The Third International after Lenin

Monday, August 15, 2011

21st century communism: notes on what to leave in, what to leave out

John Steele raises some important questions communists today need to grapple with.
Advancing communism via our "own practice" without reference to the continuity of 20th century Marxism-Leninism takes us where?

It will take us into the subjectivity and atomisation of common sense, reformism and utopia, the pre-Marx world of a very unscientific socialism. The socialism where everyone has a tract or a book ["The Philosophy of Poverty", one was called] and is recruiting to their own phalanx-of-one.
" Isn't the outcome a proof that the process and the ideology was a loser?"

Only if we are reading history backward. Only if we are paving over the reality of concrete social relations and struggles that occurred and need to be summed-up, hoping that by telling young people what came before was all a mistake or misunderstanding, they will give us more credence. The opposite is true among young people who have attended our Cleveland Marxist Reading Group meetings. Parenthetically, the ISO tells its contacts that anything other than Russia 1917-1921 was not socialism or communism, and to thus not worry about getting the grit of reality under their fingernails by grappling with the whole rich history of 20th century communism [just capitalism in disguise].
"....undemocratic nature of most leninist parties, the cult of personality in Maoism, and the extreme authoritarianism of most communist groups and states?"

One is tempted to say, "compared to what?" but that would be flippant and unfair.
But it is correct to ask, as Leninists, "democratic" to what end? To carry out the line of the party, or to carry out a continual re-hashing of second thoughts and prevarications? Lines winning majority support must be acted upon. Organizations must have constitutions mandating regular [every 1-2 years] conventions where the course and direction of the world class struggle and the current line of the party are discussed, enriched, and the line is corrected if necessary. The idea that parties can go along without conventions, national leadership meetings, and national and regional party educational conferences is absurd, undemocratic, and de-politicizing.

"Why talk about Lenin and Stalin and Mao at all?"

Marx/Engels/Lenin/Stalin/Trotsky/Mao are divisive, yes. But who is the "us" that is being divided? Quakers and syndicalists? Earth Firsters and Platypi? Vegetarians and logical positivists?

How can we achieve any class clarity today without reference to how it was done in the past? How did communists under various circumstances in different countries use their Marxist-Leninist tools? For instance, the early congresses of the Comintern in Lenin's time did not discuss the same issues we are talking about today, but unless we study and get into the skin of those comrades, we are not going to internalize their communist skills and habits of thought; we are not going to know how to apply theory unless we know how theory has been applied to real circumstances before, and how programs, strategies, and tactics were carried out, summed-up, and corrected by others before us.
"Do we want to adopt the same militant atheism that drove so many people away from communism and toward reactionaries in the twentieth century?"

We need to recruit people based on their willingness to submit to the discipline of the organization and carry out its line loyally. The religion question will take care of itself.
I will quote Lenin from 1905, because he said it better than I ever could: "…..under no circumstances ought we to fall into the error of posing the religious question in an abstract, idealistic fashion, as an "intellectual" question unconnected with the class struggle, as is not infrequently done by the radical-democrats from among the bourgeoisie. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. It would be bourgeois narrow-mindedness to forget that the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society. No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism. Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven. "
"Will a new communist revival happened based on the development of previous Marxism (mainly on continuity and further development), or on the basis of the rejection of previous Marxism (mainly on discontinuity and fresh invention from scratch)?"

A new revival will come from the interpenetrating of past lessons/continuity and new resistance/rebellion/struggles/opportunities. When people in struggle today meet communists in the same struggle with them, we will get a hearing laying out a correct way to develop these struggles so they do not collapse or get shunted into reformist recall initiatives or voting for lesser evils.
One concept we need to break with so that we can clearly sum-up and judge the whole history of our movement in the 20th century is the idea that socialism ended in the USSR in 1956 and in the PRC in 1976. These concepts never had a basis in historical reality; the commanding heights of an economy are not transformed like that. These 1956/1976 dates were rhetorical flourishes in factional battles that have been treated as sacrosanct since their inception, and have never been taken seriously outside the Maoist milieu.

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