The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Notes on unrepentant social democracy and economism today

A few notes on: Goodbye Lenin by LOUIS PROYECT

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Back to social democracy and economism? 

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Without the Leninist strategy of party building, what is the alternative proposed to build revolutionary forces?  An ad hoc group of chums palling around until things heat up?  At which time the unmediated dog fight among members of the book club breaks out?

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Proyect has gone from attacking Jack Barnes for criminal malfeasance to attacking the very idea of a revolutionary combat party that is proletarian in program and social composition. 

A comrade on Facebook described the political "evolution" of the man this way:  "....first the slander against the party you once belonged to, picturing your former comrades as mindless robots, then the slander against that diabolical "Barnes", then came the turn for Cannon and Dobbs to meet the internet firing squad, and after that Trotsky and now Lenin. The circle of political renegacy, practiced as "commentary" and political parasitism, has been squared..."

Proyect for a time blamed what he called Zinovievism, but of course his argument was with Lenin all along. Before too much longer he will join the ranks of those who say that Stalin's murder machine was a logical outcome of Lenin and Zinioviev. 

For Proyect, Lenin and Zinoviev were the architects of both anti-democratic parties and international.  What Proyect fails to mention is that while the Comintern was becoming clearer about its own rules for membership, it was also organizing to get its own forces focused on building united fronts with non-communist forces within the workers movement who were willing to fight on specific issues.

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Proyect suggests that anyone who wants to be a revolutionary should not study the heritage of previous revolutions and revolutionaries.  Castro did not study Lenin when he started out in Cuba; why should we study Castro?

Unlike the “Leninists”, Fidel Castro, his brother Raul and Che Guevara did not pore through the collected Lenin to figure out how to overthrow Batista and establish a new government committed to the liberation of the workers and farmers of Cuba. They studied Cuban society and developed strategy and tactics that flowed from the class relationships of a society that was stunted by underdevelopment and imperialist domination.

What possible guidelines to political action could be derived from studying Fidel Castro’s career? He started out as a candidate of the Ortodoxo Party and then decided to organize an unsuccessful attack on the Moncada barracks. After being released from prison, he began recruiting people for a trip on the Granma from Mexico to Cuba, where they would launch an armed struggle against the dictatorship. Once in Cuba and barely surviving an army assault on his tiny ranks, he began coordinating rural guerrilla warfare columns with urban resistance mounted by the July 26th Movement.

Proyect here misses the point, a crucial point.  Lenin and Castro, as young men, both studied their societies and developed strategy and tactics that "flowed from the class relations" of their respective countries.  Neither were academics; both were recruited to the cause of proletarian emancipation, not classless radical talk-shoppery. [Because of the class collaboration of Stalinism, Castro's evolution to communism was more prolonged and uneven than Lenin's.]

If Castro and his team had not made this evolution, and built a communist party capable of recruiting millions of Cubans,  I suggest there would have been no Cuban role in world politics: no internationalist missions to Africa; no rectification process; no victory in the "special period."  
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Proyect ridicules the Trotskyists of the early years of the Cuban revolution:

Now it should be mentioned that there were “Leninist” groups in Cuba at the time, including one dedicated to the teachings of J. Posadas who argued that UFO’s proved that socialism existed on other planets. How could they have reached the planet Earth unless they had superior technology of the sort that only socialism could deliver?

While the Posadists were obviously one of the more exotic varieties of “Leninism” in Latin America, there were certainly many others that were a lot closer to the SWP or the ISO in adhering to more conventional “Leninist” norms, which meant defining yourself in relationship to the Russian Revolution, starting a newspaper, opening bookstores and party headquarters, holding regular conventions that voted on line resolutions according to “democratic centralist” principles and all the rest. But it was exactly these methods that condemned both the Trotskyists and the Maoists to irrelevancy. A revolutionary movement grows organically out of the class struggle. The “Leninist” method adopted by groups such as the SWP or the ISO sets them apart from the broader mass movement since it is by definition based on an ideological litmus test that most people on the left will refuse to submit to, like a urine test for drugs. To put it bluntly, Fidel Castro did not ask Che Guevara how he stood on the Kronstadt revolt. He was only interested in finding out whether he could pass muster as a doctor and a combatant.

Proyect has a jolly time with his caricatures.  

The "irrelevance" of Trotskyists in the 1960s is of course a figment of Proyect's imagination. The shortcomings of Trotskyists  were not because they were Leninists; objective factors in world politics were manifold: particularly the weight of Stalinism and social democracy in the labor movements of every nation; and the influence of the Cuban revolution itself, drawing Trotskyist cadre of many parties away from the Leninist strategy of party building. [Hansen deals directly with these issues here and here.]

Parenthetically, it is amusing that Proyect smears Leninists with the UFO theories and other activities and thoughts of Juan Posadas.  A look at the merchants rooms of Proyect-endorsed events and groups [Left Forum, ISO Socialism conferences] reveals quackery the scale of which makes Posadas like an eccentric piker. 

The challenge for Trotskyists in the period 1968-1988 was to recruit a large cohort of radicalized youth that had joined their ranks; a profound challenge: recruiting radicals to proletarian politics and building Leninist parts that were proletarian in both program and social composition. Some parties met the challenge; most could not, and formulated years of rationalizations for this failure as their membership and prospects dwindled in the face of the capitalist anti-labor offensive that began in the mid-1970s.

With the question of class composition came the question of milieu.  Petty bourgeois membership and areas of work warped and disoriented many parties over time. They could not respond effectively to challenges or opportunities. 

The handful of parties that made the successful transition, led by the US Socialist Workers Party, are a special target of unprincipled attack by Proyect today.

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Proyect's anti-Leninist program has all the  familiar opportunist perspectives that have led the working class into countless defeats in the last hundred years:

I think that conditions are ripening in the United States for a SYRIZA type development that will unite the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who either took part in or identified with the Occupy movement. Activists in the ISO and Socialist Alternative could play an important role in bringing that to fruition and even become convinced in the process that their “Leninist” security blanket was no longer necessary.

He also quotes a former leader of the US SWP who left the party during the 1950s:

....we should say goodbye to Lenin and begin to think of our role in terms of the way that Bert Cochran defined them in 1955, to build “a movement that understands this country, that is sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of its people, that knows how to establish communication with them and how to make itself heard, that has the ability to come up with drastic structural solutions which recommend themselves to significant bodies of people as meaningful and realistic.”

I cannot think of a finer recipe for "will power" subjectivism and ad hoc economism in program. It will epitomize petty bourgeois national chauvinism and the "whateverism" of a clique.  


Jay
06/14/14





































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