opposition’s power has peaked as demoralization, resignations, and expulsions take their toll.”  In this situation, the means don’t justify the tale.

In fact, Binh, Proyect and their co-thinkers have recently taken to the pages of historian/theorist Lars T. Lih in their defense of turning Leninism on its head.  This puts them amongst the neo-Kautskyites that suggest Lenin never broke with the practices of the Second International and, instead, still put forward arguments in favor of a “party of the whole class.”  Some of this will be dealt with later on in the piece, but it is necessary to state where Lenin stood on the Second International.  Lenin argued in 1919 that while the organization had grown in scope, it was “at cost of a temporary drop in the revolutionary level, a temporary strengthening of opportunism, which in the end led to the disgraceful collapse of this international.”  With the legacy of Kautsky, lies many of the present contradictions!  The International Socialists, while obviously one of the largest left-wing organizations (especially in the US and UK), clings to the tradition of sacrificing program on the altar of popularity.  Instead of swimming against the current to build a party of educated cadres united under a program of unconditionally opposing all bourgeois parties in the interests of smashing the capitalist system, Binh and others instead seek to loosen up the restraints.  If this understanding of Lenin’s legacy is left to the judgment of those seeking to break with the model of building democratic centralist parties, then we might as well attempt to find our way back to 1905 and start again.

Leon Trotsky etched the Bolshevik understanding of opportunism in a political profile of Kautsky where he states:

[…] it was necessary either to draw a conclusion from revolutionary theory or to carry opportunist practice through to the end. Meanwhile Kautsky’s whole authority rested upon the reconciliation of opportunism in politics with Marxism in theory.

The crowd hailing Lih’s characterization of Lenin and Kautsky, in seeking to build coalitions that are not organized on class lines, seeks only to carry the opportunist practices to their logical end under the false guise of “liberating” Leninism from its distorters.  The phony Marxists that smear Leninism by associating it with groups like the SWP fail to understand that though we are politically less able to challenge the ruling class in the present than the days of the Communist International, we will not progress in our struggle by regressing in our understanding of Lenin’s conception of the party.

It is simple to suggest that Leninism as theory and practice is not applicable to the 21st century by pointing to the bureaucratic, sectarian and often times idiotic practices of groups like the SWP.  However, the SWP is not an isolated bureaucracy on the left that can be quarantined.  In fact, many different ostensibly Marxist organizations have chosen to remain silent on the issue, in the likely fear that their internal power grabs will be exposed to the public as well.  We must make the distinction between the program of Lenin and the Bolsheviks with that of those who have gutted Marxist theory.  The road to regroupment is not paved with phony unity, contrary to those who attempt to pluck the heartstrings of reformists.  Furthermore, if Leninism deserves an epitaph at some point in the future, Tony Cliff and his theoretical heirs must certainly not write it.

Even Callinicos acknowledges that Leninism is nothing without its practice.  However, in a political environment where varying understandings of Lenin’s conception of the party is disputed and upheld by diametrically opposed political tendencies, it is necessary to struggle for the clarification of terms.  If we cast off the practice of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who left behind the model for the creation of the world’s first workers’ state, then we allow groups like Callinicos and Co. to lay claim to the mantle of Bolshevism.  For anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, it is glaringly apparent that the Cliffite conception of democratic centralism is not only phony, but also anti-Marxist.  Democratic centralism requires open and consistent debate. “March separately, strike together” has become the phrase that defines this idea, in contrast to the watering down of class lines that has become a trademark of the SWP.  This is not an “original sin” of Leninism, but instead a result of the ludicrous political orientation of the SWP and many other competing leftist organizations.

Callinicos capitalizes on his sentimental essay with a brief send off that states:

I am confident that the SWP is politically strong enough to overcome its internal differences. Our theoretical tradition and our democratic structures will allow us to arrive at the necessary political clarity and to learn the lessons of the disciplinary case. But if I am wrong and the SWP did collapse, this would not solve the political problem that it exists to address. The anti-capitalist struggle won’t be advanced by relying on Labourism and the trade union leaders or by uncritical worship of the movements. If the SWP didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Posturing to the right of groups that line up behind the anti-worker Labour Party, Callinicos exaggerates the necessity of his pet organization.  In truth, the roots of the International Socialist tradition revolve primarily around a few points.

  • The utter repudiation of Trotsky’s theoretical contributions, such as his unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union up until the time of his assassination.
  • The promotion of single-issue activism and popular front campaigns that often lead to the demoralization of party supporters, which lends into the revolving door of membership that has become inescapable among the entire International Socialist Tendency.
  • The internal control of the organization by a handful of individuals who have spent so much time as “full-time leaders” that they have trouble integrating into the capitalist job market, (as Binh describes) which leads them to seek means to maintain their leadership positions.

The opposition in and around the SWP has shown an ability to rise even in the face of potentially violating party discipline and facing expulsion.  Led by figures like Richard Seymour and informed of the facts by publications such as Weekly Worker, oppositionists have rallied for a new conference to address the issues of party democracy, women’s liberation and the rape case that sparked this crisis.  Callinicos’ article is an indirect, but very readable rejection of the opposition calls.  If it would be necessary to invent the SWP all over again, then it would also be imperative to invent a programmatically armed opposition against not only the oppressive internal regime, but also against the political orientation that leads to crises such as the one currently underway.  One cannot combat the symptom without fighting the disease.

Commenting on the situation within the SWP, Louis Proyect states that:

This kind of disgusting “Leninist” politics belongs not only to the twentieth century but a socialist politics debased by the U.S.S.R.’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.

Like Binh, Proyect is not hesitant to cast aside the historical development of Marxism, especially that embodied in the works of Lenin.  Indeed, Proyect shows an inclination towards repudiating the need for a revolutionary party.  His essay continues, “This is simply another way of stating that something like a British SYRIZA is necessary.”

As if summoned by the opportunist horn, the leader of SYRIZA, Alex Tsipras, made an appearance in the United States.  Speaking to closed-doors meetings of State Department officials, Tsipras stated, “I hope I’ve convinced you that I’m not as dangerous as some people think I am,” continuing “Is there really a reason for somebody to be afraid of the left in Greece today?” Finally, he concluded, “I heard the person who spoke before me saying that I represent the radical left… But how are we really radical?”

This is the type of phony radicalism that belongs in the Kautskyist conception of the “party of the whole class!”  That seems to be the name of the game: a faction for reformists, nationalists and every stripe and color of those who would seek to prostate themselves before the ruling apparatus.  History shows us that the struggle against opportunism within the Bolshevik Party became increasingly strained after the death of Lenin, as restriction on party membership were loosened and the steeled cadres of the Bolshevik party found themselves amongst the ranks of those who were diametrically opposed to continuing the revolution!  Such is the character of those that we find ourselves surrounded by in the present.

Proyect continues:

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.

Any person who has spent even a week around some kind of socialist organization knows how this process transpires.  Within the ISO, it is not uncommon to read, instead of Marx or Lenin, the interpretation of Marxist thinkers as presented by Wolf, D’Amato and co.  This is a means of claiming a monopoly on Marxist theory, utterly disregarding the program of internal democracy and debate put forward by Lenin and later, Trotsky and the Left Opposition.  Proyect has dissected a symptom of the floundering left in the United States and elsewhere.  It becomes necessary to read into the experiences of leftists, such as Proyect and Le Blanc who have an experience within the left that is not new in any sense of the word.

However, the call for a British and even an American SYRIZA is merely a call to perpetuate the phony “unity” of all shapes and sizes of “socialists”, “communists,” and “Marxists” which seeks to water down the lines of political program.  From the socialists who defend the capitalist state, to the ones who capitulate to the union bureaucracy and the bourgeois populism of the Occupy movement, to the ones who line up behind the Democratic and Labour parties, a blanket leftist organization is opposed to Lenin’s conception of the party.  This is not to say that all practice that is not labeled Leninist is therefore non-revolutionary, but do not carry the label of workers’ revolution if it is not your end!  It is not difficult to imagine the bureaucrats on the left today using this kind of opportunity to cozy up to the capitalist state.  There is a rhyme to the reason of those who oppose not only authentic internal democracy, but also the need for a revolutionary party as a whole.

Boiled down to its most basic form, the “Leninism” put forward by Callinicos, Binh and Proyect (while differing in many regards) leaves behind a shell with no substances.  In fact, it has been the political run-around led by tiny sects on the Marxist left that are responsible for disorienting generations of potential revolutionaries.  To seek to build parties of “the whole class” or to water down political program like the SWP does in attempting to recruit single-issue hyper-activists is to take nothing from history.  It was likely much simpler for Lenin to see a faction with a name, leaders and organization called the Mensheviks who would eventually have to be politically annihilated in the interests of furthering the existence of the world’s first workers’ state.  However, with more sects in existence today than can be counted on two hands, it becomes our duty as leftists to be ruthless in our critique of reformism and also any political practice that continues to widen the divide between the working class and its emancipation.

The point of the party is not to broaden a wide umbrella to cover everyone who considers themselves leftists.  The revolutionary party, in the legacy of the Bolsheviks, must be the epitome of revolutionary struggle.  How can we take an organization that claims to be revolutionary seriously when it cannot solve its own internal contradictions, let alone those of the most powerful empire in history?

Much like the aging 60’s generation of more radical days and Hunter S. Thompson-esque drug binges, we as a political left are left “back in the U.S.S.R.”  It is impossible to discuss the burning questions of our time without discussing past revolutionary struggles, especially the Russian Revolution that serves as a bastion of light (that would eventually dull and burn out) during a period of darkness.  Without a socialist project as a point of reference, despite how bureaucratically degenerated, present generations are brought up amongst the chorus of the “death of communism.”  Instead of paving the way to a socialist society, much of the left is immersed in petty sect politics that belong in the pages of a tabloid, not in the annals of history.  If we allow the fake Marxist traditions to lay claim to the legacy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, then it is likely that the zombified left sects that stagger amongst us will likely raise a new generation into the Marxism of demoralization and historical pessimism.

As Leon Trotsky said in discussing the Transitional Program in 1938:

The reformists have a good smell for what the audience wants […] But that is not serious revolutionary activity. We must have the courage to be unpopular, to say “you are fools,” “you are stupid,” “they betray you,” and every once in a while with a scandal launch our ideas with passion. It is necessary to shake the worker from time to time, to explain, and then shake him again – that all belongs to the art of propaganda. But it must be scientific, not bent to the moods of the masses. We are the most realistic people because we reckon with facts which cannot be changed […] If we win immediate success we swim with the current of the masses and that current is the revolution.

If it would be necessary to reinvent the SWP, then it is imperative that we reinvent a politics of authentic Marxist rebellion for a new generation.


 

Corey Ansel can be contacted at [email protected]

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

    As far as my own personal views are concerned, I’ll repeat what I wrote to Corey when I first read over this. While he presents a welcome corrective to the prevailing interpretations of “Leninism” (both polemical and apologetic), the only thing I’d add to his account is that I think the problem is twofold: 1. on the one hand, it stems from an extremely debased understanding of Leninism; and 2. that conditions have regressed to the point where it’s unclear whether or not we can even ask the same “burning questions of our time” that Lenin did. Rather than “What is to be done?”, I think it’s a question of what is even possible: “What can be done?”

    In my opinion, Corey’s piece addresses the former of these problems much more adequately than the latter. It’s true: the object we’re dealing with in the whole SWP-Britain/ISO-US scandal isn’t even “Leninism” per se, but an extremely debased and vulgarized version of it. But even if we had a perfect understanding of what Leninism was historically and how pitiful the various parties that invoke it are by contrast, we still would have to comprehend the peculiarity of our present moment and the conditions that preclude any such notion of a “return” or mere “fidelity.”

    If I had to boil down the essence of Leninism to its most basic features, which remain relevant to any political project moving forward, it’d be the following: 1. revolutionary consciousness, 2. advanced leadership, and 3. the accumulation of historical memory. Many other aspects seem accidental. “Conspiratorial,” “revolutionary,” and so on are not really as pertinent in a non-tsarist autocratic political context.

    Still, this is a good piece. Save Lenin (and even historical Leninism) from the soi-disant “Leninists” of today!

  • Louis Proyect

    Instead of swimming against the current to build a party of educated cadres united under a program of unconditionally opposing all bourgeois parties in the interests of smashing the capitalist system, Binh and others instead seek to loosen up the restraints.

    I will be working on a longer article on this but this excerpt from an article from the 1921 Comintern approved by Lenin should give you an idea of how problematic the idea of forming “revolutionary” parties could be:

    “In the struggle against the social-democratic and other petty-bourgeois leaders of the trade unions and the various workers’ parties there is no hope of achieving anything by persuasion. The struggle against them has to be organised with great persistence. It can only be waged successfully by depriving the leaders of their followers and by showing the workers the real role the social-traitor leaders play at the beck and call of the capitalists. Therefore, when the opportunity arises, these leaders should be put in a position where they have to show their true nature; then a vigorous attack can be launched against them.

    “It is by no means sufficient just to label the Amsterdam leaders ‘scabs’. Practical examples of how they sell out the workers must constantly be found. Their activity in the trade unions, in the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations, in the bourgeois ministries and administrations, their right-wing speeches at conferences and in parliament, the attitudes expressed in their numerous lulling articles in hundreds of papers and, in particular, the hesitancy and reluctance they show in preparing and conducting even the smallest campaigns for wage increases and improvements in working conditions – all this provides the Communist with daily opportunities to expose in simply formulated proposals and resolutions and in clear speeches the unreliable and right-wing activity of the Amsterdam leaders, who do indeed deserve to be called ‘scab’ leaders.”

    The practical implementation of this was the 10th of the 21 Conditions that had to be met to become part of the Comintern:

    “Every party belonging to the Communist International has the obligation to wage a stubborn struggle against the Amsterdam ‘International’ of yellow trade union organisations. It must expound as forcefully as possible among trades unionists the idea of the necessity of the break with the yellow Amsterdam International. It must support the International Association of Red Trades Unions affiliated to the Communist International, at present in the process of formation, with every means at its disposal.”

    To get straight to the point, the International Association of Red Trades Unions was a disaster. When Jack Tanner of the British Shop Stewards Movement objected to the ultraleft “dual unionism” of this measure, his objection was dismissed by Zinoviev who refused to allow him to speak to the gathering. This is where the crisis of the SWP stems from, as well as every other group that has tried to build Leninist parties on the basis of the “heroic days of the Comintern”.

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

    I think it bears repeating that the paraphrase Callinicos relies on is extremely self-serving.

    “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” Voltaire

    Callinicos subs the SWP for God.

    • Dario Cankovic

      Bakunin’s reversal of Voltaire’s phrase is called for here: “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.” Much the same can be said for the SWP.

      • http://www.platypus1917.org Corey A.

        The fact that there might not even be a capitalization on the crisis within the SWP, which may allow the organization to return to business as usual, shows how truly stillborn the “revolutionary left” is.

  • Alan

    The quotes used by Proyect as “approved by Lenin” in 1921 regarding the formation of “revolutionary” parties have to be seen in the context of the sharp struggle between revolution and counter-revolution at the time especially the mass splits that emerged in the old Social Democratic parties across Europe in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. This was taking place in the context of an actual revolutionary upsurge. Lenin and the Russian leaders were making an effort to help the young Communist parties get a mass following by sharply exposing the wavering reformist or centrist bureaucratic leaders of parties and trade unions that had been exposed as traitors to the large sections of the working class.
    Lenin and Trotsky, in different contexts, advised their supporters to “patiently explain” or undertake sharp tactical turns in order to build the revolutionary organization in conditions of relative isolation etc (i.e. see Lenin in ‘Left Wing Communism’). But the substance of Lenin’s approach fundamentally remained the same: the need to build a party of educated cadre and members who could swim against the current, could defend (and make relevant) the program of socialism and revolution and find a way to the mass of workers.

    • Louis Proyect

      How in the world does anybody in their right mind try to defend or “explain” red unions? This idea was dropped in a couple of years after Lenin began pushing for a united front strategy. The sad thing is that Paul Levi fought for a united front before Lenin conceived of the idea. When he was bureaucratically prevented from taking his ideas to the German party, he published a pamphlet and went directly to the workers with it. For this he was expelled. Yes, I suppose that Lenin did develop a new kind of party. God help us when the left tries to imitate its “success” in the year 2013.

      • Aaron Aarons

        In most of the countries of Europe, at least Southern Europe, there have been multiple union federations, usually associated with political parties (including with non-Party parties, like the CNT union with the anarchist FAI in Spain). In such conditions, red unions are not an obstacle to united front activity, and may, in fact, facilitate it, just as a the existence of a real ‘red’ party makes a genuine proletarian united front, as opposed to a multi-class popular front, more, rather than less, possible.

  • Dave R.

    I don’t think The Beatles meant to say they were happy to be in the U.S.S.R., in the sense that they were commenting on what remained and what did not remain of the October Revolution, but were rather making the point that some things, like romance, transcend political and geographical lines, at a time when tensions were rather acute. The song, a parody of the Beach Boys tune “Back in the U.S.A”, was about a young man being reunited with his love, who happened to reside, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” A well crafted and clever song lyrically, and a potboiler of a rocker to boot, the song was not composed by John Lennon, but rather by Paul McCartney, who was not particularly political, although like all the members of the band, absorbed the progressive winds of the day and made them his own. Anti-racism, for example. John Lennon, on the other hand, was the author of the song “Revolution”. It’s a mystery to me what he was trying to get at; I still haven’t figured it out, forty-five years later. “All You Need Is Love” was also written by John Lennon, which is a quasi-religious expression of a decent humanism and a very beautiful one at that, in my opinion.

    • GBG

      Lennon wrote that song when he was a practitioner of transcendental meditation. The New Left Review described it as a “lamentable petit-bourgeois cry of fear”, the Berekly Barb said it ” sounds like the hawk plank adopted in the Chicago convention of the Democratic Death Party”. Nina Simone wrote an excellent response song, off her album “To Love Somebody”, which is basically a biting word-for-word refutation of Lennon’s song. “Revolution” was originally released as a single. A modified version was released on the White Album, in which the lyrics were changed to “if you’re talking ’bout destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out / in.” Lennon’s explanation for the change was that he “wasn’t sure”. Later, after the Beatles broke up, Lennon would move to the left. His song “God” is a militant-atheist self-criticism of the metaphysical concepts he used to embrace, he came out in support of the Cultural Revolution in various interviews, etc. He eventually swung back to the right during his later years, however.

  • Dario Cankovic

    Corey wrote: “It is impossible to discuss the burning questions of our time without discussing past revolutionary struggles, especially the Russian Revolution that serves as a bastion of light (that would eventually dull and burn out) during a period of darkness. Without a socialist project as a point of reference, despite how bureaucratically degenerated, present generations are brought up amongst the chorus of the ‘death of communism.’ Instead of paving the way to a socialist society, much of the left is immersed in petty sect politics that belong in the pages of a tabloid, not in the annals of history. If we allow the fake Marxist traditions to lay claim to the legacy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, then it is likely that the zombified left sects that stagger amongst us will likely raise a new generation into the Marxism of demoralization and historical pessimism.”

    Indeed it is impossible to discuss questions of our time without constantly bringing up the Russian Revolution, but that’s because people constantly keep bringing it up. We have to give up the idea that the Russian Revolution is or was ‘a bastion of light’, or, if it was, it’s light that has blinded many who have started at it for far too long. The death of ‘real socialism’ (sic) should be welcomed, if the Soviet Union was once held up as an alternative to capitalism, it was soon exposed as a grotesque caricature of socialism. Without a socialist project as a point of reference we are free to imagine new possibility. The ruling class press has been writing obituaries of Marx since his death, there seems to be an entire literature devoted to why Marx is wrong. That they bother to try and refute Marx time and again is a testament to his relevance today. The demise of ‘real socialism’, inspire of what the ruling class propaganda says, has not singled the end of history. Capitalism creates communism, not communism as a blueprint for a future society, but communism as a movement that struggles against capitalism, and through this struggle has the potential to give rise to a new world.

  • Dave R.

    The significance of the Russian Revolution, comrade Dario, despite it’s eventual degeneration due to the failure of the revolution to spread to Germany and the rest of Europe, and the reason that said revolution is the most progressive event in the history of humanity to date, was that it took the prospects for socialism from the realm of theory and proved once and for all time that it was indeed possible for the workers and farmers to form organizations — including a party, worker’s, farmer’s and soldier’s councils, and a Red Army — and to take the power and create a state that served the interests of the working people, even if for only a short while. This example has since been repeated in Cuba, the only living, breathing, socialist revolution in existence today. Things never play out the way we think they will, let alone as soon as we want them to, but we should keep in mind that it took four centuries for capitalism to replace the truly brutal system of feudalism. The epoch of the socialist revolution, heralded by Red October, is only ninety years old. Now it is quite possible that we can have different assessments of this or that, and present them in a comradely manner, but the fact that a worker’s republic was established at all is a victory that endures today and is one that can never be taken away from the workers of the world.

    • Kathryn J.

      Thank you, Dave R. So well said!

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com Matt

    “It is simple to suggest that Leninism as theory and practice is not applicable to the 21st century by pointing to the bureaucratic, sectarian and often times idiotic practices of groups like the SWP.”

    Simple, but not in this formulation. The point is, the bureaucratic sects of every country, large and small, point to 40, 50, 60 years “of continuity” as their basis for their claims to authority on “Leninism”. But there is no reason why anyone should accept that “authority” on their word. The proof is in the pudding: What is the overall balance sheet of this 40, 50, 60 years? In the balance, despite some minor successes, a failure. Look for example at Argentina since the 1970’s, a country ripe for worker’s revolution if there ever was one. But still in the grips of old neo-Peronist politics.

    That alone should disestablish any claims to authority on “Leninism” by anybody since the 1970’s at least. And in fact, in more general historical terms, the mighty wave of global revolution unleashed by the Russian Revolution – the greatest wave of revolutions in human history, we should not forget – had begun to peter out in the 1960s-70’s. Indeed the Sandinista victory could be said to be its last hurrah, while the failure of the revolutionary left in the Iranian revolution should have been a bellwether heralding its end. This is the objective historical condition for closing the book on the existing bureaucratic sects.

    The real Leninists of today will be those of the Iskra Lenin, recognizing both that the unification of the many now-divided efforts of the revolutionary socialist left is a good in itself, and that this unity will necessarily be multi-tendental. I have no problem, therefore, if the CPGB’s MacNair wants to refound a “neoKautskyist center” tendency, so long as it is aimed at achieving the goal of unity. This “unity” is not an empty abstract “good” in itself; it is aimed at the real unification of all our limited practical energies, putting all the “wood behind one arrowhead” so to speak.

    Speaking of Kautsky, be careful of which Kautsky: “Lenin’s Kautsky” or the “renegade Kautsky” (and he really was a “renegade” in that period)? There were at least two Kautskys, several Lenins, and four different Trotskys: The pre-1917 Trotsky, the War Communism Trotsky, the loyal oppositionist Trotsky, the Fourth International Trotsky.

    In conclusion: In no way should the failure that is the collection of bureaucratic sects be conjoined to the question of the “applicability of Leninism to the 21st century”. This is not merely a simplistic formulation; it is a logical non-sequiter and therefore false. The point is, the sects don’t know what Leninism is. The proof is in the mess of pudding they have left as their legacy.

  • Pingback: ‘Back in the USSR’ by Corey Ansel « People's Tempest

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com Matt

    “The epoch of the socialist revolution, heralded by Red October, is only ninety years old. Now it is quite possible that we can have different assessments of this or that, and present them in a comradely manner, but the fact that a worker’s republic was established at all is a victory that endures today and is one that can never be taken away from the workers of the world.”

    I’d generally agree, and the proof offered is the great wave of global revolution unleashed by “Red October”, the greatest in human history.

    But the bourgeois revolutionary epoch itself is demarcated by distinct “eras”: 1) that of the Northern Italian Renaissance bourgeoisie; 2) that of the Dutch revolt/English Revolution; and finally that of the French Revolution. Each revolutionary era is separated by long periods of reaction. I believe we have been in such a period of reaction since the 1980’s; however, unlike the bourgeoisie, we can act to shorten and bring to a close the present period because 1) capitalism is a more “dynamic” (and therefore, more crisis-ridden) social order, and 2) we possess a “science of revolution” (however incomplete, as in any science), meaning nothing more than that we have the means to acquire an understanding of revolutionary processes as an *objective* phenomenon. It is the same logic as is behind the “acceleration of the socialist revolution” by the Bolsheviks, for which they were much abused by their opponents in both the social-democratic Right and by the “renegade” Kautsky. These latter would no doubt be happy for us to stew in a another hundred years of reaction. We should think and act otherwise.

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

    “In fact, Binh, Proyect and their co-thinkers have recently taken to the pages of historian/theorist Lars T. Lih in their defense of turning Leninism on its head. This puts them amongst the neo-Kautskyites that suggest Lenin never broke with the practices of the Second International and, instead, still put forward arguments in favor of a ‘party of the whole class.’ Some of this will be dealt with later on in the piece, but it is necessary to state where Lenin stood on the Second International. Lenin argued in 1919 that while the organization had grown in scope, it was ‘at cost of a temporary drop in the revolutionary level, a temporary strengthening of opportunism, which in the end led to the disgraceful collapse of this international.’ With the legacy of Kautsky, lies many of the present contradictions! The International Socialists, while obviously one of the largest left-wing organizations (especially in the US and UK), clings to the tradition of sacrificing program on the altar of popularity. Instead of swimming against the current to build a party of educated cadres united under a program of unconditionally opposing all bourgeois parties in the interests of smashing the capitalist system, Binh and others instead seek to loosen up the restraints.”

    If “Leninism” as practiced by the sects is Bolshevism upside down and inside out, why is it terrible for Lars Lih or anyone else to turn “Leninism” right-side up and outside in?

    Lenin’s main criticism of the Second International was that it failed in practice to live up to its lofty words and ideals, not that it was flawed by design (a design he had worked very hard to import into and adapt to Russian conditions). This becomes very clear if you study his writings during the war where he constantly cited the Basle Manifesto of 1912 as the basis for his ruthless criticisms:
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/dec/x01.htm
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/jan/x02.htm

    Even Lenin’s metaphors reveal that he continued to adhere to orthodox, revolutionary social democracy. His argument for ditching the label “social democrat” for “communist” was thus: “it is time to cast off the soiled shirt and to put on clean linen.” This brings to mind what Engels said: “These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves.”

    Changing a dirty linen for a clean one implies very clearly that the person doing the changing remains the same. Lenin remained a revolutionary social democrat for his entire life; when social democracy as a whole betrayed itself in 1914 (the Mensheviks and Serbia’s socialists also held to their internationalist principles, it was not just the Bolsheviks), revolutionary social democrats separated themselves from the opportunists under a new banner, communism, the Third International, a process that took years. They did not cease being revolutionary social democrats. Crucially, this meant that they did not jettison the merger of the workers’ and socialist movements, which you somehow mix up with being “a party of the whole working class.” A worker could not become a card-carrying social democrat unless he/she agreed with the party program and participated in a party organization; that meant all the pro-capitalist workers, the Republicans, and so on could not become part of said party. The merger formula actually rules out the possibility of becoming “a party of the whole working class” because the whole working class will never have revolutionary socialist politics.

    “If we cast off the practice of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who left behind the model for the creation of the world’s first workers’ state, then we allow groups like Callinicos and Co. to lay claim to the mantle of Bolshevism.”

    All of my criticisms of “Leninism” are anchored in the actual historical practices of Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and their party, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). Likewise, when you speak of the “Bolshevik Party,” you’re talking fiction because such an entity never existed historically. The struggle against Menshevism and opportunism from 1903-1921 was conducted in one and the same party, the RSDLP and later RCP(b). There is zero historical evidence to indicate otherwise.

  • http://www.amleft.blogspot.com Richard Estes

    “Speaking of Kautsky, be careful of which Kautsky: “Lenin’s Kautsky” or the “renegade Kautsky” (and he really was a “renegade” in that period)? There were at least two Kautskys, several Lenins, and four different Trotskys: The pre-1917 Trotsky, the War Communism Trotsky, the loyal oppositionist Trotsky, the Fourth International Trotsky.”

    Yes, it is hard to keep count, and reflects the fact that people must necessarily evolve in relation to changing conditions within society. It is an inescapable feature of political engagement, and it is this facet of social life that the rigid, bureaucratized forms of purported Leninism seek to suppress, a perversely utopian aspiration that is unattainable.

  • Dave R.

    Let John Lennon be John Lennon. His character was full of contradictions, as is the case with most of us, and like most of us, he views changed over time. In the years following “Revolution”, he wrote “Power to the People”, which wasn’t particularly a good song, but left no doubt about his sympathy for the working people. In addition he wrote “Working-Class Hero”, “Angela”, and “Luck of the Irish”, both touching on themes not exactly in keeping with the views of the Wall Street Journal. GBG already mentioned “God”. He also spoke at the 1971 massive anti-Vietnam war demonstration in the Spring of 1971. Perhaps his greatest accomplishments, however, was “Imagine”, one of the best songs ever written about socialism/communism.

  • http://gaimmigrantrights.blogspot.com/ Joaquín Bustelo

    Corey Ansel writes:
    “To much of the left’s dismay, The Fab Four’s celebration of being ‘back in the U.S.S.R.’ compliments their general repudiation of revolutionary politics. ‘All you need is love’ became the clarion call of the peace and love generation, taking steam out of the engines of a very active Marxist left.”

    * * *
    Corey, I don’t know how old you are, but it is quite obvious you were not around for the period you write about. Because you don’t have even a shadow of a clue about the subjects you address.

    The Beatles were not ideologues. It is *insane* to try to derive a political line from the lyrics of their songs. They were part of a *movement,* an international rebellion of young people that took all sorts of different forms and found expression in many different fields. That is their political significance, not their imprecise paraphrasing of the Theses on Feuerbach.

    The best brief explanation I know of is comrade Ricardo Alarcon’s dedication of the John Lennon statue at Lennon Park in Havana on December 8, 2000, the 20th anniversary of John’s assassination:

    * * *

    A Tribute from Havana to John Lennon and the Sixties
    blythe.org

    Compañeras y compañeros:

    Here, in front of the excellent work of art of José Villa, we return to listen to what some said twenty years ago today: “About this man you can believe anything except that he is dead.”

    Nostalgia does not bring us together. We are not inaugurating a monument to the past, nor a site to commemorate something that disappeared.

    This place will always be a testimonial to struggle, a summoning to humanism. It will also be a permanent homage to a generation that wanted to transform the world, and to the rebellious spirit, innovative, of the artist who helped forge that generation and at the same time is one of its most authentic symbols.

    The Sixties were much more than a period in a century that is ending. Before anything else, they were an attitude toward life that profoundly affected the culture, the society and politics, and crossed all borders. Their renewing impulse rose up, victorious, overwhelming the decade, but it had been born before that time and has not stopped even up to today.

    To these years we turn our sights with the tenderness of first love, with the loyalty that all combatants feel for their earliest and most distant battle. With obstinate antagonism, some still denigrate that time — those who know that to kill history, they must first tear out its most luminous and hopeful moment.

    This is how it is, and has always been in favor of or against “the Sixties.”

    In that time old imperial colonies fell, people previously ignored arose and their art, their literature, their ideas started to penetrate the opulent nations. The Third World was born and tricontinental solidarity, and some discovered that there, in the rich north, existed another Third World that also awakened.

    In the United States, a century after the Civil War, black people fought for the right to be treated as persons and with them marched many white students. In Europe young people repudiated imperial violence and identified themselves with the condemned of the earth. Nobody spoke yet of globalization but, for everyone, the Earth got smaller, the whole world became closer.

    Then, finally liberated, appeared Cuba, truly discovered in 1959 as an inseparable part, fully pledged to liberty, life and truth.

    Victory seemed immediate. To obtain it, people strove without rest. In mountains and cities, with stones and fists, with weapons snatched from the oppressors and also with speeches, poems and songs. They tried to assault the sky, to overcome, in a single act, all injustice, for blacks and women, for workers and the poor, for the sick, the ignorant, and the marginalized. They believed they could arrive at a horizon of peace between nations and equality among people.

    It was more than anything the rebellion of the youth. Before their impetus fell dogmas and fetishes, they broke the molds of pharisee and banality, they turned back the dull mediocrity of an unjust and false society that reduces humanity to merchandise and converts everything into false gold.

    Years afterward, and affirming the continuity of the movement, Lennon described it with these words: “The Sixties saw a revolution among the youth . . . a complete revolution in the mode of thinking. The young people took it up first, and the following generation afterwards. The Beatles were a part of the revolution. We were all in that boat in the Sixties. Our generation — a boat that went to discover the New World. And the Beatles were the lookouts on that boat. We were a part of it.”

    Tumultuous was the passage from that memorable concert in 1963 when Lennon asked the people who occupied the most expensive theater seats to, instead of applauding, just rattle their jewels, to six Novembers later when he returned the Order of the British Empire in protest of the aggression in Vietnam and the colonialist intervention in Africa. The refusal to perform before an exclusively white public in Florida, in 1966; the refusal to perform in the South Africa of apartheid; the denunciation of racism in the United States when he arrived there to participate in concerts that had been boycotted by the Ku Klux Klan; the calls for peace in the Middle East; the support for young people who deserted the Yankee aggressor army and the constant support to the Vietnamese resistance and the struggle of the Irish people; the incessant search for new forms of expression, without ever abandoning the roots and authentic language of the people; the repudiation of the bourgeois system, its codes and merchandizing mechanisms; the creation of a corporation to combat them and defend artistic liberty, an entity to which was attributed, even, a certain communist inspiration.

    The personal contribution of John Lennon stood out singularly and endured beyond the dissolution of the group. His songs form the most complete inventory of the collective struggle of the young people for peace, revolution, popular power, the emancipation of the working class and of women, the rights of indigenous peoples and racial equality as well as the liberation of Angela Davis and John Sinclair and other political prisoners, the denunciation of the massacre at Attica and the situation in North American prisons, in an interminable list. Beyond the music, in interviews and public statements, he openly expressed his identification with the socialist ideal.

    Lennon was the object of intense and obstinate persecution by the Yankee authorities. The FBI, the CIA and the Immigration Service, instigated directly by Richard Nixon, the trickiest tenant the White House has ever had, spied on him and harassed him and strove to expel him from the United States. In spite of what their laws say and the countless measures carried out during a quarter of a century, these agencies still maintain in secret the documents proving the tenacious harassment they unleashed against him. The little that they have revealed shows that in just one year, between 1971 and 1972, the secret informants of their spies accumulated 300 pages and a file that weighs 26 pounds. With no other weapons than his talent and the solidarity of lots of North Americans, he was forced to confront for several years the powerful Empire led by the most sordid and arrogant political machine. This chapter will remain in history as an example of moral force and the force of ideas, and from it Lennon emerged as a paradigm of the entirely free and creative intellectual, precisely engaged with his time.

    Dear John.

    It was more that a few who said, twenty years ago, that that 8th of December was the end of an era. Many feared it among the millions who offered you ten minutes of silence and the multitude that on the 14th congregated in Central Park in New York to express a pain that time does not placate.

    It was Yoko who then advised: “the message should not end.” And little Sean, knew how to express the greater truth: He imagined you bigger, after death, “because now you are everywhere.”

    You were always among us. Now, in addition, we offer you this bench where you can rest and this park to receive your companeros and friends.

    Your message could not disappear because love had, and still has, many battles to fight. Because you had the privilege to hear it in millions of voices that became yours and continued raising it up like a hymn.

    Wasn’t it a yellow submarine that surfaced that afternoon in 1966 in the port of New York and marched at the front of thousands of young people who condemned the war? How many hundreds of thousands demanded that peace be given a chance, and were in solidarity with the people of Vietnam, there in Washington, in front of the monument, that unforgettable November 15th in 1969? On that day, didn’t your art reach its highest realization? How many times did it not multiply from Berkeley to New England and from one continent to another, that generation that believed that love could prevail over war? John, I am sure that you remember the martyrs of Kent State University who wanted to follow you, to also be working class heroes. It is known that it was your verses that were their only shield in front of the bullets of Nixon.

    There were more, many more, that met to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Imagine, in 1991, when others said that the story had already ended. Some believe that you appeared in a window of the Dakota. All of us, you too, were happy. We saw, astonished, the faces of old comrades, confounded to be among countless young people who had not even been born when you, over there in Liverpool, intoned ballads of love with proletarian words and we here defied the monster.

    Our boat will continue sailing. Nothing will stop it. It is driven by “a wind that never dies.” They will call us dreamers but our ranks will grow. We will defend the vanquished dream and struggle to make real all dreams. Neither storms nor pirates will hold us back. We will sail on until we reach the new world that we will know how to build.

    We will meet again, tonight, at the concert. We will go on together, always.

    * * *

    Ricardo Alarcón was one of the main organizers of the July 26 Movement’s urban underground in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship. After the victory of the revolution, he became Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations for three decades and chief negotiator with the United States over many issues. Since 1993, he has been the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

  • http://www.coreyansel.wordpress.com Corey Ansel

    No one is attempting to derive “political line” from a musical group. However, if the Beatles were a part of a “movement of international rebellion” (which is laughable, because said rebellion hardly challenged the status quo of the ruling class in political terms), then their contributions to said movement is open to ruthless critique just like anything else.

    The Beatles were, in my mind, the most influential (and best!) band in recent history. Their musical legacy is unrivaled. However, their political messages tended to be nothing more than pouting (All You Need is Love, Revolution, etc.) in defense of “giving peace a chance”.

    But it is nice that you managed to avoid the entire political substance of a piece on Leninism through a musical critique. You weren’t the first one to respond in such terms. It is a glaringly apparent symptom of the dead Marxist left when people have so much to say about The Beatles (which most have chosen to sentimentalize, as opposed to critique) and nothing to say about Leninism.

    Seems like selective insecurity, if you ask me!

    • C Derick Varn

      Personal grievances are not to be addressed on this site. Corey Ansel does not have the authority to take your post down. What ever issue you have with him has nothing to do with a NS article from half a year ago. I, however, do for violating comment policies. Please desist or lose posting privileges.

      • Kevin Manley

        A person’s ethos is just as important as their article. You would not post articles from a known murderer if you realized it

        • C Derick Varn

          Kevin, one, actually, no, a truth claim is irrelevant to the character of the person who makes it. Two, You have been informed of the policy. If you do abide by it, you will be asked not to post.

          • Aaron Aarons

            Since i haven’t seen the deleted comments and don’t even know who posted them, I am not privileged to know what truth claim and what person are being referred to here. However, if a “truth claim”, or assertion of fact, is made that relies on the person making the claim as a direct or indirect witness, then the character of that person is indeed relevant.

            Or am I misunderstanding the issues in this concealed argument?

            • C Derick Varn

              I did not delete the second comment, it appears that another moderator banned him for violating a comment in response. The question was “the character of the individual matters just as much as the content of the article” to which the answer is, logically, “no, if one is concerned with truth.”

  • http://gaimmigrantrights.blogspot.com/ Joaquín Bustelo

    Corey Ansel says, “No one is attempting to derive ‘political line’ from a musical group.”

    But then he turns around to opine, that the Beatles’ “political messages tended to be nothing more than pouting (All You Need is Love, Revolution, etc.) in defense of ‘giving peace a chance.'”

    Corey, you have no clue about the social, cultural and political significance of, for example, this Beatles broadcast, part of the the first world-wide live broadcast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ch9Noib_0zc. The political import derives from the context, the social forces in motion and how the event fits into it, not from wisecracks about “pouting … in defense of ‘giving peace a chance.’ In the context of the times, with the imperialist war against Vietnam raging, it was anything but “pouting.”

    You complain that I have “so much to say about The Beatles … and nothing to say about Leninism.” However, I wrote very little: mostly I just reproduced Ricardo Alarcón’s tribute.

    I realize his revolutionary credentials might seem lilliputian compared to yours, but Alarcón does have the advantage of having been Lennon’s contemporary, of having lived in New York at the same time Lennon did, and having proved his revolutionary mettle as a teenager as a key cadre of the July 26 Movement urban underground in Havana.

    You dismiss the idea that the Beatles ” were a part of a ‘movement of international rebellion'” as “laughable, because said rebellion hardly challenged the status quo of the ruling class in political terms.” Really? The anti-colonial revolution was nothing, the Black movement was nothing, the women’s movement … Do you realize how pathetically *ignorant* you would sound to someone who lived through those years or bothered to acquaint themselves with them?

    About my having “nothing to say about Leninism,” have you considered the possibility that I simply had nothing to say *to you*? Because, honestly, there isn’t that much worth polemicizing against in your piece, and it seemed to me the basic response I would have presented had been handled by other comrades.

    But as to my “selective insecurity” in writing about Leninism, let me disabuse you.

    Had you Googled “‘Joaquin Bustelo’ Leninism,” the search engine would have returned a list of links preceded by this summary: “About 4,540 results (0.12 seconds).”

    And if you’d done the same search with “Jose G Perez” and Leninism, –because I only began using my pen name in the mid-2000’s–, Google would have told you “About 23,800 results (0.32 seconds) .”

    High on the list on the Joaquin search would have been this link to an article called “Critical comments on Democratic Centralism,” which I wrote on the pretext of a discussion in Solidarity. Louis has been kind enough to host it on the Marxmail.org website: http://www.marxmail.org/DemocraticCentralism.pdf.

    And on the other search, you would have come across this: “Organizational Flexibility in Building Revolutionary Parties” from eight years earlier, and which is here: http://www.marxmail.org/archives/July99/organizational_flexibility_in_bu.htm, which was a companion piece to one about the decline of American Trotskyism (meaning the US SWP) which is in the same archive: http://www.marxmail.org/archives/July99/reflections_on_the_decline_of_am.htm.

    And you might even come across perhaps my all-time favorite post, called “Ghosts of the SWP past/Llover sobre mojado,” which is not in the same archive because the complete archive of all posts begins in August 1999, when I wrote it. But it’s about the same thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first blush.

    Corey. try to wrap your head around the idea that politics is about social forces in motion, NOT “positions” or “principles” or “models.” That’s what Marx, Engels and Lenin believed. It took me until I was 34 for that to really sink in.

    In the fall of 1847, while he and Marx were thinking through the material that w0uld become the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote a polemic against a petty-bourgeois critic of the Communists which contains a really striking expression of that idea:

    * * *

    Herr Heinzen

    “discerns the core of the communist doctrine simply in … the abolition of private property (including that earned through labour) and in the principle of the communal utilisation of the earth’s riches which follows inescapably from that abolition.”

    Herr Heinzen imagines communism is a certain *doctrine* which proceeds from a definite theoretical principle as its core and draws further conclusions from that. Herr Heinzen is very much mistaken. Communism is not a doctrine but a *movement;* it proceeds not from principles but from *facts.* The Communists do not base themselves on this or that philosophy as their point of departure but on the whole course of previous history and specifically its actual results in the civilised countries at the present time. Communism has followed from large-scale industry and its consequences, from the establishment of the world market, of the concomitant uninhibited competition, ever more violent and more universal trade crises, which have already become fully fledged crises of the world market, from the creation of the proletariat and the concentration of capital, from the ensuing class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. Communism, insofar as it is a theory, is the theoretical expression of the position of the proletariat in this struggle and the theoretical summation of the conditions for the liberation of the proletariat

    * * *

    In your original post you wrote:

    “What is at stake is the very cohesion of Leninist theory. Marxism is not a family tree. It is most certainly not the ideology of all of those who claim to hold up its banner. In fact, it is consistent with Marx’s fight for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, which in this case is the need to criticize the notion that all ostensible “Marxists,” from the International Socialists to the Spartacists, are bearers of Marxist thought. The left, in fact, has struggled to defend the legacy of Lenin because it has failed to properly investigate what that legacy is! The origins of the crisis within the SWP, thus, rest with their faulty understanding of Leninist democratic centralism and its relevance in the present.”

    I don’t believe the *origin* of the SWP’s crisis is their “faulty understanding of Leninist democratic centralism.” I think the *origin* of what is really a generalized, decades-long crisis of the revolutionary left in the imperialist countries has been the relatively privileged position of so many working people in those countries.

    In the United States it led to a situation where there were really no manifestations of class consciousness, of class identity, on a mass scale, for decades. We simply have not had a working class movement worthy of the name, and thus we communists are an expression of the class movement on an international and world-historic scale, but not organically in relation to a movement of working people here. That’s why communist and socialist groups in the United States recruit their members from the intelligentsia and why they are –strictly speaking– sects, i.e., groups that are not an expression or a social force in motion but instead see themselves as the embodiment or preservers of a certain doctrine.

    I believe that overall situation is now changing due to the current depression. “Occupy Wall Street” served as the seed that crystallized a rebirth of at least a rudimentary class consciousness and identity among tens of millions of people. It was a huge upsurge of mass activity with 600 local occupations being created within a week or two, with thousands of activists arrested, usually quite consciously choosing to take the arrest, with tens of thousands of people drawn into political activity that had not been drawn in before. And with tens of millions identifying with the movement.

    If capitalism in the United States and on a world scale manages to stabilize economically and begin a vigorous upswing, very likely that Occupy will turn out to have been a flash in the pan. But my impression is that things aren’t headed that way.

    A fully formed political expression of our working class will come out of the next mass upsurge that picks up where the Occupy movement left things, or some stage after that.

    But I would even argue that the Occupy movement was the beginning of a party of the working class, as Marx and Engels understood that idea. Because the Chartist movement in England, which Marx and Engels called the first workers party, wasn’t much more than the Occupy movement when it arose in the late 1830s around “the people’s charter” (which, BTW, contained exclusively bourgeois-democratic electoral reforms, such as the vote for all adult males, equal-sized parliamentary districts and so on).

    The sense in which Marx and Engels talk about workers parties doesn’t necessarily imply a highly structured, well organized national apparatus but an identity, a voice that working people recognize as their own voice which is distinct and counterposed to that of the rich. And they never changed: when Engels refers to the Henry George movement and hails his candidacy for mayor of New York as the emergence of a workers party in the United States, he wasn’t exaggerating or mistaken. “Party” in this sense means something akin to a side in a dispute, and that is created when working people, just as plain old working people adopt a common identity that has a clear political projection.

    “Building” a party around an ideology is fundamentally idealist. Parties –real parties– are expressions of social forces and for there to be a genuine workers party the working class has to be in motion as such, and then political instrument(s) or expression(s) can arise out of that motion. The important thing is not for the party to be clear theoretically, advanced programmatically or well structured and efficiently run.

    The important thing is that it be real, set into motion and draw in tons of working people who are just now awakening. These are the moments when they are learning the most basic of political lessons and people like us need to influence that process.

    For one to be able to influence such a development you have to be inside it. And instead of immediately launching a war inside to change everything, the first task is to understand what the movement is and why it has taken these forms. In many/most cases, there is no point to incessantly preaching about things which the people involved can’t yet understand but in a few months will readily absorb after going through their own experiences. And for revolutionaries to be listened to on various issues as they ripen, they need to be there from the outset and stay there, going through the experience with the rest of the folks to the maximum degree possible.

    Corey, your “Leninist” monotheism will only serve to isolate you from the mass upsurges and movements that I hope –and believe– lie before us.

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

      Your democratic centralism PDF is where I first encountered the argument in 2011 that the RSDLP was a party of the class from its inception: “The RSDLP was a mass parry from its foundation, a party recognized by a broad advanced layer of its class as its political expression.” I didn’t really get the full meaning and implications of your words until I read Lars Lih’s book on WITBD.

    • Aaron Aarons

      You write:

      I think the *origin* of what is really a generalized, decades-long crisis of the revolutionary left in the imperialist countries has been the relatively privileged position of so many working people in those countries.

      In the United States it led to a situation where there were really no manifestations of class consciousness, of class identity, on a mass scale, for decades. We simply have not had a working class movement worthy of the name, and thus we communists are an expression of the class movement on an international and world-historic scale, but not organically in relation to a movement of working people here. That’s why communist and socialist groups in the United States recruit their members from the intelligentsia and why they are –strictly speaking– sects, i.e., groups that are not an expression or a social force in motion but instead see themselves as the embodiment or preservers of a certain doctrine.

      Maybe a big part of the problem with the ostensibly revolutionary left in the U.S. (and similarly in other imperialist countries) is that the part of that intelligentsia that considers itself communist or revolutionary socialist refuses to recognize the simple truth about the privileged material position of a large part, perhaps a majority, of the U.S. or, e.g., U.K., working class in the global economy, and orients towards representing that class, and not “the class movement on an international and world-historic scale”. This manifests itself as opportunism, which can also, as in the case of the SWP-UK, be sectarian, or “anti-“sectarian, as is the case with many of those who post on this site.

  • Pingback: Mulberry Handbags

  • Pingback: cheap soccer jerseys 13/14

  • Pingback: figure out nfl jersey sizes

Previous post:

Next post: