Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 28, 2013

Leninism is finished: a reply to Alex Callinicos

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 9:24 pm

Alex Callinicos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45 Comments »

  1. Bang on! I couldn’t agree more.

    Comment by Doug Tarnopol — January 28, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Yes!!!

    “Doctrinally” I would consider myself somewhere between left Marxism/Council Communism and Platformism (although I read a lot of authors who are part of the IST – they write a lot!) but “programmatically” I would agree with everything you wrote in the above. Ultimately, we can’t afford to care anymore if someone identifies as a soft Maoist, a social anarchist, or a trade union member who still shows up to vote for Democrats – the point is to unite behind a broad left program, no matter what organizational form this takes. That’s the only way to get millions united in struggle right now, and I think the brightest moments of Occupy demonstrated this.

    Comment by Robert — January 28, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

  3. I understand that Leninism Under Lenin, by Marcel Liebman, is also relevant to this topic. I have not read it myself.

    Comment by Ken Hiebert — January 28, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

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

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

    Comment by Shane Hopkinson — January 28, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

  5. As you indicate, the crisis in the SWP is indicative of the difficulty that sectarian leftists have in dealing with changing social conditions. Leftists of the early 20th Century were in tune with emerging technologies of production and communication, socialists successfully recruited people that were proficient in understanding them and acting upon this knowledge. Examples are too numerous to mention, but, just to give one example from outside of Europe, the Chinese Communist Party attracted workers and intellectuals associated with the modernization of the Chinese economy. Chen Yi and cadres associated with him in eastern and central China during the anti-Japanese resistance developed highly sophisticated methods of intelligence gathering for the purpose of facilitating the united front, eschewing the “scratch to gangrene” approached described here. Instead of writing off all adversaries as “diehards”, they distinguished between those who could be approached for the benefit of preserving the united front and those who could not based upon subtle gradations. By doing so, they achieved political and military successes that would have otherwise been impossible. In this, Yi and his associates prefigured the current information gathering operations of corporations and the public relations firms that they utilize.

    Of course, this is the sinister side of the coin of their activity. The other, positive side is that it reflected a pragmatic approach to political mobilization, one that did not crudely cast off substantial segments of the population by reference to their purported class identity. Instead, as much as possible, they evaluated people individually in terms of the potential for approaching them in order to develop a relationship for the benefit of the front, and, ultimately, the Party. To put it more simply, they practiced the art of politics as it was commonly done in China at that time. Paradoxically, they pioneered methods of information gathering and organization by mastering established communal norms of social relations. In effect, they modernized them.

    The SWP is, as currently configured, is incapable of attaining such breakthroughs, even on a much smaller scale. The SWP CC clings to old technologies and an antiquated vision of society, with members bemoaning the release of a transcript of a conference session transcript over the Internet, much like Hillary Clinton complained about the release of the State Department cables by wikileaks. Lenin, as described here, was a masterful politician, and it is precisely this that the SWP sort of secretive, autocratic decisionmaking process seeks to eradicate.

    Conversely, Occupy was a revelation because of its ability to attract social media IT types, workers, people of color and the homeless. It was brief, and possibly transitory, but it displayed an ability to combine the distress experienced by many Americans with people on the cutting edge of communications technology. There is no way to build upon this by imposing the perverse form of democratic centralism as required by the SWP. That’s why there were general assemblies (as problematic as they have been) instead of Central Committee elections.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 29, 2013 @ 12:09 am

  6. [...] Louis Proyect replies to Callinicos [...]

    Pingback by SWP crisis: who is saying what « Jim Jepps — January 29, 2013 @ 12:16 am

  7. Whatever the merits of Own Jones’ proposals as an anti-austerity campaigning coalition, they can’t be remotely party-like or move in that direction. It’s impossible for Labour Party members who he sees as central (as they would be in any broad campaign as opposed to left party or proto-party ) to support any electoral challenges to Labour. He pretty clearly opposes any sort of party challenge to Labour. In these sense Callinicos isn’t completely wrong about Jones.

    Comment by Nick Fredman — January 29, 2013 @ 12:43 am

  8. Reblogged this on Grumpy Old Trot and commented:
    Fascinating article by Louis Proyect…

    Comment by uplandtrout — January 29, 2013 @ 12:49 am

  9. “When I first ran across the British SWP on the Internet back in the early 90s, I never would have dreamed that they would have ended up with such a horrible scandal on their hands”

    Neither would I. Or, I think most of the members and recent ex-members of the (British) SWP.

    The fundamental problem with the SWP specifically is that while it is theoretically/rhetorically committed to “socialism from below” that isn’t at all how it operates internally. The ‘slate’ system of elections and ban on permanent factions effectively makes the established leadership self-selecting and self-perpetuating. I’ve always had a problem with that, but was willing to put up with it in the absence of anything better and as long as the party seemed to be generally making the right decisions. The current crisis, the CC’s response to it, and how extremely unlikely it seems to me that the rank and file membership can successfully oppose the CC while the CC runs the party into the ground, reveals the true extent of that problem.

    The other, wider problem that it reveals the extent of is that of sexism on the ‘far-left’, particularly the tendency to dismiss accusations of rape if the accused is someone we like and think is ‘important’. This is very reminiscent of the crisis in the Respect party a few months ago. I’d expect that sort of thing from the right but I was shocked to hear it from other parts of the left (regarding the accusation against Assange and the comments by Galloway) and even more so from within the SWP (regarding Smith).

    Comment by R — January 29, 2013 @ 1:39 am

  10. 1. Marx said the program laid out in the manifesto was outdated almost as soon as he wrote it. He also learned new lessons, a major one being that the class cannot lay hold of the state machinery vis a visa the commune.

    2. Reform supposes a reformable capitalism. It’s either idiotic or insane to argue for positive reform in this period of falling rate of profit and corresponding across-the-board austerity.

    3. I’m never sure exactly what you want to build. I’m with you on questioning Dem Centralism. It’s obvious that it’s tired and not useful for anything positive. But as far as I can tell you are arguing for less political principal or dedication to revolution in order to build a bigger party? How far does that go? For me, something like SYRZIA is already way too far. The leader is currently traveling around the world trying to convince international capitalism that his party poses no risk to the system. Last night I caught him in an interview on one of Bloomberg television’s investment show’s talking about his party’s commitment to the Euro, cooperation, etc. etc. He outright rejected the assertion of the German press that he posed any danger to capitalism. I mean if numbers are all you are worried about why not go all the way, become something like the Greens and go mainstream. Sure you can get lots of members. BTW, how big were the Bolsheviks or July 26 relative to the population as a whole? How about France, Hungary and then France again with NO PARTY in charge of things.

    4. I find it odd that you talk about organizing this way when in other posts you posit the Marxist position that revolutions are made by people unable to go on with things the way they are, not people convinced by some magic recipe provided by a party.

    Hope for some clarification if you have a chance. Thanks.

    Comment by Clifford Saint Claire the Beloved — January 29, 2013 @ 4:48 am

  11. [...] Originally posted at The Unrepentant Marxist. [...]

    Pingback by Leninism is Finished — January 29, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  12. This is an extraordinarily confused article. Owen Jones’ article was not a call for a British Syriza – that is, a left-reformist coalition that replaces official social democracy – but for a kind of ‘activist grouping’ that can “put pressure on Labour” from the left. In other words, he wants to see left-of-Labour types help him and the rest of the Labour left move the Party’s leadership “left”. I think Richard’s behaviour at the moment is a disgrace and that he is wrong on Syriza, but I hardly think his opinion can equated with Jones’. Richard’s position is not built around a strategic vision for pulling the Labour Party leftwards but, as I understand it, for constructing a formation that includes revolutionaries, “movement” activists and left-reformists that can challenge and, eventually I suppose, replace the Labour Party. Jones is desperate to the preserve the position of the Labour Party as the only alternative to Toryism, and think Labour needs to move leftward in order to re-establish its hegemony over a layer of working-class and left voters it has lost. This is what his book is all about. Also, it’s strange that people can still write about Syriza as if the last 6 months just hasn’t happened. Louis – what exactly do you think Tsipras was doing at the Brookings Institution? Notifying them of his intention to abolish wage slavery?

    Comment by Callum — January 29, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  13. Callum
    I certainly agree with you more about Syriza than I would with Richard S, his illusions in them seem to continue. However he and many other comrades are breaking with formal party discipline because of the continuing disgraceful behavior of the CC. Do you really think the SWP (B) version of democratic centralism should allow the CC to censure a CC member when he attempts to raise what he sees as wrong doing in the CCs behavior with the National Committee. Do you agree that a comrade complaining of sexual harassment at the hands of a no ex-CC member should be effectively victimized because some hacks (they are no comrades of mine) refuse to work with her after her allegation. what the Party needs is a special conference to review the actions of the CC in the last couple of years, with comrades given full information on the CC handling of these problems, not have them censor the conference feedback as they tried to do last year and this year. If that conference chooses to side with CC so be it, then every IST section can judge if they want to maintain a relationship let and inhabited by people who think all this behavior equates with traditions of our organization. If the CC win they can celebrate at Marxism this year by inviting “Delta”‘s staunchest supporter to return and play some Jazz and perhaps crack a few anti-semitic jokes, while Zizek explains his understanding of peasants involved in anti-gypsy pograms. Now Callum who really behaves disgracefully and shames the record of our Party?

    Comment by Harry Monro — January 29, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

  14. Harry – I have spent enough time during the last few weeks debating these details on the internet and, frankly, it doesn’t go anywhere. I wanted to comment here on the substantive questions of political strategy. There is no way for me to prove or disprove the gossip you’re spreading, so to form a view on the basis of it would be silly. Unless you are in the district, unless you know what happened between these people, you are doing nothing more than spreading rumours on the internet. And that, comrade, is not principled or brave and it doesn’t have any place in our Party.

    Comment by Callum — January 29, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  15. “I wanted to comment here on the substantive questions of political strategy. There is no way for me to prove or disprove the gossip you’re spreading, so to form a view on the basis of it would be silly. Unless you are in the district, unless you know what happened between these people, you are doing nothing more than spreading rumours on the internet. And that, comrade, is not principled or brave and it doesn’t have any place in our Party.”

    And what has stopped you from doing it? There is much in the article to engage as well as several responsive comments. Feel free to address at your leisure.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 29, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

  16. . . . or keep doing it as the case may be.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 29, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

  17. [...] of so-called “revolutionary socialism” will appreciate the thoughtful response by Louis Proyect. The SWP oppositionists have also replied, rehashing some rather tired themes about party [...]

    Pingback by SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY (SWP): THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK | Socialist Unity — January 30, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  18. Callum lets deal with facts in an open arena then. Did members of our CC promote for years the appearence of a clearly anti-Semitic musician at Marxism, over and over again the anti-semitic, and by the way the anti-leftist, politics of the man were exposed, yet members of the CC still pushed him. The CC now seems to understand this was a political mistake, when did they see the blindingly obvious light? Would they care to apologise to the Party and the anti-racist movements the Party is involved with about this. Do they think the ex-CC member most closely associated with this anti-Marxist is fit to lead the Party’s intervention in anti-racist work?
    Lets try another another tack, last year the self same clown proclaimed we could be heading for a “hot autumn” of strikes and unrest in Britain. Is the job of the CC and its Industrial organizer to write juvenile fiction or weigh up the balance of class forces in Britain.
    My last thought, the British CC has long pushed smaller sister organizations into merging into bigger party’s, or perhaps united fronts of a very special super-duper kind. France was a prime example and the NPA was going to grow throughout the hot summers/autumn/springs etc that Europe was/is now undergoing (or at least in the Europe the CC observes not the ones we leave in). The NPA was a disgrace with its continual accomadations to the anti-Muslim and anti-Gypsy politics dominant in France, the best thing our French comrades could have done was lead every real socialist out of it. Has the British CC worked out why no class offensive took place in France, why the NPA was a waste of time for our comrades? Or will it as usual, as on every mistake it has made in the last decade, stay silent and hope as one generation of student members leave and another lot are recruited, it can just re-invent the past.
    And now like Monty Python I’ll add another one on. Why the fuck are you loyal to a group of people called the CC, rather than to the revolutionary traditions of our organization. Please enjoy Zizek at Marxism this year I’m sure he wont be boycotting it.

    Comment by Harry Monro — January 30, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

  19. That’s all a bit unhinged, Harry. On your “points”: I don’t like Gilad Aztmon. I’d prefer he hadn’t/doesn’t/never does have any connection with the Party. He’s vile. I argued that at the time and I’d argue it now. The Party doesn’t have anything to do with him any more. Anyone who argued that we should associate with him made a mistake. Secondly, yes, you’re right, there wasn’t a ‘hot autumn’. The Party’s perspective was obviously not borne out. I don’t think the assessment was patently ridiculous or unreasonable. It’s just a mistake. Thirdly, I don’t know much about the NPA collapse. I’ll take your word for it that it was a mistake for our comrades to get involved. I’m not really sure what all your anger amounts to, though? Is it all designed to convince me of the apparently devastating truth that the CC has made mistakes? I have no problem admitting that, over a whole series of things. But there’s an immediate impression of bad faith given by your argument in this thread. Firstly you try to impress me with all the bits of gossip and tittle-tattle you’ve managed to procure for yourself on blogs or down the pub. Then, when I tell you I’m not impressed, you bring up the NPA. It just gives the impression that, rather than a mature, sober political outlook, you’re in a big huff and looking to see what shit sticks to the wall.

    Comment by Callum — January 30, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  20. Callum, I guess that Harry was trying to use those examples as illustrations of the general argument that the way the CC, and the centralist structures around it, function leads to an inability to recognise, and honestly *out in the open*, correct mistakes.

    No leadership can be perfect but the case against the the current set up (slate system, fulltimers controlled by CC, culture of conformity, ban on public debate outside branches etc.) is that it isolates the leadership from the skills and knowledge of the rest of the party and that it turns the admitting and open correction of mistakes into a sign of weakness.

    Given this your responses don’t really speak to what Harry was arguing. i.e. while you state that Aztmon is vile you don’t argue against the assertion that no one on the CC has publicly acknowledged their mistake or explained what lead to their bad judgement, you focus on the question of whether the prediction of a hot autumn was reasonable but you skirt around the fact that it doesn’t appear that this mistake was acknowledged nor has there been any attempt to explain what lead to this mistake, and again on the NPA you acknowledge their may have been mistakes (nb. like you I don’t know detail of this so can’t say if Callum’s right or wrong on the facts) but ignore the point that the leadership hasn’t set out its mistakes nor acknowledged that a different assessment of the situation was right.

    Comment by Joseph Kisolo — January 31, 2013 @ 9:55 am

  21. Callum, I’m unhinged, yet you agree with me about Aztmon. On the hot autumn you shrug, a mistake, it wasn’t unreasonable or ridiculous. My anger comes from the fact that Party cadre have to lead their workplaces; if they work and if of course anyone listens to them at work. If they peddle shit to the work mates (the class if you like) they end up becoming a joke, they have no influence, therefore the Party has no influence. I’m not sure anyone on the CC really understands this. If for years you argue that your tactics for combating racism are best but a reformist brings up the Party’s support of Aztmon it undermines your credibility in the class. Then the CC just drop him with no analysis of why they liked him and why they now don’t it disarms the Party cadre in a hostile political world. Instead we are supposed to say to militants around us, the CC are gods, they are right always, the were right about Aztmon when they loved they are right they are right now to drop him, they will be right in the future. Militants will rightly see us a dumb cult and turn elsewhere for political ideas.
    In fact the hot autumn is even worse, this Grand Old Duke of York of working class politics. There used to be a cult called the WRP, every month for decades they were calling for general strikes, for this reason or another; when they failed to materialize it was always about class traitors somewhere. Now the SWP (B) should be imbedded in the working class even if only a minority of its real (as opposed to paper) membership are active workers. The CC should learn from them what the nature of the struggle is at any time (at the moment any British worker would reply very low), certainly the CC also have to take into account new political developments and breaking economic crises (if they exist) but they cannot conjure up a theory of the offensive to fit their own desires. Well they can, and they don’t have to care, but for any comrades arguing this line season after season they become clowns among the best sections of the working class.
    You and I both don’t know enough about the NPA, because the CC choose to fill out publications like Socialist Review and the ISJ with crass reviews of academic book with zero relevance to the class struggle, hence another hobby horse of mine Zizek. What party publications need more of os detailed discussions of conditions on the ground in France, Germany, Greece and Egypt; we in Britain need to learn more from our comrades. We get brief articles usually with some up tempo conclusion about whats happening, when things turn to shit nobody knows why, and the CC never discuss mistakes as you seem know even if you don’t care to admit it. Oh and by the way I do see the need for more theory in the Party, but all those articles on Foucault and Zizek might have been better replaced with length reviews of some Marxists outside of our tradition, say like Henry Heller.
    Why am I angry, after 40 years activity in the revolutionary movements in the Britain and Ireland, after over 30 years membership of the SWP I believe the best hope of the British working class is being destroyed and Marxists are virtually going to have to start from scratch.

    Comment by Harry Monro — January 31, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

  22. [...] Finished?” Responding to him, a U.S. socialist blogger, Louis Proyect, has affirmed: “Leninism Is Finished.”[1] The question and answer would seem to have great significance for revolutionaries of all [...]

    Pingback by Leninism is Unfinished — February 1, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  23. [...] Leninism Finished?”Responding to him, a U.S. socialist blogger, Louis Proyect, has affirmed: “Leninism Is Finished.”[1] The question and answer would seem to have great significance for revolutionaries of all [...]

    Pingback by Leninism is finished/unfinished [DELETE AS APPROPRIATE]: the SWP in crisis « Pluto Press – Independent Progressive Publishing — February 1, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

  24. Harry – I don’t disagree with lots of things you say. The leadership has made mistakes. The mistake you make is to blame the problems in the party solely on the leadership. That’s where I disagree strongly. The leadership reflects the organization. And, as you’ll have gathered, I think much of the current “crisis” (or moral panic in old money) is drummed up by people inside and outside the organization who are fundamentally at odds with its political tradition and would rather it didn’t exist. That doesn’t go for all or even most of the opposition, but it does for a sizeable chunk. We need to separate those people from the organization and then we can have a serious discussion about the state of the party and the people it has *chosen* to lead it.

    Comment by Callum — February 2, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

  25. I’m coming from a long way off from this crisis, but I am a member of the Canadian IS, and it seems even I can read what’s upside down in that last comment. “The leadership reflects the organization,” when in fact the very core of this problem is that it does not, it is not responsive to members or designed to listen and encourage debate, quite the contrary. And “separate those people from the organization” and _then_ have a serious discussion? A leadership that can’t have a serious discussion (or even an internet ‘faction’ of four!) without first expelling those it believes will disagree is not remotely democratic. But it is certainly centralized.

    Comment by Brian Donnelly — February 3, 2013 @ 3:10 am

  26. I am not a socialist, or even a leftist, but I have been following this because of my fascination with leftist grouplets, and I have to ask: what if “Comrade Delta” is innocent? Or is this just an irrelevant petty-bourgeois concern?

    Comment by Justin Raimondo — February 4, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

  27. what if “Comrade Delta” is innocent?

    Just the kind of question you’d expect to hear from a libertarian.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 4, 2013 @ 11:52 pm

  28. [...] 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 [...]

    Pingback by Back in the U.S.S.R. — February 5, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  29. [...] 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 [...]

    Pingback by ‘Back in the USSR’ by Corey Ansel « People's Tempest — February 6, 2013 @ 12:16 am

  30. Two reasons why organizational Leninism is finished:

    1) Comintern-ism is a woefully inadequate organizational model, whether one attributes this to Zinoviev (as Proyect argues) or Lenin (his corrupted reiteration of the merger formula in Left-Wing Communism).
    2) Old Bolshevism has little if any relevance to the demographics and dynamics of the modern US workforce.

    Just go straight to the source that is the SPD model, and there’ll be a whole lot less debating trouble.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — February 11, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

  31. [...] le Blanc prefers the broad alliances of genuine United Fronts, which the SWP, he observes, avoid. Louis Proyect considers that “Leninism is finished”, and observes that the American Trotskyist James P. Canon [...]

    Pingback by The Crisis of the SWP, Leninism and the Left. « Tendance Coatesy — February 13, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  32. [...] 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 [...]

    Pingback by Back in the U.S.S.R. | The Revolution Delayed — February 18, 2013 @ 1:03 am

  33. [...] 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 [...]

    Pingback by Back in the U.S.S.R. | The Chair Leg of Truth — February 18, 2013 @ 3:23 am

  34. [...] Zinovievism Finished? and the Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect also responded to Callinicos with Leninism is Finished prompting Paul LeBlanc to write Leninism is [...]

    Pingback by Lenin Was Not a Leninist — March 13, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

  35. [...] Zinovievism Finished? and the Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect also responded to Callinicos with Leninism is Finished prompting Paul LeBlanc to write Leninism is [...]

    Pingback by Lenin Was Not a Leninist | Badil Tawri — March 14, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

  36. [...] is how he and Louis Proyect explain their outlook — that Lenin himself was no “Leninist.” Having gone through [...]

    Pingback by Leninism and Organization Today — March 14, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

  37. [...] have been leveled at the SWP’s brand of “Leninism” by figures such as Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) like Ben Lewis, all of whom draw [...]

    Pingback by No “true” Trots, man | The Charnel-House — March 19, 2013 @ 12:19 am

  38. [...] that have been leveled at the SWP’s brand of “Leninism” by figures such as Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) like Ben Lewis, all of whom draw [...]

    Pingback by No “true” Trots, man | The Chair Leg of Truth — March 19, 2013 @ 1:30 am

  39. [...] have been leveled at the SWP’s brand of “Leninism” by figures such as Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) like Ben Lewis, all of whom draw [...]

    Pingback by No “true” Trots, man | The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity: — March 19, 2013 @ 3:16 am

  40. [...] is how he and Louis Proyect [3] explain their outlook–that Lenin himself was no “Leninist.” Having gone [...]

    Pingback by A Socialist in Canada » Leninism and organization today — March 26, 2013 @ 2:22 am

  41. [...] Proyect: A Reply to Alex Callinicos; Mike Gonzales and the ideological [...]

    Pingback by Socialist Wanker | Poumista — April 16, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  42. […] Proyect: A Reply to Alex Callinicos; Mike Gonzales and the ideological […]

    Pingback by Socialist Wanker | The Chair Leg of Truth — May 17, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

  43. […] the chapter titled “Leninism Unfinished” that is a response to an article I wrote titled “Leninism is Finished” (http://louisproyect.org/2013/01/28/leninism-is-finished-a-reply-to-alex-callinicos/). My […]

    Pingback by Goodbye Lenin » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names — June 13, 2014 @ 8:40 am


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