Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 27, 2012

Over a Cliff and Into Occupy With Lenin

Filed under: Lenin,Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 2:04 pm

Over a Cliff and Into Occupy With Lenin

by Pham Binh

Pink Scare’s (PS) response  to the debate ignited by my review  of Tony Cliff’s Lenin: Building the Party affords me the opportunity to clarify issues of secondary importance like timing, judgments, method, and implications that did not fit with the content of my responses to the Cliff book’s two defenders, Paul Le Blanc and Paul D’Amato. In addition, I will discuss the role of Lars Lih in this little firestorm.

PS is appreciative but ultimately dissatisfied with Lih’s contribution because he does not spell out the practical implications of his research for revolutionary Marxists today and instead adopts a “non-political posture” of “scholarly neutrality.” Le Blanc and D’Amato also tried to fault my book review for similar reasons, namely, that it did not situate Cliff’s book in today’s context, although my views on party building today were made abundantly clear in two different articles prior to the Cliff debate and one article after it.

It seems no one is allowed to examine the historical record surrounding Lenin or challenge anyone else’s presentation of Lenin’s work without including a detailed how-to manual for today’s revolutionary.

This line of criticism fails to address a very basic point: why should a book review of Cliff’s Lenin (written in 1975) include a discussion of how what Lenin did is applicable today when Cliff’s book contains no such discussion of how its content should be applied by Cliff’s group, the International Socialists (successor to the British Socialist Workers Party) in their political context of the mid-to-late 1970s? Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

I mirrored Cliff’s narrow focus on Lenin and the history of the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). If my book review or Lih’s contribution suffered because neither of us drew up a balance sheet of applicable lessons for today, the same is equally true of Cliff’s book, although our contributions have not been shown to contain the kind of errors that marred Cliff’s Lenin.

Timing

So the question remains: why did I review Cliff’s book in early 2012?

Why re-litigate battles from a century ago as battles today rage in the streets of New York City, Athens, and Homs?

In fact, I began my review of Cliff’s Lenin began around the time I wrote The Bolshevik Experience and the ‘Leninist’ Model  in summer of 2011, before Occupy Wall Street (OWS) broke out almost literally on my doorstep. The lull in OWS activity following the November 15 eviction allowed me to complete this project, since I had far more important things to do during the encampment than re-read Cliff.

This explains the “odd” timing of the book review. What prompted me in the first place to look at Cliff’s book carefully, chapter by chapter, in summer of 2011 was Lars Lih’s response to Chris Harman and Paul Le Blanc in Historical Materialism 18. Here, Lih mentioned some of Building the Party’s factual errors. I was curious to see if there were any errors that Lih had not brought to light. The rest, as they say, is history.

Judgments

Does it follow then, as PS claims, that, “Pham thinks Cliff’s book is of zero value and should be thrown in the dustbin of history. He makes it sound as if the most important debate right now is, in some sweeping sense: ‘Tony Cliff: Yay or Nay?’”

My book review never claimed that Cliff’s Lenin has “zero value and should be thrown in the dustbin of history.” I was much more careful and specific, arguing that the book was “useless as a historical study of Lenin’s actions and thoughts.” Believe it or not, plenty of books have value even if they are not historical studies of Lenin’s thoughts and actions. Cliff’s Lenin is no exception.

The value of Cliff’s Lenin is a separate issue from any sort of sweeping judgment of Tony Cliff as a man, writer, or revolutionary. He wrote about a huge range of subjects during the almost 90 years of his life. One book, no matter how awful or problematic, is an insufficient basis for making a “yay or nay” judgment on someone’s life and work. Anyone who read my book review and thought that my goal was to “get Tony Cliff” or make such a judgment has probably spent too much time in the marginal and unhealthy environment known as the socialist movement where strawmen, sweeping personalistic condemnations, and sweeping yays and nays have become the rule rather than the exception.

Method

PS says that the body of my review consisted of “quibbling complaints about this or that error made by Tony Cliff.” Getting the meaning of democratic centralism wrong, distorting Lenin’s attitude towards party rules, failing to represent Lenin’s view of the famous 1903 Menshevik-Bolshevik dispute as expressed in painstaking detail in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, and ignoring the fact that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks did not become separate, independent parties until 1917 hardly constitutes quibbling for any serious student of Bolshevism.

If all of the above is quibbling, it begs the question of what exactly for PS would constitute significant distortions, inaccuracies, flaws, or factual errors? Should we rest content that the moral of the story – we must build a revolutionary party! – is the correct one? If so, why bother being accurate at all?

The Value of Accuracy

Historical accuracy is paramount if we are trying to use history as a guide to action.

We cannot learn from what happened unless we actually know (and acknowledge) what happened. History, like the present, will always be contested to some degree, but intelligent debate over what happened, when, and why is not possible when those involved in such disputes maintain their views despite a growing body of evidence that contradicts the factual basis for their particular interpretation. Paul Le Blanc’s insistence that the Bolsheviks became a separate party from the Mensheviks in 1912 at the Prague Conference falls into this category because, to adhere to this interpretation, one must ignore or downplay the testimonies of conference participants such as Lenin and Zinoviev as well as a slew of documentary evidence from the period since all of it points in the opposite direction. Why the 1912 issue is important I will examine later in this piece.

Cliff’s Lenin has value – as a cautionary tale of how not to approach the work of others (Lenin’s primarily, but also that of scholars) and how not to handle historical documents and complex issues. (Building the Party’s Russian-language citations are copied from secondary sources without proper attribution, making it almost impossible for anyone else to look at the material he used to write his book.)

The single most important lesson we can learn from Cliff’s Lenin is the necessity of putting the work of Lenin and the Bolsheviks back into its proper historical context, which is the international social democratic movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. This Cliff did not do in his zeal to “prove” this or that point about the nature of the revolutionary party (a loaded concept that deserves to be unpacked), the nature of said party’s internal regime, and its alleged leadership style. By contrast, Lih’s work will withstand the test of time and the harshest of critical examinations because he seeks to understand Lenin historically, as he was, as he evolved over time, regardless of the implications for revolutionary organizers today.

Lih has no dog in our fight, nor should he. Claiming that he “position[s] himself as a mere scholar—rather than activist—[who] repeatedly invokes his expertise and specific role as a ‘historian’” and, as a result of such so-called positioning, “offers little insight into the questions that really matter here” as PS does is ridiculous for the following reason: no matter how wonderful Lih’s scholarship on Lenin is, he is not going to do our thinking for us. Drawing out the implications of his work is our job, not his.

Any student of that era, those issues, or the man (Lenin) would do well to imitate Lih’s method in approaching the history of Bolshevism if they really want to mine that experience for the valuable lessons it undoubtedly contains.

When studying history we should focus on precisely that – history. Engaging in historical study focused on “advancing our understanding of the contemporary conjuncture and struggles within it” as PS suggests will inevitably distort what we get out of looking at events that occurred yesterday, yesteryear, and a century ago, especially when they happened in foreign countries whose cultures, languages, and traditions are not readily comparable to our own. Approaching the past with a “what do I get out of it in the here and now?” or a “what in this is immediately applicable to my situation?” mentality is to blind ourselves to history’s rich contradictions and nuances in favor of something simplistic and readily digestible.

Clarifications

The dedication of my book review “to anyone and everyone [who] has sacrificed in the name of ‘building the revolutionary party,’” has nothing to do with declaring that project to be a “bankrupt political goal,” despite what PS seems to think. If that is what I thought I would just come out and say it.

I don’t mince words.

The dedication is a reference to the fact that generations of socialists all over the world have made personal sacrifices of one sort or another in the name of the title of Cliff’s book, Building the Party under the assumption that their efforts would contribute in some way to the creation of a Bolshevik-type party. I have no problem with people choosing to make such sacrifices, but choosing to do so based on severe distortions or a nonexistent historical precedent is a different story.

PS’s concluding words compel me to clarify where I don’t stand on some questions as well:

If there is one relatively clear political implication of Pham’s intervention, it seems to be that Lenin was “an orthodox Kautsykist” and that the distinction between Second International reformism (associated with Kautsky and the SPD) and early Third International revolutionary politics (associated with Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Lenin) is historically inaccurate.

I am mystified how anyone could read my book review of Cliff’s Lenin and my replies to Paul Le Blanc and Paul D’Amato and write that Cliff getting Lenin wrong has “one relatively clear political implication” on issues such as Lenin’s relationship to Karl Kautsky or the Third International’s relationship to the Second. Cliff’s book did not delve into those topics at all and neither did I. Perhaps I am somehow being confused or conflated with Lih since he has actually done work on Lenin’s take on Kautsky?

Whatever the case, I would never be so stupid to think that the distinction between the Second and Third Internationals “is historically inaccurate.” I do believe that the character of those distinctions has been profoundly misunderstood by “Leninists.” That topic, along with “Leninism” and whether the Bolsheviks really constituted a “party of a new type,” will be addressed in a future piece that I began before OWS.

Stay tuned.

The Importance of 1912

To be candid, these debates have zero importance beyond the ranks of historians like Lih and those who continue to find inspiration in or lessons to be learned from the Bolsheviks. But the issue of 1912 looms large for those of us in the latter milieu because of statements like this from D’Amato:

The outcome of the period 1912-1917 was that two independent political parties entered the arena of struggle in 1917. The irreconcilable differences between these two parties, which led one to support soviet power and the other to oppose it, led to a Bolshevik victory over the opposition of the Mensheviks, and later to the founding of a new international that was based upon soviet power and the need for revolutionary Marxists to organisationally separate themselves from social-democratic reformism. Can a debate over the exact date when the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks split shed any more light in these critical developments in the history of the socialist movement?

My answer to his closing question is unequivocally “yes!”, although the evidence indicates that there is no single “exact date” in 1917 when this separation took place. It was a process, more like balding than a divorce.

The reason I say yes is because the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were part of the same broad multi-tendency party from 1903 until 1917 that “Leninists” today strenuously reject as a bankrupt model doomed to fail.

The 1917 Russian revolution proves that this model is anything but bankrupt or doomed in advance. The differences between the two factions were not always irreconcilable. To insist otherwise would be ahistorical (or undialectical, if you prefer). Lenin’s writings up until 1917 are filled with rejections of the notion that there could or should be two “organisationally separate” RSDLPs, one Menshevik, the other Bolshevik.

(Interesting fact: the phrase “Bolshevik Party” never occurs in Lenin’s Collected Works during the 1912-1916 period except as explanatory editorial notes written by people other than Lenin. Only in 1917 does Lenin himself speak and write of the Bolsheviks as a party.)

Conflating the liquidationists, the Mensheviks, and social-democratic reformists (Bernsteinists) with one another as D’Amato does makes all of this impossible to understand or even acknowledge. Neither Lenin nor the Bolsheviks were what we call “Leninists,” nor did they who build a “party of a new type” totally unlike and superior to their international social democratic brethren. The historical evidence indicates that they were revolutionary social democrats who defended what they considered to be orthodoxy from the likes of Eduard Bernstein and later, the man who did more than anyone else to create that orthodoxy, Kautsky.

All of this goes to show how history’s rich complexities and ironies clash with the simplistic and distorted accounts of the Bolsheviks and Lenin put forward by detractors and would-be imitators alike. What (if anything) this means for us today is a matter of debate, but historical falsehoods and fictions (when we know better!) should not be part of that debate.

Lenin and Occupy

Many socialists have cheered Lih’s demolition of the textbook interpretation of Lenin’s work without examining how many of our own preconceptions on the subject are now part of the same pile of rubble.

The fact that Occupy has functioned in practice like the much-sought-after but never replicated vanguard party that Lenin helped create in early 20th century Russia has also escaped much of the Marxist left. These two developments are not coincidental.

Leon Trotsky’s description of the party as “a lever for enhancing the activity of the advanced workingmen” captures exactly how Occupy has functioned. In the space of four weeks, OWS mobilized more workers and oppressed people than the entire U.S. socialist left combined has in four decades. OWS did not begin with a program or a series of demands but with an action that inspired tens of thousands of others to act, speak, march, occupy, and rise up in an elemental awakening (or stikhiinyi in Russian).

Inspirational leadership is the core theme of Lih’s Lenin biography and underpins Lenin’s writings as well. Consider his words from Left-Wing Communism explaining why and how the Bolsheviks triumphed against all odds during the 1917  revolution and the brutal civil war that followed:

[T]he Bolsheviks could not have retained power for two and a half months, let alone two and a half years, without the most rigorous and truly iron discipline in our Party, or without the fullest and unreserved support from the entire mass of the working class, that is, from all thinking, honest, devoted and influential elements in it, capable of leading the backward strata or carrying the latter along with them. … I repeat: the experience of the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia has clearly shown even to those who are incapable of thinking or have had no occasion to give thought to the matter that absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline of the proletariat are an essential condition of victory over the bourgeoisie. … This is often dwelt on. However, not nearly enough thought is given to what it means, and under what conditions it is possible.

It should go without saying that Occupy at six months does not resemble a disciplined, centralized organization steeled over two decades of battles. That is not the important part of the comparison. It’s what lies underneath the discipline that Lenin described as “an essential condition of the Bolsheviks’ success” that is the key:

The first questions to arise are: how is the discipline of the proletariat’s revolutionary party maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and—if you wish—merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people—primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct.

If there any words to describe the thousands of occupiers who continually defy cops in riot gear, risking beatings, arrests, and wanton brutality simply to maintain a presence in an ostensibly public space, they are tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism.

That same tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism led four college students to sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in the South, sparking a new phase of the civil rights movement as thousands launched similar sit-ins. That same tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism led a small band of Black activists to don leather jackets and berets and carry shotguns in one hand and law books in the other in 1966. Calling themselves the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, they succeeded at winning mass support in the Black community in short order. The tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism of the Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies) is the stuff of legend.

It was OWS’s tenacity, self-sacrifice, and heroism in the face of New York Police Department (NYPD) Inspector Anthony Bologna’s pepper spray  rampage on September 24, 2011 that ended the isolation that marked week one  of the occupation and allowed it to link up, maintain close contact, and merge with the masses in weeks two  and three. NYPD repression did for OWS what Bloody Sunday did for the Russian revolution in 1905 (although thankfully no one was killed).

The correctness of Occupy’s tactics and political strategy is deeply felt by huge numbers of people because both have proven to be unmatched in effectiveness. This mass feeling explains why the ideas, values, and methods that animated OWS such as General Assemblies, modified consensus, autonomy, horizontalism, direct action, and direct democracy dominate all corners of Occupy. All of this has become the uprising’s common sense, its animus.

Huge numbers of people look to Occupy for “how to live and how to die.”

The excitement over Occupy’s calls for a May 1 general strike and the anticipation felt by almost everyone about the prospect of an American Spring are a symptom of Occupy’s vanguard role. Occupy has also assumed another aspect of what is typically associated with Lenin and the vanguard party:

[T]he Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation.

OWS played this role from its inception, marching against the execution of Troy Davis. Solidarity was automatic. Shortly after Davis was murdered by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011, signs appeared at OWS that read: “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one!” A “single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation” indeed.

By standing up to tyranny, oppression, and police brutality directed against people of color, Occupy has won enduring respect and created alliances  with a variety of racial and religious minority communities. It has gone from being for the 99% to being by the 99%, which brings us to the next compelling overlap between Occupy and Lenin’s ideas.

Derided by the Marxist left for being vague, populist, blurry, or class collaborationist, the 99% is in fact synonymous with Lenin’s vision of a revolution accomplished by the narod, which Lih rightly notes has an emotional punch in Russian that the English version (the people) lacks. Add the peasantry, students, and all of Russia’s oppressed peoples together with the working class and it would probably be numerically close to the 99% espoused by Occupy.

Lenin’s vision of revolution was fundamentally inclusive, not exclusive, and the same is true of Occupy’s vision. So where does all of this leave the socialist movement in the United States? Does that mean (try not to cringe) that Lenin is no longer relevant? The answer to these questions depends on what you take from the Bolshevik experience.

At one point in his career, Lenin set out to unify scattered local informal groups of intellectuals and workers known as circles into something resembling the German Social Democratic Party. Six months into the greatest explosion of mass struggle in almost half a century, today’s socialist left is much smaller numerically than the Socialist Labor Party was at its low point (6,000 in 1898) and growing at a snail’s pace, if that. Today, socialist groups generally do not have contact with, much less productive, ongoing, working relationships with one another nationally, or even locally.

Imagine the Russian circles that Lenin sought to unite all declaring that political differences with their counterparts across town or in other parts of Russia were too great  to be in the same organization. Instead of uniting, they formed separate membership organizations, published rival newspapers, and competed with one another for individual adherents. Do this and you get some idea of how the problems Lenin faced stack up to the problems we face.

Since we don’t have Tsarist repression to deal with, since we have the “air and light” Kautsky said  we needed for a successful political workers’ movement, the only people to blame for this sorry state of affairs is ourselves (and our predecessors). Any observer who looks at our movement will not feel inspired to join up and make sacrifices for a great cause; they are more likely to feel despair, frustration, and bewilderment at the foolish, needless, endless, and counterproductive divisions that are keeping us weak despite the greatest opening in a generation (or three).

Unless we start doing something different, we are not going to end up with anything different than what we have now, no matter how badly we want it or how hard we work. When you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

If there’s anything we can learn from Lenin and apply now, it’s that if we rise to the tasks before us and get our act together, we can turn our movement around and make it a factor of the first order in American politics again.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Occupied Wall Street Journal and The Indypendent. Check out thenorthstar.info, the first national collaborative blog by and for occupiers.

17 Comments »

  1. Pham, I find you analogy to Lenin’s conception of the party and the Occupy movement, a bit of stretch…a BIG stretch actually. One point about all the wings of the RSDLP is that they wanted a *revolution* and one where a self-conscious working class was to be a major player. They organized the class at every level *for power*, at least the Bolshevik ‘wing’ if you will, did. I find none of this in the Occupy movement, and only most remote understanding of the working class ‘as a class’. If you were to say, the Occupy movement was akin to the soviets, as incipient forms of dual power, you would at least, *mechanically* be closer to a reality.

    I think you are engaging in a form of ‘projection’ that doesn’t meet the reality of either the Bolsheviks and Lenin on the one hand and it’s relationship to the meaning of the Occupy movement on the other.

    Comradely,

    David Walters

    Comment by tialsedov — March 27, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  2. You missed *the point* of the comparison, which I warned about in the piece.

    Comment by Binh — March 27, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  3. I agree that Lenin was not a “vanguardist” in the sense of the political party as vanguard, so much as he was interested in how the working class could provide the necessary vanguard in struggles for democracy and socialism, which is quite a different thing.

    Clearly, there are various different forms of political mediation that take place, not exclusively political parties, which themselves can take a vast array of different forms and perform very different kinds of political functions and roles in society.

    My main caveat would be the issue of unity vs. splits. Politics is about both. The problem of sectarianism can be over-compensated for by asserting unity as a higher value intrinsically than splits, which I think can be a serious mistake.

    Lenin is of course known and vilified primarily as a splitter. He split not only the RSDLP, but also international social democracy (the 2nd Intl.) more generally, and other political movements, such as anarchism, and struggles for national self-determination, and not only in the former Russian Empire, but also throughout the world.

    The question is the substance of such splits. — And the divisions over the substance of such splits can themselves be politically significant.

    I tend to agree that, generally speaking, we are today not in a moment propitious to the political significance of splits, but rather in need of regroupment and political unity. But, again, the issue is the substance of such unity. I think it will take significant political struggle to achieve any desirable unity.

    I don’t think that we can take the substance of meaningful political divisions or unity today ready-made from history. Rather, much if not all of what was previously politically consequential and substantial is today very much up in the air — up for grabs, up for contestation. The old divisions, even from perhaps just a few years ago, no longer apply. The very direction of emancipation cannot be taken for granted — it is as much a matter today of ends as of means.

    The irony is that, mostly subsequent to Lenin’s convalescence and death, so-called “Leninism” was most significant with respect to the Bolshevik and Third International’s regroupments and merging/unity with many former social democrats and others, including former opponents of the Bolsheviks in October 1917. Many Mensheviks joined the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) during the “Lenin levies” of the 1920s that helped establish Stalinism. The lead prosecutor of the Old Bolsheviks in the 1930s Stalinist Purge Trials was a former Menshevik. Trotsky excoriated the Popular Front politics of the 1930s-40s for the false unity it entailed, which did not promote but rather destroyed revolutionary political possibilities. Even prior to this, the Chinese Revolution of the late 1920s had suffered from such false unity — under the banner of “Leninism.”

    The problem is that Lenin can mean (almost!) all things to all people. But I think what is most significant is how he is hated as a splitter.

    Comment by Chris Cutrone — March 27, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  4. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

    There are many hours of high definition vids of Lars Lih (with Q&A) on Kautsky, on Lenin, & the relation btwn. them @ cpgb.org.uk. It’s the original upload, & unlike what’s on yt these are single vids.

    Comment by Calum — March 27, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  5. A couple of points that for me makes this discussion gel is first that the decisive split between Bolshevism and Menshevism took place in April 1917 over the ‘April Theses’. Until that time the majority of those who considered themselves Bolsheviks remained in practice Mensheviks. So it was the question of the popular front that posed itself critically. Stalin and co were prepared to do electoral deals with the bourgeois Provisional Government on the basis that Russia would have to go through the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the peasantry. The working class and peasantry would displace the weak bourgeoisie in leading the popular front. Lenin rejected this outright. The working class was capable of completing the bourgeois revolution ‘uninterrupted’ or in Trotsky’s terms, the permanent revolution. Of course the necessary rider was that this revolution would only survive if a European (German) revolution took place, itself led by a Bolshevik-type Party.
    Second, there is no irony that the Mensheviks made a comeback. The Bolshevik Party was born in April 1917 and its was its weakening and degeneration under the counter-revolution that allowed Mensheviks and their popular front back in the back door. That door was held open by Stalin and Co who never renounced their Menshevism. (See Trotsky HRR and Stalin).
    As for the relevance of Leninism to Occupy. Lenin would have been in Occupy for sure fighting against the popular front and for a mass workers party. So Leninism today is about how Leninists operate in the wider working class struggles much as Binh describes it.

    Comment by raved — March 28, 2012 @ 12:44 am

  6. Since the bulk of the Occupiers are either left-wing Democrats of the Chris Hedges stripe or naive anarchists, and since there is in the United States apparently no mass movement of workers compared with what there was in Petrograd in 1917 and is e.g. in Egypt now, how can Occupy itself be considered the revolutionary movement of our time in the United States? Occupy seems to appeal primarily, though of course not exclusively, to a recently semi-proletarianized segment of petty-bourgeois youth. Remove or greatly reduce the burden of debt from this group and allow a pallid “recovery” in the job market, and Occupy may vanish like “sixties radicalism” once the Vietnam War was over.

    This doesn’t mean that Occupy isn’t revolutionary but it is a huge stretch to say that this movement is the revolution, or is the nucleus of a revolutionary movement analogous to the Bolsheviks. Among other things, the stubborn pacifism of the movement–which goes beyond a mere tactic–is contrary to the militant tradition of the mainstream left, and reflects a situation in which there are no masses of soldiers, sailors, and the equivalent who would back up up a 1917-style revolution with the necessary amount of armed force. The Bolshevik revolution was certainly not a coup d’etat, as described by that piece of shit Pipes and the rest of the subhuman Harvard filth, but nobody can deny that it had a militant and in fact military aspect without which the day would have been lost.

    There are many currents of dissent in the U.S. today, among them the Wisconsin movement, which clearly has revolutionary implications despite its submersion in electoral politics. Occupy is the first movement in our time to place class struggle explicitly in the forefront of political discourse–a huge achievement–but absent a true upheaval of the masses, the potential of social revolution will remain potential only, and revolution forever around the next bend.

    The real question is, who, what, and where are the masses today? An important mass movement of the sixties was an urban proletariat accompanied by a very large and violent lumpenproletariat that was the product of racism. These filled the gap left by mainstream workers as they fled the cities, or “moved up” to the suburbs. Their terrifying riots retarded gentrification by more than a generation. But today that mass movement has been replaced by a counter-revolutionary mass movement of one percenters and their sycophants in places like Hoboken, New Jersey and the district called Logan Circle in Washington, DC. Where are the masses of workers in all this? They aren’t living in contiguity in places like Petrograd or pre-WWII New York City, that’s for sure.

    It’s the yuppies who are rioting, albeit with passive aggression–nobody is effectively opposing them–and the monopolistic concentration of lethal force in the hands of militant right wing, the corporations, and the corporatist state is unprecedented in history. This reflects a larger situation that nobody appears to have analyzed effectively in terms appropriate to the times in which we are actually living (in the U.S.). Brilliantly subtle scholarship on Bolshevism and Kautsky, et al, such as Lih offers–and Pham is certainly capable of offering–is not the main stream of an approach to the issue of what is to be done–and by whom–in the United States at present.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 28, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  7. The Occupy movement is not a Yuppie revolt, unless one claims that the average income of those participating are earning in access of $60,000 per year, and is overwhelmingly dominated by lawyers, and executives.

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 28, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  8. Ken, nobody who read my comment with even a modicum of elementarry comprehension could presume that I am equating Occupy with Yuppies.

    What I’m saying is that the Yuppies are flexing their muscles as a mass in the urban territory that they have seized and are pacifying. I call this a passive-aggressive riot.

    This is a perversely ironic inversion of the status quo circa 1968, still more of the situation in Petrograd in 1917. In a strange way, we see the new urban masses as being overprivileged reactionaries (though not surprisingly many claim an Obamanoid “liberalism”), and the workers as being dispersed and isolated.

    I see no evidence that this is being effectively opposed by the Left, particularly by Occupy. It prompts me to raise the whole question of who, what, and where the masses really are in the U.S. at present, and by what means they can manifest themselves as masses when denied the old structure of contiguous urban workers’ districts–especially while the 1% are gaining solidarity from something weirdly similar.

    The Occupy encampment in DC is only a few blocks from a really nasty example of militant gentrification. Nobody in the past fifteen years has protested the latter. This has nothing to do with calling Occupy a bunch of yuppies. That is a truly imbecilic interpretation.

    You really should read and think more carefully.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 28, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

  9. elementarry=elementary

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 28, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

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  11. [...] by Pham Binh from Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist [...]

    Pingback by Socialist Party NYC » Over a Cliff and Into Occupy With Lenin — April 2, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  12. [...] #Occupy, is titled, “Over a Cliff and into Occupy with Lenin,” and can be found online at: <http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/over-a-cliff-and-into-occupy-with-lenin/&gt;.↑2. Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: “What is to be Done?” in Context (Chicago: [...]

    Pingback by Lenin and the Marxist Left after #Occupy : Platypus — August 14, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  13. [...] #Occupy, is titled, “Over a Cliff and into Occupy with Lenin,” and can be found online at: <http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/over-a-cliff-and-into-occupy-with-lenin/&gt;.↑2. Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: “What is to be Done?” in Context (Chicago: [...]

    Pingback by Lenin and the Marxist Left after Occupy | The Chair Leg of Truth — February 28, 2013 @ 11:58 pm

  14. [...] statement of what Lars Lih thinks about “Leninism.” He has studious and wisely chosen to stay out of left debates over the political and organizational implications of his work as a historian. [...]

    Pingback by Interview with Pham Binh on Leninism and its discontents | The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity: — March 17, 2013 @ 7:43 am

  15. [...] statement of what Lars Lih thinks about “Leninism.” He has studiously and wisely chosen to stay out of left debates over the political and organizational implications of his work as a historian. [...]

    Pingback by Lenin and its Discontents: An Interview with Pham Binh — March 18, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

  16. [...] statement of what Lars Lih thinks about “Leninism.” He has studious and wisely chosen to stay out of left debates over the political and organizational implications of his work as a historian. [...]

    Pingback by Interview with Pham Binh on Leninism and its discontents | Symptomatic Commentary — April 12, 2013 @ 3:05 am

  17. […] [1]. Pham Binh’s articles are “Mangling the Party of Lenin,” Weekly Worker 899 (February 2, 2012), available online at: <http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004702&gt;, and “Wanting to Get Lenin Wrong,” Weekly Worker 907 (March 29, 2012), available online at <http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004775&gt;. A longer version of the latter, including its second half, on #Occupy, is titled, “Over a Cliff and into Occupy with Lenin,” and can be found online at: <http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/over-a-cliff-and-into-occupy-with-lenin/&gt;. […]

    Pingback by Platypus – Lenin and the Marxist Left after #Occupy — October 30, 2013 @ 4:10 pm


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